‘Sensitive files’ stolen as Saudi motorcade is ambushed in Paris

George V hotel, ParisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A 12-vehicle entourage transporting a Saudi royal to a Paris airport was ambushed on Monday in cinematic fashion by heavily armed men, who stole a suitcase full of cash and diplomatic files described as “sensitive”. French police are trying to determine whether the ambush, which occurred on Monday evening just north of downtown Paris, was aimed at the money or the documents, which French newspaper Le Parisien described as “sensitive”. According to French police, the Saudi motorcade was heading from the renowned Four Seasons George V hotel on the Champs Elysées to Le Bourget airport, 15 miles north of Paris, which handles private jets. But as the convoy drove through Porte de la Chapelle, two BMWs without license tags suddenly made their way to the top of the motorcade and forced it to stop. Within seconds, eight heavily armed men brandishing handguns and AK-47s stormed out of the two cars and hijacked a Mercedes minivan that was part of the motorcade. Several of them boarded the vehicle and drove away, taking with them its three occupants, a driver, a bodyguard and another official. Later on, the three hostages were abandoned by the side of the road. The minivan, as well as one of the two BMWs used by the armed assailants, were later found burnt out in the village of Saint-Mesmes, northeast of the French capital. But the thieves took with them a suitcase containing €250,000 ($330,000) in cash, as well as what the French press said were “important diplomatic documents”. One French police detective told journalists that the operation was “clearly an ambush by a commando group that was well-informed” about the movements of their target and “quite expert [...] and aware of what they would find by attacking this one vehicle [the Mercedes minivan] and not the others”. Another police detective said the nature of the incident would change drastically into “something more complicated” if it were determined that the gunmen were going after the documents, and not the cash in the minivan. Police sources have not revealed the identity of the Saudi royal involved in the incident. But the Four Seasons George V hotel, from which the Saudi convoy departed, is owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #879

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Israeli spy budget close to $2 billion. According to reports in the Israeli media, the 2014 budget for Israel’s secret services is 6.88 billion shekels, which amounts to US$1.97 billion). This figure represents an approximate increase of 4 percent compared to last year. The funds cover the operations of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, and the Mossad, which is the country’s external covert-action agency.
►►Australia and France sign intelligence accord. Australia has struck a second intelligence-sharing agreement in less than a week, this time with France, as fears rise about the Syrian civil war becoming a hub for home-grown terrorism. The two countries have agreed, among other things, to share intelligence on their respective citizens who have gone to Syria to fight in that country’s civil war. A week earlier, Canberra had signed a similar intelligence-sharing agreement with the government of Indonesia.
►►Nazi spy could have changed course of D-Day. Days before the Normandy landings, the Lisbon-based Nazi spy Paul Fidrmuc got wind of the final details of Operation Overlord and sent an urgent message to Berlin. The Allies were not planning to land in Calais, as the Nazis thought and where they had massed 200,000 soldiers. Instead, he wrote, “the preferred plan is around La Manche”. But his dispatch was ignored by his Berlin handlers.

Spain shelves charges against French alleged ‘assassin’ spies

Philippe RondotBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A court in Spain has quietly shelved charges against two French spies who were caught in Barcelona with a custom-designed sniper rifle. The two men were detained in the Catalonian town of Manresa in April of 2002. The Audi car in which they were riding was stopped at a checkpoint manned by members of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, who promptly searched it. In the back of the car, police officers found a large PVC tube that contained a sniper rifle complete with a laser telescopic light and a silencer. The two men carried French travel documents identifying them as “Christian Piazzole” and “Rachid Chaouati”. Piazzole’s documents were found to be false, and there were suspicions that Chaouati’s may also have been forged. Spanish authorities concluded that the two men, who admitted they were officers of France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), were in Spain to conduct an assassination. In a words of a state prosecutor in Barcelona, the DGSE spies had come to Spain “to kill”. Their arrest prompted an emergency visit to Madrid of a high-level French government delegation headed by General Philippe Rondot, a former senior intelligence officer at the DGSE. Rondot told Spanish officials that the two men were “on a training exercise”. In October of 2002, the Spanish Ministry of Interior commanded the Office of the State Attorney General to grant the two French spies “provisional release”, based on the rationale that there had been no victims involved in the case. Piazzole and Chaouati were promptly released after Rondot provided personal assurances that they would return to Spain to attend their trial for illegal weapons possession in early 2004. The charges carried a maximum sentence of seven years. It was said at the time that, in exchange for the two spies’ release, Paris pledged to continue to assist Spanish intelligence in their efforts against the Basque separatist militants of ETA, and agreed to extradite a number of ETA members serving time in French prisons. However, soon after their release, Piazzole and Chaouati vanished. They were found to be in contempt of court after they failed to return to Spain for their 2004 trial, as agreed. Since that time, Spanish media have sought to solve the mystery of the two French spies, but have been met with a wall of silence from Spanish and French authorities. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

