- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
A top cybersecurity specialist and his deputy in Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, are reportedly being accused by the Kremlin of “breaking their oath” by working with America’s Central Intelligence Agency.
Sergei Mikhailov, allegedly detained at a board meeting last December, and his deputy, Dmitry Dokuchaev, were arrested by the Kremlin on Jan. 27 for treason and illegal hacking. Then, on Tuesday, Russian news agency Interfax, after hearing from unidentified sources, reported that they, along with Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of cybercrime investigations at Kaspersky Labs, and a fourth, as yet unnamed person, are suspected of passing along secret information to the CIA — or of passing it to someone who passed it to the CIA. The Kremlin, for its part, has refuted such claims through spokesperson Dmitri Peskov, who said, “…we categorically deny any assertions about the possible complicity of the Russian side in any hacker attacks,” adding, “All the suspects have been charged with high treason. This is the sole count in the case. There are no other accusations.”
These are the latest in a series of developments regarding the FSB’s cybersecurity unit and Kaspersky Labs that has unfolded since the U.S. presidential election, colored as it was by the leaking of a dossier alleging the Russians had compromising information on Donald Trump (kompromat, if you will.) The idea is that the Russians could get Trump to do their bidding once he was elected. U.S. intelligence officials did summarize the dossier for Trump and President Barack Obama.
It is unclear if the people just arrested allegedly passed on the information in question directly, or worked with other individuals to do so (The Moscow Times has more on how the four allegedly worked together).
It is also unclear whether this is connected to the charges of illegal hacking levelled against Mikhailov — at least one source has said that the hacking is separate from the leaking of secret information.
What was that secret information? According to Novaya Gazeta, Mikhailov tipped off U.S. intelligence officials to “King Servers,” a computer server rental company run by Vladimir Fomenko. King Servers has been identified by an American cybersecurity researchers as helping Russia carry out cyber attacks.
On Jan. 13, three days after news of the dossier leaked, Kommersant reported that Andrei Gerasimov, head of the FSB’s Information Security Center since 20009, would be dismissed. The center was being investigated for its relationship with certain cyber companies, including Kaspersky Labs. Some speculated that the news was linked to the dossier. But the FSB security center dealt with internal, not external, cyber issues.
Unless, of course, somebody inside the FSB cyber center took it upon themselves to warn those outside of Russia what was going on within it. As Churchill said in a different context, Russia is a riddle wrapped in mystery wrapped in a terribly confusing story of leaks, showers, and spies.
Update, Feb. 1 2017, 10:52 am ET: This post has been updated to include the Kremlin’s statement of denial.
Photo credit: MIKHAIL KLIMENTIEV/AFP/Getty Images