News you may have missed #714

Tjostolv Moland and Joshua FrenchBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►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.

Australian government feared KGB spy scandal, documents show

Declassified papers from a 1983 Australian Cabinet meeting reveal that the Labor government of the day feared it could be brought down by revelations of spying by a Soviet diplomat in Canberra. The spy was Valeriy Nikolayevich Ivanov, First Secretary at the Soviet embassy in the Australian capital. Suspecting the Soviet diplomat of espionage activities, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) had bugged his home, and by 1982 had concluded that he was “a professional KGB intelligence officer”. Moreover, ASIO counterintelligence officials believed that Ivanov had been actively cultivating a relationship with an Australian citizen with a possible view to recruitment. Their concern apparently intensified after the Australian citizen began meeting Ivanov at his diplomatic residence, at the Soviet official’s request. On April 20, 1983, ASIO Director General Harvey Barnett met newly installed Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and informed him that the Australian citizen in question was no other than David Combe. A former National Secretary of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1973 to 1981, Combe was also the Prime Minster’s personal friend and close associate. A member of the Australia-USSR Friendship Society, Combe had come to know Ivanov in 1982, when he asked the Soviet embassy in Canberra for assistance in preparing for a business trip to the Soviet Union. Combe had exited politics before the 1983 national election, which had resulted in a landslide victory for the ALP, and he had entered a career as a business consultant and lobbyist. But his close relationship with Hawke alerted senior ALP officials. Meeting minutes of the government’s National and International Security Committee, released last week by the National Archives of Australia, show that Hawke chose to take Director General Barnett and other ASIO officers with him to brief senior cabinet members on April 21, the day after he himself had been briefed about the Ivanov affair. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #610

Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

►►Australian agency warns spy cells ‘lie in wait’. In its annual report, Australia’s intelligence service, the ASIO, warns that foreign powers may be recruiting sleeper agents in Australia to carry out sabotage in future conflicts. The report further notes that, despite the rise of cyberespionage, there has not been a marked reduction in the intensity of more traditional forms of espionage.
►►US frees convicted Cuban spy but debate rages on. Few topics illustrate the gulf in perception between the governments of Cuba and the United States like the case of the Cuban Five. The five Cuban agents were arrested in Florida in the 1990s and convicted on espionage charges. US federal prosecutors said the men were trying to spy on military installations. But Cuba’s government has long maintained the men were trying to monitor Miami-based exile groups that were planning attacks on the island nation.
►►Analysis: It’s time for the Pakistanis to pick a side. Former CIA operations officer Charles Faddis (pictured) argues that the US government needs to immediately designate Pakistan’s proxy army, the Haqqani network, as a terrorist organization. It has avoided taking that action for far too long and only because of crass political concerns, says Faddis, but the time has come to change course.

News you may have missed #594

David Irvine

David Irvine

►►Egypt extends detention of alleged Israel spy. An Egyptian court has extended the detention of alleged Israeli spy Ilan Grapel by 45 days, the Egyptian Al-Ahram newspaper reported on Wednesday. Grapel was arrested in Cairo in June.
►►Australian spy chief raises cyberespionage concerns. The advent of cyberespionage is serving only to reinvigorate the craft of espionage, making such spying easier than ever, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization chief, David Irvine, has told a conference in Canberra. Espionage, which has taken a back seat to terrorism since the attacks of September 11, 2001, is alive and well, said Irvine.
►►US intel official says al-Qaeda operations could end in two years. Michael G. Vickers, the US undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said at a defense conference that if the current pace of US operations continues, “within 18 to 24 months, core al-Qaeda’s cohesion and operational capabilities could be degraded to the point that the group could fragment”. Vickers’s remark represents the first time that a senior US official has offered a time frame for achieving the collapse of the organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

News you may have missed #591

David Irvine

David Irvine

►►UK Prime Minister criticizes Russia over murdered spy. British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized Russia on Monday over its refusal to hand over Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB agent suspected in the 2006 poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London. He also rejected a call from Russia for the restoration of links between the two countries’ intelligence agencies. But the two sides did “set aside their political differences […] to sign multi-million dollar business deals”. Oh, well.
►►Aussie spy agency investigating more terror threats than ever. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization has trebled in size over the past decade and now has unprecedented powers. In a rare interview, ASIO Director General David Irvine says he is worried about the potential of an attack similar to the recent shootings and bombings in Norway.
►►‘Cuban Five’ spy member seeks return home after prison. Rene Gonzalez, a former Cuban intelligence officer convicted of spying in the US, wants a federal judge to permit his return to Cuba after his release from prison next month. But US government prosecutors say Gonzalez never showed remorse for his crimes and that there’s no justification for him to go to Cuba.

