US lawmakers say Snowden was coached by foreign spy agency

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Two American lawmakers with senior positions in Congressional intelligence committees have expressed strong views that American defector Edward Snowden was probably coached by Russian intelligence prior to his defection. Speaking separately on Sunday, the two lawmakers —both Republican— said they suspected that Snowden had “acted in concert” with Russian intelligence in order expose Washington’s worldwide surveillance programs and steal military secrets. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. On Sunday, Mike Rogers, who chairs the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at the United States House or Representatives, said he was convinced Moscow had “at least in some part something to do” with Snowden’s defection. During separate interviews at NBC’s Meet The Press and CBS’ Face the Nation, Rogers said he thought it highly unlikely that Snowden’s defection was “a gee-whiz luck event”. He added that the former intelligence technician’s arrival in Russia had been likely pre-arranged by the FSB —the Russian Federal Security Service (though he likely meant the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, which is responsible for intelligence activities outside the borders of the Russian Federation). The Republican lawmaker said that Snowden’s defection plan, ranging “from how he prepared to leave [to] his route of departure and how quickly [he] ended up in Moscow”, points to involvement by Russian intelligence. Also on Sunday, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul told ABC’s This Week that he did not think “Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself”. The lawmaker, who chairs the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, cautioned that he could not prove definitively that Russia had a role in Snowden’s defection. Read more of this post

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Revealed: North Korean leader’s aunt defected to the US in 1998

Kim Jong-un surrounded by generalsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The maternal aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un secretly defected to the United States with her husband in 1998, a South Korean newspaper has alleged. Ko Yong-suk is the younger sister of the North Korean supreme leader’s mother, Ko Yong-hui, who died of breast cancer in 2004, aged 51. As a young man, Kim studied at the prestigious International School in Berne, Switzerland, from 1996 to 2001. Along with him, the North Korean government sent to Switzerland his aunt and her husband, ostensibly to look after him. However, Ko and her husband vanished without trace in early May 1998. It was generally assumed that they had been recalled back to Pyongyang by the North Korean regime. But on Tuesday, a report in South Korea’s JoongAng Daily said that the couple secretly visited the United States embassy in Geneva and requested political asylum. The paper cited a former “senior official” in South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), who was privy to the information about the couple’s defection. It also cited an unnamed South Koran diplomat who was stationed in Berne at the time of the alleged defection. The former NIS official told JoongAng that Washington granted Ko and her husband asylum and spirited them away to an American military base in Frankfurt, Germany. There they were debriefed before being flown to the United States. The official said that the two defectors underwent months of questioning about the inner circle of North Korea’s ruling elite. The NIS source told the South Korean paper that, at the end of that process, the couple underwent “cosmetic surgery to conceal their identities” before being given new names by the US government. Read more of this post

High-level US-Russia meeting to go ahead despite Snowden row

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Senior United States officials will hold high-level talks with their Russian counterparts later this week, despite Moscow’s decision to grant asylum to an American intelligence defector. For many weeks, Washington pressured the Russian government to extradite Edward Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA). But Snowden, who had sought refuge at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, was granted temporary asylum by Russian authorities last week, prompting angry responses from the American side. According to reports, US President Barack Obama has been considering whether to cancel his attendance of a prearranged summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in September [20:00 GMT update: meeting has been confirmed an earlier report by news agency Reuters, which claimed that a series of meetings between American and Russian officials would still take place this week, despite the Snowden imbroglio. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry would meet, as planned, with their Russian counterparts, in Washington on Friday. The Russian delegation will be visiting the US capital to discuss “pressing bilateral and global issues”, including Iran and Syria, Psaki said. In response to a question by reporters, the State Department spokeswoman said that the two sides would discuss the Snowden case. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #837

Alexander LitvinenkoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russian ex-spy ‘would testify’ in Litvinenko inquiry. The 2006 murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has never been solved and remains the subject of conflicting narratives and still-deepening intrigue over who may have killed him and why. Now a key witness, a US-based former Russian spy who worked with Litvinenko in the months leading up to his death, says he is willing to give evidence at a public inquiry. British police considered him such a vital witness that they visited the US three times to persuade him to give evidence at the inquest.
►►Assange reveals GCHQ messages discussing extradition. Authorities at GCHQ, Britain’s eavesdropping agency, face embarrassing revelations about internal correspondence in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is discussed, apparently including speculation that he is being framed by Swedish authorities seeking his extradition on rape allegations. The records were revealed by Assange himself in a Sunday night interview with Spanish television. A message from September 2012, apparently says: “They are trying to arrest him on suspicion of XYZ. It is definitely a fit-up. Their timings are too convenient right after Cablegate“.
►►North Korean defector accused of spying by his sister. Earlier this year, Yoo Woo-sung, one of the most prominent North Korean defectors living in South Korea, was arrested on charges of espionage. Now court documents have shown that Yoo was arrested after testimony from his sister, who said he had been sent on a mission by North Korea’s secret police to infiltrate the defector community and pass back information about the people he met. The Washington Post reports that defectors from the North are increasingly facing the brunt of this suspicion.
►►Iran hangs two men for spying for Israel and US. Mohammad Heydari was found guilty of passing intelligence on “security issues and national secrets” to Israeli Mossad agents in exchange for cash. Kourosh Ahmadi was convicted of providing intelligence to the CIA, Tehran’s prosecutor’s office said. It is not clear when Heydari and Ahmadi were arrested or where they were tried. Their execution was handed down by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court and confirmed by the Supreme Court, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

News you may have missed #827

Brigadier General Mohammed KhaloufBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: The spies who fooled the world about Iraq. On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, the BBC flagship investigative program Panorama has aired a documentary arguing that, even before the fighting in Iraq started, intelligence from highly placed sources was available in the UK, suggesting that the administration of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.
►►Syrian officer to auction spy files as general defects. Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah reported this past weekend that an intelligence officer that defected is offering to auction the intelligence archives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat. Meanwhile, Syrian Brigadier General Mohammed Khalouf and about 20 soldiers defected from the Syrian army in two separate incidents on Saturday, according to rebel-controlled media.
►►Half a million wiretapped in Turkey in last decade. Some 470,000 people in Turkey have been subject to eavesdropping over the past 11 years, said officials from the Gendarmerie Command’s intelligence unit. In 2012 alone, over 33,000 people were eavesdropped on by the Gendarmerie, according to information given to the Turkish Parliament’s Eavesdropping Examination Commission. Notably Gendarmerie authorities said that they found no information or documents regarding the case of the wire-tapping of the Turkish Prime Minister in their examination of their own records.

As many Russian spies in UK today as in Cold War: Soviet defector

Oleg GordievskyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, has alleged that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, 74, a fluent speaker of Russian, German, Swedish, Danish, and English, entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He eventually 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 Copenhagen, Denmark, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the UK. In 1985, when he was the KGB’s 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. In 2007, Gordievsky was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen “for services to the security of the UK”. Russia, however, considers Gordievsky a traitor and the government of Vladimir Putin refuses to rescind a death sentence given to him in absentia by a Soviet court. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week, Gordievsky said London is currently home to 37 officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the successor agencies to the KGB. Read more of this post

British government tries to block probe into ex-KGB officer’s murder

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The family of a Russian spy, who died of poisoning after defecting to Britain, has accused the British government of trying to cover up the affair in order to avoid embarrassing Russia. Alexander Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became widely known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. He died in hospital three days later. A public inquest into Litvinenko’s murder had been scheduled for May, 2013. On Tuesday, however, it was revealed that the British government had filed a written petition to limit the information disclosed in the inquest. According to The London Times, British Foreign Secretary William Hague filed a Public Interest Immunity Certificate (PIIC), which, if allowed to stand, would limit the scope of the inquest on national security grounds. It is believed that the government wishes to block information linking Litvinenko to the Secret Intelligence Service —also known as MI6— Britain’s primary external spy agency. Last December, Ben Emmerson, the lawyer representing Litvinenko’s widow, claimed that the late Russian spy was a “registered and paid” agent of MI6 and Spanish intelligence at the time of his death. Read more of this post

Comment: Are Somalia’s militant Islamist ‘defectors’ genuine?

Al-Shabaab militants in SomaliaBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
During the past two years, the once powerful influence of Islamic militancy in Somalia appears to be steadily declining. Not long ago, much of the country was firmly controlled by al-Shabaab (The Party of Youth), formerly the youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which ruled Somalia until 2006. The group, which is thought to have approximately 5,000 armed members at its disposal, emerged as a powerful force in Somalia in 2009. Three years later, in 2012, it formally announced its operational alignment with al-Qaeda. Its power began to wane, however, once the Western-backed Somali government decided to confront it militarily, with the support of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and several European-funded private security companies. A major indicator of this optimistic trend seems to center on the unprecedented numbers of al-Shabaab members who are defecting –apparently en masse– and joining the ranks of the Somali armed forces. Many of these defectors are trained by private security companies employed by the European Union before being sent to the front to fight against their former comrades. Read more of this post

Syrian President’s mother said to have ‘defected’

