OBSERVARE
Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022)
19
PROTECTION OF DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES AND ELECTORAL ACTS FROM
RUSSIAN DIGITAL ACTIVE MEASURES: 2016 AS A REFERENCE YEAR
RICARDO SILVESTRE
ricsilvestre@hotmail.com
PhD in Philosophy from the University of Connecticut, with a major in Human Physiology, and an
MA in International Relations from the Lusófona University of Humanities and Technology in
Lisbon, with a focus on the future of online political debate. International Officer of the think tank
Social Liberal Movement (Portugal). Coordinator of political communication projects with the
European Liberal Forum, the think tank of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe party
in the European Parliament. His main interests in the area of political research are: the future of
democracy, digital solutions to societal problems, and the transition and energy independence of
the European Union with its associated reduction of the security dilemma towards authoritarian
and illiberal countries.
Abstract
Russia has been credibly accused of trying to weaken Western liberal democracies with use
of digital means. Cybersecurity experts, intelligence agencies, investigative journalists, and
government services, have detailed the Kremlin's actions in illegally accessing digital
infrastructures, disseminating stolen contents online, and influencing political debate on digital
platforms to create dissention and polarization. These initiatives are included in a wider
strategy of altering the balance of power in the international order via what are known as
‘active measures’. Two of the most consequential recent application of this kind of measures
took place in 2016, in the United States Presidential Elections and in the Brexit Referendum.
Reports made public with the assessments of errors committed by the United States and the
United Kingdom governments show there was an insufficient protection of those two crucial
public consultation processes. The mistakes made by these countries in protecting democracy
from hostile agents with a high level of digital proficiency, should be a point of interest, and
urgency, for the European Union. It is to be expected that this kind of influence operation will
continue, and become more sophisticated, as they can target elections in Member States of
the Union, but also for the European Parliament. The early detection, applying of
countermeasures, and the sharing of information with the voters of this kind of attacks by
foreign agencies is an important defense mechanism that needs to be strengthen and
expanded.
Keywords
Democracy; intelligence agencies; digital platforms; Russian Federation; European Union
How to cite this article
Silvestre, Ricardo (2022). Protection of democratic processes and electoral acts from Russian
digital active measures: 2016 as a reference year. In Janus.net, e-journal of international
relations. Vol13, Nº. 1, May-October 2022. Consulted [online] on the date of the last visit,
https://doi.org/10.26619/1647-7251.13.1.2
Article received on May 11, 2021 and accepted for publication on March 3, 2022
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 13, Nº. 1 (May-October 2022), pp. 19-35
Protection of democratic processes and electoral acts from Russian digital active measures:
2016 as a reference year
Ricardo Silvestre
20
PROTECTION OF DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES AND ELECTORAL ACTS
FROM RUSSIAN DIGITAL ACTIVE MEASURES:
2016 AS A REFERENCE YEAR
1
RICARDO SILVESTRE
Introduction
The Kremlin has been trying to weaken western liberal democracies considered by the
establishment, and by President Putin, as threats to the Russian Federation
2
.
Cybersecurity experts, intelligence agencies, legislative bodies, and investigative
journalists, have detailed some of Moscow's initiatives to meddle in democratic
processes. Examples include Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Netherlands, France,
Germany (Tennis, 2020). Russian's behavior, as seen through Robert Jervis' theory of
the “four worlds”, has an internal logic: the preference for offensive actions to tilt the
balance of power in the international order (Jervis, 1978). Also, the decision of not
assuming defensive postures could be seen as a response to political and social
perceptions of threats coming from the borders to the west (Rato, 2018). Such concerns
leads to a maximization of power, instead of cooperation (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2019).
In an anarchic international system, states seek their survival by weakening adversaries.
One example is the creation of disrupting actions in those countries (Mearsheimer, 2001).
One of these disruptions is the targeting of democratic systems, elections and
organizations with digital tools. An analysis of cyber enabled incidents between 2014 and
2018 (Galante & Ee, 2018) show that these could be; exploitation of infrastructures via
access to computer networks with collection or alteration of datum; manipulation of votes
from voter registration, changing of vote counting or of casted votes in order to cause
distrust of electoral results; dissemination of information obtained illegally with
compromising materials for politicians or political parties; “false fronts” with counterfeit
profiles of individuals and groups, mainly on social networks, with the intention of causing
polarization; amplification of dissension with open or covert operations; production and
spreading of false information and misinformation.
