Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-06-18T09:19:29-04:00
June 18, 2019
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Our Take

AI-powered systems generate modified content and advance digital forgeries that are harmful to American interests, said ASD Non-Resident Senior Fellow Clint Watts testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The Kremlin and its proxies employ various tactics to undermine democracies around the world, including by enriching elites, bankrolling illiberal populists, building energy dependence, and empowering fringe elements like paramilitaries, ASD Fellow on Malign Finance Joshua Rudolph told NPR.

Election interference is part of a broader ongoing effort by authoritarian regimes to undermine democracies, ASD Director Laura Rosenberger commented as a panelist at the 2019 GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum.

The response to the 2016 hacking of two Florida counties is a lesson for policymakers in how not to handle election interference by foreign governments, says ASD Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt in Slate’s Future Tense.

Congress can defend against Russia by outlawing anonymous shell companies, and requiring companies to disclose to the government who controls the benefits of corporate ownership, writes ASD Fellow on Malign Finance Joshua Rudolph in The Hill.

The cost of international business and banking in Russia will rise if Moscow falls short in an evaluation of its anti-money laundering practices, asserts ASD Senior Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum in an op-ed for the New York University School of Law.

All the data being collected online has the potential to make authoritarianism the more attractive model over democracy, ASD Emerging Technology Fellow Lindsay Gorman said while speaking at the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum on the explosive nature of online data.

Clarifying crucial misconceptions about deepfakes and their effect on our society will help efforts to develop a strategic approach to mitigating their negative impacts, argues ASD Non-Resident Fellow Aviv Ovadya.

South Korea is increasingly aware that growing economic ties to China have created political and security vulnerabilities, notes ASD China Analyst Matthew Schrader.

Italy’s intensifying economic cooperation with China is helping the world’s most powerful authoritarian state establish a beachhead in southern Europe, argues ASD Research Assistant Etienne Soula.

News and Commentary

Largest protest in Hong Kong’s history continues in response to controversial extradition law: Nearly two million civil rights activists in Hong Kong are protesting a controversial bill that would permit China to detain and transfer people wanted in territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements. Many fear that the law – which represents the culmination of decades-worth of attempts by Beijing to chip away a robust set of civil liberties in a semi-autonomous region – could be used to extradite political activists to the Chinese mainland. The massive pressure generated by the protestors forced lawmakers to postpone a formal debate regarding the bill and led Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to issue an apology. ASD’s Matt Schrader has argued that the CCP often uses proxies, including foreign government officials and China’s tech-giants, to disguise its sophisticated efforts to influence foreign political discourse. (Associated Press, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy)

Political crisis escalates as Moldovan president is accused of accepting Russian money: Prosecutors in Moldova opened a criminal investigation into pro-Russian President Igor Dodon last week over allegations that he received up to $1 million a month from Moscow to illegally finance his Socialist party. The scandal, sparked by the release of a video in which Dodon admitted that he accepted funding to support the operating costs of his party, unfolds amidst an ongoing political crisis in the country over this year’s elections. Dodon was recently suspended by Moldova’s Constitutional Court and replaced by the ruling leader of the Democratic Party, Prime Minister Pavel Filip, who has accused Dodon of subverting democracy by running an “illegal, Kremlin-backed government.” ASD’s Malign Finance Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum has written on Russian financial interference in the political processes of other countries, specifically highlighting the Russian funding of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party in France. (Balkan Insight, BBC News, Reuters, ASD)

In other news

  • A European Commission report recently found sustained disinformation activity by Russian sources aiming to influence voters in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
  • Twitter removed data from nearly 4,800 accounts linked to Iran that reportedly disseminated fake news in support of Iranian geopolitical interests.
  • The United States has deployed potentially crippling malware inside Russia’s power grid, marking a new level of aggression in America’s cybersecurity strategy, according to the New York Times.
  • A growing number of members of Congress have called for the reconsideration of laws that protect tech platforms from legal liability for their users’ posts.
  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced last Tuesday that the Senate intends to hold a closed-door election security briefing.
  • Hackers compromised the photos of tens of thousands of travelers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in a “malicious cyberattack” on a federal subcontractor.
  • Facebook worries emails uncovered in the ongoing FTC probe could show CEO Mark Zuckerberg was aware of the company’s “questionable” privacy practices.
  • Telegram, a popular encrypted messaging app, was hit by DDoS attacks originating from IP addresses mostly inside China, according to the company’s CEO.
  • Venture-capital firms in the United States with ties to China are dialing back investments and restructuring deals in creative ways to avoid regulators or shutting down offices.
  • The majority of Florida’s 67 counties were forced to forfeit federal election security funding before the 2018 midterm elections, according to a Spectrum News Investigation.

Quote of the Week

“As our adversaries broaden their attacks on our democratic institutions, we urgently need to be working in a bipartisan way to bolster our defenses. Foreign governments continue to exploit weaknesses in our laws which is why it’s long past time to give FARA real teeth. Our legislation […] will help better identify foreign lobbying activity and level stronger punishment for violators”

  • Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), upon rolling out a new bipartisan bill to strengthen the Foreign Agents Registration Act, June 10, 2019
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.