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 along 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

US government warns of ‘unprecedented articulated threats’ against law enforcement

FBIA SECURITY BULLETIN ISSUED jointly by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warns of a growing number of “articulated threats” against law enforcement. The bulletin connects these threats with the recent execution by the FBI of a search warrant at the Florida residence of former US President Donald Trump. Several US-based media, which have accessed the bulletin, described the volume of threats against law enforcement and other government personnel as “unprecedented”.

The bulletin, issued on Friday, said known threats were “occurring primarily online and across multiple platforms” in the social media ecosphere. Most threats were general in nature, and included calls for a civil war and an armed rebellion against the US government. The bulletin warned, however, that alongside general threats FBI and DHS agents were investigating “multiple articulated threats and calls for the targeted killing of judicial law enforcement and government officials”. Among those threats, some were “specific in identifying proposed targets and tactics, as well weaponry”, the bulletin added. At least one case involved a targeted threat to “place a so-called Dirty Bomb in front of FBI headquarters” in downtown Washington, DC. The term ‘dirty bomb’ refers to an improvised nuclear weapon consisting of conventional explosives and radioactive nuclear waste material.

There was particular concern over the weekend for the safety of those FBI special agents and other government officials, whose names appear on the official government documentation that relates to the search of Trump’s residence. The names of several FBI special agents were reportedly being circulated across online forums last week, while pro-Trump activists have vowed to publicize the personal information of dozens of FBI employees. An armed man who tried to storm the FBI field office in Cincinnati, OH, was shot dead on Thursday, following a car chase and gun battle with law enforcement personnel. Meanwhile, a group of armed protesters gathered on Saturday outside the FBI field office in Phoenix, AZ, but eventually dispersed without incident.

The bulletin warns that domestic violent extremists (DVEs) could potentially target “individuals implicated in conspiracy theories and perceived ideological opponents who challenge their worldview”. It adds that high profile DVE attacks in the coming weeks may inspire copycat actions, while the emergence of new conspiracy theories could add more fuel to the fire. The bulletin concludes by viewing the upcoming 2022 midterm election as “an additional flashpoint” around which DVEs could “escalate threats against perceived ideological opponents, including federal law enforcement personnel”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 August 2022 | Permalink

CIA-JSOC convergence impedes covert action oversight, researcher warns

US Capitol CongressA GROWING CONVERGENCE BETWEEN the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States military has been one of the most notable changes in American intelligence after 9/11. Some argue that the resulting overlap between the CIA and the military, in both capabilities and operations, has altered their character —perhaps permanently. The CIA has become more involved than ever before in lethal operations, while the military has embraced intelligence work with unprecedented intensity.

Today, more than two decades after 9/11, joint activities between the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have become customary. JSOC was founded in the aftermath of operation EAGLE CLAW —the failed attempt to free US diplomatic personnel held in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. Its mission is to bring together the Special Operations Forces (SOF) elements across the US military. In addition to ensuring inter-operability and standardization between these elements, JSOC oversees the operations of elite joint SOF units that perform highly classified activities around the world.

Increasingly since 9/11, the CIA and JSOC have been launching combined counter-terrorism operations and have learned to compete less and collaborate more —though turf wars between them are not uncommon. Today it is not unusual for CIA civilians to gather intelligence on a particular target before hand it over to JSOC, which in turn tasks its military personnel to use lethal force against the target. This type of collaboration may bear fruits in the counter-terrorism domain, but also makes it difficult for the US political leadership, primarily Congress, to exercise appropriate oversight over covert action.

Partial Oversight

In an article published on Sunday, Dr. Jennifer Kibbe, Professor of Government at Franklin and Marshall College, and a specialist on the oversight of intelligence operations, explores the effects of the CIA-JSOC convergence on democratic accountability. The article, “CIA/SOF Convergence and Congressional Oversight”, appears in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security. If features statements from interviews by current and former Congressional staffers with experience in working for the intelligence committees of the US Congress. Read more of this post

Decades after end of Northern Irish conflict, the legacy of spies remains obscure

