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BRUSSELS – The suspected Russian spy, who was arrested in Norway this week, recently attended a hybrid threats seminar which, according to Norwegian media, included a scenario on how to respond to a pipeline explosion, a coordinator of the group hosting the event and included a photo from the event.
Norwegian security officials announced this week that they have arrested a man who claims to be a Brazilian researcher working on Arctic issues in the city of Tromso, who they believe is actually a Russian “illegal”. He has been identified as José Assis Giammaria in news reports.
The arrest comes after at least seven Russians – including the son of a close associate of President Vladimir Putin – were arrested in recent weeks for flying drones or taking photos near sensitive areas.
Norway and other countries in Europe are rushing to secure critical infrastructure following the sabotage of the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines. Several drones have been spotted in Norway’s offshore oil and gas fields and at Norwegian airports in recent months.
The spate of incidents has Norway – and Europe – on edge. The oil and gas sector is at the heart of the Norwegian economy. Since Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine, the country has become a major supplier to Europe.
Norway nervous about drone sightings, arrest of son of Putin confidant
Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang first reported on Thursday that the suspect attended a seminar on countering hybrid threats from September 29-30 in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The seminar was hosted by EU-HYBNET, a European hybrid threat network – a concept that encompasses things like sabotage, disinformation, cyberattacks and other means of countering them outside of traditional military conflicts between states.
Paivi Mattila, a professor at Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Finland who coordinates the EU-HYBNET program, confirmed over the 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 inquest.
An image shared on Twitter by Mykolas Romeris University appears to show Giammaria sitting among workshop participants at the event organized on September 29 with the Lithuanian Cybercrime Center for Excellence for Training, Research and Education.
Both the EU HYBNET website and a brochure detailing EU funding of the Vilnius spotlight 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 .
The “Training and Exercise” event aimed to help attendees “understand vulnerabilities attackers could exploit” and “outline hybrid challenges in a realistic near-future operating environment,” according to a brochure for the gathering.
Participants examined various scenarios, including a case of “gas flow shutdown after a gas pipeline explosion”. In this case study, “initial results support the notion that it is likely a sabotage rather than an accident” – an eerie echo of the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.
EU warns of ‘robust’ response to sabotage after Nord Stream explosions
Officials from Norway’s state security earlier this week announced the arrest of the 37-year-old suspect, saying he posed “a threat to fundamental national interests”.
There is concern that he “might have acquired a network and information about Norwegian politics in the northern region,” Deputy Chief of the Norwegian Police Security Service Hedvig Moe told Norwegian media. Even if the information obtained from the person does not directly threaten Norway’s security, it could be misused by Russia, she said. Officials did not provide any information about when he was arrested.
Details of the case are yet to be announced. Giammaria did research at the Arctic University of Norway. On October 25, he was listed as a researcher at a university think tank called The Gray Zone. He is no longer listed on their site.
Before moving to Norway, he lived in Canada where he attended Carleton University and the University of Calgary. While in Ottawa, he volunteered to promote a political campaign, according to Global News. In 2018 he graduated with a master’s degree from the Center for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.
In 2019 he wrote an article for the Canadian Naval Review. The article, titled “Third Base: The Case for CFB Churchill,” advocates the establishment of a naval base in northern Canada.
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 had previously studied in the USA.
“Illegals” operate without diplomatic cover and build up a cover story over time, often many years. In a high-profile 2010 case, the US arrested 10 Russian agents who had been living in the United States for years while they were secretly reporting to Moscow’s foreign intelligence agency.