Arafat ‘may have been poisoned’, claims Swiss forensic report

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A forensic investigation by Swiss researchers into the death of Yasser Arafat states that the data “moderately suggests” that the Palestinian statesman may have been poisoned with a deadly radioactive substance. The founder of Palestinian nationalist group Fatah, who led the Palestine Liberation Organization for over three decades before becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority, passed away in November 2004 at the Percy military hospital in Paris, France. His official records indicate that he died from a stroke, which he suffered as a result of a blood disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation. However, a year-long investigation by a team of forensic pathologists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, suggests that the late Palestinian leader is likely to have been poisoned with radioactive polonium. According to the results of the study, published by Qatari news channel Al Jazeera, tests on Arafat’s bones and on soil samples from around his corpse, showed “unexpected high activity” of polonium 210. Traces of the same substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days while in hospital in Paris. According to the study, some of the Fatah leader’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. The BBC spoke to Dr. Paddy Regan, of the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, who specializes in the detection and measurement of radiation. He said the Swiss study had delivered “a pretty strong statement” in support of the theory that Arafat was poisoned. Read more of this post

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Revealed: North Korean leader’s aunt defected to the US in 1998

Kim Jong-un surrounded by generalsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The maternal aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un secretly defected to the United States with her husband in 1998, a South Korean newspaper has alleged. Ko Yong-suk is the younger sister of the North Korean supreme leader’s mother, Ko Yong-hui, who died of breast cancer in 2004, aged 51. As a young man, Kim studied at the prestigious International School in Berne, Switzerland, from 1996 to 2001. Along with him, the North Korean government sent to Switzerland his aunt and her husband, ostensibly to look after him. However, Ko and her husband vanished without trace in early May 1998. It was generally assumed that they had been recalled back to Pyongyang by the North Korean regime. But on Tuesday, a report in South Korea’s JoongAng Daily said that the couple secretly visited the United States embassy in Geneva and requested political asylum. The paper cited a former “senior official” in South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), who was privy to the information about the couple’s defection. It also cited an unnamed South Koran diplomat who was stationed in Berne at the time of the alleged defection. The former NIS official told JoongAng that Washington granted Ko and her husband asylum and spirited them away to an American military base in Frankfurt, Germany. There they were debriefed before being flown to the United States. The official said that the two defectors underwent months of questioning about the inner circle of North Korea’s ruling elite. The NIS source told the South Korean paper that, at the end of that process, the couple underwent “cosmetic surgery to conceal their identities” before being given new names by the US government. Read more of this post

Vatican official, intelligence operative, charged with money smuggling

VaticanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Three men, including a senior Vatican official and a police officer with ties to the Italian Secret Service, have been arrested on charges of plotting to smuggle millions of euros out of Switzerland. Among the men arrested by Italian police on Friday is Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a senior accountant at the Holy See’s Institute for the Works of Religion, which is the Vatican’s highest financial institution. Along with Father Scarano, Italian authorities arrested Giovanni Maria Zito, an officer in the Arma dei carabinieri, Italy’s national military police force, who was previously detailed to the country’s domestic intelligence service, the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Interna (AISI). The third accused co-conspirator is Giovanni Carenzio, a successful securities broker based primarily in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. All three have been charged with corruption, for plotting to smuggle nearly €20 million ($26 million) in cash, from Switzerland into Italy. According to Nello Rossi, chief prosecutor in the corruption investigation, evidence collected from targeted communications interceptions seems to indicate that the smuggled funds belonged to the d’Amico family of shipping magnates, owners of d’Amico International Shipping, which is based in Salerno, Italy. The plan, allegedly hatched last summer by the three men, was to hire a private airplane and use it to carry the €20 million in cash from Locarno, Switzerland, to Italy. The currency was to be carried in suitcases by Zito. Read more of this post

