Australia, Indonesia to end rift by signing joint spy agreement

 Abbott and YudhoyonoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Australia and Indonesia are to end months of diplomatic friction by signing a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other. IntelNews readers will recall that Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Canberra and terminated all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia late last year, after it emerged that Australian spies had targeted the communications of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other senior Indonesian officials, while they were attending the 2009 G20 conference in London. Relations between the two countries worsened considerably in February of this year, when documents leaked by American defector Edward Snowden revealed that Australian intelligence spied on American law firm representing the government of Indonesia in a trade dispute with Washington. The documents, from February 2003, showed that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) purposely targeted the law firm because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state. To make things worse, the leaked information showed that the ASD, which is responsible for signals intelligence and information security, offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency. Following the revelation, the Australian and Indonesian governments were reportedly not on talking terms. But it has now emerged that Australia and Indonesia are to sign a mutually binding agreement titled “Joint Understanding of a Code of Conduct”, which, among other things, will prohibit Australia from using its intelligence agencies to harm Indonesian national interests. Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Australia’s ABC network that the agreement would “make it quite clear” that “Australia would not use its [...] intelligence resources to the detriment of [...] Indonesia”. Read more of this post

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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

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

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

Israeli reports accuse US of denying entry visas to Israeli spies

US Department of StateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed. However, many of them are now having their visa renewal applications rejected, or are made to wait “several weeks” before having their entry permits renewed by American consular staff. The paper quoted a “senior [Israeli] security expert”, who said he had been denied an entry visa to the US this past January, for the first time in his career, despite having visited the US numerous times in the past “without trouble”. He told Maariv that he had “traveled to the US dozens of times in the past for my job and never faced issues getting a visa” on time. Read more of this post

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

News you may have missed #863

Carmi GillonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Al-Qaeda controls more Arab territory than ever before. Al-Qaeda currently controls territory that stretches more than 400 miles across the heart of the Middle East. Indeed, the group appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history. Its affiliates now control much of northern and northwestern Syria as well as some parts of eastern Syria, as well as much of Anbar province, which is around a third of Iraqi territory.
►►German diplomats survive shooting in Saudi Arabia. Two German diplomats survived a shooting attack on their car while on a visit to eastern Saudi Arabia on Monday, the state news agency SPA reported, but their vehicle was burned. In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that there was an incident during a drive out in the country. The car was shot at and it caught fire. There were no injuries. The embassy in Riyadh has launched an investigation”.
►►Israel’s ex-security chief flees Denmark to avoid arrest. Carmi Gillon, former director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, who is also Israel’s former ambassador to Denmark, has left the Scandinavian country following a formal complaint accusing him of committing crimes of torture and brutality against Palestinian detainees. Gillon is reported to have left the country hastily to avoid being detained.

Czech police find weapons in house of late Palestinian diplomat

Palestinian diplomatic residence in PragueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the Czech Republic said they found several weapons in the residence of a Palestinian diplomat who died in a mysterious explosion on New Year’s Day. Jamal al-Jamal, who had assumed the post of Palestinian Ambassador to the Czech Republic in October, died in hospital on Wednesday, having suffered lethal injuries to his chest, abdomen and head. Czech authorities said the 56-year-old was killed by an explosion caused as he opened a safe that had been transferred to his residence from the old Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in downtown Prague. Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Malki said on Wednesday the safe al-Jamal was trying to open at the time of the explosion had come from the old PLO offices in downtown Prague where “no one had touched it for 20 to 25 years”. He added that the blast was triggered just moments after al-Jamal opened the safe in order to record its contents. On Thursday, however, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that several unregistered weapons had been found by police in the official residence of the late diplomat. The statement did not identify the weapons, but Czech government sources expressed concern that the discovery might suggest “a breach in diplomatic rules”. Czech law specifies that all firearms must be registered with the government and permits are compulsory for all who possess them. On Thursday afternoon, US-based news network CNN contacted Czech National Police, and was told by spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova that “several illegal firearms” had been seized by police in al-Jamal’s newly built apartment, located in Prague’s northern suburb of Suchdol. Diplomatic observers will be watching with interest for Prague’s response to these revelations, as the Czech Republic is considered among Israel’s closest allies in the European Union. During the communist era, Czechoslovakia was a staunch ally of the PLO. But successive Czech administrations have sided with Israel in recent years. Read more of this post

