The evening of March 30, Walter Biot, a Navy frigate captain and member of the Chief of Defense staff and his Russian military intelligence (GRU) contact were meeting in car park in the south of Rome. Biot was passing national defense information to the GRU officer in exchange for 5,000 euros ($5,877). Their clandestine meeting was interrupted by the Italian Carabinieri del Ros, and Biot and GRU officer Dmitry Ostroukhov (a military attache assigned to the Russian embassy in Rome) were caught red-handed. Biot was arrested, and Ostroukhov was released due to his diplomatic status .
Biot is accused of passing Italian secrets and NATO secrets, including those associated with EU, NATO and UN deployment, to the GRU in exchange for money. A search of his home found that he had photographed 181 classified documents using his Samsung S9 smartphone. He also had a separate external storage device, which contained highly classified defense documents and 47 NATO documents classified, “SECRET.”
Walter Biot a prime Intelligence source
Biot is reported to have spent the early part of his career working on ships within the Navy. The past five years, however, he has been assigned to the office of the “Chief of the Defense Staff” developing national security policy
He was brought before an Italian magistrate to answer to the charges of espionage, and attempted to explain himself, “I have been through little things, I have not passed secrets, I have never put Italy in danger – and I am not a traitor. I am a desperate man, full of debt and with a sick daughter.”
La Stampa reports that his wife, a psychotherapist, commented, “If my husband took that money, he did it out of desperation.” She continued how they had four children, four dogs, a heavily mortgaged house and that the COVID pandemic has caused them to become “impoverished.” She continued that they were having problems getting by on his 3,000 euros ($3528) monthly salary.
Judge Antonella Minunni speaks to the issue of Biot’s breaking trust and ordered him remanded to Regina Coeli prison in Rome, “The elements are symptomatic of the criminal depth of the suspect who has not set himself any scruple in betraying the trust of the institution to which he belongs for the sole purpose of obtaining profits of an economic nature”.
The Italian Foreign Minister expressed his anger directly to the Russian Ambassador and ordered the immediate expulsion of Ostroukhov and his supervisor, Alexei Nemudrov. The Russian ambassador, Sergey Razov, commented how he regretted the expulsion. The two Russians departed Italy on April 1, 2021.
Biot, if found guilty, faces a minimum of 15 years imprisonment.
Take away for FSOs
- Personal electronics in proximity to secrets. Once again we see a case where a source of the GRU isn’t printing, downloading or emailing the secrets they have purloined, they are using their smartphones to capture the information. The GRU had their source in Sweden use this technique, as well as those individuals who were part of the GRU network in Bulgaria. Reinforcing the need to ensure electronics are banned from classified work areas.
- Employee support mechanisms. Those who enjoy the trust of a national security clearance, bear the responsibility to protect those secrets in which they are entrusted. As can be seen with the case of Biot, his daughter’s medical situation added to what appeared to be a precarious financial situation, thus causing a vulnerability. Was financial and emotional counseling available to Biot? Could his financial situation been mitigated? The motivation to take unacceptable risks to provide/protect one’s family is a strong. Employee support programs are key to addressing the security risk. Self-reporting and aperiodic financial disclosures while present, may also be the equivalent of closing the barn door after the cow has exited.
- Counterintelligence briefings. It should be clear that NATO is being targeted using a 360-degree targeting matrix, going after the secrets where-ever they may lay. FSOs whose entities have a NATO engagement footprint, should include this in all ongoing counterintelligence briefings.