Iran says it foiled Mossad assassination of nuclear scientist

Yaqoub BaqeriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Iranian military official has claimed that Tehran foiled an attempt by Israeli spies to assassinate a scientist working for Iran’s nuclear program. In a report filed on Saturday, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Colonel Yaqoub Baqeri saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had managed to prevent Israel from killing the scientist “during the last two years”. Baqeri is deputy chief liaison officer in the air force division of the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces dedicated to protecting and furthering the goals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baqueri told Fars, which is known to have strong links with the IRGC, that Israel’s covert-action agency, the Mossad, had been “trying hard to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist”, but that the well-timed involvement of the IRGC had “thwarted the terrorist operation”. At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted by unknown assailants since 2007, when Ardeshire Hassanpour, who worked at Iran’s Isfahan nuclear facility, was found dead in his Tehran apartment, allegedly having suffocated in his sleep from fumes from a faulty gas pipe. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in 2009, while Masoud Ali Mohammadi, described by the Iranian government as a “dedicated revolutionary professor”, was killed in 2010 by a remotely controlled explosive device that had been planted at the entrance of his residence. Later that year, two near-simultaneous bomb attacks killed Majid Shahriari and injured Fereydoon Abbasi Davan, nuclear researchers and professors at the Shahid Beheshti University. The two were attacked in separate incidents by motorcyclists who targeted them during the morning rush hour in Tehran as they were driving to work. The assailants attached small bombs to the car surfaces of their targets and detonated them from a relatively safe distance before speeding away through heavy traffic. The Fars News Agency report also claimed that Iran’s intelligence agencies had uncovered secret training bases run by the Mossad and located “within the territories of one of Iran’s western neighbors”, in which teams of assassins were allegedly being “trained and assisted” by the Israelis. In 2012, Israel’s two leading intelligence correspondents, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, claimed in their book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that the “decapitation program” against the Iranian nuclear effort was led by Israel with the expressed but passive endorsement of the United States.

Revealed: Letters between Margaret Thatcher and KGB defector

Oleg GordievskyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released this week have revealed part of the personal correspondence between the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and one of the Cold War’s most important Soviet spy defectors. Oleg Gordievsky entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He soon joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Danish capital Copenhagen, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the United Kingdom. In 1985, shortly before he was to assume the post of KGB station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. His defection was announced a few days later by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had personally approved his exfiltration from the USSR. Files released this week by the British National Archives show that the British Prime Minister took a personal interest in Gordievsky’s wellbeing following his exfiltration, and even corresponded with him after the Soviet defector personally wrote to her to ask for her intervention to help him reunite with his wife Leila and two daughters, who remained in the Soviet Union. In his letter, written in 1985, Gordievsky told Thatcher that his life had “no meaning” unless he was able to be with his family. On September 7, 1985, the British Prime Minister responded with a letter to the Soviet defector, urging him not to give up. “Please do not say that life has no meaning”, she wrote. “There is always hope. And we shall do all to help you through these difficult days”. She added that the two should meet once the “immediate situation” of the worldwide media attention caused by his exfiltration subsided. Thatcher went on to publicly urge for Moscow to allow Gordievsky’s family to reunite with the Soviet defector, “on humanitarian grounds”. But it was in 1991, after the collapse of communism in the USSR, when Gordievsky’s family was finally able to join him in the UK.

Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2014, part II

Angela Merkel and Barack ObamaBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org
Since 2008, when we launched this website, we have monitored daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence and espionage, striving to provide an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. As 2014 is about to conclude, we take a look back at what we think are the ten most important intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will surely agree that we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories this year. Some of them made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media. In anticipation of what 2015 may bring, we present you with our selection of stories below, which are listed in reverse order of importance. This is part two in the series. Part one is here.

5. China stops using US-made communications hardware, fearing espionage. Authorities in China removed for the first time this year Apple products from a government procurement list, because of fears that they are susceptible to electronic espionage by the United States. The products that have been removed from the list include the iPad and iPad Mini, as well as MacBook Air and MacBook Pro products –though interestingly the inventory of removed items does not include Apple smartphone products. There are unconfirmed reports that Russia is about to act likewise, as some Russian lawmakers in the State Duma want deputies with access to classified government information to be banned from using iPhones and iPads, among other Apple products. Do they know something we don’t?

