Belgium launches official probe into alleged German-US espionage

BelgacomThe Belgian government has announced the start of an official investigation into allegations that the country’s tele- communications networks were spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. A press release issued Friday by the Belgian Ministry of Justice said the minister, Koen Geens, had authorized an examination of claims of espionage by the United States National Security Agency and Germany’s Bundesnach-richtendienst (BND). The statement was referring to EIKONAL, an alleged collaboration between the NSA and the BND, which was revealed last month by Austrian politician Peter Pilz. Pilz told a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, that EIKONAL had targeted European telecommunications carriers for at least four years, from 2005 to 2008. The governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands have already launched their own investigations into EIKONAL.

After speaking with Pilz, Belgian politician Stefaan Van Hecke told Belgian media last month that the BND-NSA consortium had penetrated the network of Proximus, the mobile subsidiary of Belgacom, Belgium’s national telecommunications carrier. Speaking anonymously about the investigation, a Belgian official told the country’s largest French-language newspaper, Sud Presse, that if the alleged espionage is confirmed, it would have “not only legal implications, but will also affect relations between Belgium, Germany and the US”. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that if the allegations of espionage were confirmed “the government would take appropriate action”, but she refused to elaborate.

IntelNews regulars will remember the last time Belgacom surfaced in the news: in 2013, we reported that the company’s technicians had detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. The virus specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East. Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office said at the time that the malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “pointed towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 8 June 2015 | Permalink:

Brussels Jewish museum shooting spree ‘could be tied to intelligence’

Shooting aftermathBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Belgian police investigating last weekend’s shooting spree at a Jewish heritage center in Brussels do not rule out the possibility that the attack may have been part of an intelligence operation directed against Israeli agents. The incident occurred on Saturday at the Musee Juif de Belgique, located in the heart of the Belgian capital. A man wearing a dark-colored jacket, baseball cap and sunglasses walked in the museum in broad daylight, pulled a Kalashnikov rifle out of a bag, and opened fire, killing three people. A fourth person remains in critical condition. Observers initially classified the shooting as an anti-Semitic attack. There is speculation, however, that the bloody assault may have been a targeted assassination that was part of a wider intelligence war between Israel, Iran, and Lebanese-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Several counterterrorism experts, including Claude Moniquet, Co-Director of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, have expressed the view that the shooter appeared to be a trained professional. Referring to publicly available surveillance footage of the shooting, Moniquet said that the perpetrator of the attack, who remains at large, behaved as “an unemotional murderer, someone who had already witnessed death and perhaps killed before”. Moniquet’s comments came shortly after an article by Amir Oren, military affairs correspondent for Israeli daily Ha’aretz, in which he suggested that the attack may have been an act of retaliation by Iranian or Hezbollah operatives, who have been engaged in a lengthy tit-for-tat war with Israeli intelligence since at least 2009. Oren noted that two of the victims of the attack, Emmanuel and Mira Riva , were civil service accountants who had spent years in government service. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #857 (hacking edition)

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN |
►►UK spies hacked Belgian phone company using fake LinkedIn page. British spies hacked into the routers and networks of a Belgian telecommunications company Belgacom by tricking its telecom engineers into clicking on malicious LinkedIn and Slashdot pages, according to documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The primary aim, reports the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which obtained the documents, was to compromise the GRX router system that BICS controlled, in order to intercept mobile phone traffic that got transmitted by the router.
►►Indonesian hackers behind attack on Australian spy service website. Indonesian hackers are believed to have brought down the website of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia’s leading spy agency. The page was not working on Monday afternoon after hackers launched a “denial of service” attack. A “404 not found” message typically appears when a website crashes under a “denial of service” attack. The cyber attack is reportedly a response to revelations that Australia had been spying on its closest neighbor through its Jakarta embassy.
►►Hamas blasts alleged Mossad website. Hamas officials released a warning about a website called Holol (“solutions”), claiming it is a ruse set up by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to recruit Gazans as informants. The website’s “Employment” page states, “due to our connections with the Israeli Civil Administration, we can help you bypass the bureaucratic tape and procedural processes which prevent you from leaving Gaza”. The site also offers Israeli medical assistance, “due to connections with the Ministry of Health and the Israeli Civil Administration”. Palestinians interested in contacting the website’s officials are asked to provide their full name, telephone number, email, topic of inquiry, and an explanation of why they are asking for help. Last month, Lebanese group Hezbollah accused the Mossad of being behind a website seeking information on Hezbollah’s intelligence wing.

