CIA using Macau casinos to recruit Chinese officials, says report

Sands casino in Macau ChinaOfficials in China think that United States spy agencies are using casinos in Macau to entrap Chinese government employees, according to a report produced on behalf of an American-owned casino chain in the former Portuguese colony. The report was produced by a private investigator and was commissioned by Sands China, the Macau branch of a casino venture owned by American gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. Its goal was to investigate why the Chinese-appointed authorities in Macau were hostile to the gambling industry in general and Sands China in particular.

The report is dated June 25, 2010, and includes a warning that it should not be shared with Chinese officials in Macau or in mainland China. It cites several unnamed officials in China’s Liaison Office, which governs Macau and Hong Kong, as well as sources in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chinese businessmen with close ties to the government in Beijing. It suggests that Beijing is weary of the damage caused to its public image by thousands of its employees gambling away an estimated $2 billion each year in Macau. Additionally, says the report, the central government in Beijing is hostile to the foreign-owned gambling industry in Macau because it believes that it collaborates with Western intelligence agencies. Sands China establishments in Macau, in particular, are believed by the Chinese government to be recruiting grounds for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, says the 2010 report.

Citing “well-placed sources” in the Chinese capital, the report suggests that the fear of espionage is “the primary subject” that causes Beijing’s hostility toward Sands China. It notes that “many of the [Chinese] officials we contacted were of the view that US intelligence agencies […] have penetrated and utilized the casinos [in Macau] to support their operations”. It adds that Chinese counterintelligence agencies have “evidence” that CIA operatives “monitor mainland government officials” who visit Macau to gamble, paying particular attention to those losing large amounts of money, or those visiting Macau without the knowledge of their superiors. They then “lure and entrap” them, forcing them “to cooperate with US government interests”.

The report was uncovered by the Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and published on Wednesday in British broadsheet The Guardian. The paper said the report was among a set of documents filed with a court in Las Vegas, where the former head of Sands’ Macau casinos is suing the company for wrongful dismissal. The Guardian contacted the Sands Company, which rejected the contents of the report as “a collection of meaningless speculation”. Its senior vice president for global communications and corporate affairs, Ron Reese, also dismissed the report as “an idea for a movie script”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/23/01-1741/

Macau authorities deny CIA tried to assassinate Snowden

PLA Macao GarrisonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the Chinese region of Macau have denied news reports that Chinese Special Forces averted an attempt by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to kill or capture American defector Edward Snowden. The reports were initially published on March 8 on the website of China News Service, China’s second-largest state-owned news agency after Xinhua. The news agency, which serves China’s Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, said that a secretive unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army held a private function to celebrate its success against an alleged attempt by the CIA to kill Snowden. The American former computer expert worked for the CIA and the National Security Agency before defecting to Russia in the summer of 2013. Prior to arriving in Russia, however, Snowden first sought refuge in Hong Kong, where he stayed until June 23.

According to Chinese media reports, the US sent a CIA assassination squad to Hong Kong in mid-June 2013, in an effort to either abduct or kill Snowden. However, the defector’s life was allegedly saved by men from the so-called “Sharp Swords” Special Forces unit of the PLA’s Macao Quick Reaction Platoon. The latter, which is part of the PLA’s Macau Garrison, had reportedly been urgently dispatched to Hong Kong by the Chinese government, in order to guard the high-profile American defector. Some reports suggest that a fierce firefight took place between the Chinese Special Forces troops and the CIA hit squad, which eventually left four CIA officers dead, including “a senior member of the CIA’s network in Hong Kong”. When Snowden transferred to Russia, the PLA unit returned to its base in Macau, where it remains today. Chinese news media alleged that a special “special event” was held in honor of the PLA unit, during which several of its members received “first-class merit awards” for protecting Snowden and neutralizing the alleged CIA operatives.

On Monday, however, the First Secretary of the Security Office of Macau, Wong Sin Chat, told local media that the reports of a PLA award ceremony were “nothing more than rumors”. He added that there had been no attempt by anyone to assassinate Snowden, and noted that, on behalf of Macau’s state authorities, he could “absolutely confirm” that the news reports had been inaccurate. Washington has yet to comment on the allegations.

