UK, US see bomb behind downing of Russian airliner in Egypt

KogalymaviaInformation gathered by British and American intelligence agencies raises the possibility that a bomb may have brought down the Russian civilian airliner that crashed in Egypt last week. The Metrojet Airbus 321 left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, heading for St. Petersburg, Russia. But it crashed in the Sinai Peninsula less than 30 minutes after it took off, killing all 224 passengers and crew onboard, the vast majority of whom were Russian citizens.

Earlier this week, Russian airline Kogalymavia, which operated the flight, said its investigation indicated that an “external influence” was responsible for the airplane’s downing. On Wednesday, the British government appeared to confirm the company’s suspicions. Britain’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Philip Hammond, told a press conference in London that the British government’s Crisis Response Committee had concluded that there was “a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft”. He added that Whitehall was suspending effective immediately all flights operated by British carriers to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.

Soon after Hammond’s comments, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed American government official saying that the US had reached the “tentative conclusion” that Islamist militants in Sinai were responsible for planting the bomb on the Kogalymavia airplane. The Americans seem to have reached this conclusion based on intercepted communications messages from the Sinai region.

Egyptian officials have rejected claims that Islamist militants were behind the plane crash, and have criticized London’s decision to suspend all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh as unnecessary and premature. Experts in Russia have also said it is too early to draw formal conclusions about the crash. Meanwhile, the airplane’s flight data recorder has been recovered and will be analyzed by investigators in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2015 | Permalink

Declassified files shed light on 1956 disappearance of MI6 agent

Lionel CrabbA set of newly released files from the archives of the British Cabinet Office shed light on the mysterious case of a highly decorated combat swimmer, who vanished while carrying out a secret operation against a Soviet ship. The disappearance happened during a historic Soviet high-level visit to Britain in 1956. In April of that year, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, and Nikolai Bulganin, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, arrived in Britain aboard Russian warship Ordzhonikidze, which docked at Portsmouth harbor. Their eight-day tour of Britain marked the first-ever official visit by Soviet leadership to a Western country. But the tour was marred by a botched undersea operation led by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known commonly as MI6. The operation, which aimed to explore the then state-of-the-art Ordzhonikidze, ended in the disappearance of MI6 diver Lionel “Buster” Crabb. The body of Crabb, one of several MI6 operatives involved in the operation, was never recovered.

Now a set of documents released by the Cabinet Office, a British government department tasked with providing support services to the country’s prime minister and senior Cabinet officials, show that the operation had been mismanaged by MI6 from the start. According to The Daily Telegraph, the documents show that miscommunication between the British Foreign Office and MI6 caused the latter to believe that the operation to target the Ordzhonikidze had been authorized by the government, when in fact no such thing had ever occurred.

Moreover, MI6 had housed Crabb and other operatives in a Portsmouth hotel, where the agency’s handler had provided the front-desk clerk with the real names and addresses of the underwater team members. The documents also reveal that several of Crabb’s relatives and friends had been told by him that he would be diving in Portsmouth on the week leading up to his death. Those who knew included one of Crabb’s business partners, with whom he operated a furniture outlet. The partner apparently told the authorities that he was contemplating “consulting a clairvoyant, Madame Theodosia”, in an effort to discover the fate of his missing business partner.

After Crabb disappeared, British government officials were convinced that he had been abducted or killed by the Soviets and that the KGB was in possession of his body. Should the Soviets decide to disclose the existence of the MI6 operation to the world, there would be “no action that [MI6] could take [that] could stave off disaster”, said one British government memo. As intelNews has reported before, n 2007, Eduard Koltsov, a retired Russian military diver, said he killed a man he thinks was Crabb, as he was “trying to place a mine” on the Soviet ship.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2015 | Permalink

UK to probe role of high-ranking IRA informant in 24 murder cases

Provisional IRAAuthorities in Northern Ireland have launched an official investigation into the alleged involvement of a British government informant in dozens of murders perpetrated by Irish republican militants. The informant, codenamed STAKEKNIFE in British government documents, has been identified by some as Freddie Scappaticci, the grandson of an Italian immigrant to Northern Ireland, who in the early 1970s joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Eventually, Scappaticci was put in charge of the Provisional IRA Northern Command’s Internal Security Unit. The unit was tasked with counterintelligence operations, which involved detecting, capturing and eliminating suspected British government spies inside the IRA.

Unbeknownst to the IRA, however, Scappaticci was himself an informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s Special Branch. He is believed to have been paid up to £80,000 a year to provide information to the British government about the IRA’s activities. STAKEKNIFE’s reputed work for the British government was first publicized in 2003 by another British government informant in the IRA, Kevin Fulton. But Scappaticci, who is known in republican circles as ‘Scap’, denies he was STAKEKNIFE, and the claims about him and his activities have been surrounded by an air of mystery.

