Mystery surrounds arrest of alleged Russian spy couple in Sweden

Russian Embassy SwedenNUMEROUS UNANSWERED QUESTIONS SURROUND the arrest of a Russian married couple in Sweden, on charges of espionage. The arrest took place in dramatic fashion in the early hours of Tuesday, November 22. According to the Swedish media, members of the security forces descended via tactical ropes from two Blackhawk helicopters, as startled residents in the typically quiet Stockholm suburb of Nacka looked on.

The raid was apparently conducted based on information received by Sweden’s counterintelligence agency, the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), coupled with tips from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The targets of the operation were Sergei Nikolaevich Skvortsov and Elena Mikhailovna Kulkova, a Russian-born married couple, who moved to Sweden from Russia in 1999. According to their identity documents, Skvortsov was born in Perm on July 28, 1963, and Kulkova in Moscow on May 22, 1964.

Both Skvortsov and Kulkova are university-educated, with a background in science, mathematics and cybernetics. Upon settling in Sweden, they worked in the import-export technology sector. By 2013 they had become Swedish citizens and had a son. Kulkova also had a daughter from a previous marriage. The Russian investigative source The Insider reports that Kulkova’s daughter’s boyfriend worked for Swedish military intelligence.

Swedish authorities allege that the two suspects migrated to Stockholm on orders of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, known as GRU. The GRU allegedly did not activate them until after they had acquired Swedish citizenship. According to the court indictment, Skvortsov and Kulkova began to actively spy against the United States in 2013 and against Sweden in 2014.

Some sources claim that the case of the Russian couple may be connected to the recent arrests of Payam and Peyman Kia, two Iranian-born Swedish brothers, who were arrested in 2021 and are now facing charges of engaging in espionage on behalf of the GRU. Payam Kia worked for SAPO and had access to classified information from a host of Swedish government agencies. SAPO reportedly launched the probe in 2017, following suspicions that it harbored a spy in its personnel ranks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 December 2022 | Research credit: A.G. | Permalink

Israel beefs up protection of its senior spies, as proxy war with Iran intensifies

Iran UAV droneISRAELI AUTHORITIES HAVE STEPPED up measures to protect its senior intelligence and security figures, over concerns they may be targeted by agents of the Iranian state, according to news reports. The news comes amidst widespread concerns that the ongoing shadow conflict between Israel and Iran is escalating in the shadow of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

On Thursday, Israel’s state-owned broadcaster and news agency, Kan, reported that  the government of Israel had implemented additional security measures to protect current and former members of its security and intelligence agencies. The report added that the measures are focused largely on current and former members of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, as well as those associated with Israel’s intelligence and security apparatus that are living abroad.

The report comes amidst concerns among security observers that a clandestine war between Israel and Iran is growing in intensity. To a notable extent, this growth is being fueled by the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Iran’s supply of cheap and reliable attack drones appears to be enabling Moscow to subvert and outright destroy Ukraine’s national infrastructure. In what seems like a direct response to Iran’s actions, Israel war materiel is now flowing into Ukraine, reportedly through a NATO country.

There are indications that this proxy conflict between Israel and Iran is spreading in Europe and the Middle East. Seeing the success of the use of Iranian drones, some European countries with limited airstrike capabilities, like Serbia and Armenia, are reportedly considering purchasing drone attack systems from Tehran. Meanwhile, Israeli weapons exports to Arab states have skyrocketed since the normalization of Israel’s relations with a number Arab countries in recent years. According to a recent report, last year marked a historic record for the volume of Israeli military and security exports, which increased by 30 percent from 2020. Much of that increase is due to Israeli weapons exports to Arab states, such as Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 November 2022 | Permalink

Sweden charges two brothers with spying for Russian military intelligence

Säpo swedenAUTHORITIES IN SWEDEN HAVE charged two brothers, one of whom worked in a highly secretive Swedish intelligence unit, with spying for Russian military intelligence for a decade, according to news reports. The charges resulted from a six-year investigation led by the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), which is the country’s counterintelligence agency. SAPO reportedly launched the probe in 2017, based on suspicions that it harbored a spy in its personnel ranks.

The two brothers have been named by Swedish media as Payam Kia, 35, and Peyman Kia, 42. They were reportedly born in Iran and became Swedish citizens in 1994. It is also reported that Payam Kia worked for SAPO and had access to classified information from a host of Swedish government agencies. SAPO accuses the two men of having worked “jointly” to pass information to the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known broadly as GRU.

