British spy chiefs ‘warn against’ Western military action in Ukraine

Map of UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The heads of British intelligence agencies are said to have advised London that interfering militarily in Ukraine would likely prompt a violent Russian response. The Sunday People said last weekend that Whitehall has been advised a Western military interference in Ukraine would “risk spiraling into an all-out war with Russia”. The Labour-supporting paper, which is published by the Trinity Mirror group, claimed that the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, is understood to have told British Prime Minister David Cameron that the Russian government “will not stand idly by” if Western troops enter Western Ukraine, ostensibly to prevent westward military advances by Russian forces. One “senior source” told The People that the message delivered to Whitehall was that “it’s not worth starting World War Three over Ukraine”. The briefing appears to rest on intelligence acquired from sources in Russia, as well as by MI6 operatives on the ground in eastern Ukraine, which, according to the paper, “have been moving around [eastern Ukraine] covertly, monitoring border crossing points and towns where Russian support is strongest”. Meanwhile on Monday the United States Department of State distributed an 11-page document with photographs alleging that Russian Spetsnaz (special purpose forces) troops are among the occupiers of government buildings in eastern Ukraine. The same document was distributed last week by Ukrainian officials at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Early on Tuesday, US Vice President Joe Biden, who is visiting Ukrainian capital Kiev, pledged $50 million to help the country’s government carry out unspecified “political and economic reforms”. About a fifth of that amount has been earmarked to help fund Ukraine’s presidential election in late May of this year. Read more of this post

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CIA operative who defected to Cuba resurfaces in British film

Frank TerpilBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An operative of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who defected to Cuba in 1981 to avoid charges of criminal conspiracy, has reemerged in a British documentary film about the late Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. Frank Terpil, 74, resigned from the CIA in 1970, allegedly after he was caught running a pyramid scheme in India, where he had been posted by the CIA. Soon after his forced resignation from the Agency, US federal prosecutors leveled criminal charges on Terpil and his business partner. The former CIA operative was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, after it was found that he had helped facilitate the illegal transfer of over 20 tons of plastic explosives to the government of Libya. Terpil managed to leave the US and reappeared in Lebanon in 1980, shortly before a court in New York sentenced him in absentia to five decades in prison for conspiring to smuggle 10,000 submachine guns to African warlords, including Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin. As agents of various countries started to zero in on Terpil’s Lebanon hideout, he disappeared again and resurfaced in 1981 in Havana, Cuba. Shortly afterwards, Cuba’s General Intelligence Directorate hired him as an operative under the operational alias CURIEL. Since that time, Terpil has been repeatedly mentioned as having played a part in Cuban intelligence operations around the world, but has rarely given interviews. He resurfaced again this month, however, in a documentary entitled “Mad Dog: Inside the Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi”. The film was made by British company Fresh One Productions on behalf of Showtime, an American premium cable and satellite television network. The film’s co-producer, Michael Chrisman, told news agencies that Terpil was interviewed “at his home” in Cuban capital Havana, where he apparently still lives, along with his “much younger” Cuban girlfriend. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #876 (analysis edition)

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Why did Obama not bomb Syria? In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya. Last August, after the sarin attack in Syrian capital Damascus, he was ready to launch an allied air strike to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​ But with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was later postponed. Why did Obama relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? Award-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh argues that the answer lies in “a clash between those in the Obama administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous”.
►►What is the role of the FSB in the Ukrainian crisis? On April 4, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a note to Moscow demanding to know why FSB Colonel General Sergei Beseda visited Kiev in February. The very next day Russian news agency InterFax cited a source in Russian intelligence confirming that visit. Beseda heads the FSB Fifth Service’s Operational Information Department, which is responsible for conducting intelligence activities focusing on the former Soviet republics. Agentura.ru intelligence analyst Andrei Soldatov says that the answer as to why Beseda was in Kiev could be key to understanding the role of Russia’s intelligence agencies in the current crisis and to the Kremlin’s entire strategy in Ukraine.
►►What would a US-Russia war look like? The chances that the US and Russia will clash militarily over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are very, very slim. But, says The Week’s Peter Weber, if we learned anything from World War I, it’s that huge, bloody conflicts can start with tiny skirmishes, especially in Eastern Europe. So what would a US-Russia war look like? The US is much wealthier than Russia and spends a lot more on its military. That doesn’t mean a war would be easy for the US to win, though, or even guarantee a victory. As Napoleon and Hitler learned the hard way, Russia will sacrifice a lot to win its wars, especially on its home turf.