Two of the most consequential, and even striking, actions by Russia in interfering on
democratic processes took place during 2016, in the United States Presidential Election
and the United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum. Getting back to the
1
Article translated by Cláudia Tavares.
2
To better understand the motivations of President Putin it is suggested the reading of “The Man Without a
Face. The unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin”, from Masha Gessen.
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theories of Jervis and Mearsheimer, these actions can be seen as resulting from a
calculation by the Kremlin of risks and benefits of said actions. The risks were further
antagonizing the international community, with the possibility of sanctions and
proportional responses. As for benefits, contributing to the breakdown of a neighboring
economic and political bloc, and helping to defeat a candidate for President of the United
States that was manifestly opposed to the regime in Moscow in favor of other clearly
more friendly, if not eager to acquiesce to the Russian President intentions. The results
were obviously positive for the Kremlin. The United Kingdom left the European Union,
with internal divisions that could lead to the disaggregation of the Kingdom. In the United
States, the Trump Administration alienated allies, tried to diminish the importance of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), even threatening America's exit from the
organization, privileged Russian interests in the Middle East, and placed the United States
in economic and diplomatic “wars”, that diminished the country's status in the
international community. The European Union was also a target of these actions in some
of its Member States, that lead to the implementation of measures to combat
misinformation, false news, cyber-attacks, disruption and polarization operations. The
Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Single Market said in 2019
that “[w]e must protect our free and fair elections. This is the cornerstone of our
democracy. To secure our democratic processes from manipulation or malicious cyber
activities by private interests or third countries” (ENISA, 2019).
Research goals and methods
The objectives of this paper is to produce a systematized body of knowledge, by
describing how Russian digital active are being deployed in western liberal democracies
with the intent of causing dissention, and disruption. Equally, solutions will be proposed
on how better fight these threats. The methodology used is a qualitative research
strategy, with the collection of information with the aim of developing a meaning
associated with said activities and responses (Unikaitė-Jakuntavičienė & Rakutienė,
2013). This strategy allows for the creation of a constructivist narrative, which aims to
develop a theory in a deductive way, starting with specific facts, empirical observation
and advancing to a theoretical generalization of the facts related to the theory. Likewise,
a qualitative scientific investigation will be applied, with the analysis of the behavior of
the different agents involved in the construction of the theory, as well as values, beliefs
and emotions. This will be done through observation, analysis of speeches, documents
and opinions from governmental and civil society organizations and news articles. The
research logic is thus inductive, with a starting point of cognition of reality, flexible
concepts and analytical generalizations with the help of examples (Unikaitė-
Jakuntavičienė & Rakutienė, 2013).
Literature review
The Russian Federation and “active measures”
The term active measures was developed in the Soviet Union, beginning in the 1950s, to
characterize secret and subversive operations of political influence which are easily
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2016 as a reference year
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22
refutable. They can range from creation of front organizations, support for pro-Russian
political groups and the spread of disinformation (Galeotti, 2019). In 1982, the then
leader of the State Security Committee (KGB), Yuri Andropov, made active measures one
of the Kremlin's main forms of intervention during the Cold War (Andrew & Mitrokhin,
2006: 316). The use of these measures slowed down when the Soviet Union changed
their approach to the international community, first led by Gorbachev, and then by
Yeltsin, with attempts to have a closer relationship with the west. With the loss of
influence of Russia and with the rise of Vladimir Putin to power, Moscow returned to
hostilities towards countries, and blocks of countries, that promote liberal and democratic
values. These values can then reach Russia and the countries at its frontiers. This was
the case of the 2012 protests in Russia for free elections, which Putin explained as an
American influence operation (Crowley & Ioffe, 2016), or in the case of the “color
revolutions” on its borders (Stewart, 2009). Added to this concern, are the debilitating
economic sanctions for primary sectors of the Russian economy, blockade to the sale of
arms and related materials, freezing of economic assets and of the acquisition of
equipment for the oil industry (Krausse, 2018). And then there is NATO, and in particular
Article of the organization charter, where an attack to one of the members is an attack
on all (OTAN, 1949). This causes an attractive prospect for countries that Russia thinks
as part of its sphere of influence. All these factors increase the perception by Putin of a
siege around him (Rato, 2018).