According to Swedish authorities, the two men began spying for Russia in September of 2011 and continued until the fall of 2021. Peyman Kia allegedly acted as a courier, passing information and payments between his brother and his Russian handlers. Per Lindqvist, chief prosecutor for Sweden’s National Security Unit, told the Associated Press news agency that the Kia brothers case involved “extremely sensitive topics”, but did not elaborate. Some reports claim that Payam Kia had access to the files of Swedish spies operating abroad.

The younger of the two brothers was reportedly arrested in September of 2021. His older brother was arrested in November of the same year. They face up to life imprisonment. They both deny the charges against them.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 November 2022 | Permalink

Spy agencies must regulate ethics of manipulation in HUMINT, researcher argues

HUMINTIT IS DIFFICULT TO argue against the widely shared view that clandestine human intelligence (HUMINT) is replete with ethical dilemmas. These are inherent in the process of gathering intelligence via the use of human sources or covert agents. Yet it is possible —indeed desirable— for intelligence agencies to implement well-regulated ethical approaches to clandestine HUMINT, according to Dr. Stephan Lau, a junior professor of psychology and member of the Faculty of Intelligence at the Federal University of Administrative Sciences in Berlin, Germany.

In an article entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Tradecraft: HUMINT and the Ethics of Psychological Manipulation”, which was published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security, Lau argues that the concept of manipulation, which is often central in HUMINT, is nothing new. In fact, he explains, manipulation is a type of social influence that occurs naturally in human interactions, and may even have positive outcomes, depending on the case. Indeed, researchers have analyzed manipulation as a form of beneficial influence, which can help further commonly established social goals and norms. If anything, therefore, argumentative —also known as persuasive— forms of influence are normative aspects of interpersonal negotiation between humans.

COERCIVE INFLUENCE AND MANIPULATION

There is, however, a darker side, Lau explains, which relates to coercive influence —i.e. using threats or force to modify a person’s behavior. The subject becomes even more complicated when manipulation is instrumentalized as “a piece in the toolbox of HUMINT tradecraft”. The author goes on to suggest that manipulative influence in HUMINT can be distinguished between legitimate (harmless) and illegitimate (harmful). It follows that it is possible to attach a degree of ethical responsibility to the actions of case officers, or other covert operators, who engage in clandestine HUMINT activities as part of their work. Read more of this post

Norway arrests alleged Russian illegal who spent years building cover in Canada

José Giammaria Mikhail MikushinAN ALLEGED RUSSIAN DEEP-cover intelligence operative, who was arrested by Norwegian police last week, spent years building his fake cover in Canada, while studying there as a Brazilian citizen, according to reports. Norway’s Police Security Service (PST) announced last week that it had arrested José Assis Giammaria, a 37-year-old Brazilian citizen, on suspicion of entering Norway on false pretenses. According to the PST, Giammaria is in fact a Russian citizen, who has been operating in Norway as a non-official-cover (NOC) intelligence officer.

According to Norwegian authorities, Giammaria worked as a researcher at the Arctic University of Norway. Known as UiT, the university is located in the northern Norwegian city of Tromsø. It has a worldwide reputation for research, and approximately 10 percent of its 17,000 students are international. While there, Giammaria was a volunteer researcher for a UiT GreyZone, a scholarly project that studies contemporary hybrid threats and grey zone warfare. His area of specialization appears to have been Arctic security.

Last Friday, the office of the Norwegian state prosecutor said it believed the suspect’s actual name is Mikhail Mikushin, a Russian citizen born in 1978. In a press statement, a Norwegian government representative said authorities were “not positively sure of his identity”, but it was clear that he was not a Brazilian national. Later on Friday, the Oslo-based Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG), in association with the investigative website Bellingcat, reported that Mikushin is a military intelligence officer, who holds the rank of colonel in the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known as GRU. The newspaper claims that Mikushin left Russia in 2006 with a cover, a term that refers to a fake operational identity used for purposes of espionage. Read more of this post

More on Russian alleged spies expelled from the Netherlands and Belgium

Kremlin KootAs intelNews reported earlier this week, a joint investigative effort by Dutch and Belgian media exposed details about a group of alleged Russian intelligence officers, who were expelled by Belgium and The Netherlands in March 2022. Dutch state broadcaster NOS and its flagship current affairs program, Nieuwsuur, aired the names, photos and backgrounds of 17 Russian intelligence officers, who were expelled from the Netherlands in March of this year. According to the Dutch government, the expelled diplomats were involved in counterintelligence and in espionage targeting the country’s high-tech sector.

