Dispatch (September 17th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Several sections from the September 17th Dispatch, from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, The German Marshall Fund of the United States.

President Trump signs Executive Order on investigating and imposing sanctions for election interference: On September 12, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) to clarify and streamline the process of detecting and sanctioning foreign entities interfering in U.S. elections. The EO broadly defines foreign interference as attempts to influence, undermine confidence in, or alter the result or reported result of a U.S. election. The EO mandates a report from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on whether foreign interference occurred or was attempted during an election, followed by a second report from the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security assessing the effect of that interference on election infrastructure and on targeted U.S. political organizations. A finding of interference in the reports would trigger a recommendation from the Departments of Treasury and State to the President with respect to discretionary imposition of sanctions, selected from a broad menu of options, against the interfering country. The menu ranges from more limited to aggressive targeting options. Separately, the EO provides the authority to block the assets of any foreign person that Treasury determines interfered in the election, although this determination is not linked explicitly to the DNI report. In a statement at the time of the signing, the President explained that, in the event of foreign meddling, “the Executive Order ensures a quick, forceful, and proportionate response.” Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) welcomed the EO as a step toward protecting U.S. elections from Russia and other countries. However, there was bipartisan criticism of the EO. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) said the EO is insufficient because it “inevitably leaves the President broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions against those who attack our democracy,” while Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), argued that the order “recognizes the threat, but does not go far enough to address it.” Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) applauded that the president is taking action on election interference, but added the EO does not preclude “the urgent need for legislation that increases sanctions pressure on the Kremlin for its destabilization of democracies here and around the world.” Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), co-sponsor of the bipartisan DETER Act, argued that, “This executive order is aimed more at deterring congressional action on the DETER Act than on deterring Putin’s interference in our election.” ASD’s Laura Rosenberger commented that the EO has good value in clearly defining unacceptable behavior by foreign powers and generating useful and thorough reports, but its power would be strengthened by consistent messaging from the White House on election interference and by making the generated reports public. (White House, The Hill, Politico, Senate.gov, Twitter, The Washington Post, The Economist)

EU proposes new measures and recommendations to secure free and fair elections: On September 12, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker used the annual State of the Union address to propose new measures to secure free and fair elections in the EU ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections in May. The new recommendations call for coordinated networks to track disinformation, cybersecurity, and threats to election infrastructure, as well as for increased transparency in political advertising. However, as noted in a tweet by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the new measures could go further: “What has the European Commission missed in its new measures to counter election interference? More transparency in election funding overall. Influence comes not only in the form of words but also in euros.” (European Commission, Twitter)

Facebook unveils a new strategy to combat election meddling, but experts remain skeptical: Facebook announced it will begin using a combination of algorithms and human reviewers to fact-check photos and videos posted to its platform. These new measures will target images and videos that have been deliberately altered or decontextualized, such as the photos that were used by the Internet Research Agency to bypass Facebook’s moderation during the 2016 elections. Experts predict that sophisticated image manipulation techniques, which are difficult to distinguish from reality, are a new frontier for misinformation campaigns. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published an overview of the measures his company will take aimed at “defending against election interference, better protecting our community from abuse, and making sure people have more control of their information.” Measures include removing fake accounts, expanding its fact-checking capacity, requiring transparency from advertisers, facilitating coordination with governments, and inviting independent researchers to examine Facebook’s data. The Verge’s Casey Newton noted that Zuckerberg’s statements contained little new information on substance, but instead presented previously announced measures in a positive light. (The Wall Street Journal, Axios, Facebook, The Verge, Quartz)