Intelligence service boss wanted Russian spies out of NL as quickly as possible

OPWC headquarters in The Hague
OPWC headquarters in The Hague. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Four Russian spies wanted to hack into the network of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC) on April 13th. Instead of being arrested and entering the Dutch system, they were deported to Moscow that same day. That decision was made by Onno Eichelsheim, director of military intelligence service MIVD. He wanted them out of the Netherlands as soon as possible, RTL Nieuws reports.

Eichelsheim confirmed to RTL that he was the one who decided to deport the Russian agents immediately, saying that he could make that decision because the MIVD's job was "purely executed as a counter-intelligence operation." The service complied with the Intelligence and Security Services Act of 2002 in this operation. 

"It was not a police investigation", Eichelsheim said. "There was no investigation in progress, so for me the important thing was: there is now a threat to the OPWC, I have to see it disrupted as soon as possible." After the four were caught, the MIVD method was used: "Put on a plane to where they came from, leaving behind the equipment."

Whether the four spies could be detained at all, and whether it was discussed, remains unclear. "I did not opt [for their arrest] in this case. That had to do purely with speed and purely with the fact that it was a counter-intelligence operation. The important thing was to get these people out of the country as quickly as possible."

According to the broadcaster, Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld and Prime Minister Mark Rutte also remained vague on this issue. "This was not a criminal organization", Rutte said about it. "In this type of intelligence operation, this is the modus operandi."

Bijleveld emphasized that it was particularly important to "collect the information". Which is why the Russians' equipment was confiscated. "There was a lot of information there. Otherwise it would have been much more difficult." In order to arrest someone, they must have committed a criminal offense, Bijleveld added. "That was not the case yet, it was a foiled operation", she said. "It was the period in which the OPCW investigated poison gas attacks, which is why it was important to disrupt it immediately."

The fact that the Russians were not arrested in the Netherlands, had nothing to do with their diplomatic status at least. They did have a diplomatic passport, but it was not accredited in the Netherlands, so they did not have diplomatic immunity in the country, according to RTL.

The MIVD caught the four Russian agents with the help of British allies. Rutte and Prime Minister Theresa May released a joint statement in which the condemned cyber attacks by the Russian secret service GRU on international organizations as unacceptable, reckless and destructive. 

Tags: