Our Take

The United States is failing to regulate the U.S.-based professionals who continue to enable national security threats by handling dirty money through secret channels. It’s time to regulate the enablers, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph argues in a new report. The White House, Treasury, and Congress should roll out a sweeping regulatory program to impose rules on up to 10 groups of professionals, including lawyers, covert PR firms, and accountants. 

Russian state-backed messengers used the situation in Afghanistan to stoke fears of mass migration to Europe ahead of Sunday’s German elections, GMF researchers Corinna Blutguth and David Metzger find in their latest analysis of data from our German Election Dashboard.

Auditing an election is about “trust but verify.” But some of the efforts we’ve seen by private actors to review aspects of the 2020 elections are about “don’t trust, and don’t verify,” Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said during a live Q&A

ICYMI, we hosted an event on information manipulation in Germany’s federal election with Member of the Bundestag Nils Schmid (SPD), Parliamentary State Secretary Prof. Günter Krings (CDU), ASD Director Laura Thornton, and other experts on German politics and disinformation. Get up to speed ahead of Sunday’s election: watch the recording here.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian government officials and state-backed outlets focused heavily on Russia’s parliamentary elections, which saw the ruling United Russia party maintain its majority amid apparent instances of ballot rigging. In addition to claims of the elections’ security and legitimacy, Kremlin-linked messengers accused the United States of election interference. These assertions centered around Apple and Google’s temporary resistance to removing a Russian opposition-created voting app from their stores. Russian officials and state media also claimed the United States tried to disrupt the election via a cyberattack. At the same time, Kremlin-linked Twitter extensively covered the fallout from Australia’s decision to renege on a submarine deal with France and instead work with the United States and the United Kingdom. Russian accounts amplified commentary from outraged French officials and encouraged France to leave NATO. Afghanistan coverage dropped last week, but Russian state media did circulate standard criticism of the U.S. role in the country. Finally, coronavirus messaging remained consistent with past coverage, with content disparaging Western vaccines, praising Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and highlighting protests of pandemic restrictions. 

Last week, Chinese diplomats argued that a new initiative to strengthen security ties between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia represented a threat to peace in the Indo-Pacific and undermined international non-proliferation efforts. The Global Times warned that the agreement “potentially [made] Australia the target of a nuclear strike,” while a CGTN host cautioned Taiwan against making similar alliances. Chinese state media and diplomats repeated the idea that the United States had stabbed its ally France in the back by making the deal with Australia. Chinese state-backed commentators argued the incident sparked “a crisis of trust between Western allies” and suggested the rift could “permanently change NATO.” Meanwhile, Chinese officials and state-backed outlets’ Afghanistan coverage included attacks on the United States for covering up civilian deaths in the country and enriching itself off  the war. Chinese diplomats also shared a video of Julian Assange claiming that the war in Afghanistan was initiated for the purpose of U.S. “money laundering.”

Former Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif blasted the “US, UK, Australia, and France – all self-proclaimed champions of non-proliferation” for their participation in a submarine agreement that he deemed a “SERIOUS PROLIFERATION THREAT.” (France, of course, is not participating in the deal). Meanwhile, Fars News amplified the most hostile exchanges between the Australian and French diplomatic and defense establishments. Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Abbas Salehi continued to harshly criticize the Taliban on Twitter this week, though most in the Iranian media and government have taken a more ambivalent or “wait-and-see” approach. Most stories focused on harm done by the U.S. occupation or withdrawal or on the ways in which Iran is helping the Afghan people. Finally, Iranian diplomats and state media promoted Iran’s acceptance into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a political, economic, and security alliance covering much of Central Asia whose members include China and Russia

 Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Pennsylvania Republicans risk voter data in latest disinformation-driven 2020 election review: On September 15, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania voted to subpoena a wide range of voter data, including the names, dates of birth, last four digits of social security numbers, and voting methods of millions of Pennsylvania voters to check “whether or not they exist.” Shortly after, Democratic lawmakers in the state filed a lawsuit arguing that publicly disclosing some of the requested data would be illegal. Pennsylvania Republicans have yet to select a firm to conduct the election review, but experts note that handing over voter data to a private company may endanger voter information. These concerns come on the heels of the partisan “audit” of the 2020 election results in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which is led by a firm that has repeatedly mishandled voter data. Lawmakers in other swing states, including Wisconsin and Georgia, have also faced pressure to investigate the 2020 election results despite an overwhelming consensus among election officials, judges, and experts that the election was secure. ASD’s Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine emphasized that election audits that are done professionally, transparently, and consistently should be used to preserve voter trust in the electoral system, while audits conducted by under-qualified, partisan coalitions undermine trust. 

