Western intelligence seemed unaware that an alleged agent was building friendships with senior military personnel writes Philip Willan in Rome for the Times.
A glamorous young Russian woman who posed as a jewellery entrepreneur and socialite succeeded in infiltrating social circles connected to an important NATO base in Naples, an Italian newspaper has claimed.
The woman, who spoke six languages and adopted the identity of Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera, the daughter of a Peruvian mother and a German father, spent almost ten years cultivating friendships with staff from the Allied Joint Force Command and the US Sixth Fleet, La Repubblica reported.
Ostensibly born in Peru in 1978, Rivera used membership of the Lions Club Napoli Monte Nuovo to approach military personnel from the NATO base at Lago Patria near the Sixth Fleet’s home port of Naples. The club, part of a network of volunteer organisations intended to serve local communities, was originally founded by NATO officers.
La Repubblica said the woman had been introduced to the club by one of its leading members, who had told associates that she would be able to revive the club thanks to her international contacts and connections to civil society in the Naples area.
The woman’s identification as an alleged spy for Russia’s GRU military intelligence service was the result of a ten-month investigation by the Italian newspaper in conjunction with the German magazine Der Spiegel and the websites Bellingcat and The Insider, which specialises in investigations into the activities of the Russian security apparatus.
A German lieutenant colonel, identified only as Thorsten S, told Der Spiegel the woman had been particularly active in 2018 and had even offered to pay for everyone’s membership fee when numbers started to decline. “I never understood what her motive was,” he said.
One of Rivera’s Naples friends was Colonel Shelia Bryant, who was inspector general of American naval forces in Europe and Africa at the time.
Bryant said Rivera’s account of her life was confused and unconvincing. “It was difficult to understand where she got her money: she had opened a shop and often changed her apartment in the smartest areas of the city without credible sources of income,” Bryant told La Repubblica.
“I never spoke about politics with her and I had limited access to the confidential military information that might have been of interest to the GRU.”
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The woman’s identification as an alleged spy for Russia’s GRU military intelligence was uncovered after an investigation by European media