Ukraine Claims to Have Obtained a List of Russian Spies Operating in Europe

Ukraine asserts that it has acquired a list of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents involved in criminal activities in Europe. More than 600 alleged Russian spies are purportedly operating in Europe.

According to reports, Ukraine has released names, addresses, and even SIM cards in an attempt to destroy these agents and damage Russia’s intelligence activities across Europe. Ukraine has been providing a list of FSB workers, which is the successor of Russia’s infamous and feared intelligence agency, the KGB.

Profiles, contact information, card details, “registration addresses,” and some financial details of 620 putative Russian spies are provided on the list, which was released in Russian and appeared to be unavailable on the ministry’s English version of the website.

John Sawers, who directed MI6 from 2009 to 2014, commented, “we are seeing the breadth of Russian aggressive intelligence activity across Europe. We probably only know 10% of what they’re doing; there will be a lot that intelligence services conduct that we don’t know about.”

The main concern is whether or not the list is accurate. Several of the identities appear to originate from prior leaks of FSB officers, according to Aric Toler, a specialist at the investigative reporting organization Bellingcat, but then other information on the list seems to be fresh.

He said that after doing some fact-checking, a lot of the items on the website’s list were massive database dumps since then. In other words, some of these spies have been revealed before and are not novices to the spy ring. However, several of these names are unfamiliar and could have far-reaching implications for Russian agents.

According to Representative Ritchie Torres from New York, the FBI should investigate the Russian diplomatic residence in New York City. At the same time, they have been appalled and alarmed by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. In that context, Representative Torres has formally requested that the FBI open an investigation into reports of espionage at the Russian diplomatic compound. Representative Torres also spoke to reporters about the white high-rise tower at 355 West 255th Street in the Bronx borough last month.

Since Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Data has been Compromised.

When Russian troops breached Ukraine’s borders in late February, massive volumes of information concerning the Russian state as well as its operations have now become public. According to WIRED, the new access provides fresh prospects into closed private entities, and it could be a valuable resource for authorities ranging from journalists to war crimes experts.

The material is subdivided into two categories: that which Ukrainian officials or their partners intentionally publicize and that which is obtained by hacker groups such as DDoSecrets and Anonymous. Many hackers have demonstrated their support for Ukraine by hacking Russian websites and exposing secret Russian material. As a result, hundreds of gigabytes of data and thousands of communications have been made public.

What Is the Difference Between the SVR and the FSB?

The FSB is much more than a typical security agency. It has progressed significantly since the early 1990s, when it was on the verge of disintegration, combining the tasks of an exclusive police service with those of an espionage agency and wielding great power. According to sources, the FSB recruits a wide range of tech-savvy and competent individuals to help them improve their activities across the cyber world. IKSI, the Institute of Cryptography and Information Security, is the agency’s unique institute that used to specialize in code-breaking but now concentrates on data protection.

The distinguishing factor between the FSB and the SVR is the scope of their operations. The FSB is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the entire population of Russia, whereas the SVR focuses on the security of predominantly state officials. The FSB has a variety of specific capabilities that the SVR does not, while on the other hand, the SVR also has a wide range of scope in which the FSB cannot perform. The SVR is primarily responsible for foreign intelligence, whilst the FSB is responsible for domestic intelligence. After all, both of these groups continue to collaborate on analysis and exploration, which still results in keeping their government’s power and balance.

Spy-Master: What Now?

Historically, after a spy is uncovered, an intelligence agent may be imprisoned. On the other hand, professional case agents are practically always working beneath diplomatic cover and enjoy sovereign immunity, so they are promptly released. While the operatives they oversee could face long prison sentences, the worst that foreign intelligence agents can anticipate is public exposure and a statement by the opposing government that they will be declared persona non grata and should leave forthwith. However, in the event of an aggressive invasion, this is no longer the case and it now becomes a contest of wits and bravery.

Russian agents could have been a high-value target for the Ukrainian government because their names had previously been disclosed, and they may have withheld top-secret information. Furthermore, a large number of Russian officials have been expelled from European countries. More than 20 European countries have removed some suspected Russian intelligence officers who may have been identified on the leaked list, according to Greg Myre, a national security correspondent for NPR and an American journalist for over 15 years.

As the invasion progresses, expulsions are becoming more common, and Russia’s invasion has caused these large-scale expulsions in a rather coordinated manner thus far. While it’s too early to determine, it is possible that this would lead to a long-term reduction in diplomatic operations between the West and Russia.

