Turkish prosecutor indicts 13 with tapping PM’s phone

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkeys’ chief public prosecutor has indicted 13 suspects with charges of wiretapping the personal telephone of the country’s former prime minister. Authorities believe the suspects are part of a broader criminal conspiracy whose members wiretapped phones belonging to senior political figures, as well journalists and government administrators, including judges and military officials. The indictment was presented on Tuesday before the 7th high criminal court in Turkish capital Ankara. It accuses the 13 suspects of conducting systematic “political and military spying”, and claims they targeted the personal telephone communications of Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time. The charges represent the culmination of a tumultuous period of antagonism between Mr. Erdoğan and his critics in Turkey, who accuse him of absolutism and megalomania. Last July over 100 members of the country’s police force were arrested in raids that took place on all over Turkey. They were accused of illegally wiretapping the telephones of senior government figures including Mr. Erdoğan and Hakan Fidan, director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. Hadi Salihoglu, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, said at the time that the alleged conspirators had concocted a fake police investigation of a made-up terrorist organization called Tevhid-Selam (Al-Quds Army, in English), in order to justify the wiretapping of the officials’ phone lines. However, critics of Mr. Erdoğan noted that one of the police officers arrested in July was the former deputy chief of the Istanbul police department’s financial crimes unit, which earlier this year led an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by senior members of Erdoğan’s former cabinet. The investigation led to the exposure of corrupt practices by several cabinet members and their families, and resulted in several ministerial resignations. Several months ago, a wiretapped conversation emerged in the media, in which Mr. Erdoğan can allegedly be heard discussing with his son how to hide large sums of money. Some observers have expressed the view that the leaked telephone conversation between the two men emerged from the Tevhid-Selam investigation, which may be why Mr. Erdoğan has now decided to shut it down and arrest those behind it. The 13 suspects are expected to stand trial in Ankara once the court approves the indictment by the office of the prosecutor. Mr. Erdoğan is listed as a plaintiff in the indictment.

News you may have missed #885

Shin BetBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Americans’ cellphones targeted in secret US spy program. The US Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations. The US Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
►►Israel’s usually secretive spy agencies get into public spat. Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Shin Bet, has been trading barbs with the military over whether faulty army intelligence left Israel unprepared for war with the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The spat went high-profile this week when Israel’s Channel 2 aired a report featuring Shin Bet officials –-rendered in pixilated, shadowed form-– claiming the military had brushed aside the agency’s assessment, months before fighting erupted in July, that an armed conflict with Hamas was in the making.
►►Poland mulls military intelligence brigade close to Belarus border. Polish Armed Forces will make emphasis on the unfolding of reconnaissance troops and will set up a separate brigade and military command in the north-east of the country, National Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said on Thursday. The region he visited is located along the border with Belarus and close to the border with Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad region, an exclave on the south-east shore of the Baltic Sea.

US spy agencies weigh in on telephone contracting deal

Ericsson TelecommunicationsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A host of American intelligence agencies are intervening to discourage a business deal that would see a vital aspect of the United States telephone network end up under the control of a European telecommunications firm. The contracting agreement concerns the administration of the US routing network, designed in the late 1990s as a kind of traffic controller of America’s deregulated and fragmented telephone system. The routing network ensures centralized access to pen-register data, which reveal the time, duration, telephone numbers and subscriber information associated with each telephone call. Because of that, the routing system is seen as a vital tool by American law enforcement and intelligence agencies that engage in state-sponsored communications interception. Although the routing control system is supervised by the US government’s Federal Communications Commission, its maintenance has been sub-contracted since the mid-1990s to a small Virginia-based private company called Neustar. Now, however, the FCC is apparently considering transferring the administration of the routing network to Ericsson Telecommunications, a Swedish firm that says it can do Neustar’s job more efficiently for a reduced cost to the government. As can be expected, Neustar objects to Ericsson’s bid, arguing that awarding the American telephone system’s administration to a foreign firm could have “unwarranted and potentially harmful” effects on American security. The company claims that the FCC is focusing solely on the financial aspect of the deal, while ignoring national security concerns. Neustar’s warnings are being echoed by a host of American intelligence agencies, who say they depend on the Virginia-based company for access to telephone data in the course of their investigations. They claim that, by allowing a non-American company to access the US routing system, surveillance data relating to national security investigations could be compromised. In a recent article, The New York Times quoted “current and former intelligence officials” as saying that they were “concerned that the government’s ability to trace reams of phone data could be hindered” if Ericsson won the contract. They cautioned that this would also hamper criminal and terrorism investigations. Read more of this post

