Korean spy charged with forging Chinese files attempts suicide

NIS headquarters in Seoul, South KoreaBy I. ALLEN and J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A South Korean intelligence officer, who was charged earlier this month with deliberately forging Chinese government documents, tried to kill himself inside a car on Sunday, according to local media. The officer, identified in reports only by his last name, Kwon, was fingered last week by South Korean media as the source of a set of documents used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. Government prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South while working for the Seoul city government. The prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that Yoo had entered North Korea repeatedly from China, ostensibly in order to transport information to his handlers in Pyongyang. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the case against Yoo collapsed in August of 2013; this was followed by allegations that some of the documents presented to the court by the prosecutors had been forged. It now appears that the forged documents, which were travel records allegedly issued by the Chinese government, had been given to the prosecution by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). Court documents surfaced last week identifying Kwon (named initially as ‘Kim’) as one of the sources of the forged documents. Kwon fervently denied the accusations, claiming that he too had been duped by a Chinese asset who gave him the forms. He also argued that that the asset was probably working for Chinese intelligence. On Sunday, however, Kwon apparently tried to kill himself at his home in a suburb of Seoul. Read more of this post

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Comment: Is Ukraine’s Military Splitting in Two?

H First PostBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Much has been made about the presence of Russian troops —including what appear to be special forces units— in southern Ukraine. But peace and stability in the region are not threatened only by the actions of foreign troops; they are also threatened by the attitude of the armed forces of Ukraine, whose stance is likely to determine the outcome of the current crisis. The government of Ukraine has called all military reservists in the country to mobilize in order to “ensure the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. But what guarantee is there that the Ukrainian armed forces will remain united while the country is splitting in two —or three, counting the Tatars? At least 20 percent of Ukraine’s citizens consider themselves ethnically Russian, and there is little reason to believe that the ranks of the Ukrainian military, which reflect the ethnic makeup of the country’s divided population, will prove immune to rapidly intensifying sectarian tensions. Already Russian news outlets report that “the majority” of Ukrainian armed forces personnel stationed in Crimea have “switched to the side of local authorities” of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The secessionist government’s Deputy Prime Minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said on Sunday that the Ukrainian armed forces in the breakaway region “have all but surrendered” and that many “are expected to take military oath soon”, declaring their allegiance to the Crimean Republic. Presumably these are ethnic Russians who are abandoning the Ukrainian military and joining that of the secessionist movement in Crimea out of nationalist allegiance.

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Fujimori-era spy scandal returns to haunt Peruvian politics

Ollanta HumalaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Faithful readers of this blog will be familiar with the case of Vladimiro Montesinos, the former director of Peru’s intelligence service, Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional (SIN). Montesinos, a CIA agent, is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for setting up a sophisticated network of illegal activities during his SIN tenure. The crimes he committed included drug trafficking, bribing, extortion, as well as embezzlement. Many of these activities were conducted under the direction of Peru’s disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori. He too is now in prison for having handed Montesinos $15 million from government coffers. In the past decade, civil society in Peru has tried to move on from these scandals, and has sought to establish a more stable political culture. In the 2011 elections, the country voted for Ollanta Humala, who was sworn into office on July 28 of that year. The son of a labor lawyer, Humala became a career military officer at an early age. In 2000, he became known across Peru when he led a local mutiny against the government of Alberto Fujimori, complaining against corruption in the central government. The mutiny, joined by a just few dozens of soldiers in southern Peru, was quickly quashed by the government, and Humala soon found himself in prison. However, he was pardoned by the Peruvian Congress after the fall of the Fujimori regime. Moreover, Humala was seen by many as a national hero for his defiant stance in 2000. However, Humala’s stardom has begun to fade in recent weeks, after media reports drew the country’s attention to Óscar López Meneses. Over a decade ago, López was taken to court along with Fujimori and Montesinos, and was given a suspended sentence for having helped the sinister spy kingpin run his criminal network around the country. López has kept a low profile in recent years, but Peruvian media reported last month that he has remained in close operational contact with the Peruvian police. The revelation led to the eventual resignation of Peru’s minister of the interior, Wilfredo Pedraza, while his interim successor quickly fired seven senior police officials for having contacts with López. Read more of this post

