In Other News: Russia & Iran Weaponizing US Voter Data, Sudan Designation & More – October 23, 2020

October 23, 2020

Russia and Iran are weaponizing U.S. voter registration data, much of it publicly available information, in bids to influence U.S. election results with less than two weeks to go, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The U.S. warned of meddling by both countries, but honed in on Iran being behind a clumsy email blast purporting to be from far-right extremist militant group the Proud Boys and threatening registered Democrats if they did not vote for President Trump in the upcoming presidential election. Evidence suggests that Russia, Iran, and China are all involved in efforts to influence U.S. electoral outcomes. But Russia is widely accepted and understood to represent the largest threat, owing both to its sophisticated hacking and disinformation capabilities and the scale of its attempts prior to the 2016 election and throughout the current administration. More attempts are likely both in the lead-up to election day and in the days and weeks afterward, especially in the event of a close race.

The U.S. plans to lift Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terror after 27 years, which could lead to a dramatic expansion in economic opportunity for the country, where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line. The move, which removes restrictions on Sudan’s access to international financial networks, will enable receipt of foreign investment, debt relief, and humanitarian and military aid. However, Khartoum will first be required to pay $335 million in restitution to victims and their families of attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and an attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer in Yemen in 1998 and 2000 respectively. The U.S. policy pivot comes in the wake of a change in government in Sudan last year when Omar Hassan al-Bashir was forced out and replaced with a transitional government. Sudan is expected to be the fifth Arab country to normalize relations with Israel, in what is broadly understood as a concession to the U.S. in exchange for lifting the designation. Sudanese recognition of Israel is unlikely to have a significant impact on other, more influential Arab states mulling a normalization of relations with Israel, but nonetheless maintains momentum on the issue, with Morocco and Oman potentially next in line.

France has conducted a series of raids on suspected radical Muslims and Muslim groups, expelled foreigners suspected of links to terrorism, and closed down a mosque and multiple Muslim aid organizations. The crackdown comes in the wake of the murder of a teacher for using caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson. The caricatures had been published several years prior by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, prompting a 2015 terrorist attack on its offices that killed 10 of its staff. This latest attack has fed a surge of nationalism, along with anti-Muslim rhetoric from the French far right, muting potential criticism of the crackdown. However, once the initial shock subsides, President Emmanuel Macron and his administration will have to decide how to calibrate a longer-term response that addresses growing terrorist concerns without further inflaming extremist sentiment among the country’s Muslims. Too light a touch could put his 2022 election prospects in doubt, whereas too harsh a crackdown could backfire and fuel additional attacks.