Prosecutor probing secret Argentine-Iran deal ‘feared for life’

Alberto NismanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Argentine state prosecutor, who probed an alleged secret pact between Argentina and Iran involving the bombing of Israeli targets in Buenos Aires, had expressed fears for his life just days before he was found dead. Alberto Nisman’s body was found on January 19 in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside. His death came hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony relating to his allegations that the government of Argentina had allowed Iranian agents to bomb Israeli targets in the country, in exchange for energy and defense deals.

Nisman had prompted international headlines shortly before his death, after he launched a criminal complaint against the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hector Timerman, and several other notable personalities of Argentine life. He accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) community center in the Argentine capital was bombed. Under the alleged deal, Tehran would be allowed to target the Jewish community in Buenos Aires in exchange for lucrative commercial deals with Argentina, involving oil and arms exports.

Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. His death occurred despite a 10-member police protection team that had been assigned to him by the Argentine government. The security detail was assigned to him following his claims that he had prepared a 300-page report on the matter of Iranian activities in Buenos Aires, which allegedly included material from wiretaps given to him by senior Argentine intelligence officials.

On Wednesday, Diego Lagomarsinoa, who was a close associate of Nisman, and the last known person to see him alive, said the prosecutor had confided in him that he feared for his safety, as well as for the safety of his family. He also allegedly said that he didn’t trust his police protection team. Speaking at a news conference in Buenos Aires, Lagomarsinoa said he had given Nisman the .22 caliber handgun that he is believed to have used to kill himself. He said he gave him the gun for protection. Lagomarsinoa, a computer expert, has been charged with providing a firearm to a non-registered individual, which is a criminal offense in Argentina. He is the only person to have been charged in Nisman’s death so far.

More on Russian citizens charged with espionage by the FBI

TASS news agency headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A criminal complaint unsealed Monday in a Manhattan court has revealed more details about a complex counterintelligence operation by American authorities against three Russian citizens in New York. The Federal Bureau of Investigation filed charges against two Russian diplomats, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, as well as Evgeny Buryakov, an employee of a major Russian bank in Manhattan. All three are believed to be officers of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to the criminal complaint, the two diplomats met Buryakov nearly fifty times between March 2012 and September 2014. FBI counterintelligence agents witnessed the Russians pass “small objects or notes” between each other in public, said the indictment. As intelNews reported yesterday, the three Russians were in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization” in the US. According to The Daily Beast, the news organization in question is the Moscow-based TASS news agency, which is owned by the Russian government. The court documents also reveal that Sporyshev and Podobnyy broke basic rules of intelligence tradecraft, by contacting Buryakov using an unencrypted telephone line and addressing him by his real name, rather than his cover name. These conversations, which occurred in April 2013, turned out to be monitored by the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which promptly recorded them. In subsequent telephone conversations, Sporyshev and Podobnyy exchanged views on how to recruit female assets in New York. According to the transcripts provided by the FBI, Sporyshev expressed the view that female assets posed problems, in that they would not let male SVR case officers “get close enough” unless they entered a sexual relationship, which made recruitment of assets complicated. Eventually, the FBI set up a sting operation targeting Buryakov. He was approached by an undercover FBI agent posing as an American investor, offering to provide the Russian with classified documents from the US Treasury. In exchange for the documents, he wanted assistance from the Kremlin to build a chain of casinos in Russia. Buryakov spoke with Sporyshev on the phone about the investor’s offer, and was advised by the diplomat that it could be “some sort of a set up —a trap of some kind”. When Sporyshev told Buryakov to proceed cautiously, the latter received from the undercover FBI agent documents purporting to be from a US Treasury source. The Russian was promptly arrested and now faces up to 20 years in prison on charges of operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

