Panama tries to block extradition of Colombia’s former spy chief

Ana BelfonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior government officials in Panama continue to shelter one of Colombia’s notorious former spy chiefs, who is wanted in Colombia for spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a chief subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Finally, after years of diplomatic pressure by Uribe’s successor, Panama’s supreme court ruled last week that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. It consequently ordered that her residence permit, which was granted to her under the personal authorization of Panama’s heavy-handed President, Ricardo Martinelli, would become invalid after three working days. The three working-day deadline was set to expire at 5:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday. However, shortly before the cut-off time, Panama’s Attorney General, Ana Belfon (pictured), stepped in and effectively extended Hurtado’s residence permit deadline. In a dramatic move, Belfon filed an appeal on behalf of the government, asking the Supreme Court to clarify the conditions of the former spy chief’s deportation back to Colombia. In accordance with Panamanian legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel Hurtado’s residence permit is now suspended and the Colombian former spymaster will continue to enjoy the Panamanian government’s protection until the Supreme Court responds to the Attorney General’s appeal. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #868

Jonathan PollardBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Honduras suspends eight consuls in US. Honduras has suspended eight of its 10 consuls in the US, days after local media alleged that the consuls had issued illegal papers in exchange of payments of up to $50. The consulates affected are in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans and New York. The case came to light after a group representing Hondurans living in the US said a number of consulates were issuing “consular IDs” —documents that bear the crest and flag of Honduras, but which are not officially recognized forms of identification.
►►Al-Qaeda’s expulsion of Syrian group prompts US debate. The Obama administration is engaged in a debate on whether a law giving the president authority to attack al-Qaeda affiliates still applies to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), after al-Qaeda’s recent decision to sever ties with the group. Current and former US intelligence officials said last week’s expulsion marked the first time al-Qaeda had ejected a group that had formally joined its fold, a potentially risky move at a time when the terrorist network’s affiliates have largely eclipsed the core group in strength and relevance.
►►Ex CIA head says anti-Semitism likely in Pollard case. Former CIA Director James Woolsey says anti-Semitism could be a factor in the US refusal to release Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American jailed for spying for Israel. Wolsey has long advocated for releasing Pollard who was sentenced to life in prison in 1985 for spying on the United States. “I certainly don’t think that it is universally true, but in the case of some American individuals, I think there is anti-Semitism at work here”, Woolsey said.

South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for accepting bribes

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
One of the most powerful figures in South Korea’s intelligence establishment has been sentenced to prison for accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of President Lee Myung-bak. The once supremely powerful organization, founded in 1961 as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, was intimately involved in the murky South Korean politics of the Cold War era, during which the country’s political life was dominated by bloody military coups and political repression. In the late 1980s, a process of democratization began in the NIS, and in recent years many intelligence observers believed that the agency had managed to shed its controversial reputation. On Wednesday, however, a court in South Korean capital Seoul sentenced Won to two years in prison for receiving kickbacks from the private sector while heading the NIS. Won was accused of having taken over $150,000 from Hwang Bo-yeon, former director of Hwangbo Construction, in exchange for lobbying the government to award construction contracts to the company. Regular readers of this blog will recall that Won is also standing accused of having meddled in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the official indictment in the case, Won is said to have ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. Read more of this post

US charges 49 Russian diplomats with fraud, says some were spies

Russian consulate in NYBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has filed charges against dozens of current and former Russian diplomats, accusing them of defrauding American taxpayers of over a million dollars. Meanwhile, sources have told CNN that some of the accused also engaged in espionage against the US. Last week, the US Department of Justice charged 49 Russian citizens with participating in a nine-year fraud scheme, through which they pocketed approximately $1.5 million from Medicaid. Created in 1965, Medicaid is a US government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care. Twenty-five of those accused of fraud are current and former Russian diplomats, while 24 are spouses of diplomats. Eleven of them are currently in the US, ten of whom work at the Russian consular mission in New York. The remaining diplomat is stationed at the embassy of Russia in Washington, DC. The members of the fraud ring are accused of falsifying applications for Medicaid benefits by systematically under-reporting or completely concealing their incomes. While receiving thousands of dollars in benefits from the American government, the diplomats and their spouses lived a frivolous lifestyle, purchasing luxury goods in some of America’s most expensive department stores, like Tiffany’s and Bloomingdale’s. On Monday, however, CNN’s Security Clearance blog reported that some of the 49 Russian diplomats involved in the fraud scheme are also believed to have engaged in espionage against the United States. The spies were in fact investigated “for quite some time” by Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence agents in Washington and New York, said CNN. At the end, however, federal prosecutors decided they had insufficient evidence to file espionage charges, and passed the case on to the Department of Justice, which brought fraud charges against the Russians. Read more of this post

