Operation Guardian of the Walls: Israel’s double intelligence failure

Lod Israel

For several days now, a war has been going on between the State of Israel and the Hamas organization that controls the Gaza Strip. The confrontation began after unrest broke out among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, who raised allegations of Israeli damage to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In firing missiles at Israel, Hamas tries to portray itself as protecting the sanctuaries of Islam in Jerusalem. In doing so, it seeks to strengthen its political position in Judea and Samaria against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is leading the Palestinian Authority. Since then, Israel has been using airstrikes against targets in Gaza, while Hamas has been firing hundreds of missiles at Israel daily. Israel is desperately trying to undermine Hamas’ military and operational capabilities, including armaments factories, while also eliminating senior commanders of the organization.

Hamas’ missile attacks managed to surprise Israel. Israeli intelligence (the Israeli Military Intelligence, known as IMI, and the Israeli Security Agency, ISA) previously estimated that Hamas’ goal was to maintain the status quo, and was not ready to initiate attacks against Israel. Not only did Israeli intelligence err in assessing Hamas’ intentions, but Hamas Q Quotesurprised observers with its range of weapons, such as long-range missiles with a reach that is in excess of 150 miles. This constitutes a strategic surprise for Israel. So far (May 13, 2021), Hamas has fired about 1,500 missiles at Israel, most of which have been intercepted by Israel’s air defense system called the Iron Dome.

At the same time, extensive riots broke out within Israel between Palestinian Israeli Arabs and Israeli far-right groups. The attacks have spread throughout the country, and the Israeli police appear unable to control them. The ISA is responsible for monitoring terrorism-related developments in the area of political subversion, including assessing the intentions of Israeli Arabs and the level of threat posed by these intentions. It appears that the ISA, was completely surprised by recent developments. The spontaneous mobilization of Israeli Arabs stems from fears that Israel intends to harm the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is also a form of identification with their brethren in the Gaza Strip. At present, the government of Israel has not managed to restrain the mobilization of the Israeli Arabs.

In conclusion, Israeli intelligence demonstrates two blind spots. One concerns Hamas’ intentions and offensive capabilities. The other concerns misreading the intentions and degree of threat to public order in Israel by Israeli Arabs. This is why the military clash between Israel and Hamas, as well as the riots by Israeli Arabs, have not yet ended.

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 14 May 2021 | Permalink

Swiss intelligence chief to step down following dispute over Crypto AG spy scandal

Crypto AG

THE DIRECTOR OF SWITZERLAND’S spy service will step down once his mandate ends in August, allegedly over a dispute with the country’s governing council about the Crypto AG affair, which shook Swiss politics last year. Jean-Philippe Gaudin headed Switzerland’s Military Intelligence Service from 2008 to 2015. He then served as a defense attaché at the Swiss embassy in Paris, France, before being appointed by the then-Defense Minister, Guy Parmelin as director of the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS). Founded in 2010, the FIS performs both domestic and external intelligence functions in the Alpine state.

But, according to reports in the Swiss media, Gaudin is not expected to continue in his post once his mandate ends, on August 31. The reason seems to be tensions within the Swiss government over the so-called Crypto AG affair. The scandal centers on the world’s leading manufacturer of cryptologic equipment during the Cold War, Crypto AG, whose clients included over 120 governments around the world. In February of last year, The Washington Post and the German public broadcaster ZDF confirmed reports that had been circulating since the early 1980s, that Crypto AG was a front for American intelligence. According to the revelations, the Central Intelligence Agency and West Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service secretly purchased the Swiss company in the 1950s and paid off most of its senior executives in order to buy their silence.

The secret deal, dubbed Operation RUBICON, allegedly allowed the US and West Germany to spy on the classified government communications of many of their adversaries —and even allies, including Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The revelation about the secret deal shocked Swiss public opinion and embarrassed the government of a nation that bases its national identity and international reputation on the concept of neutrality.

