Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-02-19T16:36:41-04:00
February 19, 2019
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Our Take

ASD’s Brad Hanlon and Tom Morley examined the hidden relationship between trendy, English-language social media programs on allegedly independent media networks and Russian state-sponsored media company RT, in a story picked up by CNN. They demonstrated how the Russian government has “resorted to hiding its propaganda behind good graphic design and an ever-growing number of unlabeled media outlets to obscure with lies that which it has been unable to support with the truth.”

ASD Non-resident Fellow Clint Watts, in the first part of a planned three-part series, explored the problem of Advanced Persistent Manipulators (APMs) in the world of social media. “[APMs] pursue their targets and seek their objectives persistently and will not be stopped by account shutdowns and platform timeouts.”

ASD’s Tom Morley and Matt Schrader argued that indictments in the United States and Poland involving Chinese telecommunications conglomerate Huawei are further proof that European governments should “exclude Huawei from their telecommunications infrastructure before the company becomes too enmeshed in the continent’s 5G systems to be fully, securely, and painlessly removed at a later date.”

ASD’s Nad’a Kovalcikova, in a report with her co-authors at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, called for “strengthening public debate in the face of ongoing digital propaganda.”

News and Commentary

Trump administration reduces staffing of DHS task forces on foreign interference: According to The Daily Beast, the Department of Homeland Security has begun reassigning staff away from two key task forces within the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) that focus on election security and foreign interference. Current and former officials worry that the drawdown may hamstring preparations to protect the 2020 elections from foreign influence campaigns, with one official stating, “our key allies are wondering why the U.S. is not more coordinated and not more proactive in dealing with [foreign interference].” ASD has advocated for the appointment of a foreign interference coordinator at the National Security Council to drive policy measures and coordinate across government agencies on the foreign interference challenge. (The Daily Beast, ASD)

U.S. government continues push against Chinese tech, while Europe balks: Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order outlining a new plan to improve artificial intelligence (AI) in the United States. While the order does not explicitly mention China, experts agree that it is intended to help the U.S. compete against China’s growing capabilities in the tech sector – though many remain skeptical of the order’s potential implementation and impact. Meanwhile, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) reintroduced a bipartisan bill calling for an unclassified report on China’s influence operations, disinformation, press manipulation, and economic coercion targeting the United States and its allies. While some companies have promised to heed the U.S. government’s warnings about the national security risks of integrating Chinese telecommunications equipment, many European carriers and officials are pushing back, claiming that Chinese companies provide superior equipment at lower prices. (New York Times, Recode, Brookings Institution, U.S. Senate, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal)

U.S. and Europe take action against Russian interference and espionage: A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation last week to punish Russia for its continued misconduct across the globe, taking aim at Russia’s financial, tech, and oil industries, while ratcheting up targeted sanctions of Russian intelligence officials and oligarchs. Against a backdrop of increased scrutiny of Russian interference in Europe, Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency has launched a probe into potential Russian funding of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Belgium placed Clement Vandenborre, the head of its counterintelligence service ADIV, under house arrest while it investigates allegations that he has been spying for Russia. And Bulgaria announced that it is also investigating Russian activity in its country after open source research revealed potential linkages between a Russian military intelligence officer and the 2015 poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev. The Financial Times reported that EU and U.S. lawmakers are also close to agreeing on a new round of sanctions to punish Russia for its continued aggression in Ukraine. (U.S. Senate, Reuters, European Views, New York Times, Bellingcat, Financial Times)

In Other News:

– Chinese tech giant Huawei threatened legal action against the Czech Republic after the Czech security service issued a formal warning about the company.

– The New York Times reports on how Chinese and Iranian hackers are targeting U.S. companies.

– Chinese tech giant Huawei is targeting Apple’s trade secrets, according to The Information.

– A Department of Justice indictment reveals Iranian social media operation targeting U.S. intelligence officials with malware.

– The Estonian parliament is considering sanctions against four Russian officials for their role in the capture and detention of Ukrainian sailors in the Kerch Strait.

– Philippine researchers uncovered links between local disinformation outlets and the Internet Research Agency in Russia.

– Russian hackers work significantly faster than other state actors, according to cybersecurity company Crowdstrike.

– Oriana Skylar Mastro describes how China has concealed its global ambitions for Foreign Affairs.

– Reddit users expressed concerns of censorship after Chinese tech giant Tencent invested $150 million in the site.

– Critics are chastising the European Commission after it omitted Russia from its money laundering watchlist despite numerous scandals in recent years.

– The Republic of Macedonia officially changed its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, paving the way for membership in NATO and the EU.

– The Council of Europe released a report on attacks on press freedom in Europe, saying that press freedom is more fragile now than at any time since the Cold War.

– In an interview with Recode, Center for Democracy and Technology president Nuala O’Connor criticized the paucity of regulation and consumer protection in the tech industry.

– Ronan Farrow and Adam Entous published an exposé on Psy-Group, one of a growing number of private intelligence firms that offer their clients information warfare technology previously only available to governments.

– The EU reached a provisional deal on Wednesday on new rules governing import gas pipelines, casting doubt over the operating structure of Russia’s planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

– UK MP Bob Seely is campaigning for new legislation to curb “creeping influence” of hostile foreign powers, looking to the United States’ FARA as a model.

– Russia has moved to ban soldiers from sharing personal information on social media after a series of embarrassing exposés by open source researchers made use of Russian soldiers’ social media content.

Quote of the Week

“Russia’s not the only power that wants to erode freedom in this region. I raised with Peter [Szijjarto] today the dangers of allowing China to gain a bridgehead in Hungary, and we talked openly about how we might work together on that issue. There’s an experience of states in the Asia-Pacific region that shows that Beijing’s handshake sometimes comes with strings, strings that will leave Hungary indebted both economically and politically. Now the difference is that Russia and China are authoritarian powers who do not share our joint aspirations of freedom. Today I met with Hungarian civil society leaders as well to talk about the importance of protecting and strengthening democratic institutions throughout the Western world.”

– Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a press conference with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjarto in Budapest on February 11, 2019.

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