The Russian meddling in the United States, as well as other elections, is now going to be the norm, in addition to cyber warfare, disinformation campaigns and more traditional espionage the European heads of intelligence warned on Monday.
The Sergei Skripal assassination attempt in the UK is a prime example. After the attack, it was quickly followed by Russian denials and then nearly 30 alternate theories being spread by Russian propaganda using social media among other means.
“Our respect for Russia’s people … cannot and must not stop us from calling out and pushing back on the Kremlin’s flagrant breaches of international rules,” the head of Britain’s MI5 spy agency, Andrew Parker, told an intelligence gathering in Berlin.
“Whatever nonsense they conjure up, the case is clear,” said Parker.
He later told reporters that since allied governments were first briefed on Russia’s involvement in the attack by the British government, “the case, if anything, has got stronger since then.”
Germany’s domestic intelligence chief, Hans-Georg Maassen, said his agency, known as BfV, blames Russian authorities for orchestrating a persistent cyberattack aimed at stealing sensitive data so it can be used in future intelligence campaigns, such as what happened with the Democratic National Committee emails leaked during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.
Sir Julian King, the EU’s security commissioner, warned that social media had “turbocharged” state actors’ ability to spread disinformation, citing the recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s gathering of personal data from Facebook users to help manipulate elections.
King warned of future threats posed by sophisticated fake videos that are undiscernible from real footage, calling it an example of a “deadly weapon of mass disinformation” that societies need to find ways of becoming resilient to.
He also said the European Commission is working with social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to better inform users about why they are seeing certain posts and who is paying for them, to help protect against disinformation campaigns by groups or governments outside the country.
The European spy agencies have vowed to work together and cooperate against this new and insidious form of warfare. One worrisome subject for all the agencies is the possible funding of extremist groups aiming to divide European societies, and they are preaching for greater awareness of hybrid attacks to counter any threats.
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