News you may have missed #883

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Indonesia, Australia renew intelligence ties. Australia and Indonesia have signed a pledge not to use intelligence to harm each other, signaling a resumption in cooperation, which had been suspended after last year’s spy scandal. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, signed the “joint understanding of a code of conduct” in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday.
►►Ex-KGB general says Russia has already won in Ukraine. Russia has already won “the real victory”​ in Ukraine, according to former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who is now living in the United States. The “southeast of Ukraine, that’s part of the general battle between the Russians and Ukrainians, but it’s not as crucial as the real victory and pride of Russia —the Crimea, I mean”, he said on Thursday. Kalugin reiterated that he does not believe Russian president Vladimir Putin wants annex another region of the country. “It’s not in the interest of Putin”, Kalugin said. “His position as of today is fairly strong in the country, in his own country, so why put it at risk by moving further?”
►►China says Canadian couple were spies disguised as ordinary citizens. Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defense research secrets. They were detained on August 4, 2014, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked with Christian groups to bring humanitarian aid into North Korea, and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China. Their detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of US fighter jet secrets.

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Ex-MI6 counterterror chief urges caution in tackling ISIS threat

Richard BarrettBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Britain should not hurriedly change its laws to counter the perceived danger posed by homegrown militants that have joined the Islamic State, according to the former head of counterterrorism for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Richard Barrett, a former diplomat, served as Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and is considered an international authority on counterterrorism. He told The Guardian newspaper that it would be wrong for the British government to introduce legislation effectively criminalizing travel to Iraq or Syria by British subjects. Barrett was responding to a newspaper article by London mayor Boris Johnson, who criticized Britain’s conservative government for not taking active steps to prevent British citizens form traveling to Syria and Iraq in order to join the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Johnson said he supported calls for British members of the Islamic State to be stripped of their British citizenship, even if that meant they would be left stateless —a violation of United Nations law. The London mayor further suggested that all British citizens travelling to Syria and Iraq without first notifying the government, should be legally considered as having traveled there “for a terrorist purpose”. He added that the burden should be on them to prove that they were “acting innocently” while abroad. But Barrett dismissed Johnson’s proposals, saying that they would cancel age-old principles of British common law and could potentially criminalize British citizens who traveled to the Middle East for legitimate purposes. Read more of this post

Mossad officer who saved Hamas leader’s life appeals for moderation

Mishka Ben DavidBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An Israeli intelligence operative, who in 1997 saved the life of the leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, has published a letter calling on Hamas to show moderation in the dispute with Israel. In 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, like today, was Israel’s prime minister, authorized an ambitious operation to assassinate the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. The operation was carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which sent several of its members to Jordanian capital Amman, where Mashal was living at the time. On September 25, two Mossad assassins were waiting for Mashal to arrive at his office, ready to dispense a fast-acting poison in the form of an injection. But as the Hamas leader entered the premises, his young daughter called his name, causing him to turn his head in the opposite direction. As a result, the needle with the deadly poison landed on his ear, as opposed to his neck, and much of it was spilled. Mashal started yelling and before too long the two Mossad assassins had been captured alive by Hamas security guards. Mashal was then rushed to hospital and was about to die, when a furious King Hussein of Jordan contacted Tel Aviv with an ultimatum: either an antidote would be provided to save Mashal’s life, or the captured Mossad agents would be speedily tried and most likely sentenced to death by execution. The director of the Mossad operation then contacted a support officer, Mishka Ben-David, who was awaiting orders in an Amman hotel, and asked him to deliver a vial of antidote to a Jordanian security officer who would be waiting at the lobby of the hotel later that evening. Ben-David did as he was told and handed to the Jordanians the vial of antidote, which the Mossad had prepared in case one of their operatives was inadvertently injected with the poison. The antidote saved Mashal’s life and enabled him to continue to lead Hamas, the organization that is now in command of the Gaza Strip. Last week, Ben-David published an open letter addressed to Mashal, the man whose life he once saved, in which he calls on the Hamas strongman to stop taking his cues from “the most extreme side” of his organization. In a subsequent interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, Ben-David said his intention in authoring the letter was to “appeal to the rational side of Khaled Mashal”, and urge him to “accept a compromise” in order to “end the war with Israel”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #882 (cybersecurity edition)

