Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-03-18T15:25:46+00:00
March 18, 2019
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Our Take

In a new paper, ASD Director Laura Rosenberger and Research Assistant Tom Morley show how the Russian government and its proxies nurture and shape illiberal populist movements as a means of destabilizing the West. Earlier this month, Rosenberger presented the paper to a conference, “Global Populisms and their International Diffusion,” at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

ASD Senior Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum explained to Reuters why newly proposed EU anti-money laundering (AML) measures won’t prevent malign actors from concealing their identities behind shell companies or cut-outs in order to hide activities like tax evasion, money laundering, and other forms of corruption.

News and Commentary

Revelations of Russian cyberattacks on 2018 midterms spark anxiety for 2020: On March 13, U.S. Cyber Command Chief General Paul Nakasone testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the Russian government sought to interfere with U.S. election systems during the 2018 midterm elections, noting that his command provided “indicators of compromise” to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. While lawmakers have praised Cyber Command for its efforts in 2018, concerns for the integrity of the 2020 election are mounting. On March 14, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) reintroduced legislation to protect election systems ahead of next year. ASD’s David Salvo and Joshua Kirshenbaum have argued that securing U.S. elections will require stronger responses to interference efforts, including through punitive sanctions against foreign actors that engage or attempt to engage in election interference. (CNN, Washington Post, Politico, ASD)

Disputes over Huawei threaten U.S. relations with key allies: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration has threatened to limit intelligence sharing with Germany if the German government allows Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to build the country’s next-generation mobile infrastructure. The threat is the latest development in the U.S. government’s ongoing campaign to limit Huawei integration in Europe, which it argues would put the continent’s communication infrastructure at risk. Although many security experts agree, U.S. allies have largely rejected Washington’s prodding, arguing that the risks are manageable. ASD’s Lindsay Gorman has noted that the U.S. government has not adequately communicated what is at stake: “If we are asking our NATO allies to make political and financial sacrifices for collective security, we need to provide them with hard facts and risk assessments–not cajoling or pressure.” (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Verge, Twitter)

New report, money-laundering revelations highlight threat of Russian malign finance: A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) details the “network of political and economic connections” the Kremlin exploits to facilitate corruption by targeting vulnerabilities in the EU’s financial system. Malign finance is a key element of the toolkit the Russian government uses to undermine democratic states and institutions, enabling the Kremlin and its proxies to build influence and fund interference efforts covertly. Recent reporting by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has revealed significant weaknesses in the EU’s ability to police this type of activity by exposing a massive Russian money-laundering scheme that used major Western banking institutions to funnel nearly $5 billion into Europe and the United States. ASD’s Joshua Kirschenbaum has analyzed the vulnerabilities within the EU’s financial system, noting the need for an independent EU anti-money laundering agency to help adequately supervise financial activity in the Single Market. (OCCRP, Bloomberg, ASD, CSIS)

In other news:

  • Thousands of Russians are protesting Russian government plans to establish its own Internet, which some refer to as an “online Iron Curtain.”
  • A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) identifies weak points and “enabler” countries in the EU that allow the Kremlin to build influence through shady financial activity.
  • Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier dives into the flawed model of Facebook content moderation, which critics say seeks to side-step “problems inherent with the business model.”
  • The Swiss subsidiary of Russian state-owned Gazprom proposed establishing a small company to manage operations of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline at the entry point into the EU gas grid, which would undermine EU efforts to control the gas flow.
  • The House of Representatives recently passed a package of bills seeking to hold Russia accountable for a series of international scandals.
  • Cybersecurity researchers uncovered weaknesses in the Swiss voting system that would have allowed hackers to manipulate voter tallies.
  • Politico’s Chief Technology Correspondent outlines the risks involved in Facebook’s planned platform changes, saying the new policies will make removing harmful content more difficult and will undermine efforts to hold the company responsible for the content shared on the platform.
  • Many Reddit users believe that Chinese government-sponsored accounts are attempting to spread propaganda and conceal anti-China comments on the platform.
  • Russian propaganda operations are reportedly still active on the major social media platforms despite indictments, account takedowns, and sanctions over the past year.
  • Hackers used Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev’s web server to hack Democratic party email accounts before the 2016 elections, according to recently unsealed court documents containing forensic analysis.
  • Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan explains how resurgent authoritarianism threatens liberal democracies.
  • Hackers with links to Chinese intelligence agencies launched cyberattacks on universities in the U.S., Canada, and Asia to steal technology developed for the U.S. Navy.

Quote of the Week

“Russia is still pursuing an opportunistic foreign policy shaped by a very narrow circle of decision-makers, and employing political, economic and military means supported by Russia’s government-controlled influence operations. It is therefore impossible to draw a clear line between Russian foreign policy on the one hand and influence operations on the other”

-2019 Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service “International Security and Estonia” Report, March 13

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