Ukrainian opensource intelligence (OSINT) agency Molfar, has released the data of 167 persons whom they say are employees of the Russian Federation’s foreign intelligence service. The data indicates that most of the spy networks in Western countries were using diplomatic cover, known in spy parlance as “official cover.”
To avoid suspicions, the Russian spooks took day jobs at embassies, worked as journalists, and gained employment in cultural organizations to act as cover for their real goal: to infiltrate organizations to spread disinformation about Ukraine before the full-scale invasion.
According to Artem Starosiek, the CEO of the Molfar OSINT agency, uncovering the identities of Russia’s top spies started with a tip: Someone turned over a database of likely employees of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.
Starosiek explained that even though the spies operated under the cloak of secrecy, “some things cannot be hidden even by spies. Especially, when they must conduct at least some public activities while acting as diplomats.”
Suspicions turned to confirmations as Molfar was able to locate the phone numbers of the alleged spies and to check them, using bots, in Telegram. Therein, the sleuths quickly acted to locate other databases, both public and private, that would allow for further confirmation of the story.
Combatting Russia’s spies in Europe is critical for Ukraine, explains Starosiek, as they were agents sent to act as destabilizers in “their host countries and at the international level.”
The spies may seem otherwise normal, such as in the case of Georgii Mikhno, who holds the rank of Ambassador and who graduated from Russia’s Diplomatic Academy and from the prestigious Lomonosov Moscow State University. However, there was more to the Ambassador, as Mikhno is also an officer of the "A" Directorate of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service where he headed the Department for Pan-European Cooperation.
While working as a diplomat, Mikhno was a member of the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, and later served as Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to international organizations in Vienna, Austria. At various times, he was the head of a division of the Department for Pan-European Cooperation, and Deputy Director of the Department for New Challenges and Threats of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Earlier, Mikhno served at the Russian Mission to the United Nations in New York where Russia holds a seat on the Security Council. Today, thanks to their leadership role at the UN, Russia can block investigations into things like the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, says Starosiek.
“People all over the world must realize that this problem isn't just about undermining Ukraine’s credibility among our allies. This problem is far more profound,” explains Starosiek.
“The impact of Russia will touch more and more countries, shifting not only their policy but national security.”
Andrei Grebenshchikov, an employee of the "A" department of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, who worked under diplomatic cover as First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in New York, is another spy whose cover was blown by the OSINT experts.
Not using social media, but publicly available files and databases, Molfar was able to establish that Grebenshchikov was the First Secretary of the Multilateral Disarmament Division of the Department for Non-proliferation and Disarmament Affairs before serving as the Second Secretary of the Political Section of the Russian Embassy in Canada.
While in Ottawa, the spy engaged in propaganda, including writing an article for The Globe and Mail entitled "Co-operate With Russia to End the Ukraine Crisis," which sought to frame Russia’s invasion as being the fault of Ukraine and referred to the annexation of Crimea as being a mere “reunification.”
The research to confirm that these men were, in fact, Russian spies, reached a crescendo that confirmed Molfar’s suspicions: A database of payroll for the Russian SVR showing that the suspects had in fact been receiving salaries from the Russian foreign intelligence service.
“With this investigation, we aim to cut the influence of Russia across the globe. We are grateful for the support from the media,” emphasizes Starosiek.
“Thus, we will continue to conduct investigations covering enemies of Ukraine and proving Russian war crimes on the territory of Ukraine.”
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