Announcement

In case you missed it, we analyzed more than 35,000 Russian, Chinese, and Iranian vaccine-related messages captured on our Hamilton 2.0 dashboard to understand the impact of these information operations. Tweet us your question to receive an answer from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer.

ASD’s Work in Action

On Wednesday, March 18, the European Parliament Special Committee on Foreign Interference will review a working document that draws on Covert Foreign Money, a report from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph and Research Assistant Thomas Morley that outlines seven legal loopholes through which authoritarian regimes funnel money into democratic processes. The next step to tighten defenses across the patchwork of 27 national systems of election law is to adopt common EU standards around secret political funding from third-country sources, Josh explained in testimony before the committee in December.

Our Take

Leaving values and morality to the side would eliminate one of the United States’ greatest advantages and make it harder to rally coalitions at home and abroad, Co-Director Zack Cooper and Hal Brands write in Foreign Affairs.

China’s ban on Taiwanese pineapples is the latest example of how China has weaponized its growing economic clout, but democracies can work together to counter China’s economic leverage by spreading the cost out among allies and engaging in public information campaigns, Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman writes in Foreign Policy.

As voters in the Netherlands head to the polls this week, Dutch efforts to administer its voting processes during the pandemic while also combating autocratic efforts to undermine them will be closely scrutinized, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine explains in an ASD blog post.

If the goal of U.S.-China competition is to secure a better peace by means short of war, then the pivotal question becomes whether the United States can achieve this outcome by changing the minds of Chinese leaders, or whether it will require the decline of Chinese power or the downfall of the Chinese Communist Party, Co-Director Zack Cooper and Hal Brands write in Foreign Policy.

Over the past few weeks, a number of Russia’s most prolific agents-of-influence have joined Clubhouse, raising questions about the app’s ability to regulate malign influence, disinformation, and hate speech, Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts and Lukas Mejia write in an ASD blog post.

H.R. 1 includes important measures that would strengthen U.S. defenses against authoritarian interference across four key areas: election security, campaign finance transparency, restrictions on cooperation with foreign powers, and threat assessments, Program Assistant Joseph Bodnar writes in an ASD blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media and diplomats predictably pushed back on reports that Russian information operations were attempting to denigrate Western vaccines and promote Sputnik V, while continuing to emphasize positive stories about Sputnik V and amplify concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe. Prior to President Biden’s address to the nation last Thursday, Russian state media covered speculation and reported concerns about Biden’s lack of press conferences, at times questioning his health. State media also played into controversies surrounding Biden’s immigration policy, elevating critical conservative voices and claims of an impending immigration crisis on the U.S. southern border

China’s messengers returned to their defense of Chinese government policies in Xinjiang, this time amplifying a condemnation from Muslim clerics critical of the West’s motives in Xinjiang, trumpeting a Cuban-led UN statement supporting China’s policies, and promoting the idea that claims of genocide were merely an attempt by the West to derail the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. China’s promotion of the safety and efficacy of Chinese coronavirus vaccines was mixed with an increased focus on issues related to the AstraZeneca vaccine, namely the suspension of the vaccine in various countries after adverse reactions.

Iranian officials and state media again focused on the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), reiterating that the deal will only be revisited after the removal of sanctions and accusing Washington of continuing the “failed policy” of the Trump administration. The most retweeted and liked tweets of the week, however, focused on calls from the supreme leader for the United States to evacuate Syria and Iraq and to discontinue support for Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war in Yemen. The focus on anti-American messaging was particularly pronounced last week, as the United States was mentioned in more than five times the number of tweets as the next most-mentioned country (not including Iran).

Continue reading here.

News and Commentary

U.S. Intelligence Community releases 2020 foreign interference assessment: On March 16, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the U.S. Intelligence Community’s (IC) assessment of covert and overt efforts by foreign governments to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. The report notes that the IC has “no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process.” It also states that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a range of interference operations designed to undermine the candidacy of President Joe Biden and support former President Donald Trump, including the use of proxies to push influence narratives to U.S. news organizations and officials. Furthermore, the IC assessed that Iran carried out influence operations intended to damage Trump without directly supporting other candidates, and that China “did not deploy interference efforts” during the campaign cycle. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint report that reinforced the DNI’s conclusion that election systems were not compromised by foreign actors. However, the report “identified several incidents when Russian, Chinese, and Iranian government-affiliated actors materially impacted the security of networks” linked to U.S. political organizations. ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Research Assistant Amber Frankland have explained that Russia and its proxies seek to co-opt legitimate domestic voices, including those of journalists and community leaders, within target societies for the purpose of disguising an operation as authentic domestic dialogue.

European Commission lays out digital agenda for next decade: On March 9, the European Commission presented the 2030 Digital Compass, a strategy that puts forward a series of benchmarks to invest in emerging technologies and boost the bloc’s digital autonomy by the end of the decade. The Digital Compass aims to develop and secure technology infrastructure, make European businesses and public services more digital, and improve Europeans’ online skills. The plan, which requires final approval and is backed by a $150 billion investment pledge, sets a target for the European Union to produce at least 20 percent of the world’s next-generation semiconductors by 2030, compared to the 10 percent the bloc produced last year. It also aims to develop a computer with quantum acceleration by 2025 and to provide populated areas with 5G by 2030. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman and Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina have argued that most of the targets put forward in the Digital Compass should be strengthened to ensure that Europe can compete with authoritarians in the technological domain.

Congress takes steps to secure, update federal technology systems: On March 10, Congress appropriated nearly $2 billion toward cybersecurity and technology modernization programs as part of the coronavirus relief package. The legislation includes $650 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to bolster its efforts to defend against cyber threats. It also provides $1 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund, which distributes funding to government agencies seeking to update and protect their technology systems. On March 11, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced legislation that would give CISA more authority to protect critical infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Biden administration and Congress continue to assess and develop responses to the SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange breaches. ASD Program Assistant Joseph Bodnar and Program Manager and Analyst Brad Hanlon have written that cyber espionage campaigns like SolarWinds reveal vulnerabilities in the United States’ ability to detect and prevent foreign interference in cyberspace.

In Case You Missed It

  • The FBI warned that foreign influence operations will “almost certainly” target U.S. audiences with deepfake videos in the coming weeks.
  • The Federal Communications Commission designated five Chinese companies as national security threats, including the telecommunications firm Huawei.
  • The FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said that vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s email application pose a “serious risk” to federal agencies and private firms.
  • The Government Accountability Office found that “it may be difficult for [CISA] to identify and respond to cybersecurity incidents” until it implements dozens of planned organizational updates.
  • Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House and Senate that would allow news outlets to bargain with tech platforms over the price of their content.
  • G7 foreign ministers issued a statement expressing “grave concern” about China’s efforts to erode the democratic elements of Hong Kong’s electoral system.
  • China is allocating tens of billions of dollars to its tech sector to make it less reliant on foreign imports as the United States steps up efforts to curb Beijing’s technological rise.
  • The Brazilian government softened its stance toward Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei after reaching a deal to procure Chinese vaccines, the New York Times reports; however, the exact connection between the vaccine request and the 5G action is unclear.

ASD in the News

Quote of the Week

“We therefore aim to build a coalition of like-minded partners around the world ready to defend the open nature of the internet and a use of technology that respects fundamental rights and democratic values.”

European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said at a press conference on Europe’s Digital Decade on March 9.

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