Germany arrests alleged collaborator of intelligence officer who spied for Russia

BND GermanyTHE GERMAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCED last week the arrest of a man believed to have acted as a courier between Russian intelligence and another German spy, who was arrested in December and is awaiting trial. The new arrest is bound to attract even more international attention to this unfolding case of espionage, whose urgency has reportedly alarmed Western intelligence services.

On December 22, German authorities arrested a senior German intelligence official, who has been charged with treason and remains in custody. The official, named only as “Carsten L.”, in compliance with Germany’s strict privacy laws, worked in the signals intelligence (SIGINT) wing of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). As Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND is tasked with collecting intelligence on foreign targets, a mission that makes it broadly equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

As intelNews reported earlier this month, Carsten L.’s seniority within the BND allowed him to access several compartmentalized areas of information, including secrets shared with the BND by other Western intelligence agencies. For this reason, it was reported that some Western intelligence officials were “most incensed” with this case. One source reported that British intelligence leaders were “considering whether they will continue to provide the BND with their most sensitive information”.

Now a second arrest has come to arguably add to the gravity of this case. On January 22, the German Federal Criminal Police Office announced the arrest of “Arthur E.”, who was captured at the Munich International Airport. Apparently, Arthur E. is a German citizen who has German-Russian background. According to the press release issued by the German government, Arthur E. was arrested through a collaborative effort between the BND and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Apparently, the FBI became suspicious when Arthur E. attempted to frantically leave the United States after Carsten L.’s arrest. Read more of this post

Analysis: A murky assassination that could radically alter Turkish politics

Sinan Ates Turkey Grey WolvesON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2022, an assailant on a motorcycle opened fire on Sinan Ateş, the leader of Turkey’s most feared paramilitary force, known as the Grey Wolves. By that evening, the 38-year-old Ateş had expired in an Ankara hospital, prompting analysts to forewarn that Turkish politics had entered new and unchartered territory. Indeed, some observers claim that Ateş’ assassination may impact Turkey’s upcoming presidential elections in unpredictable ways. The leading political figures in this strategically important NATO member-state, including its authoritarian leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, are paying close attention.

Turkey’s Far-Right Shock Troops

Known officially as the Idealist Clubs Educational and Cultural Foundation, the Grey Wolves organization is the paramilitary arm of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a militant political force that occupies most of the far-right space of Turkish politics. The MHP espouses authoritarian and anti-Western views and is violently opposed to negotiations with Turkey’s ethnic minorities, including the Kurds. Its politics appeal to ultra-conservative voters, who are usually male and over the age of 35. The Grey Wolves operate as the MHP’s shock troops, often engaging in bloody street fights against Kurds, leftists, and other popular forces that stand in opposition to the Turkish far-right. Known for their machismo and violent bravado, the Grey Wolves appeal to working-class men in their teens and twenties. In essence, therefore, the MHP and the Grey Wolves are two sides of the same coin.

In 2015, the MHP formed an electoral pact with President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). The formation of this pact, known as the People’s Alliance, marked the culmination of a long process of informal cooperation between the two sides, which had been going on since at least 2007. The People’s Alliance has been instrumental in preserving the AKP’s domination of Turkish political life in recent years, despite the loss of popularity that President Erdoğan has been experiencing. Currently the AKP relies directly on the MHP’s parliamentary support to rule Turkey with a minority government. The Grey Wolves, which tend to be more unruly than their parent organization, are nominally in support of Erdoğan, but tend to see him as too mellow and not sufficiently authoritarian.

The Fragmentation of the MHP

The MPH likes to project itself as a unified militant organization. In reality, it has always been the product of an uneasy alliance between disparate far-right groups. Its membership ranges from social conservatives to ultranationalists, Hanafi (Sunni) puritans and even neo-fascists. In 2017, when the MHP and the AKP formed the People’s Alliance, several of these groups voiced serious misgivings about aligning themselves with Erdoğan. Eventually, a vocal faction of pro-Western and secularist conservatives left the party over concerns that the MHP would be completely absorbed by the pro-Islamist and anti-Western AKP. Read more of this post

Separate investigations focus on ex-FBI special agent’s Russian and Albanian ties

FBIAUTHORITIES IN THE UNITED States have launched at least two separate investigations into the business dealings of Charles McGonigal, the highest-ranking former employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to face criminal charges in recent times. Much has been written about McGonigal’s alleged connection with Kremlin-linked Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. On the contrary, relatively little is known about his purported dealings with Albanian and other Balkan officials and middlemen, some of whom appear to have intelligence links. There is also the question of whether the criminal charges against McGonigal and his alleged co-conspirator, former Soviet and Russian diplomat Sergey Shestakov, are strictly financial in nature, or may eventually expand to include an espionage angle.