4. Western spy agencies secretly collaborating with Assad regime. Back in 2013, the United States and other NATO allies were preparing to go to war with Syria, in order to help topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS, has prompted a remarkable U-turn in Western policy on Syria. Last January, the BBC confirmed that secret meetings were being held between Western intelligence officials and senior members of the Syrian government, aimed at “combating radical Islamist groups” in Syria. There are even compelling rumors that American spy agencies are sharing intelligence, and even weapons, with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is now seen by Washington as a force that can help neutralize ISIS. What a difference a year can make!

3. US, Cuba, exchange alleged spies as part of rapprochement. Public spy-swaps between adversary governments are extremely rare occurrences. What makes the recent exchange of spies and alleged spies between Washington and Havana even more remarkable is that it appears to be part of a wider warm-up in relations between the two neighboring nations, which have remained virtually frozen since 1960, when the Eisenhower administration broke off all official diplomatic contacts with the Caribbean island. Still, there is one aspect of this very public exchange that remains a mystery: Washington is refusing to provide information about Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban intelligence officer who spied for the United States until his arrest by the Cubans in 1995. He was part of the exchange and is now believed to be on American soil.

2. NSA spy leaks continue to cause diplomatic headaches for Washington. The NSA has seen itself feature in news headlines more times than ever before this year. For an Agency that relies on secrecy and a low public profile, this is clearly a regrettable state of affairs. We now know about the existence of the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, described as “something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked”. And we know that the NSA targets allies of the US with the same intensity that it targets its traditional adversaries. This, along with leaks about an alleged CIA operation against Germany, caused Berlin to break all intelligence collaboration with Washington and even expel the CIA station chief in the German capital. Turkey came close to doing the same, according to some sources.

1. Western spy agencies refocus on Russia. It is too early to proclaim a Cold War 2.0, but there is no question that Western intelligence agencies have actively began to refocus on Russia more intensely than at any time since the collapse of communism in 1991. This is especially noticeable in the United Kingdom, where military intelligence agencies are reportedly scrambling to rehire retired Russian-language analysts, due to the crisis in Crimea. Meanwhile, this past November Britain’s civilian spy agencies launched a new drive to recruit Russian-language speakers. According to some, the Cold War never ended. IntelNews regulars will recall that, in March of 2013, Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the UK in the 1980s, alleged in an interview that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War.

[Second of two parts. Part one is here]

Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2014, part I

Happy New YearBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org
Since 2008, when we launched this website, we have monitored daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence and espionage, striving to provide an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. As 2014 is about to conclude, we take a look back at what we think are the ten most important intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will surely agree that we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories this year. Some of them made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media. In anticipation of what 2015 may bring, we present you with our selection of stories below, which are listed in reverse order of importance. The stories are presented in two parts; part two will be published tomorrow. This is part one in the series. Part two is here.

10. South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for bribery and political interference. Much of the world’s media has focused on the seemingly endless stream of lunatic antics by the corrupt government of North Korea. But corruption is also prevalent south of the 38th parallel. The year 2014 saw the disgraceful imprisonment of Won Sei-hoon, who headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013. Last September, a court in Seoul heard that Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing South Korean liberal election candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. A few months earlier, Won had been sentenced to prison for accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts.

9. Australia spied on US law firm representing Indonesia in trade talks. Spying for direct commercial gain is viewed as a taboo by Western intelligence agencies, who claim to focus their efforts solely on matters directly relating to national security. But according to documents leaked in February, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) targeted Mayer Brown, one of the world’s largest law firms, because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state in commercial negotiations with Canberra. To make things worse, the documents also show that that the Australian agency offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency (NSA). After Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Australia, the two countries signed a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other.

8. Hezbollah leader’s senior bodyguard was a Mossad agent. It turns out that the man who directed the personal security detail of the secretary-general of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was an agent of Israeli intelligence. According to multiple sources in Lebanon and Israel, Mohammed Shawraba, 42, who was arrested earlier this year by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force, and is now undergoing trial, was able to penetrate the highest levels of the Shiite militant group and leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years prior to his capture. In 2008, Shawraba was promoted to director of the group’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which collects information on Israeli activities abroad.

7. Public fight breaks out between Congress and the CIA. The intensity of the media’s focus on the recently published summary of the Congressional report on CIA interrogation practices is understandable. Having said that, we have known about the CIA’s use of waterboarding for years, and the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation’ goes back to the 1960s, so nobody can claim to have been shocked. What is perhaps more revelatory is the incredibly public spat between the Agency and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The CIA’s own inspector general found that Agency officers spied on Congressional staff investigating the CIA’s use of torture in interrogations. CIA Director John Brennan apologized for the incident, but many are wondering how this will affect intelligence oversight in years to come.

