Announcements

Join ASD and GMF Berlin for an interactive event on foreign interference in Germany’s election with Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of the Interior Günter Krings (CDU), Bundestag Member Nils Schmid (SPD), Brookings’ Constanze Stelzenmüller, Open Society Foundations’ Daniela Schwarzer, and ASD’s Laura Thornton on Thursday, September 2 at 9:00 a.m. EDT / 3:00 p.m. CET. RSVP and choose to participate in a breakout session on Russian interference, Chinese interference, or gendered disinformation here.

Watch ASD’s Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine answer questions about the subversion of elections and electoral institutions in the United States live on Facebook on Friday, September 3 at 11 a.m. EDT / 5:00 p.m. CET.

Our Take

Annalena Baerbock has faced sexist allegations, smear campaigns, and more negative coverage than her male competitors in the race to succeed Angela Merkel. Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková and Melanie Weiser explain how malign actors use gendered disinformation to intimidate female candidates and weaken democracy in an ASD blog post.

A public-private partnership is essential to reaching solutions that address and bolster all aspects of U.S. cybersecurity, Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner said on CBS News.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian diplomats and state media focused on the suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport attributed to Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), giving regular updates on the damage, citing witness accounts, and interviewing the Taliban’s spokesperson. Russian state-backed messengers also highlighted reports of U.S. military equipment falling into Taliban hands, joked that the Taliban needs an “Idiot’s Guide to Flying a Blackhawk,” and emphasized the harsh conditions the group is imposing on Afghans. State media also continued to amplify bipartisan domestic criticism of President Joe Biden’s management of the withdrawal. In coronavirus coverage, Russian state media highlighted protests against pandemic-related policies in democracies and criticized the “media’s addiction” to allegedly spreading pandemic-related fears. Russian media also circulated details on alternative coronavirus treatments, like eating tomatoes injected with the virus. Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced over 4 billion people are now eligible to receive the Russian vaccine. 

Chinese diplomats, state media, and officials devoted much of last week to criticizing a U.S. intelligence community assessment on the origins of covid-19, with some arguing that scientists, not spies, should be conducting investigations into the virus and others claiming that U.S. intelligence agencies are unreliable and politicized. On top of the usual repetition of Fort Detrick-focused conspiracies, Chinese officials began promoting a conspiracy that connected covid-19’s origins to the University of North Carolina, which hosts one of two U.S. labs that study coronaviruses. On Afghanistan, Chinese state media accused the United States of enabling terrorism in the country and portrayed the U.S. withdrawal as the end of  “Western civilization.” Chinese leaders, diplomats, and state media also continued to promote the idea that the Taliban is building an “inclusive” government, but the deadly attack near Kabul airport split officials and diplomats. Lastly, Chinese officials and state media used Japan’s security talks with Taiwan to critique Japan’s history in China. 

Tehran-linked Twitter celebrated the appointment of Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a hardliner who was a strong supporter of Major General Qassem Soleimani. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs used the moment to emphasize its strong relations with neighbors, including Russia, China, and Turkey. Like the rest of the world’s media, Iranian media reported heavily on events in Kabul last week. Some stories were presented neutrally, but many were framed to blame the United States for the chaos. In some cases, state media alleged U.S. coordination with the Taliban or IS-K. Notably, state media accused CNN’s Clarissa Ward of failing to alert U.S. security forces after conducting an interview with a senior IS-K commander who spoke of an upcoming attack, which served as fodder for conspiracy theories suggesting that the United States was complicit in the attack. Iranian media, however, continue to maintain a wary attitude towards the Taliban.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Tech companies pledge billions to strengthen cybersecurity after meeting with Biden: Some of the biggest U.S. technology companies committed to investing billions of dollars to improve cybersecurity and build the nation’s cyber workforce, the White House announced following President Joe Biden’s meeting with executives on August 25. Microsoft and Google pledged to invest $20 billion and $10 billion, respectively, to integrate cybersecurity into products over five years. Microsoft also committed to establishing a $150 million fund for cybersecurity improvements at the federal, state, and local levels. IBM pledged to train 150,000 individuals in cybersecurity skills, including students from historically black colleges and universities, while Google committed to help 100,000 Americans earn cybersecurity certificates, and Code.org announced it will teach cybersecurity concepts to 3 million students in the next three years. The Biden administration also said it will collaborate with the private sector to develop a new framework for securing the technology supply chain. Separately, the White House launched the U.S. Digital Corps, a fellowship program designed to attract early-career technologists to government service in an effort to advance federal IT and cybersecurity goals. ASD Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner praised the developments from the White House meeting, while emphasizing the need to convince businesses, public sector organizations, and users to invest in risk reduction efforts.  

China taps civilian hackers to advance geopolitical goals: China’s premier intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security, is increasingly relying on private hackers to carry out espionage operations and disruptive cyberattacks that align with Beijing’s interests, the New York Times reports. These hackers operate with limited government oversight and mix traditional state-backed operations with operations for personal profit, including ransomware attacks. The New York Times suggests that cybercriminals associated with the Chinese government were behind some of Beijing’s most high-profile operations, including the 2015 hack of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that enabled China to access information on 20 million U.S. government employees. Earlier this year, criminal hackers working on China’s behalf exploited a Microsoft Exchange software vulnerability and collected data from tens of thousands of victims. NPR reported last week that the Exchange hack was designed to gather enough data to help advance Beijing’s artificial intelligence capabilities. ASD Research Assistant Joseph Bodnar argued that autocratic states’ partnerships with criminal hackers can undermine international stability by increasing the risk of miscalculation and accidents. 

In Case You Missed It 

  • The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol ordered 35 social media and telecommunications companies to preserve records related to the attack. 
  • Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich threatened to withhold state funding from Maricopa County if it refuses to comply with subpoenas issued by Republican state senators as part of their partisan 2020 election audit. 
  • Facebook plans to de-emphasize content on politics and current events in its News Feed as part of a gradual effort to make users’ experiences less contentious.
  • The Texas House advanced a GOP-backed elections bill that includes a series of voting restrictions, such as banning drive-thru and 24-hour voting.
  • The Justice Department forced Sing Tao Daily, a U.S. subsidiary of a major Chinese-owned newspaper, to register as a foreign agent after determining it was undertaking foreign influence operations. 
  • TikTok is finding it difficult to restrict the creation and amplification of extremist content on the platform, according to a new study from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.  
  • A German court ruled that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline must comply with EU regulations requiring owners of pipelines to be different from gas suppliers, potentially delaying the pipeline’s deliveries.
  • The Federal Communications Commission proposed a roughly $5.1 million fine against right wing operatives for hundreds of robocalls laden with false claims about mail-in voting ahead of the 2020 election. 

ASD in the News

La conspiració de Fort Detrick (The conspiracy of Fort Detrick), La Vanguardia. Comments from Research Analyst Etienne Soula

The diplomatic response of the United States and Europe to China, Radio Taiwan International. Interview with China Analyst Bryce Barros

Open Access to Data Is Critical in a Democracy, Centre for International Governance Innovation. Written by Non-Resident Fellow Heidi Tworek

Quote of the Week

“The reality is, most of our critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, and the federal government can’t meet this challenge alone. So I’ve invited you all here today because you have the power, the capacity and the responsibility, I believe, to raise the bar on cybersecurity.”

  • President Joe Biden remarked to a group of tech, education, and critical infrastructure industry leaders on August 25, 2021.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.