CIA declassifies 1978 Camp David Accord files

Sadat, Carter and BeginBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States Central Intelligence Agency has declassified 1,400 pages of intelligence files relating to the Camp David Accords, the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which was signed in 1978. The treaty, the first between Israel and an Arab country, was signed on September 17, following thirteen days of high-level negotiations between Egypt and Isarel at the Camp David presidential retreat in the US state of Maryland. The two signatories were Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The high-level summit was hosted by US President Jimmy Carter. All three heads of state were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year, which they shared for helping bring about the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and Israel. The 250 previously classified documents on the Accords, which were released by the CIA earlier this week, date from January 1977 to March 1979. They include comprehensive political assessments and personality profiles of President Sadat, Prime Minister Begin, and other key personalities participating at the summit, which were given to President Carter to read before the meeting. One of the documents refers to a meeting between Carter and CIA analysts at the Agency’s headquarters in August 1978, during which the American President was coached about how to negotiate with the two Middle Eastern leaders. Or, as the document puts it, Carter was “steeped in the personalities of Begin and Sadat”. The papers also include declassified transcripts of meetings of the US National Security Council, in which the Accords were discussed. Read more of this post

Is the NSA spying on senior Israeli government officials?

Israeli Heron UAVBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A series of hard-hitting revelations by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the United States National Security Agency, have tested America’s relationship with a host of allied nations in recent months. Last week, Malaysia and Indonesia were added to the list of countries whose leaders were allegedly spied on by the US agency tasked with communications interception. Germany, Brazil, France and Greece, all of them American allies, are also said to be included on the list of NSA targets. One US partner, however, has been markedly absent from Snowden’s revelations: Israel. The Jewish state, which is routinely described as America’s strongest ally in the Middle East, has rarely been mentioned in Snowden’s sensational leaks. This changed slightly last weekend, when The New York Times published a lengthy piece describing Israel as “an important NSA target”. Based on information provided by the self-styled American whistleblower, who has been offered political asylum in Russia, the paper said Washington’s intelligence relationship with Tel Aviv is complex. The Times confirmed previous reports, which suggest that the NSA shares raw intercepted data with Israeli intelligence. According to a 2009 agreement between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart, the Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), the American side provides the Israelis with raw intercepts, which often contain telephone and email data belonging to American citizens. The Israelis probably do the same in return, though one document seen by British newspaper The Guardian alleges that the sharing agreement as is “tilted heavily in favor of Israeli security concerns”. At the same time, while the NSA and ISNU collaborate, they also spy on each other. The Times noted that the American signals intelligence agency is tracking a host of “high priority Israeli military targets” on a routine basis. These include Israel’s drone aircraft systems (see photo), as well as the Jewish state’s Black Sparrow medium-range air-launched ballistic missile system. Is it true that the US spies on what is ostensibly its closest ally in the Middle East? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #853

NSA's Utah Data CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Meltdowns hobble NSA data center. Electrical surges at the National Security Agency’s massive data center in Utah have delayed the opening of the facility for a year as well as destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kit, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ten “meltdowns” in the past 13 months have repeatedly delayed the Herculean effort to get the spy agency’s colossal snooping facility up and running, according to project documents reviewed by the newspaper.
►►Uganda expels Sudan diplomat accused of spying. Sudanese diplomat Jad-el-Seed Mohammed Elhag has been expelled from Uganda on suspicion of espionage, Ugandan foreign ministry officials said Tuesday. “The reasons why he was expelled was that the activities he was involved in were beyond the norms and requirements of his tenure”, Uganda Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Tayebwa Katureebe said. “These are issues of diplomacy and of two countries, which are not addressed normally in the press, but basically the main reason was espionage”, he said, declining to go into detail.
►►FBI accused of using no-fly list to recruit informants. A lawsuit in New York alleges that the FBI is violating the law by putting Muslim-Americans on the no-fly list not because of a “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist associations, but as a form of blackmail to coerce them into becoming informants at mosques and in their communities. Is this the beginning of the end for the US federal government’s no-fly list? According to the complaint, New York resident Muhammad Tanvir landed on the no-fly list after refusing an FBI request to work as an informant in his predominantly Muslim community.

