Our Take

Democracies need to reckon with the fact that their internal systems can hinder real progress in curbing strategic corruption, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in Foreign Policy.

Whether the United States can adequately administer the 2022 midterm elections could go a long way toward determining its ability to defend democracy at home and abroad, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine warns in GMF’s What to Watch in 2022

Events unfolding in Kazakhstan serve as a stark reminder both that volatility in energy prices can quickly lead to political instability, and that Russia uses political instability within its neighbors to exert greater control over them, Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg writes in a new piece on the ways autocrats use energy exports as a political weapon.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Kazakhstan: Russian propagandists launched a high-volume messaging campaign around unrest in Kazakhstan, including highlights of violence, claims of foreign interference, and reports of Russian troops restoring stability.
  • Ukraine: Kremlin-linked outlets sought to lower expectations for U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia talks happening this week, while continuing to frame NATO as an aggressive actor threatening Russian interests.
  • Jan. 6: Russia state-funded outlets both live tweeted U.S. President Joe Biden’s speech on the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection and elevated right-wing conspiracies about the insurrection. 

Chinese diplomats and state media last week focused on three main subjects:

  • Jan. 6: Chinese officials and state-backed media used the anniversary of the Capitol insurrection to portray the United States as polarized, demoralized, and in a state of democratic decline.
  • Kazakhstan: After initially limiting comments on the Kazakhstan crisis, Chinese officials claimed that the protests were a “color revolution” fomented by “external forces.”
  • Lithuania: Chinese propagandists continued to push back on Lithuania’s moves to strengthen ties with Taiwan, including by claiming the United States is Lithuania’s puppet master.  

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

Cyber Ninjas to shut down amid rising legal fees and debt: On January 7, Cyber Ninjas, the firm that conducted the discredited review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results, announced it will close down after county officials released a report rebutting concerns over the election process and a judge ordered the company to pay $50,000 a day in fines for failing to turn over public records. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Cyber Ninjas’ stint in the elections space may have been short-lived, but the impact of its widely derided review of Maricopa County Arizona’s 2020 presidential vote could have far-reaching implications in both the near and long-term. It was just over a year ago that many protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol believing that they were saving the U.S. from an election that they falsely believed was stolen. Our country remains just as deeply divided today over the results of the 2020 elections as it did back then, in no small part because of deficient post-election reviews like the one carried out in Maricopa County by Cyber Ninjas. One can only hope that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ detailed rebuttal of Cyber Ninjas’ claims begins to restore voter confidence amongst the 2020 deniers.”

China tightens grip of Big Tech’s use of algorithms: The Cyberspace Administration of China, China’s cyberspace watchdog, finalized new rules that will allow users to turn off algorithmic recommendations on apps and give users the ability to see and delete key words that algorithms use to target them. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Dispatch, The Chinese Communist Party’s track record of using internet governance to control its population has led to justifiable skepticism of the motives behind any tech regulation advanced by China; however, the push to give users more control over recommendation algorithms is not entirely out-of-line with regulations proposed in the West. It will therefore be interesting to see what effect these rules will have on efforts to regulate algorithms outside of China’s borders.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • President Biden emphasized the need to pass voting rights legislation to secure elections during a visit to Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, citing the January 6 insurrection as a key turning point for U.S. democracy. 
  • The United Kingdom remains a top destination for kleptocrats’ wealth, including Kazakhstan’s ruling elite, despite a 2016 pledge to end secret offshore property ownership.
  • The leader of Poland’s ruling conservative party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, admitted that the country purchased spyware from Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, but denied allegations that it was used to target political opponents. 
  • Intel removed references to Xinjiang from an open letter to its suppliers after it faced social media backlash for previously calling on partners to avoid sourcing from the region. 
  • Sweden established a Psychological Defense Agency to identify and combat fake news and foreign interference ahead of this year’s national elections.  
  • Hackers took down some of the most popular websites of one of Portugal’s leading media conglomerates, Grupo Impresa, and sent fake news messages to subscribers.

ASD in the News

Why Jan. 6 isn’t over. Director Laura Thornton quoted in Christian Science Monitor 

Restoring Trust in Our Elections A Year After January 6th. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson

Far-right extremists shift online strategies. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Hill

People who believe Trump’s election lies are running for offices that control voting. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered

Don’t mess with Texas (election results). Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in The Washington Post

US delays intelligence center targeting foreign influence. Deputy Director Dave Salvo quoted in Associated Press

Pandora Papers caps off 2021 with consequences felt around the globe. Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph quoted in International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Some Social Media Sites Don’t Mind Being Home to Misinformation. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Newsy

What’s In & What’s Out for election administration in 2022. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine contributed to this piece in Election Line

China conducts live-fire drills after Blinken condemns ‘Beijing’s aggressive actions’ in South China Sea. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Washington Examiner

Quote of the Week

“We can begin to strengthen democracy through more transparency and accountability in the digital realm, and an honest consideration of how our rights translate online and how we can protect them there.”

  • ASD Advisory Council member Marietje Schaake wrote in the Financial Times on January 10, 2022. 
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.