The Netherlands on Thursday ordered the expulsion of two Russian intelligence officers accused of spying on the country’s high-tech sector and targeting research that could potentially be used in weapons systems, the country’s national intelligence agency said.
The Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service, known as AIVD, said that diplomats stationed at the Russian Embassy in The Hague were officers working for the SVR, the Russian civil intelligence agency that was recently reported to be implicated in a high-profile cyberattack. One of the officers spied on the country’s science and technology industry, building a network of high-tech sources who in some cases were paid in exchange for information. The second SVR officer supported the operation, AIVD said.
The officer was particularly interested in technologies related to artificial intelligence, semiconductors and nanotechnology, according to AIVD. The agency said the technology had both civil and military applications, including in weapons systems.
AIVD did not say if any action would be taken against the tech sector employees who traded information, nor did it name any of the companies involved.
The incident comes less than four months after Russia accused the Netherlands of spying on a senior Russian military official, though it’s unclear if the events are linked or if AIVD’s actions were a form of retribution. Dutch intelligence also notably alerted the U.S. to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and had access to the Russian hacking group for at least a year, according to reports.
Although the SVR—which is shrouded in secrecy—focuses mainly on civilian affairs, there have been accusations that it is involved in brazen operations including assassinations and sophisticated cyberattacks. Earlier this week, cybersecurity giant FireEye announced that it had been the victim of a breach in which attackers stole its red team tools. The hacking group is believed to be associated with the SVR, the Washington Post reported.
“This attack is different from the tens of thousands of incidents we have responded to throughout the years,” FireEye chief executive Kevin Mandia said in a statement. “The attackers tailored their world-class capabilities specifically to target and attack FireEye.”
AIVD said it that while the government was investigating whether espionage should be made punishable by law, the country does not treat it as a crime and was not presenting evidence of unlawful acts by the diplomats.
“The AIVD is committed to mitigating, and where possible preventing, the adverse effects of espionage on our economy and our national security. We protect our country’s strategic interests by gathering intelligence and using that information to expose espionage,” Erik Akerboom, director general of AIVD, said in a statement.