Former KGB officer facing deportation voluntarily leaves Canada

Mikhail LennikovA Russian former officer in the Soviet KGB, who defied deportation orders issued against him by the Canadian government by taking refuge in a Vancouver church for six consecutive years, has voluntarily left the country. Mikhail Lennikov, who spent five years working for the KGB in the 1980s, had been living in Canada with his wife and son since 1992. But in 2009, Canada’s Public Safety Ministry rejected Lennikov’s refugee claim and notified him that he could “be ordered deported from the country in as early as a few weeks”.

Canadian authorities have refused to reveal the precise reason for the decision to issue deportation orders against the former KGB agent. But it is believed that his Soviet intelligence background is perceived by Canadian authorities as a national security threat. Lennikov has consistently rejected accusations that he is a threat to Canada’s national security and has previously stated that he voluntarily revealed his KGB background to Canadian authorities. He has also said that if sent back to Russia he could face imprisonment for having revealed his KGB background to a foreign government. In 2009, the former KGB officer sought refuge at the First Lutheran Church in Vancouver, where he lived until recently. Meanwhile, his wife and children, who have no connections to Soviet or Russian intelligence, were awarded asylum and eventually Canadian citizenship.

Last week, however, it emerged that Lennikov had left the Vancouver church that had been his home for six years. His lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, told reporters that the former KGB officer had left Canada. His departure appears to have taken place after an agreement was struck between him and the Canada Border Services Agency. Nazami said on Sunday that Lennikov had “left at the end of this week and left on his own accord, voluntarily, according to his own wishes and decisions he reached himself”. Canadian media reported that it “no longer seemed to be the case” that Lennikov would face treason charges if he went back to Russia. When asked about Lennikov’s whereabouts, Nazami told journalists that it was “something that I cannot comment on”, but added that his client “feels safe and we are going by that assumption”. Lennikov’s wife and children, who are Canadian citizens, plan to remain in Canada, said Nazami.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 August 2015 | Permalink

Sweden conducts spy flights over Russia amidst heightened tensions

Swedish Air ForceSwedish Air Force spy planes conducted reconnaissance flights over Russia on Wednesday —and there was nothing the Kremlin could do about it. The flights were part of the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies, an international agreement designed to build trust among former Cold War rivals. The treaty was first proposed by the United States in 1990, with the intention of covering all member-states of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. When it was eventually signed, on March 24, 1992, it was ratified by 23 countries, including the US and Russia. An additional 11 states have joined the treaty at various times since, with Sweden joining in 2002. On Wednesday, Swedish reconnaissance airplanes conducted flights over a number of Russian military installations as part of the treaty, as they do every year during predetermined times.

This year, however, the stakes are different, since relations between Stockholm and Moscow have deteriorated dramatically. The Scandinavian country has issued numerous formal complaints against what it says were illegal infiltrations of its airspace by Russian military jets since 2014. Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said earlier this year that some of these alleged airspace infiltrations represented “the most serious aerial incursions by the Russians in almost 10 years”. In October of last year, Swedish authorities shut down airspace over Stockholm while searching for a misery foreign vessel seen off the coast of the Swedish capital, said to be a Russian spy submarine. The mystery vessel was never detected, but some Swedish media sites claimed that its mission had been to either “pick up or drop off a Russian spy” without alerting Swedish authorities. In March of this year, the Swedish Security Service, known as SAPO, said that Russia was Sweden’s greatest short-term threat, adding that nearly a third of all Russian diplomats stationed in Sweden were in fact intelligence officers.

Swedish media quoted Swedish Armed Forces Colonel Carol Paraniak, who said that Russia was and would always remain an intelligence target for Sweden. This is especially true today, as the “security and political situation […] has changed a lot compared to last year. Tensions have increased dramatically”, said Paraniak.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 August 2015 | Permalink

Germany and Holland investigated Russian physicist for espionage

Eindhoven University of TechnologyThe German and Dutch governments allegedly joined forces to investigate a Russian supercomputer specialist, who studied in Germany and Holland, suspecting him of passing technical information to Russian intelligence. German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which published the report in its current issue, identified the physicist only as “Ivan A.” and said that the 28-year-old man was a member of a physics laboratory affiliated with the Max Planck Institute in the western German city of Bonn. According to Spiegel, Ivan A. studied in Bonn between 2009 and 2011, conducting research on quantum physics and nanophotonics, an area of study that examines the behavior of light on the nanometer scale. Much of the research in this specialized field relates to supercomputers and cutting-edge quantum computing applications.

