Saturday

25th Mar 2017

British spies to help EU stop Russian meddling

  • The MI6 headquarters in London (Photo: Alex France)

Britain’s spy chief has promised to work with EU states to stop efforts to hack elections, amid multiplying concern on Russia’s “hybrid” attacks.

Alex Younger, who heads MI6, the UK’s foreign intelligence agency, said in a speech in London on Thursday (8 December) that one of his priorities was to counter “the increasingly dangerous phenomenon of hybrid warfare”.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He did not name Russia directly, but he said that “hostile” states were trying to “further their aims” via “cyber-attacks, propaganda [and] subversion of democratic process”.

“Our job is to … shine a light on these activities and to help our country and our allies, in particular across Europe, build the resilience they need to protect themselves,” he said.

“The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty; they should be a concern to all those who share democratic values”, he added.

The term hybrid warfare is commonly used to refer to Russia’s mix of covert military action, economic, and information warfare, as showcased in its attack on Ukraine.

US intelligence chiefs in October publicly accused Russia of disrupting the American elections.

They said “Russia’s senior-most officials” had authorised the hacking and leaking of emails from the Democratic Party to help its rival, the Russia-friendly Donald Trump, who went on to win.

Adam Schiff, a Democratic senator on the intelligence committee, also said at the time: “We’re … encouraging the [US] administration to work with our European partners, who have been the subject of even worse meddling, to coordinate a response to this”.

The concerns have been echoed by German spy chiefs and by chancellor Angela Merkel, who will fight for re-election next year against the Russia-friendly SPD party and the anti-EU AfD party.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency, said in a statement on Thursday that Russia’s "disinformation" campaign aimed to “weaken or destabilise the Federal Republic of Germany.”

He added: “We see aggressive and increased cyber spying and cyber operations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament and employees of democratic parties”.

Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign service, the BND, told Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, in November, that “cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty”.

“The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such … We have indications that [the attacks] come from the Russian region”.

France and Italy

France will also hold elections next year, with the Kremlin-funded and anti-EU National Front party doing well in polls.

Italy just held a referendum that toppled its pro-EU leader, Matteo Renzi, and boosted the standing of the anti-EU and Russia-friendly 5 Star Movement Party.

La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, reported that Russia-based blogs and social media accounts has promulgated fake news designed to harm Renzi.

Laura Boldrini, the parliament speaker, said afterward that Italy had to “act now” to halt media attacks.

Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist Italian PM, mocked the Russia allegations, however.

“I don’t believe there is dark, organised centre, a group of hackers in the Kremlin trying to affect the Italian referendum … I think they could care less”, he said.

Augustus Henning, a former head of Germany’s BND spy service, has also doubted the extent of Russia’s influence in Europe.

“I don’t see that Czechia is really challenged by Russia, nor is Poland’s internal structure. I don’t think Russia is so strong in the West”, he recently told EUobserver.

“The problem for Russia is that they don’t offer a very attractive model of society or the economy”, he said.

Brexit and Trump

With the UK preparing to leave the EU, Younger, the MI6 chief, said on Thursday that Britain would uphold intelligence cooperation “with our European partners, France and Germany foremost amongst them”.

With Trump’s win in the US creating further uncertainty on Western unity, Younger added: “I’m often asked what effect the big political changes of 2016, Brexit and the US election result, will have on these relationships. My answer is that I will aim for, and expect, continuity”.

“These relationships are long lasting and the personal bonds between us are strong. The threats that we faced before these events have not gone away”, he said.

Opinion

No joke: Russian propaganda poses EU threat

With the French and German elections at risk of Kremlin interference, it's time for the EU to start treating Russian propaganda as a serious threat.

Interview

Russia 'not so strong' inside EU as feared

Germany’s former spy chief has said Russian propaganda was failing to make an impact in Europe and that Russian intelligence was weaker than imagined.

Poland: Russia seeks 'new empire' in Europe

Polish minister said Russian military “aggression” in Europe was a threat even to "lucky" states, such as Ireland, which are not on the front line.

EU close to face-saving deal on Ukraine

Dutch PM Rutte seeks solution to the No vote on EU-Ukraine treaty. Meanwhile, diplomats say there is a “consensus” on the roll-over of Russia sanctions.

Russia courts Serbia amid EU dispute

Serbian PM Vucic cut short a trip to Brussels, the same day as Russian foreign minister said the EU was pushing Balkan countries to "antagonise" Russia.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  2. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  3. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  4. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  5. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  6. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  7. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  9. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  10. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  11. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  12. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  2. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  4. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  5. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  7. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  8. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  9. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Lead the Way on Women's Economic Empowerment
  11. Center for Data InnovationBuilding Smart Cities for Tomorrow's Data Economy – 28 March - Brussels