Swiss intelligence helped foil Russia plot to spy on lab

A sign warning of CCTV area controlled is seen next to the Spiez Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute for NBC-Protection (nuclear, biological, chemical), on September 14, 2018 in Spiez, 40km from the capital Bern as Swiss newspapers reported that two Russian agents suspected of trying to spy the laboratory were arrested in the Netherlands and expelled early this year. (AFP)
Updated 15 September 2018
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Swiss intelligence helped foil Russia plot to spy on lab

  • British authorities tested the Novichok found in Salisbury at Porton Down, a defense facility nearby, but have not said where else the substance might have been analyzed

ZURICH: Switzerland’s intelligence agency said on Friday it had worked with British and Dutch counterparts to foil a Russian plot which, according to newspaper reports, was targeting a Swiss laboratory testing nerve agents such as Novichok. Earlier on Friday a Swiss and a Dutch newspaper reported that authorities from the three countries had teamed up in an operation which resulted in the Netherlands expelling two suspected Russian spies in March.
Citing unnamed sources, the Tages-Anzeiger and NRC Handelsblad reported that the suspected agents were heading for the Spiez laboratory near Bern which analyzes chemical and biological weapons, including nerve agent Novichok. Britain says Moscow used Novichok to try to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury in early March and last week charged two Russian men in absentia with attempted murder. “Swiss authorities are aware of the case of Russian spies identified in The Hague and expelled from there,” the Swiss NDB intelligence agency said in a statement. “The NDB took active part in this operation together with its Dutch and British partners. The NDB has thus contributed to preventing illegal activity targeting critical Swiss infrastructure.” It did not elaborate. The Russian embassy in Bern dismissed the Swiss account.
“We consider such false statements simply absurd and nothing other than another attempt to stoke an anti-Russian atmosphere,” it said.
The newspapers said the two suspects expelled from the Netherlands were not the same as the two men charged by British prosecutors in the Skripal case last week.
The Dutch military intelligence agency MIVD did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Dutch government announced on March 26 that it would expel two Russian “intelligence agents” who worked at the Russian embassy in The Hague, without giving further details.
A spokesman for the Spiez laboratory declined to comment on the NDB statement, but said the government facility had previously been the target of cyberattacks.
In July the Spiez lab said hackers had circulated a malware-loaded document purporting to be a factsheet linked to a scientific workshop the lab organized, but that it was unaware of any direct attacks on the lab itself.
British authorities tested the Novichok found in Salisbury at Porton Down, a defense facility nearby, but have not said where else the substance might have been analyzed.
The newspaper reports said the alleged Russian plot had gone beyond cyberattacks and that authorities found “equipment used for espionage” during their operation against the suspected spies.
In the weeks after the Skripal poisoning, Britain and dozens of other countries have kicked out scores of Russian diplomats, and Moscow has responded tit-for-tat in the biggest East-West wave of expulsions since the Cold War.


British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

Updated 18 February 2019
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British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

  • British border officials have picked up 34 people who were trying to cross the English Channel in a small boat
  • The Home Office said the passengers are thought to be migrants and their nationalities were not known yet

LONDON: A British boat rescued 34 migrants crossing the Channel aboard a small motorised boat on Monday, Britain's interior ministry said.
"Today Border Force responded to an incident in the Channel involving a small boat containing 34 people," the ministry said in a statement.
"The group were brought to Dover and have been transferred to immigration officials for interview," it added, saying that men, women and children were on board and that three men were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences.
French authorities earlier said that "a fishing boat gave the alarm shortly after 8:00 am (0700 GMT)" after spotting the boat off the tip of northern France.
French navy, police and customs launched a helicopter, a tug boat and three fast vessels, while sea rescue services also tried to rescue the migrants.
By the time they reached the migrants' location, however, "they had crossed over to the English side" of the Channel where they were picked up by a British vessel, said the regional authority in northern France.
Two British Border Force cutters and a coastal patrol vessel were involved in the rescue, according to UK authorities.
Some 500 people -- most of them over the last two months of 2018 -- attempted to cross the Channel to Britain last year, compared with just 13 known attempts in 2017.
French interior ministry figures show 276 people successfully reached British waters last year.
London in December dispatched a navy ship to help coastguard boats watch over the 21 miles (33 kilometres) of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
France also responded by announcing broader surveillance measures in early January.
The number of Channel crossings was just a tiny fraction of the 55,756 successful attempts made across the Mediterranean to Spain that were recorded by the UN's refugee agency in 2018.