Norway probes intercept equipment found near PM’s home

Parliament of NorwayBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in Norway are probing a possible espionage operation by a foreign intelligence agency, following the discovery of several electronic surveillance devices located near government buildings in downtown Oslo. The presence of the devices was revealed on December 12 in a leading article by Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten, which published the findings of what it said was a two-month technical investigation into the matter. The paper said its reporters teamed up with two leading companies specializing technical surveillance countermeasures. According to the article, investigators came up with a network of surveillance devices disguised to look like cell phone base stations, known as transceivers. But the devices were actually International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers, essentially fake cell phone towers that are often used clandestinely to intercept telephone traffic among users, as well as their movements. Aftenposten said that the devices, whose unauthorized use is illegal in Norway, had been placed outside the official residence and office of the prime minister, outside the houses of parliament, as well as near major banks and corporate headquarters. IMSI catchers cannot access the content of cellular communications, as most providers encrypt them nowadays; but they can record the telephone numbers of users, as well as pen-register data —namely who calls whom, when, for how long, etc. Additionally, if those behind the surveillance knew the telephone numbers of targeted subscribers, they could keep track of their physical movements through their phone’s GPS system, and identify who they contact on their cellular devices. The newspaper said the surveillance devices were almost certainly installed to monitor the activities of senior Norwegian government officials, as well as perhaps senior executives of companies headquartered in the Norwegian capital. On Monday, Norway’s National Security Authority (NSM) said it thought Aftenposten’s claims were probably correct. NSM Director Kjetil Nilsen said the main question was now who was behind the installations. Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) spokeswoman Siv Alsen told reporters on Monday that “the possibility that this is coming from foreign state agencies” could not be dismissed. She added that the PST would now proceed to probe whether the surveillance network was the work of foreign spies or organized criminal networks. Norway, a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is traditionally seen as an ally of the United States and has seen its relations with Russia and China strained in recent years.

Scotland sees Nordic spy agencies as post-independence models

United Kingdom and IrelandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Government administrators in Scotland, which may soon become independent from the United Kingdom, are looking to possibly model their intelligence agencies after those of Scandinavian countries, according to sources. An agreement for an independence referendum, to be held in September 2014, was struck last year between the devolved Scottish Government and the British state. According to the agreement, residents of Scotland, which has been ruled by English-dominated Britain for over 700 years, will be asked whether they agree that the territory should form an independent country. In January of this year, Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland, told the Scottish Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs that an independent Scotland would have to build a domestic intelligence agency to combat security threats such as terrorism, organized crime and cyber attacks. Sturgeon, who is also Deputy Leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, opined that, even though a Scottish intelligence agency would serve the interests of the Scottish government and people, it would inevitably maintain “very close intelligence sharing with the rest of the UK”. But Committee members opposed to independence warned Sturgeon that Scottish intelligence agencies would have to prove that they were reliable and safe before they struck intelligence-sharing arrangements with British and American organizations. It appears that, in response to such criticisms, Scottish civil servants have initiated contacts with intelligence experts abroad, in an attempt to replicate the intelligence-agency model of Nordic countries. Read more of this post

Norway, Sudan, expel diplomats over spying allegations

PST headquarters in OsloBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Norway and Sudan have announced tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions over allegations of espionage. On Tuesday, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that a Sudanese diplomat stationed in the Norwegian capital Oslo would be expelled. The diplomat, whose name and position at the Sudanese embassy were not disclosed, allegedly engaged in “activities incompatible with his status under the protection of the Vienna Convention” —standard diplomatic lingo for espionage. The Reuters news agency reported that the diplomat was expelled after Norway’s main counterintelligence intelligence agency, the Police Security Service (PST), arrested and charged a 38-year-old Sudanese immigrant with espionage. The unnamed man, who was arrested in Trondheim, said he had been instructed by Sudanese embassy personnel to spy on the activities of the Sudanese expatriate community in Norway. He had previously been observed by the PST having a meeting with the same Sudanese diplomat who was subsequently expelled from Norway. Both men were arrested on Tuesday. While the unnamed diplomat has been expelled, the 38-year-old immigrant remains imprisoned in Oslo on espionage charges. According to a statement from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tuesday’s arrests marked the first case of ‘immigration intelligence’-related charges in the Scandinavian country since the 1970s. Early on Wednesday, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was expelling a Norwegian diplomat in response to Oslo’s move on the previous day. Read more of this post