Andrew LewmanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►GCHQ launches ‘Cyber Security Challenge’. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, has created a new online game to find new recruits and test the public’s ability to deal with hacking attacks. The new game, named Assignment: Astute Explorer, will give registered players the chance to analyze code from a fictitious aerospace company, identify vulnerabilities and then suggest fixes.
►►Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370. Malaysian officials investigating the disappearance of flight MH370 have been targeted in a hacking attack that resulted in the theft of classified material. The attack hit around 30 PCs assigned to officials in Malaysia Airlines, the country’s Civil Aviation Department and the National Security Council. The malware was hidden in a PDF attachment posing as a news article that was distributed on 9 March, just one day after the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
►►Developer alleges NSA and GCHQ employees are helping Tor Project. Tor is a free software used for enabling online anonymity and resisting censorship. It directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than five thousand relays to conceal a user’s location or usage. Interestingly, its executive director, Andrew Lewman, has told the BBC that employees of the NSA and GCHQ offer his team of programmers tips “on probably [a] monthly” basis about bugs and design issues that potentially could compromise the [Tor] service”. He added that he had been told by William Binney, a former NSA official turned whistleblower, that one reason NSA workers might have leaked such information was because many were “upset that they are spying on Americans”.

Australia, Indonesia to end rift by signing joint spy agreement

 Abbott and YudhoyonoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Australia and Indonesia are to end months of diplomatic friction by signing a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other. IntelNews readers will recall that Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Canberra and terminated all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia late last year, after it emerged that Australian spies had targeted the communications of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other senior Indonesian officials, while they were attending the 2009 G20 conference in London. Relations between the two countries worsened considerably in February of this year, when documents leaked by American defector Edward Snowden revealed that Australian intelligence spied on American law firm representing the government of Indonesia in a trade dispute with Washington. The documents, from February 2003, showed that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) purposely targeted the law firm because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state. To make things worse, the leaked information showed that the ASD, which is responsible for signals intelligence and information security, offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency. Following the revelation, the Australian and Indonesian governments were reportedly not on talking terms. But it has now emerged that Australia and Indonesia are to sign a mutually binding agreement titled “Joint Understanding of a Code of Conduct”, which, among other things, will prohibit Australia from using its intelligence agencies to harm Indonesian national interests. Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Australia’s ABC network that the agreement would “make it quite clear” that “Australia would not use its [...] intelligence resources to the detriment of [...] Indonesia”. Read more of this post

Malware targeting ex-Soviet states has Russian hallmarks

Turla trojan operational diagramBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A malicious software that has infiltrated the computer systems of dozens of embassies belonging to former Eastern Bloc nations “has all the hallmarks of a nation-state” cyberespionage operation, according to researchers. Security firm Symantec said last week that the malware appears to be specifically targeting embassies of former communist nations located in China, Jordan, as well as in locations across Western Europe. In a report published on its website, Symantec said “only a nation state” was likely to have the funds and technical resources to create a malware of such complexity. Additionally, the malware seems to be designed “to go after explicit government networks that are not easy to find”, according to Symantec senior security researcher Vikram Thakur. The infiltration appears to occur in two stages. In the first stage, a computer is infected with a reconnaissance program, known as Wipbot. The initial infection usually occurs through a directed phishing attack or via a compromised website. The Wipbot then conducts an initial exploration of the infected system, collecting vital information about its identity, structure and contents. It then proceeds to compromise it only if it matches a specific Internet address that it is looking for. If a match is confirmed, the Wipbot then invites a second program into the compromised system, whose task is to expropriate data and exfiltrate it in batches that are camouflaged as Internet browser requests. Symantec researchers say that the technical similarities between the two programs are sufficient to justify the view that they were designed and developed by programmers working for the same government agency. Thakur said the structure of the malware is particularly creative; it uses Wipbot as an initial reconnaissance tool before delivering the exfiltration program if it judges that the compromised system is of high enough interest. The Symantec report adds that the malware in question is part of a four-year-long series of cyberespionage attacks that have systematically targeted government facilities belonging to former Communist Bloc states. In May of 2012, a similar malware was found to have infiltrated over 60 different computer systems belonging to a former Soviet Republic, including the office of the Prime Minister. A closely linked attack targeted another former communist state’s embassy in Paris, France, as well as its foreign and internal affairs ministries. The Symantec research points out that many of the malicious program’s core components were compiled in the UTC+4 time zone, which includes Russian cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

News you may have missed #881 (Cold War history edition)

