German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has relieved the country's cybersecurity chief of his duties on allegations of having excessively close ties to Russia, a ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday.
The dismissed chief of the Federal Information Security Agency (BSI), Arne Schönbohm, has been forbidden from continuing his job as the BSI chief with immediate effect, the spokesperson said.
“The background to this is not least the allegations, which are well known and widely discussed in the media, and which have permanently damaged the necessary public confidence in the neutrality and impartiality of the conduct of his office as president of Germany's most important cybersecurity authority,” the ministry spokesperson said.
Various media outlets reported last week that Schönbohm could have had contacts with people involved with Russian security services through the Cyber Security Council of Germany association (Cyber-Sicherheitsrat Deutschland e.V., or CSRD e.V.). Co-founded in 2012 by Schönbohm, the CSRD advises companies, politicians, and authorities on cybersecurity matters and describes itself as politically neutral.
The association includes as one of its members a German company that is a subsidiary of a Russian cybersecurity firm founded by a former KGB employee.
Schönbohm has had to defend himself against accusations of continuing to maintain close ties to CSRD and its current president, Hans-Wilhelm Dünn.
However, Dünn himself has also been accused of a problematic relationship with Russia. He has, for example, accepted the invitation of the Russian parliament to come to the country as an observer in the Russian presidential elections.