Israel charges Swedish citizen with spying for Hezbollah

HezbollahIsraeli authorities have charged a Swedish citizen with working as an intelligence officer for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It is believed that Hassan Khalil Hizran, 55, was born to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, from where he emigrated to Sweden many years ago. But he was arrested in Tel Aviv on July 21 while disembarking a flight at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and was taken into custody by the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. A spokesman for the agency said Hizran had confessed during interrogation to being an intelligence operative for Hezbollah, a primarily Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon’s territory. He is said to have told his interrogators that he was recruited by the group in the summer of 2009 while visiting Lebanon from Sweden with his wife and children.

Shin Bet said that Hizran had been asked by his Hezbollah handlers to gather intelligence relating to Israeli military installations and that he visited Israel several times in order to fulfil his missions. He would then return to Lebanon after visiting a third country in order to provide his Hezbollah handlers with the information he had collected while in Israel. Sources in Tel Aviv said Hizran visited Lebanon at least twice since his 2009 recruitment, specifically in 2011 and 2013. He returned to Sweden with monetary sums given to him by Hezbollah as payment for his services, which amounted to several thousand dollars, according to Shin Bet. The Israeli security agency said the Swede was helping Hezbollah identify military targets for a future war, which it interpreted as “proof that Hezbollah is preparing for the net war with Israel by compiling a target bank”.

According to the Israelis, Hizran had also been tasked by Hezbollah with recruiting Arabs with ties to Israeli Jews, but that he was either unable or unwilling to do so. However, on Sunday he was charged with three criminal counts including contacting an agent of a foreign government and communicating sensitive information. The Swedish man’s Israeli lawyer, Leah Tsemel, denied that her client was guilty of espionage and claimed that he had “refused repeated requests to inflict harm on the national security of Israel”. The Swedish and Lebanese governments have not commented on Hizran’s arrest.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 August 2015 | Permalink

Hezbollah likely behind malware that attacked Israeli servers

Malware program codeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A report by a major Israeli computer security firm claims that “a Lebanese entity”, possibly Hezbollah, was behind a cyberespionage operation that targeted companies connected to the Israeli military. In late March, Israeli computer security experts announced they had uncovered an extensive cyberespionage operation that targeted computers in Israel, and to a lesser extent in the United States, Britain, Turkey and Canada. The cyberespionage operation, dubbed VOLATILE CEDAR by Israeli computer security experts, was allegedly launched in 2012. It employed a sophisticated malicious software, also known as malware, codenamed EXPLOSIVE. One Israeli security expert, Yaniv Balmas, said the malware was not particularly sophisticated, but it was advanced enough to perform its mission undetected for over three years.

It is worth noting that, during the period of operation, the EXPLOSIVE malware kept surreptitiously updating itself with at least four different versions, which periodically supplemented the original malware code. Additionally, once the discovery of the malware was publicized in the media, security experts recorded several incoming messages sent to the installed malware asking it to self-destruct. These clues point to a level of programming and operational sophistication that exceeds those usually found in criminal cyberattacks.

According to Israeli computer security firm CheckPoint, there is little doubt that the source of the malware was in Lebanon, while a number of programming clues point to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as “a major player” in the operation. In a report published this week, CheckPoint reveals that most of the Israeli targets infected with the malware belong to data-storage and communications firms that provide services to the Israel Defense Forces. According to one expert in the firm, the malware designers took great care to avoid “a frontal attack on the IDF network”, preferring instead to target private entities that are connected to the Israeli military. More specifically, the web shells used to control compromised servers after successful penetration attempts were of Iranian origin. Additionally, the initial command and control servers that handled EXPLOSIVE appear to belong to a Lebanese company.

The head of CheckPoint’s security and vulnerability research unit, Shahar Tal, told Ha’aretz newspaper: “We are not experts on international relations and do not pretend to analyze the geopolitical situation in Lebanon”. But these attacks originated from there, and were specifically designed to infiltrate “systems that are connected to the IDF”, he added.

