Analysis: Is Putin planning to restore the Soviet-era KGB?

SVR hqLast week, following the results of Russia’s parliamentary election, Russian media run a story suggesting that the Kremlin is planning to implement far-reaching changes to the country’s intelligence apparatus. According to the Moscow-based daily Kommersant, the administration of President Vladimir Putin is considering merging Russia’s two major intelligence and counterterrorism agencies into one. Specifically, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, will merge with the FSB, the Federal Security Service, according to Kommersant. The merger will create a new amalgamated intelligence agency that will be named “Ministry of State Security”, or MGB, in Russian. The last time this title was used was from 1946 to 1953, during the last years of the reign of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. It was one of several agencies that were eventually combined to form the Soviet KGB in 1954.

If the Kommersant article is accurate, Russia’s two main intelligence agencies will merge after an institutional separation that has lasted a quarter of a century. They were separated shortly after the official end of the Soviet Union, in 1991, when it was recognized that the KGB was not under the complete control of the state. That became plainly obvious in August of that year, when the spy agency’s Director, Vladimir Kryuchkov, helped lead a military coup aimed at deposing Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The two new agencies were given separate mandates: the SVR inherited the mission of the KGB’s foreign intelligence directorates and focused on collecting intelligence abroad; the FSB, on the other hand, assumed the KGB’s counterintelligence and counterterrorist missions. A host of smaller agencies, including the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information (FAPSI), the Federal Protective Service (FSO) and others, took on tasks such as communications interception, border control, political protection, etc.

Could these agencies merge again after 25 years of separation? Possibly, but it will take time. An entire generation of Russian intelligence officers has matured under separate institutional roofs in the post-Soviet era. Distinct bureaucratic systems and structures have developed and much duplication has ensued during that time. If a merger was to occur, entire directorates and units would have to be restructured or even eliminated. Leadership roles would have to be purged or redefined with considerable delicacy, so as to avoid inflaming bureaucratic turf battles. Russian bureaucracies are not known for their organizational skills, and it would be interesting to see how they deal with the inevitable confusion of a possible merger. It could be argued that, if Putin’s goal is to augment the power of the intelligence services —which is doubtful, given their long history of challenging the power of the Kremlin— he would be better off leaving them as they are today.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 October 2016 | Permalink

Monitoring continues as Libya’s chemical weapons are shipped to Germany

ISIS LibyaAs United States air strikes and special-forces operations continue in Libya, Libya’s Government of National Accord deputy prime minister, Mussa al-Koni, confirmed on Tuesday that their remaining chemical weapons left over from the Gaddafi era has been shipped to Germany for safekeeping. The process was supervised by the United Nations, based on UN Security Council Resolution 2298 (2016) adopted on July 22. The concern was the Islamic State getting their hands on the chemical stockpile that was stored in the central Jafa area, about 140 miles south of Sirte, where pro-government forces are currently fighting Islamic State militants.

Islamic State forces acquiring CBRN from Africa or producing it while in the region has been a continuous concern. Islamic State and other militant organizations are expanding throughout Africa’s 11.67 million mi². These groups can be very innovative and resourceful. As the Egyptian delegation highlighted in a UN Security Council debate on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction last week, the Islamic State and other groups have already caused destruction in Iraq, and possibly also in Syria by using chemical weapons. The Egyptians and other African countries see a real possibility of these weapons spreading further in Libya and from there to the Horn of Africa or elsewhere on the continent. The final departure of Gaddafi’s stockpile is welcome news, but Islamist militants know how to acquire such weapons, are trying to produce them and know how to cross borders.

African intelligence and law enforcement agencies are alert to these and other new threats. Intelligence reports have indicated groups such as al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) have made multiple attempts to manufacture poison, gas, biological and radioactive agents. Training camps, particularly in the Sahel area, specialized in biological and chemical weapons are known to exist. Many African nations have put their national interests aside to counter cross border Islamist or criminal threats. In late September 2010, Algeria set up a regional intelligence center in Algiers, bringing together the countries of the region to fight against militant groups, including CBRN trafficking. Similar centers around the continent exist like Kenya’s common intelligence centre in Nairobi used for joint training on investigation skills and on ways to protect borders. The center also is used to monitor and address threats posed by militant groups in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. A more recent regional intelligence center, similar to Kenya’s, was established in Kampla, Uganda, which is supported by the African Union and seeks to prevent possible attacks by militant groups.

