It was completely predictable and it has now happened.
Emmanuel Macron, the ‘Golden Boy’ candidate who is now being heavily promoted in the French Presidential election by the French and European establishment, and who – not coincidentally – is the only candidate in the French Presidential election who supports the current confrontational policy against Russia, has borrowed a leaf from Hillary Clinton’s play-book and is alleging that he will be the target of a ‘fake news’/cyber attack organised by Russia.
The way in which this is being done is set out in an article in the Financial Times, which quotes the head of Macron’s campaign and the French Defence Minister, and which conveys dark hints of reports by the French counter intelligence service.
Here is what the Financial Times is reporting
Emmanuel Macron’s campaign has accused Russia and its state-owned media of using hacking and fake news to interfere with the French presidential race, which the novice politician is favourite to win. Richard Ferrand, who is managing Mr Macron’s campaign, said there were “hundreds and even thousands” of hacking attempts emanating from Russia and said false news reports were “weighing on our democratic life”.
“Today we must look at the facts: two main media, Russia Today and Sputnik, which belong to the Russian state, are spreading fake news,” he said on France 2 television.
His comments tap into a growing fear in the European intelligence community that Russia could try to influence this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections in France as well as Dutch and German polls. This follows accusations by US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the US presidential election last year, carrying out attacks on the Democratic party’s computers.
The Kremlin dismissed the claims as a “witch-hunt”. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, last month warned that a “massive diffusion of false information” could be used as a tool to influence the election. The French anti-cyberespionage agency, ANSSI, last year briefed the presidential candidates’ campaigns on possible threats.
The actual ‘evidence’ that Macron is the subject of such an attack is provided in a different article by the Daily Telegraph
Some observers believe a less spectacular, but no less coordinated, combination of leaks and misinformation were on display last weekend, when Russian news outlets ran a series of stories about Emmanuel Macron, the only French presidential candidate who does not advocate a rethink of Paris’s position on sanctions.
Last Friday, Julian Assange told the pro-government paper Izvestia that Wikileaks had obtained material compromising to Mr Macron. On Sunday night Dmitry Kiselev, a notoriously partisan pro-Kremlin television presenter, used his weekly news roundup on national Television to launch a blistering attack on Mr Macron in what he called “the Battle for France.”
On Monday, Sputnik, the Russian state news agency, ran an interview with a conservative French MP who said Mr Macron works for the American banking interests, is supported by a “powerful gay lobby,” and is rumoured to be in a long-running extra martial affair with another man.
Mr Macron laughed off the allegations, saying on Monday that “If you’re told I lead a double life with Mr Gallet it’s because my hologram has escaped.”
None of this remotely lives up to the claims of a sinister Russian ‘fake news’/cyber attack on Macron.
What Dmitry Kiselev says to Russian television viewers can have no bearing on the outcome of the French Presidential election, whilst Izvestia’s interview of Julian Assange and Sputnik’s interview of a French conservative MP look like legitimate news reporting.
Interestingly the Daily Telegraph itself casts doubt on the whole anti-Russian ‘fake news’/cyber warfare story. Thus we read things in its article like this
Proving that is another matter, however. A year-long investigation the BND (German foreign intelligence) and BfV (German domestic intelligence) concluded last week that Russia was pursuing a “hostile strategy,” but failed to establish a definite link between the Lisa case and the Russian authorities.
“We have’t found a smoking gun,” Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted an unnamed government source as saying. “We’d have liked to have shown them the yellow card.”
The report also examined suspicions of Russian funding or other links to the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party but found no evidence.
Another case examined in the report was a claim, spread last year from a Russian Whatsapp message and heavily circulated by Russian-speaking Germans, that Arab men were planning a Valentine’s Day mass rape of German women. Unlike the Lisa case, this was a complete fabrication. But the report concluded the effort was amateurish and the Kremlin was not involved. The Witch Hunt That has left some Western politicians feeling “Russian hacking” has become a convenient means with which to smear the Euro-sceptic right.
At this point it needs to be said that the German investigation is so far the only official investigation carried out by a European intelligence agency into the whole “Russian ‘fake news’/cyber warfare” story which is known about and which has reported its findings, and it is clear that it has drawn a complete blank.
In other words no official confirmation exists that in Europe Russia is trying to influence anyone, and the whole anti-Russia ‘fake news’/cyber warfare hysteria is being spun out of thin air.
This starting to be noticed by some people. Thus elsewhere in the Daily Telegraph article we read things like this
“I find many of the accusations about hacking and false news and everything are being presented without much clear evidence,” said Thierry Baudet, a Dutch MEP and the founder of Forum voor Democratie, which campaigns for Holland to leave the European Union.
“And it seems to suit the opposition’s position surprisingly well. I would be much more suspicious and demanding a factual basis for what they are saying,” he told the Telegraph. Mr Baudet, who says he sees himself as an ally of Daniel Hannan, the arch Eurosceptic Tory MEP, is no stranger to accusations of pro-Russian bias.
He campaigned for a no vote in a Dutch referendum on ratifying the EU association agreement with Ukraine and has questioned the independence of the investigation into the downing of Malaysian airlines flight MH17 over east Ukraine – both positions that fit closely with Kremlin interests.
He describes his position on both issues as “”pro-Dutch” rather than “pro-Russian” and says he does not have strong opinions about Nato’s current confrontation with Russia.
“What we were saying, and the Dutch people agreed with us, is that it was not in our national interests to associate ourselves with a country as corrupt as Ukraine. I don’t know if that is the same as being pro-Russian,” he said.
The Dutch foreign ministry admitted this week that it had not verified that the signatures gathered to trigger the referendum were genuine. Mr Baudet denied that called the legitimacy of the vote into question, saying no one had presented any evidence that the signatures had been tampered with.
Discriminating between inconvenient news and a security threat, and the dangers of legitimate concerns turning into a witch-hunt against dissenting thought, are two of the biggest problems of fighting what Russian hawks call an “information war.” Perhaps worse is over reacting.
“A couple of months ago we underestimated Russian influence in media and cyber attacks and so on – no one was looking at it and no one was thinking about it,” said Dr Meister. “Now I think it is just the opposite – we are overestimating Russian ability to influence electoral behaviour. There is even a kind of a panic now,” he added.
That some people – in the Netherlands especially – are starting to notice that this latest witch-hunt is not based on evidence but depends entirely on paranoia and hysteria is important. However that is not preventing opportunists like Emmanuel Macron from trying to take advantage of it.
Whether in the end it does him any more good than it did Hillary Clinton is another matter.