Libya gave French ex-president Sarkozy $8 million, says Gaddafi’s spy chief

Abdullah al-SenussiA senior intelligence advisor to Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi has reportedly told French investigators that the Libyan government gave $8 million to the election campaign of France’s ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s 30-year political legacy has been marred by a series of financial scandals, for which he is currently under investigation. In March of last year, the former French president issued strong denials of accusations that he accepted an illicit multi-million monetary donation from Gaddafi during his 2007 campaign for the presidency. During a 20-minute television interview, Sarkozy described the investigation into the allegations that he acted as an agent of influence for Libya as “a waste of time”, arguing that it was over an alleged donation of less than $45,000, which represented a tiny fraction of his campaign budget.

But according to the French investigative news website Mediapart, a team of French judges was told by Gaddafi’s former spy chief that Sarkozy was given millions of dollars in secret by the Libyan state. Abdullah al-Senussi, who oversaw the Libyan intelligence agencies under Gaddafi, reportedly told the French investigators that the funding was part of a secret deal between the two parties. In 1979, Senussi married the sister of Gaddafi’s wife and remained a trusted confidante of the Libyan leader until his violent death in 2011. According to Mediapart, he told the French judges that he personally supervised the transfer of funds to Sarkozy’s election campaign. He said that the payments entered the campaign’s coffers via a French government minister who received the funds from Libyan agents in two separate installments in 2006. In return, Sarkozy promised to help reinstate Gaddafi’s international image if he was elected president. He also promised to impede attempts by Western countries to arrest Gaddafi and some of his senior government aides —including Senussi— for terrorist crimes. Senussi allegedly said that Sarkozy himself promised him that his international arrest warrants would be quelled with the help of the French president’s personal lawyers. Sarkozy later hosted Gaddafi in Paris in a lavish setting in 2007.

Mediapart said that it accessed Senussi’s testimony before the French judges after getting hold of extracts from his formal statements during his interviews. It added that the information provided by Senussi appears to confirm similar claims made by other witnesses in the investigation about Sarkozy’s alleged illegal campaign funding. The former French president is currently involved in a separate legal dispute concerning alleged illegal spending during his failed campaign for the presidency in 2012.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 February 2019 | Permalink

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German chancellor inaugurates world’s largest spy agency headquarters in Berlin

BND GermanyThe chancellor of Germany has officially inaugurated the largest headquarters of any spy agency in the world. Last Friday, Angela Merkel led the public ceremony that marked the opening of the Zentrale des Bundesnachrichtendienstes, which is the new headquarters of the German Federal Intelligence Service. Known by the initials BND, the agency operates as Germany’s primary foreign intelligence service. It employs close to 7,000 people in more than 300 locations around the world, and its annual budget is approximately €1 billion ($1.13 billion).

Until recently, the BND was headquartered in the outskirts Munich, in the southern German state of Bavaria. But as of last week, the spy agency has officially moved to its new headquarters in downtown Berlin. The massive new complex is located in the German capital’s affluent Mitte district, just a stone’s throw from a section of what used to be the Berlin War —a major symbol of the Cold War. The new complex spans 3 million sq. ft., making it the largest headquarters of any intelligence agency in the world. The United States Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters at Langley, Virginia, comes a close second. Construction on the site in Mitte began in 2006 and was initially scheduled for completion in 2011, but was finally finished in 2017, 12 years after it began. It cost approximately €1 billion ($1.13 billion). British newspaper The Guardian reports that the new complex consists of 20,000 tons of steel and has 14,000 windows and 12,000 doors. The land on which the new BND headquarters is built used to be the site of police barracks, until it was heavily damaged by bombing carried out by the Allied forces in 1945. Following the partition of Germany, East German authorities built a sports complex and stadium on the site, which was demolished in 1999, in preparation for Germany’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.

According to reports in the German media, just over 3,000 BND employees have already relocated from Munich to the new BND headquarters, while another 800 are expected to relocate there in the coming year. During her speech on Friday, Chancellor Merkel said that the world was becoming “increasingly confusing”, which made the need for a “strong and efficient [German] foreign intelligence service […] more urgent than ever”. Interestingly, the new complex features a sizeable visitor’s center that is open to the public, making the BND the world’s first foreign intelligence agency with a public-access visitors’ facility.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 February 2019 | Permalink

Hundreds of foreign spies in Brussels, European diplomatic agency warns

European Commission buildingThe European Union’s diplomatic agency has warned officials who are active in Belgium to watch out for “hundreds of spies” from various foreign countries, according to a German news report. The report appeared last weekend in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper, which cited a report from the European External Action Service (EEAS). Based in Brussels, the EEAS operates as the European Union’s diplomatic agency and is headed by Federica Mogherini, an Italian former government minister who has been serving as the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy since 2014.

