Australia tries to stop ex-spy from testifying in international court

Australia and East TimorBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Australia has confiscated the passport of a former intelligence officer who was preparing to testify at an international court that Canberra engaged in illegal economic espionage. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, is preparing to hear a case brought against Australia by the government of East Timor. The small island nation accuses Australia of bugging the offices of key Timorese officials in an attempt to acquire inside information on a crucial energy deal. East Timor claims that a group of Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officers disguised themselves as a refurbishing crew and planted numerous electronic surveillance devices in an East Timorese government office. The information collected from the listening devices allegedly allowed Australia to gain an upper hand during negotiations that led to the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty. The treaty, signed in 2004, allows the two countries to share the revenue derived from the exploitation of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field, sections of which are claimed by both Australia and East Timor. But the Timorese side now claims that Canberra gained an unfair advantage in the CMATS negotiations through its bugging operation, and is asking for the treaty to be terminated. Sometime last week, Australian authorities found out that the East Timorese side had secured the cooperation of an ASIS whistleblower, who was prepared to testify at The Hague about the details of the bugging operation. The unnamed whistleblower, who is believed to be a former director of technical operations at ASIS, was prepared to tell the court that the operation was both “immoral and wrong”, because it was designed to benefit the interests of large energy conglomerates and had nothing to do with Australian national security. On Tuesday, officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is the country’s domestic intelligence agency, raided the offices of Bernard Collaery, who is acting as East Timor’s lawyer in the case. The raiders took away legal documents that disclose the identity of the ASIS whistleblower. Shortly afterwards the former ASIS official was questioned by Australian authorities, who then proceeded to confiscate his passport, so as to prevent him from traveling to the Netherlands. Read more of this post

About these ads

KGB ‘ran two Australian politicians as agents’ in 1970s: document

Geronty Lazovik (left) in 1971By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Soviet intelligence recruited and ran at least two Australian elected politicians as agents for the USSR in the 1970s, according to a confidential account authored by an Australian counterintelligence officer. The report’s author is allegedly an unnamed former employee of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is tasked with counterespionage. Australia’s Fairfax Media, which claimed yesterday to have accessed the report, described it as “an unusually candid document”. It allegedly describes Soviet intelligence activities on Australian soil during the last two decades of the Cold War and names known Soviet intelligence officers operating in Australia at the time. Among those named is Vladimir Yevgenyevich Tulayev, described in the confidential report as “a hard-eyed, well-dressed thug” who was “aggressively involved in intelligence operations in Australia”. The document also names Geronty Lazovik, considered by AFIO as a “definite agent runner”. Australian counterintelligence described Lazovik as a far more refined operative than Tulayev and kept tabs on him as he developed and cultivated “a wide range of contacts” across Australia’s Federal Parliament. The report suggest that Australian Labor Party politicians, aides and lobbyists were among Lazovik’s “contacts” in Australia, though it does not explicitly name them as agents of the Soviet KGB. Arguably the most important allegation made in the report is that another KGB operative in Australia, Vladimir Aleksandrovich Aleksyev, was able to recruit and run “two Australian politicians as agents” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The document states that Aleksyev was able to handle the two alleged recruits “using tradecraft of a fairly high order”, suggesting that he was perhaps one of the KGB’s most successful known case officers in Australia. The confidential report alleges that the ASIO leadership approached the Australian government with information about the operations of the KGB officers. Read more of this post

Australian civil servant accused of spying denied access to evidence

Embassy of South Korea in AustraliaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Australia’s Federal Court has rejected a bid by a senior civil servant to view the evidence the government is using to accuse him of espionage. Until September of 2011, Dr. Yeon Kim was a career civil servant with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). His specialization in international trade policy required a security clearance, which Kim had possessed since 2001. But in 2011, he was sacked and had his security clearance revoked for allegedly holding clandestine meetings with officers of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The Australian government accuses Kim of meeting repeatedly with Hoo-Young Park, an employee of the South Korean embassy in Canberra, who had been declared to the Australian government as an NIS liaison officer. According to court documents, three other NIS officers serving under diplomatic cover in Australia, Bum-Yeon Lee, Sa-Yong Hong, and a third man named Kim, were involved in collecting intelligence on Australian trade secrets. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which detained Kim, said that he willingly participated in the “foreign interference” operation by the NIS. For several months now, Kim has been contesting the Australian government’s legal case against him in the Federal Court. His legal team recently requested that the Court annul two certificates issued by the Australian attorney general, designed to bar the defense from accessing evidence against Kim. The certificates were originally submitted by government prosecutors during an earlier Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing. But the Court declined the request, saying the defense waited too long to challenge the certificates. In issuing the ruling, Justice Lindsay Foster said Kim’s legal team should have requested that the certificates be declined during the original hearing. The judge censured Kim’s defense lawyers for “stand[ing] by and watch[ing] while the certificates were [originally] deployed”, adding that it would undermine the integrity of the legal process to allow the certificates to be challenged at this late stage. Read more of this post