Germany plans to limit NSA’s access to European communications

Philipp Rösler and Angela MerkelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Germany plans to implement a series of measures designed to limit America’s access to the communications of European citizens and institutions, according to senior German cabinet officials. The move is part of a broader German response to news in July that the United States spies on the communications of Germany and other European Union countries with the same intensity it spies on China or Iraq. The information was leaked by American defector Edward Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), who is now living in Russia. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economics and Technology, Philipp Rösler, said Germany will take action to limit NSA’s ability to spy on European Union communications traffic. The first step in the process will be to build “a strong European information technology industry which can offer alternatives” to American-owned firms that collaborate with the NSA, said Rösler. Further steps will include augmenting the security of European cloud computing processes and structures, and strengthening contacts between established information technology companies and start-up enterprises. At the same time, Germany will enter negotiations with the European Commission (the European Union’s executive arm) aimed at strengthening European data protection legislation and legally forcing the US to stop its indiscriminate surveillance of European communications networks. Read more of this post

Analysis: Why were Western diplomats evacuated from Yemen?

YemenBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org |
American and British embassies in Yemeni capital Sana’a were evacuated on Tuesday, soon after the United States closed 19 of its diplomatic representations in the Middle East and North Africa due to fears of a pending terrorist attack. But why exactly did the evacuations of diplomatic personnel take place in Sana’a? The Yemeni government announced on Wednesday that it had foiled a large-scale attack by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which allegedly aimed to cripple the country’s frail economy. According to Yemeni government spokesperson Rajeh Badi, the attack was planned to take place in the country’s central Hadramout governorate, which includes the port cities of al-Mukkala and Ghail Ba Wazir. The Yemeni government said the AQAP forces planned to blow up several oil pipelines before proceeding to occupy the two port cities, from which the majority of Yemen’s oil exports are shipped. Badi added that AQAP planned to take several foreign oil workers hostage as part of the military operations.

However, as Foreign Policy magazine’s Dana Stuster points out, Mohammed Albasha, spokesman of the Yemeni embassy in Washington, DC, seems to dispute his own government’s claims. Early on Wednesday, Albasha tweeted that, in his view, “AQAP doesn’t have the man power nor the capabilities to capture a city the size of Mukkala in Hadramout”, let alone Ghail Ba Wazir. Read more of this post

