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Our Take

RT Deutsch has become the most prominent media outlet on social media in Germany just weeks ahead of the country’s federal election on September 26, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina and Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer explain in Politico EU

Russia is attempting to interfere in Germany’s election, but officials can learn from the United States’ experiences and take steps to further safeguard the country’s election process, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and GMF Berlin Deputy Director Sudha David-Wilp write. Read their op-ed in German in Der Tagesspiegel.

Making ransomware payments illegal would eliminate one of the few options that victims have to recover their data and get back to work quickly, Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner argues in the Wall Street Journal.

The key ingredient to holding a smooth, credible election at any time, but particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, is trust, Director Laura Thornton writes in Civil Georgia.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media and diplomats amplified videos of the Taliban celebrating the end of the U.S war in Afghanistan, including scenes of a mock “funeral” for NATO and a parade displaying military equipment U.S. forces left behind. Russian state media also highlighted the Taliban’s crackdown on women and the media. Russia-backed messengers emphasized domestic criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and commentary on Afghan refugees resettling in the United States. Russian state-baked media covered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden by comparing U.S. support for Ukraine to the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and belittling Zelensky’s relevance. In addition, Russian state media and officials warned that Ukraine joining NATO would pose serious security risks to Moscow. In coronavirus coverage, Russian-backed media continued to promote the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine and called for an end to the politicization of pandemic recovery efforts, while amplifying rare complications from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. State-backed media also repeated messages about alternative coronavirus treatments,demonstrations against vaccine regulations in European democracies, and the use of ivermectin in the United States.

Chinese diplomats and state media again devoted much of last week’s messaging to Afghanistan, with state-backed outlets accusing the United States of murder and immaturity. There was also a noticeable tendency for cross-pollination between China, Russia, and Iran’s messaging on Afghanistan; Chinese officials fielded leading questions from Russian state-backed reporters during a press conference, and Beijing-linked media amplified Iranian state broadcaster Press TV’s coverage of the crisis. Chinese officials also praised the Taliban and bolstered the group’s claims that it is treating women fairly. In U.S. coverage, Chinese diplomats and state media sought to portray Americans as racist based on new FBI hate crime statistics. In European news, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee’s decision to elevate EU-Taiwan relations was met with predictable resentment from Chinese diplomats and state media. Finally, Chinese officials remained upset about the U.S. intelligence report on Covid-19’s origins last week, with several Chinese diplomats continuing to amplify conspiracies about Fort Detrick and a research lab at the University of North Carolina.

Last week, Iranian officials and state media continued to cite the U.S. failure in Afghanistan as evidence of a flawed U.S. foreign policy, with Iran’s former foreign minister arguing that the U.S. track record on foreign intervention shows it to be “not just illegal” but “suicidal.” Press TV, meanwhile, argued that the war in Afghanistan had been a boon for U.S. defense contractors who had lobbied for the conflict, while noting the large number of civilian casualties as a result of the war. Notably, Press TV also ran an interview with Mick Wallace, an Irish MEP, in which he criticized the war in Afghanistan and highlighted European hypocrisy over refugees. Tehran-linked media published several stories covering criticism of Biden by the families of servicemembers slain in the attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport, including the allegation that one had her Facebook account terminated over the criticism. Finally, new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi praised Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for his “leadership” and claimed the group’s “efforts of jihad” and “pure blood of martyrs have borne fruit.”

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Germany calls out Russia for cyber operations that could disrupt German elections: On September 6, German Foreign Ministry officials pressed Russia to halt increasing cyber operations against German politicians in the lead up to the country’s September 26 elections. Germany’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said a hacking group linked to the Russian military intelligence service, or GRU, known as Ghostwriter has been using phishing emails and other tools to target members of Germany’s federal and regional parliaments. Since February 2021, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has observed an uptick in phishing attempts against private email accounts of federal and state lawmakers and their staff. The attempts were mostly unsuccessful or insignificant; however, German officials warned the cyberattacks could be leveraged for hack and leak operations in which cyber criminals leak or publish stolen information that is manipulated or falsified to discredit individuals or parties. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and GMF Berlin Deputy Director Sudha David-Wilp argued that Germany is vulnerable to information manipulation before and after the election, but officials can take steps now to preserve trust in the electoral process. 

Ukraine commits to anti-corruption reforms during President Zelensky’s White House visit: U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky met at the White House to discuss an array of ongoing issues, including corruption, NATO membership, energy, and Russian aggression on September 1. The meeting resulted in commitments from Ukraine to implement anti-corruption reforms, including forming a new Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor and passing legislation to safeguard the authority of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine director. Ahead of the meeting, President Biden also pledged $60 million in military aid to Ukraine, and the Pentagon signed a “strategic defense framework” to facilitate security cooperation in the Black sea, cybersecurity, and intelligence sharing. ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph applauded Ukraine’s plans to overhaul its judicial sector to combat corruption and was hopeful that U.S. support will empower the Ukrainian government to take on powerful oligarchs. 

In Case You Missed It 

  • State GOP leaders in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin threw their support behind investigations looking into fraud or irregularities in the 2020 election similar to the ongoing audit in Arizona. 
  • A pro-China influence group attempted to use over 30 social media platforms and 40 websites and forums in at least seven languages to mobilize protests in the United States on covid-19 and racial injustice against Asian Americans.
  • News outlets known for posting misinformation on Facebook got six times the number of engagements compared to trustworthy sources between August 2020 and January 2021, a forthcoming study by researchers at New York University and the Université Grenoble Alpes finds
  • The FBI warned that Chinese authorities are using physical and digital techniques to intimidate and silence Uyghurs and Chinese dissidents based in the United States. 
  • A pro-Russian influence operation is targeting the comments sections of Western media outlets to spread propaganda and disinformation, according to a new report from Cardiff University.
  • Russian Internet censor Roskomnadzor threatened to fine Google and Apple for failing to remove an app created by opposition leaders encouraging voters to cast ballots against President Vladimir Putin’s party. 
  • Apple announced a delay in the rollout of its controversial software designed to flag child exploitation amid criticism over potential abuse by governments and law enforcement.
  • The United States sanctioned four Iranian intelligence operatives who attempted to kidnap a U.S.-based journalist and activist.
  • The media company behind Apple Daily ended operations amid anxieties stemming from Hong Kong’s controversial National Security Law.

ASD in the News

The subversion of elections and electoral institutions, ASD. Live Q&A with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Shoring up anti-money laundering supervision in Europe, Peterson Institute for International Economics. Virtual event with Non-Resident Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum

Did anyone win the “global war on terror”?, War on the Rocks’ Net Assessment. Co-hosted by Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“It’s impossible to avoid the grave conclusion that the sharing of cybersecurity threat intelligence today is even more challenged than it was for terrorist threats before 9/11.”

  • Microsoft President Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne wrote in an update to “Tools and Weapons.”
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.