Iran announces arrest of alleged spies at Bushehr nuclear plant

Bushehr nuclear power plantBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior Iranian government officials have announced the arrest of a group of alleged spies in Iran’s southwestern province of Bushehr, home to the country’s only nuclear energy plant. Iranian Intelligence Minister Seyed Mahmoud Alawi told the semi-official Fars News Agency on Tuesday that the spies had been “identified and sent to justice”. Located along Iran’s coastal Persian Gulf region, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has a long history. Its construction initially began in the mid-1970s by German engineers. But work on the plant was halted in 1979, immediately following the Islamic Revolution. Iraqi forces repeatedly bombarded the site during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But the government began to rebuild it in the 1990s with the help of Russian technicians. In September of 2011, the Bushehr nuclear power plant was inaugurated in a widely publicized ceremony that was attended by several Russian officials, including Minister of Energy Sergei Shmatko. The completion of the facility made it the first civilian nuclear power plant anywhere in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Intelligence Minister Alawi said the arrested spies were engaged in physical surveillance and intelligence-gathering at the plant, in the service of a foreign intelligence agency. But he refused to specify how many alleged spies were arrested. News of the arrests comes less than two weeks following a mystery explosion at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The Islamic Republic News Agency reported on October 7 that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit”, and that two people had died. Several countries, including Israel and the United States, accuse Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Read more of this post

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Iran silent about deadly blast that ‘lit up sky’ near Tehran

Parchin military complexBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Iran is refusing to comment on a reported blast at a secretive military facility that some sources say “lit up the sky” last week. The blast is said to have taken place on Sunday night at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The semi-official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Monday that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit” east of Tehran, and that two people had died. Interestingly, however, the news agency did not specify the precise location of the blast, nor did it identify the “explosive materials production unit” in question. There was also no mention of the cause of the fire that allegedly resulted in the blast. A few hours later, the Iranian-language news site SahamNews, which is politically linked to the Iranian opposition, claimed that the blast happened at Parchin and that it was a “massive explosion” that “lit up the evening sky” and caused windows to shatter as far as 9 miles away from the complex. It is worth noting that the blast was reported just hours after Israeli officials accused Iran of conducting nuclear implosion tests at a host of nuclear facilities, including Parchin. Israel is among several countries, including the United States, that have accused Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Since then, Iranian authorities have rejected repeated IAEA requests for access to the site. There are suspicions that the latest explosion may be part of what many suspect is a longstanding campaign of sabotage against the Iranian nuclear program, orchestrated by Israel with the possible cooperation of the US and other countries. The campaign is believed to include psychological operations, sabotage, as well as targeted assassinations of senior Iranian nuclear scientists. Read more of this post

Iran serious about nuclear deal, says senior Israeli intelligence official

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Israeli intelligence official said on Monday that Iran appears to be genuinely interested in entering an agreement with world powers that would lead to the termination of its nuclear program. In November of 2013, Iran signed a Joint Plan of Action with six world powers in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as the Geneva interim agreement, the pact eases economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israeli government’s negative response to the agreement was headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister called the pact a “historic mistake”, which enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Since that time, Tel Aviv has continued to criticize the governments of the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, known as P5+1, for signing the interim agreement with Tehran. On Monday, however, Israel’s senior intelligence analyst, Brigadier-General Itai Brun, told a conference near Tel Aviv that Iran has so far abided by the interim agreement and added that he was cautiously optimistic about the future of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Brun was speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual gathering of senior Israeli political leaders, which typically serves as a public platform for articulation of Israel’s national policy on critical issues. Senior figures in Israel, including the President and Prime Minister, typically use their keynote addresses at the conference to set the tone for the future policies of their administration. Brig. Gen. Brun, 51, has led the research division of the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Israeli Defense Forces. His position is generally viewed as the second most senior within Israel’s military intelligence establishment. Brun’s address at the conference appeared to be deliberately designed to challenge Netanyahu’s skepticism of the Geneva interim agreement. He told conference participants that it was “very possible” that Iran and the P5+1 were “moving toward the signing of a permanent nuclear deal”. Read more of this post

Alleged CIA spy seeks retrial after Iranian court slashes his sentence

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A United States citizen held in Iran since 2011 on spy charges has appealed for a retrial after an Iranian court quashed his earlier death sentence for espionage. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former Marine born in the US state of Arizona, was arrested in August of 2011 in Iran and charged with carrying out a covert mission for the Central Intelligence Agency. In December of 2011, Hekmati appeared on Iranian state television and acknowledged that he was an operative of the CIA. He said in an interview that he had been trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army and that, in 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he was recruited by the CIA and specifically prepared to carry out what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran. The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations. In 2012, Hekmati was sentenced to death for spying. Members of his family, however, who live in Michigan, have continuously denied that he is an intelligence operative and maintain that he traveled to Iran to visit his grandparents. Their denials have been echoed by the government in Washington, which has denied employing Hekmati in any intelligence capacity. In March of 2012, the Supreme Court of Iran quashed Hekmati’s death sentence and ordered a retrial, calling his previous prosecution “incomplete”. At the retrial, Iran’s Revolutionary Court overturned Hekmati’s initial espionage conviction, charging him instead with “collaborating with a hostile government”. His original sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison. But Hekmati’s lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, told journalists on Sunday that his client would appeal even that sentence, thus seeking an immediate release from prison. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #874

