- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2016

Swiss prosecutors have halted an espionage investigation centered around a Geneva hotel that hosted Iranian nuclear talks because authorities have failed to pinpoint the guilty party more than a year after launching their probe, the Office of the Attorney (OAG) said Thursday.

Prosecutors in Vienna launched the investigation in May 2015 on suspicion that sophisticated spyware had infected the computers of a hotel where world leaders were meeting in the midst of negotiating the landmark agreement that resulted in the lifting of international sanctions against Iran in exchange for the reining in of its nuclear program.

Researchers at Kaspersky Labs, a Russian-based security firm, previously traced the spyware to the same hackers believed to have previously carried out espionage missions on behalf of Israeli intelligence. According to the OAG, however, Swiss investigators have been unable to identify Israel or anyone for that matter as the source of the spying.

The probe has turned up “no evidence as to the identity of the perpetrators,” the OAG said Thursday. “Accordingly, although there is evidence of criminal activity, it cannot be attributed to specific persons.”

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, previously said there was “no basis” to implicate the Jewish state in the alleged espionage, the Times of Israel reported.

According to Kaspersky, however, the spyware that surreptitiously infected computers in Geneva was derived from Duqu, a computer worm discovered in 2011 and believed by American intelligence to be the invention of Israel, former U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal last year.

At the time, the Wall Street Journal said the variant used in Geneva was capable of potentially compromising hotel surveillance video feeds, phone systems and Wi-Fi, and it could theoretically allow eavesdroppers to bug elevators, alarm systems and computer networks across the venue, according to Kaspersky.

The OAG did not name the particular hotel where the spyware was found, but The Guardian and other news sources identified it as the Hotel Président Wilson, a five-star facility that was raided last May around the time prosecutors launched their probe.

“Investigations revealed that a significant number of computers (servers and clients) at a hotel in Geneva had been infected with a form of malware,” the OAG said in Thursday’s statement.

“This malware was developed for the purposes of espionage, and is basically used to gather data from the computers infected,” the statement said.

Prosecutors initially launched their probe based on “suspicion of illegal intelligence services operating in Switzerland.” A Justice Ministry representative told Reuters that investigators were considering two potential crimes in particular: the misuse of audio recording and listening devices; and secret intelligence service activity detrimental to Austria.

The Geneva talks were held at several hotels in Switzerland and Austria prior to concluding on July 14, 2015, with the reaching of an agreement championed by President Obama but widely disputed by Republicans and Israel.

The espionage investigation will be relaunched in the event new evidence emerges, OAG spokesperson André Marty told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, The Guardian reported this week. 

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