Austrian reporter alleges NSA spies on Vienna, including UN complex

Roof of the IZD Tower in ViennaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A reporter for Austria’s state broadcaster claims to have uncovered a United States National Security Agency listening post in Austrian capital Vienna, which he claims spies on the United Nations facility, among other targets. In September 2013, Austrian media alleged that a villa in Vienna’s Pötzleinsdorf district belonging to the US embassy there was part of a sophisticated communications interception network operated by Washington. At the time, both the US and Austrian governments denied the claims, with the US embassy claiming that the building served as an open-source center that processed and evaluated information that was openly available in Austrian media outlets and the Internet. Now, however, Austrian reporter Erich Möchel, who works for the country’s state-owned ORF broadcaster, says he believes he has identified another part of an alleged extensive NSA-run listening network in the nation’s capital. The reporter published a series of photographs from the roof of the so-called IZD Tower, a commercial 41-story skyscraper located in Vienna’s 22nd district, which is within walking distance from the UN facility there. Möchel said the photographs show the roof of the building, which is one of the tallest in Vienna, and were leaked to him by an anonymous source. They show what appears to be a grey-colored boxy structure, which resembles a maintenance hut on the roof of the tower. The hut is enclosed by rows of solid steel bars resembling a fence, and surrounded by approximately 10 surveillance cameras. Interestingly, the hut, which overlooks the UN building complex, cannot be seen from the street, or from nearby buildings. Möchel speculates that the hut is made of fiberglass, which would allow it to absorb radio signals and commercial mobile telecommunications messages, with the help of antennas located in its interior. Read more of this post

Mystery spy device found in Lebanon detonates remotely, kills one

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A mysterious spy device found in Lebanon was detonated remotely by what some say was an Israeli drone, killing one man and injuring several others. According to Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV, the alleged spy device was uncovered last week by a Lebanese military patrol near the village of Adloun in southern Lebanon. Most of the region is firmly controlled by Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that governs large swathes of the Lebanese territory. The report was later confirmed by the Lebanese Army, which said that the device had been attached, probably by Israel, to the telecommunications network belonging to Hezbollah. The militant group operates its own telecommunications network and its own news media, including Al-Manar, the television station that broke the news of the discovery of the spy device. However, as soon as Hezbollah forces gathered around the “strange device”, an aircraft appeared overhead and remotely detonated the device “from a distance”. The TV station said Hezbollah member Hassan Ali Haidar was killed in the explosion. Last week’s incident was not the first report of an exploding spy device found attached to Lebanese telecommunications networks. In October of 2009, Lebanese authorities discovered three communications interception devices near Lebanon’s border with Israel. Two of the devices self-destructed by exploding as Lebanese security personnel were approaching. Members of the Lebanese Armed Forces decided to detonate a third device, fearing that it too might explode. A year later, at least two mysterious spy devices were discovered in mountain ranges around the Lebanese capital Beirut. The devices were found carefully concealed inside fake boulders in the mountain of Sannine, directly north of Beirut and in Barouk, which is adjacent to the city’s southern suburbs. The devices consisted of surveillance cameras, electronic transmitters, as well as satellite signal reception systems. Read more of this post

