WASHINGTON, D.C. – The McCain Institute at Arizona State University (ASU), the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund (ASD at GMF) and the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations hosted a panel discussion in Phoenix on how the United States and Arizona can protect themselves from foreign efforts to undermine democracy.
The conversation, titled, “Why Do Foreign Actors Want to Erode U.S. Democracy?” featured Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Bill Gates, Director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security and Arizona Chief Information Security Officer Tim Roemer and Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at GMF Laura Thornton. The McCain Institute’s Director of Human Rights & Democracy Paul Fagan served as moderator. The event was the latest in the McCain Institute’s Defending American Democracy series with support from the Knight Foundation.
In 2016, 2018 and 2020, America’s foreign adversaries, such as Russia and Iran, attempted to influence the U.S. elections. Just last month, FBI officials warned of potential interference from Russia and China in the upcoming midterms, providing a timely reminder that what happens in the elections doesn’t just matter in the United States. The panel of experts discussed cybersecurity, information operations and foreign attempts to undermine democracy with mis, dis and mal-information.
“We can get ahead of information operations through the three Ps – preempt, pre-bunk, predict,” said Laura Thornton, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at GMF. “Get ahead of the narrative, anticipate the threat, enhance predictive capabilities. Flood the zone with truthful information that is also compelling.”
“It’s critical to strengthen cybersecurity defenses at the local level,” said Tim Roemer, Arizona chief information security officer. “Attackers want to breed discontent even at local levels so that people will lose faith in democracy.”
The conversation also focused on threats to local election workers and divisiveness that foreign actors seek to manipulate in order to weaken our democracy.
“The people who work in elections administration, they are your friends, they are your neighbors, they are your grandma,” said Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. “These people now are receiving threats on a daily basis… It is completely unacceptable to dehumanize people… It has to stop now.”
“The people who run our elections are the frontline defenders of our democracy. They shouldn’t have to feel threatened,” added moderator and McCain Institute Director of Human Rights & Democracy Paul Fagan.
Watch the entire panel HERE.