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German defence lawmakers demand change after Russia intercept scandal

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German parliamentary defence commissioner Eva Högl was the latest security official to demand far-reaching consequences for the Russian wiretapping scandal engulfing the military on Sunday.

“First of all, all those responsible at all levels of the defence forces must immediately be trained in protected communications,” Högl said in remarks to the Funke Media Group.

She was referring to the publication of a recording of German air force officers discussing support for Ukraine by a Russian media outlet.

The conversation between German defence officials was published on Friday by the head of the Russian state broadcaster RT, Margarita Simonyan.

“Secondly, it must be ensured that providing secure and secret information and communication can be done in a stable way,” Högl said. Change is needed in cases where this is not possible, she added.

Högl also called for greater investment in countering espionage and for the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) to be beefed up.

The recording is sensitive as the senior air force officers can be heard discussing the theoretical possibilities of a deployment of German Taurus cruise missiles in Ukraine.

One reason why the officers whose discussion was intercepted by Russia were vulnerable to wiretapping was that they were not using an encrypted line for their conference, according to a report earlier on Sunday.

Sources told dpa on Saturday that the discussion was hosted on Webex, a US-made online conferencing platform.

The Webex meeting was set up on the officers’ mobile phones via a Bundeswehr office landline, according to Bild am Sonntag newspaper, citing security sources.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman told Bild am Sonntag: “There are indications that an insufficiently secure means of communication was used in view of the content that was apparently discussed. This is one of the issues that is being investigated.”

Air Force inspector Ingo Gerhartz was among those present at the meeting, which is said to have been in preparation for a briefing to Defence Minister Boris Pistorius.

The security level of the issues addressed is still being investigated.

Officials also seek to clarify whether the Webex version used is at least authorized for the exchange of information of the lowest level of classification, “classified information – for official use only,” the report said.

The exchange heard in the recording addresses whether longer-range Taurus cruise missiles would theoretically be technically capable of destroying the bridge built by Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Moscow in violation of international law.

The discussion also addresses whether Ukraine could carry out the strike without the involvement of the German armed forces. It is made clear in the recording that German lawmakers are not willing to provide Kiev with cruise missiles.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly ruled out the supply of Taurus missiles to Ukraine, despite repeated requests by Kiev, arguing that he fears Germany could be drawn more deeply into the war launched by the Kremlin in February 2022.

The clip also contains a diplomatically sensitive reference to the British having “a few people on the ground” in Ukraine, in connection with the deployment of their Storm Shadow cruise missiles to the country.

The reference follows anger in Britain over what London saw as previous indiscretion on Scholz’s part.

Scholz had said, in the context of the Taurus debate, that “what the British and French are doing in terms of target control and accompanying target control cannot be done in Germany,” without elaborating further.

Some saw this as an indication that French and British forces are supporting the control of cruise missiles supplied to Ukraine. London immediately denied this was the case.

Meanwhile German lawmakers fear that other sensitive discussions may also be intercepted.

On Saturday, Scholz promised swift clarification of the incident, calling it a “very serious matter.”

Pressed by a dpa correspondent about possible diplomatic fall-out from the intercepted Bundeswehr exchange, Scholz said: “That is why this is now being clarified very carefully, very intensively and very quickly. That is also necessary.”

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