Our Take

There is no evidence that the Iowa app was hacked or manipulated in any way, but that is not the impression many voters were left with — and the impression of insecurity can be just as damaging as insecurity itself, Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt argued in Fortune. Brandt told The Hill that it was predictable that disinformation, which thrives in a “low-information” environment, would spread as the situation in Iowa continued to unfold. Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph also called this waiting period a “ripe environment” for disinformation.

The information environment is a threat multiplier for election officials: every glitch now constitutes potential peril to the legitimacy of election outcomes, Brandt and Deputy Director David Salvo wrote in The Hill.

We need a postmortem to determine what transpired in the Iowa caucuses, Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine advised in The Hill. It is a good thing Iowa used presidential preference cards for each voter to create a paper backup system, which generally reduces the possibility of error or malfeasance, Levine argued in the Washington Post and MIT Technology Review.  He also stressed to NPR that officials and caucus volunteers should coordinate voting day logistics in advance so vulnerabilities can be addressed before voting begins.  

An independent, bipartisan inquiry could help determine what went wrong in Northampton County’s election to ensure that it and other jurisdictions throughout Pennsylvania, and across the country, can learn from Northampton’s election problems, Levine argued on Pennlive.com.  

Implementing a media literacy program in the United States that is similar to Estonia’s unified education curriculum would be difficult,  Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer argued in the Christian Science Monitor.

French President Emmanuel Macron sees Russia as an integral part of European security, Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina told Deutsche Welle.

In identifying coordinated foreign efforts to influence discourse, it is important not to delegitimize diverse, earnestly held opinions on foreign policy, Research Assistant Nathan Kohlenberg wrote in an ASD blog post.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, the Russian media ecosystem was largely preoccupied with the novel coronavirus, There was also a clear push to fuel conspiracy theories related to the Iowa caucus, and to a more limited degree, the ongoing war in Syria. Read more about the state-funded media accounts that suggested the Democratic National Committee, “corporate” media, and other Democratic candidates perpetrated various “dirty tricks” in Iowa.

News and Commentary

Technical issues with voting app delay results, cause discrepancies in Iowa caucus votes: The results of last week’s Iowa caucuses were delayed due to “quality control checks” of a new voting app used by the state Democratic party, according to reporting from the New York Times. Last Thursday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called for a recanvass in light of the problems that emerged in order to assure public confidence in the results. In their analysis of disinformation circulating about the Iowa caucuses, Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer and Research Assistant Amber Frankland concluded that Russian state-backed media promoted content questioning the integrity of the results in a clear push to fuel conspiracy theories related to the caucuses. (New York Times, Washington Post, ASD)

Senate Intelligence Committee releases volume three of report into investigation of Russian interference in 2016: Last Thursday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released chapter three of its five-part report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. This volume, which focused on the Obama administration’s response to the Kremlin’s influence operation, found that the federal government was not “well-postured” to counter Russian interference efforts with a “full range of policy options,” as it was constrained by interagency and partisan concerns. The report offers a set of recommendations for protecting future U.S. elections, including increasing information sharing on foreign influence operations and providing sustained funding for states to improve the cybersecurity of their electoral infrastructure. Director Laura Rosenberger, Deputy Director Dave Salvo, and former Co-director Jamie Fly have underscored the dangers of the failure to see across bureaucratic silos in sharing information about threats, as was the case in 2016, and they recommend greater information sharing throughout the government on election cybersecurity threats, while also separating politics from efforts to unmask and respond to foreign influence operations. (Intelligence.senate.gov, Politico, ASD)

Twitter, YouTube update policies for dealing with deepfakes: Both Twitter and YouTube announced new rules for addressing deepfake videos on their platforms last week. Under Twitter’s new policy, the company will remove altered videos and other media that could threaten user safety, risk mass violence, or cause individuals not to vote. Twitter will also label significantly altered media and provide additional clarifications for content that might be misleading. YouTube’s policy outlines criteria for the removal of doctored media, and provides that the content will be removed if it aims to mislead viewers about election-related information. In a side-by-side comparison of these policies, Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman and Research Assistant Amber Frankland have pointed out the gaps in the platforms’ definitions of manipulated media and “egregious harm,” and underscored that these policies would benefit from far greater transparency and accountability. (Twitter, BuzzFeed News, YouTube, ASD)

In other news

  • On Monday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will roll out a new counterintelligence strategy that will require the intelligence community to share information about cyber threats with the private sector.
  • The UK plans to diverge from EU data protection rules and establish its own “sovereign” standards for data protection, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
  • The Trump Administration is working with U.S. technology companies to create advanced software for 5G wireless networks that could reduce, if not eliminate, reliance on equipment supplied by Huawei.
  • Following the UK’s decision to limit China’s Huawei in its 5G development, Vodafone announced that it too will remove Huawei components from the core of its European networks.
  • Poland will seek to restrain “high-risk” 5G telecom suppliers to secure its future networks in ways that go beyond the EU’s proposed security measures.
  • Cybersecurity company Certfa reported a new series of phishing attacks from an Iranian hacking group, which has been targeting journalists and political and human rights activists since 2018.
  • A pro-Russian hacking group is ramping up its attacks against Ukraine, targeting more than 5,000 Ukrainian entities in the past few months, most of which are national security institutions, according to new research from SentinelLabs.
  • Ohio is moving to implement new election security measures, such as modernizing voter registration systems, with the funds appropriated by Congress in 2018.

Quote of the Week

“[Russian efforts] sow divisiveness and discord on both sides of an issue and to generate controversy and to generate distrust in our democratic and our electoral process — that’s very much ongoing…While I don’t think we’ve seen any ongoing efforts to target election infrastructure like we did in 2016, we certainly are seeing and have never stopped seeing, really, since 2016 efforts to engage in malign foreign influence by the Russians.”

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray describing foreign disinformation campaigns at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.