Earlier this year, a parliamentary report into the Crypto AG affair concluded that Gaudin had essentially mishandled the case and had waited too long to inform the nation’s leadership about it. Gaudin’s behavior resulted in tension in his relationship with the Swiss Federal Council —a seven-member executive body that forms the federal government and serves as the collective decision-making body of the Swiss Confederation. According to reports, the spy chief’s relationship with Switzerland’s Defense Minister, Viola Amherd, is beyond repair, and the minister has been pushing for his resignation for several months.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Swiss government gave no reason for Gaudin’s pending career change, saying only that the spy chief would move on to “new challenges” in the private sector. He will reportedly be replaced by Juerg Buehler, who will serve as interim director of the FIS until further notice. Neither the FIS nor Gaudin have made public comments about this sudden development.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 May 2021 | Permalink

US Homeland Security Department unveils new domestic counter-terrorism branch

DHS

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Homeland Security has unveiled plans to establish a dedicated counter-terrorism branch within its intelligence wing, as part of a broader push to focus on domestic violent threats. In a statement published on Tuesday, the DHS said the new domestic counter-terrorism branch will be bringing together “several full-time personnel” under its Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA).

According to the statement, the new branch will aim to “ensure DHS develops the expertise necessary to produce the sound, timely intelligence needed to combat threats posed by domestic terrorism and targeted violence”. In a related move, the DHS also announced plans this week to implement a new strategy of “gathering and analyzing intelligence about security threats from public social media posts”. The purpose of the new strategy will be to establish an early-warning mechanism that will take into account the kinds of social media posts that preceded the attack on the US Capitol Complex on January 6 of this year.

In addition to its new OIA branch, the DHS said it will dissolve its controversial Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention, which was set up during the administration of President Donald Trump. Critics have accused the Trump-era outfit of failing to focus on domestic far-right militancy for political reasons. It will now be rebranded as the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, and will rely on outside expertise to identify and mitigate sources of domestic radicalism. According to DHS, the new center will “gauge the threat people may face based on behavioral assessments, rather than ideology”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 May 2021 | Permalink

US warship seizes massive cache of illicit weapons in North Arabian Sea

uss monterey

AN AMERICAN WARSHIP HAS seized a massive cache of illicit Russian- and Chinese-made weapons, which were found hidden inside a small fishing vessel sailing in the North Arabian Sea, according to the United States Navy. A statement describing the seizure was issued on Monday by the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in the Gulf state of Bahrain. It said that the seizure was carried out by a US Coast Guard Team aboard the USS Monterey, which is a guided-missile cruiser.

According to the statement, the weapons were found on May 6, during a “routine operation” aimed to verify the ship’s registry. The statement describes the vessel as “a stateless dhow”, a term referring to traditional sailing vessels found in the Indian Ocean and the North Arabian Sea. The vessel was boarded by a US Coast Guard Advanced Interdiction Team, whose members are trained in boarding vessels with potentially non-compliant crews.

The Coast Guard force found thousands of Chinese- and Russian-made weapons onboard the ship, according to the US Navy. They included several dozen advanced anti-tank guided missiles and thousands of Chinese-made Type 56 rifles, which are variants of the Russian-made AK-47 automatic rifle. The cache also included rocket-propelled grenade launchers, machine guns, sniper rifles, and advanced optical sights. So large was the volume of weapons that it took two days to transfer them onboard the USS Monterrey.

The US Navy said that the source of the illicit weapons is currently unknown. Additionally, the destination of the ship remains under investigation. However, several experts noted on Monday that similar shipments of weapons that have been confiscated in the North Arabian Sea in recent years were destined for Yemen, where a civil war has been raging since 2015. The Yemeni government, supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia, is fighting a coalition of Shiite rebels, known as the Houthis, who are aided by Iran.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 May 2021 | Permalink

Belgian minister raises spy concerns about Chinese e-retail center at Liege airport

Liège Airport

BELGIUM’S MINISTER OF JUSTICE has raised espionage concerns about a new logistics hub that is under construction in eastern Belgium by a firm operating on behalf of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The hub is currently being built on a lot adjacent to the Liège Airport, which is situated 25 miles southwest of the Dutch city of Maastricht.

