Sweden closes Stockholm airspace in search for mystery submarine

Swedish search operationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Swedish authorities shut down airspace above Stockholm on Monday, as they continued searching for a mystery foreign vessel that was sighted repeatedly off the coast of the Swedish capital last week. Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported on Saturday that the search began last Thursday, after Swedish intelligence detected a number of Russian-language emergency radio signals, which were sent from the vicinity of the port of Stockholm to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. On Sunday, the Swedish Ministry of Defense confirmed the search for the vessel, though it refused to speculate on the national origin of its crew and refrained from calling it a submarine. But a grainy surveillance photograph issued by the Ministry appears to show a submarine of considerable size —said to be Russian— peeking out of the waters of the Baltic Sea, at a location believed to be 30 nautical miles from Stockholm. One English-language Swedish newspaper quoted Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences, who suggested three possible reasons for foreign submarine activity in Sweden’s territorial waters near Stockholm. Wiktorin speculated that the vessel could be “mapping the waters” around the Swedish capital, or it could be installing underwater surveillance equipment aimed at collecting a variety of maritime intelligence in the area. Alternatively, the mystery vessel could be testing Sweden’s maritime defense systems, said Wiktorin. On Monday, however, intense speculation appeared in local media about a fourth potential reason for the mystery submarine activity in Swedish territorial waters. A photograph emerged showing a man dressed in black frogman gear on the Swedish island of Korso. The image was purportedly taken by a local man at around the time when the submarine was sighted in the area. Read more of this post

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Russian jet ‘chased US spy plane into Swedish airspace’

RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraftBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An American spy plane was forced to enter Swedish airspace without permission in order to avoid a potentially serious encounter with a Russian military jet, which tried to intercept it in international airspace. Swedish news agency Svenska Dagbladet said on Monday that the incident happened on July 18, one day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. According to Swedish sources, the US plane was an RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, which had been flying in international airspace on an eavesdropping mission, collecting signals intelligence on Russian military positions. All of a sudden, however, the American pilot noticed that Russian land-based military radars had begun to track the plane. Eventually, the Russians “locked” their radar on the US plane, which is usually interpreted as a step before firing at the aircraft. Such a move is not illegal, but is described by experts as “highly unusual”, especially when involving unarmed aircraft flying in international airspace. Shortly afterwards, the Russian Air Force sent “at least one” fighter jet toward the US aircraft in an apparent effort to intercept it. Swedish officials were later told by their US counterparts that the American pilot became seriously concerned that his aircraft might get fired upon, so he decided to abort his mission as soon as he could. He therefore ended up flying the plane over Sweden’s airspace without approval from Swedish air controllers. It is believed that the US plane may have crossed into other nations’ airspace, also without permission. Stephan Persson Tyrling, director of air operations at Sweden’s National Defense College, told Svenska Dagbladet that “Russia may have felt provoked” and embarked on an interception operation in order to “tell the US that they flew too close to their airspace or interfered with their [military] exercises”. Read more of this post

Scotland sees Nordic spy agencies as post-independence models

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

Second US government official indicted in Cuba espionage case

Ana Belen MontesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States has publicly unsealed for the first time the indictment of an American government official accused of spying for Cuba, in connection with former senior US military intelligence analyst Ana Belen Montes, who was jailed in 2002 for spying for Havana. Marta Rita Velazquez, a Puerto Rican-born American citizen, was originally indicted in 2004 for conspiracy to commit espionage as an unregistered agent of a foreign power. A graduate of Princeton University and Georgetown University Law School, Velazquez first met Montes while they were both studying at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. In 2002, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended Montes’ 17-year espionage career on behalf of Cuba, it was told that Velazquez helped the Cuban Intelligence Directorate recruit Montes. The military analyst told her FBI interrogators that Velazquez introduced her to a Cuban intelligence officer in New York; she then traveled with her to Cuba, where Montes received “operational training”, before helping her obtain a job with the US Defense Intelligence Agency. At the time, Velazquez was already working with for the US Department of State as a legal officer attached to the US Agency for International Development. In that position, which she held for over a decade, Velazquez had a top-secret security clearance; she also completed tours at the US embassies in Guatemala and Nicaragua. In 2004, a grand jury in Washington, DC, indicted Velazquez for espionage, accusing her of exchanging encrypted information with Cuban intelligence officers and traveling abroad to receive operational training while secretly in the service of Cuba. Read more of this post

Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

TeliaSonera CEO Lars NybergBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A highly profitable cellular telecommunications company, which is jointly owned by a Swedish-Finnish public-private consortium, is enabling some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes to spy on their own citizens, according to a new report. TeliaSonera AB, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, is currently active in nearly 20 countries around the world. In 2011, it posted a net profit of nearly $3 billion, 25 percent of which came from the company’s operations in countries of the former Soviet Union. They include some of TeliaSonera’s most lucrative franchises, such as Geocell in Georgia, Kcell in Kazakhstan, Ucell in Uzebekistan, Tcell in Tajikistan, and Azercell in Azerbaijan, among others. But a new investigation by Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television AB  (SVT), accuses TeliaSonera of knowingly giving some of the world’s most oppressive governments the means to spy on their own citizens. The report, which is available online in English, effectively states that TeliaSonera is directly complicit in some of the world’s most severe human rights abuses. The accusation is bound to cause embarrassment among senior officials in the Swedish government, which owns nearly 40 percent of TeliaSonera’s stock. The SVT investigation singles out Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, where TeliaSonera operates monopoly cellular networks on behalf of the state, “in exchange for lucrative contracts”. While running the networks, TeliaSonera allegedly grants local intelligence agencies complete and real-time access to the all telephone calls, pen-register data, and content of text messages exchanged by users. This, says the SVT report, has in turn facilitated several arrests of pro-democracy activists and political dissidents in countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan. Read more of this post

Sweden set up front company to secretly export arms to Saudi Arabia

Swedish Defense Research AgencyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Long considered as one of the world’s most socially responsible nations, Sweden has stringent laws prohibiting the export of Swedish weapons to countries that fall short of elementary democratic standards. Which is why the Swedish electorate was shocked by news earlier this month that the Swedish government set up a front company to secretly export weapons to one of the world’s most repressive and brutal regimes: Saudi Arabia. According to Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s publicly funded national broadcaster, which first aired the story, the shell company, which is named SSTI, was founded in 2009. It was registered in Saudi Arabia by former employees of Sweden’s Defense Research Agency. Known simply as FOI, the Agency operates as the defense research arm of the Swedish government, and reports directly to Sweden’s Ministry of Defense. The Stockholm based broadcaster said that the former FOI employees were specifically selected by the Swedish government in order to prevent the appearance of links between the front company, SSTI, and the Swedish state. The deal with the Saudi government was to build a weapons factory in the oil-rich kingdom, which would covertly manufacture Swedish weapons for direct sale to the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces. The deal turned complex, however, and was almost derailed, by the requirement to use cash funds in order to set up SSTI. It was at that point, Sveriges Radio says, that the FOI turned to Swedish military intelligence for assistance. According to anonymous sources, FOI officials “borrowed cash” from Sweden’s Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST), which was eventually transported in suitcases to Saudi Arabia “on several occasions”, in order to help set up the front company. MUST, a division of the Swedish Armed Forces Central Command, which employs both military and civilian staff, asked no questions. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #698

