Sri Lanka expels Indian spy official for meddling in elections

Maithripala SirisenaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Sri Lanka has expelled a senior Indian intelligence official, accusing him of meddling in national elections that took place earlier this month. Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down on January 9 after losing a nationwide electoral contest to his former cabinet aide and main contender for the post, Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena led a coalition of opposition parties and figures, including several of Rajapaksa’s government ministers, who defected to the opposition en masse in the months leading to the election. Rajapaksa’s defeat surprised observers, who believed he would easily win a successive third term in office. Since 2005, when he was first elected president, Rajapaksa led an all-out military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as Tamil Tigers), after dismissing a prior truce deal between the government and the separatist group as “treasonous”. Under his leadership, the Sri Lankan military drove the Tigers out of Sri Lanka’s entire Eastern Province, reducing the extent of the group’s territorial control by 95%. However, relations with India, a traditional Sri Lankan ally, deteriorated drastically under Rajapaksa’s leadership. New Delhi became concerned that Colombo was making too many openings toward India’s geopolitical rival China. Late last year the Indian government protested after Sri Lanka permitted Chinese submarines to dock there without first informing its northern neighbor. On December 28, Sri Lankan media alleged that the senior representative of India’s Research and Analysis Wing in Colombo had been expelled from the country due to his behind-the-scenes support of the opposition’s electoral campaign. According to Sri Lankan sources, it was the Indian intelligence official who convinced Sirisena to resign from President Rajapaksa’s cabinet and run against him. The Indian intelligence operative then hosted secret meetings between Sirisena and other opposition figures, during which a united political front against Rajapaksa was formed. The allegations were also reported by the Reuters news agency on January 18, in an article that cited “political and intelligence sources” in Sri Lanka and India. New Delhi denied the allegations, saying that the intelligence official had been replaced because his overseas tour had expired, not because he had been expelled by authorities in Colombo. Meanwhile, the newly installed President Sirisena said he intends visit New Delhi on his first foreign trip in February, adding that India will form his government’s “first, main concern” on matters of foreign policy.

India uncovers plot to assassinate Bangladeshi prime minister

India and BangladeshBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Indian authorities claim to have uncovered a plot by an outlaw militant group to assassinate the prime minister of Bangladesh and launch a coup d’état in the South Asian country. The Reuters news agency quoted three “senior Indian officials” on Tuesday, who claimed that the plot was primarily aimed against Sheikh Hasina, leader of the nationalist Bangladesh Awami League, who was elected to the office of the prime minister in 2009 for the second time, after having led the country of 156 million people from 1996 to 2001. The National Investigation Agency of India (NIA) said the plot was to be carried out by members of the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a militant Islamist organization whose aim is to overthrow the government of Bangladesh and replace it with an Islamic theocracy based on Sharia law. The group, which maintains close ideological links with the Pakistani Taliban, is believed to have over 100,000 members throughout the country. It was officially banned by the government of Bangladesh in early 2005. But later that year the JMB conducted a massive terrorist operation that included over 500 explosive devices detonated in 300 locations around the country. Four leaders of the organization were later executed by the authorities for their role in the bombings and for organizing the assassination of two judges. Indian security officers reportedly discovered the coup plot earlier this month, when two members of JMB were killed in an explosion while building homemade bombs. The explosion took place in a house in India’s eastern state of West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh. NIA officials said the plotters were all Bangladeshis and were using West Bengal as an operations base from which to launch their attacks across the border into Bangladesh. According to one report, the plotters also planned to kill members of the Bangladeshi cabinet, as well as senior opposition leaders in the country. Read more of this post

Newly released British files shed light on 20th-century espionage

Eric HobsbawmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released last week by Britain’s National Archives have brought to the fore interesting new clues on the history of intelligence operations in the 20th century. One of the files relates to Migel Piernavieja del Pozo, a Spanish journalist in his mid-20s, who arrived in the United Kingdom in 1940, ostensibly to cover British public attitudes to the war in the continent. Britain’s counterintelligence agency, the Security Service, also known as MI5, placed Pozo under surveillance, after the debonair Spaniard proclaimed in public meetings that he was grateful for German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s support to Spain’s royalist forces and said he hoped Germany would emerge victorious from the war in Europe. The agency was right to do so, as Pozo eventually approached an agent of the Abwehr —Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency— in the UK, and told him that he too was working secretly for Berlin. But the Abwehr agent, codenamed GW in MI5 documents, was in fact a double spy for the Crown and managed to pass deceptive information to the Spaniard. Eventually, Pozo gave GW a tin of talcum powder containing over £3,500 in banknotes, which is approximately $150,000 in today’s money. Professor Christopher Andrew, official historian of MI5, told The Daily Telegraph that the money supplied by Pozo was “probably the largest sum yet handed to a British agent” by a rival spy. Eventually, Pozo’s inability to acquire useful intelligence in the UK prompted his recall back to Spain.

Another set of files, also released last week by the National Archives, appears to show that C.A.N. Nambiar, a friend of India’s first prime minister and deputy to one of the country’s most fervent pro-independence activists, was a Soviet spy. Nambiar was known as an old comrade of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first elected leader of post-colonial India, who dominated Indian affairs for much of the last century. He was also a close associate of Subhas Chandra Bose, a pro-independence activist considered a hero by Indian nationalists, whose hatred for India’s British occupiers led him to side with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the early 1940s. After India’s independence in 1947, Nambiar worked as a diplomat in Berne, Switzerland, before becoming India’s ambassador to Sweden and later to West Germany. But according to MI5 documents released last week, an Eastern Bloc defector fingered Nambiar in 1959 as an agent of Soviet military intelligence, known as GRU. The source said Nambiar had been recruited while visiting the USSR as a guest of the Soviet state in 1929. Read more of this post

Al-Qaeda announces formation of new branch in India

Ayman al-ZawahiriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Authorities in India have issued a security alert following an official announcement by al-Qaeda that it had formed a new branch in India. The militant organization made its announcement in a video message by its current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri, 63, is an Egyptian former eye surgeon who succeeded Osama bin Laden in the leadership of al-Qaeda in May of 2011, after the Saudi militant was killed by American forces in Pakistan. He is said to be hiding in the mountainous borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the hour-long video, al-Zawahiri says the new branch of the militant organization is named “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent” and will be led by a local operational commander who goes by the pseudonym “Asim Umar”, but he does not provide his real name. The formation of the group signals the sixth regional branch of al-Qaeda; the group already maintains close operational links with Al-Shabaab in East Africa, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Caucasus Emirate in Central Asia. Al-Zawahiri said in his video message that Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent would “raise the flag of holy war” across the entirety of South Asia, including western India, Bangladesh, as well as Myanmar, also known as Burma. He added that al-Qaeda’s goal would be to Islamize a region that was once “part of the land of the Muslims, until the infidel adversary colonized it and fragmented it and split it” in more recent times. There are no known links between al-Qaeda and Muslim militant groups operating in India, in states such as Assam, Gujarat, or Jammu and Kashmir. Such groups are primarily connected to separatist organizations funded and controlled by the government of Pakistan. In addition to announcing the formation of al-Qaeda’s Indian branch, al-Zawahiri used his message to express his support for Mullah Omar, the mysterious leader of the Afghan Taliban, who sheltered Osama bin Laden for several years in the 1990s and 2000s. Read more of this post

India disbands spy unit that conducted covert operations abroad

VK SinghBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A controversial military intelligence unit that conducted at least eight covert operations in foreign countries between 2008 and 2012 has been disbanded by the government of India. The country’s Ministry of Defense authorized the establishment of the unit in late 2008, following the Mumbai attacks, which killed over 150 and injured nearly 600 people. The attacks, which lasted for almost four days, involved a dozen coordinated bombing attacks and shooting incidents in India’s largest urban center, carried out by Pakistani nationalists. The covert-action unit was named Technical Services Division (TSD) and led by retired General VK Singh, who served as the Indian Army’s Chief of Staff from 2010 to 2012. According to Indian news media, the TSD was approved by a host of senior Indian government officials, including Lieutenant General RK Loomba, Director General of India’s Military Intelligence. The new agency was tasked with “planning and executing special operations inside depth areas of countries of interest” to India. It was also tasked with “countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Most of its “special operations” on foreign soil are said to have been conducted inside Pakistan, in an effort to combat what the Indian government views as “state-sponsored terrorism” by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Its main tactical mission centered on targeting Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, said to have been behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But the TSD has now been disbanded following revelations that it used its mandate to spy on Indian politicians in New Delhi and the Indian province of Kashmir, whose political views on India’s relations with Pakistan were seen as too conciliatory. Read more of this post

Report reveals secret US-India Cold War collaboration

U-2 surveillance aircraftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
During much of the Cold War, India enjoyed a close diplomatic and military relationship with the Soviet Union. But a newly declassified document reveals that the South Asian country allowed the United States to spy on the Soviets using its airspace. The revelation is contained in a 400-page history of the American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft program authored on behalf of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The formerly classified document, written in 1992 by CIA historians Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach, is titled: The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974. It was declassified last week in response to a 2005 Freedom of Information Act request filed by Jeffrey T. Richelson, Senior Fellow at George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The Central Intelligence Agency had been involved in U-2 reconnaissance missions since 1954, when the spy program began. Known officially as Project HOMERUN, the U-2 program was a joint effort by the CIA and the National Security Agency that surreptitiously gathered signals and photographic intelligence on Soviet military sites. The program, which has been described by some historians as one of the most successful intelligence projects in US history, relied on the U-2’s ability to fly beyond 70,000 feet over the Soviet Union, thus avoiding detection or attack by Soviet forces. That assumption, however, proved to have been false. In reality, Soviet radars had been able to detect nearly every U-2 flight over Soviet territory. Eventually, on May 1, 1960, Soviet forces managed to shoot down one of the U-2 flights using a surface-to-air missile. This led to the so-called ‘U-2 incident’, during which India sided firmly with the Soviet Union, criticizing the US for violating Soviet airspace. But New Delhi’s attitude to the U-2 program appears to have changed drastically following the Sino-Indian conflict on October 1962, when Chinese forces launched a series of armed incursions into Indian territory, killing over 1,000 soldiers. Read more of this post

World reaction to Snowden’s spying revelations continues

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Governments around the world continue to issue sharp official reactions to the revelations of large-scale spying by the United States, as Washington attempts to minimize the diplomatic fallout from the disclosures. The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, told a session of the European Parliament on Tuesday that, if confirmed, the claims of US espionage against European Union institutions would be “very disturbing”. He was referring to allegations, aired last week by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, that America spies on the communications of many of its allies, including European Union (EU) agencies, with the same intensity it spies on China and Iraq. The claims were based on documents supplied by American whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former technical expert with the Central Intelligence Agency, who is currently believed to be in Russia. Numerous EU officials have contacted the US with requests for clarification, while EU ambassadors are scheduled to hold a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday, to discuss how to commonly respond to Der Spiegel’s revelations. Some of the strongest criticisms against US intelligence policies have been issued by German officials, as some business figures in the country are raising concerns about US economic espionage against German financial interests. Christian Social Union politician Hans Michelbach reminded participants in a German parliamentary session this week that the EU may be a political ally of the US, but “is indeed a strong competitor in the global economy”. He added that business circles in Berlin are concerned that US intelligence collection aimed at German businesses would give Washington “dishonest advantages”. In Italy, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emma Bonino, attended a special parliamentary session on Thursday, in which she assured those present that the Italian embassy in Washington was not being spied upon by US intelligence services. She noted that Italy’s “secret services have not unearthed elements of espionage in our [Washington] embassy”. The government of India, meanwhile, expressed strong concerns on Wednesday over reports that US intelligence services have especially targeted nearly 40 diplomatic missions in Washington, including that of India. Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said New Delhi would “take up the issue with US authorities”. But the strongest reactions to Snowden’s revelations have come from the government of Bolivia. Read more of this post

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