Sweden conducts spy flights over Russia amidst heightened tensions

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

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

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

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

Israel charges Swedish citizen with spying for Hezbollah

HezbollahIsraeli authorities have charged a Swedish citizen with working as an intelligence officer for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It is believed that Hassan Khalil Hizran, 55, was born to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, from where he emigrated to Sweden many years ago. But he was arrested in Tel Aviv on July 21 while disembarking a flight at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and was taken into custody by the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. A spokesman for the agency said Hizran had confessed during interrogation to being an intelligence operative for Hezbollah, a primarily Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon’s territory. He is said to have told his interrogators that he was recruited by the group in the summer of 2009 while visiting Lebanon from Sweden with his wife and children.

Shin Bet said that Hizran had been asked by his Hezbollah handlers to gather intelligence relating to Israeli military installations and that he visited Israel several times in order to fulfil his missions. He would then return to Lebanon after visiting a third country in order to provide his Hezbollah handlers with the information he had collected while in Israel. Sources in Tel Aviv said Hizran visited Lebanon at least twice since his 2009 recruitment, specifically in 2011 and 2013. He returned to Sweden with monetary sums given to him by Hezbollah as payment for his services, which amounted to several thousand dollars, according to Shin Bet. The Israeli security agency said the Swede was helping Hezbollah identify military targets for a future war, which it interpreted as “proof that Hezbollah is preparing for the net war with Israel by compiling a target bank”.

According to the Israelis, Hizran had also been tasked by Hezbollah with recruiting Arabs with ties to Israeli Jews, but that he was either unable or unwilling to do so. However, on Sunday he was charged with three criminal counts including contacting an agent of a foreign government and communicating sensitive information. The Swedish man’s Israeli lawyer, Leah Tsemel, denied that her client was guilty of espionage and claimed that he had “refused repeated requests to inflict harm on the national security of Israel”. The Swedish and Lebanese governments have not commented on Hizran’s arrest.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 August 2015 | Permalink

A third of Russian diplomats are spies, says Swedish security service

Wilhelm UngeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Approximately a third of all Russian diplomats stationed in Sweden are in reality intelligence officers, according to Sweden’s intelligence service. The Scandinavian country’s primary intelligence agency, the Swedish Security Service, known as SAPO, told reporters on Wednesday that around one in three accredited officials stationed in Russia’s embassy and consulate in Gothenburg routinely engage in various forms of espionage. The claim was made at SAPO’s headquarters in Solna, in the suburbs of Stockholm, during the unveiling of the agency’s annual counterintelligence report. The main presenter at the press conference, SAPO chief analyst Wilhelm Unge, told reporters that Russia constitutes “the biggest intelligence threat against Sweden” at present.

Unge told the audience that SAPO had prevented “several attempts” by Russian diplomatic personnel to steal Swedish-made technology last year, especially related to weapons systems and other military technologies. Especially notable, said Ugne, was that the new, post-Soviet generation of Russian intelligence officers stationed in Sweden are younger in age than their Soviet-era counterparts. He added that they are also well-educated, very driven, goal-oriented and socially competent —something that Soviet intelligence officers were admittedly not known for. Unge noted that Iranian and Chinese intelligence operatives were also markedly active on Swedish soil, but refused to provide details.

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for accrediting foreign diplomats stationed in Sweden, declined comment on whether it had expelled any Russian diplomats in recent months. In a brief statement, the Ministry’s spokeswoman Anna Ekberg said simply that the Swedish government expected the Russian Federation “to respect the Vienna Convention and that their diplomats [in Sweden] are actually diplomats”. The Associated Press contacted the Russian embassy in Stockholm for a response, but officials there refused to provide one. IntelNews regulars will recall that Swedish authorities shut down airspace over Stockholm last October, while conducting an extensive search for an alleged Russian submarine, which was believed to be lurking in the port of Stockholm. The incident caused tension between the two countries, prompting calls for more stringent Swedish counterintelligence measures against Russia.

Saudis recall ambassador from Sweden after arms deal is scrapped

Margot WallströmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its ambassador from Sweden after the Scandinavian country annulled a multimillion dollar defense contract with the Arab kingdom. Stockholm scrapped the contract on Monday, a day after the Saudis blocked a scheduled speech by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, at the Arab League conference in Cairo. Wallström said she was “astonished” after Arab delegates backed a last-minute push by the Saudi delegation to the meeting to block her from speaking. The effort to block the Swedish politician’s speech was initiated once it became clear that she intended to criticize the Kingdom’s human-rights record. The Swedish politician had reportedly planned to broach the issue of freedom of expression and religious worship, as well as touch on the subject of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The speech was meant to highlight Wallström’s “feminist foreign policy”, which she has previously said will form “an integral part” of the policy strategy of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under her leadership.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced that a lucrative weapons agreement, which was first signed between Stockholm and Riyadh in 2005, would be scrapped in protest against the Arab Kingdom’s poor human-rights record. The day before the announcement, Wallström had proceeded to post online the text of the speech that she had been scheduled to deliver in Cairo, where she had been invited by the Arab League as a guest of honor. Fewer than 24 hours later, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said it would be recalling its ambassador to Sweden, Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim, in protest against what it said were Sweden’s “offensive” and “harmful” actions against the Kingdom. An official statement by the Saudi government described Wallström’s criticisms as a “blatant interference” in the Kingdom’s internal affairs that had “violated accepted international conventions”.

Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed late on Wednesday that the Saudi ambassador to the country was being recalled, but it refused to speculate on whether it would respond by recalling its ambassador to the Arab Kingdom.

Swedish double spy who escaped to Moscow in 1987 dies at 77

Stig BerglingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Sweden’s most notorious Cold-War spy, who went on the run for nearly a decade after managing to escape from prison in 1987, has died in Stockholm. Born in the Swedish capital in 1937, Stig Eugén Bergling became a police officer in the late 1950s prior to joining SÄPO, the Swedish Security Service, in 1967. He initially worked in the Service’s surveillance unit, and later joined several counterintelligence operations, mostly against Soviet and East European intelligence services. In 1979, while posted by SÄPO in Tel Aviv, he was arrested by the Israelis for selling classified documents to the GRU, the military intelligence agency of the USSR.

He was promptly extradited to Sweden, where he stood trial for espionage and treason. His trial captivated the headlines, as details about the spy tradecraft he employed while spying for the Soviets, including radio transmitters, invisible ink and microdots, were revealed in court. He said in his testimony that he sold over 15,000 classified Swedish government documents to the Soviets, not due to any ideological allegiance with the Kremlin, but simply in order to make money. Bergling was sentenced to life in prison, while lawyers for the prosecution argued in court that the reorganization of Sweden’s defense and intelligence apparatus, which had been caused by Bergling’s espionage, would cost the taxpayer in excess of $45 million. For the next six years, the convicted spy disappeared from the headlines, after legally changing his name to Eugen Sandberg while serving his sentence.

But in 1987, during a conjugal visit to his wife, he escaped with her using several rented cars, eventually making it to Finland. When they arrived in Helsinki, Bergling contacted the Soviet embassy, which smuggled him and his wife across to the USSR. The couple’s escape caused a major stir in Sweden, and an international manhunt was initiated for their capture. In 1994, the two fugitives suddenly returned to Sweden from Lebanon, where they had been living, claiming they were homesick and missed their families. They said they had lived in Moscow and Budapest under the aliases of Ivar and Elisabeth Straus. Bergling was sent back to prison, while his wife was not sentenced due to ill health. She died of cancer in 1997. Bergling changed his name again, this time to Sydholt, and lived his final years in a nursing home in Stockholm until his recent death. He was 77.

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

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

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