Luxembourg government resigns following spy scandal

Jean-Claude JunckerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The prime minister of Luxembourg announced his intent to resign on Thursday, after a parliamentary investigation revealed scores of illegal operations conducted by the country’s intelligence service. Jean-Claude Juncker, a longtime member of Luxembourg’s Christian Social People’s Party, is Europe’s longest-serving elected leader, having been in power constantly since 1995. But on Wednesday, the astute center-right politician, who is also President of the Eurogroup —the eurozone’s finance ministers’ group— announced on Wednesday that he would step down, following seven hours of heated debate in the Luxembourg parliament. Juncker announced his intention to resign after the junior partner of his governing coalition, the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party, which is the country’s second-largest, said it could no longer lend its support to the government. The reason is a parliamentary inquiry, which found that the country’s State Intelligence Service (SREL) has been engaging in serious criminal activity. The investigation was launched last year, after a local newspaper alleged that SREL’s Director, Marco Mille, had employed a surreptitious recording device disguised as a watch to record a private conversation with Prime Minister Junkcer. The parliamentary inquiry, which was released last week, found that SREL has been carrying out countless illegal wiretaps around the country and that it maintains detailed secret files on over 13,000 citizens and residents of Luxembourg. The report also alleges that SREL had set up a front company in order to facilitate the transfer of $10 million from a corrupt Russian businessman to a Spanish intelligence operative, as a personal favor to the Russian. The report did not confirm allegations, made in the country’s press, that the Grand Duke of Luxembourg has been a trusted informant of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #844 (analysis on Snowden leak)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden was right to flee US. “Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago”, says Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. And he continues: “I hope that he finds a haven, as safe as possible from kidnapping or assassination by US Special Operations forces, preferably where he can speak freely”.
►►NSA ‘in bed’ with German intelligence says Snowden. The fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden alleged on Sunday that the National Security Agency was “in bed together” with German intelligence despite claims by politicians in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition that they were shocked by the extent of American spying in Germany. Snowden claimed that the NSA provided German intelligence, with analysis tools to help the organization monitor data flowing through Germany.
►►Can Snowden fly from Moscow to Caracas without being stopped? How can Snowden get from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where he’s been holed up for nearly two weeks, to Venezuela, Bolivia or Nicaragua, which have indicated that they are willing to offer him political asylum? Former CIA analyst Allen Thomson took to Google Earth to answer the question of whether there’s a route Snowden might take that would allow him to fly from Moscow to, say, Caracas without crossing, as he puts it jokingly, the airspaces of “los Yanquis and their running dogs”.

Chinese hackers ‘stole blueprints’ of Australian spy agency’s new HQ

ASIO's new headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Chinese government hackers allegedly stole the master blueprints and other highly classified technical information relating to the new headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The state-of-the-art building, which is located at the shore of Lake Burley Griffin in Australian capital Canberra, has so far cost taxpayers in excess of AUD $631 million (US $608 million). Although it remains under construction, the new headquarters is said to feature the most sophisticated security features of any government building in Canberra. But a report aired on May 28 by Australian television’s Four Corners investigative program, alleged that a Chinese government agency managed to steal the building’s blueprints. The program claimed that the highly classified blueprints were stolen when hackers mounted a sophisticated cyberattack on a private-sector contractor involved in constructing the ASIO’s new headquarters. Four Corners suggested that the cyberattack, which was “traced to a server in China”, also compromised the building’s communications diagram, server locations and physical security systems. The revelation will undoubtedly add to the stream of public criticism about the project, which has been severely plagued by budget increases and construction delays. As recently as 2010, the government was insisting that the project was “progressing on time and on budget, with completion scheduled for mid-2012”. Today, however, the building’s budget has gone over by AUD $171 million and the building is expected to open its doors no earlier than the fall of 2013, with some commentators suggesting that it could be 2014 before ASIO’s personnel are able to start moving in. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #826 (suspicious deaths edition)

Pablo Neruda (right) and Salvador AllendeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Key suspect in Russian spy murder refuses to cooperate. Andrey Lugovoi, who is now an elected official in Russia, says he will not talk even by video to British investigators about the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London just over six years ago. The murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, has never been solved and remains the subject of conflicting narratives and still-deepening intrigue over who may have killed him and why.
►►Exhumation of Neruda’s remains set for April. A court in Chile has set April 8 as the date for the exhumation of the remains of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, as part of an inquest into his death. The poet and leftwing activist died 12 days after a military coup replaced the socialist President Salvador Allende with General Augusto Pinochet. The poet’s family maintains that he died at 69 of advanced prostate cancer. But in 2011, Chile started investigating allegations by his former driver, Manuel Araya Osorio, that the poet had been poisoned.
►►Venezuela to investigate Chavez murder allegations. Venezuelan officials have said they will set up an inquiry to investigate suspicions that President Hugo Chavez was “murdered by foreign agencies”. Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told the BBC the United States and Israel were to blame for Chavez’s death, and that he had no doubt that Chavez’s death was an act “similar to Yasser Arafat’s“. Earlier this week, the US expelled two Venezuelan diplomats following the expulsion of two American officials from Caracas.