Northern Ireland Troubles BelfastTHE NORTHERN IRISH CONFLICT was a 30-year irregular war involving the government of the United Kingdom and an assortment of paramilitary groups. By the mid-1990s, when most of these groups had declared ceasefire, over 3,600 people had been killed and over 40,000 injured. The major paramilitary groups that participated in the conflict were the separatist Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), and the pro-UK, or ‘loyalist’, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Although the bloody conflict has been the subject of numerous studies, its intelligence component is still obscure. This is especially so when it comes to the legacy of the spies who —by all accounts— were central to the day-to-day progression of this persistent conflict, which came to be known as “the Troubles”. In an insightful paper, Eleanor Williams, a PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast, and Thomas Leahy, Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University, examine this little-studied aspect of the Northern Irish conflict. The article, “The ‘Unforgivable’?: Irish Republican Army (IRA) informers and dealing with Northern Ireland conflict legacy, 1969-2021”, was published on Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security.

The authors list the substantial number of UK security agencies that had a role in recruiting and running informers during the Troubles. They include: the Security Service (MI5); the Metropolitan Police Special Branch; the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch; and the Northern Irish Police Special Branch. Informants were also recruited by a host of intelligence organizations belonging to the British Armed Forces, such as the Military Reaction Force and the Force Research Unit. Although these agencies coordinated their intelligence activities to some extent, cooperation was not close. Consequently, there were hundreds of informants recruited by numerous UK state elements of the throughout the 30-year conflict. Their exact number remains unknown to this day. Read more of this post

Hawaii couple alleged to be Russian spies using fake names held without bail

Walter Glenn Primose, Gwynn Darle MorrisonA FEDERAL JUDGE IN HAWAII has denied bail to a married American couple, who are believed to have assumed the identities of dead children in order to lead double lives for over 20 years, according to prosecutors. Local media reports allege that Bobby Edward Fort and Julie Lyn Montague, who were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on July 22 on the island of Oahu, are Russian spies, and that their names are parts of their assumed identities.

According to the reports, the real names of the couple are Walter Glenn Primose, 66, and Gwynn Darle Morrison, 54. Government prosecutors allege that, in the late 1980s, the couple hurriedly left their home in the state of Texas, telling family members that they were entering the US Federal Witness Protection Program. They are also said to have given some family members permission to take whatever they wanted from their home, before it was foreclosed.

The government claims that the couple then assumed the identities of two infants, Bobby Edward Fort and Julie Lyn Montague, who had died in Texas in 1967 and 1968 respectively. They then used these infants’ birth certificates to obtain social security cards, drivers’ licenses, and even US passports. In 1994, while living in Hawaii under his assumed name, Primrose enlisted in the US Coast Guard, which is the maritime security and law enforcement service branch of the US military. He served there for over 20 years as an avionic electrical technician with a secret level clearance. Following his retirement in 2016, Primrose is said to have worked as a private contractor for the US Department of Defense until his arrest on July 22 of this year. Read more of this post

Analysis: The West should not trust Ukrainian spy agencies. Neither should Ukrainians

Volodymyr ZelenskyON SUNDAY, JULY 17, the Ukrainian administration of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the most extensive shake-up of the nation’s security leadership since the Russian military invasion. Two key members of Zelenskiy’s inner circle, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova and domestic security chief Ivan Bakanov, were summarily fired. Venediktova was the public face of Kyiv’s war crimes campaign, which was launched in March in response to the Russian invasion. Bakanov, a childhood friend of Zelenskiy, had headed the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) since 2019.

In a subsequent video statement, Zelenskiy said he fired the two officials after he was informed that at least 60 employees of the SBU and the Prosecutor General’s office had defected to the Russians in eastern Ukraine. Last week, in an article for SpyTalk, Kremlin watcher Olga Lautman said Bakanov’s dismissal had been expected for a few days. Regardless, the move has shaken Western observers, and has given rise to legitimate questions about the susceptibility of Ukraine’s security and intelligence services to Russian meddling. Should the Western alliance, and Western intelligence agencies in particular, trust their Ukrainian counterparts? The answer is, invariably, no. In fact, even the Ukrainians themselves are not in a position to trust their own intelligence services.

