Pakistani doctor who helped CIA find bin Laden will stay in jail, says Islamabad

Dr Shakil Afridi

A Pakistani doctor who helped the United States find al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in 2011 will remain in prison, despite calls by Washington to have him released, according to a government official in Islamabad. Dr Shakil Afridi was arrested in 2011, soon after bin Laden was killed during a Central Intelligence Agency operation in a residential compound in the city of Abbottabad, located 70 miles north of the Pakistani capital. In the weeks following the CIA raid, it emerged that a team of local doctors and nurses had helped the American agency in its efforts to confirm bin Laden’s presence in the compound. The team of nearly 20 healthcare workers participated in a fake vaccination scheme carried out in Abbottabad, whose true purpose was to collect DNA samples from residents of the compound where the CIA believed bin Laden was hiding.

In February 2012, the then CIA Director, Leon Panetta, publicly admitted that the vaccination scheme had been funded by the CIA. By that time, Pakistani authorities had fired 17 healthcare workers who had participated in the CIA scheme and arrested its head, Dr. Afridi. Prior to his arrest, Dr. Afridi was employed as a surgeon by the government of the Khyber Agency, a Federally Administrated Tribal Area along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Bizarrely, Dr. Afridi was arrested for having alleged links with an Islamist group that operates in the region, known as Lashkar-e-Islam. In 2012, he was given a 33-year sentence for having links with terrorist groups. When his conviction was quashed in 2013, the doctor was ordered to remain in prison, and faced new charges, this time for alleged medical malpractice, which, according to the prosecution, resulted in the death of one of his patients.

Many American officials believe that the real reason for Dr. Afridi’s arrest is his collaboration with the CIA. In May of last year, Donald Trump said that, if elected US president, he would make Pakistan free Dr. Afridi, saying characteristically that he could achieve that “within two minutes”. But his comments prompted a strong response from Islamabad. On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Minister for Law and Justice, Zahid Hamid, reiterated that Dr. Afridi would not be freed just because Washington wishes it. Speaking in response to a question from a member of the Pakistani Parliament’s upper house, Hamid said that Dr. Afridi “worked against [Pakistani] law and our national interest” and would face a trial, as planned, despite Trump’s pre-election pledge. There was no comment yesterday from the US president-elect’s team.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 January 2017 | Permalink

Leaked EU intelligence report says Islamists were not behind Turkey coup

Turkey coupA leaked report by a European Union intelligence body states that Islamist forces were not behind last July’s failed coup in Turkey, and that the ruling party used the coup to neutralize its few remaining political rivals. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses members of the so-called Gülen movement of orchestrating the coup, which included an armed attack on the country’s parliament and the murder of over 200 people across Turkey. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims that its members have stealthily infiltrated state institutions since the 1980s.

But a report compiled by the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre, known as IntCen, states that Gülenists had nothing to do with the coup, and that the current crackdown against them by the government was planned years in advance. Founded in 2012, IntCen is the intelligence-sharing body of the EU. Its reports are the results of collaborative efforts of intelligence officers from all EU states. They are distributed on a confidential basis to senior EU officials and to the ambassadors of EU states in Brussels, Belgium. The report on the coup in Turkey is entitled “Turkey: The Impact of the Gülenist Movement”. It was issued on August 24 and is marked “confidential”. But it was accessed by British newspaper The Times, which published extracts on Tuesday.

According to the leaked document, it is “unlikely” that the Gülen movement had the “capabilities and capacities” to launch a coup against Erdoğan. It is even more unlikely, it suggests, “that Gülen himself played a role” in the operation. A far more plausible explanation is that the coup was launched by a relatively small group of Kemalists (secular Turks who oppose President Erdoğan’s religiously-based politics), some Gülenists, and various opportunists within the ranks of the military. Once the coup began to unfold, a few low-level military officers with Gülenist sympathies may have “felt under pressure” to participate in order to ensure its success. That was mostly because they knew that, if the coup failed, the Erdoğan government would go after them and accuse them of staging it, states the report.