According to the reports, at least 20 Russian official-cover officers were active in the Netherlands in early 2022. The reporters said they spoke with intelligence sources and the Dossier Center. That organization is financed by banned Russian oligarch and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and claims to have access to leaked databases that contain information about the education and background of Russian intelligence officers.

Eight of the expelled officers work for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), while the other nine work for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU). Some of them presented themselves as trade representatives in Amsterdam, as military attachés, or as diplomats at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Read more of this post

Journalists reveal names of Russian diplomats expelled by Netherlands for espionage

SVR hq

AN INVESTIGATION BY A consortium of journalists from the Netherlands and Belgium has revealed the identities of 17 Russian diplomats, who were expelled in April by Dutch authorities for allegedly engaging in espionage. The expelled diplomats were among hundreds of members of the Russian diplomatic corps, who were expelled from all over Europe in March and April of this year, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As intelNews reported on April 4, the diplomats who were expelled from the Netherlands were serving at the Russian embassy in The Hague. Some of them also represented Russia at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquarters in The Hague. Russia responded on April 19, by announcing the expulsion of 15 Dutch diplomats from the embassy of the Netherlands in Moscow. As is customary in such cases, neither the Netherlands nor Russia revealed the names of the expelled diplomats.

Now, however, the identities of the expelled Russian diplomats have been revealed, thanks to an investigation by of a group of Dutch and Belgian journalists. The investigation was conducted under the auspices of the Dossier Center, a London-based Russian-language organization that specializes in investigative reporting. The conclusions of the invesgitation were first reported by Belgian newspaper De Tijd and by Netherlands public television, NOS.

According to the investigation, eight of the 17 expelled Russian diplomats were employees of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR. The remaining nine were employed by the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly known as GRU. At least six of the expelled diplomats worked as encryption specialists. They handled the communications systems that the Russian intelligence personnel who were stationed in the Netherlands used in order to exchange secret information with Moscow. A smaller number worked in counterintelligence, and were tasked with preventing efforts by adversary intelligence services to recruit Russian diplomatic personnel stationed in the Netherlands.

The report by the Dossier Center includes information about the identities of the Russian diplomats, as well as photographs and detailed biographical data about their background. According to the authors of the report, all information included in the report was collected from open sources, including from social media accounts that were maintained by the expelled Russian diplomats.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2022 | Permalink

Germany ‘erroneously’ granted entry visa to known Russian intelligence officer

BfV GermanyLAST SUMMER, GERMAN EMBASSY staff in Russia issued an entry visa to a Russian national, despite warnings by at least two European security agencies that he was a known intelligence officer, according to a report. The incident has fueled persistent allegations that Berlin’s counterintelligence posture against Russia is ineffective.

According to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, it was in July of this year when the German Embassy in Moscow received an application for an entry visa to Germany by a Russian national. The application included an official invitation issued to the visa applicant by the Russian Consulate General in the eastern German city of Leipzig. However, the application prompted a strong counterintelligence warning by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic security agency. According to Spiegel, at least one more European intelligence agency warned against allowing the Russian national to travel to Western Europe. The reason for the warnings was that the visa applicant was known to operate internationally under diplomatic cover, on behalf of a Russian intelligence agency.

The counterintelligence warnings were examined and caused the visa application to be rejected. However, a month later the applicant submitted a second application for an entry visa to Germany. Remarkably, the German embassy approved the second application, after “no longer recogni[zing] any suspicion of espionage” in association with this case. One possible reason, according to Spiegel, was that Russian officials had applied pressure on the German government, asking for a review of the application. When the issue was raised in Berlin, an internal review was launched. It reportedly found that the espionage warnings had been “overlooked due to an [administrative] error”. The visa was thus promptly canceled. Der Spiegel claims it is “possible that the accidental visa issue was related to [Berlin] wanting to show good will to the Russian side”.

What does that mean? Back in April, Germany expelled 40 suspected Russian intelligence officers, in response to Russian war crimes in Ukraine. As expected, Russia promptly expelled an equal number of German diplomats in a tit-for-tat move. The Russian Foreign Ministry made sure to point out that it would respond in a similar fashion, should Berlin choose to expel more Russian diplomats in the future. Such an eventuality, according to Spiegel, would run the risk of decimating Germany’s diplomatic presence in Russia, given that its size is considerably smaller than that of Russia’s in Germany. Germany, in other words, is not prepared to risk a complete breakdown in its diplomatic relations with Russia.

