US to release Israeli spy after 30 years in prison

Jonathan PollardA United States Navy intelligence analyst, who has served 30 years of a life sentence for spying on America for Israel, is set to be freed on Friday. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, as one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, have pressured the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. There is intense speculation in Washington that Pollard is being released in order to quieten Israeli criticism of a recently struck international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

The Wall Street Journal published an article in July of this year, suggesting that the Obama administration was “preparing to release” Pollard. Citing unnamed US officials, the paper claimed Washington hoped that the move would “smooth [America’s] relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal”. The latter was signed last summer between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The New York Times added to the speculation soon afterwards with a detailed front-page article, which confirmed that “some in Washington appeared to be highlighting” Pollard’s upcoming 30-year parole hearing in November. It added that the White House had been contemplating using Pollard’s release to appease, not only Tel Aviv, but also pro-Israel supporters in Congress, many of whom have campaigned for years in favor of Pollard’s release.

As intelNews reported back in July, Newsweek’s veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein responded to the news of Pollard’s release by posing an interesting question: when Pollard is released, will he have access to close to $1 million in spy wages that his Israeli handlers are reputed to have deposited for him in a Swiss bank account? In his article, Stein wondered whether Israel had continued to deposit $30,000 a year in Pollard’s reputed Swiss bank account, which is a standard practice for intelligence agencies. If the answer is yes, then the amount available today would be in the neighborhood of $1 million. If Pollard moves to Israel following his release on Friday, as many believe he will, will he then have access to the money he earned by spying on the US government as an unregistered agent of a foreign power? And if so, how should this be expected to affect the already rocky relations between Washington and Tel Aviv?

Stein quoted Pollard’s New York lawyer, Eliot Lauer, who called the rumors of a secret Swiss bank account “poppycock” and added that Pollard had “secured employment and housing […] in the New York area”. Additionally, there are some who speculate that Pollard may not be allowed to leave the US as part of the conditions of his parole. At this stage, however, nobody knows for sure.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 November 2015 | Permalink

In change of policy, Russia and US begin sharing intelligence with France

Hollande and PutinThe United States and Russia, which have traditionally been cautious about sharing Middle East-related intelligence with France, have both announced that they will begin giving classified information to Paris. On Wednesday, France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a press conference that intelligence shared by the US had been instrumental in enabling the French Air Force to intensify its air campaign against the Islamic State. Asked to respond to Drian’s comments, US Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook said that the US Armed Forces had indeed “increased intelligence-sharing with France”.

French officials described that development as a “change in the US position”. IntelNews readers will recall that the United States and France limited their intelligence cooperation last summer, after it emerged that the US had spied on the communications of three French presidents, from 1995 to 2012. Paris scaled back drastically its intelligence cooperation with Washington following subsequent revelations that the National Security Agency had targeted the personal cell phone of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

Also on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian Armed Forces stationed in Syria to treat their French counterparts “as allies”. Putin reportedly told the leadership of the Russian military in Syria that they “must establish direct contact with the French and work with them as with allies”. This is a significant development, given that Russia is one of the few countries that continues to maintain an active intelligence-collection program on the ground in Syria. Unlike the US, France, and most other Western states, Russia has not closed its embassy in Damascus and is thus able to run networks of human sources throughout the country. The news of increased Russian intelligence-sharing with France came as Moscow announced//announced// on Wednesday that it was stepping up intelligence-gathering throughout the Middle East, according to Andrei Kartapolov, a senior official in the Russian Army’s General Staff.

Meanwhile, an unnamed Moroccan security official told Reuters on Wednesday that intelligence shared by the Moroccan intelligence services with their French counterparts led to a raid in an apartment in Paris in connection with the November 13 attacks there. Two people were shot dead or committed suicide and seven others were arrested during Wednesday’s dramatic raid in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 November 2015 | Permalink

US defense contractors allegedly hired Russian computer programmers

PentagonTwo American firms contracted by the Department of Defense have settled a lawsuit accusing them of having hired Russian programmers based in Moscow to write computer code for classified systems. The hires allegedly occurred as part of a $613 million contract, which was awarded by the US Pentagon to Massachusetts-based Netcracker Technology Corporation and Virginia-based Computer Systems Corporation (CSC). The two companies were hired to write software for the US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), a Pentagon outfit that provides the US armed forces with secure real-time combat communications. But in 2011, contractor John C. Kingsley, who had a supervisory role in the project, notified the US government that the two companies had farmed out part of the contract’s coding duties to programmers in Moscow and other Russian cities.

If true, Kingsley’s allegations would mean that Netcracker and CSC were in violation of federal regulations, which specify that only American citizens with the appropriate security clearances should be employed to work on classified communications systems. A subsequent government investigation, which lasted four years, gave rise to a lawsuit against the two companies. The court was told that the code written by the Russian programmers had allowed the installation of “numerous viruses” on the communications systems of the Pentagon “on at least one occasion”. Witnesses also accused Netcracker and CSC of being guided mainly by greed, since it was able to save over 60% of wage costs by employing the Russian programmers.

Last week, the two companies chose to settle the case, by paying the government a combined fee of nearly $13 million in civil penalties. It is important to note, however, that they both deny the government’s accusations that they violated the terms of their federal contract. In statement issued last week, the companies stated that their decision reflected their belief that it was “in the best interest of all stakeholders to settle the matter”. A spokeswoman for the DISA told The Daily Beast that she could not comment on the case, because doing so would “compromise the Agency’s national security posture”. According to The Daily Beast, last week’s settlement does not prevent the Department of Justice from filing criminal charges against Netcracker and CSC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 November 2015 | Permalink | News tip: C.H.