More documents emerge on CIA effort to salvage Soviet submarine

Project AZORIANBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
New documents have emerged about a massive effort by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1970s. This blog has written before about Project AZORIAN, a 1974 attempt to recover a Soviet submarine in 5,200 meters of water. The initiative cost the CIA over $800 million, which translates to something like $3 billion in today’s prices. It centered on an effort to salvage K-129, a Soviet Golf II class submarine that had suffered an internal explosion while on a routine patrol mission in the Pacific Ocean, in 1968. The explosion caused the vessel to sink along with the three nuclear ballistic missiles it was carrying and nearly 100 crew members, all of whom died in the incident. The Soviets initiated an immediate frantic effort to recover the vessel but gave up after two months, unable to bring it to the surface. After the Soviets abandoned the site, a number of CIA scientists proposed to undertake an American effort to recover the sunken submarine. This, they suggested, would allow Washington to study the design features of Soviet nuclear warheads, as well as obtain cryptographic hardware that could prove useful in deciphering Soviet naval codes. This prompted the launch of Project AZORIAN, which commenced in 1974, once the Agency secured the necessary funds. As we have indicated before, the recovery team nearly caused a nuclear explosion when the submarine split while being raised, and its body hit the ocean floor. The CIA prepared to enter a new phase of the project in 1975, aimed at launching a second attempt to raise the sunken vessel. But the attempt was cancelled when vague snippets of information about the project were leaked to the press. Nothing more emerged until 2010, when the CIA aired a heavily redacted article about the project, which had originally appeared in the 1980s in Studies in Intelligence, the Agency’s in-house publication. Now, however, intelligence historians are able to rely on 200 pages of mostly fresh information on Project AZORIAN, released under the US Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) program. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #875 (CIA edition)

Boris PasternakBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Ex-CIA head criticizes Pollard release rumors. General Michael Hayden, the former Director of the CIA, said Sunday that he doesn’t think releasing Jonathan Pollard to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is a good idea. Hayden, a Bush administration appointee, told Fox News Sunday that “it’s almost a sign of desperation that you would throw this into the pot in order to keep the Israelis talking with the Palestinians”.
►►CIA official dies in apparent suicide. An unnamed senior CIA official has died in an apparent suicide this week from injuries sustained after jumping off a building in northern Virginia. A source close to the agency said the man who died was a middle manager and the incident occurred after the man jumped from the fifth floor a building in Fairfax County. CIA spokesman Christopher White confirmed the death and said the incident did not take place at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va.
►►How the CIA turned Doctor Zhivago into a Cold War weapon. Newly disclosed documents indicate that the operation to publish Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago in several Eastern European languages was run by the CIA’s Soviet Russia Division, monitored by CIA director Allen Dulles and sanctioned by President Dwight Eisenhower’s Operations Coordinating Board, which reported to the National Security Council at the White House. The board, which oversaw covert activities, gave the CIA exclusive control over the novel’s “exploitation”. The “hand of the United States government” was “not to be shown in any manner”, according to CIA records. IntelNews has reported previously on allegations that the CIA may have influenced teh Swedish Academy’s decision to award the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature to Pasternak.

News you may have missed #874

Hamid AboutalebiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Intel involvement in flight MH370 sparks terrorism speculation. Malaysian authorities have revealed secret services from the UK, the US and China have been involved in the investigations into the disappearance of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, adding to speculation that the plane’s disappearance could be down to terrorism.
►►Iran picks former US Embassy hostage-taker as UN envoy. The Iranian government has applied for a US visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy. Aboutalebi was a member of a group calling itself “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line”, a group of radical students controlled by Ayatollah Khomeini, who seized the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could prompt the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN.
►►Analysis: Ukrainian Navy devastated by Russian move into Crimea. Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control. Almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defense units. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service.

US denies it offered to release American who spied for Israel

Jonathan PollardBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
United States officials have denied reports in the Israeli media that Washington has offered to release an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. The Israel Army Radio, which is operated by the Israel Defense Forces, said on Wednesday that the administration of US President Barack Obama had offered to release Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former US Navy analyst who has so far served 28 years of a life sentence in a US prison, for spying on the US for Israel. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many conservative Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, are actively pressuring the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. According to Israel Army Radio, the offer was placed on the negotiation table last week during Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Washington. Allegedly, the offer to release Pollard is part of an attempt by President Obama to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which have stalled in recent months. The original US-brokered talks between the two sides included an agreement by Israel to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in four separate groups. The first three groups were released in 2013; but Israel is currently refusing to release the fourth and final group, originally scheduled to be freed this month, arguing that the prisoners in that group are all Israeli citizens and have no connection to the Palestinian National Authority. According to Israel Army Radio, Washington has offered to release Pollard in return for Israel’s release of the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, providing that the Palestinian National Authority will then return to the negotiation table. Late on Wednesday, however, US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Washington had “no plans to release Jonathan Pollard”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