Cecilia LooströmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Swedish official sent top-secret intel briefing via Hotmail. A high-ranking official at Sweden’s Ministry of Defense sent notes on highly confidential arms trade negotiations with a Saudi Arabian official through a Hotmail email address. The four-page-long email, which details a secret conversation with a Saudi General, was sent in 2008 from assistant Under-Secretary for Defense Cecilia Looström, according to a Swedish newspaper.
►►Russian diplomat won’t deny espionage activity in Canada. Russia’s ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov, has refused to deny that his country carries out spy activity in Canada. He told a Canadian television reporter that “I am neither denying nor confirming [Russian espionage in Canada]. I would be a fool […] if I would confirm that we are doing as much”. He said Russia conducts intelligence activities in other countries —although he didn’t specify which— but refused to give any details on what activities, if any, are conducted within Canada.
►►New Taiwan spy case raises concerns. A Taiwanese air force captain surnamed Chiang is believed to have passed intelligence to China. Reportedly, Chiang’s uncle, who operates a business in China, helped pass on the information allegedly obtained by Chiang, which is said to have included classified material on Taiwan’s early-warning radar system as well as E-2T/E-2K Hawkeye surveillance aircraft. The case has rocked the Taiwanese military, as it comes a little more than a year after a high-profile spy for China was caught and is now serving a life sentence.

WikiLeaks document to expose Swedish Foreign Minister as US spy

Carl BildtBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
International whistleblower website WikiLeaks says it intends to publish a classified document that allegedly exposes Sweden’s current Foreign Minister as a spy for the United States. According to Swedish newspaper Expressen, which says it has seen the document in question, Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, is shown to have operated as an informant for the United States since the mid-1970s. The revelation, which is allegedly included in a classified diplomatic cable sent from the American embassy in Stockholm to the US Department of State, is likely to cause a major political crisis in Sweden and end the career of Carl Bildt, a popular politician who served as Sweden’s Prime Minister between 1991 and 1994. In an article published on Wednesday, Expressen cites an anonymous WikiLeaks source that claims Bildt “cooperated with the American government in a manner that is in direct violation of Swedish law”. The paper also states that, according to the incriminating document, Bildt was initially recruited by US intelligence through Republican political strategist Karl Rove, who is known to have been “an old personal friend” of the Swedish politician. According to the Expressen report, WikiLeaks has decided to publicize the leaked diplomatic cable as a warning against the Swedish government, which is said to be considering extraditing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #680

General Ziauddin KhawajaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Did Pakistani ex-leader know bin Laden’s hideout? General Ziauddin Khawaja, who was head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) from 1997 to 1999, claims Pakistan’s former President, Pervez Musharraf, knew bin Laden was in Abbottabad.
►►Sweden expels Rwanda diplomat for spying. Sweden has expelled a Rwandan diplomat for allegedly spying on Rwandan exiles there, according to the Associated Press. The diplomat, Evode Mudaheranwa, was sent back to Rwanda last week, according to a sources close to the Swedish government. Mudaheranwa was the Rwandan embassy’s second-highest-ranking official. The Swedish action comes as amid charges that Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s government sends agents overseas to silence critics.
►►Mossad continues to use foreign passports. Agents of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency are still using foreign passports to conduct undercover operations in other countries, according to a report in The Sunday Times of London. The paper says that new evidence shows that foreign nationals residing in Israel are willingly allowing the Mossad to use their passports. The Times interviewed several Israelis who revealed details of how they were approached by intelligence officials about the possibility of volunteering their passports for the Mossad.

News you may have missed #669

Raoul WallenbergBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►UK admits using fake rock to spy on Russians. Britain has admitted for the first time that it was caught spying when Russia exposed its use of a fake rock in Moscow to conceal electronic equipment. Russia made the allegations in January 2006, but Britain has not publicly accepted the claims until now. Jonathan Powell, then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff, told a BBC documentary it was “embarrassing”, but “they had us bang to rights”. He added: “clearly they had known about it for some time”.
►►New book examines forgotten CIA officer Jim Thompson. The CIA’s longtime man in Southeast Asia, Jim Thompson, fought to stop the agency’s progression from a small spy ring to a large paramilitary agency. Now a new book, The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, by Joshua Kurlantzick, examines the life and exploits of the man known as “Silk King” Jim.
►►Sweden to probe fate of WWII hero Wallenberg. Raoul Wallenberg (pictured) was a shrewd businessman who, in the summer of 1944, was posted as Sweden’s ambassador in Budapest, Hungary. He was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. He was abducted by Soviet intelligence officers in the closing stages of World War II, and his fate is one of the unsolved mysteries of 20th century espionage. Now Sweden says it will open a new probe into his disappearance.

