US to release Israeli spy after 30 years in prison

Jonathan PollardA United States Navy intelligence analyst, who has served 30 years of a life sentence for spying on America for Israel, is set to be freed on Friday. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, as one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, have pressured the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. There is intense speculation in Washington that Pollard is being released in order to quieten Israeli criticism of a recently struck international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

The Wall Street Journal published an article in July of this year, suggesting that the Obama administration was “preparing to release” Pollard. Citing unnamed US officials, the paper claimed Washington hoped that the move would “smooth [America’s] relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal”. The latter was signed last summer between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The New York Times added to the speculation soon afterwards with a detailed front-page article, which confirmed that “some in Washington appeared to be highlighting” Pollard’s upcoming 30-year parole hearing in November. It added that the White House had been contemplating using Pollard’s release to appease, not only Tel Aviv, but also pro-Israel supporters in Congress, many of whom have campaigned for years in favor of Pollard’s release.

As intelNews reported back in July, Newsweek’s veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein responded to the news of Pollard’s release by posing an interesting question: when Pollard is released, will he have access to close to $1 million in spy wages that his Israeli handlers are reputed to have deposited for him in a Swiss bank account? In his article, Stein wondered whether Israel had continued to deposit $30,000 a year in Pollard’s reputed Swiss bank account, which is a standard practice for intelligence agencies. If the answer is yes, then the amount available today would be in the neighborhood of $1 million. If Pollard moves to Israel following his release on Friday, as many believe he will, will he then have access to the money he earned by spying on the US government as an unregistered agent of a foreign power? And if so, how should this be expected to affect the already rocky relations between Washington and Tel Aviv?

Stein quoted Pollard’s New York lawyer, Eliot Lauer, who called the rumors of a secret Swiss bank account “poppycock” and added that Pollard had “secured employment and housing […] in the New York area”. Additionally, there are some who speculate that Pollard may not be allowed to leave the US as part of the conditions of his parole. At this stage, however, nobody knows for sure.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 November 2015 | Permalink

Israeli military warns its soldiers against recruitment attempts by the CIA

Israel IDFIsrael’s military intelligence agency has issued a warning to all soldiers in the Israeli armed forces to resist attempts by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to recruit them. The existence of the highly unusual warning was revealed on Sunday by Chanel 2, one of Israel’s most popular television stations. According to the report, the communique was sent to every member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) by the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). It cautioned Israeli troops to “be alert and report any unusual incidents” involving American intelligence personnel. The warning made specific reference to the CIA, saying it might be trying to recruit Israeli soldiers as informants.

The communique references a real-life case that is believed to have taken place three years ago, involving several Israeli citizens who had served in the MID. According to media reports, the Israelis, who were traveling to the US, were stopped during passport control and questioned at length by American officials. The latter, who were presumed to be CIA personnel, were alleged to have tried to persuade the Israelis to provide information about their military duties and knowledge of Israeli military affairs. But the Israelis reportedly refused to cooperate with the Americans and reported the incidents to their superiors in the Israeli military.

It is not unusual for the MID to issue warnings regarding soldiers’ use of online social media, or on topics such as confidentiality and discretion when using non-encrypted telephone networks. However, such warnings are typically only communicated to MID personnel and never mention foreign intelligence agencies by name, opting for generic language instead. It is highly unusual for such warnings to identify foreign intelligence agencies, and allied ones at that. The recent move has thus prompted intense speculation in Israel that the MID may have reacted to actual attempts by the CIA to recruit IDF personnel.

An Israeli military spokesperson told Channel 2 that the MID had indeed sent soldiers a written warning about possible recruitment attempts by the CIA. But the representative refused to discuss why the CIA was mentioned in the letter, or why the warning was issued last week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 November 2015 | Permalink

EU parliament member loses immunity over claims he spied for Russia

European ParliamentIn a historic first, the parliament of the European Union (EU) has waived the immunity of one of its elected members over “reasonable suspicions” that he may have spied for Russia. The member of the European Parliament (MEP) is Béla Kovács, 55, who belongs to the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary. Founded in 2003, the party, known as Jobbik (movement, in Hungarian), has called for Hungary to leave the EU and instead join the Eurasian Union, an economic and political alliance led by Russia. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Jobbik won just over 20% of the popular vote, placing third nationwide. The result was a marked difference from its performance in 2006, when it had barely received 2.2% of the vote share.

