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

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Israel arrests Belgian citizen for ‘spying for Iran’

Alex MansBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A Belgian citizen has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of spying on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The man, Alex Mans, was arrested two weeks ago, but the Israeli government kept the incident under wraps until Sunday. Israeli media reports state that Mans was arrested by Israeli Police and officers of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. He was reportedly detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport as he was preparing to leave Israel. According to Israeli security officials, Mans made frequent trips to Israel, during which he presented himself as a Belgian investor interested in export opportunities in Israel. He allegedly used his business venture in selling windows and roofing material for commercial buildings in order to establish contacts with businesses in Tel Aviv. But officials at Shin Bet maintain that Mans’ business operations, which included seemingly legitimate websites and social media profiles, served as a cover for his spy activities. These are alleged to have included “intelligence gathering [and support for] terrorism”, as well as efforts to “bypass the embargo on trade and financial transactions with Iran”. Israeli security officials believe that Mans was born in Iran in 1958 and had the name Ali Mansouri. He is thought to have moved to Turkey in 1980, aged 22, where he lived for nearly 20 years. In 1997 he received an immigration visa to Belgium, where he met and married a Belgian citizen and changed his name to Mans. Soon afterwards, however, he divorced, and in 2007 he moved back to Iran, where he married a local woman. According to Israeli media reports, Mans told Shin Bet interrogators that he was approached in 2012 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and offered up to $1 million to spy on Israel on behalf of the Iranian government. He reportedly agreed and was handled by Haji Mustafa, of the IRGC’s Special Operations Unit. Read more of this post

Iran official in secret visit to Egypt to discuss ‘new spy agency’

Qassem SuleimaniBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A senior Iranian intelligence official paid a secret visit to Egypt earlier this month, allegedly to discuss the establishment of a new intelligence service controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Several Egyptian newspapers, including the quality broadsheet Al-Masry Al-Youm, said that the Iranian official was Qassem Suleimani, commander of Quds Force, a unit inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is specifically tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The Quds Force has traditionally constituted the primary channel of communication between the government of Iran and a host of international groups allied to it, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. Suleimani is said to have traveled incognito to Cairo at the personal invitation of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, who is also a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group, which was legalized in Egypt after the 2011 revolution, is the Egyptian branch of a Pan-Islamic political and social movement that assumed control of the government after the ousting two years ago of Egyptian longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. According to reports from Egypt, Suleimani met with “senior officials” in the Egyptian capital, including President Mursi’s chief adviser on foreign affairs, Issam al-Haddad, as well as prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Masry Al-Youm said the Iranian commander discussed plans to develop a new civilian intelligence service in post-Mubarak Egypt, which will be answerable to the government of the country. The apparent plan of the Muslim Brotherhood is to create a brand new spy service that will operate outside the control of Egypt’s military, which currently commands the bulk of the country’s intelligence community. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #766 (Arab world edition)

David SheddBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Yemen busts alleged Iranian spy ring. Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi called on Tehran to stay out of Yemen’s internal affairs last week, after security officials in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, announced they had uncovered an Iranian spy ring there. Yemen’s government-run SABA news agency said the spy cell, which was allegedly led by a former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps, had operated in Yemen as well as in the Horn of Africa,  and that it had kept an operations center in Sana’a. An interior ministry official said all those detained were Yemenis.
►►CIA sued for killing US citizens in Yemen. Survivors of three Americans killed by targeted drone attacks in Yemen last year have sued top-ranking members of the United States government, alleging they illegally killed the three, including a 16 year-old boy, in violation of international human rights law and the US Constitution. The suit (.pdf), the first of its kind, alleges the United States was not engaged in an armed conflict with or within Yemen, prohibiting the use of lethal force unless “at the time it is applied, lethal force is a last resort to protect against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death or serious physical injury”. The case directly challenges the government’s decision to kill Americans without judicial scrutiny.
►►US intel official acknowledges missed Arab Spring signs. David Shedd, deputy director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, said analysts failed to note signs of the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that exploded into the Arab Spring. Shedd’s comments were posted Thursday by the American Forces Press Service, a Pentagon information wire. They constitute a rare public acknowledgment of the US intelligence failure regarding the turmoil that has redrawn the Middle East’s political landscape, toppling autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and now engulfing Syria.

