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”.

Ex-KGB spy killed in London ‘warned Italy about Russian terror plot’

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A witness has told a British inquiry investigating the murder of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko that the former spy may have been killed because he warned Italian authorities about an impending Russian terror plot. Litvinenko was an employee of 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 former KGB/FSB colleague Andrey Lugovoy at a London restaurant. Many suspect that the Russian government is behind Litvinenko’s murder.

Speaking in a London court on Monday, Italian newspaper editor and politician Paolo Guzzanti said he believed Litvinenko was murdered by the Kremlin because he was helping Italian authorities assess a series of Soviet and Russian intelligence operations in the country. Guzzanti was speaking as the former president of the so-called Mitrokhin Commission, a parliamentary board set up in 2002 to investigate past intelligence operations by the Soviet KGB in Italy. Most of the work of the Commission stemmed from the revelations in the Mitrokhin Archive, named after Vassili Mitrokhin, who for three decades was the archivist in the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. Mitrokhin defected to the Britain in 1992, taking with him a treasure trove of documents about Soviet intelligence activities that took place abroad during the Cold War.

Guzzanti told the inquiry that Litvinenko had cooperated with the Mitrokhin Committee and had even shared information with one of its consultants, Mario Scaramella, about ongoing attempts by the FSB to organize terrorist strikes in Italy. According to Guzzanti, Litvinenko informed Scaramella that Russian intelligence operatives were helping transport weapons from Ukraine to Italy in order to assassinate Guzzanti and thus sabotage the work of the Mitrokhin Committee. Based on Litvinenko’s information, Scaramella accused Alexander Talik, a Ukrainian former officer of the KGB who lived in Naples, Italy, of helping Russian intelligence operatives smuggle guns into the country. Talik and a number of his accomplices were promptly arrested by Italian authorities after they found several weapons and grenades in their possession. According to Guzzanti, Litvinenko’s role in stopping the alleged assassination attempt against him and other members of the Mitrokhin Committee was what led to the Kremlin’s decision to murder the former KGB spy.

At the end of Monday’s proceedings, the inquiry directors announced the would adjourn until the next provisional hearing, which has been scheduled for July 27.

News you may have missed #890

Kim Kuk-giBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US DEA agents given prostitutes and gifts by drug cartels. US Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department. Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members. Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in gatherings with prostitutes and received suspensions of two to 10 days.
►►Polish lieutenant accused of spying for Russia. A Polish Air Force pilot allegedly copied several thousand flight plans for F-16 fighters and handed them to Russian intelligence. According to Polish media, the airman was arrested by authorities last November, but the information has only recently emerged. The pilot was allegedly suspended from his duties, his passport was confiscated, and he was banned from leaving the country. Some reports suggest that soon after the arrest of the lieutenant, a Russian diplomat was expelled from the country for spying.
►►North Korea claims arrest of South Korean spies. North Korea said it had arrested two South Koreans engaged in espionage. The two arrested men, identified as Kim Kuk-gi (see photo) and Choe Chun-gil, were presented at a press conference in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats. A North Korean media report said Kim and Choe had gathered information about North Korea’s “party, state and military secrets”. It was not immediately clear where or when the two men were arrested. In Seoul, the country’s intelligence agency said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was “absolutely groundless”.

Ex-Ukraine pro-Russian leader’s son killed in mystery accident

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgViktor Yanukovych and son
The son of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, has been killed in Siberia, in what is the seventh death in mysterious circumstances of a member of his family or close associate this year. Yanukovych’s 33-year-old second son, also called Viktor, was reportedly drowned in a lake in the Russian region of Siberia last Friday evening. He had been living in Russia with his wife and child since February 2014, when street protests by pro-Western Ukrainians toppled his father’s pro-Moscow government. He had been a member of Ukraine’s national parliament, the rada, since 2012, representing the pro-Moscow Party of Regions, which at the time was led by his father.

