Spain will go to the polls to elect a national government on 28 April and again on 26 May for municipal, regional, and European elections.
The high-stakes political mobilisation is raising security concerns regarding the security of electoral processes as well as a possible disinformation campaign in the form of hybrid warfare attributed to Russia’s intelligence services.
According to El Pais, the National Security Department is setting up a special unit to classify disinformation and cyber-attacks as emerging national security threats.
Spain has taken a number of measures to shield its electoral process, with the involvement of the National Encryption Center both in data collection and processing. Dealing with disinformation is a more complex challenge, however, as identifying and barring fake news items is not a technologically full proof process.
The Spanish security services are monitoring the internet with the engagement of the entire government, but Madrid has not consolidated its specific security protocols that can address emerging cyber-security threat. According to a Eurobarometer study published last week, 80% of Spaniards believe that the threat of disinformation is real and can undermine democracy.
Founded in 2015, the EU’s unit against disinformation focuses mainly on threats from Russia and has already debunked 5,014 falsehoods, according to the database available on Euvsdisinfo.eu. The EU’s fact-checking team – East Stratcom Task Force – has highlighted examples of “disinformation” from Russian-backed media about the left-wing secessionist movement in Catalonia.
In 2017, the Spanish government accused Russia of spreading disinformation about the crisis in Catalonia.
A study by Javier Lesaca at the US’ George Washington University analysed more than five million shared social media messages from Kremlin-backed propaganda networks, including RT and Sputnik, unveiling an army of anonymous zombie profiles that disseminated information in a perfectly coordinated fashion, findings were backed by a study from the Royal Elcano Institute, a Madrid-based think-tank.
Beyond Catalonia, Russian state media has, at different times, attempted to fan the flames of radical left-wing separatism in Spain, a practice that dates back to the Soviet period when Moscow offered moral support to Basque terrorists and Galician nationalists, whose Marxist-Leninist and anti-American ideologies were looked upon favourably by the Soviet leadership.
After those ties were cut during Russia’s brief flirtation with a more democratic and mainstream approach to its relations with the West, the Russian intelligence services restarted their practice of backing groups whose goal is to weaken the central governments of Europe.
In one of the most recent cases, a Russian disinformation campaign propagated by RT suggested that a secessionist movement exists in Spain’s Balearic Islands and that Spanish is taught as a foreign language in Catalan schools, both of which are untrue.