Anisah Makhlouf with Hafez al-Assad in 1994By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Arab media reports appeared to confirm yesterday an allegation made last week by a senior American diplomat that the mother of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had abandoned the country. Speaking to CNN last week, Ambassador Robert Ford, who served as the United States’ envoy to Syria until he was recalled by Washington in 2011, said Anisah Makhlouf al-Assad had escaped to the United Arab Emirates. The 78-year-old widow of late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1970 until his death in 2000, is a revered figure among government supporters. As the current President’s mother, she is said to exercise significant influence on the Syrian regime’s core decision makers, despite her advanced age. According several reports in Arab media, Anisah has now joined her daughter Bushra al-Assad in the Emirates. Bushra, who is the Syrian President’s oldest sister, escaped with her five children to the Gulf oil state in July 2012, after her husband, Assef Shawkat, Syria’s deputy Minister of Defense, was assassinated by the opposition in Damascus along with two other senior Syrian government officials. In his CNN interview, Ambassador Ford argued that Anisah’s defection showed that, “little by little, the inner core [of the Syrian regime] is weakening” as its members are “flaking off. They themselves know they are losing”, he added. Read more of this post

Philby’s son, widow, speak on 50th anniversary of his defection

Philby interview c.1967 By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
For most of us, January 23, 2013, was a day like any other. But for intelligence history aficionados it marked the 50th anniversary of the escape to Moscow of notorious double spy Harold Adrian Russell Philby. Known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, Philby secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1963. He is widely considered history’s most successful double spy. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, he spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB from the early 1930s until his defection. In 1965, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. When he died, in 1988, he was buried with honors by the Soviet authorities. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often described as one of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War. On the 50th anniversary of Philby’s defection to Moscow, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph carried an article with excerpts of interviews with one of Philby’s sons, Dudley Thomas Philby, and his Russian widow, Rufina Pukhova Philby. Born in 1946, Dudley ‘Tommy’ Philby is the third of Kim’s five children with his second of four wives, Aileen Furse Philby. Aileen died in 1957, when Tommy was just 11 years old; his contact with his father was cut off as soon as the double spy defected to the USSR in January 1963. But it was resumed a few months later, when he received a letter from his father in Moscow. Eventually, Tommy visited Kim five times in Moscow in the 1970s. Speaking on the anniversary of his late father’s defection, he described him as “a very kind man” and “a very good father”, who “had his belief [in] communism [and] carried it out”. He told The Telegraph that he personally did not agree with his father’s political views, but added: “he was what he was, what could I do?”. He told the paper that Kim eventually came to think that “it was all wrong”, implying that Philby grew disillusioned with the Soviet system. Read more of this post

Korea spy gave North data on 10,000 defectors living in South

North and South KoreaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An employee of the South Korean government has been detained for allegedly providing North Korea with detailed resettlement information on over 10,000 North Korean defectors living in the South. The 33-year-old man, who has been identified simply as “Mr. Yu”, was arrested on January 11 by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. The NIS, which leads South Korea’s intelligence community, described Yu’s activities as “an unusual breach of the South Korean civil service”. The detainee is accused of providing Pyongyang with a “complete list” of thousands of North Korean defectors living in South Korean capital Seoul. The list is said to include information such as the defectors’ resettlement addresses and employment information among other personal data. Interestingly, the accused spy is himself a North Korean defector, according to South Korean news outlets. A trained surgeon, he is said to have been a member of North Korea’s social elite before defecting to the South on foot via China, in 2004. Seven years later, in 2011, he joined the Seoul city municipal government, where he was tasked with providing assistance and services to the thousands of North Korean defectors living in the South Korean capital and surrounding areas. According to reports, Yu was arrested after the NIS discovered that he made frequent trips to China and came to suspect that he might have crossed into North Korea on several occasions during his trips. South Korean counterintelligence investigators are currently trying to determine whether the accused spy entered South Korea with the intention of conducting espionage on behalf of Pyongyang. Read more of this post

CIA helped senior Syrian defector escape to Washington, say sources

Jihad MakdissiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
American intelligence operatives helped facilitate the escape of a senior Syrian government official, who is now allegedly assisting the Central Intelligence Agency’s operations in Syria, according to a British newspaper. The sudden disappearance last November of Jihad Makdissi, official spokesperson of Syria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, caused widespread speculation that he might have defected. Makdissi, a career diplomat, had been a close collaborator of senior Syrian cabinet officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Moallem, and Dr. Adnan Hassan Mahmoud, Minister of Information. Initial reports claimed that Makdissi, who is a Christian and is fluent in English and French, had crossed into Lebanon and was hiding in a Christian Beirut neighborhood. But London-based newspaper The Guardian said on Monday that the diplomat had been assisted by “US intelligence officials”, who organized his escape into Lebanon, along with his wife and two children, before secretly transferring them to Washington, DC, “almost one month ago”. If The Guardian’s claim is true, it would mean that US intelligence has secured the cooperation of one of the Syrian regime’s most prominent defectors in recent times. Some argue that Makdissi’s importance as a defector is second only to that of Syria’s former Prime Minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, who escaped with this immediate family to Jordan in August. Read more of this post

