Ex-KGB spy killed in London ‘warned Italy about Russian terror plot’

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A witness has told a British inquiry investigating the murder of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko that the former spy may have been killed because he warned Italian authorities about an impending Russian terror plot. Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting former KGB/FSB colleague Andrey Lugovoy at a London restaurant. Many suspect that the Russian government is behind Litvinenko’s murder.

Speaking in a London court on Monday, Italian newspaper editor and politician Paolo Guzzanti said he believed Litvinenko was murdered by the Kremlin because he was helping Italian authorities assess a series of Soviet and Russian intelligence operations in the country. Guzzanti was speaking as the former president of the so-called Mitrokhin Commission, a parliamentary board set up in 2002 to investigate past intelligence operations by the Soviet KGB in Italy. Most of the work of the Commission stemmed from the revelations in the Mitrokhin Archive, named after Vassili Mitrokhin, who for three decades was the archivist in the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. Mitrokhin defected to the Britain in 1992, taking with him a treasure trove of documents about Soviet intelligence activities that took place abroad during the Cold War.

Guzzanti told the inquiry that Litvinenko had cooperated with the Mitrokhin Committee and had even shared information with one of its consultants, Mario Scaramella, about ongoing attempts by the FSB to organize terrorist strikes in Italy. According to Guzzanti, Litvinenko informed Scaramella that Russian intelligence operatives were helping transport weapons from Ukraine to Italy in order to assassinate Guzzanti and thus sabotage the work of the Mitrokhin Committee. Based on Litvinenko’s information, Scaramella accused Alexander Talik, a Ukrainian former officer of the KGB who lived in Naples, Italy, of helping Russian intelligence operatives smuggle guns into the country. Talik and a number of his accomplices were promptly arrested by Italian authorities after they found several weapons and grenades in their possession. According to Guzzanti, Litvinenko’s role in stopping the alleged assassination attempt against him and other members of the Mitrokhin Committee was what led to the Kremlin’s decision to murder the former KGB spy.

At the end of Monday’s proceedings, the inquiry directors announced the would adjourn until the next provisional hearing, which has been scheduled for July 27.

Senior Iranian aide defects during nuclear talks in Lausanne

Amir Hossein MotaghiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A media advisor to the Iranian president, who was in Switzerland to cover the ongoing international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, has defected. Amir Hossein Motaghi is credited with having helped secure the impressive ascent of Hassan Rouhani to Iran’s presidency in 2013. Rouhani, who swept to power with over 50 percent of the vote, over 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, owes much of his victory to his popularity among the youth. Motaghi led the media team that promoted Rouhani’s image among younger voters by cleverly employing online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Following Rouhani’s victory, however, Motaghi repeatedly voiced impatience with the slow pace of social and political reforms in Iran. Recently he spoke in favor of the release of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been denounced as a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government. There have been rumors in the Iranian media that Motaghi had been ordered to report once a week to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence; some say he had been privately warned that he faced arrest upon his return to Iran.

Motaghi had reportedly been sent to the Swiss city of Lausanne by the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). His task was to cover the ongoing talks that aim to bring an end to the dispute between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. However, according to Iranian opposition sources, the media aide resigned from his ISCA post before filing an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Soon afterwards, Motaghi gave an interview to Irane Farda, a pro-reform Iranian television station based in London, in which he explained the reasons for his defection. He accused the Iranian government of controlling Iranian media reports about the talks, by staffing its reporter entourage in Lausanne with undercover intelligence officers. He also said he could no longer pursue his profession conscientiously because he was only allowed to report approved news items. Furthermore, he accused the American delegation to the talks as “mainly speak[ing] on Iran’s behalf with […] the 5+1 countries [so as to] convince them to consent to an agreement”.

Late on Sunday, ISCA, the press agency believed to have sent Motaghi to Switzerland, released a statement claiming it did not employ the journalist and that his job had been terminated prior to the nuclear talks in Lausanne.

