Germany’s cyberczar faces dismissal over alleged tied with Russia

The Cyber Security Council of Germany called the allegations against Arne Schonbohm “absurd”

Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser intends to fire the head of the national cybersecurity agency over alleged contacts with Russian intelligence agents, German media reported on Monday, citing government sources. Arne Schonbohm supposedly had contact with Moscow’s spies through the Cyber Security Council of Germany, an accusation the agency vehemently denies.

Schonbohm, who has been president of the nation’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) since February 2016, could have met Russian intelligence through the Cyber Security Council of Germany, the Bild daily and ZDF news channel reported.

According to ZDF, that association includes a Berlin-based company Protelion, which previously operated under the name Infotecs GmbH. Protelion is said to be a subsidiary of Russian cybersecurity company OAOInfotecs, which, according to the Policy Network Analytics research group, was founded by a former employee of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service.

German officials said they were looking into the issue. “The Interior Ministry takes the matters reported over the weekend seriously and is investigating them comprehensively,” the ministry said in a statement.

According to Bild, German authorities intend to act quickly.

“It is being examined how a rapid change of president can be achieved,” the outlet quoted the Interior Ministry as saying, adding that a joint press conference of the two officials slated for Thursday will be canceled.

However, according to ZDF, German law makes it impossible to simply sack Schonbohm, so the authorities are considering re-assigning him to a new role rather than getting rid of him entirely, the outlet said.

Meanwhile, the Cyber Security Council of Germany called the accusations of Russian interference “absurd,” arguing that Protelion GmbH and its predecessor only joined the association in 2020 and “since then, there have been neither discussions nor joint projects with representatives of the company.”

Reports on Schonbohm’s ties with Russia come as relations between Moscow and Berlin have gone into a tailspin due to Germany’s efforts to support Ukraine in the ongoing conflict.

Germany has on numerous occasions accused Russia of targeting its digital infrastructure, most recently in September 2021. At the time, Berlin alleged that Moscow had mounted cyberattacks on German politicians prior to the general elections. Russia has repeatedly denied allegations of orchestrating cyberattacks on Western countries.