Russian espionage in Germany rising sharply, says Berlin

Embassy of Russia in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Russian espionage activity in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, according to senior counterintelligence officials in Berlin. An article published in weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag on Sunday said Russian intelligence-gathering activities in the German capital center on infiltrating German political institutions and corporations. The Berlin-based publication said Russian spies typically seek to gain “intimate knowledge” of German energy policy as well as corporate practices. Another area of interest for Russian intelligence concerns Germany’s activities in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Citing Hans-Georg Maassen, Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV —Germany’s primary counterintelligence agency), Die Welt said that no foreign intelligence service is more active on German soil than Russia’s SVR —one of the KGB’s successor agencies. Most Russian intelligence officers “pose as embassy workers”, said the paper, adding that the BfV believes up to a third of all Russian diplomats stationed at the German capital have a “background in intelligence gathering”. According to Burkhard Even, who directs the BfV’s counterintelligence operations, the primary task of Russian intelligence operatives in Germany is to “closely analyze individuals who could be of interest” to Moscow. Those targeted —usually key staffers at the Bundestag (Germany’s federal parliament) or major German companies— are then systematically accosted by Russian ‘diplomats’. The latter often ask to take them out to lunch or dinner, said Maaßen, and will often pick up the bill. Read more of this post

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British spy chiefs ‘warn against’ Western military action in Ukraine

Map of UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The heads of British intelligence agencies are said to have advised London that interfering militarily in Ukraine would likely prompt a violent Russian response. The Sunday People said last weekend that Whitehall has been advised a Western military interference in Ukraine would “risk spiraling into an all-out war with Russia”. The Labour-supporting paper, which is published by the Trinity Mirror group, claimed that the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, is understood to have told British Prime Minister David Cameron that the Russian government “will not stand idly by” if Western troops enter Western Ukraine, ostensibly to prevent westward military advances by Russian forces. One “senior source” told The People that the message delivered to Whitehall was that “it’s not worth starting World War Three over Ukraine”. The briefing appears to rest on intelligence acquired from sources in Russia, as well as by MI6 operatives on the ground in eastern Ukraine, which, according to the paper, “have been moving around [eastern Ukraine] covertly, monitoring border crossing points and towns where Russian support is strongest”. Meanwhile on Monday the United States Department of State distributed an 11-page document with photographs alleging that Russian Spetsnaz (special purpose forces) troops are among the occupiers of government buildings in eastern Ukraine. The same document was distributed last week by Ukrainian officials at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Early on Tuesday, US Vice President Joe Biden, who is visiting Ukrainian capital Kiev, pledged $50 million to help the country’s government carry out unspecified “political and economic reforms”. About a fifth of that amount has been earmarked to help fund Ukraine’s presidential election in late May of this year. Read more of this post

White House confirms CIA Director visited Ukraine

John BrennanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
White House officials has confirmed that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency visited Ukraine over the weekend, following reports in the Russian media. On Sunday, Moscow urged Washington to respond to allegations in the Russian press that CIA Director John Brennan had made an incognito visit to Ukrainian capital Kiev. The reports alleged that Brennan, who assumed the directorship of the CIA a year ago, traveled to Ukraine on official business under a false identity in order to avoid attention. Russian media further alleged that the CIA head met with a host of Ukrainian intelligence and security officials and advised them on how to respond to the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine. Initially, Washington denied comment on the allegations. But early on Monday White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Brennan had indeed traveled to Ukraine over the weekend. He said that the White House normally declines comment on the whereabouts of the CIA Director. However, “given the extraordinary circumstances” in the case of Ukraine, he said he was willing to confirm that Brennan was in Kiev over the weekend “as part of a trip to Europe”. He went on to state that he hoped the official confirmation of Brennan’s trip by the White House would suffice to discredit the “false claims being leveled by the Russians at the CIA”. Carney added that there was nothing inherently suspicious about a CIA Director’s trip to a foreign country. He argued that “senior-level visits of intelligence officials [abroad] are a standard means of fostering mutually beneficial security cooperation” and that such visits —some of which have been to Russia— go back “to the beginnings of the post-Cold War era”. Read more of this post

