Suspected Russian spy arrested by Norway attended conference on hybrid warfare


BRUSSELS — The suspected Russian spy arrested in Norway this week attended a seminar on hybrid threats recently that included a scenario about responding to a pipeline explosion, according to Norwegian media, a coordinator for the group that hosted the event, and a photograph from the event.

Norwegian security officials this week announced they had arrested a man claiming to be a Brazilian researcher working on Arctic issues in the city of Tromso who they believe is, in fact, 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 associate of President Vladimir Putin — were detained in recent weeks for flying 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 multiple drone sightings in Norway’s offshore oil and gas fields and at Norwegian airports.

The spate of incidents has Norway — and Europe — on edge. The oil and gas sector is the core 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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The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang first reported Thursday that the suspect attended the Sept. 29-30 seminar in Vilnius, Lithuania, on countering hybrid threats.

The seminar was hosted by EU-HYBNET, a European network on hybrid threats a concept that includes things like sabotage, disinformation, cyberattacks and other means of fighting outside traditional state-to-state military conflict.

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 seated among workshop participants at the event, which was organized with the Lithuanian Cybercrime Center for Excellence for Training, Research and Education on Sept. 29.

Both the EU-HYBNET website and a brochure for the Vilnius event spotlight funding from the E.U. Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Commission, confirmed the funding, but said E.U. institutions are not involved in the group’s day-to-day activities.

The “training and exercise” event was aimed at helping participants understand “vulnerabilities adversaries might exploit” and “sketch hybrid challenges within a realistic near-future operational environment,” according to a brochure for the gathering.

Participants examined different scenarios, including one case of a “gas flow shutdown after a gas pipeline explosion.” In that case study, the “initial findings support the assumption that probably it is about a sabotage and not an accident” — an eerie echo of the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.

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Norwegian domestic 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 he “may have acquired a network and information about Norwegian politics of the northern area,” Deputy Chief Hedvig Moe of the Norwegian Police Security Service told Norwegian media. Even if information the person acquired does not directly compromise Norway’s security, it could be misused by Russia, she said. Officials did not provide information on the timing of his arrest.

Details about the case are still emerging. Giammaria was conducting research at the Arctic University of Norway. As of Oct. 25, he was listed as a researcher at a university think tank called the “The Grey 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 canvas for a political campaign, according to Global News. He graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Calgary’s Centre 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 that case, an alleged Russian spy claimed to be a Brazilian seeking an internship at the International Criminal Court. He had previously studied in the United States.

“Illegals” operate without diplomatic cover, building up a cover story over time, often many years. In one high-profile 2010 case, the U.S. arrested 10 Russian operatives who had been living in the United States for years while secretly reporting to Moscow’s Foreign Intelligence Agency.

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