Last year, however, families of those killed by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit took advantage of Fulton’s claims. They argued that, if STAKEKNIFE was indeed a British government informant, and if he was personally involved in the murder of alleged IRA informants, then the British authorities technically allowed him to get away with murder in order to protect his secret identity. The government, therefore, technically colluded in the murders and should be held responsible.

The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland investigated these claims and communicated his findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The latter recently described the STAKEKNIFE investigation as “perhaps the most significant case” in his time as DPP. He has now ordered the Police Service of Northern Ireland to launch a formal inquiry into the matter and to start inviting witness testimonies. It is reputed that Northern Ireland First Minister, Martin McGuinness, who is said to have been close to Scappaticci during his tenure in the IRA, will be among the first witnesses called on to testify as part of the investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 October 2015 | Permalink

UK police to end 24/7 surveillance of embassy that houses WikiLeaks founder

Embassy of Ecuador in LondonPolice in London will no longer physically monitor the embassy of Ecuador in the British capital, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living for over two years, fighting against extradition to Sweden. Assange was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador in June of 2012, after Swedish authorities charged him with rape. But the Australian-born Assange claims that the charges are part of a plot to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for having leaked hundreds of thousands of documents belonging to the Department of Defense and the Department of State.

Acting on a request from the Swedish government, London’s Metropolitan Police Service, known informally as Scotland Yard, has been patrolling the streets around the embassy 24 hours a day, in order to prevent Assange from being smuggled out of the building by Ecuadorean officials. Standard diplomatic protocol prevents British authorities from entering the embassy, which is technically considered Ecuadorean territory.

On Monday, however, the Metropolitan Police said they would cease their 24/7 patrols around the Ecuadorean embassy, which is located in London’s fashionable Knightsbridge district. According to a police official, constant physical surveillance of the embassy was “no longer proportional” to Assange’s charges, which meant that Scotland Yard would be unable to continue “to commit officers to a permanent presence”. The official said that the decision had been taken after consultation with the British Home Office, and that the reasons for the change in policy were primarily financial. According to reports by the British government, the intensive monitoring of the Ecuadorean embassy has cost the British taxpayer in excess of £11 million, which amounts to nearly $18 million. The resulting strain on policing resources has prompted some British politicians to dismiss Scotland Yard’s operation as a misuse of taxpayer funds.

However, Scotland Yard said it would substitute overt physical surveillance of the Ecuadorean embassy with “a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest” Assange if he tries to leave the building. It did not elaborate on that statement. Last summer, the Swedish government dropped three of the four charges against the WikiLeaks founder. The remaining charge is expected to expire in August 2020.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 October 2015 | Permalink

MI6 spy found dead in 2010 may have used female disguise, says expert

Gareth WilliamsA British intelligence officer, who was found dead in his London apartment in 2010, was not a transvestite, as some media reports have speculated, but probably worked undercover dressed as a woman, according to a leading forensic investigator. Gareth Williams, a mathematician in the employment of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, had been seconded to MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, to help automate intelligence collection. He had also worked with several United States agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. But his career came to an abrupt end in August 2010, when he was found dead in a padlocked sports bag at his home in Pimlico, London.

The discovery of £15,000 ($20,000) worth of women’s clothing in Williams’ apartment caused some in the British media to speculate that sexual jealousy may have behind the spy’s death. British tabloid The Sun suggested at the time that Williams was “a secret transvestite who may have been killed by a gay lover”. There were also reports that police investigators themselves suspected that Williams’ death may have been the result of “a sex game gone wrong”. This appeared to be substantiated by the discovery that Williams had visited gay bars and drag nightclubs in London in the weeks before his death. Subsequent reports, however, suggested that law enforcement investigators described Williams’ death as “a neat job”, a term used to refer to professional killings. There have also been official denials by police that Williams’ murder was sex-related.

Now a leading forensic investigator has said that Williams was not a transvestite and that he probably dressed in women’s clothing for his job with MI6. Peter Faulding, who specializes in deaths within confined spaces, and has advised British and American law enforcement agencies, has previously spoken publicly against the theory that Williams locked himself in the bag. He said he tried without success to lock himself in the same type of bag 300 times before discounting the self-lock theory. Faulding spoke again to The Sun last week, this time to suggest that there is no evidence that the late MI6 spy was a transvestite. “The key question never asked was: were these clothes used for his job?” he said, referring to the feminine attire found in Williams’ apartment. He told The Sun that the clothes were “used for work, rather than pleasure”. “I am certain he made a very convincing female”, said Faulding. “He was slim, with feminine features, and as a cyclist he shaved his legs”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 September 2015 | Permalink

Cambridge spy’s last years in Russia are detailed in new biography

Guy BurgessThe life of Guy Burgess, one of the so-called ‘Cambridge Five’ double agents, who spied on Britain for the Soviet Union before defecting to Moscow in 1951, is detailed in a new biography of the spy, written by Andrew Lownie. Like his fellow spies Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, Burgess was recruited by the Soviets when he was a student at Cambridge University. He shook the British intelligence establishment to its very core when he defected to the USSR along with Maclean, after the two felt that they were being suspected of spying for the Soviets.

