British government releases MI5 file on little-known Cold War spy

Cedric BelfrageThe British government has released a nine-volume file on an influential film critic who some believe was “one of the most important spies the Soviet Union ever had”. Cedric Belfrage was born in 1904 in London and read English Literature at Cambridge University in the 1920s. While a student at Cambridge he made a name for himself as a reviewer of motion pictures, and by the early 1930s he was known as Britain’s highest-paid film critic. Soon afterwards he moved to the American city of Los Angeles, where he became a film and theater correspondent for British tabloid newspaper The Daily Express. But a multivolume file on him compiled by the British Security Service (MI5) and released last week by the National Archives in London, confirms that Belfrage spied for Soviet intelligence under the codename BENJAMIN.

According to the file, Belfrage turned to communism after witnessing the effects of the Great Depression in the United States. After a 1936 trip to the USSR, he reached out to the Communist Party of the US, which eventually put him in touch with a number of Soviet intelligence operatives in America. In 1940, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) set up the British Security Coordination (BSC) in New York. It was a clandestine propaganda project aimed at turning local public opinion in favor of America’s entry into World War II. Belfrage was one of many writers and intellectuals that were recruited by the BSC to help counter the prevalent isolationist sentiment in the country. The film critic worked for MI6 until 1943, and then returned to Britain to join another wartime propaganda outfit, the Political Warfare Executive.

At war’s end, Belfrage returned to the US, only to find that he had attracted the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI had discovered that the British film critic had dealings with the Communist Party in the 1930s and suspected that he may have worked for Soviet intelligence. Further investigations revealed that Belfrage had indeed conducted espionage under the guidance of Jacob Golos, a Ukrainian-born American who managed a large network of pro-Soviet spies in America in the interwar period. But when he was questioned by the FBI, Belfrage said that he had given Golos a number of British —not American— government documents under direct orders by MI6. The latter allegedly hoped that the Soviets would reciprocate the move within the context of the anti-Nazi alliance between the UK and the USSR.

Eventually, Belfrage was brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of the US Congress in 1953. The Committee was conducting public hearings aimed at unmasking suspected communist sympathizers in the American entertainment industry. But the British-born film critic refused to answer questions put to him, prompting HUAC to recommend that he should be deported from the country. The government adopted the Committee’s recommendation and deported Belfrage in 1955 for having been a member of the Communist Party under a fake name. Belfrage traveled throughout the Caribbean and Latin America before settling in Mexico, where he died in 1990, aged 86.

Interestingly, the British files reveal that MI5 decided not to prosecute Belfrage, most likely in order to avoid the embarrassment of admitting that British intelligence had employed a Soviet spy. The decision was probably not unrelated to the public scandal that followed the escape of the so-called Cambridge spies to the Soviet Union. Interestingly, Belfrage studied at Cambridge at the same time that Kim Philby (Soviet cryptonym STANLEY), Donald Duart Maclean (HOMER) and Guy Burgess (HICKS) were students there. But there is no evidence he ever collaborated with them, as he was not interested in politics at that time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 August 2015 | Permalink

German government charges CIA spy with treason

BND GermanyA German intelligence officer, who is accused of spying for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, has been officially charged with treason by authorities in Berlin. The 32-year-old man, identified in court papers only as “Markus R.”, worked as a clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was arrested in July 2014 on suspicion of having spied for the CIA for approximately two years. German prosecutors say they have evidence that shows Markus R. supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000.

Germany’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Thursday that Markus R. made contact with the CIA in 2008 and offered his services to the American spy agency. He began working for the United States as a double agent soon afterwards. His arrest last year added to the already tense relations between Berlin and Washington. The latter had been damaged a year earlier, when it was revealed that the US National Security Agency, America’s signals intelligence organization, had bugged the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The revelation, which was made public by Edward Snowden, an American defector to Russia who had previously worked for the NSA, showed that Chancellor Merkel had been targeted as part of a wider US spy operation against Germany.

The revelations sparked the establishment in Germany of a nine-member parliamentary committee that was tasked with evaluating Snowden’s revelations and proposing Germany’s response. It appears that Markus R. tried to spy on the activities of the committee on behalf of his American handlers. Soon after Markus R.’s arrest was made public, the German government ordered the immediate removal from Germany of the CIA chief of station –who was essentially the top American intelligence official in the country. Berlin also instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice.

It is worth noting that, before his arrest last year, Markus R. is also said to have approached Russian intelligence with an offer to work for them. He is thus believed to have supplied Moscow with classified German government documents as well.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 August 2015 | Permalink

Pakistan spy chief who helped US covert activities in Soviet-Afghan war dies

Hamid GulGeneral Hamid Gul, a controversial Pakistani spymaster who helped facilitate America’s covert involvement during the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, has died at the age of 72. General Gul entered military service in 1956, aged 20, and saw action in two of Pakistan’s wars with India. He rose to power within the military through his close association with General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who became Pakistan’s sixth president in 1977. In 1987, shortly before President Zia died in a plane crash, General Gul was promoted to director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, which is known as ISI. In that capacity, he oversaw the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, which had begun nearly a decade later and gradually led to a resounding defeat for the Soviets.

