FBI is vetting all 25,000 US National Guard members at Biden’s inauguration

US Capitol attackIN AN UNPRECEDENTED MOVE, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly vetting every member of the United States National Guard who will be present at the upcoming inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. According to the Associated Press, the decision to vet the National Guard troops was taken after US defense officials expressed concerns about a potential “insider attack […] from service members involved in securing” the inauguration ceremony.

Approximately 25,000 members of the National Guard will be present in Washington on Wednesday, alongside police and other security personnel. Their numbers are expected to dwarf protective measures taken in previous inaugural events, including those of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. It is not uncommon for troops to undergo background checks, especially in the post-9/11 security environment. But it is highly unusual for the FBI to vet that many individuals so quickly in preparation of a specific event. It is also uncommon in recent years for the focus to be on domestic rightwing threats to security, as opposed to Islamist threats.

On Monday the Associated Press quoted the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, who said that military officials were “conscious of the potential threat” to security by insider threats. He added that he had “warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within the ranks” in the run-up to Wednesday. The news agency said the FBI began vetting the troops over a week ago, and expected to complete the process in time for the inauguration.

Meanwhile, in a related report, the Associated Press said last week that investigators probing the attack on the US Capitol on January 6 were concerned about the large numbers of attackers who appeared to display evidence of military training during the riot. There were “scores of people” mixed in the crowd of insurgents who “either had military training or were trained by those who did”, said the news agency. Others sported military-style gear, such as body armor, helmets, tactical vests, and two-way radios. There were even groups of insurgents who appeared to employ military tactics, such as moving among the crowd in formation.

The US Department of Defense is reportedly conducting investigations into its members who were allegedly involved in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Large police departments around the country, including Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Houston, are also investigating whether any of their employees participated in the attack on the Capitol, according to the Associated Press.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 January 2020 | Permalink

Domestic extremists now pose the ‘greatest terrorism threat’ to the US, says report

US Capitol - IADOMESTIC EXTREMISTS, MOTIVATED BY conspiracy theories and opposed to mitigation measures against the coronavirus, pose “the greatest domestic terrorism threats” against the United States in 2021, according to a new government report. The report, dated January 13, is contained in a Joint Intelligence Bulletin, which is produced jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center. It was accessed by Yahoo News, which reported on its contents on Wednesday.

Using blunt language, the bulletin warns that the attack on the Capitol on January 6 is very likely to motivate extremists to carry out more violent attacks across the country in 2021. In the coming months, violence will likely be “more sporadic, lone actor or small cell violence”, and will be carried out by “a loosely organized, sustained, and significant […] population” of domestic violent extremists (DVEs). These can be grouped into anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists (AGAAVE), militia violent extremists (MVEs), and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs), according to the bulletin.

These actors broadly view the riot as a success for their cause and perceive it “as a step toward achieving their initiatives”. It will therefore “likely serve as a significant driver of violence [and] inspire others to commit” further violence in the coming weeks and months, the bulletin warns. The attack on the Capitol should therefore be seen as “part of an ongoing trend, in which extremists use demonstrations to carry out ideologically motivated violence”. Such violence is increasingly directed against members of the media, who are seen by DVEs as being complicit “in a system hostile to their beliefs”.

The bulletin also cautions that the recent purges of DVE users from mainstream social media platforms is prompting them to resort to fringe platforms, which they perceive as more secure. This mass migration is “further challenging” the ability of the authorities “to identify and warn of specific threats”, the bulletin concludes.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 January 2021 | Permalink

Austria expels alleged assassin accused of working for Turkish government

Berivan AslanAUSTRIAN AUTHORITIES HAVE REPORTEDLY expelled from the country an Italian citizen of Turkish origin, who was allegedly hired by the Turkish government as an assassin. The man, Feyyaz Öztürk, 53, reportedly turned himself in to Austrian intelligence last year. According to the British press, Öztürk claimed he had been hired by the Turkish government to assassinate Berivan Aslan (pictured). Aslan, who is of Kurdish heritage, is a Viennese parliamentarian and a leading critic of Turkey’s treatment of its minority Kurdish population.

