More on Russian citizens charged with espionage by the FBI

TASS news agency headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A criminal complaint unsealed Monday in a Manhattan court has revealed more details about a complex counterintelligence operation by American authorities against three Russian citizens in New York. The Federal Bureau of Investigation filed charges against two Russian diplomats, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, as well as Evgeny Buryakov, an employee of a major Russian bank in Manhattan. All three are believed to be officers of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to the criminal complaint, the two diplomats met Buryakov nearly fifty times between March 2012 and September 2014. FBI counterintelligence agents witnessed the Russians pass “small objects or notes” between each other in public, said the indictment. As intelNews reported yesterday, the three Russians were in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization” in the US. According to The Daily Beast, the news organization in question is the Moscow-based TASS news agency, which is owned by the Russian government. The court documents also reveal that Sporyshev and Podobnyy broke basic rules of intelligence tradecraft, by contacting Buryakov using an unencrypted telephone line and addressing him by his real name, rather than his cover name. These conversations, which occurred in April 2013, turned out to be monitored by the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which promptly recorded them. In subsequent telephone conversations, Sporyshev and Podobnyy exchanged views on how to recruit female assets in New York. According to the transcripts provided by the FBI, Sporyshev expressed the view that female assets posed problems, in that they would not let male SVR case officers “get close enough” unless they entered a sexual relationship, which made recruitment of assets complicated. Eventually, the FBI set up a sting operation targeting Buryakov. He was approached by an undercover FBI agent posing as an American investor, offering to provide the Russian with classified documents from the US Treasury. In exchange for the documents, he wanted assistance from the Kremlin to build a chain of casinos in Russia. Buryakov spoke with Sporyshev on the phone about the investor’s offer, and was advised by the diplomat that it could be “some sort of a set up —a trap of some kind”. When Sporyshev told Buryakov to proceed cautiously, the latter received from the undercover FBI agent documents purporting to be from a US Treasury source. The Russian was promptly arrested and now faces up to 20 years in prison on charges of operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

US busts Russian spy ring, charges three with espionage

Russian mission to the UNBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the United States have charged three Russian citizens, two of them diplomats, with operating a New York-based spy ring on orders from Moscow. Early on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation named the diplomats as Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27. It said the two were employees of the trade office of the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. But the FBI had apparently been monitoring the two accredited diplomats since March of 2012. Its agents eventually uncovered that Sporyshev and Podobnyy were in fact employees of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to their indictment, the two were employed by the SVR’s ‘ER’ Directorate, which focuses on economics and finance. The two SVR employees, operating under diplomatic guises, regularly met with a third member of the alleged spy ring, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, also an SVR officer. However, unlike Sporyshev and Podobnyy, Buryakov was operating under non-official cover, posing as an employee in the Manhattan office of a major Russian bank. Non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community, are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for conducting espionage. US government prosecutors suggested on Monday that the three alleged SVR operatives were also in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization”, presumably in the US. They also tried to recruit American citizens to spy for Moscow, including employees of “major companies” and “several young women with ties to a major university in New York”, according to the indictment. It is believed that the three Russians were primarily interested in information relating to potential US government sanctions against Russian financial institutions, as well as Washington’s efforts to promote the development of alternative resources of energy. The FBI said Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, “no longer reside in the US”. Presumably they were expelled. Buryakov, however, appeared in a Manhattan court on Monday.

