Russia says it uncovered U.S. operation to compromise Apple phones

Apple iPhoneRUSSIAN OFFICIALS SAID THEY uncovered a sophisticated espionage effort by the United States government, which targeted the smartphones of thousands of Apple users living in Russia, including foreign diplomats. According to the Russians, the operation was carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA), an American intelligence agency that specializes in gathering foreign signals intelligence and securing the United States government’s information and communication systems.

The source of the allegation is the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s primary counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. On Thursday, the FSB said that “an intelligence action of the American special services” had been uncovered by FSB officers with the assistance of the Federal Protective Service. Known in Russia by its initials, FSO, the Federal Protective Service operates federal emergency communications systems and provides personal security for high-ranking government officials.

According to the FSB, “several thousand Apple telephones” were targeted in the alleged NSA operation, including devices belonging to “domestic Russian subscribers”, as well as devices belonging to foreign diplomats stationed in Russia. The latter allegedly include diplomats from Israel, Syria and China, according to the FSB. The Russian agency also claimed that Russia-based foreign diplomats from North Atlantic Treaty Organization member-states had their phones targeted, as well as diplomats from former Soviet states.

In the same press release, the FSB accused the NSA and Apple of working in “close cooperation” with each other —an allegation that the Russian government has been making for several years. In a follow-up media statement, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the United States of engaging in “hidden data collection” and dismissed Apple iPhones as “absolutely transparent”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged Russians to avoid using Apple products and lamented reports that one in three Russian government workers continue to utilize Apple products for their personal use. When asked by reporters if the Russian government had plans to outlaw the use of Apple products by government employees, Peskov responded that the Kremlin did “not have the power to even recommend that”, except for those government employees with access to classified information.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 June 2023 | Permalink

Albanian court releases Russian and Ukrainian bloggers suspected of espionage

Gramsh AlbaniaA COURT IN ALBANIA has ordered the release from prison of two Russians and one Ukrainian national, who were arrested nearly last August on suspicion of carrying out military espionage. On August 20, 2022, Albania announced the arrests of Russian nationals Svetlana Timofeeva and Mikhail Zorin. Arrested alongside the two Russians was a Ukrainian citizen, who was identified in media reports as Fedir Alpatov.

Albanian authorities said the three foreigners had been arrested while attempting to enter the Gramsh military installation, a defunct small-arms factory, which is located 50 miles south of the Albanian capital Tirana. During the Cold War, the Gramsh factory specialized in producing Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifles. After the collapse of Albania’s communist system in the early 1990s, the factory was turned into a storage facility and was subsequently used to deactivate and decommission expired munitions.

Following their arrest, the three foreign nationals said they were “urban explorers” who engaged in “industrial tourism”, a type of travel that centers on entering and photographing dilapidated industrial facilities around the world. Soon after her arrest was announced, the United States government-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE) confirmed that Timofeeva, was indeed “one of Russia’s most famous urban explorers”. According to RFE, Timofeeva, 34, was known under the nom de guerre “Lana Sator” and maintained an Instagram page that was followed by over 250,000 users.

The plot thickened in March of this year, when Timofeeva, while still in detention, applied for political asylum in Albania. It emerged that Timofeeva was wanted by the Russian government on charges of “illegally obtaining information constituting a state secret”. In February of this year, the Ministry of Justice of Albania approved a request by Moscow to extradite Timofeeva to Russia, in order to face espionage charges. However, this decision was later overturned by an Albanian judge, a development that reportedly angered Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Timofeeva’s lawyers argued that she had openly opposed the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and had voiced public criticism of President Putin. As a result, Timofeeva had left Russia and had been living in exile in Georgia at the time of her arrest. Some observers, however, suspected that at least one of those arrested had links to Russian intelligence. It was reported that Zorin had admitted being an informant for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). However, the precise conditions under which Zorin’s alleged admission was made are not known.

In a statement released to the media last week, Albania’s Elbasan Trial Court said that, even though Timofeeva, Zorin and Alpatov would be released from detention, the investigation against them on suspicion of espionage would continue for the time being.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 May 2023 | Permalink

Turkey claims it uncovered Israeli spy cell that targeted Iran

Israeli consulate Istanbul TurkeyON MONDYA, TURKEY’S NATIONAL intelligence organization (MİT) announced the arrest of several members of an alleged spy network, who were reportedly recruited, trained and handled by Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad. Two members of the alleged spy ring were arrested two months ago, according to the Office of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

The arrests reportedly came as a result of an investigation into a threatening package sent that was sent in the mail by one of the spy suspects. The investigation was initiated by the Istanbul branch of the General Directorate of Security (Turkish police), which later revealed a connection with a separate 18-month long counterintelligence investigation by the MİT. It eventually led to the arrest of  Selçuk Küçükkaya, a Turkish national, who is accused of operating as the head of the alleged spy ring.