According to Die Welt, the EEAS estimates that “approximately 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies” are operating in Brussels. Most of these intelligence officers are allegedly embedded in their countries’ embassies, trade missions, cultural centers and other outreach facilities in the Belgian capital. There are also many intelligence operatives from Western agencies, including those of the United States, as well as from Iran, Turkey and Morocco, among other foreign nations. The report in Die Welt adds that the EEAS advised European Union diplomats to avoid certain establishments in the European Quarter of Brussels, which are believed to be heavily frequented by international spies. Among them are “a popular steakhouse and café” that are “within walking distance of the Berlaymont building” —the headquarters of the European Commission. The same building houses the offices of the EEAS.

Such warnings are not new. In June of last year, Peter Gridling, head of Austria’s main counterintelligence agency, said during a rare public appearance that Vienna —the spy capital of the world— no longer topped the list of preferred destinations for the world’s spies. He said that the Austrian capital had been overtaken by Brussels as the spy capital of Europe and added that, according to his agency’s calculations, there was a greater density of spies in Brussels than in any other European capital. When asked to specify the number of foreign intelligence operatives that are active in Vienna, Gridling said it was “in the neighborhood of hundreds of people, but certainly fewer than 1,000”. In 2012, Alain Winants, former Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE), claimed that Brussels was home to more spies than any other city in the world.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 February 2019 | Permalink

Japanese police investigate online sale of uranium on Yahoo! auction website

Uranium yellow cakePolice in Japan are investigating how a man was able to offer uranium for sale through an online auction website operated by Yahoo!, a California-based provider of Internet services. Japanese news agencies reported on Friday that the alleged product was displayed packed inside a transparent glass tube on the online auctions site. It was advertised as “Uranium 99.9%”. There was no information about the sale’s starting price on Yahoo! Auctions. The website, Yahoo! Kantan Kessai, is a rare remnant of the California-based company’s worldwide auction service, which terminated its operations in most countries between 2002 and 2008. But smaller segments survive in Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong.

In November 2017, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority was notified by a user that a product described as “Uranium 99.9%” was on offer on the auction website. After investigating the case, the agency notified the police in January of the following year, which in turn contacted Yahoo! and brought the auction to its attention. The incident was not disclosed to the media at the time, so that the police and intelligence services could investigate whether a network of individuals was involved in the case. Meanwhile, the seller and several individuals who had made bids on the product were arrested and questioned. The substance was confiscated and given to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency for tests. According to local media reports, initial tests conducted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency showed that the substance is indeed radioactive. Further tests showed that the material is uranium, as advertised, though a question remains as to whether it is depleted uranium or uranium concentrate. It is not known whether the uranium is enriched (thus having an increased percent composition of uranium-235 through isotope separation) or depleted (the less radioactive byproduct of the process of isotope separation).

Reports also suggest that the main suspect in the case told authorities that he acquired the uranium from a seller located outside Japan, who sold it on an international auction website. Reports suggest that, depending on the outcome of ongoing laboratory results, the seller of the substance faces imprisonment of up to a year and a fine of up to ¥1 million (less than $10,000).

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 February 2019 | Permalink

Venezuelan government quells armed uprising by National Guard troops in Caracas

Bolivarian National GuardThe government of Venezuela said on Tuesday that it had quelled an armed uprising by nearly 30 members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) in Caracas, which sparked an all-night riot in the Venezuelan capital. On Tuesday government officials announced the arrest of 27 members of the GNB who allegedly revolted against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Several videos were posted in pro-opposition social media accounts the night before. They showed young men in military uniforms brandishing weapons and calling on all Venezuelans to rise up against the country’s government. In one video posted on Twitter, a man wearing a GNB uniform said that he and his comrades in arms were speaking out “on behalf of the people of Venezuela”. He then urged viewers to “take to the streets” and bring down the government.

Early on Tuesday, officials in the Venezuelan Ministry of People’s Defense said that the officers had raided a GNB command post in Petare, a neighborhood in northwestern Caracas. They allegedly immobilized the command post guards and stole several weapons. The rebels then made their way to Cotiza, a neighborhood that is adjacent to Petare, and is considered a stronghold of anti-government sentiment. Late on Monday a number of videos emerged on social media that showed young men clashing with riot police in Cotiza. Police forces were seen using tear gas and noise grenades, while some of the rioters built makeshift barricades using cars, dumpsters and other large objects. However, no gunshots were heard coming from either side.