McGonigal, 54, retired in 2018 after a 22-year career at the FBI, during which he served as head of counterintelligence in New York, home of one of the Bureau’s largest field offices. He was arrested on Saturday in New York, upon returning to the United States from a trip to Sri Lanka. He faces charges of conspiring with Shestakov, a naturalized US citizen, to provide under-the-table services to Deripaska. The latter is among a long list of Kremlin-linked oligarchs, who have been subject to strict US sanctions since 2018. In working for Deripaska, McGonigal is accused in the state of New York of violating US government sanctions and engaging in money laundering, among five other charges.

However, the former FBI special agent is facing nine more charges in Washington, which involve illicit activities that he allegedly engaged in while still serving in the FBI. This is in contrast with his business relationship with Deripaska, which he is believed to have entered after his retirement from the Bureau. According to the indictment, McGonigal received in excess of $225,000 from an Albanian-born American businessman, who is also a former employee of Albanian intelligence. In return, McGonigal allegedly helped promote the businessman’s interests in the US and abroad. Throughout that time, McGonigal reportedly failed to disclose his alleged financial links with the businessman, as is required of all FBI employees. Read more of this post

Russian diplomat offered to fund British Conservative Party, complaint alleges

MI5 Security ServiceA DIPLOMAT STATIONED AT the embassy of the Russian Federation in London proposed to channel Russian funds to the British Conservative Party, according to a formal complaint made by a Conservative Party activist. The information was reportedly disregarded by Britain’s counterintelligence agency, the Security Service (MI5), and has now been filed as a complaint with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). Established in 2000, the IPT is an independent judicial body that handles public complaints about the British intelligence services.

The source of the complaint is Sergei Cristo, a former reporter with the World Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and longtime Conservative Party organizer. Cristo’s allegations center on the Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR), a high-profile lobby group founded by prominent Conservative Party parliamentarians, including Nigel Evans, Andrew Rosindell, John Whittingdale and Robert Buckland. The CFoR’s first honorary president was Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who served as Foreign Secretary under Conservative Prime Minister John Major.

The founding of CFoR in 2012 was celebrated at a lavish outdoor reception hosted by the Russian Ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko. It was followed by an all-expenses-paid trip to Russia, organized by the Russian embassy, for a group of select CFR members. Among them were prominent Euroskeptics, who later became leading figures in the campaign that resulted in Britain’s exit from the European Union. A few years later, the group was renamed the Westminster Russia Forum (WRF). In 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the WRF disbanded altogether.

During the CFoR’s early days, In December 2010, nearly two years before CFoR was founded, Cristo says he was approached by Sergey Nalobin, first secretary of the Russian embassy’s political section. According to Cristo, Nalobin was interested in Cristo’s role as a volunteer in the finance department of the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ). Known also as the Conservative Central Office, the CCHQ operates as the head office of the British Conservative Party. Cristo claims that Nalobin told him of his intention to introduce CCHQ officials to “Russian companies who would donate money to the Conservative party” —a proposition that was illegal under British law. Read more of this post

Colombian intelligence spied on Russian and Cuban diplomats, reports claim

Russian embassy in Bogota, ColombiaCOLOMBIAN INTELLIGENCE CARRIED OUT surveillance operations against Russian and Cuban diplomats stationed in Colombia between 2016 and 2019, according to media reports that surfaced earlier this week. The reports claim that Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate (DNI) was behind the operations, which involved physical, as well as electronic, surveillance.

One of the operations was reportedly codenamed CATEDRA, and targeted three senior staff members of the Russian embassy in the Colombian capital Bogota. In addition to the diplomats themselves, DNI agents allegedly spied on the diplomats’ spouses and their children. In some cases, DNI agents disguised themselves as “street vendors” in order to spy on the homes of the diplomats. The agency also planted electronic devices in hotels around Colombia —notably in the resort town of Melgar in central Colombia, where over a dozen staff members of the Russian embassy holidayed in 2017.

