Rus­sian spies at­tempted to hack poi­son test­ing lab

Sunday Mail - - WORLD - TOM WITHEROW LONDON

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.

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