Indeed, once the coup failed, the Erdoğan administration launched a coordinated campaign designed to dismantle the Gülen movement, which was its “one and only real rival” in Turkey. Since the end of the failed coup, the Turkish state has initiated a nationwide political crackdown against alleged supporters of the coup. An estimated 100,000 people have been fired from their jobs, while hundreds of thousands have been demoted, censured or warned. Another 35,000 are believed to be in prison, charged with supporting the failed coup or with being members of the Gülen network. But the IntCen report suggests that the crackdown against Erdoğan’s opponents had been conceived and designed years in advance. Last July’s coup acted as a catalyst and was “exploited” by the government to neutralize all its political opponents, says IntCen. The lists used to arrest individuals across the country had been complied by the Turkish intelligence services many years ahead of the failed coup, according to the IntCen report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2017 | Permalink

Russian official accuses US of trying to blackmail Russian diplomat

first-post-vA senior Russian official has accused the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation of trying to blackmail a Russian diplomat who was attempting to purchase anti-cancer drugs in an American pharmacy. The allegation was made Sunday on live Russian television by Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was being interviewed on Sunday Night with Vladimir Solovey, a popular politics roundtable show on Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 1 television channel. Zakharova told Solovey that, a few years ago, the Russian government authorized one of its diplomats in the United States to purchase several thousand dollars’ worth of anti-cancer drugs. The drugs were to be used by Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s prime minister in the late 1990s, who was battling liver cancer.

According to Zakharova, the Russian diplomat was supplied with funds through an official money transfer from Moscow. Meanwhile, Primakov’s “health certificates and medical prescriptions” were supplied to a pharmacy in Washington, DC, where the Russian diplomat purchased the medicine. However, shortly after the Russia diplomat completed his purchase, he was accosted by American intelligence officers —presumably from the Federal Bureau of Investigation— who demanded to speak with him. The diplomat was then allegedly taken to the basement of the pharmacy, where, according to Zakharova, there was no cellular reception. The Russian diplomat was thus unable to contact his superiors at the Russian embassy. Zakharova claims that the two American officers kept the diplomat in the basement “for an hour” and attempted to turn him into a double agent, by accusing him of “illicit drug trafficking” and threatening to expel him from the country.

Zakharova said the Russian diplomat refused to cooperate and was allowed to return to the Russian embassy. However, the drugs were confiscated and the money paid by the diplomat to the pharmacy has not been “returned to this day”, she said. Eventually, according to Zakharova, the diplomat was deported from the United States, despite the intervention of Secretary of State John Kerry, who stepped in to try to resolve the episode. Primakov died in 2015 of liver cancer. The United States government and the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, did not comment on Zakharova’s allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 January 2017 | Permalink

New Zealand spy agency warns of persistent foreign espionage threats

NZSIS New ZealandThe intelligence agency of New Zealand has issued a report warning that the country is being targeted by foreign spies who operate using fake covers. Many of them aim to infiltrate some of the highest levels of the government, according to the agency. The warning appeared in the annual report of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), the country’s main national intelligence organization, which is responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence and counter- terrorism. The NZSIS’ latest report covers the 12 months leading up to June 30, 2016. The unclassified version of the report was presented last week to the New Zealand House of Representatives, which must by law be kept informed about the activities of the NZSIS.

The report warns that “[f]oreign powers continue to conduct espionage activity and other hostile state-sponsored activities, including foreign interference, against New Zealand”. To illustrate this point, the report mentions the case of an alleged “foreign intelligence officer” who entered New Zealand under a “cover identity”, presumably in 2016. The officer approached and met senior New Zealand government officials, including some “with high level security clearances”, claims the report. The undercover officer also came in contact with individuals who worked in “key New Zealand business facilities” and sensitive industries, according to the document. However, NZSIS was able to identify the officer and subsequently contacted all New Zealand government officials that came in contact with the officer. The officials were debriefed and advised to be “cautious in their conversations” with foreign nationals, said the report.

The case study may point to efforts by foreign intelligence agencies to gain insights or manipulate the operations of New Zealand’s government and business community, said NZSIS. However, when asked by reporters, the agency refused to provide further details of the case of the foreign undercover officer. An agency spokesman said simply that the case highlights “some of the security threats that New Zealand currently faces”. The NZSIS is currently in the middle of a hiring spree, after its budget was raised last year. It is estimated that the agency’s staff has increased by nearly a fifth since late 2015.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 January 2017 | Permalink

Israeli officials were advised not to share intelligence with Trump’s White House

Donald TrumpAmerican intelligence officials allegedly warned their Israeli counterparts not to share intelligence with Washington once Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. The reason was that, according to the US officials, there was no guarantee that the intelligence would not be leaked to Russia. There was also the danger, they claimed, that the compromised intelligence would end up in the hands of Russia’s ally Iran, a regional adversary of Israel. The claim was made on Thursday by Ronen Bergman, senior political and military analyst for Israel’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

According to Bergman, the American intelligence officials spoke in depth with their Israeli counterparts during a recent meeting between the two sides. He did not give details about the time and location of the meeting, so as “to protect the sources of the report”, he said. During the meeting, the US officials allegedly “voiced despair” over Trump’s electoral victory and his apparently poor relationship with the US Intelligence Community. They also suggested that Israeli intelligence officials should “be careful” when sharing intelligence with the White House or the US National Security Council, which is chaired by the president. The reason was that the intelligence —including sources and methods— might end up in the hands of the Kremlin, they said, and from there to Israel’s regional adversaries, such as Iran —and presumably Syria, though Bergman does not mention that.

