US security expert labels Portugal’s new spy case “deadly serious”

Despite the fact that it has been serialised in the nation’s best-read tabloid – and presented as a story that is “almost entertaining” – this month’s arrest of a so-called Portuguese spy allegedly caught selling NATO secrets to the Russians in Rome is “a deadly serious matter”, a US security expert has told the BBC’s World Service.

Speaking on Monday, former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer John R. Schindler said the West has been “ignoring” the fact that Russia is “stealing secrets at every opportunity” even though the Cold War is said to be over.

The arrest of Carvalho Gil, 57, in a café in Rome as he prepared to meet with his Russian intelligence handler (click here) could even suggest that “Rome and Lisbon may have unraveled an important spy ring here”, Schindler explains.
Citing reports that Gil was paid €10,000 for every document sold, Schindler stressed “the Kremlin won’t pay that much for junk.

“The information he was passing had to be considered valuable”, he told the news service.

The implications for Western security services are “huge”, added the expert.

“We should assume the worst”, he told the BBC.

Ten years ago Russian president Vladimir Putin “embarked on totally serious espionage of the West, which we are only now considering”, Schindler added.

For now, Gil remains in Italy, under interrogation and with no date in sight as to when he may be extradited.

As the BBC explained, the Portuguese agent “hasn’t even yet been charged”, so “technically he should still be considered innocent”.

But what Schindler explains on US site Observer.com is that Gil was not caught meeting a ‘regular spy’.

His handler was what the Russians term ‘an illegal’ – “meaning he was operating without official protection”.

The so-far unnamed Russian was thus subject to arrest, whereas a spy pretending to work at the country’s embassy “could claim diplomatic immunity to avoid police detention”.

Schindler addsthat “illegals are an elite cadre in Russian intelligence circles” and used to “handle high-value agents”.

While the Portuguese press is concentrating on the more comical aspects of this story – the fact that Gil is described as having “zipper problems” and may have been lured into selling secrets via a “honey-trap” set with beautiful young women – the truth is that he had worked for 30 years in an intelligence service that is a full member of the West’s secret spy network.

To have been a mole for any length of time – and stories in the media suggest Gil’s connections with Russia could go back to the late 90s – “is a serious matter for the whole (NATO) alliance”, says Schindler.

Meantime, in Portugal news stories claim it could take a year to unravel the extent of Gil’s intrigue.

He is believed to have “trafficked secrets about politicians and Portuguese businesses”, writes Correio da Manhã, claiming PJ police have already gathered incriminating evidence from Gil’s Lisbon home.

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Photo: Carvalho Gil / Facebook