Israel beefs up protection of its senior spies, as proxy war with Iran intensifies

Iran UAV droneISRAELI AUTHORITIES HAVE STEPPED up measures to protect its senior intelligence and security figures, over concerns they may be targeted by agents of the Iranian state, according to news reports. The news comes amidst widespread concerns that the ongoing shadow conflict between Israel and Iran is escalating in the shadow of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

On Thursday, Israel’s state-owned broadcaster and news agency, Kan, reported that  the government of Israel had implemented additional security measures to protect current and former members of its security and intelligence agencies. The report added that the measures are focused largely on current and former members of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, as well as those associated with Israel’s intelligence and security apparatus that are living abroad.

The report comes amidst concerns among security observers that a clandestine war between Israel and Iran is growing in intensity. To a notable extent, this growth is being fueled by the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Iran’s supply of cheap and reliable attack drones appears to be enabling Moscow to subvert and outright destroy Ukraine’s national infrastructure. In what seems like a direct response to Iran’s actions, Israel war materiel is now flowing into Ukraine, reportedly through a NATO country.

There are indications that this proxy conflict between Israel and Iran is spreading in Europe and the Middle East. Seeing the success of the use of Iranian drones, some European countries with limited airstrike capabilities, like Serbia and Armenia, are reportedly considering purchasing drone attack systems from Tehran. Meanwhile, Israeli weapons exports to Arab states have skyrocketed since the normalization of Israel’s relations with a number Arab countries in recent years. According to a recent report, last year marked a historic record for the volume of Israeli military and security exports, which increased by 30 percent from 2020. Much of that increase is due to Israeli weapons exports to Arab states, such as Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 November 2022 | Permalink

Probing the intelligence failure behind the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzchak Rabin

Rabin ArafatLAST WEEK, THE CHAIRMAN of the Israeli Religious Zionist Party, Bezalel Smotrich, who will soon be appointed as a cabinet minister, alleged that the Israel Security Agency (ISA) encouraged the killer of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Smotrich’s allegation shocked many Israelis, because of the unfortunate timing —it was uttered close to the annual Remembrance Day for Prime Minister Rabin, who was assassinated by radical rightwing activist Yigal Amir 27 years ago. But also because of the unacceptable content, which echoes conspiracy theories that have accompanied Rabin’s assassination for many years. To counter these conspiracy theories, it is fitting to discuss the failure to defend Rabin that did occur under the responsibility of the ISA.

The failure that caused Rabin’s assassination was investigated by a National Inquiry Commission (known as the Shamgar Commission), which found the ISA responsible. In fact, it was deemed a double failure: the first by the personnel of the VIP Security Unit of the ISA, and the second by the intelligence personnel of the ISA, whose job it was to thwart in advance murderous intentions by extreme rightwing elements in Israel. The intelligence failure was not investigated in depth by the Shamgar Committee. It dealt mainly with the security failure and only partially with the intelligence failure. Its investigation focused on the activities of ISA agent Avishi Raviv (code name CHAMPAGNE) who was tasked by the ISA to infiltrate extreme rightwing groups. The Committee did not ask: could the ISA’s intelligence have prevented the murder?

It is also possible to ask: why was the mandate of the Shamgar Committee limited to investigating the area of security, and not intelligence? And why did its members refrain from extending their investigation to the issue of the intelligence failure? There are no answers to this question, even in the autobiographical book of the Committee’s chairman, the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar.