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

Washington to investigate Chinese-owned radio stations in the US

CRI ChinaAuthorities in Washington are preparing to launch an investigation into a dozen radio stations operating in major cities in the United States, which are allegedly owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government. The investigation appears to have been sparked by a report published by the Reuters news agency on Monday, which claims that the Chinese government is operating a “covert radio network” inside the US, aimed at broadcasting news reports that reflect Chinese views. According to Reuters, the radio stations broadcast in at least a dozen large American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

All stations in question are managed by broadcasting firm G&E Studioa, based in West Covina, California, which is owned by James Su, a Shanghai-born American broadcasting entrepreneur. According to the news agency, G&E Studio controls the vast majority of these stations’ air time, which it fills with entertainment and public-affairs programming produced in its studios in California. However, the Reuters report claimed that G&E Studio is 60% owned by China Radio International (CRI), which is a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster. Founded as Radio Peking in 1941, then renamed to Radio Beijing during the Cold War, CRI is the Chinese equivalent of the Voice of America or the BBC World Service: it is officially affiliated with the Chinese government and reflects its point of view. What is more, said Reuters, some of the programming aired on G&E Studio-managed stations is produced by CRI in Beijing. Consequently, news programming on these stations tends to reflect the Chinese government’s point of view, on subjects such as Taiwan, naval rights in the South China Sea, trade policies and other major topics of the day.

The investigation has been launched by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because American law prohibits representatives of foreign governments, or foreign governments themselves, from owning or managing US broadcast stations. Moreover, individuals or companies seeking to influence American politics or public opinion on behalf of a foreign agency, group or government, must register with the US Department of State. It doesn’t appear that G&E-owned radio stations have done that, said Reuters on Monday. The news agency quoted FCC spokesman Neil Grace, who said that an investigation had been launched into “the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated”. The Department of State, however, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation into G&E Studios was underway.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 November 2015 | Permalink

Israeli military warns its soldiers against recruitment attempts by the CIA

Israel IDFIsrael’s military intelligence agency has issued a warning to all soldiers in the Israeli armed forces to resist attempts by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to recruit them. The existence of the highly unusual warning was revealed on Sunday by Chanel 2, one of Israel’s most popular television stations. According to the report, the communique was sent to every member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) by the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). It cautioned Israeli troops to “be alert and report any unusual incidents” involving American intelligence personnel. The warning made specific reference to the CIA, saying it might be trying to recruit Israeli soldiers as informants.

The communique references a real-life case that is believed to have taken place three years ago, involving several Israeli citizens who had served in the MID. According to media reports, the Israelis, who were traveling to the US, were stopped during passport control and questioned at length by American officials. The latter, who were presumed to be CIA personnel, were alleged to have tried to persuade the Israelis to provide information about their military duties and knowledge of Israeli military affairs. But the Israelis reportedly refused to cooperate with the Americans and reported the incidents to their superiors in the Israeli military.

It is not unusual for the MID to issue warnings regarding soldiers’ use of online social media, or on topics such as confidentiality and discretion when using non-encrypted telephone networks. However, such warnings are typically only communicated to MID personnel and never mention foreign intelligence agencies by name, opting for generic language instead. It is highly unusual for such warnings to identify foreign intelligence agencies, and allied ones at that. The recent move has thus prompted intense speculation in Israel that the MID may have reacted to actual attempts by the CIA to recruit IDF personnel.

An Israeli military spokesperson told Channel 2 that the MID had indeed sent soldiers a written warning about possible recruitment attempts by the CIA. But the representative refused to discuss why the CIA was mentioned in the letter, or why the warning was issued last week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 November 2015 | Permalink

Nuclear black market thriving in Eastern Europe despite efforts to stop it

MoldovaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting authorities in some of Europe’s poorest states in their efforts to stop criminals with Russian connections from selling radioactive material to foreign terrorist organizations. The Associated Press said earlier this month that joint efforts by the FBI and Eastern European governments have frustrated at least four attempts to sell stolen radioactive material in the black market since 2010.

In one case, which involved a criminal gang in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, the smugglers were trying to sell radioactive material to representatives of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Associated Press said it spoke to law enforcement and judicial authorities in Moldova, who have set up a small team of detectives to investigate the nuclear black market. The Moldovans told the Associated Press that they were working with the FBI, and even shared some of their investigative case files with the news agency.

In another recent case, which was cracked by authorities in February of this year, a smuggler in Moldova tried to sell a significant quantity of cesium, a radioactive metal typically extracted from the waste produced by nuclear reactors. According to the Moldovans, the quantity of the fission product was “enough to contaminate several city blocks”. Additionally, the Moldovan investigators told the Associated Press that the smuggler was specifically seeking a buyer from the Islamic State.

In yet another case, a joint US-Moldovan investigation targeted Alexandr Agheenco, a mysterious Russian-born smuggler, who in the spring of 2011 said he had access to bomb-grade uranium. According to Moldovan investigators, a middleman working for Agheenco told a prospective buyer from Sudan that he would be willing to sell an unspecified quantity of uranium, as well as “blueprints for a dirty bomb”. Although the sale was prevented by the US-Moldovan investigators, Agheenco managed to escape.

According to the Moldovans, the worsening relations between Washington and Moscow are making it more difficult for investigators from the two countries to share intelligence on nuclear smuggling rings. As a result, smugglers are finding it easier to operate across Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. Many leading black-market operatives manage to avoid capture and prosecution, while even those arrested are usually able to evade lengthy convictions, which means that they quickly return to nuclear smuggling, reports the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: J.B.


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