US busts Russian spy ring, charges three with espionage

Russian mission to the UNBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the United States have charged three Russian citizens, two of them diplomats, with operating a New York-based spy ring on orders from Moscow. Early on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation named the diplomats as Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27. It said the two were employees of the trade office of the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. But the FBI had apparently been monitoring the two accredited diplomats since March of 2012. Its agents eventually uncovered that Sporyshev and Podobnyy were in fact employees of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to their indictment, the two were employed by the SVR’s ‘ER’ Directorate, which focuses on economics and finance. The two SVR employees, operating under diplomatic guises, regularly met with a third member of the alleged spy ring, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, also an SVR officer. However, unlike Sporyshev and Podobnyy, Buryakov was operating under non-official cover, posing as an employee in the Manhattan office of a major Russian bank. Non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community, are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for conducting espionage. US government prosecutors suggested on Monday that the three alleged SVR operatives were also in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization”, presumably in the US. They also tried to recruit American citizens to spy for Moscow, including employees of “major companies” and “several young women with ties to a major university in New York”, according to the indictment. It is believed that the three Russians were primarily interested in information relating to potential US government sanctions against Russian financial institutions, as well as Washington’s efforts to promote the development of alternative resources of energy. The FBI said Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, “no longer reside in the US”. Presumably they were expelled. Buryakov, however, appeared in a Manhattan court on Monday.

Links revealed between UK spy agencies and Gaddafi-era Libya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgTony Blair and Muammar Gaddafi in 2007
British spy agencies had close operational links with their Libyan counterparts during the rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, and even allowed Libyan spies to operate on British soil, according to documents. The Libyan government files, unearthed in the North African country following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, allegedly reveal a degree of cooperation between London and Tripoli that goes far beyond what has been publicly acknowledged. According to London-based newspaper The Guardian, which saw the documents, intelligence agencies from the two countries launched a series of joint operations between 2006 and 2011, aimed at political enemies of the Libyan ruler, many of whom were thought to have links with al-Qaeda. In an article published on Friday, The Guardian said that the Security Service (commonly known as MI5), invited Libyan intelligence operatives to Britain and allowed them to spy on enemies of the Gaddafi regime who were living there, having been granted political asylum by the British government. The paper said that the Libyan intelligence officers were even allowed to “intimidate a number of Gaddafi opponents” who were trying to organize anti-Gaddafi campaigns on British soil. In return, the Libyan government allowed MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) access to captured anti-Gaddafi dissidents in Libya, while the latter underwent interrogation that almost certainly involved torture. The British paper said the unearthed documents, which come straight from the archive vaults of the Gaddafi government, are being used in a lawsuit filed in Britain against MI5, MI6, as well as against a number of British government departments, by former anti-Gaddafi dissidents. The plaintiffs, all members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which tried to depose Gaddafi in the years prior to his death, claim that evidence against them was obtained through torture in Libyan prisons. They also claim that British intelligence agencies knew they were being tortured when they cooperated with the Libyan intelligence services that had captured them. In 2014, a former senior leader of LIFG, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, won the right to sue the British government over his claim that he was tortured by Libyan intelligence operatives with the cooperation of British and American intelligence agencies. In 2012, another prominent Libyan political dissident, Sami al-Saadi, was awarded £2.2 million ($3.5 million) by a British court, after claiming that he underwent torture in Libya following his abduction in a joint British/Libyan/American intelligence operation.

Mossad breaks with Israeli PM, cautions against new Iran sanctions

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cautioning American members of Congress against imposing new sanctions on Iran. In November of 2013, Iran signed a Joint Plan of Action with six world powers in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as the Geneva interim agreement, the pact eases economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. But two members of the Republican-controlled Senate in the United States, Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, have voiced strong displeasure with what they see as the slow pace of progress in the talks. The two senators are co-sponsors of a proposed bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic fails to make substantial progress toward the Geneva agreement by next June. US President Barack Obama opposes the bill, arguing that it would actually prompt Iran to accelerate its nuclear program, and has publicly said he would veto it. Meanwhile, his Secretary of State, John Kerry, quoted this week an Israeli intelligence official who allegedly told him that, if enacted, the Menendez-Kirk bill would “throw a grenade into the process”. It is no secret that the bill enjoys strong support from Netanyahu’s government. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the Geneva pact a “historic mistake”, which enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Late on Wednesday, however, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad has been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians and cautioning them that the Menendez-Kirk bill would indeed torpedo the Geneva agreement. The news agency said that the Israeli intelligence agency has been warning American officials abroad and it recently contacted a US Congressional delegation visiting Israel. The Bloomberg report cited two unnamed “senior US officials”, one of whom told the news agency that “any bill that triggers sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks”. If confirmed, the Bloomberg allegations would mean that the Mossad, Israel’s principal intelligence agency, is sharply breaking ranks with the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Iran. The Bloomberg article further states that Senator Menendez has contacted Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, to complain about the actions of the Mossad, which, say critics, break diplomatic protocol.