Discovery of spy parts leaves French-UAE satellite deal in doubt

Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin ZayedBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The planned acquisition of two French-built spy satellites by the United Arab Emirates appeared to be in doubt last night, after news that technicians discovered “security-compromising components” in the satellites’ software. The agreed purchase, which is to be completed in 2018, concerns two Falcon Eye military observation satellites worth nearly €700 million (US $930 million). The deal, signed last July by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, includes the provision of a ground station, as well as the training of up to 20 UAE engineers who will staff it. Two companies, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, were contracted for the project. The French bid was chosen from an original shortlist of 11 bidders, along with a similar one from the United States. Ultimately, the American bid was rejected by Abu Dhabi, due to the operational restrictions placed by the American makers of the proposed satellites. At the time, the French-UAE deal raised eyebrows in defense circles worldwide, as it was the first time that France had agreed to sell military-grade high-resolution satellites to a foreign buyer. But an article in US-based defense industry publication Defense News, said software engineers in the UAE had discovered a number of components in the satellites that seem designed to “provide a back door to the highly secure data transmitted to the ground station”. Interestingly, the back-door components appeared to have come from US suppliers. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #862

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Covert CIA program helped Colombia kill rebel leaders. A covert CIA program has helped Colombia’s government kill at least two dozen leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel insurgency also known as FARC, The Washington Post reported Saturday. The National Security Agency has also provided “substantial eavesdropping help” to the Colombian government, according to The Post.
►►Israel asks US not to spy on it. Israeli officials broke their silence over the US surveillance scandal Sunday, angrily demanding an end to Washington’s spying on Israel. Last week more documents leaked by former NSA technical expert Edward Snowden uncovered a partnership between the NSA and British intelligence agency GCHQ from 2008 to 2011 to monitor office email addresses from the then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
►►Germany reacts coolly to French request on Central Africa. Germany reacted coolly last week to a French request that European countries step up support for its military mission in Central African Republic, playing down the likelihood of any financial assistance on the eve of an EU summit. France has deployed 1,600 troops there to prevent worsening violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who ousted ex-President Francois Bozize.

France smashes ‘exceptionally large’ arms smuggling network

AK-47sBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An arms smuggling network described by authorities as “exceptionally large” has been smashed in a series of raids across France. Over 45 suspects were arrested and “hundreds of weapons, including machine guns” were seized by French gendarmes early on Monday. French police officials said most of the detainees are suspected traffickers from Eastern Europe, while confiscated evidence includes “weapons of war [meaning fully automatic assault rifles], ammunition and spare parts”. French investigators said the smuggling network had trafficked hundreds of weapons from Balkan countries and Slovakia into France in the past five years. The raids are said to have involved over 300 gendarmes in several simultaneous operations in Paris, in the Rhone, Provence, as well as in Corsica and in several French overseas territories. The police raids marked the culmination of a nationwide investigation that began in early 2012. It focused on a group of 45 ‘gun collectors’, who were found to be using their collector status as a façade in order to illegally acquire assault weapons. The weapons would then be funneled into criminal gangs across France. A near-unprecedented influx of military-grade weapons, especially Kalashnikov assault rifles, has been noted across Europe in recent years. Much of it has been blamed on the rise in demand and availability for such weaponry caused by revolutions in Libya, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. In early November, the Greek Coast Guard seized a cargo ship carrying over 20,000 AK-47s, allegedly bound for Syria or Libya. The ship, named Nour-M, and flagged under Sierra Leone, had set sail from Ukraine and was believed to be en route to Turkey. 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