News reports claimed Öztürk’s mission was to terrorize members of the Kurdish expatriate community in Austria and elsewhere in Europe, who tend to be vocal critics of the Turkish government’s human rights record. British newspaper The Telegraph claimed that Öztürk had been tasked by Ankara to “ensure [Aslan] was hurt or died”, so that “other politicians get the message”. Öztürk also claimed that Turkish intelligence officials had blackmailed him in order to force him to carry out Alsan’s assassination. Moreover, he had been asked to kill two more Austrian public figures who are of Kurdish origin.

However, Öztürk reportedly aborted the assassination operation in March of last year, after he broke his leg in an accident during a trip to the northern Italian city of Rimini. Austrian prosecutors confirmed that an official investigation on Öztürk had concluded. It found that he had carried out “military espionage on behalf of a foreign state”, but did it not identify the state. Turkey has strongly denied that its intelligence agencies have any connection with Öztürk.

Öztürk’s espionage trial has been scheduled for February 4. However, according to Austrian law, he cannot be held in pre-trial detention and must be freed prior to his day in court. Rather than allow him freedom of movement inside Austria, the authorities decided to expel him to Italy. Öztürk’s lawyer said yesterday that her client had been designated “an imminent danger to public security” and taken to the Italian border shortly before Christmas.

The lawyer added that Öztürk wishes to return to Austria to attend his trial in February. There are suspicions among intelligence observers that the Austrian state would prefer Öztürk not to return to Austria, so as to avoid exposing espionage methods and sources in court. Meanwhile, Aslan said she remains under police protection, which was initially extended to her last year, when the alleged assassination plot against her became known.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 January 2020 | Permalink

Mutual distrust of China heightens US-Indian intelligence cooperation to historic levels

India External Affairs MinistryINTELLIGENCE COOPERATION BETWEEN THE United States and India has reached historic levels in the closing months of 2020, and is driven by the two countries’ mutual distrust of China. This development is particularly noteworthy for India, which has traditionally maintained a non-aligned stance in military and intelligence matters for much of its existence. New Delhi’s increasingly close relationship with Washington is described by some experts as “a revolution in the way that India views the world and aligns with partners in Asia”.

The deepening intelligence cooperation between India has its roots in 2002, when the military forces of the two nations formalized intelligence-sharing systems on matters of regional security. In 2016, a new bilateral logistics agreement enabled them to share each other’s facilities in order to repair or resupply vehicles, vessels and aircraft. Two years later, the US gave India access to secure communications equipment that is also used by the US Navy and Air Force.

These military- and intelligence-sharing agreements were reinforced in recent months, after India and China were involved in a bloody border dispute in the Himalayan region. The heated dispute lasted for over a month, resulting in the death of nearly 30 Indian and Chinese military officers. The incidents alarmed observers, as they marked the first violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in several decades. Since that time, India has deliberately deepened its intelligence-sharing relationship with the US, led by its growing rift with China.

The most recent demonstration of the deepening relationship between India and the US is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which was signed by Washington and New Delhi in October of this year. It allows US intelligence agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, to provide India with archival and real-time geospatial data. The latter includes aeronautical, nautical and topographical intelligence, much of which concerns China or the activities of Chinese vessels and aircraft in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. BECA is said to be instrumental in allowing India to advance its understanding of Chinese military targets, as well as detect the pattern of Chinese military activity in the wider region. However, the agreement has raised concerns among officials in India’s regional foe, Pakistan, as well as in Russia, which has historically been one of India’s closest regional allies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 December 2020 | Permalink

British Channel Islands being used as ‘offshore global spy center’ study finds

Cell Phone - IATHE CHANNEL ISLANDS, AN archipelago consisting of dependencies of the British Crown located off the northern coast of France, are being used as an offshore global spy center due to their unregulated telecommunications industry, according to a new study. The archipelago is made up of Jersey and Guernsey, groups of islands that are not technically part of Britain, but are instead considered offshore British territories. They are regularly new study as offshore tax havens.

