Please join GMF for a virtual discussion with U.S. election officials on preparations different states are making to mitigate election security risks on Monday, October 12, at 10:00am EDT/4:00pm CEST. Register here.

Our Take

Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph interviews The Guardian’s Luke Harding about tactics Russia deploys to clandestinely interfere in the United States and the West: hacking, trolling, money, and kompromat on GMF’s “Out of Order.”

Voting by mail is a secure and important voting option, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, and information suggesting otherwise is dangerous and can be exploited by foreign adversaries to undermine confidence in U.S. elections, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and National Vote at Home Institute CEO Amber McReynolds, two former election directors who have worked for both Republicans and Democrats, write in The Fulcrum.

While Iran is a key authoritarian actor attempting to undermine democracy in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, its interference capabilities are not at the level of Russia or China. We need to contextualize and not inflate the threat posed by Iran, Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai said on the New Statesman’s “World Review.”

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian, Iranian, and Chinese networks monitored on Hamilton 2.0 provided extensive coverage of U.S. President Donald Trump’s positive coronavirus diagnosis, with most of the content covering factual updates or well-wishes from diplomats and world leaders. Russian state media used the opportunity, however, to amplify partisanship and discord in the United States by highlighting the divided American response to the announcement, while also lamenting the U.S. media’s “Russophobic” reaction to RT’s coverage of the event. China’s response was also largely measured, though a few shots were taken at the president’s handling of the coronavirus. Similarly, Iranian state media stuck to factual updates, with some editorial content reminding readers of the president’s promotion of potentially dangerous coronavirus cures. Iranian, Russian, and Chinese state media also provided significant coverage of the first U.S. presidential debate—a topic discussed in more detail in this week’s blog post.

Continue reading here.

News and Commentary

Congressional reports highlight need to compete with Chinese Communist Party in emerging technologies: On September 30, the House Intelligence Committee released an unclassified summary of a report stating that the United States is not equipped to address evolving threats from China in the areas of technology and politics. The result of a two-year review of the intelligence community’s capability to respond to threats from the Chinese Communist Party, the report calls for greater investment in non-defense intelligence to ensure that the United States does not fall behind in its global competition with China. Also last week, the House Republican China Task Force released a broad set of recommendations to guide U.S. strategy toward China, including proposals to enhance counterintelligence capabilities, advance research and development in emerging technologies like AI and 5G, and improve defenses against Chinese efforts to influence U.S. politics. On September 29, the bipartisan Future of Defense Task Force released a report similarly assessing that the Pentagon must prioritize the development of emerging technologies to keep pace with both China and Russia’s military modernization. In a report for ASD, Andrew Imbrie has noted that the United States can successfully offset China’s investments in emerging technologies by pooling resources and capabilities with allies to compete more effectively. (House Intelligence Committee, House China Task Force, The Hill, The New York Times, ASD).

Russian operation posed as independent news outlet to target right-wing U.S. voters: The Russian government-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA), a group sanctioned by the U.S. government for interfering in previous U.S. elections, created and operated a pseudo news site to influence right-wing social media users ahead of this year’s election, according to a Reuters report on an FBI investigation. The website, called the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens, reportedly became active in June and predominantly covered U.S. politics, paying real Americans to write articles on politically sensitive topics, including attacks on Democratic nominee Joe Biden and the Black Lives Matter movement. The operation used a network of accounts posing as journalists and editors—some of which used computer-generated pictures of non-existent individuals—to promote the articles to right-wing social media users on Twitter, as well as on smaller social media platforms targeted toward conservative audiences, including Gab and Parler. In September, Facebook and Twitter removed a separate IRA operation that targeted left-wing U.S. voters with similar tactics. ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph has noted that authoritarian regimes regularly use covert funding to prop up online media outlets designed to interfere in democracies. (Reuters, Graphika, BBC, ASD)

In case you missed it

  • The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security released two public service announcements warning that foreign actors will likely use online journals and spoofed email accounts to spread disinformation about the 2020 election.
  • A high-ranking German official blocked the distribution of a sensitive intelligence report in 2018 that detailed China’s expanding influence in Germany out of concern that it would damage business ties between the countries.
  • Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a Russian intelligence assessment that Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee previously rejected as potential Russian disinformation.
  • The Trump administration is bolstering efforts to monitor Chinese and Russian tech investments for national security risks through the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
  • Australia, India, Japan, and the United States are set to increase cooperation on countering disinformation campaigns launched by authoritarian states.
  • Germany is set to impose new restrictions on telecoms equipment providers that would effectively exclude China’s Huawei from the country’s 5G phone networks.

ASD in the News

Follow the Money: Understanding the threat covert foreign financing poses to democracies, ASD. Virtual event hosted by ASD and the European Centre of Excellence on Hybrid Threats in Helsinki with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Texas’s war on drop-off votes gets almost everything wrong, MIT Technology Review. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Trump’s call for poll watchers sparks fears of voter intimidation, The Hill. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

TikTok plans to form a global alliance to boycott harmful content, VOA Chinese. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Democracy’s challenges pushed to new depths by a shambolic debate, The Fulcrum. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Stolen Equipment Gives Trump Fodder On Vote: Campaign Update, Bloomberg. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

“Concerning” Number of Californians Are Wary Of Election Integrity, Poll Shows, CapRadio. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Where Are The Deepfakes In This Presidential Election?, NPR. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

An October surprise with Iran? Calculations and policy implications, The Washington Institute. Virtual policy forum with Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

US-China 5G competition hinges on enterprise apps, services, TechTarget. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Thinking Strategically about Sino-American Crisis Management Mechanisms, War on the Rocks. Written by Co-Director Zack Cooper and Jacob Stokes

Quote of the Week

“Combating foreign election interference needs to be a bipartisan issue. Ahead of November’s Election, we need to prevent our nation’s enemies from using social media as a vehicle to deploy disinformation.”

  • Rep. John Katko (R-NY) said in a statement on Thursday.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.