Our Take

The United States should enlist domestic and international nonpartisan election monitors to help restore public trust in the election process, Director Laura Thornton argues in The Fulcrum. 

Early this month, Russian diplomats and state media tweeted about Kazakhstan 3,210 times—making this the first time Russia’s messengers mentioned a country more than Russia itself over a weeklong stretch, Research Assistant Joseph Bodnar and Senior Fellow Bret Schafer explain in a Foreign Policy exclusive. 

Are Russia and China coordinating information campaigns, or is their symbiotic messaging a matter of opportunism and interest alignment? Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts explores on ASD’s Interference Matters blog.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Diplomacy: Russian officials said last week’s diplomatic meetings with the West were “unsuccessful” and warned that Moscow’s “patience has come to an end.”
  • Denials: Russian diplomats and propaganda outlets denied U.S. accusations that Moscow had planned a false flag attack in Ukraine, and they pushed back against claims that Russian hackers defaced Ukrainian government websites.
  • Nord Stream 2: Kremlin-linked media followed a U.S. Senate vote to reject sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and highlighted statements from German policymakers defending the energy project.

Chinese diplomats and state media last week highlighted three topics: 

  • U.S. criticism: Three of the ten most retweeted posts by Chinese propagandists last week were about U.S. abuses of Native Americans. Chinese officials also criticized U.S. interventionism and Islamophobia.
  • Kazakhstan: Chinese state-funded media praised Russia for establishing order in Kazakhstan, extolled Sino-Russian unity during the unrest, and disparaged U.S. media coverage of the demonstrations.
  • Huawei: Multiple Chinese diplomats amplified a claim by former U.K. business secretary Vince Cable that the United Kingdom only banned Huawei because of U.S. pressure.

Read the full report here. 

News and Commentary

U.S. warns of false-flag operation as Russia targets Ukraine with disinformation and cyber operations: U.S. officials warned that Russia is poised to carry out a “false-flag operation” in eastern Ukraine to fabricate a cause for invasion, amid speculation that the Kremlin is responsible for a cyberattack that installed malware across several Ukrainian government networks. Deputy Director David Salvo said,It would be unsurprising if Russia carried out a false-flag operation, as the Kremlin needs to justify this sad misadventure to its own population. What better way to do so than to invent more threats coming from the West?”

Senate rejects bill to sanction Nord Stream 2: On January 13, the Senate rejected a bill sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would have imposed sanctions on businesses responsible for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a measure the Biden administration has opposed for fear of damaging relations with Germany. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina told the Dispatch,Congress and the administration should not ease pressure on Russia or this pipeline. It will be easy for Moscow to paint the rejection of Cruz’s bill as a victory. Congress and the administration should make clear that even if Russia does not invade Ukraine, its ongoing energy blackmail in Europe is unacceptable, and other measures are coming.”

Jan. 6 Committee subpoenas four big tech firms: Last week, the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol issued subpoenas to Twitter, Meta, Reddit, and Alphabet for information on their roles in allegedly spreading election-related misinformation and extremist content in the lead up to the insurrection and steps taken to prevent the spread of such content. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said, “Beyond access to the public and private communications of those involved in instigating January 6, the committee is also likely interested in the companies’ internal assessments of the threat of violence posed by groups and individuals pushing election misinformation, algorithmic amplification of that misinformation, and whether specific threats were communicated to law enforcement. The need to issue subpoenas suggests that the companies have, to date, been unwilling to fully comply with those requests.”

In Case You Missed It 

  • The United Kingdom’s domestic security agency, MI5, warned lawmakers that a Chinese agent allegedly attempted to interfere in Parliamentary activities on behalf of the Chinese government.
  • Director of National Intelligence Avril D. Haines appointed an official to oversee efforts to counter foreign election interference, as congressional debate stalls over the size and funding of a foreign malign influence center. 
  • U.S. Cyber Command said the MuddyWater hacking group is part of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and has been behind cyberattacks in Europe, the Middle East, and North America. 
  • Cambodia’s new law routing all internet traffic through a government portal to monitor content is similar to China’s authoritarian model of internet surveillance, the New York Times found
  • A network of charities funneled almost $65 million into pro-Beijing platforms that downplayed or denied China’s human rights violations against Uyghur and Turkic Muslim minorities.
  • A Wisconsin judge ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes cannot be used in the state.

ASD in the News

Answering the Call: Improving Local Police Response to Ransomware. Research Intern Cameron Bertron wrote on ASD’s Interference Matters blog

At Request of U.S., Russia Rounds Up 14 REvil Ransomware Affiliates. Deputy Director Dave Salvo quoted in KrebsOnSecurity

White House Offers Support to Ukraine Following Cyberattack. Deputy Director Dave Salvo quoted in Voice of America 

U.S. is in a ‘funny bind’ over whether to sanction Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, says think tank. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina interviewed on Squawk Box Asia

Rate Of Russian Ransomware Attacks Has Yet To Slow Down. Deputy Director Dave Salvo quoted in Newsy

Russia Arrests Ransomware Crew As Ukrainian Sites Hacked. Deputy Director Dave Salvo quoted in Law360

Russia will maintain its energy stranglehold on Europe for decades. Senior Fellow Krisine Berzina quoted in Quartz

Reinserting Canada Into America’s Indo-Pacific Perspective: Zack Cooper for Inside Policy. Co-Director Zack Cooper wrote for The Macdonald-Laurier Institute

Letters from an American: December 5, 2021. Director Laura Thornton quoted in Letters from an American

Quote of the Week

“It’s really important that we see Hong Kong as part of the puzzle in a bigger picture of democratic recession, so we can equip ourselves more as China expands its authoritarianism around the world.” 

  • Pro-Democracy activist and former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law told Axios.

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