Our Take

The threat landscape for disinformation has grown exponentially since 2016, as the tools and techniques of information manipulation become cheaper and more widely accessible, explained Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer on NPR. Bret also spoke to the difficulties in determining what is and what is not state-backed disinformation in Foreign Policy.

The European Union should act quickly to create legislation for a central anti-money laundering supervisory body for its Single Market argue Non-Resident Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum and Nicholas Véron on the Peterson Institute for International Economics’ blog, Economic Issues to Watch

News and Commentary

Hack of Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone linked to Saudi crown prince: A reported 2018 hack of Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ phone has been linked to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a forensic analysis commissioned by Bezos. The report alleges that Bezos received digital spyware in the form of an encrypted video from a WhatsApp account belonging to the Saudi Crown Prince; the encrypted video enabled surveillance of Bezos’ cell phone for a period of nine months. Last week, United Nations human rights experts called for an investigation into the allegations, characterizing the hack as “an effort to influence, if not silence” the Washington Post’s coverage of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has a history of targeting critics beyond its borders. The incident also demonstrates how commercially available spyware is enabling state actors to engage in this type of activity. Former Research Assistant Brad Hanlon has noted that the hacking and harassment of foreign journalists and media outlets is a key tactic used by authoritarian regimes to inhibit or distract from negative coverage of them, as part of a new wave of attacks on journalists from new and established bad actors. (New York Times, United Nations, The Guardian, Citizens Lab, Washington Post, ASD)

U.S. scrutiny of Chinese universities increases over concerns about academic partnerships and the transfer of sensitive technology: Several federal U.S. departments are stepping up scrutiny of Chinese universities over concerns they are using partnerships with U.S. businesses and universities to achieve the Chinese Communist Party’s goals of acquiring sensitive technologies. This move comes as part of an ongoing U.S. government response to Beijing’s efforts to target people of Chinese descent working and studying in the United States. Such efforts have included programs designed to covertly incentivize the illegal transfer of advanced research to China, and have even involved the recruitment, intimidation, and harassment of Chinese nationals in the United States. At the same time, increased scrutiny worries some Chinese citizens working in the U.S. technology industry, who report that the U.S.-China technological disputes can have negative impacts on their career advancement. ASD China Analyst Matt Schrader, in a joint piece with War on the Rocks’ Peter Mattis, has argued that U.S. authorities tackling China’s intellectual property theft need to communicate more proactively about their efforts to balance vigilance with academic freedom and civil liberties. (Wall Street Journal, The Diplomat, Financial Times, War on the Rocks)

In other news

  • The leader of a U.S.-based neo-Nazi militant group, The Base, is reportedly directing the organization from Russia, after leaving New York for St. Petersburg less than two years ago, according to BBC News.
  • Balkan countries have become a battleground in Iran’s ongoing propaganda war.
  • S. Cyber Command overcame substantial hurdles within the federal government in order to conduct a hacking operation to sabotage the Islamic State’s online propaganda, according to a trove of declassified government documents released last Monday.
  • Twitter suspended an account belonging to France Libre 24, a website purporting to be a French news site, that is actually run by far-right activists in Poland..
  • Chinese authorities arrested a University of Minnesota student and sentenced him to six months in jail in November 2019 over tweets posted while in the United States.
  • A Moscow-led and Beijing-backed United Nations resolution on cybercrime establishes a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes.
  • The Pentagon objected to proposed regulations by the Commerce Department that would make it harder for U.S. companies to sell to Huawei from their overseas facilities.
  • A new report from the Kofi Annan Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age calls for a comprehensive series of reforms by governments and tech companies to undo recent harm to global electoral integrity.
  • GOP Representative Jim Banks of Indiana called for the Department of Justice to label Xinhua, a Chinese news organization that operates different bureaus in the United States, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Quote of the Week

“The [National Defense Strategy] prioritizes China first and Russia second in this era of great power competition. Both of these revisionist powers, as we know, are trying to use emerging technologies to alter the landscape of power and reshape the world in their favor and often at the expense of others … Indeed, the Chinese government is using its diplomatic, military, and economic power to advance its aims in ways that are heavy-handed, often threatening, and usually contrary to international rules and norms.”

  • Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Global Security Forum (January 24, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.