PIPS Fellows 2019-2020

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Katherine Armstrong
Transnational Repression: The Long Arm of Authoritarianism

Authoritarian regimes increasingly use the internet to reach across borders to track, hack, blackmail, and harass emigrants. Although often viewed as isolated cybercrimes, these attacks represent an expansion of extraterritorial authoritarian control. Technologically based and facilitated tactics allow authoritarian states to manipulate emigrant communities from afar. Moreover, these capabilities may be used to target actors who are critical to U.S. security, such as politicians and members of the military and intelligence communities.

 The targeting of co-ethnic and co-national U.S. citizens and residents threatens U.S. civil society, democracy, sovereignty, and—if left unchallenged—security. The United States must address this threat by taking steps to deter perpetrators and defend targets. For example, the Department of State should support non-governmental organizations in maintaining a comprehensive “watch list” that publicizes incidents of transnational repression and ranks states’ propensity to engage in this behavior. The U.S. government and international community could then tie aid, diplomatic relations, and trade to states’ rankings.

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Caroline Duckworth
Clashing Codes of Conduct: Asymmetric Ethics and the Biotech Revolution

The United States is at a disadvantage in biotechnology development due to asymmetric ethical standards globally. China and Russia will exploit the existing ethical gap by investing in biotechnologies that are controversial in the United States, such as gene editing and synthetic biology. This strategy will enable these states to weaponize U.S. dependency on foreign biotech by restricting access to essential medications. They can also more rapidly pursue and adopt objectionable military capabilities, such as bioweapons or soldier enhancements. To prevent adversaries from overtaking U.S. biotech innovation, the United States should adopt a two-pronged approach. First, it should identify biotechnologies where adversaries will have an advantage due to their weak regulatory environments and invest in competing ethical technologies. Second, the United States should formalize its guiding principles for biotechnology development and promote these ideals through international institutions. By adopting these strategies, the United States can shape the global consensus on acceptable uses of biotechnology and preserve its lead in biotech capabilities.

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Michaela Flemming 
The Tech Trojan Horse: China’s Strategic Export of the Surveillance State

China aspires to be tomorrow’s digital hegemon via the strategic export of its surveillance state to developing and autocratic countries. The sale of surveillance equipment, software, and services enables existing regimes to better control their populations, thereby strengthening or facilitating the spread of authoritarian governance. In doing so, the sale of surveillance technology also increases the dependence of client governments on Beijing for their political survival.  This emerging network of technologically dependent authoritarian regimes represents Beijing’s digital hegemony in the developing world. 

To combat growing Chinese influence in the developing world, the United States should highlight the potential negative consequences of purchasing Chinese technology. Additionally, Washington should work with U.S. companies to offer information and communication technology to developing states, undercutting China’s market share. Finally, the United States should encourage allies and international institutions to tie aid to governments avoiding the purchase of such technologies.

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Megan Hogan 
Replicating Reality: Advantages and Limitations of Weaponized Deepfake Technology

Deepfakes are a form of synthetic media that use artificial intelligence to produce highly realistic, fake videos. Deepfakes are extremely effective weapons of disinformation capable of both undermining trust in institutions and elections and inciting political violence. By the end of 2020, virtually undetectable deepfakes will be a reality. 

 The United States faces an impending choice. The Department of Defense can either continue restricting its research to developing video authentication algorithms or expand its effort to include deepfake weaponization for coercive diplomacy and warfighting. Each option is associated with a series of benefits and costs. Ultimately, the United States should develop weaponized deepfake technology as a capability to deter, deny, or defeat any adversary that seeks to harm U.S. national interests—even if this capability is never used.

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Clara Waterman 
Deceptive Data and the Hazards of AI: How the DOD Can Solve Its Data Problems 

 The Department of Defense (DOD) is putting a premium on artificial intelligence (AI) development to maintain U.S. strategic advantage over its adversaries. However, there is insufficient funding and attention given to the data sets that underpin AI algorithms. Incomplete or biased data can lead the DOD to misunderstand operating environments, which impacts battlefield decision-making and the Pentagon’s ability to defend itself against security breaches. Consequently, high-quality data sets are crucial to the U.S. mission.

 At this early stage of development, the DOD has an opportunity to improve AI data inputs by coordinating data collection across departments, establishing best practices to vet data for bias and human error, and standardizing data formatting. Greater collaboration and attention to developing DOD data sets will increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which the DOD builds AI algorithms.

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Lincoln Zaleski 
Disinformation Ink Spots: A Framework to Combat Authoritarian Disinformation Campaigns 

 Modern disinformation campaigns, enabled by emerging technologies, allow authoritarian regimes to exploit inherent democratic vulnerabilities. This white paper provides a framework for understanding authoritarian disinformation campaigns based on the ink spot approach in counterinsurgency strategy.  Using an array of precision targeting and data collecting technology, authoritarian regimes identify key individuals and groups in the United States to reinforce, shape, and interconnect.  The regimes seek to create a domestic network of influential “ink spots.”  Governments then use these sympathetic spots to undermine U.S. policy and democracy through constant reinforcing and manipulation of identity and beliefs.

 The Disinformation Ink Spot framework strengthens the United States government understanding of the nature of authoritarian disinformation campaigns and provides a new conceptual foundation for U.S. disinformation defense and deterrence.