The Cable

French Intelligence Agency Braces for Russian Bots to Back Le Pen

With a little over two months to go, France is preparing for la Russie to support Le Pen in its presidential elections.

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France’s spy agency believes Russia intends to try to influence France’s upcoming elections in favor of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

On Wednesday, Le Canard Enchaîné said that France’s Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) believes that Russia will help Le Pen by way of bots that will flood the internet with millions of positive posts about Le Pen — and by publishing her opponents’ confidential emails. The level of threat is so high that the next defense meeting at the Élysée, France’s presidential palace, will be on this subject, the paper said.

France has clearly already been bracing for outside interference. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian already said France wants “to learn lessons from the future” following American allegations of Russian influence in their elections. WikiLeaks, believed by U.S. Democrats to have worked with Russia in the past presidential election, already promoted documents from its archives tied to center-right candidate François Fillon and center-left candidate Emmanuel Macron. Russian state-sponsored media already suggested Macron is a U.S. agent who is lobbying on behalf of banks and that he has a secret gay lover, a wholly unsubstantiated claim made by Kremlin-backed propaganda pusher Dmitry Kiselyov. Macron, surging in the polls, is perhaps the candidate most likely to take on Le Pen in the second round of presidential voting this May, which polls, for what they’re worth, say he would win.

What is new is the extent to which the French government itself seems to be trying to deal with this perceived threat to its election, now just over two months away.

Le Pen’s National Front seems less perturbed. Its vice president, Florian Philippot, told French media outlet RTL.fr that they, too, are counting on the state to preserve the security of the presidential elections.

To be fair, leaks by Russia aren’t the only ones hurting Le Pen’s opposition. Le Canard Enchaîné is the same paper that revealed that François Fillon paid his wife and children almost one million euros from state coffers to serve as his parliamentary aides, and that his wife received 45,000 euros as a severance package.

Despite all the furor, Fillon has said he will not pull out of the race, proving that some political parties, at least, do not need Russian meddling to hurt their chances of winning.

Photo credit: Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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