Germany says one participant's error led to Moscow intercepting call on Ukraine

By Sarah Marsh and Madeline Chambers

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Tuesday one participant on a high-level military call on Ukraine intercepted by Russia had mistakenly joined via a non-secure line and German communications systems had not been compromised.

Russia had likely intercepted the discussion among senior German air force officials by chance via widespread surveillance, Pistorius added, as he presented initial results of an investigation into the leak, which has embarrassed Germany and prompted questions about its intelligence security.

Russian media last week published an audio recording of a meeting of the German officials held on the Webex platform discussing the delivery of weapons for Ukraine and a potential strike by Kyiv on a bridge in Crimea.

“Our communication systems have not been compromised,” Pistorius said. “The reason the air force call could nonetheless be recorded was because of an individual’s operational mistake.”

The participant had dialed in from Singapore where an air show was taking place. Such an event attracted high-ranking European military officials, making it a target for Russian security services.

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

The use of Webex for calls up to a certain security grade was authorized, he said, noting it was not the off-the-shelf software but a specially-certified one with servers in the Bundeswehr’s computing centres in Germany.

Still, Germany was investigating if issues were mentioned on the call that should not have been discussed on Webex, he said.

Pistorius said Russia had leaked the call in a bid to create divisions in Germany and between the country and its allies.

In the call, German Air Force Chief Ingo Gerhartz discusses with three high-ranking Luftwaffe officials the possible delivery of Taurus cruise missiles to Kyiv, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz has publicly so far firmly rejected, fueling a public debate.

Asked if the leak could affect the position of Gerhartz, who was not the one to dial in from Singapore, Pistorius said if nothing further emerged in the probe, “then I am not going to sacrifice one of my best officers to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s games”.


Germany would take technical and organizational measures to ensure such an incident would not happen again, Pistorius said,

adding he had spoken on Monday with his peers in partner countries who expressed their continued trust in Germany.

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

Germany’s allies have been reticent in their public reaction to the recording although some British politicians outside government criticised German security measures.

Former British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was quoted as saying by The Times that the incident demonstrated Germany was “neither secure nor reliable”.

The Kremlin says the recording shows Germany’s armed forces were discussing plans to launch strikes on Russian territory, charges Germany denies as “absurd”.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Madeline Chambers, Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, Editing by Rachel More, Alexandra Hudson)

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