Facebook knows its numerous flaws but takes little action: New reporting from the Wall Street Journal reveals that Facebook is aware of its harmful flaws but has been unable or unwilling to fix them. The investigation highlights Facebook’s content moderation exemptions for millions of high-profile users and continued embrace of an algorithm that company leaders know rewards false and divisive content. The Wall Street Journal’s reporting also describes Facebook’s inability to combat coronavirus misinformation and Instagram’s toll on teenage women’s mental health. Although internal company documents reveal Facebook employees and executives knew about these flaws from internal research teams, the company continued to ignore, downplay, or suppress troubling research findings. In response to the investigation, Facebook acknowledged its trouble addressing “safety and security challenges,” but the company emphasized its recent progress in those areas. Since the release of the reports, Facebook has come under pressure from legislators, and the Facebook Oversight Board, an independent content moderation panel, has launched a review of the platform’s policies. Former ASD Program Manager and Analyst Bradley Hanlon argued that a lack of federal oversight of social media platforms has created a self-regulating environment that does not sufficiently hold platforms accountable for harmful behavior.

In Case You Missed It

  • German officials continued to call on Russia to stop carrying out cyber operations that may be used to interfere in the German elections this weekend. 
  • Former President Trump’s 2020 campaign knew that allegations of widespread vote tampering were untrue before lawyers affiliated with the campaign promoted the claims, court documents show.
  • Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their online stores on the first day of voting in Russia’s parliamentary elections. 
  • The FBI ramped up investigations into threats against election officials, which have increased as a result of disinformation about the 2020 election result.   
  • The Russia-linked ransomware group BlackMatter attacked an Iowa-based grain cooperative and is demanding $5.9 million to unlock the organization’s data.  
  • Hong Kong police forced a prominent pro-democracy activist group to delete its online presence under the controversial National Security Law. 
  • The Treasury Department plans to implement sanctions against hackers using digital currency to profit from ransomware attacks and issue guidance to businesses on the risks of facilitating ransomware payments.  
  • China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CTPP) to boost economic clout in the region.
  • The EU announced the launch of “Global Gateway,” which will compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative in infrastructure investments around the world.
  • Three former U.S. intelligence officers hired by the United Arab Emirates admitted to hacking crimes and violating U.S. restrictions on transferring military technology to foreign governments.  

ASD in the News

Critics Warn of Apple, Google ‘Chokepoint’ Repression, AFP. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Harassed and Harangued Poll Workers Now Have a New Form of Defense, The New York Times. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

The Latest Partisan Audit is Risking Voter’s Personal Data, Washington Post. Comments from Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

From COVID conspiracies to rigged voting machines, misinformation plagues the election, Vancouver Times. Comments from Deputy Director David Salvo

Allies must stand up to trade bullies, The Australian Financial Review. Op-ed written by Co-Director Zack Cooper

Lithuania on the Frontlines: A Conversation with Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, GMF. Virtual event moderated by Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Biden’s struggles with China and Europe invite unwelcome Trump comparisons, Washington Examiner. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

‘MAJOR STEP’: Australia’s groundbreaking move to counter China, Yahoo News. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

US, UK, Australia announce ‘historic’ military partnership in move likely to anger China, South China Morning Post. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Muscling Up: Australia’s Nuclear Sub Plan, ABC Australia. Interview with Co-Director Zack Cooper

‘Peace in our region’: US strikes deal to expand military presence in Australia, Washington Examiner. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

A Rahm Emanuel is Exactly What Japan Wants, Asia Scholars Say, Defense One. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“In the high stakes battles between governments and tech companies, human rights are the main casualties.”

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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.