News you may have missed #556

David Irvine

David Irvine

►►Australian computer networks spied ‘massively’. Cyberespionage is being used against Australia on a “massive scale” and some foreign spies are using Australian government networks to penetrate the cyberdefenses of allies such as the United States. This according to the Director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) David Irvine. Speaking at a business forum, Mr. Irvine said that “it seems the more rocks we turn over in cyberspace, the more [cyberespionage] we find”.
►►US to give Iraq wiretapping system. The US will give the government of Iraq a wiretapping system that will allow it to monitor and store voice calls, data transmissions and text messages from up to 5,000 devices simultaneously. The system is to be installed with the acquiescence of the three current cellular communications providers in Iraq, according to the US Air Force. A similar system was set up by a US contractor three years ago in Afghanistan.
►►Judge says NSA whistleblower faced ‘tyrannical’ US government. This blog has kept an eye on the case of Thoma Drake, a former US National Security Agency employee  who was taken to court for leaking secrets about the agency to a journalist. But the judge in his case, Richard D. Bennett, refused Read more of this post

Chinese telecoms manufacturer denies spying claims (again)

Huawei HQ

Huawei HQ

Huawei Technologies is one of China’s fastest-rising corporations. Founded in 1988 to import Western office telephone systems to China, the company today has become one of the country’s leading exporters, producing all kinds of hi-tech communications hardware equipment, ranging from routers to cell towers and undersea cables. But, as intelNews has indicated on several instances, Huawei’s export growth has been hampered in recent years by widely circulated suspicions that the company maintains close ties to the Chinese military and intelligence establishments. In 2009, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) investigated one of Huawei’s Australian-based subsidiaries for links to Chinese intelligence operations. In the following year, the Indian government barred the company from operating in India, citing its allegedly “strong links with the Chinese military”. In August of 2010, several American senators called for an investigation into a proposed collaboration between Huawei and US-based Sprint-Nextel, arguing that the Chinese hardware manufacturer is “effectively controlled by China’s civilian and military intelligence establishment”. Further controversy erupted in the United States in February of this year, when another group of American Congress members accused Huawei of having supplied telecommunications equipment to Iran and the Afghan Taliban. The controversy around Huawei, which currently employs over 110,000 people in China and beyond, centers partly on its founder and chief executive owner, Ren Zhengfei. A former Director of the People’s Liberation Army’s Engineering Corps, Zhengfei founded Huawei a few years after retiring from his government job. His critics claim that he never truly retired from the PLA, and that he maintains routine links with the Communist Party of China, of which he is a member, as well as Chinese military intelligence. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #519

  • Australian ex-spy wins right to compensation. The former spy, known only as FXWZ, worked for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation for almost 15 years before leaving it in 1979. Now at 67, he has won the right to compensation claiming that his work for ASIO induced a mental disorder.
  • Eritrea releases UK citizens detained for espionage. The four British men, two of whom are former Royal Marines, were arrested in Eritrea last December on suspicion of espionage, after they were caught in possession of arms including 18 different types of snipers, ammunition and night vision equipment. They have been released after a months-long diplomatic row between Eritrea and Britain.
  • Pakistan to deport US national suspected of spying. Twenty-seven year-old Matthew Craig Barrett has been arrested for allegedly scouting nuclear facilities near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and is expected to be deported soon.

News you may have missed #515

  • US spies tracked suspected terrorists in Sweden. US intelligence agents have staked out suspected terrorists in Sweden without the authorization of the government there, Svenska Daglbadet newspaper has reported. Last November, Norway, Sweden and Denmark launched official investigations into reports that US embassies there operated illegal intelligence-gathering networks.
  • Aussie spy agency reported on WikiLeaks. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s department has revealed that WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, were the subject of Australian intelligence reporting last year, as the government anticipated the whistleblower website would spill “highly sensitive and politically embarrassing” secrets.
  • Former Taiwanese general accused of spying. Taiwanese government prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Major General Lo Hsien-che, the most senior Taiwanese official to be arrested on espionage charges in the country since the early 1960s.