News you may have missed #891

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN |
►►Sophisticated malware found in 10 countries ‘came from Lebanon’. An Israeli-based computer security firm has discovered a computer spying campaign that it said “likely” originated with a government agency or political group in Lebanon, underscoring how far the capability for sophisticated computer espionage is spreading beyond the world’s top powers. Researchers ruled out any financial motive for the effort that targeted telecommunications and networking companies, military contractors, media organizations and other institutions in Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and seven other countries. The campaign dates back at least three years and allegedly deploys hand-crafted software with some of the hallmarks of state-sponsored computer espionage.
►►Canada’s spy watchdog struggles to keep tabs on agencies. The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which monitors Canada’s intelligence agencies, said continued vacancies on its board, the inability to investigate spy operations with other agencies, and delays in intelligence agencies providing required information are “key risks” to its mandate. As a result, SIRC said it can review only a “small number” of intelligence operations each year.
►►Analysis: After Snowden NSA faces recruitment challenge. This year, the NSA needs to find 1,600 recruits. Hundreds of them must come from highly specialized fields like computer science and mathematics. So far the agency has been successful. But with its popularity down, and pay from wealthy Silicon Valley companies way up, Agency officials concede that recruitment is a worry.

Israelis dispute CIA was behind Hezbollah strongman’s killing

Sources in Israel are disputing reports from January that the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination of one of Hezbollah’s most senior officials. On January 31 of this year, two US-based publications, The Washington Post and Newsweek, claimed that it was the CIA, not Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as previously thought, who led the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah. Mughniyah, who was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon, was killed when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret.

According to the reports, the Mossad alerted the CIA after uncovering Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and suggested a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. The American covert-action agency proceeded to have a bomb designed by technicians from its Science & Technology Directorate, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in North Carolina. It was, according to the Post and Newsweek reports, the very bomb that killed Mughniyah on the evening of February 12 near his home in the Syrian capital.

But Dan Raviv, the Washington-based national correspondent for CBS News, said on Sunday that Israeli intelligence insiders are disputing claims that the CIA was the leading force in the operation. In a report published on Sunday, Raviv cited “Israelis close to their country’s services” as saying that the operation against Mughniyah was “almost all blue-and-white, and just a little bit red-white-and-blue” —a direct reference to the colors in the Israeli and American flags. The CBS correspondent said Israelis had been “miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit” for the strike against Mughniyah, and were actively “speaking with Western officials and diplomats to offer corrections”.

According to Raviv, it was the Mossad and Aman (Israel’s primary military-intelligence agency) that discovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and proceeded to design a bomb after the US declined Israel’s invitation to help organize a joint strike. Eventually, claims Raviv, Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, convinced then-US President George W. Bush to approve a strike against Mughniyah, by showing him videos of the custom-made car bomb being tested in Israel. An impressed President Bush then authorized the CIA to participate in the operation. But by that time, says Raviv, the Israelis were firmly in command of the project and remained so until its final execution. Neither the CIA nor the Mossad have commented on the allegations regarding Mughniyah’s assassination.

CIA had central role in Hezbollah official’s killing, say sources

The United States, not Israel, as previously thought, led an assassination operation that targeted a senior member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2008, according to two separate reports that came out last week. Imad Mughniyah was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon. At the time of his assassination, Mughniyah headed the Hezbollah’s security apparatus and some claim he was the organization’s second-in-command. He was killed on the evening of February 12, 2008, when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret. The Shiite group blamed Israel for his killing. But two reports that aired this week, one in The Washington Post and the other in Newsweek, cited unnamed former government officials in the US in claiming that the operation was in fact led by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima said the CIA was assisted in the operation by its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, while Newsweek’s Jeff Stein wrote that the effort was personally approved by then-US President George Bush and was closely supervised by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden.

According to the reports, the Mossad uncovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007 and alerted the CIA, suggesting a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. Soon after President Bush approved the strike, officers in the CIA’s Near East Division planned the logistics of the operation, which involved building a complex bomb, smuggling it into Syria and placing it inside the spare tire of a locally-purchased vehicle. The bomb was allegedly designed by technicians from the CIA’s Directorate of Science & Technology, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in Harvey Point, North Carolina.

The operation was allegedly coordinated from a CIA safe house located near Mughniyah’s apartment in the Syrian capital. On the evening February 12, a team of Mossad and CIA operatives employed facial-recognition technology to identify their target as he was walking out of a local restaurant. When Mughniyah approached the explosives-laden SUV, the bomb was remotely detonated, decapitating him and blasting his torso through a nearby window (note: Goldman and Nakashima claim that the bomb was remotely detonated by Mossad officers located in Tel Aviv; Stein suggests the blast was triggered by a CIA officer who had been placed in charge of the remote-control mechanism).