A Key Piece of Intelligence

Smotrich referred to agent Raviv, who was indeed run in a deficient and unprofessional manner. Yet no malicious intentions can be attributed to the ISA. In any case, Raviv’s defense attorney convinced the court that Raviv did not know about the assassin’s intentions before the murder. The key piece of intelligence, which the ISA had received six months before Rabin’s murder, regarding Amir’s intentions, was handled extremely poorly: an asset of the IDF Central Command’s intelligence department told his commander that he had heard “a small, rotund and armed Yemeni” speaking at a bus stop about his intention to assassinate Rabin. The intelligence was immediately passed on to the head of the appropriate department in the ISA. Unfortunately, however, instead of the source being interrogated by trained ISA personnel, a police investigation was conducted that did not reveal any significant additional information. Read more of this post

Female targets of QAnon conspiracy attacked up to 10 times more, study finds

QAnon - IAFEMALE TARGETS OF CONSPIRACY theories propagated by QAnon adherents face up to 10 times more online harassment and abuse than male targets, a behavioral study of pro-QAnon online users has found. QAnon refers to an American-rooted conspiracy theory that views former United States President Donald Trump as a central figure in a behind-the-scenes battle against a sinister cabal of enemies, known as the “deep state”. According to QAnon adherents, “deep state” elites (politicians, entertainment figures and other celebrities) consist of Satan-worshiping cannibals who traffic children for sex. QAnon adherents also believe that these elites will be routed during “The Storm”, a final reckoning between Trump and the “deep state”, which will result in the arrest and physical extermination of all elites.

But in a new study published last month by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a team of researchers posits that not all victims of QAnon adherents are targeted with equal intensity by the conspiracy theorists. Concordia University PhD candidates Marc-André Argentino and Adnan Raja, and ISD analyst Aoife Gallagher, used online data collected in 2020 and early 2021. They categorized the data according to six case studies involving celebrity figures, ranging from Tom Hanks and Anderson Cooper to Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey, all of whom have been prominent targets of QAnon conspiracy theories.

The researchers found that, in each case, online attacks proliferated quickly once individual targets were “labelled and perception [was] hardened in narratives about their alleged role in pedophilia and/or sex trafficking”. What followed was coordinated hate and harassment campaigns that included “forms of high-volume brigading” —a coordinated attack by groups of users united by belonging to the same antagonistic subreddit. In each case, negative sentiments were amplified through the multiplication of coordinated hateful —and often violent— content.

The study shows that “[g]ender-based, racist and anti-LGBTQ+ hate and rhetoric” was present throughout the dataset. However, of all factors —gender, race or sexual orientation— relating to the identities of targets, gender was by far the most determining. According to the data analysis, female targets of QAnon brigading were subjected to volumes of hate and harassment that were as many as ten times higher than those of their male counterparts. The study also shows that this gender-based variation was true in every platform used, such as Facebook (primarily), Instagram and Twitter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 November 2022 | Permalink

Sweden charges two brothers with spying for Russian military intelligence

Säpo swedenAUTHORITIES IN SWEDEN HAVE charged two brothers, one of whom worked in a highly secretive Swedish intelligence unit, with spying for Russian military intelligence for a decade, according to news reports. The charges resulted from a six-year investigation led by the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), which is the country’s counterintelligence agency. SAPO reportedly launched the probe in 2017, based on suspicions that it harbored a spy in its personnel ranks.

The two brothers have been named by Swedish media as Payam Kia, 35, and Peyman Kia, 42. They were reportedly born in Iran and became Swedish citizens in 1994. It is also reported that Payam Kia worked for SAPO and had access to classified information from a host of Swedish government agencies. SAPO accuses the two men of having worked “jointly” to pass information to the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known broadly as GRU.

According to Swedish authorities, the two men began spying for Russia in September of 2011 and continued until the fall of 2021. Peyman Kia allegedly acted as a courier, passing information and payments between his brother and his Russian handlers. Per Lindqvist, chief prosecutor for Sweden’s National Security Unit, told the Associated Press news agency that the Kia brothers case involved “extremely sensitive topics”, but did not elaborate. Some reports claim that Payam Kia had access to the files of Swedish spies operating abroad.

