back to article Dutch cheesed off with Russians, expel four suspects over chemical weapons Wi-Fi spying

Four alleged Russian agents have been expelled from the Netherlands after they attempted to hack the chemical weapons watchdog probing the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury, England, and the chemical attack case in Douma, Syria. According to the Dutch Ministry of Defence on Thursday, the four Russians arrived at Schiphol …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I was running an operation like that I think I'd load all that kit into a car and park it somewhere in the expectation that it would be found - and I'd run a second operation a lot more carefully in another location. It's worked for me in the past - everyone stops looking when they have "found" the intruder.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well if the GRU is deliberately running a subtle distraction operation painting itself as an incompetent bunch of blundering Soviet-era thugs, then it's certainly doing an excellent job.

      1. Grikath Silver badge

        Credas, that point has been made about the Dutch Intelligence Service. Speculation was, and frequently still is, that they're not the bunch of ....welll.. You prolly get the point.

        What surprises me is that they actually managed to get into the limelight. Not their usual M.O.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      False Sense of Security Scenario?

      That would seem reasonable to me. The catch is, is/was there another team that went through customs? Or just drive in from a neighboring country? Going through customs would be the perfect way to get the Trojan Horses in place as they would be "official" visitors. A drive in type... somewhat stealthy.

      OTOH, this could just all be political maneuvering where the team was expected to be caught and there isn't any second team... yet.

    3. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Wait. Did AC just admit to hacking a previous chemical weapons investigation?

      Clearly I have the perfect solution to these shenanigans. We'll simply demand their phone passwords and fine them 60K if they don't tell us.

    4. TheVogon Silver badge

      "I think I'd load all that kit into a car and park it somewhere in the expectation that it would be found - and I'd run a second operation a lot more carefully in another location."

      But probably not staying by it until caught. And probably not leaving embarrassing details of previous such attacks on the hardware in question.

      It's been like something out of a Pink Panther cartoon. Incredible ineptitude.

    5. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Well done.

      Congratulations bandit1, here is the bandit2 password.

      You might have a cute and comical view of the Netherlands being a bit of a laugh about lawn order, since getting caught with a spliff by a cop isn't likely to involve a beating, but they are serious about high level crime.

      It's not by chance that the international court is there.

      You might also have noticed that the dark web sites that are infiltrated are often done by the Dutch cyber crimes team. Same for catching Russian hackers.

      So I strongly suspect that if you or I, clever as we are, tried to play one of their investigtors at chess, we'd lose.

      We'd only be thinking 6-10 moves ahead.

      They're thinking several games ahead.

      "and I'd run a second operation a lot more carefully in another location. "

      What about this announcement implies that said operations are also not busted?

      It's not like either side needs to announce what is going on.

  2. cosymart
    Black Helicopters

    "One great mistake made by intelligent people is to refuse to believe that the world is as stupid as it is." ~ Claudine Guerin de Tencin

    1. overunder

      Guerin? Thought that was Dr. Seuss.

      That is such an arrogant comment, I had to look her up. According to wikipedia, she drove a man to suicide and might of been committing insest with her brother. Also describes her as a control freak and someone who would only affiliate with the rich and powerful. All that in her very, very small entry.

      Honestly, I'm not surprised at all a person like that would say such a thing. Although, I'm not sure I'd try to spin a quote of hers as a utility of realization.

      1. Chris Parsons

        Re: Guerin? Thought that was Dr. Seuss.

        Downvote for 'might of'...there is no verb 'to of'.

  3. Big Al 23

    Does Russia think anyone believes them?

    I wonder if the Russian government actually thinks anyone believes their denials on poisoning former spies or hacking? It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall.

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Does Russia think anyone believes them?

      I wonder if the Russian government actually thinks anyone believes their denials on poisoning former spies or hacking

      Russians do through carefully selected and crafted information pushed to them, and it's all that matters for Putin and al.

      1. Patrick R
        Meh

        Re: Does Russia think anyone believes them?

        They have as much credibility as the US these days.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Does Russia think anyone believes them?

