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Our Take

Structural approaches that facilitate a whole-of-society defense against interference are key to a successful counter-disinformation strategy, argued Research Assistant Bradley Hanlon and Director Laura Rosenberger in an ASD policy brief.

Foreign actors spreading disinformation online only need to turn up the volume on ongoing conversations, making extreme talking points more mainstream to achieve influence, Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer told NPR’s All Things Considered.

The arrest of two Soviet-born emigres charged with violating campaign finance laws demonstrates the need for the United States government to address foreign interference with a holistic national security framework, wrote Fellow for Malign Finance Joshua Rudolph in Just Security.

Alabamians should work together to keep the political discussion free from foreign interference as lawmakers strive to secure election systems, wrote Head of External Affairs Rachael Dean Wilson and Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine in the Birmingham News.

Censorship is a prerequisite for gaining access to China’s market, which in turn allows China to manipulate discourse abroad, noted China Analyst Matthew Schrader in the Associated Press and in the Nikkei Asian Review.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is politically sensitive, as it fractures Europe strategically between the interests of Germany and the interests of other countries, explained Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina in The New York Times. In a panel discussion on Debating Europe, she argued that the increased use of hybrid warfare tactics raises questions about how to protect citizens online.

Nevada’s blockchain leadership can shape national development of the technology, while also safeguarding democratic values, wrote Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman in the Reno Gazette-Journal. In South China Morning Post, Gorman cautioned that Huawei’s offer to license its technology to a U.S. company raises concerns about the values it would export along with its technology.

National and EU bodies need to systematically share information and invest greater resources to counter foreign influence operations, advised Program Manager Nad’a Kovalcikova in Minsait.

News and Commentary

U.S. Cyber Command and ethical hackers prepare for election meddling in 2020: Last week, hundreds of U.S. military and National Guard hackers gathered in Maryland to test whether those on the front lines of election security are prepared to protect their voting systems from cyber-attacks in 2020. The House Committee on Homeland Security also held a field hearing in Illinois—a hotspot for Russian hacking attempts in 2016—to assess the steps Illinois has taken to protect its election infrastructure. ASD, together with the Brennan Center for Justice, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, and the R Street Institute, published a report on the federally-funded efforts taken by states to improve their electoral infrastructure, while underscoring the election security needs that must be addressed before 2020. (Washington Post,, ASD)

Facebook CEO speaks on protecting freedom of expression online: In a speech last week at Georgetown University, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about the company’s role in protecting free expression. Zuckerberg argued that focusing on authenticity and verifying accounts is a better solution than adopting an “ever-expanding definition of what speech is harmful.” He also claimed that a private company should not censor politicians or the news in a democracy, but instead write policies that “help the values of voice and expression.” Lindsay Gorman, Bradley Hanlon, and Bret Schafer have written on the challenge of setting global standards for online speech, which could potentially place restrictions on freedom of expression. (Washington Post, Business Insider, ASD)

Germany opens its 5G market to Huawei: German authorities indicated that they will not preemptively exclude Huawei from the bidding process for the development of Germany’s 5G network. This decision, which came shortly after the European Commission’s release of a report on the risks of 5G network security, has drawn criticism from Germany’s national security community. Research Assistant Thomas Morley and Matthew Schrader have argued against allowing Huawei access to communications systems vital to Europe’s security, citing the company’s clear links to the Chinese party-state and its intelligence apparatus. (TechCrunch, European Commission, Politico, Interference Matters)

In other news

  • Last week, the bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 passed the House and will advance to the Senate for a vote.
  • The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report that provided further bipartisan evidence of Russia’s election meddling in 2016, and highlighted the danger of foreign interference in 2020.
  • The Chinese government is wielding its market power to apply pressure on Western businesses that have expressed support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
  • Russian hackers used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to attack government and industry organizations in dozens of countries over the last 18 months.
  • The European Union is considering ways to tighten regulations to counter the flow of malign finance into European banks and economic sectors.

Quote of the Week

“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government. By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans. While Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea, and Iran, are following suit.”

– Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) on the new report detailing Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election (October 8, 2019)

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