UK spy agency sued by Internet providers over malware attacks

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A group of Internet service providers from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa have filed a lawsuit against Britain’s foremost signals intelligence agency, accusing it of hurting their business by spying on them. The legal complaint was filed against the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British government agency tasked with communications interception, which also provides information assurance to both civilian and military components of the British state. Service providers from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, South Korea and Zimbabwe are listed as plaintiffs in the complaint, which was filed on Wednesday in a court in London. The legal action against the spy agency is based on articles that surfaced in the international press last year. They alleged that GCHQ targeted Belgium’s largest telecommunications service provider Belgacom. The revelations surfaced first in September of 2013 in Flemish newspaper De Standaard. The paper claimed that Belgacom’s mainframe computers had been deliberately infected by an “unidentified virus”, which had specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries. De Standaard further claimed that the scope and technical sophistication of the operation pointed to a state-sponsored agency as the culprit. Further revelations about the Belgacom malware attacks were made in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel in November of last year, pointing to GCHQ as the agency behind the operation. The allegations originated in information provided by Edward Snowden, an American defector to Russia who used to work for GCHQ’s American equivalent, the National Security Agency. In their lawsuit, the Internet service providers allege that, regardless of whether they were themselves targeted by GCHQ in a manner similar to that of Belgacom, the British spy agency effectively compromised the integrity of their industry. It did so, they argue, by allegedly targeting employees of telecommunications service providers, by infecting telecommunications networks with malware, by Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #880

Augusto PinochetBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Chinese military establishes cyberintelligence research center. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has announced the creation of a Cyberspace Strategic Intelligence Research Center. Experts say the Center will “provide support in obtaining high-quality intelligence research findings and help China gain advantage in national information security”. Its staff reportedly specialize in such fields as strategic theory research, intelligence studies, and technology management, among others.
►►Chile court says US had role in 1973 killings of Americans. A court ruling released late Monday said the commander of the US Military Mission in Chile at the time of the 1973 military coup gave information to Chilean officials about journalist Charles Horman and student Frank Teruggi that led to their arrest and execution just days after the coup, which brought General Augusto Pinochet to power. The case remained practically ignored in Chile until 2000, when Horman’s widow, Joyce, came and filed a lawsuit against Pinochet.
►►Opinion: Cyber tools are no substitute for human intelligence. A colonel in the Israel Defense Forces critiques “the increasing use of cyber tools as a central and sometimes exclusive role in the work of many intelligence agencies throughout the world”. He argues that “the documents exposed by Edward Snowden show how willing the Americans are to invest in technological systems to collect information and gather as much intelligence as they can using cyber tools”. But he warns that “this almost exclusive reliance on the collection and analysis of intelligence using technology comes at the expense of the human element as a basic component of intelligence-gathering”.

US journalist facing jail term for refusing to testify in CIA officer’s trial

James RisenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A leading American journalist is facing a possible jail term after the United States Supreme Court refused to consider his appeal against testifying at the trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency officer. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, who worked for the CIA from 1993 until 2002, was arrested in early 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was charged with leaking classified information about Operation MERLIN, a botched CIA covert operation targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The operation was publicly revealed for the first time in New York Times reporter James Risen’s 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. In chapter 9 of the book, Risen details a bungled operation by the CIA’s Iran Task Force to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. Risen alleges that the CIA operation backlashed and may actually have helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian nuclear engineers would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Risen was summoned to testify in Sterling’s trial, but refused, arguing that having to identify the source of his allegation about Operation MERLIN would infringe on press freedom. On the other side of the argument, the United States government claimed that the freedom of the press does not permit journalists “to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources”. Risen filed a case in a Virginia court, arguing that he should not be forced to comply with the subpoena issued to him to testify at Sterling’s trial. After the court upheld the subpoena, Risen’s legal team filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. But the Court has now refused to hear the case, which means that Risen will have to testify in Sterling’s trial or face a possible jail sentence. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