News you may have missed #890

Kim Kuk-giBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US DEA agents given prostitutes and gifts by drug cartels. US Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department. Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members. Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in gatherings with prostitutes and received suspensions of two to 10 days.
►►Polish lieutenant accused of spying for Russia. A Polish Air Force pilot allegedly copied several thousand flight plans for F-16 fighters and handed them to Russian intelligence. According to Polish media, the airman was arrested by authorities last November, but the information has only recently emerged. The pilot was allegedly suspended from his duties, his passport was confiscated, and he was banned from leaving the country. Some reports suggest that soon after the arrest of the lieutenant, a Russian diplomat was expelled from the country for spying.
►►North Korea claims arrest of South Korean spies. North Korea said it had arrested two South Koreans engaged in espionage. The two arrested men, identified as Kim Kuk-gi (see photo) and Choe Chun-gil, were presented at a press conference in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats. A North Korean media report said Kim and Choe had gathered information about North Korea’s “party, state and military secrets”. It was not immediately clear where or when the two men were arrested. In Seoul, the country’s intelligence agency said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was “absolutely groundless”.

‘Gloves are coming off’ in US-Israel clash over Iran, says intel insider

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An American former intelligence operative has called the latest revelations of Israeli spying against the United States “appalling” and warned that “the gloves are coming off” in the clash between Washington and Tel Aviv over Iran. The unnamed former operative, described as having “long, firsthand familiarity with Israeli operations”, told Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that he was not surprised to find out Israel has been spying on the closed-door talks between the US and the Islamic Republic.

He was referring to The Wall Street Journal’s leading article on Monday, which alleged that the Jewish state’s intelligence services have been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The paper said the spy operation against the US forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which aim to bridge the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Newsweek has reported before allegations about aggressive Israeli espionage against the US. Last year, Stein elicited a strong reaction from the Israeli government when he quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal American secrets. According to Stein, intelligence representatives had briefed members of Congress about Israeli spy operations against US interests that were “unrivaled and unseemly” and had reached levels far higher than similar activities by other allied countries, such as Britain or Japan.

This time, however, says Stein, Israeli actions “mark a new frontier” in the intelligence rivalry between Washington and Tel Aviv. He quotes an American former intelligence insider who condemns Israeli efforts to sabotage US-Iranian talks as “manipulation of our institutions” and blasts American lawmakers siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “useful idiots” who “sacrifice the US national interest for a foreign ideology”, namely “Likud rightwing Zionism”. The unnamed source added that the controlled leaks about the widening rift in US-Israeli relations reveal the anger currently being felt in Washington against the Israeli government. Behind closed doors, officials in the White House, the foreign-policy and intelligence communities “are prepared to act on that anger”, he concluded.

Israel ‘spied on the United States’ during Iran nuclear negotiations

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The intelligence services of Israel have allegedly been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal said the spy operation forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which are aimed at bridging the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

In a leading article published on Monday, the paper said it decided to reveal the existence of the Israeli spying program after interviewing “more than a dozen current and former US and Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials, policy makers and lawmakers”. Ironically, according to The Journal, the administration of US President Barack Obama found out about the Israeli spying after instructing American intelligence agencies to conduct a counterintelligence operation against Tel Aviv, in order to see what they knew about the secret negotiations with Iran. After spying on Israeli government officials, the American agencies concluded that they were in possession of confidential information that could only have been acquired from spying on participants in the negotiations.

According to The Journal, American officials were not surprised by the spying. But they were especially perturbed, said the paper, to find out that the Israeli government proceeded to leak the secret information to American lawmakers opposed to a possible deal with Iran, in order “to undermine US diplomacy”, according to one unnamed senior American official.

Israeli officials told The Journal that Tel Aviv had indeed acquired confidential information about the negotiations, but that they had done so by spying on Iranian, not American, negotiators. Speaking late on Monday, a spokesman for the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the American newspaper’s allegations were “utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies”, he said, adding that the “false allegations” were “clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel”.

