Spain shelves charges against French alleged ‘assassin’ spies

Philippe RondotBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A court in Spain has quietly shelved charges against two French spies who were caught in Barcelona with a custom-designed sniper rifle. The two men were detained in the Catalonian town of Manresa in April of 2002. The Audi car in which they were riding was stopped at a checkpoint manned by members of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, who promptly searched it. In the back of the car, police officers found a large PVC tube that contained a sniper rifle complete with a laser telescopic light and a silencer. The two men carried French travel documents identifying them as “Christian Piazzole” and “Rachid Chaouati”. Piazzole’s documents were found to be false, and there were suspicions that Chaouati’s may also have been forged. Spanish authorities concluded that the two men, who admitted they were officers of France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), were in Spain to conduct an assassination. In a words of a state prosecutor in Barcelona, the DGSE spies had come to Spain “to kill”. Their arrest prompted an emergency visit to Madrid of a high-level French government delegation headed by General Philippe Rondot, a former senior intelligence officer at the DGSE. Rondot told Spanish officials that the two men were “on a training exercise”. In October of 2002, the Spanish Ministry of Interior commanded the Office of the State Attorney General to grant the two French spies “provisional release”, based on the rationale that there had been no victims involved in the case. Piazzole and Chaouati were promptly released after Rondot provided personal assurances that they would return to Spain to attend their trial for illegal weapons possession in early 2004. The charges carried a maximum sentence of seven years. It was said at the time that, in exchange for the two spies’ release, Paris pledged to continue to assist Spanish intelligence in their efforts against the Basque separatist militants of ETA, and agreed to extradite a number of ETA members serving time in French prisons. However, soon after their release, Piazzole and Chaouati vanished. They were found to be in contempt of court after they failed to return to Spain for their 2004 trial, as agreed. Since that time, Spanish media have sought to solve the mystery of the two French spies, but have been met with a wall of silence from Spanish and French authorities. Read more of this post

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WWII files reveal bizarre case of British cross-dressing spy

Dudley ClarkeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A set of World War II-era British Foreign Office documents detail a highly unusual incident of a senior British spy, who was arrested in Spain for cross-dressing. The files, which were released this week by the National Archives, concern the case of Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, a senior operative of British intelligence who served with distinction in Europe and the Middle East. In October of 1941, Clarke was traveling though Spain en route to Egypt, by way of the British colony of Gibraltar. His instructions were to maintain a low profile throughout his trip, during which he posed as a foreign correspondent for The London Times. In reality, he was carrying with him key naval intelligence addressed to the British high command in Cairo. However, soon after arriving in Spanish capital Madrid, Clarke was arrested for appearing in a busy street dressed as a woman. A frantic cable sent to the Foreign Office by the British embassy in Madrid mentioned that the intelligence officer had been detained after he had been found “in a main street dressed —down to a brassiere— as a woman’. According to the —now declassified— memoranda complied by the Foreign Office, Clarke had told his Spanish police captors that he was “a novelist” and had dressed as a woman in order to “study the reactions of men to women in the streets”. But the conservative police officials in Francoist Spain did not buy Clarke’s story, and decided to charge him with “engaging in homosexual behavior”. London, meanwhile, was trying frantically to ensure that Clarke was released before either Spanish or German authorities realized that he was a British intelligence officer. The Foreign Office cabled the British embassy in Madrid with direct instructions that “in no circumstances should it be revealed that C[larke] is a British [intelligence] officer”. Read more of this post

Litvinenko was working for UK, Spanish intelligence when he was killed

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A lawyer representing the family of a KGB defector to Britain, who died of poisoning in 2006, has told a court hearing in London that the late spy was working for British and Spanish intelligence at the time of his death. Alexander 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 a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. Speaking at a preliminary court hearing on Thursday, in light of an upcoming British government inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, Ben Emmerson, QC, said that the late Russian spy was a “registered and paid” asset of the Secret Intelligence Service. This is not the first time that Litvinenko has been linked to the SIS —known informally as MI6— Britain’s external spy agency. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, made similar claims to the British press in January of this year. But yesterday’s testimony by her legal team provided the public record with further revelations about her husband’s connections with British intelligence. The court heard that Litvinenko received a regular stipend from MI6 either in cash or via electronic transfer and that he had been provided with an encrypted telephone, which MI6 used to contact him on a routine basis. The night before his poisoning, said Emmerson, Litvinenko had met his MI6 handler, who went by the operational alias MARTIN. Read more of this post

Why are al-Qaeda websites going off-line?