But now a referred to by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, claims that lax regulation of the Channel Islands’ telecommunications systems is allowing foreign spy agencies and contractors to use them as a base to carry out worldwide surveillance operations. Many of these operations rely on SS7, a decades-old feature of the global cellular telecommunications system, which allows cellular providers to provide service to mobile phone users as they travel internationally.

The SS7 system allows a mobile phone registered in a specific country to be used in a different country, and its user to be billed for the service. But to do so with accuracy, the SS7 system enables the service provider to track the owner of the device being charged for the phone call. This is done through what is known in cellular telecommunications parlance as a Provide Subscriber Location, or PSL, request.

Citing “leaked data, documents and interviews with industry insiders”, the study claims that intelligence agencies exploit the Channel Islands’ lax telecommunications regulation, which allows them to file PSL requests, not for billing purposes, but to detect the physical whereabouts of targets around the world. They do so by renting access from mobile phone operators based in the Channel Islands.

These PSL requests originate from Britain’s +44 country code, which is generally trusted in the global telecommunications industry, and are thus facilitated without raising suspicions. Notably, many of these PSL queries do not seek to acquire bulk data on users, but rather target specific individuals around the world. Additionally, if handled in certain ways, PSL queries can provide spies with access to the content of targeted communications, and thus information relating to unsuspecting users’ personal data, including text messages, bank accounts and passwords.

The study suggests that the British government is aware of this misuse of the system, but is finding it difficult to stop it because it has no direct legal jurisdiction over the Channel Islands.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 December 2020 | Permalink

Research uncovers vast online disinformation network with presence in 100 countries

EU DisinfoLabA TEAM OF RESEARCHERS in Belgium has uncovered one of the world’s largest known online disinformation networks, which has existed for 15 years and is believed to incorporate at least 750 fake media outlets in over 100 countries. The network, described by researchers as “one of the most persistent and complex operations” in the area of disinformation, is believed to exist in order to support the national interests of India.

A team of researchers at the Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab has termed the network “Indian Chronicles”. This is also the title of an extensive 90-page report (.pdf), which was published on Wednesday. The researchers stress that the size of the disinformation network, and its systematic promotion of Indian interests, do not in themselves provide proof that the Indian government and its intelligence services are behind the project.

They do note, however, that the Indian Chronicles network of fake media outlets relies extensively on news reports that are produced by the Asian News International (ANI). Founded in 1971 in Delhi, ANI is India’s largest news bureau and the nation’s most prolific provider of news-related television content. There is no evidence that ANI is aware of the Indian Chronicles network. Additionally, according to EU DisinfoLab, the disinformation network has links with “at least 10” non-government organizations (NGOs) that have been accredited by the United Nations.

Some of these NGOs have been known to promote Indian views vis-à-vis Pakistan’s and China’s views in the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies. They also own think-tanks and publishing houses that publish books and monographs supporting Indian positions on international affairs. The network also relies on hundreds of fake news websites that use fake personas of fictitious editors and reporters, and have been registered using fake names and non-existent contact information. The content of these fake publishers is then forwarded to United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies, in an attempt to influence decision-making, according to EU DisinfoLab.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 December 2020 | Permalink

Trump administration cancels parole for US Navy analyst who spied for Israel

Pollard - aA UNITED STATES NAVY analyst who spent 30 years in prison after being convicted of spying on the United States for Israel, is expected to receive a hero’s welcome in Israel in the coming days, after the administration of President Donald Trump lifted his parole restrictions that prevented him from leaving the country. Jonathan Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy, was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving a lengthy sentence for selling US government secrets to Israel.

Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, claiming that the convicted spy did not harm American interests, but was simply trying to help Israel. However, the US Intelligence Community and successive American presidents consistently rejected Israel’s claims, arguing that Pollard’s activities were severely detrimental to US interests. Pollard was eventually released after serving the entirety of his sentence.

Ever since his release, Pollard had been required to wear an ankle monitor at all times. His Internet browsing was strictly regulated by the US government and he was not permitted to leave his New York home after sunset. He was also not permitted to leave the US, and Washington had refused to allow him to move to Israel, for fear that the Israeli government would provide him with monetary rewards for his espionage.

But now Pollard is expected to travel to Israel soon, after the Department of Justice announced on Friday that his parole would not be renewed —a move that effectively allows Pollard to leave the United States for the first time since his imprisonment. His lawyer, Eliot Lauer, told an Israeli television station that Pollard would soon be departing for Israel, adding that he looked forward to “seeing our client in Israel”. On Saturday, a press statement issued from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the lifting of Pollard’s parole restrictions, and said Israeli leaders “hope to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon”.

Pollard is expected to receive a hero’s welcome in Israel, where he has achieved celebrity status. He is especially revered by supporters of the center-right Likud party, which is currently led by Netanyahu. There are, however, many in Israel who see Pollard as an opportunist and have derided him publicly for accusing the state of Israel of abandoning him. Others in the Israeli intelligence community see the Pollard episode as deeply damaging to relations between the United States and Israel, and are critical of the decision to recruit Pollard, whose carelessness and brazen espionage style were bound to lead to his arrest sooner or later.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 November 2020 | Permalink

Senior Homeland Security officials resign, reportedly under White House pressure

Department of Homeland Security DHS

TWO SENIOR OFFICIALS AT the United States Department of Homeland Security have resigned, reportedly after coming under pressure to do by the White House. The resignations may point to the latest incidents in an ongoing string of firings and resignations in the US intelligence and national security communities, part of a concerted effort by President Donald Trump.

The more senior of the two DHS officials who have resigned as of today is Bryan Ware, DHS assistant director for cybersecurity. Ware served at the DHS’s cybersecurity wing, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). CISA was created by the Trump administration two years ago, when the president signed into law the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act. The mission of the young agency is to streamline cybersecurity efforts across government agencies and departments, in order to improve the government’s cybersecurity protections.

Ware’s resignation coincided with a rare announcement by top officials at CISA, which called the US presidential election of November 3 “the most secure in American history”. The officials, who are members of the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) Executive Committee, added that “[t]here is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised”. The announcement appeared to be a refutation of claims made by President Trump and his supporters that the election was marred by significant irregularities.

The DHS assistant secretary for international affairs, Valerie Boyd, also resigned as of today. In her resignation letter, Boyd states that her “belief that people of character should support the institution of the Presidency […] has been tested many times these past few years”. In his farewell letter to colleagues, Ware states that his departure from the DHS came “too soon”, indicating that the decision to resign was not his own. Several sources suggest that both Ware and Boyd were pressured to resign by White House aides close to President Trump.

Reporters said last night that officials at the White House, the DHS and the CISA did not respond to requests for comment about the two DHS officials’ resignations. There were also rumors last night that CISA director, Chris Krebs, would be fired by President Trump in a matter of days.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 November 2020 | Permalink

COVID-19 is changing the map of cyber-crime activity, says British spy agency

GCHQ - IA

THE CYBER-SECURITY BRANCH of Britain’s signals intelligence agency has said in a new report that the coronavirus pandemic is changing the map of cyber-crime by illicit actors, including state-sponsored hackers. The unclassified report was released on Tuesday by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is the cyber-security branch of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Founded over a century ago, the GCHQ is responsible for, among other things, securing the communications systems of the British government and the country’s armed forces.