According to reports, Yanukovych’s son was killed when a Volkswagen minibus carrying him and five other people fell through thin ice near Lake Baikal’s Olkhon Island. The lake, known as the world’s deepest, regularly attracts tourists and campers due to its natural beauty. The group was apparently touring that part of the lake to take photographs when their vehicle plunged into the frozen waters. Yanukovych was reportedly the only one in the group to die, as the other five members were found alive following a two-hour rescue operation by local authorities.

Several Western media noted on Sunday that Yanukovych’s death marks the seventh such macabre ending of a family member or close associate of the former president this year. Most recently his close political ally, Oleksandr Peklushenko, a former regional governor with the Party of Regions, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the neck, in what Ukrainian authorities said was a suicide. The BBC notes that Yanukovych’s son’s demise also marks the latest in a series of deaths of members of the former president’s team in traffic accidents, dating as far back as 2009. Neither the Yanukovych family nor the Ukrainian government have commented on the reported death of the former president’s son.

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.

Estonian intel officer comes out as Russian spy in TV interview

Uno PuuseppBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Estonian authorities have charged a retired officer in the country’s internal intelligence service with espionage, after he revealed in a television interview that he spied for Russia for nearly 20 years. Uno Puusepp retired from the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, in 2011. He first joined the Soviet KGB as a wiretapping expert in the 1970s, when Estonia was part of the USSR. Following the dissolution of the USSR, when Estonia became an independent nation, he was hired by KaPo and worked there until his retirement, three years ago, at which time he moved permanently to Russian capital Moscow. Last Sunday, however, Puusepp was the main speaker in a documentary entitled Our Man in Tallinn, aired on Russian television channel NTV. In the documentary, Puusepp revealed that he was a double spy for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which is KGB’s successor, from 1996 until his retirement. He told the network that he was one of several former KGB operatives who had gone on to work for independent Estonia’s intelligence agencies, but that he had quickly decided that his true allegiance was to Russia. He eventually supplied Moscow with information on the activities of Western intelligence agencies in Estonia, including those of the American CIA, Britain’s MI6 and Germany’s BND. One commentator said in the documentary that “for 15 years, practically everything that landed on the desk of the Estonian security service’s director also landed on the desk of the FSB” thanks to Puusepp. The retired double spy said that one of his successes was letting the FSB know about a planned CIA operation that involved setting up a signals intelligence station in a disused bunker in the northern Estonian town of Aegviidu. The station was aimed at collecting communications from Russian diplomats and intelligence officers, but the Russian side terminated those networks once it got word of the CIA’s plans. Puusepp’s FSB recruiter and handler, Nikolai Yermakov, also spoke in the documentary, saying that the Estonian double spy was not motivated by financial profit, but rather by grievances against what he called “the Estonian establishment”. It is unclear why the Russian authorities permitted Puusepp to speak publicly at this particular time.

After China, Russia may ban some Apple products, fearing espionage

Russian State DumaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Parliamentarians in Russia are preparing a bill that would prevent lawmakers from using several Apple products, including iPhones and iPads, due to fears that they are susceptible to penetration by foreign intelligence agencies. A group of lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, have drafted the bill, which argues that State Duma deputies with access to confidential or classified government information should be banned from using iPhones and iPads, among other Apple products. One deputy, Dmitry Gorovtsov, from the center-left Just Russia party, said parliamentarians should simply “switch to simple mobile phones”, preferably produced by Russian manufacturers, and should use them “only for phone calls”. Last month, the Russian Ministry of Defense stepped in to deny media reports that it was about to ban Apple products. The denial came in response to a leading article in mass circulation daily Izvestia, which cited an unnamed Defense Ministry employee as saying that the Russian armed forces were about to ban the use of iPhones by all servicemen. The article claimed the move was designed to stop “information leaks”. But a Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, told a press conference that the Russian armed forces had no plans to ban “the mobile devices of a certain manufacturer”. The news from Russia comes a just months after authorities in China announced the removal of some Apple products from a government procurement list, reportedly because of fears that they were susceptible to electronic espionage by the United States. As intelNews reported at the time, nearly a dozen Apple products were removed from the Chinese government list; they included the iPad and iPad Mini, as well as MacBook Air and MacBook Pro products —though interestingly the inventory of removed items did not include Apple smartphone products. The Russian State Duma initiative to ban some Apple products has already been approved by a security-related committee and has now been forwarded to the Duma Council. The latter will consider the bill for approval, before sending it to a plenary session on the floor of the Duma for discussion. The process is expected to take up to two weeks.

