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October 21, 2018
What we know about Russian 'OPCW plot'
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What we know about Russian ‘OPCW plot’

An exterior view of the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The HagueImage copyright

Image caption

A team of Russians allegedly tried to compromise and disrupt computers at the OPCW

Russia plotted a cyber-attack on the global chemical weapons watchdog but it was foiled by the Dutch security services, officials say.

The operation by Russia’s GRU military intelligence targeted the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, according to Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld.

At a press conference on Thursday, he said the plan was thwarted when a number of Russians were escorted from the country in April.

Russia has described the allegations as a “diabolical cocktail” and a “rich fantasy”.

Here is what we know about the alleged plot so far.

The suspects

Image copyright
Dutch Defence Ministry

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The four Russians travelled on diplomatic passports

Dutch and British officials have named four Russians they say are agents in a GRU intelligence cyber warfare team.

The GRU, also known as the Main Intelligence Directorate, is the intelligence arm of the Russian military.

Alexei Morenetz and Yevgeny Serebriakov were described by officials as “cyberoperators”.

Oleg Sotnikov and Alexei Minin were also named, and officials said they were support agents.

They allegedly travelled to the Netherlands on diplomatic passports and arrived in the country on April 10.

“They were clearly not here on holiday,” the head of the Dutch intelligence service said on Thursday.

The target

At the time, the OPCW was investigating the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.

It was also examining an alleged chemical attack by Syria’s Russian-backed military in Douma.

The OPCW is the world’s foremost chemical weapons watchdog, and in June granted itself new powers to assign blame for attacks despite protests by Russia.

The plot

The team of Russians allegedly tried to compromise and disrupt computers at the OPCW building.

They hired a Citroen C3 car on April 11 and were seen to be scouting the area close by, all the while they were being monitored by the Dutch intelligence services.

They planned to carry out a closed access hack operation targeting the organisation’s wifi network, officials say.

The Dutch government said the Russians were later found with a car full of electronic equipment in the car park of a hotel close to the OPCW building.

Equipment in the car boot was pointed at the OPCW and was being used to intercept login details, Maj Gen Onno Eichelsheim from the Dutch MIVD intelligence service said.

Image copyright
Dutch Government

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The suspects were found to have specialist hacking equipment

When the men were intercepted they tried to destroy one of the mobile phones they were carrying.

As well as the equipment in the car, a laptop seized from the suspects was found to have been used in Brazil, Switzerland and Malaysia.

In Malaysia it was used to target the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board

Earlier this year Dutch-led international investigators concluded that the missile belonged to a Russian brigade. Russia has denied any involvement in the plane’s destruction.

Data from the laptop showed it was also present in the Swiss city of Lausanne where it was linked to the hacking of a laptop belonging to the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), which has exposed doping by Russian athletes.

The response

The four Russians were detained on April 13 and expelled to Moscow.

They were escorted to Schiphol airport and put on a plane without their items, and the intelligence services were in charge of the operation.

“The decision taken at the time of catching the operatives was to disrupt as quickly as possible so we deported them, it was not a police operation,” the director of the Dutch intelligence service said.

Source BBC News

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