6. Turkey in turmoil as dozens arrested for spying on PM, spy chief. Turkey’s political system appeared to be sinking deeper into crisis this year, as over 100 police officers, some of them senior, were arrested for illegally wiretapping the telephones of high-level government figures, including the Prime Minster and the intelligence chief. They included two former heads of Istanbul police’s counterterrorism unit. Another 13 were later indicted for systematic “political and military spying” against senior government figures. However, critics of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government noted that one of the police officers arrested is the former deputy chief of the Istanbul police department’s financial crimes unit, which earlier this year led an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by senior members of the Erdoğan cabinet.

[First of two parts. Part two is here]

Shiite rebels abduct, then release, Yemen’s intelligence chief

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Shiite rebels, who are in control of most of Yemeni capital Sana’a, released the country’s intelligence chief a few hours after abducting him from his home, according to local sources. The chief, Major General Yehia al-Marani, directs Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), and is regularly referred to as the second most powerful security official in the country, after the director of the country’s National Security Bureau. The Associated Press reported early on Thursday that about 20 armed militia members appeared outside al-Marani’s home in Sana’a at daybreak and demanded that the general come with them. The PSO chief ordered his bodyguards to lay down their weapons and then went away escorted by the rebels. Al-Marani’s kidnappers were almost certainly Houthi militiamen, who are members of a Shiite militant group known as Ansarullah. The Houthis, who come from western Yemen, have been engaged in a secessionist armed struggle since 2004 against the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government. Last September, they took advantage of the power-vacuum created by the collapse of the regime of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and stormed the Yemeni capital, easily taking control of it within a few days. Their official reason for the takeover was their expressed desire to force President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who succeeded Saleh, to dissolve Yemen’s Sunni-led government, which the Houthis said was closely connected with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). After a period of prolonged negotiations with the rebels, President Hadi dissolved the government and replaced it with a more inclusive group of non-partisan technocrats. But the rebels refused to disband and disarm, and have since intensified their armed campaign, taking over a number of Yemeni cities and several major roads across the country. The Houthi leadership claims that they need to remain armed in order to fight militant Sunni groups operating in the country, and to battle corruption. Al-Marani was released by the rebels late on Thursday, with no explanation given as to his earlier abduction. It is believed that, before his appointment as head of PSO, the General served for 15 years as the Organization’s regional director in Sa’dah province, a Shiite stronghold where the Houthi insurgency has its roots. Some speculate that the rebels intended to settle old scores with al-Marani. Yemen government officials have refused to confirm or deny the reports of the Generals’ abduction and release.

Mystery surrounds CIA spy ‘of Cuban origin’ released last week

Rolando Sarraff TrujilloBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Almost nothing is known about a Cuban intelligence officer who spied for the United States and is now believed to be on American soil following his release from a Cuban prison last week. His release was part of a wider exchange between Washington and Havana of persons held in each other’s prisons on espionage charges. It included the release of Alan Gross, a contractor for the US Agency for International Development, who was imprisoned in the Caribbean island in 2009 on charges of political subversion. The deal also involved the release of the remaining three members of the so-called “Cuban Five”, a ring of Cuban intelligence officers operating on American soil, who were convicted in 1998 of spying on anti-Castro exile groups on behalf of Havana. But the ample media coverage has shied away from another prisoner who was exchanged as part of the deal, a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency who was described by US President Barack Obama as one of the most important intelligence assets that America has ever had in Cuba. The initial piece of information came from Cuban President Raul Castro himself, who on December 17 announced that an American spy “of Cuban origin” was to be released. Castro did not identify the spy. But later on that same day, Newsweek’s Jeff Stein said his name was “Rolando ‘Roly’ Sarraff Trujillo”, a former cryptographer in the Cuban Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of Intelligence. Trujillo was allegedly recruited by the CIA in the 1980s and spied for Washington until 1995, when he was arrested by Cuban counterintelligence, charged with espionage and sentenced to 25 years in prison. One source told Stein that the damage that Trujillo had caused Havana was so great that “the only thing that saved him from execution was the fact that both his parents were retired senior intelligence officers”. In a report published last Thursday, The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman said Trujillo’s release had been “a major priority for the [US] Intelligence Community” and would have been part of any spy swap with the Cuban government. Both Stein and Goldman claim that Trujillo was instrumental in the capture by the FBI of the Cuban Five, as well as in the 2009 arrest of State Department analysts Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, who spied on America for Cuba for 30 years. He is also said to have had a role in the capture of Ana Belen Montes, the top Cuba analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency, who was convicted in 2002 of spying for Cuba. All this is speculative, however, as no official confirmation has been issued on Trujillo from either Washington or Havana. One former senior CIA official told The Post that the Agency had another spy in Cuba, alongside Trujillo, codenamed TOUCHDOWN. But, unlike Trujillo, he managed to defect to the US in the late 1980s, before getting captured by the Cubans.