Fujimori-era spy scandal returns to haunt Peruvian politics

Ollanta HumalaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Faithful readers of this blog will be familiar with the case of Vladimiro Montesinos, the former director of Peru’s intelligence service, Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional (SIN). Montesinos, a CIA agent, is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for setting up a sophisticated network of illegal activities during his SIN tenure. The crimes he committed included drug trafficking, bribing, extortion, as well as embezzlement. Many of these activities were conducted under the direction of Peru’s disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori. He too is now in prison for having handed Montesinos $15 million from government coffers. In the past decade, civil society in Peru has tried to move on from these scandals, and has sought to establish a more stable political culture. In the 2011 elections, the country voted for Ollanta Humala, who was sworn into office on July 28 of that year. The son of a labor lawyer, Humala became a career military officer at an early age. In 2000, he became known across Peru when he led a local mutiny against the government of Alberto Fujimori, complaining against corruption in the central government. The mutiny, joined by a just few dozens of soldiers in southern Peru, was quickly quashed by the government, and Humala soon found himself in prison. However, he was pardoned by the Peruvian Congress after the fall of the Fujimori regime. Moreover, Humala was seen by many as a national hero for his defiant stance in 2000. However, Humala’s stardom has begun to fade in recent weeks, after media reports drew the country’s attention to Óscar López Meneses. Over a decade ago, López was taken to court along with Fujimori and Montesinos, and was given a suspended sentence for having helped the sinister spy kingpin run his criminal network around the country. López has kept a low profile in recent years, but Peruvian media reported last month that he has remained in close operational contact with the Peruvian police. The revelation led to the eventual resignation of Peru’s minister of the interior, Wilfredo Pedraza, while his interim successor quickly fired seven senior police officials for having contacts with López. Read more of this post

India disbands spy unit that conducted covert operations abroad

VK SinghBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A controversial military intelligence unit that conducted at least eight covert operations in foreign countries between 2008 and 2012 has been disbanded by the government of India. The country’s Ministry of Defense authorized the establishment of the unit in late 2008, following the Mumbai attacks, which killed over 150 and injured nearly 600 people. The attacks, which lasted for almost four days, involved a dozen coordinated bombing attacks and shooting incidents in India’s largest urban center, carried out by Pakistani nationalists. The covert-action unit was named Technical Services Division (TSD) and led by retired General VK Singh, who served as the Indian Army’s Chief of Staff from 2010 to 2012. According to Indian news media, the TSD was approved by a host of senior Indian government officials, including Lieutenant General RK Loomba, Director General of India’s Military Intelligence. The new agency was tasked with “planning and executing special operations inside depth areas of countries of interest” to India. It was also tasked with “countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Most of its “special operations” on foreign soil are said to have been conducted inside Pakistan, in an effort to combat what the Indian government views as “state-sponsored terrorism” by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Its main tactical mission centered on targeting Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, said to have been behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But the TSD has now been disbanded following revelations that it used its mandate to spy on Indian politicians in New Delhi and the Indian province of Kashmir, whose political views on India’s relations with Pakistan were seen as too conciliatory. Read more of this post