As per this assessment, Russia’s constant and abrupt data and information leaks could provide Ukraine an advantage, especially because Europe is supporting them in this effort. Russia’s intelligence assets would be compromised, and their operations may not proceed as well as intended. For Russia, not having cybersecurity can lead to consequences, ranging from aggravation to complete shutdown, which could be seen as a gain for Ukraine.


Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Censorship Through the UK´s Prevent Program

As a part of CONTEST, the Prevent program aims to stop people from embracing different forms of extremism that may lead to terrorism in the UK. The Prevent program targets lawful activity such as thought, expression and behavior to predict future criminal activity. In 2015, the UK drafted its public sector to carry out the “Prevent Duty.” Teachers, doctors, therapists, and other professionals in these institutions are legally obligated to carry out national security duties by referring individuals to Prevent and adhering to “British values.” Prevent has had some criticisms in the past and continues to raise significant concerns in determining the signs of radicalization and who is thought to be radicalized.

According to a report by Rights & Security International and another report by Child Rights International Network, Prevents´ counter-terrorism measures are leading to self-censorship among political activists and students in educational settings, especially if they are Muslim. Both organizations have reported observing an effect known as the “chilling effect,” which describes the byproduct of regulations in deterring people from exercising their rights. These groups self-censor from fear of attracting the attention of authorities, being subjected to extensive surveillance, or being subjected to harsher measures, such as arrest.

The UK national curriculum for secondary education states that schools should use citizenship education to “provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society” through “equipping pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments.” With the awareness that their behavior is monitored, students are more reluctant to express themselves in certain forms of expression that are seen as indicators of “radicalization” or “extremism,” like religious expression, particularly if they are Muslim, political activism, as well as discussion and debating terrorism as a political and social issue.

One peace activist from the report by Rights & Security International regularly attends schools throughout the UK to engage with students in citizen education. He observed the awareness among school leaders is producing a risk aversion when it comes to hosting debates on wider topics unrelated to terrorism.

In recent years there has been a higher proportion of Prevent referrals for far-right rather than Islamist related extremism; however, both reports suggest there is an over reporting of Muslims. Referrals for Islamist-related concerns are less likely to be assessed as requiring a Channel intervention than referrals for far-right extremism. One interviewee from the Rights & Security International report argues right-wing extremists are not treated with the same urgency since they target ethnic minorities who, by virtue of their minority status, are not considered to be representative of the UK. Imagining a “Muslim threat” through radicalized assumptions is presumed to be a threat to western democratic values, whereas far-right extremists are considered to threaten only individuals and community cohesion.


Prevent focuses on monitoring activities, views, and behavior of individuals instead of uncovering the underlying causes and conditions conducive to an individual’s exploitation by extremist groups. According to the Neuchâtel Memorandum, the leading international standard on criminal justice and children in the context of counter terrorism, prevention strategies should focus on “key structural and societal factors” which renders children vulnerable to exploitation such as exclusion and discrimination, lack of access to education, domestic violence, lack of social relations, poor economic background, and unemployment.

State institutions should be willing to engage with nonviolent activists and civil society groups. Civic actors play a significant role in countering violent narratives by creating spaces for frustrated individuals to vent their grievances as well as a chance to challenge state injustices through nonviolent approaches. Allowing freedom of expression and enabling democratic spaces can make unknown issues visible and innovate potential solutions.

Finally, Prevent needs to reconsider its approach to human rights. In democratic societies, nonviolent individuals or organizations have the right to question, challenge, oppose, or support specific counter-terrorism laws, practices or policies. The Prevent program lacks proportionality, undermining human rights and the rule of law. The program may believe it is protecting the rights and safety for all but fails to realize it creates an environment of mistrust and misunderstanding, feelings vulnerable to exploitation by those who Prevent sought to protect against.


Camille Amberger, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow



The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Proactive Countermeasure Against Abu Sayyaf

Members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) come from a split of the Moro National Liberation Front, which was renowned as an active terrorist organization in the Philippines in the 1990s. Additionally, reports indicate that Al-Qaeda has funded and backed Abu Sayyaf. The organization is affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah and specializes in kidnappings for ransom, bombings, assassinations, and extortion, and are responsible for numerous violent incidents between 2011 and 2018.

The ASG is concentrated in the Sulu Archipelago’s Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan Provinces, with a strong and active presence in Mindanao. On occasion, members also travel to the capital of the Philippines, Manila. Unsurprisingly, the ASG has also been characterized as a criminal-like group because they are more profit-driven than philosophical. Most of its factions declared their allegiance to Daesh in 2014.