North Korean commando cells may have infiltrated US in 1990s

North Korean troops in trainingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
North Korean commandos, trained to attack large cities and nuclear installations, may have been secretly stationed on American soil in the 1990s, according to a declassified report from the United States Department of Defense’s intelligence wing. The report, dating from September 2004, was compiled by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which is America’s foremost intelligence organization concerned with military secrets. The report states that the North Korean commando cells were set up by the country’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces under the command of its Reconnaissance General Bureau. Known as RGB, the Bureau is believed to have under its command an estimated 60,000 members of North Korea’s Special Forces. It is responsible for countless covert operations in South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere around the world, which include assassinations and kidnappings. Its most notorious action was the so-called Blue House Raid of 1968, in which a group of North Korean commandos infiltrated the South and attacked the official residence of South Korean President Park Chung-hui in an attempt to assassinate him. In 1983, RGB forces were responsible for a bomb attack in Rangoon, aimed at killing South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during his official visit to the Burmese capital. The bomb killed 21 people, but Chun survived. According to the 2004 DIA report, the RGB established five “liaison offices” in the early 1990s, which were tasked exclusively with training a select number of operatives to infiltrate the US and remain in place until called to action by Pyongyang. They would become operational in the event of a war breaking out between America and North Korea, at which point they had been instructed to conduct raids on large US cities, sabotage nuclear power plants, etc. The DIA document states that the North Korean plan was put in place because Pyongyang had no other lethal means of reaching the US at the time. The report is significantly redacted and includes the warning that it contains raw information, meaning that it had not been cross-checked and could not be conclusively verified. Additionally, the document makes no mention of the fate of the RGB’s infiltration program and whether it continues to the present day.

Germany announces arrest of alleged Turkish spies

Embassy of Turkey in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German authorities have announced the arrest of three citizens of Turkey on charges of conducting espionage activities in Germany on behalf of the Turkish government. In a statement issued on December 18, the office of the German federal prosecutor said the three Turks had been arrested on the previous day, following a prolonged counterintelligence investigation. In accordance with German federal law, the statement identified the three only by their first name and age, which are: Mohammed Taha G., 58, Göksel G., 33, and Ahmed Duran Y., 58. It said the detainees had been charged with conducting illegal espionage activities on German soil, on behalf of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known locally as MİT. The announcement by the office of the prosecutor said a warrant for the arrest of the three had been issued on November 11, implying that the Turks had been monitored for several months prior to their December 17 arrest. According to the official account, Mohammed Taha G. and Göksel G. were arrested at Frankfurt Airport, presumably as they were attempting to leave the country. Shortly afterwards, Ahmed Duran Y. was also arrested at his home in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. German authorities believe the three were members of an organized spy ring, which was headed by Mohammed Taha G. Its primary operational goal appears to have been to collect intelligence on Germany’s sizable Turkish expatriate community, much of which consists of ethnic Kurds. Some sources told German media that the three Turks were using their contacts with a local branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) as a cover for their espionage operations. However, this has been denied in Turkish media reports, which cite unnamed security officials as saying that neither TIKA nor the three detainees are connected to MİT. Meanwhile, spokespersons at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MİT, and the embassy of Turkey in Berlin refused to comment on the story. There is little doubt, however, that this news comes at a particularly tense period in German-Turkish relations. Last August, unconfirmed German media reports suggested that Germany’s main external intelligence agency, the BND, had been actively spying on the Turkish government since at least 2009. According to the reports, the BND designated Turkey as a “priority target” in 2009, even though both countries are allied members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has reacted angrily at accusations by German politicians that Ankara is turning a blind eye to the rise of the Islamic State for Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS, allegedly in an effort to combat the resurgent Kurdish separatism in Anatolia.