Luxembourg government resigns following spy scandal

Jean-Claude JunckerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The prime minister of Luxembourg announced his intent to resign on Thursday, after a parliamentary investigation revealed scores of illegal operations conducted by the country’s intelligence service. Jean-Claude Juncker, a longtime member of Luxembourg’s Christian Social People’s Party, is Europe’s longest-serving elected leader, having been in power constantly since 1995. But on Wednesday, the astute center-right politician, who is also President of the Eurogroup —the eurozone’s finance ministers’ group— announced on Wednesday that he would step down, following seven hours of heated debate in the Luxembourg parliament. Juncker announced his intention to resign after the junior partner of his governing coalition, the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party, which is the country’s second-largest, said it could no longer lend its support to the government. The reason is a parliamentary inquiry, which found that the country’s State Intelligence Service (SREL) has been engaging in serious criminal activity. The investigation was launched last year, after a local newspaper alleged that SREL’s Director, Marco Mille, had employed a surreptitious recording device disguised as a watch to record a private conversation with Prime Minister Junkcer. The parliamentary inquiry, which was released last week, found that SREL has been carrying out countless illegal wiretaps around the country and that it maintains detailed secret files on over 13,000 citizens and residents of Luxembourg. The report also alleges that SREL had set up a front company in order to facilitate the transfer of $10 million from a corrupt Russian businessman to a Spanish intelligence operative, as a personal favor to the Russian. The report did not confirm allegations, made in the country’s press, that the Grand Duke of Luxembourg has been a trusted informant of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. Read more of this post

Vatican official, intelligence operative, charged with money smuggling

VaticanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Three men, including a senior Vatican official and a police officer with ties to the Italian Secret Service, have been arrested on charges of plotting to smuggle millions of euros out of Switzerland. Among the men arrested by Italian police on Friday is Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a senior accountant at the Holy See’s Institute for the Works of Religion, which is the Vatican’s highest financial institution. Along with Father Scarano, Italian authorities arrested Giovanni Maria Zito, an officer in the Arma dei carabinieri, Italy’s national military police force, who was previously detailed to the country’s domestic intelligence service, the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Interna (AISI). The third accused co-conspirator is Giovanni Carenzio, a successful securities broker based primarily in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. All three have been charged with corruption, for plotting to smuggle nearly €20 million ($26 million) in cash, from Switzerland into Italy. According to Nello Rossi, chief prosecutor in the corruption investigation, evidence collected from targeted communications interceptions seems to indicate that the smuggled funds belonged to the d’Amico family of shipping magnates, owners of d’Amico International Shipping, which is based in Salerno, Italy. The plan, allegedly hatched last summer by the three men, was to hire a private airplane and use it to carry the €20 million in cash from Locarno, Switzerland, to Italy. The currency was to be carried in suitcases by Zito. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #840

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►S. Korea prosecutors might seek ex-spy chief’s arrest. Prosecutors said Monday they will decide sometime this week whether to seek an arrest warrant against Won Sei-hoon, who headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) for about four years until early this year. He is suspected of ordering agents to post a slew of politically sensitive comments on the Internet in order to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling party candidate prior to the December 19 national election. Won, who headed the NIS under former President Lee Myung-bak, has been barred from leaving the country pending investigation.
►►CIA self-described whistleblower writes about life in prison. In 2012, former CIA officer John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In January of this year, he was sentenced to 30 months in a low security prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania. In a letter released by his lawyer, Kiriakou describes his day-to-day life behind bars, from his own tiny cell to an almost anthropological study of the lunchroom and the relatively rare prison fights.
►►Comment: End the spy budget secrecy in Israel. Since the establishment of the Israeli state, the security establishment has enjoyed confidentiality with regard to the details of its budget, justified by the need to keep secrets from enemy intelligence services. This lack of transparency has impaired public scrutiny of security expenditure, which represents a large chunk of the Israeli economy. When the watchful eye is distant, the temptation is great to inflate job slots, exaggerate salary increments and hike up pension conditions.

Canada issues arrest warrant for former spy watchdog official

Arthur PorterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Authorities in the Canadian province of Quebec have issued a warrant for the arrest of a government official who until recently was responsible for overseeing the country’s primary national intelligence service. From 2008 to 2011, Dr. Arthur Porter was a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which investigated grievances against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). In order to fulfill his Committee duties, Porter was awarded a top-secret security clearance, which allowed him access to the CSIS’ most closely held secrets. In 2004, Porter, who is a Cambridge University-educated oncologist, was appointed Director General of the McGill University Health Centre in Montréal. In that capacity, he began a business relationship with Ari Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Israeli lobbyist and weapons merchant, who in 1989 was arrested and charged in the United States for illegally attempting to sell military transport airplanes to Iran, in connection with the so-called Iran-Contra affair. Ben-Menashe was acquitted after claiming during his trial that he had been operating as an Israeli intelligence officer. In 2011, Porter stepped down from his post at the Security Intelligence Review Committee, after Canadian newspaper The National Post revealed that he had wired $200,000 in personal funds to Ben-Menashe. Soon afterwards, he moved to the Bahamas and attempted to stay away from the public limelight. This changed on Wednesday, however, Read more of this post

