Update on Poland’s New Espionage Scandal
The other day I explained what we knew so far about the major espionage scandal that emerged last week with the arrests of a Polish army officer and a dual-national attorney in Warsaw who are suspected of spying for Russian military intelligence (GRU). As usual, case details are starting to emerge, and here they are.
New information from inside sources close to the counterintelligence investigation indicates that the officer in question, Zbigniew J., is a lieutenant colonel serving in the Ministry of Defense (you can see a blurred photo of him here). He has been working for GRU for several years, and has been on the radar of Polish military counterintelligence since 2011, and his motivations were financial as well as vague “personal problems.” That said, he came cheap, as the total compensation package for his espionage came to less than 100,000 zlotys — about USD 30,000 — presumably because his information was not assessed as particularly valuable by the Kremlin.
His job in the education-morale affairs office of the MoD allowed him to visit military units across the country and report to GRU what he found. While such information — about unit morale and movements — would not be without value to Moscow, neither should it be confused with high-priority intelligence. Based on current information, it appears that there is no significant threat to NATO based on Zbigniew J.’s case. He met with his handler, a GRU officer serving at Russia’s Warsaw embassy under diplomatic cover, every few months, exchanging information for relatively small sums of cash. There is no doubt his actions were witting: “J. knew full well what he was doing. He was aware of his involvement in foreign intelligence,” stated a Polish investigator.
I already profiled the other suspected spy, Stanisław Szypowski, in some detail. The lawyer-lobbyist, unlike the colonel, did not spy for money, rather out of patriotic (i.e. pro-Russian) motives. He, too, met regularly with GRU “diplomats” in Warsaw; only in this sense do these two cases appear to be connected. Szypowski was considered reasonably effective by Moscow at getting access to influence in Polish governmental circles, and he aspired to getting a job in the economics ministry. Indeed, it was his pushiness about getting such a job that seems to have caused Polish counterintelligence to take action to shut Szypowski down, as he knew what he was doing: “He operated with full awareness. He provided the Russians with information concerning the Polish energy sector. He was cautious. For example, he would go to meet with GRU residents without his telephone, so as not to be traced,” explained a Polish spy-hunter working the case.
Since both suspects were known to Polish counterintelligence for some time, the question to be asked is why Warsaw decided to arrest them publicly now. The answer is not difficult to determine. In the aftermath of Russia’s war on Ukraine, which was spearheaded by GRU and its “little green men,” the Poles are deeply worried about espionage and covert action. As well they should be, as GRU is assessed to have at least a dozen officers serving at Russia’s Warsaw embassy, plus others undetected. Russian espionage against Poland has been rising in recent months, to include drone flights over Polish territory, and with these arrests Warsaw is letting the Kremlin know that it does not have a free hand to engage in Special War against Poland. While neither of these men is exactly James Bond, there is a message here that will not be missed in Moscow.
It has been reported that Warsaw now plans to declare several GRU “diplomats” persona non grata and expel them from Poland. Such would be the logical step in the aftermath of the arrests, and a standard part of the spywar, and it will cause GRU some trouble, as it will have to rebuild damaged networks. But nobody in Warsaw expects that the expulsion will buy more than a bit of time to improve their counterintelligence methods against the rising Russian espionage threat. All of NATO should be doing the same.