We are thrilled to announce Laura Thornton as ASD’s new director! She brings deep knowledge of and experience with strengthening democracy around the world.

Our Take

For nearly a year, our team has documented steps that government, private sector, and civil society actors took to secure the 2020 election against foreign interference. Using this data, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Program Manager and Analyst Bradley Hanlon conducted a cross-sector, multi-domain assessment to identify what worked, what didn’t, and what should come next.

Washington needs a plan for pushing back on autocratic advances, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt writes in Lawfare. She lays out steps the new administration can take to reset the competition on favorable terms, including several that can be implemented without an act of Congress early in Biden’s presidency.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian state media last week hammered the United States over its response to the migrant crisis at its southern border, suggesting that the Biden administration is intentionally downplaying the poor conditions. State media continued to track the story of the Atlanta shooter who targeted Asian-American women and called out the United States for racism, while also promoting the notion that the topic of racism is abused by the “identity politics” of the left. This was contrasted with the alleged treatment of ethnic minorities in Russia, which was depicted in a far rosier light. Finally, Russia continued to highlight controversies around Western vaccines and vaccination policies and promote pro-Sputnik V propaganda.

Last week, Chinese state media and officials condemned sanctions that the EU, United States, United Kingdom, and Canada imposed on Beijing for human rights abuses. Chinese officials warned that the sanctions would harm bilateral relations, accused European officials of spreading “lies and disinformation,” and accused European countries of conducting their own human rights violations. Chinese diplomats and state media also promoted a boycott of Western apparel brands that raised concerns about forced labor used to produce cotton in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, denied those reports of forced labor, and attempted to shift the focus onto the United States by criticizing its history of slavery. Finally, Chinese state media continued covering anti-Asian racism, particularly in the United States.

Iranian state media and diplomats trumpeted the signing of a new 25-year strategic partnership between Iran and China, under which Iran will supply China with crude oil in exchange for Chinese investment. Regime-linked media emphasized that this was a dire development for U.S. global power. Iranian state-backed media also published some mostly-factual stories on the rise of hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the United States. The spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health celebrated the importation of more Sputnik V vaccines, while Tehran-linked media reported heavily on a statement from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that placed the blame for the failure of the JCPOA on the United States.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

U.S. conducted over two dozen cyber operations to prevent 2020 election interference: On March 25, the head of U.S. Cyber Command General Paul Nakasone told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. military carried out more than two dozen cyber operations to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 election. Nakasone did not disclose specifics about the operations; although, U.S. officials previously told reporters that Cyber Command conducted missions targeting election threats from Russia, Iran, and China. An Office of the Director of National Intelligence report released earlier this month concluded that voting systems were not impacted by foreign or domestic actors. ASD Program Manager and Analyst Brad Hanlon and former Director Laura Rosenberger have argued that offensive cyber operations can enable democracies to undercut authoritarian interference efforts without undermining democratic values.

Facebook blocks China-based hackers targeting Uyghur dissidents abroad: On March 24, Facebook announced it had disrupted a network of hackers in China that was using the platform to launch a cyberespionage campaign against Uyghur journalists, dissidents, and activists living outside the country. The social media company said that the hackers, known as Earth Empusa or Evil Eye, posed as human rights activists and journalists and sent malicious links to targets that would infect devices and enable surveillance. The hacking group also created websites that posed as third-party Android app stores with Uyghur-themed apps, including prayer, dictionary, and keyboard apps. Facebook said that the campaign was highly targeted, with fewer than 500 individuals receiving malicious links. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman told the Washington Post that social media platforms have a responsibility to ensure they are not being used in cyberespionage campaigns.

In case you missed it

  • The former secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy were hacked as part of the Russian-linked SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign, the Associated Press reported.
  • Suspected Russian state-backed hackers used spear-phishing emails to target members of the German parliament and regional state assemblies.
  • A cyberattack disrupted live broadcasts on Australia’s Channel Nine TV network at the same time that Australian officials were investigating a possible cyberattack on the country’s parliament.
  • The United States and European Union issued a joint statement agreeing to relaunch a bilateral dialogue on China and to cooperate on efforts to address Russia’s “challenging behavior.”
  • The Biden administration is planning to issue an executive order that would require software providers to notify their federal government customers if their systems suffered a security breach.
  • The United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Canada sanctioned Chinese officials for human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, leading Beijing to issue sanctions against each country.
  • Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, and other Western apparel brands that took a stand against forced labor being used to produce cotton in Xinjiang are facing a Chinese government-supported boycott.

ASD in the News

Don’t expect the US and China to be friendly anytime soon, Vox. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Few Facts, Millions of Clicks: Fearmongering Vaccine Stories Go Viral Online, NPR. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

The Agency at the Center of America’s Tech Fight With China, The New York Times. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

The Cybersecurity 202: Facebook is getting more public about taking on foreign spies, The Washington Post. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

US tensions with China risk fueling anti-Asian harassment at home, The Hill. Comments from China Analyst Bryce Barros

Latvian expert: V4 should be more ambitious in digitalization and draw inspiration from the Baltic, EURACTIV Czech Republic. Interview with Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Russia has an unlikely new social media star: Its Sputnik COVID vaccine, Fortune. Cites ASD research

Poland, Balkans, and the European Union: How Disinformation is Influencing European Society, Geremka Foundation. Virtual panel with Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková

Chinese Economic Influence: Too Good to be True?, Center for European Policy Analysis. Virtual panel with China Analyst Bryce Barros

Future of Digital Platforms: Improving transparency of political advertising, Globsec. Virtual panel with Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková

Kamala Harris soll die Flüchtlingskrise lösen – und steht selbst im Fokus der Attacken (Kamala Harris is supposed to solve the refugee crisis – and is the focus of the attacks), Handelsblatt. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Secrecy or transparency?, “National Security Podcast.” Hosted by Non-Resident Fellow Katherine Mansted

Quote of the Week

“We know that our allies have complex relationships with China that won’t always align perfectly with ours. But we need to navigate these challenges together. That means working with our allies to close the gaps in areas like technology and infrastructure, where Beijing is exploiting to exert coercive pressure. When one of us is coerced we should respond as allies and work together to reduce our vulnerability by ensuring our economies are more integrated with each other.”

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at NATO Headquarters on March 24.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.