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Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Delivers Remarks on Defending the Rule of Law Against Hostile Nation-States


Washington, DC
United States

In Connection with the 2023 Summit for Democracy

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for the warm welcome.

Tomorrow, the President will convene the second Summit for Democracy, bringing together leaders from over 100 nations along with those from civil society and the private sector — to galvanize and reaffirm our commitment to democracy.

The Department of Justice has a unique role to play in our nation’s efforts to strengthen and defend democracy at home and abroad. After all, we are the only department in our government named for a value — justice. And our founding principle is to uphold the bedrock of every functioning democracy: the rule of law.

Fundamental to that principle is our commitment:

To ensure that all Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, enjoy the right to participate in free and fair elections.

To uphold the right to worship openly and to speak freely, even — in fact especially — where that speech involves criticism directed at the government.

And to treat like cases alike and all people equally, so that there is not one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless.

Today, hostile nation-states seek to challenge our democracy and our rule of law efforts at home and around the world.

From covert plots to kill dissidents on U.S. soil, to overt efforts to topple democracy in Ukraine, our adversaries seek to undermine the rule of law and subvert democracy.

Today, I will highlight how the Justice Department is responding to global threats to the rule of law, starting with our response to transnational repression.

Activists, journalists, and others who fight for freedom around the globe are under threat from autocracies that seek to silence them and that have launched campaigns of intimidation, unlawful imprisonment, violence, and even murder.

According to recent data from Freedom House, about 38% of the global population live in countries that are “not free” – the highest percentage since 1997.

Repressive regimes — including those in Iran, China, and Russia — are not satisfied with crushing dissent in their own cities and countrysides.

Instead, they are extending their authoritarian reach across the globe — including to our shores — to suppress dissidents and critics, who are exercising their fundamental rights to speak freely and to organize politically.

This past January, the Justice Department exposed a murder-for-hire plot directed against a prominent critic of the Iranian regime right here in the United States — to silence her for speaking out against human rights abuses in Iran and for speaking up for the rights of women.

Our agents and prosecutors exposed that plot, as they did another plot by a member of the Iranian IRGC to assassinate a former U.S. National Security Advisor.

But it isn’t just Iran. The Chinese government also goes great lengths to silence dissent outside of China.

The Justice Department has brought charges against four Chinese intelligence officers and their agent who kept tabs on activists advocating for democracy worldwide, leading to PRC arrests of dissidents in Hong Kong.

In another scheme, we charged a Chinese national working at the direction of the PRC’s Ministry of State Security with orchestrating a campaign to undermine the U.S. congressional candidacy of a military veteran who was a leader of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

As alleged, these brazen acts of transnational repression violate U.S. law; they infringe on our sovereignty; and perhaps most critically, they are an attack on our most fundamental values.

Make no mistake: we will use every tool to expose the repressive tactics of autocratic regimes and force their agents to answer for their unlawful behavior. And we will support our allies and partners in doing the same.

We’ll also deny repressive regimes the technology they exploit as a means to oppress.

While some technologies can be employed lawfully to further legitimate national security objectives, they must be monitored carefully; subjected to robust oversight and controls to prevent their proliferation and misuse.

That’s why the Administration, the Department of Justice, and our interagency partners are actively working to rein in the proliferation and abuse of technology to repress.

First, we’re ramping up enforcement. We have launched the Disruptive Technology Strike Force. A collaboration of U.S. law enforcement agencies – led by the Justice Department and the Commerce Department – the Strike Force brings together our top experts to attack tomorrow’s national security threats today.

We use intelligence and data analytics to target illicit actors, enhance public-private partnerships to harden supply chains, and spot threats to our critical assets, like semiconductors. Our goal is simple but essential – to strike back against adversaries trying to siphon – and abuse – our best technologies.

The Administration is also closely monitoring the proliferation of commercial spyware, which can enable unknown actors to remotely access electronic devices, extract their content, and manipulate their components, all without a user’s knowledge or consent.

Second, the department is ensuring former U.S. government personnel do not unlawfully transfer skills learned through their employment to become mercenaries for the highest autocratic bidder.

Just last week, the Director of National Intelligence issued binding guidance to our Intelligence Community to implement important new statutory restrictions on former Intelligence Community officials seeking employment with foreign governments or companies.