News you may have missed #699

Hilda MurrellBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Diplomatic war over the arrest of Gaddafi’s spy chief. The Libyan authorities have confirmed the arrest in Mauritania of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, who was reportedly detained at Nouakchott airport. Senussi, 63, was Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, and has been described as one of his most trusted aides. But his arrest has kicked off an international row about which of his alleged crimes —ranging from terrorism to war crimes and mass murder— should take precedence in the pursuit of justice. The Mauritanians are now saying that they are willing to extradite al-Senussi, but this remains to be seen in practice.
►►Azerbaijan arrests 22 in alleged Iran spy plot. Azerbaijan has arrested 22 of its own citizens, on suspicion of spying for Iran. Weapons and ammunition were seized, authorities say, accusing the group of links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Their alleged targets included the US and Israeli embassies as well as Western-linked companies. Surveillance by the Azeri security services is reported to have helped foil the alleged Iranian-sponsored plot.
►►Was there MI5 link to murder of UK nuclear activist? One of Britain’s leading human rights lawyers, Michael Mansfield QC, has demanded a fresh police inquiry to establish what the British intelligence services knew about the murder of a prominent anti-nuclear campaigner. The lawyer said new evidence meant that an independent police force should be appointed to examine enduring concerns and inconsistencies relating to the death of Hilda Murrell, in March 1984.

Pakistan will retaliate if Israel attacks Iran, says diplomat

Hossein SalamiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A European diplomat has quoted Pakistani officials as saying that Islamabad will retaliate in kind if the Israeli military attacks Iran. Speaking to the Associated Press, the anonymous diplomat, who is stationed in Pakistan, said Pakistani military leaders have decided that “if Iran is attacked [they] will have no alternative but to launch a reprisal attack”. The warning, which the Associated Press appears to be treating as reliable, implies the involvement of Pakistan —the world’s only predominantly Muslim nuclear power— in a possible war between Iran and Israel. The latter is also widely considered to possess a formidable nuclear weapons arsenal. Other reports quote several international experts who seem to agree that it will be impossible to contain the ramifications of a possible military confrontation between Iran and Israel to a strictly regional level. Nick Witney, former Director of the European Defense Agency, who is currently Senior Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that an Iranian-Israeli war will have immediate effects on the global economy. According to Witney, “the political and economic consequences of an Israeli attack would be catastrophic for Europe”, as the immediate spike in oil prices will cause out-of-control defaults in countries like Italy and Greece. This will eventually push the entire European Union, including economic powerhouse Germany, into a deep and prolonged recession, and may even cause the euro to collapse altogether. Moreover, says Witney, Iran will “probably retaliate against European interests in the region, and conceivably more directly with terrorism aimed at Western countries and societies”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #661

Reza KahliliBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Britain increases pay for key intelligence staff. Having seen many of its key intelligence staff lured away by tech heavyweights like Google and Microsoft, the UK government is apparently offering bonuses and payouts to key intelligence staff to ensure they don’t leave their jobs at the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ). The UK Cabinet Office has stated that the bonuses to be paid to its key staff have been already given the green light.
►►Ex-CIA spy sees split in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Reza Kahlili (codenamy WALLY) is the pseudonym used by an Iranian defector to the US, who claims to have worked as a CIA agent in the 1980s and early 1990s. Kahlili (pictured), who says he was a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the ideological protectors of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, argues that a serious split is developing within the IRGC, with one faction favoring the overthrow of the government.
►►A rare look at Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare Center. The US Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg is a CIA-approved paramilitary training facility, aimed at members of the US Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine Corps special operators. The piece claims –rather unconvincingly– that the Center is “an illustration of how special operations and intelligence forces have reached an easier coexistence, after early clashes where CIA officers accused the military operators of ineptly trying to run their own spy rings overseas without State Department or CIA knowledge”.

