National Security

National security experts warn of rise in authoritarianism

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A group of national security experts testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill about the rise of authoritarianism, warning lawmakers that countries such as China and Russia are seeking to gain power by undermining democratic systems.

In a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, Open Constitution Initiative co-founder Teng Biao and Center for a New American Security’s transatlantic security expert Andrea Kendall-Taylor said there are indicators popping up worldwide that suggest a growing return to dictators and despots. 

{mosads}“Warning signs abound across the globe: the discarding of mainstream politicians, the emergence of leaders who seek to divide rather than unite, the purist of political victory at all costs and the invocation of national greatness by people who identify greatness only with themselves,” Albright told the committee in her opening remarks.

“Tyranny is once again awakening from its slumber,” Rasmussen said in his opening remarks, echoing Albright.

The experts warned that authoritarianism is beginning to replace democracy, in countries such as Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Brazil and Egypt — as well as in China and Russia.

“This is the most trying time for democracy since the 1930s when fascism spread across much of Europe,” said Kendall-Taylor.

“If current trends persist, authoritarianism will soon become the most common way that democracies crumble and autocracies emerge,” she added.

Albright also suggested some of President Trump’s actions may be weakening U.S. efforts to promote democratic values overseas.

“For almost as long as I have been alive the world has been able to count on the United States to serve as the rock against which the forces of despots run aground and break apart. What concerns me is that we may no longer be able to make that claim. In my travels abroad, I hear the same questions all the time: If America has a leader who says the press always lies, how can Vladimir Putin be faulted for making the same claim,” said Albright, who served in the Clinton administration.

“If America has a leader who insists that judges are biased and how calls the American criminal system a ‘laughingstock,’ what is to stop a repressive leader in Hungary of Southeast Asia from discrediting this own judiciary,” she continued.

Her remarks came after the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), warned the experts at the beginning of the hearing for them to not to draw “scurrilous” comparisons between authoritarian governments and democracies, stating that this would trivialize the decree of suffering and violence individuals endure under authoritarian regimes.

Nevertheless, Albright still used the hearing to subtly rebuke certain foreign policies carried out by the Trump administration.

When asked by a Democratic lawmaker whether the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on three companies linked to a prominent Russian oligarch — who is close with Putin — was a “mistake,” Albright replied “yes.” 

Experts also highlighted the efforts of authoritarian countries to both control the internet at home and to use it to interfere in Democratic processes abroad.

Rasmussen, who warned Russia is carrying out hybrid warfare, said his foundation, the Alliance of Democracies, has detected foreign interference in at least 10 elections on both sides of the Atlantic.

The former NATO chief in particular warned against the use of manipulated media like “deepfakes,” or videos or audio manipulated by artificial intelligence that look strikingly real.

Biao, on the other hand, warned about the growing surveillance state China is becoming.

Biao said Beijing “utilizes its leading technology of artificial intelligence to tighten its total control of the Chinese society.”

In particular, he warned that China uses its internet firewall, social media, telecommunications firms and other big data to keep its citizens under surveillance — in addition to what is projected to be 2.76 billion surveillance camera networks installed in the state by 2022.

“Internet has been used by [the Communist Party of China] as en effective tool for censorship, propaganda and brainwashing,” Biao said. “People have been jailed for posting a picture on social media or criticizing leaders in private online conversations.”

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