Argentine prosecutor probing Israeli embassy bombing found dead

Alberto NismanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Argentine state prosecutor, who accused senior Argentine officials of having colluded with Iran to bomb Israeli targets in Buenos Aires, has been found dead hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject. Alberto Nisman’s body was found on Monday morning in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside. Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. Nisman caused international headlines last week, after launching a criminal complaint against the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hector Timerman, and several other notable personalities of Argentine life. He accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) community center in the Argentine capital was bombed. For years, Israeli authorities have accused Iran of perpetrating the attacks. But Nisman claimed that the Iranians had formed a “secret pact” with Argentine authorities. Under the alleged deal, Tehran would be allowed to target the Jewish community in Buenos Aires in exchange for lucrative commercial deals with Argentina, involving oil and arms exports. Nisman was given protection by a 10-member police squad after he announced he had prepared a 300-page report on the subject, which allegedly included material from wiretaps given to him by senior Argentine intelligence officials. Members of Nisman’s police protection team said they found him dead after he failed to respond to messages sent to his personal cell phone overnight. On Monday evening, as news of Nisman’s death spread across Argentina, thousands of people participated in spontaneous demonstrations throughout the country, protesting about this latest chapter in a mysterious case that has haunted Argentine politics for over two decades.

UK spies intercepted emails from top European, American media

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s communications-interception agency captured private emails from journalists and editors in some of the world’s top media, including The New York Times, the BBC, The Washington Post, and NBC. British broadsheet The Guardian said on Monday that the interception occurred in 2008 by experts in the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which spies on international communications on behalf of the British government. The London-based newspaper said the emails were among 70,000 that were captured during a 10-minute interception drill that took place in 2008. The exercise involved the installation of a number of taps on fiber-optic cables, which function as superhighways of digital signals exchanged between users around the world. The messages captured included emails sent by journalists and editors working for some of the world’s most recognizable media in Britain, France and the United States. Following the exercise, the content of the intercepted messages was posted on GCHQ’s internal servers, where any one of its employees with access to the organization’s intranet could read them. The Guardian said it based its revelation on internal GCHQ files disclosed by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for GCHQ’s American counterpart, the National Security Agency, who defected to Russia in 2013. The purpose of the British spy agency’s exercise is not known, nor is there any information in the leaked documents to show whether journalists and their editors were deliberately targeted by GCHQ. However, the paper said that another document leaked by Snowden contains an “information security assessment”, in which GCHQ targeting officers listed “investigative journalists” in a detailed hierarchical list of security threats, which included computer hackers and terrorists. The document cautions that “journalists and reporters […] specializing in defence-related exposés […] represent a potential threat to security”. The Guardian contacted GCHQ but was told by a spokesman that the organization has a “longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters”. The spokesman added, however, that the agency’s interception activities are subject to “rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state”.

