Congratulations to GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried on her nomination to serve as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs to the Biden administration!

The new and improved Hamilton 2.0 dashboard is now live! With new features and improved performance, this version allows for a deeper dive into the world of state-backed propaganda. Learn about the updates here, and try out the updated dashboard here.

Our Take

Throughout 2020, ASD, the Government of Canada, and Microsoft brought the global community together to address critical topics related to preventing interference in electoral processes. We released our findings last week at a virtual event with GMF President Karen Donfried, Canadian Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and Microsoft President Brad Smith. Read the Compendium on Countering Election Interference here.

The Russia sanctions announced last week by the Biden administration probably won’t be enough to deter Putin from increasingly aggressive actions, but they do provide a framework from which the United States can escalate sanctions with allies, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in Just Security. 

China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats’ propaganda push around Xinjiang seems to have done a better job of fueling backlash than of convincing other governments that China’s policies are justified, Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman writes in Financial Times.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian state media and diplomats predictably criticized the new U.S. sanctions on the country, blaming the United States for the poor bilateral relationship, suggesting that the sanctions revealed U.S. weakness, and claiming that Russia had no choice but to respond. Russian state media and diplomats also continued to commemorate Cosmonautics Day (April 12) and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, while slamming the U.S. State Department for not mentioning Gagarin in its commemoration of the International Day of Human Spaceflight (also April 12). In vaccine coverage, Russian state media and diplomats amplified claims by the Gamaleya Institute, which developed Sputnik V, that Sputnik V is safer than the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, which are under review for potentially causing blood clots. 

Continuing a months-long trend, Chinese official and diplomatic accounts continued to focus on Xinjiang last week, with diplomats from France, Germany, Egypt, Afghanistan, and the United States amplifying an opinion article titled, “Xinjiang: what the West doesn’t tell you about China’s war on terror.” Chinese state media also released a new documentary on life in Xinjiang, which attempted to paint CCP policies as empowering for women in the region, a theme present in previous statements and articles. Chinese officials and state media also grew more vocal last week about Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear incident into the Pacific, with the national tabloid Global Times using popular Japanese fictional characters Doraemon and Godzilla to attack the decision. 

Last week, Tehran-linked accounts blasted the United States and Israel over an attack on the electrical grid supporting the Natanz nuclear facility, describing it as a “terrorist attack” and “nuclear terrorism.” Most commentators, including PressTV, blamed Israel, at times using Western experts as validators. More hardline voices, like conservative cleric Mahmoud Nabavian, blamed the United States, with many asserting that the attack serves as a pretext for enriching uranium to a higher level. Iranian accounts, including the supreme leader’s, also continued to demand that the United States return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal before Iran does. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Biden administration sanctions Russia over election interference, hacking: On April 15, President Biden announced a series of measures to impose costs on Russia for conducting a wide range of malicious activity against the United States. These steps included new U.S. sanctions against 32 Russian entities and individuals for carrying out disinformation campaigns and other efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. Biden also expelled ten Russian diplomats from the United States, most of whom were identified as Russian intelligence operatives, and banned U.S. banks from purchasing newly issued Russian government debt. The administration also formally attributed the SolarWinds hack to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and revealed that Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik passed sensitive polling data from the 2016 Trump campaign to Russian intelligence services. In response to these measures, Russia said it would expel ten U.S. diplomats, barred eight current and former U.S. officials from entering Russia, and announced it will move to shut down U.S. non-government organizations in the country. ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph argued that while the Biden administration could have imposed more severe financial costs on Russia, the measures taken provide a framework from which the United States can increase pressure on Moscow. 

China’s Huawei was able to monitor calls on Dutch network, per report: Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei could monitor phone calls made by the 6.5 million users of the Dutch phone network KPN, according to a previously unseen 2010 report reviewed by the newspaper De Volkskrant. The report notes that Huawei staff had access to calls by the Dutch prime minister, various other government officials, and Chinese dissidents in the country. It also states that Huawei was able to see which numbers Dutch police and intelligence services had tapped. KPN commissioned the report after the Dutch domestic intelligence service warned that Huawei’s involvement in building KPN’s network could have created vulnerabilities to Chinese espionage. In 2020, KPN became one of the first European network providers to exclude the Chinese company from its core 5G infrastructure. ASD Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina has argued that the European Union should recommendand member states should setlimits on Chinese companies’ roles in supply chains for 5G networks and future smart infrastructure. 

In Case You Missed It

  • Proposed EU regulations would ban the use of facial recognition for surveillance and prohibit algorithms meant to manipulate human behavior. 
  • The Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats after asserting that Russian intelligence agents were responsible for exploding two Czech ammunition warehouses in 2014.
  • Two China-linked hacking groups have spent months exploiting a previously undisclosed vulnerability in U.S. networking devices to gather intelligence on the defense industry, according to the IT company Ivanti. 
  • The United States’ top intelligence officials joined a bipartisan push for measures to encourage private sector entities to report cyber breaches to federal agencies. 
  • The FBI opens a new investigation into the Chinese government every ten hours, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee. 
  • Facebook announced that users will now be able to ask the company’s Oversight Board to rule on content that has been left up on the platform, not only content that has been removed.
  • U.S. intelligence agencies released a statement warning the private sector that Russia’s foreign intelligence service is working to exploit five publicly known network vulnerabilities.
  • The FBI has been hacking into the computers of U.S. companies running insecure versions of Microsoft software in order to fix them, the Department of Justice announced.
  • Romania’s government approved legislation that effectively bars the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei from building the nation’s 5G network.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission is launching an investigation into whether Facebook breached EU privacy rules after reports that over 500 million Facebook users had their personal data leaked.

ASD in the News

Is the threat of election interference higher now than in 2019?, CHED. Interview with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

U.S. Slaps Wide-Ranging New Sanctions on Moscow Over Election Interference and SolarWinds Hack, Foreign Policy. Comments from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

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

Growing number of African-American China experts work to gain recognition, puncture stereotypes, South China Morning Post. Comments from China Analyst Bryce Barros

Quote of the Week

“Social media has become in many ways the key amplifier to domestic violent extremism, just as it has for malign foreign influence. The same things that attract people to it for good reasons are also capable of causing all kinds of harms.” 

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on April 14.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.