The younger of the two brothers was reportedly arrested in September of 2021. His older brother was arrested in November of the same year. They face up to life imprisonment. They both deny the charges against them.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 November 2022 | Permalink

Spy agencies must regulate ethics of manipulation in HUMINT, researcher argues

HUMINTIT IS DIFFICULT TO argue against the widely shared view that clandestine human intelligence (HUMINT) is replete with ethical dilemmas. These are inherent in the process of gathering intelligence via the use of human sources or covert agents. Yet it is possible —indeed desirable— for intelligence agencies to implement well-regulated ethical approaches to clandestine HUMINT, according to Dr. Stephan Lau, a junior professor of psychology and member of the Faculty of Intelligence at the Federal University of Administrative Sciences in Berlin, Germany.

In an article entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Tradecraft: HUMINT and the Ethics of Psychological Manipulation”, which was published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security, Lau argues that the concept of manipulation, which is often central in HUMINT, is nothing new. In fact, he explains, manipulation is a type of social influence that occurs naturally in human interactions, and may even have positive outcomes, depending on the case. Indeed, researchers have analyzed manipulation as a form of beneficial influence, which can help further commonly established social goals and norms. If anything, therefore, argumentative —also known as persuasive— forms of influence are normative aspects of interpersonal negotiation between humans.

COERCIVE INFLUENCE AND MANIPULATION

There is, however, a darker side, Lau explains, which relates to coercive influence —i.e. using threats or force to modify a person’s behavior. The subject becomes even more complicated when manipulation is instrumentalized as “a piece in the toolbox of HUMINT tradecraft”. The author goes on to suggest that manipulative influence in HUMINT can be distinguished between legitimate (harmless) and illegitimate (harmful). It follows that it is possible to attach a degree of ethical responsibility to the actions of case officers, or other covert operators, who engage in clandestine HUMINT activities as part of their work. Read more of this post

Norway arrests alleged Russian illegal who spent years building cover in Canada

José Giammaria Mikhail MikushinAN ALLEGED RUSSIAN DEEP-cover intelligence operative, who was arrested by Norwegian police last week, spent years building his fake cover in Canada, while studying there as a Brazilian citizen, according to reports. Norway’s Police Security Service (PST) announced last week that it had arrested José Assis Giammaria, a 37-year-old Brazilian citizen, on suspicion of entering Norway on false pretenses. According to the PST, Giammaria is in fact a Russian citizen, who has been operating in Norway as a non-official-cover (NOC) intelligence officer.

According to Norwegian authorities, Giammaria worked as a researcher at the Arctic University of Norway. Known as UiT, the university is located in the northern Norwegian city of Tromsø. It has a worldwide reputation for research, and approximately 10 percent of its 17,000 students are international. While there, Giammaria was a volunteer researcher for a UiT GreyZone, a scholarly project that studies contemporary hybrid threats and grey zone warfare. His area of specialization appears to have been Arctic security.

Last Friday, the office of the Norwegian state prosecutor said it believed the suspect’s actual name is Mikhail Mikushin, a Russian citizen born in 1978. In a press statement, a Norwegian government representative said authorities were “not positively sure of his identity”, but it was clear that he was not a Brazilian national. Later on Friday, the Oslo-based Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG), in association with the investigative website Bellingcat, reported that Mikushin is a military intelligence officer, who holds the rank of colonel in the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known as GRU. The newspaper claims that Mikushin left Russia in 2006 with a cover, a term that refers to a fake operational identity used for purposes of espionage. Read more of this post

A dramatic kidnap case in Malaysia may point to changes in Mossad’s tactics

Kuala Lumpur MalaysiaREPORTS FROM KUALA LUMPUR SUGGEST that Malaysian agents operating in the service of Israeli intelligence carried out the kidnapping of a Palestinian engineer, Omar al-Balbaisi, on September 28. According to the Malaysian newspaper The Straits Times, the kidnap operation was orchestrated by the Israeli external intelligence agency, the Mossad.