Allegedly, Operation CATEDRA also involved the interception of communications of at least two Russian diplomats. These were identified as Denis Viktorovich Khromov, who served as the second secretary at the Russian embassy in Bogota, as well as Aleksandr Nikolayevich Belousov, who in late 2020 was declared persona non grata and expelled by the Colombian government on charges of espionage. Colombian media said at the time that Belousov had been outed as an intelligence officer, following a two-year DNI operation codenamed ENIGMA.

The DNI also spied on at least 10 Cuban diplomats and other members of the embassy of Cuba in Bogota, according to the same reports. The operation, codenamed MATIAS, investigated alleged “Cuban interference” in Colombia, and took place while the Cuban government was hosting peace talks between the Colombian government of then-president Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of the country’s largest militant groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

According to the reports, the DNI recruited a Cuban embassy worker, instructing her to “install [surveillance] devices and extract information from the building where control targets [were] located”. This eventually enabled the DNI to gain “access to security cameras and rooms throughout the building” of the Cuban embassy, the reports claim. Operations MATIAS and CATEDRA were reportedly concluded in 2019.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2023 | Permalink

CIA helped Ukraine foil two Russian plots on Zelenskyy’s life, new book claims

Volodymyr ZelenskyINFORMATION PROVIDED BY THE United States Central Intelligence Agency helped Kyiv foil two Russian plots against the life of Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in the crucial early stages of the Russo-Ukrainian war, according to a new book. The claim is made in The Fight of His Life – Inside Joe Biden’s White House (Scribner) by Chris Whipple, the longtime investigative writer behind several books on American intelligence —most recently The Spymasters How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future (2021, also by Scribner). Whipple’s latest book is scheduled for release today.

Throughout late 2021 and early 2022, the government of President Zelenskyy repeatedly dismissed American warnings, which came as early as November 2021, that Moscow was preparing to launch an unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine. Zelenskyy himself urged Washington to temper its public warnings about a possible war, because they were creating an atmosphere of panic in Ukrainian business circles. In his public statements, the Ukrainian leader insisted that Kyiv had a long history of facing —and staying calm in the face of— Russian threats against his country.

All that changed in January of 2022, just weeks before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. According to Whipple, Zelenskyy received a secret visit by CIA director William Burns. The two men met in Zelenskyy’s office in Kyiv, where Burns told the Ukrainian leader that he had been authorized by United States President Joe Biden to share with him “precise details of […] Russian pots”. According to Whipple, these plots were not only against Ukraine, but were aimed at Zelenskyy himself. This information, Whipple claims, “immediately got Zelenskyy’s attention; he was taken aback, sobered by this news”. Whipple suggests that the information Burns shared with Zelenskyy was specific enough to surprise and alarm the Ukrainian president. According to Whipple, the CIA’s information about the Kremlin’s assassination plots was “so detailed, that it would help Zelenskyy’s security forces thwart two separate […] attempts on his life” by Russian Special Forces.

The author further claims that the CIA also shared with Ukraine a precise “blueprint of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s invasion plan”. The intelligence given to Ukraine by the CIA included the Kremlin’s plans to attack the Antonov International Airport (also known as Hostomel Airport) northwest of Kyiv. The intelligence contributed substantially to Ukraine’s victory in the Battle of Antonov Airport, which took place on February 24 and 25. Ukrainian forces were successful in repelling a Russian air assault on the airport, thus keeping the airstrip under Ukrainian control during the crucial opening stages of the war. That success is often credited with preventing Russian forces from using the Antonov Airport as a strategically important staging location from which to entering and sack Kyiv in February of 2022.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 January 2023 | Permalink

Iran executes former deputy defense minister, accusing him of being an MI6 spy

Ali ShamkhaniIRAN ANNOUNCED ON SATURDAY one of the most high-profile executions in its recent history, involving Alireza Akbari, who served as the Islamic Republic’s deputy minister of defense in the 2000s. Akbari, 61, a dual Iranian-British citizen, was reportedly executed by hanging on or before January 14.

As a government official, Akbari was associated with the Iranian Reformists, who were particularly prominent in the early 2000s during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Akbari served as deputy defense minister under Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani (1997-2005), a two-star general. General Shamkhani (pictured), an Iranian Arab, currently chairs Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. He is among the few Reformists who today remain in positions of power in Iran.

