Analysis: HUMINT insights from the Muller/Cherkasov case

AIVD HollandAT A TIME WHEN dozens of countries are routinely expelling record numbers of Russian intelligence officers, news of the unmasking of yet another Russian spy is barely newsworthy. However, the case of Sergey Cherkasov/Victor Muller is different. That is because, unlike the vast majority of Russian spies with blown covers, he did not operate under diplomatic protection. This is not necessarily uncommon —in fact, there are probably dozens of Russian case officers operating internationally without diplomatic cover. What is unusual is that one of them has been publicly unmasked. What is more, the case offers some interesting pointers for those interested in contemporary human intelligence (HUMINT).

The Facts

According to the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), which publicized the case last week, a man using a Brazilian passport attempted to enter Holland in April of this year. His passport had been issued under the name Victor Muller Ferreira, allegedly born to an Irish father and a Spanish-speaking mother in Niteroi (near Rio de Janeiro) on April 4, 1989. However, according to the AIVD, the man’s real name is Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, a citizen of Russia, who was born on September 11, 1985. Based on the information released by Dutch intelligence, Cherkasov is an intelligence officer of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly known as the GRU.

The AIVD claims that the reason for Cherkasov’s visit to the Netherlands was to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, as a paid intern. He eventually planned to transition into full-time employment in the ICC, where he “would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services”. The AIVD reportedly notified the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service, which detained Cherkasov upon his arrival at Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol. The Dutch government declared the alleged GRU officer persona non grata and promptly expelled him back to Brazil “on the first flight out”.

Cherkasov’s Cover and Legend

Cherkasov arrived in Holland with a cover, a term that refers to a fake operational identity used for purposes of espionage. It is unlikely that his cover was natural, meaning that he is probably not Brazilian by birth —though it is possible that at least one of his parents was/is not Russian by birth. What is more likely is that Cherkasov’s cover is contractual, meaning that it was crafted especially for him by the GRU after he was hired as an intelligence officer. This likely happened as many as 10 years ago, when Cherkasov was in his early 20s. Read more of this post

Dutch intelligence disrupts Russian effort to infiltrate International Criminal Court

International Criminal CourtON JUNE 16, THE Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) announced that it prevented a Russian military intelligence officer from gaining access as an intern to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The ICC is of interest to the GRU because it investigates possible war crimes committed by Russia in the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 and more recently in Ukraine.

The GRU officer reportedly traveled from Brazil to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in April 2022, using a Brazilian cover identity, making him a so-called “illegal”. This means the intelligence operative was not formally associated with a Russian diplomatic facility. He allegedly planned to start an internship with the ICC, which would have given him access to the ICC’s building and systems. This could have enabled the GRU to collect intelligence, spot and recruit sources, and possibly influence criminal proceedings inside the ICC.

On his arrival at Schiphol, the AIVD informed the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND), after which the officer was refused entry to the Netherlands and put on the first plane back to Brazil as persona non grata. The AIVD assessed the officer as a “potentially very serious” threat to both national security and the security of the ICC and Holland’s international allies, due to his access to the organization.

In a first-ever for the AIVD, the agency also released the contents of a partially redacted 4-page document that describes the “extensive and complex” cover identity of the officer. It was originally written in Portuguese, “probably created around mid-2010” and “likely written” by the officer himself. According to the AIVD, the information provides valuable insight into his modus operandi. The cover identity hid any and all links between him and Russia. According to the AIVD, the construction of this kind of cover identity “generally takes years to complete”.

In the note accompanying the document, the AIVD says that Russian intelligence services “spend years” on the construction of cover identities for illegals, using “information on how other countries register and store personal data”. Alternatively, they illegally procure or forge identity documents. Information in the cover identity “can therefore be traceable to one or more actual persons, living or dead” as well as to forged identities of individuals “who only exist on paper or in registries of local authorities”.

AuthorMatthijs Koot | Date: 17 June 2022 | Permalink

News you may have missed #745

Sir Dominic AsquithBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Algeria sentences man to 20 years for spying. Noureddine Benziane, an Algerian psychologist and expert on anti-terrorism, has been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail on conviction of spying after a stay in Iraq. According to the charge sheet, Benziane went to Iraq on humanitarian missions several times between 2005 and 2007, but he allegedly founded a training camp for potential suicide bombers of several nationalities. Benziane later acknowledged contacting several diplomatic missions in Algiers to give them details of the information he had recovered. However, he neglected to inform the Algerian security services of his findings, according to his prosecutors.
►►Egypt pulls TV ads warning foreigners may be spies. An unnamed Egyptian media official says authorities have pulled a television advertisement that warned against talking to foreigners who may be spies, after criticism that they fueled xenophobia. The official said Sunday that the ads were aired on state TV and private networks for a few days before Minister of Information Ahmed Anis ordered them off the air.
►►British diplomat attacked in Libya. Britain’s ambassador to Libya, Sir Dominic Asquith, was in a convoy of cars that came under attack in the eastern city of Benghazi on Monday, in what British media described as the most serious assault on foreign targets in Libya to date. The attack came amid mounting concern for the welfare of an Australian lawyer and three colleagues working for the International Criminal Court after they were detained in Libya. They were accused of spying when they visited Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: Charles Taylor was not acting alone

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As former Liberian President Charles Taylor becomes the first African leader to stand trial for war crimes, it is worth remembering that the 61-year old father of 14 was not acting alone. Taylor, who headed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), became the country’s President in 1997. He is currently being tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, accused of indescribable violations of human rights, which he allegedly committed during his 14-year rule. He is also accused of conspiring to foment the brutal civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, which he allegedly funded through the Liberian diamond trade. But as I explained last February, Taylor’s diamond smuggling was facilitated by Roger D’Onofrio Ruggiero, an Italian-American 40-year veteran of the CIA, who worked with Taylor and others to channel diamonds into Europe through a number of front-companies. Taylor was also assisted by Ibrahim Bah, a Senegalese who in the 1970s and 1980s was funded by the CIA to join the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the war against the Soviet Red Army. It is unlikely, however, that Charles Taylor’s prosecutors at The Hague will be calling on these two witnesses during the trial. Witnesses aside, however, Charles Taylor’s trial may prove to be interesting on numerous levels. Yesterday, for instance, he told the court that his 1985 “escape” from the US maximum security Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts, which allowed him to return to Liberia and take over the country through a military coup, took place with US government assistance.

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