Germany investigates Swiss intelligence officers over espionage claims

Germany SwitzerlandGermany has launched an unprecedented investigation into three officers of Switzerland’s intelligence agency on suspicion that they spied on German tax investigators who were probing the activities of Swiss banks. News of the investigation comes three months after authorities in Germany arrested another Swiss intelligence officer, identified only as “Daniel M.”, for engaging in espionage on German soil. German media report that the three unnamed men are officers of Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (NDB). They are suspected of engaging in the same type of activity as “Daniel M.”, namely monitoring German tax-fraud investigators.

The German government believes that billions of euros are deposited by its citizens in banking institutions in European tax-havens like Liechtenstein, Switzerland or Monaco. For the past decade, German authorities have resorted to bribing whistleblowers in offshore banks in order to acquire internal documents that reveal the identities of German citizens who are hiding their money in foreign bank accounts. It is estimated that over a hundred million dollars have been paid to whistleblowers by German authorities since 2006. The latter argue that the proceeds collected from unpaid taxes and fines more than justify the payments made out to whistleblowers. But the Swiss government has strongly criticized Berlin for encouraging Swiss banking sector employees to steal internal corporate information that often breaks Switzerland’s stringent privacy laws. It is believed that the NDB has been instructed by the Swiss government to monitor efforts by German tax-fraud investigators to approach potential whistleblowers working in the Swiss banking sector.

According to German media, the investigation against the three NDB officers was launched earlier this month. The news is likely to further complicate relations between Berlin and Bern. The two governments have been at loggerheads since the arrest of “Daniel M.”. Switzerland responded to the arrest by issuing arrest warrants for a number of German tax investigators. But Germany dismissed the move, saying it would refuse to comply with the warrants. On Monday, several European news media quoted German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, who described the alleged activities of the NDB as “incredible” and warned that the ongoing dispute between Germany and Switzerland could “wreck” their bilateral relationship.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 August 2017 | Permalink

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Swiss officials defend alleged spying on German tax-fraud investigators

SwitzerlandSenior Swiss government officials, including the defense minister and the director of the country’s intelligence agency, have defended Switzerland’s right to spy on European tax-fraud investigators who meddle in Swiss affairs. Earlier this week, German authorities announced the arrest of a Swiss national who was allegedly spying on the activities of German tax-fraud investigators in Frankfurt. According to German officials and media reports, the man, identified only as Daniel M., is an employee of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service. The agency, known by its German-language initials, NDB, is Switzerland’s main intelligence organization.

As intelNews reported on Monday, Daniel M. was said to be monitoring the activities of German tax-fraud investigators who have been trying for years to stop German citizens from having secret bank accounts abroad. In the past decade, German authorities have paid nearly $100 million to employees of Swiss banks in return for information about the identities of German bank account holders in the small alpine country. The Swiss government has strongly criticized Berlin for encouraging Swiss banking sector employees to steal internal corporate information, a practice that goes against Switzerland’s stringent privacy laws. On Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, summoned Switzerland’s ambassador to Germany, Christine Schraner Burgener, to the Foreign Ministry, in order discuss Daniel M.’s arrest. A press statement that the Foreign Ministry sent on Tuesday to the German media said that the meeting had been called “in the interest of German-Swiss friendship”.

But the Swiss do not appear to be interested in discussing. On Tuesday, Markus Seiler, Director of the NDB, defended his agency’s right to spy on anyone who “uses illegal methods in Switzerland to steal state or business secrets”. Seiler, who was speaking in Bern, classified all such practices as espionage targeting the the Swiss economy. Asked by reporters whether Daniel M. was an NDB employee, Seiler said he could not comment. But he defended the NDB’s right to “fight the theft of business secrets” and “uphold Swiss laws”. He also refused to specify whether the NDB is active in Germany, stating instead that the agency is “active at home and abroad”. Switzerland’s Minister of Defense, Guy Parmelin, who supervises the NDB’s activities, was equally general when asked to discuss the arrest of Daniel M. He said simply that he and other Swiss government officials had to “protect [the NDB’s] methods and sources”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 April 2017 | Permalink

