French security officials, sobered by the destabilizing effect that computer hacking and email leaks had on the U.S. election, have taken the unprecedented step of allowing government cyber-snoops to share their expertise with political parties.
The goal is to help France’s Socialists, conservatives, and other parties defend themselves from electronic attacks during the country’s 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections.
France’s democratic process also is at risk from the cyber-subversion that roiled Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in particular, according to Louis Gautier, who heads the French prime minister’s General Secretariat for Defense and National Security.
The Obama administration has openly accused Russia of hacking Democratic organizations and officials, and the CIA has gone further, telling U.S. lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that Russia’s intention was to help Republican Donald Trump win the U.S. presidential election. Other U.S. intelligence agencies have said it’s less clear what the Russians’ intent was, other than to disrupt the American political system. They say the emails of Republican consultants may also have been compromised. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails were stolen and posted on the internet, along with others.
“In the United States, certain political parties were recently subject to sophisticated and repeated attacks, obviously carried out by organized groups,” Gautier wrote in an October 11 letter to political parties and lawmakers’ groups in parliament, inviting them to a closed briefing by the National Cybersecurity Agency.Such technology risks “could threaten the smooth progress of the political campaign in France.”
The letter was obtained by The Associated Press.
The cybersecurity agency, known by its French initials ANSSI, normally wouldn’t venture into the political or electoral domain. Created in 2009, its main task is to protect government communications and strategic French industries against cyber-snooping and attacks.
ANSSI, however, reports to Gautier’s office. Having concluded from the U.S. election that French political parties needed alerting, Gautier’s office got permission to invite them to the closed cyber-security seminar by ANSSI experts, a government official told the AP. He spoke about the internal decision-making process on condition that he was not identified.
France’s efforts to secure its election come amid concerns in European capitals about perceived efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to divide and undermine Western governments.
Last week, the head of British spy agency MI6 warned of cyberattacks, propaganda and the subversion of democratic processes by “states with hostile intent” and said the threat “should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.”
Germany’s foreign intelligence chief also has warned of cyberattacks aimed at political destabilization as the country prepares for a general election in 2017.