Key testimony from Rosenberg spy case released after 64 years

Julius and Ethel RosenbergThe final piece of sealed testimony in one of the most important espionage cases of the Cold War has been released, 64 years after it was given. The case led to the execution in 1953 of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, an American couple who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were arrested in 1950 for being members of a larger Soviet-handled spy ring, which included Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass. Greenglass agreed to testify for the US government in order to save his life, as well as the life of his wife, Ruth, who was also involved in the spy ring. He subsequently fingered Julius Rosenberg as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, and Ethel as the person who retyped the content of classified documents before they were surrendered to their handlers. That piece of testimony from Greenglass the primary evidence used to convict and execute the Rosenbergs.

However, although historians are confident that Julius Rosenberg was indeed an active member of the Soviet spy ring, there are doubts about Ethel. Many suggest that her involvement with her husband’s espionage activities was fragmentary at best, and that she refused to cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an ill-judged attempt to protect her husband. The argument goes that Ethel was put to death as a warning to Moscow, as well as to intimidate other American spies, rather than on the basis of actual evidence of her involvement in espionage. Many years after the Rosenbergs’ execution, Greenglass claimed he had lied about Ethel’s role in the spy affair in order to protect his wife, who was the actual typist of the espionage ring.

The debate over Ethel Rosenberg’s fate was rekindled by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s decision in May of this year to unseal Greenglass’ testimony. The documents could not be made public while Greenglass was alive, because he objected to their release. But he died last year in a nursing home in New York, so Judge Hellerstein said his testimony could now legally be made available to the public as a “critical piece of an important moment in our nation’s history”.

Greenglass’ grand jury testimony, made under oath in 1950, six months before he implicated his sister in nuclear espionage for the Soviets, was posted online on Wednesday by George Washington University’s National Security Archive. Speaking at a press conference about the release, several experts said the new information directly contradicts Greenglass’ later testimony in which he accused his sister of being a spy. In the press conference of his grand jury testimony, Greenglass emphatically denies that Ethel had a role in the atom spy ring. When asked whether she was involved in espionage, Greenglass responds: “my sister has never spoken to me about this subject”. Later on he recounts how Julius tried to convince him to prolong his US Army service in order to continue to have access to classified information. When asked whether Ethel also tried to convince him to continue to spy for the Soviets, he responds: “I said before, and say it again, honestly, this is a fact: I never spoke to my sister about this at all”.

National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton said at the press conference that the evidence made it clear that Julius Rosenberg led an active spy ring; but Ethel was not an active spy, he said, even though witting.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/17/01-1737/

Israel denies using computer virus to spy on Iran nuclear deal

Duqu 2.0The Israeli government rejected reports yesterday that its spy agencies were behind a virus found on the computers of three European hotels, which hosted American and other diplomats during secret negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab said on Wednesday that it first discovered the malware, which it dubbed “Duqu 2.0”, in its own systems. The Moscow-based firm said the sophisticated and highly aggressive virus had been designed to spy on its internal research-related processes. Once they detected the malicious software in their own systems, Kaspersky technicians set out to map Duqu’s other targets. They found that the virus had infected computers in several Western countries, in the Middle East, as well as in Asia. According to Kaspersky, the malware was also used in a cyberattack in 2011 that resembled Stuxnet, the elaborate virus that was found to have sabotaged parts of Iran’s nuclear program in 2010.

However, Kaspersky said that among the more recent targets of the virus were “three luxury European hotels”, which appear to have been carefully selected among the thousands of prestigious hotels in Europe. The three appear to have only one thing in common: all had been patronized by diplomats engaged in the ongoing secret negotiations with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Kaspersky was referring to the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, who lead ‘the Geneva pact’. Israel has condemned the negotiations and has repeatedly expressed anger at reports that the Geneva pact is about to strike an agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program.

