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Our Take

The US government should use the Summit for Democracy to commit to investing in a new platform for decentralized global democracy exchanges, where youth activists, election officials, local legislators, and other grassroots defenders of democracy can meet and exchange ideas, Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton writes in The Hill. 

Congress and state legislatures should take 13 steps to secure the 2024 election, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and Issue One’s Gideon Cohn-Postar write in a new report. 

Russian state media has reached hundreds of millions of TikTok users, including through dozens of unlabeled accounts, opening users up to Russian disinformation and suggesting that the platform’s labeling process has been neither comprehensive nor effective, Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar finds in a new investigation. Read AP’s exclusive coverage of the piece here. 

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Depleted uranium: Russian propagandists continued to bash UK plans to give Ukraine ammunition that contains depleted uranium, which London said was standard. Kremlin-linked accounts called it an escalation and a “desperate act” that would lead to surges in cancer and birth defects and eventually destroy Ukraine’s economy. They also used the issue to justify Moscow’s decision to move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. 
  • Nord Stream: After the UN Security Council voted to reject a Russian request to investigate the Nord Stream pipeline bombings, Russian diplomats argued that the vote would only fuel suspicion, and Russian President Vladimir Putin reasserted his belief that the United States carried out the attack. State media also lifted up right-wing commentators in the United States and Chinese officials who were sympathetic to Moscow’s argument against Washington.
  • French protests: Kremlin-linked accounts showcased scenes of police brutality during recent French protests, called French President Emmanuel Macron a dictator, claimed China was more democratic than France, and asked when Macron was going to send weapons to the protesters in an apparent jab at French support for Ukraine.     

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main topics this week:

  • Summit for Democracy: As was the case for its previous iteration, this year’s Summit for Democracy has prompted angry reactions from Chinese diplomats and state media. “Democracy” was the most frequently used key phrase in Chinese tweets last week, with the overarching idea being that the summit was divisive and that a hypocritical United States had no legitimacy in holding such an event.
  • TikTok hearing: The Chinese network monitored on Hamilton 2.0 came to TikTok’s defense as the social media company’s CEO testified at a hearing on Capitol Hill last Thursday. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the hearing a “xenophobic witch hunt”, while diplomats labeled US lawmakers “out of touch [and] paranoid” and claimed the hearing illustrated broader US hostility to international businesses.
  • Honduras–Taiwan relations: Honduras’ decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal relations with the People’s Republic of China featured prominently in Chinese messaging last week. Chinese diplomats highlighted Taiwan’s isolation and promised that China would be a more advantageous partner for Honduras. State media claimed that the switch enjoyed broad support from Hondurans and made the United States “mad”. 

News and Commentary

China courted Utah lawmakers, locals in influence campaign: The Chinese government has actively cultivated relationships with Utah officials, politicians, and local communities, leading state lawmakers to delay legislation Beijing opposed and to strike critical language from resolutions, according to an Associated Press investigation. Managing Director David Salvo said, “China has long waged malign influence campaigns on the local level in democracies around the globe, including in our Five Eye allies Australia and Canada. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) relies on a network of local proxies, including elected officials, not simply to cultivate friendly diplomatic and economic ties, but to amplify CCP propaganda, gain leverage over decisionmakers, and promote policies that can be detrimental to US national security. Utah legislators who advocated for delaying a ban on the Confucius Institutes at state universities, for example, were essentially legitimizing the presence of a CCP propaganda organ in US academia. With China hawks dominating both US political parties in Washington, China may pursue more malign influence campaigns at the state and local level instead.”

Leaked documents reveal extent of Russia’s cyber operations: Russian intelligence teamed up with a Moscow-based contractor to train hackers, scan Western infrastructure for cyber vulnerabilities, control the internet, surveil social media, and spread disinformation at scale, according to thousands of leaked documents verified by officials from five Western intelligence agencies. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar told the Dispatch, “This is a rare leak, which speaks to the level of frustration and dissent within Russia’s intelligence apparatus. The documents underscore that Russia sees cyber and disinformation as interconnected tools and that Moscow is willing to use those tools against perceived enemies at home and abroad. The leaks also prove that Russia has put considerable resources behind plans to do just that. This reporting marks yet another reason for democracies around the world to invest in means to counter Russia’s online offensives.”