United States allegedly not sharing Russia intelligence with Ukraine

Russian troops in UkraineBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States is not sharing with the Ukrainian government detailed intelligence or Russia’s military buildup, according to American lawmakers. Moscow is reportedly deploying large numbers of troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, while US intelligence agencies have allegedly detected the presence of Russian military supply lines that would be required for a land invasion of Ukraine. The US administration of President Barack Obama has publicly expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian government and has warned the Kremlin that any military incursions into eastern Ukraine would constitute a grave “historical error” that would bear serious consequences for the Russian leadership. But according to American news reporting website The Daily Beast, Washington has instructed the American military and intelligence community to refrain from sharing detailed intelligence on Russia’s military buildup with Ukrainian authorities. Details being kept from Ukrainian eyes include “imagery, intercepts and analysis” that pinpoint the exact location of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border. They also include intelligence predictions of how Russian units would deploy during a possible invasion of Ukraine. The Daily Beast, which is owned by Newsweek, cited “US officials and members of Congress” who were briefed by intelligence personnel earlier this week on the situation in Ukraine. They told the news website that senior American military officials have been instructed “to refrain from briefing their Ukrainian counterparts in detail” about information on Russian troop movements held by American intelligence agencies. The Daily Beast quotes Republican Representative Michael Turner, chair of a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee that oversees America’s tactical air and land force strength. Turner told the website that he is “not confident” that Washington is “sharing any of that kind of [detailed military] information” with Kiev. Read more of this post

Analysis: Time for Western spy agencies to refocus on Russia?

Pro-Russian celebrations in CrimeaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
During the Cold War, Western intelligence agencies relied on legions of Soviet specialists to make sense of the Kremlin’s policy maneuvers. The American Intelligence Community in particular was almost exclusively engaged in collecting information on the USSR. To the extent that American intelligence collectors were active in countries other than the USSR, it was primarily in order to monitor Soviet activity. The implosion of the Soviet Union brought about a relaxation of Western intelligence collection efforts against Russian targets, a process that was further fueled by the 9/11 attacks. The latter turned the attention of Western intelligence collectors on Islamist-inspired militancy in the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim regions. The legions of Western Sovietologists and Russia specialists saw their careers stagnate, as counterterrorism became the predominant buzzword in intelligence circles. But the recent invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia is prompting a reexamination of intelligence collection priorities among Western spy agencies. A recent analysis piece by the Reuters news agency suggests that some Western intelligence planners view the events in Crimea as “demonstrating a dramatic need for renewed focus” on Russia. There is concern among intelligence specialists, says Reuters, that no signals chatter was detected in Russia in the weeks prior to the invasion of Crimea to indicate an imminent Russian takeover of Ukrainian territory. This alleged weakness is coupled by concerns among some foreign-policy planners that the West is potentially entering “a new era of [...] confrontation with Moscow”, argues Reuters. If this is true, then Western intelligence agencies will need to replenish their level of expertise on Russia, which, according to some intelligence insiders, “has diminished drastically” in the last decade. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #874

Hamid AboutalebiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Intel involvement in flight MH370 sparks terrorism speculation. Malaysian authorities have revealed secret services from the UK, the US and China have been involved in the investigations into the disappearance of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, adding to speculation that the plane’s disappearance could be down to terrorism.
►►Iran picks former US Embassy hostage-taker as UN envoy. The Iranian government has applied for a US visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy. Aboutalebi was a member of a group calling itself “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line”, a group of radical students controlled by Ayatollah Khomeini, who seized the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could prompt the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN.
►►Analysis: Ukrainian Navy devastated by Russian move into Crimea. Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control. Almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defense units. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service.

Pro-Russian oligarch arrested —first sign of US sanctions on Russia?

