Are Kremlin’s spies targeting Russian scientists with foreign links?

Igor SutyaginBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Back in November, we reported on the case of Valentin Danilov, a Russian physicist who spent nearly a decade in prison, allegedly for spying on his country on behalf of China. What is interesting about Danilov is that, even after his release from prison, following a pardon issued by the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he fervently maintains his innocence. He is not alone; many Russian scientists and human rights campaigners have argued for years that Danilov should never have been convicted. In some cases, activists accuse the Kremlin of persecuting Danilov for political reasons, namely to reinforce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “attempts to intimidate academics with ties to other countries”. A well-written analysis by Time magazine’s Simon Shuster argues that Danilov’s story is not unique in Russia. There have been at least a handful of similar cases in the last decade, all involving Russian scientists with links to foreign countries or organizations. Shuster mentions the example of nuclear expert Igor Sutyagin, former division head in the Russian Academy of Sciences’ USA and Canada Institute, who served 11 years of a 15-year sentence for allegedly passing state secrets to a CIA front company. Sutyagin, who now lives in London, United Kingdom, was one of four jailed Russians expelled to the West in exchange for the repatriation of ten Russian illegals captured by the FBI in the summer of 2010. But he maintains he was never a spy, and claims that all of the information he gave to the two Americans who employed him, in return for money, came from open sources. Undoubtedly, observers are free to draw different conclusions about either Danilov or Sutyagin. But the question that Shuster poses is, at a time when virtually no field of scientific research can develop without international collaboration, is Moscow being overly suspicious of its academics, and is this hampering Russian science as a whole? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #818 (USA edition)

Osama bin LadenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►The real-life female CIA officer who helped track bin Laden. The Washington Post has a good article on the real-life career of a female CIA officer who helped the Agency track al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. It is disappointing, however that the article, authored by Greg Miller and Toby Warrick, is headlined “In Zero Dark Thirty she’s the hero; in real life, CIA agent’s career is more complicated”. The CIA employee in question is not an “agent”; she is an officer. In the CIA, agents are assets, people recruited and handled by CIA officers. Amazing that The Post, with its experienced journalists and editors would confuse such a basic operational distinction.
►►US spy agencies to detail cyber-attacks from abroad. The US intelligence community is nearing completion of its first detailed review of cyber-spying against American targets from abroad, including an attempt to calculate US financial losses from hacker attacks based in China. The National Intelligence Estimate, the first involving cyber-espionage, will also seek to determine how large a role the Chinese government plays in directing or coordinating digital attacks aimed at stealing US intellectual property, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a classified undertaking.
►►CIA begins LGBT recruiting. As part of the CIA’s efforts to diversify its workforce, the spy agency is reaching out to a group that once was unable to get security clearance: lesbians and gay men. CIA officials have held a networking event for the Miami gay community sponsored by the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the CIA. “This is the first time we’ve done a networking event of this type with any of the gay and lesbian chamber of commerces in the United States,” says Michael Barber, a self-identified “straight ally” and the spy agency’s LGBT Community Outreach and Liaison program manager.

News you may have missed #817 (assassinations edition)

Patrick FinucaneBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►British PM apologizes in killing of IRA lawyer. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, has apologized after a government report found that British intelligence officials had colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in the 1989 killing of lawyer Patrick Finucane in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Finucane, who had represented members of the Irish Republic Army in court, was shot dead by two gunmen from a Protestant paramilitary group while having a Sunday dinner at his home with his wife and three children.
►►Behind the plot to kill Afghanistan’s spy chief. On December 11, we reported that the Afghan government accused Pakistani intelligence of having played a role in the assassination of Assadullah Khaled, who heads Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security. But how was the attempt on Khaled’s life carried out, and how did the aspiring assassins get so close to the controversial intelligence chief? Time magazine reports that it was Khaled’s self-confidence “bordering on recklessness” that almost got him killed. Sources say that, even after taking over the NDS, Khalid frequently drove around without bodyguards.
►►How Mossad bid to kill Hamas leader ended in fiasco. Khaled Mashal’s recent presence in the Gaza Strip will have rudely reminded Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, of one of the greatest fiascos in the history of special operations, writes The Daily Telegraph‘s David Blair. Fifteen years ago, Netanyahu authorized a risky attempt to assassinate Mashal in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Everything went wrong. The Jordanian security forces responded to this brazen daylight attack, arresting two of the Israeli operatives and forcing three to hide in their country’s embassy, which was promptly surrounded by troops.

