EU Council president grilled in closed-door probe of Polish-Russian spy deal

Donald TuskSenior European Union official Donald Tusk was grilled for several hours on Wednesday, in the context of a Polish government probe into an intelligence agreement between Warsaw and Moscow. But Tusk, who is the current president of the European Council, and served as Poland’s prime minister from 2007 to 2014, dismissed the probe as politicized and said it was deliberately designed to harm his political career. The investigation was launched by the government of Poland earlier this year. Its stated goal is to investigate an agreement that was struck in late 2013 between Poland’s Military Counterintelligence Service (MCS) and the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. The agreement allegedly took place in secret, but was never implemented. The government of Poland canceled it in 2014, after accusing Moscow of illegally annexing the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

On Wednesday, Tusk spent nearly three hours at the office of the prosecutor in Warsaw, in a question-and-answer session that was held entirely behind closed doors. As he was leaving the building, the former Polish prime minister said he could not comment on the content of his testimony. But he used strong words to dismiss the entire investigation as “extremely political”, while accusing those behind it as holding a vendetta against him. Tusk and his supporters believe that the probe was primarily initiated by Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the conservative Law and Justice party. They also claim that Kaczyński, who is Tusk’s political arch-foe in Poland, is spearheading a campaign of personal vindictiveness against him.

The rivalry between the two men began in 2010, when an airplane carrying a Polish government delegation to a World War II commemoration event in Russia crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk, killing everyone onboard. Among the dead was Polish President Lech Kaczyński, Jarosław Kaczyński’s brother. Since the air disaster, the leader of the Law and Justice party has maintained that the Russian government deliberately brought down the plane. He also accuses Tusk, who was Poland’s prime minister at the time, of colluding with Moscow to eliminate his brother. These allegations remain unsubstantiated, but they have contributed to the emergence of a venomous political climate in Poland that has dominated national politics for years.

On Wednesday, during Tusk’s three-hour testimony, several thousands of his supporters demonstrated outside the office of the prosecutor, urging Tusk to run for president in a few years. It is a common expectation in Poland that Tusk will soon turn his attention to domestic Polish politics and run for the highest office in the land in 2020.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 April 2017 | Permalink

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Nigerian spy chief suspended after $43 million cash stash found in apartment

EFCC NigeriaThe director of Nigeria’s powerful intelligence agency has been suspended on orders of the president, after a massive stash of cash totaling $43 million was found in an apartment in Lagos. The money was discovered by investigators working for the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Based in Abuja, the EFCC is a high-profile body that was created in 2003, in response to accusations by the international community that Nigeria is used as a major base for global money-laundering schemes.

According to media reports, the money was found in a vacant apartment located in Ikoyi, arguably the most affluent neighborhood of the Nigerian capital and one of the wealthiest urban areas in Africa. The cash had been wrapped in transparent plastic sheets and hidden inside several metallic filing cabinets, as well as concealed behind a fake partition in a wooden wardrobe. According to a statement issued by the Nigerian government, the apartment was searched following tip-offs by local residents. The latter allegedly reported that a mysterious woman was seen entering or leaving the apartment with suspicious-looking bags at all hours of the day or night. Some residents told EFCC investigators that the woman may have been a man in disguise.

Government officials in Lagos said on Wednesday that the apartment belongs to the National Intelligence Agency, Nigeria’s primary intelligence organization. An investigation has therefore been launched into how the cash was accumulated in the apartment, and whether it had been authorized by intelligence officials or other government executives. In the meantime, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the immediate suspension of Ambassador Ayo Oke, who has been serving as director of the National Intelligence Agency. The ambassador is believed to be under house arrest and is not permitted to resume his professional duties until after the investigation has been completed. President Buhari has asked to be given the results of the investigation in two weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 April 2017 | Permalink

British tip helped French police foil ‘imminent’ terrorist attack

DGSEA tip from British intelligence helped French counterterrorist officials arrest two men who are thought to have been in the final stages of planning a large-scale terrorist attack, according to French media. Government sources in Paris say officers from the country’s domestic intelligence agency, DGSE, arrested two men on Monday. Both men are reportedly French citizens from France’s northern regions. They were residing in the southern port city of Marseilles, where they were arrested by the DGSE. They were later named as Merabet Mahiedine, 29, and Clement Baur, 23. It is alleged that Mahiedine has North African roots, but that Baur is a Caucasian convert to Islam. Both were allegedly known to French police for having repeatedly stated views in support of radical Islamist policies.

According to France’s Minister of the Interior, Matthias Fekl, the two men were planning to carry out a large-scale armed attack in Marseilles this week, which is the last before the long-awaited presidential election in the country. Some sources in the French intelligence community claim that the two men planned to kill one of the major candidates in the election. A number of reports suggest that their target was François Fillon, a conservative presidential candidate who served as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2012 under President Nicolas Sarkozy. It is not known why Fillon may have been targeted, though some observers speculate that radical Islamists seek to promote the aspirations of Fillon’s main rival, the far-right candidate Marine LePen, whom they see as someone whose policies would further-radicalize Muslims in France and North Africa.

