Taiwan files charges against couple identified by Chinese defector as alleged spies

Wang Liqiang

AUTHORITIES IN TAIWAN HAVE filed money-laundering charges against a Chinese couple, who were identified as spies by a man who defected to Australia in 2019, claiming to be a Chinese intelligence operative. Wang “William” Liqiang, 28, from China’s eastern Fujian province, defected to Australia in October of 2019, while visiting his wife and newborn son in Sydney. He and his family are currently believed to be living under the protection of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

In a 17-page sworn statement filed shortly after his defection, Wang reportedly gave details of his work as an undercover intelligence officer for Chinese military intelligence. He is also said to have shared the identities of senior Chinese intelligence officers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and to have explained how they carry out espionage operations on behalf of Beijing. Some media reports claimed that Mr. Wang had shared details about deep-cover Chinese intelligence networks in Australia. Wang also claimed that he worked for a Hong Kong-based company called China Innovation Investment Limited (CIIL), which was in reality a front company set up to provide proprietary cover for Chinese spies like himself.

The Chinese government responded to Wang’s allegations by publicly calling him a “fraud” and claiming that his Chinese passport and Hong Kong identity papers were forgeries. Meanwhile, CIIL filed legal action against Wang for libel and spreading malicious falsehoods. But that did not stop Taiwanese authorities from arresting CIIL’s directors, Xiang Xin and Gong Qing, on November 24, 2019. The directors, a married couple, were about to board an international flight at Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport, when they were detained by members of the country’s Investigation Bureau. Following their detention, they were barred from leaving the country until further notice.

Under Taiwanese law, authorities in the island country had until April 14 of this year to file charges against the couple, or allow them to leave the country. On Thursday, the Office of the Taipei District Prosecutor announced that money laundering charges had been filed against the two CIIL directors. According to the indictment, the couple used nearly $26 million that they allegedly acquired illicitly from China, in order to purchase three luxury apartments in Taipei’s affluent Xinyi district. Additionally, the Prosecutor’s office said the two Chinese citizens continue to be under investigation for potentially violating Taiwan’s National Security Act.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 April 2021 | Permalink

Vienna’s wartime Gestapo chief worked for West German intelligence, records show

Franz Huber

THE HEAD OF THE secret police in Nazi-occupied Vienna, who oversaw the mass deportation of Austrian Jews to concentration camps, worked for West Germany’s postwar spy agency, according to newly released records. Starting his career as a police officer in Munich during the Weimar Republic, Franz Josef Huber joined the Nazi Party in 1937. Due to his prior law enforcement work, he was immediately appointed to the office of Heinrich Müller, who headed the Gestapo —Nazi Germany’s secret police.

Following the German annexation of Austria in 1938, the Nazi Party sent Huber to Vienna, where he oversaw all criminal and political investigations by the Gestapo. He remained head of the Nazi secret police in the Austrian capital until December of 1944. Under his leadership, the Vienna branch of the Gestapo became one of the agency’s largest field offices, second only to its headquarters in Berlin, with nearly 1000 staff members. Huber himself was in regular communication with Adolf Eichmann, who was the logistical architect of the Holocaust. Nearly 66,000 Austrian Jews, most of them residents of Vienna, perished in German-run concentration camps under Huber’s watch.

In May of 1945, following the capitulation of Germany, Huber surrendered to American forces and was kept in detention for nearly four years. During his trial in the German city of Nuremburg, Huber admitted to having visited German-run concentration camps throughout his tenure in the Gestapo. But he claimed that he had not noticed signs of mistreatment of prisoners. He was eventually cleared of all charges against him and released in 1949, allegedly because allied forces wanted to concentrate on more senior members of the Nazi Party, including Huber’s boss, Heinrich Müller.

Last week, German public-service broadcaster ARD said it found Huber’s name in records belonging to the Federal Intelligence Service —Germany’s external intelligence agency. It turns out that, following his release from detention in 1948, Huber joined the Gehlen Organization —named after the first director of the BND, Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen was a former general and military intelligence officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht, who had considerable experience in anti-Soviet and anti-communist operations. In 1956, as the Cold War was intensifying, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which acted as the BND’s patron, appointed Gehlen as head of the BND, a post which he held until 1968. During his tenure, Gehlen staffed the BND with numerous Nazi war criminals, who had considerable expertise on the Soviet Union and anti-communism.