The party’s ideological proximity to Moscow, as well as its radical views on minorities and Jews, have added to its notoriety, causing many to denounce it as the EU’s most far-right political grouping. The party’s troubles grew further in September 2014, when the Hungarian public prosecutor officially requested form the European Parliament that it suspends Kovács’ immunity so that the Budapest-born politician, whose father is Russian, could be investigated for alleged ties to Russian intelligence. The EU parliament said it would consider the matter.

Meanwhile, Hungarian media published several allegations about Kovács’ alleged ties to Moscow, which, some reports suggested, date to the late 1970s. Other reports stated that Kovács’ Russian spouse, Svetlana Izstosina had been an agent of the KGB during the Cold War and that she operated as a courier for Moscow. In another bizarre twist, one report suggested that Izstosina was legally married to two other men, one of whom was a nuclear physicist working at the Lomonosov Moscow State University. Some Hungarian newspapers alleged that the government in Budapest was in possession of secret recordings of conversations between Kovács and Russian diplomats, which allegedly took place in the past six years.

An EU Parliament spokesperson told Bloomberg last week that the waiver of Kovács’ immunity did “not entail […] a judgment as to [the Hungarian MEP’s] guilt or innocence”. She added that she knew of no other cases where an MEP had been stripped of his immunity over allegations of espionage. If found guilty of spying for Moscow, Kovács could face up to eight years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2015 | Permalink

China announces arrests of Japanese citizens on espionage charges

Liaoning ChinaAuthorities in China announced last week the arrests of two Japanese citizens accused of spying for the national intelligence agency of Japan. According to a spokesman from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two men were been arrested last May “on suspicion of carrying out espionage activities” for Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency. Administered by Japan’s Ministry of Justice, the Public Security Intelligence Agency is tasked with protecting the country’s internal security by collecting intelligence both within and without Japan. The Agency has a long history of organizing human intelligence operations in mainland China.

Following China’s announcement last week, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, who serves as the government’s press secretary, denied that the two men had links with Japanese intelligence. But the Tokyo-based Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday that the two men had admitted that they had links with the Public Security Intelligence Agency. Citing unnamed Chinese and Japanese diplomats, Kyodo said the two men were on a mission to collect intelligence about Chinese military facilities, as well as to spy on Chinese military activities in the border regions between China and North Korea. The news agency said that both men were civilians and did not have diplomatic credentials. One of them is believed to be a 51-year-old who travels regularly to China. He was reportedly captured in the vicinity of a military facility in China’s eastern coastal province of Zhejiang. The other man was described by Kyoto as a 55-year-old North Korean defector to Japan; he was detained in the northeast province of Liaoning (photo), near China’s border with North Korea.

Kyoto said it contacted the Public Security Intelligence Agency, but a spokesman said he was not in a position to comment on the arrest of the two alleged spies. This is the third instance of arrests of Japanese spies in China on espionage charges since 2005. In the summer of that year, Beijing expelled two Japanese nationals for allegedly stealing military secrets. Five years later, four Japanese citizens were detained in Shijiazhuang, reportedly for spying on a Chinese military base there. All were released within a year of their capture.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink

Russia and Estonia conduct Cold-War-style spy swap

Estonia Russia spy-swapThe Russian and Estonian intelligence services have exchanged two men accused by each country of spying for the other, in a rare public example of what is commonly referred to as a ‘spy-swap’. The exchange took place on Saturday on a bridge over the Piusa River, which forms part of the Russian-Estonian border, separating Estonia’s Polva County from Russia’s Pskov Oblast.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said that it had handed to the Estonian government a man going by the name of Eston Kohver. Last year, Estonian officials accused Moscow of abducting Kohver, an employee of the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, from the vicinity of Luhamaa, a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia. But the Russian government said that Kohver had been captured by the FSB on Russian soil and was found to be carrying a firearm, cash and spy equipment “relating to the gathering of intelligence”.