Swiss parliament halts US tax deal following CIA espionage claims

Swiss National Council chamberBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The lower house of the Swiss parliament has voted to stop considering a legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee revealed an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. The legislation, which was drafted by the government of Switzerland, is aimed at addressing demands by Washington for Swiss banks to turn over to US authorities the identities of American tax dodgers. It is believed that tens of thousands of wealthy Americans manage to evade their tax obligations each year by exploiting strict Swiss banking privacy laws, which effectively shield them from US internal revenue authorities. The legislation has already been approved by the upper house of the Swiss Federal Assembly (the Council of States), but it needs to be cleared by the lower house (the National Council) before it can be officially enacted. Interestingly, the legislation was halted in the lower house just days after American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a US espionage operation aimed at recruiting a Swiss bank official. Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA, disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). In addition to PRISM, Snowden, 29, spoke about a CIA operation in 2007, when he was allegedly stationed under diplomatic cover at the CIA station in Geneva, Switzerland. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #842 (world reaction to Snowden leak)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Chinese media focus on Snowden leaks. The front pages of Chinese state media were covered Thursday with the allegations of ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, who says the US government has been hacking computers in China for years. Speaking to media in Hong Kong, where he is currently staying, Snowden said the US has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. He said targets include public officials, businesses and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Those claims by Snowden were the top story on most of China’s major news portals on Thursday
►►Switzerland furious about Snowden’s charge that CIA spies on Swiss banks. One of the many lurid details in The Guardian’s remarkable interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was his account of what initially prompted him to leak: namely a CIA tour in Switzerland, where CIA officers recruited Swiss banking officials. The Snowden disclosure could not come at a worse time for the Swiss government, which is trying to convince parliament to back its emergency plan that would allow Swiss banks to turn over data on tax evaders to the US government.
►►Is Russia considering giving asylum to Snowden? Asked if the 29-year-old could claim asylum from Russia, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin told the newspaper Kommersant: “If such a request is received, it will be considered”. Any attempt by the Kremlin to give refuge to Mr Snowden, amid calls for his prosecution under the US Espionage Act, is likely to infuriate the White House and provoke a major diplomatic standoff.

News you may have missed #833

Dawn MeyerriecksBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Report states Switzerland increasingly targeted by spies. Cyber attacks and abductions of Swiss abroad were two of the main security challenges faced by Switzerland last year, according to report released on Tuesday by the alpine country’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS). “Switzerland continues to be no priority for jihadist motivated attacks,” the report said. However, presenting the report, FIS head Markus Seiler said an Islamist attack on Swiss soil could not be ruled out. And Swiss nationals abroad were “more threatened than in the past by politically and terrorist motivated abductions”, he said.
►►Prosecutors raid South Korean spy agency. State prosecutors raided the headquarters of the National Intelligence Service of South Korea on Tuesday to investigate accusations that the spy agency used its agents and hired bloggers to influence the presidential election in December. The raid, which started in the morning and continued into the evening, was highly unusual, dealing a blow to the reputation of the spy agency. Such a raid would have been unthinkable decades ago when the agency had served as the main tool of political control for South Korea’s military dictators.
►►Former AOL VP to lead CIA tech and science division. The CIA has appointed Dawn Meyerriecks, former AOL Senior Vice President for Product Technology, as its new Chief of Science and Technology. According to Wired, Meyerriecks is the first internet executive to ever take a top-tiered position in the CIA. Some of the things Meyerriecks has done in the past include working as a Jet Propulsion Lab engineer for NASA, working as a Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Acquisitions and Technology, working as a Chief Technology Officer and Technical Director for the Joint Interoperabillity and Engineering Organization (JIEO), establishing an in-house app market for both spies and analysts, encouraging the US government to use open source software, and much more.

Swiss intelligence employee stole ‘millions’ of classified pages

NDB offices in Bern, Switzerland

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Swiss authorities have warned Western intelligence agencies that their secrets may have been compromised by a disgruntled intelligence employee who stole “thousands or even millions of pages of classified material”. Citing “European national security sources”, Reuters said the employee at the center of the case worked for the NDB, Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service. He had been employed by NDB for eight years as a network technician with “full administrator rights” and had unrestricted access to the NDB’s computers, as well as to those of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Defense, under which the NDB operates. About a year ago, however, the unnamed technician apparently became disgruntled after his views on how to structure the NDB’s databases were allegedly sidelined or ignored. He eventually decided to use several portable hard drives to download countless classified documents from Swiss government servers and managed to carry them out of the office building where he worked, using a backpack. According to Swiss authorities, he intended to sell the classified information to foreign governments or black-market operatives. He was apprehended, however, after he tried to set up a numbered bank account with Swiss-based UBS bank, using what bank security officials described as “suspicious identification documentation”. Read more of this post

Nuclear smugglers to get reduced prison sentences ‘for helping CIA’