From the KGB to the SBU

On September 20, 1991, just one week after Ukraine secured its independence from the Soviet Union, the SBU was founded in place of the Soviet KGB. Initially, the new agency handled both internal security and external intelligence functions. But in 2005, the SBU’s Department of Intelligence became a stand-alone agency under the title Foreign Intelligence Service (SZR). Since then, the SZR has functioned as the institutional equivalent of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), while the SBU has performed domestic security functions that resemble those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

As is the case with the entirety of Ukraine’s state sector, the two agencies are endemically bloated. Intelligence observers report that the SBU’s 30,000 employees make it far larger in size than its British counterpart, the Security Service (MI5). Meanwhile, according to the latest information, the SZR has “double the number of personnel than the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and is larger than Britain’s [Secret Intelligence Service, or] MI6”. By all accounts, even today, more than 30 years after the dissolution of the USSR, the two agencies continue to resemble Soviet-style bureaucracies in terms of size, sluggishness, and corruption. Read more of this post

Alleged Russian spy who used fake Brazilian identity jailed for 15 years

GRUAN ALLEGED RUSSIAN SPY, who used a forged Brazilian identity to travel internationally, has been jailed in Brazil after he was denied entry in Holland, where he had traveled to work as an intern. IntelNews has discussed at length the case of Victor Muller Ferreira, who was outed as a Russian spy by the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) in June. According to Dutch officials, Muller’s real name is Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, and he is a Russian intelligence officer.

According to Muller’s biographical note, he was born to an Irish father and a Spanish-speaking mother in Niteroi (near Rio de Janeiro) on April 4, 1989. However, according to the AIVD, Cherkasov was actually born on September 11, 1985, and has been working for at least a decade for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly known as GRU. Cherkasov was apprehended by the Dutch authorities as he tried to enter Holland via air. He was en route to The Hague, where he was about to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a paid intern. He planned to eventually transition into full-time employment in the ICC, where he “would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services”, according to the AIVD.

The AIVD reportedly notified the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service, which detained Cherkasov upon his arrival at Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol. The Dutch government promptly declared the alleged GRU officer persona non grata and expelled him back to Brazil “on the first flight out”. Last month, a Brazilian federal court in Guarulhos, a suburb of Sao Paolo, found Cherkasov guilty of identity theft that had lasted for at least a decade. The court found that, during that time, Cherkasov used the identity of a dead Brazilian citizen named Victor Muller Ferreira to enter and leave Brazil 15 times. The 10-year period started in 2010, when Cherkasov entered Brazil using his real Russian identity. But when he left the country a few months later, he did so using the forged identity that had allegedly been provided to him by Russian intelligence. Now, according to the British newspaper The Times, Cherkasov has been jailed for 15 years.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, Richard Moore, director of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), claimed last week that half of all Russian spies operating in Europe under diplomatic cover have been expelled since March of this year. Moore was speaking at the annual Aspen Security Forum in the United States. Such expulsions do not relate to alleged intelligence officers like Cherkasov, who do not operate under diplomatic cover. They are therefore far more difficult to detect than their colleagues, who are officially attached to Russian diplomatic missions around the world.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 July 2022 | Permalink

Gathering intelligence on the world’s largest secret society: the Chinese government

Xi JinpingINTELLIGENCE OBSERVERS OFTEN REFER to the Communist Party of China (CPC) as “the world’s largest secret society”. Barring brief periods of relative openness in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the closed decision-making system of the CPC has presented Western intelligence analysts with cascading intractable enigmas for over half a century. This problem has become even more pressing under the decade-long leadership of Xi Jinping, during which the imposition of rigorous counterintelligence measures have turned China into a text-book hard intelligence target.

How does one manage to monitor developments in the inner sanctum of the Chinese state in the face of such formidable obstacles? According to two intelligence experts, it is still possible to gather and analyze actionable intelligence on China, by adopting the right approach. In their article “Beijingology 2.0: Bridging the ‘Art’ and ‘Science’ of China Watching in Xi Jinping’s New Era”, published on Monday in the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, Bjørnar Sverdrup-Thygeson and Stig Stenslie outline the main contours of such an approach. China specialist Sverdrup-Thygeson is Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. Stenslie is Research Director and Head of the Centre for Intelligence Studies at the Norwegian Defense Intelligence School.