Did Aussies ‘burn’ Israel’s Prisoner X and was he also a British citizen?

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As intriguing questions continue to mount about the case of Israel’s so-called ‘Prisoner X’, the flow of verifiable information from official channels in Australia and Israel has slowed to a trickle. However, two important analyses appeared over the weekend, which could potentially place the incarceration and subsequent death of Ben Zygier under new light. One claims that the Australian-born Israeli was a low-level Mossad operative who did not commit any serious crime —let along high treason. The other suggests that Zygier might have held British citizenship, in addition to being a dual Australian and Israeli citizen, and that the British government might have been privy to the information regarding his arrest and subsequent incarceration in Israel’s Ayalon prison. In an article for Ynet, the online outlet for Israel’s high-selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot, veteran security correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai posits that Zygier was simply a “support operative” for the Mossad, adding that he “did not commit treason”. Instead, says Ben-Yishai, Zygier was probably arrested by the Israelis because they suspected he might have given, or might consider giving, information about forged Australian passports to Canberra. The Mossad decided to detain him after he told them he had been contacted by Australian journalist Jason Koutskoukis in late 2009 and asked whether he was a Mossad operative. Koutsoukis was tipped-off by Australian counterintelligence, which suspected Zygier of supplying the Mossad with Australian passports in his possession. It was the stigma of being considered a traitor by his own people that drove Zygier —a passionate Zionist— to suicide, claims Ben-Yishai. Read more of this post

Interview: Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ linked to 2010 al-Mabhouh killing

Ben ZygierThis morning I spoke to SBS Radio Australia’s Greg Dyett about the mysterious case of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born naturalized citizen of Israel, who is said to have killed himself in 2010 while being held at a maximum-security prison near Tel Aviv. As intelNews reported on Wednesday, Zygier, who is believed to have been recruited by Israel’s covert-action agency Mossad, had been imprisoned incommunicado for several months and was known only as ‘Prisoner X’, even to his prison guards. Is there any connection between Zygier’s incarceration and the January 2010 assassination of Palestinian arms merchant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai? And what could Zygier have done to prompt Israel to incarcerate him? You can listen to me discuss this mysterious case in an eight-minute interview here, or read the transcript, below.

Q: You say that, after conferring with your contacts in Israel, Europe and the United States, you believe that Ben Zygier had some sort of involvement in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010.

A: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a weapons procurer for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. At this point, there is little doubt that the Mossad was behind this operation. Several members of the team that killed al-Mabhouh were using third-country passports —Irish, British, Australian, and others— to travel to and from Dubai. In the aftermath of the assassination, there were questions about how the Mossad operatives managed to get those passports; and, if you’ll remember, that led to the expulsion of several Israeli diplomats from around the world, including Australia. Read more of this post

Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ supplied Australian passports to the Mossad

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Concerns about the routine use of Australian passports by Israeli spies led to the exposure of Israel’s mystery ‘Prisoner X’, who killed himself in 2010 while in prison, it has been claimed. On Tuesday, ABC Australia reporter Trevor Bromann identified the mystery prisoner as Ben Zygier, an Australian father of two, who had been recruited by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, after moving to Israel in 2000. Zygier, whose identity had been withheld even from his prison guards, was arrested in early 2010 and was held for several months in Ayalon, Israel’s most secure prison, located southeast of Tel Aviv. Ayalon’s Unit 15, where Zygier was held, consists of a single cell constructed in 1995 to house Yigal Amir, the assassin of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Remarkably, shortly after ABC Australia revealed Zygier’s identity, Israeli news outlets received telephone calls from the Office of Israel’s Prime Minister, requesting urgent meetings “in the interest of Israel’s national security”. Israeli media reported that senior news editors across Israel were told by the government “to exercise restraint” and refrain from exposing information that could have “very dramatic repercussions” for Israel’s security. Read more of this post

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