On Monday, Istanbul police arrested 11 associates of Küçükkaya, who the MİT believes to be members of the alleged spy cell. Some reports indicate that Turkish authorities are still searching for two additional suspects who are believed to be part of the alleged spy ring. The MİT states that the spy ring had established a front company through which its members conducted business activities in Iran, with the assistance of intermediaries operating abroad.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s office alleges that Küçükkaya made contact with Israeli intelligence through a member of the so-called Gülen movement. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home-in-exile in the United States. The Turkish government has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims it was behind the failed 2016 coup against Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Küçükkaya is further-accused of having had several in-person meetings with Mossad officers in various locations around Europe. During those meetings, Küçükkaya allegedly received assignments designed to test his intelligence-gathering abilities. It is alleged that Küçükkaya was eventually hired as a spy by the Mossad, who also provided him with instructions on how to use a clandestine communication system to contact his Israeli handlers.

The claim by the Turkish government that it has busted a Mossad spy cell operating in its territory is not unprecedented. In October 2021, the MİT disclosed the arrests of 15 members of an alleged Mossad spy ring following a series of raids across four Turkish provinces. Last December, Turkish media reported that 44 individuals had been detained and interrogated for allegedly spying on Palestinian exiles living in Turkey on behalf of the Mossad. What is new about this latest claim is the alleged connection between the Mossad and the Gülen movement, which the administration of Turkish President Erdoğan views as an existential domestic security threat.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 May 2023 | Permalink

U.S., Russian spy agencies publish rival ads encouraging would-be informants

Russia Ukraine WarRIVAL ONLINE CAMPAIGNS BY American and Russian intelligence agencies are encouraging each other’s citizens to contact them, share information and possibly even defect. At least three ads have been  on social media, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issuing the earliest one in February of this year. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its Russian counterpart, the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), are now believed to have published similar ads.

The FBI ad initially appeared on Twitter, directing users to the website of the Bureau’s Washington Field Office. There, a text in Cyrillic urges Russian nationals to “change [their] future” by contacting the FBI. The CIA followed suit on Monday of this week by posting a video on its new channel on Telegraph, a popular social media platform among young Russians. The CIA video portrays frustrated Russian government employees morally torn by the Kremlin’s policies. It concludes with them contacting the CIA through a secure online connection. A narrator’s voice states, “my family will live with dignity thanks to my actions”. Viewers are then assured that their safety is the CIA’s highest priority, should the choose to do the same.

Shortly after the CIA video appeared online, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Director of Information, Maria Zakharova, said that the Russian government would respond “appropriately” to what she called a “CIA provocation”. On Wednesday, a number of Western media outlets reported that the SVR had unveiled a short recruitment video seemingly targeting Americans. The video, shared on Telegram, includes archival news footage of United States military and police personnel, flag-burning demonstrators, and protests against abortions. It concludes with footage of President Joe Biden overlaid with a sniper crosshairs. A narrator states in English: “If you want to help normalcy, help the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation”.

Amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, both the United States and Russia are engaging in extensive cyber-enabled operations aimed at each other’s targets. However, these recruitment videos underscore the continued need for highly placed human sources and their central role in multi-platform intelligence collection efforts.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2023 | Permalink

China sentences US citizen to life for espionage following closed-door trial

Hong KongA CHINESE COURT HAS sentenced a United States passport holder to life in prison on espionage charges, following a brief closed-door trial. However, no information has been made available about the precise charges against him. Closed-door trials are frequent occurrences in Chinese courts, especially in cases relating to national security, which include charges of espionage against the state. However, life sentences are exceedingly rare for espionage cases.

The individual convicted in this case has been named in media reports as John Shing-Wan Leung, 78. He is reportedly a permanent resident of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, over which Beijing has near-absolute control. It is not known if Leung was a Chinese citizen at any time in his life. China does not recognize joint citizenship and requires its citizens to drop their Chinese citizenship when swearing allegiance to another country. The Reuters news agency reported on Monday that Leung was at some point a member of two American-based Chinese expatriate groups, which it described as “pro-China”. These are the United States-China Friendship Promotion Association and the United States-China Friendship Association.