According to the ARD, Huber worked for the BND under Gehlen until 1967, when he retired along with other former Nazi BND officers. His retirement occurred at a time when the BND, under popular pressure, tried to cut ties with some of the most notorious former Nazis in its ranks. However, Huber was given a state pension, which he kept until his death in 1975. Following his retirement from the BND, he allegedly worked for an office equipment supplier in his hometown of Munich, without ever facing any prosecution for his wartime role in the Gestapo. In an article published on Monday, The New York Times claimed that the United States government was fully aware of Huber’s Nazi past.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 April 2021 | Permalink

Cambridge spy ring member gave USSR British royals’ pro-Nazi letters

Anthony Blunt

ANTHONY BLUNT, A MEMBER of the so-called Cambridge ring of communist spies, gave Soviet intelligence private letters written by members of the British royal family, which revealed “the depth of their Nazi sympathies”, according to a new television documentary. This revelation is included in “Queen Elizabeth and the Spy in the Palace”, the second of a three-part documentary series entitled Royals Declassified. The program was aired last week by Britain’s Channel 4 television station. According to the documentary, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the post-Soviet inheritor of the KGB’s external functions, may still be in possession of these controversial letters.

The Cambridge Spies were a group of British diplomats and intelligence officers who worked secretly for the Soviet Union from their student days in the 1930s until the 1960s. They included Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1964, Sir Anthony Blunt, an art historian and former British Security Service (MI5) agent, who in April of 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, admitted under interrogation by the British Security Service (MI5) that he had operated as the fourth member of the spy ring.

The Channel 4 documentary features an interview with Australian author and historian Roland Perry, who recounts his conversations with the late Soviet intelligence officer Yuri Ivanovich Modin. Modin handled the Cambridge Spies from 1948 to 1951 as an officer of the Ministry for State Security (MGB), the immediate forerunner of the KGB. According to what Modin told Perry, in 1945 Blunt was tasked with a secret mission by King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, who is Britain’s current reigning monarch.

Blunt’s mission was to accompany the British royal family’s librarian, Sir Owen Morshead, on a trip to Germany’s Darmstadt region. By that time the Third Reich had collapsed and the Darmstadt region was under American military occupation. The purpose of the secret trip was to take ownership of nearly 4,000 personal letters sent by various British royals to their German relatives during the first four decades of the 20th century. According to Perry, among these letters were several items of correspondence written in the years immediately preceding World War II by two of George V’s sons, Princes Edward and George. Perry claims that the letters expressed strong support for German National Socialism and, according to media reports, “would have proved hugely embarrassing” for the British royal family, had they been made public. The potential fallout of these letters was deemed so critical that Blunt and Morshead’s secret mission was personally sanctioned, not only by George VI, but also by British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

The two men recovered the letters, the majority of which were held at Friedrichshof Castle, located 12 miles northwest of Frankfurt. But the Channel 4 documentary alleges that Blunt secretly took photographs of the letters and passed them on to the Soviets. Perry claims that Modin told him during one of their meetings that the letters were highly incriminating and that Soviet intelligence could have blackmailed the British royals, had it chosen to do so. But the Cambridge spy ring handler said that the KGB decided not to take action on the matter —most likely to protect Blunt.

Despite his allegedly full confession in 1964, Blunt was never seriously disciplined for his espionage activities against Britain. In return for revealing his spy activities and naming others who had assisted him, he was granted immunity from prosecution.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 April 2021 | Permalink

Jordanian news agency claims Mossad involvement in helping alleged coup plotter

A NEWS AGENCY IN Jordan has said that a man with alleged ties to Israeli intelligence offered protection to Hamzah bin Hussein, half-brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who is reportedly under house arrest in Amman. Prince Hamzah is among at least 16 members of the Jordanian royal family and other senior officials, who were apparently arrested last week, with the government claiming soon afterwards that a coup to depose the country’s monarch had been averted.

