After the phone call between the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Franziska Giffey, and a fake Vitali Klitschko, there is growing concern in the traffic light coalition about completely new forms of espionage and hybrid warfare.
This is a worrying example of the danger of “deep fakes” in politics, said the deputy FDP parliamentary group leader Konstantin Kuhle the daily mirror. Deep fake technology is a special form of artificial intelligence in which systems can learn and imitate, for example, their facial expressions and speech through extensive observation of people.
“If voters can no longer tell whether a video snippet shows a real quote from a politician or whether it is a fake, the floodgates are wide open to abuse,” said Kuhle. “Authoritarian regimes like China and Russia can use deep fakes to impair decision-making processes in democracies.” The Foreign Office and the intelligence services should therefore also be involved.
In the Giffey case, however, it must also be clarified how the talks were initiated, emphasized Kuhle. He also has the following questions: “Are there any abnormalities in the preparation of the appointment? Who is behind the forgery? And what is the interest of the people behind it in the war in Ukraine?”
Since there were apparently similar incidents with the mayors of Vienna and Madrid in addition to the conversation with Franziska Giffey, the relevant information must now be compared with the European partners, the FDP interior expert demanded.
Echter Klitschko wants to speak to Giffey
In fraudulent calls, an unknown person posed as Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv. Digitally manipulated video switching also took place with the mayors of Madrid and Vienna. In the case of the switch with Giffey, state security is now investigating. The real Klitschko told the “Bild” that the caller said absurd things. This Giffey demanded that men who had fled to Berlin be sent back to Kyiv for military service.
The real Klitschko offered Giffey a talk soon. “I hope we’ll be able to talk on my official channels soon.” He added, “I won’t need translators then either.”
Senate reconstructs the initiation of the conversation
According to the Senate spokeswoman, the request for an interview with Mayor Klitschko was emailed to the Senate Chancellery on June 2nd. “The general topic was clear from the original email and was conclusive. The topics announced were: future cooperation between the two cities in the areas of business and culture, humanitarian projects in Ukraine and the current situation in the country,” said Giffey’s spokeswoman.
Especially since the beginning of the war, it was not uncommon to be contacted via email addresses without an institutional email signature or domain.
The Ukrainian embassy was also aware of the planned meeting, since it was also discussed at the meeting with the ambassador and special envoy of Ukraine on June 7th. was briefly discussed in the Senate Chancellery, but Giffey and Klitschko had never met in person before.
According to research by the Austrian “Falter”, the city of Vienna is said to have received such a mail. Here the e-mail address was “email@example.com”. An alleged employee of Klitschko asked the mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig. A video appointment was then made for June 22nd and the Austrian embassy was informed.
SPD parliamentary group: the aim is apparently to elicit explosive statements
“The incident shows the great importance of trustworthy communication channels and security precautions,” said the digital policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, Jens Zimmermann, the Tagesspiegel. “It can be assumed that warning signals would have been discernible as soon as the conversation was initiated.” The technical possibilities of deep fakes as an instrument of disinformation campaigns are a serious danger.
In the present case, an attempt was apparently made to elicit explosive statements from the real mayor. In this respect, it is a particularly difficult case. A deep fake was implemented in a live video conference. “So it cannot be ruled out that this was done with the aim of espionage or compromising,” said Zimmermann.
If it is an action related to the war against Ukraine, tightening of penalties should not be an effective means, “since the perpetrators are then suspected to be abroad and could possibly come from the secret service environment.”