The exposure of Russian espionage operations by Dutch, U.K. and U.S. authorities has opened a window into the sometimes sloppy tradecraft of the Kremlin’s GRU military-intelligence service, Bloomberg reports.
Dutch intelligence caught four alleged Russian agents with specialist equipment for “close access” hacking of WiFi networks that was hidden under a coat in the trunk of their hired Citroen C3 car parked next to the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague in April. The United Nations body was examining evidence of a nerve-agent attack in the U.K. in March that British officials have blamed on the Kremlin.
Dutch officials, who expelled the accused agents, found that one of the men had a receipt for a taxi that took him from a GRU barracks to the airport in Moscow on April 10, from where the four had flown to the Netherlands on diplomatic passports. Two of the passports had consecutive serial numbers, and the men were found with 20,000 euros and $20,000 in cash, Dutch officials said.
In Washington, U.S. prosecutors announced indictments of seven Russian military-intelligence operatives on charges of hacking and fraud against targets ranging from Westinghouse Electric Corp. to world anti-doping authorities who’d exposed state-backed cheating by Russian athletes. Three of the men were also charged in July for alleged cyber attacks in the 2016 U.S. election.
The choreographed announcements by Western allies amounted to a significant escalation of tensions with Moscow. “The GRU has interfered in free elections and pursued a hostile campaign of cyberattacks. It is an aggressive, well-funded body of the Russian state. It can no longer be allowed to act across the world… with apparent immunity,” said Peter Wilson, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, per CNN.
Russia must know there is “a red line” and that “if they try to intervene in the democratic processes of other countries, they will be exposed and there will be consequences,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said its members “stand in solidarity with the decision by the Dutch and British governments to call out Russia on its blatant attempts to undermine international law and institutions,” and that the alliance would continue to strengthen its defenses against cyber threats.
The ruble weakened against the dollar after Hunt told reporters in London that British officials plan to discuss with allies “what further sanctions should be imposed” on Russia. The U.K. and the U.S. have already imposed sanctions on Russia over the cases.
The Dutch Defense Ministry published copies of the passports of the four alleged agents expelled from the Netherlands, naming them as Oleg Sotnikov, 46, Aleksei Morenets, 41, Evgenii Serebriakov, 37, and Alexey Minin, 46.