Australia fears Asia backlash over PRISM surveillance revelations

David IrvineBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Australia is concerned that American whistleblower Edward Snowden may leak classified information that could damage Australia’s relations with its Asian neighbors, including China and Malaysia. Early this month, Snowden, a former technical assistant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine electronic surveillance program operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Information provided by Snowden to British newspaper The Guardian suggests that Washington routinely shares PRISM intelligence with Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia. These four countries, along with the United States, are signatories to the so-called UKUSA agreement, a multilateral accord for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection, which was established secretly in 1946. Australian media reported on Wednesday that the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security had been briefed by senior intelligence officials on Australia’s role in PRISM. The Sydney Morning Herald said that David Irvine, Director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and Ian McKenzie, who heads Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate, were among those who briefed the parliamentary Committee. Its members were reportedly told that the disclosures about PRISM were likely to damage Canberra’s relations with several Asian countries, in ways that are difficult to predict. One unidentified Australian intelligence official told The Herald that Snowden had “very wide access” to classified information held by the NSA, and that some of it probably includes “much detail of communications intelligence cooperation between the US and Australia”. One source went as far as to say that Snowden’s disclosures have already “damaged [...] Australia’s intelligence capabilities”. Read more of this post

Chinese hackers ‘stole blueprints’ of Australian spy agency’s new HQ

ASIO's new headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Chinese government hackers allegedly stole the master blueprints and other highly classified technical information relating to the new headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The state-of-the-art building, which is located at the shore of Lake Burley Griffin in Australian capital Canberra, has so far cost taxpayers in excess of AUD $631 million (US $608 million). Although it remains under construction, the new headquarters is said to feature the most sophisticated security features of any government building in Canberra. But a report aired on May 28 by Australian television’s Four Corners investigative program, alleged that a Chinese government agency managed to steal the building’s blueprints. The program claimed that the highly classified blueprints were stolen when hackers mounted a sophisticated cyberattack on a private-sector contractor involved in constructing the ASIO’s new headquarters. Four Corners suggested that the cyberattack, which was “traced to a server in China”, also compromised the building’s communications diagram, server locations and physical security systems. The revelation will undoubtedly add to the stream of public criticism about the project, which has been severely plagued by budget increases and construction delays. As recently as 2010, the government was insisting that the project was “progressing on time and on budget, with completion scheduled for mid-2012”. Today, however, the building’s budget has gone over by AUD $171 million and the building is expected to open its doors no earlier than the fall of 2013, with some commentators suggesting that it could be 2014 before ASIO’s personnel are able to start moving in. Read more of this post

Revealed: South Korean intel officers caught spying on Australia

Embassy of South Korea in AustraliaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A court in Australia has released information about “inappropriate activities” allegedly conducted by South Korean intelligence officers targeting trade negotiations between Seoul and Canberra. The 2011 case involved operatives of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), who purportedly tried “to obtain sensitive information” from Australian civil servants. The documents, released Tuesday by Australia’s Federal Court, reveal that an Australian government official, Dr. Yeon Kim, was sacked and had his security clearance revoked, for allegedly holding clandestine meetings with South Korean NIS officers. The Australian government accused Kim, who worked for the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, of meeting repeatedly with Hoo-Young Park, an employee of the South Korean embassy in Canberra, who had been declared to the Australian government as an NIS liaison officer. According to the court documents, three other NIS officers serving under diplomatic cover in Australia, Bum-Yeon Lee, Sa-Yong Hong, and a man named Kim, were involved in collecting intelligence on Australian trade secrets. According to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which detained Kim, he willingly participated in the “foreign interference” operation by the NIS. It is worth noting, however, that there were no expulsions of South Korean intelligence officers or diplomats following Kim’s detention. On the contrary, ASIO appears to have gone to great lengths to prevent disclosure of the spy affair and even protect the identities of the NIS officers involved. In a move interpreted by some as an attempt by Canberra to safeguard its good relations with Seoul, the Australian government warned in a memo that any disclosure of the South Korean intelligence operation would have “a detrimental impact” on bilateral relations between the two nations. Read more of this post

