Dutch hacker says he logged into Trump’s Twitter account by guessing password

Twitter IA

A DUTCH ETHICAL COMPUTER hacker and cybersecurity expert claims to have logged into the personal Twitter account of United States President Donald Trump, reportedly after guessing his password. The hacker, Victor Gevers, took several screenshots of the private interface of Trump’s Twitter account, and shared them with Dutch news media, before contacting US authorities to notify them of the breach.

Trump attributes much of his popularity and electoral success to social media, and is especially fond of Twitter as a means of communication. He has tweeted nearly 20,000 times since 2015 (including re-tweets), with at least 6,000 of those tweets appearing in 2020 alone. His personal account, which uses the moniker @realDonaldTrump, has almost 90 million followers.

But Gevers, a self-described ethical computer hacker, cybersecurity researcher and activist, said he was able to guess the American president’s password and log into his Twitter account after four failed attempts. The hacker claims that Trump’s password was “maga2020!”. According to Gevers, Trump’s account did not require a two-factor authentication log-in process, which usually requires a password coupled with a numeric code that is sent to a user’s mobile telephone. As a result, Gevers said he was able to access Trump’s private messages on Twitter and —had he wanted to— post tweets in the name of the US president. He could also change Trump’s profile image, had he chosen to do so.

The Dutch hacker took several screenshots of the webpages he was able to access and emailed them to Volkskrant, a Dutch daily newspaper, and Vrij Nederland, an investigative monthly magazine. Shortly after accessing Trump’s account, Gevers said he contacted the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), which operates under the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. He said the US president’s password was changed “shortly after”, and that he was then contacted by the US Secret Service.

Also on Thursday, a Twitter spokesman said the company’s security team had seen “no evidence to corroborate” Gevers’ claim. He added that the San Francisco, California-based social media company had “proactively implemented account security measures for a designated group of high-profile, election-related Twitter accounts in the United States, including federal branches of government”. Such measures included “strongly” encouraging such accounts to enable two-factor authentication, said the spokesman. But he did not specify whether Trump’s account had activated this feature. The White House also denied Gevers’ claim, calling it “absolutely not true” and adding that it would “not comment on security procedures around the president’s social media accounts”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 October 2020 | Permalink

United States charges six Russian intelligence operatives with hacking

US Department of Justice

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Justice has unsealed charges against six members of Russia’s military intelligence agency for allegedly engaging in worldwide computer hacking against several countries. The charges, announced in Pittsburgh on Monday, represent in a rare move that targets specific intelligence operatives and identifies them by name and visually. According to the US government, the six Russian operatives were instrumental in some of the most destructive and costly cyber-attacks that have taken place worldwide in the past five years.

The indictment alleges that the six Russian intelligence operatives were members of a hacker group named “Sandworm Team” and “Voodoo Bear” by cybersecurity experts. In reality, however, they were —and probably still are— employees of Unit 74455 of the Russian Armed Forces’ Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU. Their cyber-attacks employed the full resources of the GRU, according to the indictment. They were thus “highly advanced”, and were carried out in direct support of “Russian economic and national objectives”. At times, the group allegedly tried to hide its tracks and connections to the Russian government, by making it seem like its cyber-attacks were carried out by Chinese- and North Korean-linked hackers. However, according to the US government, its operations and targets were carried out “for the strategic benefit of Russia”.

The hacker group has been active since the end of 2015, and is alleged to have continued its operations until at least October of 2019. Alleged attacks include a major assault on the power grid of Ukraine in December of 2015, which left hundreds of thousands without electricity and heat. Other alleged attacks targeted the government of Georgia and the French national elections of 2017. The charges include alleged attacks on Western chemical laboratories that examined the toxic substance used in 2018 against former GRU officer Sergei Skripal in England.