News you may have missed #642

Predator drone

Predator drone

►►Australia concerned China using civilian satellites to spy. Concerns that China may use civilian satellite tracking stations to monitor Australian military operations have been dismissed by the Swedish Space Corporation. The company owns and operates two satellite tracking stations 400 km north of the West Australian capital, Perth. One was used by the China Satellite Launch Company last month in China’s first space docking operation.
►►Did Iran capture US stealth drone intact? For the second time this year, the Iranian government is claiming it forced down a stealthy US Air Force spy drone. Only this time, it says it bagged the RQ-170 “with little damage” by jamming its control signal —a potentially worrying development for American forces heavily reliant on remote-controlled aircraft. A US official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that “there is absolutely no indication up to this point that Iranians shot down this drone”.
►►Canadian Mounties spied on native protest groups. Canada’s federal government created a vast surveillance network in early 2007 to monitor protests by First Nations, including those that would attract national attention or target “critical infrastructure” like highways, railways and pipelines, according to RCMP documents. The RCMP intelligence unit reported weekly to approximately 450 recipients in law enforcement, government, and unnamed “industry partners” in the energy and private sector. The news follows revelations last month of the RCMP’s largest-ever domestic intelligence operation, aimed against G8 and G20 protesters.

Spy archivist discusses fate of Swedish diplomat abducted by KGB

Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was abducted by Soviet intelligence officers in the closing stages of World War II, is one of the unsolved mysteries of 20th century espionage. The 33-year-old Wallenberg was a shrewd businessman who, in the summer of 1944, was posted as Sweden’s ambassador in Budapest, Hungary. During his time in Budapest, he was able to save over 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, by supplying them with Swedish travel documentation, or smuggling them out of the country through a network of safe houses. He is also reported to have managed to dissuade German military commanders from launching an all-out attack on Budapest’s Jewish ghetto. But Wallenberg was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. In January of 1945, as Soviet forces descended on Axis ally Hungary, Moscow gave orders for Wallenberg’s arrest on charges of spying for Washington. The Swedish diplomat disappeared, never to be seen in public again. Some historians speculate that Joseph Stalin initially intended to exchange Wallenberg for a number of Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers who had defected to Sweden. But according to official Soviet government reports, Wallenberg died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947, while being interrogated at the Lubyanka, a KGB-affiliated prison complex in downtown Moscow. Despite the claims of the official Soviet record, historians have cited periodic reports that Wallenberg may have managed to survive in the Soviet concentration camp system until as late as the 1980s. Earlier this week, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, Chief Archivist for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), one of two successor agencies to the old Soviet KGB, gave an interview about Wallenberg to the Associated Press. 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

News you may have missed #522 (European Union edition)

News you may have missed #515

  • US spies tracked suspected terrorists in Sweden. US intelligence agents have staked out suspected terrorists in Sweden without the authorization of the government there, Svenska Daglbadet newspaper has reported. Last November, Norway, Sweden and Denmark launched official investigations into reports that US embassies there operated illegal intelligence-gathering networks.
  • Aussie spy agency reported on WikiLeaks. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s department has revealed that WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, were the subject of Australian intelligence reporting last year, as the government anticipated the whistleblower website would spill “highly sensitive and politically embarrassing” secrets.
  • Former Taiwanese general accused of spying. Taiwanese government prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Major General Lo Hsien-che, the most senior Taiwanese official to be arrested on espionage charges in the country since the early 1960s.
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