Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-09-23T16:11:08-04:00
September 23, 2019
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Our Take

The widely varying disclosure standards set by social media companies in some ways serve to confuse the general public, warned Director Laura Rosenberger in an interview with OpenSecrets.

One of the goals of the Chinese Community Party’s disinformation campaigns on Twitter is to control the conversation surrounding the Hong Kong protests, China Analyst Matthew Schrader told the New York Times, and in an interview with Voice of America, he argued that the United States must do more to support the pro-democracy movement. Non-resident Fellow Clint Watts also spoke to NPR about the mechanics of these disinformation campaigns, arguing that the Chinese government is likely seeding more fake accounts every day. 

Director Laura Rosenberger will join a panel discussion moderated by David Ignatius on the Laws of War in Cyberspace on Wednesday, September 25th at 7 pm at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of war in cyberspace. Tickets are available here.

News and Commentary

President Trump raised corruption allegations against a political rival with a foreign leader: President Trump’s interactions with the President of Ukraine have come under close scrutiny in the wake of reports that the president leaned on the Ukrainian leader as part of an effort to damage a political rival. This incident raises concerns about elected officials seeking help from foreign governments in a campaign context. In a set of recommendations endorsed by a bipartisan group of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, ASD experts urged political parties and candidates running for office not to use weaponized information obtained through illicit means or from a foreign government. They also urged government to send a signal from the top that foreign interference is not welcome. (Washington Post, ASD)

$250 million in election security funding added to Senate spending bill: Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed an amendment to an appropriations package that would provide $250 million in election security grants to states. Still, lawmakers stressed that the funding is not a substitute for comprehensive election security legislation. In a report with the Brennan Center for Justice, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, and the R Street Institute, Deputy Director David Salvo and Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson documented unfunded state election security needs. (Washington Post, Politico, ASD)

China tied to cyber-attack on Australia’s parliament and political parties: Australian intelligence determined that China was responsible for a cyber-attack on Australia’s national parliament and three of the largest political parties ahead of general elections earlier this year. According to Reuters, Australian authorities hesitated to publicly accuse China over the attack, fearing a “very real prospect of damaging the economy.” Director Laura Rosenberger argued that the economic dependence of many of Beijing’s target countries gives the Chinese Community Party the opportunity to gain strategic leverage over foreign governments. (Reuters, Asan Forum)

Twitter identifies additional accounts active in Beijing-backed disinformation campaign against Hong Kong protesters: In addition to the 200,000 fake accounts Twitter removed in August, the company identified and disclosed an additional 4,302 accounts that were “most active” in the Chinese government’s campaign to sow discord surrounding the protest movement in Hong Kong. Co-directors Zack Cooper and Laura Rosenberger wrote that the operation demonstrates that the Chinese government is engaged in an effort to manipulate the information space beyond its borders. (TechCrunch, Washington Post)

In other news

  • Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced new legislation to establish a Malign Foreign Influence Response Center to combat electoral interference operations by foreign adversaries—one of ASD experts’ core policy recommendations.
  • Colorado will stop using QR codes on ballots, citing concerns over potential voting data manipulation. It is the first security measure of this kind in the United States.
  • China has actively been leading the reform of the global governance system at the United Nations, positioning its officials to lead specialized agencies and advancing dozens of memorandums in support of its Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Facebook released its plans for an independent oversight board to review online takedowns that will offer recommendations for how the company should tackle problematic content in the future.
  • Ecuador launched an investigation into a massive data breach that made available the personal data of up to 20 million people.

Quote of the Week

“We must remain adaptable and continue to advance our capabilities. This is already happening in preparation for the 2020 elections. By defending forward, we are able to see and understand malicious cyber behavior, allowing us to publicly expose that activity and its culprits. It’s also posturing us to take action against these threats, at their source, before they reach the homeland…The bottom line is we are now prepared to deliver the actions expected from the department in a timely, collaborative, and risk-informed manner.”

  • Secretary of Defense Mark Esper during an address to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s annual summit (September 19, 2019)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.