Hours after his arrest, Prince Hamzah’s family leaked a video to the BBC, in which the King’s half-brother said he was under house arrest, and blamed the ruling family for corruption and for incompetence in dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Hamzah was Jordan’s crown prince until 2004, when he was stripped of his title by his half-brother. King Abdullah II has ruled the Hashemite Kingdom since the 1999 passing of his father, King Hussein, who ruled the country for nearly 50 years.

Hamzah claimed in the leaked video that he was being punished for participating in meetings in which Jordan’s “ruling system” had been criticized. This emerging dispute is rare in Jordan, as the royal family is extremely private and the media are strongly discouraged from reporting about internal splits and other disagreements among senior royals. This development also points to potential sources of instability in one of the Middle East’s few stable political entities. Critics claim that Jordan’s stability is an apparition that masks growing social angst amidst a state-run system of censorship.

On Sunday, Jordan’s largest news agency, Ammon, cited an “informed source” in claiming that an Israeli businessman made contact with Hamzah’s family and offered to fly them out of Jordan using a private airplane. The report also claimed that the businessman, Roy Shaposhnik, had previously been associated with Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Shaposhnik served as an adviser to Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, but is today primarily known for his company, RS Logistical Solutions, which is contracted for services by governments around the world.

In a subsequent media interview, Shaposhnik reportedly confirmed that he had offered to help Hamzah, because he was his “close personal friend”. But he denied ever having worked for the Mossad, saying he is simply “an Israeli living in Europe. I never served in any role in the Israeli intelligence services”. On Sunday, Israel’s Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz, said that the alleged coup plot was “an internal Jordanian issue”, but added that Israel was “prepared to assist Jordan as necessary” and cited the close security ties between Israel and Jordan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2021 | Permalink

Wife of Italian spy for Russia says he was desperate for money due to COVID-19

Embassy of Russia in Italy

THE WIFE OF AN ITALIAN Navy captain, who is facing espionage charges for allegedly selling classified documents to Russia, has claimed that he resorted to spying after facing bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio described the case on Wednesday as “an extremely grave matter […] tied to spying and state security”.

The Navy captain has been named as Walter Biot, 54, who served in the National Security Policy Department of the Italian Ministry of Defense. His job duties included advising military and civilian officials on formulating national security policy in coordination with Italy’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners. He was reportedly arrested late on Tuesday evening at a car park in Rome, alongside two members of the Russian embassy in the Italian capital.

Reports in the Italian media said Biot was caught as he was handing the Russians documents and a memory card containing classified data, for which he received €5,000 (approximately $6,000) in cash. Italian authorities said on Thursday that the material Biot handed over to the Russians included 181 photos of secret and top-secret documents belonging to the Italian government, as well as 47 classified documents belonging to NATO.

On Thursday, Biot’s legal team told Italian media that their client was a father of four, and that his income was insufficient to provide for one of his children, who was “seriously ill and needed special care”. Biot’s wife, Claudia Carbonara, said in an interview that her husband committed espionage in order to supplement the family’s €3,000 ($3,500) income, which had been reduced significantly in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to his lawyers, Biot reportedly said that he “made a mistake but I did it for my family [during] a moment of great weakness and fragility”.

Meanwhile, the two Russian diplomats who were arrested alongside Biot have been identified as Dmitry Ostroukhov and Alexei Nemudrov. They reportedly served in the office of the military attaché at the Russian embassy in Rome. Both have been expelled from the country. Russia has threatened to retaliate in the coming days, possibly by expelling a number of Italian diplomats from Moscow.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 April 2021 | Permalink

Brazil ‘spiraling out of control’ as commanders of all three military branches resign

Fernando Azevedo e Silva

IN WHAT NATIONAL MEDIA described as “a political earthquake”, the commanders of all three branches of Brazil’s armed forces tended their resignations on Tuesday, prompting analysts to question the stability of the country. It is the first time in Brazilian history that all three senior commanders of the nation’s armed forces have resigned on the same day.

The resignations came less than 24 hours after Brazilian media reported that the country’s rightwing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, summarily fired his Minister of Defense, General Fernando Azevedo e Silva. The general, a longtime close friend of the president, was handpicked for the post of defense minister by Bolsonaro himself soon after his election in 2018. However, he was fired on Monday after a tense meeting with the president that reportedly lasted only three minutes.