Finally, some of the group’s alleged efforts centered on sabotaging the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russian athletes were barred from the games, after the Russian government was accused of participating in wholesale doping of its Olympic team. Notably, none of the attacks connected with the group’s operations appeared to have directly targeted the United States —though some of the viruses that were allegedly unleashed by the group affected some American companies.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 October 2020 | Permalink

Taiwan should prepare for war with China, says US national security adviser

Robert O'Brien

THE TAIWANESE MILITARY AND society should be prepared to prevent and deter a possible military invasion by China, according to White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien. O’Brien, the fourth person to hold that position at the White House during the presidency of Donald Trump, said last week he did not believe that Beijing was planning an all-out military invasion of Taiwan. He added, however, that the island should be prepared to deter so-called “gray zone operations” by China, as well a direct “amphibious landing” by Chinese forces.

The Reuters news agency reported last week that many in Taiwan fear a possible Chinese invasion, should the upcoming presidential election in the United States lead to political confusion and disorder in Washington. Tensions between China and Taiwan have been growing in recent months. China sees Taiwan as a renegade province, a view that contrasts sharply with the majority view in Taiwan. The island sees itself as independent from China, though fewer than 20 countries around the world have officially recognized its independent status. Earlier this month, the Chinese government said it had launched an extensive counterintelligence operation aiming to uncover Taiwanese spies. Meanwhile, Chinese government-run media aired footage last week of a military exercise that appeared to simulate an amphibious invasion of Taiwan.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the Aspen Strategy Group on Friday, O’Brien opined that Taiwan should “start looking at some asymmetric and anti-access area denial strategies […] and really fortify itself”. He added that the goal of such a fortification would be to “deter the Chinese from any sort of amphibious invasion or even a gray zone operation” —that is, aggressive economic and political actions that fall short of a direct military invasion. O’Brien’s comments came less than a week after Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s economic and cultural representative in Washington (effectively Taiwan’s ambassador to the US) urged the Trump administration to provide the island with “some degree of clarity” on whether the US would come to its aid, should China invade.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2020 | Permalink

US military leaders say there are ‘no plans’ for domestic security role on election day

James McConvilleSenior United States military officials, including the chief of staff of the Army, have said no plans are currently in place for the country’s armed forces to have a domestic security role in next month’s elections. America is preparing for one of the most contentious and tense elections in its recent history, in which Republican President Donald Trump is facing a challenge by Democratic contender Joe Biden. Many observers have expressed concerns about the potential for violence, some of which could be perpetrated by armed assailants. In that case, it is argued, the president could deploy military personnel across the US.

These and other questions were put to senior military leaders during a congressional hearing held earlier this week by the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee. One of its Democratic members, Michigan Representative Elissa Slotkin, said she was concerned about the possibility of limited or widespread violence on November 3. Responding to Rep. Slotkin’s concerns, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recently wrote a letter, in which he stressed that “the US military has acted, and will continue to act, in accordance with the Constitution and the law”.

At the Congressional hearing this week, US Army Chief of Staff James McConville said the Army had received “no guidance to conduct any specific training” to prepare troops for domestic deployments, in case violence erupted in the streets of America. At the same hearing, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy pointed out that the Army had not received any requests from government agencies to “police American streets”. He added, however, that soldiers were ready to help “protect federal property”, if asked to do so.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 October 2020 | Permalink

MI5 undercover officer named as key witness in biggest IRA trial since 1980s

Provisional IRA

A man who spent years as an undercover officer for Britain’s Security Service (MI5) has been named as a key witness in a long-awaited trial, described by experts as the largest against violent Irish republicans in 25 years. The accused include leading figures in dissident Irish republicanism, who are members of a group calling itself the New Irish Republican Army (New IRA).

The case represents the culmination of Operation ARBACIA, which was launched nearly a decade ago against dissident Irish republicans by MI5 in collaboration with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The case centers on the evidence provided by Dennis McFadden, who has just been identified as a key witness for the prosecution. It has been reported that McFadden, born in Scotland, was a police officer before he joined MI5. He spent two decades as an MI5 officer, much of that undercover.

