France too vulnerable to foreign interference

2023-11-15 05:30:00

It is a 39-second video calling for a boycott of the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, which has been viewed millions of times on social networks since the end of July. A video denounced by the French authorities as being a campaign of information manipulation aimed at damaging France’s reputation in its ability to host the Olympics.

This campaign was orchestrated by actors linked to Azerbaijan according to a report from The village, the organization fighting against foreign digital interference, unveiled yesterday. This operation was probably carried out in retaliation for France’s involvement in recent months in mediation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two former Soviet republics in conflict for thirty years. Viginum concluded that this “Olimpiya” (Olympic Games in Azeri) campaign “is likely to harm the fundamental interests of the Nation”. And the organization expects other potential campaigns targeting the Olympics.

This affair is an illustration of the foreign interference which hits our country – and more broadly European democracies – such as that of the Stars of David stencilled on Parisian facades.

The hacking of candidate Macron’s servers in 2017

Disinformation operations on social networks, destabilization of opinion, particularly during electoral periods, industrial espionage, cyberattacks, powerful lobbying and the recruitment of French personalities have been increasing for several years and are putting France and the European Union to the test. . Behind these interference operations, Russia, China and sometimes friendly powers as shown by the revelations of Edward Snowden on the listening systems of the American NSA or the affair of the Pegasus software, used by several countries , including Morocco, to put the cell phones of numerous political figures and heads of state and government such as Emmanuel Macron under surveillance.

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The current President of the Republic is all the more sensitive to the subject since during the 2017 presidential campaign, the servers of En Marche were hacked between the two rounds, probably by Russia. What followed was a massive leak of confidential documents, the MacronLeaks.

In recent years, and particularly since 2017, several in-depth reports have documented all these operations, often very sophisticated and sometimes relying on leading political figures. In October 2021, Jean-Baptiste Jeangène-Vilmer and Paul Charon published on behalf of the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (Irsem), a landmark report on “ Chinese influence operations “. Subtitled “a Machiavellian moment”, it deciphers “a Russianization” of China’s practices.

Massive Chinese influence operations

This 646-page report shows that China intends to “win without fighting, by shaping a favorable environment” for its interests. The main actors in these Chinese influence operations are emanations of the Chinese Communist Party (Propaganda Department, 610 Office, which has agents throughout the world, Youth League), the State, the Army ( notably the cyber soldiers of Base 311) but also public and private companies.

All of them have two objectives: “to seduce and subjugate foreign audiences, by creating a positive narrative about China” and above all to “infiltrate and coerce” via aggressive and coercive diplomacy, which also relies on personalities in France like the former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

Hybrid Wars

Another report, that of “the commission of inquiry relating to political, economic and financial interference by foreign powers – States, organizations, companies, interest groups, private individuals – aimed at influencing or corrupting opinion relays, leaders or French political parties.” Submitted on June 1 by deputies RN Jean-Philippe Tanguy and RE Constance Le Grip, this report estimates that Russia is the main threat to Western democracies in terms of interference, but it also points to China, Iran, Morocco, Qatar and Turkey. Highlighting France’s vulnerabilities, he considers that “interferences can be acts of a hybrid war of states that are hostile to us. »

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The prospect of a hybrid war greatly worries the French army, which sees the impact of foreign manipulations occurring in Africa around Operation Barkhane, or those linked to the war in Ukraine. “Hybrid wars will be increasingly complex to understand,” Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces, already warned at the end of 2022. “The Russian invasion in Ukraine was also favorable to strategic espionage campaigns during the year 2022 and provided a favorable context for destabilizing actions in Europe”, notes the National Systems Security Agency information (Anssi) in its cyber threat outlook 2022.

The report of the parliamentary intelligence delegation published this month summarizes the current state of interference by estimating that foreign powers are taking advantage of “a form of naivety and denial” on the part of France from which it must quickly exit…

(Article published in La Dépêche du Midi on November 15, 2023)

#France #vulnerable #foreign #interference

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