Sri Lanka expels Indian spy official for meddling in elections

Maithripala SirisenaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Sri Lanka has expelled a senior Indian intelligence official, accusing him of meddling in national elections that took place earlier this month. Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down on January 9 after losing a nationwide electoral contest to his former cabinet aide and main contender for the post, Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena led a coalition of opposition parties and figures, including several of Rajapaksa’s government ministers, who defected to the opposition en masse in the months leading to the election. Rajapaksa’s defeat surprised observers, who believed he would easily win a successive third term in office. Since 2005, when he was first elected president, Rajapaksa led an all-out military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as Tamil Tigers), after dismissing a prior truce deal between the government and the separatist group as “treasonous”. Under his leadership, the Sri Lankan military drove the Tigers out of Sri Lanka’s entire Eastern Province, reducing the extent of the group’s territorial control by 95%. However, relations with India, a traditional Sri Lankan ally, deteriorated drastically under Rajapaksa’s leadership. New Delhi became concerned that Colombo was making too many openings toward India’s geopolitical rival China. Late last year the Indian government protested after Sri Lanka permitted Chinese submarines to dock there without first informing its northern neighbor. On December 28, Sri Lankan media alleged that the senior representative of India’s Research and Analysis Wing in Colombo had been expelled from the country due to his behind-the-scenes support of the opposition’s electoral campaign. According to Sri Lankan sources, it was the Indian intelligence official who convinced Sirisena to resign from President Rajapaksa’s cabinet and run against him. The Indian intelligence operative then hosted secret meetings between Sirisena and other opposition figures, during which a united political front against Rajapaksa was formed. The allegations were also reported by the Reuters news agency on January 18, in an article that cited “political and intelligence sources” in Sri Lanka and India. New Delhi denied the allegations, saying that the intelligence official had been replaced because his overseas tour had expired, not because he had been expelled by authorities in Colombo. Meanwhile, the newly installed President Sirisena said he intends visit New Delhi on his first foreign trip in February, adding that India will form his government’s “first, main concern” on matters of foreign policy.

Canadian arbitrator sides with agency that fired spy-in-training

CSIS headquarters in OttawaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An arbitration court in Canada has reversed an earlier court decision by upholding a dismissal of a spy-in-training by the country’s primary national intelligence service. Marc-André Bergeron used the operational alias Marc-André Bertrand while working for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. According to the secretive agency’s recruitment system, all new employees are considered trainees and remain on probation for five years, at which point they can be fired with relative ease. Bergeron, who worked for the CSIS in Quebec, was dismissed in October of 2007, just three months before his probation period was scheduled to expire. The Service said his dismissal was due to operational incompetence on his part. But the former spy filed a wrongful dismissal claim against CSIS, arguing he was fired due to a severe personality conflict with his superior, whom he described as manipulative and petty. As intelNews reported in 2011, Bergeron won his case by representing himself and successfully arguing that CSIS had failed to give him an opportunity to “explain himself”, something that he blamed on the “lack of transparency” that plagued the organization. The dispute between the sides continued, however, and earlier this month the Public Service Labour Relations Board backed CSIS’s decision to fire the spy trainee. Prior to announcing its decision, the Board heard that Michel Coulombe, who became CSIS’ director in 2013, had personally signed Bergeron’s dismissal letter in 2007. At the time, Coulombe served as CSIS’ head for the province of Quebec, where Bergeron was employed. According to the Quebec-based Journal de Montreal, which accessed a copy of the letter, it states that Bergeron lacked the “skills and abilities needed to be an intelligence officer at the CSIS”. The Service also claimed that Bergeron had demonstrated inability to differentiate fact from fiction, was an analyst of poor quality, and had filed incomplete investigation reports during his probationary period. Neither CSIS nor Bergeron made comments following the announcement of the Board’s decision.

German who spied for CIA stole list of 3,500 German spies’ names

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A German intelligence officer, who was arrested last summer for spying for the United States, may have given his American handlers information on the real identities, as well as operational aliases, of nearly 3,500 German intelligence operatives. In July, Germany expelled the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Berlin, following the arrest of Marcus R., a 31-year-old, low-level clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was believed at the time to have spied for the CIA for approximately two years, and to have supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000. It is thought that Markus R. contacted the CIA by sending an email over an encrypted connection to the American embassy in Berlin. From then on, his communication with his American handlers appears to have taken place mostly via the Internet. Sources suggest that he conferred with them via a secure link that was included in a specially-designed weather application that he had been instructed install on his computer. Now German authorities, who have been investigating the 31-year-old double spy’s computers ever since his arrest, say they found in one of them a stolen digital document containing a list of the real and cover identities of thousands of BND employees stationed abroad. According to German publications Bild and Spiegel, which reported the alleged discovery, the employees whose names are contained in the document are members of the BND’s Foreign Relations department, also known as Foreign Theater Operations department. The department is tasked with stationing intelligence operatives abroad in German embassies and consulates, as well as with embedding them with German military missions in places such as Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Mali. German investigators say they are not yet certain whether Markus R. passed the names of the BND operatives on to his CIA handlers.