Vehicle tracking deviceBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►McCarthy-era prisoner tries to overturn espionage conviction. In 1950, Miriam Moskowitz was secretary to Abraham Brothman, an American chemical engineer who was convicted for providing secret industrial information to communist spy Elizabeth Bentley. Moskowitz, who was having an affair with Brothman at the time of his arrest, was convicted of obstructing justice and served two years in prison. Now at age 98, she claims she has discovered evidence that key witness testimony about her role in Soviet espionage was falsified, and wants her conviction thrown out. In 2010, Moskowitz authored the book Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice, about her case.
►►Files show USSR spied on Czechoslovak communist leaders after 1968. The Soviet KGB spied aggressively on senior members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ) for two decades following the Prague Spring of 1968, because it mistrusted them. The information on Soviet intelligence activities against the KSČ comes from files in to the so-called Mitrokhin Archive. Vasili Mitrokhin was a KGB archivist, who painstakingly copied tens of thousands of pages of the spy agency’s files prior to defecting to Britain following the dissolution of the USSR.
►►Canada’s spy agency reveals Cold War-era spying equipment. As part of its celebrations for its 30-year anniversary, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service has released photographs of what it calls “tools of the trade” –gadgets designed to hide or transport secret communication, acquire surreptitious photographs, listen in on private conversations, etc., without detection. The gadgets include Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko‘s gun, a toy truck with a concealment compartment for hiding a microdot reader, a hollowed-out battery used to contain clandestine messages or microfilm, and many others.

ISIS views spread in Balkans as Kosovo police nab 40 militants

Kosovo and its surrounding regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Over 40 people have been arrested in Kosovo on strong suspicion of maintaining close links with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Authorities in the small Balkan nation said the Monday arrests were part of “a major police operation” aimed at preventing Kosovar citizens from joining the violent Islamist group. Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008, following several revolts and uprisings in the 1990s. The vast majority of its citizens are ethnic Albanians, most of whom practice Islam. However the lifestyle of its largely pro-American population remains markedly secular. Observers have thus been startled by reports that an estimated 100 to 200 Kosovars have so far traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, known previously as the State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Last week, an 18-year-old Islamic State volunteer from Kosovo was reported killed in Syria; he was the 16th Kosovar member of the Islamist group to have been killed in the field of battle. There is allegedly footage on YouTube showing Lavdrim Muhaxheri, the commander of the Kosovar Islamic State members decapitating an Iraqi teenager. Aside from the detention of 40 suspects, the Monday crackdown is believed to have netted significant numbers of weapons and ammunition discovered in more than 60 locations around the country. Police said that the dates of birth of the arrestees range from 1962 to 1994. Authorities are looking for more suspects who were “not found at their homes” during the countrywide crackdown, while many Muslim clerics are also being investigated for links to radical Islamist groups. The 40 that are in custody are now being questioned under procedures recently established by the Kosovo Penal Code, designed to protect “constitutional order and security in the Republic” of Kosovo. Reports from the tiny Balkan nation suggest that its parliament is preparing to pass national legislation forbidding citizens form joining foreign armed movements. A prison sentence of up to 15 years is being considered for those who do so. It is worth noting that Albanian is among the primary languages into which the Islamic State’s Arabic-language proclamations are usually translated by the militants —the others being Russian, Turkish, English and French.

Russian jet ‘chased US spy plane into Swedish airspace’

RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraftBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An American spy plane was forced to enter Swedish airspace without permission in order to avoid a potentially serious encounter with a Russian military jet, which tried to intercept it in international airspace. Swedish news agency Svenska Dagbladet said on Monday that the incident happened on July 18, one day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. According to Swedish sources, the US plane was an RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, which had been flying in international airspace on an eavesdropping mission, collecting signals intelligence on Russian military positions. All of a sudden, however, the American pilot noticed that Russian land-based military radars had begun to track the plane. Eventually, the Russians “locked” their radar on the US plane, which is usually interpreted as a step before firing at the aircraft. Such a move is not illegal, but is described by experts as “highly unusual”, especially when involving unarmed aircraft flying in international airspace. Shortly afterwards, the Russian Air Force sent “at least one” fighter jet toward the US aircraft in an apparent effort to intercept it. Swedish officials were later told by their US counterparts that the American pilot became seriously concerned that his aircraft might get fired upon, so he decided to abort his mission as soon as he could. He therefore ended up flying the plane over Sweden’s airspace without approval from Swedish air controllers. It is believed that the US plane may have crossed into other nations’ airspace, also without permission. Stephan Persson Tyrling, director of air operations at Sweden’s National Defense College, told Svenska Dagbladet that “Russia may have felt provoked” and embarked on an interception operation in order to “tell the US that they flew too close to their airspace or interfered with their [military] exercises”. Read more of this post

