The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been elbows-deep in the investigation of the Novichok nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skirpal. As part of their investigation into where the nerve agent may have originated, the OPCW sent samples of the chemical weapon to a number of independent labs.
Using multiple labs provides a fail safe against false positive results and bias – two things you'd want to avoid considering the fact that the results of the tests could trigger a significant international incident. One of the labs that the OPCW may have used (I mean, they're not going to come right out and say that this is where they're sending dangerous shit) was Switzerland's Spiez Laboratory. Since Russia has denied that it had any role in the poisoning of the Skirpals and the other collateral victims of the Novichok attack, it's really really surprising to be surprised by the surprise expulsion of two Russian intelligence agents (surprise!) from The Hague, where OPCW is based. Apparently, they were trying to tinker with Spiez Laboratory's computers.
Swiss and Dutch authorities did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment. Andreas Bucher, a spokesperson for Spiez Laboratory, also declined to comment on the deportations. However, he confirms the laboratory's computer systems have been probed by unknown hackers in recent months.
"We've had indications that we were in the crosshairs," Bucher says. No data has been stolen from the lab, he adds.
Although Spiez Laboratory has not officially acknowledged receiving a sample, it is widely believed to have done so, according to Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent chemical weapons expert based in France.
The alleged Russian agents were expelled from The Hague during a period when the OPCW was actively investigating the case. Zanders believes they may have been trying to hack into the Spiez Laboratory computer system to learn more about what British and international authorities knew about the Novichok used in the Salisbury attack.
He also suggests Russia may have wanted to tamper with the official findings.
I'm assuming that the laboratory must have a cathedral.
According to NPR, the manipulation of the lab's test data may have been a possible motive for the attempted hack. Even after the agents were deported, there were indications that digitally savvy individuals were still trying to screw with Spiez: NPR reports that during a conference hosted by Spiez Laboratory in June it was targeted by a malware/worm attack.
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