Some claim, however, that the current arrangement between the two countries is being exploited by the Kremlin. Der Spiegel notes that, according to intelligence experts, no European country hosts more Russian intelligence officers under diplomatic cover than Germany. It is estimated that at least 100 bogus diplomats are currently stationed in Russia’s diplomatic facilities throughout Germany.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2022 | Permalink

Reuters investigation focuses on alleged loss of CIA spy networks in Iran

US embassy IranA YEAR-LONG INVESTIGATION by the Reuters news agency attempts to shed light on the alleged arrests of more than a dozen Iranian spies, who claim to have worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Periodically Iran claims to have captured members of alleged CIA spy rings operating across its territory. For instance, in 2019 Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence announced the arrest of a “CIA network” consisting of 17 individuals who worked in the private sector and a number of government agencies.

The news agency said two of its reporters, Joel Schectman and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, spent dozens of hours interviewing six Iranian former CIA assets, as well as 10 former employees of the United States Intelligence Community, who have “knowledge of Iran operations”. All six of the Iranians interviewed spent between five and 10 years in prison for their CIA connections. Two of them left Iran after serving their prison sentences, and are now refugees in central and northern Europe. At least one of them claims he was never contacted by the CIA after his release in 2019.

According to the Reuters investigation, CIA assets in Iran operate in a high risk environment, given that the United States has not had diplomatic facilities in the Middle Eastern country since 1979. Diplomatic facilities are regularly used to shelter CIA personnel, who recruit, train and handle foreign assets. Despite the absence of such facilities, the CIA is willing to take great risks in running agents inside Iran, because of the country’s geopolitical significance. The agency’s intensity in operating in Iran is matched by the Islamic Republic’s aggressive counterintelligence posture, which, according to the Reuters investigation, has “netted dozens of CIA informants” in recent years.

It is claimed that Iran’s counterintelligence efforts were inadvertently aided by a mass-produced CIA covert communications system, which the spy agency operated until 2013 in at least 20 countries around the world, including Iran. The Internet-based system was intended for use by CIA sources who were not fully vetted, but were still considered useful due to their access to secret information, according to Reuters. This appears to be a major update on a story that was first reported by Yahoo News in 2018. It claimed that that the CIA had suffered a “catastrophic” compromise of the system it used to communicate with spies, which caused the death of “dozens of people around the world” according to sources.

Reuters said it contacted CIA spokeswoman Tammy Kupperman Thorp, who declined to comment on specific allegations. The CIA spokeswoman dismissed the “notion that CIA would not work as hard as possible to safeguard” its assets around the world as “false”. The news agency said it also contacted Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Mission to the United Nations in New York, but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 October 2022 | Permalink

Research sheds light on Japan’s wartime espionage network inside the United States

Imperial Japanese NavyMUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the wartime intelligence exploits of the Allies against Japan. Such exploits range from the United States’ success in breaking the Japanese JN-25 naval code, to the extensive operations of the Soviet Union’s military intelligence networks in Tokyo. In contrast, very little is known about Japan’s intelligence performance against the Allies in the interwar years, as well as after 1941. Now a new paper by an international team or researchers sheds light on this little-studied aspect of intelligence history.

The researchers, Ron Drabkin, visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame, K. Kusunoki, of the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force, and Bradley W. Hart, associate professor at California State University, Fresno, published their work on September 22 in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security. Their well-written article is entitled “Agents, Attachés, and Intelligence Failures: The Imperial Japanese Navy’s Efforts to Establish Espionage Networks in the United States Before Pearl Harbor”.

The authors acknowledge that the history of the intelligence efforts of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) has received very little attention by scholars. Consequently, it remains unexplored even in Japan, let alone in the international scholarship on intelligence. There are two main reasons for that. To begin with, the IJN systematically destroyed its intelligence files in the months leading to Japan’s official surrender in 1945. Then, following the war, fearing being implicated in war crimes trials, few of its undercover operatives voluntarily revealed their prior involvement in intelligence work.

Luckily, however, the past decade has seen the declassification of a number of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence files relating to Japanese intelligence operations targeting the United States. Most of these files date from the 1930s and early 1940s. Additionally, a number of related documents have been declassified by the government of Mexico, which is important, given that Mexico was a major base for Japanese intelligence operations targeting the United States. Read more of this post

Tip by Belgian spy agency helped US foil Islamic State plot to kill George Bush

George W. BushA TIP BY BELGIAN intelligence helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation foil a plot by Iraqi nationals to kill former United States President George W. Bush. American news outlets reported in May of this year that the FBI had prevented a scheme by an Iraqi national to smuggle Islamic State operatives into the United States, with the aim of killing the former president. Soon afterwards, the Department of Justice announced that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force had arrested Ahmed Shihab, an Iraqi national, who was the alleged mastermind of the operation.