Citing unnamed government sources, Spiegel said that Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is the country’s top counterintelligence agency, started to monitor the scientist once he began meeting regularly with a Russian diplomat. The diplomat, who was stationed at the consulate of the Russian Federation in Bonn, had been identified by German intelligence as a member of the Russian secret services. German counterintelligence officials thus began suspecting Ivan A. of channeling restricted technical information to Moscow via the Russian diplomat.

However, in 2013 Ivan A. relocated to the Dutch city of Eindhoven to study at the Eindhoven University of Technology, at which point German counterintelligence officers reached out to their Dutch colleagues. During one of his trips from Germany to Holland, Ivan A. was detained for several hours along with this wife at the Düsseldorf International Airport. He was questioned and his personal electronic devices were confiscated. Upon his release Germany and Holland jointly launched against him a formal investigation for espionage. Eventually his European Union residence visa was cancelled and he was expelled by the Dutch government as a danger to national security. Der Spiegel said Ivan A. returned to Russia and today denies that he was a spy.

Espionage scandals frequently rock German-Russian relations. In 2013, a German court convicted a married couple, Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag, of having spied for the Soviet Union and Russia since at least 1990. The two had used forged Austrian passports to enter West Germany from Mexico in 1988 and 1990.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/28/01-1744/

Murder suspect to give evidence on death of ex-KGB spy in London

Alexander LitvinenkoA Russian former intelligence officer, who is accused by the British government of having killed a former KGB spy in London, has agreed to testify at a public inquiry to be held in the British capital next month. British government prosecutors believe Russian businessman Dmitri Kovtun, who worked for the KGB during the Cold War, poisoned his former colleague in the KGB, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006. Litvinenko was an officer in the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting Kovtun and another former KGB officer, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. He was dead less than two weeks later.

In July of 2007, after establishing the cause of Litvinenko’s death, which is attributed to the highly radioactive substance Polonium-210, the British government officially charged 1 Kovtun and Lugovoy with murder and issued international arrest warrants for their arrest. Soon afterwards, Whitehall announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London. The episode, which was the first public expulsion of Russian envoys from Britain since end of the Cold War, is often cited as marking the beginning of the worsening of relations between the West and post-Soviet Russia.

Since 2007, when they were officially charged with murder, Kovtun and Lugovoy deny the British government’s accusations, and claim that Litvinenko poisoned himself by accident while trading in illegal nuclear substances. The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to extradite the two former KGB officers to London, and has denounced the British public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death as “a sham”. However, last March Kovtun unexpectedly wrote to the presiding judge at the inquiry, Sir Robert Owen, offering to testify via a live video link from Moscow. On Monday, Sir Robert issued a statement 2 saying an agreement had been struck between Kovtun and the inquiry, and that the Russian businessman would testify from Moscow, “most likely towards the end of next month”. Kovtun is expected to confirm that he met Litvinenko in London on the day the former KGB spy fell ill, but to insist that he had no role in poisoning him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/16/01-1715/

Russian whistleblower who died in 2012 may have been poisoned

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA Russian businessman, who died in London while assisting a Swiss probe into a massive money-laundering scheme, may have been poisoned with a substance derived from a highly toxic plant, an inquest has heard. Aleksandr Perepilichny was an influential Moscow investment banker until he fled Russia in 2009, saying that his life had been threatened after a disagreement with his business partners. A few months later, having moved to an exclusive district in Surrey, south of London, Perepilichny began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multi-million dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. The scheme, uncovered by a hedge fund firm called Hermitage Capital Management (CMP), and described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million. The case made international headlines in 2009, when one of its key figures, a CMP lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, died in mysterious circumstances while being held in a Russian prison. After Magnitsky’s death, Perepilichny said he too had been warned in no uncertain terms that his name featured on a Russian mafia hit list.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home after a three-day trip to France, Perepilichny went out to jog. He was found dead later that evening, having collapsed in the middle of a side street near his house. He was 44. A postmortem examination by police concluded that he had died of natural causes and pointed to the strong possibility of a heart attack. However, lawyers representing the late businessman’s family told a pre-inquest hearing on Monday that, according to new medical evidence, Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of a poisonous plant. The shrub-like plant, known as gelsemium, is extremely rare and mostly grows in remote parts of China. One of the lawyers, Bob Moxon-Browne, claimed at the hearing that gelsemium is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”. The Perepilichny family’s legal team said that further forensic tests are to be carried out, so that the claim of poisoning can be examined in more detail.

