Announcements

Join ASD, the Government of Canada, and Microsoft on Wednesday, April 14 at 12:15 p.m. EDT/6:15 p.m. CET for the launch of a Paris Call compendium on countering election interference with Canada’s Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc, Microsoft President Brad Smith, and GMF President Karen Donfried. Register here.

Readers on the Hill: Join ASD for a Congressional briefing on Wednesday, April 14 at 1:00 p.m. EDT. ASD Co-Director Zack Cooper and Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt will present an actionable strategy for the United States and democratic allies to excel in competition with China. Register here

Our Take

There are 10 bipartisan ways Congress could strengthen legislation like S. 1 to more thoroughly defend U.S. democracy from foreign interference, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in The Hill.

By using election software to tally votes, the Netherlands and other democracies can reduce the time it takes to certify elections, thus making it more difficult for malign actors to undermine confidence in the results, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in an ASD blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Amid heightened tensions in eastern Ukraine, Russian state media and diplomats last week pushed narratives blaming Ukraine for the situation and suggesting that Russia poses no threat (while hinting that Russia could intervene for humanitarian reasons). They also criticized Western media coverage of the conflict and implied that the United States is openly supporting far-right groups in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian diplomats continued their commemoration of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the 60th anniversary of his spaceflight on April 12, 1961. Finally, Russia maintained its usual promotion of Sputnik V last week, including touting the vaccine’s efficacy and reported global interest in it.

Xinjiang remained the most popular topic on the China dashboard last week. As in previous weeks, the Chinese propaganda apparatus’ defense of the CCP’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang was accompanied by criticism of wrongdoings committed by democratic countries critical of Beijing. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused the United States of “double standards” and “genocide” throughout its history. Meanwhile, Chinese state media continued their coverage of anti-Asian racism in the United States, which was the focus of some of the most popular videos and articles shared by the outlets last week.

The Iran nuclear agreement was, once again, the top issue covered by Tehran-linked media and diplomatic accounts last week. Foreign Minister Zarif laid out the Iranian position once again, including demands that the United States return to compliance before Iran. Racism in the United States was also a major topic for Iranian state media, including coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial and claims that U.S. police officers are trained to use chokeholds by Israeli special forces. Finally, last week saw an uptick in coverage condemning or criticizing U.S. and European vaccines as unsafe. The incident at the Natanz nuclear facility fell outside the studied period and will thus be covered in next week’s toplines.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Biden administration fills key cyber roles, requests cyber defense funds: On April 12, the Biden administration nominated former National Security Agency (NSA) Deputy Director Chris Inglis to be the nation’s first cyber director, a role that will focus on coordinating the defense of civilian agencies and review their budgets. Former NSA intelligence officer Jen Easterly was nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). President Biden also released a budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, which includes a request for Congress to invest over $1.3 billion in cybersecurity and emerging technologies, including a $110 million budget increase for CISA and $20 million to establish a “cyber response and recovery fund.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle welcomed the additional investment in CISA but called for more robust funding for the agency going forward. ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Program Manager and Analyst Bradley Hanlon have urged Congress to increase the funding and independence of CISA in order to secure future elections and create a safety net against the politicization of election integrity.

U.S. intelligence community forecasts competition with China, technological disruption: On April 8, the National Intelligence Council released its “Global Trends 2040” report, which argues that over the next two decades the United States and China are likely to intensify their competition for ideological and technological dominance and jockey for influence over international institutions, standards, and norms. The report also notes that geopolitical power will increasingly rely on technological capabilities, control over telecommunication networks, finance and data flows, and the ability to project values through the information space. Advancements in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) could increase the use of manufactured media in ways that distort truth “at a scale and speed that dwarfs current information challenges,” according to the report. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman wrote that the report rightly assesses the transformative impact of AI on the information environment, as well as its ability to disrupt labor, security, privacy, and warfare.

Investigation of China’s Microsoft Exchange hack reveals signs of prior espionage: Microsoft and U.S. government officials suspect that China-based hackers used data from earlier cyberespionage operations to breach Microsoft’s email software and gather information on state and local governments and thousands of businesses across the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal. China has likely amassed billions of personal records on U.S. officials and citizens—most notably through hacks of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Marriott, and Equifax—which investigators think enabled the Microsoft Exchange breach. Another theory is that the hack relied on data scraped from social media sites like LinkedIn. On April 6, the leaders of the Senate Homeland Security Committee sent a letter to CISA asking for more information on the Microsoft Exchange and SolarWinds breaches. ASD Program Manager and Analyst Brad Hanlon and Program Assistant Joseph Bodnar have written that large-scale cyber espionage campaigns reveal weaknesses in the United States’ ability to defend against cyber interference.

In Case You Missed It

  • The Commerce Department placed multiple Chinese supercomputing companies on an export blacklist after reports surfaced that the entities were using U.S. technology to help the Chinese military.
  • The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced a sweeping bipartisan proposal to counter China’s political and economic power.
  • The Biden administration has completed an intelligence review of Russia’s alleged election interference and SolarWinds hack and is preparing retaliatory measures.
  • The live streaming platform Twitch announced new policies to take action against users who display harmful behaviors offline.
  • YouTube announced that roughly 1.6 million out of every billion views on the platform violate the company’s content policies, while the Pew Research Center found that YouTube experienced more growth than any other platform during the pandemic.
  • Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi blocked a Chinese takeover of a semiconductor company and said he supports an extension of state protection for Italian businesses.
  • Czech member of the European Parliament Jan Zahradil is under investigation for allegedly failing to disclose financial support from China.

ASD in the News

US adds Chinese supercomputing companies to export blacklist, Financial Times. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Sputnik V — the Covid vaccine that spreads influence and dismay, The Times. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Surveillance for sale: Cameras on Amazon tied to China military, abuse, Newsy. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Harnessing the Truth in Service of a Lie: Russia, China, and Iran’s Information Strategies in the Vaccine Contest, NDN. Virtual event with Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt

An Alliance Bound to Lead: Converging Towards 2030, Atlantic Forum. Virtual event with Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková

Brüssels verhaltener Kampf gegen chinesische Desinformation (Brussels’ cautious fight against Chinese disinformation), China.Table. Comments from Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková

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

Japan’s ticket to Oval Office is no new “special relationship,” Nikkei Asia. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“In this era of growing authoritarianism around the globe it’s more important than ever that we protect and reinforce the institutions of our democracy… we must focus on strengthening civic life. Protect the right to vote, demand transparency, fight corruption, counter disinformation, ensure diversity.”

  • Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) wrote on Twitter on April 10.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.