Hamid AboutalebiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Intel involvement in flight MH370 sparks terrorism speculation. Malaysian authorities have revealed secret services from the UK, the US and China have been involved in the investigations into the disappearance of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, adding to speculation that the plane’s disappearance could be down to terrorism.
►►Iran picks former US Embassy hostage-taker as UN envoy. The Iranian government has applied for a US visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy. Aboutalebi was a member of a group calling itself “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line”, a group of radical students controlled by Ayatollah Khomeini, who seized the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could prompt the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN.
►►Analysis: Ukrainian Navy devastated by Russian move into Crimea. Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control. Almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defense units. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service.

CIA places Iran operations division chief on administrative leave

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The chief of Iran operations at the United States Central Intelligence Agency has been placed on paid administrative leave, allegedly for creating a hostile work environment that ended up impeding the Agency’s output. According to The Los Angeles Times, many members of the CIA’s Iran operations division had launched an “open rebellion” against their 46-year-old chief, which the paper identified by name. In an article published on Saturday, The Times stated that the veteran intelligence officer, who has now been removed from the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, had previously served at CIA stations in Iraq, Russia and the Balkans. The paper added that, in 2010, the CIA had to pull out the officer from Pakistan, after he was publicly named as the Agency’s station chief in Islamabad. Some American officials have identified Pakistan’s intelligence services as the source of the leak that led to the officer’s public exposure, which was allegedly intended as retribution to a series of previous drone attacks by the CIA on Pakistani soil. The Times quoted “three former officials” who accused the chief of the Iran division of exercising a divisive and abusive management style, which led many of the division’s senior employees to request to be transferred elsewhere in the CIA. One unnamed source told the paper that, as a result of the division chief’s treatment and the open rebellion by his staff, the Iran office “was not functioning”. The veteran officer was “sent home” two weeks ago, after an internal investigation by the Office of the CIA Inspector General found that he had essentially lost the trust and respect of the division’s staff. Read more of this post

Are Israeli arms merchants selling weapons to Iran?

F-4 aircraftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A leaked report by American and Greek investigators suggests that an intercepted shipment of military hardware intended for Iran probably originated in Israel. Greek broadsheet Kathimerini said on Sunday it had in its possession a copy of the classified report, which describes the interception of a large shipment of spare parts for military use. The parts are believed to have been intended for use by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF). The shipment allegedly contained spare parts for F-4 Phantom aircraft, which were originally built in the United States in the 1960s for use by the US Navy. The Islamic Republic still maintains a sizable fleet of F-4s, which Iran bought from the US in the 1970s, when the two countries were close allies. But a US-imposed embargo on Iran, which has been in effect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has prevented Tehran from easily acquiring spare parts for its aging fleet of F-4s. The Kathimerini report said that the intercepted shipment had been detected following a joint operation by the Greek Financial Crimes Squad and the US Department of Homeland Security. According to the paper, the secret operation began was underway in late 2012 and concluded in April of 2013. But the most shocking part of the report is that the illegal shipment appears to have originated from Binyamina-Giv’at Ada, a small Israeli town located 30 miles south of Haifa. Investigators said the illicit transfer had been facilitated via a Greek firm registered in the Athens district of Votanikos, called “Tassos Karras SA”, which appears to be a front company. Is it possible that Israeli arms merchants are supplying military spare parts to Iran? The Israeli government has refused comment on the case. Read more of this post

US sees Iranian commandos behind deadly Iraq raid

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Mujahideen-e-Khalq
United States officials have concluded that Iranian commandos were behind a deadly attack that took place earlier this year on Iraqi soil, which targeted a compound populated by Iranian anti-government exiles. The attack took place on the evening of September 1, 2013, in Camp Ashraf. The camp is controlled by the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran. In 1979, the MEK, which operates under a peculiar breed of Marxist, feminist and Islamic ideology (see photo), began an armed war against Tehran’s Islamic government. Many in MEK’s armed wing resettled on the Iraqi side of the Iraq-Iran border, where they received funding and diplomatic support from the government of Saddam Hussein. Although Washington officially considers the MEK to be a terrorist organization, it also views it as a source of valuable intelligence on Iran. It has therefore allowed the group to maintain its control of Camp Ashraf, though it has confiscated much of its weaponry. It is estimated that over 50 members of the group were killed in the September 1 attack, while at least seven others are believed to be in Iran, after they were abducted by the attackers. The latter are thought to have comprised of Iranian commandos and Arabic-speaking Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries. American officials have said little about the attack; in early December, US Secretary John Kerry refused to comment on the incident during an open-door, unclassified Congressional hearing. But earlier this week, Foreign Policy magazine said it spoke to a US official who was “briefed on the intelligence community’s assessment of the attack”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #860