Links revealed between UK spy agencies and Gaddafi-era Libya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgTony Blair and Muammar Gaddafi in 2007
British spy agencies had close operational links with their Libyan counterparts during the rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, and even allowed Libyan spies to operate on British soil, according to documents. The Libyan government files, unearthed in the North African country following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, allegedly reveal a degree of cooperation between London and Tripoli that goes far beyond what has been publicly acknowledged. According to London-based newspaper The Guardian, which saw the documents, intelligence agencies from the two countries launched a series of joint operations between 2006 and 2011, aimed at political enemies of the Libyan ruler, many of whom were thought to have links with al-Qaeda. In an article published on Friday, The Guardian said that the Security Service (commonly known as MI5), invited Libyan intelligence operatives to Britain and allowed them to spy on enemies of the Gaddafi regime who were living there, having been granted political asylum by the British government. The paper said that the Libyan intelligence officers were even allowed to “intimidate a number of Gaddafi opponents” who were trying to organize anti-Gaddafi campaigns on British soil. In return, the Libyan government allowed MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) access to captured anti-Gaddafi dissidents in Libya, while the latter underwent interrogation that almost certainly involved torture. The British paper said the unearthed documents, which come straight from the archive vaults of the Gaddafi government, are being used in a lawsuit filed in Britain against MI5, MI6, as well as against a number of British government departments, by former anti-Gaddafi dissidents. The plaintiffs, all members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which tried to depose Gaddafi in the years prior to his death, claim that evidence against them was obtained through torture in Libyan prisons. They also claim that British intelligence agencies knew they were being tortured when they cooperated with the Libyan intelligence services that had captured them. In 2014, a former senior leader of LIFG, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, won the right to sue the British government over his claim that he was tortured by Libyan intelligence operatives with the cooperation of British and American intelligence agencies. In 2012, another prominent Libyan political dissident, Sami al-Saadi, was awarded £2.2 million ($3.5 million) by a British court, after claiming that he underwent torture in Libya following his abduction in a joint British/Libyan/American intelligence operation.

Mossad breaks with Israeli PM, cautions against new Iran sanctions

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cautioning American members of Congress against imposing new sanctions on Iran. 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. But two members of the Republican-controlled Senate in the United States, Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, have voiced strong displeasure with what they see as the slow pace of progress in the talks. The two senators are co-sponsors of a proposed bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic fails to make substantial progress toward the Geneva agreement by next June. US President Barack Obama opposes the bill, arguing that it would actually prompt Iran to accelerate its nuclear program, and has publicly said he would veto it. Meanwhile, his Secretary of State, John Kerry, quoted this week an Israeli intelligence official who allegedly told him that, if enacted, the Menendez-Kirk bill would “throw a grenade into the process”. It is no secret that the bill enjoys strong support from Netanyahu’s government. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the Geneva 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”. Late on Wednesday, however, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad has been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians and cautioning them that the Menendez-Kirk bill would indeed torpedo the Geneva agreement. The news agency said that the Israeli intelligence agency has been warning American officials abroad and it recently contacted a US Congressional delegation visiting Israel. The Bloomberg report cited two unnamed “senior US officials”, one of whom told the news agency that “any bill that triggers sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks”. If confirmed, the Bloomberg allegations would mean that the Mossad, Israel’s principal intelligence agency, is sharply breaking ranks with the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Iran. The Bloomberg article further states that Senator Menendez has contacted Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, to complain about the actions of the Mossad, which, say critics, break diplomatic protocol.

UK spies intercepted emails from top European, American media

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s communications-interception agency captured private emails from journalists and editors in some of the world’s top media, including The New York Times, the BBC, The Washington Post, and NBC. British broadsheet The Guardian said on Monday that the interception occurred in 2008 by experts in the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which spies on international communications on behalf of the British government. The London-based newspaper said the emails were among 70,000 that were captured during a 10-minute interception drill that took place in 2008. The exercise involved the installation of a number of taps on fiber-optic cables, which function as superhighways of digital signals exchanged between users around the world. The messages captured included emails sent by journalists and editors working for some of the world’s most recognizable media in Britain, France and the United States. Following the exercise, the content of the intercepted messages was posted on GCHQ’s internal servers, where any one of its employees with access to the organization’s intranet could read them. The Guardian said it based its revelation on internal GCHQ files disclosed by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for GCHQ’s American counterpart, the National Security Agency, who defected to Russia in 2013. The purpose of the British spy agency’s exercise is not known, nor is there any information in the leaked documents to show whether journalists and their editors were deliberately targeted by GCHQ. However, the paper said that another document leaked by Snowden contains an “information security assessment”, in which GCHQ targeting officers listed “investigative journalists” in a detailed hierarchical list of security threats, which included computer hackers and terrorists. The document cautions that “journalists and reporters […] specializing in defence-related exposés […] represent a potential threat to security”. The Guardian contacted GCHQ but was told by a spokesman that the organization has a “longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters”. The spokesman added, however, that the agency’s interception activities are subject to “rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state”.