Leung is believed to have been arrested in Hong Kong in 2021 by local Chinese counterintelligence officers. He has been held in prison ever since his arrest. A press release issued on Monday by the Intermediate People’s Court in Suzhou, a city located in southern Jiangsu province, 700 north of Hong Kong, said Leung had been found “guilty of espionage”. The press release added that Leung had been “sentenced to life imprisonment and deprived of [his] political rights for life”. However, the statement provided no information about Leung’s alleged crimes, or the country he was found to have spied for.

According to the BBC, the United States embassy in Beijing refused to discuss the details of this case, stating only that the United States government was aware of Leung’s conviction. An embassy spokesperson told the BBC that “the Department of State has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2023 | Permalink

Senior members of South Korea’s largest trade union charged with espionage

KCTU South KoreaSOUTH KOREAN PROSECUTORS have charged four senior members of one of the country’s largest trade unions with espionage on behalf of North Korea. The move, which is seen as highly controversial by South Korea’s liberal opposition, has come a few months after the conservative administration of President Yoon Suk Yeol launched what some commentators have described as South Korea’s largest counter-espionage operation in over 30 years.

The operation came to light on January 18, when hundreds of police officers, led by officers of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), conducted search raids at a number of regional offices of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Founded in the mid-1990s, the KCTU represents over 1.1 million members. Most of its membership consists of supporters of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), a left-of-center liberal coalition that ruled South Korea until last year. Since its establishment in 2014, the DPK has been engaged in a bitter political rivalry with the People Power Party (PPP), a conservative coalition that currently governs South Korea.

On Wednesday, four KCTU officials, all of them men, between the ages of 48 and 54, were charged with several violations of South Korea’s National Security Act, including carrying out espionage on behalf of North Korea and meeting illegally with North Korean intelligence officers. South Korean government prosecutors accuse the four of meeting several times with their alleged North Korean handlers. The alleged meetings too place during overseas trips in Vietnam and Cambodia between 2017 and 2019.

While abroad, the four alleged spies were allegedly trained and given instructions to establish what prosecutors describe as “an underground organization [operating] under the guise of legal union activities”. The four men were allegedly tasked with steering the KCTU toward actions and rhetoric that were against the United States and Japan. They were also asked to helping organize worker rallies against the policies of the PPP. In other instances, the alleged spies photographed American military installations located in South Korea.

The opposition DPK has strongly condemned the charges, calling them politically motivated and describing them as a return to the days of rightwing military rule, which South Korea experienced until 1987. The NIS remains highly controversial among left-of-center South Koreans, many of whom view it as a corrupt state entity that is politically aligned with the conservative PPP. Between 2018 and 2022, the liberal DPK government spearheaded what it described as an “anti-corruption campaign” inside the NIS. As a result of that campaign, three former NIS directors were charged with —and eventually convicted of— secretly diverting funds from the agency’s clandestine budget. The funds were eventually used to aid the re-election campaign of the then-South Korean President, Park Geun-hye. Their apparent goal was to prevent the DPK from coming to power, fearing that the left-of-center party was too close to Pyongyang. President Park also went to prison for accepting financial bribes from the NIS.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 May 2023 | Permalink

US-led ‘Five Eyes’ alliance dismantled Russia’s ‘premier espionage cyber-tool’

Computer hackingAN ESPIONAGE TOOL DESCRIBED by Western officials as the most advanced in the Russian cyber-arsenal has been neutralized after a 20-year operation by intelligence agencies in the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The operation targeted Turla, a hacker group that cyber-security experts have long associated with the Russian government.

Turla is believed to be made up of officers from Center 16, a signals intelligence unit of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the Soviet-era KGB’s successor agencies. Since its appearance in 2003, Turla has used a highly sophisticated malware dubbed ‘Snake’ to infect thousands of computer systems in over 50 countries around the world. Turla’s victims include highly sensitive government computer networks in the United States, including those of the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the United States Central Command.

The Snake malware has also been found in computers of privately owned firms, especially those belonging to various critical infrastructure sectors, such as financial services, government facilities, electronics manufacturing, telecommunications and healthcare. For over two decades, the Snake malware used thousands of compromised computers throughout the West as nodes in complex peer-to-peer networks. By siphoning information through these networks, the Turla hackers were able to mask the location from where they launched their attacks.