Akbari’s tenure was cut short in 2005, when Khatami was succeeded in the presidency by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner, who made sweeping changes in government administration. After he was briefly detained by pro-Ahmadinejad hardliners, Akbari moved to the United Kingdom in 2008, and established a small but reputable think-tank. By 2019, he had acquired British citizenship and was active in Iranian politics, but from afar. But in 2019, Akbari was invited to visit Iran by an unnamed “senior Iranian diplomat”, ostensibly to assist in negotiations with Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program. Having previously helped in international negotiations at the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq War in the late 1980s, Akbari agreed to travel to Tehran.

However, the invitation was part of what the Iranians later described as a “deception operation”, which marked the culmination of a “long and multi-layered process involving counterintelligence”. Akbari’s arrest in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport was the last time Akbari was seen in public. Iranian prosecutors later described Akbari as a “key spy” for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and accused him of working for an MI6 front company. In that role, they claimed, Akbari gave MI6 information about nearly 200 Iranian officials, for which he was paid over $2 million in a variety of currencies. Read more of this post

Embattled Libyan government announces surprise visit by CIA director

THE GOVERNMENT OF WAR-torn Libya announced on Thursday that William Burns, director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was in capital Tripoli for discussions with senior Libyan officials. By visiting Tripoli, Burns became the highest-ranking American government official to travel to the North African country under the presidency of Joe Biden.

According to reports in the Libyan media, Burns spent most of Thursday in Tripoli, where he met with Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a controversial businessman who is serving as prime minister in the Government of National Unity (GNU). Burns also met with GNU Minister of Foreign Affairs Najla al-Mangoush, as well as with Hussein al-Ayeb, who leads the GNU’s intelligence agency. The CIA director also met with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (pictured), head of the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA nominally supports the GNU’s rival government in eastern Libya, the Government of National Stability (GNS). However, Haftar is seen by many as Libya’s de facto strongman. Notably, Burns did not meet with Fathi Bashagha, the self-styled ‘prime minister’ of the GNS, which, unlike the GNU, is not recognized by the United Nations, but is supported by a number of regional powers, including NATO member Turkey.

Al-Monitor reported that the subject of the GNU’s relations with Russia was high on the agenda during Burns’ visit, as was the subject of Libya’s energy exports to Europe. Counterterrorism was also discussed, which is unsurprising, given that last month the GNU surrendered Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi to American authorities. Washington alleges that Al-Marimi was involved in the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which was conceived and plotted by the regime of the late Colonel Moammar al-Gadhafi. The move was seen as an attempt by the GNU to strengthen relations with Washington, in light of the challenge it faces from the GNS and the LNA.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 January 2023 | Permalink

Western intelligence agencies alarmed by arrest of Russian spy in Germany

BND GermanyWESTERN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES HAVE been alarmed by the arrest of a senior German intelligence official, who has been charged with spying for Russia, according to an expert in German intelligence. On December 22, the German government announced the arrest of a senior officer in the signals intelligence (SIGINT) wing of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). As Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND is tasked with collecting intelligence on foreign targets, a mission that makes it broadly equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

The official, named only as “Carsten L.”, in compliance with Germany’s strict privacy laws, has been charged with “high treason” and is currently awaiting trial. When announcing his arrest, German officials said they were tipped by a foreign intelligence agency that detected a document from the BND’s internal files in the possession of a Russian spy agency. The identity of the intelligence agency that provided the tip is among several important details about the case that remain unknown for the time being. Among them are the duration of Carsten L.’s alleged espionage for Moscow, as well as his motives.

Some reports suggest that Carsten L. may have been blackmailed by the Russians as a result of a kompromat. It has also been reported that the alleged spy was found to be in possession of material relating to the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party known for its friendly stance toward the Kremlin. But such reports are largely speculative. No information about Carsten L.’s motives has been released by the office of the German prosecutor. It is clear, however, that at least some of the information that Carsten L. gave the Russian government relates to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Additionally, the suspect’s seniority within the BND allowed him to access several compartmentalized areas of information, including secrets shared with the BND by other Western intelligence agencies. These almost certainly include the United States Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, as well as a host of British intelligence agencies. On Monday, British newspaper The Telegraph quoted German intelligence expert, Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, who said that British intelligence officials were “most incensed” with the case. He added that British intelligence leaders were “considering whether they will continue to provide the BND with their most sensitive information”. The German expert concluded that the Carsten L. case may have “deep implications for future cooperation between the BND and other Western spy agencies”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 January 2023 | Permalink

French prosecutors seek trial in high-stakes case involving ex-spy chief

DGSI FrancePROSECUTORS IN FRANCE HAVE asked for a trial in a high-profile case involving the former head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, a former senior Paris police official and a retired appeals court judge, among others. The decade-long case has become known in France as the “Squarcini affair”, after Bernard Squarcini, who headed France’s General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) from 2008 to 2012.