Former Mossad officer describes Zygier affair as ‘scandalous’

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former member of Israeli spy agency Mossad, who claims to have worked in the same covert-operations unit as Ben Zygier, has described the latter’s incarceration and subsequent death as “scandalous”. The Australian-born Zygier was a Mossad officer several years before he was placed in solitary confinement following his arrest in Israel, in February 2010. Known to the outside world only as ‘Prisoner X’, he allegedly killed himself in his cell a few months later. Earlier this month, when an Australian television program identified ‘Prisoner X’ as Zygier, the Australian government admitted it had been aware of its citizen’s incarceration and death, but chose not to extend to him diplomatic support. So far, the Mossad, Israel’s foremost covert-action agency, has remained silent on the matter. But a former Mossad operative, who uses the name Michael Ross, has weighed in with his opinion. Ross was born in Canada and converted to Judaism before joining the Mossad for 13 years, seven of which he claims to have spent in the same covert-operations unit as Zygier. Although he never met his Australian-born colleague, Ross wrote in The Daily Beast in the weekend that he and Zygier “were in the field at the same time, albeit in different units”. In his article, the former Mossad spy dismisses allegations that Zygier may have betrayed his employer, saying that he has seen no evidence that the Australian-born Jew was not dedicated to the mission of the Mossad. He argues that the circumstances surrounding Zygier’s incarceration in solitary confinement were “scandalous”, because the jailed spy presented “no danger to the public”. Instead, says the former spy, Zygier could have been dismissed from the spy service and placed under house arrest for as long as it would have been necessary for the accusations against him to be “dealt with internally”. Read more of this post

Did Aussies ‘burn’ Israel’s Prisoner X and was he also a British citizen?

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As intriguing questions continue to mount about the case of Israel’s so-called ‘Prisoner X’, the flow of verifiable information from official channels in Australia and Israel has slowed to a trickle. However, two important analyses appeared over the weekend, which could potentially place the incarceration and subsequent death of Ben Zygier under new light. One claims that the Australian-born Israeli was a low-level Mossad operative who did not commit any serious crime —let along high treason. The other suggests that Zygier might have held British citizenship, in addition to being a dual Australian and Israeli citizen, and that the British government might have been privy to the information regarding his arrest and subsequent incarceration in Israel’s Ayalon prison. In an article for Ynet, the online outlet for Israel’s high-selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot, veteran security correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai posits that Zygier was simply a “support operative” for the Mossad, adding that he “did not commit treason”. Instead, says Ben-Yishai, Zygier was probably arrested by the Israelis because they suspected he might have given, or might consider giving, information about forged Australian passports to Canberra. The Mossad decided to detain him after he told them he had been contacted by Australian journalist Jason Koutskoukis in late 2009 and asked whether he was a Mossad operative. Koutsoukis was tipped-off by Australian counterintelligence, which suspected Zygier of supplying the Mossad with Australian passports in his possession. It was the stigma of being considered a traitor by his own people that drove Zygier —a passionate Zionist— to suicide, claims Ben-Yishai. Read more of this post

Interview: Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ linked to 2010 al-Mabhouh killing

Ben ZygierThis morning I spoke to SBS Radio Australia’s Greg Dyett about the mysterious case of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born naturalized citizen of Israel, who is said to have killed himself in 2010 while being held at a maximum-security prison near Tel Aviv. As intelNews reported on Wednesday, Zygier, who is believed to have been recruited by Israel’s covert-action agency Mossad, had been imprisoned incommunicado for several months and was known only as ‘Prisoner X’, even to his prison guards. Is there any connection between Zygier’s incarceration and the January 2010 assassination of Palestinian arms merchant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai? And what could Zygier have done to prompt Israel to incarcerate him? You can listen to me discuss this mysterious case in an eight-minute interview here, or read the transcript, below.

