Russia accuses UK of deliberately delaying visas for its diplomats in London

Russian embassy LondonRussia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has accused the British Foreign Office of deliberately delaying the issuance of visas for its diplomatic officials who have been assigned to join the Russian embassy in London. Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has been heading the Russian embassy in London since 2011, said last week that the size of his staff was “shrinking” to unprecedented numbers. The reason, said Yakovenko, was that the government in London appeared to be following a systematic policy of delaying visa requests for Russian diplomats assigned to serve in London.

“As our people return home or go on to other postings, visas for their replacements are not being issued”, said Yakovenko. Consequently, the Russian embassy’s personnel numbers were shrinking, and would shrink even further unless the issue was resolved by Whitehall, he said. The Russian ambassador added that his embassy did not understand “the strategy of this country on visa issues”, implying that London was following a deliberate plan to prevent Russian diplomats from staffing the embassy. But the British Foreign Office responded on Saturday that it was not following a deliberate policy of delaying the issuance of visas for Russian diplomats. The BBC quoted a Foreign Office spokesman who said that the British government had “made it clear to the Russians that the queues [for visa issuances] need to be cleared on both sides”. The comment implies that London’s stance may be a response to efforts by Moscow to reduce the size of the British diplomatic core stationed in the Russian capital.

Bilateral relations between Britain and Russia have suffered since 2006, when the murder of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko in London prompted Whitehall to expel four Russian diplomats stationed there. The Russian involvement in Ukraine and Syria has further strained relations between Moscow and London in recent years. In August of 2015, the Russian Embassy accused the British government of “effectively expelling” four of its diplomats from London by refusing to grant them visas for more than three months.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 October 2016 | Permalink

Germany’s most famous spy on trial for tax evasion, claims money is not his

Werner MaussThe most famous intelligence operative in Germany went on trial last week after his name was linked to dozens of offshore bank accounts and shell companies. But he claims he used these accounts to rescue hostages as part of his undercover work. Werner Mauss became known in 1997, when he was arrested in Colombia while using a forged passport. He had traveled to the Latin American country to secure the release of a German woman who had been kidnapped by leftist guerrillas. The Colombian authorities eventually released him, following heavy diplomatic pressure from the German government. But the German media began investigating his background, and it soon became known that he was working for the Federal Intelligence Service, specializing in negotiating the release of hostages.

Now, in his mid-70s, Mauss enjoys celebrity status in Germany. He claims on his personal website that he was directly involved in neutralizing over 100 criminal gangs and that his work led to the capture of 2,000 criminals and spies. He also claims to have helped prevent dangerous chemical substances from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

Last Monday, however, Mauss appeared in court in the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Bochum, accused of placing millions of euros in undeclared offshore accounts. The German state prosecutor accuses the spy of having dozens of accounts in his name in offshore tax havens such as the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Panama. Government investigators say Mauss hid nearly €15 million (approximately $23 million) in secret accounts between 2002 and 2013. It appears that at least some of the accounts had been opened under aliases that Mauss used during his spy operations.

According to reports in the German media, Mauss first appeared on the government’s radar several years ago, when investigators in North Rhine-Westphalia purchased a CD from a whistleblower who worked in Luxembourg’s UBS bank. Earlier this year, Mauss’ name appeared again, this time in the so-called Panama papers, the massive data leak of documents belonging to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that specialized in offshore wealth management.

According to his lawyers, Mauss did nothing wrong, and claims that he used the shell companies and offshore bank accounts to channel funds to kidnappers in order to secure the release of hostages. Mauss’ legal team also claims that the 76-year-old former spy cannot properly defend himself because he is prevented from speaking freely by the clandestine nature of his work for the government. It is believed that the trial will continue until the end of this year.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 3 October 2016 | Permalink

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

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

Did domestic snooping by Canadian spy agency increase 26-fold in a year?

CSE Canada - IAThe volume of domestic communications that were intercepted by Canada’s spy agency increased 26 times between 2014 and 2015, according to a recently released report by a government watchdog. The same report states that intercepted information about Canadian citizens, which is given to Canada’s spy agency by the intelligence organizations of other Western countries, has increased so much that it now requires an elaborate mechanism to analyze it. When asked to explain the reasons for these increases, Canadian government officials said they could not do so without divulging secrets of national importance.

Information about these increases is contained in the latest annual report by the Office of the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. The body was set up in 1996 to review the operations of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE). Founded in 1946, CSE is Canada’s primary signals intelligence agency. It is responsible for interception foreign communications while at the same time securing the communications of the Canadian government. The Office of the Commissioner monitors CSE’s activities and ensures that they conform with Canadian law. It also investigates complaints against the CSE’s conduct of and its officers.

