Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

TeliaSonera CEO Lars NybergBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A highly profitable cellular telecommunications company, which is jointly owned by a Swedish-Finnish public-private consortium, is enabling some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes to spy on their own citizens, according to a new report. TeliaSonera AB, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, is currently active in nearly 20 countries around the world. In 2011, it posted a net profit of nearly $3 billion, 25 percent of which came from the company’s operations in countries of the former Soviet Union. They include some of TeliaSonera’s most lucrative franchises, such as Geocell in Georgia, Kcell in Kazakhstan, Ucell in Uzebekistan, Tcell in Tajikistan, and Azercell in Azerbaijan, among others. But a new investigation by Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television AB  (SVT), accuses TeliaSonera of knowingly giving some of the world’s most oppressive governments the means to spy on their own citizens. The report, which is available online in English, effectively states that TeliaSonera is directly complicit in some of the world’s most severe human rights abuses. The accusation is bound to cause embarrassment among senior officials in the Swedish government, which owns nearly 40 percent of TeliaSonera’s stock. The SVT investigation singles out Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, where TeliaSonera operates monopoly cellular networks on behalf of the state, “in exchange for lucrative contracts”. While running the networks, TeliaSonera allegedly grants local intelligence agencies complete and real-time access to the all telephone calls, pen-register data, and content of text messages exchanged by users. This, says the SVT report, has in turn facilitated several arrests of pro-democracy activists and political dissidents in countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan. Read more of this post

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Iran allegedly busts ‘Israel-backed’ sabotage ring

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of Iran has announced the arrests of a “terrorist network” that was allegedly planning sabotage and assassination operations inside the Islamic Republic. The announcement was released by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry and aired by a host of state-controlled media on Tuesday. The reports were vague, but claimed that the sabotage ring was supported by Israel, and that its members were “plotting fresh attacks” against Iranian government targets. The Intelligence Ministry said that Iranian counterterrorist teams decided to move against the “large and sophisticated” network after preparing the ground during “months of operations”. An unidentified Iranian government official was quoted as saying that the arrests of the group members involved the “recovery of large bombs, automatic weapons, handguns, [as well as] telecommunications equipment” from houses and apartments belonging to alleged sabotage group members. One report stated that some of the arrests were concluded following “firefights” between the suspects and Iranian government forces. Reports also claimed that the network led officials to the discovery of a separate “regional command center in a third country”, which was not named, but which is widely suspected to be Azerbaijan. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that American intelligence agencies had ramped up intelligence and sabotage missions directed against Iran’s nuclear program. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #699

Hilda MurrellBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Diplomatic war over the arrest of Gaddafi’s spy chief. The Libyan authorities have confirmed the arrest in Mauritania of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, who was reportedly detained at Nouakchott airport. Senussi, 63, was Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, and has been described as one of his most trusted aides. But his arrest has kicked off an international row about which of his alleged crimes —ranging from terrorism to war crimes and mass murder— should take precedence in the pursuit of justice. The Mauritanians are now saying that they are willing to extradite al-Senussi, but this remains to be seen in practice.
►►Azerbaijan arrests 22 in alleged Iran spy plot. Azerbaijan has arrested 22 of its own citizens, on suspicion of spying for Iran. Weapons and ammunition were seized, authorities say, accusing the group of links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Their alleged targets included the US and Israeli embassies as well as Western-linked companies. Surveillance by the Azeri security services is reported to have helped foil the alleged Iranian-sponsored plot.
►►Was there MI5 link to murder of UK nuclear activist? One of Britain’s leading human rights lawyers, Michael Mansfield QC, has demanded a fresh police inquiry to establish what the British intelligence services knew about the murder of a prominent anti-nuclear campaigner. The lawyer said new evidence meant that an independent police force should be appointed to examine enduring concerns and inconsistencies relating to the death of Hilda Murrell, in March 1984.

News you may have missed #682

Lieutenant General Ronald BurgessBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is there a Mossad base near Iran? The London-based Sunday Times has published an interview with a man claiming to be an Azerbaijan-based agent of Israeli intelligence agency, who confirmed the existence of such a base. The man, identified in the article as “Shimon,” told the paper that there were dozens of Israeli Mossad agents working out of the base. The meeting between the agent and the London Times‘ reporter took place in Baku, near the Israeli Embassy, the report said.
►►Analysis: CIA report on Soviet bioweapons still secret. It has been three decades since the Reagan administration accused the Soviet Union and Vietnam of using chemical weapons known as yellow rain. We still do not know how the US came to this conclusion, but have good reason to believe that it was based on flawed or distorted intelligence. A classified critique of the intelligence behind those charges, written several years ago for the Central Intelligence Agency, could shed light on what happened. Last year, Matthew Meselson, a Harvard expert on chemical and biological weapons, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the report released. He was turned down.
►►US official says Iran unlikely to strike first. Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, said the Iranian military is unlikely to intentionally provoke a conflict with the West. He said Iran probably has the ability to “temporarily close the Strait of Hormuz with its naval forces”, as some Iranian officials have threatened to do if attacked or in response to sanctions on its oil exports by the US and European Union. But, he added, “Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a preemptive attack”.

