The Authoritarian Interference Tracker exposes the Russian and Chinese governments’ foreign interference activities in more than 40 transatlantic countries from 2000 to the present across the five tools ASD tracks. These tools are: information manipulation, cyber operations, malign finance, civil society subversion, and economic coercion. The Tracker shines a light on the tactics and trends that define the Russian and Chinese governments’ interference efforts in democracies, and highlights the interconnectivity between different parts of the asymmetric toolkit. Forthcoming iterations of the Tracker will expand to catalog authoritarian interference by other regimes that adopt similar tactics to undermine democracies.
The Authoritarian Interference Tracker is a living project leveraged from the open source community. Please send incidents for inclusion in the Tracker to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASD divides the data presented in the Tracker according to five interconnected asymmetric tools – information manipulation, cyber operations, malign finance, civil society subversion, and economic coercion. Many of the data entries are cross-tagged with multiple tools, highlighting how the Russian or Chinese governments use various tactics simultaneously to undermine and destabilize democracies.
ASD culled all of the data included in this project from open source reporting in eight languages. Due to the often covert nature of authoritarian interference activities, identifying clear and direct attribution is difficult, and the data in the Tracker only includes incidents where there has been credible public attribution to Russian or Chinese-linked entities.
In-country experts helped curate this data to ensure the Tracker captures the Russian and Chinese governments’ major campaigns in target countries, and ASD will continue to consult with them on new incidents of Russian interference as they happen in real time.
Information Manipulation: The coordinated use of social or traditional media to manipulate and influence public debate by deliberately spreading or amplifying information that is false, misleading, or distorted, and/or engaging in deceptive practices like masking or misrepresenting the provenance or intent of content, and/or intentionally suppressing information.
Cases of information manipulation are included if they are perpetrated by individuals or organizations funded by or connected to the Russian or Chinese governments, their ruling parties, or their proxies, such as overseas media holdings that mask their links. These entries provide representative examples of the outlets, narratives, and issues used to undermine democratic institutions and processes.
NOTE: This project does not seek to catalog every Russian or Chinese information operation conducted in specific countries. Rather, the entries gathered for this Tracker provide a representative example of the outlets, narratives, and target issues that characterize the Russian or Chinese governments’ information operations in transatlantic democracies.
Cyber Operations: The probing or penetration of computer networks or connected systems and devices to surreptitiously steal, alter, or collect data and/or to disrupt, manipulate, damage, or erode confidence in organizations, institutions, and processes.
Cyber operations are included if they are publicly attributed to the Russian or Chinese governments; their ruling parties; or to individuals, entities, or proxies acting at their behest. These entries provide representative examples of how cyber operations undermine democratic institutions or processes, such as faith in governments, critical infrastructure (to include election systems), and civil society actors.
Malign Finance: The funding of foreign political parties, candidates, campaigns, well-connected elites, or politically influential groups, often through non-transparent structures designed to obfuscate ties to a nation state or its proxies.
Cases of malign finance are included if they are perpetrated by individuals, entities, or proxies, such as purportedly independent banks or businesspeople, with links to the Russian or Chinese governments or their ruling parties. Cases included are representative examples of how malign finance undermines democratic institutions or processes by surreptitiously influencing political debate, decision-making, electoral outcomes, and societal cohesion.
NOTE: This project does not seek to catalog every allegation of corruption in specific countries. Rather, the entries gathered for this Tracker provide a representative sample of the methods used by the Russian and Chinese governments and their proxies to fund interference in transatlantic democracies.
Civil Society Subversion: The hijacking or co-option of foreign social movements, organizations, diaspora communities, advocacy groups, or other civil society entities through non-transparent or seditious means to amplify political and social cleavages, promote extremism, or otherwise divide target societies.
Cases of civil society subversion are included if they are perpetrated by individuals or entities linked to the Russian or Chinese governments, their ruling parties, or their proxies. Cases included provide representative examples of how civil society subversion undermines democratic institutions or processes.
Economic Coercion: The use of commercial, financial, or other economic tools and resources for foreign political purposes, including to establish dependencies that influence foreign governments, entities, or individuals.
Cases of economic coercion are included if they are perpetrated by the Russian or Chinese governments, their ruling parties, their state-owned enterprises, or their purportedly private enterprises used to carry out foreign policy objectives. Cases included are representative examples of how economic coercion undermines democratic institutions or processes.
ASD culled the data included in this project from open source research in eight languages. Due to the often-covert nature of authoritarian interference activities, identifying clear and direct attribution is difficult, and the data in the Tracker only includes incidents where there has been credible public attribution to Russian-linked entities. We are grateful for the journalists, researchers, and government officials who have done important work in exposing the actors behind these efforts. Their research, in many cases on the front lines of these interference operations, provides a critical basis for understanding them.
We are also indebted to the innumerable experts whom we consulted for input on this project, drawing on their experience in government, academia, and the private sector. We also acknowledge the vast contributions to the literature these experts have made, and on whose reports and commentary we have relied; we list several of these influential reports below:
Atlantic Council: The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses series
Center for European Policy Analysis and the Legatum Institute: Winning the Information War
Center for Strategic and International Studies: The Kremlin Playbook
Political Capital: From Russia with Hate
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations minority staff report: Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe
Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies: The Bear in Sheep’s Clothing
Finally, ASD thanks our many interns, who, over the course of the past 18 months, spent countless hours curating and refining the data for the Tracker.