I had seen references to this over the last two days. But those references were in publications I was not familiar with or, so I was told, in Russian language publications which I couldn’t read. But now The New York Times is reporting that the number two man in the department which purportedly oversaw the hacking campaign against the Democratic party in the United States, Sergei Mikhailov, has been arrested for treason.
Putin-era Russia is rather limited when it comes to the rule of law. It is not uncommon for those who fall from grace to find themselves targeted with prosecution. This was the method by which Putin brought the oligarchs to heel early in his reign. But treason is, of course, the most serious of charges.
From the Times ….
A senior official in the Russian cyberintelligence department that American officials say oversaw last year’s election hacking has been arrested in Moscow on charges of treason, a Russian newspaper reported Wednesday.
The arrest of Sergei Mikhailov, a senior officer of the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the main successor agency to the K.G.B., is a rare instance of turmoil in the country’s usually shadowy cybersecurity apparatus slipping into public view.
Mr. Mikhailov served in the F.S.B.’s Center for Information Security, the agency’s cyberintelligence branch, which has been implicated in the American election hacking. But it is not clear whether the arrest was related to those intrusions.
It may not be clear or known. But given the crisis touched off by the hacking campaign, U.S. accusations about it and sanctions tied to it, it rather beggars credulity that they are not connected. Meanwhile, the AP reports that a cybersecurity expert at a firm which works closely with the FSB (the successor to the KGB) has also been arrested.
A manager in charge of investigating hacking attacks at Russia’s biggest cybersecurity firm has been arrested, the company said Wednesday.
Kaspersky Lab on Wednesday confirmed reports in Russia’s respected Kommersant newspaper that Ruslan Stoyanov, head of its computer incidents investigations unit, was arrested in December. Kommersant said that Stoyanov was arrested along with a senior Russian FSB intelligence officer and that they both face charges of treason.
These two arrests are being reported as coming right upon one another and presumably related. But a week and a half ago there was another development. Andrei Gerasimov, the head of the FSB’s Information Security Center since 2009 was fired. There was speculation in the press that the dismissal was corruption related. A reporter for Agence France-Presse speculated on twitter whether the dismissal might have been tied to the revelation of the Trump ‘dossier’ published by Buzzfeed.
Could this be an olive branch to Trump? Could this person have been accused of being an asset of U.S. intelligence? Russian politics are notoriously opaque, their espionage and legal system even more so. Knowing very little about any of them, I have little basis to speculate. But someone fairly consequential seems to be up.
[ed.note: The original version of this post said that Mikhailov was the man U.S. intelligence believes oversaw the hacking campaign against the Democratic party, as opposed to the number two official in the FSB department which U.S. intelligence believes oversaw the campaign. The original version was based on my misreading of the Times lede. I regret the error.]