Sri Lanka expels Indian spy official for meddling in elections

Maithripala SirisenaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Sri Lanka has expelled a senior Indian intelligence official, accusing him of meddling in national elections that took place earlier this month. Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down on January 9 after losing a nationwide electoral contest to his former cabinet aide and main contender for the post, Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena led a coalition of opposition parties and figures, including several of Rajapaksa’s government ministers, who defected to the opposition en masse in the months leading to the election. Rajapaksa’s defeat surprised observers, who believed he would easily win a successive third term in office. Since 2005, when he was first elected president, Rajapaksa led an all-out military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as Tamil Tigers), after dismissing a prior truce deal between the government and the separatist group as “treasonous”. Under his leadership, the Sri Lankan military drove the Tigers out of Sri Lanka’s entire Eastern Province, reducing the extent of the group’s territorial control by 95%. However, relations with India, a traditional Sri Lankan ally, deteriorated drastically under Rajapaksa’s leadership. New Delhi became concerned that Colombo was making too many openings toward India’s geopolitical rival China. Late last year the Indian government protested after Sri Lanka permitted Chinese submarines to dock there without first informing its northern neighbor. On December 28, Sri Lankan media alleged that the senior representative of India’s Research and Analysis Wing in Colombo had been expelled from the country due to his behind-the-scenes support of the opposition’s electoral campaign. According to Sri Lankan sources, it was the Indian intelligence official who convinced Sirisena to resign from President Rajapaksa’s cabinet and run against him. The Indian intelligence operative then hosted secret meetings between Sirisena and other opposition figures, during which a united political front against Rajapaksa was formed. The allegations were also reported by the Reuters news agency on January 18, in an article that cited “political and intelligence sources” in Sri Lanka and India. New Delhi denied the allegations, saying that the intelligence official had been replaced because his overseas tour had expired, not because he had been expelled by authorities in Colombo. Meanwhile, the newly installed President Sirisena said he intends visit New Delhi on his first foreign trip in February, adding that India will form his government’s “first, main concern” on matters of foreign policy.

Canadian arbitrator sides with agency that fired spy-in-training

CSIS headquarters in OttawaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An arbitration court in Canada has reversed an earlier court decision by upholding a dismissal of a spy-in-training by the country’s primary national intelligence service. Marc-André Bergeron used the operational alias Marc-André Bertrand while working for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. According to the secretive agency’s recruitment system, all new employees are considered trainees and remain on probation for five years, at which point they can be fired with relative ease. Bergeron, who worked for the CSIS in Quebec, was dismissed in October of 2007, just three months before his probation period was scheduled to expire. The Service said his dismissal was due to operational incompetence on his part. But the former spy filed a wrongful dismissal claim against CSIS, arguing he was fired due to a severe personality conflict with his superior, whom he described as manipulative and petty. As intelNews reported in 2011, Bergeron won his case by representing himself and successfully arguing that CSIS had failed to give him an opportunity to “explain himself”, something that he blamed on the “lack of transparency” that plagued the organization. The dispute between the sides continued, however, and earlier this month the Public Service Labour Relations Board backed CSIS’s decision to fire the spy trainee. Prior to announcing its decision, the Board heard that Michel Coulombe, who became CSIS’ director in 2013, had personally signed Bergeron’s dismissal letter in 2007. At the time, Coulombe served as CSIS’ head for the province of Quebec, where Bergeron was employed. According to the Quebec-based Journal de Montreal, which accessed a copy of the letter, it states that Bergeron lacked the “skills and abilities needed to be an intelligence officer at the CSIS”. The Service also claimed that Bergeron had demonstrated inability to differentiate fact from fiction, was an analyst of poor quality, and had filed incomplete investigation reports during his probationary period. Neither CSIS nor Bergeron made comments following the announcement of the Board’s decision.