Germany arrests Swiss spy who was monitoring tax-fraud investigators

Frankfurt AirportAuthorities in Germany have announced the arrest of a Swiss national who was allegedly spying on the activities of German tax-fraud investigators in Frankfurt. According to prosecutors in the German state of Hesse, of which Frankfurt is the largest city, the Swiss man was arrested on Friday and is currently in custody. He has been identified only as Daniel M., and is believed to be in his mid-50s. According to news reports, German counterintelligence officers had been monitoring the suspect for over a year. They were issued a warrant for his arrest in December of last year, but waited until he was on German soil to arrest him. He was arrested at Frankfurt Airport.

German federal prosecutors said simply that Daniel M. was employed in the financial and banking sectors of Germany until early 2012. However after that time, he is believed to have been employed by “the intelligence service of a foreign power”. German officials refused to identify the “foreign power”. However, the Berlin-based German newspaper Die Welt said on Sunday that the Swiss man arrested on Friday is an employee of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service. The agency, known by its German-language initials, NDB, is Switzerland’s main intelligence agency, tasked with safeguarding the security of the small alpine nation by collecting and analyzing information.

The question is, what was a Swiss spy doing in Germany, and why was he arrested? According to Die Welt, Daniel M. was monitoring the activities of German tax-fraud investigators who have been trying for years to stop German citizens from having secret bank accounts abroad. The German government believes that billions of euros are deposited by its citizens in banking institutions in European tax-havens like Liechtenstein, Switzerland or Monaco. For the past decade, German authorities have resorted to bribing whistleblowers in offshore banks in order to acquire internal documents that reveal the identities of German citizens who are hiding their money in foreign bank accounts. It is estimated that over a hundred million dollars have been paid to whistleblowers by German authorities since 2006. The latter argue that the proceeds collected from unpaid taxes and fines more than justify the payments made out to whistleblowers. But the Swiss government has strongly criticized Berlin for encouraging Swiss banking sector employees to steal internal corporate information that often breaks Switzerland’s stringent privacy laws.

It is believed that Daniel M. was arrested while monitoring efforts by German tax-fraud investigators to approach potential whistleblowers working in the Swiss banking sector. Soon after the Swiss man’s arrest, officers from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) searched a hotel room, several apartments and a number of business premises in Frankfurt and nearby cities. It is worth noting that Frankfurt is a major global financial center, which also hosts the headquarters of the European Central Bank. If found guilty, Daniel M. could face up to 10 years in prison for espionage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2017 | Permalink

Swiss court reopens probe of alleged espionage by Kazakh agents

Viktor KhrapunovA Swiss court has reopened an investigation of alleged espionage activities by agents of the government of Kazakhstan against a high-profile political exile living in Switzerland. The case, which dates to 2014, centers on Viktor Khrapunov, a former senior Kazakh government official, who has been living in Geneva since 2008. In the years immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Khrapunov served as Kazakhstan’s Minister for Energy and Coal, a post that was later renamed to Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. After 1997, he was appointed mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, which is inhabited by 10 percent of the country’s population. But by 2006, Khrapunov had fallen out with the government of Kazakhstan’s authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The government claimed that Khrapunov was embroiled in a series of fraudulent real-estate schemes and that he laundered large sums of money for his own personal use.

In 2008, a chartered airplane carrying Khrapunov and his wife landed in Switzerland, reportedly with a millions of dollars in cash, fine jewelry and antiques onboard. The Khrapunovs were granted asylum in the small alpine country and have since lived in the Lake Geneva area. In 2012, the government of Kazakhstan requested that Khrapunov be placed on Interpol’s list of wanted persons. Khrapunov himself dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated and blasted Nazarbayev as “a third-world dictator”.

In early 2014, the Swiss Attorney General’s office opened an investigation into allegations by Khrapunov that he had been followed around by Kazakh intelligence officers, had an electronic tracker covertly installed in his car, and had his computers hacked by Kazakh spies. The case was closed in March of this year, after Swiss authorities said they did not have enough evidence to confirm the precise identity of the perpetrators, two of whom were reportedly holders of British passports. On Monday, however, the Federal Criminal Court in the Swiss city of Bellinzona ordered that the case be reopened, after allegations by Khrapunov that the espionage against him continues.

