Spying in Singapore? Inevitable given hosting of high-level events amid geopolitical


SINGAPORE: When Russian media leaked a recording of a German military phone call earlier in March, Berlin said it was due to a participant dialling in through an “unauthorised connection” from a Singapore hotel.

The participant was here to attend the Singapore Airshow. The February event would have been a “field day” for Russian intelligence, and hotels where attendees were staying would have been targeted by “widespread wiretapping efforts”, German defence minister Boris Pistorius said.

Singapore “inevitably” attracts intelligence operations given high-level events hosted in the country amid geopolitical tensions, according to international security experts.

But Singapore’s hub reputation is unlikely to take a hit, they said.

Event organisers and hotels, meanwhile, confirmed to CNA that they provide security support ranging from coordinating with telcos to conducting sweeps for surveillance devices.

“Cyberespionage is happening all over the world because we are more connected than ever before,” said Dr Alan Chong, senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

“In terms of the geopolitical location of Singapore, to me it’s no surprise. Since the Cold War, long before the digital age, we were already a base of operations by both the Communist powers and the Western powers.”

Intelligence operations around the world will happen more frequently as cyberespionage makes remote spy activity possible even without an agent on site, said Dr Chong.

Mr Stephane Duguin, CEO of CyberPeace Institute, said high-profile events taking place amid political tensions carry risks.

“Singapore is one of the leading hubs when it comes to cyber,” he said. “It is therefore not a surprise that this alters the risk profile.”

Mr Benjamin Ang, RSIS senior fellow and head of the RSIS’ Centre of Excellence for National Security, echoed this.

“Spying is as old as history, but current geopolitical tensions make it especially useful for governments to leak sensitive information that they have uncovered,” he added.

Dr Shashi Jayakumar, executive director of SJK Geostrategic Advisory, agreed that events in Singapore attended by prominent officials would be “tempting” targets for intelligence services to try and surveil for high-value information.

In the case of the leaked German call, it discussed support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, including the possible delivery of long-range Taurus cruise missiles to Kyiv.



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