Shihab, 52, had applied for political asylum in the United States. However, he had reportedly joined the Islamic State in secret, and had devised a scheme to kill Bush during a speech that the former president had been scheduled to deliver in Dallas, Texas. For several weeks, Shihab had allegedly surveilled Bush’s Texas homes in Dallas and Crawford, capturing footage in cellphones and video cameras. Shihab had the support of thee other alleged Islamic State supporters, who had traveled to the United States from Iraq through Denmark, Egypt and Turkey.

In a report that aired late last week, Belgium’s Flemish-language state broadcaster VRT, said that the plan to kill Bush had been foiled thanks to a tip shared with the United States by Belgian intelligence. Specifically, the information was reportedly shared by the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency. According to the VRT, the VSSE gave actionable intelligence about Shihab to the United States Secret Service, which then worked with the FBI to foil the alleged plot. The VRT report suggests that the VSSE was able to collect the intelligence through its systematic monitoring of Belgian Islamists, who fought in the Middle East between 2014 and 2016, before eventually making their way back to Belgium.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2022 | Permalink

Austrian pro-Kremlin officials planned to launch shadow spy agency, report claims

Austria Foreign Affairs MinistryTHE AUSTRIAN STATE HAS launched a probe into an attempt by alleged pro-Russian government officials in Vienna to create a brand new intelligence service in 2018, according to news reports. The effort did not succeed. Some claim, however, that, had it become operational, the new spy service in this European Union state would have been under Russian influence. There are also questions about whether Austria’s foreign minister at the time, Karin Kneissl, was aware of this effort, which appears to have emerged from within her ministry.

The alleged effort to create a new intelligence agency in Austria occurred during the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a conservative politician belonging to the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Having failed to secure a majority in parliament in the 2017 national election, Kurz’s ÖVP formed a government through an uneasy coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a rightwing populist alliance of euro-skeptics, anti-immigration campaigners and strong critics of Islam. In joining Kurz’s governing coalition, the FPÖ was successful in installing Kneissl as Austria’s Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.

Although previously a supporter of the ÖVP, Kneissl had worked closely with the FPÖ —though never officially joined it— in the run-up to the 2017 national election. Prior to that, she had spent nearly a decade with Austria’s Foreign Office, where she had been able to utilize her near-fluent command of English, French, Spanish, and Arabic (she had spent much of her childhood in Jordan, where her father worked as a pilot). Even prior to heading the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Kneissl —and the FPÖ as a whole— was seen by her critics as being too close to the Kremlin. At her wedding in 2018, the list of guests included Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kneissl stepped down from her ministerial post in the summer of 2019. She has since blogged for the Kremlin-funded Russia Today television channel, while also serving —until earlier this year— on the board of the Moscow-headquartered energy company Rosneft. Read more of this post

The military ‘kill-chain’ concept as a meta-strategy for countering disinformation

US Army Intelligence and Security CommandTHE UNPRECEDENTED GROWTH OF digital access in our time has revolutionized online user access to information. Yet, the same phenomenon is behind the growing power of individuals, groups and state actors to create and disseminate misinformation and disinformation with unprecedented intensity. In the case of misinformation, false, mistaken or otherwise misleading information is disseminated by unsuspecting users. When these actors are acting deliberately with the intention to mislead, deceive or confuse, their actions amount to disinformation.

Both phenomena are dangerous, especially when utilized by well-organized malicious actors with political motives, as part of broader influence operations aimed to shape public narratives and mass perceptions. Moreover, as the methodologies and techniques of misinformation and disinformation continue to mature, increasingly sophisticated actors engage in such practices in pursuit of broader goals. The latter can be associated with rapidly evolving forms of hybrid warfare. This worrying phenomenon can be said to pose direct challenges to our understanding of national and international security. Disinformation in particular has been termed by a number of observers as the existential threat of our time.

