Maltese far-right party had links to CIA, British documents suggest

Josie MuscatA Maltese ultra-nationalist group believed to be behind a string of bombings in the 1980s was believed by British intelligence to have links to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to recently declassified documents. The Front Freedom Fighters (FFF) was a staunchly anticommunist group whose members violently objected to what they saw as Malta’s overly close contacts with the Communist Bloc. During the 16-year rule of the Maltese Labour Party, which began in 1971, the Mediterranean island maintained close relations with countries during such as Libya and North Korea. The Maltese Nationalist Party, which formed the main opposition to Labour, was highly critical of these contacts, but failed to win three consecutive electoral contests and was thus unable to influence the country’s foreign policy in any significant way.

The FFF emerged in the early 1980s from within the ranks of the Nationalist Party. It consisted of younger activists who favored a violent response to the rule of the Labour Party. The group was led by Josie Muscat, a dynamic anticommunist campaigner and longtime Nationalist Party Member of Parliament, who gathered around him some of the more extreme rightwing elements in the Nationalist Party. A string of bombings and threats directed at Labour Party facilities on the island was attributed to the FFF by the popular press, though Muscat himself consistently denied such accusations. Many believed that the FFF was actively preparing to launch an armed coup d’etat.

Eventually, the leadership of the Nationalist Party, which saw itself as falling within the mainstream of the European conservative tradition, began distancing itself from the FFF’s rhetoric and actions. In July of 1983, the party expelled FFF leaders from its ranks and forbade its members from associating with FFF-linked groups. Few Nationalist Party members followed Muscat, and his movement eventually suffered what some observers described “a natural death”.

However, new documents released this month by the National Archives in Britain show that the British Foreign Office believed that the FFF was being funded by the CIA. A Foreign Office Report from the early 1980s states that the group was probably behind several bomb explosions targeting Labour Party activists, as well as moderate Nationalist Party members. The report describes the FFF as “neo-Fascist in character” that prioritized crude violence as its main tactic. It goes on to say that the group consisted of about 500 determined members, but that its violent core was much smaller. The Foreign Office report also suggests that Muscat may have traveled abroad to meet CIA officers, as well as to network with other anticommunist organizations throughout Europe.

Asked to give his reaction to the British government documents, Muscat told The Times of Malta that he “hadn’t had such a good laugh in years”. The now retired politician denied having any links to the CIA and said that the FFF’s activities had been “mostly limited to political debating and had never even come close to any form of violence”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2015 | Permalink

Former KGB officer facing deportation voluntarily leaves Canada

Mikhail LennikovA Russian former officer in the Soviet KGB, who defied deportation orders issued against him by the Canadian government by taking refuge in a Vancouver church for six consecutive years, has voluntarily left the country. Mikhail Lennikov, who spent five years working for the KGB in the 1980s, had been living in Canada with his wife and son since 1992. But in 2009, Canada’s Public Safety Ministry rejected Lennikov’s refugee claim and notified him that he could “be ordered deported from the country in as early as a few weeks”.

Canadian authorities have refused to reveal the precise reason for the decision to issue deportation orders against the former KGB agent. But it is believed that his Soviet intelligence background is perceived by Canadian authorities as a national security threat. Lennikov has consistently rejected accusations that he is a threat to Canada’s national security and has previously stated that he voluntarily revealed his KGB background to Canadian authorities. He has also said that if sent back to Russia he could face imprisonment for having revealed his KGB background to a foreign government. In 2009, the former KGB officer sought refuge at the First Lutheran Church in Vancouver, where he lived until recently. Meanwhile, his wife and children, who have no connections to Soviet or Russian intelligence, were awarded asylum and eventually Canadian citizenship.

Last week, however, it emerged that Lennikov had left the Vancouver church that had been his home for six years. His lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, told reporters that the former KGB officer had left Canada. His departure appears to have taken place after an agreement was struck between him and the Canada Border Services Agency. Nazami said on Sunday that Lennikov had “left at the end of this week and left on his own accord, voluntarily, according to his own wishes and decisions he reached himself”. Canadian media reported that it “no longer seemed to be the case” that Lennikov would face treason charges if he went back to Russia. When asked about Lennikov’s whereabouts, Nazami told journalists that it was “something that I cannot comment on”, but added that his client “feels safe and we are going by that assumption”. Lennikov’s wife and children, who are Canadian citizens, plan to remain in Canada, said Nazami.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink

Sweden conducts spy flights over Russia amidst heightened tensions

Swedish Air ForceSwedish Air Force spy planes conducted reconnaissance flights over Russia on Wednesday —and there was nothing the Kremlin could do about it. The flights were part of the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies, an international agreement designed to build trust among former Cold War rivals. The treaty was first proposed by the United States in 1990, with the intention of covering all member-states of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. When it was eventually signed, on March 24, 1992, it was ratified by 23 countries, including the US and Russia. An additional 11 states have joined the treaty at various times since, with Sweden joining in 2002. On Wednesday, Swedish reconnaissance airplanes conducted flights over a number of Russian military installations as part of the treaty, as they do every year during predetermined times.