Former spy sues Dutch state for ‘abandoning’ him in Afghanistan

MIVDBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A former agent for Holland’s military intelligence agency has sued the Dutch state, alleging that it abandoned him in Afghanistan, after he had spent years providing support services to Dutch operatives there. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported last week that the former agent, identified only as I.A., is a former police officer who relocated to Afghanistan while working for a Western contractor. He then stayed on in the Afghan capital Kabul, where he imported and sold cars. According to I.A., he was eventually approached by Holland’s Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) and secretly hired as an agent.

Dutch researcher Dr. Matthijs Koot, who translated De Telegraaf’s article into English, reports that I.A. claims he was tasked by the MIVD to acquire local cars with forged license plates, as well as provide forged travel documentation, for Dutch Special Forces in Afghanistan. He also says he supplied Dutch intelligence officers with weapons that “fit what was usually seen on the streets” of Kabul, thus helping them blend in with the local population.

According to De Teelgraaf, I.A. is now suing the Dutch government, alleging that the MIVD “left him to his fate” in Afghanistan, a move that allegedly cost him extensive financial damage. He wants the MIVD to acknowledge that he worked for them and furthermore that he should not have been abruptly fired when his services were no longer needed. According to the paper, I.A. threatened to release to the media details of his work for MIVD, including recorded conversations with MIVD officers. This prompted the agency to give him €500,000 ($700,000) in an attempt to unofficially settle his case. This was allegedly confirmed in a court in The Hague by Marc Gazenbeek, legal affairs director for the Dutch Ministry of Defense. However, I.A. claims the money he was given is insufficient and is suing for millions in damages. The Telegraaf says that Pieter Cobelens, who was director of MIVD at the time of I.A.’s employment, denies he was aware of his employment as a spy. The case continues.

Ex-Ukraine pro-Russian leader’s son killed in mystery accident

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgViktor Yanukovych and son
The son of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, has been killed in Siberia, in what is the seventh death in mysterious circumstances of a member of his family or close associate this year. Yanukovych’s 33-year-old second son, also called Viktor, was reportedly drowned in a lake in the Russian region of Siberia last Friday evening. He had been living in Russia with his wife and child since February 2014, when street protests by pro-Western Ukrainians toppled his father’s pro-Moscow government. He had been a member of Ukraine’s national parliament, the rada, since 2012, representing the pro-Moscow Party of Regions, which at the time was led by his father.

According to reports, Yanukovych’s son was killed when a Volkswagen minibus carrying him and five other people fell through thin ice near Lake Baikal’s Olkhon Island. The lake, known as the world’s deepest, regularly attracts tourists and campers due to its natural beauty. The group was apparently touring that part of the lake to take photographs when their vehicle plunged into the frozen waters. Yanukovych was reportedly the only one in the group to die, as the other five members were found alive following a two-hour rescue operation by local authorities.

Several Western media noted on Sunday that Yanukovych’s death marks the seventh such macabre ending of a family member or close associate of the former president this year. Most recently his close political ally, Oleksandr Peklushenko, a former regional governor with the Party of Regions, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the neck, in what Ukrainian authorities said was a suicide. The BBC notes that Yanukovych’s son’s demise also marks the latest in a series of deaths of members of the former president’s team in traffic accidents, dating as far back as 2009. Neither the Yanukovych family nor the Ukrainian government have commented on the reported death of the former president’s son.

Did US threaten to stop sharing intel if Germany protected Snowden?

Angela Merkel and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The vice chancellor of Germany has allegedly told an American journalist that the United States warned Berlin it would stop sharing intelligence if it offered protection to American defector Edward Snowden. The claim was made by Glenn Greenwald, a former reporter for British newspaper The Guardian, who became widely known by publishing Snowden’s revelations. The American former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency is currently living in Russia, where he was offered political asylum in 2013. Some of the most extraordinary disclosures made by Snowden since his defection center on allegations of extensive American intelligence operations against Germany. These led to an unprecedented cooling in relations between Washington and Berlin, which worsened in July of last year, after Germany expelled the CIA station chief —essentially the top American spy in the country— from its territory.