The American officials further recommended that the Israelis wait until a clearer picture emerges of the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. It was also implied during the meeting that Trump may be subject to blackmail by Moscow and forced to reveal sensitive information relating to America and its allies, including Israel. According to Bergman, the Israelis are concerned about the Trump-Russia controversy and there are even some in Tel Aviv who raise fears of exposure of information given to the US by the Israeli intelligence community “over the past 15 years”. There has been no comment on the subject from Israel or Trump’s transition team.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 January 2017 | Permalink

Israeli military says Hamas lured its soldiers using online profiles of women

Cellular telephoneThe Israel Defense Forces told a press conference on Wednesday that hackers belonging to the Palestinian militant group Hamas lured Israeli soldiers by posing as young women online. Wednesday’s press conference was led by an IDF spokesman who requested to remain anonymous, as is often the case with the Israeli military. He told reporters that the hackers used carefully crafted online profiles of real Israeli women, whose personal details and photographs were expropriated from their publicly available social media profiles. The hackers then made contact with members of the IDF and struck conversations with them that in many cases became intimate over time. At various times in the process, the hackers would send the Israeli soldiers photographs of the women, which were copied from the women’s online public profiles.

The anonymous IDF spokesman said that, if the soldiers continued to show interest, they were eventually asked by the hackers posing as women to download an application on their mobile telephones that would allow them to converse using video. Once the soldiers downloaded the application, the ‘women’ would find excuses to delay using the application, or the relationships would abruptly end. But the soldiers would leave the application on their telephones. It would then be used by the Hamas hackers to take control of the camera and microphones on the soldiers’ mobile devices. According to the IDF spokesman, dozens of Israeli soldiers were lured by the Hamas scam. No precise number was given.

Media reports suggest that the Hamas hackers were primarily interested in finding out information about IDF maneuvers around the Gaza Strip, the narrow plot of densely inhabited territory that is controlled by the Palestinian militant group. They were also interested in collecting information about the size and weaponry of the Israeli forces around Gaza. Media representatives were told on Wednesday that the operation “had potential for great damage”. But the IDF claims that the harm to its operations was “minimal”, because it primarily targeted low-ranking soldiers. Consequently, according to the Israeli military, the hackers were not able to acquire highly sensitive information.

In 2009, dozens of members of Sweden’s armed forces serving with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan were found to have been approached via Facebook, and asked to provide details on NATO’s military presence in the country. The Afghan Taliban are believed to have carried out the operation.

Hamas has not commented on the allegations by the IDF.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2017 | Permalink

Pakistani man sought out assassination targets for Iran, says Germany

Reinhold RobbeAuthorities in Germany have pressed espionage charges against a Pakistani man who allegedly spied for Iran and even compiled lists of potential targets for assassination. The man, who has been identified in media reports only as “Syed Mustafa H.”, is a 31-year-old worker at the German Aerospace Center in the northern German city of Bremen. He is also reportedly a graduate of the Materials Science and Production Engineering department of the Universität Bremen. According to court documents, he is believed to have been spying for Iranian intelligence since the summer of 2015. It appears that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, had been aware of the man’s espionage activities for at least a year prior to his arrest.

German media, including the newspapers Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit, as well as public broadcasters Taggesschau, WDR and NDR, report that Syed Mustafa H.’s main task was to compile lists of potential assassination targets. These included prominent Jews or German-Israelis living in northern Germany. Among them was Reinhold Robbe, a politician with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who served for a number of years as president of the German-Israeli Congress (DIG). According to reports, the Pakistani spy had compiled detailed maps of Robbe’s daily movements, which outlined his travel routines and the routes he took from his home to the DIG headquarters in Berlin. German officials believe that the type of surveillance that Syed Mustafa H. carried out against Robbe indisputably leads to the conclusion that the politician’s assassination was being planned.

Reports in the German media suggest that Syed Mustafa H.’s work was a small part of a much broader operation by Iranian intelligence. The operation aims to identify prominent individuals throughout Europe, who have Israeli connections. These individuals can be targeted during a future conflagration between Israel and Iran, or in retaliation to an Israeli intelligence operation against Tehran. If Syed Mustafa H. is found guilty of targeting Robbe, it will mark the first proven case of a German political figure who has been targeted for possible assassination by an Iranian intelligence agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 January 2017 | Permalink