The seventeen Russian intelligence officers who were expelled from the Netherlands last March were engaged in counter-espionage, encrypting secret messages and gathering information about microchips for the Russian army. This is apparent from a joint study by NOS, Nieuwsuur and the Belgian newspaper De Tijd.
Until now, nothing was known about the identity and activities of these men. It now appears that the group was working for Russian intelligence services. Nine of them were employed by the military intelligence service GRU and the remaining eight worked for the Russian foreign intelligence service SVR. However, the officers presented themselves to the outside world as diplomats, working at the Russian embassy in The Hague or as a trade representative in Amsterdam.
In total, there were about twenty Russian spies working as “diplomats” over the past decades. The Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD had been aware of their presence for years, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose to tolerate this. After all, if a spy were to be expelled, this would most likely also result in a Russian expulsion of a Dutch diplomat.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February, this tolerant attitude suddenly changed. After consultations between Foreign Affairs, AIVD, MIVD and various European countries, it was decided to expel most of the spies. In total, more than 200 spies had to pack their bags all over Europe. Three spies were allowed to stay in the Netherlands, because they did not want to completely brick up the openings towards the Russian Service in connection with possible emergencies.
Russian encryption experts
During the expulsion, the six encryption experts working in the Netherlands were considered top priority. They used several rooms – called ‘referentura’ – on the embassy grounds to conduct secret and encrypted communication with Moscow. The extradition of these six was therefore crucial to prevent information about arms supplies to Ukraine or NATO secrets from reaching the Russian services.
The remaining 11 spies who were evicted were engaged in intelligence gathering and surveillance of relevant individuals. For example, two of them tried to acquire sources among Dutch intelligence personnel. Another two were collecting information about microchips for the Russian army.
The AIVD and the MIVD confirm in a joint response that they had been eyeing the spies for a long time. However, they do not elaborate on the functions and names of the evicted persons.
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