Jailed US spy gave Israel information on Pakistan nuclear program

Jonathan Jay PollardBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An American intelligence analyst, who was jailed in 1987 for spying for Israel, gave his spy handlers information on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, according to declassified documents. Former United States Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard is currently serving a life sentence for selling classified information to the Israeli government between 1985 and 1987. On December 14, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified its official damage assessment of Pollard’s espionage, who some counterintelligence officials believe was the most prolific mole that ever spied on the US government for a foreign country. This was the second time that the CIA declassified the document, titled The Jonathan Jay Pollard Espionage Case: A Damage Assessment, following an appeal by George Washington University’s National Security Archive. Even though this latest version of the declassified document is still heavily redacted, it contains some new information. One new revelation is that Pollard’s Israeli handlers specifically asked him to acquire intelligence collected by the US government on the Pakistani nuclear weapons program. In a section titled “Implications of Compromises: What Israel Gained from Pollard’s Espionage”, the CIA assessment states that Pollard focused on “Arab and Pakistani nuclear intelligence” and gave his Israeli handlers information on a secret Pakistani “plutonium reprocessing facility near Islamabad”. Further information in the declassified report about this subject is completely redacted. The question is, what kind of information on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program did Tel Aviv acquire from Pollard?  According to A.Q. Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, Islamabad was able to detonate a nuclear device “within a week’s notice” by as early as 1984. Read more of this post

Iran accuses Israel of kidnapping former Deputy Defense Minster

Ali-Reza AsgariBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister has accused Israel of kidnapping his predecessor in 2006, while he was on an official visit trip to Turkey. Brigadier General Ali-Reza Asgari, who once commanded Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, disappeared on December 9, 2006, from his hotel room in Istanbul. His fate remains unknown. But on Saturday, Brigadier General Hossein Daqiqi, who is currently Tehran’s second most senior military official, pointed the finger at Israel’s foremost covert-action agency, the Mossad. He was speaking to reporters in the Iranian capital during a public ceremony to mark the sixth anniversary of Asgari’s disappearance. He told Iranian media that the government had “a lot of evidence proving that members of the Israeli intelligence service have kidnapped Asgari”. There are conflicting reports about Asgari’s whereabouts, but most observers seem to believe he is still alive. A year after his disappearance from Turkey, Hans Rühle, former Director of Policy Planning in the German Ministry of Defense, wrote in Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung that Asgari was in Western hands and that “information was obtained” from him. Israeli media have reported that the Iranian General is in the hands of the United States and that he is helping Washington crack the “most inner workings [of] Iranian nuclear development”. Danny Yatom, former director of the Mossad, told the London-based Times newspaper in 2007 that Israel had played no part in Asgari’s disappearance and that the Iranian General had willingly defected “to the West”, but that he didn’t know his exact whereabouts. Since then, other sources have echoed Yatom’s claim that Asgari defected willingly, including Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post and intelligence historian Gordon Thomas, in his 2009 book Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence (see intelNews book review). Read more of this post

Litvinenko was working for UK, Spanish intelligence when he was killed

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A lawyer representing the family of a KGB defector to Britain, who died of poisoning in 2006, has told a court hearing in London that the late spy was working for British and Spanish intelligence at the time of his death. Alexander Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. Speaking at a preliminary court hearing on Thursday, in light of an upcoming British government inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, Ben Emmerson, QC, said that the late Russian spy was a “registered and paid” asset of the Secret Intelligence Service. This is not the first time that Litvinenko has been linked to the SIS —known informally as MI6— Britain’s external spy agency. Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, made similar claims to the British press in January of this year. But yesterday’s testimony by her legal team provided the public record with further revelations about her husband’s connections with British intelligence. The court heard that Litvinenko received a regular stipend from MI6 either in cash or via electronic transfer and that he had been provided with an encrypted telephone, which MI6 used to contact him on a routine basis. The night before his poisoning, said Emmerson, Litvinenko had met his MI6 handler, who went by the operational alias MARTIN. Read more of this post

Who leaked Iranian nuclear document that turned out to be a hoax?

The leaked documentBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On November 27, the Associated Press published an alleged Iranian document which it said proved Iran was working on a nuclear bomb. The news agency said the disclosure was the latest in a series of similar leaks to the media by “officials from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program”. However, the authenticity of the document, which contained a diagram calculating the explosive force of a nuclear weapon, is now heavily disputed. An analysis of the leaked document in the latest issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concluded that it was either massively erroneous or a hoax designed by amateurs. The Bulletin, a specialist publication founded by physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, said the document was “unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level”. The obvious question is who leaked the disputed document and why? An article in British newspaper The Guardian cites unnamed “Western officials” who claim that the diagram, along with several previous disclosures of a similar nature, was leaked by Israel “in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran”. If this is so, the leak appears to have seriously backfired and may have compromised the credibility of an ongoing investigation into the Iranian nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is because the leaked document was part of an intelligence file on Iran’s nuclear program, compiled by the IAEA, which formed the factual basis for a new set of penalties and sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union in November of 2011. The question that some United Nations officials are now asking is, if the leaked document is indeed a hoax, how could the IAEA guarantee the authenticity of the remaining documents on its file on Iran? Read more of this post