Based in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, Alibaba is a multinational technology firm that specializes in e-commerce and e-retail. It is often described as the Chinese version of the American e-retail giant Amazon. Today it is among the world’s 10 wealthiest companies and among the 30 largest public firms in the world. In its effort to expand its area of operations beyond Asia, Alibaba recently announced the construction of six global logistics hubs, which will enable it to deliver products anywhere in the world within 72 hours.

Scheduled to become operational by the end of this year, the logistics center in Liège is part of that larger effort by Alibaba. When completed, the center will be operated by Cainiao, which is Alibaba’s logistics arm. When it was announced last year, the project was praised by Belgian officials in the state of Wallonia, where the hub will be based, as a great innovation that will create new jobs and other employment opportunities for local people.

But now Belgium’s Justice Minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, has expressed concerns about the project. Speaking last Thursday before the Belgian Federal Parliament’s Committee on Justice, Van Quickenborne was asked by a parliamentarian whether the Alibaba hub posed security concerns for the state. The minister responded saying that the placement of Chinese workers and logisticians at the hub could potentially be exploited by the Chinese government to plant intelligence operatives at the airport. Additionally, the logistics center could have access to commercial and personal data of Alibaba’s European customers, and could share them with Beijing, said Van Quickenborne.

The minister claimed that, like every other Chinese firm, Alibaba is obligated to “obey the Chinese security apparatus” and hire government spies as employees when asked to do so. He added that “this interest [by the Chinese state] is not limited to intelligence and security purposes but can be viewed within a broader political and economic framework”. Van Quickenborne concluded his remarks by saying that his ministry had been warned by the Surete de l’Etat —Belgium’s counterintelligence agency— of the security dangers embedded in China’s growing economic influence in the country.

On Friday a press statement issued by the embassy of China in Brussels decried Van Quickenborne’s comments as “baseless allegations” that harmed relations between Belgium and China. The statement added that, contrary to reports in the Western media, the Chinese state does not “demand Chinese enterprises to engage in activities that breach local laws or regulations”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 May 2021 | Permalink

CIA task force examines ‘Havana Syndrome’ after more officers fall ill

CIA

THE UNITED STATES CENTRAL Intelligence Agency has established a task force to examine recent cases of the so-called “Havana Syndrome”, a mysterious medical condition that continues to puzzle experts. The matter came to light in 2017, when Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”.

Subsequent tests showed that the diplomatic personnel suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of 2019 the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. A subsequent study by the National Academies of Sciences reported the collective findings of leading toxicologists, epidemiologists, electrical engineers and neurologists, who examined the symptoms experienced by nearly 40 US government employees.

There are now reports that “more than a dozen” officers of the CIA have returned to the US for medical tests, after reporting symptoms that are associated with the “Havana Syndrome”. Citing “current and former US officials and people familiar with the matter” CBS News said on Thursday that some of the officers required emergency medical evacuation after feeling sick all of a sudden. They returned to the US from three different continents in the early months of 2021, according to CBS.

A White House spokesperson told the news station that the “Havana Syndrome” continued to be an area of “active inquiry”. A spokesperson from the National Security Council added that it was not possible to discuss specifics regarding the CIA personnel. The spokesperson went on to say that a “government-wide effort” was underway to determine those responsible for the phenomenon, and to protect US government personnel serving abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 May 2021 | Permalink

Authorities probe death of Swiss senior diplomat in Iran —US reportedly notified

Embassy of Switzerland Iran

SWISS AUTHORITIES ON TUESDAY confirmed that a senior diplomat working at the embassy of Switzerland in Iran had died, after apparently falling from a high-rise building in a leafy northern Tehran suburb. Subsequent reports stated that United States officials had been informed of the incident.

