Attack on Ukraine wasn’t ‘strategic surprise’, says Swiss intelligence chief

Christian Dussey took up his post as director of the Federal Intelligence Service in April 2022. © Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle

Cyberattacks and disinformation have become major battlefields for foreign intelligence during the war in Ukraine, says the director of the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS).

This content was published on March 2, 2023 minutes

“The attack [on Ukraine] didn’t come as a strategic surprise,” Christian Dussey said in an interviewExternal link with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in partnership with Le Temps on Thursday. “We indicated a high probability from January 2022 that there would be a window of about a month for an attack after the Beijing Olympics ended on February 20, 2022.”

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But much like meteorologists can’t confirm when a storm will arrive, intelligence services can’t say exactly when an attack will happen, said Dussey, who took up the post as FIS director in April 2022 after serving as the Swiss ambassador to Iran.

“If we made a mistake, it was that we underestimated President Putin's willingness to take risks,” he added. Going forward the intelligence unit needs to get better at analysing not only opponents’ capabilities but also their intentions as well as communicating messages more clearly to authorities.

Hybrid warfare

The Ukraine war has also revealed how important the cyber battlefield is not only for national security but in the information wars. While the combat happens on the battlefield, we also have to “fight for the narrative” amid rising disinformation.

Dussey added that the intelligence service has observed an increase in cyberattacks since the war started. He doesn’t expect this to change anytime soon with the growing influence of technology.

“Be it in synthetic biology or artificial intelligence. Anything can suddenly become a weapon,” Dussey said.

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