News you may have missed #871

Rene GonzalezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Britain denies visa for Cuban spy freed by US. Rene Gonzalez, one of the so-called “Cuban Five” intelligence agents convicted by the US of spying, has been denied a British visa to attend a London symposium. Gonzalez, who served 13 years in US prison before his release in 2011, had been invited to a two-day conference put on by “Voice for the Five”, an organization that campaigns in support of the convicted Cuban spies. The Cuban state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde said Gonzales, 55, was denied a visa because British law prohibits entry of a person sentenced to more than four years in prison.
►►Canada fires intelligence analyst over contacts with Russians. Irina Koulatchenko, a 36-year-old who came to Canada as a Russian refugee via Cuba, has been fired by Canada’s financial-intelligence agency, known as FINTRAC. A Canadian Security Intelligence Service probe recommended she not be trusted to do that job, allegedly because “she had had several social encounters with Russian diplomats”. The latter included one she met “at a Cirque du Soleil show, another who was friends with her ex-fiancé and another she bumped into all the time at various social events”.
►►CIA suspected of spying on Congress members. The United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Senate aides removing documents from CIA headquarters that they reportedly “weren’t authorized to have”. It turns out, however, that the CIA found this out because they were secretly spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and their staff who were working on a high-profile report on CIA torture of detainees. What is more, Democratic Senator Mark Udall has claimed US President Barack Obama knew of the CIA’s secret monitoring of the Committee.

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Israeli reports accuse US of denying entry visas to Israeli spies

US Department of StateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed. However, many of them are now having their visa renewal applications rejected, or are made to wait “several weeks” before having their entry permits renewed by American consular staff. The paper quoted a “senior [Israeli] security expert”, who said he had been denied an entry visa to the US this past January, for the first time in his career, despite having visited the US numerous times in the past “without trouble”. He told Maariv that he had “traveled to the US dozens of times in the past for my job and never faced issues getting a visa” on time. Read more of this post

Snowden flees to Russia despite US passport revocation

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An American former intelligence contractor, who leaked classified information about intelligence operations, was able to leave Hong Kong for Russia on Sunday, despite having his United States passport revoked. Earlier this month, Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine electronic surveillance program operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Shortly before leaking information about US intelligence operations to the world’s media, Snowden traveled to Hong Kong, a territory under the control of the People’s Republic of China. Last week, Washington charged Snowden, a self-described whistleblower, under the Espionage Act, and revoked his American passport, in an attempt to prevent him from leaving Hong Kong. But reports emerged on Sunday that Snowden had boarded an Aeroflot flight from Honk Kong to Russian capital Moscow, despite the revocation of his American passport. US authorities claim that Snowden’s transfer to Moscow occurred after Washington revoked his American passport, which raises the question of how the former CIA employee was able to exit Chinese territory. Several reports suggest that Snowden was accompanied by “unidentified diplomats” as he left Hong Kong for Moscow. Previously, the US had applied considerable diplomatic pressure on China, requesting Snowden’s extradition. But Hong Kong allowed the American fugitive to board a plane to Moscow, saying it had been given “no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving”. Read more of this post

Canadian passports still highly coveted by spies and terrorists

Canadian passportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An extensive investigation into a bus bombing that targeted Israeli tourists in Bulgaria points to the continued attraction of forged Canadian passports for terrorist groups and intelligence agencies. Bulgaria’s Minister of the Interior, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said on Tuesday that the July 18, 2012, terrorist attack, was perpetrated by Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the military wing of Hezbollah. The militant Shiite group, which controls large parts of southern Lebanon, has denied involvement in the bombing, which killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists. Tsvetanov said that, during a lengthy police investigation, which was assisted by American and Israeli investigators, the printer used to produce forged driver licenses found on two of the plotters was traced to Lebanon. He also told a press conference in Bulgarian capital Sofia that the suicide bomber, who died in the attack, entered Bulgaria using a forged Canadian passport. Commentator Paul Koring, of Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, correctly suggests that the revelation by the Bulgarian authorities points to the continued status of Canadian passports as the international travel documents of choice for both spies and terrorists. In the 1970s, Hezbollah’s biggest enemy, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, used Canadian passports in Operation WRATH OF GOD (also known as Operation BAYONET). The operation exterminated almost every original member of Black September, the Palestinian group that perpetrated the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich. In 1997, the Israeli spy agency employed Canadian passports once again, during the famously disastrous attempt to kill Khaled Mashal, Chairman of the Political Bureau of Palestinian militant group Hamas, in Jordan. Read more of this post