Another concern the Centers and domestic African intelligence agencies are investigating is the recruitment of African youth by Islamist groups.  “[The Islamic State] has attracted about 5,000 Africans to join them in Iraq and Syria. Some of them are from the East Africa Community and IGAD regions”, proclaimed the African Union Commissioner for Peace Security Smail Chergui in July 2015.

Author: Scott Firsing is an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington

US Congressional probe finds DoD intelligence on Islamic State was altered

ISISAn investigation by Republican lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives has reportedly found that military intelligence analysts were pressured into changing reports on the Islamic State by their superiors. The investigation follows allegations made a year ago by analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency. As many as 50 analysts claimed that their reports about the Islamic State were being deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of the reports related to al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Syria, but most were about the Islamic State, the militant Sunni organization that controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The allegations prompted two separate investigations, one by the Department of Defense and one by a task force consisting of Republican members of three committees in the US House of Representatives —namely the Committee on Armed Services, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Defense Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. According to The Daily Beast, the committees have now concluded their five-month investigation and are preparing to release a 10-page report before the end of August. Citing three unnamed US officials, the website claims that the soon-to-be-released report will corroborate claims by DIA analysts that their intelligence reports were deliberately doctored in order to make American efforts against ISIS seem more successful than they have been.

According to the three officials, who are reportedly “familiar with the task force’s findings”, the 10-page document will not corroborate claims that the pressure on the intelligence analysts was exercised by senior sources inside the White House. But they told the website that the Congressional investigation could continue after the release of the report. The Daily Beast said it contacted CENTCOM for a comment on the story, but was told that the Pentagon body has yet to receive the task force report. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s own investigation into the analysts’ allegations continues and expected to release its findings by the end of 2016.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2016 | Permalink

 

German court sentences ex-Yugoslav spies to life for 1983 murder of dissident

Josip PerkovićA German court has given life sentences to two senior intelligence officers in Cold-War-era Yugoslavia, who masterminded the murder of a Croat dissident in 1983. Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustać, both former senior officials in the Yugoslav State Security Service, known as UDBA, were extradited to Germany from Croatia in 2014. They were tried in a German court in the Bavarian capital Munich for organizing the assassination of Stjepan Đureković on July 28, 1983. Đureković’s killing was carried out by UDBA operatives in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria as part of an UDBA operation codenamed DUNAV. Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company until 1982, when he suddenly defected to West Germany. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. It was the reason why he was killed by the government of Yugoslavia.

The court proceedings in Munich included dramatic testimony by another former UDBA operative, Vinko Sindicić, who named both Perković and Mustać as direct accomplices in Đureković’s murder. Sindicić told the court that Perković was acting on orders to kill the German-based dissident, which came directly from the office of UDBA Director Zdravko Mustać. He added that Perković helped organize the logistics of Đureković’s assassination, including the location in Munich where the killing actually took place. Sindicić told the court that a female UDBA operative living in Munich was also involved in organizing the operation, and that the weapons used to kill Đureković had been secretly transported to Germany through Jadroagent, an international shipping and freight company based in Yugoslavia.

On Wednesday, the court found both former UDBA officials guilty of complicity in the assassination of Đureković and convicted them for life. German media reported that the convicted men’s defense team plans to appeal the ruling by advancing the case to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, which is Germany’s highest ordinary-jurisdiction court. Perković and Mustać declined requests to make comments to the press at the end of the trial. It is believed that at least 22 Croat nationalists were murdered in West Germany by the Yugoslavian intelligence services during the Cold War.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2016 | Permalink

Islamic State’s online army is a Russian front, says German intelligence

Cyber CaliphateA German intelligence report alleges that the so-called ‘Cyber Caliphate’, the online hacker wing of the Islamic State, is in fact a Russian front, ingeniously conceived to permit Moscow to hack Western targets without retaliation. The group calling itself Cyber Caliphate first appeared in early 2014, purporting to operate as the online wing of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), later renamed Islamic State. Today the Cyber Caliphate boasts a virtual army of hackers from dozens of countries, who are ostensibly operating as the online arm of the Islamic State. Their known activities include a strong and often concentrated social media presence, and computer hacking, primarily in the form of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage.

Since its inception, the Cyber Caliphate has claimed responsibility for hacking a number of European government agencies and private media outlets. Its targets include the BBC and French television channel TV5 Monde, which was severely impacted by cyber sabotage in April of 2015. The Cyber Caliphate said it was also behind attacks on the servers of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense, and the website of the Pentagon’s US Central Command. The US has since retaliated, both with cyber attacks and physical strikes. One such strike resulted in the killing of Junaid Hussain, a British hacker of Pakistani background, who was said to be among the Cyber Caliphate’s senior commanders. Hussain, 21, was reportedly killed in August 2015 in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, reportedly after clicking on a compromised link in an email, which gave away his physical whereabouts.

