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Presidential bidder Drahoš fears influencing of Czech elections

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Prague, Dec 1 (CTK) – Presidential candidate Jiri Drahos is afraid that election results in the Czech Republic have been influenced by foreign secret services by means of disinformation, he said on Friday, adding that PM Bohuslav Sobotka told him Czech intelligence bodies are dealing with the threat.

Drahos told a press conference that his meeting with Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) earlier this morning had a preventive character.

The Czech civilian counter-intelligence service (BIS) has no serious information about foreign intelligence bodies unlawfully influencing elections in the Czech Republic, including the presidential race, BIS director Michal Koudelka told CTK.

Drahos pointed out Russia’s influence on the elections in the USA, France and Germany.

“In those countries, the secret services have stated, more or less clearly, that such practices did occur. They also say which sources and which side influenced the elections,” Drahos said.

“I have no reason to doubt that cases of influencing of elections did occur,” Drahos said, also referring to the Czech October 20-21 general election, ahead of which voters were influenced by the media and servers interconnected with the Russian secret service.

He said he expects similar influences on the direct presidential election due in January.

Nine candidates are running for president, including the incumbent President Milos Zeman. He and Drahos, 68, former Science Academy chairman, are the favourites in the race, according to public opinion polls.

In addition, Drahos mentioned on Friday a recent annual report released by the Czech counter-intelligence service (BIS) that mentioned foreign attempts to influence elections in the country.

“I would not like to see next March our secret services and other responsible bodies assess the situation and state that in our country, too, the democratic character of the [January presidential] election was influenced by foreign secret services and various interventions,” Drahos said to explain why he asked Sobotka for a meeting.

“The BIS naturally deals with any, though even potential, threat to democracy. At the moment, we have no relevant information about parliamentary elections having been unlawfully influenced by foreign intelligence services. The same is true of the presidential election,” Koudelka said via BIS spokesman Ladislav Sticha.

He said certain risks of disinformation campaigns always exist as a consequence of the Czech Republic being a democratic country that respects the freedom of speech.

The BIS said it continues assessing all information and is ready to react accordingly to any suspected illegal activities.

Drahos said there is a potential “danger of democracy being influenced in our country” and added that Sobotka asserted him that the relevant bodies take the situation seriously and act accordingly.

Drahos said apart from Sobotka, the outgoing prime minister, he will address a similar appeal to the head of the nascent new cabinet.

The new prime minister will be Andrej Babis, the election-winning ANO leader whom President Milos Zeman is scheduled to appoint PM-designate on December 6.

Drahos said his office will identify on its website the servers and sources that spread disinformation.

He said he also wants to turn to the lower house security committee chairman, Radek Koten (Freedom and Direct Democracy, SPD), since this committee, too, should deal with the issue.

Drahos said evidence proving a disinformation campaign is hard to uncover, but still his experience on Facebook shows such cases do occur within the presidential campaign not only of his but also of the other presidential contenders.

According to the BIS report for 2016, released in October, the role and activity of Russian secret services rose in the Czech Republic last year, when they tried to gain sensitive information from politics.

Furthermore, the Czech Republic was hit by operations within a campaign led against targets such as Ukraine, the EU and NATO, the report wrote.

The Russian political intelligence service prevailed in gaining intelligence information. Russian secret services have a quality network of contacts in the country, which they continue to enhance, the report wrote.

In its previous report for 2015, the BIS mentioned Russian secret services in connection with the information war they conducted to influence the Ukrainian and Syrian crises. It also wrote that Russian services tried to weaken the Czech Republic’s information potential by a secret infiltration of the media and the Internet and by massive propaganda and disinformation.

The hybrid campaign continued last year, according to the fresh report. It wrote that the biggest risk is [Czech] people’s unwitting contact with members of the Russian diplomatic staff. Many of Russian intelligence officers operate under the diplomatic coverage.

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