Germany’s spy chief warned that Russian hackers may target next year’s German election with campaigns of misinformation that could undermine the democratic process, echoing concerns voiced by the country’s domestic intelligence director.
U.S. intelligence officials warned in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election won by populist outsider Donald Trump of efforts to manipulate the vote that they believed was backed by Russian authorities. Russian officials denied any such effort.
In an interview published on Tuesday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Bruno Kahl, the new head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service, said there were indications that Russia may be behind the interference.
“We have evidence that cyber attacks are taking place that have no other purpose than triggering political uncertainty,” he said. “The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, no matter who that subsequently helps.”
The head of Germany’s domestic BfV intelligence agency told Reuters earlier in November that authorities were concerned that Russia may seek to interfere in Germany’s national elections through the use of misleading news stories.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has also warned that social bots – software programs to sway opinion on influential social media sites by spreading fake news – might manipulate the voting.
She faces a growing challenge from the anti-immigrant, populist AfD party, which has said the European Union should drop sanctions imposed on Russia and that Berlin should take a more balanced position towards Moscow.
Some critics say a proliferation of fake news helped sway the U.S. election in the favor of the Republican Trump, who has pledged to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton accused Trump of being a Putin “puppet”.
Kahl said Germany among other countries in Europe was a particular target of misinformation campaigns.
“A kind of pressure is being exercised on public discourse and democracy here which is unacceptable,” he said.
While intelligence agencies used to focus on countries, today the challenges and the threats are more varied and the actors more diverse, Kahl added.
Deutsche Telekom has blamed disruptions experienced by hundreds of thousands of its customers on Monday on a failed hacking attempt to hijack consumer router devices for the purpose of a wider Internet attack.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; editing by Mark Heinrich)