For our friends on the Hill: Join us on Thursday, May 20 from 1:00pm to 1:45pm for a briefing on contesting China’s techno-authoritarianism by ASD Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman. Register for the briefing here.

Our Take

The Treasury Department should get on board with the Biden administration’s prioritization of anti-corruption to protect U.S. national security, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in Foreign Affairs. He lays out a 100-point policy program for the White House in a new ASD report. 

The basis of democracy is a citizenry that makes informed decisions based on facts, but if we’re living in many different realitiesdue to disinformation, misinformation, and mal-informationdemocracy begins to erode from within, Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer said on “The Inoculation” podcast.

ICYMI, last week we launched the German Elections Dashboard, an open-source tool that allows users to track messaging from influential foreign and domestic actors. GMF hosted a scene-setting event on the upcoming federal elections with Melanie Amman, Thorsten Faas, and Thomas Kleine-Brockhoffe. Read the event recap here and try out the dashboard here.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian state media focused heavily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week, with content accusing Israel of perpetrating “ethnic cleansing,” “war crimes,” “genocide,” and other atrocities against Palestinians. Other coverage focused on criticism of international responses to the situation, with U.S. support for Israel a particular target. A small number of examples elevated claims that social media platforms were censoring pro-Palestinian content and footage of forceful responses to global protests in support of Palestinians, and at least one example linked the violence in Gaza and the violence against protesters in Colombia with U.S. financial assistance to both governments. Finally, as per usual, Russian state media and diplomats heralded positive developments related to Sputnik V, including reports of San Marino’s success with the Russian vaccine, Russia’s assistance to India, and examples of European enthusiasm for Sputnik V.  

Chinese diplomats and state media also focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a short video clip denouncing the United States’ measured tone towards Israel as “#DoubleStandards” gaining the most likes and retweets of the week. The official account for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs similarly declared that the United States’ defense of Israel showed its lack of concern for Muslims. In a similar vein, the head of China Daily’s Europe bureau attacked both U.S. and EU officials for their lack of impartiality. Chinese propagandists also used U.S. policy vis-à-vis Israel to legitimize human rights abuses in Xinjiang, with Chinese diplomats and state media stating that the United States’ support for Israel showed indifference for all Muslims, before deducing that any U.S. criticism of Chinese policies in Xinjiang was insincere and therefore null and void. “Xinjiang” was once again the most mentioned topic by Chinese official and diplomatic accounts last week, with a video showing Uyghurs dancing to celebrate the end of Ramadan in the province at the center of the messaging. 

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued to dominate the Iranian twittersphere last week. The supreme leader tweeted strongly worded condemnations of Israel, while some Iranian state-backed outlets, like PressTV, sought to frame themselves as the truth tellers of the conflict in a world of compromised journalism. A photo of a grieving Palestinian father holding a wounded child carried the caption “this photo would have been on headlines, if it was not captured in Palestine.” Tehran-linked outlets also heavily covered pro-Palestinian rallies around the world and reported on clashes between police and pro-Palestinian protestors in France, Germany, and the West Bank. State media also reported that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif cancelled a trip to Austria for nuclear deal talks in protest of the Austrian Foreign Ministry’s decision to raise an Israeli flag.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Biden signs executive order to bolster cybersecurity: On May 12, President Joe Biden signed the “Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity,” which sets new cybersecurity standards for U.S. agencies and software contractors to better prevent, detect, assess, and recover from cyber incidents. The order requires all software purchased by the federal government to meet a range of standards, within six months, including mandates to use multi-factor authentication and to encrypt stored and transmitted data. The directive also establishes a cybersecurity safety review board, co-led by the homeland security secretary and a private-sector leader, to investigate significant incidents and publish security recommendations. The order  directs agencies to record cybersecurity data, seeks to improve information sharing on cyber threats between federal agencies, and creates a pilot program that would label software that meets security benchmarks, as well. ASD Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner argued that while the executive order helps improve information sharing and leverages the government’s buying power to push for more robust private industry security standards, it may not be enough to incentivize small and medium-sized businesses and jurisdictions to invest in cybersecurity.    

U.K. Foreign Secretary announced cyber assistance to developing countries: On May 12, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that the United Kingdom would invest £22 million ($31 million) to help developing countries improve their cyber defenses. As part of this package, the United Kingdom, in partnership with INTERPOL, will establish new cyber operations hubs across Africa to support efforts to combat cyber-crime. Raab said that this initiative is intended to bolster a “cyberspace that is free, open, peaceful and secure.” He also noted that the clash between “authoritarian and democratic states is playing out very directly, right now, in cyberspace,” and stated that democratic elections have become a “prime target” of malicious authoritarian cyber operations. Raab argued that Russia and others have a responsibility to go after cyber-criminal gangs operating within their borders. ASD’s Authoritarian Interference Tracker catalogues over 100 instances where Russia and China have used cyber operations to undermine democratic institutions and processes. 

In Case You Missed It

  • Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced legislation that would create a grant program to provide $500 million annually to state and local governments for cybersecurity needs. 
  • The ransomware group that disrupted U.S. gas deliveries reportedly said it lost access to its infrastructure and will cease operating a day after President Biden suggested that the U.S. government would take action against the group. 
  • Facebook lost a bid to block a European Union privacy decision that could prevent the platform from sending information about European users to U.S. computer servers. 
  • The U.K. government has put forward legislation that would fine social media firms that fail to quickly remove harmful content, sparking concerns of censorship.  
  • Chinese state media outlet Global Times said that Beijing will retaliate against Sweden’s ban of Chinese telecom firm Huawei by blocking the Swedish firm Ericsson from the next stage of China’s 5G buildout. 
  • A Russian-speaking ransomware group posted hundreds of pages of purported internal D.C. police documents, including raw intelligence on threats following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
  • A new investigation from network analysis company Graphika links Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman and associate of former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon, to a disinformation network that shared false election fraud claims, QAnon conspiracies, and anti-vaccine narratives.

ASD in the News

Tesla Faces Backlash in China from Viral Video, VOA. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

UK scores points with Washington on sanctions co-ordination, Financial Times. Comments from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Official Twitter account of Sputnik V manipulates information to target Western COVID-19 vaccines, DFR Lab. Cites ASD research

Building a New Defense Strategy, “Net Assessment.” Co-hosted by Co-Director Zack Cooper

Hakeri bloķē naftas vadu Teksasā (Hackers block oil pipeline in Texas), Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji. Interview with Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Quote of the Week

“We are not going to fact-check our way out of problems of trust. People believe these [false] claims because they trust the people who are making these claims, and they’ve also been conditioned to believe that anyone not making these claims and anyone on the other side is inherently untrustworthy.”

  • Renée DiResta, a disinformation researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory, told the New York Times 
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.