Russia’s intelligence services continue to experience setbacks in its espionage activities in the west. The most recent was the neutralization of a senior penetration of the German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). The spy was providing sensitive information on Germany’s (and others) position vis-à-vis Russia.
Thus, another example of an individual handling classified information, which is indicative of enjoying the highest level of trust from his nation, choosing to break that trust and engage in espionage on behalf of Russia. The case of a threat evolving into a reality. It’s a reminder that you can never be too cocky or lazy about your insider threat programs. It only takes one to make it through.
While Russia may have seen hundreds of its officers sent packing over the course of the last 12 months, they have not taken their foot off the gas when it comes to recruiting and handling sources of information that satisfy the operating directives and requirements being generated by the Kremlin.
BND’s insider threat risk management program failed
Like so many counterintelligence successes, the impetus to investigate comes to one via circuitous paths. In this instance, the BND was tipped off by a friendly Western intelligence service that information that originated within the BND was in Russia’s possession. It’s not unlike the Brazilian government tipping off the U.S. to Jonathan and Diana Toebbe and their attempt to commit espionage.
The BND president Bruno Kahl said in a statement, “After the BND became aware of a possible case of treason within its own ranks in the course of its intelligence work, the BND immediately launched extensive internal investigations. When these substantiated the suspicion, the Federal Attorney General was immediately called in.”
Cartsen L. arrested and charged with treason
The German citizen, Carsten L. was arrested on December 21 in Berlin by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA).
German media describes the arrest as having included searches on Carsten L’s flat, two BND offices, and the home and workplace of an unidentified party. The unidentified individual has been loosely identified as a woman who “has opened documents on her work computer which are relevant to the investigations” though not a suspect at this time.
The federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement, “The accused is suspected of state treason. In 2022, he shared information that he came by in the course of his work with a Russian intelligence agency. The content is considered a state secret.” The charges of treason carry with it a potential prison sentence of five year to life.
Take Counterintelligence and insider risk programs seriously
BND’s Kahl astutely noted the sensitivity surrounding the case, perhaps as much to keep the BND out of the limelight as to not provide Russia any additional information on their compromised operation when he said, “Restraint and discretion are very important in this particular case.” With Russia, we are dealing with an actor on the opposite side whose unscrupulousness and willingness to use violence we must reckon with. Every detail of this operation that becomes public means an advantage for this adversary in its intention to harm Germany.”
German media outlet Spiegel International takes the BND and the German government as a whole to task for largely ignoring the threat posed by Russia and Russia’s ambitions. Highlighting how counterintelligence was not adequately resourced within civilian or military intelligence organizations and reminding all that in 2002, then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder ordered investigations into penetrations of the BND discontinued. In 2017 the BND stood up its own counterintelligence unit.
We don’t know how long Carsten L has been operating on behalf of Russia.
What we do know and every FSO should take on board is that Russia isn’t a one-trick pony and they will and are continuing to target western entities, including those entities supporting western intelligence and defense sectors.