Many German politicians, who are appreciative of Snowden’s disclosures about American intelligence operations against their country, have pressed the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer Snowden political asylum, thus shielding him from the possibility of arrest and imprisonment by American authorities. In 2013, however, when Snowden applied for political asylum in Germany, the government rejected his application after a notably short evaluation period.

According to Greenwald, the rejection of Snowden’s application came after direct warnings by the US that all intelligence cooperation between the two countries would seize if Berlin approved Snowden’s bid for political asylum. The American reporter says he was informed about the US warning by none other than German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, following a speech he made in the southern German city of Homburg last week. During his speech, says Greenwald, the vice chancellor, who is also head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, argued that Snowden should not have been forced to seek protection from “Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia” and criticized the unwillingness of Western countries to offer him asylum instead. In response to a comment from a member of the audience, who asked Gabriel why Germany had rejected the American defector’s application for asylum, the vice chancellor said Germany would have been “legally obligated to extradite Snowden to the US if he were on German soil”.

Following Gabriel’s speech, Greenwald asked him to clarify why Germany was so quick to reject Snowden’s asylum application. The German politician allegedly responded that Washington had warned Berlin that it would be “cut off’ from all intelligence sharing in a variety of pressing matters. “They told us they would stop notifying us of [terrorist] plots and other intelligence matters”, Gabriel allegedly told Greenwald. As intelNews reported last month, Britain has also threatened to end intelligence cooperation with Germany if Berlin launches —as it has threatened to do— a parliamentary investigation of British intelligence operations in Germany, which were also disclosed by Snowden.

A third of Russian diplomats are spies, says Swedish security service

Wilhelm UngeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Approximately a third of all Russian diplomats stationed in Sweden are in reality intelligence officers, according to Sweden’s intelligence service. The Scandinavian country’s primary intelligence agency, the Swedish Security Service, known as SAPO, told reporters on Wednesday that around one in three accredited officials stationed in Russia’s embassy and consulate in Gothenburg routinely engage in various forms of espionage. The claim was made at SAPO’s headquarters in Solna, in the suburbs of Stockholm, during the unveiling of the agency’s annual counterintelligence report. The main presenter at the press conference, SAPO chief analyst Wilhelm Unge, told reporters that Russia constitutes “the biggest intelligence threat against Sweden” at present.

Unge told the audience that SAPO had prevented “several attempts” by Russian diplomatic personnel to steal Swedish-made technology last year, especially related to weapons systems and other military technologies. Especially notable, said Ugne, was that the new, post-Soviet generation of Russian intelligence officers stationed in Sweden are younger in age than their Soviet-era counterparts. He added that they are also well-educated, very driven, goal-oriented and socially competent —something that Soviet intelligence officers were admittedly not known for. Unge noted that Iranian and Chinese intelligence operatives were also markedly active on Swedish soil, but refused to provide details.

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for accrediting foreign diplomats stationed in Sweden, declined comment on whether it had expelled any Russian diplomats in recent months. In a brief statement, the Ministry’s spokeswoman Anna Ekberg said simply that the Swedish government expected the Russian Federation “to respect the Vienna Convention and that their diplomats [in Sweden] are actually diplomats”. The Associated Press contacted the Russian embassy in Stockholm for a response, but officials there refused to provide one. IntelNews regulars will recall that Swedish authorities shut down airspace over Stockholm last October, while conducting an extensive search for an alleged Russian submarine, which was believed to be lurking in the port of Stockholm. The incident caused tension between the two countries, prompting calls for more stringent Swedish counterintelligence measures against Russia.