Police ‘error’ reveals secret deal between IRA, UK government

Provisional IRA muralBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An alleged police error, which has prompted the release from custody of a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) volunteer accused of killing British soldiers, has revealed a secret agreement between the PIRA and the British government. British authorities have long suspected John Downey of involvement in a 1982 bomb explosion in London’s Hyde Park, which killed four British soldiers and injured scores of bystanders. But Downey was released from custody yesterday, after a judge was shown a letter that the suspect had been provided by the British government, assuring him that he was not wanted for outstanding crimes related to PIRA operations. The letter was given to Downey in 2007 by Britain’s Northern Ireland Office; it stated that the former PIRA volunteer would be able to travel outside Northern Ireland “without fear of arrest”. British authorities said that the letter had been sent “in error” and that it should have been withdrawn prior to Downey’s recent detention. But the case has exposed what appears to be a “discreet agreement” between the British government and republican paramilitaries. The agreement is undoubtedly connected to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The multi-party accord permitted —among other things— power-sharing between Northern Ireland’s loyalist and republican political parties, in exchange for the decommissioning of weaponry held by paramilitary groups on both sides. But it also stipulated that all prisoners held for crimes related to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland were to be freed. By 2000, most of these prisoners had been released, based on the British government’s belief that paramilitary groups on both sides were unlikely to refrain from violence while many of their members remained in prison. However, there was nothing in the Good Friday Agreement to cover the cases of those “on the run”, namely paramilitaries —most of them republican— who were at large and wanted by the British state for crimes connected with paramilitary activity. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #853

NSA's Utah Data CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Meltdowns hobble NSA data center. Electrical surges at the National Security Agency’s massive data center in Utah have delayed the opening of the facility for a year as well as destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kit, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ten “meltdowns” in the past 13 months have repeatedly delayed the Herculean effort to get the spy agency’s colossal snooping facility up and running, according to project documents reviewed by the newspaper.
►►Uganda expels Sudan diplomat accused of spying. Sudanese diplomat Jad-el-Seed Mohammed Elhag has been expelled from Uganda on suspicion of espionage, Ugandan foreign ministry officials said Tuesday. “The reasons why he was expelled was that the activities he was involved in were beyond the norms and requirements of his tenure”, Uganda Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Tayebwa Katureebe said. “These are issues of diplomacy and of two countries, which are not addressed normally in the press, but basically the main reason was espionage”, he said, declining to go into detail.
►►FBI accused of using no-fly list to recruit informants. A lawsuit in New York alleges that the FBI is violating the law by putting Muslim-Americans on the no-fly list not because of a “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist associations, but as a form of blackmail to coerce them into becoming informants at mosques and in their communities. Is this the beginning of the end for the US federal government’s no-fly list? According to the complaint, New York resident Muhammad Tanvir landed on the no-fly list after refusing an FBI request to work as an informant in his predominantly Muslim community.

Ex-CIA officer seeks Italian pardon for role in abduction operation

Giorgio Napolitano By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has been convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in an abduction operation, has contacted the Italian president seeking a formal pardon. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Earlier this week, Lady wrote a letter to the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, saying he had never intended to “disrespect Italy’s sovereignty” and asking for the President’s “personal forgiveness and pardon”. In his letter, Lady argues that he operated “under orders from senior American officials” with the aim of protecting lives, adding that US intelligence activities had been able to “stop numerous plans and targets of terrorists operating in Milan and elsewhere in Italy”. The former CIA officer also claims that the 2003 kidnapping of Nasr had taken place “in liaison with senior members of the Italian government”. He concludes by expressing his “regret” for his “participation in any activities which could be viewed as contrary to the laws of Italy”. Read more of this post

US goes after schools that teach how to beat polygraph tests

Polygraph examinationBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States government has launched an extensive criminal investigation of companies and individuals who coach job applicants on how to deceive polygraph examiners. It is believed that the government administers about 70,000 polygraph tests a year to candidates seeking security-related jobs, or to employees who wish to maintain their security clearances. The significance of the tests, which can sometimes make or break a security or intelligence employee’s career, have given rise to the phenomenon of polygraph coaches. There are several dozen companies and individual instructors in the US, who claim to be able to teach people how to pass polygraph examinations. They train test-takers in methods such as controlling their breathing, tensing and relaxing their muscles, focusing their thoughts, or biting their tongue, in order to skew the results of the test in their favor. In the past, government agencies have largely ignored these instruction techniques, claiming that there is no proof they actually work (critics question whether polygraph tests themselves work, pointing to the fact that they are rarely permissible in court). But the US government’s attitude to these techniques appears to be changing, judging by a criminal investigation that was recently launched against polygraph coaches. The government has refused to acknowledge the existence of the investigation, but McClatchy newspapers said last week that its existence had been confirmed by “several people familiar” with the probe. Read more of this post