On Tuesday, however, the United States Department of Justice announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), along with its counterparts in the United States-led ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, had managed to dismantle Snake. This effort, codenamed Operation MEDUSA, was reportedly launched nearly 20 years ago with the goal of neutralizing the Snake malware. In the process, Five Eyes cyber-defense experts managed to locate Turla’s facilities in Moscow, as well as in Ryazan, an industrial center located about 120 miles southeast of the Russian capital.

The complex cyber-defense operation culminated with the development of an anti-malware tool that the FBI dubbed PERSEUS. According to the Department of Justice’s announcement, PERSEUS was designed to impersonate the Turla operators of Snake. In doing so, it was able to take over Snake’s command-and-control functions. Essentially, PERSEUS hacked into Snake and instructed the malware to self-delete from the computers it had compromised. As of this week, therefore, the worldwide peer-to-peer network that Snake had painstakingly created over two decades, has ceased to exist, as has Snake itself.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 May 2023 | Permalink

Russian pro-Kremlin influencer survives IED attack that killed fellow passenger

Zakhar PrilepinA UKRAINIAN PARAMILITARY GROUP has claimed to be behind a targeted attack against an influential figure in Russian literature and social media on Saturday, which killed his fellow passenger and prompted strong denouncements by the Kremlin. The attack appeared to target Yevgeny Nikolayevich Prilepin, 47, known in Russia as Zakhar Prilepin. One of the best-known novelists in Russia, Prilepin spent much of his late teens and early twenties serving in the Russian National Guard. He saw action during two tours in Chechnya.

A HIGHLY INFLUENTIAL NATIONALIST AUTHOR

After decommissioning from the National Guard, Prilepin joined a host of ultra-nationalist Russian street gangs, including the National Bolshevik Party (currently banned), a group that aspired to bring together Russia’s far-left and far-right militants. At the same time, Prilepin began writing about his war experiences in novels that explored broader nationalist themes in Russian history. Today, Prilepin is highly influential in Russian social media circles, and many of his books have been turned into popular films.

Prilepin’s popularity soared after 2014, when he publicly endorsed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign in Crimea. His decision to back the Russian president formed an informal link between supporters of the Russian president and members of banned nationalist groups like the National Bolshevik Party. In the ensuing years, Prilepin has chronicled his work as an armed volunteer with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. This resulted to the Ukrainian government including his name on a list of Russian citizens that it deemed as threats to national security.

THE BOMBING

The apparent attack on Prilepin took place on Saturday near the tiny settlement of Pionerskoye, in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region. Prilepin is believed to have family relatives in this rural part of the country, which is located over 250 miles east of Moscow. According to statements by Russian emergency services personnel, a radio-controlled improvised explosive device was detonated under Prilepin’s Audi Q7 passenger car, instantly killing his fellow passenger, who has not been named. Read more of this post

In rare public comments, Taiwan spy chief points to 2027 as key in China’s plans

Tsai Ming-yenIN A SERIES OF rare public comments, the director of Taiwan’s primary intelligence agency has singled out 2027 as a year of paramount significance for China’s military plans for Taiwan. On Thursday, Tsai Ming-yen (pictured), director-general of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) since February, spoke to an audience of graduating students at Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung City. According to reports, it was the first time in a quarter of a century that an NSB director-general had addressed a university audience.

In addition to his speech at the Chung Hsing University, Director-General Tsai, a former deputy foreign minister and diplomat, gave a rare interview to the United States-based Bloomberg news agency. He refused to weigh in on the ongoing discussion about a timeframe for a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. But he singled out the year 2027 as a significant one for Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s plans to modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The Chinese leader first introduced his “PLA Modernization 2035” plan in 2017, describing it as a whole-of-government effort to significantly improve the PLA’s combat capabilities as a step toward achieving China’s long-term goal of becoming a major global military power. Tsai pointed out that the year 2027 will be the 10-year mark into President Xi’s 18-year program of military reforms. Additionally, Xi will most likely be campaigning for a fourth presidential term that year, Tsai said.

