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Our Takes

The recent spate of “cash-for-influence, election interference, and espionage cases” has brought foreign interference to the public eye in Europe. With European Parliament elections looming, Europe needs a continent-wide response, Senior Manager for Europe Vassilis Ntousas and Research Analyst Etienne Soula write for ASD.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, and Iran all benefit from mounting online campaigns that denigrate global perceptions of the United States over protests at American colleges, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the New York Times.

With information laundering and the ability to republish content in a number of different places using artificial intelligence (AI), the average citizen’s ability to practice basic media literacy standards online is strained, Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told Target USA at WTOP News.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

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

  • Victory Day: On Telegram, most of the top ten most used key phrases by monitored accounts were related to Victory Day, Russia’s celebration of the allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II (or the Great Patriotic War, as it is known in Russia). Though many posts focused on honoring veterans, others boasted about pro-Russian celebrations in the West (allegedly including the son of a Ukrainian commander), complained about Russophobia in the West, or were factually and historically inaccurate, including a claim that “on the eve of the special operation [Russia’s war against Ukraine], the West was preparing aggression against Russia to inflict a strategic defeat, as before the Great Patriotic War”.
  • Treatment of Prisoners: Russian embassies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained bitterly, and unironically, about the treatment of Russians held in prisons in the United States, where they claimed they are “regularly placed in solitary confinement for no reason, denied medical care and necessary medicines, not to mention extremely poor food”. In particular, they mentioned the supposed “illegal” sentences of convicted spy Maria Butina and convicted arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who was exchanged for Americans Brittany Griner and Trevor Reed. The timing was curious, as this week news broke that a US soldier, Staff Sergeant Gordon Black, was arrested in Russia and charged with “criminal misconduct”. RT claimed he “beat a woman with whom he had an affair”.  

News and Commentary

EU, NATO condemn Russian cyber espionage campaign: The EU, NATO, and several EU member states condemned a Russian military-linked cyber espionage group’s cyberattacks directed against Germany’s Social Democratic Party and institutions in Germany, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Senior Manager for Europe and Fellow Vassilis Ntousas told the Dispatch, “Precise attribution is not the most frequent occurrence when it comes to cyber offensives, but the very confident and very public way these attacks were traced back to Russia show greater determination by European partners to call out such malign behavior. Of note is also the clear link behind the attacks and democracy that is made in many of these statements, which again showcases that Europe is more ready to walk the talk in exposing Russian actions for what they are doing and what they intend to do. The critical test will be whether the EU and member states continue down this path in the coming months, in the face of these sustained, malicious campaigns by Moscow.”

Idaho county launches election transparency tool: Ada County, Idaho introduced Ballot Verifier, an online tool that gives users free and direct access to every ballot cast in the county since 2022, in an effort to increase transparency and counter widespread false narratives about ballot counting. Senior Fellow David Levine said, “Posting ballot images online has the potential to show candidates exactly how they won or lost. It could dissuade people who raise concerns about election fraud, reduce frivolous court challenges to election results, and improve voter confidence. That said, it’s not a panacea for what ails US elections, and it doesn’t come cheap, particularly for small jurisdictions with very limited resources. There’s a good deal to work through when considering the adoption of such a tool, including the timeline for implementing it, the people who will do the backend work to upload the election data, and voter privacy (how to ensure voters aren’t linked to their ballots). And even if the process works in practice, there are still likely to be malign actors who use it incorrectly to bolster false claims of widespread election rigging. Nevertheless, my former colleagues at Ada County are trying something new in a difficult environment, and I hope they’re rewarded for their efforts.”

Xi meets counterparts in visits to France, Serbia, and Hungary: PRC leader Xi Jinping visited French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in France amid tensions over Beijing’s support for Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, trade disputes with France and the EU, and PRC-linked cyberattacks against French lawmakers. Xi then visited Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to ink a free trade agreement between the two countries before joining Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest; both leaders have been open to Chinese investment, infrastructure, and security arrangements. Research Analyst Etienne Soula said, “Xi’s visit to Europe seems calculated to empower autocrats and divide the transatlantic alliance. The Chinese leader used his time in Belgrade to denounce US military interventionism on the anniversary of the 1999 accidental bombing of the PRC’s embassy. And, ahead of his arrival in Budapest, Xi has already hailed Russia’s most overt supporter inside the EU as ‘the number one target country for Chinese investments in the Central and Eastern European region’. Despite Macron’s successful attempts to involve EU leaders, it is regrettable that France let itself be instrumentalized in this latest PRC maneuver to divide Europe.”

In Case You Missed It

  • Russian state media accounts have doubled last year’s engagement on their TikTok posts since the start of 2024 and accelerated the publication of content in both English and Spanish, according to a Brookings Institution report.
  • Arizona election workers participated in a two-day training exercise to prepare them to counter AI threats to elections, featuring an AI-generated deepfake version of Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes.
  • The US Department of State has unveiled a new cyber strategy to blunt PRC and Russian ability to interfere in elections and rally developing countries to reject communications technology produced in those countries.
  • Canada’s government proposed a series of new measures and legislation to counteract foreign interference, including appointing a transparency commissioner responsible for maintaining a public registry of foreign influence activities. 
  • A recently released North Korean propaganda song that praises Kim Jong Un has gone viral on TikTok.
  • A Moldovan nonprofit discovered hundreds of fake comments on Facebook spreading pro-Kremlin talking points about Moldova, some of which were AI-generated or originated from accounts with AI-generated profile pictures.

Quote of the Week

“My morning cup of coffee comes in the form of cyber threat intelligence. … Russia and Iran, they are picking random, rural, suburban water systems around the country, playing ‘Whac-A-Mole’. We need to take that seriously.”

—Vermont’s new Chief Information Security Officer John Toney, during an interview with StateScoop published on May 7.


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