Q: You say that, after conferring with your contacts in Israel, Europe and the United States, you believe that Ben Zygier had some sort of involvement in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010.

A: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a weapons procurer for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. At this point, there is little doubt that the Mossad was behind this operation. Several members of the team that killed al-Mabhouh were using third-country passports —Irish, British, Australian, and others— to travel to and from Dubai. In the aftermath of the assassination, there were questions about how the Mossad operatives managed to get those passports; and, if you’ll remember, that led to the expulsion of several Israeli diplomats from around the world, including Australia. Read more of this post

Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ supplied Australian passports to the Mossad

Ben ZygierBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Concerns about the routine use of Australian passports by Israeli spies led to the exposure of Israel’s mystery ‘Prisoner X’, who killed himself in 2010 while in prison, it has been claimed. On Tuesday, ABC Australia reporter Trevor Bromann identified the mystery prisoner as Ben Zygier, an Australian father of two, who had been recruited by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, after moving to Israel in 2000. Zygier, whose identity had been withheld even from his prison guards, was arrested in early 2010 and was held for several months in Ayalon, Israel’s most secure prison, located southeast of Tel Aviv. Ayalon’s Unit 15, where Zygier was held, consists of a single cell constructed in 1995 to house Yigal Amir, the assassin of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Remarkably, shortly after ABC Australia revealed Zygier’s identity, Israeli news outlets received telephone calls from the Office of Israel’s Prime Minister, requesting urgent meetings “in the interest of Israel’s national security”. Israeli media reported that senior news editors across Israel were told by the government “to exercise restraint” and refrain from exposing information that could have “very dramatic repercussions” for Israel’s security. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #783

Uri SaguyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israeli ex-intel chief says warns of ‘hysteria’ over Iran. Major General Uri Saguy (a.k.a. Uri Sagi), who was head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate during the 1982 Lebanon war, and Military Intelligence chief from 1991 to 1995, has warned of an “orchestrated and purposely timed hysteria that puts the country into a state of anxiety, artificial or not”, regarding the Iranian nuclear issue. Saguy, who resigned from the IDF in 1995 due to a conflict between him and the Chief of General Staff, added that “it would be a mistake if Israel uses force, certainly now, in order to thwart the Iranian nuclear potential”. The essence of Saguy’s message, notes Ha’aretz‘s Amir Oren, is that Israel’s citizens cannot trust Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
►►Australian spy chief warns of economic espionage. The director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, David Irvine, has warned that the online revolution has left Australian companies increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks and commercial espionage. Speaking to a business audience in Canberra, Irvine said that most online attacks in the business world go undetected, despite growing awareness of the threat. Asked how much commercial cyber crime went undetected, he said: “I would be very surprised if we who are active in this area are picking up the greater proportion of it, in fact, quite the reverse”.
►►Top US military official objects to attack on Iran. As Israeli officials are telling local reporters that they’re really, really ready to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and they mean it this time, the top US military officer is saying what a terrible idea that would be. “I may not know about all of [Israel's] capabilities”, said General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “But I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities”. Left unsaid: in a few years, the US and Israel would be back to the same standoff with Iran —except this time it might do so amidst a proxy terrorist war to avenge the Iranians.

News you may have missed #754

Jonathan EvansBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New German spy HQ to open a year late. The BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, was due to move from its base in Pullach, near Munich, to an enormous newly built center in Berlin, at the end of 2014. But that has now been officially put back by a year. The Berliner Morgenpost newspaper quoted BND president Gerhard Schindler saying he was “regularly losing young new staff”, due to the delay. The uncertainty has meant “they leave our authority and find themselves another employer”, he said.
►►UK spy chief warns of ‘astonishing’ levels of cyberespionage. In a rare public speech, Jonathan Evans, director general of MI5, Britain’s domestic spy service, has said that the West now faces an “astonishing” cyberespionage threat on an “industrial scale” from specific nation states. He said that cyberespionage is now conducted “with industrial-scale processes involving many thousands of people lying behind both state-sponsored cyber espionage and organized cyber crime”. Surely, however, Evans does not mean to imply that the West’s role in cyberespionage is purely defensive?
►►Aussie spy agency lacks resources to vet asylum seekers. An official audit into the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s ability to vet asylum seekers for potential security threats, has found that it is struggling with the “sharp increase” in boat arrivals, rudimentary computer systems and 30 per cent fewer staff than needed. The audit report examined 411 cases as a sample of the almost 180,000 security assessments ASIO completes each year.

News you may have missed #741

Glenn CarleBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►MI6 role in rendition could be concealed in new bill. Libyan government officials Sami al-Saadi and Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who allege that they were taken by rendition by Britain to Libya eight years ago, are expected to begin legal proceedings against the British government and Jack Straw, Britain’s former foreign secretary, next month. However, after pressure from the security services, MI5 and MI6, the British government is preparing to publish a Justice and Security Bill that could allow these cases to be held in their entirety behind closed doors.
►►Aussie spy agency defends new headquarters. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation says its new headquarters in Canberra is not at risk of being spied upon, despite the use of a lot of glass. ASIO director general David Irvine told a senate committee on Thursday it would be impossible for someone with a high resolution camera on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin to spy on the nation’s spies. Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam had asked whether the design of the “glass palace” could threaten the secrecy of its work.
►►Good interview with ex-CIA officer Glenn Carle. In this interview, Carle, a retired CIA case officer who wrote The Interrogator: An Education, says his former employers have called his publisher asking them to pulp his book; they rang every major network to prevent him going on air. They are, he says several times, “vicious” and have perpetrated a stain on America’s national character.

News you may have missed #734

Aviv KochaviBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Australian spy agency in rent dispute. The Australian government insists there is no dispute over the lease of the new, state-of-the-art headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, which cost nearly A$589 to build. But according to a number of government sources, the property has become the subject of a standoff between the ASIO and Australia’s Department of Finance and Deregulation. The Canberra Times reports that the Finance Department has told ASIO it will have to hand over more money than anticipated because of a blowout to building costs and timing. But the ASIO is refusing to pay more than initially agreed.
►►US unveils spy model of bin Laden compound. The United States intelligence community has unveiled a scale model of the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden spent the last few years of his life in hiding. The model was built by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGIA) and used by military and intelligence leaders to plan the daring night raid on May 2, 2011, that killed the al Qaeda founder. Its scale is an exact 1:84; every tree, bush, wall, animal pen, trash can and physical structure in the model existed at one time at the original compound in Abbottabad.
►►Israel military intelligence head in secret US visit. Israeli military intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi made a “secret visit” to Washington earlier this month to discuss the upcoming talks between world powers and Iran. An Israeli security official confirmed the visit, which was reported in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, but could not provide further details. Meanwhile, three senior IDF intelligence officers resigned recently, following what they called “questionable” appointments to key positions. The three colonels held some of the most senior and classified positions in the Israeli military intelligence community.

News you may have missed #714

Tjostolv Moland and Joshua FrenchBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►British PM urged to intervene in Congo spy case. The mother of Joshua French, who has dual British and Norwegian nationality, and is facing execution in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has urged British Prime Minister David Cameron to ask Congolese authorities to pardon him. French, and his Norwegian friend Tjostolv Moland, were sentenced to death for murder and spying in the vast central African country in 2009. A prison official claimed in August last year that the pair had tried to escape, but their lawyer denies this.
►►Computers of Syrian activists infected with Trojan. Since the beginning of the year, pro-Syrian-government hackers have steadily escalated the frequency and sophistication of their attacks on Syrian opposition activists. Many of these attacks are carried out through Trojans, which covertly install spying software onto infected computers, as well as phishing attacks which steal YouTube and Facebook login credentials. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the latest surveillance malware comes in the form of an extracting file which is made to look like a PDF if users have their file extensions turned off. The PDF purports to be a document concerning the formation of the leadership council of the Syrian revolution and is delivered via Skype message from a known friend.
►►Report claims Australian government spied on anti-coal activists. The leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, says he is outraged at reports that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is spying on mining protesters, and says such action is a misuse of the spy agency’s resources. The revelations were reported in Australian newspapers yesterday, and are based on a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism that was reportedly rejected because it involved “an intelligence agency document”. The ASIO says it cannot confirm whether it has conducted surveillance of anti-coal protesters, but it says it does not target particular groups or individuals unless there is a security-related reason to do so.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 666 other followers