In his interview with Bloomberg, Tsai said that President Xi “doesn’t allow any kind of different voice in the Chinese political system”. In essence, therefore, the Chinese leader has been surrounding himself with “a coterie of like-minded officials”. This resulting ‘groupthink’ means that “the risk of making a wrong decision” on pressing issues like Taiwan “will become much higher” in the coming years, he warned. To counter that threat, and to monitor China’s military intentions, Tsai said Taiwan is systematically deepening its real-time cooperation with its “international friends”, especially with the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance, an intelligence-sharing coalition comprising of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

In a separate development, the United States Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Thursday that the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd (TSMC) would be a major cause for concern in a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The United States and other countries rely overwhelmingly on the TSMC’s production output for the use of semiconductors in civilian and military hardware. Should a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan prevent the TSMC from producing those semiconductors, the resulting impact on the global economy would be “enormous”, possibly in the neighborhood of “between $600 billion to $1 trillion on an annual basis for the first few years”, Haines said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 May 2023 | Permalink

Analysis: Did Ukraine try to assassinate Vladimir Putin?

KremlinOFFICIALS IN UKRAINE HAVE vehemently denied allegations by the Kremlin that the Ukrainian government tried to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin using two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). A statement by the Russian government said that the Kremlin, which serves as the official residence of the Russian president in Moscow, came under attack by two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the early hours of Wednesday. According to the statement, the UAVs were shot down 16 minutes apart. The first UAV allegedly exploded mid-air at 2:27 a.m. local time over the old Senate building, which is located on the eastern side of the Kremlin. At 2:43 a.m. a second UAV exploded over the Kremlin, sending debris flying across the courtyard of the heavily fortified complex.

There were no injuries or material damages, according to the Russian Federal Protective Service, which is responsible for the protection of high-ranking state officials and government facilities, including the Kremlin complex. Within hours, Russia openly placed blame on the government of Ukraine for the alleged attack and claimed that it had been intended to kill President Putin. A subsequent statement praised the Russian armed forces for thwarting the alleged attack on Putin’s life with “timely actions”. Meanwhile, government officials in the United States said that the White House “had no foreknowledge of an impending drone attack on the Kremlin” and urged that Moscow’s allegations be treated with skepticism.

UKRAINE IS CAPABLE OF STRIKING INSIDE RUSSIA

The Ukrainian military and paramilitary forces are both interested in, and capable of, carrying out strikes inside Russia. In 2023 alone, there have been dozens of apparent acts of sabotage in European Russia, which have damaged bridges, disrupted railway transportation systems, and rendered weapons depots unusable. This week alone, a fuel depot in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai was extensively damaged by a fire, which local authorities claimed was caused by a kamikaze UAV attack. About 1,500 miles north in Bryansk Oblast, near Russia’s border with Belarus, two trains were derailed by blasts that, according to news reports “appeared to be separate but identical incidents”. Ukraine denies involvement in these incidents, but military observers remain suspicious.

Meanwhile, investigative work by news outlets such as The New York Times suggests that Ukrainian paramilitary units may have been behind acts of sabotage in Western Europe, and even assassinations of pro-Putin figures inside Russia. Some of these attacks —if that is indeed what they were— may have been carried out by teams of cover human operatives. Others may have been carried out by mechanical means, including UAVs. Certainly, the Ukrainian military has never been shy about its effort to develop a strong long-range strike capability using UAVs. There is also some evidence that it may have carried out at least one UAV-enabled attack near Moscow in recent months. It therefore stands to reason that Ukraine is both willing and able to launch strikes inside Russia. Read more of this post

Russia calls for UN Security Council meeting in response to Polish espionage claims

Warsaw PolandAUTHORITIES IN POLAND HAVE seized an abandoned school building in the Polish capital Warsaw, allegedly because it was being used as a base for espionage activities by the Russian government. Following the seizure  of the building complex, Russian officials issued stern but vague warnings, saying that action will be taken in response to what they termed as an “act of provocation” by the Polish government.

The controversial seizure was revealed on Saturday afternoon by Warsaw’s Deputy Mayor Tomasz Bratek, who announced that Warsaw city authorities had “taken possession” of the building. He was referring to a communist-era building complex in central Warsaw’s Ochota district, which, according to Moscow, belongs to the Russian government. The property was originally part of the Soviet embassy complex, but was later transformed into a high school and community center specializing in Russian language and culture. Many of its students were children of Russian diplomats who are stationed at the nearby Russian embassy. It has fallen into disuse in recent years.