According to some reports, the minister was removed from his post after repeatedly making public statements suggesting that that the Brazilian armed forces would defend the country’s constitution, rather than protect the president. The three commanders of Brazil’s armed forces branches, Admiral Ilques Barbosa, General Edson Leal Pujol, and Lieutenant-Brigadeer Antônio Carlos Bermudez, met with the new defense minister on Tuesday and tended their resignations, during what one source described as “a dramatic and heated encounter”.

Late on Tuesday, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the branch heads of the armed forces had resigned, but did not provide a reason, nor did it name their replacements. Meanwhile, Brazil is in the throes of one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, which has cost the lives of nearly 320,000 people. Over 3,500 Brazilians die every day, with numbers of infections and deaths reaching new records every 24 hours.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 March 2021 | Permalink

In historic first, alleged North Korean spy to face trial in the United States

DPRK North Korean embassy in Malaysia

FOR THE FIRST TIME in history, an alleged intelligence officer of North Korea is going to be tried in a United States court, according to American government officials. In a surprise move last week, Malaysia extradited to the US an export-finance trader named Mun Chol-myong. Aged 55, Mun is a North Korean citizen based in Singapore, where until 2019 he worked for a company called Sinsar Trading Pte. Ltd. The Malaysians arrested him in May 2019 and charged him with using his position to defraud a number of international banks and launder money though the US financial system.

Responding to a US request to have Mun tried in a US court, Malaysia announced his extradition last week, angering Pyongyang. Shortly following Mun’s extradition to the US, North Korea shut down its embassy in Kuala Lumpur, one of only 46 embassies maintained by Pyongyang across the world. Then last Wednesday North Korea fired two ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations sanctions designed to restrict the country’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea’s fury at Mun’s extradition can perhaps be explained by information contained in the newly unsealed indictment [pdf], which dates to 2018. The indictment accuses Mun and a number of other unnamed suspects of being North Korean “intelligence operatives”.

Specifically, the indictment accuses Mun of being an undercover employee of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s primary foreign-intelligence agency. The RGB operates under the supervision of the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army and the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. According to the indictment, Mun utilized shell companies set up by Pyongyang in order to hide his connections with the RGB. His primary mission was allegedly to gain access to international banking institutions and wire services, with the aim of laundering illicit North Korean cash and breaking sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the United Nations and the United States. The indictment accuses Mun of having personally participated in the laundering of $1.5 million in funds in recent years.

In a statement released last week, John Demers, assistant attorney general for the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice, described Mun as “the first North Korean intelligence operative —and the second ever foreign intelligence operative— to have been extradited to the United States”. Meanwhile, the administration of US President Joe Biden said last week it was still reviewing “in depth” the state of US-North Korean relations following the administration of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2021 | Permalink

Chinese hackers used Facebook to target Uighur activists with malware

Facebook

CHINESE HACKERS USED FAKE Facebook accounts to target individual activists in the expatriate Uighur community and infect their personal communications devices with malware, according to Facebook. The social media company said on Wednesday that the coordinated operation targeted approximately 500 Uighur activists living in the United States, Canada, Australia, Syria, Turkey and Kazakhstan.

At least 12 million Uighurs, most of them Muslims, live in China’s Xinjiang region, which is among the most impoverished in the country. The Chinese state is currently engaged in a campaign to quell separatist tendencies among some Uighurs, while forcibly integrating the region’s population into mainstream culture through a state-run program of forcible assimilation. It is believed that at least a million Uighurs are currently living in detention camps run by the Communist Party of China, ostensibly for “re-education”. Meanwhile, thousands of Uighur expatriates, most of whom live in Kazakhstan and Turkey, are engaged in a concerted campaign aimed at airing human-rights violations occurring in the Chinese detention camps throughout Xinjiang.

According to Facebook, Chinese hackers set up around 100 accounts of fake personas claiming to be journalists with an interest in reporting on human rights, or pro-Uighur activists. They then befriended actual Uighur activists on Facebook and directed them to fake websites that were designed to resemble popular Uighur news agencies and pro-activist websites. However, these websites were carriers of malware, which infected the personal communications devices of those who visited them. Some Facebook users were also directed to fake smartphone application stores, from where they downloaded Uighur-themed applications that contained malware.

