Massive data theft from Swiss intelligence agency

Data stolen from Switzerland's intelligence service may inlcude secret information on counter-terrorism shared by foreign governments, according to European national security sources. 

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According to newsagency Reuters, an IT technician who had been working for NDB (Nachrichtendienst des Bundes or Federal Intelligence Service) for eight years, is reported to have stolen terabytes of data after becoming disgruntled because he felt he was being ignored and his advice on operating the data systems was not being taken seriously. The NDB is part of Switzerland's Defence Ministry.

The data ran into hundreds of thousands or even millions of printed pages of classified material from the service's servers, which was downloaded on to portable hard drives. The employee then carried them out of government buildings in a backpack. Authorities believe he intended to sell the stolen data to foreign officials or commercial buyers. The theft took place in the summer, but news has only surfaced recently in line with with Switzerland's reputation for secrecy and discretion in government and financial affairs.

A source close to the investigation described the suspect as a "very talented" technician and senior enough to have "administrator rights." This would have granted him unrestricted access to most or all of the NDB's networks, including those holding vast tracts of secret data. It is understood that the portable storage devices were seized by investigators after the suspect was arrested. Authorities believe that the stolen data was impounded before he had an opportunity to sell it, but one source said that Swiss investigators could not be sure that this is the case, and Swiss authorities have notified foreign intelligence partners including MI6 and the CIA that their information may have been compromised.

It is understood that in the months before his arrest, the suspect displayed warning signs – including not showing up for work – that should have been spotted by his bosses or by security officials. The NDB only realised that there was a problem when the largest Swiss bank, UBS, flagged up a potentially suspicious attempt to set up a new numbered bank account, which then was traced to the NDB technician.

A Swiss parliamentary committee is now conducting its own investigation into the data theft and is expected to report next spring. Investigators are known to be concerned that the NDB lacks investigative power – such as to search premises or conduct wiretaps – which are widely used by counter-intelligence investigators in other countries.

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