Russia aims to ‘destabilize Germany,’ Berlin says
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Russia aims to ‘destabilize Germany,’ Berlin says

Head of domestic intelligence cites ‘growing evidence’ Moscow already attempting to influence 2017 elections

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany's domestic intelligence service, photographed in Berlin, November 30, 2016.  (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany's domestic intelligence service, photographed in Berlin, November 30, 2016. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — Russia is trying to destabilize German society with propaganda and cyber attacks ahead of the country’s general election, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said Thursday.

The warning was the bluntest public claim yet from Germany’s BfV agency about Moscow’s alleged campaign of disinformation and hacking targeting Europe’s biggest economy.

“There is growing evidence of attempts to influence the federal election next year,” said the BfV’s head, Hans-Georg Maassen, citing “increasingly aggressive cyber espionage” against political entities in Germany.

Russia has been blamed for the hacking and release of Democratic National Committee emails before the US presidential election. But Moscow has strongly denied involvement in orchestrating cyber attacks on foreign soil and hit back with allegations of its own against the West.

Illustrative photo of a cybersecurity expert (AP/John Minchillo)
Illustrative photo of a cybersecurity expert (AP/John Minchillo)

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said last month: “Believe me, we’re expecting cyber attacks during election campaigns, every election campaign in Russia. These cyber attacks also happen, and believe me, there are also people behind those tens of thousands of cyber attacks who work from Germany just like other European countries.”

Maassen, the BfV chief, expressed particular concern that voters’ increasing use of social media could make them more vulnerable to disinformation.

“We are worried that echo chambers are being created there,” he said, adding that “automated opinion-forming” with bots [web robots] could be used to spread fake news.

Muslim asylum seekers wait for their registration after arriving at a center for refugees in Giessen, Germany, on December 2, 2015 (AFP/DPA/Boris Roessler)
Muslim asylum seekers wait for their registration after arriving at a center for refugees in Giessen, Germany, on December 2, 2015 (AFP/DPA/Boris Roessler)

Media outlets controlled by the Russian government and pro-Russian blogs in Germany regularly report on crimes committed by migrants in Germany, linking the incidents to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country last year.

German politicians have been the targets of recent hacking attacks, which Maassen said could have been attempts to gather information that could be used to discredit them.

“We expect a further increase in cyber attacks in the run-up to the elections,” he said.

Germany has not yet set a date for its national election in 2017, but it’s expected in September.

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