An American surveillance expert has dismissed as “baloney” suspicions that an Irish woman ordered to quit Australia could be a Russian spy.
arina Sologub (39) was declared a potential national security threat by Australia’s Security Intelligence Organisation last month and faced deportation.
Born in Kazakhstan and raised in Ireland, she worked at Ireland’s National Space Centre (NSC) in Co Cork and for utility companies before moving to Australia.
Guy Thomas, a retired US naval officer and a former “spook”, who knew Sologub when she worked at the NSC as business development manager, said: “If she was a spy, then she was a really good one… but I doubt it.”
Thomas recalled a low-key woman who focused on her job and who did not ask many questions. “You didn’t get any idea of sophistication [from her] at all. She didn’t dress sophisticated. She didn’t talk sophisticated. She was a country girl doing her job. You didn’t see any guile in her,” he said. “If they really thought she was a security risk, I’m surprised the authorities haven’t come and chatted with me.”
Thomas is one of the world’s leading figures in surveillance and security systems. He invented the maritime surveillance system Satellite AIS that pinpoints ship positions at sea worldwide. He established C-SIGMA, an initiative aimed at fostering global cooperation on satellite-based maritime surveillance information.
He is currently chairman of a Nato maritime centre of excellence and has served as science and technology adviser to US government agencies.
His doubts about Sologub add to the mystery in a case that has focused attention once again on Russian espionage.
According to Sologub’s LinkedIn profile, she moved to Ireland as a child, sat her Leaving Cert in Castlepollard Community College, Co Westmeath, and has also lived in Glanmire, east of Cork city.
She studied in University College Cork (UCC), leaving with a master’s degree in government and politics. During college, she was an intern in the Mullingar constituency office of Willie Penrose, then a Labour TD, and in the Leinster House office of Bernard Allen, then a Fine Gael deputy. Both former TDs said they were, respectively, “shocked” and “gobsmacked” to read of her potential security risk status.
Penrose said she came to him on work experience, rather than as a “personal assistant” as stated on her LinkedIn profile.
“She was a bright girl. She seemed to be interested in politics or political science,” he said. On the few occasions he met her, she never struck him “as somebody who was looking for secrets or anything like that”.
Allen remembered her as a diligent worker, who came to his office in Leinster House in 2010 as a mature student. He recalled she was married and had a young family. “There was no reason to suspect anything. I would be surprised if there is anything negative there,” he said, adding that she must be allowed due process.
Sologub had just started working for the National Space Centre in Midleton in 2011 when she met Thomas. At the time, he was working with the director of the NSC, Rory Fitzpatrick, to establish a global maritime satellite ship tracking centre at the facility.
“I was in Ireland to do a site survey to see whether we could use the Irish Space Centre, which was on a hill,” Thomas said.
“There was not that big a staff, and I guess Rory had told her that I spoke Russian, so she greeted me in Russian and I answered her back. [She said,] ‘You really do speak Russian’.
“I gave her my cover story, which I think she politely believed — which was that I [had] wanted to be a guide at the 1980 Olympics,” he said.
The 1980 Olympics were held in Moscow, and guides were required to speak some Russian. Thomas, however, is a self-described former navy “spook” who learnt Russian on the job. He had also worked undercover for the FBI and had a hand in the defection of a KGB agent.
He said Sologub showed no interest in his background, which adds to his scepticism. She never asked about it. “Not a bit, and that’s why I say she was very good… if she was trying to do that,” he said.
“One of the things that we did was counter-intelligence training to try to detect people sneaking up on your good side. I have had people ask leading questions that I have had to deflect in the way I was trained to do. I never recall anything like that with her.”
According to Thomas, Sologub did not have access to classified security information. Her job with NSC focused on commercial satellite clients, including in Russia, Europe and Japan.
“Her job was visiting people and trying to get them to set up one of their satellite downlink sites and to use the facilities that were already there in Midleton,” he said.
According to Solugub’s lengthy job description on LinkedIn, she managed an annual European Satellite Navigation competition in Ireland, worked with Enterprise Ireland on an “Irish space policy document” and set up a “database of qualified leads” through contacts established in the US, Russia, Europe and Middle East countries.
Thomas visited the centre “quite often”. Sometimes Sologub was in Russia on business, he said. He recalled once collecting her, an Irishman he was certain was her husband and her mother from their home “between Midleton and Cork” for a work sailing outing.
When she later left the NSC, he wrote a recommendation on her LinkedIn profile, saying she was a “very detail-oriented person who was a real pleasure to work with” and “made the office work very efficiently and harmoniously”.
And all that was true, he said.
The planned C-SIGMA Centre did not materialise, and Mr Thomas’s visits to the NSC ended.
Sologub left the N SC in 2017. She worked for utility firm Ervia in procurement for three years. She moved to Australia in 2020 on a “distinguished talent” visa.
She worked there for a short time with Deloitte consultancy and afterwards with a private space agency.
She had moved on to work in procurement for the City of Marion, outside Adelaide, South Australia, when she came under suspicion in a security sweep as someone suspected of having direct or indirect links to the Russian government. According to local media, she is one of several ethnic Russians in Australia who have been targeted as potential security threats in the sweep.
The City of Marion authorities said she was logged out of all her computers, an analysis was conducted of the information she had accessed and steps were taken to terminate her contract.
Sologub was not charged with any crime, but her visa was withdrawn. She approached the Irish consulate in Australia for assistance, the Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed. However, in a statement this weekend, the department said it cannot intervene in another country’s immigration decisions. It declined to comment on whether she had been deported.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that, in her visa application, Sologub claimed to have “worked closely” with Irish and Russian governments on the use of space for civil purposes and of having access to “key decision-makers” in both governments. It also reported how she had spent months cultivating contacts in government and business in Australia.
Thomas said he had no knowledge of her Russian-Irish government contacts and could not comment. However, his work with the National Space Centre and the C-SIGMA collaboration was “unclassified” — a civil project unworthy of spies.
An Garda Síochána has not commented directly on the Sologub case. Gardaí are seeking information about her from the Australian authorities, it is understood.
Former politicians Penrose and Allen said this weekend that no one in authority has contacted them to ask about the work she did for them.
Thomas said he was first alerted to Sologub’s case when contacted by this newspaper.
“I said, ‘What a bunch of baloney’,” he said. “If Marina was a spy, she was an extremely good one and she was very poorly placed [at the NSC]. Unless she is a deep-cover spy and was building up her bona fides, you would probably want to get her somewhere closer to the action.”
Thomas said he would like to think that if suspicions of her being a potential security risk were well-founded, he would have found her out. “I really think the idea that she is a spy is total bunk,” he said.
As someone who has twice been falsely accused — and cleared — of spying against his own side, he is attuned to the impact such accusations can have. “She will have a little bell tied on her and every time she goes for interview she will be asked to explain why she left her last job,” Mr Thomas said.
The NSC said it cannot comment on current or former staff members.
The Russian embassy in Dublin said it could not comment as it was “not familiar with a person by a name of Marina Sologub” and said it had no involvement in the case.