Squarcini is a former career intelligence official, who rose through the ranks to head the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) of the French National Police. In 2008, the DST merged with the Central Directorate of General Intelligence (RG) of the French National Police, thus creating the new DGSI. Squarcini served as the first director of the DGSI until 2012, when he was dismissed by France’s socialist president, François Hollande, once the latter assumed the French presidency. It is believed that Hollande saw Squarcini as being politically aligned with Hollande’s center-right predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Upon his dismissal, Squarcini founded Kyrnos, a consulting company offering intelligence services to private-sector clients. Among Kyrnos’ largest clients was Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), a Paris-based conglomerate, whose holdings include several dozen subsidiaries, among them highly prestigious brands like Louis Vuitton, Hennessy, Tiffany & Co., Christian Dior, Bulgari, and others. LVMH’s CEO and “public face” is Bernard Arnault, who is currently estimated to be the world’s richest individual by Fortune magazine.

In 2021, LVMH paid a $11.2 million fine to settle allegations that the firm hired Squarcini to acquire confidential documents relating to government investigations into several rival firms, and to spy on private individuals on behalf of LVMH. Lawyers involved in the case hailed the decision at the time as “a decisive step […] in an unparalleled case that shows how [the] intelligence services have been used for private ends”.

But the 2021 case gave birth to a series of follow-up investigations, once Squarcini’s list of surveillance targets became known. Among those targets was Francois Ruffin, a leftwing labor activist and documentary producer, who was investigating LVMH’s financial dealings for a film he was producing. Squarcini is a leading suspect in this new round of investigations, as are other former senior government officials, including a senior officer in the French National Police and a former appeals court judge.

The accused face a host of charges, among them conspiracy to defraud clients, receiving payments by private firms to influence government policies, and breaching secrecy and professional codes associated with being a civil servant. Now the French news agency Agence France Presse reports that the team of prosecutors in charge of this new round of investigations have asked the presiding judges to order a trial of the suspects. This means that the prosecutors believe they have amassed enough evidence to convict the suspects of the charges levied against them.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 January 2023 | Permalink

Congo accuses Rwandan spy cell of plot to shoot down president’s plane

M23 Congo RwandaTHE GOVERNMENT OF THE Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has dismantled an alleged Rwandan spy network and has charged its members with plotting to assassinate the country’s president. This development, which was announced late last week by authorities in Kinshasa, has plunged relations between the two neighboring countries into a new low.

The DRC has long accused Rwanda of training and equipping members of the so-called March 23 Movement (M23), who have been engaged in a decade-long conflict with the Congolese state in the North Kivu province. Since March of last year, DRC government forces have been engaged in a major offensive against the M23, but the rebel group continues to control several strategic towns and villages in North Kivu. Meanwhile, Rwanda has accused the DRC of using the offensive as a pretext to invade Rwanda. Late last year, the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) captured Congolese territory, in what authorities in Kigali described as an attempt to create a buffer zone between Rwanda and the DRC military offensive. In response, the DRC suspended a host of bilateral agreements with Rwanda and expelled the Rwandan ambassador from Kinshasa.

Last Thursday, the DRC’s Deputy Minister of the Interior, Jean-Claude Mandongo, posted a video on social media, announcing the arrest of several members of an alleged Rwandan spy ring. According to Mandongo, the spy ring consisted of two alleged Rwandan spies and two Congolese accomplices. The two Rwandans have been identified in DRC media reports as Dr. Juvenal Nshimiyimana and Moses Mushabe, who is allegedly a serving intelligence officer in the RDF. According to Mandongo, the two Rwandans were stationed in the DRC in a non-official-cover capacity, as employees of a humanitarian non-governmental organization called African Health Development Organization (AHDO).