Reports in the French media state that DGSE officers confiscated several guns and significant quantities of bomb-making material that were found in an apartment belonging to one of the two men. Meanwhile, an aide to Mr. Fillon told the Paris-based newspaper Le Figaro that the primary tip that led to the arrest of the two men in Marseilles came from British intelligence. The subsequent capture of the two men prevented an attack that would have almost certainly taken place “in the next couple of days”, according to sources in Paris.

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

Crisis looms over Pakistan’s impending execution of alleged Indian spy

Kulbhushan JadhavAnalysts warn that South Asia may witness its worst crisis since the 2008 Mumbai attacks if Pakistan carries out its threat to execute an Indian former naval officer whom it accuses of espionage. Authorities in Islamabad say Kulbhushan Jadhav (pictured) worked for the Indian Navy until 2003, when he was recruited by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), a government intelligence agency that conducts operations abroad. The Pakistanis claim that Jadhav was arrested in southwest Pakistan in 2016, where he was engaged in funding and training secessionist militants from Pakistan’s Baluch minority. The Baluch are an Iranic people, most of whom live in a region known as Baluchistan, which is split between Iran and Pakistan. There are populous Baluch communities in the southern city of Karachi, one of Pakistan’s most populous ports. Some members of the Baluch community have secessionist aspirations and are accused of terrorism by Iranian and Pakistani authorities.

Soon after Jadhav’s arrest in March 2016, the Pakistani military released excerpts of an alleged videotaped confession by the Indian former naval officer. In it, Jadhav can be seen confessing to having worked on instructions by the Indian government to inflame ethnic divisions in Pakistan, from 2013 until his arrest. Last month, a secret military court in Pakistan sentenced Jadhav to death on charges of espionage. India, however, has rejected Pakistan’s allegations, saying that Jadhav’s confession was extracted through torture. The Indians claim that Jadhav was kidnapped by Pakistani operatives in Iran and brought to Pakistan by force. Indian officials dismissed Islamabad’s claim Jadhav was carrying his Indian passport when the Pakistanis captured him, saying that no undercover intelligence officer operating abroad would be carrying an Indian passport. New Delhi has warned of “serious consequences” if Pakistan engages in “premediated murder” by executing Jadhav.

Some observers have noted that Jadhav was tried by a secret court martial, which signifies a radical break from standard practice. Moreover, the public announcements about his fate were made by the Pakistani military, rather than the civilian government, which is unprecedented. This leads some analysts to the conclusion that the Jadhav case is being handled solely by the military, which is trying to use Jadhav’s case to dissuade the government in Islamabad from reaching out to India with an offer for negotiations. There are also suggestions that the timing of Jadhav’s sentence might indicate that Islamabad hopes to exchange him for one or more of its intelligence officers that are being held by India.

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

Pristine Cold War-era wiretapping rooms uncovered in Slovenian hotel

Hotel JamaFour hidden communications-surveillance compartments which are believed to date back to the Cold War, have been found in one of the most prestigious hotels of the former Yugoslavia. The discovery was made during an extensive renovation project that was recently completed in the Hotel Jama. The hotel is located in the southeastern Slovenian city of Postojnska, near the Italian border. For over a century, Postojnska has been famous for its network of limestone caves, which are among the largest in the world. Eager to cater to Italian, Austrian and other Western tourists, the government of Yugoslavia began construction on Hotel Jama in 1969. The hotel opened its doors in 1971, amidst much publicity and fanfare. It eventually became known as one of the most luxurious hotels in the communist world.

As the hotel’s reputation soared, the government of Yugoslavia began hosting foreign dignitaries there. Though socialist, the government of Yugoslavia never became an integral member of the communist bloc, preferring a policy of nonalignment. Because of that, it was courted by both East and West, with many Western leaders and other officials visiting the country regularly. On many occasions, they would use Hotel Jama as a retreat. Numerous world leaders stayed there with their entourage, escorted by Yugoslavia’s longtime communist leader Josip Broz, known commonly as Tito.

Today the hotel is situated on the territory of Slovenia, a small mountainous state of two million people, which declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The regional instability caused by the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s nearly demolished Slovenia’s tourism industry, and Hotel Jama was forced to declare bankruptcy. In 2010, under new ownership, the hotel underwent major renovations. These were completed in 2016, when the hotel opened its doors to the public once again. It was during these renovations that construction crews discovered the surveillance rooms. The four compartmented rooms were found behind a large door made of steel at the back of the hotel, and are adjacent to a network of limestone caves, for which the area is famous.

