Securing Democracy Dispatch

2018-12-18T09:23:30+00:00
December 17, 2018
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Our Take

ASD’s Authoritarian Interference Tracker is now live! The Tracker catalogs over 400 incidents of Russian government interference in 42 countries since 2000. You can explore the tracker here. You can also watch ASD’s event that launched the tracker or read about ASD’s launch of the tracker in Europe.

News and Commentary

Lawmakers question Google on privacy, disinformation, and China plans: On December 11, Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary Committee, fielding questions on Google’s data collection practices, efforts to combat disinformation, and future plans for the company in China. Republican committee members focused their questions on Google’s alleged anti-conservative bias, while members from both parties pressed Pichai for details on Google’s alleged development of a censored search engine for the Chinese government. Pichai painted the China project as an internal, exploratory effort that would not be implemented. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) also sought clarification on Google’s plans to address disinformation on YouTube, the company’s video-sharing platform. In the wake of the hearing, critics condemned Pichai for his weak answers regarding YouTube, which has become a haven for disinformation and conspiracy theories. (Associated Press, The Verge, The Washington Post)

Maria Butina pleads guilty in federal court: Accused Russian foreign agent Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a District of Columbia District Court to conspiring with senior Russian officials to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power or influence over U.S. politics” on behalf of the Russian government. In the plea, Butina acknowledged that she and an American associate, identified in the press as GOP political adviser Paul Erickson, worked to build relationships with influential U.S. political figures in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. According to the plea, Butina received orders and support from a senior Russian official, long identified as U.S.-sanctioned former Deputy Governor of Russia’s Central Bank Aleksandr Torshin. The plea agreement released by the District Attorney’s office indicates that Butina’s cooperation with investigators was significant and extensive. (Lawfare Blog, The Washington Post, U.S. Treasury Department, Twitter)

Marriott hotel cyber-attack was part of larger Chinese intelligence effort: According to The New York Times, hackers that breached the Marriott hotel’s network and collected the private data of approximately 500 million guests were working on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security – China’s civilian intelligence agency. Journalist Eli Lake explained that the Marriot hack is “… part of a much larger project that has been going on for half a decade,” though Chinese officials have denied responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, U.S. officials have continued to raise alarm over the Chinese government’s interference efforts. On December 12, Head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division E.W. Priestap warned members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Chinese espionage efforts pose “the most severe counterintelligence threat” facing the United States today. (The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post)

In Other News:

– The Washington Post reports that a forthcoming report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee will provide the most sweeping analysis yet of Russian disinformation surrounding the 2016 election.

– Anton Shekhovtsov clarifies the nature of Russian connections with the “Yellow Vest” protests taking place in France, highlighting how a few pro-Kremlin actors have exploited the movement to assert their own agenda.

– The Guardian’s Louisa Lim and Julia Bergin expose the Chinese government’s “audacious global propaganda campaign.”

The New York Times highlights France’s growing internet literacy programs.

– The UK announced plans to delay its “golden visa” suspension plan, backtracking on a previous announcement claiming that the government had already initiated visa reforms aimed at curbing money laundering and corruption.

– The Guardian reports that journalists working as fact-checkers for Facebook have called for an end to the media partnership with the company, noting that the collaboration has “produced minimal results and that they’ve lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work.”

– EU security commissioner Julian King alleged that Russia “paved way for Ukraine ship seizures” with disinformation.

– The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick and Anton Troianovsky detail the Russian government’s use of disinformation to influence Western discourse.

– Senate Democrats called for an investigation into Deutsche Bank, citing the company’s activities in Russia and role in money-laundering.

Hamilton 68 dashboard

Accounts tracked by the Hamilton 68 dashboard last week focused on a variety of domestic and international issues. Early in the week, accounts continued to concentrate heavily on the yellow vest protests in France; however, chatter shifted to Brexit later in the week after UK Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no-confidence in parliament. Accounts also focused heavily on domestic developments in the U.S., sharing numerous articles criticizing the FBI, the Mueller investigation, and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Quote of the Week

“… complexity has eroded the boundaries we have traditionally relied upon for our security: the boundaries between virtual and real, the domestic and the international, between states and non-state actors and between war and peace. The result is a world of far greater ambiguity. I want to be clear: our adversaries did not create this ambiguity and they did not create the things that divide us. But they have shown a keen willingness to exploit ambiguity in an opportunistic way, taking advantage of blurred lines to probe our institutions and defences in ways that fall short of traditional warfare.”

– Alex Younger, Chief of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), December 3, 2018

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