Facebook said it was able to detect and disrupt the fake account network, which has now been neutralized. It also said it was able to block all fake domains associated with the hacker group, and notified users who were targeted by the hackers. It added that its security experts were not able to discern direct connections between the hackers an the Chinese state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 March 2021 | Permalink

Bulgaria expels Russian diplomats over spy claims, Moscow threatens retaliation

Bulgaria MFA

TWO RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS STATIONED in Bulgaria were declared personae non grata by the Bulgarian government on Monday, after they were allegedly implicated in acts of espionage, according to reports. The two Russians, who have not been officially named, were stationed at the embassy of Russia in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. They were allegedly implicated in an espionage affair that has resulted in the arrests of at least six Bulgarian citizens, accused of carrying out acts of espionage on behalf of Moscow.

As intelNews reported on Monday, six members of the alleged spy-ring were arrested by Bulgarian counterintelligence on Thursday, March 18. They were charged with espionage on behalf of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU, which is Russia’s main military intelligence agency. The six alleged spies reportedly gave Moscow secrets about Bulgarian military affairs, as well as information concerning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Bulgaria, a former ally of the Soviet Union, joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

On Tuesday, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it proceeded to declare the two Russian diplomats personae non grata on March 22. The decision to expel the diplomats was reportedly taken soon after the ministry received official confirmation from the state prosecutor’s office that the two Russians had been implicated in the alleged spy ring’s espionage activities. The Russian embassy was given 72 hours to make arrangements for the two diplomats to leave Bulgaria. Nor further information was provided by the ministry.

The Russian embassy in Sofia said on Tuesday that the Kremlin could carry out reprisals against the Bulgarian government in the coming days —potentially by expelling at least two Bulgarian diplomats from Moscow or St. Petersburgh. In a statement posted on its website, the embassy blasted what it described as “another groundless demarche of the Bulgarian authorities [that] will not contribute to the further building of a constructive Russian-Bulgarian dialogue”. The statement added that “[t]he Russian side reserves the right to retaliate” to the Russian diplomats’ expulsions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 March 2021 | Permalink

American spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard gives rare interview to Israeli newspaper

Jonathan Pollard

JONATHAN POLLARD, AN AMERICAN who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, and is now free after spending 30 years in prison, has given a rare interview to Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely distributed newspaper. Pollard, who is now 66, is a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy. He was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving a lengthy sentence for selling US government secrets to Israel. Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, but failed to have Pollard freed prior to serving the entirety of his sentence. Initially barred from leaving the United States, the former spy was eventually allowed to relocate to Israel by the administration of US President Donald Trump. He and his wife arrived in Israel in December, where they received a hero’s welcome.

A few snippets from Pollard’s interview with Israel Hayom were published on Monday. The paper said that the full interview, edited for brevity, will be published on Friday. In his comments, Pollard defends his decision to share US government secrets with Israel as a “duty” that he says he felt compelled to carry out, claiming: “I know I crossed a line, but I had no choice”. He adds that Washington was “stabbing Israel in the back” by refusing to share intelligence about Arab militaries, which included “serious” threats to the security of the Jewish state.

Pollard claims that he secretly managed to warn his Israeli recruiter, Aviem Sella, who did not have diplomatic immunity in the United States, and who was able to escape arrest in the US. Sella was pardoned by the Trump administration late last year. But Pollard also criticizes the decision of the Israelis to not give him protection at their embassy in Washington, DC, where Pollard tried to claim asylum as he was being followed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The former spy also describes his life in Israel as “wonderful” and says he can tell the Israeli people see him as “someone [who] was willing to sacrifice his life for them”.

Israel Hayom, which interviewed Pollard, was founded by the Sheldon Adelson, an American casino magnate who was a major financial backer of Donald Trump until his death in January of this year. Adelson was also a major supporter of Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The Associated Press notes that Adelson sent his private plane fly Pollard and his wife to Israel in December, after the former spy was permitted to leave American soil by the Trump administration.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2021 | Permalink

Bulgaria confirms arrest of six-member spy-ring allegedly working for Russia

Russian embassy Bulgaria

AUTHORITIES IN BULGARIA HAVE confirmed media reports aired last week, which alleged that at least six members of a spy-ring working for the government of Russia had been arrested in the capital Sofia. News of the arrests was first reported by the Bulgarian National Television, or BNT, late on Thursday, March 18. Citing “government sources”, BNT said that “several” Bulgarian citizens had been arrested in simultaneous raids by the country’s counterintelligence service.

