Espionage has always relied on human feelings and emotions to be successful. Greed, hatred, or loyalty have always played an important role in a person’s desire to become a secret agent.
But not only them. There is a very specific kind of espionage that takes advantage of perhaps the most basic of human needs – sex. There are probably countless instances where opportunistic spies have used romantic or sexual subterfuges to further other ends.
One of these cases is very likely that of Olga Kolobova, who is much better known as Maria Adela Kuhvelt Rivera.
According to an investigation by the international journalism team Bellingcat, for years she presented herself with a false identity and made contacts with senior NATO officials in Italy.
The investigation lasted 10 months and was carried out in collaboration with journalists from La Repubblica in Italy and Der Spiegel in Germany. According to him, the woman presented herself as born in the city of Callao, Peru to German and Peruvian parents, but in reality she was a secret agent serving in the General Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia’s military intelligence.
Over a period of about 10 years, Rivera lived successively in Malta, Paris and Rome. In 2012, she married a Russian citizen of Ecuadorian origin, but their marriage quickly ended. About a year later, Adela’s husband died of an illness and so she moved to live in Naples.
There she opens her own shiny boutique for jewelry and luxury items. She claimed to her friends that she designed the jewelry herself, but it was actually bought from Chinese wholesalers, according to Bellingcat. Subsequently, Adela expanded her boutique, turning it into a popular place of Naples social life, where various cultural events and jewelry exhibitions often take place.
🧵Meet Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera, widow, jeweler, and socialite. The love child of a German father and a Peruvian mother, born in Callao, Peru, and abandoned in Moscow by her mother during the 1980 Olympic Games. pic.twitter.com/wHo6qSmKik
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) August 26, 2022
Beautiful and extremely communicative, it is not a problem for her to quickly become popular and build many contacts, including with the former editor-in-chief of the British edition of “Cosmopolitan” Marcel Darjee Smith.
He also became the secretary of the local branch of Lions Club International – an American non-governmental organization for various social activities. The Naples branch was established by a NATO official, and thus Maria achieved her goal of infiltrating these circles of people with access to sensitive military information.
According to Bellingcat’s sources, she befriended at least several such individuals, including senior officers at the headquarters of the Joint Allied Command in Naples.
One of them even told the investigators that he had a brief romantic relationship with Rivera.
It is unclear whether she ever had access to NATO headquarters there itself, but she certainly attended many official events organized by the Alliance.
Her real name is Olga Kolobova, but she used the cover identity of “Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera”. In Naples, she was a socialite, jeweler, and Secretary of the local Lions Club frequented by a litany of NATO officers. She had romantic relationships with a number of NATO officers. pic.twitter.com/a2MfTtmXyy
— Aric Toler (@AricToler) August 26, 2022
In front of her friends, the woman tells a touching personal story of how she traveled to Moscow with her Peruvian mother during the Olympics in 1980. There she was abandoned to a foster family, where she grew up, abused by her Russian stepfather. This is also the reason why he wanted to leave the country and flee to Western Europe.
In the end, the reality turns out to be very different. Maria is no Latin American, but part of a GRU program to train and deploy secret agents overseas.
They are known as “illegal immigrants” because they reach their destinations illegally, adopt false identities and lead double lives for years and even decades.
While secretly carrying out their tasks on behalf of the Kremlin, deep-cover operatives are required to build careers, build relationships and, in some cases, even start families and raise children.
Some only travel on short-term missions and regularly change identities, while others like Rivera spend years in the same role.
The tactic is old and has been used since the Cold War. Traditionally, counterintelligence agencies have always had an extremely difficult time exposing such spies because of their deep cover and excellent training, but in today’s world of biometrics, facial recognition software and extensive investigative capabilities, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Russia to keep its “illegal” under the radar.
For example, in June, the Dutch authorities deported a man who arrived in the country with a Brazilian passport in the name of Victor Müller Ferreira. He is accused of being a Russian agent named Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, who the investigation says spent a decade preparing his identity to infiltrate the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
LA SPIA RUSSA MARIA ADELA KUHFELDT RIVERA, INFILTRATA NEL COMANDO NATO DI NAPOLI, ERA AFFIANCATA DA AGENTI CON CONTACTI CON LA GRU, I SERVIZI SEGRETI MILITARI DI #PUTIN.https://t.co/VleJKMyfkV pic.twitter.com/b8O1SDWl1v
— Destra di Popolo (@Destradipopolo) August 28, 2022
The lead in the investigation of “Rivera” is the Bulgarian journalist Hristo Grozev. He said in an interview quoted by the “Guardian” that he first discovered the traces of a potential “illegal” when he was looking at a leaked database of Belarusian border crossings. There, the journalist searches for serial numbers of Russian passports known to be used by GRU agents.
Thus he discovered some coincidences, and one of them stands out in particular – Maria Adela Kuhveld Rivera.
Taking a closer look at Rivera, Grozev found that she was using several Russian passports with numbers in the same series as that of the agent who was likely involved in the alleged Novichok poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev.
On September 15, 2018, Rivera bought a ticket for a direct flight from Naples to Moscow. It comes a day after Bellingcat and Russian investigative site Insider published extensive material about GRU agents who were involved in the poisoning of former intelligence officer and British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The two officers have been identified as Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, and their names have been revealed precisely because of their passport numbers.
According to Grozev, Rivera was pulled by her superiors as soon as it became clear that others could be exposed in the same way. Her passport number is not only identical to those of Boshirov and Petrov, but also differs by only one digit from the document used by the man who led the Skripal poisoning operation – Sergei Fyodorov.
Since his trip to Moscow in 2018, there is no record of a person named Maria Adela Kuhvelt Rivera having set foot on Italian territory. She simply disappears for a day, leaving behind only a social media post she published two months later.
In her latest post on her Facebook profile, Adela Serein, she wrote that she was going to “reveal the truth” about having cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Most likely a ploy to allow her to sever her contacts without arousing suspicion due to her sudden disappearance.
However, at least one person thought “Rivera’s” stories were dubious as she ventured to Naples. Col. Sheila Bryan, then inspector general of US naval forces in Europe and Africa, told Bellingcat that she urged all NATO personnel who had contact with the spy to have limited access to classified information.
But who, in the end, really is Maria Adela Kuhvelt Rivera?
Bellingcat’s investigation based on matches of photographic material from various databases and open source work. unequivocally leads to Olga Kolobova, born in 1982. Her father is a retired head of the Military Faculty at the Ural University in Yekaterinburg, who also happens to be an armed forces colonel, decorated multiple times for missions in Angola, Iraq and Syria.
It turns out that the beautiful Kolobova is another child of high-ranking officers in the army or intelligence services who falls into the world of espionage.