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Russia, China engaging in industrial espionage

Germany is full of Russian and Chinese spies working to get information about top business and technology developments, according to the country’s domestic intelligence service.

Russia, China engaging in industrial espionage
Much espionage is done electronically. Photo: DPA

Studies show that the German economy loses around €50 billion a year as a consequence, Burkhard Even, head of the counterintelligence section of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told the audience at a recent security forum in Bonn.

The spying is a mix of official, intelligence service agents, and unofficial business spooks, he said.

Even estimated that of the 500 registered staff of the Russian embassy in Berlin, at least 150 were working as intelligence agents, disguised as diplomats or journalists.

He said that more than four million Russians live in the country as a whole, leaving him unable to guess at how many agents might be hidden amongst them.

Russian intelligence services have been instructed by the government to supply their industry with the most modern know-how to save money developing Russian products, one German official told the forum.

Russian firms doing deals with foreign companies have to contact intelligence services before making firm agreements, the forum heard, giving the government agencies control over investments and businesses deals.

Both Russian and Chinese intelligence services are particularly focussing on German companies experiencing financial difficulties, sending agents posing as businessmen to offer sweet deals to firms operating in high-tech areas.

There are around 80,000 Chinese people living in Germany, Even said, many of whom are commercial spies. China is also buying into, or taking over companies completely, in order to get access to new technological developments.

He also described more underhand methods which he said were often employed by agents posing as visiting business delegations or even trainees who might use mini cameras to take pictures in factories, or secretly copy data.

He said the Chinese were mostly active in the electronic sector. Some reports suggest the Chinese intelligence services have up to a million agents across the world collecting technical and business data to support their industries.

Small and medium-sized companies in Germany are the worst protected against such efforts, particularly when they come via the internet, said Even. But the weakest link is always the innocence of staff, he stressed, calling for companies who suspect a spy attack to contact his office.

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RUSSIA

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

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The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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