Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-04-23T16:18:57-04:00
April 23, 2019
|

Our Take

In Foreign Affairs, ASD Co-directors Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly argue that policymakers should put partisanship aside to work together to secure election systems and set consequences for foreign actors that interfere with U.S. democracy.

ASD Director Laura Rosenberger joined David Greene on NPR’s Morning Edition to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rosenberger emphasized that the Russian government is waging a sustained, ongoing campaign to weaken the United States, damage its democracy, and divide its citizens. Rosenberger also spoke to PBS News Hour on Mueller’s view of his investigation’s mandate with regard to Russia’s broader interference efforts, noting that the investigation did not include an analysis of efforts by Russian state-owned media like RT and Sputnik to influence the 2016 election.

ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Research Assistant Bradley Hanlon discussed new details about Russian interference revealed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, noting the Russian government’s widespread targeting of U.S. election systems and its effective manipulation of U.S. media to push its agenda.

ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt wrote about recent efforts by governments in the U.K., Australia, and Singapore to combat disinformation, arguing that some new proposals threaten speech and may play into the hands of authoritarian regimes that hope to restrict free expression.

ASD Senior Fellows Kristine Berzina and Joshua Kirschenbaum discussed the EU’s efforts to counter foreign interference in its upcoming parliamentary elections, emphasizing the EU’s failure to combat inflows of foreign money. They noted that Russia often uses opaque financial channels and strategic investments to help fund its allies in Europe.

ASD Research Assistant Bradley Hanlon and Intern Robert McDonald identified ten concrete steps that the United States can take to better defend against the foreign interference threat highlighted in Special Counsel Mueller’s report. These steps include legislative initiatives in cybersecurity, malign finance, and counter-disinformation, as well as suggestions for the Executive Branch to better counter authoritarian interference.

News and Commentary

Mueller report sheds light on Russian interference operations: On April 18, the Department of Justice published a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The report confirms that the Russian government executed a “sweeping and systematic” effort to interfere in the U.S. election, and adds new details that deepen our understanding of the Kremlin’s goals and tactics. While the report is extensive, it is not a comprehensive account of Russian interference, and the U.S. intelligence community is continuing its counterintelligence investigation into Russian activity in 2016. In the wake of the report, ASD Co-directors Jamie Fly and Laura Rosenberger have called for urgent, bipartisan action to close off vulnerabilities and secure U.S. democracy ahead of the upcoming 2020 presidential election. (CNBC, ASD, NBC, Foreign Affairs)

Reports reveal Russian attempts to support far-right Bundestag member. Last week, Der Spiegel — in partnership with the BBC, La Repubblica, and German public broadcaster ZDF — reported that Russian nationals and associates of the Kremlin conspired to offer improper material support to the election campaign of a prominent member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Russian government strategy papers reviewed by the BBC show that Russia provided political support to far-right German MP Markus Frohnmaier during his 2017 Bundestag election campaign. One document suggests the goal of the operation was to deliver to the Kremlin its “own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.” ASD’s Laura Rosenberger and Thomas Morley note that the Russian government employs a range of tactics, including “political and social subversion, malign finance, cyber-attacks, and strategic economic coercion” to support illiberal groups across Europe. ASD’s Authoritarian Interference Tracker has catalogued over 400 instances of Russian interference across the transatlantic community since 2010, including several examples of Kremlin support for illiberal or fringe political groups. (BBC, Der Spiegel, Washington Post, ASD)

In other news:

  • Hours after the Notre Dame cathedral fire, Russia spread false narratives on social media to blame Ukrainian nationalists for the tragedy in France.
  • Deutsche Bank allowed illegal Russian payments to flow into the western financial system in a vast $20bn money laundering scheme, according to a report seen by the Guardian.
  • Propaganda rooted in societal division and prejudice spreads rapidly in India in the lead up to their presidential elections.
  • Security researchers uncovered a DNS hijacking campaign of prominent national security and energy organizations in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • EU officials strongly urged Facebook to reconsider transparency and anti-disinformation rules ahead of the European election in May.
  • After the Easter Sunday suicide bombings, social media and online messaging apps were temporarily blocked in Sri Lankao curb the promotion of violence and disinformation.
  • Facebook harvested the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their consent to expand its social connections and improve ad targeting.
  • Election officials in South Carolina asked a federal appeals court to challenge the constitutionality of paperless voting machines, which they argued make their state vulnerable to foreign interference.

Quote of the Week

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion.”

-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, April 18, 2019

Newsletter Sign Up

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