S. Korea police says professor was secret handler of N. Korea spies

Chongryon A Korean resident of Japan, who was arrested in South Korea for credit card fraud, was allegedly a handler of North Korean sleeper agents operating in South Korea, Japan and China, according to police in Seoul. Pak Chae Hun, 49, was arrested on Tuesday at his home in Seoul by officers of the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department. A statement issued by South Korean police said Pak was until recently an associate professor at Korea University, a higher-education institution based in the Japanese capital Tokyo. The University is funded directly by the government of North Korea through Chongryon, a pro-Pyongyang organization otherwise known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The group represents tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are ideologically affiliated with Pyongyang.

Pak was initially investigated for purchasing computer hardware in Japan using a credit card he had obtained from a Korean company using a false identity and date of birth. But when South Korean police authorities raided his home, they found encrypted messages written on scraps of paper. Further investigations detected encrypted email messages sent to Pak from Japan. According to government sources in Seoul, the messages turned out to contain instructions from Office 225 of the North Korean Workers’ Party Korea, which is tasked with overseeing the activities of sleeper agents operating in South Korea. South Korean authorities now claim Pak was regularly receiving encrypted instructions from Pyongyang, which he relayed to North Korean agents in China and South Korea.

South Korean sources said Pak also provided North Korean agents with telephone devices, as well as cash and ATM cards, which they used to withdraw cash from banks in South Asia. Police sources in Seoul say Pak was recruited by North Korean spies over 15 years ago and regularly traveled to China to meet North Korean agents there. The former professor is now facing fraud charges, while South Korean authorities are considering the possibility of charging him with espionage, even though he was not caught in the act of spying against South Korea.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 February 2016 | Permalink

Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2015, part II

End of Year ReviewEver since 2008, when we launched intelNews, we have monitored daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence while providing an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. As 2015 is about to conclude, we take a look back at what we think are the ten most important intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. Regular readers of this blog will surely agree that we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories this year. Some of them made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media. In anticipation of what 2016 may bring, we present you with our selection of stories, which are listed below in reverse order of significance. This is part two in the series; part one was published yesterday.

5. CIA may have pulled officers from Beijing embassy following OPM hack. Up to 21 million individual files were stolen in June 2015, when hackers broke into the computer system of the US Office of Personnel Management. The office, known as OPM, handles applications for security clearances for agencies of the federal government.ch The breach gave the unidentified hackers access to the names and sensitive personal records of millions of Americans who have filed applications for security clearances. In late November it was reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pulled a number of officers from the United States embassy in Chinese capital Beijing, following the massive cyber hacking. The irony is that, according to The Washington Post, the records of CIA employees were not included in the compromised OPM database. The latter contains the background checks of employees in the US State Department, including those stationed at US embassies or consulates around the world. It follows that US diplomatic personnel stationed abroad whose names do not appear on the compromised OPM list “could be CIA officers”, according to the paper.

4. Provisional IRA ‘still broadly in place’, says Northern Ireland police chief.. On July 28, 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which fought British rule in Northern Ireland for decades, announced that was ceasing all paramilitary operations and disbanding as of that day. Three years later, the Independent Monitoring Commission declared that the PIRA’s Army Council, which steered the activities of the militant organization, was “no longer operational or functional”. In the ensuing years, which have seen the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement that restored peace in Northern Ireland, it has been generally assumed that the PIRA had ceased to exist. In August, however, George Hamilton, the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told reporters that “some of the PIRA structure from the 1990s remains broadly in place” in the area. Hamilton was speaking in reference to the murder earlier that month of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast. McGuigan, a 53-year-old father of nine, was a former member of the PIRA, who had fallen out with the organization. He was gunned down at his home, allegedly in retaliation for the murder last May of Gerard Jock Davison, a former commander of the PIRA, who was also shot dead in the Markets area of Belfast.

3. US Pentagon may have doctored intelligence reports on the Islamic State. Many Middle East observers, including this website, have made notably dire projections about the continuing reinforcement and territorial expansion of the Islamic State. In August, a leaked US intelligence report published by the Associated Press said the Islamic State’s strength had remained stable throughout 2014 and 2015, despite a US bombing campaign. However, earlier assessments by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which were communicated to senior US policymakers, including President Barack Obama, were far more optimistic about America’s ability to defeat the militant group. Why the discrepancy? According to The Washington Post, which published the story in late August, officials with the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia, had systematically doctored the conclusions of intelligence reports about the Islamic State before passing them on to American leaders. It appears that the evidence pointing to deliberate manipulation of intelligence assessments was convincing enough to prompt the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General to launch an official probe into the matter.

