Dutch ousted Russians for alleged attempt to hack Swiss lab

Lester Mason
September 16, 2018

Two Russian men were arrested earlier this year on suspicion of spying on a Swiss laboratory investigating the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a newspaper investigation has claimed.

European and Dutch intelligence agencies arrested the unidentified men in The Hague this spring after the March poisoning of Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia.

The Dutch intelligence agency, MIVD, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The organisation, which monitors compliance with a global treaty on chemical weapons, confirmed the British conclusion that the chemical belonged to a class of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union, known as Novichok.

"We had several indications that there were some hacking attempts during the last few months", including attempts to plant malware that would spread to other labs, Andreas Bucher, a spokesman for the Spiez Laboratory, said by telephone.

Switzerland's Tages Anzeiger newspaper said Swiss, Dutch and British authorities had worked together to foil the plot directed at the Spiez laboratory near Bern, where experts in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons work.

In July the Spiez lab said hackers had circulated a malware-loaded document purporting to be a factsheet linked to a scientific workshop the lab organized, but that it was unaware of any direct attacks on the lab itself. Sturgess died, but no one has been charged in that case.

Britain says Moscow used Novichok to try to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury in early March and last week charged two Russian men in absentia with attempted murder. Russian Federation has denied that these two men have anything to do with the Skripal case. The OPCW sent samples to the Swiss laboratory mentioned above which eventually concluded that the poison was indeed Novichok.

"I cannot suppose that such an occurrence, in which the specialists of three Western countries participated, could remain out of the field of view of the mass media", Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters after meeting with his German counterpart in Berlin, Russian news agencies said.

"The Swiss authorities are aware of the case of Russian spies discovered in The Hague and expelled from the same place", FIS spokeswoman Isabelle Graber said in an e-mail to AP. Zanders believes they may have been trying to hack into the Spiez Laboratory computer system to learn more about what British and global authorities knew about the Novichok used in the Salisbury attack. According to a report in April by the Russian news agency TASS, Lavrov received information "confidentially" that Spiez found traces of US chemical warfare agents in the samples.

The same malware was used to attack the Winter Olympics in South Korea, he added.

On Twitter, Spiez Laboratory publicly refuted Lavrov's claims.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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