At first, McFadden joined Sinn Féin, which is widely considered to have operated as the political wing of the Provisional IRA (PIRA). From the late 1960s until 2005, the PIRA waged an armed campaign for the reunification of British-ruled Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Following the dissolution of the Provisional IRA, McFadden kept contact with dissident Irish republicans, a term used to identify those who disagreed with the Provisional IRA’s decision to end its armed campaign. McFadden joined the New IRA as soon as it was founded in 2012.

Gradually, McFadden rose through the ranks of the New IRA until he joined the group’s high command. This gave him access to the New IRA’s network of safe houses in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Many of these locations were eventually bugged by MI5, and the information acquired from these bugs is expected to be used as evidence in the trial of the New IRA’s leaders next year. Ten people —almost all in their 40s and early 50s— have been arrested as part of Operation ARBACIA. They include a 62-year-old Palestinian doctor who lives in the United Kingdom, who is accused of having participated in the preparation of terrorist acts. Some observers have also stated that the court will be hearing evidence connecting the New IRA with Arab militant groups in the Middle East.

The MI5 moved McFadden out of Northern Ireland last summer, just as the Real IRA suspects were arrested by authorities in a series of coordinated raids. He is believed to be living in a secret location under police protection. Meanwhile, the 10 suspects are being held in Maghaberry prison, a high-security complex in Lisburn, a city located a few miles southwest of Belfast.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2020 | Permalink

Chinese authorities announce counterespionage crackdown with 100s of arrests

China and Taiwan

Authorities in China said on Sunday that a nationwide counterespionage operation launched earlier this year has identified “hundreds of espionage cases”, most of them involving Taiwanese intelligence agencies. In a concerted fashion, Chinese state-run media published dozens of reports over the weekend, hailing the alleged success of the project.

According to the reports, China’s Ministry of State Security codenamed the operation THUNDER 2020. It follows on the heels of an earlier counterespionage crackdown, known as THUNDER 2018, or THUNDERBOLT 2018. Last year, Chinese authorities said that the year-long 2018 operation had uncovered over 100 espionage cases throughout mainland China

The information released on Sunday includes claims that espionage activities uncovered under the THUNDER 2020 crackdown centered on “attempts to disrupt cross-Straits exchanges” —meaning efforts by China to raise support among the Taiwanese for reunification with the mainland. Other alleged espionage activities focused on encouraging “Hong Kong separatism” and on “instigating diplomatic ties between […] China and other countries”. No specific information was provided to support these claims.

In what appears to be a controlled leak, several Chinese news media reported on the case of a Taiwanese businessman identified as Li Mengju, or Lee Meng-chu. He was allegedly arrested in August of 2019 by authorities in the in southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which is adjacent to Hong Kong. “Anonymous” sources in Shenzhen claim that Lee directs the “Taiwan Independence organization”, as well as another group calling itself “Taiwan United Nations Association” or “Association for the Advancement of Taiwan”. These appear to be groups that campaign against the possible reunification of Taiwan with China.

According to Chinese state-run sources, Lee was arrested “at a harbor in Shenzhen as he tried to flee after he was spotted conducting espionage activities”. He was allegedly found to be in possession of audiovisual material that had been “taken illegally” and included “secret-level military information”, such as “combat equipment, and quantity of troops”. No further information was provided by Chinese media.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2020 | Permalink

North Korea’s missing ambassador may be most senior defector since 1997

Jo Song-gil

North Korea’s ambassador to Italy, who disappeared without trace in 2018, is believed to have resettled in South Korea. If true, this would make him the most senior official to defect from North Korea in over 20 years. Jo Song-gil (pictured), 48, a career diplomat who is fluent in Italian, French and English, presented his diplomatic credentials to the Italian government in May of 2015. In October 2017 he became his country’s acting ambassador, after Italian authorities expelled Ambassador Mun Jong-nam from the country.

