Our Take

We asked each of our experts to put forth one recommendation that would make the United States—and the community of liberal democracies to which it belongs—safer, stronger, and freer in 2021. Here’s what they said.

To help overcome partisan divisions over election results, President-elect Biden should establish a Presidential Commission on Election Security shortly after assuming office, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in The Hill.

Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman talks with Marietje Schaake, international policy director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center and a former member of the European Parliament, about how (and why) tech has become a mediator of values and nation state power on GMF’s “Out of Order.” What comes next in this high-stakes competition in the digital world, and how will it play out in the physical world?

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media and diplomats continued to champion the Sputnik V vaccine, with the announcement of a deal for Venezuela to buy 10 million doses of the Russian vaccine receiving particular attention. Four of the top ten most-retweeted tweets for the week were related to the strength of the Russia-Venezuela relationship. A small amount of Russian state media content covered a lawsuit that the owner of the computer repair shop where Hunter Biden allegedly left a compromising laptop filed against Twitter.

Chinese diplomats and state media last week celebrated the conclusion of negotiations on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), with Chinese diplomats from Botswana to India to the United States promoting the deal on Twitter. In customary fashion, Beijing used the conclusion of the negotiations to highlight the geopolitical isolation of the United States.

In a busy week for Iran on the world stage, Iranian diplomats and state media zeroed in on grievances with the United States, with a large share of traffic calling for avenging the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. Iranian accounts also continued to criticize Israel last week, claiming that Israel is planning to commit a false-flag attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in order to provoke war with Iran.

Continue reading here.

News and Commentary

Iranian cyber actors linked to online hit list targeting U.S. election officials: On December 23, the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a statement concluding that Iran was behind an online campaign that threatened and sought to incite violence against U.S. election officials. The agencies identified multiple websites, including one titled “Enemies of the People,” that posted the images, home addresses, and other personal information of more than a dozen officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and former CISA Director Christopher Krebs. Employees of the voting equipment manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems were also targeted. Most of the individuals singled out on the website had publicly attested to the security and validity of the presidential election. Prior to the presidential election, U.S. intelligence agencies linked Iran to an email campaign which posed as a far-right group and threatened recipients to vote for Trump “or we will come after you.” ASD Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai has argued that Iranian interference operations are meant to undermine democratic institutions and processes rather than support particular political candidates or parties.

Congress overrides president’s veto; annual defense bill becomes law: Congress voted to override President Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) late last week, allowing the $740 billion defense bill to become law. Anti-money laundering advocates heralded the NDAA for including a provision to effectively ban anonymous shell companies—a major tool authoritarians use to covertly influence U.S. politics. The legislation also establishes a government-wide National AI Initiative to coordinate research and development into “trustworthy” artificial intelligence technologies and requires the Secretary of Defense to assess whether the department’s AI acquisitions are designed and deployed ethically. Finally, the NDAA requires the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to establish a Social Media Data and Threat Analysis Center and to submit a report to Congress on foreign influence campaigns targeting U.S. elections. ASD Research Assistants Nathan Kohlenberg and Thomas Morley have written that the 2021 NDAA takes important steps towards addressing foreign authoritarian interference; however, Congress must build upon the legislation to take more concrete action to safeguard democracies from the threats authoritarian adversaries pose.

In case you missed it

  • Microsoft said that its potentially valuable source code was accessed by Russian operatives as part of a sweeping hack of U.S. government agencies and private organizations.
  • The email accounts of some Finnish lawmakers were compromised in an apparent and unattributed cyber espionage operation, Finnish authorities announced.
  • The New York Stock Exchange reversed a decision to suspend three Chinese corporations after consulting with authorities on how to comply with an executive order that bars U.S. investments in firms linked to the Chinese military.
  • A judge in the United Kingdom denied a U.S. request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face charges of violating the Espionage Act.
  • The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin that advised U.S. companies to minimize the amount of sensitive data stored in China to reduce the risk of data theft.
  • The Chinese government is controlling research into the origins of the coronavirus while promoting conspiracy theories that it originated outside China, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.

ASD in the News

The Cybersecurity 202: Republican plan to stall certification of Biden’s win could hurt future election security, experts say, The Washington Post. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

US bans anonymous shell companies in $740B defense bill, New York Post. Comments from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Iran, Biden and the Bomb: Why Tehran Is Now Speeding Up Its Nuclear Program, Haaretz. Written by Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai and Henry Rome

Quote of the Week

“The new Congress should urgently take up cybersecurity reform. The painful question—how did we miss this?—demands investigation & substantial legislative solutions. Russia clearly knows how to exploit our blind spots & the U.S. should not be beaten to the punch.”

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote on Twitter on January 2.
Newsletter Sign Up

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.