Members of far-right group arrested in Kansas face WMD terrorism charges

Federal arrestsFederal authorities in the United States have charged three men with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction with the intention of blowing up an apartment complex in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Kansas. The men, Patrick Eugene Stein, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, who called themselves ‘the Crusaders’, allegedly wanted to spark a religious war between Christians and Muslims in the United States. They were arrested last week in simultaneous raids conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after they obtained guns and chemicals for making bombs. According to the US Department of Justice, the terrorism suspects planned to build a device similar to the ammonium nitrate-based bomb used by Timothy McVeigh in 1995 to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Recordings of telephone conversations between members of the ‘Crusaders’ reveal their desire to use the attack to entice militia groups across America to take up arms against the government. They also expressed a desire to “wake people up” and turn Americans against Islam and Muslims. It appears that the three men began planning their attack in early 2016. By early summer, they had selected as their primary target an apartment complex housing many Muslim immigrants from Somalia, located in Garden City, Kansas. According to court documents, the group planned to detonate explosives hidden inside cars parked across from the two main entrances to the apartment building. Knowing that one of the apartments is used as a makeshift mosque by the residents of the complex, the ‘Crusaders’ allegedly planned to detonate the bombs during the traditional Muslim prayer time on a Friday. The goal, according to the indictment, was to kill as many people as possible.

But the FBI had been monitoring the group after receiving a tip-off by a man who said he had attended the ‘Crusaders’ planning meetings and was concerned about their violent intentions. The FBI promptly put together a sting operation, in which FBI agents posing as far-right militants offered to sell the group guns. Soon afterwards, the girlfriend of Curtis Allen, one of the ‘Crusaders’, contacted the authorities saying her boyfriend had physically abused her. She then showed police officers a room in her house where Allen had reportedly stored weapons and chemicals for manufacturing explosives. Realizing that the militant group was close to launching a strike, the FBI decided to move in and arrest its members last week. All of them are currently being held without bail and face life in prison if convicted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 October 2016 | Permalink

Holland suspends its ambassador to China due to suspected honey trap

Holland Embassy in ChinaThe Dutch government has suspended its ambassador to China and has launched an official investigation into an alleged secret relationship between the ambassador and a female Chinese employee at the Dutch embassy. The ambassador, Ron Keller, is a career diplomat and senior member of the Dutch foreign service corps, who has served in Russia and Turkey among other international posts. He assumed duties as Holland’s ambassador to China in late 2015. In December of that year, he arrived in Beijing and took command of one of the largest Dutch embassies in the world.

Last weekend, however, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that Keller had been suspended from his post after it was alleged that he had a secret affair with an employee at the embassy. The employee, whose name has not been released, is reportedly a female Chinese national. Her position at the embassy is not known, but is thought to be of a clerical nature. Foreign diplomats stationed in China —whether married or single— are routinely warned to avoid having intimate relationships with Chinese nationals due to concerns that the latter may be in the service of Chinese intelligence. Some refer to this practice as a ‘honey trap’.  In 2011, Taiwan suffered its most serious espionage case in over half a century when it was revealed that the director of the Taiwanese military’s Office of Communications and Information fell for a “tall, beautiful and chic” Chinese female operative, who held an Australian passport, but later turned out to be a Chinese intelligence officer. In 2014, a leaked British military report warned United Kingdom government officials of attempts by Chinese intelligence services to compromise them using sexual entrapment.

De Telegraaf said it contacted the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs about Keller’s suspension. In a statement, the ministry confirmed the diplomat’s suspension but said that it could not comment on the case. The newspaper reported that Keller is currently back in Holland and that his return to Beijing in an official capacity is not likely.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2016 | Permalink

Mossad had prior knowledge of Six-Day War plans, says Israeli ex-spy chief

first-post-hIsrael’s intelligence services had access to recordings of secret talks between Arab heads of state in 1965, which helped the Jewish state win the Six-Day War, according to the former director of the country’s Military Intelligence Directorate. The brief but important conflict, which is also known as the Third Arab-Israeli War, broke out on June 5, 1967, when the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies attacked Israel. But within hours the Jewish state had managed to decimate the assailants’ air forces, and went on to deliver fatal blows to its adversaries. By the end of the war, Israel’s territory had increased threefold and Israeli troops were in control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, among other areas.

But according to Major General Shlomo Gazit, who directed Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate in the 1970s, Israel’s victory was sealed in September 1965. At that time, a conference of Arab heads of state was held in Casablanca, Morocco, with the participation of senior Arab military commanders and intelligence chiefs. The centerpiece of the conference was a secret meeting where preparations were made for a war with the Jewish state. Participants discussed plans for setting up a joint Arab military command to coordinate the war and shared insights on the strength and state of readiness of their respective militaries.

