Year in review: The biggest spy-related stories of 2021, part 3

End of Year ReviewSince 2008, when intelNews was launched, it has been our end-of-year tradition to take a look back and highlight what we believe were the most important intelligence-related stories of the past 12 months. In anticipation of what 2022 may bring in this always timely and highly volatile field, we present you with our selection of the top spy stories of 2021. They are listed below in reverse order of significance, starting from 10 and leading up to 1. This is the third part in a three-part series. Part one is available here and part two is here.

04. FBI built a fake phone company in massive global wiretapping operation. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation built a fake telephone service provider for a secret worldwide operation that officials described as “a watershed moment” in law enforcement history. The operation, known as TROJAN SHIELD, involved over 9,000 law enforcement officers in 18 countries around the world. When the existence of TROJAN SHIELD was announced in a series of official news conferences in June, officials said the operation had “given law enforcement a window into a level of criminality [never] seen before on this scale”.

03. US spied on some of its closest European allies with the help of Denmark. The first claims of an alleged secret collaboration between the signals intelligence agencies of the United States and Denmark surfaced in November of 2020. By January of 2021, it was clear that the Danish government would, sooner or later, need to deal with the fallout of its controversial spy deal with Washington, under which Denmark enabled the US to spy on some of its closest European allies. Still, the news in June that Denmark helped the US spy on countries such as Germany, France, Sweden and Norway, was nothing short of remarkable, and has a huge symbolic significance that cannot be overlooked.

02. For the first time, Chinese and North Korean spies were tried in the US. For the first time, an alleged Chinese spy was tried—and convicted—in the United States. According to prosecutors Yanjun Xu, also known as Qu Hui or Zhang Hui, was a deputy division director in the Ministry of State Security (MSS)—China’s intelligence agency. His conviction was described by observers as a “seminal moment” for American counterintelligence. Also for the first time, an alleged intelligence officer of North Korea, Mun Chol-myong, was tried in a US court. A North Korean citizen based in Singapore, Mun had tried to defraud international banks and launder money though the US financial system, allegedly for the benefit of North Korean spy agencies.

01. At least 14 heads of state were targeted through controversial phone spyware. At least 14 current or former heads of state were among 50,000 individuals worldwide whose personal telephones were allegedly compromised through a controversial surveillance software, known as Pegasus. The spyware is marketed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based near Tel Aviv. Pegasus can install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users to click a link, or download an application. The list of the spyware’s targets allegedly contains telephone devices belonging to three presidents, France’s Emmanuel Macron (pictured), South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, and Iraq’s Barham Salih. The devices of three current prime ministers, Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani, Egypt’s Mostafa Madboul, and Pakistan’s Imran Khan, are also on the list. There are countless others. As a result of these revelations, the US Department of Commerce placed the NSO Group Technologies on a sanctions list in November 3.

This is part three in a three-part series. Part one is available here. Part two is available here.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen | Date: 31 December 2021 | Permalink

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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