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The Disinformation Landscape in West Africa and Beyond

June 29, 2023

The prominence of West Africa, and Africa as a whole, within the global disinformation ecosystem cannot be ignored. A report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies released in April 2022 identified twenty-three disinformation campaigns targeting African countries dating back to 2014. Of these campaigns, sixteen are linked to Russia.This report examines several influence operation case studies from the West African region, with a particular emphasis on Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Niger. The narratives, actors, and contexts supporting these influence operations are summarized alongside their impact on regional stability. Russian influence plays a significant role in these case studies, an unsurprising fact considering the geopolitical history of this region. This report also includes case studies from outside the Sahel region, consisting of thematically distinct but strategically noteworthy influence campaigns from elsewhere on the continent.

Hackers, Hoodies, and Helmets: Technology and the changing face of Russian private military contractors

July 25, 2022

The first time Russia invaded Ukraine in the twenty-first century, the Wagner Group was born. The now widely profiled private military company (PMC) played an important role in exercising Russian national power over the Crimea and portions of the Donbas—while giving Moscow a semblance of plausible deniability. In the near decade since, the Russian PMC sector has grown considerably, and is active in more than a dozen countries around the world. PMCs are paramilitary organizations established and run as private companies—though they often operate in contract with one or more states. They are profit-motivated, expeditionary groups that make a business of the conduct of war. PMCs are in no way a uniquely Russian phenomenon, yet the expanding footprint of Russian PMCs and their links to state interests call for a particularly Russian-focused analysis of the industry. The growth of these firms and their direct links to the Kremlin's oligarch network as well as Moscow's foreign media, industrial, and cyber activities present a challenge to the United States and its allies as they seek to counter Russian malicious activities abroad.The accelerating frequency of PMCs found operating around the world and the proliferation of private hacking, surveillance, and social media manipulation tools suggest that Russian PMCs will pose diverse policy challenges to the United States and allies going forward. This issue brief seeks to offer an initial exploration of these questions in the context of how these PMCs came about and how they are employed today. The section below addresses the origin and operations of PMCs in Russian international security strategy, and also profiles the changing role of technology in conflict and the activities of these PMCs. The last section closes with a set of open research questions.

After the Insurrection: How Domestic Extremists Adapted and Evolved After the January 6 US Capitol Attack

January 4, 2022

This report by the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) provides an overview and analysis of the shifts observed in domestic extremist movements since the 2021 Capitol attack. As noted in the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, domestic extremist threats include groups and individuals "whose racial, ethnic, or religious hatred leads them toward violence" and those who incite "imminent violence in opposition to legislative, regulatory, or other actions taken by the government," including self-proclaimed militias, "sovereign citizen" movements, and others promoting fringe ideological grievances.This research is informed by continued online monitoring and analysis of extremist individuals, groups, and movements, and how their online behavior influences offline activities. Daily monitoring efforts, primarily comprising open-source and investigative reporting, began in the latter half of 2020 and continued through the entirety of 2021, producing a comprehensive record of extremist movements online that informed this report, as well as other efforts to combat the threats that domestic extremist movements pose to democracy and public safety.These findings portray a domestic extremist landscape that was battered by the blowback it faced after the Capitol riot, but not broken by it. In fact, the sentiments espoused by domestic extremist causes are as public and insidious as ever, making their way into mainstream conservative discourse. This underscores the importance of periodic accounting and strategizing of methods to confront threats. Just as extremist movements adapt and evolve, so should approaches to preventing the harms they produce.