Our Takes

With consequential elections scheduled around the globe in 2024, democracies should pay attention to Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election to learn how best to combat foreign interference and disinformation, China Technology Analyst Dylan Welch writes for ASD.

“We have been living in the disinformation era for quite some time, but we are truly in the artificial intelligence era now. … It is harder to distinguish what is manipulated information and what is fact”, Co-Managing Director David Salvo said on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. Watch him discuss and answer questions about threats to democracy in the United States and abroad—from foreign interference to democratic backsliding—here!

With wars raging in Ukraine and the Middle East, China has seized the opportunity to portray “the West—and the United States in particular—as isolated”, Research Analyst Etienne Soula told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Ukraine: After two months of heavy focus on war in the Middle East, Russia’s focus returned to its own war, with mentions of Ukraine far surpassing those of Palestine or Israel. Belgorod, the Russian city targeted by Ukraine in retaliatory strikes in late December, was also the most mentioned key phrase by monitored Russian channels on Telegram and in state media articles last week. Russian propagandists claimed that the strikes, which were conducted in response to a massive Russian air attack the day prior, were a “terrorist attack”, an indication of Ukraine’s “desperation”, and were orchestrated by “the gang [in power] in Kiev” and asserted that the United States and the United Kingdom were complicit.
  • BRICS Expansion: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “first words in the New Year” were about BRICS, with Russian propagandists celebrating Russia’s assumption of the presidency of the bloc in 2024 as “beneficial” and “timely”. Saudi Arabia was also the fourth most mentioned country by monitored Russian channels on Telegram last week, after it joined Iran, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Ethiopia as the latest members to join the organization.  

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

  • Taiwan: Of the roughly 140 posts made by monitored Chinese accounts mentioning Taiwan last week, only about 15 referenced Taiwan’s upcoming election on January 13. Some of those posts criticized Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te’s comments about Taiwanese independence as being “filled with confrontational thinking” and “extremely harmful”. In CCTV’s coverage of the “top 10 news shaping cross-strait relations in 2023”, the upcoming election was not listed. The network instead opted to highlight cross-strait partnerships, as well as US President Joe Biden’s re-commitment to the one-China policy made during the US-China summit in November and Honduras’ decision to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan as the second and ninth most important developments, respectively, of last year.
  • Israel-Hamas: Israel and Palestine were the third and fourth most mentioned countries by monitored Chinese channels on Telegram last week, with most reports focusing on the mounting civilian casualties in Gaza. Beijing’s position on the conflict was rarely mentioned, with state media instead highlighting South Africa’s genocide accusations against Israel as well as alleging that the conflict has exposed “the last fig leaf of US double standards”.

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

  • Israel-Hamas: The war in Gaza continued to dominate the narratives in Iranian state-backed media during the first few days of 2024, with particular focus on the threat that Houthi militancy in Yemen poses to international shipping. The Islamic Republic News Agency now includes red triangle emojis (🔻) at the start of their posts on Telegram to indicate solidarity with Hamas.
  • Terrorist Attack: Coverage of the terrorist attack targeting mourners in Kerman on the fourth anniversary of Major General Qasem Soleimani’s killing in an airstrike at the Baghdad Airport was significant. One popular post featured Putin’s condolences to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the attack, while others accused Israel of perpetrating the attack. 

News and Commentary

Ariz. holds simulations on AI threats to elections: In December, Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes led the first of a series of tabletop exercises on artificial intelligence threats to elections, which included about 200 federal, state, and local stakeholders who viewed AI-generated deepfakes created in-house depicting Fontes and other key officials spreading lies. Senior Fellow David Levine told the Dispatch, “Arizona should be applauded for its efforts to prevent AI from further eroding voter confidence in US elections. Conducting tabletop exercises helps election officials hone their defenses against threats designed to destabilize elections, whether they are a disinformation campaign meant to sow doubt in the voting system, a cyber-attack designed to compromise electoral infrastructure, or AI-generated audio and video designed to harass election officials.”

Foreign state-linked hackers probed election infrastructure in 2022 midterms, did not compromise results: Foreign hackers linked to China, Russia, and Iran managed to access some election infrastructure during the 2022 US midterm elections, but did not compromise the integrity of the election or alter the voting and counting processes, according to a recent US government report. Co-Managing Director Rachael Dean Wilson said, “This report, along with the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia, China, Iran, and now Cuba all attempted to interfere in the midterms, should serve as a warning to not underestimate the threat of foreign interference to the upcoming US elections. Amidst increasing geopolitical competition with China and Russia’s war in Ukraine, it’s clear that our adversaries have done the cost-benefit analysis of attempting to interfere in our elections and deemed it a worthwhile risk. Elected officials, campaigns, and voters shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that chaos and division in our elections is seen as a boon for our adversaries.”

In Case You Missed It

  • US Senator Bob Menendez was indicted for allegedly brokering deals favorable to Qatar’s government in exchange for bribes, months after being charged with serving as an unregistered foreign agent of Egypt.
  • Google will restrict responses to election-related queries on its Bard chatbot and other generative AI products to limit disinformation ahead of the 2024 US presidential election.
  • Frequent errors on printed ballots in a Pennsylvania county have been linked to high turnover among experienced election officials, according to a Votebeat investigation.
  • Russia has redoubled its efforts to undermine French support for Ukraine and NATO by amplifying Kremlin talking points on social media and promoting French political figures supportive of Russia, according to Kremlin documents seen by the Washington Post.
  • A senior election official in Georgia was targeted in a “swatting” incident, the latest victim in a series of fake and illegal emergency calls to US public officials’ homes.
  • Ukrainian and Polish agencies have been targeted with phishing emails containing a novel data-stealing malware in a campaign that researchers linked to a Russian state hacking group.

ASD in the News

Quote of the Week

“In the context of the hybrid war against Moldova and its democratic leadership, the image of the head of state was used by falsifying the image and sound. The purpose of these fake images is to create mistrust and division in society, consequently to weaken the democratic institutions of Moldova.”

—A press release issued by the presidency of Moldova on December 29 said, in response to the dissemination online of an AI-generated deepfake of President Maia Sandu.

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