Abdurajak Janajalani, the group’s founder and senior leader, founded ASG in 1991. Janjalani studied in numerous Middle Eastern countries with the help of a so-called “fundamentalist organization.” He grew politicized and formed extreme ideas after studying and traveling in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other nations. Janajalani encountered Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, according to the Center for International Security and Cooperation, and may have been one of the fighters who defended Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. He considered Bin Laden’s philosophical narrative a gift because of his strong links with the past and was inspired to bring the ideology back to his homeland, the Philippines.

So, what exactly is Janjalani’s objective in Mindanao, Philippines? Janjalani’s goal is to create and execute an Islamic territory in southern Philippines, and an independent Salafist Sunni Islamic organization dedicated entirely to the Moros moiety.

For many years, it was assumed that this small group was fighting against the governments of the United States, Spain, and the Philippines. They claimed they had been repressed, resulting in the Bangsamoro fight, which molded their historical narrative. Furthermore, in 2016, the Islamic State released a video in which four “battalions” of militants from the Abu Sayyaf vowed loyalty to the group, indicating a visible allegiance to the Islamic State.

Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Comprehensive Efforts After the Marawi Siege

After the Marawi Siege in 2017, the Philippine government has increased its efforts to persuade ASG members to hand over their arsenal and surrender. A ground campaign had been implemented to retake the city of Marawi in southern Philippines, where militants connected with Daesh had assumed control, which resulted in a subsequent crackdown on the ASG leadership.

Since 2017, there has been a decrease in ASG-related incidents. According to statistics from the 11th Infantry Division, a Philippine defense force tasked with countering militancy in southern Sulu Island, ASG’s heartland; the number of militants operating in the area has reduced from around 300 in 2019 to about 100. Militant groups associated with Daesh reportedly lost foreign support in Sulu. “We are no longer monitoring fund transfers from the outside,” said Maj. Gen. Patrimonio, commander of the 11th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Capitulation and Clash: Continuous Efforts of the AFP in Mindanao

In the province of Basilan, a follower of the ASG was killed in a quick shootout. On Friday, March 4, 2022, the clash occurred in Mangal village, Sumisip, as per Brigadier General Domingo Gobway, commander of Joint Task Force (JTF)-Basilan. According to Gobway, the forces were in the middle of a tactical operation when they were informed of the presence of Buloy Parang, an ASG supporter, in the Mangal village. Parang operated as a courier and anti-personnel explosive planter in the Sumisip area for the ASG alongside Pasil Bayali.

Army commanders reported that troops of the 41st Infantry Battalion tracked down and fought pro-Islamic State terrorists in a firefight in the village of Bungkaong in Patikul town on March 26, 2022, one of the Abu Sayyaf’s few surviving sanctuaries. There were no “issues of enemy fatalities,” but Patrimonio said soldiers found numerous items left behind by the insurgents, including one M16 automatic gun. According to him, no soldiers were seriously injured or killed in the incident.

On April 2, 2022, two suspected members of the ASG were killed, and nine others were injured in confrontations with government troops in the Basilan area. According to Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway, head of Joint Task Force-Basilan, four of the nine casualties were soldiers from the 64th Infantry Regiment.

Since January 2022, there have been more than four reports of ASG surrendering or clashing with the AFP every month. Along with these stories, local governments have sponsored programs to attract militants to return to the folds of the law and bring peace together. Various reports have been made about prominent ASG officials surrendering. “Our struggle was going nowhere,” remarked Faizal engagements with government troops, as per the military, the first of which occurred in 2014. Several of the ASG’s trainees come from the communities where the militants take refuge. Furthermore, other senior leaders at ASG have either been killed or surrendered to the AFP.

What is Next for Abu Sayyaf?

The apparent absence of Islamist militant operations in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost island, is beguiling. Militancy in the region appears to be on the wane in 2020 and 2021. The AFP besieged terrorist strongholds and welcomed large numbers of insurgents’ surrenders, mainly from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the ASG.

Following that, unsuccessful operations and the decapitation of global terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and ISIS, among many others, may have influenced the militant groups’ demise in the Philippines. Because these enormous organizations have also been crippled to their core, no support, allegiance, or finances have been shown to Philippine-based Islamic groups. Regardless of this gradual win, the presence of these groups is still evident. They may rise again, and may have spotted the right timing, for they still value their ideology. But then again, as long as the campaign against them is upheld, it might continuously dissolve in the coming years.


Kristian N. River, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Deadly Attacks Target Schools in Western Kabul

On April 19, 2022, at least nine individuals died, and more than 50 were injured, per UNICEF’s report, after a series of coordinated attacks occurred in Western Kabul in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, home to a large Shia and Hazara population.  The first attack struck the Mumtaz Education Center early Tuesday morning, followed by three explosions, one caused by a grenade, at the Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School, where elementary school girls are still allowed to attend.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, violence is not a new phenomenon for the Shia community, which has previously been the target of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).

