Macron gets under Putin’s skin, shows up Trump

Christopher Dickey writes: Russian President Vladimir Putin, the wily KGB veteran, the intruder into the West’s democratic elections, the smug defender of dictators and would-be ally of Donald Trump, looked like he wanted to hide behind the curtains in the Hall of Battles at Versailles.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is only 39 years old and took office just two weeks ago, was calm, cool, collected, and in complete control at their joint press conference Monday afternoon. He talked about the need for dialogue. But he didn’t hesitate for a second to state bluntly and publicly the priorities of France defending Western ideals, Western democracy, and, when it came down to specifics, he took firm positions on everything from Syria and Ukraine to LGBT rights in Chechnya, as well as the need to defend civil society in Russia.

Which is not to say that Macron was undiplomatic. At every turn—almost—he offered a way for Putin to save face by saying that where they differed there is nonetheless a continuing conversation. Even when asked about Russian attempts to influence the French elections by hacking the Macron campaign, Macron said that was something they had spoken about when Putin called him to congratulate him after his victory on May 7. “Now we are moving ahead,” said Macron.

But when asked why, as The Daily Beast was the first to report in April, the Macron campaign banned from its offices reporters for RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik, two of Putin’s pet state-funded media, Macron didn’t hesitate a moment:

“Russia Today and Sputnik have been tools of influence, and they spread untruths about my person and my campaign,” said Macron. “On that point I’m not going to give an inch. Russia Today and Sputnik did not behave like organs of the press and of journalism, but as organs of lying propaganda.”

Whew.

Putin may have been expecting the fresh-faced French president to give him a warmer welcome. The invitation to come to France and open an exhibit at the Palace of Versailles devoted to the visit of Peter the Great three centuries ago was extended only two weeks back, after Macron became president. The two leaders had not expected to meet until the G20 in Germany in July. But Putin jumped at the chance to take the measure of the ingenue head of state.

He probably could not have anticipated—few people had—that Macron would grow so quickly into his job: wowing the cameras and his counterparts at the G7 in Sicily last week; exploiting a death-grip handshake with Trump by telling a reporter there was nothing “innocent” about it; and strolling through the streets of Taormina with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the image of new (very un-Trumpian) global leadership. [Continue reading…]

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French president calls on Putin to protect gay Chechens

CNN reports: French president Emmanuel Macron says he has urged Vladimir Putin to ensure that the rights of LGBT people are protected following allegations of a crackdown on gay men in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

The Russian president was in France for talks with Macron, two weeks after his election victory. Macron’s call comes after widespread reports of a brutal campaign by the authorities against gay men in Chechnya, including allegations of torture and murder.

“I emphasized to President Putin…how important it is for France to respect all people, all minorities,” Macron said during a news conference with the Russian leader.

“We spoke about the cases of LGBT people in Chechnya… I told President Putin what France is expecting regarding this issue, and we agreed to regularly check on this subject.”

Macron added that President Putin told him he had started a number of initiatives with regard to the Chechen LGBT community. Previously, Putin said he would talk to the prosecutor general and interior minister regarding an investigation.

The French president has added his voice to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, also during a recent meeting with Putin, asked the Russian president to guarantee the rights of minorities in Chechnya. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: When they emerged from talks, which went on for almost an hour longer than scheduled, Macron said they had had a “frank exchange” and both men stressed they had agreed on the need to move forward on divisive issues such as Syria and Ukraine.

But at a joint news conference after their talks, ill-feeling came to the surface over past allegations made by Macron’s camp that state-funded Russian news outlets had sought to destabilise his campaign.

With Putin alongside him, Macron repeated the accusation in a reply to a journalist’s question, saying: “During the campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign.

“They behaved like organs of influence, of propaganda and of lying propaganda,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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A new Yalta and the revival of Europe

Roger Cohen writes: In the end the French election turned on the most unlikely of subjects: Europe. Yes, the ugly European duckling of 2016 politics — rejected by Britain, mocked by President Trump — ushered Emmanuel Macron into the Élysée Palace as France’s youngest president.