With the decrease in the expectations of east-west understandings, Moscow returned to
the array of actions already known, adding to recent ones carried out in the “near abroad”
countries (Galeotti, 2019). Recently, in 2013, General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of Staff
of the Russian Army, advocated the use of “indirect and asymmetric methods” to create
political influence (Bartles, 2016: 33). This includes, changing the balance of power in
adversarial countries (Bartles, 2016: 34), and support of political parties that defend a
friendly relation with Moscow, as observed in Italy and Germany (Apuzzo & Satarino,
2019), and in France (Turchi, 2017). It is also attributed to Gerasimov the proposal that
the tactics developed during the time of the Soviet Union should be updated and included
in strategic military thinking, for a “new theory of modern warfareone that looks more
like hacking an enemy’s society than attacking it head-on" (McKew, 2017). Strategic
measures advocated by the General include combinations of technological, informational,
diplomatic, and military actions (Galeotti, 2013). In September 2014, General Philip
Breedlove, during a meeting of NATO, warned that Russia was engaged in “the most
amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information
warfare" (Vandiver, 2014).
Among the main Russian organizations, in terms of creating and applying active
measures to intrude into the democratic processes of foreign countries, intelligence
agencies stand out. The best-known examples are: the Main Directorate of the General
Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, or GRU
3
; Federal Security Service
of the Russian Federation, or FSB
4
; and the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian
Federation, or SVR
5
. The Kremlin's administrative apparatus is characterized by being a
3
Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije, in the original.
4
Federal'naya sluzhba bezopasnosti, in the original.
5
Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, in the original.
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2016 as a reference year
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23
“non-institutionalized” system with a high level of coordination between agencies for the
application of active measures (Galeotti, 2017). They then report directly to the Kremlin
and/or President Putin (DNI, 2017). From there, three known forms of interference in
elections are known: directed by the State with actions carried out by operatives in their
capacity as representatives of the regime; encouraged by the State, where operatives
are not directly responsible for initiating active measures, but whoever is responsible
does so with the knowledge that it will be welcomed by leadership; and those aligned
with the state, where individuals and/or organizations act for the promotion of the regime
policies (Galante & Ee, 2018). As an extension of the intelligence agencies there are also
private institutions, under the control of oligarchs in the orbit of Putin, that act to advance
pro-Russian narratives, by creating polarization in the public opinion of targeted
countries. That is the case of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), based in St.
Petersburg, which will be presented in more detail ahead. These differentattack fronts”
create a “connective tissue” of organizations that work towards the same goal (Watts,
2018), in the unconventional modern warfare model suggested by Gerasimov. These
kinds of actions, its origins and applications, have been described extensively in reports
made public by western intelligence agencies. Some of these examples will now be
presented.
The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum
Before the 2014 referendum on the future of the relationship between the United
Kingdom and the European Union (Brexit), another referendum happened on the possible
independence of Scotland from the Kingdom. In that democratic process, Russian-based
operatives were detected intruding in the public consultation (Carrell, 2017). Through
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, fake accounts spread allegations of interference in the
referendum to bolster the maintenance of Scotland in the Union. Despite the absence of
a direct link to Moscow, “pro-Kremlin accounts demonstrably boosted those allegations.
The anger and disappointment felt by many yes voters [was] fanned by pro-Kremlin
trolls, in a manner characteristic of Russian influence operations” (Carrell, 2017). The
prospect of a desegregation of the United Kingdom matches to the aims of the Kremlin
of destabilization of western bloc of countries, and a weakening of adversaries both in
the military and political arena. The exit of Scotland of the Kingdom poses a challenge to
the national security and economical prowess for all countries involved. A diminution of
Great Britain’s standing in the world leads to less advantageous trade deals, since
Scotland accounts for one-third of the land mass and around 8% of consumers. Equally,
a break-up of the Kingdom would lead to military questions. An exit of Scotland of the
Union could unilaterally disarm the UK of its nuclear deterrent”, since those defences
are “currently located at Faslane and Coulport but an independent SNP government would
require their removal from Scotland” (Daisley, 2020). It should be added that Nicola
Sturgeon, who assumed the position of Prime Minister after the referendum, denied that
such influences had existed in the public consultation, and the Electoral Commission,
which as the authority for holding elections and referenda, guaranteed that it had found
no evidence of fraud. The same was assured, post-Brexit, by the Office of the Prime
Minister Theresa May's, assuring there was no evidence to support the conclusion that
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2016 as a reference year
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the referendum in the United Kingdom and the European Union relationship was targeted
for interference by foreign governments (Syal, 2017).