Omar al-Balbaisi completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the Islamic University in Gaza, where he allegedly joined the Izz-ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, specializing in hacking mobile phones. In or around 2020, al-Balbaisi left the Gaza Strip for Istanbul, where, according to reports, a Hamas secret intelligence and cyber unit was established in 2020. The unit allegedly operated on instructions from the Hamas leadership in Gaza, without the knowledge of the Turkish authorities.

When al-Balbaisi was kidnapped, he was reportedly returning from lunch with another Palestinian expatriate. According to the report, a white van drove toward the two men. Four people emerged from the van, grabbed al-Balbaisi and dragged him into the vehicle, while yelling at him: “our boss wants to talk to you”. The other Palestinian tried to help al-Balbaisi, but was warned to stay away from the scene. He subsequently filed a report at a police station, reportedly about 40 minutes after his friend was kidnapped.

According to the reports, the kidnapped Palestinian was taken bound and blindfolded to a safe house, where his Malaysian captors tied him to a chair. They then called two men, allegedly Israelis, who told the abductee: “you know why you are here”. According to another report, al-Balbaisi was interrogated, allegedly by two Israelis, believed to be Mossad agents, via a video call. However, the video call was disconnected when Malaysian police officers broke into the safe house.

Upon receiving the information about the kidnapping, Malaysian police immediately sought to locate al-Balbaisi. They subsequently managed to raid the house where the Palestinian was being held, while his interrogation was underway. A source told the Malaysian newspaper that “the Israelis wanted to know about [al-Balbaisi’s] experience in the field of software, about the strengths of Hamas in this field, and the members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades that he knew”. Read more of this post

More on Russian alleged spies expelled from the Netherlands and Belgium

Kremlin KootAs intelNews reported earlier this week, a joint investigative effort by Dutch and Belgian media exposed details about a group of alleged Russian intelligence officers, who were expelled by Belgium and The Netherlands in March 2022. Dutch state broadcaster NOS and its flagship current affairs program, Nieuwsuur, aired the names, photos and backgrounds of 17 Russian intelligence officers, who were expelled from the Netherlands in March of this year. According to the Dutch government, the expelled diplomats were involved in counterintelligence and in espionage targeting the country’s high-tech sector.

According to the reports, at least 20 Russian official-cover officers were active in the Netherlands in early 2022. The reporters said they spoke with intelligence sources and the Dossier Center. That organization is financed by banned Russian oligarch and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and claims to have access to leaked databases that contain information about the education and background of Russian intelligence officers.

Eight of the expelled officers work for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), while the other nine work for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU). Some of them presented themselves as trade representatives in Amsterdam, as military attachés, or as diplomats at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Read more of this post

Journalists reveal names of Russian diplomats expelled by Netherlands for espionage

SVR hq

AN INVESTIGATION BY A consortium of journalists from the Netherlands and Belgium has revealed the identities of 17 Russian diplomats, who were expelled in April by Dutch authorities for allegedly engaging in espionage. The expelled diplomats were among hundreds of members of the Russian diplomatic corps, who were expelled from all over Europe in March and April of this year, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As intelNews reported on April 4, the diplomats who were expelled from the Netherlands were serving at the Russian embassy in The Hague. Some of them also represented Russia at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquarters in The Hague. Russia responded on April 19, by announcing the expulsion of 15 Dutch diplomats from the embassy of the Netherlands in Moscow. As is customary in such cases, neither the Netherlands nor Russia revealed the names of the expelled diplomats.

Now, however, the identities of the expelled Russian diplomats have been revealed, thanks to an investigation by of a group of Dutch and Belgian journalists. The investigation was conducted under the auspices of the Dossier Center, a London-based Russian-language organization that specializes in investigative reporting. The conclusions of the invesgitation were first reported by Belgian newspaper De Tijd and by Netherlands public television, NOS.

According to the investigation, eight of the 17 expelled Russian diplomats were employees of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR. The remaining nine were employed by the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly known as GRU. At least six of the expelled diplomats worked as encryption specialists. They handled the communications systems that the Russian intelligence personnel who were stationed in the Netherlands used in order to exchange secret information with Moscow. A smaller number worked in counterintelligence, and were tasked with preventing efforts by adversary intelligence services to recruit Russian diplomatic personnel stationed in the Netherlands.

