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German Spy Chief: Russia Trying To 'Destabilize' Germany Ahead Of Elections

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's BfV intelligence agency (file photo).
Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's BfV intelligence agency (file photo).

German intelligence says Russia is trying to destabilize German society with an intensifying campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and cyberattacks ahead of federal elections next year.

"We see aggressive and increased cyberspying and cyberoperations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament, and employees of democratic parties," Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the domestic BfV intelligence agency, said in a December 8 statement.

The warning came two months after U.S. intelligence publicly accused Russia of directing cyberattacks against American political figures and organizations in order to interfere with the U.S. electoral process ahead of the November 8 presidential election.

Russia has repeatedly rejected accusations that it was behind those attacks. There was no immediate official response from Moscow to Maassen's statement on December 8.

Maassen cited "increasingly aggressive cyberespionage" against German political entities as part of a mounting body of evidence "of attempts to influence the federal election next year."

The BfV noted a "striking increase" in the number of attacks attributed to a hacking group known as Fancy Bear, which security experts have linked to Russian intelligence. The group has been blamed for the hacks of the U.S. National Democratic Committee this year and the German parliament in 2015.

'Enormous' Spending

The BfV also said it had observed a broad array of Russian propaganda instruments and "enormous use of financial resources" to target Russian speakers, policymakers, and political groups in Germany with "disinformation" campaigns.

Russian state media have repeatedly seized on stories about crimes committed by migrants in Germany, tying them to Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow hundreds of thousands of immigrants fleeing violence in the Middle East into the country.

Maassen last month cited a case in which a Kremlin-controlled television network reported that a teenage Russian girl in Berlin was abducted and raped by migrants, fueling outrage in Russia and among Russian-speakers in Germany.

German authorities later concluded that the account of the alleged crime had been fabricated.

In his December 8 statement, Maassen added that recent cyberattacks targeting German politicians could have been aimed at collecting compromising information about them.

He said his agency expects a further increase in cyberattacks ahead of next year's elections, which have not yet been set but are expected to be held in September.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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