However, evidence that Her Majesty's Government could have underestimated, or worse,
minimized possible active measures during the Brexit referendum prompted the request
for an assessment of the actions taken by institutions responsible for the protection of
democracy in the Kingdom. After what was considered to be a excessive delay for the
publication of the assessment, and accusations of attempts to minimize the importance
of his contents by the Office of the Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Murphy, 2020), the
Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published the report named “Russia”
(ISCP, 2020). This Commission supervises the activity of intelligence agencies; the
Security Services (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and Government
Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. One of the justifications for the report
production states that "[t]here has been credible open source commentary suggesting
that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence
referendum in 2014" (ISCP, 2020: 13). Regarding the referendum in the relation between
the United Kingdom and the European Union, “[t]he written evidence provided to us
appeared to suggest that HMG [Her Majesty's Government] had not seen or sought
evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes or any activity that has
had a material impact on an election, for example influencing results” (ISCP, 2020: 13).
Going further, the Commission states that “[w]e have not been provided with any post-
referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference. This situation is in stark
contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential
election” (ISCP, 2020: 14). The Commission determined that Her Majesty's Government
seriously underestimated the Russian threat and neglected countermeasures, therefore
not protecting the referendum process (ISCP, 2020a).
In the report it is described that the Russian Federation tends to see foreign policy as a
“zero-sum”, where every action detrimental to the west is favorable to Moscow. This
stems from an appreciation “fed by paranoia, believing that Western institutions such as
NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards [Russia] it than they do in
reality” (ISCP, 2020: 1). The decision center "is concentrated on Putin and a small group
of trusted and secretive advisers (many of whom share Putin’s background in the RIS
[Russian intelligence services])” (ISCP, 2020: 29) causing those decisions to have an
applicability and flexibility that western organizations cannot match. Mainly, and as
assessed by the GCHQ, Russia has a high capacity in the digital area and is able to carry
out cyber operations with a wide range of impacts in various sectors of society.
Since 2014, the Russian Federation has “carried out malicious cyber activity in order to
assert itself aggressively in a number of spheres, including attempting to influence the
democratic elections of other countries (…) GCHQ has also advised that Russian GRU
actors have orchestrated phishing
6
attempts against Government departments” (ISCP,
2020: 5), something that was observed in the United Kingdom, Germany and the
Netherlands (Silvestre, 2019). In fact, on the third of October 2018, the Minister of
Foreign Affairs, at the time lead by Jeremy Hunt of the Conservative Party, publicly
announced that the United Kingdom and its allies had identified a GRU campaign that are
6
The act of phishing is the sending of fraudulent emails to induce users to share personal datum, such as
passwords.
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“reckless and indiscriminate: they try to undermine and interfere in elections in other
countries” (NCSC, 2018).
Regarding proposals to fight the threats observed during the referendum, the
Parliamentary Commission expressed that the “extreme care” by the intelligence
agencies to get involved in democratic processes is illogical”. Interference in electoral
acts by hostile countries should be seen as a priority regarding protection of the State
and that this should be the responsibility of intelligence agencies (in particular, the MI5)
(ISCP, 2020: 11). Another important recommendation in the report is that the
Government should establish protocols with social media platforms to ensure that they
detect active measures by hostile actors, with a clearly defined time for the removal of
such contents. As legislative recommendations, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Select Committee asked the Government to assess whether current legislation to protect
the electoral process from malign influence is sufficient and, that "[l]egislation should be
in line with the latest technological developments” (DCMS, 2019: 71). They also propose
that the Electoral Commission should have the power to “to intervene or stop someone
acting illegally in a campaign if they live outside the UK” (DCMS, 2019).
The elections for the American Presidency
In February 2018 the then Special Counsel Robert Mueller delivered de facto evidence to
a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia, which resulted in the indictment of
thirteen Russian individuals and three Russian organizations for interfering in the 2016
American presidential election (USDJ, 2018). The indictment shows the scope, and the
systematic nature of the attacks, which began in 2014. Particularly active was the
company Internet Research Agency (IRA), with its troll farms
7
. By stealing American’s
identities, creating false accounts on social media platforms, and disseminating
inflammatory content, both racial and social, IRA tried to cause disruption and political
polarization. This company operations were not limited to remote actions from Saint
Petersburg, but also in cooperation with members of the Trump campaign "on the
ground" (USDJ, 2018: 4). Using fake profiles on Facebook and Twitter, IRA members
organized rallies and meetings in the United States, via local campaign headquarters,
and bought online advertisements to promote those rallies and meetings (USDJ, 2018:
21-28).
Like the Special Counsel Mueller, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was
also clear in its conclusions: Russian operatives, through the IRA, used digital social
media platforms to conduct informational war campaigns, spreading disinformation and
creating division in the United States (SSCI, 2019: 3). These campaigns were carried out
under the direction of the Kremlin, and with the objective of reducing the chances of
success of candidate Hillary Clinton in favor of candidate Trump (SSCI, 2019: 4), since
the former was seen as more hostile to Russian interests (SSCI, 2019: 6). Although
Moscow rejects the US Senate's conclusions, IRA owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin has direct
links to President Putin, which points to a “Kremlin's direction, support and significant
authorization in the operations and objectives of IRA" (SSCI, 2019: 5). Like the IRA, the
7
A troll farm is group of internet users aiming interfere in the political discussion online with (mostly)
nefarious purposes.
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GRU was also accused of exploiting social media platforms to spread information obtained
illegally. This was done by disseminating Clinton campaign e-mails, information that was
obtained by the Units 26165 and 74455 inside GRU (USDJ, 2018a). In fact, Special
Counsel Mueller charged Colonel Aleksandr Osadchuk, commander of Unit 74455, for
assisting “in the release of stolen documents through the DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0
personas, the promotion of those releases, and the publication of anti-Clinton content on
social media accounts operated by the GRU” (USDJ, 2018a: 5). In a joint statement by
the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence (DHS,
2016) it was announced that the American intelligence community was confident that the
Russian government had interfered in the elections through the misuse of emails
obtained illegally from American political organizations. To this end, they used the help
of external organizations, mainly WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, the second being another
front for Russian military intelligence services (Sanger & Schmitt, 2016). The American
intelligence agencies that contributed to this investigation included the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security
Agency (NSA). Naturally, the degree of trust between the agencies in the results of the
analytical processes was not uniform. However, most conclusions are presented with a
“high degree of confidence” (DNI, 2017).
Regarding the use of social media platforms by Russian agents, Facebook confirmed to
the Special Committee that activity attributable to the Fancy Bear group (Unit 26165 of
GRU) was observed (Graff, 2018). Like the IRA, Fancy Bear also created fake profiles on
the platform and through the organization DCLeaks to distribute information obtained
illegally to journalists (Stretch, 2018). In the 2017 minority report from the US House of
Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (authored by Democratic
Party members), with the results of an investigation into Facebook about disruption and
polarization in the 2016 election, IRA actions included the purchase of 3,393 political ads,
and creation of 470 Facebook pages that reached 126 million users (HSCI, 2017). On the
other social media platform “giant” where there is a dynamic political debate, Twitter,
between September first and November fifteen of 2016, more than 36,000 tweets about
the presidential election were generated by bots
8
linked to Russian accounts. These
tweets generated about 228 million interactions
9
. In addition, more than 130.000 tweets
were from accounts directly linked to IRA (HSCI, 2017).
Active measures implemented by Russia are not a recent phenomenon. The KGB was
responsible for authoring and disseminating false stories, as well as fraudulent letters,
targeting Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and the activist Martin Luther
King, Jr. (SSCI, 2019: 11). However, in the 2016 election, this type of action was refined
by the use of social media platforms, with a special focus on suppression the vote,
especially of the black community (SSCI, 2019: 39), promoting political narratives,
namely, to entice the followers of Senator Bernie Sanders (Timberg & Harris, 2018); and
targeting the coalition supporting the Secretary of State Clinton (Kim, 2018).
8
A bot is an autonomous program that interacts with digital systems and users.
9
Interactions include actions from users like retweets, replies, follows, inclusion of hashtags and tweet
expansion.
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Protecting democracy in the European Union from digital cyber-attacks
In the reports presented above, there is the concern on how to protect democratic
processes and electoral acts from active measures by intelligence agencies from hostile
countries. In the digital age, and in line with Thomas Jefferson edict that “eternal
vigilance is the price of freedom” (TJM, 2020), it`s the European Union's job not to
underestimate what happened in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Member
States of the European Union, together with the European Parliament and the European
Union Agency for Cibersecurity (ENISA), organized an exercise in 2019 to “test the EU’s
response and crisis plans for potential cybersecurity incidents affecting the EU elections”
(ENISA, 2019). This exercise aimed to increase cooperation between national authorities
in the areas of cybersecurity, data protection and cybercrime. In addition to working "on
the ground", ENISA also produces practical documents to ensure security in electoral
processes. For the European Commission, the objectives are to protect democratic
systems in Member States but also to safeguard European values (European Commission,
2020). There is a set of instruments that exist already with similar objectives, including
the Action Plan on disinformation
10
, the European Democracy Action Plan
11
, the European
cooperation network on elections
12
, the Compendium on Cyber Security of Election
Technology
13
, the EU Cybersecurity Act
14
, the Revised Directive on Security of Network
and Information Systems (NIS2)
15
, as well as instruments to combat hybrid threats
16
and
boost cybersecurity
17
.