Analysis: Biometric passports, iris scanners, worry undercover spooks

Biometric passportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
False passports are to intelligence operatives what petrol is to automobiles. In the absence of forged travel documentation, intelligence officers working undercover are unable to operate internationally without revealing their identity. This is why, traditionally, intelligence operatives are known to “use and discard false passports like hand wipes”, in the words of one knowledgeable source. But according to a fascinating article by veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein, authored for Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, “the day of the trench-coated spy easily slipping in and out of countries on false papers multiple times [may be] coming to an end”. The reason is “the electronic curtain [that] is descending all over the world”, most notably the increasing deployment of iris recognition devices and biometric passports at airports and hotels around the world, says Stein. Over the coming decade, iris scanners, which employ mathematical pattern-recognition techniques to identify individuals by their irides, will become increasingly common at international airports. The same applies to biometric passports, namely travel documents with embedded microchips that store a massive amount of personal information. These technologies are ostensibly being introduced in international transport hubs in order to combat transnational terrorism and organized crime. But they are also expected to heavily interfere with the work of undercover intelligence operatives, says Stein, especially as they are being introduced in popular spy routes, in countries such as India, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, as well as in several European Union entry points. He quotes an unnamed “career spook” currently working for the Central Intelligence Agency as a consultant, who explains that an undercover officer’s biometric identity will be forever linked to the passport that he or she first uses to enter these countries. If the officer were to try to enter these countries again, using a different alias, alarm bells will ring: “you can’t show up again under a different name with the same data”, says the CIA consultant. 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.

Bush “did nothing” about Mossad using US passports to recruit terrorists

Jundallah ForcesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Current and former American intelligence officials have accused Israeli spy operatives of posing as US citizens to recruit members of a Pakistani terrorist group in a covert war against Iran. In an explosive exposé, the respectable US-based journal Foreign Policy has revealed that officers of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency used forged US passports to pose as American personnel of the Central Intelligence Agency. They used their fake American identities to contact members of Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah, which is responsible for numerous brutal strikes against civilian targets in Iran. Jundallah (soldiers of God) is an extremist militant organization that claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran. Most of its members belong to the Baluch ethnic group, which is concentrated along the Iranian-Pakistani border. The Foreign Policy article cites interviews conducted over the past 18 months with six anonymous US government officials, including two serving intelligence officers and at least two others who “have monitored Israeli intelligence operations from senior positions inside the US government”. They told the journal that, in 2007, during the concluding years of the administration of President George W. Bush, the CIA discovered that the Mossad was using forged US passports and US currency to court and fund Jundallah operatives, in a series of secret meetings in London, England. One US government source told Foreign Policy that American officials “were stunned by the brazenness” of the Mossad, saying: “it’s amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with [...]. They apparently didn’t give a damn what we thought”. A retired CIA officer told the journal that Agency analysts drafted official memoranda that made their way “up the US intelligence chain of command”, eventually reaching the White House. The CIA officer added that President Bush “went absolutely ballistic” when briefed on the Mossad operation. Read more of this post

Alleged Russian spies in Germany used low-tech methods to evade detection

Anna Chapman

Anna Chapman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A couple arrested in Germany last week on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence, was using low-tech radio communications to receive orders from Moscow, according to media reports. The two arrestees have been identified as Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag; German prosecutors accuse them of spying for SVR, the successor to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (PGU), responsible for foreign operations and intelligence collection abroad. They are said to have worked as non-official-cover operatives for the KGB and SVR since at least 1990, when they entered Germany from Mexico, using forged Austrian travel documents. Authorities in Germany say that Heidrun Anschlag, 51, was caught by German police in the act of listening to encrypted radio messages from Moscow. German investigators are reportedly puzzled by the fact that, in the Internet age, when most intelligence operatives employ digital secure communications, the Anschlags insisted on using a low-tech method that mostly died with the end of the Cold War. But intelNews readers will remember the case of former United States State Department analysts Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, who were arrested in 2009 for spying on the US for Cuba for over 30 years. Shortly after the Myers’ arrest, we wrote that the couple appeared to have avoided capture for decades, precisely because their communications with the government of Cuba were too low-tech to be detected by sophisticated US monitors. The latter tend to focus on scanning for encrypted satellite or microwave communications which —among other hi-tech means— are now the communication method of choice for modern clandestine spy networks. But some intelligence agencies, including —apparently— the SVR, appear to insist on using old-school oral cipher signals, based on straightforward number-to-letter codes, which they broadcast to their agents over predetermined shortwave frequencies at specified times. Read more of this post

German commandos arrest couple ‘spying for Russia’