Macron, throughout his campaign, was strong in his support of the European Union and its shared currency, the euro. That was risky; identification with the European Union hardly seemed a winning ticket. But it was precisely on the euro and the union that Marine Le Pen, the rightist candidate of the National Front, committed public political suicide.

In the final TV debate, days before this month’s vote, she babbled and blundered for minutes on end about Europe and its currency. It was, as Macron put it, “du n’importe quoi” — roughly meaningless garbage. And it was garbage that touched the French in a very sensitive area: their pocketbooks.

The French, unlike Americans, don’t talk about money but they think about it as much as anyone else.

Le Pen confused the euro and the ECU (a basket of European currencies once used as a unit of account); she seemed to think Britain had been in the euro and made the wild claim that Brexit had sent the British economy skyrocketing; she blabbered about the coexistence of a restored franc for French people and a euro for big companies; she appeared to decree that other nations would leave the euro at the same time as her France. She accused Macron of “submission to European federalism.”

The retort was swift. It was also devastating because the French, it turns out, are attached to the euro. Macron said the value of people’s savings would plunge 20 to 30 percent the day after a return to the franc. He asked how anyone from the producer of Cantal cheese to Airbus — small or large enterprises fully integrated in the European economy — would function once compelled to do their foreign transactions in euros and pay their employees’ salaries in francs. He predicted the return of capital controls as people rushed to get money out of the country.

Le Pen gaped at him, laughed inappropriately, fired increasingly wild and unrelated salvos, and generally seemed on the verge of total meltdown. It was the end. Europe had killed her. For any Europhile, and I proudly wear that badge, it was the sweetest of moments after a rough passage. [Continue reading…]

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Hackers came, but the French were prepared

The New York Times reports: Everyone saw the hackers coming.

The National Security Agency in Washington picked up the signs. So did Emmanuel Macron’s bare-bones technology team. And mindful of what happened in the American presidential campaign, the team created dozens of false email accounts, complete with phony documents, to confuse the attackers.

The Russians, for their part, were rushed and a bit sloppy, leaving a trail of evidence that was not enough to prove for certain they were working for the government of President Vladimir V. Putin but which strongly suggested they were part of his broader “information warfare” campaign.

The story told by American officials, cyberexperts and Mr. Macron’s own campaign aides of how a hacking attack intended to disrupt the most consequential election in France in decades ended up a dud was a useful reminder that as effective as cyberattacks can be in disabling Iranian nuclear plants, or Ukrainian power grids, they are no silver bullet. The kind of information warfare favored by Russia can be defeated by early warning and rapid exposure.

But that outcome was hardly assured on Friday night, when what was described as a “massive” hacking attack suddenly put Mr. Macron’s electoral chances in jeopardy. To French and American officials, however, it was hardly a surprise.

Testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on Tuesday, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, said American intelligence agencies had seen the attack unfolding, telling their French counterparts, “Look, we’re watching the Russians. We’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure. Here’s what we’ve seen. What can we do to try to assist?”

But the staff at Mr. Macron’s makeshift headquarters in the 15th Arrondissement at the edge of Paris didn’t need the N.S.A. to tell them they were being targeted: In December, after the former investment banker and finance minister had emerged as easily the most anti-Russian, pro-NATO and pro-European Union candidate in the presidential race, they began receiving phishing emails.

The phishing mails were “high quality,” said Mr. Macron’s digital director, Mounir Mahjoubi: They included the actual names of members of the campaign staff, and at first glance appeared to come from them. Typical was the very last one the campaign received, several days before the election on Sunday, which purported to have come from Mr. Mahjoubi himself.

“It was almost like a joke, like giving us all the finger,” Mr. Mahjoubi said in interview on Tuesday. The final email enjoined recipients to download several files “to protect yourself.”