Russia expels Polish, German diplomats in ongoing spy row

Polish embassy in MoscowBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government has formally expelled several Polish and German diplomats in what appears to be a tit-for-tat move, following the removal of Russian envoys from Warsaw and Berlin on charges of espionage. The Polish government expelled a number of Russian diplomats last week, after it announced the arrest of two Polish citizens in Warsaw, on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of an unnamed foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to unconfirmed Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Last Friday, Polish media reports said that four Polish diplomats stationed in Moscow had been given 48 hours to leave the country. One report suggested that the diplomats included an employee of the political section of the Polish embassy in the Russian capital, as well as three military attachés. The four had reportedly left the country by Sunday night. Authorities in Moscow said they had been forced to take the step of expelling the Polish diplomats following Warsaw’s “unfriendly and unfounded step” of ordering a number of Russian envoys to leave Poland. The four Poles were officially declared “unwanted persons” in Russia for “activities incompatible with their [diplomatic] status”, which is considered code-language for espionage. Also on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the expulsion from Moscow of a German diplomat, just hours after a Russian diplomat was asked to leave the German city of Bonn by German authorities. Diplomatic sources said the German diplomat, a female employee at the German embassy in Moscow, was expelled in direct response to the earlier removal of the Russian diplomat, who was exposed as a spy following an extensive surveillance operation that lasted several months. German authorities refused to comment on the case. In Poland, Minister of Foreign Affairs Grzegorz Schetyna said simply that Warsaw “now considered the matter closed”.

News you may have missed #885

Shin BetBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Americans’ cellphones targeted in secret US spy program. The US Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations. The US Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
►►Israel’s usually secretive spy agencies get into public spat. Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Shin Bet, has been trading barbs with the military over whether faulty army intelligence left Israel unprepared for war with the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The spat went high-profile this week when Israel’s Channel 2 aired a report featuring Shin Bet officials –-rendered in pixilated, shadowed form-– claiming the military had brushed aside the agency’s assessment, months before fighting erupted in July, that an armed conflict with Hamas was in the making.
►►Poland mulls military intelligence brigade close to Belarus border. Polish Armed Forces will make emphasis on the unfolding of reconnaissance troops and will set up a separate brigade and military command in the north-east of the country, National Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said on Thursday. The region he visited is located along the border with Belarus and close to the border with Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad region, an exclave on the south-east shore of the Baltic Sea.

Lithuania charges state employee with spying for Belarus, Russia

Belarus and LithuaniaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Prosecutors in Lithuania have charged an employee of a state-owned airline navigation services provider with spying for neighboring Belarus, though it is presumed the compromised information may have also been shared with Russia. Lithuanian government prosecutor Darius Raulusaitis told reporters at a news conference on Monday that the man charged was a Lithuanian national living and working in capital Vilnius. He has been identified only with his initials, which are R.L. The alleged spy is being accused of collecting information relating to Lithuania’s military strength with the intention of sharing it with unregistered agents of Belarus. He has also been charged with passing information on what the Lithuanian prosecutor described as “strategically important companies” in the Baltic republic. His alleged targets are said to include Oro Navigacija, Lithuania’s state-owned aviation company, for which he worked. Court documents accuse R.L. of surreptitiously photographing documents in his office at Oro Navigacija’s headquarters, and then transferring them to facilities belonging to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Raulusaitis told reporters that R.L. had been charged with “spying against the Lithuanian Republic on orders of intelligence services of the Belarus Republic”. He added, however, that Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD) considered it likely that “any information obtained by the Belarus secret service” had been “shared with the Russian [intelligence] services”. At a separate news conference, VSD Director Gediminas Grina said that passing classified information to Belarus “is the same to us as spying for Russia”. Belarus is arguably Russia’s closest European ally; many international observers consider Belarus a supranational part of the post-Soviet Russian Federation. Regular intelNews readers will recall that in 2012 Belarus arrested a military attaché at the Lithuanian embassy in Belorussian capital Minsk, after accusing him of running an espionage ring allegedly incorporating an undisclosed number of Belorussian nationals. Lithuanian authorities said earlier this week that R.L. is one of two Lithuanian citizens arrested in 2013 following a three-year investigation by the VSD. The second suspect, who has not been named, is reportedly under “pre-trial investigation”, which is expected to take “weeks or months’ to complete. The announcement of the charges against R.L. marks the first time Lithuanian authorities have leveled charges of espionage against an individual since 2004, when the former Soviet republic joined the European Union. If found guilty, R.L. faces up to 15 years in jail.