United States to bans government use of commercial spyware: On Monday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order prohibiting US government agencies from using commercial spyware tools, which have been employed by both democracies and autocracies around the world to surveil human rights activists, journalists, and dissidents. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman told the Dispatch, “The spyware executive order is a tremendous move for the United States in setting an example on the responsible use of technology globally. Commercial spyware tech has been a popular tool for despots worldwide, and it has even been abused in democratic societies. When coupled with recent announcements on surveillance technologies and international democratic action on this issue, this executive order and the policies and processes surrounding it represent a strong show of global leadership to counter the misuse of technology.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Between 2008 and 2021, China spent $240 billion to bail out 22 developing countries that had accepted Chinese loans to finance infrastructure projects as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Russia supplied Iran with advanced digital surveillance software, likely enabling authorities to monitor and intercept Iranians’ mobile communications.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Ukraine following the Chinese leader’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin   and the publication of China’s proposed peace plan for the conflict.
  • Russia’s government has been using facial recognition technology to identify and block Kremlin opponents from attending demonstrations, according to a Reuters review of more than 2,000 court cases.
  • The prime ministers of eight Central and Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, signed an open letter asking big tech CEOs to step up their fight against disinformation, stop accepting payment from sanctioned individuals, and work more closely with governments.
  • Russia adopted the Chinese yuan as a main currency for international reserves, trade, and banking as Moscow deepens cooperation with Beijing amid widespread Western sanctions.

ASD in the News

Accountability and Transparency in Ukrainian Recovery and Reconstruction. Event hosted by the Alliance for Securing Democracy at GMF

Biden administration struggles to turn the Democracy Summit’s goals into reality. Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton interviewed on NPR

TikTok Faces Possible Ban or Forced Sale. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on Bloomberg Surveillance

Tim Cook’s Beijing visit: China and U.S. tech ecosystems are ‘intertwined’, analyst says. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on CNBC

TikTok propaganda labels fall flat in ‘huge win’ for Russia. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in AP

TikTok Data Concerns in Congress. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on BBC News

U.S.-China tech rivalry will continue to put Chinese firms under intense scrutiny. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on CNBC

Tik Tok and China national security threats. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on C-SPAN

Lawmakers Blast TikTok’s C.E.O. for App’s Ties to China, Escalating Tensions. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in The New York Times

TikTok’s C.E.O. Struggles to Make His Case in Washington. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in The New York Times

Gap grows between TikTok users, lawmakers on potential ban. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in AP

US Deadline to Ban TikTok on Gov Devices. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on NewsNation

Lawmakers Grill TikTok CEO. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman interviewed on Scripps News

Why Thursday’s House hearing on TikTok was different than previous tech beatdowns. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in MarketWatch

Obernolte, Johnson use tech backgrounds to question TikTok CEO. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Roll Call

Voting Rights. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine quoted in Politico

The Five Ps of Election Administration. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine interviewed on OSET Institute’s Dead Men Don’t Vote

Biden’s Summit for Democracy is a tough hill to climb. Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton quoted in Washington Post

Biden’s Second Summit for Democracy and the Need For a Plan to Combat the Growth of Autocracies. Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton interviewed on Background Briefing

Suspected North Korean Spies Impersonating VOA, Other Reporters Online. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in Voice of America

New Charges of Chinese Interference Embroil Canadian MP. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Voice of America

Biden’s “Democratic Summit” VS Xi Jinping’s “New Order”–The US-China international leadership competition is in full swing. Senior Vice President of Democracy Laura Thornton quoted in Voice of America Chinese

Summit for Democracy: Democracy Cohort Outcomes. ASD research highlighted in a US Department of State fact sheet

TikTok is a necessary evil for Democratic campaigns. ASD research highlighted in Politico

Quote of the Week

“It is our conviction and it is our belief that Ukraine can not only be a success story, but it will be a role model for open contracting and open government for the rest of the world.”

  • Lesia Ogryzko, international cooperation lead at RISE Ukraine, said during an event about accountability in Ukrainian reconstruction hosted by the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund on March 27.

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