We’re excited to welcome Maurice Turner to the team as our new cybersecurity fellow! He most recently provided technical expertise to the Election Assistance Commission and has worked with local, state, and federal partners to identify vulnerabilities in cybersecurity and administer elections securely.

Our Take

Congress needs to empower an independent regulator to serve in the public interest overseeing major social media companies, Program Manager and Analyst Brad Hanlon writes in The Hill. Read more from Hanlon and Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt on how to meet the information challenge in ASD’s deep dive into the 2020 election.

How will Georgia’s new election law impact the state’s election security? Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine answers questions about how this legislation will affect the way Georgia’s elections are administered and secured in a Q&A blog post.

Congress can take 10 bipartisan steps to ensure a bill like S. 1 closes the financial loopholes that autocrats exploit to funnel covert foreign money into U.S. politics, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in a new policy brief.

To truly activate U.S. defenses against authoritarians’ financial attacks, the U.S. government must reimagine the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network as an essential one-stop shop to support law enforcement with sophisticated financial intelligence and formidable analytic capabilities, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph and Transparency International’s Gary Kalman write in Foreign Policy.

Portugal’s recent election underscored four things that countries should do to hold secure elections during the pandemic: update laws to accommodate for the circumstances, bolster voter confidence in the election’s legitimacy, prepare defenses against malicious activity, and undertake an after-action report, Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková and Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine write in an ASD blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media—and in one instance the Russian Foreign Ministry—continued to characterize the migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border as a humanitarian disaster and highlighted reports of shocking incidents involving migrant children. Sputnik elevated criticism of the Biden administration’s response from GOP politicians and relied heavily on Fox News’ coverage of the situation. State media paid limited attention to the trial of Derek Chauvin, though some of RT’s channels called for justice for George Floyd and highlighted systemic racism in the United States. Finally, Russian state media and diplomats promoted Sputnik V last week, emphasizing enthusiasm for the Russian vaccine in Europe, while again highlighting problems affecting Western vaccines.

Xinjiang was again the most mentioned topic by Chinese government and diplomatic accounts on Twitter last week, with diplomatic accounts continuing to contend that people in Xinjiang are free and happy, the West’s concern for Uyghurs is meant to divide China, and Western media’s coverage of the region is biased. The Chinese government also used social media influencers in Canada and Israel to legitimize the CCP’s policies in Xinjiang. Meanwhile, state media provided extensive coverage of U.S. racism against the AAPI community, with CGTN sharing a U.S. vlogger’s take on how Western media foment hate crimes, Global Times blaming the rise of hate crimes on “worsening bilateral ties,” and Xinhua amplifying the grim statistics of anti-Asian racism.

Iranian state-backed media extensively covered the trial of Derek Chauvin, in some cases framing the trial as emblematic of racial injustice in the United States. PressTV picked up the Floyd family’s legal team’s charge that the United States is “one of the most hypocritical states.” PressTV also called immigrant detention facilities at the U.S. border “concentration camps.” However, the focus of the week was the Iran nuclear agreement; Foreign Minister Zarif urged European countries to reject U.S. sanctions, while the supreme leader emphasized that Iran wants but does not need an end to U.S. sanctions. Iranian accounts also touted the construction of a Covid-19 vaccine production facility in Iran.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

President Biden’s infrastructure plan prioritizes emerging technologies: On March 31, President Biden introduced a $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal that asks Congress to invest over $180 billion in the research and development of emerging technologies. The plan calls on Congress to appropriate $50 billion to the National Science Foundation to create a technology directorate that will focus on fields like semiconductors and advanced computing. It also requests $40 billion to upgrade research infrastructure in laboratories across the country. Moreover, the proposal aims to strengthen U.S. manufacturing supply chains for critical technologies by asking for $50 billion to establish a new office in the Department of Commerce dedicated to monitoring industrial capacity to produce essential products, and it calls for a $50 billion investment in semiconductor manufacturing and research. The proposal would also deliver universal broadband and double the number of registered apprenticeships to create a more inclusive science and technology workforce. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman wrote that increasing federal investment in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum information is critical to offset China’s recent technological advances.

China increases propaganda, harassment of journalists: On March 31, the French newspaper Le Monde reported that Chinese international broadcaster CGTN used the name of a non-existent French journalist to publish op-eds defending China’s treatment of Uyghurs, which multiple countries have described as genocide. This comes as new data by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute shows that the Chinese government’s use of Twitter and Facebook to defend its policies in Xinjiang reached a record high in 2020. Meanwhile, the BBC’s China correspondent announced that he was moving out of China after facing threats from the Chinese government due to the network’s coverage of Xinjiang and the coronavirus. On April 2, the European Union called on China to respect press freedom and stressed the importance of foreign correspondents in strengthening mutual understanding between countries. An ASD task force report argued that the United States should support free press in closed spaces abroad to shine a light on the actions of repressive regimes.

In case you missed it

  • U.S. officials are set to publish a report on the malicious code used by Russian hackers in the SolarWinds breach, while President Biden is preparing an executive order with nearly a dozen action items to strengthen federal cybersecurity.
  • Suspected Russian hackers accessed thousands of State Department officials’ emails in 2020; it is not clear if the breach was part of the SolarWinds operation.
  • The FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned that hackers are exploiting software flaws to attempt to access networks in critical infrastructure sectors.
  • A distributed denial-of-service attack temporarily took down the website for the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a global coalition of lawmakers pushing for a coordinated policy approach toward China.
  • Google will contribute €25 million to the European Media and Information Fund to counter online disinformation in the EU.
  • China amended Hong Kong’s constitution to nearly halve the proportion of directly-elected representatives in the city’s legislature.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology released its guidelines for election security, which aim to help state and local officials secure elections against cyberthreats.
  • Russian state media outlet Sputnik said it will close down its operations in the United Kingdom.

ASD in the News

Vaccine wars: insta posts, twitter followers and state media, Politico EU. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Defending 2020: What worked, what didn’t, and what’s next, “Julie Mason Mornings.” Interview with Program Manager and Analyst Brad Hanlon

China will keep hard-line policy as Biden warns of steep competition, Nikkei Asia. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Russia keeps bribing foreign politicians. Is Trump different?, New York Magazine. Cites ASD research

Deterrence and negotiation, 168 Ora. Interview with Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková

Busting Myths About China, “Net Assessment.” Co-hosted by Co-Director Zack Cooper

China sends hundreds of ships into Philippine waters, pushing Duterte back toward US, Washington Examiner. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“We are kind of stuck with laws that were passed in an era that was devoid of technology. The Watergate scandal involved secret accounts and payments made in cashier checks, as opposed to fake Facebook ads and other online schemes funded by the Russian government.”

  • Federal Elections Commission Chair Shana Broussard said on April 1 at a Duke University event.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.