German who spied for CIA stole list of 3,500 German spies’ names

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A German intelligence officer, who was arrested last summer for spying for the United States, may have given his American handlers information on the real identities, as well as operational aliases, of nearly 3,500 German intelligence operatives. In July, Germany expelled the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Berlin, following the arrest of Marcus R., a 31-year-old, low-level clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was believed at the time to have spied for the CIA for approximately two years, and to have supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000. It is thought that Markus R. contacted the CIA by sending an email over an encrypted connection to the American embassy in Berlin. From then on, his communication with his American handlers appears to have taken place mostly via the Internet. Sources suggest that he conferred with them via a secure link that was included in a specially-designed weather application that he had been instructed install on his computer. Now German authorities, who have been investigating the 31-year-old double spy’s computers ever since his arrest, say they found in one of them a stolen digital document containing a list of the real and cover identities of thousands of BND employees stationed abroad. According to German publications Bild and Spiegel, which reported the alleged discovery, the employees whose names are contained in the document are members of the BND’s Foreign Relations department, also known as Foreign Theater Operations department. The department is tasked with stationing intelligence operatives abroad in German embassies and consulates, as well as with embedding them with German military missions in places such as Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Mali. German investigators say they are not yet certain whether Markus R. passed the names of the BND operatives on to his CIA handlers.

News you may have missed #887 (Anglosphere edition)

Ian FletcherBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Canadian military deploys spies during Arctic exercise. The Canadian military has been routinely deploying a counter-intelligence team to guard against possible spying, terrorism and sabotage during its annual Arctic exercise, according to internal documents. In the view of intelligence experts, the move is unusual because Operation NANOOK is conducted on Canadian soil in remote locations of the Far North.
►►Sudden resignation of NZ spy chief raises questions. Opposition parties in New Zealand have raised questions over the sudden resignation of Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Ian Fletcher, who is stepping down after three years in the role. Chris Finlayson, the minister responsible for the spy agency, said Fletcher was making the move for family reasons. Fletcher will finish in the role on 27 February and an acting director will be appointed from that date.
►►British government argues for more powers for spy agencies. Britain’s spying agencies need more powers to read the contents of communications in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Speaking in Nottingham, he said the intelligence agencies need more access to both communications data –records of phone calls and online exchanges between individuals– and the contents of communications. This is compatible with a “modern, liberal democracy”, he said.

Western intelligence points to new Syrian nuclear plant: report

Al-Qusayr, SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Western intelligence indicates that the government of Syria is in the process of constructing a new secret nuclear plant aimed at producing nuclear weapons. In the early hours of September 7, 2007, an air attack believed to have been carried out by Israel destroyed a mysterious facility deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. The site, named al-Kibar, located 20 miles from Deir el-Zor in eastern Syria, is widely thought to have been a nuclear reactor under construction by Damascus. The Syrian government has never commented or protested about the incident. But in late 2008, the Israeli government told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Syria was once again “actively involved in plutonium production” and that Damascus had renewed its nuclear collaboration with North Korea, which was actively supplying Syria “with nuclear materials and research”. Now a report in leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had transported 8,000 fuel rods that had been destined for al-Kibar to a new location in the southwest of the country. The report, published on Saturday, cited information from “Western intelligence sources”, which it did not identify. The newsmagazine said it had seen intelligence reports containing satellite photographs and transcriptions of intercepted radio traffic, which left little doubt that the Syrian government was in the process of constructing a new nuclear reactor. The German-language publication said the plant is being constructed deep underground in a remote mountainous region near the small town of Al-Qusayr, located less than two miles from the northern Lebanese border. According to the report, construction on the al-Qusayr plant, which the Syrians appear to have codenamed “Zamzam”, began in 2009 under the watchful eye of Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, which currently guards the plant with “elite units”. The site appears ideal, said Der Spiegel, as it is adjacent to significant supplies of water, and is connected to the energy grid through special access nodes. The newsmagazine said radio traffic intercepts include conversations between senior Syrian military officials and Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. The discussions seem to indicate that the construction project is being assisted by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The article points out that Western monitors are certain the technical aspects of the project are being led by North Korean experts, and that some of them are currently in Damascus. According to the IAEA, the Syrian government is in possession of approximately 50 tons of natural uranium, which, if enriched, could provide material for up to three nuclear bombs.