However, Israel’s deputy foreign minister flatly rejected Kaspersky’s allegations on Wednesday, calling them “pure nonsense”. Speaking on Israel Radio, Eli Ben-Dahan said Israel had “many far more effective ways” of gathering foreign intelligence and that it did not need to resort to computer hacking in order to meet its intelligence quotas. Israeli government spokespeople refused to comment on the allegations when asked late Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/11/01-1713/

Judge orders release of key testimony from Rosenberg spy case

Julius and Ethel RosenbergA United States district judge has ordered the release of the last major piece of sealed evidence in one of the most important espionage cases of the Cold War. The case led to the execution in 1953 of an American couple, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiring to spy for the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were arrested in 1950 for being members of a larger Soviet-handled spy ring, which included Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass. Greenglass later told a US court that he firmly believed the USSR should have access to nuclear technology and actively tried to give Moscow information on the Manhattan Project. Greenglass agreed to testify for the US government in order to save his life, as well as the life of his wife, Ruth, who was also involved in the spy ring. He subsequently fingered Julius Rosenberg as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, and Ethel as the person who retyped the content of classified documents before they were surrendered to their handlers. This piece of testimony from Greenglass was used as the primary evidence to convict and execute the Rosenbergs.

However, although historians are confident that Julius Rosenberg was indeed an active member of the Soviet spy ring, there are doubts about Ethel. Many suggest that her involvement with her husband’s espionage activities was fragmentary at best, and that she refused to cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an ill-judged attempt to protect her husband. The argument goes that Ethel was put to death as a warning to Moscow, as well as to intimidate other American spies, rather than on the basis of actual evidence of her involvement in espionage. Many years after the Rosenbergs’ execution, Greenglass claimed he had lied about Ethel’s role in the spy affair in order to protect his wife, who was the actual typist of the espionage ring.

The debate over Ethel Rosenberg’s fate will undoubtedly by rekindled by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s decision last week to unseal Greenglass’ testimony. The documents could not be made public while Greenglass was alive, because he objected to their release. But he died last year in a nursing home in New York, so his testimony can now legally be made available to the public. In making his decision known, Judge Hellerstein said Greenglass’ testimony was a “critical piece of an important moment in our nation’s history”. The United States government is legally permitted to block the release of the documents should it decide to do so. But when a White House spokesperson was asked about the subject by the Associated Press, she decline to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/05/26/01-1703/

News you may have missed #890

Kim Kuk-giBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US DEA agents given prostitutes and gifts by drug cartels. US Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department. Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members. Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in gatherings with prostitutes and received suspensions of two to 10 days.
►►Polish lieutenant accused of spying for Russia. A Polish Air Force pilot allegedly copied several thousand flight plans for F-16 fighters and handed them to Russian intelligence. According to Polish media, the airman was arrested by authorities last November, but the information has only recently emerged. The pilot was allegedly suspended from his duties, his passport was confiscated, and he was banned from leaving the country. Some reports suggest that soon after the arrest of the lieutenant, a Russian diplomat was expelled from the country for spying.
►►North Korea claims arrest of South Korean spies. North Korea said it had arrested two South Koreans engaged in espionage. The two arrested men, identified as Kim Kuk-gi (see photo) and Choe Chun-gil, were presented at a press conference in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats. A North Korean media report said Kim and Choe had gathered information about North Korea’s “party, state and military secrets”. It was not immediately clear where or when the two men were arrested. In Seoul, the country’s intelligence agency said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was “absolutely groundless”.

Peru recalls ambassador from Chile as espionage probe widens

Ollanta HumalaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Peru has officially recalled its ambassador from Chile as it investigates three Peruvian naval officers who are said to have passed military secrets to Chilean intelligence. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced on Saturday that the decision had been taken to recall the country’s ambassador from Santiago following an emergency meeting of the cabinet. The espionage allegations against the three officers appeared in the Peruvian media last Thursday. Several leading newspapers, among them the Lima-based El Comercio, said the three junior Peruvian officers were suspected of having spied for Chile from 2005 to 2012.