A few years after his defection, Burgess wrote to a close friend back in the UK: “I am really […] very well and things are going much better for me here than I ever expected. I’m very glad I came”. However, in his book, entitled Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess, Lownie suggests that Burgess’ life in the USSR was far from ideal. After being welcomed by the Soviets as a hero, the Cambridge University graduate was transported to the isolated Siberian city of Kuybyshev. He lived for several months in a ‘grinder’, a safe house belonging to Soviet intelligence, where he was debriefed and frequently interrogated until his Soviet handlers were convinced that has indeed a genuine defector.

It was many years later that Burgess was able to leave Kuybyshev for Moscow, under a new name, Jim Andreyevitch Eliot, which had been given to him by the KGB. Initially he lived in a dacha outside Moscow, but was moved to the city in 1955, after he and Maclean spoke publicly about their defection from Britain. He was often visited in his one-bedroom apartment by Yuri Modin, his Soviet intelligence handler back in the UK. According to Lownie, Burgess often complained to Modin about the way he was being treated by the Soviet authorities. His apartment had apparently been bugged by the KGB, and he was constantly followed each time he stepped outside.

The British defector worked for a Soviet publishing house and produced foreign-policy analyses for the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also produced a training manual for KGB officers about British culture and the British way of life. But he did not like living in the USSR and argued that he should be allowed to return to the UK, insisting that he could successfully defend himself if interrogated by British counterintelligence. Eventually, Burgess came to the realization that he would never return to his home country. He became depressed, telling friends that he “did not want to die in Russia”. But in the summer of 1963 he was taken to hospital, where he eventually died from acute liver failure caused by his excessive drinking.

Andrew Lownie’s Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess, is published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and by St Martins’ Press in the US. It is scheduled to come out in both countries on September 10.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 September 2015 | Permalink

‘Day of the Jackal’ author reveals he was MI6 agent for 20 years

Frederick ForsythFrederick Forsyth, the esteemed British author of novels such as The Day of the Jackal, has confirmed publicly for the first time that he was an agent of British intelligence for two decades. Forsyth, who is 77, worked for many decades as an international correspondent for the BBC and Reuters news agency, covering some of the world’s most sensitive areas, including postcolonial Nigeria, apartheid South Africa and East Germany during the Cold War. But he became famous for authoring novels that have sold over 70 million copies worldwide, including The Odessa File, Dogs of War and The Day of the Jackal, many of which were adapted into film. Several of his intelligence-related novels are based on his experiences as a news correspondent, which have prompted his loyal fans to suspect that he might have some intelligence background.

But Forsyth had never commented on these rumors until last weekend, when was interviewed on the BBC’s main evening news program. He spoke to the station on the occasion of the upcoming publication of his autobiography, The Outsider: My Life, which will be in stores in October. He told the BBC that he was first recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the late 1960s while covering the Nigerian Civil War. The bloody conflict, which is also known as the Biafran War, pitted the separatist Igbo people against the Nigerian federal government. Like other military conflicts in postcolonial Africa, it attracted the attention of the world’s powers, including France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain. London was firmly on the side of the government in Lagos, but MI6 had reservations, believing that the Nigerian military forces were committing mass atrocities in Biafra. Forsyth said he was recruited by an MI6 officer who wanted to know if children were dying in Biafra as a result of the Nigerian government’s military policies against the Igbo separatists. The intelligence service were apparently hoping that they could use this information to change London’s stance on the brutal civil war. The author told the BBC that he spent the rest of the war “sending both journalistic reports to the media and other reports to my new friend”, referring to his MI6 handler.

When asked if he was paid for his services, he said his assistance to MI6 was provided on a strictly voluntary basis. “The attitude, the spirit of the age, was different back then”, he said, adding that “the Cold War was very much on” and when the British government asked a reporter for a favor it was “very hard to say no”. He did say, however, that MI6 promised to approve passages of some of his novels by way of payment. The author of The Day of the Jackal said he was given a number to call and told to send MI6 his manuscripts for vetting. “If they are too sensitive, we will ask you not to continue”, Forsyth told the BBC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2015 | Permalink


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