Our Take

One of the greatest hindrances to doing more to combat foreign interference is the politicization of the issue, Director Laura Rosenberger said on PBS NewsHour, and she told NPR’s “All Things Considered” that participating in democracy is one way to combat interference. She also explained to The Washington Post and MSNBC’s Ali Velshi that if the intelligence community is penalized for presenting analysis that the president does not like, it risks leaving the United States blind to threats against it.

Russia’s reported election meddling is part of the Kremlin’s broader attempt to cast democracies as feckless, ineffective, and corrupt, Head of Research and Policy Jessica Brandt told Wired, Reuters, and The Washington Post. Non-resident Fellow Clint Watts added that presidential candidates are making some of the same mistakes they and their predecessors made in 2016.

Our leaders should stick to the evidence when making claims about foreign interference, Rosenberger said to The Washington Post. Brandt told The Daily Beast that we have seen little evidence of Russian disinformation surrounding the feud between Sanders and Nevada union workers in overt channels.

News and Commentary

Reports: House lawmakers warned in a classified briefing of Russia’s interference in the 2020 U.S. elections; Sanders campaign also briefed on Russian efforts to assist his campaign: The House Intelligence Committee was reportedly warned in a classified briefing that Russia is interfering in the 2020 presidential election, including the Democratic primaries. According to reports, top election security official Shelby Pierson, who delivered the briefing, said Russia had “developed a preference” for Trump and that its efforts are designed to raise questions about the integrity of the election process itself. Separately, last month, U.S. officials reportedly told Senator Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to aid his presidential campaign. Sanders condemned Russia’s interference efforts, warning the Kremlin to “stay out of American elections.” Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt has argued that Russia’s election interference is not about any single candidate or party, but part of its much broader effort to dent democracy’s appeal. Director Laura Rosenberger reinforced the importance of separating politics from efforts to unmask and respond to these efforts. (The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, Wired, Twitter)

Five Chinese media outlets designated as operatives of China’s Communist Party: Last Tuesday, the State Department designated five of China’s most prominent news agencies as “foreign missions.” These organizations will now be subject to the same constraints as diplomatic outposts of the Chinese government in the United States, and they will be required to register the names and personal details of their staffs, as well as information about their U.S. real estate holdings. According to an unnamed State Department official, the five media entities are part of the Chinese “party-state propaganda news apparatus.” The decision has caused some concern that China could retaliate against American journalists currently working there. China Analyst Matthew Schrader has pointed to the importance of state-run media in helping the government message on a range of issues abroad. (The New York Times, The Washington Post, Axios, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy)

EU releases new rules for regulating artificial intelligence: Last Wednesday, the president of the EU Commission announced new legislation on artificial intelligence that would place tighter restrictions on all companies and firms operating in the EU that develop machine-learning technologies. This new framework for AI will likely include restrictions on the use of facial recognition tools for mass surveillance to limit the number of individuals targeted. It will also mandate additional human oversight and disclosure requirements on which data sets are used by these technologies. As part of the EU’s broader goal to increase Europe’s “technological sovereignty,” the Commission also released new rules to unlock data from European businesses and the public sector to be harnessed for further innovation in AI. The rules emphasized that increasing the free flow of digital information must be balanced with privacy, safety, and ethical considerations. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman has written on the need to establish moral and ethical standards around new technologies that accord with democratic values around the globe. (Europa.eu, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, The Economist, GMF)

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

ASD experts collected data last week showing that the Russian media ecosystem prominently featured news about the coronavirus. However, tweets about geopolitical events this week mentioning Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were far greater in volume. Limited coverage of the Nevada Democratic presidential debate and the then-upcoming caucuses emphasized divisions within the Democratic party.

In Other News

  • The United States, together with key allies, accused Russia of a “broad cyberattack” targeting the Republic of Georgia last fall; in the same announcement, the State Department also linked Russian military services to a notorious hacker group known as Sandworm for the first time.
  • Ahead of Legislative Assembly elections in Delhi, two deepfake videos, created by India’s ruling party, went viral on WhatsApp; it is the first known instance that a political party anywhere has used a deepfake for campaigning purposes.
  • Germany passed legislation that would require social media companies like Facebook and YouTube to report certain forms of hate speech to the police.
  • Facebook expressed concerns about a government order under Singapore’s controversial fake news law that would block access to a blog page on its platform.
  • A ransomware attack halted operations for two days at an unnamed natural gas compression facility, according to an advisory issued last week by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • The latest polling from PBS Newshour, Marist, and NPR shows American citizens remain confident that their state and local elections will be accurate and fair, despite the glitches that disrupted the Iowa caucuses earlier this month.
  • Utah announced that it expects to use a mobile voting application in its elections this year amidst concerns raised by MIT researchers that the app is vulnerable to attacks.
  • Brazil’s telecoms regulator said any decision about the security risks associated with using Chinese equipment to build 5G networks will be made by the president’s national security advisor.

Quote of the Week

“Election season is in full swing, and Americans have already begun to cast their votes in the 2020 presidential primaries. As we exercise this precious right, we must be mindful that foreign interference and malign influence in our elections are still threats to our democracy.”

  • Top officials at the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in a joint op-ed about protecting the 2020 vote (February 19, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.