Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-07-29T15:19:45-04:00
July 29, 2019
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Our Take

In testimony to Congress last week, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller highlighted the scope of the threat posed by Russian interference, Director Laura Rosenberger emphasized for NPR and in Just Security. On NPR’s All Things Considered, Non-Resident Fellow Clint Watts argued that the erosion and subversion of our democracy is Putin’s long-term goal. On MSNBC, Watts urged the U.S. to secure its election infrastructure against foreign cyber threats. Speaking to Fox 45 News, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt called on legislators “to work together to close the vulnerabilities that are staring us in the face” in the wake of the Mueller testimony. The U.S. government should also act to synchronize its election security efforts across the whole government and not just within the intelligence community, Brandt told the Washington Post.

Lawmakers need to work across the aisle to secure our elections by ensuring that states have the funding and resources necessary to upgrade and secure election infrastructure, Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson argued on CSPAN. States need not only long-term funding, but also expertise and a coordinated strategy as new actors and threats of foreign interference surface, Brandt noted on Public Radio International. On MSNBC, Deputy Director Dave Salvo also outlined measures to remedy vulnerabilities. Salvo and Wilson also explained the threats that foreign actors pose to future U.S. elections.

Russia, as well as other authoritarian regimes, believes it has an asymmetric advantage in the social media and cyber space because of democracies’ openness, Rosenberger argued at the Aspen Security Forum. She also discussed how Russia’s tactics played out in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on the second episode of Lawfare’s The Report podcast. 

The Russian government — and the Soviet government before it — has exploited racism and discrimination in America to weaken and divide U.S. society, asserted  Media and Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer at the National Urban League’s Annual Conference. 

Tech companies need a systematic, intelligence-led approach to stop advanced persistent manipulators on their platforms, argued Watts in a new ASD brief.

The explosion of personal data creates a challenge for U.S. cyber policy to secure critical information, Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman contended in Fifth Domain.

U.S. government efforts to halt China’s theft of intellectual property must include more transparency, argued China Analyst Matthew Schrader and Deputy Staff Director for the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Peter Mattis, in War on the Rocks.

Newly elected leaders of the European Commission appear focused on the threat posed by foreign authoritarian regimes, observed Research Assistant Etienne Soula in a blog post. Soula and ASD Intern Nora Cyra also analyzed concerns that the new Greek government’s economic and political ties to China and Russia could leave it vulnerable to interference.

News and Commentary

Former Special Counsel and Senate Intelligence Committee reiterate ongoing threat of foreign interference: Following former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before lawmakers in which he reiterated that foreign interference is “among the most serious” challenges to democracy, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report on the 2016 presidential election, noting that states remain vulnerable to election interference. In a co-authored report last week, Salvo and Wilson outlined the need for additional resources to support upgrades to local- and state-level election security, including by updating voting equipment, providing greater cybersecurity assistance and training to local election officials, and conducting post-election audits. (NBC, New York Times, ASD/Brennan Center/Pitt Cyber/R Street)

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rolls out new strategy to mitigate against cyberattacks: DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs announced a new public awareness initiative last week aimed at building resilience against foreign interference by educating citizens regarding the tactics and methods used by hostile foreign actors to target our democracy. Non-resident fellow Clara Tsao was part of the DHS team that created the campaign. Rosenberger has argued that building resilience to authoritarian interference through public awareness and media-literacy programs is essential to reduce the long-term effectiveness of foreign meddling. (Tomsguide, OpenGlobalRights)

National Security Agency establishes cybersecurity directorate to coordinate operations: The National Security Agency (NSA) will create a cybersecurity directorate to help coordinate its offensive and defensive operations and facilitate closer communication with other federal agencies and the private sector regarding cyber threats. NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone appointed Anne Neuberger, who recently managed the NSA’s election security operations ahead of the 2018 midterms, to run the new directorate. Rosenberger has called for the creation of a Hybrid Threat Center within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to allow for close coordination between the various government agencies tasked with combating and deterring foreign interference. (Wall Street Journal, Twitter, ASD)

 

In other news

  • China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other states have a history of conducting social media disinformation operations worldwide, experts report.
  • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will resign this month after more than two years in the position. Representative John Ratcliffe (R-TX) will be nominated to replace Coats as Director.
  • Facebook misled users about its facial recognition tool and providing phone numbers to advertisers, according to FTC accusations that prompted a $5 billion fine.
  • Facebook removed 294 accounts from Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, and Honduras, as well as over 1,500 pages, as part of its efforts to counter “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
  • Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini evaded parliamentary questions on his party’s alleged efforts to obtain secret funding from Russia.

Quote of the Week

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. As I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American.”

-Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about Russian interference in the 2016 election, July 24, 2019

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