Poland claims that the Russian government never officially bought or leased the property, and that it had been using it without permission for over three decades. Warsaw city officials maintain that the building belongs to the Warsaw city council and that they have repeatedly asked Russia to vacate the building, but to no avail. In recent years, the Polish government has been accusing Russia of using the high school as a cover for espionage activities, and claims that the use of the building by Moscow violates Polish sovereignty while also constituting a security threat.

Late on Saturday, the Russian government strongly denied the allegations and accused the Polish government of engaging in anti-Russian propaganda. It was later reported that Russia had called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (which it currently chairs) to discuss the matter. The United States and other Western countries have not yet commented on the incident, but are likely to express support for Poland’s actions, given their own concerns about Russian intelligence activities in the region.

The seizure of the high school building is just the latest incident in a long list of espionage and counter-espionage incidents involving Russia and its neighbors in Europe. Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, such incidents have increased considerably. The seizure of the high school building in Warsaw highlights the continuing tensions between Russia and its neighbors in Europe, as well as the centrality of intelligence-gathering and counter-intelligence efforts in the region.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2023 | Permalink

US arrests two over alleged clandestine Chinese police station in New York City

Chinese Ministry of State SecurityTHE UNITED STATES HAS arrested two residents of New York City for allegedly conspiring to create and operate a clandestine police station run by the Chinese government in the borough of Manhattan. The arrests come a month after authorities in Canada launched an investigation into allegations that the Chinese government was running at least two clandestine police stations in Montreal and four more in Toronto.

The allegations first surfaced in a 2022 report by Safeguard Defenders, a Spanish-based non-government organization that focuses on the state of human rights in China. The report, titled “110 Overseas: Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild”, claimed that China’s Ministry of Public Security, in association with Chinese diplomatic facilities around the world, operated dozens of clandestine police stations in over 50 countries. Their official mission, according to the report, was to service the needs of Chinese citizens living abroad, as well as visitors from China. However, these clandestine police stations were “actively […] engaging in covert and illegal policing operations” targeting Chinese citizens and expatriates, according to Safeguard Defenders.

On Monday, two New York City residents, Chen Jinping, 59, and Lu Jianwang, 61, were arrested and charged with conspiring to operate as unregistered agents of the People’s Republic of China. They were also charged with obstruction of justice in connection with the Department of Justice’s investigation into their activities. United States government prosecutors allege that Chen and Lu were behind the establishment of a clandestine police station in Manhattan. According to the indictment, the Manhattan police station —the first of its kind in the United States— was operated by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS). It is reported that the station was shut down by the MSS in late 2022, soon after Chinese officials became aware of an investigation into the activities of the station by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A representative of the United States prosecutor accused the Chinese government of engaging in a “flagrant violation” of American sovereignty with “actions that go far beyond the bounds of acceptable nation-state conduct”. Meanwhile, Chen and Lu appeared before a federal judge in Brooklyn on Monday. They face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 April 2023 | Permalink

China-based Australian businessman charged with espionage

ASIO AustraliaAN AUSTRALIAN BUSINESSMAN, WHO has worked in China for over two decades, is facing up to 15 years in prison for allegedly selling secrets to two foreign intelligence officers. The businessman, Alexander Csergo, 55, grew up in Sydney, but moved to China in 2002 and currently works for a digital solutions firm in Shanghai. According to reports, Csergo describes himself on social media as a “business strategist” and an “operational transformation specialist”.

Csergo was arrested by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on Friday afternoon at his family home in the eastern Sydney suburb of Bondi. According to a press release, Csergo’s arrest resulted from an investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce (CFITF), aa joint counterintelligence body led by the AFP and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Established in 2021, the CFITF brings together counterintelligence units from across Australia’s federal government sectors in order to discover, disrupt and investigate foreign interference activity.

Australian government prosecutors claim that representatives of a foreign think-tank approached Csergo on social media while he was overseas —presumably in China. The think-tank representatives arranged for Csergo to come in contact with two individuals, calling themselves “Evelyn” and “Ken”. They offered to pay Csergo in return for reports that contained “information about Australian defence, economic and national security arrangements, as well as matters relating to other countries”.