The Swiss diplomat’s death would be of interest to Washington, because the Swiss embassy in the Iranian capital has represented US interests since 1980. A few months earlier, Iran and the US had suspended diplomatic ties following the dramatic events surrounding what came to be known as the Iran hostage crisis. The two countries have yet to re-establish diplomatic ties.

The diplomat, a 51-year-old woman, has not been identified. Reports suggest that she lived in a high-rise building located at Kamranieh, a northern suburb of Tehran, which is known for being one of Iran’s most affluent urban areas. A spokesman for Tehran’s emergency services said the woman’s body was found by a gardener on Tuesday, after police initiated a search for the missing diplomat. On Monday, an employee of the high-rise where the Swiss diplomat lived had contacted the police saying she was missing.

Iranian media reported that the diplomat had been dead for some time before her body was discovered. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that one of its employees at its embassy in Tehran had “died in a fatal incident”. But it did not provide any details. According to Swiss media reports, the cause of the woman’s fall “has yet to be determined”, and authorities are still investigating the incident. Suicide does not appear to be the cause of the diplomat’s death. Swiss authorities said they were in contact with the Iranian government about the fatal incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 May 2021 | Permalink

US is far from rejoining Iran nuclear deal, Biden reportedly tells Mossad chief

Yossi CohenUNITED STATES JOE BIDEN reportedly told the director of Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, that Washington has “a long way to go” before rejoining a 2015 agreement aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The meeting between Biden and Mossad director Yossi Cohen reportedly took place last Friday, during Cohen’s visit to Washington last week, to discuss bilateral security issues with a series of American officials. On Thursday Cohen met with a number of Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Brett McGurk, who is the National Security Council’s Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

The following day, the Mossad chief visited the White House to discuss a variety of “regional security issues” with Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns. It was during that meeting, according to reports from Israel’s Channel 12 television, that the US president “dropped in” unexpectedly, allegedly in order to express his administration’s condolences for the fatal stampede that killed dozens in Israel last week. Biden’s unexpected appearance at the meeting was later confirmed by a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

During the weekend, however, a number of Israeli news outlets, as well as the American website Axios, cited “a senior Israeli official” who said that Biden’s appearance at the meeting was not an impromptu incident, but had actually been “pre-scheduled”. The US president wanted to “discuss Iran” with Cohen, according to Axios, and did so for “about an hour”. According to Israeli sources, Cohen shared Israel’s position that “it would be a mistake for the US to return to the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] without improving it first”. Biden did not directly respond to Cohen’s view of the agreement, but said that his administration was not yet ready to re-enter the agreement. He reportedly added that Washington would consult Israel on the matter.

Neither the White House nor the office of the Israeli prime minster have commented on these reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 May 2021 | Permalink

Lawmaker with CIA background urges US spies to monitor foreign far-right groups

Elissa SlotkinA MEMBER OF THE United States Congress, who previously worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, has called for foreign white supremacist groups to be closely monitored, warning that they have ties to American militants. Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, of Michigan, wrote in a letter that the US should apply the label of “terrorist organizations” to a number of foreign white supremacist groups. She argued that the move would allow US authorities to take more aggressive measures against supporters of such groups inside the US.

Prior to being elected in Congress, Slotkin was an intelligence analyst for the CIA analyst. While at the CIA, she made use of her language fluencies in Arabic and Swahili, while also serving three tours in Iraq. Throughout her tenure in Congress, which began in 2018, Slotkin has shown considerable interest in national and international security affairs.

Last Friday, Slotkin reportedly sent letters to the Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, and to the new Director of the CIA, William Burns. In her letters, Slotkin urges for a significant increase in the intensity and sophistication of intelligence collection against foreign white supremacist organizations. She argues that the CIA and the FBI must “prioritize resources” so as to collect more, and better, information on these organizations. According to Slotkin, American far-right militants could rely on their existing connections with foreign white supremacist organizations, so as to receive training and resources. These could enable them to carry out attacks in the homeland.