Urs TInnerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Three Swiss engineers imprisoned for participating in an international nuclear smuggling ring are about to have their prison sentences significantly reduced, allegedly for having acted as agents for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested in 2004 in connection with a multinational investigation into the nuclear smuggling network of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, who is widely known as A.Q. Khan, had for years subcontracted his nuclear services to North Korea, Iran and Libya, until 2004, when he was placed under house arrest by the Pakistani government, following pressure from Washington. Since then, the Tinners have been under “investigative custody”, a peculiar state of pre-trial detention prescribed by Swiss law. In 2009, Urs Tinner gave an interview to Swiss television, in which he claimed than he, along with his brother and father, had for years informed the CIA on Khan’s activities and assisted the US intelligence agency terminate the Libyan nuclear weapons program. It later emerged that the Swiss government had “inadvertently” shredded some crucial documents required in the prosecution case against the three engineers. Late last year there was apparently concern at Langley that some CIA secrets could surface in court, after Swiss government prosecutors announced that a trial for the Tinners would go ahead. However, new prosecution documents released on Tuesday show that a plea bargain agreement has been struck between the Swiss government and the three defendants in this highly sensitive case. Read more of this post

France opens murder inquiry into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
French prosecutors have opened an official murder inquiry into the 2004 death of Palestinian statesman Yasser Arafat, following allegations that he may have been poisoned. The decision, announced Tuesday, comes less than two months after the results of a lengthy forensic toxicological investigation raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with polonium-210. The nine-month study was commissioned by Qatari news channel Al Jazeera and was conducted by the Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland. According to the results, announced in early July, significant traces of the radioactive substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days while in hospital in Paris, France. According to the IRA, some of the Fatah founder’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. Shortly following the IRA study, Arafat’s wife and daughter filed an official complaint with French judicial authorities, who in turn decided to open an official murder investigation. The decision was taken despite the fact that many in the medical profession appear cautious about the claims of the IRA study. But one British observer told the BBC that the French government was obliged to take the request by the two women “very seriously because of its diplomatic aspect”. Last week, IRA officials in Switzerland said they had received permission from Arafat’s family and the Palestinian National Authority to travel to Ramallah, West Bank, and examine Arafat’s exhumed remains for traces of polonium-210. Read more of this post

Medical tests suggest Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A nine-month forensic toxicological investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat has raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with a radioactive substance. The Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland, has announced the discovery of significant traces of polonium-210 on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days. Speaking at a press conference in Switzerland on Monday, IRA Director Dr. Francois Bochud said that the Institute could “confirm that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids”. According to the IRA, some of the Fatah founder’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. The findings of the investigation, which was sponsored by the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera, may eventually shed light into the cause of Arafat’s death, which remains a medical mystery. Doctors in the West Bank and France have confirmed that the Palestinian leader was in sound health until he suddenly fell ill in mid-October 2004, and that his body showed no symptoms of any known disease. Polonium-210 made news headlines in a major way in November 2006, when it was identified as the poison used to kill Alexander Litvinenko. Read more of this post

Trial announced for Swiss nuclear smugglers said to be CIA agents

Urs Tinner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Switzerland has officially charged three Swiss citizens with assisting the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, who gave nuclear information to North Korea, Libya and Iran. But the scope of the trial will be severely limited under a peculiar plea bargain struck with the three defendants, which will prevent the court from examining their claims of having worked as agents of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested by German and Italian authorities in 2004 and extradited to Switzerland. Soon afterwards, Swiss authorities came under political pressure from the US Department of State, which appeared displeased with the prospect of a trial for the Tinners. Swiss government investigators quickly realized that the Tinners were considered valuable assets by the CIA, something which Urs Tinner himself admitted in a January 2009 interview. So convinced were Swiss authorities of Urs Tinners’ CIA connection claims, that they turned down repeated requests by the Tinners’ lawyers to release their clients on bail, fearing the three suspects would escape to the United States. In 2007, there was further uproar in Swiss public opinion, when it emerged that the Swiss Federal Department of Defense had secretly shredded 30,000 pages of vital evidence in the Tinners’ case, ostensibly to prevent their falling into the hands of foreign governments or terrorists. Several pundits accused Swiss authorities of destroying the documents under heavy political pressure from Washington. These suspicions were rekindled this week, after Switzerland’s attorney general announced that the Tinners would be tried for “aiding the illegal nuclear weapons program of an unknown state”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #635