Australian Labour Party leader worked for Soviets, claims historian

H.V. Evatt

H.V. Evatt

One of Australia’s leading intelligence historians has said that Herbert V. Evatt, who led the Australian Labour Party in the 1950s, operated as a secret agent for the Soviet Union. Dr Desmond Ball, professor at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, made the claim following last week’s release in London of previously classified documents relating to Australian intelligence. The documents, which came from the archives of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, reveal that Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies was convinced that Evatt was a Soviet agent. His fear appears to have culminated two days before the national election of November 22, 1958, when he privately expressed the fear that Evatt would destroy Australian counterintelligence documents on the Soviet Union if the Labour Party was elected to power. With this in mind, he ordered the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) to share top-secret documents on the Soviet Union with London and Washington. Following Menzies’ directive, the ASIO provided Britain’s MI5 and MI6, as well as America’s CIA with two sets each of a number of intelligence reports acquired through KGB defector Vladimir Petrov. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #462

  • CIA secrets could surface in Swiss nuclear case. A seven-year effort by the CIA to hide its relationship with the Tinners, a Swiss family who once acted as moles inside the world’s most successful atomic black market, hit a turning point on Thursday when a Swiss magistrate recommended charging the men with trafficking in technology and information for making nuclear arms.
  • Pakistan spy chief to ignore US summons. The Pakistani government has announced that hat there is “no possibility” that Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, would obey a summons requesting his appearance before a court in the United States relating to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
  • Australia told to prioritize spy recruitment. Carl Ungerer, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has advised the Australian intelligence agencies to “look at ways to improve information gathering from human sources”, as they undergo a period of reform.

News you may have missed #453

  • France accuses Iran of violence at Tehran embassy. A diplomatic standoff between France and Iran has ensued, after Paris accused Iran’s security services of committing “unacceptable acts of violence” on French diplomatic personnel at the French embassy in Tehran. The alleged incident happened as guests gathered at the embassy for a traditional Persian music concert. Iranian plainclothes security forces and uniformed police stopped about two-thirds of 130 invited guests from entering the building, and an unknown number of people were seen being taken away in unmarked vans.
  • CIA picks Air Force general to lead military ops office. The CIA announced Monday that it has chosen an Air Force Lt. Gen. Kurt A. Cichowski, who has extensive experience in Predator drones, to head its military affairs office. In 2009, Cichowski called the CIA drone assassination program a “phenomenal […] success”.
  • Aussie spies spooked out by student filmmakers. Three media students filming a tourist site near the controversial new headquarters of Australia’s spy organization, ASIO, in Canberra, prompted a late-night police check, apparently over security concerns.

News you may have missed #420

  • Nokia and Siemens deny helping Iranian spying. Isa Saharkhiz, a one-time reporter for the Islamic Republic News Agency, is suing Nokia Siemens Networks in US federal court, claiming the companies facilitated his capture and torture at the hands of the Iranian government. The European-based consortium denies the allegations.
  • New Aussie spy agency HQ ‘on time and on budget’. The new ASIO $606 million  (USD $540 million) headquarters in Parkes, Canberra, is progressing on time and on budget, with completion scheduled for mid-2012. Meanwhile, the 270 construction workers on site have been vetted for security clearance, must pass security checkpoints each day, and have signed papers not to discuss anything that happens on site.
  • US Pentagon spends big on outsourced spy imagery. The production and maintenance of US spy satellites used to be in government hands, but now this critical aspect of national security is routinely outsourced. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the Department of Defense’s operator of military spy satellites, recently awarded $7.3 billion in contracts for its EnhancedView commercial imagery program.

News you may have missed #371

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Comment: Aussie ex-spies comment on Israeli forged passports affair

Australian passport

Australia passport

Regular IntelNews readers are aware of the current crisis in Israeli-Australian relations, which broke out as a result of the use of several forged Australian passports by the Israeli intelligence services. The passports were among several Western identity documents employed by Israeli Mossad agents in targeting Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was assassinated in a luxury Dubai hotel last January. The revelation prompted Canberra to announce the expulsion of Israel’s senior Mossad representative in the country. The dust has yet to settle, and the recent shooting of an Australian citizen onboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla during last Monday’s bloody raid by the Israeli Defense Forces has the potential to worsen Australian-Israeli relations even further. What is the view of all this from Australia? IntelNews asked two Australian former intelligence officers, who offered their input on an anonymous basis. Read more of this post


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