Earlier in April, Slotkin had sent a similar letter to the leadership of the Department of State, urging for more emphasis to be paid to efforts to designate white supremacist groups operating abroad “foreign terrorist organizations”. This would equip the US government with more powers to collect evidence on, and prosecute, Americans who have links with such foreign groups. However, to officially label a foreign organization “terrorist”, the Department of State must first be in possession of significant evidence from intelligence channels.

Thus, Slotkin’s letter to the FBI and the CIA aims to provide the Department of State with intelligence that will allow it to label such groups “terrorist”. In April of last year, the US government designated the Russian Imperial Movement a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT) organization. The move marked the first time in history that the US Department of State formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 May 2021 | Permalink

German spy agency says it is monitoring anti-lockdown conspiracy movement

Querdenker GERMANY’S DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said on Wednesday it has begun monitoring groups associated with conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, who are “challenging the legitimacy of the state”. Germany is home to one of the most vocal anti-lockdown movements in the Western world, with public rallies against lockdown measures taking place nearly every week across the country. These rallies attract a peculiar mix of participants who come from a variety of backgrounds, including anti-vaccination proponents, various conspiracy theorists, and supporters of both far-left and far-right parties.

In recent months, demonstrations against lockdown measures have been turning violent, as members of militant far-right groups have begun to participate in large numbers. They include members of Germany’s largest far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), as well as the anti-Semitic Reichsbürger movement and followers of the Selbstverwalter —the Germany’s version of the American Sovereign Citizens movement. Some of these groups are coalescing around a new nucleus of anti-government activists, who describe themselves as members of the Querdenker movement.

The term Querdenker translates into “lateral thinkers”. It represents what Germany’s domestic spy agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) describes as “a new category” of anti-government militancy. Its adherents do not conform to either far-left, far-right, or religiously motivated militancy. Over 90 percent of Querdenker followers are over the age of 30, with their average age being nearly 50. Over two thirds describe themselves as middle class, and vote for far left and the far right parties in equal numbers. Others do not vote at all. But, according to sociological studies, xenophobia and negative views of Muslims are prominent among Querdenker followers.

This is the first time that Germany’s domestic spy agency has formally identified a group that is associated with anti-lockdown activities as the target of a national security investigation. Meanwhile, Querdenker leaders have vowed to continue their anti-lockdown activities across Germany in the coming weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 April 2021 | Permalink

Flurry of diplomatic expulsions as European states respond to Russia spy allegations

Russian embassy RomaniaSEVERAL EASTERN EUROPEAN STATES announced plans to expel Russian diplomats this week, as Moscow declared an Italian diplomat persona non grata in a tit-for-tat dispute with Rome over espionage allegations. Earlier this month, the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats in protest against an explosion that totaled a remote munition depot in the east of the country, which Prague claims was part of a Russian intelligence operation.

The explosion, which occurred in October of 2014, killed two people and destroyed a munitions storage facility belonging to the Military Technical Institute of the Czech Ministry of Defense. Czech investigators recently concluded it was perpetrated by Unit 29155, a Russian elite spy outfit that operates under the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. The Kremlin responded to the expulsions of its diplomats by ordering 20 Czech diplomats to leave Russia, and condemning Prague’s move as an “unprecedented” and “a hostile act” that was designed “to please the United States”.

The Czechs retorted by calling their allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union to “expelled officers of Russian special services” in solidarity. In recent days, five countries have answered Prague’s call. Seven Russian diplomats have been given just days to leave Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Meanwhile, Romania announced on Monday that it would expel Alexei Grichayev, who serves as a deputy military attaché at the Russian embassy in Bucharest. The Romanian government said Grichayev’s “activities and actions [were] contrary to the Convention of Vienna on diplomatic relations” —a phrase used to denote espionage in diplomatic parlance.