Turkish media disclose identity of alleged spy for Canada

Mohammed al-RashedBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkish media have released the name, as well as video footage, of an alleged agent for Canadian intelligence, who says he helped three British schoolgirls travel to territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The three girls, aged between 15 and 16 years old, crossed into ISIS-controlled territory on February 17, after traveling by plane from London to Istanbul. The incident prompted international criticism of the Turkish government’s hands-off attitude toward a growing influx of Western Islamists who cross into Syria from Turkey, intent on joining ISIS. However, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that the girls had been assisted by an intelligence agent working for a member-state of the military coalition fighting ISIS.

The minister declined to offer further details. But Turkish media eventually disclosed the identity of the alleged agent, who has been detained by authorities in Turkey as Mohammed al-Rashed. Also known as “Mohammed Mehmet Rashid” or “Dr. Mehmet Rashid”, the man is a Syrian national who claims to be working for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. According to Turkey’s pro-government daily Sabah, al-Rashed is a 28-year-old Syrian dentist who fled from Syria to Jordan in 2013 to escape the civil war there. While in Jordan, he sought asylum at the Canadian embassy in Amman. He was subsequently offered Canadian citizenship, said Sabah, in return for working as an agent of CSIS. According to the Turkish daily, al-Rashed then traveled to Canada, where he stayed for several months before returning to Jordan.

Sources in Turkey say al-Rashed explained upon his detention that he had been tasked by CSIS to uncover the methods by which European and American ISIS recruits travel to Syria through Turkey. For that reason, he said, he had helped at least 15 individuals, including the three British schoolgirls, cross form Turkey to Syria. He would then provide information on the transfers —including passport data and baggage tags— to the Canadian embassy in Jordan, he said. Sabah added that the Canadians would pay for al-Rashed’s frequent trips to Jordan, where he would meet a Canadian embassy employee called “Matt”, who would then pass on the information to his superior at the embassy, called “Claude”. The Syrian alleged agent added that CSIS would compensate him for his work through frequent deposits of between $800 and $1,500 made to bank accounts opened in his name in British banks. Turkish sources added that al-Rashed had recorded details of his activities on a personal laptop, which had been seized and was being examined.

The Canadian government has yet to comment publicly on the allegations about al-Rashed. Unnamed Canadian sources said last week that he was neither a Canadian citizen nor a CSIS employee. But officials so far refused to speculate on what they describe as “operational matters of national security”.

CIA funds given to Afghan officials ended up in al-Qaeda coffers

Atiyah Abd al-RahmanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Millions of dollars given by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Afghanistan following the 2001 American invasion ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda, according to documents found in the personal archive of the organization’s founder, Osama bin Laden. The documents were confiscated by US Special Forces from bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed in 2011. They were declassified this week for use as evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer, a Pakistani citizen accused of planning a series of suicide bombings in Britain and the US. The New York Times, which cited “interviews with Afghan and Western officials”, said the documents show that Washington “has sometimes inadvertently financed the very militants it is fighting”. The paper attributed this to poor oversight of the billions of dollars in cash payments that the CIA supplied to the corrupt Afghan government of Hamid Karzai for over a decade.

The letters used in Naseer’s trial concern $5 million paid as ransom to al-Qaeda by the Afghan government in 2010, in exchange for the release of Abdul Khaliq Farahi, Afghanistan’s consul general in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Farahi had had been abducted by militants two years earlier and delivered to the hands of al-Qaeda, who promptly contacted Kabul demanding payment. In the spring of 2010, the Afghan government agreed to pay a $5 million ransom for the kidnapped diplomat’s release. According to The Times, at least $1 million in ransom money came from the several millions of dollars in cash that the CIA would deliver each month to the presidential palace in Kabul. The other $4 million came from Iran as well as from a number of Arab oil kingdoms, says the paper.

