BERLIN – An employee of the British embassy in Germany has been detained on suspicion of transferring documents from his workplace to Russian intelligence, the German federal prosecutor said Wednesday in the latest case of suspected espionage involving agents from Moscow.
The man, a 57-year-old British citizen identified only as David S. under German privacy laws, was detained in Potsdam on Monday, the prosecutor said in a statement. Authorities said they suspected he had been working as a spy since November and that he was suspected of handing over documents from the embassy to a member of Russian intelligence in exchange for an undisclosed amount of money.
The arrest is the latest in a series of arrests as German authorities crack down on Russian agents. Germany’s domestic intelligence service is increasingly concerned that Moscow is stepping up its efforts to recruit Western collaborators to obtain information about the country’s economic, political and strategic positions, as well as those of the European Union.
Much attention has been focused on the threat of cyber espionage after hackers with ties to Russia were suspected of breaching the main data network of the German government and the country’s parliament. But experts in Germany say Moscow is once again using old-fashioned human contact to gather intelligence.
Given its prominent role as Europe’s largest economy, authorities say Germany has become an interesting target for espionage by agents from Russia, as well as from China, Turkey and Iran.
Thomas Haldenwang, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, told parliament last year that levels of espionage had reached, if not exceeded, levels during the Cold War, when a divided Germany led the way in a geopolitical divide between the US-led democratic West and the Communist East controlled by the Soviet Union.
Germany’s long-standing relationship with Russia has been shaped by deep cultural and economic ties dating back centuries, and by devastating wartime battles that have sent relations staggering from greater cooperation to bitter recrimination.
The poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was allowed to be flown from Russia to Berlin for treatment by President Vladimir V. Putin, only to be jailed months later on his return to Russia, reflected the complexity of the ties.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany condemned the attack on Navalny, calling it an “attempted murder”. But she refused to take steps to prevent the completion of a strategic natural gas pipeline linking Russia directly to Germany. The pipeline, Nord Stream 2, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
In a brochure published in 2016 aimed at students and researchers in the sciences, the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution warned that anyone who speaks Russian well and pursues careers in the diplomatic service, energy or finance, could potentially be targets. can be for Russian agents . It describes some of the tactics they can use, including building a personal relationship before asking for information.
In June, German police arrested a 29-year-old Russian man who worked as a research assistant in the science department of a university in Germany. According to German authorities, the man had funneled information from his workplace to a member of the Russian intelligence service at least three times in exchange for cash.
A German businessman was arrested in the city of Leipzig in May on suspicion of illegally exporting industrial machines to a company in Russia, where they came into the hands of a defense company.
Both suspects are in pre-trial detention pending the outcome of the investigation. A judge will decide later Wednesday whether David S., whose home and workplace were searched, will be detained.
Italy expelled two Russian diplomats in March on charges of espionage after investigators saw an Italian navy official give envoys secret documents in exchange for money. Police also said they recovered secret NATO documents believed to have been handed over to the Russians during previous meetings with the Italian.