Also on Monday, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Russian ambassador in order to file an official complaint, while Hungary, Poland and Slovakia issued a joint statement decrying what they described as “deplorable act[s] of aggression and breach of international law committed by Russia on European soil”. In a separate development, Moscow said on Monday it would expel an Italian diplomat in response to the expulsions of two Russian diplomats from its embassy in Rome last month. The two Russians were accused of recruiting an Italian Navy captain, who has been charged with spying for the Kremlin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 April 2021 | Permalink

Diplomat’s comments fuel speculation Japan may join US-led ‘Five Eyes’ spy alliance

Japan United StatesJAPAN’S AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA has said he feels optimistic his country could join the Five Eyes intelligence alliance in “the near future”, adding to growing speculation on the topic. Japanese diplomat Shingo Yamagami, who has held the post of ambassador to Australia since late 2020, told The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday that he would like to see Japan join the intelligence alliance “in the near future”, adding that he was “very much optimistic” about such a prospect.

Ambassador Yamagami was referring to a longstanding United States-led intelligence-sharing agreement, which is also known as UKUSA. It brings together intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It came out of the five nations’ close military and intelligence cooperation during World War II. Under the agreement, the five nations share intelligence products of mutual interest, as well as raw signals intelligence, which they collect in their respective areas of operation. In some cases, Five Eyes nations collaborate with other allies, such as France, Germany, Norway, or Holland, on individual projects.

In the past, the United States, which leads the alliance in terms of resources and strategic direction, has resisted proposals to include more members. Prospective parties must share the Five Eyes nations’ strategic direction, democratic traditions, and societal values. Additionally, they must be able to demonstrate that their intelligence services are effective in preventing penetrations by adversaries. Critics suggest that the spy agencies of Five Eyes nations are themselves far from immune when it comes to counterintelligence threats. Additionally, some Five Eyes members, notably New Zealand, have at various times expressed disagreements about the strategic direction of the alliance.

Supporters of the idea of including Japan into the Five Eyes alliance point to the fact that, after Japan’s defeat in World War II, Japanese intelligence agencies developed under American tutelage. Moreover, Japan today is home to a substantial American military presence, while its intelligence agencies collaborate closely with America’s —especially in carrying out spy operations focusing on China, North Korea and Russia. Japan’s geographical proximity to these countries, coupled with its strong intelligence emphasis on China, arguably strengthen its candidacy for Five Eyes membership, according to supporters of this view.

Last week, Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, visited the White House, becoming the first foreign leader to be officially hosted by President Joseph Biden. Although talks between the two men focused largely on the topic of China, there was no public mention of Five Eyes. The governments of Japan and the United States have made no on-the-record comment about a potential inclusion of Japan into the intelligence agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2021 | Permalink

Investigation finds alleged loopholes in Malta ‘golden passport’ scheme

MaltaA JOINT INVESTIGATION BY Maltese and British reporters has found alleged loopholes that allow wealthy individuals from the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere to acquire European Union passports with minimum effort, in exchange for cash. The investigation concerns the so-called “cash for passports” scheme, which was launched by the government of Malta in 2014.

The scheme allows foreign nationals with no family connection to the island country to acquire a Maltese passport, if they invest €600,000 ($720,000) in Malta and purchase a residential property worth at least €700,000. Alternatively, they can sign a five-year lease on a residential property and donate €10,000 to charity. They then need to live in Malta for three years before they can claim citizenship in the European Union nation. However, the residential period can be reduced to one year if they invest €750,000 instead of €600,000 in the island country.

The scheme has proven lucrative in the past. In the 12 months leading to mid-2018 alone, Malta raised over €162 million, which was equivalent to 1.4% of its gross domestic product. Maltese officials have stated that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, income from the so-called “golden passports” scheme has helped keep the country’s economy afloat. But the European Union has called on Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and other member states to stop their cash-for-passports schemes, because they pose serious security issues and can attract corrupt individuals with an interest in tax evasion and money-laundering.

Now a joint probe by British newspaper The Guardian and several Maltese investigative groups, including the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, has uncovered alleged evidence of legal loopholes in Malta’s scheme. The alleged loopholes implicate Henley & Partners, a British-based firm that operates Matla’s a passport sales program. The firm describes itself as a “global citizenship and residence advisory firm”, and advises governments around the world on how to design and implement economic citizenship schemes.