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Top US-backed rebel commander flees Syria. General Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army, who was the most senior Western-backed rebel commander in Syria, has fled the country amid growing infighting with Islamist rebels, American officials have said. The rebel military leader fled into Turkey and flew to Doha, Qatar on Sunday, after Islamist rebel groups took over his headquarters and warehouses of US-supplied military gear along the border between Turkey and Syria.
►►NSA co-worker calls Snowden ‘genius among geniuses’. Forbes magazine’s Andy Greenberg says he was contacted by a former co-worker of NSA technical expert Edward Snowden, who described the defector as “a principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors [at NSA] with sheer talent”. The unnamed source continued: “that kid was a genius among geniuses [...], I’ve never seen anything like it”.
►►Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy. Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman. The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country. He said the accused was now on trial and had confessed. The nationality of the alleged spy is not yet known. The UK Foreign Office said it did not comment on intelligence matters.

American who disappeared in Iran in 2007 was working for the CIA

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An American private investigator, who was last seen in Iran in 2007, was under contract with the United States Central Intelligence Agency when he disappeared, according to information published last week. Bob Levinson was last seen alive in a hotel in Iran’s Kish Island, on March 8, 2007. He was reportedly there as a private investigator, to explore alleged links to a worldwide cigarette smuggling network. Both his family and the CIA have vehemently denied rumors that he was secretly working for the US government when he disappeared. Last week, however, the Associated Press and The Washington Post published lead articles in which they alleged that Levinson had been on a CIA mission at the time of his disappearance. The Associated Press, which described the news as “one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history”, said it decided to run the story after agreeing to delay its publication three times in the past. The news agency said it first confirmed Levinson’s ties to the CIA in 2010, but was told by the US government that airing a story on the subject would compromise Levinson’s safety. Government officials reportedly told Associated Press editors that they were “pursuing promising leads” to get Levinson home, and that news of his CIA connection would fatally hamper their efforts. However the news agency decided to publish the story because, as its editors said, Levinson’s captors now “almost certainly know about his CIA association”. In a story aired on Friday, CNN said it spoke to an unnamed source “involved in the matter”, who confirmed that Levinson was in Iran on private business, but was also under contract with the CIA as an undercover agent. Read more of this post

Saudi ex-spy director urges Gulf states to join Iran nuclear talks

Turki Al FaisalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The influential former director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency has urged Arab oil states to participate directly in the ongoing international negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. Nearly a decade of diplomatic deadlock on this contentious issue appeared to come to an end on November 24, when a preliminary deal was struck between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1. The group represents the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council —the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France— plus Germany. Under the deal, Tehran has provisionally agreed to limit the scope of its nuclear energy program in exchange for the P5+1 group of nations taking initiative to have certain economic sanctions on Iran lifted. Several Middle Eastern nations, including Israel and Iran’s primary energy rival, Saudi Arabia, initially dismissed the agreement, causing British foreign secretary William Hague to warn that critics of the deal should “confine their criticism to rhetoric”. On Sunday, however, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, said the kingdom should be among several Arab oil states that must have a seat at the table during the negotiations with Iran. Prince Turki, who is the youngest son of the late King Faisal, directed the kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Al Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, from 1979 until 2001, following which he briefly became ambassador to Britain and the United States. Speaking at the Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital on Sunday, the Prince urged that the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program should “not be limited to the P5+1”. Instead, he said, the Gulf Cooperation Council should be involved. He was referring to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (commonly referred to as GCC), a political and economic union of Arab oil states bordering the Persian Gulf, which is led by Saudi Arabia. Read more of this post

