Published: Sun, September 16, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Russian agents tried to spy on Swiss chemicals lab

Russian agents tried to spy on Swiss chemicals lab

Switzerland's Federal Intelligence Service did not provide details, but said Friday it worked "actively" with British and Dutch partners on the case.

The spies were arrested earlier this year but their existence has only now been revealed.

Two Russian agents suspected of trying to spy on a Swiss laboratory were arrested in the Netherlands and expelled early this year, Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources. The suspects were planning to travel to the Spiez Laboratory, a government-run facility in central Switzerland that investigates nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and had in their possession equipment to break in, according to the newspapers.

The laboratory does analytical work for the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical arms watchdog.

It is not clear exactly when the arrests were made.

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. Beyond confirming the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service's collaboration, the AG's office did not elaborate further.

'The case of the Russian spies discovered in The Hague and then expelled from The Hague is known to Swiss authorities, ' a spokeswoman for the Swiss intelligence services told AFP.

"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. A spokesperson said no data had been stolen. In June, a conference hosted by the lab was targeted by hackers using a destructive worm that was first released during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Swiss and Dutch authorities did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

In the article, the head of communications at the lab said he could not comment on the FIS information. Novichok is a Russian-made agent and not long after it was identified, United Kingdom authorities asked the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to verify the sample.

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

"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", Lavrov said on September 14 after meeting with his German counterpart in Berlin, Russian news agencies said.

But the paper said the two suspects were not the same men accused of carrying out the attack in Salisbury in March.

The UK has accused Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov of a plot to poison former spy Sergei Skripal but they claim they were visiting Salisbury as tourists.

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