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Our Take

In stark contrast to the partisan review of the 2020 election in Arizona, the successful, bipartisan audit in New Hampshire was transparent, set procedures before the audit began, ensured proper chain of custody for election materials, and integrated election officials, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine explained in a Q&A with the American Enterprise Institute.

The first big move in President Biden’s fight against corruption should be regulating private investment funds, real estate title insurers, and art dealers, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in Foreign Policy. He details how the United States can regulate 10 groups of professionals who endanger national security by handling dirty money in a new report. 

Russian officials and state media used unfounded claims of U.S. interference in last week’s parliamentary elections to undermine the opposition, restrict Internet freedom, and falsely equate democracy promotion and democracy subversion, Research Assistant Joseph Bodnar writes in an ASD blog post

Russian accounts monitored on the German Election Dashboard covered Germany’s election campaign in an imbalanced way, targeting the Greens’ chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock with negative news more than her competitors from the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina and GMF’s Corinna Blutguth and David Metzger found ahead of Germany’s federal elections.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian officials and state media extensively covered the UN General Assembly (UNGA), with much of the coverage focused on the highlevel meetings Russian diplomats attended. Russian state media also used the occasion to criticize Biden’s speech as “shameful,” highlight when he misspoke, and elevate claims that the president is too close to China and uninterested in Ukraine. Ahead of the German election last weekend, Russian outlets gave favorable coverage to outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, but they pushed back on German and EU calls for Russian hackers to stop attempting to disrupt the German election. Otherwise, Russian coverage of the election was mostly factual. For the second week in a row, Russian state media used the fallout from the broken France-Australia submarine deal to highlight France’s discontent with allies and ask whether Paris should leave NATO. Finally, Russian diplomats and state-funded media highlighted protests against coronavirus restrictions and promoted the safety and efficacy of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. In a break from the norm, there was little negative coverage of Western-made vaccines.

Last week, Chinese diplomats and state media focused heavily on the release of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou after she reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government. Meng was given a hero’s welcome upon her return to China, and she played into the propaganda by thanking “the motherland” for being “a beacon of conviction.” State media and diplomats promoted the idea that Meng’s release was due to “a rising China.” Little coverage was devoted to the two Canadian researchers who were released hours after Meng. As was the case last week, Chinese officials and state media argued that the sale of nuclear submarines to Australia went against non-proliferation principles. But Chinese state messengers also used the incident to curry favor with France, criticize the United States, and highlight transatlantic divisions. Chinese officials and state media also condemned the United States over images of U.S. border agents mistreating Haitian migrants. Finally, the Chinese ambassador to the United States used Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy to argue that China has the best system of government thanks to its “whole-process democracy” that is all about “solving problems for a country’s own people.”

Iranian state-backed messengers continued to berate the AUKUS agreement for permitting a new nation to possess highly enriched uranium, which Iran views as hypocritical because of the international communities’ opposition to its own nuclear development. Iranian media generally cast the deal as U.S. and allied aggression aimed at Russia and China. They also tried to play up the severity of the split among allies, with one story proposing that this could be the start of a new Franco-Russian alliance. Iranian President Raisi harshly criticized U.S. foreign policy in his address to the UNGA, citing the January 6th  insurrection and the withdrawal from Afghanistan as evidence that the “U.S. hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country.” Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian followed up on Raisi’s speech by calling for “international action against unilateralism.” Press TV also ran numerous stories on the plight of Haitian immigrants at the U.S. border and amplified criticism that the White House faced from progressive politicians and advocacy groups. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Flawed AZ election review concludes, serves as model for other partisan efforts: On September 24, Cyber Ninjas, the Arizona Senate’s lead contractor to conduct the widely discredited “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results, released a three-volume report that confirmed that President Joe Biden won Maricopa County during the 2020 election. Although the report found no significant differences from the November results, Maricopa County election officials emphasized that the report is “littered with errors & faulty conclusions.” Former President Donald Trump, on the other hand, falsely claimed that the report concluded that he, not Biden, won Maricopa County and demanded that Arizona “immediately decertify their 2020 Presidential Election Results.” Several Arizona Republican lawmakers followed suit, calling on Arizona’s attorney general to open a formal investigation into the report’s results and continuing to circulate false claims. They will likely recommend legislation to change election laws in time for the 2022 midterms. Even though bipartisan experts have stressed that the review created security risks and undermined faith in U.S. elections, it has served as a blueprint for Trump supporters to replicate in critical states, including in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine emphasized that the ability to trust and abide by legitimate election results is central to U.S. democracy. 