The report by the Dossier Center includes information about the identities of the Russian diplomats, as well as photographs and detailed biographical data about their background. According to the authors of the report, all information included in the report was collected from open sources, including from social media accounts that were maintained by the expelled Russian diplomats.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2022 | Permalink

Germany ‘erroneously’ granted entry visa to known Russian intelligence officer

BfV GermanyLAST SUMMER, GERMAN EMBASSY staff in Russia issued an entry visa to a Russian national, despite warnings by at least two European security agencies that he was a known intelligence officer, according to a report. The incident has fueled persistent allegations that Berlin’s counterintelligence posture against Russia is ineffective.

According to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, it was in July of this year when the German Embassy in Moscow received an application for an entry visa to Germany by a Russian national. The application included an official invitation issued to the visa applicant by the Russian Consulate General in the eastern German city of Leipzig. However, the application prompted a strong counterintelligence warning by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic security agency. According to Spiegel, at least one more European intelligence agency warned against allowing the Russian national to travel to Western Europe. The reason for the warnings was that the visa applicant was known to operate internationally under diplomatic cover, on behalf of a Russian intelligence agency.

The counterintelligence warnings were examined and caused the visa application to be rejected. However, a month later the applicant submitted a second application for an entry visa to Germany. Remarkably, the German embassy approved the second application, after “no longer recogni[zing] any suspicion of espionage” in association with this case. One possible reason, according to Spiegel, was that Russian officials had applied pressure on the German government, asking for a review of the application. When the issue was raised in Berlin, an internal review was launched. It reportedly found that the espionage warnings had been “overlooked due to an [administrative] error”. The visa was thus promptly canceled. Der Spiegel claims it is “possible that the accidental visa issue was related to [Berlin] wanting to show good will to the Russian side”.

What does that mean? Back in April, Germany expelled 40 suspected Russian intelligence officers, in response to Russian war crimes in Ukraine. As expected, Russia promptly expelled an equal number of German diplomats in a tit-for-tat move. The Russian Foreign Ministry made sure to point out that it would respond in a similar fashion, should Berlin choose to expel more Russian diplomats in the future. Such an eventuality, according to Spiegel, would run the risk of decimating Germany’s diplomatic presence in Russia, given that its size is considerably smaller than that of Russia’s in Germany. Germany, in other words, is not prepared to risk a complete breakdown in its diplomatic relations with Russia.

Some claim, however, that the current arrangement between the two countries is being exploited by the Kremlin. Der Spiegel notes that, according to intelligence experts, no European country hosts more Russian intelligence officers under diplomatic cover than Germany. It is estimated that at least 100 bogus diplomats are currently stationed in Russia’s diplomatic facilities throughout Germany.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2022 | Permalink

Reuters investigation focuses on alleged loss of CIA spy networks in Iran

US embassy IranA YEAR-LONG INVESTIGATION by the Reuters news agency attempts to shed light on the alleged arrests of more than a dozen Iranian spies, who claim to have worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Periodically Iran claims to have captured members of alleged CIA spy rings operating across its territory. For instance, in 2019 Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence announced the arrest of a “CIA network” consisting of 17 individuals who worked in the private sector and a number of government agencies.

The news agency said two of its reporters, Joel Schectman and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, spent dozens of hours interviewing six Iranian former CIA assets, as well as 10 former employees of the United States Intelligence Community, who have “knowledge of Iran operations”. All six of the Iranians interviewed spent between five and 10 years in prison for their CIA connections. Two of them left Iran after serving their prison sentences, and are now refugees in central and northern Europe. At least one of them claims he was never contacted by the CIA after his release in 2019.

