Britain summons Russian envoy to protest killing of ex-KGB spy in London

Sir Robert OwenThe British government has taken the unusual step of summoning the Russian ambassador to London, following the conclusion of an official inquest into the death of a former KGB officer who is believed to have been killed on the orders of Moscow. Alexander Litvinenko, an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, defected with his family to the United Kingdom in 2000. But in 2006, he died of radioactive poisoning after meeting two former KGB/FSB colleagues, Dmitri Kovtun and Andrey Lugovoy, in London. A public inquiry into the death of Litvinenko, ordered by the British state, concluded this week after six months of deliberations involving sworn testimony by over 60 witnesses, including British intelligence officers who worked closely with Litvinenko.

In releasing the inquiry report, the presiding judge, Sir Robert Owen, said it was clear that Kovtun and Lugovoi “were acting on behalf of someone else” when they killed their former colleague in London. He added that members of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the Russian president himself, had “motives for taking action” against Litvinenko, “including killing him”. Moreover, President Putin’s systematic protection of Lugovoi, the primary suspect in the case, whom Russia currently refuses to extradite to the UK, “suggest a level of approval for the killing” at the highest levels of the Russian government, said Sir Robert.

Speaking during a session in the British House of Commons on Thursday, the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May described Litvinenko’s killing as “a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and civilized behavior”. On the same day, David Lidington, a Minister of state at the British Foreign Office, who currently serves as the country’s Minister for Europe, summoned the Russian Ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, to file an official protest against Litvinenko’s murder. Meanwhile, the British state has moved to freeze the assets of the two main suspects in the case, while British Prime Minister David Cameron said further punitive measures against Russia were possible. Speaking to reporters in Davos, Switzerland, where he is participating in the World Economic Forum, Cameron said Britain wanted to have “some sort of relationship” with the Kremlin in light of the situation in Syria. But Whitehall would “look very carefully at the report and all the detail” and would proceed “with clear eyes and a very cold heart”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 January 2016 | Permalink

Long-awaited British report to blame Kremlin for ex-KGB spy’s death

Alexander LitvinenkoThe long-awaited concluding report of a public inquiry into the death of a former Soviet spy in London in 2006, is expected to finger the Russian state as the perpetrator of the murder. Alexander 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 after meeting two former KGB/FSB colleagues, Dmitri Kovtun and Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. In July of 2007, after establishing the cause of Litvinenko’s death, which is attributed to the highly radioactive substance Polonium-210, the British government officially charged the two Russians with murder and issued international warrants for their arrest. Whitehall also announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London. The episode, which was the first public expulsion of Russian envoys from Britain since end of the Cold War, is often cited as marking the beginning of the worsening of relations between the West and post-Soviet Russia.

A public inquiry into the death of Litvinenko, ordered by the British state, has taken over six months to conclude. In the process, the judge in charge, Sir Robert Owen, has heard from 62 witnesses. The latter include members of the Secret Intelligence Service, known commonly as MI6, for which the late Russian former spy worked after his arrival in Britain. The release of the inquiry’s report is expected this week. But British media have quoted unnamed “government sources” as saying that the long-awaited document will point to the Russian state as the instigator, planner and execution of Litvinenko’s death. One source was quoted as saying that the report will identify “a clear line of command” and that “it will be very clear that the orders came from the Kremlin”.

It is not believed, however, that the report will point to Russian President Vladimir Putin as having had a role in the former spy’s murder. Nevertheless, there is speculation in London and Moscow about the British government’s possible response to the inquiry’s report. One unnamed source told the British press that the report’s findings would place Whitehall “in a difficult position”, given London’s current cooperation with Russia in Syria. However, the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to face renewed pressure from the public and from opposition parties to take action against Russia, should it be confirmed this week that the Kremlin was indeed behind Litvinenko’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 January 2016 | Permalink

German spy agency tapped Finnish phone lines in early 2000s

FinlandGerman intelligence, possibly with the collaboration of the United States, monitored communications lines connecting Finland with at least five countries in the early 2000s, according to leaked documents. The documents, aired this week by Yle Uutiset, the main news program of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), is based on information contained in “leaked German intelligence documents” that were first made public in May 2015. As intelNews reported at the time, the intelligence collection was described as a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the initial allegations, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Pilz said at the time that many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies. Belgium and Switzerland have already launched investigations into EIKONAL.