Immediately following the attacks, various government and organizational figureheads spoke out, regarding the attacks as reprehensible and senseless.  Attacks against civilians, especially innocent children at schools, has struck an international nerve.  Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, reiterated that violence against schools is never acceptable, as schools should be a source of physical and emotional safety.  Moreover, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated that “attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

Hazara Shia Community in Afghanistan

In 2019, the U.S. Department of State estimated that 10-15 percent of Afghanistan’s population are Shia, and of the Shia population, 90 percent are ethnic Hazaras.  The Hazara community predominantly resides in central and western Kabul.  Due to the minority status of Afghan Shias, they are frequently targeted by Sunni-based organizations, such as the Taliban and IS-K.  Ultimately, the Hazara community has “encountered persecution and systematic discrimination in their chronicle for more than a century.”

Initially, hopes rang high for the Hazara community when the Taliban collapsed 20 years ago.  The prospect of a democracy resounded throughout Afghanistan; however, attacks persisted against the Hazara Shia community, especially with the rise of IS-K and their mission to purge Afghanistan of any Shia Hazara Muslims.  Now, with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Hazara Shia community is fearful that any progress they have made within society will be shattered and that attacks will steadily increase against their community.

Other Attacks Against the Hazara Community

While the attacks on April 19th in Kabul are horrific, sadly, they were not unprecedented.  Afghanistan’s Hazara community has been continuously and brutally targeted by both the Taliban and IS-K, from being the victims of targeted killings to discrimination to kidnappings.

Recent attacks include those in July 2021, when Hazara men in the village of Mundarakht were massacred by Taliban fighters “during a  two-day killing spree.”  Additionally, the attacks of April 19, 2021, are not the first-time schools have been targeted in a largely Hazara community.  In May 2021, at least 90 individuals were killed after a car bomb was detonated outside he Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School, targeting female students.  Also, the IS-K detonated a group of suicide bombers at a Shia mosque in October 2021, killing 47 and injuring at least 70.

Moving Forward

Ultimately, attacks against innocent children, especially at schools, should never occur.  The ruthlessness of these attacks must be met with a thorough investigation and changes within Afghanistan to protect the Shia and Hazara communities.  This is a moment in which the Taliban can demonstrate to the international community that they have truly changed by providing safety and security for all Afghans.  Finally, the international community must pay careful attention to the unrelenting attacks against the Hazara Shia community and take actionable steps to secure their well-being and prosecute any human rights violations.


Rise to Peace Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


A Growing and Changing Threat: The Evolution of Narco-Warfare in Mexico

The levels of violence associated with drug trafficking in Mexico are critical. The country has several security challenges due to the presence, activities, and strengthening of drug cartels. These illegal organizations continually seek to innovate their methods to ship drug shipments around the world, expand throughout the country and the region, and contest control of illicit markets against other criminal groups.

However, one factor relevant to drug cartel violence Mexican security forces must address is the modernization of cartel equipment, vehicles, and weapons. The evolution of narco-warfare in Mexico is extremely threatening as it exponentially increases the firepower of these illegal organizations, their warfare, and their defenses.

Drug Trafficking Violence in Mexico

Mexico is currently experiencing one of its most violent periods. Drug cartels have intensified violence in the country, either through confrontation against other illegal organizations or against State forces.  In fact, it has been reported that in 2021 Mexico registered 33,315 homicides after the two most violent years in its history, under Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with 34,690 murder victims in 2019 and 34,554 in 2020.

Drug cartels are perhaps the biggest threat to the country’s security and stability.  Presently, 16 cartels are vying for control of the country; and the criminal organizations with the largest presence are the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which has a presence in 24 states, and the Gulf Cartel, which has a presence in nine states. There are also other cartels with a large presence in the country, such as the Sinaloa Cartel or the Northeast Cartel, who have allied with the Zetas. Other criminal organizations with a presence in the country are Los Beltrán Leyva, La Familia Michoacana, Los Caballeros Templarios, Juarez Cartel, Arellano Felix Cartel, Tlahuac Cartel, Unión Tepito, Guerreros Unidos, Los Rojos, Los Viagras, and Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.

Drug trafficking is the main source of financing for these groups and fuels the violence in the country.  According to the annual report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mexican criminal organizations continue to control much of the import of cocaine into the United States and wholesale cocaine trafficking within the country. They rely heavily on local criminal groups and street gangs for retail distribution.

