The Cable

WikiLeaks Turns Its Attention to the French Elections

The “professional plot” against François Fillon goes digital.


WikiLeaks has served notice that it will enter the fray of the French presidential election.

On Tuesday, its Twitter account promoted 3,630 documents from its archives on center-right presidential candidate François Fillon.

None were of the salacious variety, yet the move has stoked fears among European security officials that WikiLeaks will repeat its U.S. electoral influence performance in France — and perhaps elsewhere in Europe. Some even worry that the propaganda apparatus will partner again with Russian operatives with the aim of tilting the outcome of elections in favor of Kremlin-friendly candidates.

According to Martin Michelot, the deputy director of Europeum, “there is definitely concern” that WikiLeaks will try to influence the French election. During the U.S. election, WikiLeaks served as a central dumping ground for Russian operatives, according to American intelligence officials.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said this month that France is “no less vulnerable” to Russian meddling than the United States.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has not come out and campaigned for Fillon’s main opponent, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front. But the two seem to be simpatico.

Le Pen has called Russia’s annexation of Crimea legal and said a Trump-Putin-Le Pen triumvirate would be “good for world peace.” In 2014, she took a loan from a Moscow-based lender, First Czech Russian Bank, to pay for National Front expenses. And media reports said she was looking again to Russia for funding after that bank failed. Le Pen is understood to be the candidate with “the backing of Russia,” Michelot said.

This isn’t WikiLeaks’ first foray into European presidential politics. In December, the propaganda apparatus released a trove of documents describing recent intelligence cooperation between the United States and Germany, a move seen as an attempt to harm German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election bid.

To date, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has provided only a smattering of material targeting the French election. The Fillon documents do not constitute a new leak but a collection of material on the center-right candidate scattered across the group’s archives.

And Fillon isn’t WikiLeaks’ only target. It also highlighted 1,138 documents in its archives featuring Le Pen.

But perhaps tellingly, the documents on Le Pen include such pieces as “Marine Le Pen more popular than President Sarkozy, says French poll.”

To be sure, Fillon’s campaign had already hit some headwinds. On Tuesday, he claimed to be the victim of a “professional” operation meant to weaken his campaign with three months to go before the election. This came after French media reports alleged his wife and children had received roughly 1 million euro in public funds to serve as “parliamentary aides” to Fillon.

Photo credit: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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