Even before then, the Macron campaign had begun looking for ways to make life a little harder for the Russians, showing a level of skill and ingenuity that was missing in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and at the Democratic National Committee, which had minimal security protections and for months ignored F.B.I. warnings that its computer system had been penetrated. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s silence on French hacks troubles cyber experts

Politico reports: The Trump administration is so far ignoring pleas from both on and off Capitol Hill to denounce the suspected Russian-backed digital assault that appeared aimed to tilt Sunday’s French presidential election toward nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen.

The White House’s failure to mention the attack on one of America’s oldest allies has worried Democrats, cyber policy specialists and former White House officials, who say the omission reveals a troubling inability to call out Russia over its digital aggression.

“This is an issue that should provoke grave concern in both parties,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor Monday afternoon. “It should compel us, Democrats and Republicans, to take proactive actions against this new threat.”

In the hack — which some researchers have linked to Russian intelligence — tens of thousands of internal documents and emails appeared online late Friday after being pilfered from the political party of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. The dump came less than two days before Macron’s resounding victory on Sunday.

The White House’s lack of comment on the incident comes just over a week after President Donald Trump publicly renewed his own skepticism about Russia’s role in the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the U.S. presidential race, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s forceful conclusion that senior Kremlin officials personally orchestrated the campaign with the aim of undermining Hillary Clinton.

“The silence is just a sign of how unprepared we are to deal with these things,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s silence is most likely even more indicative of this: that the Faustian bargain he made with Putin was that his presidency could be the beneficiary of Russian hacking with the understanding that sooner or later it could also become a target.

It is highly implausible that the Trump campaign and Trump presidency have not been the targets of damaging hacking attacks due to their mastery of information security. Much more likely, Russia holds a trove of damning information on Trump that at any time of its choosing it could release in order to destroy a president who turned out to have proved himself unworthy of protection.

Trump’s silence is a sign of his obedience.

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Evidence suggests Russia behind hack of French president-elect

Ars Technica reports: Late on May 5 as the two final candidates for the French presidency were about to enter a press blackout in advance of the May 7 election, nine gigabytes of data allegedly from the campaign of Emmanuel Macron were posted on the Internet in torrents and archives. The files, which were initially distributed via links posted on 4Chan and then by WikiLeaks, had forensic metadata suggesting that Russians were behind the breach—and that a Russian government contract employee may have falsified some of the dumped documents.

Even WikiLeaks, which initially publicized the breach and defended its integrity on the organization’s Twitter account, has since acknowledged that some of the metadata pointed directly to a Russian company with ties to the government:


Evrika (“Eureka”) ZAO is a large information technology company in St. Petersburg that does some work for the Russian government, and the group includes the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) among its acknowledged customers (as noted in this job listing). The company is a systems integrator, and it builds its own computer equipment and provides “integrated information security systems.” The metadata in some Microsoft Office files shows the last person to have edited the files to be “Roshka Georgiy Petrovich,” a current or former Evrika ZAO employee. [Continue reading…]

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Macron and the revival of Europe

Roger Cohen writes: It’s not just that Emmanuel Macron won and will become, at the age of 39, France’s youngest president. It’s not merely that he defeated, in Marine Le Pen, the forces of xenophobic nationalism exploited by President Donald Trump. It’s that he won with a bold stand for the much-maligned European Union, and so reaffirmed the European idea and Europe’s place in a world that needs its strength and values.

This, after Britain’s dismal decision last year to leave the European Union, and in the face of Trump’s woeful anti-European ignorance, was critical. Macron underlined his message by coming out to address his supporters in Paris accompanied by the European anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” rather than the Marseillaise — a powerful gesture of openness.

A Le Pen-led lurch into a Europe of nationalism and racism has been averted. President Vladimir Putin of Russian backed Le Pen for a reason: He wants to break down European unity and sever the European bond with the United States. Instead, the center held and, with it, civilization.