The reports describe the operation as “one of the most high-risk covert actions” undertaken by the CIA in recent years, because it targeted a high-profile individual in a country with which the US was not officially at war. Additionally, the method used —a car bomb— is particularly controversial, as it is typically a method of operation preferred by organized criminals and terrorist organizations.

The US has not acknowledged participation in Mughniyah’s assassination, and the CIA declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post on Friday. Mark Regev, spokesman for the office of the Israeli prime minister, said simply that Tel Aviv had “nothing to add at this time”.

Hezbollah official admits group ‘battling espionage’ in its ranks

Public comments by a senior Hezbollah official appear to confirm earlier reports that the man who directed the personal security detail of the Lebanese group’s leader was a spy for Israel. Several Lebanese news outlets reported in December that Mohammed Shawraba, a 42-year-old Hezbollah official from southern Lebanon, had been arrested by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force and was undergoing trial for having leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years. Sources said that Shawraba used to oversee the security detail of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general. He was subsequently promoted to director of Hezbollah’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which conducts intelligence operations on Israeli targets abroad. One Lebanese source described the Shawraba case as “one of the most significant security breaches” in the history of Hezbollah. Ever since the first public allegations emerged, the militant Shiite group has remained silent. On Saturday, however, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, admitted that the group was “battling espionage within its ranks” and that its counter-spies had been able to uncover “a number of significant infiltrations”. Qassem’s comments, made during an interview on Al-Nour, a Beirut-based radio station affiliated with Hezbollah, have been taken by observers as an indirect admission that the rumors about Shawraba are accurate. Qassem told the radio station that Hezbollah was a party that aimed for virtue and pureness, but that it was made up of human beings who are inevitably fallible. But he refused to be more specific about the cases of espionage, saying only that Hezbollah was Lebanon’s strongest and most resilient political organization and would easily overcome any harm caused by double agents within its ranks. A spokesman for the militant group, who was asked on Sunday whether Qassem’s comments were a reference to Shawraba, refused to comment on the case.

Hezbollah leader’s senior bodyguard was Mossad agent

Hezbollah leader Hassan NasrallahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
The man who directed the personal security detail of the secretary-general of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was an agent of Israeli intelligence, according to multiple sources in Lebanon. The agent, who was arrested earlier this year by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force, and is now undergoing trial, was able to penetrate the highest levels of the Shiite militant group, and leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years prior to his capture. American newspaper The Washington Post and Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star cite “security officials and people in Lebanon” who say they are familiar with the incident. They say the agent’s activities constitute “one of the most significant security breaches” in the history of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large swathes of Lebanese territory. Media reports have identified the alleged agent as Mohammed Shawraba, a man in his late 30s or early 40s 42, who is believed to come from a small village in southern Lebanon. According to reports from Lebanon, several years ago Shawraba used to direct the personal security detail of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general. Nasrallah has led the militant group since 1992, when his predecessor, Abbas al-Musawi, was assassinated by Israel. In 2008, after a number of years in the service of Nasrallah’s personal security detail, Shawraba was promoted to director of the group’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which collects information on Israeli activities abroad. However, unbeknownst to Hezbollah officials, Shawraba had been recruited by the Israeli spy agency Mossad even before he joined Nasrallah’s personal security team. According to The Post, the information he shared with the Mossad on a regular basis helped Israel thwart a number of high-profile Hezbollah operations in Lebanon and Israel, especially in 2006. Eventually, however, Hezbollah’s military commanders became increasingly suspicious of the high rate of failed operations, and began to suspect that a mole inside the group’s senior command structure was feeding sensitive operational information to the Israelis. Eventually, Shawraba was arrested after Hezbollah’s leadership was given crucial information from Iranian intelligence sources. Shortly afterwards, Shawraba was arrested in a Hezbollah-led sting operation, reportedly along with four other people who worked for him in the group’s Foreign Operations Unit. In an article published last week, the Beirut-based Daily Star said Shawraba is currently undergoing trial in a Hezbollah court. Israeli government officials have refused comment on the story.


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