Dissident playwright assassinated with poison pellet 35 years ago

Georgi MarkovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
This past Sunday marked 35 years since the assassination with a poisoned umbrella pellet of Bulgarian literary icon and political dissident Georgi Markov. By 1969, when he defected from Bulgaria, Markov had achieved considerable fame in his homeland and was considered one of the Eastern Bloc’s most talented and promising young novelists. Increasingly, however, Markov fraternized with dissident artists and intellectuals, and several of his short stories and plays were disapproved by Bulgarian government censors. In 1969, while visiting his brother in Bologna, Italy, Markov decided to remain in the West. Two years later, he moved to the United Kingdom where he was offered a job at the Bulgarian unit of the BBC World Service. He also did contract work for Germany’s Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe, which was funded by the United States government. This prompted the Bulgarian authorities to view Markov’s actions as a defection, and he was sentenced in absentia to nearly seven years in prison by a court in Sofia. But Markov continued his work unabated, earning critical acclaim for his plays in the UK and elsewhere in the West. But on September 7, 1978, the Bulgarian dissident developed a powerful fever and was admitted to a London hospital, where he died 72 hours later, on September 11. Following an autopsy, Britain’s Metropolitan Police concluded that Markov had been poisoned by a micro-engineered pellet made of platinum, which had been filled with ricin. While on his deathbed, Markov had told police investigators that he had felt a sharp pinch on the back of his right thigh while walking across London’s Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames. When he turned around, prompted by the pinching feeling, he said he saw a well-dressed man picking up an umbrella from the ground. The man then quickly crossed the street and hailed a taxi. Since then, Soviet intelligence defectors, including Oleg Gordievsky and Oleg Kalugin, have suggested that Markov’s murder had been planned by the Soviet KGB and carried out by Bulgarian intelligence. Read more of this post

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Canadian passports still highly coveted by spies and terrorists

Canadian passportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An extensive investigation into a bus bombing that targeted Israeli tourists in Bulgaria points to the continued attraction of forged Canadian passports for terrorist groups and intelligence agencies. Bulgaria’s Minister of the Interior, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said on Tuesday that the July 18, 2012, terrorist attack, was perpetrated by Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the military wing of Hezbollah. The militant Shiite group, which controls large parts of southern Lebanon, has denied involvement in the bombing, which killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists. Tsvetanov said that, during a lengthy police investigation, which was assisted by American and Israeli investigators, the printer used to produce forged driver licenses found on two of the plotters was traced to Lebanon. He also told a press conference in Bulgarian capital Sofia that the suicide bomber, who died in the attack, entered Bulgaria using a forged Canadian passport. Commentator Paul Koring, of Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, correctly suggests that the revelation by the Bulgarian authorities points to the continued status of Canadian passports as the international travel documents of choice for both spies and terrorists. In the 1970s, Hezbollah’s biggest enemy, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, used Canadian passports in Operation WRATH OF GOD (also known as Operation BAYONET). The operation exterminated almost every original member of Black September, the Palestinian group that perpetrated the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich. In 1997, the Israeli spy agency employed Canadian passports once again, during the famously disastrous attempt to kill Khaled Mashal, Chairman of the Political Bureau of Palestinian militant group Hamas, in Jordan. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer urges Bulgaria to probe alleged Hezbollah attack alone

Robert BaerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 22-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who spent over a decade in the Middle East, has urged Bulgaria to probe a recent suicide attack against Israeli tourists on its soil without relying on American or Israeli assistance. Robert Baer, who is considered a foremost intelligence expert on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group accused of orchestrating the attack, said that Bulgarian authorities should keep the investigation free of the “intelligence games” currently taking place between the US, Israel and Iran. He was speaking Sunday on Bulgaria’s bTV, in reference to the July 18 blast that hit a bus stationed outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. The suicide bomber, whose identity remains unknown, killed himself, the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israeli tourists. Soon after the attack, Israel announced that it had gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind the suicide bombing. But according to Baer, who spent several years in Lebanon in the 1980s, Israeli and American intelligence investigators are too politicized to be able to provide objective evidence as to the culprits of the attack. The former CIA case officer told bTV that both Tel Aviv and Washington “want to lead a war in Iran” and that they will be tempted to point at Tehran as the main instigator of the suicide blast in Burgas. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #768

