FBI seeking former Syrian intelligence officer reportedly hiding in Florida

Moustafa Abed AyoubA Syrian former intelligence officer, who was given American citizenship several years ago, is being sought by authorities in the United States. The man was named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week as Moustafa Abed Ayoub, a 75-year-old resident of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A statement by the FBI said the wanted man is believed to be hiding in southern Florida, possibly in the Miami area. A reward is now offered for information leading directly to Ayoub, according to the FBI press release. The release did not specify whether the former intelligence officer is wanted in connection with the ongoing civil war in Syria.

The FBI press release described Ayoub as a former brigadier general in Syria’s powerful Mukhabarat, the Military Intelligence Directorate, which operates under the auspices of the country’s Ministry of Defense. He is reported to have served in the Mukhabarat for nearly 20 years, from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. According to the FBI release, Ayoub served initially in Hama and Homs before he was transferred to Damascus. It appears that Ayoub is accused by the FBI of procuring American citizenship unlawfully, after giving deliberately false testimony during his naturalization proceedings. To be eligible for American citizenship, an applicant must have lived in the US for at least 30 months during the period leading to his or her naturalization application. Ayoub is accused of not telling immigration authorities that he had spent over 1,000 days outside the US in the months leading to his application for citizenship.

The FBI said it issued a warrant for Ayoub’s arrest in Florida, where he is believed to be hiding. However, the FBI release noted that Ayoub may have returned to Syria, or may be currently residing in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Author: Ian Allen| Date: 30 September 2016 | Permalink

Public event held in Cuba for the first time to demand release of US spy

Ana Belen MontesA public event has been held for the first time in Havana to demand the release Ana Belen Montes, an American former intelligence analyst who is serving a 25-year prison term for spying on the United States for Cuba. The event appeared to be sanctioned by the Cuban government and is bound to reignite rumors that a deal between Washington and Havana to release Montes may be in the works.

Montes grew up in Kansas. In 1985 she joined the US Defense Intelligence Agency, which collects and analyzes military-related information from abroad. Montes quickly distinguished herself in the DIA, and by the mid-1990s she was seen as one of the US government’s most knowledgeable and capable Cuba experts. She was the main author of nearly every major assessment on Cuba that was produced by the US Intelligence Community in the 1990s. But on September 21, 2001, Montes was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with having committed espionage for Cuba. During her trial, US government prosecutors argued that Montes had been recruited by Cuban intelligence before she joined the DIA, and that she eventually compromised every US intelligence collection program targeting the Caribbean island. The former DIA analyst was also accused of having given Havana the identities of US intelligence officers who had secretly operated in Cuba. In 2002, Montes was sentenced to 25 years in prison, after pleading guilty to having committed espionage throughout her 16-year career in the DIA.

In recent months, there has been speculation that Montes could be released and allowed to relocate to Cuba. In return, Havana would reportedly extradite to the US Assata Shakur, a former member of militant black nationalist groups in the United States, who is accused of the 1973 murder of a state trooper in New Jersey. These rumors were denied by the US Department of State in August. Last week, however, the first public event took place in Havana to demand Montes’ release. The event featured performances by artists, as well as a keynote speech by Manuel David Orrio, a retired officer in the Cuban General Intelligence Directorate (DGI). Orio told those present at the event in downtown Havana that committees to demand Montes’ release had been formed in several Cuban provinces, as well as in Sweden, France, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. He added that formally requesting Montes’ release would be an “extremely complex” and delicate affair for the Cuban government, but that social pressure groups were free to press US officials.

In the past, the Cuban government has been silent about Montes’ case, and very few Cubans are aware of her existence. The fact that the government is now mobilizing popular committees and other pressure groups may point to a change of policy in Havana.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 September 2016 | Permalink

Is Chinese salvage ship searching for flight MH370 spying on Australia?

DONG HAI JIU 101The Chinese embassy in Canberra has strongly denied accusations that a Chinese government ship involved in the international effort to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is spying on the Royal Australian Navy. The ship, the Dong Hai Jiu 101, is a salvage and rescue vessel built in Shanghai in 2012 and currently sailing under the Chinese flag. In April, the Chinese government contracted the Dong Hai Jiu 101 to join the international search effort for the wreckage of Flight MH370. The Boeing 777 aircraft disappeared over the South China Sea on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, to the Beijing Capital International Airport in China.

