Russians tapped German officers discussing Taurus missiles over insecure hotel line

German defence minister blames embarrassing Taurus leak on use of an unsecured hotel landline by one senior military officer

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius

Russia managed to intercept a conversation between senior German military officers because one of them used an insecure hotel line, Berlin has confirmed.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Tuesday, an investigation by the military’s counterintelligence service found the interception was possible because one of the officers joined a WebEx call from his Singapore hotel room, where he was visiting an air show.

Although WebEx offers end-to-end encrypted communication if accessed through the app, the use of an insecure land line made it vulnerable to interception.

Russian spies accessed the conversation and a 38-minute audio recording was leaked last Friday to Russia’s state-run outlet Russia Today much to Germany’s embarrassment and its allies’ consternation.

In the recording, the German officers are heard discussing the hypothetical dispatch of Taurus long-range missiles to Ukraine, which Germany has so far been reluctant to supply.

But the recording also lifted the lid on the presence of British military officers inside Ukraine to help the military there operate the Storm Shadow missile system.

Pistorius insisted it was a one-off incident. “Our communication systems were not compromised,” he said.

The high ranking German officers were discussing Taurus ahead of a briefing session with the defence minister.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz is opposed to sending the missiles to Ukraine, and the issue has splintered his governing coalition.

Over the weekend, the German government confirmed the veracity of the recording with Pistorius calling it a “hybrid disinformation attack” by Russia.

Amid questions over the German military's security protocols, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said this week that the leak was an “attempt by the Russians to try to sow discord and to try to show division.”

The UK also reacted with dismay to the leak, where the officers discussed how the British and French were delivering cruise missiles to Ukraine, with the German officer apparently saying: “If we're asked about delivery methods. I know how the British do this. They always transport them in Ridgeback armoured vehicles. They have several people on the ground.”

On Tuesday, Pistorius said he had spoken with allies to reassure them. “The trust of allies in Germany remains unbroken,” he said in Berlin.

Meanwhile, the Russian government's lead spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called for a full investigation of the recording, and said the German ambassador to Russia had been summoned to explain apparent plans to attack Russia.

“We are yet to find out if the Bundeswehr is doing this on its own initiative. If so, the question is to what extent the Bundeswehr is controllable and to what extent Mr Scholz controls it all, and whether it is part of Germany’s government policy,” Peskov was quoted saying by state-owned TASS news agency.