UPDATE 2018-09-18: the Dutch and Swiss envoys to Russia have been summoned by the Russian ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, according to NRC Handelsblad. Also, reportedly, the Swiss & Russian minister of foreign affairs will meet next week in New York “on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.”
According to reports by Dutch news paper NRC Handelsblad and Swiss news paper Tages-Anzeiger published on 13 September 2018, western intelligence agencies thwarted a plot involving two Russians intending to compromise the computer network of a Swiss government laboratory — the Spiez Laboratory, which carries out investigations related to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and defense (CBRN).
The two were apprehended in The Hague (NL) in early 2018 and allegedly carried (unspecified) equipment with them that can be used to compromise computer networks. They are believed to work for GRU, Russia’s foremost foreign intelligence agency. The apprehension was the result of cooperation between various European intelligence services, reportedly including the Dutch Military Intelligence & Security Organization (MIVD).
The Spiez laboratory has been commissioned by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to carry out investigations related to the poisoning of Russian double agent Skripal and the use of chemical weapons by the Russian-support Assad regime.
Switzerland’s federal intelligence agency NDB confirmed knowledge about the discovery and expulsion of the two. NDB states that it has “cooperated actively with Dutch and British partners” and has thereby “contributed to preventing illegal actions against a sensitive Swiss infrastructure”.
NRC Handelsblad states that according to the public prosecutor in Bern (CH), the two Russians have been subject of a criminal investigation since March 2017 on suspicions of compromising a computer system of anti-doping agency WADA. In September 2016, WADA stated that Russian espionage operator group Tsar Team (aka Fancy Bear aka APT-28) had compromised its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) database via “an International Olympic Committee (IOC)-created account for the Rio 2016 Games”; specifically via the account of Yuliya Stepanova, who WADA qualifies as “key whistleblower” for the WADA commission that exposed widespread doping in Russian athletics. (Note: if WADA’s attribution of that attack to the Tsar Team is accurate, it is possible that the two caught in The Hague are operators of the Tsar Team.)
The Spiez laboratory had already been a target of hacking attempts earlier this year, according to a spokesperson of the laboratory. “We defended ourselves against that. No data was lost”, the spokesperson stated to NRC Handelsblad and Tages-Anzeiger.
On 14 April 2018, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated he had obtained the confidential Spiez lab report about the Skripal case “from a confidential source”. That report confirmed earlier findings made by a British laboratory. The OPCW states that its protocols do not involve dissemination of lab reports to OPCW member states. It remains unknown how Lavrov got hold of it.
In the aftermath of the Salisbury incident, the Dutch government expelled two employees of the Russian embassy in The Hague. In a letter (.pdf) sent to the Dutch parliament on 26 March 2018 — the day on which a large number of countries announced bilateral measures against Russia —, the ministers of foreign & internal affairs stated that they decided to expel the two “in close consultation with allies and partners”. The Russians were ordered to leave the Netherlands within two weeks. It is unknown whether the two expelled Russians are those who were apprehended in The Hague.
In a November 2017 parliamentary letter from Dutch minister of internal affairs Ollongren, the minister stated that Russian intelligence officers are “structurally present” in the Netherlands in various sectors of society to covertly collect intelligence. She stated that Russia in addition to classical (human) intelligence methods also deploys digital means to influence decision-making processes and public opinion.