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Although Americans may be focused on domestic challenges, foreign actors’ attempts to compromise the vote in the 2022 US midterm elections remind us that foreign interference remains a pressing concern for the 2024 elections and beyond. Americans should remain vigilant, Co-Managing Directors David Salvo and Rachael Dean Wilson write in Defense One.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is utilizing its state broadcaster CGTN to attempt to convince African audiences that Western democracies are ineffective and active hindrances to the continent’s development, Research Analyst Etienne Soula finds in ASD’s recent analysis.
The suspicious robocall featuring what sounded like President Joe Biden’s voice telling New Hampshire residents not to vote featured serious “tipoffs” of audio clips generated by artificial intelligence (AI), such as an “unnatural, robotic” cadence, Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman told NBC News.
Russian diplomats and state media focused on two main narratives this week:
- Sweden in NATO: Despite Russia’s continued insistence last week that NATO is an organization focused on destroying Russia and that NATO expansion triggered the war in Ukraine, Türkiye’s decision to approve Sweden’s accession to NATO was met with relative disinterest from Russian media and diplomats. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the vote Türkiye’s “sovereign decision”, and state media covered the news dispassionately, with even the usually bellicose TV presenter Vladimir Soloviev saying that the move only caused “slight bewilderment in our Fatherland”.
- Trump and Ukraine: Russia’s top diplomat cast doubt on former US President Donald Trump’s promise to end the war in Ukraine “within days”, with Sergey Lavrov stating that Kyiv is “not ready for any resolution” and that a Trump presidency “won’t change anything”. At the same time, Russian state media amplified former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s endorsement of Trump, promoted Trump’s business successes, and cited Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s diplomats and state media focused on two main narratives this week:
- Conflicts in the Middle East: PRC state media last week highlighted mounting tensions between Israel and Iran, and between Israel and Egypt, as well as pro-Palestine demonstrations in Europe and Islamophobic incidents in the United States. On X, the ambassador to Colombia shared a Trump speech criticizing US interventionism in the Middle East, and Global Times commentator Hu Xijin gloated that the Houthis’ special treatment of PRC ships made the United States “jealous”.
- “One China” and Taiwan: The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to highlight all the countries and international organizations that have recently restated their support for the “One China” principle. PRC messaging highlighted an interview with Filipino President Bongbong Marcos in which he asserted that “Taiwan is a province of China”. They also devoted significant attention to Nauru, which switched its recognition from Taiwan to the PRC last week.
EU cracks down on foreign interference in sensitive technologies and research: The European Commission updated its economic security strategy, proposing a new regulation requiring EU member states to screen foreign direct investments into sensitive industries such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence, and urging countries to protect research and innovation from foreign interference. Senior Manager for Europe and Fellow Vassilis Ntousas told the Dispatch, “The EU’s new package to safeguard its economy is clearly a step in the right direction. Taking a more cautious approach than an outlined strategy on economic security unveiled last year had suggested, the five initiatives included in the package nonetheless aim to address a number of issues that we at ASD at GMF have long identified as important points of vulnerability—from tackling foreign interference in research and innovation to crafting a more comprehensive and joined-up system of screening foreign direct investments in sensitive industries. Two key elements will be critical in deciding whether these proposals become a reality and ultimately make a difference: consensus among member states to adopt and implement in earnest, and a serious financial commitment to complement these proposals in terms of industrial policy and funding vital technology projects.”
CISA director targeted in “swatting” incident: US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) director Jen Easterly was the victim of a “swatting” incident in late December, yet another case in a series of illegal hoax calls targeting election officials and other public figures. Senior Fellow David Levine said, “This swatting call targeting CISA director Jen Easterly illustrates the kinds of threats, harassment, and abuse that those responsible for protecting US elections are dealing with on an all-too-frequent basis. It’s incumbent on our elected officials, community leaders, and society at large to condemn such behavior, pursue the perpetrators of these actions as vigorously as possible, and offer robust support for those who are victims of these heinous acts. Anything less runs the risk of a greater exodus of talented folks from key roles responsible for upholding American democracy.”
In Case You Missed It
- PRC state-owned banks are tightening funding to Russian clients to avoid US sanctions on entities that financially support Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
- The Biden administration is preparing an executive order to bolster the security of US citizens’ sensitive personal data to curb foreign governments’ ability to use it for intelligence purposes and profit online.
- The European Commission will establish a European Artificial Intelligence Office to help enforce the EU’s AI Act and help evaluate AI models like that behind ChatGPT.
- Australia’s government sanctioned a Russian hacker for his involvement in a 2022 cyberattack that led to 9.7 million Australians’ health data being published online, marking the first penalties issued under Canberra’s cyber sanctions framework.
- AI-generated clips falsely depicting Istanbul’s opposition party mayor praising Türkiye’s ruling party spread on social media, ahead of an important local election in March.
- The United States and the PRC will work together to lessen risks from AI and assess its capabilities despite bilateral tensions, the White House’s chief science adviser said.
“We need but think of the long-standing problem of disinformation in the form of fake news, which today can employ ‘deepfakes’, namely the creation and diffusion of images that appear perfectly plausible but false (I too have been an object of this). … The technology of simulation behind these programs can be useful in certain specific fields, but it becomes perverse when it distorts our relationship with others and with reality.”
—Pope Francis wrote in his message for the 58th World Day of Social Communications, making light of deepfakes shared last year that falsely depicted him wearing a white puffy coat.