A Brazilian university researcher has been arrested in northern Norway on suspicion that he is in fact Russian and a spy.
Norway’s domestic intelligence service told state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday that it wanted to expel the researcher, who is being held in custody, because he represented “a threat to fundamental national interests”.
The Police Security Service (PST) believes the researcher is the first Russian spy operating under deep cover to be identified in Norway.
The researcher, whose identity was reported in the Norwegian press and verified by the Financial Times, works at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, including with the Grey Zone, a group looking at irregular warfare methods such as cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns, and WarPed, which studies war and peace. The FT has chosen not to disclose his name for legal reasons.
Thomas Hansen, the lawyer for the researcher, said the man, who was arrested on his way to work on Monday morning and was remanded in custody for four weeks by a court in Tromsø on Tuesday while his case is considered, denied he was a Russian spy, opposed his detention and rejected the intelligence services’ grounds for it.
The researcher graduated from the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary in 2018, according to a post by the university on Facebook. He wrote a piece for the Canadian Naval Review the following year on why the country needed an Arctic naval base, before moving to Tromsø in 2021.
“PST is worried that he may have built up a network and information about Norway’s policy in the far north. Even if this network or information is not piece by piece a threat to the country’s security, we are worried that the information could be misused by Russia,” Hedvig Moe, deputy head of PST, told NRK.
Norway is increasingly concerned about the threat posed by Russia, and the intelligence services are investigating a number of drone sightings since the summer close to its critical oil and gas infrastructure. Four Russians have been arrested for flying drones in Norway in the past two weeks while four others, arrested for taking pictures close to sensitive locations, were released from custody on Friday.
Norway has replaced Russia as the biggest gas supplier to Europe following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Norwegian and Nato warships and fighter jets have patrolled oil and gas rigs as well as other crucial infrastructure following the sabotage last month of the twin Nord Stream pipelines between Russia and Germany.
“Illegals” — sleeper agents who build up their deep cover, often over decades — are difficult to detect, and intelligence officials are unsure of how many such agents are present in the west. One prominent case uncovered by US authorities in 2010 involved 10 Russian agents, including Anna Chapman, who subsequently become a minor celebrity in the west as well as Moscow.