Abstract: For the past five years, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been the target of a concerted disinformation campaign. CBRN Perspectives & Analytics looks back on how an institution so central to global counterproliferation came under attack.
In April 2018, Dutch authorities apprehended four men sitting in a grey Citroen car parked in the diplomatic quarter of The Hague. The group had been under police surveillance since flying into the Netherlands from Russia a few days earlier. On searching their vehicle, the Dutch officers found a jumble of electronic equipment, including an antenna hidden under a jacket (1). It was pointed squarely at a nearby building - the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The detained men had entered the Netherlands on diplomatic passports, but their true identities were soon revealed. Alexei Moronets, Yevgeny Serebriakov, Oleg Sotnikov and Alexey Minin were all members of the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate, the GRU (2). Their Unit 26165 had sent them to The Hague on an operation aimed at hacking into foreign institutions of interest to the Kremlin. Offshore phishing attempts had failed, so the GRU men needed to conduct “close-access” hacking by getting physically near their target and latching onto vulnerable wifi networks (2).
The OPCW was of primary interest to the GRU because of the investigations being undertaken there. Among other things, the OPCW was probing the use of chemical weapons in Syria, where a multi-factional war had been raging since the failed Arab Spring of 2011 and where Russian President Vladimir Putin had sent air force units to shore up his embattled Syrian client, Bashar al-Assad, in 2015 (3). A key event occurred just outside Damascus the week before the GRU men were apprehended in the Netherlands: the aerial deployment of chlorinated organic chemicals on a civilian residential block in the city of Douma, in which no fewer than 43 people died, and dozens more required hospitalisation (4).
Read Complete Paper: Joel Keep and David Heslop. The war on the OPCW. Global Biosecurity. 2023; 5(1). https://jglobalbiosecurity.com/articles/10.31646/gbio.219