        "Russians do through carefully selected and crafted information pushed to them"

        Maybe some Russians do.

        The Russians I know have put it like this: "You know he's a mafia thug, WE know he's a mafia thug and we ALL know that what's in the Russian media is bullshit propaganda, so we just roll our eyes and carry on. The problem is that the system is so corrupt that voting him out isn't actually an option - and nor is a revolution, because what would replace him is just as bad (or worse) as what's already there."

    2. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Does Russia think anyone believes them?

      Well, there is that. But to paraphrase what my wife said the other day - in regards to the woman who died from the poisoning - "Who picks up a bottle they find on the floor in a park and sprays it on themselves?".

      For every bit of the Salisbury thing that makes some sense, there are things like this that leave you feeling bewildered.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Does Russia think anyone believes them?

        Well, there is that. But to paraphrase what my wife said the other day - in regards to the woman who died from the poisoning - "Who picks up a bottle they find on the floor in a park and sprays it on themselves?".

        What has been reported (at least) says that a "vulnerable" guy found it, assumed it was perfume and gave it to his other half as a present.

    3. Hairy Weasel

      Re: Does Russia think anyone believes them?

      No, they don't. It's a form of psychological warfare called 'firehosing'. Vox made a video on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nknYtlOvaQ0

  4. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    Not GRU

    These guys are obviously four civilian tourists visiting Amsterdam Cathedral.

    1. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Not GRU

      Yes. The church is famous for its large octagonal tower with a baroque style dome and lantern, crowned by a cross.

  5. Walter Bishop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Russian Intelligence agency codenamed Sandworm

    "The deported men were apparently working for the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, more specifically a group codenamed Sandworm, which attempted to remotely hack the OPCW and the UK government's top-secret research laboratory Porton Down after having a pop at the Brits' Foreign Office computer network in March. UK authorities assisted in the Dutch cops' investigation."

    a. You mean 'UK authorities' fed them this crock?

    b. What moron at Porton Down connects their internal network to the Internet?

    c. How did your sources come by the codename of this hacking group?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Russian Intelligence agency codenamed Sandworm

      a. I think the Dutch are perfectly capable of looking at diplomatic passports and hacking kit found in the possession of 4 Russians near the OPCW and reaching their own conclusions.

      b. I don't think you know anything of what their IT arrangements are

      c. Perhaps they're just as careless online as they appear to be in real life...

    2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Re: Russian Intelligence agency codenamed Sandworm

      @Walter Bishop - "c. How did your sources come by the codename of this hacking group?"

      I assume the investigators gave the group the codename, it's a lot easier than referring to them as, "the group we detected at... and...". Surely the GRU would use a Russian codename, google tells me that песчаный червь is Russian for sandworm.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Russian Intelligence agency codenamed Sandworm

      Vraiment, c’est un crock de merde.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Theresa May and Donald Trump in a Dutch Sandwich

    or perhaps just looking for squirrels to distract us all with at the moment ?

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Theresa May and Donald Trump in a Dutch Sandwich

      I heard the Trump May had was a Dutch oven.

  7. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Congrats to the Dutch Intelligence

    and to the other services who tipped them.

    There's no doubt Russia is hostile. What is new is that since Trumpy the Klown won the US election with a minority of votes, Russia feels free to attack Western countries without the usual precautions. Now that the US and the US-NATO relation are weak, Putin take advantage of the situation.

    It's time to slap his hand and show him he went too far.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Congrats to the Dutch Intelligence

      It's time to slap his hand and show him he went too far.

      That's what they're doing. Against a nation that has no qualms about shooting down (or helping shoot down) civilian airliners, using its agents for overseas assassinations, killing or imprisoning domestic opponents, or using military force*, we can't do too much physically, and sanctions will be difficult to impose going into winter when the EU depend on Russian gas, and will in any event not be supported by China and the non-aligned countries. What can be done is to puncture your opponent's pomposity, sense of invincibility, and global reputation, so that's why there's shitloads of coverage in the Western press. Whether the press of the non-Western world notices is another matter, although I'd imagine all security services are having a good snigger at the Russians being caught red handed.

