Dispatch (May 6th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Our Take

Russia’s use of energy to finance malign interference: ASD, in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), published The Energy Weapon, the second in a series on vectors of Russian malign influence, which explores how Russia uses energy to interfere in the politics of customer countries. Through energy delivery intermediaries in the West, the use of energy firms to conduct political financing abroad, and the pursuit of politically driven energy decisions, the Russian government combines coercive economic tactics with other asymmetric tools to interfere in democracies across the transatlantic community.

IRA hijacking of American social movements: ASD Social Media Analyst Bret Schafer published an essay in the National Urban League’s The State of Black America report, discussing the Russian Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) manipulation and hijacking of Black Lives Matter and other “legitimate social and political grievances of African Americans.” Schafer explained how the IRA used inauthentic accounts to impersonate African Americans and noted that these manipulative techniques can be used to discredit movements and other social change groups and the messages they hope to broadcast in good faith.

The importance of PRC state funding to Huawei growth: ASD China Analyst Matt Schrader was quoted in an opinion editorial by Adonis Hoffman in The Hill on the relationship between Huawei and the PRC party-state. State funding, he said, “helped Huawei sew up the domestic market, which in turn enabled it to expand overseas by offering deep discounts.” Schrader and ASD Research Assistant Thomas Morley have previously warned of Huawei’s close ties to the PRC party-state, and recent research has confirmed that Huawei’s opaque ownership structure leaves it open to party-state control.

Western complicity in China’s surveillance state: ASD Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman was interviewed on CBC Radio’s The Current concerning the role Western technology firms have played in helping the PRC develop its surveillance state, which has raised serious human rights concerns, especially in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Gorman, together with ASD China Analyst Matt Schrader, detailed the ties between Western tech companies and the PRC party-state in an article last March in Foreign Policy.

Deep historical roots of information warfare: ASD Non-resident Fellow Heidi Tworek discussed the long history of information warfare in an article for Foreign Affairs, arguing that the global competition for information is a geopolitical constant. Tworek, who recently published a book on the subject, News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900–1945, describes how both imperial Germany and the Third Reich used information warfare to control the narrative around their wartime conduct.

Strengthen America’s response to Russian meddling: ASD Advisory Council Member Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) published an opinion piece in Time laying out concrete steps the United States can take to strengthen its response to malign Russian influence as the 2020 election approaches. These include a broader version of the sanctions envisioned by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Stavridis advocates for extending Rubio and Van Hollen’s sanction plan beyond banks to encompass other public organizations (such as sports teams and universities) and targeted high-ranking individuals.

News and Commentary

Facebook’s redesign may leave the platform more vulnerable to disinformation: In an effort to address growing privacy concerns, Facebook introduced a new format that emphasizes Groups instead of news feeds as a way of connecting online users and building private communities. These Groups, however, are often leveraged by online bots and trolls to spread disinformation and conspiracy theories, as Russia did in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. This massive reorientation of the company toward encryption and privacy also places greater responsibility on Group administrators to police online content, which could be especially problematic ahead of key elections in the U.S. and around the world. ASD’s Social Media Analyst Bret Schafer has written extensively on the ways in which Russian trolls insert themselves into organic social networks to present the Kremlin’s views on a range of contentious issues — not as an outsider, but as a trusted member of the tribe. (Bloomberg, The Verge, Washington Post, ASD)

U.K. government decision on Huawei leaked: After months of deliberation, the world learned of the U.K.’s decision to allow Huawei to bid on “non-core” components of the U.K.’s 5G network. The decision was allegedly leaked to the Daily Telegraph by then-Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, who has been dismissed from his post. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May next week in an attempt to convince her to reconsider. Many experts agree that allowing Huawei to construct even “non-core” portions of the 5G network would leave the U.K open to Chinese interference, as ASD’s Laura Rosenberger discussed with BBC News’ Katty Kay on April 26th. Huawei taking part in the U.K.’s 5G network would have repercussions for the Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement, as experts have questioned whether the company is truly independent of the PRC party-state. (The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, BBC, Financial Times, George Washington University School of Law, ASD)

Senators may push bipartisan legislation to enhance election security ahead of 2020: There may be renewed efforts to reintroduce the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan bill originally introduced by Senators Klobuchar and James Lankford (R-OK). The Secure Elections Act, which would streamline cybersecurity information sharing between federal and state agencies and require state election officials to conduct audits following elections and establish paper ballot backup systems, was endorsed by Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who recently called for swift action to “forcefully and adequately respond to attack[s] on our democracy.” Senator Lankford told reporters he and Senator Klobuchar are working to update the bill in an attempt to move it forward. ASD’s Policy Blueprint lays out various measures that can be taken to harden electoral infrastructure, including providing technical resources to local election agencies, and adopting legislation to improve information sharing throughout levels of on election threats. (Politico, United States Congress, Roll Call, ASD)

In Other News:

• Unregulated social media platforms are enabling assaults on sacred spaces, supercharging old hatreds and extremist sentiment.

• Earlier today, Facebook removed 97 accounts, groups and pages involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on its platforms.

• Venture capitalist firms owned by China and Saudi Arabia are funding startups, turning Silicon Valley into a “geopolitical minefield.”

• The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity issued a pledge, calling on U.S. presidential candidates and campaigns to combat disinformation and cyber-attacks.

• President Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone on Friday about Venezuela for the first time since the Mueller report was released.

• In a recent report, Human Rights Watch detailed China’s use of facial recognition technology used to surveil the Muslim population.

• Discussions of cybersecurity enforcement slow down as the United States and China move to finalize a trade agreement.

• Ukrainian separatists are wielding cyber espionage tools to target military, media and major political figures.

• Facebook will allow academics to view data it has been collecting on users since 2017.

• Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Clifford May cited ASD’s early assessment of Russian attempts to sow discord in the U.S. in a recent op-ed.

• Congress is currently reviewing the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, which if passed would require companies established in the United States to disclose their real owners to the Treasury Department.