Hezbollah leader’s senior bodyguard was Mossad agent

Hezbollah leader Hassan NasrallahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The man who directed the personal security detail of the secretary-general of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was an agent of Israeli intelligence, according to multiple sources in Lebanon. The agent, who was arrested earlier this year by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force, and is now undergoing trial, was able to penetrate the highest levels of the Shiite militant group, and leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years prior to his capture. American newspaper The Washington Post and Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star cite “security officials and people in Lebanon” who say they are familiar with the incident. They say the agent’s activities constitute “one of the most significant security breaches” in the history of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large swathes of Lebanese territory. Media reports have identified the alleged agent as Mohammed Shawraba, a man in his late 30s or early 40s 42, who is believed to come from a small village in southern Lebanon. According to reports from Lebanon, several years ago Shawraba used to direct the personal security detail of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general. Nasrallah has led the militant group since 1992, when his predecessor, Abbas al-Musawi, was assassinated by Israel. In 2008, after a number of years in the service of Nasrallah’s personal security detail, Shawraba was promoted to director of the group’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which collects information on Israeli activities abroad. However, unbeknownst to Hezbollah officials, Shawraba had been recruited by the Israeli spy agency Mossad even before he joined Nasrallah’s personal security team. According to The Post, the information he shared with the Mossad on a regular basis helped Israel thwart a number of high-profile Hezbollah operations in Lebanon and Israel, especially in 2006. Eventually, however, Hezbollah’s military commanders became increasingly suspicious of the high rate of failed operations, and began to suspect that a mole inside the group’s senior command structure was feeding sensitive operational information to the Israelis. Eventually, Shawraba was arrested after Hezbollah’s leadership was given crucial information from Iranian intelligence sources. Shortly afterwards, Shawraba was arrested in a Hezbollah-led sting operation, reportedly along with four other people who worked for him in the group’s Foreign Operations Unit. In an article published last week, the Beirut-based Daily Star said Shawraba is currently undergoing trial in a Hezbollah court. Israeli government officials have refused comment on the story.

News you may have missed #886 (CIA torture edition)

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►What the Vietcong learned about torture that the CIA didn’t. The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques”, as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents.
►►Half of all Americans think CIA torture was justified. Americans who believe the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention program was justified significantly outnumber those who don’t think it was warranted, according to a poll released Monday. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found 51% of Americans think the CIA practices were warranted, compared with 29% who said the techniques were not, and 20% who didn’t express an opinion. A majority of those polled, 56%, believed the interrogation methods provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks.
►►Author of interrogation memo says CIA maybe went too far. As former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Sunday that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects did not amount to torture, the man who provided the legal rationale for the program said that in some cases it had perhaps gone too far. Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo said the sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and other harsh treatment outlined in a US Senate report last week could violate anti-torture laws.

Estonian intel officer comes out as Russian spy in TV interview

Uno PuuseppBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Estonian authorities have charged a retired officer in the country’s internal intelligence service with espionage, after he revealed in a television interview that he spied for Russia for nearly 20 years. Uno Puusepp retired from the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, in 2011. He first joined the Soviet KGB as a wiretapping expert in the 1970s, when Estonia was part of the USSR. Following the dissolution of the USSR, when Estonia became an independent nation, he was hired by KaPo and worked there until his retirement, three years ago, at which time he moved permanently to Russian capital Moscow. Last Sunday, however, Puusepp was the main speaker in a documentary entitled Our Man in Tallinn, aired on Russian television channel NTV. In the documentary, Puusepp revealed that he was a double spy for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which is KGB’s successor, from 1996 until his retirement. He told the network that he was one of several former KGB operatives who had gone on to work for independent Estonia’s intelligence agencies, but that he had quickly decided that his true allegiance was to Russia. He eventually supplied Moscow with information on the activities of Western intelligence agencies in Estonia, including those of the American CIA, Britain’s MI6 and Germany’s BND. One commentator said in the documentary that “for 15 years, practically everything that landed on the desk of the Estonian security service’s director also landed on the desk of the FSB” thanks to Puusepp. The retired double spy said that one of his successes was letting the FSB know about a planned CIA operation that involved setting up a signals intelligence station in a disused bunker in the northern Estonian town of Aegviidu. The station was aimed at collecting communications from Russian diplomats and intelligence officers, but the Russian side terminated those networks once it got word of the CIA’s plans. Puusepp’s FSB recruiter and handler, Nikolai Yermakov, also spoke in the documentary, saying that the Estonian double spy was not motivated by financial profit, but rather by grievances against what he called “the Estonian establishment”. It is unclear why the Russian authorities permitted Puusepp to speak publicly at this particular time.

