Pennsylvania friends: Join us in Pittsburgh tonight, July 26 and in Westmoreland County tomorrow,  July 27 for in-person events with ASD’s Deputy Director David Salvo and Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson on disinformation and potential foreign interference in Pennsylvania’s midterm elections. If you are not able to make it, watch it live on Facebook!

Our Take

Protecting election workers from threats and harassment is essential to the health of US democracy. ASD’s David Levine and Rachael Dean Wilson explain how the Justice Department can do more to keep election workers safe in a new report with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Disinformation poses the greatest threat to trust in this year’s midterm elections, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson and Deputy Director David Salvo write in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s potential trip to Taiwan could spark the largest crisis in US-China relations in decades, Co-Director Zack Cooper said on WBUR’s Here & Now.

Follow us on Twitter for more quick takes.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Putin’s Iran visit: Kremlin-linked accounts following President Vladimir Putin’s trip to Iran showcased growing ties between Moscow and Tehran, claimed that “Putin beats Biden in the Middle East,” and argued that the visit could mark the beginning of a “new world order.”
  • Grain deal: One day after Russian propagandists celebrated an agreement to resume Ukrainian grain shipments, Russian missiles struck a key Ukrainian port, forcing Moscow-affiliated accounts to deny charges that the strikes were meant to further disrupt food supplies. 
  • Gas flows: Before partially resuming gas flows through Nord Stream, Moscow-backed outlets warned that European states without Russian gas would “not survive winter,” would face “popular revolts,” and would crash into recessions. 

Chinese diplomats and state media highlighted three narratives last week: 

  • Pelosi’s Taiwan visit: Chinese state media argued that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned visit to Taiwan undermined the “One China” policy and warned about a “possible military conflict,” while diplomats threatened a “forceful response” to Pelosi’s visit.
  • Xinjiang: “Xinjiang” was again the most frequently used hashtag by Chinese propagandists, who highlighted fresh fruit growing in the region, people dancing there, and Muslim countries’ support for China’s policies toward Xinjiang.
  • US criticism: Beijing-affiliated accounts asserted that the United States was a threat to world peace, had smuggled oil out of Syria, and had offered false promises of security to the European Union. 

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

EU softens gas rationing plan amid Russian supply cuts: The EU approved a softened emergency plan to reduce gas consumption by 15 percent in preparation for potential shortages this winter after Russian gas giant Gazprom moved to cut supplies to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20 percent capacity. Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas told the Dispatch,Winter is coming, and the gas rationing plan that has just been adopted by EU energy ministers is an important but potentially insufficient step in preparing the bloc for further Russian supply curbs and the very real prospect of Moscow turning off the taps completely. The agreed deal is a show of solidarity—by some of the least dependent EU member states towards those most reliant on Russian gas (including Germany)—but it is also replete with country opt-outs, and the implementation mechanics are largely left to the discretion of national governments. Only time will tell whether this compromise is indeed the kind of unified EU plan that is needed for Europe to act in a firm and coordinated way in the face of Moscow’s increasing weaponization of gas supplies.”

Commerce Department finds Huawei tech could disrupt US communications: The Department of Commerce is investigating Huawei over concerns that US cell towers fitted with Huawei technology could intercept and share sensitive data from military bases and missile silos with China. Senior Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman said, “Physical interception of electronic communications is one of the most technically challenging counter-intelligence problems to address, even without Chinese equipment built into telecommunications systems. The line about the fox and the henhouse is appropriate here. That we are still uncovering these issues years into their initial recognition is indicative of the scale of the rip-and-replace effort and the depths of the interconnectedness of US and Chinese technological ecosystems.”

Senators reach bipartisan deal on Electoral Count Act reform: Last week, a bipartisan group of senators agreed on proposed changes to the Electoral Count Act that would clarify the vice president’s role in certifying presidential elections and how states submit electors, as well as improve security for state and local election officials. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “This bipartisan agreement on proposed changes to the Electoral Count Act, if enacted, could go a long way towards ensuring that politicians do not reject legitimate election results or override the will of the voters in future presidential elections. The bill makes it harder for a rogue executive official to sabotage election results, more difficult for a state legislature to reverse electoral vote outcomes it dislikes, and easier for federal courts to intervene to ensure that Congress gets the proper slate of electors from state officials.”

In Case You Missed It   

  • China attempted to build an informant network within the Federal Reserve to coerce economists into providing information on US economic activity and policies.
  • Facebook is changing its app to be more like TikTok by pushing users toward viral content, even if that content came from outside a user’s network on the platform. 
  • Hong Kong authorities are planning a new cybercrime law that may pave the way for China-style censorship by banning access to data deemed critical of the city. 
  • Cyber criminals attacked nine major radio stations in Ukraine to broadcast news suggesting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was allegedly in critical condition. 
  • RT created new websites in German, Spanish, French, and English to circumvent an EU-wide ban on Russian state-media content, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found.
  • US officials warned of an evolving threat of foreign interference, including hacking, disinformation, and influence operations from adversaries, ahead of the midterm elections. 

ASD in the News

Administration fears a Pelosi trip to Taiwan could spark cross-strait crisis. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in The Washington Post

Opinion: Pelosi’s trip puts the Biden administration in a bind. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in The Washington Post

Balance of Power: China’s Warning on Pelosi Taiwan Trip (Radio). Co-Director Zack Cooper interviewed on Bloomberg’s Balance of Power

Conspiracy-promoting sheriffs claim vast election authority. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in AP

Putin’s propaganda machine hammers EU while Brussels sleeps. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Politico

The top races are settled, but ballot counting is still underway in Maryland primary. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in The Baltimore Sun

Active denial or in denial? Co-Director Zack Cooper hosts War on the Rocks’ Net Assessment

Rising threats cast shadow over election officials’ conclave. ASD research highlighted in Votebeat

Elections News This Week. ASD research highlighted in the Democracy Fund’s Election Line newsletter

Quote of the Week

“We [journalists] need to embrace technology. We need to understand data. It’s transforming the world. There is no internet that protects facts or protects its users right now.”

  • Rappler CEO, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and journalist Maria Ressa said in an interview on press freedom with Foreign Policy on July 22, 2022.

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