The rumbling of a Russian sleeper spy by Dutch security forces presents some salient questions for the country in light of our infamously lax language school sector.
Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov operating under the moniker ‘Viktor Muller Ferreira’ posed as a Brazilian student in Ireland for a near decade’s long clandestine operation which saw him try to gain access to the Hague’s email server after gaining educational credentials here.
Developing a fake Brazilian persona within a Dublin language school, Cherkasov completed a 4 year Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at TCD without any questions around his manufactured identity or even oddly spoken Portuguese.
Placed in Ireland and later the John Hopkins University in Washington by the Russia’s GRU, classmates of Cherkasov described how he availed of various generous visa schemes afforded to Brazilians in education in Ireland. Without any requirements to check for a criminal record or conduct a cursory background checks all Cherkasov and his handlers needed was a fake passport, sufficient funds as well as proof of educational aspirations for residence.
An employee at UCD’s International Study Center Dublin, Cherkasov helped direct classes while mingling within the wider Brazilian community in Ireland in the process cultivating various of social media accounts to back up his cover.
Developing an extensive operational legend, Cherkasov was caught out in part by open source intelligence work done by Bellingcat which led to his detainment following an attempt to work as an intern at the Hague Criminal Court and thus gain access to classified information.
While Irish security officials have gone back and forth initially denying and affirming that they were monitoring Cherkasov some serious questions must be asked of the saga sooner rather than later.
What if any background checks can be conducted on future students in light of the clear and present danger of foreign espionage?
How compromised are certain tertiary institutions with saturation by foreign operatives?
Has the Republic become a target for spies due to near non-existent domestic intelligence agencies as well as advantageous geopolitical position?
Recently red flags were dutifully raised when it was revealed that a known Chinese intelligence agent was found to be lobbying the Department of Justice around visa schemes so gapping is the present system and liable to abuse.
Something of an open buffet when it comes to foreign intelligence agencies, the attraction of the Republic to spooks is its position straddling the EU/UK and US as well as near lack of oversight.
An asset in Ireland has access to a wider variety of targets due to the range afforded by an Irish visa and education.
Irish people favouring neutrality are right to be sceptical of needless belligerence towards Russia especially considering the shadow Whitehall casts on the island but on the matter of foreign espionage no quarter can be given.
A few well placed subversives can and will wreck a nation’s economic and political fortunes with the potential of further CCP meddling through the expansion of Confucius Institutes or even pernicious influence of Gulf money a major concern to anyone halfway concerned about a viable sovereignty.
Not just an isolated incident it is theorised that Russia alone has 20 additional operatives active in the state, not to mention spies of other nations embedded in various tertiary, governmental and corporate institutions.
While presently the Irish Special Branch is active tailing and monitoring the Russian embassy it is likely that even this is stretching the force past their limits much to the vexation of a concerned London.
So vast and unregulated is Ireland’s migrant ecosystem relative to the rest of Europe that any savvy intelligence agency would do well to penetrate the West’s soft underbelly through the Republic.
As with defence we can only be negligible towards national security for so long before we imperil our future existence and force larger powers to move in and clear up a mess of our own making.