Revealed: NSA spied on millions of French, Mexican phone calls

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has been spying on millions of private telephone communications in France and Mexico, and even managed to hack into the Mexican president’s personal email account, according to media reports from France and Germany. French newspaper Le Monde said on Monday that France has been targeted for years by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA, America’s largest intelligence agency, is tasked with intercepting communications messages from around the world. The newspaper alleged that most targets of the NSA’s interception have no links to terrorism; instead, the US target list is primarily focused on “high-profile individuals in the politics and business domains”. Le Monde said it acquired the information on the NSA operations in France from former NSA and Central Intelligence Agency technical expert Edward Snowden. Snowden defected from the US last summer and is currently living in Russia, were he has been offered political asylum. According to the French daily, over 70 million French telephone exchanges were intercepted by the NSA between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013, under an NSA collection program codenamed US-985D. The number represents over 2.5 million intercepted telephone calls per day in France. Another report, which appeared in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, claimed that the NSA targeted the email communications of the Mexican government, and managed to hack personal email accounts belonging to numerous senior Mexican government officials. The article, which appeared on Sunday, said that the American signals intelligence agency had implemented Operation FLATLIQUID, which aimed at exploiting mail servers used by senior government officials in Mexico. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #850 (Syria edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►FBI sharpens scrutiny of Syrians in US. The FBI has increased its surveillance of Syrians inside the United States in response to concerns that a military strike against the government of President Bashar al-Assad could lead to terrorist attacks inside the US or against American allies and interests abroad. The US government has also taken the unusual step of warning federal agencies and private companies that American military action in Syria could spur cyberattacks, the officials said. There were no such alerts before previous military operations, like the one against Libya in 2011.
►►French spies provide details Syrian chemical weapons program. As Congress debates whether to authorize a military strike on Syria, the French government has released its declassified intelligence report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the eastern Damascus suburbs. While the American report focuses solely on the most recent attack, the French provide a comprehensive look at the nature of the Syrian chemical weapons program. Also, while US officials have conceded that they don’t know if Assad himself ordered the use of chemical weapons, the French assessment rebuts claims that the August 21 attack could have been the work of a rogue officer.
►►Ex-CIA WMD Counterterrorism Unit chief on Syria: “We cannot afford [...] miscalculations in regard to Syria. We will launch our missiles and drop our bombs. Then we will announce the end of active operations. That will not signal the end of the war. It will signal its beginning [...]. Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah friends will begin to respond. They will do so on their timetable and only where they perceive the odds to be in their favor. Embassies will be struck. Hostages will be taken. American and Western tourists will be slaughtered. If the opportunity presents itself, we may even feel the impact here in the United States with attacks on prominent landmarks and public places”.

News you may have missed #843 (analysis on Snowden leak)

James ClapperBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Countries approached by Snowden for asylum and their responses. According to a statement from WikiLeaks, former CIA/NSA employee Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in a total of 21 countries, but with little success so far. Here is a list of the countries he approached and their responses –or lack thereof– so far. Bolivia and Venezuela appear somewhat positive, but Ecuador and Russia have denied any possibility of giving Snowden political asylum. Other countries, including Cuba and China, have yet to issue a response to Snowden’s request.
►►US ODNI admits giving ‘erroneous’ answer during Senate testimony. James Clapper, America’s most senior intelligence official, who heads the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has told a Senate oversight panel that he “simply didn’t think” of the National Security Agency’s efforts to collect the phone records of millions of Americans when he testified in March that it did “not wittingly” snoop on their communications. He had told during his testimony that NSA did “not wittingly” collect “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”. But that was before Snowden spilled the beans….
►►Are the Europeans being hypocrites over spying? If you buy the latest reporting out of Europe, France is outraged, simply outraged, at news that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on the European Union through its mission in New York and embassy in Washington. All of which is pretty hilarious, given France’s penchant for stealing American defense technology, bugging American business executives and generally annoying US counterintelligence officials. And it’s not just France, either.

Controversial French former spy chief found dead in Paris

Yves BertrandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The retired director of a now-defunct French intelligence agency, who was involved in several politically charged court cases in recent years, has been found dead in his Paris apartment. From 1992 to 2004, Yves Bertrand, headed the Direction Centrale des Renseignements Généraux (known widely as RG), the domestic intelligence service of the French police. Bertrand, who once described himself as “a minesweeper for the republic”, was a reclusive figure that zealously guarded his privacy and avoided any contact with the French media. In 2007, however, he was thrust into the public spotlight after he was involved in the so-called Clearstream Affair. The controversy centered on a list of names of European government officials who had allegedly received bribes in return for authorizing weapons deals with Taiwan. French investigators searched Bertrand’s Paris apartment and confiscated nearly two dozen volumes of his personal notebooks, in hopes of uncovering inside information linking the Clearstream affair with leading French politicians, including conservative frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2008, numerous excerpts from Bertrand’s confiscated diaries found their way into the French press. They included embarrassing revelations about the lives of many French public figures, including politicians. Read more of this post

