Nazi letter to one of history’s greatest double spies found in Tokyo

Richard SorgeA congratulatory letter sent by a senior Nazi official to Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR, and is sometimes credited with helping Moscow win World War II, has been found in Japan. The letter was sent by Joachim von Ribbentrop, a senior German Nazi Party member and Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is directly addressed to Sorge, who was himself a member of the Nazi Party, but spied for the USSR throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

Born in Soviet Azerbaijan to a German father and a Russian mother, Sorge fought as a German soldier in World War I and received commendations for his bravery. But he became a communist in the interwar years and secretly went to Moscow to be trained as a spy by the Fourth Directorate of the Soviet Red Army, which was later renamed GRU —Soviet military intelligence. He then traveled back to Germany as a non-official-cover principal agent for the USSR, joined the Nazi Party and became a journalist for Die Frankfurter Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading newspapers at the time. When the paper sent him to Tokyo to be its Japan correspondent, Sorge struck a friendship with German Ambassador to Tokyo Eugen Ott, who eventually hired him as his trusted press secretary and advisor. It was from him that Sorge found out that Hitler was preparing to violate his non-aggression pact with the USSR, and promptly notified Moscow. His warnings, however, were dismissed as fantastical by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose government was caught by complete surprise by the eventual German onslaught. Several months later, when Sorge told Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east, Stalin took the tip seriously. The information provided by Sorge partly allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

The letter was found by Yoshio Okudaira, a document expert working for Japanese antique book dealer Tamura Shoten in Tokyo. It was among a stack of World War II-era documents brought to the antique dealer by a resident of the Japanese capital. The documents belonged to a deceased relative of the man, who was reportedly unaware of their contents or significance. According to the Deutsche Welle news agency, the letter was addressed to Sorge on the occasion of his 43rd birthday, and is dated 1938. It was written by von Ribbentrop’s personal secretary and includes a signed black-and-white photograph of Hitler’s foreign-affairs minister. The accompanying note commends the double spy on his “exceptional contribution” to the Third Reich as press secretary of the German embassy in Tokyo.

Okudaira, the document expert who realized the significance of the letter, said it is of historical interest because it confirms the high level of trust that the Nazi Party had in Sorge, who was never suspected by Berlin or by his German colleagues in Tokyo of having any connection with the Soviet government. However, Sorge’s espionage was eventually uncovered by Japanese counterintelligence, who promptly arrested and tortured him severely, before executing him in November of 1941. In 1961, the Soviet government awarded him posthumously the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which was the country’s highest distinction during the communist era.

Swedish double spy who escaped to Moscow in 1987 dies at 77

Stig BerglingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Sweden’s most notorious Cold-War spy, who went on the run for nearly a decade after managing to escape from prison in 1987, has died in Stockholm. Born in the Swedish capital in 1937, Stig Eugén Bergling became a police officer in the late 1950s prior to joining SÄPO, the Swedish Security Service, in 1967. He initially worked in the Service’s surveillance unit, and later joined several counterintelligence operations, mostly against Soviet and East European intelligence services. In 1979, while posted by SÄPO in Tel Aviv, he was arrested by the Israelis for selling classified documents to the GRU, the military intelligence agency of the USSR.

He was promptly extradited to Sweden, where he stood trial for espionage and treason. His trial captivated the headlines, as details about the spy tradecraft he employed while spying for the Soviets, including radio transmitters, invisible ink and microdots, were revealed in court. He said in his testimony that he sold over 15,000 classified Swedish government documents to the Soviets, not due to any ideological allegiance with the Kremlin, but simply in order to make money. Bergling was sentenced to life in prison, while lawyers for the prosecution argued in court that the reorganization of Sweden’s defense and intelligence apparatus, which had been caused by Bergling’s espionage, would cost the taxpayer in excess of $45 million. For the next six years, the convicted spy disappeared from the headlines, after legally changing his name to Eugen Sandberg while serving his sentence.

But in 1987, during a conjugal visit to his wife, he escaped with her using several rented cars, eventually making it to Finland. When they arrived in Helsinki, Bergling contacted the Soviet embassy, which smuggled him and his wife across to the USSR. The couple’s escape caused a major stir in Sweden, and an international manhunt was initiated for their capture. In 1994, the two fugitives suddenly returned to Sweden from Lebanon, where they had been living, claiming they were homesick and missed their families. They said they had lived in Moscow and Budapest under the aliases of Ivar and Elisabeth Straus. Bergling was sent back to prison, while his wife was not sentenced due to ill health. She died of cancer in 1997. Bergling changed his name again, this time to Sydholt, and lived his final years in a nursing home in Stockholm until his recent death. He was 77.

Russia expels Polish, German diplomats in ongoing spy row

Polish embassy in MoscowBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government has formally expelled several Polish and German diplomats in what appears to be a tit-for-tat move, following the removal of Russian envoys from Warsaw and Berlin on charges of espionage. The Polish government expelled a number of Russian diplomats last week, after it announced the arrest of two Polish citizens in Warsaw, on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of an unnamed foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to unconfirmed Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Last Friday, Polish media reports said that four Polish diplomats stationed in Moscow had been given 48 hours to leave the country. One report suggested that the diplomats included an employee of the political section of the Polish embassy in the Russian capital, as well as three military attachés. The four had reportedly left the country by Sunday night. Authorities in Moscow said they had been forced to take the step of expelling the Polish diplomats following Warsaw’s “unfriendly and unfounded step” of ordering a number of Russian envoys to leave Poland. The four Poles were officially declared “unwanted persons” in Russia for “activities incompatible with their [diplomatic] status”, which is considered code-language for espionage. Also on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the expulsion from Moscow of a German diplomat, just hours after a Russian diplomat was asked to leave the German city of Bonn by German authorities. Diplomatic sources said the German diplomat, a female employee at the German embassy in Moscow, was expelled in direct response to the earlier removal of the Russian diplomat, who was exposed as a spy following an extensive surveillance operation that lasted several months. German authorities refused to comment on the case. In Poland, Minister of Foreign Affairs Grzegorz Schetyna said simply that Warsaw “now considered the matter closed”.

More information emerges on Poles who ‘spied for Russia’

Zbigniew J.By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
More information has emerged on two Polish citizens who were arrested earlier this month in Warsaw on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported last week that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. The organization is believed to have over a dozen officers stationed at the Russian embassy in the Polish capital, posing as diplomats, as well as an unknown number of non-official-cover operatives, who are not officially connected to the Russian diplomatic mission. One of the two arrestees has been identified simply as Zbigniew J., and is said to be a lieutenant colonel serving in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense. Polish newsmagazine Wprost said last weekend that Z.J. worked in the Ministry’s “enlightenment and morale” department, a post that required him to visit military units around the country as part of a team of experts. He would then impart the information gained from his travels to his GRU handler, an officer serving under diplomatic cover in Russia’s Warsaw embassy, during biweekly meetings. Wprost said Z.J. would receive small amounts for cash in exchange for his services, which are believed to have amounted to approximately $30,000 over the course of several years. The newsmagazine suggested that Z.J.’s motivations were primarily financial and were related to unspecified “personal troubles”. The second alleged spy arrested last week has been named as Stanisław Szypowski. He is a lawyer-turned-political-lobbyist who worked for Stopczyk & Mikulski, a prestigious law firm involved in a government-funded project to build facilities able to import liquefied natural gas into Poland. Read more of this post

Secret Russian spy base in Syria seized by Western-backed rebels

Screenshot from FSA videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Rebel forces aligned to Syria’s Western-backed opposition have announced the seizure of a joint Syrian-Russian spy base, which observers say reveals the extent of Russia’s intelligence cooperation with Syria. The base is located at the base of the Tel Al-Hara Mountain, in southern Syria’s Golan Heights region, just south of the border crossing with Israel in the now largely destroyed Syrian city of Quneitra. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it took over the spy base on Sunday, following several weeks of fighting against rival groups, including Syrian government soldiers and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The FSA said the base, referred to as “Center C” by Russian intelligence, had been under Russian command until it was abandoned at a time and for reasons that remain unknown. In a three-minute video released by the Western-backed rebel group on YouTube, an FSA officer appears to be guiding the cameraman around part of the seized base. He points to several diagrams and captions on the walls, which are both in Arabic and in Russian. At some point in the video, the seal of Syrian intelligence is clearly visible, placed next to the seal of the GRU’s 6th Directorate, the branch of Russian military intelligence that is tasked with collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). At another point in the video, a series of photographs can be seen that depict Syrian and Russian intelligence officers working together in gathering and analyzing intelligence. Interestingly, one of the walls in the base features a map of northern Israel, an area that is adjacent to the Golan Heights, and appears to show the location of Israeli SIGINT stations and military encampments. It is unclear when exactly the spy base was abandoned by the Russian and Syrian intelligence officers that staffed it, Read more of this post

Ukraine rebels ‘admit downing Malaysia plane’ in phone intercepts

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Ukrainian intelligence has released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro- Russian rebels that they shot down a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, are presumed dead. An American intelligence official told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that Washington is certain the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. Late on Thursday, Valentyn Nalivaichenko, director of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU), said in a press conference that his agency had conclusive evidence showing that pro-Russian rebels had shot down the plane. Nalivaichenko said the evidence included recordings of telephone conversations between rebel commanders and Russian intelligence officers, which were intercepted just minutes after the plane was brought down. During Nalivaichenko’s press conference, the SSU published the intercepted conversations on YouTube with subtitles in English, French, German and Polish. The videos identify some of the participants in the conversations, including Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Vasily Geranin, who is said to be a Colonel in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one phone call, allegedly made at 4:40 Kiev time, 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Bezler appears to tell Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane […]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. In a subsequent intercept, another rebel commander calls a Russian intelligence officer from the site of the crash to report that the downed plane appeared to be civilian, not military, as originally thought, and that the crash site was filled with casualties. “It’s 100 percent a passenger aircraft”, he reports, adding that there are no weapons visible on site: “absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper”, he says. Read more of this post

Analysis: Crimea crisis brings Russian military spies back in the game

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The recent crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in Russia assuming control of Crimean Peninsula, marks the post-Soviet resurgence of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus and points to “a new playbook” in Moscow’s foreign policy strategy, according to a seasoned Russia analyst. In an article published on Monday in Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, who specializes in Russian security affairs, said Russia’s military intelligence agency is now “back in the global spook game”. He was referring to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU, which he said the Kremlin will be employing increasingly in the years to come as a major foreign-policy tool. It is no secret that, despite its significant role in Cold War intelligence operations, the GRU has been in decline in the post-Soviet era. Its substandard performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin that the agency was “unfit” for operations in what Russians call the “near-abroad” —the regions of the former Soviet Republics. In 2003, in addition to facing what Galeotti calls “a savage round of [budget] cuts”, the GRU saw its near-abroad functions taken over by the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. The FSB descends from the domestic component of the Soviet-era KGB, the agency that employed Vladimir Putin before he entered politics (as an aside, the SVR, which is the post-Soviet reincarnation of the KGB’s external intelligence directorates, is legally prevented from operating within the Commonwealth of Independent States). As late as last year there was even a discussion about whether the GRU should be demoted from a main directorate under the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff to a simple directorate, a move that would have fatally diminished its institutional stature. But in the recent Crimea crisis, says Galeotti, the GRU was able to turn the tables on Kiev by deploying its battle-ready Vostok Battalion, whose members cut their teeth in Chechnya. Read more of this post

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