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.

Senior Iranian aide defects during nuclear talks in Lausanne

Amir Hossein MotaghiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A media advisor to the Iranian president, who was in Switzerland to cover the ongoing international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, has defected. Amir Hossein Motaghi is credited with having helped secure the impressive ascent of Hassan Rouhani to Iran’s presidency in 2013. Rouhani, who swept to power with over 50 percent of the vote, over 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, owes much of his victory to his popularity among the youth. Motaghi led the media team that promoted Rouhani’s image among younger voters by cleverly employing online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Following Rouhani’s victory, however, Motaghi repeatedly voiced impatience with the slow pace of social and political reforms in Iran. Recently he spoke in favor of the release of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been denounced as a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government. There have been rumors in the Iranian media that Motaghi had been ordered to report once a week to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence; some say he had been privately warned that he faced arrest upon his return to Iran.

Motaghi had reportedly been sent to the Swiss city of Lausanne by the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). His task was to cover the ongoing talks that aim to bring an end to the dispute between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. However, according to Iranian opposition sources, the media aide resigned from his ISCA post before filing an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Soon afterwards, Motaghi gave an interview to Irane Farda, a pro-reform Iranian television station based in London, in which he explained the reasons for his defection. He accused the Iranian government of controlling Iranian media reports about the talks, by staffing its reporter entourage in Lausanne with undercover intelligence officers. He also said he could no longer pursue his profession conscientiously because he was only allowed to report approved news items. Furthermore, he accused the American delegation to the talks as “mainly speak[ing] on Iran’s behalf with […] the 5+1 countries [so as to] convince them to consent to an agreement”.

Late on Sunday, ISCA, the press agency believed to have sent Motaghi to Switzerland, released a statement claiming it did not employ the journalist and that his job had been terminated prior to the nuclear talks in Lausanne.

Swedish double spy who escaped to Moscow in 1987 dies at 77

Stig BerglingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Sweden’s most notorious Cold-War spy, who went on the run for nearly a decade after managing to escape from prison in 1987, has died in Stockholm. Born in the Swedish capital in 1937, Stig Eugén Bergling became a police officer in the late 1950s prior to joining SÄPO, the Swedish Security Service, in 1967. He initially worked in the Service’s surveillance unit, and later joined several counterintelligence operations, mostly against Soviet and East European intelligence services. In 1979, while posted by SÄPO in Tel Aviv, he was arrested by the Israelis for selling classified documents to the GRU, the military intelligence agency of the USSR.

He was promptly extradited to Sweden, where he stood trial for espionage and treason. His trial captivated the headlines, as details about the spy tradecraft he employed while spying for the Soviets, including radio transmitters, invisible ink and microdots, were revealed in court. He said in his testimony that he sold over 15,000 classified Swedish government documents to the Soviets, not due to any ideological allegiance with the Kremlin, but simply in order to make money. Bergling was sentenced to life in prison, while lawyers for the prosecution argued in court that the reorganization of Sweden’s defense and intelligence apparatus, which had been caused by Bergling’s espionage, would cost the taxpayer in excess of $45 million. For the next six years, the convicted spy disappeared from the headlines, after legally changing his name to Eugen Sandberg while serving his sentence.

But in 1987, during a conjugal visit to his wife, he escaped with her using several rented cars, eventually making it to Finland. When they arrived in Helsinki, Bergling contacted the Soviet embassy, which smuggled him and his wife across to the USSR. The couple’s escape caused a major stir in Sweden, and an international manhunt was initiated for their capture. In 1994, the two fugitives suddenly returned to Sweden from Lebanon, where they had been living, claiming they were homesick and missed their families. They said they had lived in Moscow and Budapest under the aliases of Ivar and Elisabeth Straus. Bergling was sent back to prison, while his wife was not sentenced due to ill health. She died of cancer in 1997. Bergling changed his name again, this time to Sydholt, and lived his final years in a nursing home in Stockholm until his recent death. He was 77.

Revealed: Letters between Margaret Thatcher and KGB defector

Oleg GordievskyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released this week have revealed part of the personal correspondence between the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and one of the Cold War’s most important Soviet spy defectors. Oleg Gordievsky entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He soon joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Danish capital Copenhagen, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the United Kingdom. In 1985, shortly before he was to assume the post of KGB station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. His defection was announced a few days later by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had personally approved his exfiltration from the USSR. Files released this week by the British National Archives show that the British Prime Minister took a personal interest in Gordievsky’s wellbeing following his exfiltration, and even corresponded with him after the Soviet defector personally wrote to her to ask for her intervention to help him reunite with his wife Leila and two daughters, who remained in the Soviet Union. In his letter, written in 1985, Gordievsky told Thatcher that his life had “no meaning” unless he was able to be with his family. On September 7, 1985, the British Prime Minister responded with a letter to the Soviet defector, urging him not to give up. “Please do not say that life has no meaning”, she wrote. “There is always hope. And we shall do all to help you through these difficult days”. She added that the two should meet once the “immediate situation” of the worldwide media attention caused by his exfiltration subsided. Thatcher went on to publicly urge for Moscow to allow Gordievsky’s family to reunite with the Soviet defector, “on humanitarian grounds”. But it was in 1991, after the collapse of communism in the USSR, when Gordievsky’s family was finally able to join him in the UK.