As head of the ISI, General Gul helped the intelligence agencies of several countries, including those of Saudi Arabia and the United States, engage covertly in the war taking place across the Hindu Kush. In particular, he helped facilitate the transfer of foreign funds and weaponry to Sunni mujahedeen forces who were fighting the Soviets. It was from within the ranks of these forces that groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban later emerged.

General Gul was never shy about his close operational links with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. He maintained close contact with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and with the late Mullah Muhammad Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban. However, at the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War, Washington gradually disassociated itself from Sunni fundamentalist groups, including the Taliban. But General Gul maintained his public support for Muslim-inspired militant groups, among them Lashkar-e-Taiba, which operates in Indian-controlled Kashmir. As America began distancing itself from its former Afghan allies, and siding instead with India, General Gul’s relations with Washington worsened dramatically. In 2009, the General gave one of many controversial interviews to the media, in which he condemned the increasing military and political collaboration between the US and India. He noted that “the Americans and Israel [are] hell-bent” on positioning India to the role of overseer of “60 per cent of the world’s trade [which] passes through the Indian Ocean”, including transport routes of “Gulf oil, bound for China and Japan”.

In later years, General Gul became a vocal critic of US foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, spoke out against the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and publicly supported the Taliban insurgency against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan. He is survived by a widow and three children.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2015 | Permalink

Soviet mole penetrated Australian intelligence, says former officer

ASIO AustraliaA Soviet double spy was able to penetrate the senior echelons of Australia’s intelligence agency during the Cold War, according to a retired Australian intelligence officer who has spoken out for the first time. Molly Sasson, was born in Britain, but worked for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from 1969 until her retirement in 1983. A fluent German speaker, Sasson was first recruited during World War II by the Royal Air Force, where she worked as an intelligence officer before transferring to the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. At the onset of the Cold War, Sasson helped facilitate the defection to Britain of Colonel Grigori Tokaty, an influential rocket scientist who later became a professor of aeronautics in London. But in the late 1960s, Sasson moved with her husband to Australia, where she took up a job with ASIO, following a personal invitation by its Director, Sir Charles Spry. Upon her arrival in Canberra, Sasson took a post with ASIO’s Soviet counterintelligence desk, which monitored Soviet espionage activity on Australian soil.

Aged 92 today, Sasson spoke publicly for the first time on Australia’s ABC News television network about her life and times. She told the reporter that she had “no doubt at all” that ASIO had been infiltrated by at least one Soviet-handled double spy in the 1970s. “If we put on an operation, it failed”, she said, adding that the Soviets “always seemed to be a step ahead of us. There must have been a tip-off. It can’t have been otherwise”, said Sasson. The 92-year-old former intelligence officer recounted one specific operation involving a Russian diplomat named Vladimir Dobrogorsky, who was believed by ASIO to be an intelligence operative. According to Sasson, ASIO counterintelligence officers were monitoring Dobrogorsky and knew the precise time and place that he was scheduled to meet with an Australian informant in downtown Canberra. However, not only did the meeting not occur, but Dobrogorsky left the Soviet embassy in the Australian capital that morning, never to return.

“I am convinced that someone within ASIO tipped him off”, said Sasson. Not only that, but when she and other ASIO officers expressed their concerns about the possible existence of a mole inside ASIO, senior agency officials dismissed them. At one point she was told to “not open this can of worms”, she told ABC News. The former ASIO officer added that the chief of the United States Central Intelligence Agency station in Canberra shared similar concerns with the ASIO’s leadership, but that they too were dismissed. Soviet intelligence operatives were notably active in Australia and New Zealand during the Cold War, as it was believed that intelligence agencies in the two Pacific Rim countries offered an easier path toward accessing British and American government secrets, due to the so-called Five Eyes agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink

Former KGB officer facing deportation voluntarily leaves Canada

Mikhail LennikovA Russian former officer in the Soviet KGB, who defied deportation orders issued against him by the Canadian government by taking refuge in a Vancouver church for six consecutive years, has voluntarily left the country. Mikhail Lennikov, who spent five years working for the KGB in the 1980s, had been living in Canada with his wife and son since 1992. But in 2009, Canada’s Public Safety Ministry rejected Lennikov’s refugee claim and notified him that he could “be ordered deported from the country in as early as a few weeks”.