Major General Gazit told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Morocco’s King Hassan II, who was mistrustful of his fellow Arab heads of state, invited the Israeli intelligence services to monitor the conference. Speaking to Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent Ronen Bergman, Gazit said that a team of spies from the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence service, and the Shin Bet, its domestic equivalent, arrived in Casablanca prior to the start of the conference. Acting on the King’s orders, Moroccan authorities designated an entire floor in the luxury hotel where the conference was held for the use of the Israelis. After the conference ended, King Hassan gave the Mossad copies of secret recordings of all closed-door meetings. These were promptly transcribed and translated into Hebrew by the Research Unit of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, said Gazit.

According to the former spy chief, these transcripts produced “massive amounts of intelligence”. They were combined with other sources of information and crucially helped Israel anticipate the Six-Day War. Thanks to these recordings, said Gazit, Israel “was in full knowledge of how unprepared [the Arab forces] were for war”, especially the Egyptian forces, which were “in a terrible shape”. Israeli military commanders were thus certain that the Jewish state would prevail in an armed conflict with its Arab neighbors.

The public disclosure of the fact that the Mossad had access to the content of the secret negotiations between Arab leaders in 1965 is not new. Bergman and his fellow author Shlomo Nakdimon revealed it in a 2015 article about the broader intelligence relationship between Israel and Morocco in the 1960s and 1970s. But the latest revelation highlights the significance of the secret recordings for Israel’s military posture during the Six-Day War. Indeed, Bergman reports that, after the end of the war, Meir Amit, who was the then director of the Mossad, drafted a letter to Israel’s Prime Minster Levi Eshkol, in which he described the Casablanca operation as “one of the greatest moments of Israeli intelligence”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2016 | Permalink

NSA contractor charged with spying removed both electronic and printed files

NSAA United States federal contractor, who was charged with espionage after he was found to have stolen classified documents, was able to remove both electronic and printed files from his office at the National Security Agency, according to a report. The man was identified by The New York Times last week as Harold Thomas Martin III, a 51-year-old employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest federal contractors in the US. Last August, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Martin’s house in Maryland and arrested him on charges of stealing government property and illegally removing classified material.

In reporting on the disclosure earlier this week, we noted that the FBI found classified information “on a variety of electronic devices that Martin had stored —though apparently not hidden— in his house and car”. It turns out, however, that at least some of the classified files in Martin’s possession were in printed format. According to The Washington Post, which revealed this information on Wednesday, this means that Martin extracted the information from his office at the NSA “the old-fashioned way, by walking out of the workplace with printed-out papers he had hidden”. The paper cites unnamed US government officials who claim that Martin was repeatedly able to walk out the front door of the NSA with what one anonymous congressional aide described as “a whole bunch of stuff”. The paper alleged that printed classified material found in Martin’s possession amounts to “thousands of pages”.

It appears that Martin extracted most of the documents before the fall of 2013, when the NSA and other US intelligence agencies imposed strict security controls on data access following the defection of Edward Snowden, another federal contractor who worked for the NSA and is today living in Russia. But the revelation will undoubtedly raise further questions about the ability of US intelligence agencies to scrutinize the activities of hundreds of thousands of employees who have access to classified information. The Post notes that the NSA and other US intelligence agencies do not employ universal searches of personnel that enter or exit government facilities. Instead they prefer random checks for reasons of convenience and to foster a sense of trust among employees. That, however, may change if more cases like those of Snowden and Martin become known.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 October 2016 | Permalink

US files espionage charges against military contractors with Turkish ties

PentagonIn a development that is expected to contribute to the downward spiral in Turkish-American relations, the United States government has reportedly filed espionage charges against three Department of Defense contractors with Turkish background. The three are believed to have been charged with transferring US military secrets abroad and are currently in prison.

A statement published by the US Pentagon said that the group consists of two men and a woman, all of whom are of Turkish background. Two of them are naturalized American citizens. They are listed as owners of a company that conducts research in military technology and has contracted for many years with the US Pentagon. All contracts were allegedly won following competitive bids and can only be awarded to bidders who are in possession of US citizenship and top security clearances. According to Turkey’s pro-government English-language newspaper, Daily Sabah, the three contractors have helped develop and manufacture parts for missile-launching systems used on American warplanes. They have also worked on several generations of grenade launchers used by the US military.