Bizarre explosion kills Palestinian diplomat in Prague

Jamal al-JamalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The ambassador of Palestine to the Czech Republic was pronounced dead yesterday following injuries he sustained from a mysterious explosion at his residence. Czech police said Jamal al-Jamal died in hospital on New Year ’s Day, having suffered lethal injuries to his chest, abdomen and head. According to early indications, the 56-year-old diplomat was killed by an explosion caused as he opened a safe that had been transferred to his residence from the old Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in downtown Prague. During the Cold War, the PLO, which al-Jamal joined in 1975, maintained close relations with most of the nations of the communist bloc, including what was then Czechoslovakia. The organization, which was led by Fatah leader Yasser Arafat, maintained an office in the Czechoslovakian capital. However, according to the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Malki, the Palestinian National Authority is currently in the process of moving its diplomatic premises from downtown Prague to the northern suburb of Suchdol, adjacent to the two-story building that housed Ambassador al-Jamal and his family. Al-Maliki said that the safe al-Jamal was trying to open at the time of the explosion had come from the old PLO offices in downtown Prague where “no one had touched it for 20 to 25 years”. He added that the blast was triggered just moments after al-Jamal opened the safe in order to record its contents, prior to having it moved to the new premises of the Palestinian diplomatic mission next door. “After he decided to open [the safe], apparently something happened inside and [it] went off”, said the minister. 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

US surveillance or Merkel’s phone prompts angry German reaction

Philipp Rösler and Angela MerkelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
News of an invasive intelligence-gathering operation by the United States, which allegedly targeted the official communications of German chancellor Angela Merkel, has prompted angry responses from the European Union. The news prompted the French government to request that US surveillance of European heads of state be discussed during an upcoming EU summit, while The New York Times warned yesterday that “invasive American intelligence gathering” against Europe could “severely damage [...] decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust”. The latest row between Washington and Brussels was sparked by a report aired on ARD, Germany’s state television station. It said that the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s foremost communications interception agency, had monitored the official cellular telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A spokesperson for the German government told journalists yesterday that the German leader had “angrily” called US President Barack Obama and demanded assurances that her communications were “not the target of an American intelligence tap”. The German leader reportedly told Mr. Obama that there should be “no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government” belonging to a “friend and partner of the US”. The Times reported that Washington’s responded by assuring Chancellor Merkel that her communications were “not the target of current surveillance and would not be in the future”. But the White House is said to have refused to enter into a discussion of past interception activities. Mrs. Merkel’s telephone call was the second time in less than two days that Mr. Obama had to provide assurances of privacy to a European head of state. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #849 (analysis edition)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Are American spies the next victims of the Internet age? The furor over the NSA’s data collection and surveillance programs has been fierce. But Daniel Prieto, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues that the debate should be focusing on the US intelligence apparatus, transformed in the dozen years since 9/11, can meet the challenges and that the US faces today and into the future. He asks whether the “business model” of US intelligence –how intelligence is gathered, analyzed, and used– is sufficient and sustainable, or whether it needs to evolve to “something different or something more”.
►►What did Edward Snowden get wrong? Everything. Andrew Liepman, senior analyst at RAND Corporation, former career officer at the CIA, and former deputy director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, offers an insider’s view on the Edward Snowden case. He argues that those following the Snowden saga fail to understand that the US government “truly does make strenuous efforts not to violate privacy”. This is not simply because it respects privacy on principle, he says, but also because “it simply doesn’t have the time” to access irrelevant information that is not closely connected to possible espionage or terrorist plots against Americans.
►►Why US diplomatic missions became fortresses. Even during the Cold War, American diplomatic facilities were designed to be welcoming and to project the American values of openness and individual liberty. No more, argues John Campbell, former US Ambassador to Nigeria and Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Nowadays, US diplomatic facilities increasingly showcase “Fortress America”, he argues. And he concludes that, “the need to subordinate so much to security diminishes US soft power by undermining its traditional message of openness and welcome”.

