Chancellor Angela Merkel’s summons to Germany’s top cabinet ministers and senior military and intelligence officials for a meeting of the Federal Security Council signaled trouble. Such gatherings are rare, typically occurring only when the country faces a grave threat like a terrorist attack. There was just one item on the agenda that day last spring: how to protect Germany’s upcoming parliamentary elections from Russian cyber attacks. At the time, it seemed almost inevitable that Germany would suffer the same fate as France and the United States, where, officials say, the Kremlin attempted to alter the results of presidential elections with “fake news” and spear phishing attacks. But on the eve of Sunday’s elections, the Russians have done something few expected: they have largely disappeared. The trolls who spread distorted and falsified information before earlier elections have failed to make much of a splash here. The websites of the campaigns and major news media outlets are operating like normal.
Germans, according to Sandro Gaycken, the director of the Digital Society Institute in Berlin, which has been monitoring for Russian meddling, are “almost disappointed that nothing is happening. We don’t see any verified attacks,” he said. “We’re not really expecting any Russian interference.”
In some respects, experts say, German elections are insulated from outside interference in ways those in the United States are not. The country’s politics are not as polarized as they are in the United States, where partisan enmity provided fertile ground for Russian efforts to sow confusion with distorted and falsified information amplified by Russian-controlled Twitter bots and Facebook accounts.
In a move that would seem unimaginable in the United States, the campaigns for the major political parties entered into a “gentleman’s agreement” this year not to exploit any information that might be leaked as a result of a cyber attack.