A federalizing Europe is the foundation of European postwar stability and prosperity. It offers the best chance for young Europeans to fulfill their promise. It is Europeans’ “common destiny,” as Macron put it in his acceptance speech, standing before the French and European Union flags. To think otherwise is to forget history. No wonder Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, through her spokesman, immediately proclaimed a victory “for a strong and united Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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On foreign policy, Macron knows Brussels, distrusts Moscow and must learn everything else

Politico reports: France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old foreign policy novice, won the keys to the Élysée palace without giving a major address on international affairs.

His views, informed by a broad coterie of policy advisers and French grandees, are largely unformed — with one, new exception. To listen to his closest foreign policy advisers, this bitter campaign that saw Macron face off against pro-Moscow opponents including Marine Le Pen and hacked by suspected Kremlin operatives has been the making of a Russia hawk.

When it comes to Moscow, France will now respond with the Macron doctrine.

“We will have a doctrine of retaliation when it comes to Russian cyberattacks or any other kind of attacks,” Macron’s official foreign policy adviser Aurélien Lechevallier told me. “This means we are ready to retaliate against cyberattacks — not only in kind but also with any other conventional measure or security tool.” [Continue reading…]

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In France, a hack falls flat

Isaac Stanley-Becker and Ellen Nakashima write: In France, few people even knew what was in the Macron team’s emails. The blanket ban on campaigning meant that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and her National Front couldn’t mention them, though a deputy leader of her party did tweet early Saturday, “Will #Macronleaks teach us something that investigative journalism has deliberately killed?”

The answer was no. Most media chose to heed a request from the France’s electoral commission not to reproduce the emails’ contents. Le Monde, the major French daily, said in a statement that it had seen part of the documents but would not publish their details before the election, due to the volume of the dump and because the release had “the clear goal of harming the validity of the ballot.”

The paper’s editor, Jerome Fénoglio, said in an interview that the documents would have been leaked earlier if they had contained damaging information. As it was, he said, “the best hope was to make noise.”

He said the response of the media in France carried lessons for journalists elsewhere, including those in the United States who rushed to reproduce pre-election leaks without thoroughly investigating their origins.

“Hiding information is not the same thing as refusing to be manipulated by those who diffuse the information,” Fénoglio said. [Continue reading…]

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The French presidency goes to Macron. But it’s only a reprieve

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Like someone who has narrowly escaped a heart attack, Europe can raise a glass and give thanks for the victory of Emmanuel Macron. But the glass is less than half full, and if Europe doesn’t change its ways it will only have postponed the fateful day.

The next president of France will be a brilliant product of that country’s elite, with a clear understanding of France’s deep structural problems, some good ideas about how to tackle them, a strong policy team, and a deep commitment to the European Union. When a centrist pro-European government has been formed in Berlin after the German election this autumn, there is a chance for these two nations to lead a consolidatory reform of the EU.

Savour those drops of champagne while you can, because you’ve already drained the glass. Now for the sobering triple espresso of reality. First shot: more than a third of those who turned out in the second round voted for Marine Le Pen (at the time of writing we don’t have the final figures). What times are these when we celebrate such a result?

Thanks to France’s superior electoral system and strong republican tradition, the political outcome is better than the victories of Donald Trump and Brexit, but the underlying electoral reality is in some ways worse. Trump came from the world of buccaneer capitalism, not from a long-established party of the far right; and most of the 52% who voted for Brexit were not voting for Nigel Farage. After Le Pen’s disgusting, mendacious, jeering performance in last Wednesday’s television debate, no one could have any doubt who they were voting for. She makes Farage look almost reasonable. [Continue reading…]

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Emmanuel Macron’s extraordinary political achievement

Anne Applebaum writes: Before you do anything else, spend a moment thinking about the extraordinary achievement of modern France’s youngest president-elect, Emmanuel Macron. Not since Napoleon has anybody leapt to the top of French public life with such speed. Not since World War II has anybody won the French presidency without a political party and a parliamentary base. Aside from some belated endorsements, he had little real support from the French establishment, few of whose members rated the chances of a man from an unfashionable town when he launched his candidacy last year.

