Two Russians ended up expelled by the Netherlands after attempting to hack into a Swiss laboratory investigating the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal, officials said.
The two Russians, believed to be spies working for Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, targeted the Spiez laboratory near Bern, Dutch-based NRC newspaper and Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger said.
They were arrested earlier this year and then expelled by the Netherlands, they said.
The two were detained “early this year” by Dutch military intelligence (MIVD) working together with several other countries, and then expelled from the Netherlands, according to an AFP report.
“The duo, according to sources within the investigation, carried equipment which they wanted to use to break into the computer network” of the Spiez laboratory.
At the time, Spiez was analyzing data related to poison gas attacks in Syria, as well as the March 4 attack using the nerve agent Novichok on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, they reported.
The laboratory does analytical work for the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical arms watchdog.
Exact details of the arrest were not immediately available.
But on March 26, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his cabinet had decided to expel “two Russian intelligence workers from the Russian embassy” as a result of the Skripal attack, without giving further details.
Swiss intelligence officials Friday said they were aware of the incident.
Spiez laboratory confirmed it had been targeted by hackers earlier this year, but had no comment on the specific claims about the Russians arrested by the Netherlands.
“We had indications in the past few months that we were in the crosshairs of some hacking attempts and took precautions and weren’t compromised,” said Andreas Bucher, a spokesman for the Spiez lab.
Bucher cited a case in June where hackers took documents from the lab’s website and “distributed a very malicious malware virus” to affiliated agencies.