Don’t fall for it: five tips from the secret service

In the very week that TU Delft’s very own Dr Strangelove passed away, the AIVD’s Lennard van Veen came to campus to talk to students and staff about knowledge security.

"Even if it is a false alarm nine out of 10 times it does not matter. It’s about not missing the 10th time."

Earlies this month, the world heard that Abdul Qadir Khan – the Pakistani TU Delft alumnus who turned out to be a nuclear spy who stole nuclear information from the Dutch uranium enricher Urenco in the 1970s – died. Khan’s fatherland used the information to build its own atom bomb.

Khan himself was not a topic of discussion during the lunch reading by AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) account manager Van Veen, but he did touch upon an associated subject: knowledge security. Van Veen emphasised that espionage and foreign interference should not be underestimated at a renowned knowledge institution such as TU Delft.

‘It is a very hard world in which you are the victim of merciless games’

He said that discussions have been ongoing for a long time on this with the Executive Board and the Safety and Security Department. “But it is even more important that you, the people in the practice, talk about this. You, a staff member or student at TU Delft, can be a victim. And it is a very hard world in which you are the victim of merciless games.” Delta distilled these five tips from Van Veen’s reading to help avoid this happening to you.

  1. Do not be naive
    Do not think that espionage and foreign interference rarely happen in the Netherlands – it happens all the time. As an example Van Veen cited the case of the Russian intelligence officers in higher education who were caught spying, and the case that Delta exposed whereby TU Delft knowledge ended up in the Chinese defence system. “We are recently seeing ever more stories appearing. People sometimes ask me if it really is that bad or if it really happens that often. I can only say an emphatic ‘yes’,” says the AIVD staffer.

  2. Trust your gut feeling
    Many people who have been the victim of espionage or misleading later realise that they had the feeling that not all was what it seemed. But because they could not put a finger on it, they ignored their uneasiness. “It is a natural human reaction to try to rationalise unbased foreboding and to put things right,” says Van Veen. So trust your gut feeling if you are in a situation which you intuitively do not trust.

  3. ‘They fall through the cracks after the fourth question’
    Contact with intelligence officers often starts with a big smile. They are the epitome of friendliness in the beginning, warns Van Veen. Are you addressed very eagerly or heavily flattered at a conference? And does the person ask about the most sensitive aspects of your research? It will do no harm to sound out the person. One thing to do is ask a couple of substantive questions back. While the officers do their homework of course, they cannot cover everything. “They often fall through the cracks after the fourth question,” is Van Veen’s experience.

  4. Just one click can be enough
    Many foreign powers also go very far online, with one sophisticated cyber attack after the other. “They know your routine and find that one unguarded moment to strike. So always stay alert. Be aware that you are dealing with mountains of cyber criminals that are looking for plenty of intellectual property and sensitive research information,” says Van Veen. A rule of thumb: never click a link without checking the email address of the sender, including the link in an email that looks like a trusted email from your bank or best friend.

  5. Do not keep your suspicions to yourself
    Have you received an offer that sounds too good to be true? Do you see any things or behaviours that are vague or not seem right? Do you suspect that someone is trying to make you blackmailable? Do not keep it to yourself but discuss it with someone you trust – another student or colleague – to gauge what they think. And do not hesitate to alert the Safety and Security Department, the Integrity Office or one of the Confidential Advisors if you feel there is something amiss. Van Veen says that “Even if it is a false alarm nine out of 10 times it does not matter. It’s about not missing the 10th time.”

Marieke Enter / Nieuwsredacteur

Editor Redactie

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