He was, it is true, extraordinarily lucky (luck being the quality that Napoleon said he most preferred in his generals). He benefited both from the flameout of Socialist President François Hollande, who decided not even to contest the election, and from a surprise series of personal scandals that dragged down the center-right’s candidate, François Fillon. But Macron was also extraordinarily prescient. He saw that there was an opening in France for a socially liberal, economically liberal, internationalist and optimistic voice. Fillon, like Prime Minister Theresa May in Britain, wanted to repackage nationalist policies into more acceptable language. Macron instead argued openly against the fear, nostalgia, nativism, statism and stagnation on offer from the rest of the political class.

He made no populist promises, he offered no impossible schemes or unattainable riches. And then he won. [Continue reading…]

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How democracy gets hijacked

Carole Cadwalladr writes: In June 2013, a young American postgraduate called Sophie was passing through London when she called up the boss of a firm where she’d previously interned. The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.

“That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”

Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”

Why would anyone want to intern with a psychological warfare firm, I ask him. And he looks at me like I am mad. “It was like working for MI6. Only it’s MI6 for hire. It was very posh, very English, run by an old Etonian and you got to do some really cool things. Fly all over the world. You were working with the president of Kenya or Ghana or wherever. It’s not like election campaigns in the west. You got to do all sorts of crazy shit.”

On that day in June 2013, Sophie met up with SCL’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, and gave him the germ of an idea. “She said, ‘You really need to get into data.’ She really drummed it home to Alexander. And she suggested he meet this firm that belonged to someone she knew about through her father.”

Who’s her father?

“Eric Schmidt.”

Eric Schmidt – the chairman of Google?

“Yes. And she suggested Alexander should meet this company called Palantir.”

I had been speaking to former employees of Cambridge Analytica for months and heard dozens of hair-raising stories, but it was still a gobsmacking moment. To anyone concerned about surveillance, Palantir is practically now a trigger word. The data-mining firm has contracts with governments all over the world – including GCHQ and the NSA. It’s owned by Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of eBay and PayPal, who became Silicon Valley’s first vocal supporter of Trump. [Continue reading…]

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The clever timing of the Macron data dump

An election whose outcome is widely perceived as a foregone conclusion, is an election sure to be met with widespread voter apathy. Combine that with the fact that many French voters have almost equal distaste for both candidates in Sunday’s election and the assumption that its outcome is certain becomes much more questionable.

Wikileaks/Julian Assange, posturing as an impartial observer, was quick to promote the #MacronLeaks hashtag and to focus on the timing of the “leak.”


The Wikileaks/Russian narrative is clear: don’t be misled by reports that reveal Russian involvement in this “massive leak.” It’s timing makes it clear that this is the handiwork of naive hackers who “don’t get timing.”

A stronger argument can be made, however, that the timing of this data dump, far from being curious or naive, was strategically chosen to be of maximum effect and that its intended effect, more than anything else, was to taint the election outcome. This has less to do with determining who becomes France’s next president than it has with poisoning the democratic process.

Think about it: A leak worthy of that label is by its nature revelatory. It brings to light information that was up until that moment, guarded in secrecy. That secrecy had been maintained purposefully to prevent the damaging effects of revelation.

The Macron data dump, however, was identified by its size rather than its content. The shorter the interval between its release and election day, the less time there would be to highlight its vacuity.

Moreover, in terms of political effect, the act and event of digital leaking has in this cynical era generally taken on more significance as a form of political theater than as an instrument of truth telling.

The leak makes the target look vulnerable and poorly equipped to handle the levers of state in a age that requires data security.

The hacker, like the terrorist, “wins” for no other reason than the fact that he couldn’t be stopped.

The cleverness of timing this attack on the French election minutes before political campaigning was legally required to end, was that #MacronLeaks would then be able to play out most freely in social media while France’s mainstream media would remain largely silent.

The overarching strategy here is one we’ve seen before: it’s about fabricating something out of nothing in order to foment and sustain a visceral mistrust that is immune to reason.

