Our Take

A network of obscure, English-language “news sites” spread disinformation alleging that Ukrainian soldiers died after testing an experimental U.S. coronavirus vaccine. This narrative benefited one entity above all others: the Kremlin, Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts and Max Glicker explain in a new investigation for ASD.

What can we learn from the coronavirus infodemic? Going forward, democracies must ensure that their strategic communication is more affirmative, regular, accurate, and transparent, and that critical information is delivered to people in the way that they consume information and in the context that matters, Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková said on the European People’s Party podcast.

Follow ASD on Twitter for more quick takes @SecureDemocracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media accused the U.K. government and Twitter of having “double standards” after “leaked” U.K. Foreign Office documents allegedly revealed the “UK government’s covert operations aimed at tarnishing Russia’s reputation.” Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s decision to no longer consider Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny a “prisoner of conscience” due to his past “advocacy of hatred” attracted some attention, particularly after allegations surfaced that the decision came as a result of RT reporting and/or pressure.

On the China dashboard, “Xinjiang,” the Chinese province where up to a million Uighurs are being held in detention centers, was the most mentioned term by Chinese officials and diplomatic accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0. Many of the tweets mentioning Xinjiang targeted Canada after the Canadian Parliament voted last week to declare Chinese authorities’ actions in Xinjiang a genocide. A key Chinese narrative last week was that North American democracies are worse human rights abusers than China, which was accompanied by a spike in video segments about racism in the United States on CGTN. Finally, China continued its vaccine diplomacy efforts by promoting the successes of its global vaccine distribution efforts, while suggesting that the “selfish” United States give vaccine diplomacy a try.

Iranian media last week condemned the U.S. airstrike on a Tehran-backed militia in Syria, though political and diplomatic accounts remained conspicuously quiet. State-backed media diligently referred to the militia as an “anti-terror group,” while referring to U.S.-backed groups as “Daesh terrorists.” Iran continued its press offensive on the Iranian nuclear deal, with the agreement once again the most used hashtag by regime-linked accounts. In coronavirus messaging, Iran celebrated the donation of Chinese vaccines as a sign of “friendship between the two nations.”

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News and Commentary

President Biden orders review of U.S. supply chain vulnerabilities: On February 24, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring a yearlong review of potential supply chain vulnerabilities across six sectors, including the defense, public health, and technology industries, to ensure the nation’s economy and security are more resilient to global threats. The order also calls for a 100-day review of the supply chains for semiconductors, high capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals, and critical minerals, including the rare earth elements used in fighter jets and smartphones. Actions to strengthen those supply chains will depend upon the review’s findings, though officials anticipate that the review will facilitate greater domestic production, investment in strategic stockpiles, and cooperation with allies. While the order does not mention China, Beijing is the dominant supplier of several of the products under review and officials told reporters that they will evaluate risks associated with reliance on “strategic competitors.” An ASD task force report argues that the United States should reduce its dependence on authoritarian powers in strategic industries.

Congress makes bipartisan push to strengthen cybersecurity: On February 28, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Ranking Member John Katko (R-NY) announced support for bipartisan legislation that would require private firms to confidentially report cyber incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The push for mandatory reporting came amid House and Senate hearings that brought in the leaders of SolarWinds, Microsoft, FireEye, and CrowdStrike to assess Russia’s ongoing breach of at least nine federal agencies and 100 private entities. At the hearings, lawmakers also signaled support for strengthening cybersecurity vendor certifications, creating a federal entity to examine major breaches, and increasing costs on adversaries in cyberspace. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced a bill to establish a cyber bureau at the Department of State headed by an ambassador who would advise the secretary of state on cyber strategy. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman welcomed the Congressional efforts to improve cybersecurity, highlighting the proposed incident reporting requirement as a means to strengthen U.S. understanding of the cyber threat landscape.

In Case You Missed It

  • China launched a cybercampaign that targeted India’s power grid as troops from the two countries clashed over disputed territory last year, according to a new study by the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.
  • The Biden administration declassified intelligence findings that Russia’s FSB intelligence service attempted to assassinate opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and imposed sanctions against the Russian government.
  • Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the agency will increase cybersecurity grants by $25 million and consider additional grants to assist state and local governments.
  • Australia’s parliament passed legislation requiring Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for their content, as Facebook matched Google’s pledge to pay publishers at least $1 billion over three years.
  • Twitter took down and disclosed a network of fake accounts affiliated with the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency along with three other state-backed inauthentic networks.
  • India announced new social media regulations that could force platforms to break into encrypted messages and remove posts that the government considers contentious.
  • A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce legislation aimed at countering Chinese censorship in the United States, including China’s use of market leverage to influence U.S. companies and films.
  • President Biden released an intelligence report that said the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and sanctioned multiple Saudi officials.
  • The U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence published a new strategy to better defend against AI-enabled threats and advance democratic interests in the broader geopolitical technology competition.

ASD in the News

Biden putting tech, not troops, at core of U.S.-China policy, Bloomberg. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

China Trying to Redefine Human Rights in Latest Campaign, Says D.C. Analyst, Newsweek. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Kamala Harris plans to prioritize cybersecurity and global health in foreign policy platform, CBS News. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

As U.S., U.K. Converge on China, British Lawmaker Says “Golden Era Is Over,” Newsweek. Comments from China Analyst Bryce Barros

As genocide accusations grow, China hits back, Politico. Comments from China Analyst Bryce Barros

TikTok and WeChat, Where To Now?, Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Virtual event with Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Russian Dirty Money: How to Shut Down the London Laundromat, Chatham House. Virtual event with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Quote of the Week

The SolarWinds hack “shines a bright light on the need to significantly strengthen cybersecurity protection across all our vital enterprises, organizations, and government agencies. We must also take the necessary steps to prevent and respond more quickly to any future attacks, starting by advancing international consensus on establishing and enforcing a rules-based order online.”

  • Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 23.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.