Estonian intelligence officer ‘abducted’ by Russian spies

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn to complain about the alleged abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer by Russian forces, which it says occurred on Estonian soil. A statement from the Ministry said the Estonian intelligence officer, named Eston Kohver, has worked since 1991 for the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo. Speaking to reporters on Friday, KaPo Director Arnold Sinisalu said Kohver had been kidnapped by a team of “unidentified individuals from Russia”. The Estonian side claims that the abduction occurred in the vicinity of Luhamaa, a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia, which connects the small Baltic country with its Russian neighbor. Sinisalu said KaPo investigators had detected “signs of a scuffle” at the scene of the abduction, as well as vehicle tracks “leading from Russian to Estonian soil”. Subsequent reports in Estonian media alleged that the Russian abductors had managed to jam radio communications in the area prior to snatching Kohver. They also employed smoke grenades during the operation, which would explain a number of “explosions” heard in the vicinity, according to Estonian police spokesman Harrys Puusepp. But Russian sources dismissed the Estonian government’s claims, saying that Kohver had been detained while on Russian soil. Russian media reported that the Estonian counterintelligence officer had been captured by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as FSB, while undertaking an “espionage operation” inside Russia. Reports in the Russian press said Kohver was caught in Russia’s Pskov region, carrying a loaded firearm, €5,000 ($6,500) in cash, “covert video recording equipment”, an “eavesdropping device”, as well as “other items relating to the gathering of intelligence”. A statement from the FSB said the Estonian operative had been captured while taking part in “an undercover operation” on behalf of KaPo. Read more of this post

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American who disappeared in Iran in 2007 was working for the CIA

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An American private investigator, who was last seen in Iran in 2007, was under contract with the United States Central Intelligence Agency when he disappeared, according to information published last week. Bob Levinson was last seen alive in a hotel in Iran’s Kish Island, on March 8, 2007. He was reportedly there as a private investigator, to explore alleged links to a worldwide cigarette smuggling network. Both his family and the CIA have vehemently denied rumors that he was secretly working for the US government when he disappeared. Last week, however, the Associated Press and The Washington Post published lead articles in which they alleged that Levinson had been on a CIA mission at the time of his disappearance. The Associated Press, which described the news as “one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history”, said it decided to run the story after agreeing to delay its publication three times in the past. The news agency said it first confirmed Levinson’s ties to the CIA in 2010, but was told by the US government that airing a story on the subject would compromise Levinson’s safety. Government officials reportedly told Associated Press editors that they were “pursuing promising leads” to get Levinson home, and that news of his CIA connection would fatally hamper their efforts. However the news agency decided to publish the story because, as its editors said, Levinson’s captors now “almost certainly know about his CIA association”. In a story aired on Friday, CNN said it spoke to an unnamed source “involved in the matter”, who confirmed that Levinson was in Iran on private business, but was also under contract with the CIA as an undercover agent. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer seeks Italian pardon for role in abduction operation

Giorgio Napolitano By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has been convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in an abduction operation, has contacted the Italian president seeking a formal pardon. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Earlier this week, Lady wrote a letter to the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, saying he had never intended to “disrespect Italy’s sovereignty” and asking for the President’s “personal forgiveness and pardon”. In his letter, Lady argues that he operated “under orders from senior American officials” with the aim of protecting lives, adding that US intelligence activities had been able to “stop numerous plans and targets of terrorists operating in Milan and elsewhere in Italy”. The former CIA officer also claims that the 2003 kidnapping of Nasr had taken place “in liaison with senior members of the Italian government”. He concludes by expressing his “regret” for his “participation in any activities which could be viewed as contrary to the laws of Italy”. Read more of this post

Former CIA station chief arrested in Panama ‘has been released’