News you may have missed #814

Ilir KumbaroBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israel accuses Palestinian of spying for Hezbollah. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency says a Palestinian man has been charged with relaying information to Hezbollah in Lebanon about sensitive government sites, including parliament. It identified the suspect as Azzam Mashahara, a resident of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, unlike Palestinians from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, have Israeli identity cards that allow them to travel freely within Israel. Mashahara was charged with maintaining contacts with a foreign agent and relaying information to the enemy.
►►UK agency tries to crack coded message from WWII-era carrier pigeon. The note, written on official stationary with the heading “Pigeon Service,” was discovered in a red canister attached to the skeletal leg of a pigeon in a chimney in Surrey, England. The message is made up of 27 seemingly random five-letter blocks and though it’s undated, government analysts believe the pigeon met his end while on a secret mission during the Second World War. The note is signed “Sjt W Stot” and was intended for the destination “XO2”. In a statement, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), said that during the war secret communications would often utilize specialized codebooks “in which each code group of four or five letters had a meaning relevant to a specific operation, allowing much information to be sent in a short message”. The GCHQ said that those messages may have been put through an additional layer of security by being re-coded with what’s known as a one-time pad.
►►Albania court convicts fugitive ex-spy chief. An Albanian court has convicted Ilir Kumbaro, the country’s fugitive former intelligence chief, of murder for the 1995 death of a suspect who was illegally detained for an alleged plot to murder the President of the Republic of Macedonia. The victim, businessman Remzi Hoxha, an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia, was abducted by the secret police 17 years ago along with two other suspects for allegedly planning to kill then-Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov during a visit to Albania. The court said the three suspects were held illegally and tortured during questioning. Kumbaro traveled to Britain in 1996 under a false identity, claiming to be a refugee from Kosovo. He has been missing for a year, after skipping an extradition hearing in London. Hoxha was never found and is presumed to have died in custody.

News you may have missed #806

Mohammed DahabiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Most staff at US consulate in Libya were CIA personnel. Most of the personnel attached to the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the Libyan city where a US consulate was attacked ending with the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were spies, according to The Wall Street Journal. The paper said 23 of the 30 Americans evacuated from Benghazi in the wake of the September 11, 2012, attack were employees of the CIA. Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, two of the men killed that day, and later publicly identified as contract security workers with the State Department, were in fact under contract with the CIA, said the paper.
►►India accuses Pakistan of printing counterfeit banknotes. The Central Economic Intelligence Bureau in India says that the Pakistani spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) is printing counterfeit Indian and Bangladeshi currencies from the state-owned security printing presses “under special arrangement” and circulating the same through a well-organized network, which is coordinated by senior ISI officials. This is not the first time that the Indian government has accused Pakistan of counterfeiting Indian currency.
►►Jordan court to announce ex-spy chief’s sentence on November 11. A Jordanian criminal court has postponed a verdict in the case of Mohammed al-Dahabi, who ran the General Intelligence Department between 2005 and 2008 and is on trial for alleged embezzlement of public funds, money laundering and abuse of office. Presiding judge Nashaat Akhras said in court Sunday that the verdict will be pronounced November 11, without giving a reason. Dahabi was arrested in February, when inspectors from the Central Bank of Jordan suspected transactions worth millions of dollars had gone through his bank account.