Now, however, a German intelligence report claims that the Cyber Caliphate is not associated with the Islamic State, but is rather a fictitious front group created by Russia. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it had seen the classified report, German authorities suggest that the Cyber Caliphate is in fact a project of APT28 (also known as ‘Pawn Storm’), a notorious Russian hacking collective with close ties to Russian intelligence. The German intelligence report echoes previous assessments by French authorities, which in 2015 stated that the TV5 Monde cyber attack was a false flag operation orchestrated by APT28. Also in 2015, a security report by the US State Department concluded that despite the Cyber Caliphate’s proclamations of connections to the Islamic State, there were “no indications —technical or otherwise— that the groups are tied”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 June 2016 | Permalink

Extraordinary lecture by Soviet spy Kim Philby surfaces on videotape

Kim PhilbyA videotaped lecture by Kim Philby, one of the Cold War’s most recognizable espionage figures, has been unearthed in the archives of the Stasi, the Ministry of State Security of the former East Germany. During the one-hour lecture, filmed in 1981, Philby addresses a select audience of Stasi operations officers and offers them advice on espionage, drawn from his own career. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB from the early 1930s until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War.

The videotaped lecture, which was never intended for public consumption, was found recently by the BBC in the archives of the BStU, the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Records in Berlin, Germany. Excerpts can now be viewed publicly for the first time.

The recording begins with an introduction by Markus Wolf, one of the most high-profile intelligence operatives of the Cold War, who was head of East Germany’s Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, the foreign intelligence division of the Stasi. Then Philby takes the stand and for about 15 minutes recounts his recruitment by the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB. He tells his audience that the Soviets recruited him despite his extremely young age and joblessness, seeing him as “a long range project”. They did so, he says, because they knew he was part of “the ruling class of the British Empire” and was thus bound to end up in a position of power. His NKVD handler was clear as to his agent’s task, says Philby: his mission was to join the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency. The young Philby then spent years trying to work his way into the intelligence agency, and did so successfully.

With extreme candidness, Philby proceeds to tell his East German audience about his mission, given to him by his NKVD handler in the late 1940s. It was to unseat Felix Cowgill, his boss in MI6’s Soviet counterespionage division, and take his place. He achieved that, he says, even though Cowgill was a man he “rather liked and admired. It was a very dirty story”, admits Philby, “but after all our work does imply getting dirty hands form time to time, but we do it for a cause that is not dirty in a way”.

Of particular interest to intelligence observers is Philby’s justification of his role in Operation VALUABLE/FIEND, in which the Central Intelligence Agency, in association with MI6 and other Western European intelligence agencies, secretly sent Western-trained Albanian agents into communist-controlled Albania. The agents were tasked with organizing an armed popular revolt against Albania’s communist rulers. But Philby, who had been given the job of overseeing the operation on behalf of MI6, betrayed the entire program to the Soviets, thus ensuring its complete failure. In his lecture, he justifies his betrayal by arguing that it helped prevent World War III. Had VALUABLE/FIEND succeeded, claims Philby, it would have been expanded to Bulgaria, at which point the USSR would have intervened, causing World War III.

Following the end of his prepared remarks, Philby takes a series of questions from his audience, including one about how he managed to “stay ideologically pure” while living in a capitalist society. In responding, the British defector praises his Soviet handler, who looked after his “political as well as physical health”, and advised his audience, which presumably included dozens of Stasi case officers, to do the same. A summary report of the recently unearthed videotape can be read on the BBC’s website, here. There is also an audio podcast on Philby’s lecture, which includes commentary from Professor Christopher Andrew, of Cambridge University, and Hayden B. Peake, most recently curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection.

Author: Ian Allen and Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2016 | Permalink

Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2015, part II

End of Year ReviewEver since 2008, when we launched intelNews, we have monitored daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence while providing an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. As 2015 is about to conclude, we take a look back at what we think are the ten most important intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. Regular readers of this blog will surely agree that we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories this year. Some of them made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media. In anticipation of what 2016 may bring, we present you with our selection of stories, which are listed below in reverse order of significance. This is part two in the series; part one was published yesterday.

