GRU car licence blunder exposes 305 ‘spies’

GRU car licence blunder exposes 305 ‘spies’

Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency is in the news again as Dutch hacking revelations appeared to expose more than 300 operatives.

Aleksei Morenets, one of the four Russian spies accused of attempting to hack the Dutch chemical weapons watchdog in April, was exposed in a leaked Russian car ownership database.

A coordinated announcement by the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) and Britain’s Ministry of Justice named the four men as Morenets, Evgenii Serebriakov, Oleg Sotnikov and Aleksey Minin.

Morenets’ Lada vehicle was registered in 2011 to Komsomolsky Prospekt 20 (pictured) in Moscow, which is home to the GRU’s unit 26165, its cyber operation accused of hacking the Office for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and other agencies.

The investigative website Bellingcat searched for other vehicles registered at the same Moscow address and found 305 supposed “spies” aged from 27 to 53 – all well within the ages of military service – with photos, passport details, names, dates of birth and mobile phone numbers.

Bellingcat was founded by the British citizen journalist Eliot Higgins, reporting on war zones and the criminal underworld.

Registering at the official address would reportedly give the “agents” perks like avoiding speeding fines and road tax.

The Netherlands authorities said Morenets and his three supposed colleagues left taxi receipts, web searches and other data when they attempted to hack the OPCW’s computer network in April.

Bob Seely, a UK Conservative MP on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “It is extraordinarily unprofessional on the part of the GRU. It shows that subversion is probably beyond their professional capability: they can’t even cover their tracks in the most basic of ways. It is very sloppy and makes President Putin look foolish.

“We need to be finding out where all these people have been travelling: 305 is the best part of a battalion. Let’s find how many of them have been to the UK and whereabouts.”

Britain identified the suspects in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March after they visited the city twice in two successive days. Britain’s extensive CCTV network captured them numerous times.

The pair famously claimed they were visiting Salisbury’s picturesque cathedral.

The two men appeared on Kremlin-funded RT television, confirming their names were “Ruslan Boshirov” and “Alexander Petrov”, as appeared on the passports.

Their two passports had almost consecutive numbers, making it easier to spot other supposed agents with similar passport numbers.

Bellingcat revealed Petrov’s files were marked with a defence ministry telephone number and that “Ruslan Boshirov” closely resembled Anatoly Chepiga, a decorated GRU officer.

Komsomolsky Prospekt in Moscow. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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