China’s once all-powerful security chief faces corruption charges

Zhou YongkangBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
One of China’s most powerful government figures has been charged with criminal acts, including abuse of power and disclosure of state secrets, in what observers describe as an unprecedented development. At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang, 73, headed China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees the country’s security institutions, such as the police, as well as intelligence and paramilitary organs of the state. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2012. Prior to that he was one of only 9 members of the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Politburo Standing Committee, which serves as the country’s most senior decision-making body.

A highly decorated and immensely wealthy government bureaucrat, Zhou Yongkang has a built an entire network of allies within the ranks of China’s energy industry, from which he gradually rose to the highest echelons of power. Last December, however, state media suddenly reported Zhou’s arrest for “violations of Party discipline”, while a press release from the Communist Party announced the commencement of an investigation into Zhou and his family. Shortly afterwards, and while he was in custody, he was expelled from the Communist Party. On Thursday, a court in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin charged Zhou with using his political power and influence to turn the state agencies he supervised into tools for advancing narrow personal interests. In the process, said the court, he violated Communist Party discipline by undermining the central authority of the government and the state.

Zhou is the most senior government official to be charged with corruption since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in 1949. Observers note that his fall from power is part of President Xi Jinping’s much heralded crackdown on government corruption, which aims to improve the popular image of the Communist Party. Others suggest that the president is also trying to consolidate his power base within the Party and dissolve networks of powerful bureaucrats that are critical of his reform plans.

Many of Zhou’s former allies and associates in government are also being investigated as part of a series of related anti-corruption probes. Many of his immediate subordinates were sacked shortly after Zhou was first detained back in December of last year.

Was China behind mystery raids on South African nuclear facilities?

Pelindaba Nuclear Research CenterBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
China is believed to be the culprit of a mysterious armed raid that took place at a South African nuclear facility in 2007, which has puzzled security experts for years, according to classified documents leaked to the media. The raid took place on November 8, 2007, at the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center, located outside Johannesburg. That evening, two groups of armed assailants, later described by authorities as “technically sophisticated criminals”, skillfully deactivated numerous layers of physical security around the facility, including a 10,000-volt electrical perimeter fence. They entered the grounds of the nuclear station and fired at an off-duty night guard who saw them and tried to raise the alarm as he was leaving his post. The injured guard managed to summon a police team patrolling nearby, but by the time it arrived the assailants had managed to escape carrying with them a laptop computer stolen from the research facility’s control room. They were never caught despite an extensive investigation by South African authorities.

In the weeks following the raid, South African officials publicly dismissed the incident as the work of small-time criminals. Abdul Minty, the South African representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) described the raid as a “failed burglary”, while the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, which owns the Pelindaba facility, said the incident had been simply “a piece of random criminality”. One theory, which was especially popular in American media circles, was that the raid had been conducted by a terrorist group, or by an organized criminal gang employed by a terrorist group, aimed at acquiring nuclear material or designs that would enable them to build a nuclear weapon.

However, television channel Al Jazeera said recently that it had seen a copy of a secret intelligence briefing prepared by South African intelligence, in which it is stated with certainty that the 2007 raid on Pelindaba was ordered by the Chinese government. The Qatar-based news channel said the briefing related to counterespionage and was prepared in 2009. It said that the government of China had dispatched the sophisticated assailants’ team that raided the nuclear facility, and that the operation was part of an effort to steal sensitive technology that would give Beijing an advantage in building a state-of-the-art nuclear power plant as part of its Chinergy project. Chinergy is a massive collaborative effort by the Chinese government and the country’s private sector to reduce China’s reliance on coal and oil by building dozens of nuclear power plants across the country. There was no immediate comment by the Chinese and South African governments.