But on Sunday, the three contractors were arrested in simultaneous raids and charged with “funneling military secrets out of the country”, according to Sabah. The paper said the US government decided to arrest the three once it became known that some hardware parts related to the Pentagon bids handled by their company were being illegally manufactured in Turkey. There is no information in the Pentagon’s press release on whether the top-secret military components were also shared with the Turkish government. Relations between Washington and Ankara, two North Atlantic Treaty Organization member-states, have suffered since the failed July 15 military coup in Turkey. Many in the administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blame Washington for the coup and for allegedly shielding the man behind it, the Islamic cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the US state of Pennsylvania.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2016 | Permalink

Danish court halts sales of book written by former spy boss (updated)

Jakob Scharf's "Ten Years With the PET"

Jakob Scharf’s “Ten Years With the PET”

A court in Denmark has issued an injunction that prevents retail outlets from selling a book written by the former director of the country’s domestic intelligence agency. Titled Seven Years with the PET, the book is based on a series of interviews with Jakob Scharf, who directed Denmark’s Police Intelligence Service (PET) from 2007 to 2013. The book was scheduled for general release in bookstores across the country on October 17 by its publisher, People’s Press. By the end of the first week of October, the Copenhagen-based publisher had already supplied 5,000 copies of the book to 40 bookstores across Denmark, and several copies had already found their way into the hands of readers.

But last Friday night, the PET filed a request for an injunction to be placed on retail sales of the book, arguing that its pages might contain information pertaining to state secrets. The injunction was granted by a court in Copenhagen overnight, and communicated in the early hours of Saturday morning to the publisher, two online retailers and over 40 bookstores. The PET is listed as the requester of the injunction, and a rarely used ‘state secrets’ clause is given as justification for the urgent measure. On Saturday, the current director of the PET, Finn Borch Andersen, spoke to Denmark’s TV2 channel about the injunction. He told the television station that his agency filed the injunction after commercials appeared on television, advertising the book as “an exposure of PET operations”. He added that PET personnel “are currently reading” the book and that the agency will ask for the injunction to be lifted if no sensitive information is found.

But on Monday, Danish newspaper Politiken said it would defy the court injunction and publish excerpts of Scharf’s book. Speaking on the same day, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Christian Jensen, dismissed the ban, which he said “directly attacks the fundamental liberties on which our open society and free press depends”. Politiken had been scheduled to serialize Scharf’s book and was among the recipients of the court injunction.

The PET made headlines in 2012, after it was revealed that one of its double agents, Morten Storm, successfully infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The revelation caused controversy in Denmark because of Storm’s admission that he broke domestic and international law in the course of his activities, and led to a pledge by the country’s justice minister to impose more governmental control over the PET. Scharf, who led the agency from 2007 to 2013, was head of the organization after Denmark became targeted by Islamist extremists, following the publication in 2005 of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The latter is considered sacrilegious by literalist Muslims, including organizations that espouse militant versions of Islam.

Update Oct. 11, 2016, 12:35 GMT: It appears that Politiken proceeded to publish nearly the entire book on Sunday and Monday. The PET has just announced that it will withdraw its injunction request against the publication of the book, because it cannot be practically enforced at this point.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2016 | Permalink

Arrested contractor may have worked for NSA’s elite cyber spy unit

NSAA United States federal contractor, who remains in detention following his arrest last summer for stealing classified documents, may have worked for an elite cyber espionage unit of the National Security Agency. The man was identified by The New York Times last week as Harold Thomas Martin III, a 51-year-old employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest federal contractors in the US. The paper said that, prior to joining Booz Allen Hamilton, Martin served as a US Navy officer for over a decade, where he specialized in cyber security and acquired a top secret clearance. But last August, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Martin’s house in Maryland and arrested him on charges of stealing government property and illegally removing classified material.

Media reports suggest that the FBI discovered significant quantities of classified information, some of it dating back to 2006, on a variety of electronic devices that Martin had stored —though apparently not hidden— in his house and car. Another interesting aspect of the case is that there is no proof at this point that Martin actually shared the classified information with a third party. There is some speculation that he may be behind a disclosure of a collection of NSA hacking tools, which were leaked in August of this year by a previously unknown group calling itself “the Shadow Brokers”. But some speculate that Martin may have taken the classified material home so he could write his dissertation for the PhD he is currently undertaking at the University of Maryland’s Information Systems program.

A few days ago, The Daily Beast quoted an unnamed former colleague of Martin who said that the NSA contractor was a member of one of the agency’s elite cyber spy units. The existence of the secretive unit, which is known as the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, was revealed in June 2013 by veteran NSA watcher Matthew M. Aid. Writing in Foreign Policy, Aid cited “a number of highly confidential sources” in alleging that the NSA maintained a substantial “hacker army” tasked with conducting offensive cyber espionage against foreign targets. More information on NSA’s TAO was provided in January 2014 by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. If The Daily Beast’s allegations about Martin are accurate, they would explain why anonymous government sources told The Washington Post last week that some of the documents Martin took home “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States”. The case also highlights the constant tension between security and the privatization of intelligence, which was also a major parameter in the case of Edward Snowden, another Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who defected to Russia in 2013.

Meanwhile, Martin remains in detention. If he is convicted, he will face up to 11 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2016 | Permalink