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Russian diplomats expelled for spying on higher education

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Two Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the Netherlands for spying in the area of knowledge and technology. They used sources at companies and an institution of higher education.

Read in Dutch

The General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD in the Dutch acronym) has disrupted the spies’ activities, writes Deputy Prime Minister Kajsa Ollongren in a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives. The Russian ambassador has been summoned.

The spies were seeking information on artificial intelligence, semi-conductors and nanotechnology, according to Ollongren. “Much of this technology has both civilian and military applications.”

Interest
Both research universities and universities of applied sciences offer programmes and conduct research in these areas. Students and lecturers also gain access to companies via internships and collaborative arrangements, which can attract the interest of foreign intelligence services.

The AIVD rarely provides details, so it is not known which research university or university of applied sciences was involved in the ‘network of sources in the high-tech sector’ that has now been broken up.

“The espionage has very likely compromised the organisations where the sources are or were active”, writes the minister, “as a result, also possibly the economy and national security of the Netherlands.”

Contact
The AVID has since approached the sources the Russians were in touch with. In some cases, the companies and institutions of higher education were informed about the case so they could take measures.

Last month, the government sent a letter to the House of Representatives announcing tighter measures on ‘knowledge security’ in higher education and science. Researchers or students may be denied visas if there is a risk of ‘undesirable knowledge transfer’. The letter did not refer to Russia, but rather to China, Iran and North Korea.

Punishable offence
Minister Ollongren announced a further measure today. The government wants to criminalise cooperation with foreign intelligence services, in addition to the (sometimes difficult to prove) violation of state, official and trade secrets.

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