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Everything Online Malign Influence Newsletter
China has overseas secret police coercing targets to return to China, Russia loses Kherson, a blow to the three-day “Special Operation,” and election misinformation wasn't terrible
Rapidly emerging evidence points to extensive online campaigns and the use of “Overseas Police Service Stations” being used in these operations on five continents, often using local “Chinese Overseas Home Associations” linked to the CCP’s United Front Work.
China claims 230,000 suspects of fraud and telecom fraud were successfully “persuaded to return” to China from April 2021 to July 2022.
These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation and violate the international rule of law, and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries involved in setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods.
Official statements detail the use of depriving suspects’ children of the right to education back in China, as well as other actions against relatives and family members, in a full-on “guilt by association” campaign.
Recent events in Zimbabwe illustrate the potential impacts of China’s media influence in countries where civic freedoms are already limited.
Zimbabwe’s media environment is highly controlled by the state; Reporters without Borders ranks Zimbabwe at 137 out of 180 countries surveyed in terms of media freedom and protection. State-owned papers in Zimbabwe are often highly supportive of China. The ruling political party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), has used its influence over state-controlled papers to attack civil society groups, journalists, and activists who have criticized Chinese business operations in the country, using such criticism as a rationale for engaging in political persecution.
On November 2, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying posted a chart on her Twitter account indicating that China’s image among people in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria had improved between 2021 and 2022.
The problem is that Hua cherry-picked the survey results to choose a time frame that made China look good, when in fact the country’s image is worse than when the survey began in 2019.
The European Union
We have analyzed the extent to which Italian voters supported Vladimir Putin’s military actions and geopolitical ambitions in the leadup to the Italian general election in September. Italy is an interesting case in relation to Russia as major right-wing parties have consistently and openly supported Putin, with half of the population voting for these parties in the 2022 election.
Both Giorgia Meloni, leader of Fratelli d’Italia, and Matteo Salvini of the Lega, have frequently expressed their sympathies for Moscow. Salvini even went as far as having pictures of him taken in Moscow’s Red Square wearing a Putin T-shirt, causing significant embarrassment among his party after the invasion. Surveys have found a majority of Italians oppose sending weapon shipments to Ukraine. At the same time, many Italians also valued the pro-EU and anti-Putin Draghi administration. This begs the question of which voters actually support Putin and how we can explain this support.
On November 2, the Russian Special Presidential Representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, accused the United States and Britain of aiding the Afghan terror group known as Islamic State – Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K…
Kabulov’s claims are contradicted by the actual history of combat between the United States and Islamic State, including longtime U.S. efforts to eradicate ISIS-K and its leadership in Afghanistan.
Tehran says German criticism of the country's crackdown on protests shows Berlin is choosing confrontation over diplomacy.
Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Russia’s November 9 announcement of a general withdrawal from Kherson is further confirmation that Vladimir Putin is losing the war. The Battle of Kherson itself is still far from over, of course.
Ahead are days and possibly weeks of further fighting as tens of thousands of Russian troops attempt to withdraw from strongly entrenched defensive positions in good order. It is entirely possible that this could turn into a rout as isolated pockets of Russian soldiers attempt to save themselves.
On November 1, 2022, Jason Blazakis, Senior Research Fellow at The Soufan Center, provided witness testimony before a UK Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on ‘The Wagner Group and beyond: proxy Private Military Companies.’
The inquiry explored the challenge posed by Private Military Companies (PMCs) that some states use as proxies in conflict and to destabilize fragile countries. It also examined how the UK Government is responding. The inquiry focused particularly on the Wagner Group. “The Wagner Group has become instrumental in Putin’s ambitions,” noted Mr. Blazakis in his testimony, which included insights from The Soufan Center’s report on ‘Foreign Fighters, Volunteers, and Mercenaries: Non-State Actors and Narratives in Ukraine.’
Data show attacks abroad often favor Putin at home, but NATO also rewards Russia by delaying membership for countries it attacks
Evidence shows that NATO often hesitates when countries express interest, leaving Russia ample time to make them ineligible. Then, when countries are attacked, NATO rewards the aggression with delay.
from Christopher Morris via The Conversation
Russia has indicated that they are now withdrawing their forces from the city of Kherson. This represents another setback for Putin’s campaign. The Black Sea port on the Dnieper River is the only major city that Russia has managed to occupy – and it is the administrative capital of the Kherson oblast, which was one of the four regions that Russia annexed in September. Its apparent abandonment is certain to have important implications.
Across northern and central Ukraine, the conflict is becoming increasingly static, though losing none of its desperation. A shift in season makes rapid advances difficult for both sides as the weather deteriorates. Across the frontlines, land forces will struggle simply to survive the falling temperatures.
For the last few weeks, attention has fallen on the Kherson region, expecting it to represent a final major confrontation before winter changes the nature of the conflict.
Now, the commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, has announced that Russian forces will withdraw from the city, retreating over the Dnieper to the south. This has come as something of a surprise.
There have been reports of Russia entrenching its position in the city, in preparation for a major battle. Surovikin’s announcement included a rare public admission of the inadequacy of Russian forces – he cited the logistical challenge of supplying troops under his command as the reason for the withdrawal. This is naturally quite suspicious.
New images from a massively expanded cemetery in Mariupol capture the individual tragedies caused by the Russian invasion.
The nonprofit Election Integrity Partnership documented more than 40,000 tweets about the tabulators, many of them suggested glitches resulted from sabotage.
But disinformation watchers said the amount of conspiracy theories and lies about the voting process was far less than expected, and much lower than the 2020 presidential election.
“I would not say that what we saw was significant,” said Kate Starbird, co-founder of the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington. “In terms of coordinated disinformation, I would say that was not a lot of what we were looking at yesterday.”
Despite “a handful” of DDoS attacks targeting state and local election websites and some technical glitches affecting voting equipment, CISA says it saw “no activity” that should undermine faith in the election results.
The evidence presented by the January 6 Committee and reporting over the last year offer clues into what may be going on behind the scenes at the Bureau. If the picture painted by these sources is true, it suggests an internal, long-brewing problem that the FBI needs to investigate and nip in the bud. That, to date, FBI Director Christopher Wray has not taken action to address the problem internally also suggests that congressional oversight committees may need to get involved and demand answers.