Russian spy service accused of role in Norwegian journalist’s firing

Thomas NilsenNorway’s state broadcaster has alleged that the Russian intelligence service pressured a Norwegian newspaper to fire one of its journalists who covered fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic Ocean. Last week, journalist Thomas Nilsen was fired by The Barents Observer, a Norwegian government-run newspaper that covers developments in the Arctic. Headquartered in the northern Norwegian town of Kirkenes, The Barents Observer publishes daily news in English and Russian from the four countries that border the region, namely Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is owned by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat (NBS), a government-owned agency that aims to encourage collaboration between Norway and Russia, two countries that share fishing, fossil fuel and mining interests in the Barents Sea.

Since the end of the Cold War, the NBS has funded collaborative projects between Norway’s state-owned oil company Statoil, and its Russian equivalent, Rosneft, which aim to promote offshore oil exploration in the Barents region. The move reflects a recognition by the Norwegian government that close relations with Russia are vital for Norwegian interests. But Nilsen is one of many Norwegian investigative journalists who have challenged Oslo’s collaboration with Moscow in Arctic oil exploration. Last year, Mikhail Noskov, Russia’s consul in Kirkenes, spoke publicly against Nilsen’s reporting, which he described as “damaging to the bilateral relations between Norway and Russia”. He also reportedly contacted the offices of The Barents Observer to complain about Nilsen’s articles.

Last week, when Nilsen was fired, staff at the newspaper protested that his removal from the paper had been ordered by the government in Oslo and described it as a clear case of government censorship. But on Saturday, Norway’s state-owned NRK broadcaster said that Nielsen had been fired following pressure from the Russian Federal Security Service, known as FSB. Citing an unnamed Norwegian government source, NRK reporter Tormod Strand alleged that the FSB had threatened that cooperation between Russia and Norway in the Arctic would be negatively affected if Nilsen was not removed from his post. The NRK contacted the embassy of the Russian Federation in Oslo, where a spokesman denied that Moscow had intervened in any way in Nilsen’s firing. An official from the Norwegian government told the station that he had seen no evidence showing that Tormod’s allegations were factual.

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

Dual US-Russian citizen pleads guilty to spying for Russia

Alexander FishenkoA resident of Texas, who is accused by United States authorities of setting up a front company in order to illegally acquire American technology on behalf of Russia’s intelligence services, has pleaded guilty to espionage charges. Alexander Fishenko, 49, was one of 11 people arrested in October 2012 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The arrests came during several raids in locations around Houston, Texas, which included the headquarters of Arc Electronics, Inc. The FBI accused the export firm of having shipped over $50 million-worth of military-grade micro-electronics since 2008. The supplies were received in Moscow, Russia, by a mysterious procurement company called Apex System LLC. Counter-intelligence investigators in the US claim that both firms are part of an elaborate scheme set up by Russian military intelligence, aimed at stealing dual-use electronics hardware created by American firms.

According to the indictment, Arc Electronics told its US suppliers that the microelectronics technologies were intended for use in various types of streetlights. But in reality, said the FBI, the company gave the hi-tech supplies to the Russian Ministry of Defense for use in airborne surveillance systems, as well as in remote weapons guidance systems, among other military applications. Federal prosecutors said that, for over four years, Arc Electronics engaged in a prolonged “surreptitious and systematic” scheme to circumvent US government export controls, thus seriously damaging US national security. Following the early-morning raids, the FBI unsealed indictments against 11 Arc Electronics employees, most of whom were charged with “acting as unregistered agents of the Russian Federation in the United States” —legal jargon for espionage.