German intelligence spied on American, Turkish officials

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence agencies have spied on two successive American secretaries of state and are actively engaged in espionage in Turkey, even though both countries are allied members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported last week that German spies intercepted at least one telephone call made by American politician Hillary Clinton, while she was serving as secretary of state. The Munich-based newspaper said the intercepted telephone call was made over an unencrypted line while Clinton was travelling on an airplane belonging to the United States government. On Sunday, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel added that the interception of Clinton’s telephone call occurred in 2012, when the American secretary of state telephoned the former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to discuss his mediation efforts over the Syrian civil war. Der Spiegel said that Clinton had not been a direct target of a German intelligence operation and that her telephone conversation with Anan had been intercepted “by accident”, after it “quasi-randomly entered the listening network” of the BND, Germany’s federal intelligence agency. Spiegel added that the BND officers who conducted the interception passed the recording on to their superiors. The newsmagazine said that Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, also had a telephone conversation intercepted by the BND in 2013, again by accident. This time, however, the German intelligence officers immediately deleted the intercepted conversation, according to Spiegel. The article goes on to add that German intelligence circles insist the wiretapped conversations of the two US secretaries of state were accidentally recorded within the context of other intelligence-collection operations, and that the American politicians were not in and of themselves targets of the BND. The Spiegel article goes on to state, however, that the BND has been actively conducting espionage operations in NATO member-state Turkey since at least 2009. Read more of this post

Israel ‘spied on US Secretary of State’ during 2013 peace talks

John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on telephone calls made by the United States Secretary of State during high-level diplomatic negotiations in 2013, according to reports in the German media. Shortly after he took office, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that he viewed the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a priority issue. He promptly organized a fresh round of peace talks between the two sides, which began in Washington, DC, on July 29, 2013. The talks, which included direct negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli officials, began with some positive steps from both sides, including the release of several dozen Palestinian prisoners by Israel. But they broke down with the withdrawal of the Palestinian side on November 14, after the Israeli government authorized a new round of settlement construction in the West Bank. Now Germany’s Der Spiegel has reported that Israeli intelligence systematically targeted the communications of Mr. Kerry as he met regularly with high-ranking Palestinian and other Arab negotiators. Citing “several reliable intelligence service sources”, the German newsmagazine said not all of Kerry’s telephone calls were made on encrypted equipment during his negotiations with the two warring sides. Israeli intelligence were thus able to intercept the US State Secretary’s non-encrypted telephone conversations, which were transmitted via satellite. The Israeli side was therefore able to know in some instances the content of his confidential discussions with Palestinian officials, in advance of face-to-face negotiations with him. The news comes less than three months after American magazine Newsweek revealed that Israeli spies were engaged in aggressive efforts to steal American secrets. Last May, Newsweek‘s veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein quoted Congressional staffers as saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal secrets from the US. One Congressional staffer told Stein that “no other country continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do”. In a follow-up article, Stein quoted US intelligence officials and Congressional insiders who said Israel had been “caught carrying out aggressive espionage operations against American targets for decades”. Read more of this post

Turkey in turmoil as 70 are arrested for spying on PM, spy chief

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkey’s political system appeared to be sinking deeper into crisis on Tuesday, as nearly 70 police officers, some of them senior, were arrested for illegally wiretapping the telephones of senior government figures, including the Prime Minster and the intelligence chief. At least 67 members of the country’s police force were arrested in raids that took place on Tuesday all over Turkey, while warrants have reportedly been issued for over 100 people. Many of the arrestees were seen being taken away in handcuffs by security personnel, including two former heads of Istanbul police’s counterterrorism unit. Hadi Salihoglu, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, said in a written statement issued on Tuesday that the suspects were part of a criminal conspiracy that had wiretapped phones belonging to Turkeys’ Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as Hakan Fidan, director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. Thousands of other phone lines had also been wiretapped, he added, belonging to journalists and government administrators, including judges and military officials. Salihoglu said the conspirators had concocted a fake police investigation of a made-up terrorist organization called Tevhid-Selam (Al-Quds Army, in English), in order to justify the wiretapping of the officials’ phone lines. However, critics of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government noted that one of the police officers arrested on Tuesday is the former deputy chief of the Istanbul police department’s financial crimes unit, which earlier this year led an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by senior members of the Erdoğan cabinet. The investigation led to the exposure of corrupt practices by several cabinet members and their families, and resulted in several ministerial resignations. A few months ago, a wiretapped conversation emerged in the media, in which Mr. Erdoğan can allegedly be heard discussing with his son how to hide large sums of money. Some observers have expressed the view that the leaked telephone conversation between the two men emerged from the Tevhid-Selam investigation, which may be why Mr. Erdoğan has now decided to shut it down and arrest those behind it. Read more of this post

