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Our Take

The United States avoided the worstcase scenarios during this month’s midterm elections, but there’s still considerable work to do to avoid democratic backsliding ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson and Deputy Director David Salvo write. 

Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas writes in the Progressive Post that the midterms were a positive step for US democracy, and now, those who support democracy must redouble their efforts to buck the negative trends impacting the United States.

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives:

  • Missile blast in Poland: The explosion of an air-defense missile in Poland sparked a barrage of Kremlin-linked posts that denied Russia’s involvement, said that Ukraine had launched a false flag operation or was incompetent, and warned about World War Three.
  • Kherson retreat: Moscow-affiliated outlets laid out a range of explanations for Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson—claiming it was a “tactical necessity,” a way to save lives, or a trap for Ukraine—and they framed Kyiv as a brutal occupier.  
  • Money laundering conspiracy: Monitored Russian accounts posted around 100 tweets about a conspiracy that claims US aid to Ukraine was funneled through the FTX cryptocurrency exchange and into campaigns for Democratic candidates. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on two main narratives:

  • Xi-Biden meeting: The ten most used key phrases by Chinese propagandists related to a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, and Beijing-linked tweets mentioning the United States jumped by 50 percent compared to the previous week. Messaging was positive but reiterated China’s firm position on issues like Taiwan.
  • Looking beyond the West: Chinese diplomats and state media framed China as the partner of choice for the Global South by highlighting Beijing’s willingness to advocate for those countries on the world stage and its importance to global trade. 

Read the full report here.

News and Commentary

UAE attempted to manipulate US politics: The United Arab Emirates—a close US ally in the Middle East—has spent hundreds of millions of dollars since 2016 funding an extensive network of lobbyists, campaigns, and think tanks favorable to UAE interests. The country also hired former US intelligence and military officials to help it surveil US politicians, journalists, and companies, according to a classified intelligence report. Senior Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph said, “UAE efforts to interfere in US democratic processes have often been as brazen as any other authoritarian regime. My research has documented covert UAE money in US politics—such as $3.5 million donated in 2016 in order to buy influence with Hillary Clinton, a case not even mentioned in the [Washington Post’s] article—and recommended policy reforms to build legal defenses against this kind of foreign interference. It’s high time we not only call it out through intelligence assessments and diplomatic engagements but also work in Congress to outlaw these bad activities.” 

Disguised Russian software found in thousands of smartphone apps: Thousands of smartphone applications, including those produced by the US Army and Britain’s Labour Party, unknowingly used a code developed by a Russian software company that presented itself as a US firm. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technology Lindsay Gorman told the Dispatch, “In the wake of SolarWinds, this incident shows just how much work remains in securing software supply chains for the US government. The ease of disguising foreign ownership is alarming, and we must have better ways of rooting out these pieces of code from government infrastructure.”

In Case You Missed It  

  • A Chinese-backed hacking group is trying to spy on Uyghurs by using Android applications that mimic messaging services, translation tools, and prayer applications. 
  • Iran and China hired private investigators under false pretenses to gather intelligence on dissidents in the United States. 
  • Italy outlawed the use of facial recognition technology, except when the technology is used in judicial investigations or to fight crime. 
  • Turkey restricted access to social media applications including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for 10 hours after an explosion in Istanbul. 
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that the Chinese government could exploit TikTok’s popularity to control the application’s recommendation algorithm for influence campaigns in a congressional testimony on Tuesday.
  • Iranian government-sponsored actors exploited a wide-spread cybersecurity vulnerability to infiltrate an unnamed US federal government network and installed a cryptocurrency mining software, according to a joint cybersecurity advisory. 

ASD in the News

Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Fight Can Overcome US Skeptics. Senior Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph in Just Security 

Maybe Trump was right about TikTok. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Vox 

Trump’s election conspiracy boosters largely accept their own defeats. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Politico 

Fact Check-WiFi access inside a polling place is not proof of election fraud. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Reuters

Quote of the Week

“We have to make sure that we have the capabilities and the knowledge to build these technologies and not be dependent on China and other authoritarian countries that have a different logic than democratic countries have.” 

  • Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said at the annual startup event Slush on November 17, 2022.

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