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, who was detained in Panama last week for his alleged role in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy, returned to the United States on Friday. The US Department of State said Robert Seldon Lady had been released by Panamanian authorities 24 hours after he was detained near Panama’s border with Costa Rica. Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Lady was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica at a remote jungle border crossing early on Thursday, when, according to Costa Rican authorities, “a check on his passport triggered an INTERPOL alert”. Following negotiations between Costa Rican and Panamanian authorities, Lady was detained by Panamanian border guards, who alerted INTERPOL and Italy. Late on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to offer details on the case, but confirmed that Lady was “either en route or back in the United States”. A Panamanian foreign ministry source told Reuters that Lady was released because “Panama does not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”. Read more of this post

Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A retired 21-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by INTERPOL for participating in the abduction of a Muslim cleric in Italy, has been detained by police in Panama. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA officers, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, known also as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. On February 17, 2003, Nasr was seized in dramatic fashion by a group of CIA operatives in broad daylight in Milan. He was stuffed into an unmarked white van and eventually ended up in Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Nasr’s case helped raise awareness of the US government’s extraordinary rendition program. Under the controversial program, suspected terrorist operatives were secretly taken to third-party countries where they were subjected to aggressive interrogation techniques. Italian authorities were irritated by Nasr’s kidnapping, which they claimed took place without the consent of the Italian government. There are also reports that the Italian intelligence services were monitoring Nasr at the time and were trying to recruit him as a source, which might explain why they were incensed when the Egyptian was snatched by the CIA without their authorization. Read more of this post

Is al-Qaeda holding French intelligence officers captive?

Serge LazarevićBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two French citizens kidnapped last November by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, while on an alleged business trip in Mali, may have connections with French intelligence. One of the two hostages, Philippe Verdon, made headlines on Wednesday, after it was alleged that he may have been executed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The website of the Agence Nouakchott d’Information, a Mauritanian news service that frequently carries AQIM press statements, said that Verdon was killed on March 10 in retaliation for France’s military operations in Mali. Verdon was kidnapped from a hotel in the northeastern Malian city of Hombori along with another French citizen, Serge Lazarević. Their families insist that the two Frenchmen were abducted while “doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory” in Mali. But is this true? Or could Serge Lazarević be the same Slobodan “Serge” Lazarević, who was implicated in a 1999 French intelligence operation aimed at assassinating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević? As intelNews reported in January of 2009, three alleged French-handled intelligence operatives were put on trial in Serb capital Belgrade, allegedly for collaborating with a French commando team tasked with assassinating the Serb leader. The three, Jugoslav Petrušić, Slobodan Orašanin and Milorad Pelemiš, were arrested by Yugoslav authorities in November 1999, reportedly while trying to organize “10 trained commandos to storm the presidential residence”. Although sensational, the charges against the three men are hardly unique in the context of the murky intelligence history of NATO’s 1999-2000 war in Yugoslavia, which has yet to be fully written. What is interesting in this case, however, is that the three accused admitted infiltrating the Yugoslav military and routinely supplying NATO with intelligence data on bombing targets during Operation Allied Force. Read more of this post

Iran accuses Israel of kidnapping former Deputy Defense Minster

Ali-Reza AsgariBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister has accused Israel of kidnapping his predecessor in 2006, while he was on an official visit trip to Turkey. Brigadier General Ali-Reza Asgari, who once commanded Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, disappeared on December 9, 2006, from his hotel room in Istanbul. His fate remains unknown. But on Saturday, Brigadier General Hossein Daqiqi, who is currently Tehran’s second most senior military official, pointed the finger at Israel’s foremost covert-action agency, the Mossad. He was speaking to reporters in the Iranian capital during a public ceremony to mark the sixth anniversary of Asgari’s disappearance. He told Iranian media that the government had “a lot of evidence proving that members of the Israeli intelligence service have kidnapped Asgari”. There are conflicting reports about Asgari’s whereabouts, but most observers seem to believe he is still alive. A year after his disappearance from Turkey, Hans Rühle, former Director of Policy Planning in the German Ministry of Defense, wrote in Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung that Asgari was in Western hands and that “information was obtained” from him. Israeli media have reported that the Iranian General is in the hands of the United States and that he is helping Washington crack the “most inner workings [of] Iranian nuclear development”. Danny Yatom, former director of the Mossad, told the London-based Times newspaper in 2007 that Israel had played no part in Asgari’s disappearance and that the Iranian General had willingly defected “to the West”, but that he didn’t know his exact whereabouts. Since then, other sources have echoed Yatom’s claim that Asgari defected willingly, including Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post and intelligence historian Gordon Thomas, in his 2009 book Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence (see intelNews book review). Read more of this post

