• DeepfakesThe challenges of Deepfakes to national security

    Last Thursday, 13 June 2019, Clint Watts testified before the House Intelligence Committee of the growing dangers of Deepfakes – that is, false audio and video content. Deepfakes grow in sophistication each day and their dissemination via social media platforms is far and wide. Watts said: “I’d estimate Russia, as an enduring purveyor of disinformation, is and will continue to pursue the acquisition of synthetic media capabilities and employ the outputs against its adversaries around the world. I suspect they’ll be joined and outpaced potentially by China.” He added: “These two countries along with other authoritarian adversaries and their proxies will likely use Deepfakes as part of disinformation campaigns seeking to 1) discredit domestic dissidents and foreign detractors, 2) incite fear and promote conflict inside Western-style democracies, and 3) distort the reality of American audiences and the audiences of America’s allies.”

  • DeepfakesDeepfake myths: Common misconceptions about synthetic media

    By Aviv Ovadya

    There is finally some momentum to “do something” about deepfakes, but crucial misconceptions about deepfakes and their effect on our society may complicate efforts to develop a strategic approach to mitigating their negative impacts.

  • The Russia connectionEU probe finds “continued, sustained” online disinformation by “Russian sources”

    The European Union says that it has gathered evidence of “continued and sustained” disinformation activity by Russia aimed at influencing the results of May’s elections for the European Parliament. The European Commission report said “Russian sources” tried to suppress voter turnout and influence voters’ preferences.

  • PerspectiveAlphabet-owned jigsaw bought a Russian troll campaign as an experiment

    For more than two years, the notion of social media disinformation campaigns has conjured up images of Russia’s Internet Research Agency, an entire company housed on multiple floors of a corporate building in St. Petersburg, concocting propaganda at the Kremlin’s bidding. But a targeted troll campaign today can come much cheaper—as little as $250, says Andrew Gully, a research manager at Alphabet subsidiary Jigsaw. He knows because that’s the price Jigsaw paid for one last year. Andy Greenberg writes in Wired that as part of research into state-sponsored disinformation that it undertook in the spring of 2018, Jigsaw set out to test just how easily and cheaply social media disinformation campaigns, or “influence operations,” could be bought in the shadier corners of the Russian-speaking web. In March 2018, after negotiating with several underground disinformation vendors, Jigsaw analysts went so far as to hire one to carry out an actual disinformation operation, assigning the paid troll service to attack a political activism website Jigsaw had itself created as a target.

  • PerspectiveA top voting-machine firm is finally taking security seriously

    Over the past 18 months, election-security advocates have been pushing for new legislation shoring up the nation’s election infrastructure. Election-security reform proposals enjoy significant support among Democrats—who control the House of Representatives—and have picked up some Republican cosponsors, too. Timothy B. Lee writes in Wired that such measures, however, have faced hostility from the White House and from the Republican leadership of the Senate. Legislation called the Secure Elections Act, cosponsored by senators James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) last year, aimed to shore up the nation’s election security by providing states with new money to phase out paperless systems. But the Lankford-Klobuchar bill stalled in the face of opposition from the Trump administration and Senate Republicans. At this point, any election reform legislation looks unlikely to pass before the 2020 election.

  • PerspectiveEspionage and the Catholic Church from the Cold War to the present

    “How many divisions does the pope have?” This was Stalin’s sarcastic response to Churchill’s request not to let internal developments in Poland upset relations with the pope. While Stalin’s dismissive statement suggested that the Catholic Church was an insignificant power in international affairs, he could not have been farther from the truth. Aaron Bateman writes in War on the Rock that the Holy See has played an important but understudied role in intelligence and diplomacy through its diplomatic service, which is one of the oldest in the world. The extensive presence of the Holy See’s diplomats combined with their neutrality provides them access to unique information in the far corners of the globe.

  • The Russia connectionRussia's 2016 Twitter campaign far broader, deeper, and incredibly successful: Symantec

    The archives of the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm, show a broad, coordinated, and effective campaign which was, in the words of one report, “incredibly successful at pushing out and amplifying its messages.” The Internet Research Agency conducted a campaign on Twitter before the 2016 elections that was larger, more coordinated and more effective than previously known.

