Germany’s cybersecurity chief is facing sacking for his alleged links to Russian intelligence services, government sources told AFP on Monday, amid heightened vigilance over possible sabotage activities by Moscow.
Arne Schoenbohm, head of the Federal Cybersecurity Authority (BSI), was accused in a recent investigation by broadcaster ZDF of contacts with Russia through an association he co-founded in 2012.
The Home Office said it “takes the facts that have been reported seriously and is investigating thoroughly” and “considering all options on how to handle the situation”.
The Handelsblatt daily reported that there was “great discontent” within the government over the allegations.
A planned joint appearance by Schoenbohm and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser to present a report on German cybersecurity in 2022 has been canceled as the ministry seeks to clarify the allegations.
Faeser said on Monday that his ministry was “considering all necessary measures that may be necessary” regarding Schoenbohm.
Germany was “vulnerable” to cyberattacks, “particularly because of the threat posed by the war from Russia, and we must do everything to bring that threat under control,” she said.
The association at the center of the allegations, known as the Cyber Security Council Germany, advises companies, government agencies and policymakers on cybersecurity issues.
According to the popular ZDF satirical program that broke the story, Schoenbohm still maintains contact with the organization.
The latter denied the allegations, saying in a statement on his website on Monday that the accusations were “absurd”.
Sebastian Fiedler, a politician for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), said the charges ‘must be investigated very thoroughly’ and have already caused ‘a lot of damage to confidence in the BSI’ .
– ‘Increased vigilance’ –
In recent years, Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of attempted cyber espionage.
The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that crippled the computer network of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, forcing the entire institution offline for days on end. that it was fixed.
Russia denies being behind such action.
Tensions between Russia and Germany have only escalated since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The BSI has warned that businesses, individuals and critical infrastructure are at risk of being hit by Russian cyberattacks.
Just two days ago, the country’s northern rail network was temporarily crippled by what operator Deutsche Bahn called “sabotage”, with some officials pointing the finger at Russia.
Important communication cables were cut at two sites, forcing train services to be interrupted for three hours and causing travel chaos for thousands of passengers.
Transport Minister Volker Wissing said on Monday that the period since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had been a time of “increased vigilance” for Germany as “infrastructure has been targeted by many perpetrators”. .
“Since we don’t know who the perpetrators are, we can’t rule anything out at this time,” he said of the rail closure.
Russia is also suspected of being behind last month’s explosions that caused leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, which connect Russia to Germany.
The pipelines have long been at the center of geopolitical tensions because Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe in alleged retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
Anton Hofreiter, Green MP and Chairman of the German Parliament’s European Affairs Committee, said that since the Nord Stream leaks “indicated the Kremlin…we cannot exclude that Russia could also be behind the ‘attack on rail services’.