Only a few pieces of debris, purportedly belonging to the plane, have been found, despite the most extensive and costly search in aviation history. The coordinated international search began off the coast of Thailand last year and is currently focused on the seabed off the city of Perth in Western Australia. The Dong Hai Jiu 101 has been sailing in the area since April of this year, along with three other search and rescue vessels. Last week, however, The Australian newspaper published interviews with several security experts who expressed the opinion that the Dong Hai Jiu 101 may be collecting intelligence on Australia for the Chinese government. The alleged intelligence collection is probably of maritime nature and probably involves hydrophonic instrumentation to track submarine movements, said the experts.

But the Chinese government responded quickly, issuing a strong denial through its embassy in Canberra. An embassy spokesman reminded The Australian that 154 of 239 passengers and crew on Flight MH370 were Chinese, and therefore Beijing has a “strong obligation” to participate in the international search effort. Additionally, said the statement, the Chinese vessel is sailing off the Australian coast with the consent of the Australian government, and in coordination with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, using underwater search equipment supplied by an American-based company. The Australian government has not made a statement on the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 September 2016 | Permalink

Swiss vote to give unprecedented surveillance powers to spy agencies

Federal Intelligence Service SwitzerlandVoters in Switzerland have strongly approved a proposed law that aims to expand the surveillance powers of Swiss intelligence agencies. The move is uncharacteristic of the Swiss, who have historically been skeptical of giving far-reaching surveillance powers to their government. In the late 1980s, Swiss public opinion was shocked by the revelation that the country’s Federal Military Department had spied without permission on tens of thousands of Swiss citizens for many decades under a top-secret project codenamed P-27. In response to the revelations, P-27 was ended, the Swiss intelligence agencies were reorganized, and stricter parliamentary controls were imposed on their activities. Today, even CCTV cameras are rarely used in Switzerland, while Google has not been given permission to incorporate the country’s streets into its Streetview application due to strict local privacy laws.

Opponents of the proposed law warned that it would end Switzerland’s long history of protecting civil liberties and would increase cooperation between Swiss and foreign spy agencies, thus harming the country’s tradition of political neutrality. But terrorist attacks in nearby Belgium and France have shaken public opinion in the small alpine country, which is home to numerous international agencies, including a regional branch of the United Nations. Consequently, nearly 66 percent of voters backed the proposal in elections on Sunday, which saw a 41 percent rate of participation. The result will allow the Swiss intelligence and security services, such as the Federal Intelligence Service, to put suspects under electronic surveillance using wiretaps, internet-based software, and hidden devices such as cameras and microphones.

Despite its long history of political neutrality, Switzerland is not unaccustomed to espionage scandals. In 2009, Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper said that a number of listening devices, most likely of Israeli origin, had been discovered in a room designated for sensitive meetings on disarmament issues at the United Nations building in Geneva. In June 2013, the Swiss parliament blocked legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after it was revealed that the US Central Intelligence Agency had conducted an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. And in 2015, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider, Swisscom AG, had been spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2016 | Permalink

Britain’s MI6 to increase its size by 40% in four years

MI6Britain’s primary external intelligence agency, MI6, will see a 40 percent increase in personnel numbers in the next four years, according to a new report. The agency, which is formally known as the Secret Intelligence Service, currently employs about 2,500 people. But the BBC said on Wednesday that the number of MI6 employees will rise to approximately 3,500 by 2020. The broadcaster said that no public announcement had been made about the planned increase, but that it had verified the information “via Whitehall sources”, referring to the official seat of the British government.

If the BBC’s report is accurate, the planned increase will be the biggest personnel boost for MI6 since the Cold War. It reflects a renewed emphasis in foreign intelligence collection using human sources, which is the primary task of the spy agency. The broadcaster said that the increase in personnel has been “made necessary by the development of the Internet and technology” in recent years. Earlier this week, the director of MI6, Alex Younger, said during a panel presentation in Washington, DC, that the operating environment of MI6 had fundamentally changed due to “the information revolution”. The latter, he said, presented the agency with “an existential threat” and a “golden opportunity” at the same time.