Former CIA station chief arrested in Panama ‘has been released’

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, who was detained in Panama last week for his alleged role in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy, returned to the United States on Friday. The US Department of State said Robert Seldon Lady had been released by Panamanian authorities 24 hours after he was detained near Panama’s border with Costa Rica. Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Lady was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica at a remote jungle border crossing early on Thursday, when, according to Costa Rican authorities, “a check on his passport triggered an INTERPOL alert”. Following negotiations between Costa Rican and Panamanian authorities, Lady was detained by Panamanian border guards, who alerted INTERPOL and Italy. Late on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to offer details on the case, but confirmed that Lady was “either en route or back in the United States”. A Panamanian foreign ministry source told Reuters that Lady was released because “Panama does not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”. Read more of this post

Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A retired 21-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by INTERPOL for participating in the abduction of a Muslim cleric in Italy, has been detained by police in Panama. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA officers, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, known also as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. On February 17, 2003, Nasr was seized in dramatic fashion by a group of CIA operatives in broad daylight in Milan. He was stuffed into an unmarked white van and eventually ended up in Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Nasr’s case helped raise awareness of the US government’s extraordinary rendition program. Under the controversial program, suspected terrorist operatives were secretly taken to third-party countries where they were subjected to aggressive interrogation techniques. Italian authorities were irritated by Nasr’s kidnapping, which they claimed took place without the consent of the Italian government. There are also reports that the Italian intelligence services were monitoring Nasr at the time and were trying to recruit him as a source, which might explain why they were incensed when the Egyptian was snatched by the CIA without their authorization. Read more of this post

MI5 wants secret court session over IRA informant’s lawsuit

Martin McGartlandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, has requested a secret court hearing to deliberate a lawsuit from a high-profile spy who infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as IRA. The mole, Martin McGartland, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was recruited by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the 1980s. The information he supplied to the security agencies over several years is widely credited with having saved the lives of at least 50 British police officers and soldiers. His autobiographical experiences formed the basis of the 2008 motion picture 50 Dead Men Walking, written and directed by Kari Skogland and starring Jim Sturgess as Martin and Ben Kingsley. McGartland’s cover was dramatically blown in 1991, when the IRA began suspecting that he might be an MI5 mole. After several hours of interrogation by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, McGartland managed to escape his captors and throw himself out of a third-floor window. He survived serious injuries and was taken into hiding by MI5, living in a series of safe houses across Britain for nearly a decade. However, in 1999 the IRA caught up with him at an MI5 safe house in North Tyneside, in the northeast of England, where he was shot by an IRA hit team while walking to his car one morning and left for dead. McGartland is now suing MI5 and its institutional patron, the British Home Office, claiming that they failed to support him after he was shot by the IRA. In his lawsuit, McGartland claims that government funding he was receiving for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was withdrawn after he publicly criticized the British government’s counterterrorism policies. Read more of this post

Diplomat jailed in biggest Dutch spy affair in recent times

Raymond PoeterayBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A court in the Netherlands has sentenced a diplomat to 12 years in prison for spying for Russia, in what security observers have called one of the worst espionage scandals in recent Dutch history. Raymond Poeteray, who had worked for Holland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1978, was convicted on Tuesday of spying for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Poeteray was arrested in June of 2012 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport, following an extensive investigation by German counterintelligence. The diplomat was captured as he was boarding a flight to Vienna, Austria, the first leg in a return journey to Bangkok, Thailand. Dutch prosecutors claimed during Poeteray’s trial that he had arranged to meet his Russian handlers in Bangkok and give them three USB drives loaded with classified information, which were found on in his possessions upon his arrest at Schiphol. The three-judge panel that sentenced Poeteray at The Hague said he had spied on Holland “for years [while] on assignment from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service”, in the course of which he damaged the interests of his home country in a “substantial” way. The Dutch prosecutor’s office said Poeteray had provided Moscow with sensitive information, including military and political intelligence on the European Union, inside material on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as documents belonging to the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry. The court heard that, in recent years, the diplomat had given the SVR information about Dutch involvement in the Libyan Civil War, classified data from European-Union-sponsored fact-finding missions in the Republic of Georgia, as well as intelligence on Dutch peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and elsewhere. Read more of this post