      In terms of what's being reported, it's clearly spin, and "placed". Look at any mass market UK new source and the claims about uncovering 300 odd GRU agents identities from this. On the one hand it makes for a fabulous embarrassment for the GRU in the press, but the reported logic trail doesn't actually follow. To believe the Dutch incident led Western security agencies to details of vehicles registered to GRU addresses and then to agents would need to mean this rather obvious step hadn't occurred to them before, and/or they didn't know where the GRU operates from. Also, the security services never let on to what they actually know, so spaffing this to the press is clear indication that there's nothing in this that is new, and that the Russians themselves were not aware of.

      * Yes, I know the West can be accused under most of these headings

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Trumpy the Klown won the US election with a minority of votes

      Even taking the metric system into account, in most parts of the world the number of 304 is greater than the number 227. Thought you might like to know that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Trumpy the Klown won the US election with a minority of votes

        What are you counting there? Campaign lies? Because the vote count does seem to show a clear difference, and it's not in favour of Krusty.

  8. blondie101
    Big Brother

    Why go public?

    I get this:

    - Russian diplomats gathering information. And for being diplomat (or more correct in the possession of a diplomatic passport) there is no risk, besides to be trown out of the country.

    - the Dutch who throw them out

    - the "denial" of the Russians (because they always deny)

    But why all the media attention? What do the Dutch try to accomplish? What is the spin? Anyone?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: Why go public?

      It's part of a united western declaration that Russia is doing naughty things.

      The Dutch saying this alone... nobody cares. The Dutch, Brits, Americans, Australians, et cetera all saying similar things together will present a united front and people might listen.

      Kinda like the #MeToo movement.

      1. blondie101
        Holmes

        Re: Why go public?

        And who is the intended receiver? The public or a big man in a white house??

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Why go public?

          The intelligence services have been playing "we own you" for as long as they've existed. I imagine demonstrating this publicly is quite satisfying.

        2. Avatar of They
          Thumb Up

          Re: Why go public?

          I imagine the target is the public. Because in the back ground and in hidden meetings NATO will be ramping up counter measures, dusting off old plans and drawing lines in sand - again. And at the end of this will come the big questions about nations budgets and defence spending.

          That needs people to see the threats that are there, which thanks to twenty years of Russia not being dicks has meant money can be spent on other useful things and happy times.

          But there is a time coming soon that we may need to turn away from roads and schools etc. And once against recruit soldiers, build ships etc. For that the public need to be on board.

          Difference is in the twenty years of peace the EU has become a very different beast of cross working and helping eachother. So NATO by default will benefit by closer working EU nations, compared to 20 years ago. (Just don't mention the orange trump clown, 'Hunt' doing his best to alienate our allies and the May / Boris / Farage Brexit disaster)

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why go public?

          And who is the intended receiver?

          1. The Western public, because the story can be spun as evidence that "Russia is a threat to us all", and plays to the narrative that our governments are here to protect us, and have our best interests at heart.

          2. The non-aligned world because (if they hear this, believe it, and care) it damages Russia and Putin's credibility and trustworthiness. In international relations, those two are vitally important. I'm not sure most of Russia's trading partners will care, and I suspect the relevance of the story to (say) the Chinese, Arabic or Indonesian citizens is small.

          3. Putin. The hope is that he'll be embarrassed and be a big bit more cautious next time, to the extent of desisting from the unwanted behaviours. This would seem to be optimistic, since Putin will now be thinking that he needs to re-establish his strong man credentials by some show of force.

    2. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Why go public?

      "And for being diplomat (or more correct in the possession of a diplomatic passport) there is no risk, besides to be trown out of the country."

      Although the Dutch did just throw them out, they could have arrested them. Merely possessing a diplomatic passport does not confer diplomatic immunity until it is registered with a host nation.

      As for the publicity, that is a clear rebuke to Russia and clear support to the UK.