Csergo allegedly agreed to provide the requested services and proceeded to compile a number of reports for the think-tank between February 2021 and April 14 of this year. The Australian government alleges that “Evelyn” and “Ken” are in fact emploees of a foreign intelligence service, which has not yet been publicly identified in Australian government press releases. The Australian government also claims that these individuals may have tried to recruit other Australians, or foreign citizens living in Australia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 April 2023 | Permalink

New report assesses record of Russian unconventional operations in Ukraine war

Ukraine MariupolA NEW REPORT PUBLISHED by a London-based security think-tank concludes that Russia has employed unconventional operations effectively to subdue the population in occupied areas of Ukraine. These successes contrast sharply with the inferior performance of Russia’s conventional military forces, as revealed last week in a series of leaked documents belonging to the United States Department of Defense.

The 39-page report was published on March 29 by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). It is titled “Preliminary Lessons from Russia’s Unconventional Operations During the Russo-Ukrainian War, Feb 2022-Feb 2023”. It suggests that the early assessments of the Russian intelligence community failed to anticipate by a wide margin the strength of the Ukrainian opposition to the Russian invasion, as well as the West’s resolve to assist Kyiv. Moreover, early assessments by Russian intelligence agencies severely over-estimated the capabilities of the Russian military, with near-catastrophic results.

However, the report claims that, in contrast to its early assessments, the record of unconventional operations by Russia’s intelligence community in Ukraine has been largely successful, and has allowed Moscow to effectively subdue occupied populations in eastern Ukraine. It suggests that Russian intelligence agencies began planning for the military invasion at least eight months in advance. They prepared the ground by assembling a large network of agents on the ground in Ukraine, which included at least 800 Ukrainian government officials. Some of these officials offered to spy for Russia voluntarily, while others were coerced through various means.

The agent network inside Ukraine gave Russian intelligence agencies access to government databases, as well as to communications intercepts. These were used to construct detailed assessments of targeted individuals in occupied areas of Ukraine, and enabled Russian intelligence agencies to operate surgically in neutralizing leading pro-Kyiv officials in those areas. That method has been largely effective in the past year, and has allowed Moscow to exercise strict control in areas under occupation through “a steady stream of human intelligence” from its agent networks, the report claims.

In an unrelated development, a trove of leaked documents circulated on several social media platforms late last week. The documents appear to contain intelligence briefs compiled by the Joint Staff of the United States Department of Defense. The briefs contain intelligence information from a host of American intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. According to reports, the documents show the extent to which American intelligence has penetrated the Russian government. They also show Washington’s ability to assess with accuracy Moscow’s military and intelligence planning. The New York Times, which reported on the leak last week, said the documents show that “nearly every Russian security service [has been] penetrated by the United States in some way”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 April 2023 | Permalink

Bomb hidden inside decorative figurine kills pro-Kremlin military blogger in Russia

Vladlen Tatarsky Maxim FominA POWERFUL EXPLOSION, LIKELY caused by a bomb hidden inside a decorative figurine, has killed one of the most prominent pro-Kremlin bloggers as he was giving a public talk in downtown St. Petersburgh, Russia. The bomb killed Maxim Fomin, 40, who was known in online blogger circles under the pseudonym Vladlen Tatarsky. Born in eastern Ukraine, Fomin supported the pro-Russian secessionist movement in the Donbas. By 2021, when he obtained Russian citizenship, he had already made a name for himself as a pro-Kremlin military blogger on the Telegram social media platform.

In 2022, when the Russian military invaded Ukraine again, Fomin used his Telegram channel to spread pro-Kremlin information among his nearly 600,000 followers. He quickly rose to prominence as a commentator on military matters on Russian state-owned television. He also authored several books espousing Russian nationalist views. Fomin’s online activism came to embody a new generation of Russian bloggers who use their reach among Russian Internet users to aggressively promote pro-Kremlin political views.

On Sunday afternoon, Fomin was the main speaker at a pro-Kremlin event held in a St. Petersburg meeting hall, which is known as the Street Food Bar #1 Café. The downtown establishment used to belong to Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest collaborators. Prigozhin is the alleged owner of the Wagner Group private military company. In 2019, Prigozhin is believed to have donated the property to a group of pro-Kremlin activists, who have since been using it to host nationalist meetings in downtown St. Petersburg.

On Sunday afternoon, Fomin was the main speaker at an event held in the Street Food Bar #1 Café. The event had been organized by Cyber Front Z, an umbrella group of Russian nationalist bloggers, who refer to themselves on Telegram as a pro-Kremlin cyber army. At least 100 people were present at the event, according to reports. Shortly before the event began, an unknown woman tried to enter the facility carrying a large box. She told the event organizers at the entrance that the box contained a figurine, which she intended to present to Fomin as a gift. Read more of this post

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