And third, we are looking inward so that the U.S. government is not inadvertently catalyzing the success of irresponsible companies in this ecosystem. This starts by ensuring that our own legitimate need for certain technologies for lawful, national security purposes is not directly or indirectly supporting irresponsible actors in this space.

To that end, yesterday the President signed a new Executive Order, which identifies, for the first time, factors that departments and agencies must consider before using sophisticated cyber surveillance tools.

These factors include whether there is credible evidence that a foreign government has used or is likely to use the commercial spyware against activists, dissidents, or other actors to intimidate, curb dissent or political opposition.

Not all threats to the rule of law involve repression. Sometimes, they involve the purposeful degradation of institutions that sustain law and order.

This brings to me a second topic – corruption.

For decades, the Justice Department has worked to hold accountable both bad actors who use bribes to undermine the rule of law and corrupt officials who abuse positions of public trust for private gain.

But corruption isn’t limited to the pursuit of private gain.

Some nations use corruption as a malicious tool of statecraft – hollowing out institutions in other countries to extend their own anti-democratic influence.

Early in his presidency – recognizing that strategically weaponized corruption can undermine democracy – President Biden designated the fight against corruption as a core national security interest.

What followed was the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption. It was released at the first Summit for Democracy, and now serves as a blueprint for a comprehensive, coordinated global effort.

As part of that effort, the Department of Justice is using every tool at its disposal to increase the resilience of democratic institutions by strengthening anti-corruption measures.

Through active enforcement of anti-bribery laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and anti-money laundering statutes, we’re holding corrupt actors accountable for offering, paying, and promising bribe payments.

And we’re using forfeiture and money laundering laws to pursue bribe takers and their ill-gotten gains, through our Kleptocracy Initiative.

We’re also vigorously enforcing sanctions against Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and others to disrupt illicit finance schemes — and to combat the use of corruption and violence to destabilize democracy and the rule of law.

For example, within days of Russia’s unprovoked aggression and invasion of Ukraine, we established Task Force KleptoCapture, bringing together law enforcement from across our government to enforce the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures implemented in response to Russia’s brutality — and we are directing seized assets to the benefit of the people of Ukraine.

To date, we’ve successfully seized, forfeited, or otherwise restrained over $500 million in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs and their proxies — from luxury yachts in Spain and Fiji to houses in the Hamptons.

In addition to their efforts to repress people and degrade institutions, hostile states are engaged in the more subtle and sophisticated acts of dividing societies – using covert or other secret means to mislead the American public, to sow divisions, and to tear us apart with a hidden hand.

And that brings me to the issue of foreign malign influence.

Last summer, the Department charged a Russian national with a years-long effort to recruit and direct political groups in Florida, Georgia, and California on behalf of the Russian FSB.

The Russian national directed these groups to publish pro-Russian propaganda and coordinated coverage of this activity in Russian media outlets.

The American people have a right to know when a foreign government seeks to influence policy decisions or public opinion here in the United States of America.

At the Justice Department, we’re doing everything we can to expose this behavior.

Specifically, we’re strengthening enforcement of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) to bolster transparency of foreign activities in the United States. In the coming months we will issue new rules to clarify the range of activities that require registration under the Act.

We are working with Congress to modernize our FARA regime and to give us the tools we need in today’s threat environment.

Our adversaries are relentless in finding new ways to undermine our institutions. It is incumbent on us to update and refresh our tools to combat their malign influence.

But upholding the rule of law isn’t just about playing offense. It’s about defense too – identifying vulnerabilities and shoring up our defenses to harmful foreign activities.

For example, we know that under its national security law, the PRC government can require companies doing business in China to hand over data in their control, and can use those same authorities to influence content and spread misinformation.

And we know this creates significant risks to U.S. citizens.

That’s why we must protect against acute, systemic technology-based threats from foreign adversaries to the security and safety of the American people.

Autocratic regimes have become more creative and brazen in their efforts to weaken democratic institutions, spread corruption, and sow instability across the globe. The United States and its allies and partners must stand together against these efforts — and that’s exactly what the Summit for Democracy is all about.

And using every tool at our disposal, the Department of Justice will do what it does best – uphold the rule of law; protect the civil rights and liberties that are central to the United States and to all democracies across the globe.

Thanks very much for having me and I look forward to the conversation.

National Security
Updated March 28, 2023