Kazakh authorities have been regularly accused by European governments of conducting aggressive espionage and intimidation operations targeting exiled adversaries of President Nazarbayev. Last year, Kazakhstan’s former spy chief and a former presidential bodyguard were acquitted after a lengthy trial in Austria after a co-defendant in their double-murder trial, who was also the Kazakh president’s former son-in-law, was found dead in his Vienna cell.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 November 2016 | Permalink

Swiss vote to give unprecedented surveillance powers to spy agencies

Federal Intelligence Service SwitzerlandVoters in Switzerland have strongly approved a proposed law that aims to expand the surveillance powers of Swiss intelligence agencies. The move is uncharacteristic of the Swiss, who have historically been skeptical of giving far-reaching surveillance powers to their government. In the late 1980s, Swiss public opinion was shocked by the revelation that the country’s Federal Military Department had spied without permission on tens of thousands of Swiss citizens for many decades under a top-secret project codenamed P-27. In response to the revelations, P-27 was ended, the Swiss intelligence agencies were reorganized, and stricter parliamentary controls were imposed on their activities. Today, even CCTV cameras are rarely used in Switzerland, while Google has not been given permission to incorporate the country’s streets into its Streetview application due to strict local privacy laws.

Opponents of the proposed law warned that it would end Switzerland’s long history of protecting civil liberties and would increase cooperation between Swiss and foreign spy agencies, thus harming the country’s tradition of political neutrality. But terrorist attacks in nearby Belgium and France have shaken public opinion in the small alpine country, which is home to numerous international agencies, including a regional branch of the United Nations. Consequently, nearly 66 percent of voters backed the proposal in elections on Sunday, which saw a 41 percent rate of participation. The result will allow the Swiss intelligence and security services, such as the Federal Intelligence Service, to put suspects under electronic surveillance using wiretaps, internet-based software, and hidden devices such as cameras and microphones.

Despite its long history of political neutrality, Switzerland is not unaccustomed to espionage scandals. In 2009, Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper said that a number of listening devices, most likely of Israeli origin, had been discovered in a room designated for sensitive meetings on disarmament issues at the United Nations building in Geneva. In June 2013, the Swiss parliament blocked legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after it was revealed that the US Central Intelligence Agency had conducted an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. And in 2015, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider, Swisscom AG, had been spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2016 | Permalink

Switzerland made secret deal with PLO in the 1970s, new book alleges

Yasser ArafatSwitzerland secretly agreed in the 1970s to support calls for Palestinian statehood, in return for not being targeted by Palestinian militants, according to a new book. Written by Marcel Gyr, a journalist with the Zurich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the book alleges that the Swiss government took the unprecedented step of contacting Palestinian militants in 1970. According to Gyr, the move followed a series of attacks against Israeli targets in Switzerland by several Palestinian armed groups. In February 1969, Palestinian militants fired on an El Al airliner at Zurich’s Kloten Airport, killing the pilot. A year later, a Swissair Flight 330 from Zurich to Hong Kong with a stopover In Tel Aviv, Israel, exploded in mid-air, killing nearly 50 passengers and crew. The Syrian-backed Palestinian group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) later claimed responsibility for the attack. In September 1970 another Swissair flight, headed to the United States, was hijacked and diverted to Jordan, where its passengers were held hostage.

It was during the latter incident, claims Gyr, that Switzerland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Graber, clandestinely contacted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella group that coordinated the activities of a multitude of Palestinian armed groups. Gyr alleges that Graber reached out to the PLO without informing his colleagues in the cabinet, and that he used a junior Swiss parliamentarian as an envoy and intermediary. Eventually, the PLO, which at the time was led by Yasser Arafat, agreed to release the hostages. He also offered to stop launching armed attacks, hijackings, and other violent operations on Swiss soil. In return, claims Gyr, Switzerland would agree to quietly abandon the investigation into the bombing of Swissair Flight 330, and to push for diplomatic recognition of the PLO as the legal representative of the Palestinian people.

