Tue, May 16, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Security specialists to meet for summit on Russia’s alleged election interference

ACTION NEEDED:Conference organizers want legislation to be implemented by Western countries, saying their sovereignty could be endangered by outside meddling

The Guardian, PRAGUE

Security specialists from 27 countries including Britain and the US are to meet in Prague in what is being billed as the most concerted attempt yet to counter alleged Kremlin destabilization measures aimed at undermining Western elections.

The Czech Ministry of the Interior is hosting the five-day summit staged by the NATO Strategic

Communications Centre for Excellence (StratCom) in an effort to persuade governments and the EU to strengthen electoral processes amid rising concern over suspected interference by the Russian government.

The event comes at a time of heightened sensitivity following US President Donald Trump’s sacking last week of FBI director James Comey, who had been overseeing an investigation into alleged links between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Elections are approaching in several European countries including Britain next month, Germany in September and the Czech Republic, which faces a parliamentary poll in October and a presidential election a few months later.

Czech officials have voiced fears about the possibility of Russian-backed disruption.

“Western countries are taking this more seriously now because they can see it affects themselves and not just Ukraine and the Baltic states,” said Jakub Janda, of the Prague-based European Values think tank, which is organizing the conference along with other bodies, including the British embassy.

“From being a mainly foreign policy issue, it has become an internal security topic,” he said.

The Czech Republic became the first EU member state to explicitly address the issue in January when it established a Center for Terrorism and Hybrid Threats aimed at protecting the integrity of its elections from “fake news” Web sites and other measures suspected to be masterminded by Moscow.

Conference organizers are calling for further measures, including legislation, in Western countries whose democratic systems and sovereignty could be endangered by outside meddling.

“It is clear that democracies need to set up national policies for countering hostile disinformation operations, which are going on constantly, not only during the electoral period,” said a hard-hitting StratCom report to be presented to the 160 government specialists who will be meeting behind closed doors during the summit’s first two days.

The report says that Moscow tried to influence the pro-leave vote in last year’s Brexit referendum in the UK, in addition to its well-documented preference for Trump and support for losing far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

“Democracies must start treating their electoral processes as a part of critical national infrastructure,” said the report, which calls for “tailored national defense policies” to keep polls free and fair.

The report suggests that candidates could set up decoy e-mail addresses to guard against computer hacks.

It also urges state authorities to close potential legal loopholes that could allow foreign funding of candidates through local proxies.

Analysts accuse the Kremlin of backing mainly far-right fringe movements opposed to NATO, the EU and immigration across a host of countries, including the Baltic republics, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Finland, Sweden and elsewhere. Destabilization efforts are aided by news Web sites which peddle slanted accounts and outright disinformation.

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