Shamukh al-IslamBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It began late last month, and nobody seems to really know why:  one after another, the most popular pro-al-Qaeda websites around the world have been going off the air, in what appears to be coordinated fashion. For most of the past decade, a host of al-Qaeda-linked websites have acted as online platforms of outreach, propaganda, and communication between the group’s sympathizers around the world. Most fulfill the role of conduits for al-Qaeda’s media production arm, as-Sahab, as well as for al-Fajr Media, al-Qaeda’s online distribution network. These two outfits routinely rely on a collection of websites to deliver online content ranging from glossy periodicals to audio speeches and digital videos. But on March 23, two of the largest pro-al-Qaeda websites, Shamukh al-Islam and the Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum, simultaneously disappeared from the World Wide Web. Two days later, another popular site, al-Fida, also vanished. By March 30, two remaining pro-al-Qaeda forums had also gone off line. Two sites, the Shamukh al-Islam and the Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum, reappeared, but offered no concrete explanation of the reasons why they went off the air in the first place. Interestingly, nobody has claimed responsibility for the disappearance of the pro-al-Qaeda websites, and the US government has refused to state whether its operatives had been engaged in undermining them. But CNN’s Security Clearance blog contacted Brandeis University researcher Aaron Y. Zelin, who offered one possible explanation. Read more of this post

New Gaza flotilla organizers accuse Mossad of sabotaging ships

Gaza Freedom Flotilla raid

2010 Flotilla raid

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
International organizers of a new fleet of ships that is preparing to sail for the Gaza strip, in a bid to challenge the Israeli embargo, have accused Israeli intelligence services of secretly sabotaging two of the vessels. The first announcement emerged on Tuesday from the crew of the Juliano, a Swedish/Norwegian ship harbored in Piraeus, Greece. The organizers, who said that their technicians had documented the results of the sabotage on video, claimed in a statement that “hostile divers had destroyed the [ship’s] propeller house and cut the propeller shaft”. A day later, Irish organizers onboard the MV Saoirse, which is currently docked in Turkey, told Reuters that the vessel experienced major technical damage as it was sailing for refueling to the harbor town of Göcek. The ship was eventually inspected by a marine engineer, who confirmed that it had been sabotaged. Speaking to Irish media, former Irish rugby international Paul Trevor Hogan, who is one of the activists onboard the MV Saoirse, said the damage was “identical [to that of] the Swedish boat and you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out who is behind this”. Another member of the ship’s crew, Irish Member of the European Parliament Paul Murphy, called on the government in Dublin to expel the Israeli ambassador to the country. Read more of this post

Colombian agency spied on Spanish politician

DAS seal

DAS seal

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An official report prepared for the Colombian government reveals that an illegal unit set up within the Colombian intelligence services spied on a member of the Spanish parliament. A copy of the report was leaked earlier this week to Spanish newspaper El Mundo, which has published an executive summary. The paper claims that Colombia’s scandal-prone and soon-to-be-dismantled DAS intelligence service spied on members of the Spanish-based Valencian Coordination of Solidarity with Colombia (CVSC), which works in support of victim’s of Colombia’s government-tied paramilitary groups. Specifically, in 2004, DAS agents spied on Spanish parliamentarian and CVSC activist Isaura Navarro, while she participated in Global Voices for Colombia, an international human rights conference held in Spain. El Mundo claims that the report, which was prepared for the Office of Colombia’s Inspector General, states that a team of DAS agents “closely monitored” Navarro and several other CVSC conference participants, collecting personal information, audio recordings and photographs. Read more of this post

European Union targeted by Colombian intelligence, documents show

DAS seal

DAS seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Several members of the European Parliament have voiced concern over the recent disclosure in Colombia of an alleged operation to undermine the European Union’s parliamentary and human rights bodies. The operation is reportedly mentioned in internal documents belonging to Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which were recently confiscated by the office of the Colombian Attorney General. The confiscated documents describe a clandestine program codenamed Operation EUROPE, which aims to wage a “legal war” intended to discredit and “neutralize the influence of the European judicial system, the European Parliament’s human rights subcommittee, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights”. Read more of this post

CIA ‘used fake British passports’ in kidnap operation

UK passport

British passport

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
British authorities are looking into allegations that a team of CIA agents made use of forged British passports during an abduction operation in 2003. The allegations surfaced last week in Spain, where a team of prosecutors is currently investigating the activities of 13 CIA agents (11 men and two women) who appear to have used the Spanish tourist resort of Majorca as a base for conducting various operations around Europe. Following the example of Italy, which last year convicted several CIA operatives for illegally abducting a Muslim cleric in Milan, Spanish authorities are now considering issuing arrest warrants for the 13 CIA agents. They are all believed to have been involved in the abduction and rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri. El-Masri was abducted in Skopje, Macedonia, in 2003, and later transferred on a secret CIA flight to a Syrian prison, where he says he was brutally tortured. He was later released without explanation, once US authorities realized they had the wrong man. Read more of this post

Analysis: An Economic Security Role for European Spy Agencies?

