Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-02-04T17:03:42-04:00
February 4, 2019
|

Our Take

ASD Senior Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum testified on January 29th before the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Financial Crimes, Tax Evasion, and Tax Avoidance regarding the vulnerability of the European Union’s financial institutions to money laundering and other financial crimes that originate in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “Recent years have witnessed a profusion of money laundering scandals at European banks […] Toleration of such activity inside the EU creates risks here at home.”

ASD Director Laura Rosenberger assessed how the U.S. can meet the challenges that emerging technologies pose to the security of American democracy in Technology and National Security: Maintaining America’s Edge (eds. Leah Bitounis and Jonathan Price), now available from the Aspen Strategy Group.

ASD Non-resident Fellow Aviv Ovadya explained how end-to-end encrypted messaging systems, such as WhatsApp, can address the threat of misinformation while also preserving privacy.

News and Commentary

Disinformation campaigns tied to Mueller investigation and midterms revealed: On January 30, the U.S. Department of Justice released a new court filing alleging that entities tied to the Russian government tried to weaponize information from Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation to discredit the probe and the American government writ large. According to prosecutors, in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections, a newly created Twitter account attempted to draw publicity by leaking a trove of documents, including information from the Mueller investigation provided as legal discovery to Concord Management and Consulting – a Russian company that is accused of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The following day, both Facebook and Twitter revealed that they removed thousands of inauthentic accounts tied to foreign governments in the lead up to the midterms. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats reported that China and Russia are likely to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, noting that Russia may employ tactics “such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack-and-leak operations, or manipulating data – in a more targeted fashion.” (Department of Justice, NBC News)

Pressure on Huawei mounts in U.S. and Europe: Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors partially unsealed two indictments last week against Chinese telecom giant Huawei and its Chief Operating Officer, Meng Wanzhou. The first indictment levels 13 charges against Huawei and two subsidiaries for intellectual property theft and bank fraud, among other charges, while the second indictment details Huawei’s efforts to steal trade secrets from American mobile carrier T-Mobile USA. Huawei faces backlash from across the Atlantic as well. As European officials plan for replacing current cellular networks with 5G technology, some countries worry that including Huawei equipment in the revamped network may allow China to spy on classified state communications. Chinese officials forcefully pushed back against the DOJ’s charges, accusing the U.S. of trying to “smear and attack specific Chinese enterprises.” As noted by ASD, the DOJ indictments, along with the recent arrest of a Huawei official for cooperating with Chinese intelligence in Poland, raise further suspicions concerning the company’s self-proclaimed independence from the Chinese government and intelligence services. (Bloomberg, Department of Justice, Wall Street Journal, South China Morning Post, Twitter, Financial Times)

Facebook moves to protect European elections while undercutting external transparency tools: Facebook announced last week that it will increase its capabilities to “take down fake accounts, reduce false news, increase ads transparency, disrupt bad actors and support an informed and engaged electorate” ahead of the European Parliament elections in May. Included in the company’s election preparations is the creation of a fully searchable archive of political ads, which will house information about who paid for an ad, the number of people it reached, and other demographic information. However, ProPublica and other nonprofits claim that Facebook has simultaneously changed its code to disable independent, external ad transparency tools. ProPublica also asserts that Facebook’s ad transparency tool provides less information than ProPublica’s did and has excluded popular political ads from its library. (Facebook, Politico, Recode, The Verge, ProPublica)

In Other News:

– Europol plans to target thousands of users of the notorious webstresser.org, which launched distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

– According to an Axios study, only 6 percent of news sources utilize systems that authenticate their email correspondence.

– Ukraine expects Russian hackers to interfere with its upcoming presidential elections in March.

– Free Russia Foundation’s recent report suggests that Russia utilizes NGOs to achieve its goals and spread its influence domestically and globally.

– According to NBC News, Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic Member of Congress from Hawaii who is running for president in 2020, received support from “Russia’s propaganda machine.”

– Reuters interviews former U.S. cyberspies currently working for the UAE to go after enemies of the regime.

– The Google News Initiative released a dataset of audio files as part of its initiative to combat deep fakes.

– Twitter recently removed 418 Russian troll accounts that promoted various conspiracy theories.

– Bellingcat verifies Ukrainian intelligence assessments tracking Russian Wagner mercenaries’ passports to the same office as the GRU officers implicated in the Skripal poisoning.

– Google and Facebook stand accused of accessing user data through an iOS backdoor.

– Apple issues patch for glitch allowing FaceTime users to eavesdrop on others, though some say it wasn’t fast enough.

– Vladimir Putin calls for a Russian strategy on Artificial Intelligence, as the Kremlin deepens ties with academia and the private sector.

Quote of the Week

“Our adversaries and strategic competitors probably already are looking to the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests … We expect our adversaries and strategic competitors to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections.”

– Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, January 29, 2019

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