Russian and German flags

Russia & Germany

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Members of an elite German commando unit have arrested a man and a woman, on suspicion of having spied for Russia for over two decades. A statement issued by the German prosecutor’s office does not name the couple, nor does it explicitly identify them as Russian spies. It says simply that they are “suspected of having worked in Germany over a long period of time for a foreign intelligence agency”. But an article in Germany’s leading newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, identifies the couple as “Andreas A.” and “Heidrun A.”, and claims that the two have spied for Russian intelligence since at least 1988. The newsmagazine reports that the suspected spies were caught separately in the towns of Balingen and Marburg, located in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hesse respectively. It also suggests that the two were apprehended by members of Germany’s GSG-9, the elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police, and that the woman was actually caught in the act of listening to a coded radio message. Both were found to be in possession of forged Austrian passports, as well as —apparently fake— birth certificates stating that they were born in Argentina (Andreas) and Peru (Heidrun). Following the Spiegel article, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor confirmed that two people had indeed been arrested on suspicion of espionage activities on behalf of a foreign country. If a Russian connection is established, it will be the first international espionage case linking Russia and Germany since the latter’s reunification in 1990. If they are followed by convictions, the arrests could constitute a much needed success story for the German intelligence community, whose reputation has lately been damaged by several unsavory media stories. Read more of this post

Canada memos decry use of Canadian passports by Russian spies

Canadian passport

Canadian passport

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In June of 2010 media headlines were dominated by news of a Russian spy ring in the United States that was busted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On June 27, eleven people, all sleeper agents of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, were arrested in early morning raids across several US states. The arrestees, who included media sensation Anna Chapman, were later exchanged for four alleged CIA agents serving time in Russian jails. What is less known however, is the fact that four of the members of the busted spy ring were claiming to be Canadian citizens. SVR operative Natalia Pereverzeva was caught using a forged Canadian passport under the fake name ‘Patricia Mills’. Two other SVR officers, Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, were claiming Canadian nationality under the forged names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. A fourth alleged member of the spy ring, ‘Christopher Metsos’, was apprehended in Cyprus, after using a forged Canadian passport to enter the Mediterranean island. He later disappeared, having skipped bail. Now, sixteen months after the arrests of the Russian spies, The Canadian Press has acquired several hundred pages of memoranda and internal emails from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). Substantial portions of the documents, which were acquired through Canada’s Access to Information Act, remain censored; but The Press reports that they show that employees of DFAIT’s Passport Canada office held “urgent meetings and high-level briefings” in the days following the FBI arrests, in order to address the revelations concerning SVR’s illegal use of Canadian passports. In the documents, Canadian officials opine that the use by Russian spies of forged Canadian travel documents poses a “troubling threat to the integrity of Canadian [passports] and identity security”. Read more of this post

White House reinstalls visas for 2009 Honduran coup plotters

Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On June 26, 2009, a clandestine meeting of the Honduran Supreme Court issued a secret warrant for the arrest of the country’s democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya. Less than 48 hours later, in the early hours of June 28, uniformed officers of the Honduran Army stormed the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa and arrested Zelaya. Shortly afterwards, the deposed President was placed on a plane and sent into enforced exile. It was the first coup d’état in the Central American country since 1978, and the first in Latin America in several years. The US administration of President Barack Obama almost immediately condemned the coup and halted American military aid to Honduras; but it failed to officially designate Zelaya’s ouster as a ‘military coup’, which would have required Washington to outlaw and terminate nearly all forms of government —and some private— aid to Honduras. In August, after several weeks of heavy criticism from Latin American governments, the Obama White House proceeded to “temporarily suspend” non-immigrant visas for over 1,000 Honduran military and civilian leaders, who had endorsed President Zelaya’s unconstitutional ouster. Many of whom had participated in the first post-coup government of former Speaker of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti. But a news report by the Associated Press suggests that Washington may now be quietly reinstating visas to Micheletti government officials, and that some of them are already travelling to and from the United States. The article quotes a “US embassy spokesperson”, who “spoke on condition of anonymity”, as saying that “the Department of State has determined that some of the Hondurans whose eligibility for visas was restricted following the June 2009 coup d’etat are again eligible to be considered for visas”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #584

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager

►►Billing dispute reveals details of secret CIA flights. On August 12, 2003, a conracted Gulfstream IV aircraft carrying six passengers took off from Dulles International Airport for Bangkok. When it returned four days later, it carried Indonesian terrorist Riduan Isamuddin, who had been captured in Thailand and would spend the next three years in various secret CIA prisons. The Gulfstream IV’s itinerary, as well as the $339,228 price tag for the journey, are among the details of shadowy CIA flights that have emerged in a New York courthouse, in a billing dispute between contractors. Incidentally, even the airplanes’ owners didn’t always know that the CIA was using them.
►►French admit secret service spied on reporter. French interior minister Claude Guéant has admitted that the secret service spied on investigative reporter Gérard Davet, from the newspaper Le Monde, in order to trace the source of a leak about the so-called “Bettencourt party funding scandal“, which has been a source of embarrassment for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party.
►►NZ let Israeli spies go free in return for passports. Another revelation from Nicky Hager’s book Other People’s Wars (see previous intelNews coverage here). The investigative reporter claims that New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service released captured Mossad spies Eli Cara and Uriel Zoshe Kelman, in return for Read more of this post

