Georgia friends: Save the date for October 17 in Atlanta! Senior Fellow Bret Schafer will walk through the anatomy of a disinformation campaign at this event co-hosted by ASD at GMF, the Carter Center, and the World Affairs Council in Atlanta. RSVP here

Arizona friends: Join Director Laura Thornton in Phoenix on October 18 for a discussion on how and why foreign adversaries are impacting US elections at the national and local levels, co-hosted by ASD at GMF, the McCain Institute, and the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. Register here!

Our Take

Some US midterm candidates are repeating Russian narratives on Ukraine almost verbatim, including by calling Ukrainians “Nazis,” accusing Kyiv of war crimes, and blaming the United States for the war, Director Laura Thornton writes in Foreign Policy.  

Between July 1 and October 11, nine of the ten most retweeted tweets mentioning Ukraine from accounts on the Midterm Monitor were posted by isolationist voices in the Republican Party who opposed supporting Ukraine’s war effort. This week’s Midterm Monitor report reviews candidate data on the topics of Ukraine and foreign interference, and it dives into the battleground state of Georgia. 

Subscribe to our limited edition Monitoring the Midterms newsletter!

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Crimea Bridge: Russian state media and diplomats referred to the bridge explosion as the “Russian Pearl Harbor” and an act of Ukrainian terrorism that crossed a “red line,” while former president Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia’s response would be the “total elimination of terrorists.” State media also blamed the explosion on British intelligence, the United States, and NATO.
  • Elon Musk: Musk was the subject of more than 100 tweets and 70 articles from monitored Russian Twitter accounts and websites last week—thanks to his “peace proposals” for Ukraine and Taiwan, his malfunctioning Starlink communication systems in Ukraine, and his decision to reengage in negotiations to buy Twitter—with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Pskov describing Musk’s claim that residents of eastern Ukraine prefer Russia as a “determination of reality.”
  • US Midterms: Russian commentary about the elections remains relatively sparse, with only 5 articles explicitly mentioning the midterms appearing in Russian state-backed websites; however, Sputnik highlighted an Axios report that Democrats have deployed a network of faux local news sites to push party content.

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main storylines: 

  • Xinjiang: Chinese diplomatic accounts celebrated the UN Human Rights Council’s vote against holding a debate on human rights abuses in Xinjiang and used the victory to criticize Western human rights violations, framing international concern over the region as Western political manipulation.
  • Elon Musk: Beijing-affiliated accounts emphasized and praised Musk’s suggestion that Taiwan should become a special administrative zone to avoid conflict and thanked the billionaire for his “call for peace.” 
  • Crimea Bridge: China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to maintain apparent neutrality by responding dryly to a Russian state media question about the explosion during its October 9 press conference, but diplomats and state media echoed Russian accusations of Ukrainian “terrorism.” 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Trump during hearing: The House committee investigating January 6th unanimously voted to subpoena former president Donald Trump to hold him accountable for his schemes to remain in power, including using fake electors to overturn the election and repeating election lies despite knowing there was no widespread fraud. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine told the Dispatch, Anyone alleging that a US election is stolen is making an extraordinary claim, one that needs to be supported by strong evidence. To date, the former president and his supporters have provided plenty of the former, but little of the latter. If the former president has any evidence to support his baseless assertions, he ought to be willing to appear before the January 6th committee, submit the evidence for the record, and explain how the countless number of witnesses who testified before him under oath are either misinformed or lying.”

Biden issues national security strategy focusing on China, Russia, and democracy at home: This week, President Joe Biden unveiled his national security strategy, which prioritizes “outcompeting China and restraining Russia,” emphasizes the need to strengthen US democracy, and encourages investment in allies and private industry to reduce dependence on adversaries. Co-Director Zack Cooper said, “The National Security Strategy largely reiterates existing US policy on China, but puts particular emphasis on ‘out-competing’ Beijing. The strategy also emphasizes the fundamental systemic competition between democracies and autocracies, describing this moment as an inflection point. Chinese officials will be unhappy with this approach, but it is very much in line with Biden’s public comments and the administration’s initial National Security Strategic Guidance.” Read more ASD at GMF reactions to the National Security Strategy on the Interference Matters blog. 

UK intelligence warns of China tech threat: On Tuesday, Jeremy Fleming, director of Britain’s intelligence, cyber, and security agency (GCHQ), warned that China is exporting technology to other countries that it can then use to surveil individuals and assert control. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said, It’s refreshing to see Fleming directly call out the Chinese technology threat—especially with his focus on the CCP’s efforts to rewrite internet standards at organizations like the International Telecommunications Union. But GCHQ’s lack of recognition of the related threat that Chinese-owned TikTok poses in the information space in democracies is a failure of imagination that’s staring us right in the face. The United Kingdom is no stranger to political information influence and needs to conceive of social media beyond the data security threat, which is no small matter either.”

In Case You Missed It  

  • A sizable minority of Republicans (26 percent) and Democrats (39 percent) say it is likely they will blame election fraud if their party does not win control of Congress in the midterms, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll. 
  • The Federal Communications Commission plans to ban sales of new Huawei and ZTE telecommunications equipment in the United States on national security grounds.  
  • Hong Kong refused to seize a $500 million superyacht believed to be owned by Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov, a close Putin ally who has been sanctioned by the United States, United Kingdom, and EU, when it docked in the city.
  • A surge of phishing emails targeted county election workers in Arizona and Pennsylvania ahead of their state August primaries, researchers at Trellix found
  • The White House is encouraging tech companies like Google, Signal, and WhatsApp to provide services to help Iranian protesters evade the government crackdown on communication. 
  • President Joe Biden signed an executive order that increases privacy protection on data transferred between the United States and Europe. 

ASD in the News

Musk appeasement of Putin and China stokes fears of new Twitter policies. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Washington Post

Wisconsin judge blocks absentee ballot spoiling. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in AP

Michigan county hires ‘Stop the Steal’ ringleader to recruit poll workers. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Politico

Election officials worry about potential poll worker interference this November. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in NPR

In Focus This Week. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine’s Election Official’s Handbook featured in Electionline

Secondary Sanctions: The Impact on Targeted Economies and the Geostrategic Implications. China Analyst Bryce Barros joined an Association of Foreign Press Correspondents event

Quote of the Week

In a democratic society, we can have different positions and we can debate with one another, but we should unanimously and resolutely stand behind our free and democratic system, no matter how much external pressure we face.”  

  •  Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said during her annual National Day speech on October 10, 2022.

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