This year, however, the stakes are different, since relations between Stockholm and Moscow have deteriorated dramatically. The Scandinavian country has issued numerous formal complaints against what it says were illegal infiltrations of its airspace by Russian military jets since 2014. Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said earlier this year that some of these alleged airspace infiltrations represented “the most serious aerial incursions by the Russians in almost 10 years”. In October of last year, Swedish authorities shut down airspace over Stockholm while searching for a misery foreign vessel seen off the coast of the Swedish capital, said to be a Russian spy submarine. The mystery vessel was never detected, but some Swedish media sites claimed that its mission had been to either “pick up or drop off a Russian spy” without alerting Swedish authorities. In March of this year, the Swedish Security Service, known as SAPO, said that Russia was Sweden’s greatest short-term threat, adding that nearly a third of all Russian diplomats stationed in Sweden were in fact intelligence officers.

Swedish media quoted Swedish Armed Forces Colonel Carol Paraniak, who said that Russia was and would always remain an intelligence target for Sweden. This is especially true today, as the “security and political situation […] has changed a lot compared to last year. Tensions have increased dramatically”, said Paraniak.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 August 2015 | Permalink

Israel charges Swedish citizen with spying for Hezbollah

HezbollahIsraeli authorities have charged a Swedish citizen with working as an intelligence officer for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It is believed that Hassan Khalil Hizran, 55, was born to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, from where he emigrated to Sweden many years ago. But he was arrested in Tel Aviv on July 21 while disembarking a flight at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and was taken into custody by the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. A spokesman for the agency said Hizran had confessed during interrogation to being an intelligence operative for Hezbollah, a primarily Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon’s territory. He is said to have told his interrogators that he was recruited by the group in the summer of 2009 while visiting Lebanon from Sweden with his wife and children.

Shin Bet said that Hizran had been asked by his Hezbollah handlers to gather intelligence relating to Israeli military installations and that he visited Israel several times in order to fulfil his missions. He would then return to Lebanon after visiting a third country in order to provide his Hezbollah handlers with the information he had collected while in Israel. Sources in Tel Aviv said Hizran visited Lebanon at least twice since his 2009 recruitment, specifically in 2011 and 2013. He returned to Sweden with monetary sums given to him by Hezbollah as payment for his services, which amounted to several thousand dollars, according to Shin Bet. The Israeli security agency said the Swede was helping Hezbollah identify military targets for a future war, which it interpreted as “proof that Hezbollah is preparing for the net war with Israel by compiling a target bank”.

According to the Israelis, Hizran had also been tasked by Hezbollah with recruiting Arabs with ties to Israeli Jews, but that he was either unable or unwilling to do so. However, on Sunday he was charged with three criminal counts including contacting an agent of a foreign government and communicating sensitive information. The Swedish man’s Israeli lawyer, Leah Tsemel, denied that her client was guilty of espionage and claimed that he had “refused repeated requests to inflict harm on the national security of Israel”. The Swedish and Lebanese governments have not commented on Hizran’s arrest.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 August 2015 | Permalink

Gaddafi’s spy chief could be executed before revealing Libya’s terror past

Abdullah al-SenussiA group of American, British and Irish citizens are pressuring their respective governments to prevent the impending execution of Libya’s former intelligence strongman. Abdullah al-Senussi, 65, led Libya’s intelligence services during the regime of the country’s late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. Last week, however, he was sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli for his role in “inciting genocide” during the 2011 civil war that toppled Gaddafi’s regime. American, British and Irish officials are being urged to intervene to stop Senussi’s execution, so that he can help shed light on Libya’s role in international terrorist plots in the 1980s and 1990s.

Senussi rose rapidly through the ranks of Gaddafi’s regime in the 1970s after marrying the Libyan leader’s sister-in-law. Eventually, he became one of Gaddafi’s most trusted aides, escorting him on most international trips and seeing to the medical needs of the dictator. Throughout that time he is believed to have led at various times Libya’s internal security agency, its external spy organization, and the country’s military intelligence agency. It is unclear however, whether he actually held any official posts in the Libyan government, especially after 1977, when Gaddafi abolished official titles and declared that his country was a Jamahiriya —a “state of the masses” not ruled by officials, but by “revolutionary” popular councils and communes.

During Senussi’s reign, especially in the 1980s, Libya deepened its connections with militant groups in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, prompting some European and American officials to describe him as “the world’s most wanted man”. On Tuesday of last month, Senussi was among nine former Gaddafi aides and officials to be sentenced to death by a court in the Libyan capital. They include one of Gaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, as well as the late Libyan dictator’s Prime Minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. Ironically, the sentence imposed on Gaddafi’s son cannot be implemented, as he is being kept prisoner by a militia in western Libya, which has refused to surrender him to the central government in Tripoli since 2011. Senussi however, is being held in Tripoli, having been captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in Mauritanian in March 2012 in what is believed to have been a successful French-led intelligence operation.

