When Lithuania's border guards apprehend cigarette smugglers, one of the things they check is whether they are not also spying for foreign countries.
Renatas Požėla, the chief of Lithuania's Border Guard Service (VSAT), says there has been a rise in detained cigarette movers and migrant smugglers across the Lithuanian border. Some of them, he says, are also spying for Russian or Belarusian special services.
With their extensive knowledge of the border, smugglers can supply valuable information about military objects and borderline infrastructure. Therefore, many operate with the cover from Russian and Belarusian special services, according to MP Arvydas Anušauskas, a member of the parliamentary Security and Defence Committee.
The State Security Department often warns in its reports that travelers to these countries should be aware of attempts to recruit them as spies.
“Some people are accused of made-up offenses or even crimes,” Anušauskas explains common recruitment methods. “[Russian or Belarusian officers] write up charges and then offer to ‘talk nice’.”
The alleged offense is then used as a leverage to force people to cooperate, in exchange for allowing them to continue travelling to Russia or Belarus.
The State Security Department has noted that Belarusian services often target Lithuanian law enforcement officers and people linked to them when they travel to the country. A rule adopted several years ago requires that officers report all their foreign trips.
But special services can equally target vulnerable individuals, like smugglers, and offer a sort of cover for their illegal activities, according to Marius Laurinavičius, analyst with the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis.
“Most intelligence is gathered from public sources. Smugglers who do not have access to classified information can easily collect data available to them from their activities, whatever relates to the border, border security, border infrastructure,” says Laurinavičius.