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►‘CIA could get bin Laden but can’t get a gym’. As CIA Director, General David Petraeus is credited by some as having helped turn the tide in the Iraq War, flush the Taliban from southern strongholds in Afghanistan, and infiltrated al-Qaeda in Yemen. But his campaign to improve the Agency’s fitness gyms has been a marathon effort –one that defeated other CIA directors over a course of some 16 years. Petraeus arrived at the CIA in 2011 to find two basement gyms at the Langley, Va., headquarters, one with original flooring dating to 1964. One gym is so small it can’t contain the punching bags and medicine balls that spill into the hall, where people stretch out and do mat exercises.
►►Israel convinced Hezbollah behind Bulgaria bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government has gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind a suicide bombing in Bulgaria last week that killed five Israeli nationals. The Israeli leader said the Mossad had drawn close parallels between the attack in Bulgaria and a foiled operation in Cyprus earlier this month, involving an alleged Hezbollah operative.
►►Hezbollah silent on reports of Israel spy arrests. Hezbollah would not comment on a local newspaper report on Wednesday, which said the Lebanese Shiite party had detained three men, including two of its own members, for spying for Israel. Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar said Hezbollah’s security apparatus had detained two Hezbollah members and a member of a Bekaa village municipal council on the suspicion that they have been collaborating with Israel.

Mossad gave us no terror warning before blast, says Bulgaria -updated

Burgas, BulgariaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Bulgarian authorities received no warning from Israeli intelligence prior to yesterday’s bombing in eastern Bulgaria, which killed at least seven and injured over 30 Israeli tourists. The bomb blast occurred outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. Less than an hour earlier, Air Bulgaria flight 392, which had departed from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, had landed at the Burgas International Airport, carrying nearly two hundred Israeli tourists. The latter were boarding three buses scheduled to transport them to various hotels in Burgas, when one of them was ripped apart by a blast —most likely caused by an explosive device placed in the vehicle’s storage compartment a suicide bomber. Reports from Bulgaria and Israel said last night that at least two of the injured were in critical condition and could die soon. Speaking to local media gathered at the site of the blast, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said that Israeli intelligence services had provided no warning of a planned attack inside the country. Plevneliev said that members of Bulgaria’s security apparatus met a month ago with officials from the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, but received “no warning of an expected attack”. Earlier this year, it was reported that the Bulgarian intelligence services had uncovered a plot by Lebanese militant group Hezobllah to strike Israel-linked targets in Bulgarian capital Sofia. Last January, Israel had asked Bulgaria to increase security provisions for Israeli tourists, after a suspicious package was found on a tour bus carrying Israeli holidaymakers from Turkey into Bulgaria. Ironically, Dan Shenar, head of security at the Israeli Transportation Ministry, said at the time that security measures were excellent in Bulgarian airports, but “the situation is not the same outside them”. Read more of this post

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 #619 (WikiLeaks edition)

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

►►US suspends diplomat for linking blog to WikiLeaks. The State Department has suspended Peter Van Buren (pictured), a 23-year veteran foreign service officer, for writing a book critical of US policy in Iraq and blog posts that included a link to a WikiLeaks cable. Van Buren, who worked in human relations, said he was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning for two days while officials there decide what to do next with him. They had stripped him of his top secret security clearance a few days earlier, he said.
►►Solomon Islands minister was CIA source. Classified US diplomatic cables from 2006, recently published by WikiLeaks, have revealed that the Solomon Islands’ former Foreign Affairs Minister and businessman Laurie Chan has acted as a reliable source of US and Australian intelligence in the Pacific island country.
►►Diplomatic cable sheds light on suicides of Bulgarian spies. A diplomatic following cable, sent by John Beyrle, US Ambassador to Bulgaria before going to Moscow, dated January 25, 2007, has been released by WikiLeaks. The cable sheds light on reshuffles in the leadership of the country’s intelligence services and the suicides of two high-ranking intelligence employees.

News you may have missed #540

Jim Judd

Jim Judd

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►► Bulgaria bars ex-spies from holding diplomatic posts. Bulgaria’s conservative-majority parliament has voted to bar individuals who once worked for the country’s communist-era secret service from holding top diplomatic jobs. The aim of the legislation is what Eastern European countries call ‘lustration’, namely the process of cleansing of their security and intelligence agencies from Soviet-era operatives. The practical problem with that, of course, is that, in doing so, Eastern European intelligence services do away with some of their best-trained operatives. Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Bulgaria’s post-communist spy agencies are significantly more law-abiding than their communist-era predecessors. Regular IntelNews readers might remember our coverage of Operation GALERIA as a case in point. ►► Ex-spymaster says Canada is too concerned about torture. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) struggle to isolate itself from complicity in torture by US and British spy agencies has reached the “point where we were probably alienating foreign partners” by not sharing intelligence. This is the opinion of Jim Judd, former Director of CSIS. He also argued that “strident anti-torture interpretations” would affect “everything and anything CSIS did, with respect to foreign intelligence agencies”. Judd, a career spy who retired in 2009, is considered something of a hawk, and probably rightly so. ►► NSA whistleblower requests reduced sentence (update: No jail time for Drake, judge releases him saying he has been through “four years of hell”). Thomas Drake was a senior official with the US National Security Agency. Read more of this post

