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Policy White Papers


Transnational Repression: The Long Arm of Authoritarianism
by Katherine Armstrong
Executive Summary (pdf)
White Paper (pdf)


Non-democratic 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 non-democratic 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 should 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 should consider states’ rankings when making policy regarding aid, diplomatic relations, and trade.

Clashing Codes of Conduct: Asymmetric Ethics and the Biotech Revolution
by Caroline Duckworth
Executive Summary (pdf)
White Paper (pdf)


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 biotechnologies. 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 three-step approach. First, it should formalize its guiding principles for biotechnology development and promote these ideals through international institutions. Second, it should expand upon the existing U.S.-China Program for Biomedical Collaborative Research in order to encourage the adoption of U.S. ethics practices by foreign scientists. Finally, the United States should identify biotechnologies where adversaries will have an advantage due to their regulatory environments and invest in competing ethical technologies. By adopting these strategies, the United States can shape the global consensus on acceptable uses of biotechnology and preserve its lead in biotech capabilities.

The Tech Trojan Horse: China’s Strategic Export of the Surveillance State
by Michaela Flemming
Executive Summary (pdf)
White Paper (pdf)


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. 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 use its resources to encourage the private sector to develop technological solutions to undermine digital authoritarianism and remove dependency on China. Additionally, Washington should work with developing states to build their cybersecurity expertise. Finally, the United States should impose costs on states who practice digital authoritarianism.

The Application of Disinformation: Advantages and Limitations of Weaponized Deepfake Technology
by Megan Hogan
Executive Summary (pdf)
White Paper (pdf)

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

Deceptive Data and the Hazards of AI: How the DOD Can Solve Its Data Problems
by Clara Waterman
Executive Summary (pdf)
White Paper (pdf)


 The Department of Defense (DoD) is investing in artificial intelligence (AI) to prepare for future warfare against peer adversaries. However, Washington is devoting insufficient attention and funding to the datasets that underpin AI algorithms. Poor training data can create flawed algorithms that misidentify operating environments, potentially degrading battlefield decision-making and hindering the Pentagon’s ability to maintain a strategic advantage over adversaries. Consequently, high-quality datasets are crucial to the DoD mission.

 At this early stage of development, the DoD has an opportunity to standardize and improve the quality of its AI training data by creating a data clearinghouse. This clearinghouse would coordinate data collection, establish best practices for both vetting AI data for bias and minimizing human error, and standardize metadata formatting. Increased collaboration and attention to curating datasets today will maximize the efficiency and effectiveness with which the DoD develops AI moving forward.

Disinformation Ink Spots: A Framework to Combat Authoritarian Disinformation Campaigns
Lincoln Zaleski
Executive Summary (pdf)
White Paper (pdf)

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

 The Ink-Spot Disinformation 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.