From Beijingology to Beijingology 2.0

The two authors explain that the Chinese intelligence riddle is not new. In fact, China-focused intelligence practitioners have long referred to their work as “Beijingology”. The term refers to the art (as opposed to science) of studying the Chinese closed political system, based on widely divergent sources of intelligence. These range from “rumor mills among Beijing diplomats” and speculations on social media, to social-science-based quantitative studies. Sverdrup-Thygeson and Stenslie explain that the two extremes of Beijingology are invariably disconnected from what is actually happening on the ground in China, and are thus of limited value.

The key, they argue, is a well-balanced mixture of approaches, which they term “Beijingology 2.0”. This approach combines traditional Beijingology methods with a host of advanced and innovative tools in social science research, such as discourse analysis and textual analysis of official Chinese government documents. The latter “offer one of very few windows into Chinese elite-level political dynamics” and thus cannot be ignored. Like all bureaucratic regimes, the Chinese political system produces copious amounts of official information in the form of public documents, speeches, and CPC-authorized statements. Such sources include daily editions of the People’s Daily (the CPC’s official media organ) and the People’s Liberation Army Daily. Read more of this post

Newspaper discloses names of Russian alleged spies expelled from Belgium

Russian embassy in BelgiumA BRUSSELS-BASED NEWSPAPER has publicized the names and backgrounds of nearly two dozen Russian diplomats, who were recently expelled by the Belgian government on suspicion of espionage. A total of 21 Russian diplomats were expelled from Belgium in April, in co-ordination with dozens of European governments. The move was part of a broader European wave of diplomatic expulsions of Russian diplomatic personnel, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Like other governments in Europe, the Belgians carried out the expulsions of Russian diplomats in secret, and employed a “no comment” policy in response to media requests. Such an approach is customary when it comes to diplomatic expulsions. It allows the government ordering the expulsions to expect a similar level of discretion if and when its own diplomats are expelled in a possible tit-for-tat move by an adversary. It is therefore highly unusual for information concerning expelled diplomatic personnel to be made public. And yet that is precisely what happened earlier this week, when the EUObserver, an English language newspaper based in Brussels, published information about the names and backgrounds [PDF] of the 21 expelled Russian diplomats. The paper said the information was leaked by a source, but did not elaborate.

According to the newspaper, all 21 expelled diplomats were men. It further alleged that 10 of them were intelligence personnel of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff. A further nine diplomats worked for the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR, Russia’s equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency), while two were employees of the external service of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Most were in their 40s, though at least one was in his early 60s and one was in his late 20s. The EUObserver said that some of the information about the alleged spies was unearthed by The Dossier Center, a British-based open-source information outlet, which is similar to Bellingcat. The Dossier Center is funded by the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is a critic of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Read more of this post

The secret behind al-Shabaab’s longevity: A formidable spy wing

Al-Shabaab SomaliaMORE THAN HALF OF all terrorist groups fail within a year, while 95 percent of them are extinct within a decade. Yet al-Shabaab, Somalia’s al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist outfit, has been projecting strength in the Horn of Africa for over 15 years, despite having faced much stronger opponents. Today, with an operational presence in both Somalia and Kenya, the group maintains a force of between 5,000 and 10,000 full-time fighters. Pointing to its longevity, some observers view it as the most successful terrorist group of the 21st century.

What accounts for al-Shabaab’s endurance? According to a recent article by researcher Zakarie Ahmed Nor kheyre, the secret rests with the group’s sophisticated intelligence wing, the Amniyat. Nor kheyre’s article, entitled “The Evolution of the Al-Shabaab Jihadist Intelligence Structure”, was published on Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence and National Security. The author argues that counter-terrorism researchers have been focusing on al-Shabaab’s operational, logistical and financial capabilities, to the detriment of its formidable intelligence wing. The latter, Nor kheyre claims, has been a priority of al-Shabaab for years, and is today more efficient that the Somali federal government’s own intelligence agency, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). He quotes one Somali insider who exclaims that “without Amniyat, al-Shabaab would be nothing”. Read more of this post

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