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Join GMF for a conversation with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, moderated by ASD’s Kristine Berzina and GMF’s Jonathan Katz, on Friday, September 17 at 9:30 a.m. EDT/ 3:30 p.m. CET. Register here.

Co-Director Zack Cooper will discuss new rules in the global tech race at Politico’s inaugural tech summit. Tune in on Wednesday, September 15 at 11:20 a.m. EDT/ 5:20 p.m. CET.

Our Take

Policymakers should not wait for a cyber 9/11 or digital Pearl Harbor before making an immediate change in U.S. cybersecurity investment strategy and international deterrence doctrine, Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner argues in an ASD blog post.

The United States, Europe, and Japan should increase cooperation on economic issues to improve allied capacity to respond to China’s economic coercion campaigns, Co-Director Zack Cooper said on GMF’s Out of Order.

Follow us on Twitter for more quick takes @SecureDemocracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian state media outputs focused on Afghanistan, amplifying critiques of the West’s role in the country and criticizing the Taliban’s suppression of women’s rights and brutal crackdowns against journalists. Russian state media also devoted significant coverage to the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks with predictable criticism of U.S. foreign policy. State media continued to attack President Biden on multiple fronts by amplifying former president Trump’s criticism of Biden and promoting videos on Biden’s “plummeting” approval ratings and mental fitness. Russian state media also devoted significant attention to China this week—echoing Beijing’s talking points about naming conventions related to Taiwan, its influence in Afghanistan, and its social policies being more attractive than those offered in the West. Chinese diplomats last week provided significant coverage of Belarus by providing commentary on the joint announcement that Russia and Belarus plan to develop a Union State and the joint Zapad 2021 military exercises. Finally, RT published a video and posted several tweets promoting the possibility of Frexit, a French exit from the European Union, perhaps a harbinger of things to come with France heading into an election year in 2022.

Last week, Chinese diplomats and state media continued to use the situation in Afghanistan to contrast supposed differences in U.S. and Chinese foreign policies. Content referenced the Taliban’s takeover of U.S. military equipment, highlighted the killing of civilians in an August 29 U.S. drone strike, and discussed the impact of the 20-year war. These narratives continued in China’s coverage of the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In contrast, diplomats and state media consistently presented China as a proponent of peaceful multilateralism, a provider of economic aid and prosperity, and a key player in Afghanistan, and reaffirmed China’s support for the Taliban. State-backed messengers also turned to Taiwan, reacting angrily to a statement by Japan’s deputy defense minister and, after a call between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, insisting that Taiwan is “the most important and most sensitive issue in China-US relations.” Again in direct contrast, the most viewed Chinese state media video on YouTube last week featured a Russian reporter reminiscing a 2013 interview with Xi, insisting on “the depth of his knowledge” and “strong decision-making and critical thinking skills.” Finally, in his Monday press conference last week, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin cited Swiss epidemiologist Christian Althaus as lauding China’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak in late 2019.

Last week, Supreme Leader Khamenei praised two Iranian warships that had spent the past several months voyaging around the Cape of Good Hope and up to the Baltic Sea to participate in a naval parade in St. Petersburg. Government statements and press coverage emphasized the technical sophistication that the “epic Atlantic voyage”—the farthest ever for the Iranian navy—demanded. Press TV reported that a witness for the prosecution in former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial was killed in a plane crash and blasted Israeli authorities for the slow progress of getting vaccines to Palestinians. Press TV also held a “debate” on whether the United States remains a superpower given the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan. In a since deleted tweet, they also seemed to compare the situation on Iran’s border with Afghanistan to that of the U.S. border with Mexico. Finally, Iranian press covered Nancy Pelosi’s comments expressing concern for a Saudi activist.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Law enforcement provides little support to election workers facing disinformation-driven harassment: Law enforcement has failed to provide meaningful support to election officials who face unprecedented levels of harassment driven by false claims of election fraud, according to a recent Reuters report. The report identified “a sustained campaign of intimidation” and an “unprecedented torrent of terroristic threats” against election officials, staff, and their families weeks before and after the 2020 U.S. election. Local law enforcement often struggles to identify suspects who conceal their identities and determine credibility when prosecuting suspects. The Justice Department has also acknowledged law enforcement’s inadequate responses to threats against election officials even as elections loom, including Tuesday’s recall election in California. In response, federal and state lawmakers have introduced tougher legislation criminalizing the intimidation, harassment, or coercion of election workers, and the Justice Department announced a task force to combat threats against election workers. Lawyers from the Bush and Obama administrations also launched the bipartisan Election Official Legal Defense Network to provide pro-bono legal aid to election workers facing harassment and increasingly stringent election laws, which leave them vulnerable to harsh legal persecution for potential mistakes. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine has underscored the need for state and local governments to develop plans to provide all election officials with more enhanced safety training, legal strategies, and security protocols.

