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EU countries plan Bond-style bunker to stop foreign spies

An EU plan to set up a secure bunker to protect high-level discussions from spies has outsiders wondering: Why only now?

A super-secure room said to cost €8 million and host up to 100 people would be set up in an insulation cage to “mitigate the risk of exploitation of compromising emanations,” according to Brussels-based news website EUobserver, which saw an EU memo describing the project.

The proposed bunker would be located in the EU Council, which gathers diplomats and ministers from the 27 EU member countries. It’s part of a wider effort by EU institutions to step up security of sensitive communications, documents and confidential meetings, after facing years of attempted espionage and hacking campaigns. 

But the draft proposal for the new bunker has prompted cyber experts and officials to ask why the EU hasn’t built such a secure facility already.

“It’s time for the ‘big cybersecurity reset,’” said Bart Groothuis, a Liberal member of the European Parliament who previously worked as cybersecurity policy lead at the Dutch ministry of defense. 

“The bunker must be a symbol of a new mindset and a removal of the veil of ignorance that EU institutions have been under when it comes to the threat of cyber espionage,” Groothuis said. 

European Union officials have been shocked into action by a series of hacks, leaks and compromises in recent years.

The bloc’s European Banking Authority shut down its email system in March 2021 after discovering it was compromised. The European Medicines Agency got hacked in 2020. The EU’s foreign affairs delegation in Moscow suffered a hack of two computers, it found in 2019. 

In recent months, top EU officials and government leaders were shaken by a series of mobile phone hacking incidents involving spyware such as the Israeli-made Pegasus software. It was found on phones of Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and, according to Reuters, senior EU Commission officials. 

Groothuis said there had been a 10-fold increase in the number of nation state attacks on the EU in the last three years, making radical action necessary. “We should consider rebuilding the technological infrastructure from scratch,” he argued.

To respond to the attacks on its political core, the bloc has launched a series of initiatives, including a 2020 Cybersecurity Strategy and more recent proposals to strengthen information security inside the EU institutions themselves. 

One eye-catching part of that plan is to launch an EU-run secure satellite communications network to “provide secure … space-based communication capabilities to ensure the security- and safety-critical missions and operations managed by the EU and its member states,” the 2020 strategy said. 

And then, there’s the bunker. According to EUobserver, the new facility will also provide a “suitable level of comfort for VIPs”.  

An EU official said the plan for the secure room was “part of broader efforts to strengthen the security and resilience of EU institutions, entities and agencies, in line with reiterated calls from member states to take account of rising security threats.” 

“At this stage, several options remain available, and consultations still need to be carried out,” the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said. 

Ilya Gridneff contributed reporting.

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