Investigators believe man posing as academic at University of Tromsø, in sensitive far north, was using false identity
Norway’s domestic security agency has arrested a man claiming to be a Brazilian academic whom it suspects of being a Russian spy.
“We have requested that a Brazilian researcher at the University of Tromsø be expelled from Norway because we believe he represents a threat to fundamental national interests,” the police security service (PST) deputy chief, Hedvig Moe, told the public broadcaster NRK.
The security agency was concerned he “may have acquired a network and information about Norway’s policy in the north”, Moe said. “Even if this … is not a threat to the security of the kingdom, we are worried it could be misused by Russia.”
Norway said last week it had arrested a seventh Russian national suspected of illegally flying drones or taking photographs in restricted areas, mainly in the strategically sensitive far north of Norway.
Investigators believe the supposed researcher, who was detained on Monday in the Arctic city, was in Norway under a false name and identity working for one of Russia’s intelligence services, NRK said. A local court ordered him to be held for four weeks.
Two staff members at the University of Tromsø who closely worked with the suspect said police had identified the man in question as José Assis Giammaria.
“I received a message late last night that police had detained Giammaria and searched his office,” said Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv, a professor in security studies at the university.
Gjørv said Giammaria had arrived at the university in December 2021 after contacting her with the request to conduct research at her department, which focuses on Arctic security.
“Giammaria emailed me, saying he was interested in learning more about security in the Arctic,” Gjørv told the Guardian in a phone interview.
“He was recommended by a professor that I knew in Canada where he studied. We did the standard background check and called the references he listed,” she said.
According to Gjørv as well as publicly available information, Giammaria graduated from the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary in 2018.
Gjørv said Giammaria was not officially employed at the University of Tromsø but helped organise lectures and seminars while working on his “self-funded” research.
Gjørv believes Giammaria did not have access to classified information at the university.
“But he did get an understanding and insights into the sort of discussions and debates that we are having about security. He was at the place where important research was happening,” she said, adding that “ironically” much of her department’s research was focused on hybrid threats.
“What is interesting, if not ironic, is that we research how the civilian domain is targeted by hybrid threats. I did not expect I would be part of exactly what we research.”
“It says something about what Russia thinks about our research.”
A second colleague who has closely worked with Giammaria described him as a “friendly” colleague although they added that he was extremely protective of his privacy.
“He said he was against social media, and didn’t even want to use WhatsApp, he only wanted to talk on Telegram,” said the colleague, who asked for anonymity. “At the same time, he asked a lot of questions, including questions of personal nature as well.”
The colleague said Giammaria had a “funny accent” that reminded him of Russian, but he could not “exactly place it”.
According to the source, Giammaria’s actions at the university had caused some of his coworkers to be suspicious of him. One of them even once asked Giammaria in jest if he was a spy.
Although Giammaria’s exact age was unknown to Gjrv and the second colleague, they both agreed that he appeared to be in his “late 30s or early 40s.”
Thomas Hansen, the suspect’s attorney, told the VG newspaper that his client denied any wrongdoing.
Regarding his client, Hansen stated, “He does not comprehend the accusations.” He requested to be released from custody in court today because of this.
The Norwegian justice ministry informed the man last week that it thought he was “in Norway on assignment for the Russian authorities and may be a Russian citizen with false Brazilian papers,” according to the court detention order.
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Nothing has since come to light to suggest that the ministry’s assessment is incorrect, the court order continued.
In recent weeks, several Russian nationals, including three men and a woman who were allegedly taking pictures, were detained in Norway. Drones were used to apprehend three additional suspects, one of whom had four terabytes of images and videos.
Following last month’s suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines off the coasts of Sweden and Denmark, Norway, currently the largest gas supplier to western Europe, is on high security alert.
Dutch intelligence disclosed in June that a Russian spy had attempted and failed to obtain an internship at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague using a false identity of a Brazilian citizen that he had developed over the course of more than ten years.
Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, 36, was detained at Schiphol airport after traveling to the Netherlands using the fictitious name of Viktor Muller Ferreira, 33, and is suspected of being a GRU military intelligence agent.
Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera, a GRU spy who allegedly spent ten years posing as a Peruvian jewelry designer and having fun with Nato personnel based in Naples, was exposed by investigators in August.
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