Dmytro FirtashBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A well-connected Ukrainian oligarch, who is considered one of Russia’s most trusted energy sales intermediaries, has been arrested in Austria at the request of the United States. Some speculate that this may be a first direct sign of America’s response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. In an article published last week, The Washington Post suggested that the arrest of Dmytro Firtash, a citizen of Ukraine, may be “the beginning of a US effort to inflict financial pain on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian crisis”. Firtash’s lucrative business activities are inextricably tied to Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas and one of the most powerful corporations in existence. The company, whose activities typically account for around 10 percent of Russia’s annual gross domestic product, is one of Moscow’s primary exporters of energy and among its most important sources of foreign revenue. Throughout the last decade, Firtash’s company, RosUkrEnergo, acted as the primary mediator between Gazprom and Naftohaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company. The latter would import Russian natural gas from Gazprom through RosUkrEnergo, which would purchase it from the Russian company and sell it to the Ukrainians at a noticeably steeper price. Eventually, in 2009, the government of pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko managed to remove RosUkrEnergo as a broker from the energy deals between Kiev and Moscow. But Tymoshenko, who became herself embroiled in a financial corruption scandal, was soon imprisoned. And in 2013, Gazprom approached the pro-Russian government of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and offered to sell natural gas to Ukraine at a 33 percent discount, providing that RosUkrEnergo was permitted to return as Moscow’s natural gas distributor to Ukraine. Last Wednesday, a statement from the Ukrainian government in Kiev confirmed that the man identified only as “Dmytro F., 48” in a laconic Austrian police report was indeed Dmytro Firtash. Read more of this post

US intelligence agencies urge ‘cautious approach’ on Ukraine

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
American intelligence agencies see Russia’s control of the Crimean Peninsula as near-complete and urge Washington to take cautious steps on Ukraine, as Moscow appears prepared “to take military action” in defense of its strategic goals. The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that some American intelligence analysts believe Moscow is genuinely convinced that its military action in Ukraine is justified under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. The agreement was signed in 1994 by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation. The three nuclear powers guaranteed that they would refrain from actions that would subvert the territorial integrity and political autonomy of Ukraine. Western officials have accused Moscow of violating the agreement by dispatching Russian troops to southeastern Ukraine without the consent of the Ukrainian government. But some American intelligence analysts believe the Russian Foreign Ministry is convinced that Russian forces are acting within the scope of the 1994 agreement. The latter is interpreted by Russian officials as permitting Moscow to unilaterally dispatch up to 25,000 troops to the Crimea. This may even be the predominant view at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), judging by a briefing given last week by the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, to an unnamed “senior lawmaker”. The Times cited “US officials who declined to be named” as saying that Brennan suggested that Russian officials genuinely believe that the number of Russian troops in Ukraine “remains well below the threshold” specified in the Budapest Memorandum. Brennan added that, although he did not personally agree with Moscow’s interpretation of the Memorandum, it would be wise for Washington to tread cautiously on the subject, given the fact that Russian policy on Crimea remains unpredictable. Read more of this post

Comment: Is Ukraine’s Military Splitting in Two?

H First PostBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Much has been made about the presence of Russian troops —including what appear to be special forces units— in southern Ukraine. But peace and stability in the region are not threatened only by the actions of foreign troops; they are also threatened by the attitude of the armed forces of Ukraine, whose stance is likely to determine the outcome of the current crisis. The government of Ukraine has called all military reservists in the country to mobilize in order to “ensure the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. But what guarantee is there that the Ukrainian armed forces will remain united while the country is splitting in two —or three, counting the Tatars? At least 20 percent of Ukraine’s citizens consider themselves ethnically Russian, and there is little reason to believe that the ranks of the Ukrainian military, which reflect the ethnic makeup of the country’s divided population, will prove immune to rapidly intensifying sectarian tensions. Already Russian news outlets report that “the majority” of Ukrainian armed forces personnel stationed in Crimea have “switched to the side of local authorities” of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The secessionist government’s Deputy Prime Minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said on Sunday that the Ukrainian armed forces in the breakaway region “have all but surrendered” and that many “are expected to take military oath soon”, declaring their allegiance to the Crimean Republic. Presumably these are ethnic Russians who are abandoning the Ukrainian military and joining that of the secessionist movement in Crimea out of nationalist allegiance.