On the following day, Peru’s Minister of National Defense, Pedro Cateriano, officially confirmed the reports and said two of the officers had been arrested and would be tried in a military court. A third one was being investigated for possible connections with the Chilean spy ring, said Cateriano. According to the Peruvian government, the naval officers stole classified military documents and passed them on to their Chilean handlers in exchange for money. They are alleged to have traveled abroad on several instances between 2005 and 2012, in order to conduct secret meetings with Chilean diplomats and intelligence officers, in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and even Argentina itself. It was there, according to reports from Peru, that the three alleged spies passed on classified information to their handlers. Defense Minister Cateriano implied on Friday that the officers came under suspicion when their superiors, who knew the level of their government pay, deduced that they did not have sufficient funds to pay for international travel, and concluded that someone else must be funding their frequent trips abroad.

Following an emergency session on Friday, the Peruvian Congress issued a statement urging Chile to provide “firm guarantees” that such “aggressive actions” against Peruvian sovereignty would not be repeated. The Chilean government said late on Friday that it did not condone or promote espionage. But Peruvian President Humala told reporters on Saturday that a more precise and direct answer was in order. The two naval officers are not expected to stand trial until the summer. Meanwhile, authorities in Peru say they are investigating possible involvement by high-ranking military officers in the alleged spy ring.

German who spied for CIA stole list of 3,500 German spies’ names

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A German intelligence officer, who was arrested last summer for spying for the United States, may have given his American handlers information on the real identities, as well as operational aliases, of nearly 3,500 German intelligence operatives. In July, Germany expelled the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Berlin, following the arrest of Marcus R., a 31-year-old, low-level clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was believed at the time to have spied for the CIA for approximately two years, and to have supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000. It is thought that Markus R. contacted the CIA by sending an email over an encrypted connection to the American embassy in Berlin. From then on, his communication with his American handlers appears to have taken place mostly via the Internet. Sources suggest that he conferred with them via a secure link that was included in a specially-designed weather application that he had been instructed install on his computer. Now German authorities, who have been investigating the 31-year-old double spy’s computers ever since his arrest, say they found in one of them a stolen digital document containing a list of the real and cover identities of thousands of BND employees stationed abroad. According to German publications Bild and Spiegel, which reported the alleged discovery, the employees whose names are contained in the document are members of the BND’s Foreign Relations department, also known as Foreign Theater Operations department. The department is tasked with stationing intelligence operatives abroad in German embassies and consulates, as well as with embedding them with German military missions in places such as Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Mali. German investigators say they are not yet certain whether Markus R. passed the names of the BND operatives on to his CIA handlers.

Hezbollah official admits group ‘battling espionage’ in its ranks

Naim QassemBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Public comments by a senior Hezbollah official appear to confirm earlier reports that the man who directed the personal security detail of the Lebanese group’s leader was a spy for Israel. Several Lebanese news outlets reported in December that Mohammed Shawraba, a 42-year-old Hezbollah official from southern Lebanon, had been arrested by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force and was undergoing trial for having leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years. Sources said that Shawraba used to oversee the security detail of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general. He was subsequently promoted to director of Hezbollah’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which conducts intelligence operations on Israeli targets abroad. One Lebanese source described the Shawraba case as “one of the most significant security breaches” in the history of Hezbollah. Ever since the first public allegations emerged, the militant Shiite group has remained silent. On Saturday, however, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, admitted that the group was “battling espionage within its ranks” and that its counter-spies had been able to uncover “a number of significant infiltrations”. Qassem’s comments, made during an interview on Al-Nour, a Beirut-based radio station affiliated with Hezbollah, have been taken by observers as an indirect admission that the rumors about Shawraba are accurate. Qassem told the radio station that Hezbollah was a party that aimed for virtue and pureness, but that it was made up of human beings who are inevitably fallible. But he refused to be more specific about the cases of espionage, saying only that Hezbollah was Lebanon’s strongest and most resilient political organization and would easily overcome any harm caused by double agents within its ranks. A spokesman for the militant group, who was asked on Sunday whether Qassem’s comments were a reference to Shawraba, refused to comment on the case.

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