According to the Reuters investigation, CIA assets in Iran operate in a high risk environment, given that the United States has not had diplomatic facilities in the Middle Eastern country since 1979. Diplomatic facilities are regularly used to shelter CIA personnel, who recruit, train and handle foreign assets. Despite the absence of such facilities, the CIA is willing to take great risks in running agents inside Iran, because of the country’s geopolitical significance. The agency’s intensity in operating in Iran is matched by the Islamic Republic’s aggressive counterintelligence posture, which, according to the Reuters investigation, has “netted dozens of CIA informants” in recent years.

It is claimed that Iran’s counterintelligence efforts were inadvertently aided by a mass-produced CIA covert communications system, which the spy agency operated until 2013 in at least 20 countries around the world, including Iran. The Internet-based system was intended for use by CIA sources who were not fully vetted, but were still considered useful due to their access to secret information, according to Reuters. This appears to be a major update on a story that was first reported by Yahoo News in 2018. It claimed that that the CIA had suffered a “catastrophic” compromise of the system it used to communicate with spies, which caused the death of “dozens of people around the world” according to sources.

Reuters said it contacted CIA spokeswoman Tammy Kupperman Thorp, who declined to comment on specific allegations. The CIA spokeswoman dismissed the “notion that CIA would not work as hard as possible to safeguard” its assets around the world as “false”. The news agency said it also contacted Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Mission to the United Nations in New York, but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 October 2022 | Permalink

Research sheds light on Japan’s wartime espionage network inside the United States

Imperial Japanese NavyMUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the wartime intelligence exploits of the Allies against Japan. Such exploits range from the United States’ success in breaking the Japanese JN-25 naval code, to the extensive operations of the Soviet Union’s military intelligence networks in Tokyo. In contrast, very little is known about Japan’s intelligence performance against the Allies in the interwar years, as well as after 1941. Now a new paper by an international team or researchers sheds light on this little-studied aspect of intelligence history.

The researchers, Ron Drabkin, visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame, K. Kusunoki, of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force, and Bradley W. Hart, associate professor at California State University, Fresno, published their work on September 22 in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security. Their well-written article is entitled “Agents, Attachés, and Intelligence Failures: The Imperial Japanese Navy’s Efforts to Establish Espionage Networks in the United States Before Pearl Harbor”.

The authors acknowledge that the history of the intelligence efforts of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) has received very little attention by scholars. Consequently, it remains unexplored even in Japan, let alone in the international scholarship on intelligence. There are two main reasons for that. To begin with, the IJN systematically destroyed its intelligence files in the months leading to Japan’s official surrender in 1945. Then, following the war, fearing being implicated in war crimes trials, few of its undercover operatives voluntarily revealed their prior involvement in intelligence work.

Luckily, however, the past decade has seen the declassification of a number of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence files relating to Japanese intelligence operations targeting the United States. Most of these files date from the 1930s and early 1940s. Additionally, a number of related documents have been declassified by the government of Mexico, which is important, given that Mexico was a major base for Japanese intelligence operations targeting the United States. Read more of this post

Tip by Belgian spy agency helped US foil Islamic State plot to kill George Bush

George W. BushA TIP BY BELGIAN intelligence helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation foil a plot by Iraqi nationals to kill former United States President George W. Bush. American news outlets reported in May of this year that the FBI had prevented a scheme by an Iraqi national to smuggle Islamic State operatives into the United States, with the aim of killing the former president. Soon afterwards, the Department of Justice announced that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force had arrested Ahmed Shihab, an Iraqi national, who was the alleged mastermind of the operation.

Shihab, 52, had applied for political asylum in the United States. However, he had reportedly joined the Islamic State in secret, and had devised a scheme to kill Bush during a speech that the former president had been scheduled to deliver in Dallas, Texas. For several weeks, Shihab had allegedly surveilled Bush’s Texas homes in Dallas and Crawford, capturing footage in cellphones and video cameras. Shihab had the support of thee other alleged Islamic State supporters, who had traveled to the United States from Iraq through Denmark, Egypt and Turkey.