Canadian law forbids the CSE from intercepting communications in which at least one of the parties participating in the exchange is located in Canada. If that happens, the message exchange is termed “private communication” and CSE is not allowed to intercept it, unless it gets written permission from Canada’s National Defense minister. Such permission is usually given only if the interception is deemed essential to protect Canadian national security or national defense. If a “private communication” is inadvertently intercepted, CSE is required to take “satisfactory measures” to protect the personal privacy of the participant in the exchange that is located inside Canada.

According to the CSE commissioner’s report for 2015, which was released in July, but was only recently made available to the media, CSE intercepted 342 “private communications” in 2014-2015. The year before, the spy agency had intercepted just 13 such exchanges. The report states that all 342 instances of interception during 2014-2015 were either unintentional or critical for the protection of Canada’s security. It further states that the reason for the huge increase is to be found in “the technical characteristics of a particular communications technology and of the manner in which private communications are counted”.

Canadian newspaper The Ottawa Citizen asked the CSE commissioner, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, to explain what he meant by “technical characteristics of a particular communications technology” in his report. His office responded that the commissioner could not explain the subject in more detail, because doing so would “reveal CSE operational capabilities” and thus hurt Canada’s national security. The newspaper also contacted CSE, but was given a similar answer. Some telecommunications security experts speculate that the increase in intercepted “private communications” may be due to exchanges in social media, whereby each message is counted separately.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2016 | Permalink

Ukraine gives Britain intel about Russian ‘hybrid war’ tactics in Crimea

UkraineUkrainian intelligence and defense officials are sharing intelligence with Britain about cutting-edge Russian military tactics in the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. Since the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, observers have noted the sophisticated tactics used by Moscow. The Russian forces seem to be combining their advanced conventional arsenal with electronic warfare and information operations. The latter include the use of deception, spreading propaganda through social media, and computer hacking. Some experts have described Russia’s tactics in the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbass region of Ukraine as a form of “hybrid warfare”, which has its roots in Soviet times. The difference in the contemporary operational landscape is the prominence of electronic resources, which the Russians are simultaneously employing as disinformation channels and tools of sabotage. Following the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, the former Soviet republic is today seen as being at the forefront of Russia’s experimentation with “hybrid warfare”.

According to British newspaper The Times, a delegation of Ukrainian military officials, with considerable experience in studying Russia’s war tactics in Donbass and Crimea, secretly visited the United Kingdom in July for consultations. The paper quoted an anonymous British military source saying that the visit was part of a series of meetings between Ukrainian and British officials. The goal of the meetings, it said, is to understand Russia’s military tactics in the 21st century. The agenda of the secret meetings includes discussion on topics such as the use of radio-electric weapons that disrupt GPS and drone signals, the deployment of sabotage and covert action, or the use of social media to spread disinformation. Russian tactics that have been discussed include the use of acoustics to locate snipers in an urban battlefield, tactical coordination of drones in fleets, and the widespread use of cellular telephone messages to target civilian populations.

A representative of the UK’s Ministry of Defense, who was contacted by The Times, admitted that “a small delegation from Ukraine was hosted” in Britain “as part of a think-tank sponsored visit”, but refused to provide further details. The paper said the meetings will probably continue and may even widen in scope to include staff from North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 August 2016 | Permalink

Sophisticated spy malware found on Russian government computers

FSB - IAAccording to the predominant media narrative, the United States is constantly defending itself against cyber-attacks from countries like China and Russia. But, as intelNews has argued for years, this narrative is misleading. Recent intelligence disclosures clearly show that the US cyber-security posture is as offensive as that of its major adversaries. Additionally, China and Russia have to defend their computer networks as much as America does. Last weekend’s report from Moscow helps restore some of the balance that is missing from media reporting on cyber-security. According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), a meticulously coded and sophisticated virus has been found on the computer networks of at least 20 major Russian agencies and organizations. The targets appear to have been carefully selected by the malware’s authors. They include government bodies, weapons laboratories and defense contractors located throughout Russia.

The FSB said that once installed, the virus gave its handler control of the infected computer system. It permitted an outside hacker to turn on a computer’s microphone or camera, and capture screenshots. It also stealthily installed keylogging software, thus allowing an outside party to monitor keyboard strokes on an infected system. Based on its functions, the malicious software seems to be designed to conduct deep surveillance on infected computers and their physical surroundings. The FSB would not attribute the malware to a specific hacking group or nation. But it said it believed that the malware attack was “coordinated”, “planned and planned professionally”. It also said that the coding of the virus “required considerable expertise”. In a brief statement released Saturday, the FSB said that aspects of the coding of the virus, as well as other identifying information, resembled those detected in preceding hacking attacks on computer servers in Russia and other countries. The statement did not elaborate, however.

The news about hacked Russian computers comes less than two weeks after it was claimed that Russian government-backed hackers stole electronic data belonging to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in the United States. The Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, publicly accused the Russian government of orchestrating the hacking of the DNC computer systems in an attempt to damage her campaign.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 01 August 2016 | Permalink