In its latest Annual Review, the NCSC warns that “criminals and hostile states” are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic in order to challenge the national security of Britain and its allies. In an introductory note included in the report, NCSC director Jeremy Fleming says that the balance of cyber-threats has changed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. According to the report, British cyber-security agencies saw a 10% rise in serious cyber-threat incidents in 2020. More than a third of these incidents were related to COVID-19, and many targeted Britain’s healthcare sector.

The report suggests that attacks against the British National Healthcare Service and vaccine research facilities constitute a rapidly emerging cyber-espionage risk. The majority of these attacks were carried out by state-sponsored actors, including Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 29, which is also known as “Cozy Bear” and “The Dukes”. According to Western intelligence services, APT29 is a Russian state-sponsored cyber-espionage outfit, which has been known to target facilities involved in the development of coronavirus-related vaccines.

Other cyber-threat actors have no connections to foreign governments, but are instead motivated by profit. The NCSC said it had managed to disrupt over 15,000 campaigns by cyber-criminals to use coronavirus as a bait in order to trick unsuspecting Internet users into downloading malicious software or providing personal information online. Some cyber-criminal networks contacted clinics and other businesses who were in desperate need of personal protective equipment, coronavirus testing kits, and even purported cures against the virus, said the NCSC. Some of these unsuspecting victims were offered fictitious quantities of coronavirus-related equipment, which were never delivered.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 November 2020 | Permalink

Dutch hacker says he logged into Trump’s Twitter account by guessing password

Twitter IA

A DUTCH ETHICAL COMPUTER hacker and cybersecurity expert claims to have logged into the personal Twitter account of United States President Donald Trump, reportedly after guessing his password. The hacker, Victor Gevers, took several screenshots of the private interface of Trump’s Twitter account, and shared them with Dutch news media, before contacting US authorities to notify them of the breach.

Trump attributes much of his popularity and electoral success to social media, and is especially fond of Twitter as a means of communication. He has tweeted nearly 20,000 times since 2015 (including re-tweets), with at least 6,000 of those tweets appearing in 2020 alone. His personal account, which uses the moniker @realDonaldTrump, has almost 90 million followers.

But Gevers, a self-described ethical computer hacker, cybersecurity researcher and activist, said he was able to guess the American president’s password and log into his Twitter account after four failed attempts. The hacker claims that Trump’s password was “maga2020!”. According to Gevers, Trump’s account did not require a two-factor authentication log-in process, which usually requires a password coupled with a numeric code that is sent to a user’s mobile telephone. As a result, Gevers said he was able to access Trump’s private messages on Twitter and —had he wanted to— post tweets in the name of the US president. He could also change Trump’s profile image, had he chosen to do so.

The Dutch hacker took several screenshots of the webpages he was able to access and emailed them to Volkskrant, a Dutch daily newspaper, and Vrij Nederland, an investigative monthly magazine. Shortly after accessing Trump’s account, Gevers said he contacted the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), which operates under the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. He said the US president’s password was changed “shortly after”, and that he was then contacted by the US Secret Service.

Also on Thursday, a Twitter spokesman said the company’s security team had seen “no evidence to corroborate” Gevers’ claim. He added that the San Francisco, California-based social media company had “proactively implemented account security measures for a designated group of high-profile, election-related Twitter accounts in the United States, including federal branches of government”. Such measures included “strongly” encouraging such accounts to enable two-factor authentication, said the spokesman. But he did not specify whether Trump’s account had activated this feature. The White House also denied Gevers’ claim, calling it “absolutely not true” and adding that it would “not comment on security procedures around the president’s social media accounts”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 October 2020 | Permalink

FBI reorganizes cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage divisions as cases rise

FBI

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is reorganizing its cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage divisions in order to combat growing activity in those areas, while also increasing its cross-agency contacts. The goal is to reinforce investigations into computer hacking perpetrated by organized cyber-criminals, as well as by foreign states aiming to steal government and corporate secrets.

According to the Reuters news agency, the FBI made the decision to reorganize its cyber divisions after Internet-based crime and espionage cases rose to unprecedented levels in the past year, a trend that is partly driven by the COVID-19 epidemic. Aside from the damage caused to national security, the financial loss associated with computer hacking is said to be incalculable.