Aruba releases Venezuelan ex-spy despite US calls to detain him

Hugo Carvajal BarriosBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence, who had been arrested in Aruba following a request by the United States for his capture, has been released, sparking protests from Washington. On July 24, authorities in the Dutch-controlled Caribbean island announced the arrest of Hugo Carvajal Barrios, former director of Venezuela’s Dirección General de Inteligencia Militar (DGIM). Carvajal, a close associate of the country’s late president Hugo Chavez, was accused by the US Department of the Treasury in 2008 of weapons and drugs smuggling. According to the US government, Carvajal was personally involved in illegally providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftwing guerrilla group engaged in a decades-long insurgency war against the government of Colombia. It also accused the Venezuelan official of helping the FARC smuggle cocaine out of the country, in a bid to help them raise funds to support their insurgency against Colombian authorities. In January of this year, Caracas appointed Carvajal consul-general to Aruba. Aruban officials told reporters last week that, although Carvajal held a Venezuelan diplomatic passport, he had not yet received his official diplomatic accreditation from the Aruban authorities at the time of his arrest, and was therefore not an accredited diplomat. By the end of last week, it appeared almost certain that Carvajal would be extradited to the US. But the Dutch government suddenly reversed its position on Monday and decided to release Carvajal, who has reportedly been expelled from Aruba and declared persona non grata (unwanted person). Some observers, including Venezuela’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Milos Alcalay, opined that the Dutch territory reversed its decision following “diplomatic threats” by Venezuela, “entailing severe economic relations”. Read more of this post

Aruba arrests ex-head of Venezuelan intelligence, after US request

Hugo Carvajal BarriosBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence, who was a close associate of the country’s late president Hugo Chavez, has been arrested in Aruba following a request by the United States. Authorities in the Dutch-controlled Caribbean island announced on Thursday the arrest of Hugo Carvajal Barrios, former director of Venezuela’s Dirección General de Inteligencia Militar (DGIM), which is Venezuela’s military intelligence agency. A close comrade of Venezuela’s late socialist leader, Carvajal was accused by the US Department of the Treasury in 2008 of weapons and drugs smuggling. According to the US government, Carvajal was personally involved in illegally providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftwing guerrilla group involved in a decades-long insurgency war against the government of Colombia. It also accused the Venezuelan official of helping the FARC smuggle cocaine out of the country, in a bid to help them raise funds to support their insurgency against Colombian authorities. But the government of Venezuela rejects all charges and has been sheltering Carvajal. In January of this year it appointed him consul-general to Aruba, a Dutch colony in the Caribbean located just 15 miles off Venezuela’s coast. Caracas reacted strongly to Carvajal’s arrest, saying the detention of the diplomat was a violation of the Vienna Convention, which grants international diplomats immunity from arrest or detention. But Aruban officials told reporters on Thursday that, although Carvajal holds a Venezuelan diplomatic passport, he has not yet received his official diplomatic accreditation from the Aruban authorities, and is therefore not an accredited diplomat. A spokesperson for the Aruban prosecutor’s office told the Associated Press that Carvajal “does not have any function here in Aruba. He is not the consul-general. Therefore he has no immunity”. Read more of this post

US spies say incriminating flight MA17 recordings are genuine

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials said on Tuesday that the intercepted conversations between pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, in which they admit shooting down a plane at approximately the same time Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, are “authentic”. The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity at a press briefing in Washington, organized by the United States government to provide its own take on the tragic incident, which killed almost 300 people last week. On Monday, Russian military officials said Moscow had evidence that a Ukrainian fighter jet was trailing the civilian airliner shortly before it crashed. But American officials told reporters on Tuesday that satellite images, voice traffic, as well as information gathered from social media used by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, “point overwhelmingly” to direct rebel responsibility for the attack. The officials said that the possibility that Ukrainian military forces might have shot down the plane was “not a plausible scenario”, because Kiev had “no antiaircraft missile system within range of the Malaysian flight at the time it was struck”. They added that photos from the crash site showed damage consistent with that caused by a Russian-made SA-11 missile, though they stressed that the data backing this assertion is still preliminary. They also pointed out, however, that US intelligence experts had verified the authenticity of the intercepted telephone conversations released shortly after the plane disaster by the Security Service of Ukraine. The voices in the recordings are allegedly those of senior pro-Russian rebel commanders, as well as of officials in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one conversation, recorded 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, tells GRU Colonel Vasily Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane [...]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. Read more of this post