In a report that aired late last week, Belgium’s Flemish-language state broadcaster VRT, said that the plan to kill Bush had been foiled thanks to a tip shared with the United States by Belgian intelligence. Specifically, the information was reportedly shared by the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency. According to the VRT, the VSSE gave actionable intelligence about Shihab to the United States Secret Service, which then worked with the FBI to foil the alleged plot. The VRT report suggests that the VSSE was able to collect the intelligence through its systematic monitoring of Belgian Islamists, who fought in the Middle East between 2014 and 2016, before eventually making their way back to Belgium.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2022 | Permalink

Austrian pro-Kremlin officials planned to launch shadow spy agency, report claims

Austria Foreign Affairs MinistryTHE AUSTRIAN STATE HAS launched a probe into an attempt by alleged pro-Russian government officials in Vienna to create a brand new intelligence service in 2018, according to news reports. The effort did not succeed. Some claim, however, that, had it become operational, the new spy service in this European Union state would have been under Russian influence. There are also questions about whether Austria’s foreign minister at the time, Karin Kneissl, was aware of this effort, which appears to have emerged from within her ministry.

The alleged effort to create a new intelligence agency in Austria occurred during the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a conservative politician belonging to the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Having failed to secure a majority in parliament in the 2017 national election, Kurz’s ÖVP formed a government through an uneasy coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a rightwing populist alliance of euro-skeptics, anti-immigration campaigners and strong critics of Islam. In joining Kurz’s governing coalition, the FPÖ was successful in installing Kneissl as Austria’s Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.

Although previously a supporter of the ÖVP, Kneissl had worked closely with the FPÖ —though never officially joined it— in the run-up to the 2017 national election. Prior to that, she had spent nearly a decade with Austria’s Foreign Office, where she had been able to utilize her near-fluent command of English, French, Spanish, and Arabic (she had spent much of her childhood in Jordan, where her father worked as a pilot). Even prior to heading the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Kneissl —and the FPÖ as a whole— was seen by her critics as being too close to the Kremlin. At her wedding in 2018, the list of guests included Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kneissl stepped down from her ministerial post in the summer of 2019. She has since blogged for the Kremlin-funded Russia Today television channel, while also serving —until earlier this year— on the board of the Moscow-headquartered energy company Rosneft. Read more of this post

The military ‘kill-chain’ concept as a meta-strategy for countering disinformation

US Army Intelligence and Security CommandTHE UNPRECEDENTED GROWTH OF digital access in our time has revolutionized online user access to information. Yet, the same phenomenon is behind the growing power of individuals, groups and state actors to create and disseminate misinformation and disinformation with unprecedented intensity. In the case of misinformation, false, mistaken or otherwise misleading information is disseminated by unsuspecting users. When these actors are acting deliberately with the intention to mislead, deceive or confuse, their actions amount to disinformation.

Both phenomena are dangerous, especially when utilized by well-organized malicious actors with political motives, as part of broader influence operations aimed to shape public narratives and mass perceptions. Moreover, as the methodologies and techniques of misinformation and disinformation continue to mature, increasingly sophisticated actors engage in such practices in pursuit of broader goals. The latter can be associated with rapidly evolving forms of hybrid warfare. This worrying phenomenon can be said to pose direct challenges to our understanding of national and international security. Disinformation in particular has been termed by a number of observers as the existential threat of our time.

What is to be done? In an article entitled “Information Warfare: Methods to Counter Disinformation”, published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Defense & Security Analysis, two experts suggest that a military approach to the challenge may be beneficial. The authors, Dr. Andrew Dowse, of Edith Cowan University, and Dr. Sascha Dov Bachmann, of the University of Canberra, argue that the military concept of “kill chains” could form the basis of an effective strategy to counter disinformation. The military approach, they point out, takes us away from other approaches to the problem, such as the planning approach, the truth theory approach, and the systems approach. Read more of this post

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