Now new information provided by Yle seems to show that the secret BND-NSA collaboration targeted Finnish communications as well, focusing on at least six separate communications transit lines. The lines are believed to carry telephone call and possibly Internet traffic from Finnish capital Helsinki to a number of cities in France, Belgium, Hungary, Luxemburg, and China, said Yle Uutiset. Although the targeted lines are known to carry telephone and Internet traffic, it is unknown at this time whether EIKONAL targeted both kinds. But Yle said the interception lasted for most of the first part of the 2000s and involved large amounts of communications data.

The station contacted Tuomas Portaankorva, Inspector General of SUPO, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service. He told Yle that, speaking broadly, he was not surprised to be told that Finnish telecommunications lines had been monitored by foreign intelligence agencies, Western or otherwise. He went on to caution that, even though Finnish lines had been targeted, it was not possible to conclude that Finland was indeed the target of the surveillance operation. Yle also spoke to Vesa Häkkinen, spokesman for the from Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told the station that SUPO, and not the ministry, was the proper official body to be consulted about EIKONAL. “If there is reason to suspect that these actions were directed at the Finnish state”, said Häkkinen, “we would undertake appropriate action”.

Author: Ian Allen| Date: 20 January 2016 | Permalink | News tip: Matthew Aid

Portugal court rules to extradite ex-CIA officer wanted in Italy for kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA court in Portugal has ruled to extradite a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Italy, where she faces charges of kidnapping a man as part of a secret operation. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. The Reuters news agency said on Friday that De Sousa would “be surrendered to Italian authorities” so that she could be informed of the Italian court’s decision to convict her in 2009. The news agency was reportedly told by a Portuguese court official that De Sousa would have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she would have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa planned to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2016 | Permalink

German police caught Anders Breivik with weapons prior to Norway massacre

Anders BreivikPolice in Germany caught Anders Breivik with ammunition and weapon parts in 2009, two years before he killed nearly 80 people in Norway, but did not arrest him and failed to notify Norwegian police, according to a new documentary. Breivik is a jailed far-right terrorist, who in 2011 single-handedly perpetrated two terrorist attacks that killed 8 people in Norwegian capital Oslo and another 69 on the island of Utøya. During his trial, he said he killed his victims, most of whom were participants at a Norwegian Labor Party summer camp, in order to protest against “multi-culturalism” and “Islamization” in Norway. The attack, which included the use of a car bomb and semi-automatic weapons, is considered the deadliest terrorist incident in Norway’s history since World War II.

Last week, however, a new documentary aired on Franco-German television station ARTE claimed that German police could have helped stop Breivik’s deadly plans, when it caught the far-right militant with weapons parts and ammunition in 2009. The documentary, entitled Waffen für den Terror (Weapons for Terror) was directed by Daniel Harrich, a German documentary filmmaker who specializes in the international illicit weapons trade. Harrich alleges in his documentary that Breivik was stopped “in early 2009” by German police during a routine check in Wetzlar, a city of 60,000 located just north of Frankfurt.

Citing three unnamed sources, who allegedly verified the claims independently of each other, Harrich said that Breivik was found to be in possession of ammunition and was also carrying some weapons parts. But instead of detaining Breivik, who was carrying a Norwegian passport, and notifying the authorities in Oslo, the German police officers simply confiscated the ammunition and some weapons parts, before allowing him to go. According to Harrich, Breivik was even told he could hold on to a number of parts that German police determined could not be used to build a working weapon. Harrich’s documentary, which is in the German language, can be viewed at ARTE’s website, here.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 January 2016 | Permalink | News tip: C.W.

America’s most senior intelligence official has his phone, email hacked

James ClapperA member of a hacker group that took responsibility for breaking into the personal email account of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency last year has now hacked the email of the most senior intelligence official in the United States. In October 2015, the hacker group referred to by its members as “Crackas With Attitude” —CWA for short— claimed it was behind the hacking of an AOL personal email account belonging to John Brennan, who heads the CIA. Less than a month later, the CWA assumed responsibility for breaking into an online portal used by US law enforcement to read arrest records and share sensitive information about crimes involving shootings. Shortly after the second CWA hack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an alert to all government employees advising them to change their passwords and be cautious about suspicious emails and other phishing attempts.