South Korean spy charged with forging Chinese government records

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Authorities in South Korea have charged an intelligence officer with forging Chinese government documents that were used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. IntelNews readers will remember the case of Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. In May of that year, court documents revealed that Yoo had been arrested following testimony from his own sister, also a North Korean defector. She had apparently been sent to the South by the North Korean intelligence services, and tasked with collecting information on North Korean defectors living across the border. Prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South, while he worked for the Seoul city government. Yoo maintained his innocence throughout his trial. However, his protestations appeared untenable once the South Korean prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that he 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 amidst 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). Read more of this post

Pro-Russian oligarch arrested —first sign of US sanctions on Russia?

Dmytro FirtashBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A well-connected Ukrainian oligarch, who is considered one of Russia’s most trusted energy sales intermediaries, has been arrested in Austria at the request of the United States. Some speculate that this may be a first direct sign of America’s response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. In an article published last week, The Washington Post suggested that the arrest of Dmytro Firtash, a citizen of Ukraine, may be “the beginning of a US effort to inflict financial pain on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian crisis”. Firtash’s lucrative business activities are inextricably tied to Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas and one of the most powerful corporations in existence. The company, whose activities typically account for around 10 percent of Russia’s annual gross domestic product, is one of Moscow’s primary exporters of energy and among its most important sources of foreign revenue. Throughout the last decade, Firtash’s company, RosUkrEnergo, acted as the primary mediator between Gazprom and Naftohaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company. The latter would import Russian natural gas from Gazprom through RosUkrEnergo, which would purchase it from the Russian company and sell it to the Ukrainians at a noticeably steeper price. Eventually, in 2009, the government of pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko managed to remove RosUkrEnergo as a broker from the energy deals between Kiev and Moscow. But Tymoshenko, who became herself embroiled in a financial corruption scandal, was soon imprisoned. And in 2013, Gazprom approached the pro-Russian government of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and offered to sell natural gas to Ukraine at a 33 percent discount, providing that RosUkrEnergo was permitted to return as Moscow’s natural gas distributor to Ukraine. Last Wednesday, a statement from the Ukrainian government in Kiev confirmed that the man identified only as “Dmytro F., 48” in a laconic Austrian police report was indeed Dmytro Firtash. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #872

Capture from al-Qaeda's Resurgence videoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Analysis: US military treads lightly in Africa. America’s aim seems to be to tackle Islamist militants in the Sahel region while keeping its military presence in Africa light. Military experts say direct US military action in Africa is limited to short raids on “high-value” targets in places such as Somalia and Libya, while French troops take on longer, bigger operations.
►►Al Qaeda announces new English-language magazine. Al-Qaeda is starting an English-language magazine as part of a fresh effort to recruit and inspire Western Islamists to launch attacks in their own countries, according to security analysts. A video posted on (and later removed from) YouTube uses the words of Malcolm X to justify violent struggle, before announcing the name of the magazine, Resurgence. It appears to be modeled on Inspire, an online publication produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. However, the new magazine appears to be the first English language magazine from the group’s core leadership and is advertised with a slick video from as-Sahab, its media production house.
►►Edward Snowden’s testimony to the European Parliament (.pdf). American intelligence defector Edward Snowden has sent a 12-page document to the European Parliament, in which he answers questions posed to him by several members. In the document he maintains that he has “no relationship” with China and Russia. In response to a question on whether he was approached by the Russian intelligence services, he responds “of course”, and continues: “Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had had the chance: that’s their job. But I didn’t take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I’m sure they were disappointed, it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck”.

Rift between US Congress and CIA biggest in 40 years, say observers

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The system of checks and balances that defines the relationship between America’s legislative branch and the Intelligence Community has been strained more than any other time in nearly 40 years, according to insiders. The rift is especially wide between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, which was formed in the mid-1970s after the Watergate scandal. Led by Senator Frank Church (D-Id) the congressional investigations into unlawful domestic intelligence activities by American spy agencies shaped the current oversight arrangements between the Senate and the CIA. But the two bodies are now engaged in what Foreign Policy magazine calls “a rare public feud” over the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques. Foreign Policy cites interviews with “ten current and former congressional staff member and US government officials”, all of whom painted a “grim picture” of Senate-CIA relations. The Foreign Policy article quotes former Justice Department lawyer Dan Metcalfe, who opines that the current imbroglio “might well be the most acrimonious public moment between the CIA and a Senate committee [in] nearly 40 years”. Both sides accuse each other of violating longstanding agreements during the investigation into CIA’s use of torture in interrogations of terrorism detainees. Committee members have been claiming that the Agency’s interrogation methods have failed to produce useful information in pursuit of America’s national security. The CIA, on the other hand, accuses Committee staffers of illegally removing documents from an Agency facility, which the Committee was not supposed to see because they fell outside the scope of its inquiry. But some Senators on the Committee claim that the CIA did not want to hand over the documents precisely because they prove that no useful intelligence was extracted under torture. They also claim that the CIA effectively spied on Committee staffers by searching through their activity on computers used to access classified information. Read more of this post

