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Security Concerns Raised Following German Military Leak at Singapore Airshow

Last week, a Russian media source disclosed an audio recording revealing a classified conversation among a group of senior German military officials. 

The conversation took place while one of the officials, reportedly a brigadier general, was staying at a Singapore hotel during the biennial Singapore Airshow. 

German authorities confirmed that the call, which took place on the Webex platform, was intercepted by Russian security services who had wiretapped the conversation.

The incident, which is being viewed as human error, has raised concerns surrounding the risks of using unsecured networks for official communications. 

German Defence Minister, Boris Pistorius, confirmed that one official identified as Brigadier General Frank Gräfe connected to the Webex call, either through his mobile phone or the hotel’s Wi-Fi network. 

Although Pistorius confirmed that German communication systems had not been compromised, asserting that a secure and certified version of the platform was used, concerns have surfaced surrounding the vulnerability of data due to the use of unsecured networks sparking inquiries over security protocols. 

A German flag is displayed inside the German Air Force Luftwaffe’s Airbus A400M at the Singapore Airshow on 20 February. (Reuters)

Contents of the call

The 38-minute call was leaked onto Russian media sites including Russia’s sanctioned state-run RT broadcaster in which German Air Force chief Ingo Gerhartz and three other high ranking military officials can be heard discussing Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ hesitancy to dispatch long-range Taurus missiles to Kyiv, as well as details surrounding the delivery of weapons to Ukraine from Britain and France. 

There were also mentions of alleged British personnel on the ground in Ukraine. 

A Taurus long-range missile during a drill off South Korea’s western coast on 13 September 2017. (South Korea Defense Ministry/AP)

How did Russia intercept the call?

Experts suggest that Russian spies likely intercepted the call through the use of long-range antennas, capturing local network traffic to eavesdrop on the conversation undetected.

“For the Russian secret services, it was a real find… Targeted hacking took place in the hotels used across the board,” said Germany’s Defence Minister.

“So we must assume that the access to this Webex conference was a chance hit in the framework of a broad, scattered approach.”

Ongoing investigation 

As investigations continue into the data breach, German authorities are working to establish technical and organisational measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. 

Pistorius acknowledged Russia’s attempt to sow discord within Germany and strain relations with its allies but affirmed ongoing trust between Germany and its allied nations.

When questioned on whether the leak could affect the position of Lieutenant-General Gerhartz, Pistorius said if nothing further emerged during the investigation, “then I am not going to sacrifice one of my best officers to Putin’s games”.

“Everyone knows about the danger of such eavesdropping attacks and know that you cannot ensure 100 per cent protection against them,” he said.

While Germany’s allies have shown reserved public reactions to the recording, certain British politicians have openly criticised German security measures. 

Former British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told The Times newspaper, the incident revealed Germany to be “neither secure nor reliable.”

The Kremlin’s claims that the recording indicates Germany’s armed forces were deliberately planning to launch strikes on Russian territory were dismissed by Germany as “absurd.”

The incident underscores the need for robust security protocols in the face of rapidly evolving digital threats and the potential consequences of lapses in secure communication practises. 

Isabella Egerton is a leading intelligence specialist and investigator focused on state led level security investigations. She has a proven track record in running complex multi-jurisdictional intelligence projects around the globe.