Our Take

The significance of the Chinese spy balloon incident seems to have taken Chinese authorities by surprise, Research Analyst Etienne Soula told the Washington Post. Russian state media and diplomatic accounts monitored on Hamilton 2.0 mentioned “balloon” more frequently than their Chinese counterparts, he told Grid News.

Autocratic leaders often use “maintaining order in the wake of a disaster” as a pretext to restrict speech, especially speech that may be critical of their handling of said disaster, Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg told the Washington Post after the Turkish government blocked access to Twitter in the aftermath of deadly earthquakes.

Like us on Facebook for more content from ASD at GMF experts!

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives:

  • Earthquakes: In the two days after the earthquakes, Kremlin-linked accounts mentioned Turkey and Syria more than Ukraine. Russian propagandists pushed two main narratives: Russia is helping with humanitarian assistance and the United States is not.
  • Ukraine: Russian propaganda accounts warned that Moscow would use “weapons of any kind” to retaliate against a Ukrainian strike on Crimea, claimed that Kyiv had used chemical weapons on Russian soldiers, and repeated assertions that NATO started the war and that Western leaders had blocked a deal to end the conflict.
  • Chinese spy balloon: Kremlin-backed accounts made fun of the US reaction to a Chinese spy balloon that traversed US airspace. State media also amplified China’s claims that it was a weather balloon that didn’t pose a threat to any country. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on two main topics:

  • Chinese spy balloon: The Chinese government’s response to the fallout of the spy balloon failed to assuage concerns about Chinese balloons in other parts of the world and was muddled by mixed messaging as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed it was an “unmanned civilian airship,” while the assistant foreign minister seemed to acknowledge that the balloon was used for spying. 
  • Earthquakes: In response to the earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria on Monday, Chinese diplomats and state media were quick to extend their sympathies to the affected countries as well as to highlight China’s contribution to the rescue efforts.

News and Commentary

EU creates platform to counter Russian, Chinese disinformation: The EU will launch a platform to track foreign disinformation campaigns and coordinate responses with member states, cybersecurity agencies, and non-governmental organizations as the EU works to combat Russian and Chinese state-backed disinformation about the war in Ukraine. Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas told the Dispatch, “The creation of a so-called Information Sharing and Analysis Center within the EU’s diplomatic service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), represents a realization by the EU that it needs to do more, better, and faster in terms of tracking and countering information manipulation by foreign actors. It is no accident that the announcement for the launch of this initiative came on the same day that the EEAS presented its first-ever threat report analyzing foreign information manipulation and interference trends. Problems abound, and these are critical steps in ensuring that information is exchanged in real-time among all relevant stakeholders (countries, cybersecurity agencies, and non-governmental organizations), leading to a better understanding of the threats and a more effective reaction to them.”

US senators probe Meta over China, Russia’s access to Facebook data: On Monday, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg questioning him about company documents that suggest hundreds of thousands of developers in “high-risk” countries—nearly 87,000 in China and 42,000 in Russia—had access to Facebook user information prior to 2014. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said, “The type of data that People’s Republic of China and Russia-based developers could have had access to could be an intelligence and targeting gold mine for foreign actors. We need to know how Facebook is detecting and policing suspicious malign influence and targeting activity that could result from the misuse of its platform by these actors.”

NH Senate considers requiring voting machine audits: New Hampshire state senators proposed legislation requiring the secretary of state to perform public audits of randomly selected AccuVote voting machines every Election Day during state primaries and general elections. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “This proposed legislation is an important, albeit imperfect, first step towards ensuring that reported election night results are accurate. In April of 2022, the New Hampshire secretary of state formed the Special Committee on Voter Confidence, citing concerns about increasing mistrust in elections fueled by conspiracy theories. One way to help ensure that votes are properly recorded and protected from autocratic threats, while also potentially helping restore public confidence in elections, is to mandate post-election audits, and it would be great to see New Hampshire join the majority of states that already have similar requirements in place.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Chinese-owned defense companies are equipping the Russian military with technology to aid the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine despite international sanctions, customs records show. 
  • The Russian government supports efforts to impersonate international news outlets to spread disinformation about the war in Ukraine, according to the European External Action Service’s first-ever foreign information manipulation and interference report.
  • Australian government buildings, including the Defense and Foreign Affairs offices, housed more than 900 surveillance products that were built by Chinese government-linked companies.
  • Nigeria’s information minister asked Meta and Google to promote official election results and take down posts spreading unverified counts ahead of the country’s presidential election later this month.
  • China-aligned actors are sharing videos of deepfake news anchors to peddle pro-China talking points, according to a new report by Graphika, a research firm.
  • TikTok revealed that a Russian network spread disinformation about the war in Ukraine to more than 100,000 European users last summer, mainly targeting Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

ASD in the News

Putin Promised Not to Kill Ukraine’s Zelensky. Managing Director David Salvo interviewed on Scripps News

Election officials say democracy is still at risk in 2024: ‘The gun is still loaded’. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in NBC News

After the balloon, China works on fixing U.S. ties while still looking tough. Research Analyst Etienne Soula quoted in the Washington Post

China In Eurasia Briefing: Popping Beijing’s Bubble. Research Analyst Etienne Soula quoted in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The Chinese spy balloon was a big gift for Kremlin propaganda. Hamilton 2.0 highlighted in Grid

Turkish residents struggle to access Twitter in earthquake aftermath. Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg quoted in the Washington Post 

The Pentagon said that another device flies over Latin America. China Affairs Analyst Bryce Barros quoted in El Mercurio

Quote of the Week

“Democracy must not be a partisan issue. It must be an American issue. Every generation of Americans has faced a moment where they have been called on to protect our democracy, to defend it, to stand up for it. And this is our moment.”

  • US President Joe Biden said during the State of the Union address on February 7, 2023.

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