Israeli-Iranian ‘dirty war’ nearing point of no return

Bomb blast in New DelhiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The ongoing intelligence war between Israel and Iran appears to be reaching unprecedented levels following the exposure earlier this week of a simultaneous bombing campaign against Israeli targets in Europe and Asia. The wife of Israel’s Defense Attaché in New Delhi, India, was among four people injured on Monday, after a magnetic bomb attached to her car exploded just 500 yards from the gates of the Israeli embassy. Three thousand miles away, in Tbilisi, Georgia, a sharp-eyed employee of the Israeli embassy there discovered a bomb attached to a diplomatic car; the device was eventually diffused by Georgian counterterrorist authorities. A few hours later, the government of Thailand announced that two Iranian nationals had been detained following an explosion at a rented house in the capital Bangkok, which critically injured one of the arrestees. A second man was reportedly arrested in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport while he was trying to board a flight to Malaysia. At least two other men, also Iranian nationals, remain at large, though Thai officials suspect they have already fled to Iran. (Update: Thai authorities have confirmed the bombers’ targets were Israeli diplomats). Speaking anonymously to Bloomberg news agency, US intelligence officials said that operations directed at Israeli targets were also “disrupted” in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, as well as in Bulgaria. Observers have also noted that the attack that injured the wife of the Israeli diplomat was carried out in one of Israel’s strongest allies in Asia, thus delivering a two-fold message to both Tel Aviv and New Delhi. India’s Home Affairs Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, told journalists yesterday that the attack in the Indian capital was conducted by a “well trained” motorcyclist, who attached “a magnetic device” to the car before speeding away. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #416 (Iran edition)

  • Israel not to attack Iran in 2011, say US sources. The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year for Iran to complete a “dash” for a nuclear weapon. US officials say the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike Iran within the next year.
  • Iran launches first spy drone. Iran has launched a domestically made long-range high-altitude drone, called Karrar, according to state media. Hamed Saeedi, managing director of Farnas Aerospace Company, which is in charge of the project, said plans are under way to produce additional drones and unmanned choppers.
  • Iranian tried for espionage collapses in Armenian court. Behnam Bagheri, an Iranian citizen being tried in Armenia on charges of spying for Azerbaijan, collapsed in court in Yerevan on August 19 while delivering his defense speech, according to reports. In a similar case in October of 2009, Armenia charged one of its own officers with spying for Azerbaijan.

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News you may have missed #0164

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News you may have missed #0153

  • More on Nozette’s 2009 mystery trip abroad. The affidavit of Stewart David Nozette, who was arrested last Monday for attempting to sell classified US government information to an undercover FBI agent, reveals that “[o]n or about January 6, 2009, [the scientist] traveled to a different foreign country”, carrying with him two thumb drives, which he failed to bring back with him. Where did he go, and why?
  • Armenia charges former army officer with spying for Azerbaijan. Armenian Army officer Gevorg Airapetian and a “foreign national” were arrested in a “special operation” by Armenian authorities earlier this week, and charged with spying for Azerbaijan. Some suspect Russian involvement, believing the Azerbaijanis to have acted as intermediaries between Airapetian and Moscow.
  • US spy chief Blair calls for spy cooperation. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair called Wednesday for a better-coordinated effort within the US intelligence community. But he said nothing about recent reports that intelligence officials shut down a Web-based unclassified e-mail system, which had been heralded as an important step in information sharing between members of the US intelligence community.

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Israel, Azerbaijan, tight-lipped on rumored reconnaissance deal

Ilham Aliyev

Ilham Aliyev

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The Israeli and Azerbaijani governments are apparently keeping quiet about rumored plans to jointly manufacture unmanned drone aircraft and spy satellites. Representatives of Israel’s reconnaissance and aeronautics industry were among dozens of Israeli business leaders who joined last June’s state visit to Azerbaijan by Isarel’s President Shimon Peres. It was the first-ever visit to the Caspian Sea state by an Israeli head of state. Soon after the end of the visit, there were rumors in the Israeli press that Tel Aviv had managed to convince Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, after four years of negotiations, to approve the construction of a manufacturing plant in Azerbaijan that will construct unmanned drone surveillance aircraft. Moreover, Israel was said to have agreed to help Azerbaijan construct a TecSAR all-weather satellite reconnaissance system. Azerbaijan, which borders with Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia, is one of the few predominantly Muslim countries that maintain bilateral relations with Israel.

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News you may have missed #0007

  • German counterintelligence chief accuses Russia of commercial spying. Burkhard Even, Germany’s director of counterintelligence at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has told German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag that Russian spies have intensified espionage operations on the German energy sector to help Russian firms gain commercial advantages. On May 26, intelNews reported on similar accusations by the German Association for Security in Industry and Commerce (ASW). Its director told Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that the targeting of German research and commercial enterprises by mainly Chinese and Russian agents is so extensive that it usually costs the German economy over €20 billion per year, and it may be costing as high as €50 billion per year since 2007.
  • Spanish intelligence agents kicked out of Cuba. Spanish newspaper ABC reports that the recently expelled officers of Spain’s National Intelligence Centre (CNI) were secretly recorded at Havana cocktail parties “making derogatory comments about the Castro brothers and other [Cuban] government officials”. 
  • Proposed US bill would boost congressional oversight of covert spy programs. Key lawmakers in Washington have endorsed a proposed bill that would force the president to make fuller disclosure of covert spy programs. The legislation, which has already been approved by the House Intelligence Committee, would force the president to disclose classified operations to all members of Congress’ intelligence oversight panels. 
  • Report claims CIA, Mossad scoring points against Hezbollah. A new report claims American and Israeli intelligence organizations have scored notable recent successes against Hezbollah, in places such as Azerbaijan, Egypt and Colombia.
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