Join us for a virtual discussion with Jessica Brandt, Eric Edelman, Samantha Power, and Kori Schake on how the United States can succeed in a persistent, asymmetric competition with authoritarians on Thursday, December 10 at 10:30am EST/4:30pm CET. Register here.

Our Take

Lawmakers are leading the way to shine a spotlight on covert foreign money, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph said in testimony before the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Foreign Interference.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s inflammatory social media activity targeting Australia has prompted other Chinese officials and state media figures to see how far they can take “wolf warrior” diplomacy, China Analyst Bryce Barros and Research Assistant Etienne Soula write in a Hamilton analysis blog post.

The United States and like-minded countries must come to Australia’s defense and work together to counter Beijing’s increasingly brazen economic coercion, Co-Director Zack Cooper and Oriana Skylar Mastro write in Financial Review.

We can learn seven major lessons from the measures democracies have implemented to address the coronavirus infodemic, Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková and Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai write in European View.

To truly secure elections, we must protect the people who secure election systems, including state and local election officials, information technology staff, poll workers, and vendor support staff, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in Electionline.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

As with previous weeks, Russian state media and official government accounts promoted positive messaging related to Russia’s coronavirus vaccines, while highlighting controversies and problems related to Western vaccines. Some of this content continued to focus on the vaccines themselves, such as Sputnik V’s reported efficacy and low cost, but developments in vaccine rollout plans provided a new point of contrast. Namely, the Russian state media ecosystem touted the announcement that Russia intends to begin mass vaccinations this week and highlighted that vaccinations in Russia will be voluntary and free, while questioning how voluntary the U.K.’s vaccine rollout will be. The ongoing spat between Australia and China sparked by an inflammatory tweet was a prominent theme in Chinese official messaging last week, which is covered in depth in this week’s Hamilton blog post. China’s abrasive, wolf-warrior style of messaging was also on display in a tweet by China Daily’s Europe Bureau Chief Chen Weihua, who called U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn a sexist slur. As with last week, Iranian officials condemned the assassinationv of Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian nuclear scientist, in the strongest terms and pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice. Iranian state media continued to cover questions about the legitimacy of the U.S. presidential election, presenting the debate as further evidence of the unattractiveness of U.S. democracy.

Continue reading here.

News and Commentary

The European Union announces proposals to strengthen democratic resilience: On December 3, the European Commission released a series of proposals designed to promote and protect elections, bolster free and independent media, and counter disinformation. The initiative, called the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP), places limits on election-related digital ad targeting and outlines a code of conduct for how social media platforms should handle disinformation, which includes voluntary guidance on issues such as increasing the visibility of trusted information. The proposals also aim to bolster coordination between member states around efforts to protect election infrastructure against cyberattacks. Alongside the EDAP, the EU released the Media and Audiovisual Action Plan to ensure the news media sector can access EU funding and to increase the protection of journalists from digital and physical abuse. ASD Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková welcomed the EDAP and noted that the proposals showcase the EU’s normative power and commitment to democratic values.

Congress set to create Senate-confirmed national cyber director: The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will likely include language to establish a Senate-confirmed White House cybersecurity director, according to multiple reports. The cyber director would advise the president on all issues related to cybersecurity and help coordinate government efforts to defend against and respond to cyberattacks. The must-pass defense bill also includes a range of other cybersecurity provisions, including creating federally funded cyber coordinator positions in each state and increasing the role of the National Guard in working with states to address cyber vulnerabilities. While it is likely the bill will pass Congress, President Trump has threatened to veto the legislation if it does not include provisions to eliminate a measure that provides legal protections for social media platforms. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman has called for the creation of a Technology Directorate at the National Security Council to increase interagency coordination on the national security threats posed by emerging technologies.

U.S. officials maintain bipartisan focus on countering China: On December 4, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a joint statement warning that “China poses the greatest national security threat to the United States.” The statement noted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using “every instrument of influence available” to undermine U.S. society and global standing. On December 3, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff and the Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe released separate warnings of the threats posed by China. Ratcliffe added that Chinese influence operations are increasingly targeting the incoming Biden administration. Meanwhile, the U.S. government ramped up its actions to counter China, including provisions to counter Chinese influence in the NDAA, increasing the budget devoted to gathering intelligence on China, tightening visa restrictions on members of the CCP, and adding companies linked to the Chinese military to a blacklist. A recent ASD task force report argues that the United States can regain the initiative in the emerging competition with authoritarian powers like China by seizing on the advantages of open systems, building resilience into democratic institutions, and exploiting the brittleness of authoritarian regimes.

In case you missed it

● A suspected Chinese intelligence operation that targeted California politicians developed extensive ties with local and national officials between 2011 and 2015, according to an investigation by Axios.

● U.S. Cyber Command deployed operatives to Estonia in the weeks leading up to the presidential election to learn more about defending against Russian hackers.

● The Justice Department announced that over 1,000 researchers affiliated with the Chinese military fled the United States this summer.

● Australia’s Office of National Intelligence warned that the Chinese Communist Party covertly controls parts of Chinese media in Australia as part of its foreign interference operations.

● The Chinese social media platform WeChat censored a message posted by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that was critical of an earlier inflammatory tweet by a Chinese official.

● Chinese scientists claim to have developed a quantum computer capable of performing certain computations nearly 100 trillion times faster than the most advanced supercomputer.

● The U.S. Treasury Department will allow the deadline for TikTok’s parent company to sell the video-sharing app to pass without forcing its sale.

● Three prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were arrested after pleading guilty to organizing a 2019 protest.

● The massive botnet TrickBot appears to be restoring its disruptive capacity, following U.S. Cyber Command and Microsoft’s attempts to disable it.

ASD in the News

Insight into the Biden foreign policy agenda — from a key player, The Washington Post. Covers ASD’s recent report Linking Values and Strategy: How Democracies Can Offset Autocratic Advances

Trump’s Conspiracy Theories Raise Concerns About Turnout in Georgia Senate Runoffs, WABE. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

EPA joins conservative social network Parler, The Hill. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

The Cybersecurity 202: The White House tried to silence the government’s election security leaders. It didn’t work., The Washington Post. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Biden Expected to Put the World’s Kleptocrats on Notice, Foreign Policy. Cites Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph and Research Assistant Thomas Morley’s report Covert Foreign Money

New Admin, Who ‘Dis?: Cabinet Picks and Challenges, “Skimm This.” Interview with Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai

Government should take bigger role in promoting U.S. technology or risk losing ground to China, commission says, The Washington Post. Cites Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman’s report A Future Internet for Democracies

Quote of the Week

“The producers [of disinformation] do not pay any price for that. And I think that it should not go without any price so that’s why we will be considering how to apply the sanctions and the costs… We will deal especially with the foreign influence and foreign actors.”

  • European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová said in an interview with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.