President Putin has accused the CIA of infiltrating Russia’s intelligence agency and paying Russian spies to hand over top-secret intelligence to the U.S. government.
Two senior cybersecurity specialists working for Russia’s spy agency, the FSB, have been arrested and detained by the Kremlin on charges of “breaking their oath” by disclosing State secrets to the CIA.
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Sergei Mikhailov, allegedly detained at a board meeting last December, and his deputy, Dmitry Dokuchaev, were arrested by the Kremlin on Jan. 27 for treason and illegal hacking. Then, on Tuesday, Russian news agency Interfax, after hearing from unidentified sources, reported that they, along with Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of cybercrime investigations at Kaspersky Labs, and a fourth, as yet unnamed person, are suspected of passing along secret information to the CIA — or of passing it to someone who passed it to the CIA.
These are the latest in a series of developments regarding the FSB’s cybersecurity unit and Kaspersky Labs that has unfolded since the U.S. presidential election, colored as it was by the leaking of a dossier alleging the Russians had compromising information on Donald Trump (kompromat, if you will.) The idea is that the Russians could get Trump to do their bidding once he was elected. U.S. intelligence officials did summarize the dossier for Trump and President Barack Obama.
It is unclear if the people just arrested allegedly passed on the information in question directly, or worked with other individuals to do so (The Moscow Times has more on how the four allegedly worked together).
It is also unclear whether this is connected to the charges of illegal hacking levelled against Mikhailov — at least one source has said that the hacking is separate from the leaking of secret information.
What was that secret information? According to Novaya Gazeta, Mikhailov tipped off U.S. intelligence officials to “King Servers,” a computer server rental company run by Vladimir Fomenko. King Servers has been identified by an American cybersecurity researchers as helping Russia carry out cyber attacks.
On Jan. 13, three days after news of the dossier leaked, Kommersant reported that Andrei Gerasimov, head of the FSB’s Information Security Center since 20009, would be dismissed. The center was being investigated for its relationship with certain cyber companies, including Kaspersky Labs. Some speculated that the news was linked to the dossier. But the FSB security center dealt with internal, not external, cyber issues.
Unless, of course, somebody inside the FSB cyber center took it upon themselves to warn those outside of Russia what was going on within it. As Churchill said in a different context, Russia is a riddle wrapped in mystery wrapped in a terribly confusing story of leaks, showers, and spies.