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French Presidential Campaign Hacked; Parallels Seen to US Attack


This campaign poster, like many others in Paris, was defaced, May 6, 2017. France's election has been marked by dissatisfaction with both candidates and deep anti-establishment sentiments. (Photo: L. Ramirez/VOA)

The campaign of French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron says it was targeted by a "massive and coordinated" computer hacking operation on the eve of the final round of voting for the country's next president.

The large volume of confidential data posted online near midnight Friday included troves of emails and accounting records from the Macron campaign. In France and beyond, pundits and analysts said Saturday that there were clear comparisons to cyberthefts in the United States last year that targeted the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials have since tied the cyberattack against Clinton to Russian operatives seeking to advance Republican candidate Donald Trump's chances in the 2016 U.S. election. Russia has denied involvement.

There were no reports of similar intrusions in France against the campaign of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Voters will choose between her and Macron, a centrist, in a second-round presidential ballot on Sunday.

Because of French laws prohibiting any political discussions or campaigning for a 44-hour period — throughout Saturday and until the polls close on Sunday evening — no detailed information was available about how damaging the hacked documents might be. There have been reports, however, depicting the gigabytes of leaked material as a combination of both genuine and fake documents.

The French daily Le Monde on Saturday stopped just short of directly accusing Russia of orchestrating the French hacking, which was the second known cyberintrusion against Macron's campaign in the past two months. The newspaper said it had copies of the leaked documents but would not report on their contents until after the election, since the data were released "with the clear goal of harming the validity of the vote."

U.S. right-wing activist

Le Monde named an American right-wing activist, Jack Posobiec, as one of the first people to spread news of the Macron hacks, and said he sent his 100,000 Twitter followers information about how to locate and download the Macron campaign files on the online message board 4chan.

The French newspaper said Posobiec played a key role in disseminating the stolen documents. Attempts to contact Posobiec for comment on Le Monde's report were unsuccessful.

Posobiec is the Washington bureau chief of a right-wing news group, The Rebel Media, and was projects coordinator last year for a grass-roots organization that supported the Trump campaign.

The Japanese anti-virus firm Trend Micro last month reported on an earlier Macron campaign intrusion that some analysts identified as the work of Russia-linked hackers.

Trend Micro did not tie any specific country to the cybertheft it detected in March, but U.S. spy agencies and private intelligence analysts have said the suspected perpetrators, known by the code name APT28, are an arm of Russia's intelligence apparatus.

The 4chan forum that received the stolen Macron documents is frequented by activists and supporters of extreme right-wing groups, often known as the alt-right. The British newspaper Guardian described alt-right members as "lunatic, juvenile ... brilliant, ridiculous and alarming."