Analysis: The war between Israel and international arms smugglers

Sinai PeninsulaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The interception earlier this week of a civilian cargo vessel in the southern Red Sea by Israeli commandos has brought to light the ongoing war between weapons smugglers and the Israeli state. The vessel, named Klos-C, was seized by Israeli forces in international waters, over 1,000 miles away from Israel’s coast. Few observers were surprised by the location of the seizure, which took place in the waters between Eritrea and Sudan. Israeli security planners consider the East African country as a major link in the complex smuggling network that supplies goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Tel Aviv has long asserted that the smuggled weapons, which usually originate from Iran or Syria, are secretly carried from Port Sudan into Egypt before eventually ending up across the border into the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by militant group Hamas.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the October 2012 Israeli air attack on the outskirts of Sudanese capital Khartoum, which destroyed an alleged illicit weapons warehouse. In May of 2012, a missile attack in Port Sudan, which was also linked to Israel, killed Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, an eminent member of the Red Sea’s Ababda Bedouin tribe, whose members have a long history of smuggling weapons and goods to and from Sudan.

Read more of this post

News you may have missed #871

Rene GonzalezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Britain denies visa for Cuban spy freed by US. Rene Gonzalez, one of the so-called “Cuban Five” intelligence agents convicted by the US of spying, has been denied a British visa to attend a London symposium. Gonzalez, who served 13 years in US prison before his release in 2011, had been invited to a two-day conference put on by “Voice for the Five”, an organization that campaigns in support of the convicted Cuban spies. The Cuban state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde said Gonzales, 55, was denied a visa because British law prohibits entry of a person sentenced to more than four years in prison.
►►Canada fires intelligence analyst over contacts with Russians. Irina Koulatchenko, a 36-year-old who came to Canada as a Russian refugee via Cuba, has been fired by Canada’s financial-intelligence agency, known as FINTRAC. A Canadian Security Intelligence Service probe recommended she not be trusted to do that job, allegedly because “she had had several social encounters with Russian diplomats”. The latter included one she met “at a Cirque du Soleil show, another who was friends with her ex-fiancé and another she bumped into all the time at various social events”.
►►CIA suspected of spying on Congress members. The United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Senate aides removing documents from CIA headquarters that they reportedly “weren’t authorized to have”. It turns out, however, that the CIA found this out because they were secretly spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and their staff who were working on a high-profile report on CIA torture of detainees. What is more, Democratic Senator Mark Udall has claimed US President Barack Obama knew of the CIA’s secret monitoring of the Committee.

US intelligence agencies urge ‘cautious approach’ on Ukraine

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
American intelligence agencies see Russia’s control of the Crimean Peninsula as near-complete and urge Washington to take cautious steps on Ukraine, as Moscow appears prepared “to take military action” in defense of its strategic goals. The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that some American intelligence analysts believe Moscow is genuinely convinced that its military action in Ukraine is justified under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. The agreement was signed in 1994 by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation. The three nuclear powers guaranteed that they would refrain from actions that would subvert the territorial integrity and political autonomy of Ukraine. Western officials have accused Moscow of violating the agreement by dispatching Russian troops to southeastern Ukraine without the consent of the Ukrainian government. But some American intelligence analysts believe the Russian Foreign Ministry is convinced that Russian forces are acting within the scope of the 1994 agreement. The latter is interpreted by Russian officials as permitting Moscow to unilaterally dispatch up to 25,000 troops to the Crimea. This may even be the predominant view at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), judging by a briefing given last week by the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, to an unnamed “senior lawmaker”. The Times cited “US officials who declined to be named” as saying that Brennan suggested that Russian officials genuinely believe that the number of Russian troops in Ukraine “remains well below the threshold” specified in the Budapest Memorandum. Brennan added that, although he did not personally agree with Moscow’s interpretation of the Memorandum, it would be wise for Washington to tread cautiously on the subject, given the fact that Russian policy on Crimea remains unpredictable. Read more of this post

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