The investigation was based on leaked documents and “thousands of emails” about the scheme. The emails and leaks reveal the existence of loopholes that allow wealthy investors to spend an average of 16 days in Malta, rather than a minimum of a year, before being awarded citizenship. The BBC reported on the case of an individual from the United Arab Emirates, who received Maltese citizenship after spending just nine hours on the island country. Other wealthy investors acquire Maltese citizenship by rending empty residential properties, or even yachts.

In a statement, the London-based Henley & Partners said it is “fully aware of the potential inherent risks in handling client applications for residence and citizenship” in Malta, and that its staff are “committed to due diligence”. It added, however, that “ultimately it is the responsibility of the countries involved [in passport-for-cash schemes] to investigate and vet applicants”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2021 | Permalink

Mexican drug cartel uses explosives-laden drones to attack police force

CJNGONE OF MEXICO’S MOST powerful drug cartels has reportedly used drones to attack police officers with explosives, according to local media reports. If confirmed, this incident will mark the first recorded use of drones by a Mexican drug cartel to attack law enforcement.

There is little public information about the attack. It reportedly occurred in El Aguaje, a small community in the state of Michoacán, located 350 miles west of Mexico City. The region is the birthplace of drug kingpin Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes. Otherwise known as “El Mencho”, Cervantes heads the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), one of Mexico’s most powerful. For the past month, the CJNG has engaged in a fierce and bloody war against a rival cartel, Cárteles Unidos (United Cartels) for control of the Michoacán region. The war has forced hundreds of residents to evacuate the area, according to local reports.

On Tuesday, a police unit was deployed along the Apatzingán-Aguililla highway to clear up a number of blockades that the cartels had put in place in order to impede each other’s operations. As they were clearing and repairing the highway, members of the police unit were reportedly attacked with at least two explosives-laden drones. Two officers were injured and were sent to hospital, but recovered fully and were released later on the same day.

No cartel has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, police sources said that the design of the drones used in Tuesday’s attack was very similar to two drones that were found in August of 2020 in Tepalcatepec, another city in the state of Michoacán. The drones were found inside an armored vehicle that CJNG members had abandoned during a failed attempt to raid Tepalcatepec, according to local media reports. The drones had built-in remote detonators and were attached to plastic containers that had been filled with C4 explosive and ball bearings, according to reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 April 2021 | Permalink

Chinese technology firm denies it had access to Dutch government’s phone calls

Huawei PolandA LEADING CHINESE TELECOMMUNICATIONS firm has strongly denied a claim by a newspaper that its service personnel could listen in on calls made by Dutch telephone users, including senior government officials. The report dates from 2010 and was authored by consultancy firm Capgemini on behalf of KPN, one of Holland’s largest telecommunications service providers. The Rotterdam-based firm had hired Capgemini to conduct a risk analysis on whether more equipment should be purchased from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. By that time the Chinese company, one of the world’s largest in its field, was already supplying KPN with hardware and software equipment.

According to the newspaper De Volkskrant, which accessed the 2010 Capgemini report, the consultants cautioned KPN against purchasing more equipment from Huawei. They told KPN bosses that the Chinese firm had “unlimited access” to the content of phone conversations by subscribers through Huawei-built hardware and software that was already present in the Dutch company’s telephone system. These included Holland’s then-Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, and virtually every government minister. The report claimed that privacy standards existed in theory, but there was no mechanism in place to ensure that they were being followed.

On Tuesday, Huawei issued strong denials of the De Volkskrant report. The firm’s chief operating officer in the Netherlands, Gert-Jan van Eck, said that the Capgemini report allegations, as reported by the newspaper, were “just not [technically] possible”. Van Eck added that such claims were “patently untrue” and represented “an underestimation of the security of the interception environment” that Huawei was operating under in Europe. The Dutch government has made no comment on the De Volkskrant report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 April 2021 | Permalink