Iran accuses Israel of kidnapping former Deputy Defense Minster

Ali-Reza AsgariBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister has accused Israel of kidnapping his predecessor in 2006, while he was on an official visit trip to Turkey. Brigadier General Ali-Reza Asgari, who once commanded Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, disappeared on December 9, 2006, from his hotel room in Istanbul. His fate remains unknown. But on Saturday, Brigadier General Hossein Daqiqi, who is currently Tehran’s second most senior military official, pointed the finger at Israel’s foremost covert-action agency, the Mossad. He was speaking to reporters in the Iranian capital during a public ceremony to mark the sixth anniversary of Asgari’s disappearance. He told Iranian media that the government had “a lot of evidence proving that members of the Israeli intelligence service have kidnapped Asgari”. There are conflicting reports about Asgari’s whereabouts, but most observers seem to believe he is still alive. A year after his disappearance from Turkey, Hans Rühle, former Director of Policy Planning in the German Ministry of Defense, wrote in Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung that Asgari was in Western hands and that “information was obtained” from him. Israeli media have reported that the Iranian General is in the hands of the United States and that he is helping Washington crack the “most inner workings [of] Iranian nuclear development”. Danny Yatom, former director of the Mossad, told the London-based Times newspaper in 2007 that Israel had played no part in Asgari’s disappearance and that the Iranian General had willingly defected “to the West”, but that he didn’t know his exact whereabouts. Since then, other sources have echoed Yatom’s claim that Asgari defected willingly, including Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post and intelligence historian Gordon Thomas, in his 2009 book Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence (see intelNews book review). Read more of this post

Litvinenko was working for UK, Spanish intelligence when he was killed

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A lawyer representing the family of a KGB defector to Britain, who died of poisoning in 2006, has told a court hearing in London that the late spy was working for British and Spanish intelligence at the time of his death. Alexander Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. Speaking at a preliminary court hearing on Thursday, in light of an upcoming British government inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, Ben Emmerson, QC, said that the late Russian spy was a “registered and paid” asset of the Secret Intelligence Service. This is not the first time that Litvinenko has been linked to the SIS —known informally as MI6— Britain’s external spy agency. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, made similar claims to the British press in January of this year. But yesterday’s testimony by her legal team provided the public record with further revelations about her husband’s connections with British intelligence. The court heard that Litvinenko received a regular stipend from MI6 either in cash or via electronic transfer and that he had been provided with an encrypted telephone, which MI6 used to contact him on a routine basis. The night before his poisoning, said Emmerson, Litvinenko had met his MI6 handler, who went by the operational alias MARTIN. Read more of this post

Prominent Syrian defector thanks “French intelligence” for help

Manaf TlassBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A senior Syrian military commander, whose public defection to the rebel side last summer made news headlines around the world, has thanked the French intelligence services for helping him defect.  Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a member of the Central Committee of the Baath Party and commander of the 10th Brigade of Syria’s elite Republican Guard, secretly left the country in early July. On July 6, he resurfaced in Paris and said he had defected to the rebel-led Free Syrian Army (FSA). His defection was hailed by both the FSA and Western powers as “an enormous blow” to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His central position in Syria’s governing apparatus aside, Tlass was a major symbolic figurehead for the regime. His father, Mustafa Tlass, was Syria’s Minister of Defense for over three decades during the reign of Hafez al-Assad, the current President’s father. Consequently, the Tlass family has long been fully integrated in the Syrian political and military elite that has run the country for nearly half a century.  Although there were reports that the extended Tlass family was considered too close to the rebels by the Assad regime, Tlass’ defection in July came as a shock to most Syrians. The General reportedly disappeared from his post sometime in early July, shortly after sending his wife and son to Beirut, Lebanon. Rumor has it that he secretly traveled to Turkey and from there to Paris, France, either directly or after joining his family in Lebanon. The details of his defection, however, remain obscure. Speaking on Monday to French television channel BFM, Tlass, who is now based in Paris, said he was helped in “getting out of Syria” by what he called “the French services” —presumably the French intelligence services. When the French journalist asked him to clarify how exactly he was able to leave Syria, Tlass responded that he would rather not be drawn into a discussion on the details of his escape, because it could place his contacts inside Syria in danger. Instead, the prominent Syrian defector said he was grateful to the “French services for helping me get out of Syria, and I thank them for that”. Read more of this post

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