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

Shooting aftermathBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
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

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News you may have missed #857 (hacking edition)

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►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’

Alex MansBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
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 | intelNews.org
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

LinkedIn logoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
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 | intelNews.org |
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

Belgium suspends senior diplomat on suspicion of spying for Russia

Belgian embassy in CopenhagenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Belgian government has admitted suspending one of its senior diplomats following allegations in the press that he had spied for the Soviet Union and Russia for over two decades. According to Flemish-language Belgian magazine MO, the diplomat, identified only as “O.G.”, has been “suspended in the interest of the [Belgian diplomatic] service” and is currently under investigation by the Office of the Federal Prosecutor. Citing “sources in the Belgian State Security Service”, the SV/SE, the article said the subject was stationed at the Belgian embassy in Danish capital Copenhagen when he was recalled to Brussels late last year. The man is said to have spent nearly three decades as an employee of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having served in several Belgian embassies and consulates in Japan, India, Algeria, Nigeria, Portugal, and the United States, prior to arriving in Denmark. However, according to the MO article, he was accosted by the Soviet KGB in the late 1980s, shortly after he arrived at the Belgian embassy in Tokyo, Japan, for his first-ever diplomatic posting. Since that time, said the magazine, “O.G.” has spied for the KGB and its successor, the SVR, having stayed in contact with “several different Russian handlers”. Prior to 2011, when he ceased contact with Russian intelligence, the Belgian diplomat was allegedly tasked with providing the FSB with information that could be used to concoct false identities belonging to deceased Belgian citizens. The Russians would then use these identities to supply their intelligence operatives with high-quality Belgian identity papers and travel documentation. Late last week, another Belgian publication, The EU Observer, contacted the Belgian Foreign Ministry to inquire about “O.G.”. A Ministry spokesperson told the paper: “we can confirm that an official from our ministry was suspended from his functions a bit over one year ago, following indications of a security breach”. Read more of this post

Belgian intelligence chief says Brussels is world’s spy capital

Alain WinantsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The head of Belgium’s counterintelligence service has said in an interview that Brussels, which hosts the head offices of several international organizations, is home to more spies than any other city in the world. Alain Winants, Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE), made the comment during a rare public interview to the Brussels-based English-language newspaper EU Observer. Winants told the paper that Belgium hosts “an enormous concentration” of diplomats, members of international non-governmental organizations, as well as employees of transnational institutions, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Because of this, he said, Belgium “is like a kindergarten” for spies, “the place to be” for intelligence operatives. The latter often operate under diplomatic cover or pretend to be students, lobbyists or business executives, he added. When asked how many case officers and spies operate in the Belgian capital, Winants, whose organization is responsible for counterterrorism and counterespionage, said “we are not speaking in the dozens; we are speaking in the hundreds, several hundreds”. He added that the numbers of intelligence operatives currently active in Belgium are “at the same level as the Cold War”. These intelligence operatives, he added represent countries such as Russia, China, and many others. When asked whether nations allied with the European Union also conduct espionage in the Belgian capital, Winants responded diplomatically that intelligence “is one field where the difference between neutral, friendly and unfriendly services tends to disappear”, as “every service is in competition with the others”. And he added that “it would be naïve to think that only countries like Russia, China, Iran are spying” in the Belgian capital. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #554

Bat Khurts

Bat Khurts

►►UK and US tried to delay Pakistan nuclear weapons program. We have written before about attempts by the CIA to delay or stop Pakistan’s nuclear program. Now newly declassified documents show that the United States and Great Britain undertook a coordinated secret diplomatic campaign between 1978 and 1981 to prevent Pakistan’s attempted covert purchasing of “gray area” technology for its nuclear weapons program.
►►FBI monitoring new phone technologies. According to an internal FBI document, obtained by the Federation of American Scientists through a FOIA request, the FBI continuously monitors the surveillance challenges posed by new mobile phone technologies. The document highlights the Bureau’s concerns that that 4G will require agencies to “deal with significantly higher data rates than in current wireless network intercepts”.
►►Mongolian ex-spy chief to be extradited to Germany. Britain has decided to extradite Bat Khurts, former director of the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia, to Germany. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #457