On Monday, an alleged member of CWA contacted Motherboard, an online media outlet belonging to Vice Media, and alleged that the group had managed to hack into the personal email account of James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clapper’s job is to help synchronize the operations of US intelligence agencies and to mediate between the US Intelligence Community and the Executive. According to CWA, clapper’s personal telephone and Internet service had also been compromised, as had his spouse’s personal email, which is hosted by Yahoo! services. The alleged CWA member told Motherboard that the forwarding settings of Clapper’s home telephone had been changed. As a result, calls made to the DNI were being forwarded to the headquarters of the Free Palestine Movement in California. Shortly afterwards, Free Palestine Movement executives confirmed that they had received a number of phone calls for Clapper. Last year, when they hacked the email of the director of the CIA, the CWA dedicated their action to the Free Palestine Movement.

Motherboard said that a spokesman at the Office of the DNI, Brian Hale, confirmed that Clapper’s personal email and telephone service had indeed been hacked. He told Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai that Office of the DNI was “aware of the matter” and had “reported it to the appropriate authorities”. The FBI was contacted as well but did not respond.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 January 2016 | Permalink

Polish ex-leader Walesa denies he was communist spy, calls for debate

Lech WalesaPoland’s first post-communist president, Lech Wałęsa, has denied allegations that he was secretly a communist spy and has called for a public debate so he can respond to his critics. In 1980, when Poland was still under communist rule, Wałęsa was among the founders of Solidarność (Solidarity), the communist bloc’s first independent trade union. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, Wałęsa intensified his criticism of Poland’s communist government. In 1990, following the end of communist rule, Wałęsa, was elected Poland’s president by receiving nearly 75% of the vote in a nationwide election. After stepping down from the presidency, in 1995, Wałęsa officially retired from politics and is today considered a major Polish and Eastern European statesman.

But in 2008, two Polish historians, Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, published a book claiming that, before founding Solidarność, Wałęsa was a paid collaborator of the SB, Poland’s communist-era Security Service. In the book, titled Secret services and Lech Walesa: A Contribution to the Biography, the two historians claim there is “compelling evidence” and “positive proof” that Wałęsa worked as a paid informant for the SB between 1970 and 1976, under the cover name “Bolek”. Wałęsa claimed that the documents unearthed by the two historians had been forged by Poland’s communist government in order to discredit him in the eyes of his fellow-workers during his Solidarność campaign. But the critics insisted, and in 2009 a new book, written by Polish historian Paweł Zyzak, echoed Cenckiewicz and Gontarczyk’s allegations. Citing sources “that prefer to remain anonymous”, the book, titled Lech Walesa: Idea and History, claimed that Wałęsa fathered an illegitimate child and collaborated with the SB in the 1970s. Like Cenckiewicz and Gontarczyk, Zyzak worked at the time for the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which also published his book. The IPN is a government-affiliated organization whose main mission is to investigate, expose and indict participants in criminal actions during the Nazi occupation of Poland, as well as during the country’s communist period. It also aims to expose SB clandestine agents and collaborators.

This past Monday, Poland’s former president published an open letter on his personal blog, in which he asked for a “substantive public debate on the Bolek imbroglio”. He said he wanted to end this controversy once and for all, by facing his critics before the public. Wałęsa added he had “had enough” of the “constant stalking” he faced by “both traditional media and Internet publications”. He went on to say that he had already asked the IPN to host a public meeting with authors and historians, including his critics, in which he would participate. Later on Monday, the IPN confirmed it had received a letter from Wałęsa, in which the former president asked for the opportunity to participate in a public meeting about the “Bolek affair”. Cenckiewicz, who co-authored the 2008 book on Wałęsa with Gontarczyk, reportedly wrote on Facebook that he would agree to participate in such a debate. The IPN said it would plan to host the debate in March of this year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2016 | Permalink

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