UK foreign secretary warns Israel against sabotaging Iran nuke deal

William HagueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The British foreign secretary warned Israel on Monday not to try to sabotage the interim nuclear deal with Iran “in any practical way”. William Hague, a senior cabinet member in the Tory-led British government, was speaking at the House of Commons on Monday, when he urged the world, “including Israel”, to act positively toward the accord. The latter was struck last week between the Islamic Republic of Iran and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Tehran has provisionally agreed to limit the scope of its nuclear energy program in exchange for the P5+1 group of nations taking initiative to have certain economic sanctions on Iran lifted. Although the agreement is still in its interim stage, participating nations hope to have it finalized before the end of 2014. There are fears, however, that some Middle Eastern nations, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, might try to sabotage the deal. Last weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the interim agreement as an “historic mistake” and stressed that Tel Aviv was not involved in, and therefore not bound, by the accord. He concluded his speech at the Israeli Knesset by promising that Israel “will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability”. In his speech to members of parliament, Mr. Hague agreed that it was crucial to “try to understand” those nations that oppose the agreement. However, he urged critics to “confine their criticism to rhetoric”. He specifically named Israel, saying that the British government “would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement”. He added that Downing Street would make that message “very clear to all concerned”. The foreign secretary went on to say that London had no evidence that parties opposed to the agreement were prepared to sabotage it “in any practical way”; but he emphasized that Britain would remain “on its guard”. Read more of this post

Turkey ‘disclosed identities of Mossad spies’ operating in Iran

Israel and IranBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Turkey disclosed to Iranian counterintelligence the identities of Mossad spies operating in Iran, according to the Washington Post. The newspaper’s associate editor, David Ignatius, cited “knowledgeable sources” on Thursday, in claiming that up to 10 spies were captured as a result of the Turkish disclosure. The alleged spies, who are all Iranian citizens, are said to have been operating inside Iran on behalf of Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency. Ignatius said the Turkish action, which appears to have been authorized by Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, resulted in a “significant loss of intelligence” for the Mossad’s Iran office. Turkey and Israel forged strong bilateral ties in the 1990s and early 2000s. But they fell out in dramatic fashion in May of 2010, when Israel attacked a convoy of civilian ships in international water. The ships, known as the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”, were carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials to the Gaza Strip. But Israel claimed that the ships’ pronounced intention to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip, was an affront to Israel’s national security and subverted Israeli political jurisdiction, expressed through the blockade. The attack on the flotilla by Israeli commandos resulted in the death of 10 Turkish civilians, one of whom was also an American citizen. Following the Israeli attack, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Jewish state, terminated several joint military projects with Israel, and called an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Relations between the two countries, which reached a low point in May of 2010, have yet to recover. Read more of this post

Killing of Iranian cyberwarfare expert sparks rumors of assassination

Iran and its regionBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Iranian and Israeli governments have remained silent about the recent killing of a member of an Iranian cyberwarfare unit, who was found shot dead near his home in Iran. The dead body of Mojtaba Ahmadi, who is said to have worked for the cyberwarfare command of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was found on October 2. Witnesses said the victim was discovered in a wooded area near his home in Karaj, a town situated 12 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran. One eyewitness is said to have claimed that Ahmadi’s body bore two bullet wounds in his chest, and that he appeared to have been shot at close range, execution-style. The news has sparked widespread speculation that the IRGC member fell victim to an assassination operation orchestrated by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Others seem to believe that Ahmadi was killed as a consequence of a power struggle inside IRGC, sparked by Tehran’s apparent diplomatic rapprochement toward Washington. The IRGC, whose formal name is Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, is a branch of the Iranian military, whose mission is to protect the Islamic system by which the country is governed. It includes the Quds Force, which is the IRGC unit tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. But the IRGC has so far dismissed rumors that Ahmadi died as a result of an assassination. Last week, Sepah News, a website that carries IRGC-approved information, termed Ahmadi’s murder “a horrific incident”, but said that “the motive of the attacker [had] not been specified” and was “being investigated”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #852

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Did US deny entry to German author because he criticized the NSA? Questions have arisen after the German author Ilija Trojanow was denied entry to the United States, apparently without reason. Trojanow had been invited to a German language convention in the US city of Denver. However, he was left stranded at Salvador da Bahia airport, in Brazil. A colleague of the writer claims his call for clarity about US spying activity is the answer. A spokeswoman for Trojanow’s publisher said he was on his way back to Germany on Tuesday.
►►Analysts stress ‘sophisticated tradecraft’ after Iranian spy arrested in Israel. Israeli officials over the weekend released details regarding the arrest of an Iranian-Belgian citizen accused of conducting extensive espionage against Israeli and American targets inside the Jewish state, deepening concerns regarding the scope and sophistication of Iranian intelligence tradecraft. Ali Mansouri, in his mid-50s, was arrested on September 11 at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport by the Shin Bet intelligence service. One Israeli military correspondent observed that, in the case of Mansouri, “Iran followed the playbooks of the most advanced intelligence agencies in the world”.
►►Northern spy lifts cloak on Koreas’ deadly rivalry. Kim Dong-sik is a North Korean agent captured in the South in 1995. He underwent four years of interrogations before joining the South Korean military counterintelligence command. He is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research organization affiliated with the National Intelligence Service. His tale, detailed in a new memoir, provides a rare, firsthand look at the often lethal spy war that the rival Koreas waged for decades and that many fear may persist today.

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