The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office is reporting that six Bulgarians who comprised a clandestine network of Russian intelligence sources from within the Bulgaria military were arrested on March 18 on charges associated with providing classified information to Russia’s military intelligence (GRU).
In addition to being tasked to provide classified information on Bulgaria, NATO, and the EU, the spy-ring was tasked with providing information on CIA, NSA, and SCS SIGINT personnel and their operations.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price noted how, “Bulgaria is a friend, NATO ally, and partner. We are attentively watching the Bulgarian investigation into an alleged Russian spy ring. The U.S. strongly supports Bulgaria’s sovereignty and stands with Bulgarians against these malign activities on their territory.”
Who are these Bulgarian spies?
Spokesperson for the state prosecutor’s office, Siyka Mileva said, “We can conclude that the criminal group has posed a serious threat for the national security by collecting and handing to a foreign country information which constitutes state secrets of Bulgaria, NATO, and the European Union.”
She described the six individuals:
- Head of the spy-ring is a former high-ranking military intelligence officer within the Defense Ministry.
- The wife of the leader of the spy-ring enjoyed dual-citizenship of Russia/Bulgaria and served as the intermediary between the network and the GRU. She was the courier, carrying secrets into the Embassy of the Russian Federation and returning with tasking and envelopes of cash (dollars) for the members of the ring.
- Former Bulgarian military counterintelligence officer currently charged with protecting classified information at the Bulgarian parliament.
- Three former or current members of the Bulgarian military.
What the spies did and how they did it
Noteworthy, according to Mileva, the leader of the spy-ring received clandestine training from the GRU and was given a variety of tasking, including “to recruit an ‘illegal network of agents’ made up of people who had classified information about Bulgaria, NATO and European Union.”
The Bulgarians published a 20-minute video on March 19 in which they explain the GRU network. Included are a number of visuals of Bulgarian counterintelligence surveillance of spy-ring which include:
- Audio coverage of multiple in person meetings between the GRU and their Bulgarian assets
- Restaurant meetings with GRU intelligence officers
- Video of the spy-ring’s courier entering the Russian Embassy on January 11.
- Copy of the tasking provided to the Bulgarians by the GRU, which the Bulgarian’s timestamped February 23.
- Video of a Bulgarian source photographing classified military information from their screens on January 8 and 12 and a visual of the phone capture of that same information which discusses F-16 PMO/AF.
- Video of a Bulgarian source counting their U.S. dollars at his desk.
The BBC reports that the Russian reaction was swift, “In the context of the complexity of the international situation, the ‘tireless’ attempts to drive a wedge into the Russian-Bulgarian dialogue and once again demonize our country are obvious.”
While the Russian Embassy commented, “We expect that speculation about Russia’s alleged involvement in intelligence work against Bulgaria’s interests will be halted until there is a court ruling.” Not exactly a denial.
This is not the first time Bulgaria and Russia have locked horns, indeed over the past few years Bulgaria has expelled at least six Russians from Bulgaria for suspected espionage. This is, however, according to Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, the first spy-ring uncovered since World War II.
Let there be no doubt. The GRU is actively conducting espionage in Europe. Be it the handling of Peter Debbins while he was assigned to the UK as a U.S. defense contractor or the GRU cases in Germany and Sweden, which have recently come to light.
Take away for FSOs
The most important take away for FSOs is the reinforcement of the modus operandi of the GRU designed to bypass information access controls is being trained to sources on a broad basis. This is evidenced by the recent revelation how the GRU asset in Sweden also photographed his screen and then passed the classified information to the Russian. The remedy for FSO’s is prohibition of electronics into areas where classified information is being handled.