Strengthened safeguards against foreign influence on Danish elections and democracy
Uncovering influence campaigns, a high level of preparedness and a closer dialogue with media and political parties on how to manage the threat posed by influence campaigns; these are some of the elements from the Government’s new action plan.
Certain countries use influence campaigns targeting the domestic political environments in Western countries as a tool to reach their own foreign policy goals. In recent years, a number of examples of Russian attempts to influence elections and referendums in both Europe and the United States have been uncovered. According to the Danish Defence Intelligence Service, it is very likely that foreign states will also have the ability to conduct influence campaigns targeting Denmark, for instance relating to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The Government takes this threat posed against Danish interests and democratic values very seriously. Therefore, the Government presents a plan with 11 initiatives aimed at strengthening Danish resilience against influence campaigns.
An influence campaign can for instance include attempts to spread untrue information and stories in the media or to create a distorted coverage of a topic in order to influence an important political decision. These kind of campaigns are often designed to create discord amongst the population and seek to undermine the trust in for instance elections or public institutions.
Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen:
“With the risk of influence campaigns, we are facing a threat against our liberal democracy which we need to firmly address. We therefore now launch this action plan to ensure that our government authorities, democracy and media are better prepared if foreign countries attempt to influence important decisions of high significance to Denmark. Denmark’s security and safety is the top priority for me as Minister of Justice, and today we take another step to protect these particular values.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen:
“It is basically a question of defending our liberty and democracy. Russian influence campaigns targeting elections in the United States and France show the importance of staying abreast of this development. That is why we act now. The Danish people must remain completely confident in our democracy. Many of our allies are in the same situation. It is important to me that we also draw on their experiences to ensure that we stand united and as strong as possible against the threat.”
Minister of Defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen:
“We have by now seen a number of examples of Kremlin attempts to influence democratic elections in the West with campaigns focusing on creating discord and disagreement in the population. They focus on existing political dilemmas or even seek to amplify points of views on both sides on a conflict – solely with the purpose of creating discord and undermine trust in in our political institutions, authorities and ultimately within the population itself. I am not particularly nervous for the polling itself or the counting of votes in this country because we have a robust system which is difficult to “hack” so to speak. However, we have seen how Russia has interfered with democratic elections in the United States and France. Which effect it has had, we can only imagine. But it must never happen in Denmark. The Government’s action plan is therefore an important element in strengthening our ability to counter influence operations against Denmark – including, but not limited to, the upcoming parliamentary election.”
The elections action plan consists of 11 initiatives, which concern the general work by public authorities to counter influence campaigns, secure the election itself, council the main actors of the election and initiate closer cooperation with relevant actors in the media and social media:
- The Government has set up an inter-governmental task force, which has strengthened the authorities’ coordination and efforts in countering influence campaigns, including with regard to Danish elections. Drawing on experiences from abroad, a number of initiatives have been launched in order to increase capacities in the relevant authorities and to develop concrete countermeasures.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a strengthened monitoring of disinformation in the media directed at Denmark and will – inspired by other Nordic countries – initiate training for communication officers from government authorities on the ongoing handling of disinformation.
- The Danish Security Intelligence Service (DSIS) and the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (DDIS) strengthen their focus on hostile foreign actors targeting Denmark with influence campaigns, including with regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
- The Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Interior will in cooperation with DSIS and DDIS/The Centre for Cyber Security (CFCS) ensure that the necessary threat and vulnerability assessments are conducted in relation to the election.
- The Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Interior’s response with regard to the election will have an increased focus on threats posed by potential foreign influence. The work will be organised in close cooperation with the appointed inter-governmental task force, especially DSIS and DDIS/CFCS.
- The Government will offer all political parties eligible to be elected to Parliament counselling on the risk of foreign influence in relation to the upcoming parliamentary elections, including cyber-attacks, and on the options for countering such influence and attacks. The counselling will be offered through the national security authorities (DSIS and DDIS/CFSC).
- The Government will invite all political party leaders to a meeting to inform about the risk of foreign influence with regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
- The Government will invite representatives from the media to a dialogue on possible models for cooperation on countering potential foreign attempts to influence the upcoming parliamentary elections. This will happen with full respect for the central principles of a free and independent press.
- The Government will invite representatives from prevalent social media platforms to a dialogue on possible models for cooperation on countering potential foreign attempts to influence the upcoming parliamentary elections. This initiative will amongst other things be based on experiences from other countries.
- The Government will invite media with public service obligations to a dialogue on models for cooperation on countering potential foreign attempts on influencing the upcoming parliamentary elections. One of the aims being to raise awareness about the threat amongst the population.
- The Government will present a bill to ensure that the criminal code is up to date to protect Denmark against the threat from influence campaigns launched by foreign intelligence services.
In its Intelligence Risk Assessment from 2017, Danish Defence Intelligence Service assesses that it is likely that Russian influence campaigns will pose an increased threat against Denmark. Denmark could with short notice or no notice at all be target of Russian influencing attempts. It is highly likely that Russia will be able to target and tailor influence campaigns against Denmark. Russian influence could for instance happen in relation to an election campaign or as a result of a broader Russian interest in influencing the state of affairs in the Baltic Sea Region to its own advantage. It is in this regard likely that Russia’s strengthened influence operations in for instance the Baltic states, Sweden and Finland also will lead to an increased focus on Denmark.
Link to the Intelligence Risk Assessment 2017
Danish Security Intelligence Service has in its report for 2017 stated that influence campaigns are a special type of subversive state-initiated activity. Influence campaigns can consist of different activities, all aimed at influencing the formation of public opinion and the political decision-making process in a direction that serves the interest of a given state. Russia is currently conducting targeted influence campaigns in the West and Danish Security Intelligence Service has observed activities in Denmark, which are comparable with the development seen in other countries in the Nordic-Baltic region.
Link to the PET report (Danish)