What is to be done? In an article entitled “Information Warfare: Methods to Counter Disinformation”, published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Defense & Security Analysis, two experts suggest that a military approach to the challenge may be beneficial. The authors, Dr. Andrew Dowse, of Edith Cowan University, and Dr. Sascha Dov Bachmann, of the University of Canberra, argue that the military concept of “kill chains” could form the basis of an effective strategy to counter disinformation. The military approach, they point out, takes us away from other approaches to the problem, such as the planning approach, the truth theory approach, and the systems approach. Read more of this post

Study assesses Hamas’ double-agent operations against Israeli intelligence

HamasA NEW STUDY SHEDS light on the little-studied topic of counterintelligence operations launched against Israel by the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas. Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist and nationalist organization with a 35-year history, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. As is typically the case with Middle Eastern non-state actors, Hamas is a complex umbrella organization that combines social-service and administrative functions with armed elements. The latter include internal policing components and a full-time military wing, as well as reserve armed forces.

Although much research has focused on Hamas’ military and non-military components, the organization’s intelligence functions remain under-studied. For this reason, a new article that assesses Hamas’ double-agent operations against Israeli intelligence deserves attention. The article is titled “An Asymmetric Doubling”: A Nonstate Actor Using the Method of Doubling Sources —Hamas against Israeli Intelligence”, and was authored by Netanel Flamer, a lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University and postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. It was published last week by the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence.

In his article, Flamer explains the usefulness of double-agent operations for non-state actors engaged in asymmetric conflicts against opponents with superior resources. Non-state actors tend to place tremendous value in double-agent operations, because they offer them the opportunity to “generate achievements of the greatest impact using the most efficient means”. They can do so despite the relative poverty of their resources, as compared to their adversaries. These types of operations employ human intelligence (HUMINT) sources, who work with two opposing intelligence services, only one of which is privy to their dual role. Such sources are known in intelligence parlance as “double agents”.

Hamas’ Early Counterintelligence Efforts

Interestingly, Hamas’ first counterintelligence outfit preceded its own establishment. Upon its founding in 1987, at the peak of the First Intifada, Hamas was immediately able to rely on al-Majd, a counterintelligence apparatus that had been established a year earlier by Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. The mission of al-Majd was to uncover suspected Israeli collaborators among Palestinian communities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The organization was also known for deploying varying levels of torture against suspected collaborators, or against their relatives.

By the early 1990s, al-Majd was in a position to launch a number of confirmed counterintelligence operations. A notable early case is that of Maher Abu Srur, a Hamas member who had been recruited by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. At the culmination of this double-agent operation, Srur actually murdered his Israeli handler at a Shin Bet safe house in Jerusalem. According to Flamer, al-Majd is known to have launched several other double-agent operations against the Shin Bet, with varying levels of success. Importantly, it often is difficult to determine whether al-Majd double agents were deployed after they were first recruited by the Shin Bet, or whether they were originally deployed by al-Majd as “dangles”. Read more of this post

New paper sheds light on Russian and Chinese influence in Italy

Russia Italy Putin ConteA NEW PAPER, PUBLISHED by the United Kingdom’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for Defence and Security Studies, sheds light the complex relationship between Italy and the West’s two principal adversaries, Russia and China. Italy is a major global economic power. It is a prominent member of the Group of Seven (G7), which collectively account for more than 50 percent of global net wealth. It is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Despite —or perhaps because of— its central place in the Western alliance, Italy has long been a leading advocate for cooperation and dialogue between the West and Russia. In 2019, it became the first G7 member and the first major European Union power to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with China on Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Additionally, the Italian private sector has been far more hesitant than those of other Western countries to abandon Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, with only a single Italian company having completely exited the Russian market since February of this year.

According to two Italian researchers, RUSI Senior Associate Fellow Raffaello Pantucci, and Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), Italy’s cooperative attitude toward China and Russia has led some to accuse Rome of being a “Trojan horse in Europe”. But in their research paper published by RUSI earlier this week, Pantucci and Ambrosetti argue that the reality is far more complex, especially in the case of Italian-Russian relations. They point out that Italy has, in fact, been a leading voice in favor of the imposition of harsh sanctions on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Currently the Italian state is actively seeking to disengage its energy-import sector from Russia.

Strategy of Engagement

The research paper, entitled “Russian and Chinese Influence in Italy”, argues that Italy’s tendency to “hedge between its close transatlantic ties and its longstanding connections with Moscow and Beijing” is not new. In fact it reflects a longstanding Italian strategy, which tends to remain relatively constant and “does not change according to the political color of the government in charge” in Rome. As a result, Italy’s relations with Russia and China “show a roughly consistent pattern” in the post-Cold War era, as Rome is largely oriented “toward engagement” with both Moscow and Beijing. Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: