Israeli nuclear whistleblower recalls his 1986 capture by the Mossad

Mordechai VanunuIsraeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for revealing the existence of Israel’s nuclear program, has spoken for the first time about his 1986abduction by the Mossad in Rome. Vanunu was an employee at Israel’s top-secret Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the desert city of Dimona, which was used to develop the country’s nuclear arsenal. But he became a fervent opponent of nuclear proliferation and in 1986 fled to the United Kingdom, where he revealed the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to the The Times of London. His action was in direct violation of the non-disclosure agreement he had signed with the government of Israel; moreover, it went against Israel’s official policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, which means that the country refuses to confirm or deny that it maintains a nuclear weapons program.

Soon after Vanunu settled in London, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad began making plans to capture him. The spy agency sent one of its American-born female officers, Cheryl Bentov, to befriend Vanunu. The decision was taken after Mossad psychologists determined that Vanunu was lonely and longed for female companionship. Masquerading as an American tourist by the name of ‘Cindy’, Bentov convinced Vanunu to go with her on Vacation to Rome, Italy. Soon after the couple arrived in the Italian capital, Vanunu was abducted by a Mossad team who injected him with a paralyzing drug before taking him away in a van. Vanunu was then transferred onboard the INS Noga, an Israeli signals-intelligence ship masquerading as a merchant vessel, which transported him to Israel. He was convicted to 18 years in prison and was released in 2004, after having spent 11 years in solitary confinement.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 2 television showed excerpts of Vanunu’s first-ever interview to an Israeli media outlet. The interview, which is to be aired in full on Friday, includes Vanunu’s personal account of his capture by the Mossad. He told the interviewer that ‘Cindy’ first spoke to him as she walked alongside him while the two of them were crossing a London street. But he said that it was he who “initiated the relationship” with the woman posing as an American tourist. That was a critical moment in the whole process, said Vanunu, because “if she initiates you’ll suspect her”. The nuclear whistleblower insisted, however, that he did not “fall in love with her”, as some accounts of the Mossad operation have suggested, though he was “definitely attracted” to her, he said.

Vanunu added that the thought of ‘Cindy’ being a Mossad officer had initially crossed his mind; but he disregarded it and did not realize he was being tricked “until the very last moment”. He told Channel 2 that even after several days after his capture, he still believed that ‘Cindy’ had also been abducted. It was only later that he “reached the conclusion that she was part of the plan”, he said. At another point in the interview, Vanunu said that ‘Cindy’ was not the only Mossad officer who had tried to befriend him while he was in London, but that he was able to detect every other attempt by Israeli intelligence operatives.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 September 2015 | Permalink

Excessive secrecy hurts intel agencies, says head of NZ spy review

Sir Michael CullenA former deputy prime minister of New Zealand, who is heading a major review of intelligence practices in the country, has said in an interview that spy agencies hurt their mission by practicing excessive secrecy. Sir Michael Cullen served as finance minister, education minister and attorney-General before serving as deputy prime minister of New Zealand, from 2002 to 2008. He was recently appointed by the government to co-chair a broad review of state intelligence agencies, with particular focus on updating the applicable legislative framework and evaluating the oversight exercised by lawmakers and the executive. The review is expected to affect the work of New Zealand’s two most visible intelligence agencies, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau.

Last Saturday, Sir Michael spoke to TVNZ, New Zealand’s national television broadcaster, about the progress of the review, and shared some of his preliminary thoughts on the subject of intelligence practice and reform. He said in the interview that much of the documentation about intelligence processes and operations was being kept secret without apparent reason. “I’ve seen documents [from] briefings, which it would be hard to justify in my view those briefings not being made public”, he said. He added that there was “a need for the agencies to be much more open about what they do”, noting that sources and methods could be adequately protected through a careful process of redacting. The former deputy prime minister said that, ironically, the intelligence agencies are “their worst enemy by being so secretive about almost everything that they do”. Their attitude, he told TVNZ, negatively affected the level trust between them and the citizens they protect; the latter, he added, “would get a better idea of the need for the [intelligence] agencies if some of these documents were made public”.

Sir Michael also commented on New Zealand’s membership in the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’ alliance, which is part of the UKUSA intelligence-sharing treaty between it and the nations of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He told TVNZ that New Zealand had to share intelligence with allied nations, because it needed access to offshore information affecting its national security, which it cannot collect by itself. Some New Zealand politicians and pundits suggested that the country should exit the treaty after it was revealed last year that the US had been making use of New Zealand embassies around the world to collect electronic signals. In April of this year, The New Zealand Herald said that the country’s embassy in Bangladesh had been made available to British and American intelligence agencies to operate out of. Wellington’s relations with Dhaka have been strained as a result.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2015 | Permalink:

Ex-spy chief says Pakistan probably knew bin Laden’s whereabouts

A former director of Pakistan’s all-powerful national intelligence agency has said that senior officials in Pakistan were probably aware that Osama bin Laden was living in the country prior to his assassination. Lieutenant General Asad Durrani led the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from 1990 to 1992. He was later appointed Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany, from 1994 to 1997, and then to Saudi Arabia until 2002.

Durrani was asked during an appearance on Al-Jazeera’s flagship interview program Head to Head, on Tuesday, whether he believed that the al-Qaeda founder could have been living in Pakistan for several years without the ISI knowing about it. The former spy chief said he had no specific information on the issue. He added, however, that although “it is quite possible that [the ISI] did not know”, his personal assessment was that “it was more probable that they did”.

The former ISI strongman was then asked why the ISI would have chosen to shelter bin Laden instead of delivering him to the Americans. He responded that “the idea was that at the right time his location would be revealed” to Washington. He added that “the right time” would have depended on when Islamabad could have received “the necessary quid pro quo”. Speaking with characteristic frankness, Durrani said that “if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States” without asking for something in return. In the case of Pakistan, the reward would possibly have been a bilateral agreement between the US and Pakistan to give the latter greater say over America’s dealings with neighboring Afghanistan.

News you may have missed #877

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN |
►►China to ditch US consulting firms over suspected espionage. State-owned Chinese companies will cease to work with US consulting companies like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group over fears they are spying on behalf of the US government. Last Thursday, China announced that all foreign companies would have to undergo a new security test. Any company, product or service that fails will be banned from China. The inspection will be conducted across all sectors —communications, finance, and energy.
►►Ex-KGB general says Snowden is cooperating with Russian intelligence. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden probably never envisioned that he would someday be working for the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. But according to former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, he is now, albeit as a consultant or technical advisor. “The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him”, Kalugin claimed in an interview. “Whatever he had access to in his former days at NSA, I believe he shared all of it with the Russians, and they are very grateful”, added the former Soviet spy.
►►Snowden claims he was ‘trained as a spy’. American intelligence defector Edward Snowden says he knows how US spies operate because he was trained as one of them. In an interview with NBC News, Snowden dismissed allegations that he was just a low-level analyst with the US government before revealing highly classified details of US spying activities in 2013. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not, and even being assigned a name that was not mine”, he said in a portion of the interview that aired on Tuesday.

As many Russian spies in UK today as in Cold War: Soviet defector

Oleg GordievskyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
The Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, has alleged that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, 74, a fluent speaker of Russian, German, Swedish, Danish, and English, entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He eventually joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Copenhagen, Denmark, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the UK. In 1985, when he was the KGB’s station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. In 2007, Gordievsky was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen “for services to the security of the UK”. Russia, however, considers Gordievsky a traitor and the government of Vladimir Putin refuses to rescind a death sentence given to him in absentia by a Soviet court. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week, Gordievsky said London is currently home to 37 officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the successor agencies to the KGB. Read more of this post

Analysis: The Current State of the China-Taiwan Spy War

China and TaiwanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Last week I spoke about the current state of the espionage war between China and Taiwan with Tim Daiss, a Southeast Asia-based American journalist who has been covering the Asia-Pacific region for over a decade. Our discussion formed the basis of a comprehensive piece on the subject, published in British newspaper The Independent, in two parts (part one and part two). I told Daiss that the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary national intelligence agency— is not known for its technological prowess. However, the sheer size of Beijing’s intelligence apparatus is proving a good match for the more advanced automated systems used by its less populous regional rivals, including Taiwan. When it comes to traditional human intelligence, the Chinese have been known to employ time-tested methods such as sexual entrapment or blackmail, as was confirmed most recently in the case of Taiwanese Major-General Lo Hsien-che. Lo, who headed the Taiwanese military’s Office of Communications and Information, was convicted of sharing classified top-secret information with a female Chinese operative in her early 30s, who held an Australian passport. During his trial, which marked the culmination of Taiwan’s biggest spy scandal in over half a century, Lo admitted that the Chinese female spy “cajoled him with sex and money”. In addition to honey-trap techniques, Chinese spies collect intelligence by way of bribery, as do many of their foreign colleagues. In the case of China, however, a notable change in recent years has been the accumulation of unprecedented amounts of foreign currency, which make it easier for Chinese intelligence operatives to entice foreign assets, such as disgruntled or near-bankrupt state employees, to sell classified data. Read more of this post

First interview in 57 years for chief of Germany’s most secretive spy agency

Ulrich BirkenheierBy IAN ALLEN | |
The head of the German military’s counterintelligence service, which is widely seen as the country’s most secretive intelligence organization, has given the first public media interview in the agency’s 57-year history. Most readers of this blog will be aware of the Federal Republic of Germany’s two best-known intelligence agencies: the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), tasked with domestic intelligence, and the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the country’s primary external intelligence agency. Relatively little is known, however, about the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD), which has historically been much smaller and quieter than its sister agencies. As part of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, the MAD is tasked with conducting counterintelligence and detecting what it terms “anti-constitutional activities” within the German armed forces. It is currently thought to consist of around 1,200 staff located throughout Germany and in at least seven countries around the world, including Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Djibouti. Until recently, the MAD was so secret that its headquarters, located in the west German city of Cologne, bore no sign on the door. For generations, its senior leadership remained unnamed in the public domain. This changed on Monday, when Ulrich Birkenheier became the first Director of MAD to speak publicly in the nearly six decades of the agency’s existence. Birkenheier, who assumed the leadership of MAD in July of 2012, told German newspaper Die Welt that it was time for a “paradigm shift” and that the agency felt the need “to explain [its] task and work to the outside world”. In his interview, Birkenheier explained that members of the German armed forces are routinely targeted by foreign intelligence agencies, while far-right extremist groups are represented in the ranks of the German military. Read more of this post


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,058 other followers