For those keeping score, Russian intelligence is not having a good 2022. The most recent setbacks happened in Sweden. Two ethnic-Iranian brothers with ties to Sweden’s version of the FBI, SAPO, were arrested for acting on behalf of the Russian Federation. The others arrested were a couple who had migrated to Sweden many years prior, setting up a home and apparently operating from Sweden on behalf of Russia. All four are now in custody, and the two brothers’ trial begins this week.

The brothers Kia

The two brothers, Peyman Kia, 42, and Payam Kia, 35, trial began this week. Peyman Kia used to be employed by SAPO and it is believed that he and his brother worked for the GRU (Russian military intelligence) from at least 2011. According to SAPO, Kia came to their attention as they suspected a mole within their ranks. The National Security chief prosecutor, Per Lindqvist observed, “It has been a complex investigation concerning a crime that is very difficult to investigate and the suspicion concerns very serious criminality directed against Sweden’s intelligence and security system.” He continued, “The information that has been obtained, transmitted and divulged could, by the fact that if it comes into the hands of a foreign power, result in detriment to Sweden’s security.”

The probable Russian illegals

The arrest of Sergej Skvortsov (born 1963) and Elena Koulkova (born 1964), in an operation code named “Operation Spjut,” (Operation Javelin) resembled a scene right out of the Jason Bourne series, complete with Blackhawk helicopters and fast line decent onto the couple’s, home and property. The combined SAPO, military and national police (NAO) effort, created quite the scene as they rushed to secure the premises and prevent the destruction of documents.

The Skvortsov is accused of conducting espionage within Sweden and using Sweden as a base to conduct espionage against a third country (unidentified), with Koulkova being charged with being an accomplice. They came to the attention of Swedish authorities allegedly because their company’s books appeared to be cooked, with the company registering a loss each year, only to be revived with an infusion of “interest from investments” to make it marginally profitable. In 2016, the Swedish tax authorities conducted a search and seizure of financial records. The Swedish press speculates that this was the beginning of the end for this pair’s intelligence work.

Pete Strozk, firner U.S. FBI special agent, expressed his envy at the finesse of the arrest.

We’ve seen this play before

This latter case has parallels in those illegals arrested in the United States in 2010 as part of Operation Ghost Stories.

Grooming your spawn

The Operation Ghost Stories couple, Andrey Bezrukov and Yelena Vavilova (“Donald Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley”) had two sons. According to the FBI, the pair recruited their son Tim to follow in their footsteps.  The “Operation spjut” couple have a 28-year-old son who studies at the at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and still lives at home. Was the son part of the couple’s espionage caper or an innocent living in the million dollar home with his parents?


In addition, Cyprus plays a role in both Operation Ghost Stories and the Swedish operation. In the former, an eleventh man involved with the ten illegals was arrested in Cyprus but disappeared after posting bail. In the latter, the real principal of their company was an ex-military man in Moscow, and the company in Sweden was 100% controlled by the Russian through an ownership company in Cyprus.

Russia’s MO is global

We see the world is large, yet the interconnections and similarities of modus operandi are assisting the counterintelligence teams of the West as they wrap up Russian intelligence officers and assets with greater regularity. One might posit that the bulk expulsions of the Russian intelligence presence in the West in the spring of 2022 have caused the covert communications channels employed by the Russian intelligence apparatus to become strained and thus vulnerable.

In 2021 the Swedes successfully neutralized a separate source operating within Volvo  who stole technological secrets on behalf of Russia.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of