ASD is pleased to welcome Shanthi Kalathil as a Visiting Senior Fellow. Previously the coordinator for democracy and human rights at the National Security Council, Kalathil will lead an initiative at ASD to foster networks of democratic resilience and counter foreign malign influence in democracies. 

ASD is teaming up with GMF Geostrategy for a GMF 2024 US Elections newsletter! This monthly newsletter will provide regular analysis of the elections, with a focus on GMF experts’ insights into disinformation trends and analysis of transatlantic policy issues. Sign up here!

Our Takes

From AI-generated deepfakes to potential cyberattacks, the approaching 2024 US presidential primaries are at risk from several threats. ASD experts shared what they are looking out for as US voters begin to cast ballots. Read our takes here!

A muted US response to India’s alleged assassination of a dissident in Canada—and alleged plans to assassinate another in the United States—risks emboldening autocracies and backsliding democracies to continue transnational repression efforts, Research Analyst Nathan Kohlenberg writes in Just Security.

An increase in AI-generated deepfakes advantages autocrats, who benefit from attacking the idea of objective truths in an environment of mistrust, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Financial Times.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • The US election and Ukraine: Several articles were dedicated to US political actors’ positions on the war in Ukraine. Sputnik Iran and other Russian state media outlets picked up comments from former CIA analyst and RT regular Ray McGovern, who suggested that US President Joe Biden may “take unexpected actions out of desperation in Ukraine”. More favorable coverage was provided to independent presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who claimed in an interview that Russia has tried to resolve the war with Ukraine on terms that “were very, very beneficial to Ukraine and to [the United States],” but that Ukraine was pushed into war by “US defense contractors” who ostensibly are involved in a “money laundering scheme”.
  • Epstein Island: Reviving a favorite topic from 2020, Russian state media provided extensive—and often editorialized coverage—of the release of documents naming alleged associates of Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier. RT and Sputnik ran at least 40 stories about Epstein last week, nearly four times the amount of coverage provided by Iranian and Chinese state media. Despite the documents naming both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, Russian state media focused extensively on the Clinton allegations, while stressing that “witnesses maintain [Trump] did nothing wrong”.

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

  • China’s Taiwan”: With the Taiwanese election taking place on January 13, Chinese diplomats and state media turned their attention to the island last week. State media outlets attacked the incumbent government, blaming it for the possible reimposition of tariffs on certain Taiwanese goods and criticizing its “militarization” of Taiwanese society. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), amplified by diplomats in several countries, also announced sanctions against US arms manufacturers over arms sales to the island.
  • Conflict in the Middle East: China’s MFA continued to refuse to formally condemn anyone for unrest in the Middle East. However, CGTN published a Biden speech that was interrupted by protestors calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, Phoenix TV claimed that the United States and Israel couldn’t escape blame for the ISIS bombing in Iran, and Xinhua relayed Iran’s blaming of the United States for Houthi attacks on Red Sea trade ships. Across platforms, Chinese state media systematically juxtaposed US statements that Israel was not committing genocide with news that South Africa had just launched genocide proceedings in the International Court of Justice.

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

  • Terrorist Attack: Iranian state-backed media devoted considerable coverage to the terrorist attack in Kermen that targeted mourners of Major General Qasem Soleimani. After initially claiming that the attack was perpetrated by Israel, Iranian media outlets now generally acknowledge that ISIS carried out the attack, though some have continued to argue that both Israel and ISIS are tools of US imperialism.
  • Israel-Hamas War: The war between Israel and Hamas continued to be a major focus of Iranian accounts, and the dominant narrative was that the United States is the real power behind Israel but that the “Axis of Resistance” will triumph anyway. One post captioned “Signature of Death” featured a picture of former US Vice President Mike Pence signing an Israeli artillery shell next to a picture of dead Palestinian children with their own names written on their legs for identification purposes.

News and Commentary

TikTok restricts data tool to measure content popularity: TikTok discreetly restricted Creative Center, a data tool that tracks the popularity of trends on the platform, for videos related to the Israel-Hamas conflict and US politics after researchers and other critics used its results to argue that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influences what posts appear on the app and that TikTok fails to adequately moderate its content. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman said, “Decreasing transparency under criticism is the exact opposite behavior we should expect from responsible actors in our information ecosystem and in our democracy. Time and again, TikTok has shown it is responsible in neither arena. This incident speaks to the very concern we in the national security community have about this China-based info app—that its algorithm can be used to subtly steer the conversation in democracies in a direction explicitly favorable to the CCP. The pressure seems to have been taken off TikTok, but with an election season upon us it’s time to put it back.”

Democracy likely core theme in 2024 US presidential campaigns: A potential general election rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is shaping up to be framed as a decision about what threatens US democracy, with Biden using his first major campaign speech of the year to set the stakes and label Trump as willing to “sacrifice our democracy” and Trump responding that Biden “weaponized government”. Co-Managing Director Rachael Dean Wilson told the Dispatch, “The brewing battle over who constitutes the greater threat to democracy in the upcoming US presidential contest is a continuation of a trend ASD monitored of disparate conversations around democracy and what threatens it. In 2022, ASD found that Republican and Democratic candidates both talked about ‘threats to democracy’ on social media. However, they were not talking about the same threats: Democrats said Republicans were the threat to democracy and Republicans thought the threat was censorship and big tech. With platform fragmentation and audience siloing online, this gap in a shared understanding of ‘threats to democracy’ will only grow wider this year.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Chinese companies are repurposing chips from computer gaming products to develop artificial intelligence tools in response to the the Biden administration’s export restrictions on advanced AI chips to China last year.
  • The US Department of Energy announced $70 million in grants for the development of technology to strengthen the resilience of critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.
  • The risk of AI-generated falsified information disrupting elections worldwide in 2024 poses the biggest short-term threat to the global economy, the World Economic Forum’s 2024 global risks report concluded.
  • Russian imports of several high-priority military-use goods sanctioned by the United States and allies only decreased by 10% from the level preceding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, according to a US-Ukrainian research team.
  • Belgian authorities opened a criminal investigation into a far-right politician who served as a Chinese intelligence asset instructed to undermine the transatlantic relationship and push China-friendly policies.
  • Russian hackers gained access to Ukraine’s largest telecommunications operator months before launching a cyberattack in December that left millions without internet for days.

ASD in the News

Quote of the Week

“We already see criminal and nation-state elements utilizing AI. They’re all subscribed to the big name companies that you would expect—all the generative AI models out there. … On the flip side, though, AI, machine learning, [and] deep learning is absolutely making us better at finding malicious activity.”

—Rob Joyce, the director of cybersecurity at the National Security Agency, said at a conference at Fordham University in New York on Tuesday, January 9.


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