5. CIA may have pulled officers from Beijing embassy following OPM hack. Up to 21 million individual files were stolen in June 2015, when hackers broke into the computer system of the US Office of Personnel Management. The office, known as OPM, handles applications for security clearances for agencies of the federal government.ch The breach gave the unidentified hackers access to the names and sensitive personal records of millions of Americans who have filed applications for security clearances. In late November it was reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pulled a number of officers from the United States embassy in Chinese capital Beijing, following the massive cyber hacking. The irony is that, according to The Washington Post, the records of CIA employees were not included in the compromised OPM database. The latter contains the background checks of employees in the US State Department, including those stationed at US embassies or consulates around the world. It follows that US diplomatic personnel stationed abroad whose names do not appear on the compromised OPM list “could be CIA officers”, according to the paper.

4. Provisional IRA ‘still broadly in place’, says Northern Ireland police chief.. On July 28, 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which fought British rule in Northern Ireland for decades, announced that was ceasing all paramilitary operations and disbanding as of that day. Three years later, the Independent Monitoring Commission declared that the PIRA’s Army Council, which steered the activities of the militant organization, was “no longer operational or functional”. In the ensuing years, which have seen the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement that restored peace in Northern Ireland, it has been generally assumed that the PIRA had ceased to exist. In August, however, George Hamilton, the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told reporters that “some of the PIRA structure from the 1990s remains broadly in place” in the area. Hamilton was speaking in reference to the murder earlier that month of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast. McGuigan, a 53-year-old father of nine, was a former member of the PIRA, who had fallen out with the organization. He was gunned down at his home, allegedly in retaliation for the murder last May of Gerard Jock Davison, a former commander of the PIRA, who was also shot dead in the Markets area of Belfast.

3. US Pentagon may have doctored intelligence reports on the Islamic State. Many Middle East observers, including this website, have made notably dire projections about the continuing reinforcement and territorial expansion of the Islamic State. In August, a leaked US intelligence report published by the Associated Press said the Islamic State’s strength had remained stable throughout 2014 and 2015, despite a US bombing campaign. However, earlier assessments by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which were communicated to senior US policymakers, including President Barack Obama, were far more optimistic about America’s ability to defeat the militant group. Why the discrepancy? According to The Washington Post, which published the story in late August, officials with the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia, had systematically doctored the conclusions of intelligence reports about the Islamic State before passing them on to American leaders. It appears that the evidence pointing to deliberate manipulation of intelligence assessments was convincing enough to prompt the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General to launch an official probe into the matter.

2. China and Taiwan swap jailed spies in historic first. Few ongoing intelligence conflicts are as fierce as the one that has been taking place between China and Taiwan since 1949, when the two countries emerged following a bitter civil conflict between communist and nationalist forces. Observers were therefore surprised when, two weeks ahead of a historic November 7 meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, the two countries announced a spy swap. The exchange, which took place in secret in late October, was the first of its kind in the history of the two bitter rivals. Taipei released Li Zhihao, a mysterious Chinese intelligence officer known in spy circles as “the man in black”, who had been arrested in 1999 and was serving a life sentence. In return, Beijing freed Chu Kung-hsun and Hsu Chang-kuo, two colonels in Taiwan’s Military Information Bureau, who were arrested in mainland China’s nearly a decade ago. It is believed that they were the highest-ranked Taiwanese spies imprisoned in China. Their release, therefore, marks an unprecedented development in Chinese-Taiwanese relations.

1. Russia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, now officially sharing intelligence in war against ISIS. The increased involvement of major powers in Syria has been arguably the greatest intelligence-related development of 2015. The United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, are only some of the state and non-state actors that are now actively engaged on the ground in Syria, both with armies and with intelligence personnel. A significant related development is the growing relationship between the intelligence apparatus of US ally Iraq and a number of countries with which Washington has an adversarial relationship. Intelligence-sharing had been practiced for a while between Russia, Syria and Iran. But in September of this year, Iraq entered the intelligence alliance for the first time. According to the Baghdad-based Iraqi Joint Forces Command, the agreement entails the establishment of a new intelligence-sharing center in the Iraqi capital. It is staffed with intelligence analysts from all four participating countries, who pass on shared information to their respective countries’ militaries. In October, The Washington Times reported that Iraq had been fully integrated into the Russian-led intelligence-sharing alliance, and that the Iraqi government was already using Russian-supplied intelligence in its war against the Islamic State, according to officials in Baghdad.

Authors: Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen | Date: 31 December 2015 | Permalink