Suspected Russian spy arrested by Norway attended conference on hybrid warfare

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BRUSSELS — The suspected Russian spy arrested in Norway this week attended a hybrid threat seminar recently that included a pipeline explosion response scenario, according to Norwegian media, the coordinator of the group that hosted the event and a photo from the event.

Norwegian security officials announced this week that they had arrested a man claiming to be a Brazilian academic conducting research on Arctic issues in the city of Tromsø, who they believe is actually a Russian “illegal”. He has been identified in news reports as José Assis Giammaria.

The arrest comes after at least seven Russians – including the son of a close aide of President Vladimir Putin – were detained in recent weeks for operating drones or taking pictures near sensitive areas.

Norway and other countries in Europe are rushing to secure critical infrastructure after the sabotage of the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines. In recent months, there have been numerous drone sightings in Norway’s offshore oil and gas fields and at Norwegian airports.

The series of incidents unnerved Norway and Europe. The oil and gas sector is the backbone of Norway’s economy. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the country has become a critical supplier to Europe.

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Norway on edge over drone surveillance, arrest of son of Putin confidant

The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang first reported Thursday that the suspect attended a Sept. 29-30 seminar in Vilnius, Lithuania, on countering hybrid threats.

The workshop was hosted by EU-HYBNET, the European Hybrid Threat Network a concept that includes things like sabotage, disinformation, cyberattacks, and other means of combat outside of traditional military conflict between states.

Paivi Mattila, a professor at Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Finland who coordinates the EU-HYBNET program, confirmed by phone that the suspected spy attended the event. She said he did not go through a security check, but declined to comment further, citing the investigation.

An image shared on Twitter by Mykolas Romeris University appears to show Giammaria sitting among workshop participants at the event, which was organized with the Lithuanian Cybercrime Center of Excellence for Training, Research and Education on September 29.

Both EU-HYBNET’s website and brochure on EU funding for the Vilnius event Peter Stano, a spokesman for the European Commission, confirmed the funding but said EU institutions were not involved in the day-to-day activities of the group.

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The “training and learning” event was intended to help participants understand “vulnerabilities that adversaries may exploit” and “outline hybrid challenges within a realistic near-future operational environment,” according to a brochure for the gathering.

The participants looked at different scenarios, including one case of “stoppage of gas flow after a gas pipeline explosion”. In this case, “initial findings support the suggestion that this is likely sabotage rather than an accident”—an ominous echo of the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.

EU warns of ‘robust’ response to sabotage after Nord Stream blasts.

Norwegian internal security officials announced the arrest of the 37-year-old suspect earlier this week, saying he posed a “threat to fundamental national interests”.

There is concern that he “may have acquired a network and information about Norwegian politics in the northern area,” Deputy Chief Hedvig Moe of the Norwegian Police Security Service told Norwegian media. Even if the information the person acquired did not directly compromise Norway’s security, it could be misused by Russia, she said. Authorities did not provide information on when he was detained.

Details of the case are still being clarified. Giammaria conducts research at the Arctic University of Norway. As of October 25, he was listed as a researcher at a university think tank called The Gray Zone. It is no longer listed on their site.

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Before moving to Norway, he lived in Canada where he attended the University of Ottawa and the University of Calgary. While in Ottawa, he volunteered for a political campaign, according to Global News. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Calgary’s Center for Military, Security and Strategic Studies in 2018.

In 2019, he wrote an article for the Canadian Naval Review. The article, titled “Third Base: The Case for CFB Churchill,” argues in favor of establishing a naval base in Canada’s north.

The case comes months after another suspected Russian “illegal” was arrested in the Netherlands. In this case, an alleged Russian spy claimed to be a Brazilian seeking an internship at the International Criminal Court. He previously studied in the US.

“Illegals” operate without diplomatic cover, building cover over time, often many years. In one high-profile case in 2010, the US arrested 10 Russian agents who had lived in the United States for years while secretly reporting to Moscow’s foreign intelligence agency.

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