Dispatch (March 11th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Our Take

ASD Co-directors Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly spoke about how Russia, China, and other foreign governments deploy the asymmetric toolkit to subvert democracy with Will Inboden, executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas-Austin, for War on the Rocks’s Horns of a Dilemma podcast.

Rosenberger and Fly also discussed the toolkit that authoritarian actors like Russian and China are employing to undermine democracies at Florida International University’s Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs with David Kramer, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, now Senior Fellow at the Vaclav Havel Program’s for Human Rights and Diplomacy.

Rosenberger published a blog post for Open Global Rights on the challenges of combating authoritarian interference in an age of rapid technological advancement.

ASD Deputy Director David Salvo and Non-resident Fellow Heidi Tworek published a new digital brief on the steps that Canada has taken to protect its electoral systems ahead of the 2019 general election and what more can be done to secure them.
News and Commentary
Investigators reveal Russian money-laundering scheme linked to Western institutions: Last week, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published an exposé identifying a spate of Western institutions linked to a Russian money laundering scheme called the Troika Laundromat, which reportedly syphoned an estimated $4.8 billion into Europe and the United States between 2006 and early 2013. Money laundering networks allow malign actors to hide stolen funds abroad, which are often used to fund interference operations against Western democracies. The network, comprised of at least 75 interconnected offshore companies created by the Russian private investment bank Troika Dialog, transferred funds to high ranking Russian officials and their associates, including Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of Vladimir Putin. ASD Senior Fellow Joshua Kirschenbaum has argued that policymakers in both the United States and in Europe must act to strengthen anti-money laundering authorities to counter foreign interference. (OCCRP, Business Insider, Bloomberg, Meduza, Alliance for Securing Democracy)

Facebook announces new focus on privacy; critics are not convinced: In a lengthy blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg detailed plans to shift the company’s focus from public platforms to private, encrypted communication tools, in part by integrating Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The changes, while intended to enhance user protection, may leave users more vulnerable to disinformation campaigns while reducing accountability for Facebook. Critics have expressed skepticism about the plan, raising concerns that private communications will be difficult to monitor, arguing that it is motivated by a desire head off potential antitrust legislation, and pointing out that implementation will be challenging given Facebook’s ad-based business model. ASD’s Bradley Hanlon has argued that online information platforms like Facebook should focus on user protection and transparency in developing new technologies and features. (Facebook, Twitter, NBC News, The New York Times, Alliance for Securing Democracy)

Huawei fights back, launching lawsuits against U.S. and Canada: On March 6, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei filed suit against the U.S. government, challenging on constitutional grounds the ban on federal procurement of Huawei equipment laid out in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. U.S. officials are wary of Huawei technologies due to the company’s history of intellectual property theft and the national security risks associated with its close relationship with the Chinese government. The suit echoes a complaint entered by Russian firm Kaspersky against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2017 after DHS officials had ordered the removal of Kaspersky software from government computers. That suit was later dismissed. Huawei also opened a legal battle in Canada, as detained CFO Meng Wanzhou is suing Canadian law enforcement agencies in an attempt to avoid extradition to the United States. While Beijing has sought to distance itself from Huawei in recent months, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi lauded the company for “refusing to be victimized like a silent lamb.” ASD’s Tom Morley and Matt Schrader have warned against the integration of Huawei technologies into telecommunications infrastructure, noting it could “give China truly unprecedented tools to corrupt, influence, and subvert Western democracies and the rule of law.” (The Wall Street Journal, Department of Justice, Bloomberg, The Verge, Alliance for Securing Democracy)

In other news:

• Google refuses to remove controversial Android app that allows Saudi men to track and control their female relatives.

• The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General issued a report finding that the department lacks adequate staffing to protect critical election infrastructure.

• A new Vermont law has forced 121 personal data brokers in the U.S. to reveal themselves to the public for the first time.

• Google employees are not convinced that Dragonfly, the censored search engine meant for the Chinese market, has been discontinued.

• A Russian university invited the military intelligence officers responsible for the Skripal poisoning to a conference on “information war.”

• Google plans to ban political ads ahead of the 2019 Canadian federal election, citing new transparency rules passed by Parliament.

• Chinese hackers are targeting the Universities of Hawaii and Washington, MIT, and others in pursuit of U.S. naval military secrets.

• FBI Director Christopher Wray says cyber threats and foreign influence campaigns from Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea continue “virtually unabated.”

• The European Commission declared Europe’s migrant crisis over and pushed back against a disinformation campaign led by Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.

• EU Ambassadors approved new sanctions on eight Russian officials over Kerch Strait incident.

• New U.S. sanctions against Russia threaten foreign and domestic projects for Russia’s gas companies.

• Chinese state-run media generated over forty thousand social media posts in late 2018 to boost China’s image among Americans.

• The U.S.-China dispute over Huawei has divided leaders in Central Europe.

• The U.K. will tighten rules on foreign investors in response to the Skripal poisoning attack by Russian intelligence officers.

• YouTube has debuted new fact checking tools in India to counter disinformation on the popular video platform.

• Russia’s new Turkstream 2 pipeline raises further concerns about the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels.