Western countries issued coordinated denunciations of Russia on Thursday for running what they described as computer hacking programmes to undermine democracies, targeting institutions from sports anti-doping bodies to the chemical weapons watchdog.
Russia denied what its Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called a “diabolical perfume cocktail” of allegations dreamt up by someone with a “rich imagination”.
But looking at the evidence, the litany of blunders made by the Russian secret service cell codenamed AP28 actually leaves very little to the imagination.
1) THE PASSPORT NUMBERS
The Netherlands released copies of passports of the four men, which identified them as Alexey Minin, Oleg Sotnikov, Evgenii Serebriakov and Aleksei Morenets, all in their 30s or 40s.
The four men constituted a cell of Russian military intelligence (GRU), one of the country’s most secretive agencies.
One of the more intriguing aspects regards the numbers of two of the documents.
The top two in the picture below are numbered 0135555 and 0135556 meaning they were issued at the same time - almost as if they were produced specially for some kind of specific ... mission.
Presumably UK and Dutch authorities are already looking into which Russian citizens have been issued with passport numbers immediately before and after these as there’s a high possibility they are also GRU agents.
This is also the case with the passports issued to the two men accused of poisoning Sergei Skripal with Novichok (separated by only three digits -1294 and -1297) and appears to be an incredibly shoddy lapse by Russian intelligence, one they have made repeatedly.
2) THE STING
When apprehended, rather than act cool and nonchalant, the GRU men threw their phones on the floor and stamped on them, which are not the actions normally associated with innocent people.
3) THE TAXI RECEIPTS
Even spies need to claim expenses, which is presumably why the four GRU men were found with a number of taxi receipts.
One of these was from the GRU barracks to Moscow airport.
As if that wasn’t incriminating enough, there were also Google Maps printouts, train tickets and web searches that provided a detailed log of the Russian operatives’ journeys.
4) THE HEINEKEN
Spying can be stressful work so you can’t really blame the poor chaps for indulging in the odd beverage.
5) THE TIMING
The Russians were caught red-handed trying to hack into the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquarters on April 13.
As already noted, Russian GRU agents are the prime suspects in the Skripal poisoning.
As for the Douma incident, the Syrian Government is a close ally of Russia. The two have been fighting alongside each other in the ongoing Syrian conflict since 2015.
The Syrian Government has been implicated in numerous chemical weapons attacks which have on two occasions prompted limited retaliation from western governments.
The OPCW has yet to release its findings on the Douma incident.
6) THE OTHER TARGETS
The full list of organisations targeted by the GRU cell is essentially a complete list of notorious international incidents the Kremlin has denied any role in.
As well as the body investigating Douma and Salisbury, there is:
- The World Anti-Doping Authority - Russia has been accused of and denied having a decades-long doping programme sanctioned by the Kremlin.
- The Malaysian police and attorney general - Russia has been accused of and has denied supplying the missile launcher that downed Flight MH17 in 2014.
And as announced earlier in the day, the GRU also hacked Russia’s central bank, and two privately-owned Russian media outlets,
The United States later indicted seven suspected Russian agents for conspiring to hack computers and steal data to delegitimise international anti-doping organisations and punish officials who had revealed the Russian state-sponsored athlete doping programme.
7) THE FOOTBALL TEAM
Following today’s announcement, The Moscow Times spoke to someone who played on the same Moscow league football team as one of the agents identified.
Yan Yershov, 25, said team was known “security service team”. He said: “Yes he played for us for a few years and was a decent player.
“It was widely known that he was one of those guys, some sort of government agent.”
We finish with a blunder by the Western agencies conducting investigation.
Asked why the GRU team was allowed to go back to Russia, a Whitehall official said: “That was a decision taken by the Dutch authorities and that’s a question that needs to be addressed to the Dutch authorities.
“The individuals were traveling on diplomatic passports.”