North Korean hackers operating secretly in China, says defector

Shenyang railway stationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An underground network of North Korean hackers are conducting complex cyberattacks against worldwide targets from Chinese cities without the knowledge of Beijing, according to a former professor who trained them. Kim Heung-Kwang was a professor of computer science in North Korean capital Pyongyang, until his defection in 2004. He told CNN on Tuesday that part of his job was training members of North Korea’s elite cyberintelligence corps, whose task was to compromise computer systems around the world. Kim alleged that some of the hackers joined a specialized outfit called Bureau 121. It was established in complete secrecy in 1995 and ten years later it began sending its operatives abroad, especially in northern China. According to Kim, Bureau 121 set up a complex network of hackers in the Chinese city of Shenyang, in northern China’s Liaoning Province. Shenyang is the largest Chinese city near North Korea, and Bureau 121 operatives were allegedly able to effortlessly blend in the sizeable Korean community there. The former professor told CNN that the hackers “entered China separately” over time, “in smaller groups […], under different titles” such as officer workers, trade company officials, or even diplomatic personnel. They operated like typical spies, working regular jobs by day and “acting on orders from Pyongyang” by night, said Kim. They gradually set up an underground “North Korean hacker hub”, operating secretly in Shenyang for several years, relocating from place to place in order to shield their activities from computer security experts. Kim told CNN that Shenyang’s bustling, money-driven life and its good Internet facilities made it easy for Bureau 121 members to work secretly on several projects that required sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. North Korea lacks China’s telecommunications network capabilities, said Kim, which is why Pyongyang decided in the early days of the Internet to transport its hackers to Shenyang. He added that Bureau 121 has rolled back considerably its overseas operations in recent years, due to the advancement of high-speed telecommunications networks in North Korea; but some North Korean hackers are still active in northern China, he said.

Hezbollah official admits group ‘battling espionage’ in its ranks

Naim QassemBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
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.

Iran says it foiled Mossad assassination of nuclear scientist

Yaqoub BaqeriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Iranian military official has claimed that Tehran foiled an attempt by Israeli spies to assassinate a scientist working for Iran’s nuclear program. In a report filed on Saturday, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Colonel Yaqoub Baqeri saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had managed to prevent Israel from killing the scientist “during the last two years”. Baqeri is deputy chief liaison officer in the air force division of the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces dedicated to protecting and furthering the goals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baqueri told Fars, which is known to have strong links with the IRGC, that Israel’s covert-action agency, the Mossad, had been “trying hard to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist”, but that the well-timed involvement of the IRGC had “thwarted the terrorist operation”. At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted by unknown assailants since 2007, when Ardeshire Hassanpour, who worked at Iran’s Isfahan nuclear facility, was found dead in his Tehran apartment, allegedly having suffocated in his sleep from fumes from a faulty gas pipe. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in 2009, while Masoud Ali Mohammadi, described by the Iranian government as a “dedicated revolutionary professor”, was killed in 2010 by a remotely controlled explosive device that had been planted at the entrance of his residence. Later that year, two near-simultaneous bomb attacks killed Majid Shahriari and injured Fereydoon Abbasi Davan, nuclear researchers and professors at the Shahid Beheshti University. The two were attacked in separate incidents by motorcyclists who targeted them during the morning rush hour in Tehran as they were driving to work. The assailants attached small bombs to the car surfaces of their targets and detonated them from a relatively safe distance before speeding away through heavy traffic. The Fars News Agency report also claimed that Iran’s intelligence agencies had uncovered secret training bases run by the Mossad and located “within the territories of one of Iran’s western neighbors”, in which teams of assassins were allegedly being “trained and assisted” by the Israelis. In 2012, Israel’s two leading intelligence correspondents, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, claimed in their book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that the “decapitation program” against the Iranian nuclear effort was led by Israel with the expressed but passive endorsement of the United States.