News you may have missed #887 (Anglosphere edition)

Ian FletcherBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Canadian military deploys spies during Arctic exercise. The Canadian military has been routinely deploying a counter-intelligence team to guard against possible spying, terrorism and sabotage during its annual Arctic exercise, according to internal documents. In the view of intelligence experts, the move is unusual because Operation NANOOK is conducted on Canadian soil in remote locations of the Far North.
►►Sudden resignation of NZ spy chief raises questions. Opposition parties in New Zealand have raised questions over the sudden resignation of Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Ian Fletcher, who is stepping down after three years in the role. Chris Finlayson, the minister responsible for the spy agency, said Fletcher was making the move for family reasons. Fletcher will finish in the role on 27 February and an acting director will be appointed from that date.
►►British government argues for more powers for spy agencies. Britain’s spying agencies need more powers to read the contents of communications in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Speaking in Nottingham, he said the intelligence agencies need more access to both communications data –records of phone calls and online exchanges between individuals– and the contents of communications. This is compatible with a “modern, liberal democracy”, he said.

Western intelligence points to new Syrian nuclear plant: report

Al-Qusayr, SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Western intelligence indicates that the government of Syria is in the process of constructing a new secret nuclear plant aimed at producing nuclear weapons. In the early hours of September 7, 2007, an air attack believed to have been carried out by Israel destroyed a mysterious facility deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. The site, named al-Kibar, located 20 miles from Deir el-Zor in eastern Syria, is widely thought to have been a nuclear reactor under construction by Damascus. The Syrian government has never commented or protested about the incident. But in late 2008, the Israeli government told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Syria was once again “actively involved in plutonium production” and that Damascus had renewed its nuclear collaboration with North Korea, which was actively supplying Syria “with nuclear materials and research”. Now a report in leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had transported 8,000 fuel rods that had been destined for al-Kibar to a new location in the southwest of the country. The report, published on Saturday, cited information from “Western intelligence sources”, which it did not identify. The newsmagazine said it had seen intelligence reports containing satellite photographs and transcriptions of intercepted radio traffic, which left little doubt that the Syrian government was in the process of constructing a new nuclear reactor. The German-language publication said the plant is being constructed deep underground in a remote mountainous region near the small town of Al-Qusayr, located less than two miles from the northern Lebanese border. According to the report, construction on the al-Qusayr plant, which the Syrians appear to have codenamed “Zamzam”, began in 2009 under the watchful eye of Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, which currently guards the plant with “elite units”. The site appears ideal, said Der Spiegel, as it is adjacent to significant supplies of water, and is connected to the energy grid through special access nodes. The newsmagazine said radio traffic intercepts include conversations between senior Syrian military officials and Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. The discussions seem to indicate that the construction project is being assisted by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The article points out that Western monitors are certain the technical aspects of the project are being led by North Korean experts, and that some of them are currently in Damascus. According to the IAEA, the Syrian government is in possession of approximately 50 tons of natural uranium, which, if enriched, could provide material for up to three nuclear bombs.

Opinion: Paris attackers bring Mideast urban warfare to Europe

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
Until Wednesday morning, the last time the offices of Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known satirical weekly, were attacked was on November 2, 2011. On that day, unknown assailants had thrown Molotov cocktails into the premises, setting them on fire. Since that attack, France has seen its share of Islamist-inspired terrorist incidents. In March of 2012, French citizen Mohammed Merah shot dead three French soldiers before attacking a Jewish school in Toulouse, where he killed three students and a teacher. Last May, authorities in Marseille arrested another Frenchman, Mehdi Nemmouche, for opening fire at a Jewish museum in Belgian capital Brussels earlier that month, killing a French national and two Israeli citizens. And the French public has been shocked in recent months by a number of seemingly random attacks on pedestrians by vehicles driven by Muslim Frenchmen, who appear to be politically motivated.

The common thread running through these incidents is that they were all haphazardly planned and executed by ‘lone-wolf’ attackers, who were markedly limited in both resources and skill. But the men implicated in Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead, were different. The two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who are said to be the main perpetrators of the assault, are believed to have “returned to France from Syria in the last year”, according to MSNBC. Undoubtedly, the two siblings saw action in the Syrian armed conflict, which is primarily fought in urban settings, and were systematically trained in urban warfare by men with considerable experience in it.