This hacking will have worked, like many before and many more to come, not because it raised awareness but because it can serve as an instrument for steering popular sentiment.

This is hacking as a form of advertising and thus its purpose is less to change the way people think than the way they feel.

In order to achieve its maximum effect, as Dominic Cummings, who ran Britain’s Vote Leave campaign, has noted, the crucial element in advertising is timing:

One of the few reliable things we know about advertising amid the all-pervasive charlatanry is that, unsurprisingly, adverts are more effective the closer to the decision moment they hit the brain.

In France, as has happened elsewhere, the war against democracy will continue to progress with or without spectacular victories, as citizens lose faith and lose interest in actively sustaining freedoms they have long taken for granted. #MacronLeaks advances that process.

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Did Macron outsmart campaign hackers?

Christopher Dickey writes: It was the dog that didn’t bark in the night, and its bite may be less impressive still. As a tale of hacking and political subversion unfolded in France on Friday and Saturday, it looked like a re-run of the American experience. But there are some critical differences.

In the last hours before midnight on Friday, just before a campaigning blackout imposed by French electoral law in anticipation of the crucial vote on Sunday, somebody dumped nine gigabytes of emails and documents supposedly purloined from the campaign of leading presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.

It looked like, and almost certainly was, a last-minute bid to tip the scales in favor of the centrist Macron’s opponent, the nativist, populist Marine Le Pen, who has received more-than-tacit endorsements from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who received her at the Kremlin, and U.S. President Donald Trump, who has declared his appreciation of her as the “strongest” candidate.

Macron, by contrast, is favored by those who want a strong European Union, a strong NATO, and a France looking to the future rather than clinging to the fearful and fictional nostalgia promulgated by Le Pen.

As the news broke, suspicion focused on the same “Fancy Bear” Russian hackers who fiddled with the American presidential campaign last year. As The Daily Beast reported 10 days earlier, they have been working hard for the election of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-European Union, anti-euro, anti-NATO, anti-American, Pro-Trump Le Pen.

Literally at the 11th hour, before the blackout would silence it, the Macron campaign issued a statement saying it had been hacked and many of the documents that were dumped on the American 4Chan site and re-posted by Wikileaks were fakes.

The mainstream French media carried the Macron campaign statement, but virtually nothing else. In addition to the normal proscription of campaign “propaganda” on election eve, the government issued a statement saying specifically that anyone disseminating the materials in this dump in France could be liable to prosecution, and calling on the media to shoulder their “responsibility” by steering clear of them. [Continue reading…]

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There are no ‘Macron leaks’ in France. Politically motivated hacking is not whistleblowing

Robert Mackey writes: Here’s some news for the alt-right activists in the United States behind a disinformation campaign aimed at getting Marine Le Pen elected president of France by spreading rumors about her opponent, Emmanuel Macron: The French do not much like having their intelligence insulted by Americans.


That theme was repeated again and again in France on Saturday, in response to reports that a trove of hacked documents — nine gigabytes of memos and emails stolen from Macron aides and posted online Friday night, just before a legally imposed blackout on statements from candidates took effect — was first publicized on social networks by pro-Trump propagandists. [Continue reading…]

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A last-minute attempt to sabotage the French presidential election

The Washington Post reports: The French campaign watchdog on Saturday began investigating the “massive and coordinated piracy action” that presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron reported just minutes before the official end of campaigning in the most heated election for the presidency that France has seen in decades.

Late on Friday, the Macron campaign said in a statement that it had been the victim of a major hacking operation that saw thousands of emails and other internal communications dumped into the public domain.

At the end of a high-stakes race, the news quickly stoked fears of a targeted operation meant to destabilize the electoral process, especially after reports of Russian hacking in the U.S. presidential election.

Macron, an independent centrist, is facing off against the far-right populist ­and National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who for years has benefitted from considerable Russian financial support and from favorable coverage in state-run Russian media. Voters are set to decide Sunday which candidate becomes France’s next president.