In an interview with Reuters, Matt Gorham, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division (established in 2002), said the reorganization includes both the Bureau’s cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage wings. It also includes increased FBI emphasis on the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF), an amalgamation of cyber-security specialists from dozens of US federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Under the new system, the NCIJTF will serve as the coordinating body of the US government’s cyber-security efforts. Additionally, said Gorham, the FBI is creating “mission centers” located within various cyber units, and connect their work with the NCIJTF. These mission centers will include concentrations on specific cyber-espionage actors, such as Iran, North Korea, China or Russia. Lastly, the restructured NCIJTF will increase its contacts with domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, as well as with telecommunications service providers, which are engaged on the front lines of the fight against cyber-crime and cyber-espionage.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2020 | Permalink

South Korean ex-deputy spy chief sentenced to prison for diverting secret funds

Lee Jong-myeongA former deputy director of South Korea’s spy agency has been given a prison sentence for diverting funds from the agency’s clandestine operations budget, in order to aid South Korea’s disgraced former President, Lee Myung-bak, who has himself been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Lee Jong-myeong served as third deputy director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) under the conservative administration of Lee Myung-bak. In 2013, Lee was succeeded by another conservative president, Park Geun-hye, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for corruption. As intelNews has previously reported, several senior NIS officials, including three of its former directors, have been sentenced to prison for diverting agency funds to psychological operations aimed at preventing the election of liberal politicians.

Now the probe into the NIS’ illegal political activity has expanded to include the organization’s mid-level management, including Lee Jong-myeong. On Monday, the Seoul Central District Court found Lee guilty of spending nearly $500,000 from the NIS’ clandestine operations budget to discredit two liberal former presidents, Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung. The goal of the campaign was to convince the South Korean electorate that a future liberal president would surrender the reigns of the country to North Korea.

These revelations have sparked a major overhaul of South Korea’s intelligence system, which some observers have described as the NIS’ “most dramatic shake-up in decades”. The government reportedly intends to prevent the NIS from having any domestic role, and to limit its operations to foreign targets. But some conservative politicians have accused the current administration of left-of-center president Moon Jae-in of “defanging” the NIS.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 September 2020 | Permalink

Spanish high court broadens illegal wiretap probe to include senior politicians

Luis BárcenasA court in Spain has begun to examine the findings of a long-running probe into an illegal network that spied on people in return for payments, which almost certainly implicates senior figures in the former governing party. The probe focuses on what is known in Spain as the Gürtel case, which is described by observers as one of the most extensive corruption scandals in Spanish political history. It centers on an extensive network of tax evasion, bribery and money laundering, which brought together leading business executives, criminal kingpins, and senior politicians from Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP).

In May of 2018, Spain’s highest criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional, ruled that senior PP officials had enriched themselves with kickbacks and bribes, and had laundered the money with assistance from the criminal underworld. The scandal effectively brought an end to the government of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy later that year, and has virtually annihilated the once robust electoral popularity of the PP.

IntelNews has followed a series of scandals linked to the Gürtel case, notably a case involving 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 custody. According to Spanish prosecutors, Villarejo was in charge of 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.

Now a new side of the Gürtel case is about to emerge, as the Audiencia Nacional has unsealed a probe that sheds further light into Operation KITCHEN. This refers to an espionage effort connected to the Gürtel case, which targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular. Bárcenas had in his possession bookkeeping documents that shed light on a secret system for recording illicit funds in possession of PP administrators and senior party figures —for which Bárcenas was eventually given a 33-year prison sentence that he is currently serving.