The reported increase is consistent with an announcement made by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron in November 2015, that London would boost significantly the size of its intelligence services. Cameron made the announcement shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed over 130 people and injured 700. In a subsequent report, called the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the British government said it would incorporate 1,900 additional staff to its intelligence and security services. It now appears that over half of these new recruits will join MI6, while the Security Service (MI5), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorist Command will hire the remaining 900 people.

A similar rise in personnel numbers occurred after the July 7 London bus bombings in 2005. Following those attacks, the MI5, which focuses on domestic security and counterterrorism, saw its personnel size increase by approximately 35 percent.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2016 | Permalink

Informer accuses Sinn Féin leader of ordering British spy’s murder

Denis DonaldsonA former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, who was an agent for the British security services, has alleged that Gerry Adams, leader of the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland, ordered the killing of a British spy in 2006. The former agent was referring to the killing of Denis Donaldson, a senior member of the Provisional IRA, who was found dead months after it was revealed that he had been secretly spying on the republican organization on behalf of British intelligence.

In December 2005, Adams announced at a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, that Donaldson had been a spy for the British government inside the Provisional IRA and its political wing, Sinn Féin. Soon after Adams’ revelation, Donaldson read a prepared statement on Ireland’s RTÉ television station, admitting that he had been recruited as a spy by the British Security Service (MI5) and the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (known today as the Police Service of Northern Ireland). Following his public admission, Donaldson was nowhere to be found. However, in March 2006, a reporter for a British tabloid newspaper found Donaldson living in a remote farmhouse in Northern Ireland’s County Donegal. Weeks later, Donaldson was shot dead in his cottage by persons unknown. In 2009, the Real IRA, a Provisional IRA splinter group that disagreed with the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent cessation of hostilities, took responsibility for Donaldson’s killing.

On Tuesday, a man who claims he was an informant for British intelligence inside Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA alleged that Donaldson’s killing was ordered by Adams himself. The man, who spoke on the BBC’s Spotlight program, could not be identified due to concerns about his personal safety. He said during a televised interview that he knew from his “experience in the IRA that murders have to be approved by […] the leadership of the IRA and the military leadership of the IRA”. When asked by the report who he was “specifically referring to”, the former informant answered: “Gerry Adams. He gives the final say”. On Wednesday, Adams denied any involvement in the killing, saying he wished to “specifically and categorically refute these unsubstantiated allegations”. The leader of Sinn Féin went on to claim that the accusations against him were “part of the British security agencies’ ongoing attempts to smear republicans and cover-up their own actions”. Adams’ lawyer said late on Wednesday that his client was considering launching a lawsuit against the BBC for defamation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 September 2016 | Permalink

British judge denies request to name alleged new member of Cambridge spy ring

Corpus Christi College CambridgeA document that allegedly contains the name of a man who could be connected to one of the most sensational spy rings of the Cold War is to remain secret after a judge rejected a request to have it released. The man is believed by some to have been associated with the so-called ‘Cambridge spy ring’, a group of upper-class British graduates of Cambridge University, who spied for the USSR from the 1930s until the 1960s. Among them was Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1979, it was revealed that Anthony Blunt, an art history professor who in 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, was also a member of the group. A fifth member, career civil servant and former intelligence officer John Cairncross, was publicly outed as a Soviet in 1990, shortly before his death.

Over the years, more individuals have been suggested by historians as potential members of the group, including intelligence officers Leo Long and Guy Liddell, academics Ludwig Wittgenstein and Andrew Gow, and physicist Wilfrid Mann. But according to British newspaper The Daily Mail, another individual may be identified in a classified document as a possible member of the Cambridge spy ring. The document was allegedly traced by Andrew Lownie, who authored the recently published Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess. Lownie filed a Freedom of Information request to have the document, which is held at the National Archives in London, released. But the request was denied, and a judge has now upheld the decision.

In denying the request, the judge argued that the man named in the document is still alive and that a possible release of the document could “jeopardize […] personal relationships”. He also contended that the case is too old to warrant immediate public interest, and thus there was “no pressing need” to declassify the file. The Mail speculates that the individual named in the document could have cooperated with the British government in the past in return for protection, or that the file in question may contain details that could embarrass the British government.

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