However, there is a visible absence in the protection systems in the European Union, be
it through inaction, or due to a lack of communication to the citizens of the Union: what
is the ability to collect information and analyze threats to democratic processes by hostile
intelligence agencies? This applies both in elections whiten the Member States (if agreed
upon them), and those for the European Parliament. Presently, there is the EU
Intelligence and Situation Centre (INTCEN)
18
that has the mission of creating timely alerts
for menaces, and assessing threats in the areas of security, defense and
counterterrorism. This work is carried via the collection of information in collaboration
with the agencies in the Member States, military authorities, and diplomats (Estevens,
2020). The inclusion of INTCEN in a wider and more integrated defense strategy is
recommended, serving as an advanced system for signal detection, both from open
source, digital means or through human resources. The assignment of this mission would
be the responsibility of the European Commission: via a resolution with clear definitions
about information handling and sharing between agencies in Member States; types of
10
https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/action-plan-disinformation-commission-contribution-european-
council-13-14-december-2018_en.
11
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_2250.
12
https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/eu-citizenship/electoral-
rights/european-cooperation-network-elections_en.
13
https://www.ria.ee/sites/default/files/content-
editors/kuberturve/cyber_security_of_election_technology.pdf.
14
https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/cybersecurity-act.
15
https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/library/revised-directive-security-network-and-information-
systems-nis2.
16
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_18_4123.
17
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_17_3193.
18
https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2021_-_01_-_02_-_eeas_2.0_orgchart.pdf.
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rapid responses development and application; relationship with legislators both in the
European Parliament and in the local governments; and with voters, when possible or
advisable. Naturally, actions from intelligence agencies in detecting threats and applying
countermeasures to defend electoral processes, sometimes, cannot be in the public
domain. There is a need to find a balance between protection of sources and processes,
and what threats can be shared with voters, so that they are informed and can make
political decisions without malicious external influences.
Another growing demand, by organizations such as the European Commission, the US
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Intelligence and Security Committee
of the UK Parliament, is that social media platforms change their policies for a greater
joint work with authorities, including intelligence agencies and legislative bodies. This
joint work must include a timely and comprehensive sharing of information, mainly of
malicious activities that exploit the digital architecture of the platforms, manipulation of
algorithms, and dissemination of content for subversion of electoral processes. The
Digital Services Act (DSA), proposed by the European Commission and accepted by the
European Parliament does address some of these needs. In the DSA, internet providers
of intermediary services need to produce transparency reports with information on
interaction with authorities, description of illegal content, time taken for removal of
content, actions taken and legal justifications (European Commission, 2020a). If bad
actors or active measures are detected, intelligence agencies must be able to act in a
precise and timely manner in collaboration with digital platforms for the application of
appropriate measures. This process must be coordinated by overseeing governmental
structures, and, if necessary, legislative bodies whenever there is a need for changes in
laws to resolve structural problems. Likewise, there should be a joint work with political
parties and/or candidates for governmental positions. Successful examples of such
collaboration have taken place in France and the United Kingdom. In France, the Agence
Nationale de la Sécurité des Systèmes d'Information, the agency responsible for
protecting government infrastructures from cyber-attacks, organized cybersecurity
information sessions for all political parties (although not everyone shown an interest in
participating) (Daniels, 2017). In the United Kingdom, it was the turn of the Britain’s
National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, to offer help in strengthening the
communication networks of political parties (Reuters, 2017).
Conclusions
A provocative question raised by Persily is Can Democracy Survive the Internet?”
(Persily, 2017). Some authors warn of the naivete of thinking that the internet is way to
a utopia of debate, understanding and consensus, in a Madisonian perspective of
governance
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. At the same time, even more powerful digital tools, like personal data
retrieving, big data, machine learning, algorithmic function, can open the space for
companies, that are for hire, to generate political advertising targeted at the individual
level, creating “digital bubbles”, “echo chambers” that leads to political polarization and
counterproductive political action.
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Some of these warnings can be found in books written by Timothy Garth Ash, Rebecca MacKinnon, Cass
Sustein, Clay Shirky e Evgeny Morozov.