In June 2010, almost as soon as the funds were delivered to al-Qaeda’s hands, the organization’s accounts manager, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, wrote to bin Laden: “Allah blessed us with a good amount of money this month”. The al-Qaeda founder responded by expressing surprise that the US would have allowed a ransom to be paid to the militant group, and cautioned al-Rahman to check the cash for signs of poison or radiation that may have been planted there by the Americans. It appears, however, that no trap had been set up by the CIA, and al-Qaeda was able to use the funds for weaponry and routine operational expenses. The Times said it asked the CIA whether officials at Langley were aware of the ransom paid to al-Qaeda by the Afghan government, but the Agency declined comment.

Turkey says Canadian spy helped British schoolgirls travel to Syria

CCTV footage of UK girls heading to SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
In a development described by observers as “highly unusual”, a Turkish government minister has claimed that a Canadian spy helped three British schoolgirls travel to territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The three girls, Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, also 15, crossed into ISIS-controlled territory on February 17, after having traveled by plane from London to Istanbul. The incident prompted renewed international criticism of the Turkish government’s hands-off attitude toward the growing influx of Western Islamists who cross into Syria from Turkey, intent on joining ISIS.

But Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the girls had been assisted during their trip by an intelligence agent working for a foreign country. In responding to criticism against Turkey, the minister claimed during a television interview that Turkish security forces had arrested a foreign intelligence operative who had enabled the three British citizens to cross into Syria. The man, said Cavusoglu, was a spy from a member-state of the military coalition fighting ISIS. “It is not a member-state of the European Union”, he added, “nor is he from the United States. But he is working for the intelligence [agency] of a country within the [anti-ISIS] coalition”. Later on Thursday, an unnamed Turkish government source told local media that the agent was not a Turkish citizen and that he had been arrested earlier in March.

Several press agencies, including Reuters and Agence France Presse reported on Thursday that the individual in question was “connected” with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, but stopped short of saying that he was working for the government of Canada. A statement from the office of Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister for Public Safety, who is responsible for overseeing the work of CSIS, said simply that the Ministry was “aware of these reports” but would “not comment on operational matters of national security”. An anonymous government source in Ottawa denied that the individual arrested in Turkey was a Canadian citizen or that he ever worked for CSIS.

Saudis recall ambassador from Sweden after arms deal is scrapped

Margot WallströmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its ambassador from Sweden after the Scandinavian country annulled a multimillion dollar defense contract with the Arab kingdom. Stockholm scrapped the contract on Monday, a day after the Saudis blocked a scheduled speech by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, at the Arab League conference in Cairo. Wallström said she was “astonished” after Arab delegates backed a last-minute push by the Saudi delegation to the meeting to block her from speaking. The effort to block the Swedish politician’s speech was initiated once it became clear that she intended to criticize the Kingdom’s human-rights record. The Swedish politician had reportedly planned to broach the issue of freedom of expression and religious worship, as well as touch on the subject of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The speech was meant to highlight Wallström’s “feminist foreign policy”, which she has previously said will form “an integral part” of the policy strategy of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under her leadership.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced that a lucrative weapons agreement, which was first signed between Stockholm and Riyadh in 2005, would be scrapped in protest against the Arab Kingdom’s poor human-rights record. The day before the announcement, Wallström had proceeded to post online the text of the speech that she had been scheduled to deliver in Cairo, where she had been invited by the Arab League as a guest of honor. Fewer than 24 hours later, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said it would be recalling its ambassador to Sweden, Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim, in protest against what it said were Sweden’s “offensive” and “harmful” actions against the Kingdom. An official statement by the Saudi government described Wallström’s criticisms as a “blatant interference” in the Kingdom’s internal affairs that had “violated accepted international conventions”.

Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed late on Wednesday that the Saudi ambassador to the country was being recalled, but it refused to speculate on whether it would respond by recalling its ambassador to the Arab Kingdom.