      Twenty years ago I worked for a private organisation that had it's own security division and an intranet that listed global security threats. When I searched on the Netherlands it claimed that 800 Russian crime gangs had set up bases there in the previous two years.

      I asked my Dutch friends about that and they said that was credible, and to stay away from the plethora of Russian tea rooms ("there is never anyone in there").

      Coffeeshops good, tearooms bad.

  9. DropBear Silver badge

    One kinda wonders how exactly they were caught in the first place - it's not like tossing some kit under a coat in a car will automatically attract any law enforcement within three miles or something. Were the Dutch a) tipped off by someone who knew what was going on, from either side of the fence or b) were they already watching the "diplomats" or c) did the maid in the Marriott notice one too many Yagi antennas in their room or d) was the OPCW already so spooked by the previous hacking attempts that they were actively looking out for this sort of presence around their building or e) was the car parked in a fixed place 24/7 with a bunch of scary-looking blokes just sitting in it or e) did the "diplomats" simply check into the hotel as "Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange"...?

    1. blondie101
      Big Brother

      Standard procedure

      "b) were they already watching the "diplomats""

      Perhaps standard procedure to keep a close eye on all (Russian) incoming diplomats?

    2. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Just guessing but maybe passport control had already cottoned on to two male Russians travelling together on synchronously numbered passports.

    3. JohnG Silver badge

      "One kinda wonders how exactly they were caught in the first place"

      I suspect the Dutch would routinely keep an eye on new arrivals with diplomatic passports but in this case, they were tipped off by British intelligence agents that the OPCW and/or other bodies might be hacked. Quite how British intelligence agencies knew of this in advance is not known/stated.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We're not telling.

  10. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    Flame

    One thing is clear

    A lot of Russian propagandists post on The Register. And have that subtle touch Russians are famous for.

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: One thing is clear

      A lot of Russian propagandists post on The Register. And have that subtle touch Russians are famous for.

      It would seem that is the status quo for the internet as a whole. They'll let just anyone on these days.

  11. GnuTzu Bronze badge
    WTF?

    "Expelled" Not Held -- What?!?!?

    How long were they held. And, now that they're expelled, the Russians are saying they've got it all wrong. They get caught red handed, interfering with a legal investigation, and they were just let go?!?!?

    Well, maybe I've just become accustomed to hearing about terrorists being held for years in Guantanamo. Have I been infected with a distorted view of the World or is the World crazy? Maybe it's a little of one and a lot of the other.

    1. JohnG Silver badge

      Re: "Expelled" Not Held -- What?!?!?

      "They get caught red handed, interfering with a legal investigation, and they were just let go?!?!?"

      They were travelling on diplomatic passports, with all the privileges and immunities that such status affords.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Expelled" Not Held -- What?!?!?

      Expelling unwanted elements is just so much easier, cheaper and leads to less political mayhem than having to take care of them /ad infinitum/, meanwhile making sure their /own/ government does not sneak them a Finimal - on top of that it would only lead to raised eyebrows, voices and alert levels.

      One does not need imagine the faux fury, ouraged threats and clouds of toxic hot gas the Kremlin would emanate at such a sleight of its preposterously exaggerated integrity - they have a well-documented history of hissy fits that make the average toddler stomping on the floor in Aisle 3 and screaming for Suckapops look like a completely reasonable human being in complete control of their emotions.

      So. We merrily carry on with the Grand Plan to NOT poke the bear unneccesarily. The bear has gone rather hungry from growling at its neighbours, but its teeth are falling out and it has no more young to eat. Best to quietly let it starve in its cave.

      I think it was Aesop who wrote about this, or perhaps was it the good Doctor who rhymed so appropriately that life with a bear is unbearable, however the case may be, it is not really as du jour for nations to provoke one anoteher as before the Great War, at least not on this side of the Blinis.

      So, off our lawn with this lot, shoe and best not let us catch you again.

  12. Spinux

    Minions

    Is it just a coincidence that Gru is an evil villain in a movie with a lot of stupid minions

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