Book claims CIA framed Bulgaria over assassination attempt on Pope

John Paul II

John Paul II

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A new book claims that the United States Central Intelligence Agency concocted a link between the Bulgarian intelligence services and the 1981 failed assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. Entitled Kill the Pope: The Truth About the Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul II, the book is authored by Italian investigative journalist Marco Insaldo and Turkish researcher Yasemin Taksin. Both say that Kill the Pope is the result of a twenty-year study into the incident. Pope John Paul II was shot four times by a 9mm handgun fired by Turkish citizen Mehmet Ali Ağca, while riding in the back of an open-roof car at the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square. Although Ağca’s motives are shrouded in mystery, many intelligence historians believe that he was operating as an agent for the Bulgarian secret services. It has been speculated that the Soviet KGB instructed Bulgarian intelligence to use Ağca and another Turk, Oral Çelik, to kill the Polish-born Pope, because he had strong ties with Poland’s dissident Solidarność (Solidarity) movement. But Insaldo and Taksin insist that there is no evidence to connect the Bulgarian government to the assassination operation, and that Ağca operated under the command of Turkey’s Grey Wolves, a nationalist, anti-Western paramilitary group, which consists of both secular and Islamist factions. Read more of this post

Comment: Russian Espionage Steals 2010 Limelight

GRU emblem

GRU emblem

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As the first decade of the 21st century is coming to an end, few would dispute that Israeli and American spy agencies have been among the most talked-about intelligence organizations of 2010. The reasons for this are equally undeniable: the United States tops the list because of its political prominence, which inevitably attracts media attention; Israel tops it because of the sheer ferocity of its espionage output throughout the Middle East. And yet there is nothing new about this, since neither the Central Intelligence Agency nor the Mossad are exactly novices when it comes to high-profile media exposures. The same cannot be said with respect to Russian intelligence agencies, which went through a period of prolonged hibernation following the end of the Cold War. Indeed, the year that is about to end demonstrates that the stagnant interlude in Russian espionage may well be in its closing stages.

Read more of this post

Bulgarian spy services intercept PM assassination plot

Boyko Borisov

Boyko Borisov

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister of Bulgaria has been intercepted in its planning stage by the country’s intelligence services, according to information published yesterday in the Bulgarian press. The Sofia-based 24 Chasa daily alleges that Bulgarian intelligence agents were able to intercept telephone conversations leading to a meeting of conspirators, which took place four months ago. The meeting, held at the luxury King George Palace Hotel in downtown Athens, Greece, was reportedly attended by several Bulgarian “participants [who] came onboard yachts, accompanied by numerous bodyguards”. The meeting centered on plans to fund an operation to “eliminate” Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, of Bulgaria’s conservative GERB party, who has led the country since the summer of 2009. According to 24 Chasa, participants at the meeting pledged the sum of €400,000 to fund the assassination of the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, a country that has been a member of the European Union since 2007. Read more of this post

Killer submerged British spy’s body in ‘chemical substance’

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Investigators are still in the dark about vital clues behind last month’s killing of a British intelligence employee in his London apartment. Detectives say they are still unsure about the exact cause of death of Dr. Gareth Williams, a 31-year-old mathematician employed by General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British government’s communications security and surveillance agency. It has been determined that Williams, who for the past year had been temporarily transferred to MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, was not stabbed or shot, and is unlikely to have been strangled by his murderer(s). There are, however, increasing signs that the GCHQ scientist’s murder was carried out in a professional manner, possibly by a member of a rival intelligence agency. Read more of this post

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

News you may have missed #409

  • Probe unearths secrets of Bulgaria’s assassination bureau. Previously unknown details on Service 7, Bulgaria’s Cold War-era assassination bureau, have been unearthed by one of Bulgaria’s leading newspapers, following a probe into 5,000 pages of declassified archives from the country’s former communist intelligence service, the First Directorate of the Committee on State Security.
  • US Pentagon bars troops from reading WikiLeaks. Any citizen, any foreign spy, any member of the Taliban, and any terrorist can go to the WikiLeaks web site, and download detailed information. Members of that same military, however, are now banned from looking at those internal military documents, because “doing so would introduce potentially classified information on unclassified networks”.
  • Analysis: Chasing Wikileaks. “[W]hatever the imperfections of WikiLeaks as a startup, its emergence points to a real shortcoming within our intelligence community. Secrets can be kept by deterrence –that is, by hunting down the people who leak them [...]. But there are other methods: keep far fewer secrets, manage them better –and, perhaps, along the way, become a bit more like WikiLeaks. An official government Web site that would make the implementation of FOIA quicker and more uniform, comprehensive, and accessible”.

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News you may have missed #377

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