Academic cooperation

Dutch secret service warns of knowledge leaks

Privacy. Foto: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

Dutch companies, knowledge-based institutions and researchers are a “target for a variety of attack campaigns, online and offline, trying to steal cutting-edge technology,” warn the Dutch intelligence services in a report containing a threat assessment of state actors. “Knowledge and technology are also obtained by means of academic cooperation and through investments and acquisitions.”

This type of warning has been getting louder and louder these past few years. The main threats come from Russia, China and Iran. “These three countries need Western knowledge and technology for their economic and military development,” write the agencies.

Quantum technology
China wants its army to become one of the world’s strongest, which is why it has been working more and more on the application of artificial intelligence and quantum technology, to name but two examples. “Consequently, there is a significant overlap between China’s need for high-quality technology and some of the technologies in which the Netherlands leads the way,” the report says.

In broad terms, the same applies to Russia, which is still lagging behind when it comes to technology. Catching up is not easy, however, given all the international sanctions currently in place. The result: they are resorting to "alternative" ways of acquiring the knowledge they need.

Still according to the report, Iran's main interest is developing rockets, hence its interest in getting hold of equipment and knowledge “through secret acquisition networks, knowledge-based institutions, students and researchers.”

Arms industry
The three bosses of the intelligence services AIVD, MIVD and NCTV discussed the main threats with the newspaper Het Parool. Jan Swillens, from the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD), gives chips as an example. “Chinese students who learn about advanced chips in the Netherlands go straight into the arms industry when they get back to China.”

Ten years ago, the Chinese had no malicious intentions, but now they do, says Swillens. “Take cyber China: they are extraordinarily capable, they want to pinch our knowledge and that’s what they are doing. So all the alarm bells are ringing.”

Eight ministers, including the Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf, responded to the threat assessment in a letter to the House of Representatives. The dilemma is that openness and international cooperation can also be fruitful, they write. The government says it is important “that the Netherlands maintains an open society and economy in which we do not turn our backs on other countries, but rather keep the dialogue going”.

“Cooperation between businesses and knowledge-based institutions – both national and international – makes a contribution to capital, talent and knowledge”, the government believes, “and to an interchange of technologies and ideas for the benefit of the social challenges of today and tomorrow.”

‘Attractive target’
More attention is definitely being paid to knowledge security when it comes to the policy since the Netherlands is an “attractive target”. For example, the Ministry of Education has launched a knowledge security service desk where "knowledge-based institutions can get advice on the opportunities and risks associated with international cooperations and how they can be set up as securely as possible.”

Higher education institutions in the Netherlands are now more aware of the risks and have drawn up a guideline for knowledge security, but to be on the safe side, Minister Dijkgraaf wants to have their efforts monitored. “We know that we have been somewhat naive in recent years”, he said in June.