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Russian interference and disinfo. The Intel Committee’s pre-electoral work

The risk of Russian political interference looms as Italy’s election day approaches. The Intelligence Committee is auditing the Italian intelligence community and anticipating the publication of its annual report ahead of the electoral campaign

Watch out for Russian interference. Mario Draghi was very clear in his last speech to the Senate, just before tendering his resignation as Prime Minister. “We must increase our efforts to fight interference by Russia and other autocracies in our politics and society.” That wording suggests the issue isn’t just a hypothesis, but rather an ongoing problem.

  • Italian and international onlookers – most recently, the Financial Times itself – have been speculating about the Kremlin’s role in the events that led to the end of Mr Draghi’s government.
  • Recent developments suggest Russia was interested in causing it at the very least.

Not the time to let the guard down. Given this framework and the nearing election day (September 25), Parliament’s Intelligence Committee (COPASIR) must be “fully operational and ready to take action when necessary,” said chairman Adolfo Urso, a senator with Brothers of Italy.

  • Rome is among the “main targets” in the ongoing “war of disinformation, manipulation, propaganda” and foreign espionage, he explained recently. Russia and China, he added, make continuous use of these practices.
  • Thus, COPASIR will remain open for emergencies throughout August. Chairman Urso said the measure is “dutiful […] partly because of the risks of possible external interference aimed at conditioning the election campaign itself.”

Gathering intel. Last week, the Committee audited Elisabetta Belloni, director-general of the Department of Security Intelligence (DIS, which oversees Italy’s intelligence agencies, and Prefect Mario Parente, director of the Internal Intelligence and Security Agency (AISI). On Wednesday, it will be the turn of General Giovanni Caravelli, director of the External Intelligence and Security Agency (AISE).

The incoming report. COPASIR is preparing a paper on the intelligence activities carried out between February and August 2022. It will be an anticipation of the annual report, to be produced because Parliament has been dissolved. The publication is expected in a matter of days – at any rate, before the electoral campaign officially begins.

  • The paper will focus on the intelligence’s fight against interference and disinformation, topics which COPASIR has been investigating. Political developments do not offer enough time for a full-on report, but conclusions on the matter will be included. 

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