  • Belgium investigates Colombian spying allegations. Judicial authorities in Brussels have formally opened an investigation into the alleged spying activities of Colombia’s foreign intelligence agency, DAS, in Belgium. The investigation is in response to claims by human rights organizations that the DAS broke Belgium’s espionage laws and spied on European Union politicians.
  • Russia reshuffles foreign intelligence after spy scandal. Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, is holding a “minor staff reshuffle” following last summer’s Russian-American spy scandal, in which 10 alleged deep-cover Russian spies were arrested in the United States.
  • Israel gets new spy chief amid big shuffle. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has appointed Tamir Pardo, a veteran spy, as the new chief of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. Pardo, who was twice deputy director of the Mossad, will replace hard-charging former army general and black operations specialist Meir Dagan, who has run the agency since 2002.

Analysis: Russian-Czech spy scandals show new direction in Russian espionage

ÚZSI seal

ÚZSI seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last July saw the resignations of three Czech Generals, including the head of the president’s military office and the country’s representative to NATO, following revelations that one of their senior staffers had a relationship with a Russian spy.  Intelligence observers have become accustomed to frequent reports of Russian-Czech spy scandals in recent years. But, according to reports from Prague, recent Russian intelligence activity in the Czech Republic may indicate a change of direction by Moscow. Some say that Russia’s new espionage doctrine focuses less on military intelligence in the post-US-missile-shield strategic environment, and more on political and economic espionage. To be sure, Russia’s intelligence presence in the Czech capital remains substantial: Czech counterintelligence sources estimate that at least 60 –that is, one in three– Russian diplomats in Prague are engaged in intelligence-related activities. But the intensity of Russian espionage in Prague is not unique. Read more of this post

European Union targeted by Colombian intelligence, documents show

DAS seal

DAS seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Several members of the European Parliament have voiced concern over the recent disclosure in Colombia of an alleged operation to undermine the European Union’s parliamentary and human rights bodies. The operation is reportedly mentioned in internal documents belonging to Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which were recently confiscated by the office of the Colombian Attorney General. The confiscated documents describe a clandestine program codenamed Operation EUROPE, which aims to wage a “legal war” intended to discredit and “neutralize the influence of the European judicial system, the European Parliament’s human rights subcommittee, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights”. Read more of this post

Could Turkey invoke NATO clause over Israeli attack on flotilla? [updated]

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Tayyip Erdoğan

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
IntelNews hears there is some speculation in diplomatic circles that the government of Turkey may try to involve the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in its dispute with Israel, which began after Israeli commandos killed several Turkish citizens in international waters yesterday. Up to 19 civilians are thought to have been killed during an early dawn raid by Israeli Defense Forces commandos on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza in defiance of the four-year-old Israeli blockade. The fact that the deadly raid took place in international waters prompted Ankara to call for an emergency meeting of NATO’s 28 member states. A NATO spokesperson confirmed that ambassadors from all 28 member states, Turkey included, will be attending an emergency meeting today in Brussels, Belgium. Read more of this post

Analysis: An Economic Security Role for European Spy Agencies?

Economic espionage

Economic spying

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last February, Spain’s intelligence service began investigating alleged suspicious efforts by foreign financial speculators to destabilize the Spanish economy. According to newspaper El País, the Spanish government asked the country’s Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) to probe links between speculative moves in world financial markets and a series of damaging editorials “in the Anglo-Saxon media”. There are indications that the National Intelligence Service of Greece (EYP) is following in the CNI’s footsteps. In February, when Athens and Brussels began to realize the magnitude of the financial crisis threatening the European common currency, several news outlets suggested that the EYP was cooperating with Spanish, Irish and Portuguese intelligence services in investigating a series of coordinated speculative attacks on money markets, most of which allegedly originated from London and Washington. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0094

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