The Kremlin employs disinformation operations to weaken its competitors overseas, to maintain influence in its own neighborhood, and to keep President Putin in power. ASD teamed up with the Bertelsmann Foundation to shine a spotlight on the Lugar Research Center in Tblisi, Georgia, as a case study in how Russian disinformation works and its capacity to undermine trust in government, institutions, and the transatlantic alliance. Watch the new animation here.

Our Take

China’s state-backed messengers are exploiting data voids in search engine results to promote the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus originated at Fort Detrick, Junior Fellow Elen Aghekyan and Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer find in a new analysis piece. The piece was featured exclusively in the Washington Post’s Tech 202

Last week YouTube removed RT’s German-language channels for violating the platform’s coronavirus misinformation policy. Over the past year, RT Deutsch has cultivated a sizable online audience by promoting content critical of vaccines and other public health measures, Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer explains in a blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian officials and state media last week focused on three main topics:

  • RT Deutsch’s YouTube: Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said YouTube had taken an “unprecedented act of information aggression” by removing RT’s German-language channels for spreading covid-19 misinformation. RT’s editor-in-chief argued the move was “a declaration of media war.”
  • Pandora Papers: Russian state-funded outlets highlighted details from the Pandora Papers that showed the United States’ vulnerability to illicit financing. Meanwhile, they circulated claims of innocence from Russians implicated in money launder schemes.
  • CIA and Assange: Kremlin-linked media framed the United States as hostile to journalists in their coverage of an investigation into alleged CIA discussions about kidnapping or assassinating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. 

Chinese officials and state media covered three main themes:

  • Return of Huawei CFO: Chinese diplomats and state media continued celebrating the return of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou, with some claiming her return illustrated China’s rise and the United States’ decline.
  • Military developments: Beijing-linked Twitter touted China’s arsenal of stealth fighters, drones, aircraft carriers, UAVs, and other weapons—ominous messaging in light of China’s massive intrusion into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone last weekend.
  • China’s governance model: Chinese government-backed accounts argued that their country’s system of governance represents a “whole-process people’s democracy” and denounced the dysfunction of U.S. democracy.

Iranian officials and state media primary focused on three topics:

  • Israeli troops in Azerbaijan: Tehran-backed accounts expressed concern and outrage about reports that Israel stationed troops in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani authorities denied these reports.
  • Biden critiques: Iranian state media amplified domestic U.S. criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the environment, and the infrastructure bill
  • Justice for Soleimani: Iranian press charged that a “secretive UK base” had been involved in the U.S. strike that killed General Soleimani. Officials committed to continue pursuing justice for Soleimani.

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Pandora Papers expose how the powerful hide their wealth: An investigation led by the  International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) based on 11.9 million leaked documents, entitled the “Pandora Papers,” provides insight into how politicians, monarchs, and corporate leaders shield their wealth from authorities through a network of lawyers, tax havens, and financial institutions. ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph broke down the implications of the leak for the Dispatch: “Although the leak is global, the financial secrecy abused by 35 world leaders and hundreds of corrupt politicians outlined in the Pandora Papers is distinctly ‘made in America.’ As such, a sweeping policy response to the vulnerabilities laid bare would center on regulating the professional enablers of corruption. My recently published research provides a roadmap for how to do that.” Josh told the Washington Post in original reporting on the papers that “it has become abundantly clear that our national interests are really dependent on keeping that kind of money out even if it’s not a financial crime.”

Top U.S.-EU officials pledge coordination on trade and tech to reset transatlantic alliance: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top U.S. officials committed to close coordination with their European counterparts on issues central to competition with authoritarian governments, including setting standards for emerging technologies, regulating artificial intelligence, combating human rights abuses, and tackling economic challenges, at the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh. ASD Research Analyst Etienne Soula shared his take with the Dispatch: “The fact that the meeting happened at all is already its own success after France lobbied to derail the talks over the loss of a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia. The commitments made lay the groundwork for the next round of talks, expected to take place in spring 2022, to yield more actionable deliverables in areas like technology standards and supply chain security, most notably for semiconductors.”

Advocates push EU lawmakers to help protect women from online abuse: Members of European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs on Thursday adopted recommendations on the Digital Services Act that would require platforms to remove revenge porn and other illegal content within 72 hours, but activists say amendments to the act should go further in making social media platforms address the ways in which their algorithms amplify gender-based violence against women. ASD Director Laura Thornton told the Dispatch, “Online gender-based violence is used as a tool to silence and intimidate womenbe they politicians, journalists, civic activists, or votersout of public life, perpetrating male exclusivity in our governance and decision-making. It is also a weapon authoritarians like to use to undermine democracy by exploiting traditional hierarchies (male above female) in order to keep society divided and thus less of a threat to their authority. Countries lose their democratic credentials if they fail to represent and protect more than half of the population.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen urged Congress to increase government regulation of Facebook after emphasizing that the platform intentionally prioritizes “profits before people.” 
  • Disinformation about voting system security is the “biggest vulnerability” in the U.S. elections system, Election Assistance Commission Commissioner Thomas Hicks said.
  • Senator Jon Ossof (D-GA) introduced a bill that would increase protections for election officials and prohibit threats to damage polling places, tabulation centers, and other election infrastructure. 
  • Singapore’s parliament passed a controversial law aimed at countering foreign interference in domestic affairs; critics say that the law could be used to crack down on dissent.
  • President Joe Biden announced a meeting with 30 countries later this month to increase cooperation on the threat of ransomware and address its impact on economic and national security. 
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has resulted in an estimated $385 billion in “hidden debt” for BRI recipient countries, a study out of the College of William and Mary’s AidData lab found

ASD in the News

Foreign money secretly floods U.S. tax havens. Some of it is tainted, Washington Post. Comments from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

‘Pandora Papers’ reveal financial secrets of the rich, Cheddar News. Interview with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Pandora Papers reveal extent of U.S. financial secrecy, Foreign Policy. Comments from Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Financial exposé reveals secrets of state politicians, public officials and celebrities, KCBS Radio. Interview with Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph

Cybersecurity 202: New Hampshire showed how to audit an election properly, Washington Post. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

The Four Horsemen of financial system corruption, Coda Story. Highlights Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph’s report Regulating the Enablers

Kristine Berzina on German Elections & Olaf Scholz, Julie Mason Mornings. Interview with Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

The Kremlin’s Big Tech Conundrum, EU vs Disinfo. Highlights Kristine Berzina, Corinna Blutguth, and David Metzger’s report Russia’s Media Reach and Coverage of Candidates in Advance of the German Federal Election 

In a surge of military flights, China tests and warns Taiwan, New York Times. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Snubbed by AUKUS, Canada, New Zealand Are Moving On, VOA News. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

This [election security] is a race without a finish line, it requires being vigilant perpetually, there is always going to be work that needs to be done. It is going to require a team effort to respond to and combat the scourge of misinformation and disinformation that we are facing.”

  • Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Election Security Initiative Geoff Hale told The Hill on October 2, 2021. 
Newsletter Sign Up

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