German intelligence

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath at German intelligence the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Russia, to German intelligence celebrate the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland. 

The president of   German intelligence (the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, said on Monday that the Russian government supported Catalan separatism with a disinformation campaign in the days leading up to the referendum. Maassen made this comment during his speech at a symposium organized in Berlin by his organization to address the issue of “hybrid threats” and in which he said that for certain countries it is “interesting” a “divided” and “weak” European Union that cannot fully exercise its “global actor role”.

Subsequently asked about this, Maassen added in a press conference that the BfV did not obtain this information directly, but that it was provided, but added that it seems “very plausible” and “reasonable” for Moscow to lend support to sovereignty.

“For other states, it is attractive to use hybrid threats now and always with the aim of damaging European interests, it is advantageous, it would be naive to think that these States are going to renounce them,” Maassen reasoned in his speech.

Sabotage, cyber attacks, and disinformation

Especially critical of Moscow at this symposium was the Director General of British Internal Intelligence (MI5), Andrew Parker, who assured that Russia is a “hostile state” and the “main protagonist” in the use of “hybrid threats“, in the that included from cyber attacks to the poisoning of a double British spy in the English city of Salisbury

. The Russian government, he said, has committed “flagrant breaches of international rules” with “aggressive and pernicious actions of its army and secret services” ranging from the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula to attempts to influence elections in the USA and France.

Maassen defined “hybrid threats” as the attempt of one State to influence another through a combination of methods, from cyber attacks to disinformation campaigns to sabotage, which represent an “existential danger to our democracies.”

These activities are attractive due to their effectiveness and repercussion, they are “attractive and lucrative”, and they are also complex and it is difficult to trace their origin.

New “weapons of mass destruction”

In addition, he warned of the “hybrid guerrillas” that carry out these operations, heterogeneous groups made up of spies, groups fanaticized with external support, criminals and computer hackers.

Although many of these actions are not novel, Maassen argued that current hybrid threats are “qualitatively and quantitatively” different from those of the past due to the great interconnection brought by the internet and by a certain multilateralist naivety that emerged as a result of the end of the war. Cold.

German intelligence

The European Commissioner for Security, Julian King, said that disinformation campaigns in the networks are a “new form of weapons of mass destruction” and advocated strengthening cooperation within the framework of the EU.

Maassen said that prevention “begins with awareness” about this threat, advocated to sensitize public opinion and present contrary messages.

He also highlighted the “extraordinary role” of the media, as citizens need “reliable information”, and encouraged a “critical and conscious” consumption of news by citizens.

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