News you may have missed #812

Yasser ArafatBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russia to help probe Yasser Arafat’s death. Russia will join an international investigation to determine whether the first Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, was murdered, the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has said. French and Swiss experts are due to exhume Arafat’s body in Ramallah later this month in an attempt to discover how he died after an al-Jazeera documentary in July suggested he was killed by a rare radioactive poison. Abbas asked Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for Moscow’s help during talks in Jordan, Palestinian sources said.
►►Revisiting the foiled 1984 Nigerian kidnap plot. In London in 1984, a team of Nigerians and Israelis attempted to kidnap and repatriate the exiled former Nigerian minister Umaru Dikko. Mr. Dikko, who had fled Nigeria after a military coup, was accused of stealing $1bn (£625m) of government money. The plot was foiled by a young British customs officer and, as a result, diplomatic relations between the UK and Nigeria broke down and were only fully restored two years later. The Nigerian and Israeli governments have always denied involvement in the kidnapping.
►►Putin congratulates KGB double spy on his birthday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated famous double agent George Blake on his 90th birthday, the Kremlin press office has said. Blake betrayed British intelligence starting in the 1950s; he was found out in 1961 and sentenced to 42 years in prison. But he escaped five years later using a ladder of rope and knitting needles, made his way to the Soviet Union and has been living out his last years serenely in a cottage outside Moscow. After his escape from the Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, he was smuggled to Berlin in a wooden box in the back of a van. In the interview published last week, he said he then presented himself to border guards in East Berlin, asked to speak to a Soviet officer, and when told to wait, immediately fell into a deep sleep.

News you may have missed #762

Danni YatomBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Italy postpones court decision on wanted CIA operatives. The Washington Post has published a useful update on Sabrina DeSousa, one of nearly two-dozen CIA operatives who were convicted in Italy in 2007 for the kidnapping four years earlier of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. The Americans kidnapped Nasr, known as Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan without the consent of Italian authorities. The Italians, who were themselves carefully monitoring Nasr, responded by convicting all members of the CIA team in absentia, and notifying INTERPOL. But last Friday, the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome postponed its verdict after a two-day hearing aimed at deciding whether to uphold or overturn the Americans’ convictions.
►►Ex-Mossad chief urges Israel to prepare for military action in Syria. In an interview with British news network Sky News, former Mossad Chief Danni Yatom said last week that Israel must be prepared for the possibility of military attacks on Syria, which may deteriorate into war.  He said his warning stems from the fear that Syria’s hundreds of tons of chemical weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists. “We would have to pre-empt in order to prevent it. We need to be prepared to launch even military attacks [...] and military attacks mean maybe a deterioration to war”, said the former Mossad Director.
►►British spy agencies failed to predict Arab Spring. The Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Houses of Parliament has said in its annual report that British spy agencies had been surprised by the spread of unrest during the Arab Spring and failed to predict the dramatic uprisings that swept the region. The report also noted that the Arab Spring had exposed Britain’s decision to scale back intelligence assets in much of the Arab world, in favor of monitoring Iran and al-Qaeda. We at intelNews wrote about this in 2011.

