Our Take

The rollout of 5G wireless networks will likely be a defining geopolitical dilemma of 2020, but American and European consumers could easily mistake 5G for just another marketing ploy for early adopters—to the detriment of democracies worldwide, Emerging Technology Fellow Lindsay Gorman argued in The Atlantic.

Beijing has started brazenly claiming that China shares more values with Europe than the United States, Advisory Council member Julie Smith told the New York Times.

Russian trolls amplify extreme views within African American activist groups, making it easier for outsiders to discredit them, Media and Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer explained on WPFW-Pacifica.

Democratic elections are vulnerable to foreign interference by authoritarian actors other than Russia, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine noted in Electionline’s annual list out of trends in election administration.

ASD experts identified trends to watch in 2020, including the emergence of malign financial tools for election interference; the movement toward stronger data protection in an age of surveillance; and increased state efforts to secure electoral infrastructure from multifarious threats ahead of the November elections. Read more here.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Since the arrest of billionaire financier and serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in July 2019, Russian government-funded media outlets have mentioned Epstein more than Joe Biden or Angela Merkel on Twitter and produced more video content on Epstein than Vladimir Putin. In his latest analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data, Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer discusses why the Jeffrey Epstein saga was RT and Sputnik’s top story of 2019.

News and Commentary

U.S. military officials contemplate methods to counter Russian interference efforts in 2020 elections: According to current and former government officials, U.S. Cyber Command is developing capabilities that could be deployed against Russian entities if they attempt to interfere in the 2020 elections. The new options build on an operation from 2018 when Cybercom used emails, pop-ups, and texts to target Russian trolls and took the Internet Research Agency’s servers offline. ASD has emphasized the need to raise the costs on authoritarian actors conducting malign influence operations, including through offensive cyber operations that use the appropriate authorities to deter threats. Former Research Assistant Brad Hanlon and Director Laura Rosenberger have argued that countries have a range of options to counter malign information operations that do not play into the hands of authoritarian regimes’ by restricting expression. (Washington Post, ASD).

Huawei spends millions on advertising and lobbying to secure a leading role in developing European 5G networks: Chinese telecom giant Huawei is competing to build Europe’s next-generation technology while running an intensive advertising and lobbying campaign to portray itself, opposite the United States, as a guarantor of privacy and transparency that shares common European values. Huawei has reportedly made “unexpected moves” to push this messaging and capitalize on European distrust toward the Trump administration, which has repeatedly called for a ban on Huawei. Most recently, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien issued a stark warning to the UK, saying that allowing Huawei access to its 5G networks could provide the Chinese Communist Party with access to the UK’s secret intelligence services and the “most intimate” details of British citizens. Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt has argued, in a paper with Harvard’s Torrey Taussig, that while firms like Huawei may not appear to pose a direct threat to democracy, the CCP’s heavy-handed control over state-owned and private sector companies creates serious risks to privacy and intellectual property rights. (New York Times, Financial Times, Reuters, Washington Quarterly)

In other news

  • U.S. government officials warned about a potential new wave of Iranian cyber-attacks targeting critical systems following the killing of Iran’s top military leader last week; disinformation experts have since reported suspicious, early signs of accounts pushing messages online that are sympathetic to the Iranian government.
  • A doctored, out-of-context video of presidential candidate Joe Biden went viral on Twitter, showing him embracing the idea of European cultural supremacy.
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act, a bill that provides the strongest data privacy protections across the United States, went into effect on January 1.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation requiring the State Department to disclose how it controls and regulates the sale of cyber tools and services abroad.
  • Taiwan’s legislature passed the Anti-Infiltration Law aimed at countering political interference from China less than a week before its presidential and legislative elections.
  • The White House appointed Robert Blair as the special representative for international telecommunications policy to support and coordinate the administration’s 5G efforts.
  • The Russian government announced that it would retaliate against U.S. sanctions on companies and individuals involved with laying the new gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.


Quote of the Week

“We expect 2020 to be a target for our adversaries. Disinformation campaigns have been ongoing across democratic institutions and we expect that to continue and perhaps even ramp up heading into 2020. The threat is real.”

  • Senior Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Matt Masterson said about foreign interference efforts in the upcoming 2020 elections
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.