Jo comes from a high-ranking family of North Korean officials with a long history in the ruling Workers Party of Korea. His father is a retired diplomat and his wife’s father, Lee Do-seop, spent many years as Pyongyang’s envoy in Hong Kong and Thailand. It is believed that Jo had been permitted to take his wife and children with him to Rome, a privilege that is bestowed only to the most loyal of North Korean government official. But in November of 2018, Jo suddenly vanished along with his wife and children. The disappearance occurred a month before Jo was to be replaced as acting ambassador to Italy. At the time of Jo’s disappearance, South Korean media reported that the diplomat and his family “were in a safe place” under the protection of the Italian government, while they negotiated their defection. However, this was never confirmed.

On Tuesday of this week, a social media post by a South Korean parliamentarian claimed that Jo and his wife were living in South Korea under the protection of the government, but provided no evidence of this claim. Yesterday, this information appeared to be confirmed by another South Korean parliamentarian, Jeon Hae-cheol, who chairs the Intelligence Committee of the Korean National Assembly (South Korea’s parliament). Jeon said the North Korean diplomat had been living in South Korea since the summer of 2019. He added that Jo had arrived in South Korea after having “repeatedly expressed his wish to come to South Korea”.

This information has not been officially verified by the South Korean government. Additionally, the South Korean National Intelligence Service has not issued a statement on the matter. If this information is confirmed, it would make Jo the most senior North Korean official to have defected since 1997. That year saw the sensational defection of Hwang Jang-yop, Pyongyang’s primary theorist and the ideological architect of juche, the philosophy of self-reliance, which is North Korea’s officially sanctioned state dogma. Until his death from heart failure in April 2010, Hwang had been living in the South with around-the-clock security protection.

Some reports have suggested that Jo’s teenage daughter refused to follow her parents to South Korea and that she was “repatriated” to North Korea in February of 2019, at her own request. Her whereabouts remain unknown.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 October 2020 | Permalink

NSA director and nearly all US Joint Chiefs of Staff in isolation for COVID-19

Pentagon

Seven of the eight members of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff —the group that brings together the nation’s most senior uniformed leaders— are in self-imposed isolation, after attending a meeting with a Coast Guard admiral who has since tested positive for COVID-19. As the list of senior American government officials that are in self-imposed isolation continues to grow, it was reported yesterday that the director of the National Security Agency, US Army General Paul Nakasone, was also self-isolating until further notice.

The decision to enter a period of self-isolation was taken yesterday, after it became known that Admiral Charles Ray, Vice Commandant of the US Coast Guard, had tested positive for COVID-19. Last Friday Admiral Ray attended a classified meeting at the Pentagon, which took place in the presence of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of the NSA. Now all of these officials and their aides are in self-isolation. They include three Army generals (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, General James McConville and General Daniel Hokanson), three Air Force generals (General Charles Brown, General John Hyten and General John Raymond of the US Space Command), and Admiral Mike Gilday.

The only member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is not currently in isolation is Marine Corps General David Berger, who was unable to attend Friday’s meeting because he was not in Washington. However, another member of US Armed Forces, an officer who at times carries the US president’s Emergency Satchel to be used in a nuclear emergency, has reportedly also come down with COVID-19.

On Tuesday afternoon, Department of Defense spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that “other Service Chiefs” were isolation, but did not provide their names. He added that none of those who are in isolation showed symptoms of infection by the coronavirus. However, they will be remaining in isolation “for the rest of the week and the first part of next week”, he added. Pentagon officials insisted on Tuesday that, despite the virus scare at the highest echelons of the US military establishment, there was “no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the US Armed Forces”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 October 2020 | Permalink

Foreign spies target Walter Reed hospital for Trump’s health data, say experts

Donald Trump

Intelligence agencies from all over the world are almost certainly targeting the medical facilities and personnel involved in providing healthcare to United States President Donald Trump, according to intelligence insiders. The purpose of these efforts, which are considered “routine tasking” in intelligence circles, is to determine the status of America’s continuity of government plans and to acquire advanced warning of the plans and intentions of the White House, according to sources.