Middle East expert to lead France’s external spy agency

Bernard BajoletBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A career diplomat, who spent many years serving in embassies in predominantly Muslim countries, has been nominated to head France’s main external intelligence agency. French President François Hollande announced on Tuesday that Bernard Bajolet has been nominated for the post of Director of France’s Directorate General for External Security (Direction Générale des Services Extérieurs, or DGSE). He will be replacing Erard Corbin de Mangoux, who has headed the 5,000-strong organization since 2008. To some extent, the change of guard at DGSE is seen as a political move, as de Mangoux is a conservative known to be close to France’s former President, Nicolas Sarkozy. However, Bajolet’s nomination is interpreted by some as part of a wider effort to recalibrate the DGSE’s operational agenda to reflect the country’s increased military involvement in predominantly Muslim parts of Africa. The 63-year-old Bajolet served for many years as a career diplomat in countries such as Bosnia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, and is currently France’s Ambassador to Afghanistan. Prior to serving overseas, Bajolet was Deputy Director for Middle Eastern Affairs at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2008 until 2011, when he departed for Afghanistan, he served as the first-ever intelligence advisor to the French executive under President Sarkozy. Working under the direction of the French Ministry of National Defense, the DGSE has had to reinvent itself in the post-Cold-War era, shifting its focus from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc to non-state actors in North Africa and beyond. During that time, many diplomats joined the agency’s personnel, which had historically been staffed primarily by military officials. Read more of this post

French spy agency forced Wikipedia volunteer to delete entry

Wikipedia welcoming screenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A French intelligence agency forced a volunteer for online open-source reference site Wikipedia to delete n entry that allegedly contained classified information about French nuclear defense systems. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes Wikipedia, the entry describes a radio relay system located at Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station in south-central France. Operated by the French Air Force, the station is said to have a central role in transmitting the order to launch France’s nuclear missiles in case of a full-scale thermonuclear war. The French-language Wikipedia webpage —which has since been fully restored— mentions, among other things, that the radio masts at Pierre-sur-Haute are designed to withstand the type of shockwave experienced in a thermonuclear attack. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, it was approached in early March, 2013, by the Direction Central du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI), which is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence. The agency asked the Wikimedia Foundation to delete the entire webpage referring to the Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station, because it said it contravened French national security law. The Wikimedia Foundation, however, refused to comply with the request unless it was accompanied with either a court order or concrete information explaining why the Pierre-sur-Haute revelations were a threat to French national security. The DCRI reportedly backed down, promising to return with a formal justification for its request. However, instead of doing so, it contacted a French-based Wikipedia volunteer, who was summoned to the DCRI’s office under threat of legal action. Read more of this post

Is al-Qaeda holding French intelligence officers captive?

Serge LazarevićBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two French citizens kidnapped last November by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, while on an alleged business trip in Mali, may have connections with French intelligence. One of the two hostages, Philippe Verdon, made headlines on Wednesday, after it was alleged that he may have been executed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The website of the Agence Nouakchott d’Information, a Mauritanian news service that frequently carries AQIM press statements, said that Verdon was killed on March 10 in retaliation for France’s military operations in Mali. Verdon was kidnapped from a hotel in the northeastern Malian city of Hombori along with another French citizen, Serge Lazarević. Their families insist that the two Frenchmen were abducted while “doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory” in Mali. But is this true? Or could Serge Lazarević be the same Slobodan “Serge” Lazarević, who was implicated in a 1999 French intelligence operation aimed at assassinating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević? As intelNews reported in January of 2009, three alleged French-handled intelligence operatives were put on trial in Serb capital Belgrade, allegedly for collaborating with a French commando team tasked with assassinating the Serb leader. The three, Jugoslav Petrušić, Slobodan Orašanin and Milorad Pelemiš, were arrested by Yugoslav authorities in November 1999, reportedly while trying to organize “10 trained commandos to storm the presidential residence”. Although sensational, the charges against the three men are hardly unique in the context of the murky intelligence history of NATO’s 1999-2000 war in Yugoslavia, which has yet to be fully written. What is interesting in this case, however, is that the three accused admitted infiltrating the Yugoslav military and routinely supplying NATO with intelligence data on bombing targets during Operation Allied Force. Read more of this post

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