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Our Takes

In the lead up to Poland’s 2023 parliamentary election, search queries about refugees, immigration, and foreign influence were more likely to surface results by Polish state-backed media on Bing and Google than other election-related search terms, Investigative and Research Data Analyst Peter Benzoni and Research Assistant Krystyna Sikora find in a new ASD report.  

The dissemination of AI-generated deepfakes days before Slovakia’s election may be a glimpse of possible threats to the 2024 US elections. Stakeholders from social media companies to political campaigns must work to clearly label such content before election day, Senior Fellow David Levine and Program Assistant Louis Savoia write in the Fulcrum.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Israel-Hamas: Russian state media continued to give priority to the events in the Middle East, with monitored accounts mentioning “Israel” and “Palestine” roughly as often as Ukraine on Facebook and Telegram last week. State media covered the release of hostages, including a Russian citizen, and shared a “farewell letter” allegedly penned by an Israeli hostage thanking the Qassam Brigades for their “unnatural humanity” and for being like “a nanny” to her daughter. Monitored accounts also repeatedly pointed out instances of governments and world leaders denouncing Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu, cutting ties with Israel, and warning of a potential genocide in Gaza.
  • Ukraine: Russian-backed narratives about Ukraine last week ranged from claims that Ukrainians fighters are refusing to mobilize to accusations that Kyiv is using biological weapons. Monitored accounts also highlighted alleged Russian successes and Ukrainian failures on the battlefield, shared photos of damage to civilian infrastructure allegedly caused by Ukrainian forces, amplified claims that Ukraine does not have an action plan and cast doubt on US support for and confidence in Kyiv.

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on two main narratives this week:

  • Israel-Hamas: Chinese messaging covered the truce and prisoner swaps between Israel and Hamas, highlighting the suffering and destruction in Gaza and calling for the ceasefire to be extended. CGTN Europe suggested that Palestinian prisoners in Israel were treated excessively harshly, and state media voices cheered on the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations as he asked his Israeli counterpart to “show some respect at least”.
  • Kremlin Talking Points: Chinese state media, especially on YouTube, promoted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements on Israel-Palestine, “dangerous Western AI”, and Ukraine. Amplification of Russian talking points included the Kremlin’s rote criticism of NATO as a “confrontation tool” as well as uncritical coverage of a speech from Putin where he claimed that “Russia is fighting for the freedom of the whole world”.

Iranian diplomats and state media focused on two main narratives this week:

  • Prisoner Swaps: Iranian media highlighted the release of a Russian prisoner by the Palestinian Al-Qassam Brigades outside of the framework brokered by the United States, Qatar, Israel, and Hamas. They attributed this to “a sign of appreciation to the Russian president”. Iranian media and diplomatic accounts also sought to portray Israel as losing the war, emphasizing alleged casualties among the Israel Defence Forces conducting operations in Gaza. This was paired with stories praising the “humane treatment” they claim Israeli hostages in Gaza enjoyed.
  • The “Axis of Resistance”: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi stated that US support for Israel makes the United States an illegitimate broker of a potential peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. This coincided with Iran’s warning that US and European forces should leave the Middle East or face consequences from “the Axis of Resistance.”

News and Commentary

Foreign hackers target infrastructure in Kansas, Pennsylvania: Kansas officials claimed that a “sophisticated foreign cyberattack” is behind a massive breach of the state’s court system that resulted in chaos, disruption of business for five weeks, and theft of sensitive data; meanwhile, hackers linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps breached a device at a remote water station in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania that regulates the pressure of two townships of just over 7,000. Research Analyst Nathan Kohlenberg told the Dispatch, “It appears that an Iran-linked group known as ‘Cyber Av3ngers’ targeted the water station in Pennsylvania because they had purchased software from an Israeli firm. Fortunately, this was an unsophisticated attack that never put Pennsylvanians at risk, but it’s a reminder of the degree to which our economies and even civil infrastructure are globally interconnected. Hackers, whether motivated by political ideology or financial gain, tend to be opportunistic, so network administrators and cybersecurity officers have to operate under the assumption that their system could be the next target, even if their work seems far removed from foreign policy or national security matters.”

Google runs ads on sanctioned websites, report says: Google and its partner network displayed advertisements, including those for US government agencies and several Fortune 500 companies, on Russian and Iranian websites sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury, according to digital ads analysis group Adalytics. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said, “This report speaks to the opacity and complexity of the digital ad space, where ad buyers and advertisers often have little control over—or knowledge of—where their ads are placed online. As Lindsay Gorman and I argued a few years ago, online advertising plays a critical role in the funding of malign activity by both state and non-state actors. As such, regulators should require greater transparency from AdTech companies so that brands do not become the unwitting funders of state-backed propaganda or extremism.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Meta will block the publication of new political ads on their platforms a week before the 2024 US elections as part of the company’s 2024 election security plan.
  • Eighteen countries, including the United States and United Kingdom, agreed to make artificial intelligence systems “safe by design” by monitoring them for abuse and protecting data.
  • Google has observed a “massive increase” in Chinese cyberattacks on Taiwan in the last half a year, featuring tactics designed to make tracking the infiltration more difficult.
  • Ukraine dismissed two top cybersecurity officials—and detained one of them—amid an investigation into embezzlement of state funds.
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreed to replace Estonia with Malta as their next chair after Russia and Belarus objected to Tallinn taking over as planned.
  • Two Serbian civilians were targeted by a failed Pegasus spyware attack this August, raising fears of intimidation before the country’s mid-December parliamentary elections.

ASD in the News

Quote of the Week

“The people of Ukraine endured and overcame the horrors of the Holodomor and totalitarian communism, demonstrating their spirit and resilience, and eventually establishing a free and democratic country.”

—Michael Carpenter, US Ambassador to the OSCE, said in Vienna on November 24 in his remarks on the 90-year mark of the Holodomor.


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