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Comment: Nuland’s leaked phone call is ‘populist intelligence’

Victoria NulandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
My phone started ringing off the hook on Thursday evening, when a video appeared on YouTube containing a frank conversation between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt. Nuland, Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of State, and Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, were discussing US diplomatic moves on the political standoff in Ukraine. In the conversation, which was clearly meant to be private, Nuland expresses frustration with efforts by the European Union, which she deems weak and inadequate. In a shocking display of candor, Nuland tells Pyatt that the US should “help glue this thing and [...] have the UN help glue it and, you know, f**k the EU”.

On Thursday night I spoke at the main news program of BBC television, where I agreed with most observers —some of the US government officials— that Russia was the obvious culprit behind the leaked conversation. The geopolitical interests of Washington and Brussels coincide almost completely when it comes to Ukraine, as both wish to detach the former Soviet republic from the Russian sphere of influence. So driving a wedge between the two allied sides is clearly to the benefit of Moscow. I added that the two American officials should have known better than to speak so frankly on the phone, given the constant monitoring of diplomatic communications by both adversary and friendly intelligence services, which is common knowledge in diplomatic circles. Read more of this post

Coroner’s report sees Russian state behind ex-KGB spy’s death

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A previously classified report by the British government official who certified the 2006 death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko states that the Russian state was directly implicated in the murder. 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 UK. 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. In February of last year, Litvinenko’s family accused the British government of trying to block a probe into the murder case, after British Foreign Secretary William Hague limited the scope of a public inquest in to the matter on national security grounds. Supporters of Litvinenko have argued that White Hall has played down the Litvinenko murder case in order to preserve its trade ties with Russia’s government-owned energy companies. Members of the murdered spy’s family are now pushing for a full public inquiry into the incident, and are currently making the case before a specially appointed panel of judges at the High Court. In the course of this appeal, a previously classified document has emerged, which contains the report of Sir Robert Owen, the coroner who first examined the available evidence immediately after Litvinenko’s death. According to the document, which has been seen by the BBC, the coroner concluded that, based on “documents held by the UK government”, the “culpability of the Russian state in the death of Alexander Litvinenko” could be established “prima facie”. Read more of this post

US lawmakers say Snowden was coached by foreign spy agency

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Two American lawmakers with senior positions in Congressional intelligence committees have expressed strong views that American defector Edward Snowden was probably coached by Russian intelligence prior to his defection. Speaking separately on Sunday, the two lawmakers —both Republican— said they suspected that Snowden had “acted in concert” with Russian intelligence in order expose Washington’s worldwide surveillance programs and steal military secrets. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. On Sunday, Mike Rogers, who chairs the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at the United States House or Representatives, said he was convinced Moscow had “at least in some part something to do” with Snowden’s defection. During separate interviews at NBC’s Meet The Press and CBS’ Face the Nation, Rogers said he thought it highly unlikely that Snowden’s defection was “a gee-whiz luck event”. He added that the former intelligence technician’s arrival in Russia had been likely pre-arranged by the FSB —the Russian Federal Security Service (though he likely meant the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, which is responsible for intelligence activities outside the borders of the Russian Federation). The Republican lawmaker said that Snowden’s defection plan, ranging “from how he prepared to leave [to] his route of departure and how quickly [he] ended up in Moscow”, points to involvement by Russian intelligence. Also on Sunday, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul told ABC’s This Week that he did not think “Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself”. The lawmaker, who chairs the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, cautioned that he could not prove definitively that Russia had a role in Snowden’s defection. Read more of this post

