Italian Navy Officer Arrested Over Alleged Spying For Russia. Two Russian Diplomats Expelled From Italy

Russian Embassy Rome
Russian Embassy in Rome. (Image credit: TASS)

An Italy Navy officer caught passing classified documents to Russian diplomats for money during clandestine meeting in Rome. It’s the most serious spying episode since the end of Cold War.

An Italian Navy officer, Capitano di Fregata (Captain of Frigate – Italian Navy rank equivalent to Lt. Col.) Walter Biot, working at Italy’s Stato Maggiore Difesa (Defense Staff) in Rome, was arrested in an alleged spying episode: according to the Italian authorities, he was caught passing documents to a military official accredited at the Russian Embassy in Rome.

Police intervened after the Italian officer had transferred a pen drive to the Russian military, in exchange for a sum money, during a “clandestine meeting” in Rome, held on the night on Tuesday Mar. 30, 2021. Italian media have reported that the sum the Italian Navy officer was paid was 5,000 Euro.

As a consequence of the spy scandal, Italy ordered the expulsion of two Russian diplomats: the military official involved in the meeting (that was initially detained) and another one involved in the affair, whose role has not been clarified yet. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement on Facebook that Italy had lodged a formal protest with the Russian ambassador and notified him of “the immediate expulsion of the two Russian officials involved in this very serious affair.”

No other detail about the kind of documents the Italian officer passed to the Russians has been released, however, later on Wednesday, some more details about Captain Walter Biot have been unveiled by the Corriere della Sera newspaper. According to the Italian media outlet, he had the role of assigning a security level to the documents of the Defense Staff. All confidential and classified documents passed through his office, including those from NATO. To Russia, Biot could therefore have sold papers on planning international missions, including crisis support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some analysts said that the documents the Italian officer was trying to give the Russians were not so important considered the relatively small sum of money (5,000 Euro = 5,860 USD) paid for them; however, it is unclear how the money were transferred and the sum might have been low so that it could be more easily hidden.

While we don’t really know what documents the Russians were looking for, the episode is quite remarkable as it proves Moscow is still quite active in NATO countries, including Italy, that is one of those nations with the best diplomatic ties with Russia and where most of people and some political forces do not see Russia as an “enemy”. Maybe this “friendly” scenario even favored the spy affair.. Whatever, it’s clear that we are living a new Cold War, with Russia actively spying on Italy and other NATO nations; a “Cold War 2.0” that along with “traditional” spies, HUMINT (Human Intelligence), is also waged in the air, with flights of bombers, fighters and spyplanes along the borders of NATO airspace as we reported yesterday.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.