EXCLUSIVE: Russian spies are tracking British former special forces

EXCLUSIVE: Russian spies are tracking British former special forces teams by their mobile numbers – and the data is then used to decide where to launch missile attacks

  • EXCLUSIVE: Kremlin has compiled a database of mobile phone numbers 
  • The information was gathered by spies near some of the UK’s most sensitive military sites 
  • These include the headquarters of the Special Boat Service (SBS)
  • Moment a mobile phone joins a local network their numbers are revealed to Russian agents  

Russia has been using phone data captured by its spies operating in the UK to target British former special forces teams in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has compiled a database of mobile phone numbers in a top secret operation – and this information is being used to decide where to launch missile attacks.

The numbers and accompanying personal data were gathered by spies near some of the UK’s most sensitive military sites, including the headquarters of the Special Boat Service (SBS) and Special Air Service (SAS). GRU officers – Russia’s equivalent of MI6 – used the latest scanning technology to detect the smartphones, such as iPhones, which soldiers typically turn on after leaving their bases.

The moment a mobile phone joins a local network – known as ‘the handshake’ – their numbers are revealed to the Russian agents.

The Kremlin has compiled a database of mobile phone numbers in a top secret operation – and this information is being used to decide where to launch missile attacks (stock image)

Some of these have later appeared on Ukraine’s phone network, which has been hacked by Russia, the Daily Mail understands. And last night, security experts said Russia’s use of this mobile data posed a significant threat.

The Mail has also obtained an urgent security notice shared among former military personnel with close links to the SBS and SAS. Officially, they no longer belong to these Special Forces units. 

 However, they have been deployed to Ukraine as volunteers to train the country’s troops, assist with the delivery of Western weapons and in humanitarian capacities.

The notice said: ‘If a single phone hits the network in Ukraine that has just once been seen before in the vicinity of Hamworthy, Credenhill (and any number of other establishments), this is instantly visible to Russia. 

‘If two or more appear, that is an IMMEDIATE missile target. It does not matter if this is an aid camp, it will not appear that way to Russian forces.’ Hamworthy in Poole, Dorset, is where the SBS is based, while the SAS is at Credenhill, Herefordshire.

The notice added: ‘The informality of this deployment means that operational security is out of the window.’ It concludes by urging officers not to use a phone that has been used near a UK military or government establishment.

The numbers and accompanying personal data were gathered by spies near some of the UK’s most sensitive military sites, including the headquarters of the Special Boat Service (SBS) and Special Air Service (SAS). GRU officers – Russia’s equivalent of MI6 – used the latest scanning technology to detect the smartphones, such as iPhones, which soldiers typically turn on after leaving their bases. Pictured: A destroyed building after shelling in Kyiv today

The Ministry of Defence insists no serving UK troops have been deployed to Ukraine in accordance with Nato’s stance not to engage directly with Russian forces.

Scanners, which can be purchased online, can identify smart devices within a coverage area and will record all handshakes.

Wifi penetration equipment capable of performing a range of ‘wireless attacks’ on networks are also available. A person’s home wifi system can also be targeted to provide access to data.

Last night, former UK intelligence officer Philip Ingram said: ‘Russia will have intelligence capabilities in Ukraine monitoring the mobile phone networks for foreign registered devices and will compare data with records held centrally.

‘Modern mobile devices are perfect target locating beacons for an enemy, even if you think you have turned off all location trackers. Awareness of this threat among UK military personnel is poor.

‘Harvesting of phone data could easily have been done by covert visits by Russian intelligence officers to the vicinity of bases. Gaining access is easy using inexpensive hacking equipment.

The Ministry of Defence insists no serving UK troops have been deployed to Ukraine in accordance with Nato’s stance not to engage directly with Russian forces. Pictured: Destroyed buildings after shelling in Kyiv today

‘Targets for Russian intelligence gathering in the UK will have included military bases, military accommodation and contractors.’ It emerged in 2020 that SAS troops, who are supposed to remain anonymous, were inadvertently revealing their identities on fitness-tracking apps such as Strava, which has 50 million users worldwide.

The investigative website Bellingcat obtained sensitive information from Strava, which allows users to map their runs, on troops who were exercising at the SAS’s base. 

They found the identities of 14 personnel in just five minutes. In 2018, a security alert was issued at every British military base after a camera team from a Moscow-funded television channel was caught ‘spying’ at the UK’s secret cyber warfare headquarters.

Troops were ordered to urgently contact police if they spotted the reporter or cameraman from the Russian state broadcaster.

It came after they were seen repeatedly driving around the perimeter of the 77th Brigade’s headquarters in Berkshire.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment last night.

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