Securing Democracy Dispatch

2019-09-30T16:09:23-04:00
September 30, 2019
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Our Take

The Kremlin’s prolonged efforts to airbrush Russian history have recently become a messaging priority for the country’s diplomatic and government messengers abroad, as evidenced by a recent Twitter campaign targeting #WWII historical narratives, assessed Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer based on the Hamilton 2.0 dashboard data.

The United States needs a new framework that holistically addresses the challenge of solicitation of foreign interference as a matter of national security, not a technical campaign finance violation, wrote Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Fellow for Malign Finance Joshua Rudolph in Just Security.

The cyber challenges facing the United States do not fit neatly into existing bureaucratic silos and demand new cross-cutting ways to understand them, Director Laura Rosenberger argued in a panel discussion on the Laws of War in Cyberspace at the Washington National Cathedral.

The erosion of institutions inside democratic countries, along with a retreat in U.S. global leadership, has provided authoritarian governments like Russia and China with soft targets, wrote Director Laura Rosenberger in The Dallas Morning News.

While $250 million in election security funding is an important first step, more federal resources and legislation are needed to protect our electoral infrastructure, argued Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine in Interference Matters.

The EU can strengthen its newly passed foreign investment screening regulation by emulating aspects of the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), wrote Senior Fellow Josh Kirschenbaum, Research Assistant Étienne Soula, and Meaghan Clohessy in Interference Matters.

News and Commentary

Whistleblower complaint raises concerns about solicitation of foreign interference: Last Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee released a whistleblower complaint concerning a phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the whistleblower detailed concerns that Trump solicited “interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” Director Laura Rosenberger commented that the President requesting foreign government assistance in investigating political opponents impedes the U.S. government’s ability to deter foreign interference from any number of actors. (House Intelligence Committee, Twitter)

Chinese-owned social network TikTok censors content unfavorable to Beijing: Documents uncovered by The Guardian found that TikTok, a social media app owned by Beijing-based technology firm ByteDance, has allegedly instructed its moderators to remove videos related to the Tiananmen Square protests, Tibetan independence, and banned religious movements. The revelations follow rising concerns that TikTok is censoring discussion of the ongoing, pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. China Analyst Matthew Schrader has noted that any news sources or apps based inside China must abide by the Chinese Communist Party’s extensive censorship demands. (The Guardian, Washington Post)

New report shows countries hit with disinformation campaigns more than doubled in the last two years: According to a new report from Oxford University, at least seventy countries were targeted by political disinformation campaigns since 2017, despite recent efforts by big tech companies to combat online disinformation. The report states that China has become a “major player” in the global disinformation space, and while most of its information manipulation takes place on domestic platforms, China has demonstrated a newfound interest in using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to shape public opinion. Co-directors Zack Cooper and Laura Rosenberger have discussed the importance of confronting China’s evolving capabilities in the information space to ensure the health of the democratic process. (Computational Propaganda Research Project, The New York Times, Washington Post)

In other news

  • A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings Act, which seeks to close the gap in federal anti-money laundering laws often exploited by criminal actors.
  • Congressional committees in the House and Senate approved the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which seeks to hold China accountable for ongoing efforts to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.
  • The Wisconsin Election Commission approved $1.1 million for an election security grant program to help local communities protect their electoral infrastructure.
  • Ethical hackers at the 2019 Def Con cybersecurity conference found that voting machines still contain serious flaws that leave them vulnerable to interference.
  • Facebook announced it would not remove politicians’ posts that violate its community guidelines.
  • Chinese government officials will work with 100 private firms in the tech hub of Hangzhou, renewing concerns about the state’s power over private corporations.
  • The U.S. Navy appointed a new cyber chief following an internal audit that revealed repeated compromises of sensitive national security information.

Quote of the Week

“I think the greatest challenge that we do have is to make sure we maintain the integrity of our election system…We know right now that there are foreign powers that are trying to get us to question the validity of whether or not our elections are valid. So first and foremost, I think that protecting the sanctity of our election within the United States, whether it’d be a national, city, state, local is perhaps the most important job that we have with the intelligence community.”

  • Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, during a hearing last week, September 26, 2019
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.