Join ASD’s David Salvo and Bret Schafer for an online event with Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to discuss increasing overlap in the information space between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia. Register here for the virtual event on Tuesday, February 27 at 10:00 am ET!

Our Takes

Exposed to many claims about their country’s elections, US voters look to search engines to learn more, underscoring the importance of tracking whether search results serve as correctives to false narratives—or reinforce them, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer wrote for ASD.

The United States’ “own domestic polarization only facilitates” Russia’s efforts to foment more discord via interference in US politics, Co-Managing Director David Salvo said at an Atlantic Council conference, co-sponsored by GMF and others, about containing Russia.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Ten Years of War: Russian state media and politicians posted nearly twice as often about the 10-year anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity—an event Russia’s ambassador to South Africa called an “unconstitutional blood-shedding coup”—than the two-year mark of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Accounts and channels connected to embassies and state media outlets around the world marked the occasion by heavily promoting two RT-produced documentaries (“Maidan: Road to War” and “Donbass.War.Maidan”) and a Wagner produced action film (“The Best in Hell”) that peddle familiar tropes about neo-Nazis in Kyiv and their Western supporters.
  • Navalny’s Death: The Kremlin called the Western response to the death of anti-Kremlin opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian prison last week, “rabid and totally unacceptable”. Former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and current State Duma politician Vyacheslav Volodin claimed that Navalny’s death was “beneficial to Western politicians” and that “Washington and Brussels are to blame”. Russian state media, employing standard “whataboutism” tactics, cried hypocrisy over Western coverage of Navalny’s death compared to the coverage of Julian Assange’s detention and the death of pro-Putin YouTuber Gonzalo Lira, who died in a Ukrainian prison earlier this year. 

The People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s diplomats and state media focused on two main narratives this week:

  • Israel-Hamas War: Last week, PRC state media generated relatively high engagement, especially on Telegram and Instagram, by relaying Israel’s negative reaction to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s comparison of the military operations in Gaza with the Holocaust. PRC diplomats and state media also criticized the US veto of a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) saying the veto made “the situation in Gaza into a more dangerous one” and the PRC’s UN envoy declaring it gave “a green light to the continued slaughter”.
  • Russia-Ukraine War: PRC diplomats and state media amplified Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s promotion of peace talks on Ukraine during his time in Europe last week. State media covered the Ukrainian retreat from Avdiika, with posts on Facebook and Instagram connecting the withdrawal to the “US Congress’ inaction”. The MFA also contrasted the PRC’s professed neutrality to unnamed others’ exploitation of the war “for selfish gains”, and state media outlets doubted the effectiveness of Western sanctions and hyped up Russian solutions.

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

  • Instagram Ban: Iranian government officials criticized the suspension of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Instagram account, which they claimed occurred without warning. Mehdi Fazaeli, deputy chief of the Office for the Preservation and Publication of Works of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, stated that the ban showed that “freedom of speech is a tool in the hands of dictators”. Meanwhile, Meta’s products remain banned in Iran.
  • Military Firepower: Iranian state-backed media accounts celebrated the unveiling of two new Iranian missile systems, the Arman anti-ballistic missile system and the Azarakhsh low-altitude air defense system. There were more than 75 posts in the last week from monitored accounts about the systems, with many of those posts touting its ability to be ready for combat in “less than three minutes”. 

News and Commentary

Tech companies agree to combat AI-generated disinformation ahead of elections: At the Munich Security Conference last week, several big tech companies—including Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, TikTok, and X—pledged to work together to combat the dissemination of content generated by artificial intelligence (AI), such as deepfakes depicting political candidates, designed to mislead voters ahead of several elections this year across the globe. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer said, “I don’t want to dismiss what is generally a positive step, but this is a voluntary accord that companies can disregard, or withdraw from (as X did with the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation), if the cost, or political pressures, push them in another direction. The real test will be whether the companies have the courage to act when—not if—a piece of AI-generated content is shared by a politician or political party.”

Criticism, legal challenges deter experts from working with CISA: Growing criticism and legal challenges from US conservatives around the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) handling of election security have discouraged private sector experts from collaborating with the agency ahead of the 2024 elections, including its initiative to counter state-backed hackers and other cyber threats. Senior Fellow David Levine told the Dispatch, “One of the biggest reasons for CISA’s successes in election security is the investments it has made both in learning the elections space and building relationships with those who work in it. At a time when many local election officials, particularly in rural areas, are struggling to secure enough funding, personnel, and cyber expertise for the 2024 presidential election, it is critical that CISA continue this work to ensure that US elections are adequately protected from the rapidly evolving capabilities of malicious actors like Russia, China, and Iran.”

PRC to back Hungary on “public security” matters: The PRC offered to deepen its partnership with Hungary, moving beyond the countries’ existing trade and investment relationship to support Budapest on “public security” matters, including deeper law enforcement capacity building and cooperation on terrorism and transnational crime. Research Analyst Etienne Soula said, “At a time when the EU increasingly views the PRC through a systemic rivalry lens as a result of Beijing’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, Hungary’s decision to deepen security relations is incredibly short-sighted. After consistently delaying critical decisions at the EU level and in NATO in recent months, Budapest provides more evidence that it is at best an unreliable partner against, and at worst an enabler of, authoritarian encroachment in Europe.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Leaked documents from a PRC-linked hacking group’s leaked documents reveal PRC intelligence and military groups’ concerted efforts to steal sensitive information from foreign governments and companies, surveil dissidents overseas, and promote propaganda narratives on social media.
  • OpenAI unveiled Sora, a new tool that generates realistic 60-second videos from a text prompt, but experts fear it may further ease the ability to create disinformation and government propaganda.
  • The EU agreed on a new sanctions package targeting Russia’s access to equipment for its war effort, targeting companies in third countries like the PRC, India, and Serbia.
  • A PRC-backed online influence campaign used AI-generated images to amplify US division before the 2024 elections and dismay over the state of American democracy and society.
  • The European Parliament will check phones belonging to its security and defense committee’s lawmakers after spyware was detected on two members’ work devices.
  • North Korean hackers have begun using AI to improve the effectiveness of their cyberattacks to steal technologies and funds for the country’s nuclear weapons program.

ASD in the News

AI Election Security Handbook. ASD research highlighted in Electionline

Debate Over Ukraine Aid Prompts Misleading Claim Against Sen. Cornyn. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in The Dispatch

Temu: el auge y los peligros de la app de compras que superó a Shein (Temu: The Rise and Dangers of the Shopping App That Overtook Shein). Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in El Dínamo

Congress Seeks Stronger Response to Chinese Cyberthreat. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in The Well News

Addressing ‘Rip and Replace’ Shortfall Takes Center Stage at E&C Committee Hearing. Senior Fellow Lindsay Gorman quoted in Broadband Breakfast

Quote of the Week

“We are managing federal elections that are the foundation of who has power at the federal level and trying to manage a lot of different competing risks and challenges that have only escalated in recent years. It makes us feel like we’re on our own.”

—Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told AP News on February 21 about the US Congress’ failure to allocate more federal money toward safeguarding elections.


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