Norway probes intercept equipment found near PM’s home

Parliament of NorwayBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in Norway are probing a possible espionage operation by a foreign intelligence agency, following the discovery of several electronic surveillance devices located near government buildings in downtown Oslo. The presence of the devices was revealed on December 12 in a leading article by Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten, which published the findings of what it said was a two-month technical investigation into the matter. The paper said its reporters teamed up with two leading companies specializing technical surveillance countermeasures. According to the article, investigators came up with a network of surveillance devices disguised to look like cell phone base stations, known as transceivers. But the devices were actually International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers, essentially fake cell phone towers that are often used clandestinely to intercept telephone traffic among users, as well as their movements. Aftenposten said that the devices, whose unauthorized use is illegal in Norway, had been placed outside the official residence and office of the prime minister, outside the houses of parliament, as well as near major banks and corporate headquarters. IMSI catchers cannot access the content of cellular communications, as most providers encrypt them nowadays; but they can record the telephone numbers of users, as well as pen-register data —namely who calls whom, when, for how long, etc. Additionally, if those behind the surveillance knew the telephone numbers of targeted subscribers, they could keep track of their physical movements through their phone’s GPS system, and identify who they contact on their cellular devices. The newspaper said the surveillance devices were almost certainly installed to monitor the activities of senior Norwegian government officials, as well as perhaps senior executives of companies headquartered in the Norwegian capital. On Monday, Norway’s National Security Authority (NSM) said it thought Aftenposten’s claims were probably correct. NSM Director Kjetil Nilsen said the main question was now who was behind the installations. Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) spokeswoman Siv Alsen told reporters on Monday that “the possibility that this is coming from foreign state agencies” could not be dismissed. She added that the PST would now proceed to probe whether the surveillance network was the work of foreign spies or organized criminal networks. Norway, a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is traditionally seen as an ally of the United States and has seen its relations with Russia and China strained in recent years.

Yemeni troops kill al-Qaeda suspects disguised as women

Yemeni women in Ta'izzBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Troops in Yemen shot dead five men, believed to be members of al-Qaeda, who tried to pass through a security checkpoint disguised as women. The incident reportedly happened on Saturday at an emergency roadside checkpoint set up by Yemeni troops in Harad, a dusty desert town located 10 miles south of Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. According to official reports, a minivan drove up to the checkpoint carrying what appeared to be six women, which was heading toward the Saudi border. All passengers were dressed in black robes and wore the niqab, a black cloth used to hide the face and worn along with the hijab, which typically covers a woman’s hair. The niqab is worn in several Arab countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain. Yemeni soldiers conferred briefly with the male driver of the vehicle before one of them climbed onboard the minivan for a routine inspection. At that moment, one of the minivan passengers opened fire at the soldier, wounding him. The rest of the members of the inspection unit then opened fire on the passengers, killing five of them. Following the incident, the Yemeni soldiers discovered that the minivan’s passengers were all men and had been armed. An official speaking at a press conference later that day reported that at least two of those killed were Saudi citizens. He added that one of the passengers, who was also disguised as a woman, survived, as did the male driver of the minivan. All are believed to be members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an armed Islamist movement that is widely seen as the most formidable branch of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world. Following the 2011 uprising in Yemen, which was part of the Arab Spring, AQAP took advantage of the collapse of the Yemeni state and took over large swathes of territory in Sunni-dominated eastern and southern Yemen. These areas are still considered AQAP strongholds today. Security forces in Yemen often conduct roadside inspections, but they rarely enter vehicles carrying women, in an attempt to respect tribal customs in what is a very conservative part of the Arab world. Authorities in Harad said on Saturday that, following the shootout, a suicide belt and several weapons were discovered onboard the minivan. The surviving passenger is being questioned, along with the driver of the vehicle.