“Intervening in the last hour of the official campaign, this operation is obviously a democratic destabilization, as has already been seen in the United States during the last presidential campaign,” the Macron campaign said.

It was not immediately clear who was being blamed for the hacking, which the campaign said had led to the leaking of documents via social media networks. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Ben Nimmo, a UK-based security researcher with the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council think tank, said initial analysis indicated that a group of U.S. far-right online activists were behind early efforts to spread the documents via social media. They were later picked up and promoted by core social media supporters of Le Pen in France, Nimmo said.

The leaks emerged on 4chan, a discussion forum popular with far right activists in the United States. An anonymous poster provided links to the documents on Pastebin, saying, “This was passed on to me today so now I am giving it to you, the people.”

The hashtag #MacronLeaks was then spread by Jack Posobiec, a pro-Trump activist whose Twitter profile identifies him as Washington D.C. bureau chief of the far-right activist site Rebel TV, according to Nimmo and other analysts tracking the election. Contacted by Reuters, Posobiec said he had simply reposted what he saw on 4chan.

“You have a hashtag drive that started with the alt-right in the United States that has been picked up by some of Le Pen’s most dedicated and aggressive followers online,” Nimmo told Reuters.

Vitali Kremez, director of research with New York-based cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint, told Reuters his review indicates that APT 28, a group tied to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence directorate, was behind the leak. He cited similarities with U.S. election hacks that have been previously attributed to that group.

APT28 last month registered decoy internet addresses to mimic the name of En Marche, which it likely used send tainted emails to hack into the campaign’s computers, Kremez said. Those domains include onedrive-en-marche.fr and mail-en-marche.fr.

“If indeed driven by Moscow, this leak appears to be a significant escalation over the previous Russian operations aimed at the U.S. presidential election, expanding the approach and scope of effort from simple espionage efforts towards more direct attempts to sway the outcome,” Kremez said. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: In April, a report by the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro said there was evidence that the campaign was targeted in March by what appeared to be the same Russian operatives who were responsible for hacks of Democratic campaign officials before last year’s American presidential election. [Continue reading…]

Zeynep Tufekci writes: Hacking and releasing all internal documents and private communication of one campaign is a form of political sabotage, and it may be more potent than you expect. There won’t be time to prove or debunk anything but the confusion will spread. This isn’t whistleblowing meant to shed light on the operations of power. The goal is to frustrate, not persuade, and to create doubt, confusion and paralysis.

In the United States, many reporters had great difficulty resisting the lure of the uncurated dump from the Clinton campaign. I watched on Twitter as they spent a lot of time digging up emails about themselves and colleagues, and chuckling and snarking over it. There were just six weeks left before a consequential election in the United States, but they couldn’t take their eyes of all this candy, Most of the stuff was mundane. There were a few items of public interest — vastly outweighed by juicy, juicy gossip. A lot of this gossip made its way to major newspapers, even their front pages. Important issues got buried. We got very few stories before the election, for example, about the unprecedented conflicts-of-interest that would be posed by a presidency of a businessman with vast holdings all over the world, and a name that he licenses to commercial buildings.

It’s true that there is barely more than a day left until your election, but such fixation with the gossipy side of politics can cripple reporters’ attention after the election too. Editors will be tempted to assign many reporters to dig through the whole dump, and reporters may find themselves mentioned.

There are a lot of things you probably should be reporting on after the election, and the day will still be 24 hours. Editors and reporters should not just follow the candy that has been deliberately dumped in front of them. It’s hard to resist such temptation, but in an age when censorship operates by distracting us from what’s important, it is crucial to consider what’s essential and what is deliberate ploys at distraction. Consider carefully the opportunity cost of assigning large numbers of reporters to search through the dump. In this day of shrinking newspaper budgets, what else are you not covering? What does it mean to rifle through one side’s internal communication, while completely silent on the other, unhacked counterpart?

