Undercover spy targeted American, British critics of Russian firm Kaspersky: AP

Critics of a Russian-based cybersecurity firm say that they were contacted by an undercover operative seeking to determine whether criticism of the company in the news media had been spawned by the firm's competition.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a man claiming to represent a private investment firm contacted several public critics of Kaspersky Lab, grilling them about their criticism of the company, which the Trump administration has said could be linked to Russian intelligence operations.

The man, who claimed to be named Lucas Lambert, reportedly contacted Keir Giles, a specialist with the London-based think tank Chatham House and arranged a meeting under the guise of hiring Giles to speak at a conference Lambert was supposedly arranging.

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“He was drilling down hard on whether there had been any ulterior motives behind negative media commentary on Kaspersky,” Giles, who specializes on Russian issues for the think tank, told the AP.

“The angle he wanted to push was that individuals — like me — who had been quoted in the media had been induced by or motivated to do so by Kaspersky’s competitors," he continued.

Another figure reportedly targeted was another critic of Kaspersky Lab: former cybersecurity czar to President Obama Michael Daniel. It's unclear if Lambert was ever able to secure a meeting with Daniel, according to the AP.

The AP could find no proof that Lambert's company exists, and a second meeting between Giles and Lambert reportedly also centered around whether Kaspersky was being unfairly targeted.

“That removed my remaining doubts that this was to hear — and possibly record — my comments on Kaspersky,” Giles told the news service. “He was plainly hoping for an admission by me that either I or others had been working on behalf of other cybersecurity companies to reduce Kaspersky’s business.”

An appeals court last year rejected arguments from the company's attorneys, who argued that the company was being unfairly targeted by the U.S. government after the firm's technology was banned from use at all federal agencies.

Kaspersky Lab declined to comment on the meetings when contacted by the AP.