On Friday, March 19, the Bulgarian government confirmed the BNT report, saying that six Bulgarian citizens had been charged with espionage on behalf of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU. The GRU is Russia’s foremost military intelligence agency. The six alleged spies reportedly gave Moscow secrets about Bulgarian military affairs, as well as information concerning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Bulgaria, a former ally of the Soviet Union, joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

Some reports claim that the spy ring members also gave information to the Russians about the presence and operations of United States intelligence personnel in Bulgaria. The American intelligence agencies that were allegedly affected by these disclosures include the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. The United States has not officially commented on these reports. On Friday, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price tweeted that “Bulgaria is a friend, NATO ally, and partner”, adding that Washington was “attentively watching the Bulgarian investigation into an alleged Russian spy ring”.

The head of the alleged spy ring is reportedly a retired senior official in the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense, who was allegedly recruited by the GRU and received training in clandestine tradecraft from his Russian handlers. Another member is a retired military counterintelligence officer, who is currently serving in a counterintelligence capacity in the Bulgarian parliament. Three other members of the spy ring are active or retired officers in the Bulgarian armed forces. According to the BNT report, the wife of the head of the spy ring, who is a citizen of both Bulgaria and Russia, operated as a courier for the spy ring. She allegedly made regular visits to the Russian embassy in Sofia, where she delivered stolen secrets in return for cash payments.

The Office of the Bulgarian State Prosecutor published a 20-minute video on Friday, which contains intercepted audio recordings of alleged conversations between members of the spy group and their Russian handlers. The video also contains surreptitiously filmed footage of alleged meetings between the members of the spy ring and their Russian handlers in public places. Some of the footage shows the exchange of documents with cash payments between assets and handlers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 March 2021 | Permalink

Finnish intelligence identifies Chinese state-linked group behind cyber-attack

Finnish Parliament

FINLAND’S INTELLIGENCE AGENCY HAS identified a hacker group with ties to the Chinese state as the culprit of an attack of “exceptional” magnitude and intensity that targeted the Finnish Parliament last year. The attack was reported in December 2020, but had been going on for several weeks prior to being discovered by the information security department of the Eduskunta (Parliament of Finland).

Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NIB) said at the time that the attack had compromised parts of the Parliament’s internal communication system, including a number of Parliamentary email accounts. Some of these accounts belonged to members of Parliament, while others belonged to members of staff, according to the NIB.

Little became known about the attack in the months after the incident was first reported by Finnish media. But on Thursday the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service (SUPO) issued a press release about the incident. It said that the attack was likely part of a state-sponsored cyber espionage operation. It also identified those responsible for the attack as Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 31. The SUPO report did not name the state that sponsored the attack. However, several private computer security firms have linked APT31 with the Chinese government.

The SUPO report stated that the attack on the Finnish Parliament was neither random nor experimental. On the contrary, it was aimed at acquiring specific information stored at the Parliament’s computer servers. Although the motive for the attack is still being investigated, it is possible that it was part of an effort “to gather intelligence to benefit a foreign state or to harm Finland’s interests”, said SUPO. The spy agency added that it would not provide further details about the case while it remains the subject a criminal investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 March 2021 | Permalink

Domestic extremism quickly ‘metastasizing’, US intelligence report warns

US Capitol

A MAJOR INTELLIGENCE REPORT produced for the United States Congress and the White House warns that violent extremism by ethnically and racially motivated militants is “metastasizing”, and “will almost certainly” result in further attacks in 2021. The report was produced by the National Counterterrorism Center of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. A declassified version of the report was released online, shortly after the White House and Congress were given a classified briefing on the matter.

