According to Dutch-based NRC newspaper and Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger, Dutch intelligence services arrested two alleged Russian spies working for Russia’s GRU military intelligence service on suspicion of planning to hack the Spiez laboratory near Bern.
The laboratory conducts investigations for a global chemical arms watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), its researchers were investigating the poisoning of agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
The two agents carried equipment to hack into the network of the laboratory to spy on the activity of its researchers.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed his disappointment for the arrest of the two men earlier this year.
“The two were detained “early this year” by Dutch military intelligence (MIVD) working together with several other countries, and then expelled from the Netherlands, the newspapers reported.” states the AFP press.
The decision to expel the two spies was taken by the cabinet of the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on March 26.
“The duo, according to sources within the investigation, carried equipment which they wanted to use to break into the computer network” of the Spiez laboratory.
The researchers at the Spiez Lab were analyzing data related to poison gas attacks in Syria, as well as the attack on the double agent Sergei Skripal that involved the nerve agent Novichok on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
“The case of the Russian spies discovered in The Hague and then expelled from The Hague is known to Swiss authorities,” Isabelle Graber, spokeswoman for the Swiss intelligence services (SRC), told AFP.
“[The SRC] actively participated in this operation in collaboration with its Dutch and British partners in prevention of illegal actions against critical Swiss infrastructure.“
Spiez laboratory representatives confirmed to have observed hacking attempts in the last months and to have taken precautions to repeal them.
Andreas Bucher, a spokesman for the Spiez lab, told AFP that in June attackers took documents from the lab’s website and “distributed a very malicious malware virus” to affiliated agencies.
It is interesting to note that the same piece of malware was used in the attacks on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.
According to The Washington Post, the incidents were caused by cyber attacks powered by hackers working at Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency that managed to take control in early February of 300 computers linked to the Olympic organization.
The cyber attacks were a retaliation against the International Olympic Committee for banning the Russian team from the Winter Games due to doping cases of Russian athletes.
In April Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service information chief Sergei Ivanov accused the OPCW of “manipulating” the results of the Skripal case.
According to information obtained by Ivanov, the OPCW was omitting findings from the Spiez laboratory, he explained that the samples sent by the OPCW contained a nerve agent called “BZ” which was manufactured by the West.
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(Security Affairs – Skripal case, GRU)