Ex-CIA analyst says North Korea will launch strikes against South

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst on North Korea at the United States Central Intelligence Agency believes that the communist state will launch limited strikes against the South before moving to de-escalate the ongoing crisis in the Korean peninsula. On March 27, Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from  the Korean Armistice Agreement, which it signed along with the United Nations and China at the end of the Korean War, in 1953. Shortly afterwards, North Korea closed all border connections with the South and disconnected the direct telephone line linking it with Seoul. It subsequently declared that it would not hesitate to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang heightened its rhetoric in response to Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, a two-month-long military exercise involving US and South Koran armed forces, which includes the deployment of nuclear-armed airplanes and ships. Although some expert observers are worried, few believe that the rhetorical boxing-match between the two Koreas will result in an outbreak of hostilities. But Columbia University Professor Sue Mi Terry, who headed the CIA’s North Korea analysis unit from 2001 to 2008, believes that Pyongyang will launch military strikes against Seoul before de-escalating the tension. Speaking to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, Terry noted that the attack will not be nuclear, nor will it involve mass use of military force. Instead, it will be “a relative small attack” that “won’t leave many people dead”, she said. Read more of this post

Spy claims against diplomat cast shadow over Anglo-Russian relations

Denis KeefeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Widespread allegations of espionage against Britain’s deputy ambassador to Russia threaten to derail the ongoing diplomatic rapprochement between Russia and the United Kingdom, according to a leading British newspaper. Painstaking efforts to rebuild Anglo-Russian relations, which crumbled after the 2006 assassination of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London, are scheduled to culminate later this week, when senior Russian cabinet officials will be visiting London for a “strategic dialogue” with their British counterparts. But British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph reports that Whitehall is increasingly annoyed by persistent attacks in the Russian media against Denis Keefe, the UK’s deputy ambassador to Moscow. Keefe, a career diplomat with over 30 years in the Foreign Office, much of it during the Cold War, is a Cambridge University graduate who speaks six languages, including fluent Russian. Prior to arriving in Moscow, he served as British ambassador to Georgia, where he was stationed during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Almost as soon as he arrived in Russia, Keefe found himself at the center of persistent allegations in the Russian media that he is “an undercover spy, with his diplomatic position serving as a smokescreen”. Several Russian news reports have indirectly accused him of contacting dissident groups inside Russia in an effort to undermine the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Telegraph, which published for the first time an account of the Russian media claims in the West, said that Russian reporters appear to hound Keefe every time he makes a public appearance in the country. In one recent instance, two journalists asked him whether he was “a spy for MI6”, Britain’s primary external intelligence agency, insisting that he give a “straightforward answer to this question”. Keefe reportedly responded that this was “not a serious question” and had “nothing to do” with him. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #809 (Obama-Iran edition)

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Will re-elected Obama take a new line on Iran? Barack Obama returns to office after an election campaign in which Iran’s nuclear program often dominated foreign-policy debates. Mitt Romney frequently accused him of taking too soft a line toward Tehran. Now, as Obama begins a second term, the question is how much he has been stung by such criticism. Will Obama retain confidence in his dual strategy of squeezing Iran with economic sanctions while also extending offers of rapprochement? Or will the fact that Iran keeps building centrifuges and enriching uranium despite Obama’s efforts persuade the White House it needs to try something new?
►►Obama’s victory vindicates his Iran policy. President Barack Obama’s re-election victory represents an important vindication of his approach to Iran and its potential nuclear ambitions —and, for the world, a new face of American policy in the Middle East that will relegate the aggressive policies of George W. Bush into the distant past. The election confirmed what polls have clearly shown, that while Americans are deeply concerned about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, they also view addressing the problem through vigorous diplomatic engagement and sanctions as the most appropriate exercise of American power and leadership.
►►Iranians see reduced risk of war in Obama’s reelection. In Iran, there is a sense of relief these days, as concerns of a military attack by US and Israeli forces over Iran’s nuclear energy program if Mitt Romney were elected, had become widespread. While there continues to be no official response from Iran’s leadership about US election results, Iranian media is still heavily focused on covering American polls. Commenting on one of Iran’s most popular political Web sites, Asriran, one reader wrote, “At least we know we won’t be going to war during the next four years”. And Iran’s state-run English language television channel, Press TV, carried a live and uninterrupted broadcast of President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.

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