From June 14 to June 18, 2021, the German Marshall Fund will convene the 16th edition of Brussels Forum under the theme “Reimagining Democracy.” We will be joined by leading stakeholders from the United States and Europe for our discussions, including Kamala Harris, vice president of the United States of America, Josep Borrell, high representative for foreign and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of democratic Belarus. View the full speaker lineup—including ASD’s Kristine Berzina, Jessica Brandt, and Nad’a Kovalčíková—and register here.

Our Take

Authoritarians are fanning existing embers of intolerance and misogyny by targeting women in public life, condoning domestic violence, and launching culture wars around the LGBTQ community, Director Laura Thornton writes in the Washington Post.

Election officials faced doxxing and death threats in the wake of the 2020 election. State and local governments can take 10 steps now to retain election officials and ensure they are able to continue administering safe, secure, and transparent elections, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in a new report

If any connection is found between Russia and the forced diversion of Ryanair flight 4978 in Belarus, the EU should take tough measures against Russia to ensure the incident does not set a future precedent for autocrats, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina writes in an ASD blog post

President Biden put oligarchs and kleptocrats on notice by elevating anti-corruption to the center of U.S. national security strategy, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in an ASD blog post.

Subnational diplomacy can place limits on the Biden administration’s approach to China, but instead of stifling their voices, the Biden administration should enlist the assistance of state and local governments to advance U.S. national interests, China Analyst Bryce Barros and former Junior Fellow Jennifer Gurev write in Foreign Policy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media amplified domestic criticisms of Dr. Anthony Fauci following the release of his emails. They also leveraged both Fauci’s emails and the renewed attention on the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory to criticize mainstream media and social media censorship. In coronavirus coverage, Russian diplomats continued to promote Sputnik V, stating that Russia wants to share the vaccine with the world, in supposed contrast to other vaccine-producing countries. Monitored Russian accounts also highlighted Putin’s remarks at last week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which touched on Nord Stream 2, coronavirus vaccine access, and Russia’s foreign agent law.

Chinese diplomats and state media pounced on last week’s revelations that Denmark helped the U.S. National Security Agency tap the phones of various European leaders between 2012 and 2014, highlighting the “outrage” in Europe and questioning the scandal’s impact on the transatlantic “bond of trust.” Chinese state media and diplomats also used the incident to call U.S. initiatives against Chinese spying hypocritical and to argue that Huawei would help secure European countries from U.S. espionage. The Chinese network monitored on Hamilton 2.0 also attacked U.S. calls for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus and renewed conspiracies about the virus originating at the Fort Detrick research lab in Maryland. As usual, Chinese diplomats and state media continued their attempts to deflect and distract from criticism related to human rights abuses in Xinjiang.  

Iranian media monitored on Hamilton 2.0 were mostly consumed last week with coverage of and reactions to the first presidential debate. Hardline candidates focused on attacking moderate candidate Abdolnasser Hemmati and the Rouhani administration for mishandling the economy in the face of Western sanctions, with conservative politician Saeed Jalili continuing his line of attack on Twitter after the debate. Several candidates also complained on Twitter (which is banned in Iran) that the state-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting had required them to re-edit their campaign videos or to remove “sensitive” interviews from their websites. Finally, many in Iranian politics cheered the apparent downfall of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

President Biden puts anti-corruption effort at center of national security strategy: On June 3, President Biden issued a National Security Study Memorandum that establishes the fight against corruption as a core national security interest and orders multiple federal agencies to develop a report focused on addressing illicit finance. The report, which must be sent to the president within 200 days, will include recommendations to coordinate and resource agencies combating corruption; bring transparency to the U.S. and global financial systems; hold accountable corrupt individuals and organizations; and build international partnerships to counteract authoritarian efforts to undermine democratic processes through corruption. Last week, the Treasury Department also announced it had taken its “largest action targeting corruption to date” by imposing sanctions on three Bulgarians and 64 companies over alleged corruption, including an oligarch accused of attempting to establish a conduit for Russian political leaders to influence Bulgarian officials. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group in Congress launched the Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy to better coordinate on anti-corruption legislation. ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph argued that President Biden’s memo has laid the groundwork for what could be the most impactful anti-corruption effort in U.S. history.   

U.S. agencies take actions to defend against ransomware: The Justice Department announced on Monday that it had seized $2.3 million in bitcoin payments that Colonial Pipeline made to recover from a ransomware attack launched last month by the Russian-based cybercriminal group DarkSide. Federal investigators tracked the cryptocurrency payment as it moved through at least 23 separate accounts owned by DarkSide before it landed in an account that a federal judge allowed them to break into. Last Friday, FBI Director Chris Wray noted that the agency was investigating nearly 100 different types of ransomware, most of which have been linked to Russian hackers. The Justice Department also issued a memo urging federal prosecutors to coordinate ransomware investigations with the department. The White House said President Biden will raise the problem during a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16. ASD Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner argued that the Biden administration can improve its ability to deter cyberattacks by communicating more clearly with the public about who carried out attacks and how the U.S. government responded.

President Biden expands blacklist of Chinese military-linked companies: On June 3, President Biden signed an executive order broadening a Trump-era rule that prohibited U.S. investments in Chinese companies that support the Chinese military, adding firms that sell surveillance technology to the entities on the blacklist. The new order, which is slated to take effect on August 2, brings the total number of Chinese companies barred from receiving U.S. investments to 59. Many of the newly targeted companies are subsidiaries and affiliates of previously blacklisted companies, including two financing affiliates of Chinese telecoms firm Huawei. Biden’s order also moves authority for the blacklist from the Defense Department to the Treasury Department. Meanwhile, a report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission found that the Commerce Department is not doing enough to keep sensitive U.S. technology out of the hands of the Chinese military. An ASD task force report argues that U.S. technology companies and research institutions need to be careful not to unwittingly contribute to Beijing’s development of repressive technologies, some of which are later exported abroad.

In Case You Missed It

  • Facebook suspended former President Trump until at least January 2023 and announced new enforcement protocols for public figures’ accounts during times of civil unrest and ongoing violence.
  • Hart InterCivic became the first major U.S. voting machine vendor to announce it will incorporate Microsoft’s ElectionGuard digital ballot verification software into its machines.
  • The French government plans to establish an agency to defend against foreign disinformation ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential election. 
  • The Department of Justice seized two online domains that suspected Russian hackers used to launch a spear-phishing campaign by posing as the U.S. Agency for International Development.
  • Suspected Chinese government-linked hackers breached the computer systems of New York City’s transit authority in April, the New York Times reports.
  • Former President Trump and his attorney Rudolph Giuliani personally urged Arizona state lawmakers to conduct a partisan audit in Maricopa County.
  • Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pressured the Justice Department to investigate election fraud conspiracies in the final months of the Trump presidency. 

ASD in the News

Questions Linger About Jan. 6 Capitol Riot, Voice of America. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Treasury’s Role in Confronting Kleptocracy, Bribe Swindle or Steal podcast. Interview with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Strengthening the transatlantic relationship in response to Russia and China, EUROPEUM. Virtual event with Deputy Director David Salvo

Fanning the Flames: Foreign State-Sponsored Disinformation in the Time of COVID, Disinfo Cloud. Cites ASD research

Quote of the Week

“The fight against corruption offers the first opportunity in a generation to harmonize our domestic and foreign policy in service of American values.”

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) said on June 2.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.