Comment: CIA ‘enhanced interrogations’ have long history

Yuri NosenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The public controversy surrounding the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary-report on detentions and interrogations continues to feed media headlines. But, as veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein notes in his Newsweek column, there is one crucial aspect missing from the debate: historical precedent. Stein observes what many commentators have missed, namely a reference in the 500-page document to KUBARK. KUBARK is in fact a coded reference used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s and 1960s to refer to itself. The KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual was produced by the Agency to train civilian and military intelligence officers in what the CIA called “coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources”. The document actively promoted the use of aggressive interrogation techniques and went so far as to make references to the use of electric shocks. The manual is believed to have been used by the CIA on several occasions, including in the interrogation of Yuri Nosenko. A colonel in the Soviet KGB, Nosenko first made contact with the CIA in Vienna in 1962, while he was accompanying a Soviet diplomatic mission to the Austrian capital. In 1964, he asked to be exfiltrated to the United States, at which point he was placed in a ‘grinder’, a CIA safe house, where he was interrogated at length. After failing two polygraph tests administered to him by his CIA handlers, some in the Agency began to believe that he might be a ‘dangle’, a double agent sent deliberately by the Soviets to spread confusion in the CIA’s Soviet desk. He was aggressively interrogated and detained until 1969, when the CIA formally classified him as a genuine defector and released him under the witness protection program. An updated version of the KUBARK manual resurfaced during the war in Vietnam, when the CIA operated an extensive complex of interrogation centers in South Vietnam. As Stein notes, the detention centers were “chiefly designed to extract information from captured communist guerrillas”. The Agency blamed several known instances of torture of prisoners of war on the US Army or on overzealous South Vietnamese interrogators. In the closing stages of the Cold War, the CIA was also implicated in having authored the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train interrogators in a host of US-supported Latin American military regimes, including most controversially Honduras. One could go back even further, to Project MKNAOMI/MKULTRA, a joint effort by the CIA and the US military to study the effects of substances such as heroin and LSD on the human brain, for the purposes of —among other things— interrogation. The program was marred by repeated instances of forced medication of prisoners, mental patients, prostitutes, and others. It resulted in the 1953 death of Dr. Frank Olson, a specialist in biological warfare working for the US Pentagon, who studied the effects of toxic substances on the brain. All that is to say that the public discussion on torture techniques and the CIA has long historical roots and appears to be going in circles —something which does not appear about to change.

Secret document sheds light on North Korean abduction operations

Choi Eun-hee and husband Shin Sang-okBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A document allegedly acquired from the government of North Korea by Western spy agencies appears to shed light on a top-secret North Korean intelligence program to kidnap dozens of foreigners in the 1970s and 1980s. That the North Korean regime engaged in systematic abduction of foreign citizens during the Cold War is not new information. International sources estimate the total number of foreign subjects abducted by North Korean intelligence to be in the dozens. They are said to include 17 citizens of Japan, as well as Chinese, South Korean, Malaysian, Italian, French and Lebanese nationals. In September 2002, during a brief period of rapprochement with Japan, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted that 13 Japanese citizens had been abducted and taken to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. They included Megumi Yakota, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who disappeared from Japan 1977 and is believed to have died while in captivity in North Korea. The most famous case of abduction is undoubtedly that of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her husband, the director Shin Sang-ok. The two were abducted by North Korean intelligence operatives in 1978 and taken to Pyongyang. They were then forced to lead the North Korean government’s efforts to develop its motion-picture industry. The two collaborated with the regime until 1986, when they managed to escape while on a visit to Vienna, Austria. On Wednesday, The Washington Times said it had seen a North Korean document “recently obtained” by Western intelligence agencies, which traces the history of the reclusive regime’s abduction unit and directly implicates its late leader, Kim Jong-il, in its creation. The paper cited “diplomatic sources familiar with the discovery”, in claiming that the document shows “how and why” Kim established the unit, called the Investigation Department, in 1977. The unit, known by its Korean acronym JOSABU, operated as part of the ruling Korean Party Central Committee. Its mission was to abduct foreigners, bring them to North Korea, and use them to train North Korean intelligence operatives in foreign languages and cultural knowledge. Some of the abductees were turned into spies and were sent abroad to conduct intelligence operations on behalf of the North Korean state. The document cited by The Times details two meetings, in September and October 1977, in which North Korean leader Kim instructed intelligence officials to establish JOSABU and explained the logic behind the proposed kidnappings. Apparently, Kim believed that if young foreigners were brought to North Korea and instructed for a period of up to seven years they could turn into “valuable intelligence agents who would be useful until the age of 60”. Not long afterwards, North Korean abduction teams were dispatched to various countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, according to the document. The paper notes that most of the abductees are believed to have been used for training purposes, propaganda activities, or dispatched abroad to conduct intelligence operations.

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