Announcements

ASD has partnered with Globsec to enhance their Alliance for Healthy Infosphere in an effort to craft policies that national governments and European institutions can implement to raise the costs on malign interference, ensure safe engagement on digital platforms, and build stronger transnational societal resilience against online information manipulation. Learn more about the partnership here.

Our Take

Democracies must work together to overcome the threat of foreign interference in elections. GMF President Karen Donfried, Canadian Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and Microsoft President Brad Smith explained how democracies can counter election interference at a special Paris Call event. Watch the recording here, and read the compendium with our findings here.

Private equity and hedge funds present a potential major illicit finance risk to the United States because of the lack of transparency around where the money is being invested and who the investors are, Non-Resident Fellow Josh Kirschenbaum explained on “Bribe, Swindle, or Steal.”

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russia’s vaccine coverage last week again featured positive news about Sputnik V and negative developments related to other vaccines, including promoting a claim that there are “significantly more deaths following vaccination with Pfizer” than other vaccines, while noting in fine print that there is currently no causal link between vaccines and deaths. Russian state media’s coverage of the Derek Chauvin verdict also followed a predictable script, with outlets amplifying racial divisions in the United States while accusing celebrities, media, and Democratic politicians of doing the same. Finally, in the aftermath of the Czech Republic’s decision to expel Russian diplomats for Russia’s alleged involvement in a 2014 arms depot explosion, state media and diplomats denied the allegations and criticized countries for expelling Russian diplomats over the incident.

Once again, Xinjiang was the most mentioned topic last week by Chinese official and diplomatic accounts on Twitter, with officials criticizing the U.K. Parliament’s decision to label the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang as “genocide.” Chinese state media and officials also seized on the Chauvin verdict to attack the United States’ poor track record on racism, including criticism of Nancy Pelosi’s post-trial comments. In response to India’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus, Chinese government officials expressed Beijing’s concern and willingness to provide assistance, while state media criticized the United States for allegedly ignoring India’s pleas for help (this coming before the Biden administration’s pledge to send aid to India). 

The Iran nuclear deal remained the main topic on the Iran dashboard, with messaging largely focused on rejecting a proposal for a phased lifting of U.S. sanctions. In vaccine coverage, state media claimed that early tests found Iran’s domestically developed Barekat vaccine to be 70 percent effective. Perhaps in retaliation for Israel’s alleged involvement in the Natanz explosion last week, Iranian news agencies eagerly reported on an explosion at a missile factory in Israel; although, Israeli sources report that the explosion occurred during a routine test. Finally, Iranian state-backed media picked up on an alleged scheme by Saudi Arabia and Israel to overthrow King Abdullah II of Jordan, which was first alleged by the generally pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar and the generally pro-Hamas Middle East Monitor

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

European Union proposes rules for artificial intelligence: On April 21, the European Commission rolled out a 108-page policy proposal that would set limits around the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in a range of activities—including bank lending, hiring decisions, and school enrollment selections—and ban other AI practices, such as the use of live facial recognition in public spaces. The draft rules, which could take years to move through the EU’s policy making process, also seek to rein in the use of AI in high risk areas, such as law enforcement and court systems that could threaten people’s safety and fundamental rights. Companies that provide AI in high-risk areas would have to provide regulators with proof of their products’ safety and guarantee human oversight of the development and use of those products. Moreover, applications like chatbots and software that creates deepfakes would be required to disclose to users that they are seeing computer generated material. ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman applauded the EU’s proposed regulations and argued that AI should be discussed at the upcoming EU-U.S. summit. 

China-linked hackers breach U.S. government agencies, defense contractors: On April 20, the cybersecurity firm FireEye released findings that a Chinese state-backed hacking group, along with an unknown advanced hacking group, had compromised dozens of U.S. federal agencies, defense contractors, and critical infrastructure entities. The ongoing intrusions, which began as early as August 2020, are exploiting several known vulnerabilities and one newly discovered flaw in Pulse Secure VPN, a widely used tool that enables employees to remotely access their company’s networks. On April 21, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an emergency directive instructing all federal civilian agencies to run security tests to see if they have been compromised and install updates to their systems. It is not known how many U.S. agencies have been impacted, but at least 24 agencies use Pulse Secure Networks. ASD’s Authoritarian Interference Tracker catalogues over 160 instances of Chinese state-backed interference, including nearly two dozen instances of cyber operations. 

In Case You Missed It

  • The U.S. intelligence community is working to declassify and release more information on the malign behavior of U.S. adversaries after a group of four-star military commanders requested help in the information war against China and Russia. 
  • The German Bundestag passed legislation that restricts the access of “untrustworthy” 5G technology suppliers and requires telecoms operators to notify the government when they sign contracts for critical 5G components.  
  • Australia’s federal government blocked an infrastructure deal between China and the state of Melbourne, citing national security concerns. 
  • A Maltese cash-for-passports scheme has allowed wealthy individuals from Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia to secure unrestricted access to the EU, according to the Guardian. 
  • Several European lawmakers have been approached by individuals using deepfake filters in video calls to appear as Russian opposition figures. 
  • India’s government ordered Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to remove around 100 posts that criticized its management of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking accusations of censorship. 
  • The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service is running a “covert operations program” that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about protests, according to Yahoo News.    
  • A Russian-speaking ransomware group took credit for hacking and leaking data from the Washington, D.C. police department. 
  • The Biden administration launched a 100-day effort to strengthen the cybersecurity of the nation’s electric grid by helping utility operators modernize their security systems.

ASD in the News

Nad’a Kovalčíková Discusses EU-Russia Relations Ahead of Putin’s Annual Speech, Euronews. Interview with Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková

Sanctioning Russia is easier said than done, Foreign Policy. Comments from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

NI University should speak up for victims of Chinese regime, News Letter. Comments from China Analyst Bryce Barros

Russia hits back, Politico EU. Cites Hamilton 2.0 data

What sanctions could be a ‘nuclear strike’ on Russia?, VOA Ukrainian. Interview with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Re-thinking Australian science policy in a changed world, “National Security Podcast.” Hosted by Non-Resident Fellow Katherine Mansted

Quote of the Week

“The United States welcomes the EU’s new initiatives on artificial intelligence. We will work with our friends and allies to foster trustworthy AI that reflects our shared values and commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of all our citizens.”

  • National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan wrote on Twitter on April 21
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.