Nato operates the NRF through two main military headquarters, in Brunssum, The Netherlands and Naples. Each takes operational command of the NRF for a year on rotation.
Consequently, they are both very juicy targets for Russian spies.
The Naples base has been used in the past as the directing headquarters for Nato’s military operations in Bosnia.
Nato’s seaborne enforcement of the UN arms embargo, established at the outbreak of the Balkans wars, was also run from Naples.
As the threat from Russia has increased post-2014, Nato’s Joint Forces Command Naples base has been at the centre of plans to improve and coordinate the hard military edge of the alliance’s eastern flank.
As well as trying to get into the bases, both physically and with cyber attacks, it is highly likely Russia has also tried to recruit people inside, especially those holding security clearances. This is often seen as an easier, and certainly less risky, means of accessing classified information.
But there is another way of trying to discover the secrets held within.
The old-fashioned honey trap remains a real tactic
Although sounding like the plot line from a Hollywood movie, the existence of sleeper agents existing for years under fake identities all while building up plausible cover stories is still a very real tactic in the espionage world.
The so-called “illegals” will have gone to great lengths – and have been provided with huge support from their parent spy agencies – to inveigle themselves into the society they have targeted.
In the case of Maria Adela, uncovered by online investigation group Bellingcat as a spy for Russia’s GRU foreign intelligence service with real name Olga Kolobova, it seems that around 2013 she set herself up as a socialite and jewellery designer, living in the elegant Posillipo district of Naples, close to the Nato base.
From there she made it her business to befriend serving personnel and civilians working at the Nato headquarters, courting relationships through social settings such as parties and charity balls.
The risk from such people is well known. In the British military, there are annual security briefings to remind personnel of the threat.
A list, titled “Countries to which Special Security Restrictions Apply” is regularly updated by the British MoD to highlight not only those countries posing a direct threat, but also countries in which hostile states are known to operate against British personnel.
This list currently names China, Syria, Libya and Vietnam among others as countries to be wary of and careful in.
Security training and awareness has improved markedly in recent years, but, as one defence source told The Telegraph, the good old-fashioned honey trap is still out there.