Europeans vs Informational Warfare 0:1

3 min read

One would be excused to think that, given the sheer number of surveillance scandals and data leaks during the last decade, people in top positions have learned that there was always a chance that somebody else was listening and that one must choose wisely where and how to share classified information.

Especially when the enemy is known for its advanced informational warfare (think Internet Research Agency) and in a moment when the tide seems to be turning in Ukraine (as many fear that the loss of Avdiivka and three more villages in its neighbourhood is a proof of military shortages Kyiv is facing) and important decisions for the future are to be made.

Apparently, it is not the case.

As it became obvious on the weekend, high-ranking German military officials have found a new hangout spot for their top-secret shindigs – none other than the commercial wonderland of WebEx.

Who needs classified, soundproof and impenetrable bunkers? Officers of the German Air Force are spicing things up with virtual meetings hosted on a platform that’s supposedly more suited for Monday morning team catch-ups than discussing the deployment of Taurus cruise missiles. A thing Berlin didn’t even try to deny after Russia’s state media RT published a 38-minute recording of their friendly chat.

In the midst of the Russian wiretapping saga, one might wonder why Europe’s finest are relying on the same tools many of us use to discuss matters of national security. Maybe they’re just trying to keep up with the times, proving that even military brass can be trendsetters in the world of online conferencing.

Or perhaps, one should not be too quick to judge.

Maybe it’s a strategic move, an avant-garde approach to diplomacy. After all, what better way to keep a secret than by discussing it on a platform that the whole world has access to? It’s the ultimate power move, leaving adversaries scratching their heads.

As for why the EU/Germany doesn’t have a secret communication infrastructure, well, who needs one when you can have impromptu strategy sessions on WebEx? (Even if it has the seal of approval from EU’s EDPS.) Maybe the EU’s commitment to transparency has reached new heights as military discussions unfold on a platform known more for its user-friendly interface than its security features.

In this theatrical production of international missteps and technological farce, the spotlight shines not only on the misadventures of high-ranking German military officials on WebEx but also on the European Union’s slow-motion decision-making and seemingly misguided priorities.

As the Russian wiretapping scandal unfolds, it becomes clear that the EU’s commitment to security might need a script rewrite. The insistence on using WebEx points to a larger narrative of bureaucratic oversight and perhaps a touch of technologically challenged decision-makers.

At this point, it is of secondary importance, whether the German officers had the latest version installed on their devices or not (as investigated by German counterintelligence).

It isn’t an excuse, either, that, to quote German Defence Minister Boris Pistorious, “Russia used the leak as part of an information war to destabilize the country”. Especially as Berlin is clearly in crisis mode now, trying to mitigate the consequences of the fallout, just a few days after Chancellor Scholz publicly hinted at British and French involvement in Ukraine’s defence. (A thing that was partially confirmed by the leak, as well, as the generals talked about the UK having “a few people on the ground”.)

German ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Graf Lamsdorff, who was not summoned, but held previously agreed bilateral talks in the Russian foreign ministry on March 4, did not disclose details about the meeting that followed the disclosure of the conversation. For some reasons, the Russian Foreign Ministry claims to have delivered a demarche to the German ambassador, accusing Berlin of planning an attack against Russia.

Either way, not the Taurus Leak is the only sign that the EU seems to be a few steps behind in cybersecurity in the age of AI warfare. In a moment when Europe dreams of challenging Elon Musk’s Starlink with the IRIS² satellite constellation, it just added insult to the injury.

Just a few months ago, security experts have warned that the IRIS² satellite system might venture into orbit without the indispensable presence of artificial intelligence (AI). It’s almost as if the EU’s satellite ambitions were relying on horse-drawn carriages to compete in a Formula 1 race.

EU officials have tried to put the question in a better light, claiming that “the inclusion of AI capabilities in the algorithms running the IRIS2 system is a very promising avenue that is currently being considered”, while Airbus pledged that the system would “aim to leverage state-of-the-art technology”. This was December 2023. It is yet to be seen, how far things proceeded since then.

The EU’s struggle to make timely and tech-savvy decisions borders tragicomedy, as the slow pace of progress and misplaced focuses seem to have contributed to the unfolding spectacle. As the characters stumble through a complex plot involving satellites, wiretaps, and secure communications, the underlying theme becomes a cautionary tale about the consequences of bureaucratic inertia in the face of rapidly evolving challenges.

As the curtain falls on this act, the lingering question is whether the EU will embrace a rewrite, injecting a dose of agility and foresight into its decision-making, or if we can expect more unintentional humour in the next scenes of the international drama.

The question is, how the EU plans to assist Ukraine in its fight for freedom if it cannot guard its own secrets from Russia? And how does it plan to win the information war with WebEx?

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