Vitaly Shlykov

Vitaly Shlykov

►►UK to support Colombia’s new intelligence agency. The UK has announced that it will provide help and advice on the implementation of Colombia’s new national intelligence agency. Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, along with National Security Adviser, Sergio Jaramillo, met with the director of Britain’s secret service MI6 to exchange experiences in intelligence to implement the new National Intelligence Agency of Colombia (ANIC). ANIC is supposed to replace the DAS, Colombia’s disgraced intelligence agency, which has been stigmatized by colluding with paramilitary groups and spying on union leaders, journalists and opposition politicians.
►►US intelligence to train analysts with videogames. The US intelligence community’s research group, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), has handed over $10.5 million to Raytheon BBN Technologies to start work on the Sirius program. The initiative aims to create a series of so-called “serious games” that would help intelligence analysts improve their objectivity and reasoned judgment when confronted with complex or culturally foreign scenarios.
►►Soviet spy who spent years in Swiss prison dies at 77. Vitaly Shlykov served for 30 years in the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, known as GRU. During his career, he made frequent trips to the West on a false American passport. One of his duties was to maintain contacts with Dieter Felix Gerhardt, a senior officer of the South African Navy who was working as a Soviet spy. In 1983, Shlykov was arrested in Zurich while carrying about $100,000 in cash to hand over to Gerhardt’s wife. Soviet intelligence was unaware that Gerhardt and his wife had been arrested a few weeks earlier and had told interrogators about the meeting in Switzerland.

Controversial Swiss master-spy dies in Ireland

Albert Bachmann

Albert Bachmann

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of Switzerland’s most controversial Cold War figures, who set up a clandestine guerrilla unit to combat a feared Soviet invasion, has died in Cork, Ireland. Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger has said last week that Colonel Albert Bachmann, who headed Switzerland’s military intelligence force, the Untergruppe Nachrichtendienst der Armee (UNA), from 1976 until 1979, died on April 12. Although Bachmann was a communist in his student years, he later headed Projekt-26 (P-26), a clandestine project to set up a ‘left-behind’ force of Swiss guerrillas trained in sharp shooting, bombing and assassination techniques. The guerrilla force was designed to engage the Soviet military if it ever invaded Switzerland. In the late 1970s, Colonel Bachmann also secured government funds to purchase the 200-acre Liss Ard country estate near the Irish town of Skibbereen, in west Cork. The estate was to be used as a base for a Swiss government-in-exile following a feared Soviet invasion of central Europe. Furthermore, the basement of one of the two manors on the estate was designated as a secret depository of Switzerland’s gold reserves, in the event of a Soviet invasion of the Alpine country. Read more of this post

Suspicion mounts as US unlocks Moussa Koussa’s foreign assets

Moussa Koussa

Moussa Koussa

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Eyebrows were raised in intelligence circles on Monday, after the United States lifted its freeze of foreign assets belonging to Libya’s former intelligence chief, who defected to London last week. Libya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moussa Koussa, who headed the country’s intelligence agency from 1994 to 2009, managed to escape to the UK from Tunisia on a Swiss-registered private airplane. He is currently reported to be in an MI6 safe house in England, allegedly being interrogated about his inside knowledge of the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi. But Koussa is also thought to be the mastermind behind the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed nearly 300 people. The 57-year-old defector is also believed to have facilitated Libya’s funding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and to have authorized the assassination of several Libyan dissidents living in Britain. In light of that, the news that Washington lifted its sanctions on Koussa’s sizeable fortune abroad is worth noting. It is also interesting to note that Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is reportedly pressuring European Union member-states to follow the US’ example in also unfreezing Koussa’s foreign assets. Read more of this post

Mubarak delayed exit in order to move secret funds, say intel sources

Hosni Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the reasons why Egypt’s disgraced ex-president kept prolonging his rule amidst ferocious anti-government protests this month, was to transfer billions of dollars-worth of personal assets into bank accounts around the world. British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph quotes a “senior Western intelligence official” who claims that Hosni Mubarak’s fund managers began transferring his extensive fortune to numbered bank accounts during the first days of the popular revolution in Egypt. The intelligence official told The Telegraph that Western intelligence services were “aware of some urgent conversations” within the Mubarak family about how to best protect their fortune from Egyptian and international financial investigators. The Mubaraks may have thus pre-empted the freezing of their accounts in Zurich, which was announced by the Swiss government on Friday. In this, Hosni Mubarak appears to have learned from Tunisia’s former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced to flee with his family to Saudi Arabia last month, without the benefit of his Swiss bank assets. The latter were frozen following an official request by the Tunisian government. In the case of Mubarak, whose vast $70 billion fortune is mostly managed by his son Gamal, it appears that most of his Swiss bank assets were moved to accounts in third countries in the days before his resignation and are thus “gone by now”, according to one US government official who spoke to The Telegraph on condition of anonymity. Read more of this post

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