For our friends on the Hill: Join us on Thursday, June 24 from 1:00 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. EST for a briefing on combating China’s use of covert money to undermine democracy by ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph and China Analyst Bryce Barros. Register for the briefing here.

Our Take

The extent to which Russian and Chinese state-backed messengers mirrored and directly amplified each other’s talking points around President Biden’s Europe trip speaks to an increasing convergence in Russia and China’s information activities, Research Assistant Amber Frankland, China Analyst Bryce Barros, Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer, and Research Analyst Etienne Soula find in the latest Hamilton analysis blog post

ICYMI, last week, the German Marshall Fund convened the 16th annual Brussels Forum under the theme “Reimagining Democracy.” Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková led a conversation on how NATO member states can build up their democratic, societal, and economic resilience; Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt moderated a discussion on how the United States and Europe can overcome the authoritarian challenge; and Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner headed a panel on how to make cyberspace safe for democracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

The Russian state media ecosystem heavily covered the June 16 Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, including coverage of the meeting’s preparation, criticism of U.S. media’s supposedly low bar for Biden’s success, and critiques of the lack of Russian media at Biden’s post-summit press conference. State media and diplomats also highlighted Putin’s post-summit press conference. Coverage of last Monday’s NATO summit primarily involved promotion of Putin’s comments about the organization during his interview with NBC, which cast NATO as antagonistic towards Russia and a “Cold War relic.” Predictably, Russia state media continued its effort to tout the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and highlight safety concerns about Western vaccines. 

Chinese officials and state media reacted angrily last week to statements targeting China produced at the G7, NATO, and EU-U.S. summits. Much of the Chinese state media apparatus denounced the G7’s purported irrelevance, with one Chinese cartoon placing all G7 countries in a parody of Da Vinci’s last supper. NATO’s declaration that China presented “systemic challenges” to the alliance led some Chinese diplomats to stress the need for dialogue and cooperation and others to warn that China would not simply “sit back” in the face of perceived aggression. In reaction to the EU-U.S. summit, the Chinese Mission to the EU denounced the EU’s “Cold War mentality and bloc politics rhetoric.” Finally, Chinese state media and diplomats’ reactions to the Biden-Putin summit were relatively subdued and emphasized China and Russia’s close relationship. 

The Tehran-linked Twitter space last week was dominated by anticipation of, and then reactions to, the election of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi to the presidency. Turnout was seen as a key test of the legitimacy of the elections, and the supreme leader blasted U.K. and U.S. media for allegedly working to suppress it. Though Iranian media outlets like Fars and Tasnim claimed long lines and overwhelmed polling stations in some provinces, AP reported the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. In international coverage, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized NATO and the G7 in a generic statement, while describing Iran as an “anchor of peace and security in the region.”

Read the full report here. 

News and Commentary

Biden tells Putin certain sectors should be off-limits to cyberattacks: U.S. President Joseph Biden said that he gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure sectors that should not be targeted by cyberattacks during a meeting between the two heads of state in Geneva on June 16. A White House official told CyberScoop that Biden was referring to the 16 sectors designated as critical by the Department of Homeland Security, which include telecommunications, health care, energy, water, and financial services. A senior administration official said the proposal was focused on deterring “destructive” hacks, rather than conventional digital espionage, Reuters reports. The two leaders also agreed to have cybersecurity experts from each country begin consultations on acceptable behavior in cyberspace. Biden said that the United States will retaliate if Russia violates basic cyber norms. ASD Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner wrote that, while Putin likely has no interest in deviating from Russia’s existing cyber strategy, this summit was an opportunity for President Biden to adopt an assertive posture towards Russia and the cybersecurity threat it poses.

U.S. election officials face unprecedented threats, report finds: Nearly one-third of U.S. election officials have felt unsafe because of their job, and nearly one-fifth of those officials reported having been threatened because of their job, a report by the Brennan Center for Justice and the Bipartisan Policy Center found. The report, which includes a survey of 233 election officials, found that 78 percent of election workers believe disinformation has made their job more difficult, and it notes that there is growing partisan pressure to prioritize party interests over democratic processes. These interconnected challenges are making it harder to recruit and retain election officials, the report concludes. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine has laid out ten measures that state and local governments can take to help retain as many of their election officials as possible, including developing plans to protect election workers. 

In Case You Missed It

  • Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that servers inside Russia launched a hack-and leak-operation that targeted top Polish government officials. 
  • Germany’s interior ministry warned that the nation’s political parties and institutions are under “serious threat” of Russian cyberattacks in the leadup to September’s elections.
  • Suspected Iranian state-backed hackers have targeted Iranian dissidents with spying tools that mimic software regularly used by dissidents to secure their communications. 
  • The Senate unanimously confirmed former National Security Agency deputy director Chris Inglis as the first White House national cyber director.
  • The U.K. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report that found China is seeking to gain control over important international organizations to advance its interests.
  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) circulated draft bipartisan legislation to require critical infrastructure owners, cybersecurity incident response firms, and federal contractors to report hacks to the Department of Homeland Security within 24 hours.
  • The Australian Parliament is considering a bill that would require companies to notify the Australian Cyber Security Centre if they intend to pay a ransomware demand.
  • The Federal Communications Commission proposed additional restrictions on purchases of telecommunications equipment that pose national security risks, including from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. 

ASD in the News

What the Biden-Putin summit has to do with China, Deutsche Welle. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Ep 1: USC Election Security Podcast, USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative. Interview with Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

Ep 2: USC Election Security Podcast, USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative. Interview with Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner  

Ep 3: USC Election Security Podcast, USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative. Interview with Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner 

Bringing the fight against graft, Center for American Progress. Virtual event with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Baidena un Putina tikšanās Ženēvā. ASV attiecības ar citām valstīm (Meeting of Biden and Putin in Geneva. US relations with other countries), Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji. Interview with Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Eksperte: Baidena vizīte Eiropā – ļoti veiksmīga (Expert: Biden visit in Europe – a great success), Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji. Interview with Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Quote of the Week

“We must commit and recommit our democratic principles and lead by example. We must reinforce our democratic institutions to deliver real results and instill trust.”

  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said on June 15 at GMF’s Brussels Forum
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.