Ukraine rebels ‘admit downing Malaysia plane’ in phone intercepts

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Ukrainian intelligence has released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro- Russian rebels that they shot down a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, are presumed dead. An American intelligence official told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that Washington is certain the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. Late on Thursday, Valentyn Nalivaichenko, director of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU), said in a press conference that his agency had conclusive evidence showing that pro-Russian rebels had shot down the plane. Nalivaichenko said the evidence included recordings of telephone conversations between rebel commanders and Russian intelligence officers, which were intercepted just minutes after the plane was brought down. During Nalivaichenko’s press conference, the SSU published the intercepted conversations on YouTube with subtitles in English, French, German and Polish. The videos identify some of the participants in the conversations, including Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Vasily Geranin, who is said to be a Colonel in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one phone call, allegedly made at 4:40 Kiev time, 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Bezler appears to tell Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane […]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. In a subsequent intercept, another rebel commander calls a Russian intelligence officer from the site of the crash to report that the downed plane appeared to be civilian, not military, as originally thought, and that the crash site was filled with casualties. “It’s 100 percent a passenger aircraft”, he reports, adding that there are no weapons visible on site: “absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper”, he says. Read more of this post

Analysis: Did Russian spy services secretly bug Polish officials?

Radosław SikorskiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
Poland’s relations with the United States were strained this week after Poland’s foreign minister allegedly described Warsaw’s alliance with Washington as “worthless” and “complete bullshit” in a private conversation. Radosław Sikorski has not denied the authenticity of a bugged conversation, in which he appears to argue that Poland is wrong to anger Germany and Russia by always siding with America on foreign policy issues. Using highly undiplomatic language, Sikorski denounced Poland’s foreign policy planners as “complete losers” and accused them of having a “slave mentality” in their dealings with American diplomats. He also described British Prime Minister David Cameron as an “incompetent” politician who “believes in his stupid propaganda” about the European Union. Transcripts of the conversation, which allegedly took place between Sikorski and Poland’s former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, were published last week in several increments by Polish newsmagazine Wprost.

How did the bugging occur? It appears that Sikorski was among a number of Polish politicians surreptitiously recorded for over a year while dining with colleagues at elite restaurants in Polish capital Warsaw. Polish authorities reportedly believe that managers and waiters at the restaurants placed concealed recording devices near the guests’ tables. Some believe the culprits’ goal was to blackmail the politicians in return for cash payments; others believe that powerful business interests or opposition politicians were behind the recordings. A few observers have even suggested that Rostowski, who is heard talking with Sikorski in the bugged conversation, may have been the source of the leak to Wprost. The magazine’s editors said they received an encrypted email from a business executive, going by the name “Patriot”, with links to four recorded conversations between senior Polish government officials. But it insisted that it was not aware of the identity of the leaker. Read more of this post

Location of UK’s ‘above top-secret’ Middle East spy base revealed

GCHQ's Seeb spy base in OmanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The location of a British listening base in the Middle East, which is classified by the British government as “three levels above top-secret”, has been revealed by a technology website. The information had been previously leaked by American defector Edward Snowden to several British newspapers, but the latter refrained from airing it following pressure by the British government. However, the highly classified material was published on Tuesday in online technology review The Register. The author of the revelatory article is Duncan Campbell, a longtime investigative journalist and researcher who has been reporting on intelligence matters for over three decades. In his article, Campbell alleges that the secret British spy base is located in Seeb, in northeast Oman, and is operated by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency. The base’s primary operational goal is to monitor undersea telecommunications cables serving the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, which pass through the Strait of Hormuz. According to Campbell, the listening facility was initially constructed with British funding as a joint intelligence center with the Omani authorities, with the purpose of intercepting the signals of civilian communications satellites orbiting in the wider region. But it has since developed into one of three high-value GCHQ locations in Oman (referred to as Overseas Processing Centres —OPCs). The three locations, codenamed TIMPANI, GUITAR and CLARINET, form part of a region-wide communications interception program codenamed CIRCUIT. Through CIRCUIT, London has allegedly managed to gain access to nearly a dozen underwater cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which link a host of Arab countries, including Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Interestingly, GCHQ relies on the close cooperation of several telecommunications service providers to meet its interception targets, says Campbell. These include British Telecom, codenamed REMEDY in internal GCHQ documents, and Vodafone, the world’s second-largest mobile telecommunications company, which GCHQ has codenamed GERONTIC. Read more of this post