Western spy agencies ‘sharing intelligence’ with Syrian rebels

Robert MoodBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A British newspaper has cited defense sources claiming that British and American intelligence agencies are passing vital information to Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the country’s government. British tabloid The Daily Star quoted “a British defense source” who said that most of the raw intelligence on Syria is picked up by sophisticated British and American satellites monitoring Syrian communications. Once gathered and assessed by intelligence analysts in Washington and London, the information is passed on to operatives of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6, who are allegedly operating on the ground in Syria. They in turn communicate actionable intelligence to rebel leaders in Syria, who are fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the British tabloid, information passed on to rebel leaders includes detailed satellite imagery of Syrian pro-government troop movements around the country, as well as the contents of intercepted communications between senior Syrian military commanders and their subordinates in the field. The Star quotes one unnamed British government source who claims that the satellites are so sophisticated that they allow British and American eavesdroppers to identify the individuals whose voices are heard in the intercepted communications, with the aid of advanced voice recognition systems. The intelligence has reportedly enabled rebel commanders to evacuate locations targeted by government forces, and may also have allowed the rebels to organize successful counterstrikes in response to offensives conducted by troops loyal to Damascus. Washington-based publication The Hill contacted the CIA and the White House but their spokespersons refused to comment on what they called “an ongoing intelligence operation” in Syria. A spokesman from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office would only tell The Star that “all actions remain on the table”.   Read more of this post

News you may have missed #714

Tjostolv Moland and Joshua FrenchBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►British PM urged to intervene in Congo spy case. The mother of Joshua French, who has dual British and Norwegian nationality, and is facing execution in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has urged British Prime Minister David Cameron to ask Congolese authorities to pardon him. French, and his Norwegian friend Tjostolv Moland, were sentenced to death for murder and spying in the vast central African country in 2009. A prison official claimed in August last year that the pair had tried to escape, but their lawyer denies this.
►►Computers of Syrian activists infected with Trojan. Since the beginning of the year, pro-Syrian-government hackers have steadily escalated the frequency and sophistication of their attacks on Syrian opposition activists. Many of these attacks are carried out through Trojans, which covertly install spying software onto infected computers, as well as phishing attacks which steal YouTube and Facebook login credentials. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the latest surveillance malware comes in the form of an extracting file which is made to look like a PDF if users have their file extensions turned off. The PDF purports to be a document concerning the formation of the leadership council of the Syrian revolution and is delivered via Skype message from a known friend.
►►Report claims Australian government spied on anti-coal activists. The leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, says he is outraged at reports that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is spying on mining protesters, and says such action is a misuse of the spy agency’s resources. The revelations were reported in Australian newspapers yesterday, and are based on a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism that was reportedly rejected because it involved “an intelligence agency document”. The ASIO says it cannot confirm whether it has conducted surveillance of anti-coal protesters, but it says it does not target particular groups or individuals unless there is a security-related reason to do so.

News you may have missed #672

Janne KristiansenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russian military intelligence to ‘change tactics’. Russian military intelligence is adjusting its work methods in response to the “worsening international situation”, Igor Sergun, the head of GRU —the country’s largest espionage agency— has told President Dmitry Medvedev. Currently, the GRU’s main focus is on “hot spots where terrorist and extremist groups are acting, regions with crisis situations, and also the sources and possible routes of illegal proliferation of nuclear materials and the components of weapons of mass destruction”, Sergun told Medvedev.
►►Norway spy chief quits in secrecy gaffe. Norway’s head of intelligence Janne Kristiansen has handed in her resignation because she said too much during a parliamentary hearing. According to a transcript, Ms Kristiansen, who until now headed the country’s Police Security Service (PST), told the hearing that Norway had agents working in Pakistan. According to reports Pakistan has asked the government of Norway to explain Kristiansen’s remarks.
►►Review of Australia’s spy community released. Public findings of the first independent review of Australia’s intelligence community in eight years were released on January 25. The 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community acknowledges and justifies the Australian spy agencies’ unprecedented growth since September 11, which saw some agencies increasing their funding almost 500 per cent in a decade. Meanwhile, David Irvine, Director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, said in a rare public talk that future Australian spies would be recruited “from within our newly arrived migrant communities”.

Turkish spy agency in secret Oslo talks with Kurdish PKK

PKK banner

PKK banner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which culminated in the early 1990s, has flared up again, ever since the creation of the US-protected Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Currently, the Turkish military is technically at war with the PKK, a leftist secessionist movement that aspires to create a Kurdish homeland comprising mostly of territories in Turkey’s Anatolia region. But a leaked audio recording posted on the Internet last week shows that senior Turkish intelligence officials have been participating in secret talks with the leadership of the PKK, since at least 2010. Several Kurdish news agencies published the recording of one such secret meeting, involving the leadership of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The recording features a frank discussion between, on the one side, the head of MİT, Hakan Fidan, and its deputy director, Afet Güneş; the two are heard deliberating with Sabit Ok, Zübeyr Aydar and Mustafa Karasu, all of whom are senior PKK officials and wanted dead or alive by the Turkish state. A voice of an apparent mediator —marked by a distinct Scandinavian accent— can be heard speaking at the beginning. The mediator mentions that the meeting is the fifth installment of a series of encounters called “The Oslo Talks”. According to Turkish daily Hürriyet, the mediator appears to be a government official from Norway, which probably hosted the secret meeting(s) somewhere in its capital city. Shortly following the mediator’s introduction, Fidan is heard saying that he is acting as a “special envoy of […] prime minister” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The leaked recording disappeared from Kurdish websites soon after it was posted, and some Kurdish media sources said that it had been aired by “anonymous hackers”. Read more of this post

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