Russia Tried to Hack U.K. Visa System Before Skripal Poisoning: Whistleblower

A Russian IT specialist told the investigative outlet Bellingcat Friday that throughout 2015 and 2016, he was manipulated by the Russian Security Service (FSB) into helping the government hack into the United Kingdom’s hyper-secure visa system. His trouble began, the man, identified only as “Vadim” told Bellingcat, when he tried to relocate his family from Mongolia to Moscow and faced a series of hurdles he claims were the work of the FSB. In 2016, a man from the FSB offered to resolve his immigration troubles if he provided the service with a “network map” and other information regarding his company, a contractor known as TLScontact that managed the U.K.’s visa system. That June, Vadim’s FSB handler also allegedly asked if it would be possible to secure visas for “a couple of guys who need to visit the UK.” “It’s important that their passports are accepted and approved directly by the consulate, without any review and background checks and without leaving any trace in the visa center,” the handler said, according to Vadim.

In late June, Vadim added, he was told to create a “backdoor” that could potentially allow the FSB to monitor and intercept information that was sent between Russia and the U.K. He reportedly refused and sought asylum in the United States. It is unclear, BBC notes, if this alleged hacking is directly linked to the two Russian operatives suspected of traveling on legal visas to the U.K. to poison ex-spy Sergey Skripal. But Bellingcat notes that since the U.K.’s screening process is so thorough—and the men applied for the visas under fake identities—it’s likely that other factors were at play.