Ambassadors Remarks at DISICON

Ambassadors Remarks at DISICON, May 11th, 2023

Dear Nancy, Ms. Platon, Mr. Benjamin and Ms. Whelan, dear guests.

First of all, I want to thank NDI for its leadership and willingness to tackle the important topics of disinformation and cybersecurity here in Kosovo.

Thanks also to the EU Office in Kosovo, the Switzerland-based Geneva Center for Security Governance, and the North Macedonia-based Metamorphosis Foundation whose partnership made this initiative possible.

This forum provides an important platform to explore and discuss disinformation and cyber security.

We need to understand these vital topics in order  to protect the safety and stability of the region’s governments, democratic processes, and citizens.

One of the U.S. government’s top priorities is to increase the security of the global cyber and information spaces.

That includes combatting disinformation to deter malign influence, which is a priority for U.S. in our support of governments and civil society in the region.

I’m pleased to see so many journalists and civil society representatives in the audience today, including members of the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, who play such an important role in providing timely and accurate information to the public.

Thank you all for your participation today.  Through your attendance and engagement, you are demonstrating your commitment both to protecting the region’s cyber infrastructure as well as ensuring access to fact-based information.

Now these two goals – protecting cyber infrastructure and ensuring access to fact-based information – are fundamental to protecting democratic principles in the global information space.

Disinformation in Kosovo is a persistent and rapidly growing problem.  Malign actors aim to divide allies and partners, consume our resources, rupture inter-ethnic relations, and foment polarization, fear, and uncertainty across the Western Balkans.

We see threats to citizens’ ability to access truthful and accurate information coming from a diverse set of sources and points of view.

As these threats emerge, they have a direct impact the ability of citizens to form their own opinions and make choices free from manipulation.

Research conducted by NDI and others has revealed that Kosovo is affected by deep partisan divisions, unresolved ethnic tensions, and long held patriarchal norms that silence women’s voices.

These divisions, tensions, and patriarchal norms make Kosovo vulnerable to foreign malign interference.

Their presence provides malign foreign actors an opportunity to disrupt democratic processes by disseminating false information, manipulating public opinion, and undermining the integrity of elections – negatively affecting everyday lives.

To counter these dangers, we must protect the information space through fact-based reporting.

As anti-democratic foreign interference increases in Kosovo, we are redoubling efforts to amplify information integrity and defend against cyber-attacks.

The United States – including dedicated teams at the Embassy I have the honor to lead here in Pristina – is responding by providing support to bolster the resilience of Kosovo’s citizens and institutions.

Given the immensity of the threat posed by cyber-attacks, the Embassy is stepping up our coordination on disinformation and cyber security.

The United States and our partners are working closely with our Government of Kosovo colleagues to assist in identifying vulnerabilities that would compromise, among other things, the integrity of the public procurement process.

Our assistance spans civilian and security institutions and ranges from technical advice, training, and advisors, to provision of equipment.

We are also helping Kosovo better identify, plan for, and mitigate potential risks.

Today, I want to share with you a few examples to show what can be accomplished through collaboration on cyber security.  I hope that we’ll have many more examples to share after the conversations you have here at DISICON.

We supported the government’s establishment of the Critical Infrastructure and Cybersecurity Working Group, the main forum where the Government stakeholders in cybersecurity can get out of their silos and strategize together on how to best identify and protect Kosovo’s critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks.

Here in Kosovo, when government, telecom, and media experienced Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks last September, we helped to mitigate and respond to them.

We continue to provide support to bolster these critical actors’ ability to stay online and continue their important jobs, even in times of crisis.

To combat disinformation, we are building the capacity of citizens and journalists to respond and neutralize harmful messages.  We are working to improve media literacy with youth and underserved communities.

By providing citizens, the media, and civil society here in Kosovo with the tools to defend their digital security we are able to combat disinformation and prevent it from taking root.

This is even more important today as we see Russia continue its brutal war against Ukraine, and as we have experienced repeated cyber-attacks across the region over the past year.

Our efforts and achievements, however, can only be sustained through the continued commitment and efforts of those of you in this room.

And that is why this DISICON event is so important.

DISICON provides a platform.  It brings experts from technology, cybersecurity, media, and government together to engage in solution-oriented discussions, identifying threats, and finding new ways to collaborate to advance our shared democratic values.

Seeing all of you here today is a testament to Kosovo’s dedication and capacity to counter malign actors and further its Euro-Atlantic integration.

Maintaining the integrity of information in Kosovo and combating threats of cyber-attacks is critical to protect this democracy.

Together, we can equip citizens with the skills and knowledge they need to address these challenges in their own organizations and communities.

You have a important day ahead of you – and I hope you all can have an impactful and productive set of conversations.

I want to close by again thanking USAID, NDI, the EU, and other partners for organizing this important event and for the spirit of collaboration and civil engagement that you are all modeling by being here today.