Russia’s GRU Dealt Blow As Kremlin Spies Exposed By Black Market Data Sale

Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, has been dealt a blow after a Russian journalist living in Europe reportedly bought the identities of undercover agents on the black market from Moscow police, according to ABC

Kanev, who lives in self-imposed exile in Europe, told The Associated Press he uncovered the identities by using databases purchased on the black market from Moscow police, traffic police or security agents. He said he cross-checked them with open sources and discussions with security sources. Other Russian journalists have described using similar methods. –ABC

Bankrolled and published by Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s “Dossier Project,” journalist Sergei Kanev says he wants to call attention to issues within an organization he thinks has gone from spycraft to “unchecked violence and foreign interference,” according to ABC – however his report describes the GRU as more sloppy than scary, with Kremlin operatives blowing their own cover in some cases. 

Journalist and Russian dissident Sergei Kanev

Kanev said he identified three agents after they filed police reports for stolen goods, by cross-checking names with databases showing addresses or other information on GRU employees. Another was identified after being arrested over a cafe shootout.

The report also says the Russian Defense Ministry sought to conceal the identities of dozens of children of alleged GRU officers living in a Moscow housing complex by adding 100 years to their ages in administrative registries. GRU agents jokingly called it the “old folks’ home,” Kanev said.

However, pension authorities raised alarm upon discovering the freak concentration of very elderly residents, suspecting some kind of pension fraud. –ABC

The GRU has been accused of conducting the March nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England which targeted former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal. Two alleged GRU agents were identified in the case, however others have suggested they are patsies. 

Dutch authorities, meanwhile, reported earlier this month they identified four alleged GRU agents who attempted to hack the Wi-Fi of the Organziation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the primary watchdog group responsible for investigating the Skripal attack as well as suspected chemical attacks in Syria. 

All this makes it look like GRU officers “can’t tie their own shoelaces,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

In an interview with the AP, Kanev said he also identified 16 GRU officers who once lived in the same Moscow dormitory as Anatoly Chepiga, one of the Russian officers suspected of poisoning turncoat GRU agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. Kanev did not publish their names.

Kanev said that he could identify so many officers was a sign that “Russia is eroding.” –ABC

Of note, none of the “outed” GRU agents are suspected of wrongdoing at this time, which, according to Keir Giles, the director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, has exposed Kanev and his oligarch-turned-dissident backer Khodorkovsky “to charges that instead of reforming Russia, they just want to harm it.” 

Giles said the revelations highlight a sense among Russian intelligence agencies that they are “above the law” and could reinforce their view that “mass connectivity, unhindered communications, and widespread access to information” is a threat to national security.

Meanwhile, the drip-drip of revelations will continue to dent the image of the GRU, but not deter it from unsavory actions, experts said. Kofman said it’s not unheard of for one agent after another to get burned publicly, and noted that agents like Chepiga and his colleagues could be replaced. –ABC

They will likely write this off as a consequence of carrying out a lot of operations,” Giles concluded. 

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