2. China and Taiwan swap jailed spies in historic first. Few ongoing intelligence conflicts are as fierce as the one that has been taking place between China and Taiwan since 1949, when the two countries emerged following a bitter civil conflict between communist and nationalist forces. Observers were therefore surprised when, two weeks ahead of a historic November 7 meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, the two countries announced a spy swap. The exchange, which took place in secret in late October, was the first of its kind in the history of the two bitter rivals. Taipei released Li Zhihao, a mysterious Chinese intelligence officer known in spy circles as “the man in black”, who had been arrested in 1999 and was serving a life sentence. In return, Beijing freed Chu Kung-hsun and Hsu Chang-kuo, two colonels in Taiwan’s Military Information Bureau, who were arrested in mainland China’s nearly a decade ago. It is believed that they were the highest-ranked Taiwanese spies imprisoned in China. Their release, therefore, marks an unprecedented development in Chinese-Taiwanese relations.

1. Russia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, now officially sharing intelligence in war against ISIS. The increased involvement of major powers in Syria has been arguably the greatest intelligence-related development of 2015. The United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, are only some of the state and non-state actors that are now actively engaged on the ground in Syria, both with armies and with intelligence personnel. A significant related development is the growing relationship between the intelligence apparatus of US ally Iraq and a number of countries with which Washington has an adversarial relationship. Intelligence-sharing had been practiced for a while between Russia, Syria and Iran. But in September of this year, Iraq entered the intelligence alliance for the first time. According to the Baghdad-based Iraqi Joint Forces Command, the agreement entails the establishment of a new intelligence-sharing center in the Iraqi capital. It is staffed with intelligence analysts from all four participating countries, who pass on shared information to their respective countries’ militaries. In October, The Washington Times reported that Iraq had been fully integrated into the Russian-led intelligence-sharing alliance, and that the Iraqi government was already using Russian-supplied intelligence in its war against the Islamic State, according to officials in Baghdad.

Authors: Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen | Date: 31 December 2015 | Permalink

Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2015, part I

End of Year ReviewEver since 2008, when we launched intelNews, we have monitored daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence while providing an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. As 2015 is about to conclude, we take a look back at what we think are the ten most important intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. Regular readers of this blog will surely agree that we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories this year. Some of them made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media. In anticipation of what 2016 may bring, we present you with our selection of stories, which are listed below in reverse order of significance. This is part one in the series; part two is available here.

10. Is the United States military sharing intelligence with Syria? Officially, the US government is opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Washington has repeatedly stated that peace in Syria can only be achieved if the Assad family abandons power. But could it be that the common goal of combatting the Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked groups is prompting a behind-the-scenes collaboration between the two countries? In a report published recently in The London Review of Books, veteran American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed that America’s military leadership had secretly shared intelligence with Damascus in an effort to aid al-Assad’s efforts to defeat Islamist groups in Syria. What is more, Hersh alleged that the White House, including US President Barack Obama, had not authorized the intelligence sharing and was not aware of the secret arrangement. If Hersh’s sources are correct, this development would indicate a growing gap between the White House and the Pentagon over America’s position toward the Syrian Civil War.

9. After much speculation, the Mossad gets a new director. For years, intelligence observers have monitored the growing rift between Israel’s primary intelligence agency, the Mossad, and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In sharp contrast to the Likud party chairman, the Mossad has consistently argued that Iran voluntarily halted its nuclear program before 2012, and that establishing peace with the Palestinians is far more critical for Israel’s security than halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Moreover, senior former Mossad officials have joined calls urging Netanyahu to stop criticizing Washington’s Middle East policy and work together with the White House. In early December, the Israeli Prime Minister announced in a hastily announced press conference in Jerusalem that Yossi Cohen, a 30-year Mossad career officer, would lead the agency. Cohen left the Mossad in 2013 to chair Israel’s National Security Council and advise the prime minister, with whom he is believed to have a very close personal relationship. Does his new appointment mean that the Mossad will adopt a more pro-Likud stance on Israel’s foreign policy? Given the urgent regional pressures that Israel faces, it should not be long before we begin to find out.

8. The CIA was running a double spy inside German intelligence. In 2015, the relationship between the US and Germany continued to be negatively affected by the revelation two years ago that the National Security Agency had bugged the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, American intelligence agencies appear to have also targeted German government secrets using human assets. In July of 2014, 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. More details about the double spy emerged at his trial this year. The court was told that the spy may have given his American handlers information on the real identities, as well as operational aliases, of nearly 3,500 German intelligence operatives. German government prosecutors alleged that Marcus R. spied for the CIA for approximately two years, during which he supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000.