News you may have missed #685

Aleksandr Z. AnkvabBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►Abkhazia President survives assassination attempt. Unidentified assassins tried on Wednesday to kill Aleksandr Z. Ankvab, the president of Abkhazia, a Russian-backed rebel enclave of Georgia. The assailants used automatic rifles, grenade launchers and a powerful roadside bomb in an attack that raised fresh questions about Moscow’s ability to preserve order there.
►►Groups object to CIA declassification charges. Open government advocates are protesting a recently adopted CIA policy that allows the agency to charge up to $72 an hour to review requests to declassify secret records. The effect “will be to price the public out of submitting” requests for “mandatory declassification review,” the American Library Association, Sunlight Foundation and more than 30 other organizations said in a letter Thursday to CIA Director David Petraeus.
►►Analysis: Fallout from Syrian colonel’s abduction in Turkey. The smokescreen surrounding the abduction of Syrian Col. Hussein Harmush, who defected to Turkey in June 2011 before being handed over to the Syrian secret service in September 2011, has begun to clear in recent weeks following a judicial probe. Claims that Turkey’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), was involved in handing Harmush over to Syria were finally confirmed on February 2 when the Adana Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a written statement saying one MİT agent had been arrested for questioning and further MİT officials had been called to testify as “suspects” in the scandalous repatriation case.

Turkish intel officer arrested for abducting Syrian defector

Hüseyin Mustafa HarmuşBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
There seems to be no end in sight to the troubles of Turkey’s spy service. According to reports from Ankara, an employee of the country’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) has been arrested for orchestrating the abduction of a leading Syrian military defector, who had sought refuge in Turkey. According to authorities in Ankara, the MİT employee, who has been identified only by his initials, Ö.S., had been under surveillance for nearly half a year, along with four of his collaborators. Last week, Turkish police arrested Ö.S. in connection with the abduction of Colonel Hüseyin Mustafa Harmuş, one of the most senior Syrian military officials to have defected to the opposition, and the founder of the Free Syrian Army. Harmuş, who defected from the Syrian military in June of 2011, had crossed the border into Turkey and was living in a camp set up and supervised by the Turkish government in Hatay, a province in south-central Turkey. Following his defection, Harmuş became one of the most vocal and media-savvy members of the Syrian opposition, frequently directing strong public criticism of the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government responded by declaring Harmuş a traitor and offering a $100,000 reward for his capture. Then, all of a sudden, Harmuş disappeared without a trace on August 29. After a detailed investigation, Turkish authorities found that Ö.S. had assembled a team of four people who collaborated to kidnap Harmuş, deliver him to the Syrian government, and pocket the hefty reward. By utilizing his access to Turkish government communications, Ö.S. forged a letter authorizing him permission to escort Harmuş to another camp in Turkey’s Anatolia region. Upon gaining custody of the Syrian defector, Ö.S. delivered him to two of his collaborators, who in turn handed him over to the Syrian authorities. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #669

Raoul WallenbergBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►UK admits using fake rock to spy on Russians. Britain has admitted for the first time that it was caught spying when Russia exposed its use of a fake rock in Moscow to conceal electronic equipment. Russia made the allegations in January 2006, but Britain has not publicly accepted the claims until now. Jonathan Powell, then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff, told a BBC documentary it was “embarrassing”, but “they had us bang to rights”. He added: “clearly they had known about it for some time”.
►►New book examines forgotten CIA officer Jim Thompson. The CIA’s longtime man in Southeast Asia, Jim Thompson, fought to stop the agency’s progression from a small spy ring to a large paramilitary agency. Now a new book, The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, by Joshua Kurlantzick, examines the life and exploits of the man known as “Silk King” Jim.
►►Sweden to probe fate of WWII hero Wallenberg. Raoul Wallenberg (pictured) was a shrewd businessman who, in the summer of 1944, was posted as Sweden’s ambassador in Budapest, Hungary. He was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. He was abducted by Soviet intelligence officers in the closing stages of World War II, and his fate is one of the unsolved mysteries of 20th century espionage. Now Sweden says it will open a new probe into his disappearance.