Kohver was exchanged for Aleksei Dressen, a former Estonian KaPo officer who was arrested in February 2012 along with his wife, Viktoria Dressen, for allegedly spying for Russia. The Dressens were caught carrying classified Estonian government documents as Viktoria was attempting to board a flight to Moscow. Aleksei Dressen was sentenced to 16 years in prison, while Viktoria Dressen to six, for divulging state secrets. Russian media have since reported that Dressen had been secretly working for Russian counterintelligence since the early 1990s.

Soon after the spy- swap, KaPo Director Arnold Sinisalu told a press conference that the exchange had been agreed with the FSB following “long-term negotiations”, during which it became clear that “both sides were willing to find a suitable solution”. Kohver, sitting alongside Sinisalu, told reporters that it felt “good to be back in my homeland”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 September 2015 | Permalink

US spied on 143-member Iran delegation to 2007 UN summit

Manouchehr Mottaki and Mahmoud AhmadinejadThe United States National Security Agency spied on the Iranian president, foreign minister, and over 140 Iranian dignitaries who visited New York in 2007 to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. The allegation was aired on Wednesday by American television station NBC, which cited former intelligence officials and a top-secret report on the espionage operation. The original report was included in an October 2007 issue of SID Daily, an internal NSA newsletter published by the spy agency’s Signal Intelligence Division. The report, which is entitled “Tips for a Successful Quick Reaction Capability”, commends the espionage operation against the Iranian UN delegation as an exemplary illustration of a collaborative effort between managers, technical experts, and analysts.

The operation appears to have been directly initiated in early 2007 by the George W. Bush White House, which asked the NSA to spy on Iran’s UN delegation. The blanket permission included espionage conducted against the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki, who were scheduled to be in New York in September of that year to attend the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly. In response to the White House authorization, the NSA deployed a small army of technical experts and analysts to spy on the entire 143-member Iranian delegation for 19 hours a day during the summit.

The NSA teams were allegedly able to record, transcribe and analyze 2,000 conversations of various lengths per day. According to NBC, the NSA was able to intercept the personal conversations of President Ahmadinejad, a number of video conferences involving members of the Iranian delegation, as well as calls made using Skype. The latter were intercepted using a secret technology codenamed BLARNEY by NSA, while the agency also relied on bugs installed in hotel and conference rooms used by the Iranians, said NBC. The intercepted communications were subsequently examined by the NSA’s Social Network Analysis Office in an effort to map the “social networks” of the Iranian government’s senior echelons.

The Iranian government did not respond to NBC’s requests for comment. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to arrive in New York today to attend the 70th UN General Assembly debate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 September 2015 | Permalink

Russia jails ex-military intelligence employee for contacting Swedish company

Tselina satelliteA court in Moscow has sentenced a former employee of Russia’s military intelligence agency to a lengthy prison term for seeking to work for a Swedish engineering firm. Gennady Krantsov worked for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, from 1990 to 2005. As a radio engineer, he is believed to have worked on a number of projects relating to satellite technology. The terms of his government contract reportedly forbade him from travelling outside Russia. He was also forbidden from participating in intelligence-related engineering projects for foreign governments or the private sector for a minimum of five years after leaving the GRU.

But he was arrested last year by Russia’s Federal Counterintelligence Service, known as FSK, allegedly for sending a letter to a Swedish engineering company seeking work. In 2013, when the FSK first questioned Kravtsov, it was told by the former GRU engineer that his letter to the Swedish firm contained no state secrets. Additionally, Kravtsov was not found to have received any funds from the Swedes. But the counterintelligence agency returned to arrest Kravtsov in 2014, claiming that a polygraph test he had taken showed that he had shared classified material with foreign agents. According to Russian government prosecutors, Kravtsov gave the Swedes information about Tselina-2, a military radio surveillance system designed to detect the location and activity of radio-emitting objects from space.

Kravtsov was convicted of state treason and stripped of his GRU rank of lieutenant colonel. He was sentenced on Monday to 14 years in a maximum-security penal colony. The judge said that he had violated his promise not to reveal information about his GRU-related work to foreign government officials. His lawyers, however, complained that the case had been held completely behind closed doors and that they had not been permitted to call witnesses or examine material that was central to the case.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 September 2015 | Permalink


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