In surprise move, Turkey’s spy chief cancels plans to run for office

Hakan FidanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The director of the all-powerful Turkish intelligence service, who resigned his post last month in order to run for parliament, has surprised observers by announcing his return to his previous duties saying he had a change of heart. Hakan Fidan has been in charge of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) since 2010, when he was personally appointed to the position by then Prime Minister and current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Following his appointment, he personally supervised operations against political enemies of Erdoğan, who is widely seen as his mentor and close political ally. Early last February, Fidan, a mysterious figure who rarely speaks to the media, announced his resignation as director of MİT in order to run for parliament in June. His move was immediately hailed by the Justice and Development Party, which represents Erdoğan, as well as Turkey’s current Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu.

On Monday, however, Fidan surprised political observers by stating that he had decided not to enter politics after all, and was returning to the post of MİT director, effective immediately. The Turkish strongman’s change of heart appears to have come despite a public approval of his earlier decision to resign his MİT post, from Prime Minister Davutoğlu. Some observers claim that the surprise U-turn may reflect a widening split within the Justice and Development Party, between the prime minister and President Erdoğan, who first appointed Fidan to MİT’s helm back in 2010. Commenting on Fidan’s resignation last month, Erdoğan had signaled displeasure with the move, saying that Fidan “should have stayed [at MİT] instead of leaving without permission”. There are rumors in Ankara that Fidan’s U-turn came after considerable pressure from the pro-Erdoğan faction in the Justice and Development Party. The latter did not approve of Fidan’s resignation from MİT, believing that the spy chief is more needed in helping strike a peace treaty with Turkey’s disaffected Kurdish population. However, Davutoğlu’s people in the party believed that Fidan could add to the political prestige of their electoral campaign.

Does Fidan’s sudden return to MİT signal a widening tactical fragmentation within the Justice and Development Party? Davutoğlu told reporters on Monday that rumors of a division had been invented by the media, and that he and Erdoğan continue to “always consult” each other. Meanwhile the media-shy MİT chief declined to speak publicly about his decision, and instead issued a brief statement that said he had come to the conclusion that it was “necessary” to resume his previous post.

Ex-Mossad chief calls for ouster of Israeli prime minister

Meir DaganBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A longtime former director of the intelligence agency Mossad has called for the ousting of the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissing him as dangerous for Israel’s security. Meir Dagan stepped down from his post as head of the Mossad in November of 2010, after leading the agency for over eight years —the longest tenure of any Mossad director in history. Soon after his retirement, Dagan emerged as a leading critic of the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he accuses of endangering Israel’s security by wrecking its international reputation and isolating the country from its friends and allies around the world. In 2011, Dagan gave a lengthy interview in which he admonished calls by Netanyahu to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard. In a subsequent interview to Reuters news agency, Dagan insisted that the military option should be last on the table and said that the Iranian nuclear issue should be “left in the hands of the international community”.

Responding to the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial trip to the United States last week, Dagan said last week it had been destructive to Israel’s interests. Speaking on Israel’s Channel 2 television, the former spy chief did not deny that Iran’s nuclear program was a potential threat to Israel’s security, “but going to war with the US [over Iran] is not the way to stop it”, he said. Dagan’s supporters, who come mostly from the center-left of the Israeli political scene, accuse the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu of focusing almost exclusively on the Iranian nuclear program and neglecting the increasingly volatile relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Many Israeli left-of-center voters blame the Prime Minister for the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, which they say damaged Israel’s reputation and failed to provide a long-term solution to the lingering Palestinian issue.

Last weekend, the former Mossad chief was the keynote speaker at a rally against the Netanyahu administration that brought together nearly 40,000 people in Tel Aviv. He told the crowd that the prime minister’s policies were leading to an apartheid state in the Occupied Territories and was making Israel less safe. “For 45 years I have served this country, all of them dedicated to safeguarding its security”, said Dagan. “I don’t want that dream to disappear”, he added, at one point breaking down in tears. Many of the speakers at the rally also called on the Israeli government to refocus its policy priorities away from Iran and toward domestic social issues, including education, housing, healthcare, income levels in relation to the rising cost of living, and services for the elderly.

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