Critics of Libya’s past dealings with terrorist groups believe that the jailed former spy director is aware of crucial details relating to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people in 1988. He is also thought to possess information relating to Libya’s support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The militant group is said to have received training, weapons and cash from the Libyan government in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims of IRA operations and their families have continued to pressure London to intervene to prevent Senussi’s execution since his extradition to Libya from Mauritania in 2013. The Libyan government has said that it intends to execute Senussi in September.

US Congressional review considers impact of federal database hack

Office of Personnel Management 2A United States Congressional review into last month’s cyber theft of millions of government personnel records has concluded that its impact will go far “beyond mere theft of classified information”. Up to 21 million individual files were stolen in June, when hackers broke into the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Part of OPM’s job is to handle applications for security clearances for all agencies of the US federal government. Consequently, the breach gave the unidentified hackers access to the names and sensitive personal records of millions of Americans —including intelligence officers— who have filed applications for security clearances.

So far, however, there is no concrete proof in the public domain that the hack was perpetrated by agents of a foreign government for the purpose of espionage. Although there are strong suspicions in favor of the espionage theory, there are still some who believe that the cyber theft could have been the financially motivated work of a sophisticated criminal ring. But a new report produced by the Congressional Research Service, which is the research wing of the US Congress, seems to be favoring the view that “the OPM data were taken for espionage rather than for criminal purposes”. The report was completed on July 17 and circulated on a restricted basis. But it was acquired by the Secrecy News blog of the Federation of American Scientists, which published it on Tuesday.

The 10-page document points out that strictly financial reasons, such as identity theft or credit card fraud, cannot be ruled out as possible motivations of the massive data breach. But it points out that the stolen data have yet to appear in so-called “darknet” websites that are used by the criminal underworld to buy and sell such information. This is highly unusual, particularly when one considers the massive size of the data theft, which involves millions of Americans’ credit card and Social Security numbers. Experts doubt, therefore, that the OPM data “will ever appear for sale in the online black market”. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the breach falls “in the category of intelligence-gathering, rather than commercial espionage”, according to the report.

The above conclusion could have far-reaching consequences, says the report. One such possible consequence is that high-resolution fingerprints that were contained in the OPM database could be used to blow the covers of American case officers posing as diplomats, and even deep-cover intelligence operatives working secretly abroad. Furthermore, the hackers that are in possession of the stolen files could use them to create high-quality forged documents, or even publish them in efforts to cause embarrassment to American intelligence agencies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/30/01-1746/

Did US DEA forces pose as Mexican troops to capture drug kingpin?

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ GuzmánThe notorious drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán captured the attention of the world’s media a few weeks ago, when he escaped from a maximum security prison in Mexico through a secret tunnel. But his cinematic prison breakout may have overshadowed the story of his arrest, which, according to recent reports, may be as interesting as that of his latest escape from prison.

Guzmán was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on February 22, 2014. He was reportedly captured in Mazatlán, a resort town in Mexico’s west-coast state of Sinaloa, by an elite squad of Mexican marines. The marines, we were told at the time, were receiving crucial intelligence support from a several United States government agencies. Or at least that is the official story of the drug kingpin’s arrest. On July 18, however, Mexico’s leading investigative newsmagazine, Proceso, published a lead article alleging that Guzmán was not arrested by Mexican marines, but by American operatives disguised as Mexican marines.

The article was written by J. Jesús Esquivel, a longtime reporter on intelligence and security affairs, who has authored two books on the history of operations conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other American security and intelligence agencies in Mexico. In his July 18 article, Esquivel says he was told by two American officials —who he does not name— that Mexican marines had little to do with Guzmán’s capture. The drug lord was tracked down by the US Marshals Service and the DEA through a web of informants and electronic tracking devices. Once they knew they had him, he two agencies, supported by a third American agency, which Esquivel does not identify, raided Guzmán’s hotel suite in Mazatlán, dressed in Mexican marine uniforms and driving vehicles bearing Mexican navy insignia.

The Intercept, which covered Proceso’s story on Thursday, correctly stated that, if the newsmagazine’s allegations are true, they would not mark the first time that American government agents posing as Mexican troops have conducted counternarcotics operations in Mexico. The practice has been revealed before, most recently by The Wall Street Journal. But, if true, Proceso’s allegations would seem to indicate an unprecedented degree of operational activity by US intelligence and security agencies south of the border. Additionally, it is alleged that the American agencies deliberately chose to keep their Mexican counterparts in the dark until after Guzmán had been captured, because they feared that the drug kingpin would be notified by informants inside the Mexican government. If this information is accurate, it would indicate that the line separating the Mexican drug cartels from the country’s government remains markedly blurry.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/24/01-1742/

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