Authorities in the DRC seem to believe that the AHDO serves as a proprietary cover for Rwandan intelligence, although they have provided no evidence for this claim. Officials in Kinshasa also claim that Rwandan spies are operating in other AHDO branches across the DRC. Statements from the Ministry of the Interior suggest that more arrests of alleged Rwandan spies are imminent. According to DRC officials, AHDO facilities were strategically located adjacent to the N’djili International Airport in Kinshasa, in order to monitor the movements of the presidential air fleet. In a report published on Tuesday, DRC authorities claimed that the alleged Rwandan spy cell planned to assassinate DRC President Félix Tshiskedi, by shooting down his presidential jet. The Rwandan government has rejected these claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2023 | Permalink

Germany is prepared for projected increase in Russian spy activity, says BfV director

BfV GermanyRUSSIAN FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES in Germany have increased exponentially since the start of the war in Ukraine, and are projected to further-increase in 2023, according to the head of German counterintelligence. In an interview on Monday with the German Press Agency (DPA), Thomas Haldenwang, director of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), also warned that China, Iran and Turkey are intensifying their intelligence activities inside Germany.

In April of last year, the German government expelled 40 members of the diplomatic staff from Russia’s embassy in Berlin. It is believed that the majority of those expelled were intelligence officers operating under official cover. According to Haldenwang, the Kremlin has taken steps to compensate for the loss of its intelligence presence in Germany. This is largely being done in two ways: first, with “traveling operatives”, i.e. intelligence officers who are stationed in third countries and travel to Germany to carry out specific operations; second, with non-official-cover officers, i.e. intelligence operatives who have no overt relations with the Russian government. Moreover, Russia has been mounting its cyber-attacks and foreign-influence operations against Germany, according to Haldenwang.

In response to the Kremlin’s actions, German counterintelligence is making “great efforts to prevent […] people who may be connected to Russian intelligence from entering Germany” with valid visas, Haldenwang said. The BfV has hired more personnel and has “organizationally redesigned” its defensive and offensive counterintelligence capabilities, as well as cyber-defense expertise. As a result, the BfV “feels sufficiently prepared for the current challenges”, Haldenwang said. He also disputed allegations in Western media that the BfV had been relatively passive in countering Russian intelligence operations prior to the war in Ukraine.

Finally, Haldenwang cautioned that Iran and Turkey maintained a significant intelligence presence in Germany, and that the stormy domestic politics in those countries would “have an impact in Germany”, as “internal political conflicts [in those countries] are fought here”. This also applies to China, whose intelligence collection targets are no longer primarily economic, but are moving into the political domain. According to Haldenwang, a “pan-European solution is needed to reverse this trend, at least for the European [Union] states”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 January 2023 | Permalink

Qatargate corruption scandal probe widens to include Moroccan spy services

European ParliamentTHE CRIMINAL CORRUPTION SCANDAL known as Qatargate, which has rocked the European Parliament in recent weeks, involves covert influence operations by Moroccan spies, in addition to Qatari intelligence operatives, according to news reports.

On December 9 and 10, Belgian and Italian police arrested a dozen politicians, European Parliament aides, civil servants, lobbyists, and members of their families. Over €2 million in cash and other assets has since been seized by authorities, as a Europe-wide investigation continues. Those arrested included Eva Kaili, vice president of the European Parliament, which is among the core legislative bodies of the European Union. Kaili and her co-conspirators are accused of selling their ability to influence European Union policies on Qatar, in exchange for cash and other perks. Although the government of Qatar vehemently denies having a role in the scandal, it is widely believed that operatives linked to Qatari authorities facilitated the bribes.

During the past week, however, several reports in European news outlets have been alleging that, in addition to Qatar, the Kingdom of Morocco also appears to have been involved in parallel efforts to buy influence within the European Parliament. Early clues of this development surfaced during the week of December 12 in the Belgian broadsheet Le Soir and the Italian daily La Republica. The reports focused on an intelligence operative codenamed M118, who allegedly worked for the General Directorate for Studies and Documentation (DGED), the foreign spy service of Morocco.