Israel arrests Belgian citizen for ‘spying for Iran’

A Belgian citizen has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of spying on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The man, Alex Mans, was arrested two weeks ago, but the Israeli government kept the incident under wraps until Sunday. Israeli media reports state that Mans was arrested by Israeli Police and officers of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. He was reportedly detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport as he was preparing to leave Israel. According to Israeli security officials, Mans made frequent trips to Israel, during which he presented himself as a Belgian investor interested in export opportunities in Israel. He allegedly used his business venture in selling windows and roofing material for commercial buildings in order to establish contacts with businesses in Tel Aviv. But officials at Shin Bet maintain that Mans’ business operations, which included seemingly legitimate websites and social media profiles, served as a cover for his spy activities. These are alleged to have included “intelligence gathering [and support for] terrorism”, as well as efforts to “bypass the embargo on trade and financial transactions with Iran”. Israeli security officials believe that Mans was born in Iran in 1958 and had the name Ali Mansouri. He is thought to have moved to Turkey in 1980, aged 22, where he lived for nearly 20 years. In 1997 he received an immigration visa to Belgium, where he met and married a Belgian citizen and changed his name to Mans. Soon afterwards, however, he divorced, and in 2007 he moved back to Iran, where he married a local woman. According to Israeli media reports, Mans told Shin Bet interrogators that he was approached in 2012 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and offered up to $1 million to spy on Israel on behalf of the Iranian government. He reportedly agreed and was handled by Haji Mustafa, of the IRGC’s Special Operations Unit. Read more of this post

Belgian state telecom targeted by ‘international espionage’

Belgacom headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Belgium’s largest telecommunications service provider has fallen victim to a sophisticated cyberespionage operation that was most likely carried out by a government agency of another country. According to Flemish newspaper De Standaard, the operation targeted Belgacom, which is Belgium’s state-owned telecommunications company. The paper said that the cyberhacking was uncovered in June of this year during a routine maintenance check by technicians, who detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. Belgacom’s technical experts seem to think that the malware had been active for at least two years on Belgacom’s computers, and that it specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries. Among them is Belgacom International Carrier Services (BCIS), which specializes in providing wholesale carrier services to over 1,000 telecommunications service providers across Africa and the Middle East. De Standaard’s article said that the sophisticated malware had been designed so as to prevent disruption of BCIS’ voice and Internet traffic, thus remaining unnoticed. Its ultimate goal, said the paper, was “not sabotage, but rather collecting strategic communications content”. Federal prosecutors told the Reuters news agency that the technical complexity of the virus meant that it must have been designed by “an intruder with significant financial and logistic means”. The malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “points towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”, said the Federal prosecutors. Commenting on the story, De Standaard claimed that “everything points to the [United States] National Security Agency as the culprit” of the cyberespionage. Read more of this post

Belgian intelligence employees ‘outed themselves’ on LinkedIn

Several alleged employees of Belgian security and intelligence agencies have revealed their identities on social networking sites, it has been reported. Belgian newspaper De Standaard, which made the revelation in a leading article on Tuesday, said that many LinkedIn and Facebook users appear to list their employer as Belgium’s State Security Agency (Sûreté de l’État or SE/SV) or the Coordinating Body for Threat Analysis (OCAM/OCAD). The SE is Belgium’s foremost civilian intelligence agency, operating under the country’s Ministry of Justice. OCAM is one of Belgium’s several anti-terrorist intelligence collection and analysis agencies, which operates under the joint supervision of the Justice and Interior Ministries. De Standaard contacted the two agencies, which refused to comment on whether the social networking profiles are authentic. But the paper spoke with an unnamed Belgian senior intelligence official, who said that this was potentially a very serious issue for Belgian national security. “Russian and Chinese intelligence services employ thousands of people”, said the official, “and have the resources and time to manually search for such profiles and then exploit the information they provide. Our people could, by their very presence on such sites, become the target of hostilities”. De Standaard also spoke to Belgian Senator Dirk Claes, who is a member of the country’s Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence. He told the paper that his colleagues in the Committee would be up in arms if the profiles turned out to be authentic. “These individuals have security clearances and are obligated to stay in the background, as much as possible. I will be raising this issue in the [Intelligence] Committee”, Claes told De Standaard. Read more of this post

ExxonMobil executive shot dead ‘assassination-style’ in Brussels

Nicholas MockfordBy IAN ALLEN | |
A senior British executive of American multinational oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil has been killed in an alleged “assassination-style” shooting in Belgium. Nicholas Mockford, 60, was a technical support manager for ExxonMobil Chemicals, Europe, specializing in intermediate technology, also known as alternative energy generation. He was shot dead at 10:00 in the evening as he was leaving an Italian restaurant on Rue de Beyseghem, in Neder-over-Heembeek, a leafy suburb of Belgian capital Brussels, where he lived with his Belgian wife and three children from a previous marriage. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which published news of the incident last week, said that Mr. Mockford was killed on October 14. But the paper said a “judicial instruction” had been imposed on the case by the investigating judge, which amounted to a news blackout. According to reports, Mr. Mockford was with his wife Mary when he was shot in the attack, which witnesses said happened “very quickly”. The couple was allegedly seen walking across the street from the restaurant to their car, when all of a sudden several shots were fired. The Telegraph said that Mr. Mockford’s wife was left at the scene of the crime “covered in blood” and crying for help. Two men were apparently seen running away from the area where the shooting took place, carrying motorcycle crash helmets. Soon afterwards Mr. Mockford died on his way to the hospital, said the paper. Read more of this post


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