News reports said the four rooms feature 1970s-era wiretapping equipment, most of which appears to be in pristine condition. There is a thick layer of dust over all the surfaces, which indicates that the rooms have not been used in several decades. The construction crews also found sets of cables that run from the surveillance compartments to several guest rooms in the hotel’s original wing that dates to the early 1970s.

Experts suggest that the rooms were built in the early stages of the hotel’s construction in the late 1960s. The equipment was probably operated by the State Security Service (SDB), Yugoslavia’s internal security police. It is believed that the surveillance facilities were used to facilitate the systematic wiretapping of foreign dignitaries and delegations that frequented the hotel during the Cold War. Hotel Jama’s administration said on Wednesday that there are plans to turn the surveillance rooms into part of an exhibit on the Cold War history of the establishment.

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

What the Seychelles Trump-Russia story reveals about Emirati intelligence

Emirati intelligence has to be seen in two disparate tiers: actual home-grown intelligence efforts, which usually revolve within the small policing and military forces of the United Arab Emirates (UAE); and more elaborate, highly secretive, outsourced activities that use the UAE as a facilitating conduit or go-between with a clear advantage to Emirati interests.

The first tier is relatively modest and somewhat easy to describe: each emirate within the country has its own police force that takes responsibility to gather and act upon any intelligence, usually encompassing security, crime, and drug-trafficking. Additionally, the police forces of the two main cosmopolitan areas, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, each have their own departments to investigate, arrest, and prosecute transgressors. The capitol police in Abu Dhabi prides itself on ultra-modern intelligence capabilities, and cooperates with international organizations, other countries, and policing agencies. In addition, the UAE leadership has taken initiatives recently to create a domestic level of intelligence scholarship and professionalization, namely in the form of the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi. But those long-term aims are still just that: long-term and far from being fully developed and realized.

That leaves the aforementioned Tier Two, which involves plots worthy of Hollywood. The first aspect of Tier Two Emirati intelligence involves the outsourcing of performance to private companies. This is best exemplified by the agreement announced at the end of February with the Harris Corporation, following a $189 million two-year contract that was granted to provide a battle management system to the UAE Armed Forces. The BMS system de facto means Harris will be responsible in the UAE for initial operational capabilities, as the country tries to develop advanced contemporary battlefield management solutions. These types of agreements are very much a foundation for the actual realization and enactment of Emirati intelligence capabilities, in that they rely on the expertise and technological materiel of professional corporations (almost never Emirati themselves). It is indeed a basic ‘dollar for defense’ purchasing scheme. This strategy provides the nuts and bolts of Tier One Emirati intelligence, while simultaneously creating an intelligence dependency that works at cross-purposes with the institutional mission of the aforementioned National Defense College.

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Mystery compound in Nicaragua shows Russia’s resurgence in Americas, say experts

GLONASS ManaguaA Russian facility built on a hillside facing the United States embassy in the Nicaraguan capital Managua is seen by some experts as symptomatic of Russia’s renewed presence in the Americas. The official Russian explanation for the heavily protected facility, which is surrounded by high walls, is that it is meant to operate as a tracking station for GLONASS, Russia’s version of the global positioning system (GPS). The Russians do not use GPS, because it is owned by the US government and operated by the US Air Force. But some believe that only part of the compound is dedicated to GLONASS activities, and that a major portion is a Russian listening base that sweeps US communications from throughout the region.

Nicaragua has a long Cold War legacy that culminated in the 1980s. In 1979, a leftist insurgency toppled the country’s longtime dictator, Anastazio Somoza. The rebels, who called themselves the Sandinista National Liberation Front (known widely as the Sandinistas), alarmed the government of US President Ronald Reagan. Consequently, the White House authorized a series of covert operations against Nicaragua’s leftist government. They centered on the Contras, an anti-communist counter-insurgency that was largely funded by Washington throughout the so-called Contra war that dominated the country’s politics in the 1980s. But the war also affected politics in the US, and almost toppled the Reagan administration when the Iran-Contra affair (illegal arms sales to Iran by the US government, which then used the proceeds to secretly fund the Contras) was revealed in the media.

In an article published last week, The Washington Post reported that, under the Presidency of Vladimir Putin, Russia has reemerged as a force in Latin American politics. Moscow now regularly supplies weapons to several countries in the hemisphere, including Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Venezuela. It has also expanded its influence through the banking sector and via government loans in countries such as Brazil and Mexico. But Nicaragua, says The Post, has emerged as Russia’s closest ally in the region. For over a decade, the country’s political landscape has been dominated by the Sandinistas, who returned to power in 2006 and continue to govern the country today. The party was supported by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and thus retains strong historical links with Moscow. The Post reports that, according to some analysts, Russia seeks to cement its presence in America’s traditional backyard as a form of response to the eastward expansion of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

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