This explains their proficient delivery on Wednesday, as shown in the footage of the bloody attack, which has emerged since. The assailants arrived at their target carrying Kalashnikov rifles and magazines, neither of which can be easily acquired in France. Once inside the building, they remained there for a good 12 minutes, carefully executing their victims, some of whom they methodically sought out by name. They exited just as they entered, calm and collected. Even when they encountered a police vehicle, they stopped, aimed and shot at its passengers with considerable discipline, firing single or —in a handful of cases— double shots, instead of opting for bursts of rapid fire, which is the hallmark of inexperienced users of automatic rifles in moments of panic. After executing the police officers, they calmly walked back into their getaway vehicle and slowly drove away. It has been reported that at no point did they break the speed limit during their escape. Read more of this post

North Korean hackers operating secretly in China, says defector

Shenyang railway stationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An underground network of North Korean hackers are conducting complex cyberattacks against worldwide targets from Chinese cities without the knowledge of Beijing, according to a former professor who trained them. Kim Heung-Kwang was a professor of computer science in North Korean capital Pyongyang, until his defection in 2004. He told CNN on Tuesday that part of his job was training members of North Korea’s elite cyberintelligence corps, whose task was to compromise computer systems around the world. Kim alleged that some of the hackers joined a specialized outfit called Bureau 121. It was established in complete secrecy in 1995 and ten years later it began sending its operatives abroad, especially in northern China. According to Kim, Bureau 121 set up a complex network of hackers in the Chinese city of Shenyang, in northern China’s Liaoning Province. Shenyang is the largest Chinese city near North Korea, and Bureau 121 operatives were allegedly able to effortlessly blend in the sizeable Korean community there. The former professor told CNN that the hackers “entered China separately” over time, “in smaller groups […], under different titles” such as officer workers, trade company officials, or even diplomatic personnel. They operated like typical spies, working regular jobs by day and “acting on orders from Pyongyang” by night, said Kim. They gradually set up an underground “North Korean hacker hub”, operating secretly in Shenyang for several years, relocating from place to place in order to shield their activities from computer security experts. Kim told CNN that Shenyang’s bustling, money-driven life and its good Internet facilities made it easy for Bureau 121 members to work secretly on several projects that required sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. North Korea lacks China’s telecommunications network capabilities, said Kim, which is why Pyongyang decided in the early days of the Internet to transport its hackers to Shenyang. He added that Bureau 121 has rolled back considerably its overseas operations in recent years, due to the advancement of high-speed telecommunications networks in North Korea; but some North Korean hackers are still active in northern China, he said.

Hezbollah official admits group ‘battling espionage’ in its ranks

Naim QassemBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Public comments by a senior Hezbollah official appear to confirm earlier reports that the man who directed the personal security detail of the Lebanese group’s leader was a spy for Israel. Several Lebanese news outlets reported in December that Mohammed Shawraba, a 42-year-old Hezbollah official from southern Lebanon, had been arrested by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force and was undergoing trial for having leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years. Sources said that Shawraba used to oversee the security detail of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general. He was subsequently promoted to director of Hezbollah’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which conducts intelligence operations on Israeli targets abroad. One Lebanese source described the Shawraba case as “one of the most significant security breaches” in the history of Hezbollah. Ever since the first public allegations emerged, the militant Shiite group has remained silent. On Saturday, however, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, admitted that the group was “battling espionage within its ranks” and that its counter-spies had been able to uncover “a number of significant infiltrations”. Qassem’s comments, made during an interview on Al-Nour, a Beirut-based radio station affiliated with Hezbollah, have been taken by observers as an indirect admission that the rumors about Shawraba are accurate. Qassem told the radio station that Hezbollah was a party that aimed for virtue and pureness, but that it was made up of human beings who are inevitably fallible. But he refused to be more specific about the cases of espionage, saying only that Hezbollah was Lebanon’s strongest and most resilient political organization and would easily overcome any harm caused by double agents within its ranks. A spokesman for the militant group, who was asked on Sunday whether Qassem’s comments were a reference to Shawraba, refused to comment on the case.

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