Germany releases Mongolian spy master wanted for abduction, torture

Bat Khurts

Bat Khurts

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On May 15, 2003, Mongolian refugee and political-asylum seeker Enkhbat Damiran was kidnapped outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Le Havre, France. According to Amnesty International, Damiran was apprehended by a team of officers of the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia (GIAM), who kicked him, drugged him and beat him with electric batons, before ushering him to the Mongolian embassy. From there, Damiran was illegally smuggled into Germany, where he stayed for a few days, before being transported to Mongolia, through Belgium. Once back in his homeland, Damiran effectively ‘disappeared’ in the custody of GIAM, where he was allegedly subjected to systematic torture by his captors. The latter believe him to be connected with the 1998 assassination of Zorig Sanjaasürengiin, Mongolia’s former Minister of Infrastructure. Following complaints about the abduction from the European Union, the Mongolian government apologized to the governments of France, Germany and Belgium. But Damiran’s abduction has continued to be at the root of a diplomatic rift between Europe and Mongolia, which has widened in recent years. Things became even more heated in September 2010, when British intelligence, acting on a Europe-wide arrest warrant, captured Bat Khurts, former Director of GIAM, who is believed to be responsible for Damiran’s abduction and torture. Khurts was arrested in London, after being lured there in a carefully planned and executed intelligence operation. This past July, the British government decided to extradite Khurts to Germany, where was scheduled to be tried on abduction charges on October 24. So it was a bit of a surprise to say the least, when, yesterday, the Mongolian former spymaster was unexpectedly released by German authorities, after having all charges against him dropped. Read more of this post

Spy archivist discusses fate of Swedish diplomat abducted by KGB

Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was abducted by Soviet intelligence officers in the closing stages of World War II, is one of the unsolved mysteries of 20th century espionage. The 33-year-old Wallenberg was a shrewd businessman who, in the summer of 1944, was posted as Sweden’s ambassador in Budapest, Hungary. During his time in Budapest, he was able to save over 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, by supplying them with Swedish travel documentation, or smuggling them out of the country through a network of safe houses. He is also reported to have managed to dissuade German military commanders from launching an all-out attack on Budapest’s Jewish ghetto. But Wallenberg was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. In January of 1945, as Soviet forces descended on Axis ally Hungary, Moscow gave orders for Wallenberg’s arrest on charges of spying for Washington. The Swedish diplomat disappeared, never to be seen in public again. Some historians speculate that Joseph Stalin initially intended to exchange Wallenberg for a number of Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers who had defected to Sweden. But according to official Soviet government reports, Wallenberg died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947, while being interrogated at the Lubyanka, a KGB-affiliated prison complex in downtown Moscow. Despite the claims of the official Soviet record, historians have cited periodic reports that Wallenberg may have managed to survive in the Soviet concentration camp system until as late as the 1980s. Earlier this week, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, Chief Archivist for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), one of two successor agencies to the old Soviet KGB, gave an interview about Wallenberg to the Associated Press. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #587 (Libya edition)

Abdel Hakim Belhaj

Abdel Belhaj

►►Inside Libyan spy overlord’s low-tech HQ. “Handwritten notes prepared for officials over the past months show that Libya’s spooks had a good grasp of who was sending weapons to the rebels. However, its contacts with MI6 and the CIA had clearly disintegrated, as a series of despairing pleadings reveal”.
►►UK government to investigate Libyan rendition claims. British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that an independent inquiry should investigate evidence that British intelligence agencies were complicit in the rendition of terrorist suspects to Libya, where they were tortured by the Gaddafi regime.
►►Libyan rebel says female MI6 spy ignored his pleas for help. Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who is commander of Libya’s rebel military, says a female MI6 spy was among the Britons who flew to Tripoli to interrogate him, after the CIA abducted him in Malaysia, and delivered him to the hands of the Libyan regime.

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