At least two reports emerged in the past few days about the strong probability that foreign intelligence operatives are currently seeking to collect sensitive biomedical information about Trump, who is battling a coronavirus infection. SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein wrote on Sunday that foreign spies are likely involved in efforts to place sources in places where discussions about the health of the American president are occurring. The targets of these efforts are not necessarily White House or other Trump administration officials. On the contrary, according to Politico’s Lara Seligman and Natasha Bertrand, these operations can target hospital staff, including doctors and administrators, as well as cleaners who have access to the US president’s bodily fluids and waste.

Some observers have criticized conflicting information given to the media about the US president’s health, as illustrated by White House physician Sean Conley’s comical efforts to evade the topic last week, after he was asked repeatedly by reporters if Mr. Trump had been on supplemental oxygen. Foreign spies are likely to have accessed detailed information about the US president’s health, and may have better information on the subject than the American public, said Politico.

Another intelligence tasking that foreign spies may be involved in is exploiting Mr. Trump’s time of physical weakness for propaganda purposes. The aim of such efforts would be “to paint America as unable to handle the pandemic”, thus creating “a crisis of confidence in the chain of command” and casting doubt on the ability of America to protect its senior leadership from the pandemic, according to intelligence insiders.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 October 2020 | Permalink

FBI reorganizes cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage divisions as cases rise

FBI

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is reorganizing its cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage divisions in order to combat growing activity in those areas, while also increasing its cross-agency contacts. The goal is to reinforce investigations into computer hacking perpetrated by organized cyber-criminals, as well as by foreign states aiming to steal government and corporate secrets.

According to the Reuters news agency, the FBI made the decision to reorganize its cyber divisions after Internet-based crime and espionage cases rose to unprecedented levels in the past year, a trend that is partly driven by the COVID-19 epidemic. Aside from the damage caused to national security, the financial loss associated with computer hacking is said to be incalculable.

In an interview with Reuters, Matt Gorham, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division (established in 2002), said the reorganization includes both the Bureau’s cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage wings. It also includes increased FBI emphasis on the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF), an amalgamation of cyber-security specialists from dozens of US federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Under the new system, the NCIJTF will serve as the coordinating body of the US government’s cyber-security efforts. Additionally, said Gorham, the FBI is creating “mission centers” located within various cyber units, and connect their work with the NCIJTF. These mission centers will include concentrations on specific cyber-espionage actors, such as Iran, North Korea, China or Russia. Lastly, the restructured NCIJTF will increase its contacts with domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, as well as with telecommunications service providers, which are engaged on the front lines of the fight against cyber-crime and cyber-espionage.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2020 | Permalink

Russian dissident sues US government to force release of records on alleged poisoning

Vladimir Kara-MurzaA United States-based Russian opposition activist, who claims he was poisoned twice by the Kremlin, is suing the United States government to force the release of records about his case, but is being met with resistance. The plaintiff is Vladimir Kara-Murza, 38, a senior figure in the Open Russia Foundation, a political pressure group founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, an ultra-wealthy Russian businessman living in self-exile in Switzerland, is one of Vladimir Putin’s arch-enemies.

Kara-Murza rose to prominence in 2013, when he became a member of a network of Putin critics who helped organize opposition protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He also co-authored a number of reports accusing the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin of corruption. For several years now, Kara-Murza, his wife and three children have been living in the United States. But he frequently travels back to Russia to meet with opposition activists and other organizers. During one of those visits in 2015, he was hospitalized with acute respiratory symptoms and was diagnosed with “kidney failure in connection with poisoning”. He claimed that his hospitalization resulted from an assassination attempt against him by people in power who wanted to silence him. He was also hospitalized in 2017 in Moscow with similar symptoms.

Earlier this year Kara-Murza filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, seeking access to all documents held by the Federal Bureau of Investigation relating to his alleged poisonings. After six months, the Russian dissident sued the Department of Justice, arguing that the Department was in violation of law by withholding documents about his case. On August 10, the court handling Kara-Murza’s case received a notice from the Department of Justice, stating that 400 pages would be released within a month, and another 1,100 pages would be released by October 15.

