Leaks, a dossier, and a dead general: spy mystery gets murkier
If you are the type of person who believes that some incidents tied to an important event that are closely timed to each other are likely not a coincidence, you have probably been following the story of spy arrests in Russia:
The authorities in Moscow are prosecuting at least one cybersecurity expert for treason, a prominent Russian criminal defense lawyer confirmed on Friday, while a Russian newspaper reported that the case is linked to hacking during the United States presidential election.
While surely touching a nerve in American politics, the developments in Moscow left a still muddled picture of what, exactly, a series of arrests by the security services here signifies.
But the virtually simultaneous appearance of at least four prominent news reports on the hacking and several related arrests, citing numerous anonymous sources, suggests that the normally opaque Russian government intends to reveal more information about the matter, though it is unclear why.
In the waning weeks of the Obama administration, American federal intelligence agencies released a report asserting the Russian government had hacked into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John D. Podesta, stealing and releasing to WikiLeaks emails intended to damage Mrs. Clinton and help President Trump win the election.
But the unclassified version of the report offered only thin corroborating information, many independent analysts have said. The treason arrests in Moscow hint at a possible human intelligence source in at least one hacking episode, the intrusion into state electoral boards in Arizona and Illinois.
The confirmation by the Russian lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, in written answers to questions from The New York Times, was the closest so far to a formal acknowledgment that the Russian government has detained suspected spies within the cyberbranch of its Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the main successor to the K.G.B.
It reported that the Directorate for Internal Security, the agency’s internal affairs bureau, arrested Sergei Mikhailov, a deputy director of the Center for Information Security, the agency’s cybersecurity arm, and Ruslan Stoyanov, a senior researcher at a prominent cybersecurity company, Kaspersky Lab.
Novaya Gazeta, a respected Russian opposition newspaper, reported Friday that the internal investigation led to two other arrests, and that all of the detentions were related to American investigations into Russian hacking during the election.
The newspaper’s report, based on unnamed sources, said the F.S.B. began the internal investigation after news media reports that a United States cybersecurity company, ThreatConnect, had linked the election hacking to a Siberian server company. That company, King Servers, was otherwise used largely for criminal and marginal cyberactivities, such as distributing pornography and counterfeit goods, by the admission of its owner.
The report said the investigation led to Mr. Mikhailov, a senior officer involved in tracking criminal cyberactivity in Russia.
Both Novaya Gazeta, an outlet for the liberal opposition, and Tsargrad, a hard-line nationalist publication, reported that the F.S.B. made a brutal show of his arrest.
Agents arrested Mr. Mikhailov with a theatrical touch, placing a bag over his head in the midst of a congress of senior intelligence agency officers in Moscow and leading him from the room, the two publications reported.
It is very rare that a Russian suspect is arrested so publicly.
And then there is this:
An ex-KGB chief suspected of helping the former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to compile his dossier on Donald Trump may have been murdered by the Kremlin and his death covered up. it has been claimed.
Oleg Erovinkin, a former general in the KGB and its successor the FSB, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow on Boxing Day in mysterious circumstances.
Erovinkin was a key aide to Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister and now head of Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, who is repeatedly named in the dossier.
Erovinkin has been described as a key liaison between Sechin and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Mr Steele writes in an intelligence report dated July 19, 2016, he has a source close to Sechin, who had disclosed alleged links between Mr Trump’s supporters and Moscow.
The death of Erovinkin has prompted speculation it is linked to Mr Steele’s explosive dossier, which was made public earlier this month. Mr Trump has dismissed the dossier as “fake news” and no evidence has emerged to support its lurid claims.
The Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Erovinkin’s body was “found in a black Lexus… [and] a large-scale investigation has been commenced in the area. Erovinkin’s body was sent to the FSB morgue”.
No cause of death has been confirmed and the FSB continues to investigate. Media reports suggested his death was a result of foul play.
And you though The Great Game was dead. The unexpected ascent of trump appears to have triggered a myriad of puzzling – and ominous – incidents.