Shiite rebels abduct, then release, Yemen’s intelligence chief

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Shiite rebels, who are in control of most of Yemeni capital Sana’a, released the country’s intelligence chief a few hours after abducting him from his home, according to local sources. The chief, Major General Yehia al-Marani, directs Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), and is regularly referred to as the second most powerful security official in the country, after the director of the country’s National Security Bureau. The Associated Press reported early on Thursday that about 20 armed militia members appeared outside al-Marani’s home in Sana’a at daybreak and demanded that the general come with them. The PSO chief ordered his bodyguards to lay down their weapons and then went away escorted by the rebels. Al-Marani’s kidnappers were almost certainly Houthi militiamen, who are members of a Shiite militant group known as Ansarullah. The Houthis, who come from western Yemen, have been engaged in a secessionist armed struggle since 2004 against the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government. Last September, they took advantage of the power-vacuum created by the collapse of the regime of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and stormed the Yemeni capital, easily taking control of it within a few days. Their official reason for the takeover was their expressed desire to force President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who succeeded Saleh, to dissolve Yemen’s Sunni-led government, which the Houthis said was closely connected with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). After a period of prolonged negotiations with the rebels, President Hadi dissolved the government and replaced it with a more inclusive group of non-partisan technocrats. But the rebels refused to disband and disarm, and have since intensified their armed campaign, taking over a number of Yemeni cities and several major roads across the country. The Houthi leadership claims that they need to remain armed in order to fight militant Sunni groups operating in the country, and to battle corruption. Al-Marani was released by the rebels late on Thursday, with no explanation given as to his earlier abduction. It is believed that, before his appointment as head of PSO, the General served for 15 years as the Organization’s regional director in Sa’dah province, a Shiite stronghold where the Houthi insurgency has its roots. Some speculate that the rebels intended to settle old scores with al-Marani. Yemen government officials have refused to confirm or deny the reports of the Generals’ abduction and release.

Germany announces arrest of alleged Turkish spies

Embassy of Turkey in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German authorities have announced the arrest of three citizens of Turkey on charges of conducting espionage activities in Germany on behalf of the Turkish government. In a statement issued on December 18, the office of the German federal prosecutor said the three Turks had been arrested on the previous day, following a prolonged counterintelligence investigation. In accordance with German federal law, the statement identified the three only by their first name and age, which are: Mohammed Taha G., 58, Göksel G., 33, and Ahmed Duran Y., 58. It said the detainees had been charged with conducting illegal espionage activities on German soil, on behalf of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known locally as MİT. The announcement by the office of the prosecutor said a warrant for the arrest of the three had been issued on November 11, implying that the Turks had been monitored for several months prior to their December 17 arrest. According to the official account, Mohammed Taha G. and Göksel G. were arrested at Frankfurt Airport, presumably as they were attempting to leave the country. Shortly afterwards, Ahmed Duran Y. was also arrested at his home in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. German authorities believe the three were members of an organized spy ring, which was headed by Mohammed Taha G. Its primary operational goal appears to have been to collect intelligence on Germany’s sizable Turkish expatriate community, much of which consists of ethnic Kurds. Some sources told German media that the three Turks were using their contacts with a local branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) as a cover for their espionage operations. However, this has been denied in Turkish media reports, which cite unnamed security officials as saying that neither TIKA nor the three detainees are connected to MİT. Meanwhile, spokespersons at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MİT, and the embassy of Turkey in Berlin refused to comment on the story. There is little doubt, however, that this news comes at a particularly tense period in German-Turkish relations. Last August, unconfirmed German media reports suggested that Germany’s main external intelligence agency, the BND, had been actively spying on the Turkish government since at least 2009. According to the reports, the BND designated Turkey as a “priority target” in 2009, even though both countries are allied members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has reacted angrily at accusations by German politicians that Ankara is turning a blind eye to the rise of the Islamic State for Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS, allegedly in an effort to combat the resurgent Kurdish separatism in Anatolia.

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