Iran shows video footage of captured CIA surveillance drone

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iranian state television has aired pre-recorded footage of a surveillance drone that looks similar to the stealth RQ-170 Sentinel, which the US Central Intelligence Agency admitted it was missing earlier this week. Images of the unmanned surveillance drone, built by US military contractor Lockheed Martin, were broadcast during the main news bulletin on Thursday evening. The captured aircraft was shown in near-immaculate condition, resting on a display platform, with two men in Iranian military fatigues inspecting it. One of them was identified in the news report as Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Brigadier General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Aerospace Forces. He told the news reporters that the drone was brought down last week “in an electronic ambush” conducted jointly by the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian armed forces. He did not specify what he meant by “electronic ambush”, nor the exact location where the drone was physically captured by Iranian authorities. However, one report in the Iranian press alleged that the aircraft was initially detected by Iranian forces while flying over the town of Kashmar, in east Iran, located nearly 250 kilometers (about 150 miles) from the Afghan-Iranian border. If this report is accurate, it would signify that the CIA drone was flying deep within Iranian airspace, thus disputing initial claims to the contrary by the US Department of Defense. Another Iranian news outlet quoted anonymous military sources in Tehran, which said that the Chinese and Russian governments had already requested from the Iranian authorities permission to view the captured aircraft. Another pro-government newspaper said that Tehran was considering sharing the intelligence gathered from the captured drone with its regional allies in the Syrian government and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Read more of this post

Intel official claims Mossad was behind Iran missile depot blast

Iran blast siteBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Western intelligence official has told Time magazine that an Israeli spy agency was behind a weekend blast at an Iranian missile depot, which killed at least 17 people. The government of Iran claims that the powerful explosion, which wrecked a heavily guarded base belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was an accident, caused during the transport of munitions. But Time quotes an unnamed “Western intelligence source”, as saying that the blast was a deliberate act of sabotage carried out by agents of the Mossad, Israel’s primary covert operations agency. The source urged Time not to “believe the Iranians that it was an accident”, and added that the operation was part of an ongoing covert action effort to impede Iran’s nuclear program, saying characteristically that “there are more bullets in the magazine”. The base, located approximately 25 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran, is reported to house several of Iran’s Shahab-3 long-range missiles, with an alleged reach of up to 2,000 miles. The blast was reported to have been powerful enough as to have been audible across Tehran itself. The victims of the blast included Major General Hassan Moqqadam, described by Iran’s state media as the “founder of Iran’s missile program” and a foremost pioneer in the country’s missile development after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The death of Moqqadam, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, was so important that his funeral was attended by none other than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer says US may be ‘dangerously wrong’ on alleged Iran plot

Robert Baer

Robert Baer

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Robert Baer, who spent over two decades working for the CIA in the Middle East, has warned that the FBI may be “dangerously wrong” in its assessment that Iran is behind an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The Obama administration said yesterday that two Iranian agents had been arrested for planning to kill Saudi diplomat Adel al-Jubeir in Washington, DC, with help by members of a Mexican drug cartel. The FBI said that the two Iranians, Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, were operating on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, a unit inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) specifically tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The arrests prompted a strong reaction from the United States, which said it will impose new punitive measures against the regime in Tehran —a move that is certain to further-ignite tensions between the two countries. But speaking on Australian national radio, Baer said that the alleged assassination plan does not appear to be connected with the IRGC or any other part of Iran’s state apparatus. The operation, as outlined by the FBI, does not fit the “modus operandi” of the Iranian security services, said Baer. The latter are “much better than this [...]. They wouldn’t be sending money through an American bank; they wouldn’t be going to the cartels in Mexico to do this. It’s just not the way they work. I’ve followed them for 30 years and they’re much more careful. They always use a proxy between them and the operation, and in this case they didn’t”. Baer also spoke to the BBC World Service and to The Washington Post, where he is quoted as saying that there is “sloppiness about the case that defies belief”. The former CIA case officer urged the Obama administration to step back, re-examine its case, and avoid “retaliatory attacks [such as bombing] a Quds Force base in Tehran [...], which would lead to a huge escalation”. Instead, he urged Washington to open “direct diplomatic channel with the Iranian regime or risk igniting an uncontrollable war”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #489

