Tune in on Thursday, October 28 at 10:00 a.m. EDT/ 4:00 p.m. CEST for a Facebook live Q&A with Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner on recent attacks on critical infrastructure, the allied takedown of REvil, and international efforts to combat ransomware attacks. RSVP here.

Our Take

Regardless of whether anyone believes China’s conspiracy theories that Fort Detrick or Maine lobsters are the source of the coronavirus, these narratives are muddying the truth and confusing people, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told NBC News

Both before and after Germany’s September elections, Russian actors attempted to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the elections by highlighting alleged irregularities in the election process, GMF researchers Corinna Blutguth and David Metzger find in their latest analysis of data from our German Election Dashboard.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • NATO: Russian diplomats and state-funded outlets disparaged NATO to justify the Kremlin’s move to close its mission to the alliance. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said relations with NATO are worse now than “in the harshest times of the Cold War.”
  • Taliban talks: Kremlin-backed media covered international talks with the Taliban held in Moscow last week, noting that Russia did not officially recognize the Taliban government but had pledged to give additional aid to Afghanistan.
  • Coronavirus: Russia’s trouble containing the coronavirus and the country’s new pandemic restrictions made state media headlines. Meanwhile, RT argued that Canada had descended into “covid totalitarianism” for imposing its own restrictions. 

Chinese diplomats and state-funded outlets last week focused on the following themes:

  • Taiwan-EU relations: Chinese diplomats condemned a European Parliament resolution advocating for closer EU-Taiwan cooperation, calling it an effort to “undermine China’s sovereignty.” 
  • Climate responsibility: Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying pushed back against the fact that China is the world’s largest polluter. 
  • NATO: Chinese state media closely covered Russia’s suspension of its NATO mission and relayed Russian officials’ accusations about the organization’s “aggressiveness” and Cold War” mentality.

Iranian officials and state media focused on the following topics:

  • Telegram: Press TV aggressively promoted its Telegram channel on Twitter last week. This follows the seizure of Press TV’s English-language website by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as the removal of its accounts on Facebook and YouTube. 
  • U.S. criticism: Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela accused the United States of creating al-Qaeda and ISIS, while Tehran-linked outlets attacked U.S. President Joe Biden for failing to follow through on campaign promises. 

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

U.S. and partners push ransomware gang REvil offline: Last week, the United States and governments from unnamed countries breached and pushed offline REvil, the cyber criminal group behind the JBS Foods, Colonial Pipeline, and Kaseya hacks. ASD Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner said, “This is a solid B+ effort by the U.S. government working in concert with its foreign allies and private-sector partners to disrupt a prolific ransomware group. However, a joint press conference announcement would have been a significant step in reassuring the public that the United States is serious about tackling cyber crimes, and an unambiguous warning to criminals that the government is willing to exercise its capabilities to disrupt malicious activity.”

Rule of law dispute intensifies between EU and Poland: The European Union threatened to withhold up to $46 billion in grants and loans to Poland on Thursday following Warsaw’s legal ruling that elements of EU law are incompatible with the country’s constitution. Meanwhile, the European Parliament is preparing a lawsuit against the European Commission for failing to implement a rule that allows the EU to withhold funds from member states that violate the rule of law. ASD Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina told the Dispatch, “Three major questions are at the heart of this dispute. First, is Poland committed to democracy and key principles of governance including the role of law and independent judiciary? Will the opinion of the citizens matter to the Polish government when no election is in sight? And lastly, can the EU wield effective mechanisms to get a member state back on a democratic track?”

Florida election officials ask politicians to stop inflaming conspiracies: A bipartisan group of  election officials from all 67 Florida counties issued a memo asking lawmakers to condemn incendiary “false claims” of election fraud and to “commit themselves to the goal of fighting falsehoods.” ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Our democracy, including our election processes, is likely to remain under siege until overwhelming numbers of elected officials across the political spectrum at all levels of government reject election conspiracies and stand up for free and fair elections.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • Facebook employees repeatedly warned managers of the platform’s failure to moderate inflammatory content and misinformation in developing countries, leaked Facebook documents revealed.  
  • Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, was convicted of campaign finance charges for funneling a Russian tycoon’s money into U.S. campaigns. 
  • Amnesty International announced it will close its Hong Kong offices, becoming the first major international non-governmental organization to depart the city over concerns related to Hong Kong’s National Security Law. 
  • The Department of Commerce released a rule aimed at preventing the sale of offensive cybersecurity software made in the United States to countries that use these tools to undermine human rights.
  • The State Department announced plans to create a new bureau of cyberspace and digital policy that will be led by a Senate-confirmed ambassador at-large and a separate special envoy for critical and emerging technology. 
  • Unknown hackers disrupted gas stations and defaced digital billboards across Iran on Tuesday.

ASD in the News

How China spreads misinformation around the world, NPR. Interview with Senior Fellow Bret Schafer

Commerce Department rule to limit sale of offensive cyber tools to China, Russia, CyberScoop. Comments from Cybersecurity Fellow Maurice Turner

Reaction to decision removing Mesa Co. Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters (R) as designated election official, KKCO 11 News. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Cleaning Up the Mess of Post-Trump China Strategy, Foreign Policy. Written by China Analyst Bryce Barros

China’s Hypersonic Missile Capabilities Stun America: ‘We Could Lose a War’ CBN News. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

‘Strategic Ambiguity’ on Taiwan apparent as White House walks back Biden comments, VOA News. Comments from Co-Director Zack Cooper

Quote of the Week

“Authoritarian leaders are increasing their pressure on free media, upgrading and sharing their repressive tactics and acting with impunity.” 

  • President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jamie Fly said during a Helsinki Commission briefing on October 20, 2021.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.