By noon on Tuesday the riot had ended and it appeared that all GNB rebels had been neutralized or gone into hiding. Government sources said that all 27 rebels had been arrested and were alive, but shared no information about the precise circumstances of their capture. It is not known whether they voluntarily surrendered to the police or whether they were somehow overpowered. Defense Ministry officials said that all stolen weapons had been retrieved and described the rebels as people representing “the shadowy interests of the far right”. All 27 GNB rebels were being questioned on Tuesday and Venezuelan officials said that they would be subjected to “the full force of the law”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 January 2019 | Permalink

Spanish judge broadens probe into 20-year illegal wiretap network

José Manuel VillarejoA judge in Spain has widened an investigation into an illegal network that spied on scores of politicians, business executives, journalists and judges for over 20 years, in return for payments by wealthy clients. At the center of the case is José Manuel Villarejo, a 67-year-old former police chief, who was arrested in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps and remains in pre-trial custody. State prosecutors accuse Villarejo of running an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. The latter were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many of Villarejo’s targets were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of information collected by the former police chief and his network.

The court heard this week that the accused maintained an extensive network of informants with whom he had worked during his time in the police force. These informants worked for telecommunications service providers, the banking sector, and even at Agencia Tributaria, Spain’s tax revenue service. They are accused of providing Villarejo’s network with information that helped him zero in on his targets, such as confidential tax returns, subscriber records of personal telephone calls, bank account numbers, and asset ownership lists. It is believed that several Spanish politicians were among Villarejo’s clients, as was the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, one of Spain’s largest banks.

On Wednesday, the court heard from five active police officers and an employee of the Agencia Tributaria, who testified about having worked for Villarejo’s network. The six men testified about so-called Operation KITCHEN, which targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular —known as PP, or the People’s Party. The purpose of Operation KITCHEN was to wiretap Bárcenas’ communications without acquiring a court warrant, said the witnesses. In 2018 Bárcenas was jailed for 33 years for his role in the so-called Gürtel case, the largest corruption scandal in modern Spanish history, which brought down the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in July of last year. The trial continues.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 January 2019 | Permalink

US sent troops to OPEC member Gabon just days before military coup

Libreville, GabonThe United States deployed troops to the Central African nation of Gabon just days before a group of military officers staged tried to take over power in the oil-rich nation on Monday. Situated on the Atlantic coastline of Central Africa, Gabon is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). However, despite producing of 176,000 barrels of oil per day, making it one of Africa’s most significant oil producers, over a third of its 2 million inhabitants live below the official poverty line. The country has been ruled by the Bongo family for over a century with its current President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, having led the country since his father’s death a decade ago. In October of last year, however, Bongo went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after suffering a stroke, and has yet to return. In a televised message aired on New Year’s Day, Bongo told the citizens of Gabon that he was recovering and would soon be returning to his duties.

But in the early hours of Monday gun shots were reported in the vicinity of the studios of Radio Télévision Gabonaise (RTG), the country’s state-owned national broadcaster in the capital city, Libreville. A few hours later, regular broadcasting was suspended. A message was transmitted on the national radio station frequency by troops claiming to be members of a group calling itself the Patriotic Movement of the Defense and Security Forces of Gabon. Its leader, a man identifying himself as Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, said that the armed forces had “doubts” about President Bongo’s “ability to perform the responsibilities of his office”. He also announced the formation of a “Council of National Restoration” that would “ensure the smooth operation of the state and guarantee a transition to democracy”. However, a few hours later a government spokesman told international media that the coup had been defeated and that Lieutenant Obiang was under arrest. Two of his co-conspirators had been killed, said the spokesman.

Interestingly, the US deployed 80 American soldiers to Gabon on January 2, less than a week before the coup unfolded. In a letter sent to Congress on January 4, US President Donald Trump said that the troops would be stationed in Libreville and would carry with them “appropriate combat equipment”. Their purpose, said President Trump, would be to provide security protection for US “citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities” in Kinshasa, capital of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Security analysts fear that the pending announcement of the delayed election results in the DRC may spark widespread riots in the country of 81 million people. On Monday, a spokesman for the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) told reporters that there was “no change in the status of our forces in Gabon” and that they would not be involved in the domestic political situation. The US troops were “not currently tasked with securing [US] diplomatic assets [in Gabon]”, added the AFRICOM spokesman. However, AFRICOM said that additional US troops may deploy to Gabon, the DRC or the Republic of the Congo, should the need arise.

It is not known whether the coup plotters were aware of the presence of the 80 US troops in Libreville when they tried to take over power on Monday.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 January 2019 | Permalink