News you may have missed #547

Imtiaz Ahmad

Imtiaz Ahmad

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Finland cancels visa of ex-KGB general. We reported recently on the case of Mikhail Golovatov, a former commander of the Soviet KGB’s Alpha Group, who is wanted in Lithuania for alleged war crimes against the country’s secession movement in the early 1990s. Last week, Austria arrested Golovatov, but released him 24 hours later, claiming that his Lithuanian-issued European arrest warrant was “too vague” to justify his continued detention. There are now reports that the Finnish embassy in Moscow has annulled the Schengen visa it had previously issued to the former KGB officer. In a statement, Finnish officials said they would not have granted Golovatov a visa in the first place, except there had been “a spelling mistake in Golovatov’s first name”, which made them think he the applicant was not General Golovatov of KGB fame. Hmmm…. ►►Georgian ‘spy photographers’ to be released. In a bizarre twist to the ‘photojournalist spies’ saga in Georgia, the government has announced that the three will be released under an agreed plea-bargain deal, because they had given the authorities “information of particular importance for national security” about Russian intelligence operations in Georgia. The three have allegedly “revealed the identities of Russian spies working in the country as well as the names of their Georgian collaborators and cover organizations operating on behalf of Moscow”. The three, Zurab Kurtsikidze, Irakli Gedenidze and Giorgi Abdaladze, are all professional photojournalists, who are accused by Tbilisi of spying for Moscow. ►►Pakistani ex-spy director says US owes Pakistan. Imtiaz Ahmed (often spelled Ahmad) is the former Director General of Pakistan’s main domestic intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau (IB). In a recent interview, he accused the United States of using the ‘war on terrorism’ as a strategic pretext for capturing energy resources and limiting China’s economic growth. He also said that the US owes the Pakistani intelligence agencies, because without them it could not have accomplished its task in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. IntelNews readers may remember the last time Ahmad had made headlines, when he revealed a series of CIA operations against Pakistan’s nuclear program.

New Zealand investigates ‘suspicious’ Israeli spy activity [updated]

Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi

Ofer Mizrahi

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in New Zealand have confirmed that they investigated a series of suspicious actions by alleged Israeli intelligence operatives, in the days following last February’s earthquake in Christchurch. According to publicly available data, at least three of the 181 people who died in the February 22 earthquake were Israelis. Admittedly, the number of Israeli victims was relatively small, which is why New Zealand authorities were baffled by the Israeli government’s intense concern about the earthquake. On the day of the disaster, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone no fewer than four times with his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, which some New Zealand officials found odd at the time. Even stranger was a subsequent encounter between an armed New Zealand security force and an unauthorized Israeli rescue squad, in the days following the earthquake. The Israeli squad was found roaming in Christchurch’s cordoned ‘red zone’, without an official rescue accreditation by either the United Nations or the New Zealand government. After a brief but tense exchange, the Israelis were escorted out of the ‘red zone’, and the episode led to “intense diplomatic exchanges” between Wellington and Tel Aviv, according to New Zealand media. A possible solution to the riddle came with the discovery in Christchurch of the dead body of an Israeli named Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi. Mizrahi, who died when part of a building fell on the van he was riding in, was found to be carrying at least five different passports bearing his photograph. Read more of this post

Ex-Mossad chief stripped of Israeli diplomatic passport

Meir Dagan

Meir Dagan

By IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
The former chief of Israel’s primary external intelligence agency has been told to return his diplomatic passport immediately, a move that has been described as “unusual” by Israeli media. According to news reports, Meir Dagan, who led the Mossad from 2002 until January of this year, had requested that he be allowed to use his diplomatic passport for a series of upcoming international trips. But the Israeli government turned down his request and ordered him instead to surrender his diplomatic passport, effective immediately. The move comes several weeks after Dagan launched a barrage of serious criticisms against Israel’s political leadership. Earlier this month, he told journalists that the country’s current government is led by “reckless and irresponsible” people, who will not hesitate to engage in military adventurism in Iran in order to ensure their political survival at home. In May, he warned that any military action against Iran would be “patently illegal under international law” and that it would probably not achieve its goals, since Iranian nuclear installations are deliberately dispersed in locations across that vast country.  Israel’s Channel 2 reported that it is usual practice to allow government officials to use their diplomatic passports until they expire, ever after they retire from their government positions. Read more of this post

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