Russian intelligence has infiltrated the computer infrastructure of a company that processes British visa applications, according to investigative group Bellingcat and Russian website The Insider.
The investigation aims to show how two suspected Russian military intelligence agents, who have been charged with poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury, obtained British visas.
The Insider and Bellingcat said they interviewed the former chief technical officer of a company that processes visa applications for several consulates in Moscow, including that of Britain.
The man, who fled Russia last year and applied for asylum in the US, said he had been coerced to work with an agent who revealed to him that they had access to the British visa centre’s CCTV cameras and had a diagram of the unit’s computer network.
The Insider and Bellingcat said they have obtained the man’s deposition to US authorities but have decided against publishing the man’s name, for his own safety.
They did not demonstrate a clear link between the alleged efforts of Russian intelligence to penetrate the visa processing system and Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, who have been charged with poisoning Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March.
The man also said FSB officers told him in spring 2016 that they were going to send two people to Britain and asked for his assistance with the visa applications.
The timing points to the first reported trip to Britain of the two men, who travelled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.
The man said he told the FSB there was no way he could influence the decision-making on visa applications.
He said he was coerced to sign an agreement to collaborate with the FSB after one of its officers threatened to jail his mother, and was asked to create a “back door” to the computer network.
He said he sabotaged those efforts before he fled Russia in early 2017.
In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of the agents of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency who are accused of the nerve agent attack on double agent Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Bellingcat and The Insider quickly exposed the agents’ real names and the media corroborated their real identities.