  • Russian spies want their stuff back from the FBI. Two of the ten Russians deported from the United States in a spy row last July have demanded that some of the property they were forced to leave behind be returned to them. The claim was lodged on behalf of Vladimir and Lidia Guryev, better known as Richard and Cynthia Murphy.
  • Kuwait sentences three to death for espionage. Two Iranians and a Kuwaiti national, all serving in Kuwait’s army, were condemned to death yesterday for belonging to an Iranian spy ring, which allegedly passed on information to the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. A Syrian and a stateless Arab, who are also members of the alleged spy ring, were handed life terms.
  • ‘Foreign spies’ hacked Australian leader’s computer. Chinese hackers seeking information on commercial secrets are suspected of having broken into a computer used by Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister. Her computer was among 10 machines used by senior government ministers which were compromised by the hackers. According to one source, the Australians were tipped off to the hacking by the CIA and the FBI.

Turkey, Iran, offer warship protection for Gaza flotillas

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Tayyip Erdoğan

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Close aides to the Turkish Prime Minister’s office have disclosed that Ankara is funding a new fleet of ships to sail to Gaza under protection by Turkish warships. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps have also offered warship protection. The office of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is now actively assisting the Turkish-based Humanitarian Aid Foundation (ÍHH) in fundraising for the acquisition of a new fleet of ships to carry humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Last Monday, an ÍHH-funded flotilla bound for Gaza was raided in international waters by the Israeli Navy, which diverted the ships to Israel after killing nine and injuring over 60 passengers. According to reports from The Associated Press and Agence France Presse, Mr. Erdogan plans to be among the passengers of the new flotilla, which will be escorted en route to Gaza by Turkish warships. Meanwhile, reports from Iran’s government-aligned Mehr News Agency indicate that the country’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have offered their warships as protection for future aid ship convoys to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory. Read more of this post

Documents reveal Bill Clinton’s secret contact with Iran

Mohammad Khatami

M. Khatami

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Two newly declassified high-level documents reveal a short-lived overture between Washington and Tehran, initiated in 1999 by the Bill Clinton administration. The US President resorted to the secret communication with Iran in an attempt to preempt several hawkish policy planners in his administration. The latter pressed for strong American military retaliation against Iran, in response to the latter’s alleged involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. The bombing, which targeted a US Air Force base in the suburbs of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killed 19 and wounded 400 American servicemen and women. By 1999, US intelligence agencies were convinced that the bombing had been financed and orchestrated by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), an independent administrative and paramilitary institution tasked with –among other things– exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. But the Clinton Administration decided to contact the then newly elected reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and sternly inform him of the evidence against the IRGC. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #346 (Iran spy ring edition)

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Alleged Iranian spy cell busted in Kuwait

Al-Qabas

Al-Qabas website

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A leading Kuwaiti newspaper has claimed that government agencies captured members of an alleged Iranian spy cell in the Gulf state. Citing “senior intelligence sources”, Al-Qabas daily said that Kuwaiti counterintelligence officers arrested at least seven men last week, and are looking for up to seven others, in connection with an extensive espionage ring operating on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The Revolutionary Guards are an independent administrative and paramilitary institution in Iran, tasked with –among other things– exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. They handle most of Iran’s intelligence operatives around the world, who, according to some observers, number in the tens of thousands. Read more of this post

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