My advice for traditional media simple, but hard to follow: when reporting, have a laser sharp eye on news truly in the public interest: gross misconduct; major corruption; criminal actions. Before reporting on information from a hack, ask yourself this: would you go to great lengths to find a way to hack or leak this information if it wasn’t just conveniently dumped in front of you? If not, it’s probably not newsworthy enough to report on.

And while reporting, don’t forget the bigger story: this was an act of political sabotage, asymmetric releasing of all internal assets of only one campaign. The political sabotage itself is news, and it should be covered as news—and not just after the fact. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. far-right activists promote hacking attack against Macron

The New York Times reports: After months of trying to move the political needle in favor of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, American far-right activists on Saturday threw their weight behind a hacking attack against her rival, Emmanuel Macron, hoping to cast doubt on an election that is pivotal to France and the wider world.

The efforts were the culmination of a monthslong campaign against Mr. Macron after his candidacy began to gain steam earlier this year, with digital activists in the United States and elsewhere regularly sharing tactics, tips and tricks across the English- and French-speaking parts of the internet.

It is unclear whether the leaked documents, which some experts say may be connected to hackers linked to Russia, will affect the outcome of the election on Sunday between Ms. Le Pen, the far-right candidate from the National Front and Mr. Macron, an independent centrist. But the role of American far-right groups in promoting the breach online highlights their growing resolve to spread extremist messages beyond the United States.

“It’s the anti-globalists trying to go global,” said Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow of the digital forensics research lab at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, who has studied the far right’s recent efforts against Mr. Macron and others in France. “There’s a feeling of trying to export the revolution.” [Continue reading…]

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Macron vanquishes Le Pen — ‘the high priestess of fear’ — in presidential debate

Christopher Dickey writes: Barring an act of God or ISIS, or a massive vote for the mysterious Monsieur Blanc, 39-year-old centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron now looks certain to be the next president of France. He emerged from the one and only one-on-one debate against far-right nationalist-socialistic candidate Marine Le Pen on Wednesday night largely unscathed and indeed, according to instant polls, a clear winner.

If he is elected Sunday, the effect on European and global politics could be enormous: a definitive end to what had seemed a wave of nativism and populism sweeping across the West; a huge setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs to divide and weaken European (and American) democracies; and a much tougher, more united European Union position as London tries to negotiate Brexit.

Macron, a wunderkind banker and political neophyte who briefly served as economy minister in the current discredited government of President François Hollande, did not, as some of his supporters feared, fall on his face in the debate, even though Le Pen called him “the prostrate candidate” who grovels before international financial interests.

The heiress to the legacy of the National Front party founded by her irascible race-baiting father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, anti-euro, anti-European Union, anti-American, pro-Trump, and pro-Putin and would like to close France’s borders. A victory for her would turn the post-World War II order upside down—a proposition many frustrated and angry French, especially young ones, have flirted with on the left as well as the right. [Continue reading…]

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The left must vote for Macron

Yanis Varoufakis writes: In 2002, Jacques Chirac, the French right’s leader, faced Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the racist National Front, in the second round of France’s presidential election. The French left rallied behind the Gaullist, conservative Chirac to oppose the xenophobic heir of Vichy collaborationism. Fifteen years later, however, large sections of the French left are refusing to back Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter.

Progressives have good reason to be angry with a liberal establishment that feels comfortable with Macron, a former banker with no previous experience in democratic politics prior to his brief appointment as Minister of Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs by President François Hollande. They see him, correctly, as the minister who stripped full-time French workers of hard-won labor rights and who today is the establishment’s last resort against Le Pen.

Moreover, it is not hard to identify with the French left’s feeling that the liberal establishment is getting its comeuppance with Le Pen’s rise. In 2015, the same establishment that now supports Macron and rails against the “alternative facts,” loony economics, and authoritarianism of Le Pen, Donald Trump, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and others, launched a ferociously effective campaign of falsehood and character assassination to undermine the democratically elected Greek government in which I served.

The French left cannot, and should not, forget that sorry episode. But the decision of many leftists to maintain an equal distance between Macron and Le Pen is inexcusable. There are two reasons for this. [Continue reading…]

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