Economic espionage

Economic spying

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last February, Spain’s intelligence service began investigating alleged suspicious efforts by foreign financial speculators to destabilize the Spanish economy. According to newspaper El País, the Spanish government asked the country’s Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) to probe links between speculative moves in world financial markets and a series of damaging editorials “in the Anglo-Saxon media”. There are indications that the National Intelligence Service of Greece (EYP) is following in the CNI’s footsteps. In February, when Athens and Brussels began to realize the magnitude of the financial crisis threatening the European common currency, several news outlets suggested that the EYP was cooperating with Spanish, Irish and Portuguese intelligence services in investigating a series of coordinated speculative attacks on money markets, most of which allegedly originated from London and Washington. Read more of this post

More on alleged Mossad spy arrested in Algeria

Forged passports

Forged passports

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
On March 29, intelNews reported on allegations by the Algerian government that an Israeli intelligence agent had been arrested in the country, after he was found to be carrying a forged Spanish passport. The next day, Algerian authorities identified the man only as “Alberto”, and insisted he was a member of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency. News sources have now identified the man’s forged identity as “Alberto Vagilo”, which appears to be the name listed on his Spanish travel documentation. According to Algerian government officials, the man, whose year of birth is listed as 1975 in his Spanish passport, entered the North African country in mid-March, via a regularly scheduled flight from Barcelona, Spain. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #317

  • Captured MI6 spy denied bail. Daniel Houghton, a former MI6 officer who allegedly attempted to sell British classified top-secret computer files to what he thought was a foreign intelligence agency (but were in fact MI5 counterintelligence agents) has had his bail application rejected.
  • Alleged Israeli spy arrested in Algeria. The Algerian security services have arrested an unidentified Israeli, who allegedly entered Algeria using a forged Spanish passport. No further information available at this time.
  • MI6’s top ranking female spy dies at 88. Daphne Park, the Baroness of Monmouth, who died Wednesday, aged 88, had a long career in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), which culminated in her appointment as Controller Western Hemisphere in 1975, the highest post ever occupied by a woman at MI6.

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Spanish intelligence probe ‘financial attacks’

CNI seal

CNI seal

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Spain’s primary intelligence agency is actively probing alleged links between speculative moves in world financial markets and a series of editorials in “the Anglo-Saxon media”, which Madrid says have sought to undermine market confidence in Spain’s economy. Spanish newspaper El Pais says the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) has been asked by Spain’s government to investigate whether “there is something more behind the campaign” to destabilize the Spanish economy, which, if successful, would add tremendously to the financial challenges currently facing the Eurozone. The El Pais article hints at suspicions among many in the European Union that countries not currently participating in the Euro common currency zone may be trying to subvert the Euro through a series of well-timed media reports questioning the financial stability of the European Union. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0287

  • India still trying to get access to Headley. Congratulations to The New York Times, for managing to publish a feature-length article about the constant requests by Indian intelligence officials to interrogate David C. Headley, currently held in a US prison, without probing why the US is refusing to facilitate these requests. The American-born Headley was arrested in October for having links to Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. There are rumors in India and Pakistan that Headley is in fact a renegade CIA informant.
  • Spanish double agent sentenced to 12 years. Roberto Flórez García, a former employee of Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI), was arrested in September for giving classified documents to Russian intelligence, via Petr Melnikov, political attaché at the Russian Embassy in Madrid. This was Spain’s first treason conviction since returning to democracy in 1978 after decades of military dictatorship.

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News you may have missed #0269

  • LeT planning paraglide attacks in India? Indian intelligence officials suspect that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is planning another audacious strike on the country, this time from the air, using suicide bombers flying paragliders. The group is thought to have purchased 50 paragliding kits from Europe for this purpose.
  • Trial of double agent begins in Spain. The trial has begun in Spain of Roberto Flórez García, a former employee of Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI), who was arrested in September for giving classified documents to Russian intelligence, via Petr Melnikov, political attaché at the Russian Embassy in Madrid.

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Spanish spies remain active in UK territory of Gibraltar

Gibraltar

Gibraltar

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The British Crown has ruled Gibraltar since the early 1700s, but Spain has never ceased to claim national rights over the territory. Today, la Cuestión de Gibraltar (the Gibraltar question) is as critical an issue in Spanish-British relations as it has been for over 300 years. A recent article in Gibraltar’s English-language Panorama news site reminds us that, even though the two countries are NATO and European Union allies, Spanish intelligence agents remain active in the territory. It is true that the Rock is frequented by agents of Spain’s Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI), who are mostly concerned with assessing economic and political life in the British possession. The article lacks sources, but its views are probably not far from the truth, considering Gibraltar’s immense geostrategic significance. Read more of this post

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