Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-04-08T17:16:25-04:00
April 8, 2019
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Our Take

ASD Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman spoke at the NATO Engages 2019 event last week. Gorman argued that NATO and its member states are not ready to face the challenges of emerging technology in the interference space, as they are constantly playing catch-up with authoritarian regimes that are employing emerging technologies to stay ahead of government and industry attempts to counter their interference efforts. She also spoke with Voice of America’s Chinese language service about the tough security choices NATO member states must make in regards to partnering with Huawei to build their 5G infrastructure.

ASD Deputy Director David Salvo argued in The Hill for the appointment of a senior-level coordinator on foreign interference at the National Security Council and the passing of legislation along the lines of the Secure Elections and Honest Ads Acts ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections.

ASD Director Laura Rosenberger sat down with Lowy Institute Senior Fellow Richard McGregor to discuss the state of relations between the United States and China and new developments in the United States’ ongoing scrutiny of China’s growing market share in 5G and other emerging technologies. Rosenberger also spoke with Bloomberg’s Daybreak Asia on Xi Jinping’s ambitions to turn the PRC into a powerhouse for emerging tech.

ASD China Analyst Matt Schrader offered his thoughts to Foreign Policy on how Huawei quickly rose to prominence within the global market for telecom technology. Schrader discussed how the backing of the PRC party-state was and is crucial to the continued success of the company, belying Huawei’s claims to independence.

ASD Non-resident fellow Heidi Tworek published News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900–1945, which examines the early history of disinformation and other forms of manipulation to spread propaganda and offers lessons for how governments can respond.

Together with the Bertelsmann Foundation, ASD will host a screening of the film, Harmony: Latvian Democracy at Russia’s Doorstep,  on Tuesday, April 16th from 6:00 to 7:00 PM at Landmark’s E Street Cinema in downtown Washington, D.C.. A discussion featuring ASD Director Laura Rosenberger and Latvian Ambassador to the United States Andris Teikmanis will follow. Admittance is free, but please RSVP here.

News and Commentary

Declining number of local newspapers leaves U.S. more vulnerable to interference: As major tech platforms like Facebook, Google and Apple enter already crowded media spaces, local newspapers are disappearing across the country, contributing to a rise in partisanship. ASD’s Policy Blueprint for Countering Authoritarian Interference notes that increased partisanship provides fertile ground for foreign governments seeking to interfere in U.S. politics. In an attempt to help local news outlets bargain more effectively with tech companies, U.S. Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Douglas Collins (GA) reintroduced legislation last week to empower news outlets to “join forces” when negotiating with tech companies. As noted by ASD Director Laura Rosenberger, “few issues are more important to the health and strength of our democracy than Americans’ ability… to obtain reliable information about the issues of the day.” (Axios, The Atlantic, Scientific American, ASD, Engadget, Washington Post)

Facebook takedown reveals information operations in India ahead of elections: Facebook announced on April 1 that it had removed networks of hundreds of accounts, pages, and groups based in India and Pakistan. The networks posted highly political — often stridently nationalist — content. The Pakistani accounts were linked to Inter Service Public Relations, the communications arm of the Pakistani military; the Indian accounts were linked to two major Indian political parties. In recent weeks, India’s Election Commission has grappled with a flood of disinformation on social media ahead of the start of that country’s multi-stage elections on April 11. Facebook-owned Whatsapp has become a nexus of that disinformation. ASD Director Laura Rosenberger has warned that, as “[online interference] tactics are improved and applied more widely,” democracies will need to work to educate their citizenry about these online threats in order to build long-term resilience to interference. (Facebook, Indian Express, Reuters, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, BBC, ASD)

Reports, account takedowns reveal spread of asymmetric interference tools: Last week, an investigative report from Reuters revealed that the UAE is employing former U.S. intelligence and military officials to bolster its asymmetric cyber capabilities. The report adds to a mounting body of evidence that a growing number of foreign governments are deploying interference tactics, including cyberattacks and disinformation operations. Recent Facebook takedowns have targeted networks linked to the Philippines, Iran, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Venezuela. As ASD’s Policy Blueprint for Countering Authoritarian Interference notes, in a world increasingly interconnected by technology, a growing number of actors “will be able to conduct malign interference operations of varying scales and sophistication.” (Reuters, Facebook, Politico, ASD)

In other news:

  • U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the DETER Act, which will seek to deter foreign governments from interfering in U.S. elections through retaliatory sanctions.
  • Members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission are still waiting for security clearances to access classified information regarding potential cyber-attacks, compounding security risks for the 2020 elections.
  • Facebook is introducing a new feature to give users information about why they are being shown content in their News Feed, along with links to personalization controls.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warns of potential Russian interference in his country’s upcoming general elections.
  • Employees of YouTube say that their recommendations to curb the spread of conspiracy theories and other misinformation were ignored by company leadership in favor of increased engagement.
  • The U.S. Government is developing contingencies to safeguard U.S. national security in the event Huawei succeeds in penetrating the EU 5G market.
  • The Chinese government is leading the rush to develop “deep fake” technology that introduces false information into satellite imagery.
  • U.S. officials have raised concerned that the Chinese owners of Grindr, a popular gay dating app, have been giving information on users’ HIV status to groups linked to the Chinese government.
  • Researchers discovered two unprotected caches of Facebook information on Amazon’s servers, exposing hundreds of millions of user records, including passwords.
  • Experts discovered a “sophisticated flaw” in Huawei’s Matebook laptops that allows hackers to take over the machines.
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is terminating its research links with Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE in light of security concerns.
  • Top officials at the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are considering banning Huawei from the Houses of Parliament and other sensitive U.K government installations.

Quote of the Week

“The one clear message we can all take away from the Mueller Report – along with the consensus of our intelligence chiefs – is that Russia worked to manipulate the American people and undermine our democratic process in 2016. As we head into the 2020 election cycle, we must be vigilant against attacks from the Kremlin or anyone who seeks to follow their example.”

-Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), introducing the DETER Act, April 3, 2019

“Because the only thing that Vladimir Putin understands is deterrence, the DETER Act of 2019 makes it crystal clear to Russia and other hostile governments that the United States will respond immediately and overwhelmingly to future attempts to interfere in or undermine our elections … I urge Congress to come together and decisively protect our elections and the American people for years to come against foreign adversaries that are determined to tear us down and divide us in order to build themselves up.”

– Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), introducing the DETER Act, April 3, 2019

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