Biden administration takes steps to bolster nation’s cyber defense: Last week, the Biden administration worked with Congress, critical infrastructure owners, and international allies to shore up the United States’ cybersecurity vulnerabilities. During a Senate hearing on September 23, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly signaled support for a mandate requiring critical infrastructure owners to report breaches to CISA. The House recently passed legislation requiring that breaches be reported to CISA within 72 hours, though legislation in the Senate could change that timeline. Top Biden administration cybersecurity officials also pushed Congress to pass legislation that would fine organizations that fail to report cyber breaches to the government, and the White House released voluntary guidelines that set baseline cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure owners. On the international front, President Joe Biden met with leaders from India, Australia, and Japan and committed to strengthening cybersecurity standards and coordination in cyberspace. The Treasury Department also issued its first sanctions against a cryptocurrency exchange for its role in laundering ransomware payments. ASD Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner praised the Biden administration for leading by example in its efforts to invest in cybersecurity at the federal level, but he urged the federal government to ensure that state and local jurisdictions also have the capacity to defend against cyberattacks. 

In Case You Missed It

  • The Social Democratic Party narrowly won last weekend’s German election, but it will take a significant amount of negotiating to establish a governing coalition and select Angela Merkel’s successor.
  • The Republican Party announced plans to appoint state election integrity directors and to expand poll watching and election litigation efforts for the 2022 midterms.
  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordered the secretary of state to investigate Facebook for “alleged election interference” in response to the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on the tech company.
  • The FBI withheld a ransomware decryption key, which could have prevented victims from paying millions of dollars in recovery costs, in an attempt to take down the servers of the Russia-based ransomware group REvil. 
  • Two major trade groups representing Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter sued the Texas attorney general over a new state law that bars social media companies from banning users over their political views.
  • The French government confirmed that the phones of five French cabinet officials contained traces of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.
  • Government leaders and politicians may use Twitter’s “safety mode” tool to silence dissent and limit information access, legal experts warned.
  • Lithuanian cybersecurity experts have urged government agencies and citizens to stop using Huawei and Xiaomi smartphones citing freedom of expression restrictions and cyber vulnerabilities.
  • State Department officials announced changes to expand the number of staff monitoring China’s procurement of emerging technologies and expanding global influence.

ASD in the News

How America Can Reliably Resist Ransomware, 1A WAMU. On-air discussion with Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

​​Poll: Voters polarized on election integrity, Jan. 6, Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Cybersecurity 202: Industry wants to rein in new hack reporting mandates, The Washington Post. Includes a tweet from Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

Ahead of German election, Telegram plays radicalizing role, Politico EU. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Russian disinformation campaigns change tack to get around western defences, The Financial Times. Comments from Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts and cites  “Russia’s Affront on the News: How NewsFront’s Circumvention of Social Media Bans Demonstrates the Need for Vigilance”

Elections expert, Sec. of State respond to allegations of election system data destruction, insecurity, KKCO-TV. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Federal election results for Edmonton-Mill Woods, a political scientists analysis of the election, and was it a fair and free election?, Shaye Ganam Show. On-air discussion with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Information Manipulation in the German Election Campaign: Lessons Learned, Latest Findings, and the Path Ahead, Alliance for Securing Democracy. Written by David Metzger

AUKUS nuclear submarine deal raises questions about India’s role in Quad coalition, Stars and Stripes. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“Cyberspace allows a global reach and efficiency of scale unrivaled in any other domain, meaning that our geopolitical competitors can have global reach and strategic effect and criminals and extremists can have wield an unprecedented level of impact and coercion.”

  • National Cyber Director Chris Inglis remarked during a Senate Homeland Security hearing on September 23, 2021.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.