Russian spies attempted to hack poison testing lab
RUSSIAN spies tried to steal data from a laboratory examining the nerve agent used in the British poison attack, it emerged yesterday.
The pair, arrested in The Hague in the Netherlands, were reportedly on their way to the Spiez centre near Bern in Switzerland.
They were carrying equipment that would have allowed them to hack into the laboratory’s computer systems and steal data or sensitive documents, a Swiss newspaper has claimed.
The arrests followed a joint operation by the British, Dutch and Swiss secret services. The full details were not made public at the time but the Dutch did announce in March the expulsions of “two Russian intelligence agents working at the Russian embassy”.
It is unclear why the pair were in The Hague, which hosts the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Isabelle Graber, head of communications at the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service, said in a statement yesterday: “The Swiss authorities are aware of the case of Russian spies identified in The Hague and expelled from there.
“The FIS took an active part in this operation together with its Dutch and British partners.
“The FIS has thus contributed to preventing illegal activity targeting critical Swiss infrastructure.”
The Russian embassy in Bern dismissed the account saying: “We consider such false statements simply absurd and nothing other than another attempt to stoke an anti-Russian atmosphere.”
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for MI6, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned in the British city of Salisbury on March 4.
That month the OPCW provided samples to designated laboratories to corroborate the finding of British scientists.
The Spiez laboratory subsequently confirmed their claim that the Skripals had been victims of the military-grade nerve agent novichok.
In April, Russia’s foreign minister said he had received a report from the Spiez laboratory that showed the poison to be Western-made. But intelligence sources said Sergei Lavrov could not have received the analysis report legally.
The centre, which was also investigating poison gas attacks by the Russian-backed Assad regime in Syria, advises countries and international organisations on arms control and environmental protection.
Earlier this year, it confirmed that it was the target of hackers but said no data was compromised. The Dutch Government has declined to comment on the expulsions. US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed yesterday to co-operate with the special counsel’s Trump-Russia investigation as he pleaded guilty to federal crimes and avoided a second trial that could have exposed him to more time in prison.
The deal gives special counsel Robert Mueller a key cooperator who steered Mr Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign.
It also ensures the investigation will extend beyond the November US congressional elections, despite entreaties from Mr Trump’s lawyers that Mr Mueller bring it to a close.
It is unclear what information Mr Manafort, pictured, will offer investigators about Mr Trump or that it could aid the investigation into Russian interference in the US election.
SPY v SPY: The two suspects in the Salisbury attack.