Russia says it traced Ukraine fighter jet near downed Malaysia plane

General Kartopolov (left) speaking in MoscowBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Russian government officials have made a presentation in Moscow showing alleged evidence of a Ukrainian fighter jet, which they claim was trailing a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, were killed. Last week, Ukrainian intelligence sources released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro-Russian rebels that they shot down the civilian airliner. But Russian defense officials fought back on Monday with a hi-tech news conference in Moscow, which included several slides, charts and images relating to the airline disaster over Donetsk. The media briefing, which was specifically called to showcase Moscow’s take on the incident, featured two senior-ranking officials from the Russian general staff. One of the presenters, Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov, told the gathered reporters that the government of Ukraine was most likely behind the plane’s downing. He said Russian radars showed the Malaysian Airlines plane had been forced to “deviate from its route to the north” for up to “14 kilometers” (10 miles). He added that the plane was all the while being trailed by an SU-25 fighter jet belonging to the Ukrainian government, which Russian radars indicated was flying at a distance of “three to five kilometers” (3 miles) from the civilian airplane. Kartopolov stressed that the SU-25 fighter jets are typically armed with air-to-air missiles. Pointing to a series of graphs showing radar activity around Donetsk, the Russian general stated that Ukrainian radar stations had also displayed “unusual activity” in the hours preceding the attack on the civilian airliner. He told reporters that the Russian Ministry of Defense had evidence that “the intensity of the operation of Ukrainian radar stations increased to the maximum” during the time period surrounding the fateful attack on the plane. Read more of this post

Kenyan state accused of role in killings of prominent Muslims

Site of Butt's assassinationBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Human rights groups have accused the Kenyan government of being behind a spate of assassinations of prominent Muslims in the country, after a controversial Muslim businessman was shot dead in his car last week. Kenyan authorities had accused Mohamed Shahid Butt, a vocal Muslim entrepreneur, who owned several business ventures in the city of Mombasa, of inciting terrorism. He was due to appear in court in August to face charges of funding radical Muslim youth groups in Mombasa and instructing them to drive out moderate Muslim clerics from area mosques. According to court documents, the Kenyan government has been investigating several back accounts belonging to Mr. Butt, as part of a wider probe into alleged terrorism funding. However, on Friday evening the prominent businessman was gunned down in his car in Mombasa’s Chaani district by two men who then escaped, firing automatic rifles in the air. Mr. Butt was reportedly returning to downtown Mombasa from the Moi International Airport, after picking up his son who had arrived there on a flight from London. At approximately 8:15 p.m., Mr. Butt’s car was blocked and brought to a halt by another vehicle. As soon as his car was immobilized, two men emerged from the other vehicle and shot the businessman at close range before driving off. Mr. Butt died at the scene, while his son was slightly injured. Friday’s incident was the latest in a string of assassinations of prominent Muslims in the Mombasa region during the past two years. This past June, Sheikh Mohammed Idris, a moderate Sunni imam who chaired the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, became the fourth prominent Muslim cleric to have been shot dead in Mombasa since 2012. Prior to his assassination, Idris had been ousted from Mombasa’s Sakina mosque, where Mr. Butt had been an elder. The mosque has since become an enclave of radical Muslims and has been renamed to Mujahedeen (holy warrior) mosque. Muslim and human rights groups accuse the Kenyan government of conducting the assassinations, in an attempt to neutralize what it sees as domestic enemies of the state. Read more of this post

Analysis: Crimea crisis brings Russian military spies back in the game

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The recent crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in Russia assuming control of Crimean Peninsula, marks the post-Soviet resurgence of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus and points to “a new playbook” in Moscow’s foreign policy strategy, according to a seasoned Russia analyst. In an article published on Monday in Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, who specializes in Russian security affairs, said Russia’s military intelligence agency is now “back in the global spook game”. He was referring to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU, which he said the Kremlin will be employing increasingly in the years to come as a major foreign-policy tool. It is no secret that, despite its significant role in Cold War intelligence operations, the GRU has been in decline in the post-Soviet era. Its substandard performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin that the agency was “unfit” for operations in what Russians call the “near-abroad” —the regions of the former Soviet Republics. In 2003, in addition to facing what Galeotti calls “a savage round of [budget] cuts”, the GRU saw its near-abroad functions taken over by the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. The FSB descends from the domestic component of the Soviet-era KGB, the agency that employed Vladimir Putin before he entered politics (as an aside, the SVR, which is the post-Soviet reincarnation of the KGB’s external intelligence directorates, is legally prevented from operating within the Commonwealth of Independent States). As late as last year there was even a discussion about whether the GRU should be demoted from a main directorate under the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff to a simple directorate, a move that would have fatally diminished its institutional stature. But in the recent Crimea crisis, says Galeotti, the GRU was able to turn the tables on Kiev by deploying its battle-ready Vostok Battalion, whose members cut their teeth in Chechnya. Read more of this post

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