Illegal Russian GRU exposed in Europe: this time in Italy

Her name is Olga Kolobova, and on August 26, Bellingcat in conjunction with Der Spiegle and Repubblica concluded their investigative journalism feature on her, revealing her life as an illegal GRU officer operating as “Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera” with a fake character. which bore all the hallmarks of an illegal Russian fake ID packet. And like everything intelligence operations the devil is in the details and the lack of attention to detail was exactly what helped the investigative journalists to reconstruct its many years of operational activity in Naples, Italy and elsewhere.

Kolobova – illegal Russian

It is believed that Kolobova was born in 1982. Her father was the director of the military faculty of the Ural University in Yekaterinburg. He retired in 2007.

Investigators learned that Kolobova bought two apartments in Moscow during her stay in Italy. In 2013, she bought a small studio, and in 2020 she made another purchase, which was a high-rise building worth 800,000 euros. Her job in 2020 was with the Russian pension fund, so it is suggested that she had another source of income sufficient to acquire not one, but two units in Moscow.

Russian illegal missions

It would appear that Kolobova was sent to Malta to establish herself as a well-funded socialite and indulge herself in “high society”. She did it. She befriended Marcella D’Argy Smith, former editor of the British edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and shared her story of misfortune, abandoned by her Peruvian mother at the 1980 Olympics and raised by a kind Russian family. A family that treated her badly.

From Malta she transited to Italy, landing in Naples where she set up her jewelry boutique and began indulging in the community, which included the NATO community.

She married a Russian of Ecuadorian origin in 2012. Her husband in July 2013 went to Moscow, never to return. The story (whether true or not) was that he died unexpectedly of “double pneumonia and systemic lupus”. Perhaps he is still alive and his character was created to distract from the flawed Peruvian cover story used by Kolobova.

While Bellingcat is careful not to claim that it entered NATO installations in the region, there is ample evidence, to include first-hand knowledge that it ran in NATO circles. and seems to have received an invitation to the “Joint Command Ball” in 2017 in Naples and other public and semi-public events.

Additionally, his participation in the Lions Club chapter in Naples gave him informal access to NATO employees and spouses. Additionally, Bellingcat interviewed someone who claimed to have been romantically involved with Kolobova.

His frequent trips to the region and back and forth to Moscow are indicative of a support asset with low elicitation requirements.

What were the flaws in his story?

Sometimes spinning stories begin to highlight missing pieces in the plot.

1. Peruvian citizenship

The Peruvian character of a Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera was total fiction. While lawyers produced a birth certificate for a baby girl born in September 1978 and provided it to Peru’s citizenship registry, Peru’s registry investigators were suspicious. Their suspicions led them to request additional documents on this individual who presented in 2005 papers attesting that he was a citizen born in 1978. The lawyers presented a baptismal certificate from September 1978. The Peruvian investigator contacted the church to ask the priest of the church to verify the baptismal records. It wouldn’t be necessary. The church in which the alleged baptism took place was established in 1987. Nine years after the alleged baptism. The application was rejected by the Peruvian government and the government later published her name in its annual report to the Peruvian congress in 2006 that the “Migration and Naturalization Office” had uncovered a fraudulent application for citizenship for Maria Adel.

2. Russian passport issued

Whether the lawyer operating under Russian leadership in Peru pursuing the citizenship registry shared it with the GRU or not, the lack of citizenship closed the door for him to obtain a Peruvian passport. The GRU had to tap dance or relaunch the creation of its operational and living legend. They chose to tap dance and accept the risk that no one would verify the birth of Maria Adel’s character. (NB: Readers will recall the recent case of the GRU officer who was documented as a Brazilian arrested in the Netherlands. The GRU has invested over 10 years in personality development, with intermittent returns to Moscow for debriefings, training and assimilation.)

Whoops.

A Russian passport was issued to Maria Adel in 2006. The passport issued was one of a series of passport numbers known to be used by GRU intelligence agents, including two previously exposed by Bellingcat for their role in the poisoning from Skripal in 2018. Whoever was in charge of getting him a passport at the GRU took the easy route and just pulled one out of the GRU stash instead of sending it to the passport office in Moscow and applying for a passport like all other citizens.

3. Failed OPSEC

The final nugget that cemented the fictional character with the real Kolobova was her poor OPSEC. The Bellingcat team discovered a Facebook site belonging to Adela Serein (another of their occasional pseudonyms) and a WhatsApp account belonging to Kolobova and lo and behold, they used the exact same photo for both. Her real account name with WhatsApp and her old working account (hers) in the name of Adella Serein, thus connecting two more dots.

Exit Stage Left

So in 2018, when Bellingcat pieced together the existence of the GRU passport sequence, the GRU unplugged Kolobova and ordered her emergency, but orderly, departure from Naples. She picked up her dog, a bag and left.

The tip of the hat for unraveling this story belongs to Bellingcat, which may have been solely responsible for other illegal operations ending due to the sequenced passport numbers. Immigration offices around the world have had three years to check whether any of the passports in this series have entered their country. We wouldn’t be able to tell, but the exit of the hurried individual at the same time as Kolobova could be a good indicator that this Russian individual was up to it. .

While this story is convoluted as most are when it comes to unraveling the cover of an illegal, the bottom line is that this is the second illegal laid bare operating in Europe in the last six month. No doubt there are others to discover.

Mary I. Bruner