Russian hackers accessed Obama’s email correspondence

White HouseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Computer hackers believed to be connected to the Russian government were able to access emails belonging to the president of the United States, according to American officials briefed about the ensuing investigation. The cyberattack on the White House was announced by American government officials in October of last year, soon after it was discovered by security experts. But The New York Times said on Saturday that the hacking was far more intrusive than had been publicly acknowledged and that the information breach resulting from it was “worrisome”. The paper said that the individuals behind the cyberattack were “presumed to be linked to the Russian government, if not working for it”. It also quoted one unnamed senior US official, who said that the group that perpetrated the hacking was “one of the most sophisticated actors we’ve seen”.

Little concrete information has emerged on the hacking, but it appears to have started with attempts to compromise computers at the US Department of State. As CNN reported earlier this month, the hackers essentially managed to take control of the State Department’s declassified computer network and exploit it for several months. In most American government departments, senior officials operate at least two computers in their offices. One is connected to the government’s secure network used for classified communications; the other is used to communicate unclassified information to the outside world. In theory, those two systems are supposed to be separate. However, it is common knowledge that the publicly linked computers often contain sensitive or even classified information. It is this unclassified part of the network that the alleged Russian hackers were able to access, in both the State Department and the White House.

According to The Times, by gaining access to the email accounts of senior US government officials, the hackers were able to read unclassified emails sent or received by, among others, President Barack Obama. The US president’s own unclassified account does not appear to have been breached, said the paper, nor were the hackers able to access the highly classified server that carries the president’s mobile telephone traffic. Nevertheless, the operation to remove monitoring files placed in US government servers by the hackers continues to this day, and some believe that the presence of the intruders has yet to be fully eradicated from the system. The Times contacted the US National Security Council about the issue, but was told by its spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, that the Council would “decline to comment”. The White House also declined to provide further information on the incident and the ensuing investigation.

Russia says it uncovered spy satellites disguised as space debris

Space debrisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government says it recently detected a group of satellites that are spying on Russia while orbiting the Earth camouflaged as “space junk”. The finding was announced on Sunday, April 12, on the Moscow-based Zvezda television station, which is wholly owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. For much of the day, Zvezda marked “Space Day”, which has been annually commemorated in Russia ever since 1961, when cosmonaut Yury Gagarin journeyed in outer space.

The station hosted Major General Oleg Maidanovich, of the country’s Aerospace Defense Forces (ADF), in a program entitled “Special Operations in Space”. Maidanovich told the program that specialists in the ADF’s Intelligence Center uncovered “a newly deployed group of space satellites” that were designed to collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from Russian telecommunications and other electronic systems. However, the satellites had been disguised to appear and behave like “space junk”, he said. By “space junk”, Maidanovich was referring to rocket stages, old and defunct communications satellites, and various other fragments of manmade devices that have ended up in outer space since the 1950s and are endlessly orbiting the Earth.

Maidanovich said that it was not unusual for space reconnaissance agencies to camouflage their spy satellites as space debris and deploy them into Earth’s orbit in a dormant state for several years. Then, once the target country’s space reconnaissance counterintelligence forces disregard the device as a piece of space junk, the satellite is suddenly reawakened and begins to collect SIGINT. For that reason, he said, Russia’s ADF monitors at least a fifth of a total of 100,000 objects orbiting planet Earth on any given day, due to concerns that such objects may be used for SIGINT collection by rival spy agencies.

The Russian ADF commander declined a request to identify the country believed to be behind the alleged camouflaged spy satellites, saying it was “not necessary to do so at the present time”. He added that his office typically notifies the Kremlin when it detects disguised spy satellites, and that the decision on whether to shoot them down is made “on a national level”.

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