Fishenko, who is originally from Kazakhstan, was scheduled to face trial on September 21 in New York. But on Wednesday he chose to plead guilty to the charges leveled against him. He is the fifth member of the 11 Apex System employees arrested back in 2012 to plead guilty to espionage. A government spokesman said the Fishenko’s plea did not result from an agreement to cooperate with the FBI. He now faces up to 15 years in prison. His lawyer, Richard Levitt, declined comment when he was contacted on Wednesday. The Russian government has denied that it had any involvement with Fishenko’s operations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2015 | Permalink

Ex-KGB spy killed in London ‘warned Italy about Russian terror plot’

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A witness has told a British inquiry investigating the murder of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko that the former spy may have been killed because he warned Italian authorities about an impending Russian terror plot. Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting former KGB/FSB colleague Andrey Lugovoy at a London restaurant. Many suspect that the Russian government is behind Litvinenko’s murder.

Speaking in a London court on Monday, Italian newspaper editor and politician Paolo Guzzanti said he believed Litvinenko was murdered by the Kremlin because he was helping Italian authorities assess a series of Soviet and Russian intelligence operations in the country. Guzzanti was speaking as the former president of the so-called Mitrokhin Commission, a parliamentary board set up in 2002 to investigate past intelligence operations by the Soviet KGB in Italy. Most of the work of the Commission stemmed from the revelations in the Mitrokhin Archive, named after Vassili Mitrokhin, who for three decades was the archivist in the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. Mitrokhin defected to the Britain in 1992, taking with him a treasure trove of documents about Soviet intelligence activities that took place abroad during the Cold War.

Guzzanti told the inquiry that Litvinenko had cooperated with the Mitrokhin Committee and had even shared information with one of its consultants, Mario Scaramella, about ongoing attempts by the FSB to organize terrorist strikes in Italy. According to Guzzanti, Litvinenko informed Scaramella that Russian intelligence operatives were helping transport weapons from Ukraine to Italy in order to assassinate Guzzanti and thus sabotage the work of the Mitrokhin Committee. Based on Litvinenko’s information, Scaramella accused Alexander Talik, a Ukrainian former officer of the KGB who lived in Naples, Italy, of helping Russian intelligence operatives smuggle guns into the country. Talik and a number of his accomplices were promptly arrested by Italian authorities after they found several weapons and grenades in their possession. According to Guzzanti, Litvinenko’s role in stopping the alleged assassination attempt against him and other members of the Mitrokhin Committee was what led to the Kremlin’s decision to murder the former KGB spy.

At the end of Monday’s proceedings, the inquiry directors announced the would adjourn until the next provisional hearing, which has been scheduled for July 27.

Estonian intel officer comes out as Russian spy in TV interview

Estonian authorities have charged a retired officer in the country’s internal intelligence service with espionage, after he revealed in a television interview that he spied for Russia for nearly 20 years. Uno Puusepp retired from the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, in 2011. He first joined the Soviet KGB as a wiretapping expert in the 1970s, when Estonia was part of the USSR. Following the dissolution of the USSR, when Estonia became an independent nation, he was hired by KaPo and worked there until his retirement, three years ago, at which time he moved permanently to Russian capital Moscow. Last Sunday, however, Puusepp was the main speaker in a documentary entitled Our Man in Tallinn, aired on Russian television channel NTV. In the documentary, Puusepp revealed that he was a double spy for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which is KGB’s successor, from 1996 until his retirement. He told the network that he was one of several former KGB operatives who had gone on to work for independent Estonia’s intelligence agencies, but that he had quickly decided that his true allegiance was to Russia. He eventually supplied Moscow with information on the activities of Western intelligence agencies in Estonia, including those of the American CIA, Britain’s MI6 and Germany’s BND. One commentator said in the documentary that “for 15 years, practically everything that landed on the desk of the Estonian security service’s director also landed on the desk of the FSB” thanks to Puusepp. The retired double spy said that one of his successes was letting the FSB know about a planned CIA operation that involved setting up a signals intelligence station in a disused bunker in the northern Estonian town of Aegviidu. The station was aimed at collecting communications from Russian diplomats and intelligence officers, but the Russian side terminated those networks once it got word of the CIA’s plans. Puusepp’s FSB recruiter and handler, Nikolai Yermakov, also spoke in the documentary, saying that the Estonian double spy was not motivated by financial profit, but rather by grievances against what he called “the Estonian establishment”. It is unclear why the Russian authorities permitted Puusepp to speak publicly at this particular time.

UK report warns about sexual entrapment by foreign spies

UK Ministry of DefenceBy IAN ALLEN |
A leaked report issued by military authorities in the United Kingdom cautions British officials to be aware of attempts by Chinese and Russian intelligence services to compromise them using sexual entrapment. The London-based Sunday Times newspaper said it had acquired a copy of the document, entitled Manual of Security, authored by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence for use by senior officials. The manual warns that foreign intelligence services are known to employ sexual entrapment or romantic attachment as a means of compromising their targets. The document singles out the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Chinese Ministry of State Security as two adversary agencies that are known to employ sexual entrapment on a regular basis. British officials are warned in the document that the FSB could gain classified information by exploiting “knowledge of marital infidelity or sexual activity the target may wish to hide”. The Times spoke to an unidentified “senior military official”, who told the paper he was recently approached by “a very attractive blonde woman in her early 30s” in a hotel in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. The woman began telling him of her fascination with vintage British sports cars, which happened to be the British official’s favorite hobby. He eventually terminated the encounter after he became suspicious of the woman’s motives. But he remains puzzled as to how the woman knew details of his personal hobbies. In 2009, the British Foreign Office had to recall its deputy consul-general in the Russian city of Ekaterinberg, after he appeared in an explicit video on YouTube having a sexual encounter with two Russian prostitutes. Many speculated at the time that the video had been posted online by the FSB in an attempt to embarrass the diplomat and have him removed from Russia. Later that year, London’s former deputy mayor, Ian Clement, admitted he was lured by a female Chinese secret agent, who drugged him and ransacked his Beijing hotel room after having sex with him. Clement said he fell for what he called “the oldest trick in the book” while in Beijing to “build contacts with potential investors” for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Sir Christopher Meyer, a career diplomat with the Foreign Office, who served in several countries during his career, including the Soviet Union, has written about the case of Sir Geoffrey Harrison, Britain’s ambassador to Moscow from 1965 to 1968. The ambassador, said Sir Christopher, “had to leave [the Soviet capital] in a hurry, having fallen for the charms of his Russian maid –trained and targeted, of course, by the KGB”. Read more of this post

Estonian intelligence officer ‘abducted’ by Russian spies

The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn to complain about the alleged abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer by Russian forces, which it says occurred on Estonian soil. A statement from the Ministry said the Estonian intelligence officer, named Eston Kohver, has worked since 1991 for the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo. Speaking to reporters on Friday, KaPo Director Arnold Sinisalu said Kohver had been kidnapped by a team of “unidentified individuals from Russia”. The Estonian side claims that the abduction occurred in the vicinity of Luhamaa, a border-crossing facility in southeastern Estonia, which connects the small Baltic country with its Russian neighbor. Sinisalu said KaPo investigators had detected “signs of a scuffle” at the scene of the abduction, as well as vehicle tracks “leading from Russian to Estonian soil”. Subsequent reports in Estonian media alleged that the Russian abductors had managed to jam radio communications in the area prior to snatching Kohver. They also employed smoke grenades during the operation, which would explain a number of “explosions” heard in the vicinity, according to Estonian police spokesman Harrys Puusepp. But Russian sources dismissed the Estonian government’s claims, saying that Kohver had been detained while on Russian soil. Russian media reported that the Estonian counterintelligence officer had been captured by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as FSB, while undertaking an “espionage operation” inside Russia. Reports in the Russian press said Kohver was caught in Russia’s Pskov region, carrying a loaded firearm, €5,000 ($6,500) in cash, “covert video recording equipment”, an “eavesdropping device”, as well as “other items relating to the gathering of intelligence”. A statement from the FSB said the Estonian operative had been captured while taking part in “an undercover operation” on behalf of KaPo. Read more of this post


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