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Our Take

If adopted, the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plan will have massive consequences for Israel’s democracy and could inspire illiberal forces elsewhere, Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas and Ariel Margalith write in Haaretz.

Russian propagandists struggled to make sense of the Discord leaks. As hundreds of classified US intelligence documents surfaced, Kremlin-linked messengers couldn’t decide if they were real, fake, important, or useless, Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar wrote in a new piece

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Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • South America: Russian propagandists promoted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s tour through South America, where he plans to meet with officials in Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. Prior to the trip, Lavrov wrote an article that touted Russia’s economic and cultural ties to South America, attempted to justify Moscow’s war of choice in Ukraine, and attacked US hegemony. 
  • Sudan: Sudan was the fourth most mentioned country by Russian propagandists on Twitter last week as the country’s military clashed with a paramilitary group. While Russian diplomats called for restraint and a ceasefire, some accounts linked to Kremlin-backed media suggested that the United States and NATO had caused the crisis.
  • China: Russia-linked accounts showcased President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu as the two countries took their “military-technical cooperation” to a “new level” in pursuit of a reshaped world order. Kremlin-backed accounts also highlighted Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s trip to Beijing and amplified Lula’s criticism of the United States.    

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

  • Lula in China: Chinese diplomats and state media portrayed Brazilian President Lula da Silva’s visit to Beijing as very successful. “Silva” was the most frequently used key phrase in monitored Chinese tweets last week, with pro-Beijing voices emphasizing the significance of “the two largest developing countries on the Eastern and Western hemispheres” coming together. After Lula blamed Washington for the war in Ukraine, monitored Chinese accounts encouraged the Brazilian president “not to be a U.S. vassal”.
  • China’s diplomatic marathon: Beijing hosted German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, prompting Chinese state media and diplomatic accounts to bemoan her “China hawk” attitude and question her stance on the NordStream sabotage. Xi Jinping also championed “China-Africa friendship & cooperation” during a meeting with the President of Gabon. Finally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for a ceasefire in Sudan, while state media warned “Western forces to refrain from overly interfering”.
  • Attacking the US: Chinese messaging denigrated Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Vietnam and accused the United States of seeking “coups and regime change” in Latin America. Diplomats called out US global espionage and relayed Elon Musk’s statements about the US government having “full access” to private messages on Twitter.

News and Commentary

FBI, DOJ crack down on Chinese interference on US soil: On Monday, the FBI arrested two alleged Chinese government agents accused of operating a Beijing-linked “undeclared police station” in New York City “to monitor and intimidate dissidents”. The same day, the US Department of Justice charged 40 officers from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security for using social media to “harass and intimidate PRC residents” in the United States. Research Analyst Etienne Soula told the Dispatch, “The secret police station in New York and the large social media campaign brought to light by US law enforcement are part of a broader pattern of Chinese state-led interference in democracies worldwide. Last year, a Spanish nonprofit revealed that China operates over 100 police stations across the world, often without the host nation’s approval or knowledge. It is vital that more democracies take action against Beijing’s assaults on fundamental freedoms within their borders.” 

Montana approves statewide ban on TikTok: On Friday, Montana became the first state to approve a total ban on TikTok over perceived national security and privacy concerns, prohibiting the app from operating within the state and barring app stores from offering it for download. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said, “The reality is that the federal process to resolve national security concerns around TikTok is just taking too darn long. That’s why we are seeing movement at the state level, such as this ban in Montana. But there will undoubtedly be First Amendment challenges to this law if the governor signs it, and it would be far better for US democracy and credibility for action on Chinese internet platforms like TikTok to come from a thought-out, legally firm, and generalizable process.”

Russian cyber operations evolve: Russian operatives have adapted some of their cyber and disinformation tactics as they seek to disrupt, surveil, and manipulate equipment and audiences connected to the war in Ukraine, according to a new Google report, which showcased Russia’s efforts to target European energy infrastructure with malware and to promote hacked material through a range of social media platforms. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar said, “The Kremlin’s operatives are well resourced, relentless, and capable of causing damage and confusion. However, Ukraine and the broader West have done well defending against those online threats throughout the war, even as the challenges evolve. It’ll be important to maintain that level of defense. As Russia’s military gets exhausted, its online attacks could become more reckless.”   

In Case You Missed It

  • The US Department of Justice charged four US citizens for helping Russia in its attempt to influence elections in Florida and Missouri, including by spreading pro-Kremlin disinformation and funding a Russia-supervised candidate in St. Petersburg, Florida.
  • Chinese surveillance technology company Hikvision maintains contracts with police agencies connected to the targeting of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, according to a recording of an internal meeting.
  • Taiwan’s defense ministry warned local outlets not to publish Chinese government-originated disinformation, citing the appearance of such false claims in Taiwanese media during China’s recent military drills.
  • The European Parliament implemented new guidelines clarifying how members and staff should interact with Qatari and Moroccan diplomats following the Qatargate bribery scandal, including a recommendation to inform Parliament President Roberta Metsola of any meetings with those countries’ diplomats.
  • An Iranian government-linked hacking group shifted from reconnaissance to targeting US critical infrastructure in 2021, a Microsoft report details, seemingly in response to a rise of cyberattacks in Iran linked to US and Israeli efforts that year.
  • A Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the Netherlands has a “cold war mentality” after the Dutch intelligence service called China the greatest threat to the Netherlands’ economic security, citing China’s use of digital espionage, covert investments, and illegal exports.

ASD in the News

Navy Vet Behind Pro-Putin Site that Doctored and Spread Documents Stolen by a National Guard Airman. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar interviewed on Background Briefing

Biden and Congress want to ban TikTok. At this point it may be impossible. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Politico

Some Democrats worry crackdown on TikTok could hurt party. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in The Washington Post

FBI probes pro-Russia social media account’s spread of classified information. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in CNN

Chinese genetics company targets US despite political tensions. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in The Financial Times

Opinion: The WWII generation would tell us to be more careful. ASD research highlighted in Deseret News

Quote of the Week

“All of us here joining in remembrance today believe in our shared future and our shared values: the respect for international law, the peaceful coexistence of all human beings in freedom and democracy.”

  • German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a speech commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw, Poland on April 19.


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