The 400 pages released earlier this month show that the FBI monitored Kara-Murza’s case closely, and that it sought the assistance of toxicologists and other experts to determine whether the Russian dissident had been the target of assassination attempts. The documents also show that FBI Director Christopher Wray was personally involved in the investigation and that, according to the Voice of America, the Bureau’s findings “reached the top levels of the White House”.

However, the Department of Justice recently communicated with the court handling Kara-Murza’s lawsuit, to announce that it would be unable to release the remaining 1,100 pages by October 15. Instead, it said it would do so by November 15 instead. Kara-Murza’s lawyer, Stephen Rademaker, said his client will challenge the Department of Justice’s request. The Department of Justice, the White House and the FBI have not issued any statements about Kara-Murza’s case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 October 2020 | Permalink

US intelligence reports warn of political violence during presidential election

Jared MaplesIntelligence reports by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other American security agencies warn that domestic extremists are preparing to wage violence in November, with one official calling the situation a “witch’s brew” that could spell unprecedented chaos throughout the country.

Security agencies have issued numerous reports warning of possible election violence in recent months, with the majority of these warnings coming from the FBI and the DHS. Earlier this month, Yahoo News reported sobering passages from a security alert issued jointly by the two agencies, which saw an increasing likelihood of election-related violence by domestic extremists. According to Yahoo News, the warning focused on domestic violent extremists “across the ideological spectrum”, who were likely to “continue to plot against government and election-related targets to express their diverse grievances involving government policies and actions”.

Last month a similar report from the DHS said law enforcement personnel should anticipate rapid mobilization by ideologically driven violent extremists, who are preparing to wage violence in the run-up to the November election, as well after. Until recently, the FBI and DHS reports had been circulated internally and were made available mostly to government personnel. Last week, however, New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJ OHSP) took the rare step of issuing public warnings relating to possible election violence.

In a statement, the NJ OHSP said that Americans should remain vigilant as the November elections approach. The statement includes comments by OHSP director Jared Maples (pictured), who warns that the country is facing “a witch’s brew that really hasn’t happened in America’s history. And if it has, it’s been decades if not centuries”. The elements of this instability include the coronavirus pandemic, growing civil unrest, rising political tensions between rival groups, as well as concerted disinformation campaigns from America’s foreign adversaries, according to the NJ OHSP.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 September 2020 | Permalink

South Korean ex-deputy spy chief sentenced to prison for diverting secret funds

Lee Jong-myeongA former deputy director of South Korea’s spy agency has been given a prison sentence for diverting funds from the agency’s clandestine operations budget, in order to aid South Korea’s disgraced former President, Lee Myung-bak, who has himself been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Lee Jong-myeong served as third deputy director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) under the conservative administration of Lee Myung-bak. In 2013, Lee was succeeded by another conservative president, Park Geun-hye, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for corruption. As intelNews has previously reported, several senior NIS officials, including three of its former directors, have been sentenced to prison for diverting agency funds to psychological operations aimed at preventing the election of liberal politicians.

Now the probe into the NIS’ illegal political activity has expanded to include the organization’s mid-level management, including Lee Jong-myeong. On Monday, the Seoul Central District Court found Lee guilty of spending nearly $500,000 from the NIS’ clandestine operations budget to discredit two liberal former presidents, Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung. The goal of the campaign was to convince the South Korean electorate that a future liberal president would surrender the reigns of the country to North Korea.

These revelations have sparked a major overhaul of South Korea’s intelligence system, which some observers have described as the NIS’ “most dramatic shake-up in decades”. The government reportedly intends to prevent the NIS from having any domestic role, and to limit its operations to foreign targets. But some conservative politicians have accused the current administration of left-of-center president Moon Jae-in of “defanging” the NIS.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 September 2020 | Permalink

CIA lost four paramilitary officers in daring South China Sea operation, say sources

Luzon Island PhilippinesFour highly trained paramilitary officers of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) died during a secret maritime operation off the coast of the Philippines in 2008, according to a new report. Yahoo News, which revealed the alleged incident last week, cited anonymous former intelligence officers in its reporting.

