Two Russian spies were caught planning to deploy a cyber-attack on a Swiss laboratory where the use of Novichok in the UK was verified earlier this year. From the NY Times:
The two Russians, whose names have not been made public, came to the attention of the Swiss authorities during an investigation that began in March into “suspicion of political espionage,” said Linda von Burg, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.
That led to a joint investigation by Swiss, Dutch and British intelligence services, which concluded that the two Russians, working in The Hague, were spies for the Russian government and were preparing “illegal actions against a Swiss critical infrastructure,” according to Isabelle Graber, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service…
The Dutch media reports said that when they were intercepted by the Dutch military intelligence service, the two Russians had cyber tools for sabotaging the laboratory.
The Spiez laboratory is part of the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection, which falls under the Swiss Defense Department, and is the designated lab in Switzerland for several international organizations, including the United Nations.
The lab was one of two designated by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to provide independent analysis of the poison used against Mr. Skripal.
Not only was the lab used to confirm the use of Novichok, it was the same Swiss lab that confirmed the use of another chemical weapon, sarin, in an attack in Syria back in 2013. So Russia had multiple reasons to want to cripple this laboratory and, perhaps, to claim that prior conclusions reached at the lab were not reliable.
Yesterday the two suspected Russian spies who have been accused of carrying out the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter appeared on a Kremlin-run TV channel to proclaim their innocence. Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov don’t deny they were in Salisbury the day of the attack but claimed they were just ordinary tourists in town to visit a historic clock. If you believe that, I’d like to talk to you about a bridge I have for sale in New York.
Part of the case against the two men is based on the identification of the nerve agent used in the attack. Novichok is a Russian-made agent and not long after it was identified, UK authorities asked the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to verify the sample. The OPCW sent samples to the Swiss laboratory mentioned above which eventually concluded that the poison was indeed Novichok. In essence, a UN body backed up the UK’s version of events based on the lab’s work.
The bottom line here is that no one sends spies to wreck a lab if they’re innocent. You take action like that because you want to create some kind of plausible deniability and the lab is getting in your way. I wonder if the two men caught planning the attack will be on RT TV next week claiming they only planned to visit Switzerland for a little skiing. If you’re going to troll the world with your villainous behavior, might as well go all in.