Pro-China influence campaign attempted to physically mobilize protests in the United States: A network of fake social media accounts linked to pro-China operatives exploited social divisions in an effort to physically mobilize protestors in the United States, Mandiant Threat Intelligence and Google found, marking a potential shift in China’s information manipulation tactics. The campaign, which was initially created to discredit pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, has since expanded to promoting critiques of U.S. global leadership and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in at least seven languages on more than 30 social media platforms and across 40 websites and forums, urging Asian Americans to protest racial injustice and coronavirus origin theories. In April, the campaign instructed people to show up outside the New York City homes of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and others who promoted the theory that the coronavirus was manufactured in a Chinese lab. Despite the fact that the protests appear not to have taken place and engagement with the network remains low, experts warn that China may be emulating Russia’s more successful efforts to mobilize Americans during the 2016 U.S presidential campaign. ASD China Analyst Bryce Barros argued that the campaign demonstrates that China has taken a page from Russia’s playbook and has the resources to continue these kinds of information operations.

In case you missed it

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder spread baseless election fraud claims ahead of any ballots being reported in the California recall election.
  • Apple issued an emergency security patch after researchers detected an operating system flaw allowing hackers—believed to be the NSO group—to infect a Saudi activist’s devices without any user action.
  • Conservative media and some Arizona republican politicians circulated a report that falsely claimed that the 2020 election in Maricopa County is “uncertifiable” because thousands of votes were “lost.”
  • The United Nations confirmed that unknown hackers gained access to the UN network by purchasing employee login information from the dark web to steal data from targeted agencies.
  • The Federal Election Commission issued two rulings that protect social media and tech companies’ ability to regulate election-related content shared on their platforms.
  • German prosecutors raided the federal finance and justice ministries to investigate the anti-money laundering agency’s alleged failure to act on money-laundering warnings.
  • Capitol Police and Congressional leaders are bracing for a potentially violent rally scheduled for September 18 after observing an uptick in violent online discussions supporting rioters jailed for their roles in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
  • Facebook has built a system, known as XCheck, that exempts high-profile users from the company’s normal regulations, allowing them to post rule-violating material without punishment, including content that fact checkers have deemed false.
  • Google provided user data to the Hong Kong government in response to local authorities’ requests despite claiming that it would not respond to city authorities’ requests for user information after the passage of the national security law last year.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro temporarily banned social media platforms from removing content, including posts that claim vote rigging will cost him next year’s elections.
  • Voting machines with upgraded security features, including voting data and technology encryption, will not be widely used until the 2026 U.S. elections or later, election vendors told the Election Assistance Commission.

ASD in the News

Iran’s disinformation ecosystem: A snapshot, Selected Wisdom. Written by Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts

A gaping loophole: dirty money fight still unfinished 20 years after 9/11, Financial Times. Comments from Non-Resident Fellow Josh Kirschenbaum

What the U.S. Has Learned About Fighting Terror Since Sept. 11, Bloomberg. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Want to vote on your phone? Election experts want to make it happen, The Fulcrum. Cites Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

Tunne vaalirahoittajasi – hämärä raha sekoittaa politiikkaa ja uhkaa demokratiaa (Know your election financier – obscure money confuses politics and threatens democracy), Ulkpolitiikka (Finnish Foreign Policy Magazine). Cites Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph’s report Covert Foreign Money

Quote of the Week

“Democracy prevailed in 2020 because people stood up and demanded that it did, and it will prevail in the future if we do the same thing,”

  • Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson remarked to a group of students at the University of Michigan Law School on September 13, 2021.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.