North Korean hackers operating secretly in China, says defector

Shenyang railway stationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An underground network of North Korean hackers are conducting complex cyberattacks against worldwide targets from Chinese cities without the knowledge of Beijing, according to a former professor who trained them. Kim Heung-Kwang was a professor of computer science in North Korean capital Pyongyang, until his defection in 2004. He told CNN on Tuesday that part of his job was training members of North Korea’s elite cyberintelligence corps, whose task was to compromise computer systems around the world. Kim alleged that some of the hackers joined a specialized outfit called Bureau 121. It was established in complete secrecy in 1995 and ten years later it began sending its operatives abroad, especially in northern China. According to Kim, Bureau 121 set up a complex network of hackers in the Chinese city of Shenyang, in northern China’s Liaoning Province. Shenyang is the largest Chinese city near North Korea, and Bureau 121 operatives were allegedly able to effortlessly blend in the sizeable Korean community there. The former professor told CNN that the hackers “entered China separately” over time, “in smaller groups […], under different titles” such as officer workers, trade company officials, or even diplomatic personnel. They operated like typical spies, working regular jobs by day and “acting on orders from Pyongyang” by night, said Kim. They gradually set up an underground “North Korean hacker hub”, operating secretly in Shenyang for several years, relocating from place to place in order to shield their activities from computer security experts. Kim told CNN that Shenyang’s bustling, money-driven life and its good Internet facilities made it easy for Bureau 121 members to work secretly on several projects that required sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. North Korea lacks China’s telecommunications network capabilities, said Kim, which is why Pyongyang decided in the early days of the Internet to transport its hackers to Shenyang. He added that Bureau 121 has rolled back considerably its overseas operations in recent years, due to the advancement of high-speed telecommunications networks in North Korea; but some North Korean hackers are still active in northern China, he said.

China hacking Hong Kong protesters’ smartphones, says security firm

Hong Kong protestersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A mobile telephone security company has said the government of China is probably behind a sophisticated malware designed to compromise the smartphones of protesters in Hong Kong. Ever since the Hong Kong ‘umbrella revolution’ began to unfold, countless reports have referred to the use of smartphone applications as organizing tools by the protesters. According to one account, an application called FireChat was downloaded by more than 100,000 smartphone users in Hong Kong in less than 24 hours. FireChat is said to allow protesters to continue communicating with each other even when their individual devices are unable to connect to a mobile network. But a California-based mobile telephone security firm has warned that the Chinese government could be using such enabling applications to compromise the smartphones of pro-democracy protesters in the former British colony. Lacoon Mobile Security, which specializes in assessing and mitigating mobile security threats, said on Tuesday that it had detected several types of malware camouflaged as mobile phone applications designed to help the protesters organize. In a statement posted on its website, the security firm said that, once downloaded by a smartphone user, the malware gives an outsider access to the address book, communication logs and other private data stored on the unsuspecting user’s device. Lacoon added that what made the malware unusual was that it came in two different versions; one appears to target smartphones that run Apple’s iOS operating system, while the other is designed to compromise phones using Google’s Android software. The company noted that the types of malware that are circulating among Hong Kong protesters were some of the most sophisticated it had ever seen. They made use of a method called mRAT, which stands for multidimensional requirements analysis tool. Among other things, mRAT allows a hacker to take surreptitious pictures using the phone camera of a compromised smartphone. According to Lacoon, the design of the malware in question is so advanced that it is “undoubtedly backed by a nation state”. Read more of this post

China charges its ambassador to Iceland with spying for Japan

Ma JisengBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in China have reportedly arrested the Chinese ambassador to Iceland on suspicion of spying on behalf of Japan, according to media reports. Ma Jiseng, 57, is a career diplomat who spent over eight years at the embassy of China in Japan. He was there in two separate stints, from 1991 to 1995 and from 2004 to 2008. In December of 2012, he arrived with his wife to Reykjavik, Iceland, where he assumed the post of China’s ambassador in the Nordic island nation. But, according to reports in the Icelandic media, Ma hurriedly left Reykjavik for Beijing on January 23 of this year, telling his staff that he was supposed to return in March. His wife followed him soon afterwards. Today, nearly eight months later, Ma and his wife have yet to reappear in the Icelandic capital. The plot thickened last week, when the online Chinese-language review Mingjing News published a news story claiming that Ma and his wife had been summoned back to Beijing and arrested upon arrival by Chinese authorities “for spying on behalf of Japan”. Shortly afterwards, Kai Lei, editor at the Hong Kong-based Wenweipo Chinese-language newspaper, blogged that Ma had been “arrested by [China’s] Ministry of State Security” on suspicion of “leaking international secrets to Japan”. According to the media reports, Ma was believed to have been recruited by Japanese intelligence during his second diplomatic stint in Tokyo, which lasted from 2004 to 2008. Interestingly, however, the reports about Ma’s alleged arrest began vanishing from Chinese news media websites just hours after they initially appeared. Reporters in Iceland turned to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said the Chinese embassy in Reykjavik claimed Ma was unable to return to Iceland “due to personal reasons”. Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuses to comment on the case. Read more of this post

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