7. Who killed Alberto Nisman? In January of this year, Argentine state prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and senior members of her cabinet, of having deliberately obstructed a terrorism investigation. It concerned the bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s, which killed nearly 100 people. For years, Israeli authorities have accused Iran of perpetrating the attacks. But Nisman claimed that senior Argentine politicians colluded with the government of Iran to obstruct the investigation into the attacks, in exchange for lucrative commercial deals with Tehran, involving oil and arms exports. Then, on January 19, just hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject, Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside. In response, President Kirchner accused the Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) of feeding Nisman fabricated information implicating her and her government minsters in a fictional collusion with the Islamic Republic, and then killing him in order to destabilize her rule. She has since dissolved SIDE and charged its leadership with involvement in Nisman’s killing.

6. NSA allegedly spied on every major French company. In June of this year, French President Francois Hollande convened an emergency meeting of the Conseil de la Défense, the country’s highest national security forum, to discuss revelations that the United States spied on three French heads of state, including himself. Documents leaked by American defector Edward Snowden appeared to implicate the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on President Hollande, as well as on Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, who ruled France from 1995 to 2012. Later that same month, however, further reports published by WikiLeaks suggested that the NSA collected information on export contracts by French companies and sought inside information on France’s position on international trade negotiations. According to the documents, the NSA target list included every major French company, including car makers Peugeot and Renault, banking conglomerate BNP Paribas, as well as Credit Agricole, one of Europe’s leading agricultural credit unions. It is one thing to collect political or military information on a foreign country; it is quite another to spy for financial reasons, as the US itself has argued before. But if the WikiLeaks documents are factual, it would mean that even Washington fails to refrain from economic espionage.

Authors: Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen | Date: 30 December 2015 | Permalink

Marcus Klingberg, highest-ranking Soviet spy ever caught in Israel, dies

Marcus KlingbergMarcus Klingberg, who is believed to be the highest-ranking Soviet spy ever caught in Israel, and whose arrest in 1983 prompted one of the largest espionage scandals in the Jewish state’s history, has died in Paris. Born Avraham Marek Klingberg in 1918, Klingberg left his native Poland following the joint German-Soviet invasion of 1939. Fearing persecution by the Germans due to his Jewish background, and being a committed communist, he joined the Soviet Red Army and served in the eastern front until 1941, when he was injured. He then received a degree in epidemiology from the Belarusian State University in Minsk, before returning to Poland at the end of World War II, where he met and married Adjia Eisman, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Together they moved to Sweden, from where they emigrated to Israeli in 1948. It is believed that Klingberg was recruited by the Soviet KGB while in Sweden, and that he moved to Israel after being asked to do so by his Soviet handlers –though he himself always denied it.

Soon after arriving to Israel, Klingberg joined the Israel Defense Force, where he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1957, he joined the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), a government outfit that conducted classified research for Israel’s biological and chemical weapons program. Klingberg worked at Ness Ziona, a top-secret government facility that conducted research on some of the most advanced chemical and biological weapons in the world. Eventually, he rose to the position deputy scientific director at IIBR, a post that he held until 1972. Additionally, Klingberg enhanced his international profile as a leading epidemiologist and conducted research in universities in Europe and the United States. Throughout that time, he was regularly passing classified information to the KGB at meetings with his handlers in Europe.

The Soviets had painstakingly trained Klingberg in espionage tradecraft, a set of skills that came in handy in the early 1960s, when the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterintelligence agency, began suspecting him of spying for a foreign intelligence service. The Shin Bet began systematically monitoring Klingberg. After failing to get results, the agency gave Klingberg a lie detector test, which he passed on the first try. Meanwhile, the Soviet government secretly awarded Klingberg the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, in recognition of the quality of the information he had passed on to the KGB. In 1982, a Soviet defector to Israel confirmed that Klingberg was indeed a KGB spy. Shortly afterwards, the Shin Bet approached Klingberg and asked him to accompany a top-secret team of Israeli technical experts to Malaysia, where a chemical plant had exploded. But instead of taking the scientist to the airport en route to Malaysia, the government car that picked him up from his house drove him to a Shin Bet safe house. After being interrogated there for nearly two weeks, Klingberg confessed to being a Soviet spy, saying he had decided to join the KGB for ideological reasons. However, in a 2014 interview with British newspaper The Observer, Klingberg claimed that he felt morally indebted to the USSR “for saving the world from the Nazis”.

Klingberg was tried in secret and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He then disappeared inside Israel’s prison system, having been given a false name and occupation by the Israeli authorities. He spent the first 10 years of his prison sentence in solitary confinement. In 1998, following pressure from human-rights groups, the Israeli government agreed to place Klingberg under house arrest, providing he was able to cover the financial cost of his detention. In 2003, having served his 20-year sentence, Klingberg was allowed to leave Israel and settle in France, where his daughter and son-in-law were living. He spent the last years of his life in Paris, where he died on November 30. He was 97.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 October 2015 | Permalink

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,119 other followers