Canadian authorities have refused to reveal the precise reason for the decision to issue deportation orders against the former KGB agent. But it is believed that his Soviet intelligence background is perceived by Canadian authorities as a national security threat. Lennikov has consistently rejected accusations that he is a threat to Canada’s national security and has previously stated that he voluntarily revealed his KGB background to Canadian authorities. He has also said that if sent back to Russia he could face imprisonment for having revealed his KGB background to a foreign government. In 2009, the former KGB officer sought refuge at the First Lutheran Church in Vancouver, where he lived until recently. Meanwhile, his wife and children, who have no connections to Soviet or Russian intelligence, were awarded asylum and eventually Canadian citizenship.

Last week, however, it emerged that Lennikov had left the Vancouver church that had been his home for six years. His lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, told reporters that the former KGB officer had left Canada. His departure appears to have taken place after an agreement was struck between him and the Canada Border Services Agency. Nazami said on Sunday that Lennikov had “left at the end of this week and left on his own accord, voluntarily, according to his own wishes and decisions he reached himself”. Canadian media reported that it “no longer seemed to be the case” that Lennikov would face treason charges if he went back to Russia. When asked about Lennikov’s whereabouts, Nazami told journalists that it was “something that I cannot comment on”, but added that his client “feels safe and we are going by that assumption”. Lennikov’s wife and children, who are Canadian citizens, plan to remain in Canada, said Nazami.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink

US warns China against use of non-official-cover operatives

Chinese Ministry of State SecurityThe White House has warned the Chinese government to stop deploying on American soil intelligence operatives masquerading as tourists, business executives or other false covers. Nowadays the standard practice for intelligence personnel deployed abroad is to be posted as diplomatic staff in a foreign embassy or consulate. But there are some intelligence officers who do not follow that practice. These are known as non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs in American intelligence parlance. NOCs are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for operating as unregistered agents of a foreign government.

According to The New York Times, a significant number of Chinese NOCs have recently entered the United States as part of the Chinese government’s Operation FOX HUNT. Supervised by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), FOX HUNT is aimed at the thousands of former officials and other fugitives from China, who are alleged to have embezzled funds and are now living abroad, usually in considerable wealth. As part of the MSS operation, teams of intelligence agents are said to have been dispatched around the world in order to hunt down these fugitives, many of whom are believed to have embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds. Chinese media reports claim that nearly 1000 such fugitives have been “repatriated”, either voluntarily or involuntarily, since the launch of FOX HUNT. The tactics used by the Chinese NOCs are not clear, and some suspect that they include direct or indirect threats against the fugitives’ family members in China. Chinese reports have described FOX HUNT operatives as “mostly young, highly skilled”, and accustomed to “rapid-fire deployment” around the world.

The Times said that Washington views the parts of Operation FOX HUNT that take place on US soil as “a departure from the routine practice of secret government intelligence gathering” that both America and China practice against each other. The US, therefore, does not want Chinese officers without official diplomatic credentials, but posing instead as students, tourists or business representatives, engaging in intelligence operations on US soil, said the paper. It added that Washington’s warning had been delivered to Beijing “in recent weeks”. The Times article did not include specific descriptions of FOX RUN activities on American soil.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2015 | Permalink

Rwandan spies target government critics abroad: Canadian report

Paul KagameThe government of Rwanda uses intelligence operatives to systematically spy on, harass, and even kill opposition figures living abroad, according to a report issued by a Canadian security agency. The report was written by the National Security Screening Division of the Canada Border Services Agency, and was partly based on information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). It was released as part of a court case involving a Rwandan man living in Canada, who was accused of working as a spy for the government of Rwanda.

The report claims that there is “a well- documented pattern of repression of Rwandan government critics, both inside and outside Rwanda”, and says there is ample evidence of involvement by Rwandan spies in threats, attacks and even killings of opposition activists living abroad. The document cites the case of Patrick Karegeya, a leading member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an armed Tutsi rebel group that fought to end the genocide inflicted upon the Tutsis by their rival Hutus in the 1990s. Karegeya, who used to be director general of External Intelligence in the RPA, fell out with Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, in 2004. In January 2014, Karegeya was found dead in a hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he had been living in exile.

Also cited in the report is a case in the United Kingdom, where two Rwandan exiles were warned by the police in 2011 that there were “threats to their [personal] safety emanating from the Rwandan government”. There was also evidence of Rwandan intelligence activity targeting opposition figures in Canada, said the report. In one recent case, the Rwandan government had attempted to “organize indoctrination training” aimed at Canadian youths of Rwandan heritage, but had to drop its plan following an investigation by CSIS. IntelNews regulars might also remember the case of Evode Mudaheranwa, a Rwandan diplomat who was expelled by the government of Sweden in 2012 for allegedly operating under orders by the Kagame government to silence its critics abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2015 | Permalink

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