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Russia is threatening democracies. What Undersecretary Gabrielli said

Franco Gabrielli
The Italian government official, who oversees intelligence and cybersecurity operations, discussed the Kremlin’s political meddling tactics and remarked on the threat they pose to Italy’s upcoming elections

A Russian hand behind Sanna Marin’s leaked videos? “I wouldn’t rule out”, said Undersecretary of State Franco Gabrielli – whose mandate includes responsibility over the Italian intelligence community and cybersecurity – while being interviewed by Rai Tre.

  • He was referring to the private videos that recently surfaced online, picturing the Finnish PM partying and dancing with friends, which stirred controversy in Finland and abroad.

Meddling tactics. “I have absolutely no elements to certify” that the Kremlin was behind it, noted Mr Gabrielli. However, he added, “I wouldn’t rule it out for one very simple reason.”

  • The KGB (the Soviet-era secret service from which President Vladimir Putin hails) “theorised that in the activity of meddling, one of the main phases is demoralisation,” i.e. “discrediting institutions and those who represent them.”

Countering influence. Political parties must “absolutely” reject any interference attempts, said the undersecretary. Perhaps these risks cannot be eliminated, but they can be mitigated, he posited, “if the political forces make a joint declaration.”

Can this happen in Italy? “I think it can be a risk”, stated Mr Gabrielli, citing the yearslong work and reports of the Italian Parliament’s Intelligence Committee. “We are living in the age of digital and cyber […] hybrid threats have long since taken over from conventional warfare”, he explained, recalling the Cambridge Analytica case.

  • Manipulation, added the undersecretary, relates to this manner of entering the information ecosystem – a “very slippery slope” between national security and freedom of opinion.
    • “What the intelligence world is mainly interested in is to check the ways” in which information can pollute the debate.

Actually, it’s ongoing, “At the moment, I still find everything that moves in cyberspace much more worrying” than what happens in the physical realm, he said.

  • He was responding to a question about the latest Russian spy case in Italy – which featured a covert GRU agent infiltrating social circles around the NATO base near Naples.
  • A recent analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab highlighted just how penetrable the Italian infosphere is to Russian propaganda.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently urged Italian voters to “punish” their pro-Ukraine governments through the ballots at the upcoming elections on September 25.

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