British spy agencies launch recruitment drive for Russian speakers

MI5 HQ Thames HouseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Amid mounting tensions between Russia and the West, British spy agencies have announced an ambitious recruitment campaign aimed at hiring a new generation of Russian-language specialists. The Security Service, known as MI5, which is responsible for domestic security and counterintelligence, posted an advertisement on its website this week, alerting potential applicants that the job search for Russian-language speakers will officially launch “in mid-November 2014”. The recruitment campaign, which is described on the spy agency’s website as “an exciting opportunity to match your language skills to a position in MI5”, appears to be jointly administered with the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency, which is tasked with intercepting foreign communications. The move takes place in a wider context of deteriorating relations between Moscow and Western Europe, notably in response to Russia’s ongoing invasion of southeastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Some suggest that there has also been a low-intensity intelligence war taking place between London and Moscow ever since the assassination in the British capital of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. In late 2012, an officer of the Royal Navy was captured during a counterintelligence sting operation while trying to sell top-secret British government documents to people he believed were Russian intelligence operatives. A few months later, the British government let it be known of its increasing annoyance by persistent allegations made in the Russian media that Denis Keefe, the UK’s deputy ambassador to Moscow, was “an undercover spy, with his diplomatic position serving as a smokescreen”. In March of 2013, Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the UK in the 1980s, alleged in an interview that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. His comments were echoed earlier this year by the former director of MI5, Jonathan Evans, who said that there had been no change in the number of undeclared Russian intelligence officers operating in Britain since the end of the Cold War. Evans said that up to 50 undeclared Russian military and civilian spies were believed to be operating in Britain at any given moment. In June of this year, intelNews reported that the crisis in Crimea had caused the British military to hurriedly reach out to hundreds of retired Russian-language analysts who left the service at the end of the Cold War, most of whom are now in their 60s.

Czechs say number of Russian spies in Prague “extremely high”

PragueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The number of active Russian intelligence operatives in the Czech Republic increased notably in the past year, according to an official report by the country’s counterintelligence service. In its annual report released on Monday, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) said the number of Russian intelligence personnel stationed in the central European country had risen dramatically since the start of the crisis in Ukraine. The crisis, which brought Russian troops in Ukraine and resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia, has prompted the most serious crisis in the West’s relations with Russia since the end of the Cold War. The BIS report did not reveal the precise number of alleged Russian intelligence personnel on Czech soil, but it noted that the majority of them posed as diplomats in Russia’s embassy in Czech capital Prague. It stated that “when it comes to Russia’s diplomatic mission, in 2013 the number of intelligence officers working undercover as diplomats was extremely high”. It added that significant numbers of Russian intelligence operatives were in the Czech Republic in a non-official-cover (NOC) capacity, meaning there were not officially connected with the Russian embassy there and had no diplomatic immunity. These officers “travel to the Czech Republic as individuals, posing as tourists, experts, academics and entrepreneurs”, said the report, “or settled down in the country through purchasing property”. Nearly 50,000 Russian citizens live in the Czech Republic as long-term legal residents. Relations between Moscow and Prague have been frosty in the post-communist era, and have deteriorated significantly following the Czech Republic’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the summer of 2010, three Czech generals, including the head of the president’s military office and the country’s representative to NATO, resigned following revelations that one of their senior staffers had a romantic relationship with a Russian spy. Read more of this post

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