Gyr claims that both sides kept their side of the bargain. The Swiss government gradually abandoned the investigation into the bombing of Swissair Flight 330. The country also led European efforts to offer diplomatic status to the PLO. Meanwhile, although the war between the PLO and Israel continued throughout Europe, no Palestinian attacks ever took place again on Swiss soil. Responding to Gyr’s book, Switzerland’s current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter, said he had no idea about the secret agreement and that he was “very surprised indeed” to know about it. Some Swiss political figures have asked for the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry to investigate Gyr’s allegations. It is unclear whether such a committee would have access to hundreds of thousands of pages about the Palestinian attacks in Switzerland, which today remain classified.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2016 | Permalink

Memos confirm secret NSA deal with leading cryptography vendor

William FriedmanIn 2007 I wrote in my “National Security Agency: The Historiography of Concealment” that America’s leading signals intelligence agency had made a secret deal with Crypto AG, a Swiss-based manufacturer of cryptographical equipment. The agreement, which lasted for much of the Cold War, allowed the NSA to read the classified messages of dozens of nations that purchased encoding equipment from Crypto AG. As I expected, the claim drew criticism from individuals connected with Crypto AG, including company scientists, who argued that the Swiss manufacturer would never have agreed to a deal that undermined its professional reputation as a trusted and neutral vendor of cryptological devices. Now, however, the BBC has revealed two recently declassified NSA memos that provide concrete proof of the deal.

My 2007 claim was based on a string of well documented allegations that surfaced in the early 1980s. While conducting research for his seminal book The Puzzle Palace, historian James Bamford came across references to Project BORIS, which involved a pact between the NSA and the Swiss company. To be precise, the deal appeared to have been struck between the Swiss inventor and Crypto AG founder Boris Hagelin and William F. Friedman, an American cryptologist who led the Armed Forces Security Agency, a forerunner of the NSA. The two men were united by a deep personal friendship, which was forged during World War II by their mutual hatred of Nazism.

Bamford’s claim was echoed in 1996 by Scott Shane and Tom Bowman, reporters for The Baltimore Sun. In a six-part investigative series about the NSA, the two journalists wrote that Friedman visited Hagelin during a trip to Switzerland in 1955 and asked for his help so that American could dominate its Cold War rivals. According to Shane and Bowman, Hagelin agreed and built a type of cryptological backdoor in Crypto AG’s devices, which allowed the NSA to read millions of messages for many decades. The company, of course, reacted furiously, saying that claims of a secret deal were “pure invention”.

On Thursday, however, BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera confirmed that a BBC investigation of 55,000 pages of documents, which were declassified by the NSA in April, found proof of the secret agreement. The declassified material, said Corera, contains two versions of the same NSA memorandum, as well as an earlier draft, which refer to a “gentleman’s agreement” between Friedman and Hagelin. Under the agreement, Crypto AG would inform the NSA about periodical changes to the technical specifications of its encoding machines. The company would also provide the American spy agency with detailed lists showing the precise models purchased by various national governments around the world. Furthermore, Crypto AG agreed not to sell the more advanced, customizable models of its equipment to countries viewed by Washington as directly adversarial. This, says the BBC, amounted to Crypto AG deceiving some of its customers, by offering them “watered-down versions” of its encoding devices.

Corera notes that there is no evidence in the memos that Crypto AG built any kind of back door in its devices for use by the NSA. Instead, by providing the American agency with detailed operational knowledge of the devices, it enabled American codebreakers to reduce the time and effort needed to break encoded messages intercepted by the NSA.

There are a couple of minor errors in Corera’s article. For instance, the “father of American code-breaking” is not Friedman, as he claims, but Herbert Yardley, who led the so-called Black Chamber (also known as the Cipher Bureau) in 1919, long before Friedman was in the picture. Additionally, he fails to mention Bowman’s contribution to Shane’s Baltimore Sun article, which was published in 1996, not 1995, as he writes. These minor errors aside, however, the BBC discovery is absolutely crucial for our understanding of cryptological history in the Cold War.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 July 2015 | Permalink