China ‘hacked European government computers’ prior to G20 summit

G20 Summit participantsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A group of hackers from China managed to compromise computer networks belonging to the foreign ministries of several European governments prior to last September’s G20 Summit, according to a private computer security firm. The Summit, which took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on September 5 and 6 of this year, brought together the heads of state of 20 major economies, including the United States and many European Union countries. The meeting agenda was dominated by discussions concerning the response of the international community to the chemical attacks in Ghouta, Syria. According to the Reuters news agency, the hackers managed to infiltrate carefully targeted computer networks by sending emails containing infected attachments to employees of foreign ministries. The attached files bore titles such as “US_military_options_in_Syria”, which appeared designed to bear reference to the upcoming G20 Summit. The hacking revelations were made by FireEye, Inc., a California-based security firm, which says it has proof the hackers came from China. The firm says its confidence on the matters stems from “a variety of technical evidence”, such as the language used on the control server used by the hackers, as well as the types of machines that were used to test the virus before it was deployed. FireEye said its experts were able to keep tabs on the “inner workings” of the primary computer server that the hackers used to monitor the compromised computer networks. However, shortly before the Summit begun, the hackers migrated to another server, at which point the FireEye team lost contact with them. Read more of this post

US charges 49 Russian diplomats with fraud, says some were spies

Russian consulate in NYBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has filed charges against dozens of current and former Russian diplomats, accusing them of defrauding American taxpayers of over a million dollars. Meanwhile, sources have told CNN that some of the accused also engaged in espionage against the US. Last week, the US Department of Justice charged 49 Russian citizens with participating in a nine-year fraud scheme, through which they pocketed approximately $1.5 million from Medicaid. Created in 1965, Medicaid is a US government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care. Twenty-five of those accused of fraud are current and former Russian diplomats, while 24 are spouses of diplomats. Eleven of them are currently in the US, ten of whom work at the Russian consular mission in New York. The remaining diplomat is stationed at the embassy of Russia in Washington, DC. The members of the fraud ring are accused of falsifying applications for Medicaid benefits by systematically under-reporting or completely concealing their incomes. While receiving thousands of dollars in benefits from the American government, the diplomats and their spouses lived a frivolous lifestyle, purchasing luxury goods in some of America’s most expensive department stores, like Tiffany’s and Bloomingdale’s. On Monday, however, CNN’s Security Clearance blog reported that some of the 49 Russian diplomats involved in the fraud scheme are also believed to have engaged in espionage against the United States. The spies were in fact investigated “for quite some time” by Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence agents in Washington and New York, said CNN. At the end, however, federal prosecutors decided they had insufficient evidence to file espionage charges, and passed the case on to the Department of Justice, which brought fraud charges against the Russians. Read more of this post

Further evidence shows Litvinenko worked for MI6 when killed

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
In 2012, a court in the United Kingdom was told that former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died of poisoning in 2006, had been working for British and Spanish intelligence when he was killed. Now British newspaper The Independent says it has proof that the late Russian spy provided “expert analysis” on Russian politics for British intelligence, shortly before his death. 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 UK. 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 a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. Many suspect that the Russian government is behind Litvinenko’s murder. But the dead spy’s family has argued for years that his killers did not only kill an intelligence defector, but also an officer of British intelligence. On Thursday, The Independent said it had seen a diplomatic memo that was given to Litvnenko for analysis by British external intelligence agency MI6. The document, known in the British Foreign Office lingo as a “diptel” (diplomatic telegram), was dispatched to several British embassies around the world in 2000. It includes a descriptive analysis of a confidential meeting in London between British intelligence officials and Sergei Ivanov. Currently a political powerhouse in Putin’s administration, Ivanon was at the time an unknown quantity in Western circles. He had entered politics after having spent nearly two decades working for Soviet and Russian external intelligence. The diptel seen by The Independent outlines the exchange of views between Ivanov and the British officials during the meeting, and evaluates his stance on a broad range of issues, ranging from the rise of Islamic militancy, to China, the Middle East, and the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Read more of this post

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