Canada issues arrest warrant for former spy watchdog official

Arthur PorterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Authorities in the Canadian province of Quebec have issued a warrant for the arrest of a government official who until recently was responsible for overseeing the country’s primary national intelligence service. From 2008 to 2011, Dr. Arthur Porter was a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which investigated grievances against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). In order to fulfill his Committee duties, Porter was awarded a top-secret security clearance, which allowed him access to the CSIS’ most closely held secrets. In 2004, Porter, who is a Cambridge University-educated oncologist, was appointed Director General of the McGill University Health Centre in Montréal. In that capacity, he began a business relationship with Ari Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Israeli lobbyist and weapons merchant, who in 1989 was arrested and charged in the United States for illegally attempting to sell military transport airplanes to Iran, in connection with the so-called Iran-Contra affair. Ben-Menashe was acquitted after claiming during his trial that he had been operating as an Israeli intelligence officer. In 2011, Porter stepped down from his post at the Security Intelligence Review Committee, after Canadian newspaper The National Post revealed that he had wired $200,000 in personal funds to Ben-Menashe. Soon afterwards, he moved to the Bahamas and attempted to stay away from the public limelight. This changed on Wednesday, however, Read more of this post

Will former US government informant face terror charges in India?

David HeadleyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former United States government informant, who helped an Islamist militant group plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. David Coleman Headley, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration informant, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2009 for helping to plot an attack by Islamist radicals on a Danish newspaper. It eventually became apparent that Headley had been a member of Pakistani militant group Lashkar e-Taiba and had also helped plan the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorist plot involved at least a dozen attacks on tourist and other civilian targets in India’s largest city, conducted by small cells of highly trained LeT members who had arrived from Pakistan by boat. The coordinated attacks, which began on November 26 and ended three days later, killed 164 and wounded over 300 people. According to the FBI, Headley, who was born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, took advantage of his Western manners and physique to travel to Mumbai posing as an American tourist, in order to help map out the LeT operation. On Thursday, a court in Chicago sentenced Headley to 35 years in prison. Prior to his sentencing, Headley had pleaded guilty to all 12 counts brought against him by US prosecutors and is said to be cooperating with authorities —which is reportedly why he was spared the death penalty. However, the question in the minds of many terrorism observers is, will Headley be extradited to India to face charges there for what is often referred to as ‘India’s 9/11’? The answer is not so simple. Read more of this post

Closed-door trial of Soviet/Russian sleeper agents starts in Germany

The Anschlags' house in MeckenheimBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A married couple accused of spying on Germany on behalf of the Soviet Union and Russia for over two decades has gone on trial in Stuttgart. Andreas Anschlag, 54, and his wife, Heidrun, 48, were arrested in October 2011 by GSG-9, the elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police. They were later charged with having spied since at least 1990 for the Soviet KGB’s First Chief Directorate and its post-Soviet successor organization, the SVR. German federal prosecutors also accuse the couple of document forgery, since their Austrian passports, which they used to enter West Germany from Mexico in 1988 (Andreas) and 1990 (Heidrun) are believed to be counterfeit. There is also speculation that the couple’s surname may in fact be an alias given to them by their intelligence handlers. Upon entering West Germany in 1988 and 1990, the Anschlags initially settled in Aachen, on the German-Belgian border, before moving to Meckenheim, a small town with a population of less than 30,000 located a few miles southwest of Bonn. They concentrated on blending into German society, while raising their son daughter and leading what their neighbors describe as a “discreet life”. Over the years, they managed to recruit a number of informants, including a Dutch diplomat identified by authorities in Holland only as ‘Raymond P’. The diplomat, who was arrested last June, is believed to have given the Anschlags nearly 500 classified documents originating from the German armed forces, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Read more of this post

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