Efforts to restore US-German intelligence cooperation collapse

Angela Merkel and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Negotiations aimed at restoring the intelligence relationship between America and Germany, following revelations last year that Washington spied on the communications of German leaders, collapsed before German Chancellor Angela Merkel met US President Barack Obama last week. The two leaders had planned to make a public statement during Mrs. Merkel’s official visit to Washington last Friday, announcing a new intelligence agreement between their respective countries. But the announcement was never made, as Ukraine dominated the political agenda. IntelNews readers will recall the dramatic way in which Germany and the United States fell out in October of last year, after American intelligence defector Edward Snowden revealed an invasive intelligence-gathering operation by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The program targeted the private communications of senior German officials, including those of Mrs. Merkel, for nearly a decade. The New York Times said last week that the collapse of the bilateral intelligence negotiations between Washington and Berlin prompted “bitter recriminations on both sides” about who was responsible for their failure. It appears that German officials insisted on drafting a “no-spy” agreement between the two countries, which would prevent them from conducting espionage operations on each other’s territory. American officials, however, rejected the proposal, arguing it would create a precedent that every other European and Asian American ally, including France, Britain, Japan, South Korea, and others, would wish to replicate. Earlier this year, President Obama assured the German side that the NSA would never again target the communications of Chancellor Merkel. But German officials noted that the President said nothing about targeting other senior German officials, nor did he mention anything about the NSA’s other operations on German soil. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

Comment: Nuland’s leaked phone call is ‘populist intelligence’

Victoria NulandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
My phone started ringing off the hook on Thursday evening, when a video appeared on YouTube containing a frank conversation between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt. Nuland, Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of State, and Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, were discussing US diplomatic moves on the political standoff in Ukraine. In the conversation, which was clearly meant to be private, Nuland expresses frustration with efforts by the European Union, which she deems weak and inadequate. In a shocking display of candor, Nuland tells Pyatt that the US should “help glue this thing and […] have the UN help glue it and, you know, f**k the EU”.

On Thursday night I spoke at the main news program of BBC television, where I agreed with most observers —some of the US government officials— that Russia was the obvious culprit behind the leaked conversation. The geopolitical interests of Washington and Brussels coincide almost completely when it comes to Ukraine, as both wish to detach the former Soviet republic from the Russian sphere of influence. So driving a wedge between the two allied sides is clearly to the benefit of Moscow. I added that the two American officials should have known better than to speak so frankly on the phone, given the constant monitoring of diplomatic communications by both adversary and friendly intelligence services, which is common knowledge in diplomatic circles. Read more of this post

British agency spies on foreign diplomats’ hotel reservations

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s signals intelligence agency operates a system that monitors the hotel bookings of international diplomats and foreign government officials around the world, according to information published on Sunday. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said the revelation came from the personal archive of American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been offered political asylum in Russia. In an article published last weekend, the magazine said the classified program is codenamed ROYAL CONCIERGE, and it is operated by the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The classified documents allegedly show that ROYAL CONCIERGE was launched on an experimental basis in 2010; the program was apparently “so successful” that it was approved for “further development” by GCHQ’s intelligence planners. Since that time, the British signals intelligence agency has been able to compromise the booking systems of at least 350 high-end hotels around the world, which are frequented by international diplomats and foreign government officials. As soon as a room booking is confirmed by an email to an account in a governmental Internet domain, GCHQ receives an alert, allowing it to know the name and arrival details of the guest(s). This information, says Der Spiegel, enables the British “technical operations community” to target the hotel guests according to the intelligence requirements set out by the British government. In some cases, the hotel room’s telephone and fax machine are monitored, while unsuspecting hotel guests have their computers and personal cellphones targeted by GCHQ. Read more of this post

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