The report —the first of its kind to be issued after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol Complex, points to threats from several strains of domestic violent extremism, ranging from environmental activists to animal rights extremists, anarchists and adherents of far-right ideologies. It states, however, that by far the greatest threat to public security is presented by ethnically and racially motivated violent extremists, in combination with armed militias. These groups “will almost certainly” grow more active in the coming months, due to a number of economic, political and social factors. Their members are feeling emboldened following the January 6 attacks, and social media are allowing these groups to expand their presence among the population. Widespread conspiracy theories about last November’s presidential elections are also fueling rightwing armed militancy, according to the report.

The same can be said about the economic pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns, which anti-government extremists view as the imposition of tyranny by a government that should be overthrown. These kinds of social disruptions “will almost certainly” fuel further violence this year, according to the report. Members of domestic extremist organizations are currently exchanging ideas on methods of violence, and devising “innovations in targeting and attack tactics”, it adds. Additionally, white supremacist groups appear to rely on “the most persistent and concerning transnational connections” of any type of domestic violent extremist organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 March 2021 | Permalink

Nashville Christmas Day bombing was not terrorism, FBI concludes

Nashville Tennessee

A MAN WHO LAST December detonated a massive bomb in Nashville, capital of the American state of Tennessee, was not motivated by political ideology, but by paranoid alien conspiracies, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Anthony Quinn Warner kept the bomb inside his recreational vehicle, which he had parked in downtown Nashville. He was inside the vehicle as he detonated the bomb at 6:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, 2020, killing himself and injuring three people. Minutes before the explosion, Warner used an outdoor speaker attached to his vehicle’s sounds system to broadcast a pre-recorded message warning that a bomb was about to detonate.

The incident has perplexed authorities, because Warner did not seem to have a clear motive for his action. Additionally, his background did not fit that of a typical ideologically or racially motivated violent extremist. Now, however, after nearly three months of research, which included over 250 interviews with people who knew Warner, the FBI has concluded its investigation. The law enforcement agency said that Warner acted completely alone, and that he was not motivated by an ideological belief, nor was he aiming to bring about social or political change. This means that his violent action cannot be officially classified as terrorism.

The FBI investigation also rejects the intense speculation that took place following the attack, according to which Warner may have been motivated by fringe conspiracy theories about 5G technology. These rumors emerged due to the location of the attack. The latter caused extensive damage to a facility owned and operated by AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecommunications providers. However, the FBI concluded that Warner was not concerned about AT&T or 5G technologies. Instead, he was apparently motivated by a concoction of conspiracy theories fueled by paranoia. Most of these conspiracy theories revolved around a race of reptiles that Warner believed had secretly infiltrated human societies. He told some of his friends that he saw his personal mission as hunting down these aliens.

In addition to alien conspiracy theories, Warner’s act of violence was triggered by a number of personal relationships that deteriorated in the months prior to his suicide. However, his violent act was not aimed as revenge fueled by grievances against specific individuals or groups of people that lived near the site of the explosion, according to the FBI.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 March 2021 | Permalink

Israel behind mysterious attacks on Iranian oil tankers, report claims

Iran oil tanker

THE ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE SERVICES are behind a series of mysterious attacks that have damaged Iranian oil tankers in the past 24 months, according to a new report that cites sources in the international shipping industry. The report, which appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal, cites a number of “shipping professionals” and “regional officials”, but does not name them.

The paper claims that the Israeli government decided to target the Iranian oil tankers after it concluded that Tehran uses the proceeds from oil sales to fund groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Most of the damaged ships were attempting to deliver oil to Syria in violation of a host of international sanctions against Iran, which are led by the United States. Washington appears to be quietly supporting the Israeli attacks on Iranian ships, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The article cites an anonymous shipping industry professionals as claiming that at least three Iranian oil tankers sustained serious damage following Israeli attacks in 2019, while at least six more Iranian ships were struck by Israel in 2020. All nine ships were transporting oil. There is no information about alleged attacks on Iranian oil tankers in 2021, with the exception of one Iranian vessel that was targeted by a group of divers who allegedly planted a limpet mine on its keel in February of this year.

None of the Iranian ships that were allegedly attacked by Israel sunk as a result, said The Wall Street Journal. However, all sustained significant damage and were forced to return to Iranian ports. As a result, Iran’s ability to deliver oil to Syria has been severely disrupted in the past two years, said the paper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 March 2021 | Permalink