Once senior government executives were notified by advisors that Bárcenas had these documents, and that he may be planning to share them with the authorities in order to secure a lighter prison sentence for himself, they allegedly set up an espionage operation aimed at preventing Bárcenas’ documents from ending up in the hands of the authorities. Villarejo was allegedly in charge of the espionage operation, which is how Operation KITCHEN connects with the broader Gürtel case. The probe of Operation KITCHEN was unsealed on Monday by Audiencia Nacional Judge Manuel García Castellón. A new series of prosecutions is now expected to take place in the coming weeks, in connection to Operation KITCHEN, which will almost certainly involve leading PP figures.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 September 2020 | Permalink

US troops remain in Russian-dominated Syria with no clear goal, say insiders

Free Syrian ArmyAmerican forces remain in Syria without a clear goal in sight, as the conflict there nears its 10-year anniversary, and with Russia having emerged as the principal guarantor of security in the war-torn country, according to insiders. In an article published last week, Newsweek said American and American-supported Syrian officials feel disillusioned about America’s goals in the country. The website cited an anonymous senior United States intelligence official who described the US military mission there as “a clusterf**k”.

Officially, the goal of the US Department of Defense’s mission in Syria is to “ensure the enduring defeat” of the Islamic State. On the political level, the US seeks the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the departure of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from the country. Last year, however, US President Donald Trump seemed to suddenly change the Pentagon’s mission, by telling reporters that the US military was in Syria only to secure access to the oil and natural gas fields that lay in the country’s northeast. He repeated that statement in August of this year.

This goal appears to have been adopted by the Pentagon as its new mission. Currently what remains of the US military presence in Syria is concentrated around a cluster of oil and gas fields in the northeastern part of the country. Sources told Newsweek that the US troops feel “stranded” and “forgotten” in Syria, and are virtually surrounded by numerically dominant Russian and Iranian forces. US allies in the area are shifting their alliances and looking to Russia, seeing Washington as a non-dependable actor.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Tehran have assumed leading roles in bringing rival forces to the table, while also fighting what is left of the Islamic State. Several meetings between representatives from rival factions, including the Assad government, pro-Turkish militias, and the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces, have taken place under Russian tutelage in the past year. The US has not participated in these negotiations, said Newsweek.

► Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 September 2020 | Permalink

Austria to press charges on man caught spying for Turkish intelligence service

Karl NehammerThere were angry exchanges between Austrian and Turkish officials on Tuesday, after the Austrian government announced it would press charges against an individual allegedly caught spying for Turkish intelligence. The charges were announced on Tuesday morning local time by Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (pictured), during a press conference in the Austrian capital Vienna.

During the press conference, Nehammer said the Austrian government wished to send “a clear message to the Turkish Republic: Turkish espionage and interference by Turkey in the civil liberties [of Austrian citizens] have no place in Austria”. Additionally, the Austrian official said his government would “work at the European level to make sure that Turkey does not interfere in the internal affairs of European Union states”. Vienna had already notified Horst Seehofer, president of the European Council, of the espionage case, said Nehammer.

It is believed that the alleged Turkish spy was uncovered by Austrian authorities after a large political protest that took place in Vienna last June, which resulted in violent clashes between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish demonstrators. The protesters were members of pro-Kurdish organizations in Vienna, but were confronted by pro-Turkish demonstrators, which resulted in the whole rally descending into violent street clashes. An investigation by Austrian police determined that many of the pro-Turkish demonstrators were affiliated with a far-right Turkish group known as the Grey Wolves.

According to the Austrian Interior Ministry, however, it was also found that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, helped organize the Grey Wolves group that confronted the pro-Kurdish rally. Among the Grey Wolves rioters, say Austrian officials, was a man who had been “recruited” by the MİT to spy on pro-Kurdish activists or critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Nehammer said the alleged spy already confessed to working for Turkish intelligence.

In response to Nehammer’s statements, the Turkish government accused Austria’s national leadership of harboring an “anti-Turkey obsession”. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in Ankara that the Austrian government should “top chasing artificial agenda with shallow and domestic political calculations over Turkey, and act with […] seriousness, common sense, and sincere cooperation”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 September 2020 | Permalink