According to U.S. authorities, Mexican criminal groups often procure multi-ton shipments of cocaine from drug traffickers in South America. The report also notes that according to U.S. authorities, the main cocaine trafficking routes, the eastern Pacific route and the western Caribbean route converge in Mexico, from where the drug enters the United States, mostly by land across the country’s south-western border.

However, Mexican drug cartels also engage in other types of illegal activities beyond drug trafficking to finance and fortify themselves. Some of these include human trafficking, migrant smuggling, extortion, kidnapping, piracy, fuel theft, vehicle theft on federal highways, illegal logging, extortion of mining companies, water trafficking, trafficking of medical equipment and medicines, including unregistered and counterfeit products, and loans.

Evolution of Narco-Warfare: An Emerging Threat

The millions in revenue from drug trafficking and other illegal activities have allowed Mexican cartels to modernize their equipment and weaponry, leading to increased firepower and warfare capabilities. This is a significant risk factor for Mexico’s stability and security, as the trend indicates that the cartels will seek to strengthen themselves.

In 2011, Mexican authorities in the state of Tamaulipas found two dump trucks, such as those commonly used for transporting goods, converted into tanks with armor up to 2.5 centimeters thick.  The “narco-tanks” have continued to be used ever since, and with their use among drug cartels appearing to be increasingly common. In 2021, in the state of Tamaulipas there was a confrontation between two narco-tanks of the Gulf Cartel and the Northeast Cartel, both of which were also equipped with high-caliber weapons. In March of the same year, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) exhibited two of its narco-tanks on the streets of Michoacán, which were two large trucks armored from the wheels to the roof with iron plates, transformed into homemade tanks.

The drug cartels’ new capabilities are not limited to the creation of narco-tanks but are also reflected in the acquisition of better weaponry. During the failed operation to capture Ovidio Guzmán López, son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, it became evident through videos that the Sinaloa Cartel was in possession of weapons such as machine guns, assault rifles, grenades, pistols, and mortars. The gunmen were further known to be in possession of the fearsome Barrett M82 rifle, which is known as “the weapon of choice of the narcos terrorizing Mexico.”  As for the acquisition of these weapons, Mexican authorities found that seven out of every ten weapons seized from criminals are of U.S. manufacture, with many manufactured in Arizona and Texas gun shops.

There have also been innovations in the use of technology and explosives. In 2022, alleged members of the CJNG used drones to drop explosives in Michoacán. The cartel members dropped explosives and are likely to employ this technique again in the future as drones are capable of autonomous flight, are lightweight, and cheaper than traditional aircraft.

Mexican cartels have also improved their human talent and the quality of their troops. For example, a few years ago it became known that the Los Zetas cartel offered huge sums of money to former members of the Mexican Special Forces (GAFES), an elite military special mission corps created by the National Defense Secretariat and trained abroad to confront rival cartels and law enforcement agencies.

Other cartels across the country have replicated this practice. In 2020, the Mexican Army dismantled an alleged Sinaloa Cartel training camp in which five alleged former Mexican Army soldiers were training the cartel’s new recruits.  The training camps have also been used by other cartels and have been described as places where new cartel members are taught to “handle long and short weapons, to set ambushes, to respect the rules, not to be a gossip and also to kill.”

The cartels themselves have also shared the evolution of narco-warfare through online videos. In 2020, the CJNG shared a video showing more than 80 people carrying different caliber weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, military equipment, and several armored cars. The individuals in this video shouted slogans in support of the cartel’s leader, alias “Mencho,” and claimed to be members of the organization’s elite group.

Present and Future Implications

Improvements in the capabilities of Mexican cartels demonstrate that the risk posed by these organizations has increased exponentially, which is likely to further increase levels of violence throughout Mexico.

The cartels’ technological, warfare, and tactical advances indicate a high capacity for innovation. They have large sources of financial resources to fund such advances, have infiltrated Mexican security agencies, and will use their improvements to increase their profits, zones of influence, and power within the Mexican state.

The cartels’ equipment, weapons, vehicles, and fighters will make it more difficult for the Mexican security forces to operate since they will have to use more resources to combat illegal organizations, which are no longer simple criminal groups. Instead, they are organized groups with the ability to carry out large-scale terrorist attacks, mobilize large numbers of men and resources, and confront state forces with large-caliber weapons.

Therefore, despite the fact that today there is no clear solution to end the war on drug trafficking, it is necessary for the Mexican government to propose effective strategies to dismantle drug cartels, tracing high-caliber weapons, monitoring retired soldiers, and anti-drone and anti-armored vehicle capabilities. The risk that the cartels continue to improve their equipment and weapons is latent, so effective measures need to be taken as soon as possible to mitigate this risk and prevent the cartels from reaching the military capabilities of a conventional army.


Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace