In response to an American whistleblower’s revelations of US spies operating in Geneva, Swiss president Ueli Maurer has called for a broadening of legislation to allow for investigations into foreign spy activity in Switzerland.
“We have known for a long time that foreign information-gathering activities have increased in Switzerland,” the president and minister of defence told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, stating that he was “not surprised” by revelations of such activities provided by 29-year-old National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden last week. However, Maurer pointed that the country currently lacks the necessary legislation to prosecute such foreign spy activities.
An investigation by the SonntagsZeitung bears this out, finding that in the past five years, Switzerland’s intelligence service has failed to uncover a single case of foreign spying on Swiss soil, even though the activities of bankers who were arrested in the US for aiding in tax evasion had been known to American authorities, for example.
“Cabinet recommends that the new Intelligence Service Act also be used to protect the financial sector,” Maurer told the NZZ am Sonntag, adding that the country's intelligence service may only act on specific orders from cabinet and may not determine its own activities.
Maurer added that it is now up to the Swiss justice authorities to launch a formal investigation into what exactly happened in Geneva when Snowden worked there as a CIA employee. Maurer cast some doubt on the accuracy of Snowden’s account of American spy activities in Geneva – the informant had told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that CIA agents purposely encouraged a Swiss banker to drive drunk in order to help him out of the situation and turn him into an informant.
However, the Swiss president said that cabinet would approve an investigation by the justice department into the incident if it launched one and would then work with the US to “find a diplomatic solution”, although “hard facts are very hard to come by” and “we will never know the whole truth” behind the situation.
Maurer admitted that small countries like Switzerland are increasingly at the mercy of G20 and G8 powers like the US in many international matters and that “what the Americans are doing with their deadlines and threats is very hostile”. However, he insisted that Switzerland will continue to protect its mutual interests with the Americans.
The Swiss, he added, will never engage in counter-spy activities and will only do what is necessary to protect their own soil and maintain neutrality.
No asylum for Snowden
Maurer also underlined that Switzerland is not the right place for Snowden to seek asylum, since “he broke the laws of his country, and we should not support that with asylum.”
"We also request that data thieves and those who sell data CDs [with bank client details] are punished,” the Swiss president said. “Rewarding such behavior by offering asylum [in this case] would undermine our own goals."