Remembering Gouzenko, the defector who triggered the Cold War

Igor GouzenkoBy ANDREW KAVCHAK* | intelNews.org
In 1998, my wife and I moved to downtown Ottawa, the capital of Canada. In 1999, when my first son was born I took several months off work to stay home with him. Every day I would take him to the local park. It was called Dundonald Park, located on Somerset Street, between Bay and Lyon. While my son was enjoying the outdoors and the fresh air in the park, I was routinely distracted by an old brick two-story building across the street. Something very dramatic happened there decades ago. And yet, there was no marker, no plaque, no statue, no monument…nothing. On the way home my son would typically fall asleep in the stroller. And in my free time I began making some phone calls to city officials and federal government offices. What would it take to erect some sort of historic marker to indicate that the first significant international incident of the Cold War happened in downtown Ottawa, so that generations of future Canadians and tourists in the nation’s capital could be informed or reminded of the historic events that transpired here?

The Japanese formally surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The world assumed that peace and reconstruction would replace war and destruction. However, just three days later, on September 5, Igor Gouzenko, a cypher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa walked out of the embassy with over 100 secret documents detailing the existence of a vast Soviet espionage network in Canada and other countries of the West. He wanted to expose the Soviet activity and warn the West. He went to the night editor of the Ottawa Journal and provided him with what could have been the scoop of the century, but the night editor told him to come back the next day. He spent the night with his pregnant wife and infant son at their apartment at 511 Somerset Street. The next day he returned to see the day time editor at the newspaper. Read more of this post

Former KGB officer says Snowden was ‘tricked into going to Russia’

Boris KarpichkovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A former major in the Soviet KGB has told the British press that a team of Russian intelligence operatives posing as diplomats “tricked” American intelligence defector Edward Snowden into going to Moscow. Many believe that Snowden, a former computer expert for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, was recruited by Russian intelligence before defecting to Moscow in June 2013. But former Soviet and Russian intelligence operative Boris Karpichkov has said in an interview that Snowden never intended to defect to Russia, but was lured there by a team of Russians spies. Karpichkov was a major in the Soviet KGB and its domestic-security successor, the FSB, where he worked for 15 years. In the mid-1990s, however, he gradually fell out with his employer and was imprisoned for several months before managing to leave his homeland using one of several false passports that had been supplied to him by Russian intelligence. In 1998 he entered Britain, where he lives with his family today, having been granted political asylum. He told British tabloid newspaper Sunday People that Snowden had first attracted the attention of Russian intelligence in 2007, while he was posted by the CIA to Geneva, Switzerland. During his time there, Snowden posed as a diplomat while maintaining the security of the CIA’s computer facilities located on Swiss soil. According to Karpichkov, the SVR, the post-Soviet successor of the KGB’s foreign-intelligence department, first opened a file on Snowden at that time, and kept updating it for six years, having identified the American computer technician as a “potential defector”. The former KGB operative told the British newspaper that the SVR moved quickly after it emerged that Snowden had abandoned Hawaii, where he had been posted by the NSA, and was hiding in a Hong Kong hotel. He was eventually accosted by a group of SVR spies posing as Russian diplomats. The group managed to persuade him, says Karpichkov, that the Russian government would be able to offer him protection in Moscow while he made up his mind over which country to apply to for political asylum. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #877

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►China to ditch US consulting firms over suspected espionage. State-owned Chinese companies will cease to work with US consulting companies like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group over fears they are spying on behalf of the US government. Last Thursday, China announced that all foreign companies would have to undergo a new security test. Any company, product or service that fails will be banned from China. The inspection will be conducted across all sectors —communications, finance, and energy.
►►Ex-KGB general says Snowden is cooperating with Russian intelligence. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden probably never envisioned that he would someday be working for the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. But according to former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, he is now, albeit as a consultant or technical advisor. “The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him”, Kalugin claimed in an interview. “Whatever he had access to in his former days at NSA, I believe he shared all of it with the Russians, and they are very grateful”, added the former Soviet spy.
►►Snowden claims he was ‘trained as a spy’. American intelligence defector Edward Snowden says he knows how US spies operate because he was trained as one of them. In an interview with NBC News, Snowden dismissed allegations that he was just a low-level analyst with the US government before revealing highly classified details of US spying activities in 2013. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not, and even being assigned a name that was not mine”, he said in a portion of the interview that aired on Tuesday.

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