Last week, a new report in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel supported the theory that M118 is Mohamed Belahrech. Belahrech is allegedly an identified DGED operative, who is believed to have recruited two members of the European Parliament from Italy, Antonio Panzeri and Andrea Cozzolino, as well as Francesco Giorgi, Kaili’s Italian partner. Giorgi, a key figure in Qatargate, remains in custody. Der Spiegel also claims that Abderrahim Atmun, Morocco’s ambassador to Poland, led the Moroccan government’s efforts to recruit the three Italians. According to the report, the three were in direct communication with Mohamed Yassine Mansouri, director general of the DGED.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 January 2023 | Permalink

North Korean hackers behind ‘sophisticated’ effort to elicit views of experts

North KoreaA NOTORIOUS NORTH KOREAN hacker group is believed to be behind a “sophisticated” effort to elicit the views of international experts on issues that are of concern to Pyongyang, according to an investigation by Reuters. The news agency said its reporters had managed to uncover this previously unreported campaign with the help of cybersecurity experts and five individuals who had been targeted by the North Korean hackers.

The North Korean hacker group that is alleged to be behind this elicitation campaign is known among cybersecurity experts as Thallium, or Kimsuky. It has been active since at least 2012 and has orchestrated intensive “spear-phishing” attacks against international targets. Similarly to other hacker groups that have been active in the past decade, Thallium’s operations have centered on tricking its targets to download malware on their personal electronic devices, or to share sensitive information, including passwords.

Lately, however, the group has changed its tactics in striking ways, according to Reuters. Instead of trying to steal secrets, it has been involved in a campaign aimed at eliciting the views of Western experts on North Korean affairs. It has been doing so by directly contacting these experts with requests to review policy papers, or by commissioning opinion pieces on various aspects of North Korean politics, economy and society. The requests are camouflaged to appear as originating from respected think-tanks, universities or consultancy firms.

Since January of this year, when the first experts began to be contacted, “multiple” individuals have fallen victim to this elicitation campaign, according to experts at the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC). They include policy experts working for Western governments, think-tank and university researchers, as well as human-rights campaigners. They have all fallen victim to “sophisticated” requests that use polished language and appear legitimate, according to Reuters.

In most cases, the elicitation emails promise a payment of $300.00 in return for reviewing a manuscript, authoring a short opinion piece, or recommending another expert who may be able to provide these services. However, none of the individuals who proceeded to provide these services have ever received any funds. Cybersecurity experts, who reviewed the elicitation campaign, told Reuters that the hackers never intended to provide any payments to targets.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 August 2022 | Permalink

Mystery surrounds arrest of alleged Russian spy couple in Sweden

Russian Embassy SwedenNUMEROUS UNANSWERED QUESTIONS SURROUND the arrest of a Russian married couple in Sweden, on charges of espionage. The arrest took place in dramatic fashion in the early hours of Tuesday, November 22. According to the Swedish media, members of the security forces descended via tactical ropes from two Blackhawk helicopters, as startled residents in the typically quiet Stockholm suburb of Nacka looked on.

The raid was apparently conducted based on information received by Sweden’s counterintelligence agency, the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), coupled with tips from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The targets of the operation were Sergei Nikolaevich Skvortsov and Elena Mikhailovna Kulkova, a Russian-born married couple, who moved to Sweden from Russia in 1999. According to their identity documents, Skvortsov was born in Perm on July 28, 1963, and Kulkova in Moscow on May 22, 1964.

Both Skvortsov and Kulkova are university-educated, with a background in science, mathematics and cybernetics. Upon settling in Sweden, they worked in the import-export technology sector. By 2013 they had become Swedish citizens and had a son. Kulkova also had a daughter from a previous marriage. The Russian investigative source The Insider reports that Kulkova’s daughter’s boyfriend worked for Swedish military intelligence.

Swedish authorities allege that the two suspects migrated to Stockholm on orders of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, known as GRU. The GRU allegedly did not activate them until after they had acquired Swedish citizenship. According to the court indictment, Skvortsov and Kulkova began to actively spy against the United States in 2013 and against Sweden in 2014.

Some sources claim that the case of the Russian couple may be connected to the recent arrests of Payam and Peyman Kia, two Iranian-born Swedish brothers, who were arrested in 2021 and are now facing charges of engaging in espionage on behalf of the GRU. Payam Kia worked for SAPO and had access to classified information from a host of Swedish government agencies. SAPO reportedly launched the probe in 2017, following suspicions that it harbored a spy in its personnel ranks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 December 2022 | Research credit: A.G. | Permalink

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