The four men were allegedly paramilitary operations officers (PMOOs) working for the CIA’s Maritime Branch, one of the three branches of the Agency’s Special Operations Group (SOG). The SOG operates under the CIA’s Special Activities Center (formerly Special Activities Division), which plans and supervises paramilitary and psychological operations around the world.

According to Yahoo News, the ill-fated operation took place in the South China Sea, a contested region that forms the epicenter of an ongoing rivalry between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, among other countries. The four PMOOs had been tasked with planting a sophisticated tracking device, disguised as a rock, which was designed to intercept signals produced by Chinese vessels belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.

The operation involved the use of a 40-foot vessel belonging to the CIA and registered to a front company in the Philippines. Onboard the ship were four PMOOs, according to Yahoo News: Stephen Stanek, Michael Perich, Jamie McCormick and Daniel Meeks. Stanek, the group leader, had served as an ordnance disposal diver in the US Navy before he was hired by the CIA. His co-diver, Perich, had joined the CIA after having recently graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy. McCormick and Meeks had orders to stay onboard the vessel as supporting personnel.

Yahoo News claims the four men departed from Malaysia; they were carrying fake papers stating they had been hired by a Japanese company to transport the 40-foot ship to Japan. As they approached Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island, they decided to proceed with the mission, despite Tropical Storm Higos, which was dangerously approaching their location. The operation’s planners believed the storm would change course and would not affect the Luzon region. They were wrong, however, and the four men were lost at sea. Their bodies have never been found, according to Yahoo News.

Several months after the fatal incident, the CIA approached the families of the four late officers and invited them to Langley for a private ceremony, which was attended by the CIA’s leadership. That was the first time those family members were told that their loved ones had worked for the CIA. Yahoo News said it reached out to the family members, but they did not wish to comment on the story. The CIA also refused commenting on the report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 September 2020 | Permalink

Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats for espionage, Russia vows to respond in kind

Russian embassy BulgariaBulgaria, a once close Soviet ally, which is now a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has expelled two Russian diplomats whom it accuses of conducting military espionage. This raises to five the number of Russian diplomats who have been expelled from Bulgaria for espionage in the past year.

In a hastily announced press conference on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters in the Bulgarian capital Sofia that the ministry had “declared two Russian diplomats personae non grate”, a Latin term meaning unwanted persons. He added that the Bulgarian government had notified the Russian embassy of its decision with an official diplomatic note. The two Russian diplomats, who have not been named, were given 72 hours to leave the country, said the spokesman.

In addition to the expulsion of the two diplomats, it was later reported that the Bulgarian government had denied an earlier request by Moscow to provide diplomatic accreditation to Russia’s new military attaché to the country, who was expected to assume his post in Sofia this coming December. It is believed that this action by the Bulgarian government is connected to the alleged espionage case involving the two Russian diplomats.

Bulgarian government prosecutors allege that the two Russians have engaged in espionage activities in Bulgaria since 2016. Their goal, according to the Bulgarians, was to obtain classified information about the technological modernization of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, which is ongoing. They had allegedly already made contacts with Bulgarian officials who were privy to such information, and in some cases had already provided them with money in exchange for secrets. The two diplomats are believed to be working for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly referred to as GRU.

The Russian Embassy in Sofia confirmed late on Wednesday that it had received a telephone call from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informing it of the expulsion order issued for the two diplomats. It added, however, that it had not been given proof of acts of espionage by the two diplomats. In the same statement, the Russian Embassy said the two diplomats would leave Bulgaria as instructed, but warned that Moscow reserved the right “to a response in kind”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 September 2020 | Permalink