Proposed Afghan spy chief divides Western, Afghan officials

Assadullah KhaledBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last month we reported Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to appoint one of his most trusted advisors, Assadullah Khaled, to lead the country’s intelligence agency. There appears to be a slight problem with this proposal: Khaled is known as a fierce character in Afghan politics, who has been accused by Western diplomats of corruption, extreme brutality and narcotics trafficking. During the past few years, Khaled, currently Afghanistan’s Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs, has reportedly become “almost a surrogate family member” of the Karzai family, and is viewed “as a son” by the Afghan President. He also has a close relationship with officials in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who seem to appreciate Khaled’s hardline stance against Pakistan. Moreover, Khaled is an ethnic Pashtun, that is, he belongs to the largest Afghan ethnicity, whose members occupy central Afghanistan. However, he has strong connections with leading figures in the former Northern Alliance, whose support is crucial for the survival of the Karzai regime. Some Western officials, therefore, see him as a potential unifying figure in the country. But in a confidential cable sent to the US Department of State by the American Embassy in Kabul in 2009, and leaked by WikiLeaks, Khaled was described by one senior American diplomat as “exceptionally corrupt and incompetent”. Later that same year, a high-level Canadian diplomat publicly accused Khaled of participating in international narcotics trafficking and systematically employing torture against his political enemies in Kandahar. The diplomat, who served in Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion, was referring to Khaled’s tenure as Governor of Kandahar Province, where he personally run what Kandaharis described as “the torture prison”. Colvin is apparently not alone voicing such concerns. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #773

Tamir PardoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Conflicting reports on CIA-ISI meeting. Lieutenant General Zahir ul-Islam, who heads Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, held talks in Washington with his CIA counterpart General David Petraeus, between August 1 and 3. It was the first time in a year that the chief of the ISI made the trip to the US, signaling a possible thaw in relations. Depending on the source, the meeting was either “substantive, professional and productive”, or “made no big strides on the main issues”.
►►Senior Mossad official suspected of financial misconduct. A senior Mossad official is suspected of financial misconduct and has been forced to take a leave of absence until Israeli police complete an investigation into his alleged deeds, Israeli media reported on Sunday. The official, a department head in Israel’s spy organization, has reportedly denied any wrongdoing, but sources said he would likely not be reinstated in light of investigation findings and is effectively being forced to retire. The nature of the official’s alleged misconduct has not been reported, but it is said that the official in question has close ties to Mossad Director Tamir Pardo, who appointed him to his position last year.
►►Ex-NSA official disputes DefCon claims by NSA chief. William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, has accused NSA director General Keith Alexander of deceiving the public during a speech he gave at the DefCon hacker conference last week. In his speech, Alexander asserted that the NSA does not collect files on Americans. But Binney accused Alexander of playing a “word game” and said the NSA was indeed collecting and indexing e-mails, Twitter writings, Internet searches and other data belonging to Americans. “The reason I left the NSA was because they started spying on everybody in the country. That’s the reason I left”, said Binney, who resigned from the agency in late 2001.

News you may have missed #749

Mohammed DahabiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Why did CIA Director secretly visit Czech Republic? The CIA Director, David Petraeus, is known to make frequent secret trips to places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq. But why was his recent trip to the Czech Republic kept secret? Photographs published in a Czech daily paper showed the CIA director and his team boarding a military plane at Prague’s Ruzyne Airport, headed for their next destination, Sofia, Bulgaria. But neither the US Embassy in Prague, nor the CIA will respond to questions by Czech media about Petraeus’ secretive visit to the former Soviet Bloc nation.
►►Jordan’s ex-spy chief on trial for corruption. Jordan’s former spy chief, General , who headed the General Intelligence Department (GID) from 2005 to 2009, has gone on trial in Amman on charges of corruption, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. In a case highlighting corruption in the country’s vaunted intelligence community, the prosecutor said Dahabi’s wealth had quadrupled during his years in office, reaching almost $40 million by the end of 2011. The money, he said, was held in several foreign currency accounts in a leading domestic bank.
►►CIA still refuses to comment on Predator drone attacks. The Central Intelligence Agency continues to refuse to confirm or deny the covert military use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas. This is despite numerous public comments on the CIA’s drone attacks in far-flung locales such as Yemen from various government officials, including former CIA Director Leon Panetta and US President Barack Obama. The development comes as 26 members of Congress asked Obama, in a letter, to consider the consequences of drone killing and to explain the necessity of the program.

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