  • PerspectiveA modest proposal for preventing election interference in 2020

    The years since the 2016 election have been a national trauma that the U.S. shouldn’t be eager to revisit. Yet almost no policy changes have been made as a result of what the country has learned from the Mueller investigation and related events. In this post, I’d like to start assembling a menu of possible reforms that address the lessons learned from what Lawfare sometimes calls L’Affaire Russe. Stewart Baker writes in Lawfare that this is a fraught exercise because the narratives about L’Affaire Russe have diverged so far between Trump supporters and Trump detractors that almost any proposal for change will implicitly contradict the narrative of one camp or the other. “So, to save time, here are my most salient biases in the matter: I’m generally comfortable with most of President Trump’s policy instincts; I’ve spent a lifetime working with intelligence and law enforcement professionals who do battle every day with very real enemies of the United States, Russia among them; and I believe in them and in making government work, which makes me uncomfortable with President Trump’s character and lack of policy-making fine-motor skills,” Baker writes. “With that mixed perspective, I am hopeful there may be room for at least some agreement on things we ought to do differently in future.”

  • Information operationsInformation operations in the digital age

    From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the spread on social media of anti-Rohingya content in Myanmar and the interference with elections the world over, the past decade has seen democracies around the world become the target of a new kind of information operations.

  • Espionage & the pressAssange’s new indictment: Espionage and the First Amendment

    By Ofer Raban

    The Espionage Act, a sweeping federal statute enacted a century ago, imposes heavy criminal penalties for obtaining or disclosing classified information without proper authorization. Beginning under President Barack Obama, recent years saw a dramatic increase in prosecutions under the Espionage Act. But these prosecutions were directed at leakers of classified information — all government employees and government contractors — not at journalists or publishers. That makes Assange’s indictment a watershed.

  • PerspectiveDoctored video of Nancy Pelosi shows social media giants ill-prepared for 2020

    Hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed a conference Wednesday, a distorted video of the California Democrat’s conversation began spreading across the internet. The manipulated clip, slowed to make Pelosi sound as if she were slurring her words, racked up millions of views on Facebook the following day. It was posted to YouTube, and on Thursday night was given a boost on Twitter when Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer and former mayor of New York, shared a link with his 318,000 followers. Sam Dean and Suhauna Hussain write in the Los Angeles Times that by Friday, the three social media giants were forced to respond to this viral instance of political fakery. How they dealt with the issue, three years after being blindsided by a wave of fake news and disinformation in the 2016 election cycle, may serve as a harbinger of what’s to come in 2020.

  • Election securityThe many faces of foreign interference in European elections

    By Etienne Soula

    Citizens of the European Union’s 28 member states go to the polls this week to choose their representatives to the European Parliament. Following Russian interference in several high-profile elections over the past three years, European governments are on high alert for signs of such meddling on social media or in electoral IT systems. Recent events in Austria and Italy show that foreign authoritarian actors are finding other under-examined, but equally insidious ways to infiltrate campaigns and harm democracy in Europe.

  • PerspectiveThe 5G fight is bigger than Huawei

    The latest salvos in the Trump administration’s campaign against Huawei may prove, at best, to be a Pyrrhic victory—or, at worst, directly undermine U.S. interests and objectives. At the moment, it remains unclear how the recent executive order, which creates sweeping authorities to bar and exclude companies or technologies linked to a “foreign adversary” from the United States, and the addition of Huawei to the government blacklist known as the Entity List will be implemented in practice. Elsa B. Kania writes in Foreign Policy that it is not too late for U.S. President Donald Trump to recalibrate toward the smarter approach needed for such a complex challenge. In the process, the U.S. government should also pursue more proactive policies that concentrate on ensuring future American competitiveness in 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks.

  • PerspectiveThe Kremlin’s “tools of malign political influence” undermine democracy

    Russia’s “sweeping and systematic malign influence operations” support anti-democratic and anti-Western forces in Europe and the United States, using a variety of tools, from corruption to influence operations, said Heather A. Conley, CSIS senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, and director of the Europe Program, in a testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment, during hearings on “Undermining Democracy: Kremlin Tools of Malign Political Influence.” “The Kremlin undermines and weakens democracies, rendering them unable to respond promptly to Russian military actions or making them beholden to the Kremlin to such a point that a democratic country will support Russia’s interests over its own,” she testified. She highlighted two specific areas in which she is “particularly concerned U.S. citizens and organizations, wittingly or unwittingly, will come under increasing threat of Russian malign influence”: (1) faith-based and ultra conservative
    organizations; and (2) opaque financial support for key U.S. influencers.

  • Truth decaySprawling disinformation networks discovered across Europe ahead of EU elections

    Investigation uncovers flood of disinformation aiming to influence to forthcoming EU elections. The revelations led Facebook to take down pages with more than 500 million views. The mainly far-right disinformation pages which were shut down by Face book had three times the number of followers than the pages of more established right wing, populist, and anti-EU partiers such as Lega (Italy), Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) (Germany), VOX (Spain), Brexit Party (U.K.), Rassemblement National (France), and PiS (Poland).