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If you missed our events in Pennsylvania last week, check out the recordings of our discussions on election security and disinformation in Pittsburgh and Westmoreland County.

Our Take

The White House should work to build a bipartisan consensus on a strategy centered around deterring a Chinese attack against Taiwan, Co-Director Zack Cooper and GMF Asia Director Bonnie Glaser wrote in the New York Times ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. 

Americans are primed to question the integrity of the 2022 midterms, but community members can help counter any potential election-related disinformation by engaging with trusted sources, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson and Deputy Director David Salvo said on WURD Radio

The United States needs more legitimate, independent civic engagement to both build trust in our elections and expose the frauds, Director Laura Thornton writes in The Hill. 

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Gas: While RT explained that “technical” challenges led Russian energy giant Gazprom to cut gas deliveries to Europe, other accounts highlighted how a lack of Russian gas was raising energy prices, undercutting economies, and leading to shortages of basic goods throughout Europe.
  • Ukrainian POWs: Russian officials claimed that they had “irrefutable evidence” that Ukraine used US-supplied weapons to bomb a camp holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in order to scare other Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering.
  • Taiwan: Kremlin-linked outlets amplified the threats that China made against the United States to deter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from visiting Taiwan, and some state media personalities pushed claims that President Joe Biden was worried the visit would lead to a nuclear exchange.

Chinese diplomats and state media highlighted three narratives last week: 

  • Taiwan: Ahead of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Chinese propagandists cautioned Taiwan to not “play with fire,” warned that Beijing would take “resolute countermeasures,” threatened that “the [People’s Liberation Army] PLA will not sit idly by,” and suggested that Pelosi “pray before departure.”
  • Biden-Xi call: Beijing-affiliated messengers repeated Chinese President Xi Jinping’s talking points on the one-China principle from his call with US President Joe Biden, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pushed back on US “disinformation” about Xinjiang.
  • Xinjiang: “Xinjiang” was the second most used hashtag and third most used key phrase by Chinese diplomats and state media, with some accounts focused on the region’s beautiful sights and others criticizing the United States for its condemnation of China’s policy toward Uyghurs. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Russian national indicted for US political influence operation: On July 29, the Department of Justice charged Russian national Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov with allegedly orchestrating a “brazen” malign influence campaign that used political groups in Florida, Georgia, and California to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda, and interfere in US elections. Deputy Director David Salvo said, “This indictment demonstrates how the Russian government uses its proxies to penetrate civil society organizations in the United States (and in other democracies). Not only does the indictment show that Russia targets American groups across the political spectrum, it also reveals that Russia’s overarching objective is to createor amplifyturmoil in the United States. Leveraging witting or unwitting domestic actors is a low-cost, largely risk-free tactic for Russia to use against us.”

China attempts to open stealth TikTok account for propaganda: TikTok and its parent company ByteDance came under increased scrutiny regarding the Chinese Communist Party’s influence over company operations after internal messages showed that a Chinese government entity requested TikTok’s assistance it in opening a stealth propaganda account and former ByteDance employees alleged that the company deliberately promoted pro-China content on its discontinued English-language news application TopBuzz. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman told the Dispatch, We have long-known and long-warned of the dangers of a widely popular communications platform accountable ultimately to the Chinese Communist Party due to the headquarters of its parent company. TikTok may be the most successful accidental intelligence, surveillance, and propaganda tool anyone’s ever dreamed of.”

Some “constitutional sheriffs” claim election authority: Some so-called “constitutional sheriffs” are claiming vast election authority and investigating former president Donald Trump’s false assertions of fraud in the 2020 election despite state election officials, federal agencies, and state and federal courts consistently disproving claims of widespread election tampering. Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson said, “Sheriffs are critical partners to election officials, particularly following the threats officials and poll workers endured during 2020. Disregarding that responsibility to investigate provably false claims erodes public confidence in both elections and law enforcement. With midterms coming up, the focus should be on finding ways for sheriffs to better support the election process, not undermine it.”

In Case You Missed It   

  • China banned thousands of Taiwanese food imports and unknown hackers conducted  distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against Taiwanese government websites just before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) arrival on the island.
  • The Department of Justice’s Election Threats Task Force found that 11 percent of the more than 1000 reported “hostile” contacts against election workers “met the threshold for a federal criminal investigation.”
  • Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas flows to Latvia after accusing the Baltic country of violating conditions of purchase, making Latvia the sixth EU country to be cut off from Russian gas supplies.  
  • Moldova is overhauling its cyber defenses to protect its critical infrastructure from rising cyber threats in the wake of Russia’s attacks against Ukraine. 
  • Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said that her office has worked with election clerks and law enforcement across the state to ensure they can address election threats and, if necessary, remove or arrest bad actors. 
  • US and other government sanctions blocking the export of goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang are not stopping human rights abuses in the province, according to a University of Nottingham report.

ASD in the News

White House warns China not to overreact to expected Pelosi visit to Taiwan. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Washington Post

Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip would be ‘high risk, low reward’. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in DW

Biden and Xi to hold call as tensions grow over Pelosi visit to Taiwan. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Financial Times

China threat: Military ‘won’t sit idly by’ if Pelosi visits Taiwan. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in the Washington Examiner

Pelosi’s Taiwan trip exacerbates Biden’s China headaches and leadership questions. Co-Director Zack Cooper quoted in Washington Examiner

The Strategic Case Against Pelosi’s Trip to Taiwan. Co-Director Zack Cooper writes for the American Enterprise Institute

Securing the Human Side of Elections. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on GovExec Daily

Text Messages from Former DHS Officials Missing. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on CBS News  

Bipartisan group asks DOJ to further protect election workers. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in The Fulcrum

Cyber ambassador could soon take on a world of challenges. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Washington Post

Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit Sets U.S. and China on a Collision Course. China Analyst Bryce Barros quoted in Newsweek

Reality Check 7.202.22. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on WURD Radio

David Levine on Evolving Election Threats with the USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine on a USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative panel

Experts: Brittney Griner’s Legal Defense in Russian Courts is Meaningless. Deputy Director David Salvo quoted in Yahoo Sports

Quote of the Week

“Secret foreign government efforts to influence American elections and political groups threaten our democracy by spreading misinformation, distrust and mayhem.” 

  • United States Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in a statement on July 29, 2022.

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