North Korean diplomat, related to top regime official, defected to South, say sources

Kuwait CityA NORTH KOREAN ACTING ambassador, who is believed to be the son of one of the most senior officials of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), reportedly defected with his family to South Korea, according to sources. Two South Korean news outlets, the Yonhap News Agency and the Maeil Business Newspaper, reported the alleged defection on Monday. They both cited sources in the South Korean government.

The alleged defector is Ryu Hyun-Woo, who was serving as acting charge d’affaires at the North Korean embassy in Kuwait City, Kuwait. He assumed his post in October 2017, when the Kuwaiti government expelled the North Korean ambassador from the country. The expulsion was ordered in response to a nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang in September of that year, which was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution barring the communist state from carrying out nuclear activities.

The government in Pyongyang attributes major significance to its embassy in Kuwait City, since it constitutes its sole diplomatic presence in the Gulf region. Personnel who serve at the embassy are carefully vetted and come from some the most loyal families in the inner circle of the WPK. However, it appears that Ryu, who headed the embassy after October 2017, defected with his wife and children in September 2019. The family reportedly flew to South Korea, where they requested asylum upon arrival. According to the Maeil Business Newspaper, Ryu said he defected in order “to provide his children with a better future”.

According to the South Korean reports, Ryu is the son-in-law of Jon Il-Chun, who formerly directed the Central Committee Bureau 39 —or Office 39— of the WPK. This is the agency tasked by the North Korean regime with securing highly-sought-after hard foreign currency for use by the ruling family and their closest aides. It has been described as the operational nerve center of the North Korean government. If the reports of Ryu’s defection are correct, they would mark a major incident of disloyalty to the regime by a member of the innermost circle of the ruling elite.

Last October it was reported that Jo Song-gil, North Korea’s ambassador to Italy, who disappeared without trace in 2018, was believed to have resettled in South Korea. If true, that would make him the most senior official to defect from North Korea in over 20 years, and it would make Ryu the second most senior official to defect during that time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2020 | Permalink

NSA places its Trump-appointed lawyer on administrative leave, pending probe

NSAAMERICA’S LARGEST SPY AGENCY, the National Security Agency, has reportedly placed on administrative leave its general counsel, who was installed on orders by the White House just hours before the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. Michael Ellis worked as an aide to Representative Devin Nunes (R-Ca) until 2017, when he joined the White House as the senior associate counsel to President Trump and deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council (NSC). In 2020 he was promoted to NSC’s senior director for intelligence.

Last November, days after losing the presidential election, Trump attempted to appoint Ellis as NSA general counsel —effectively the chief legal officer at the spy agency. There was speculation that Trump’s move was part of an effort to declassify documents that he believed would harm the reputation of his domestic political enemies. But the NSA resisted the move, with its director, General Paul Nakasone, allegedly dismissing it as “an attempt to burrow a political appointee [who is] not qualified for the post into a career civil service position”. The Trump administration persisted, however, and last week the then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller ordered General Nakasone to appoint Ellis, as instructed, effective by 6:00 pm on January 16. The NSA continued to stall the move, but it eventually appointed Ellis as its general counsel at 6pm on January 19.

Now, however, it appears that Ellis has been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation into his NSA appointment, which has been launched by the Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General. According to The Washington Post, the investigation concerns “the circumstances of [Ellis’] selection” to serve as NSA’s general counsel. CBS News cites “a source familiar” with the case, who claims that Ellis is also facing allegations that he may have mishandled classified documents.

The NSA said it would not “comment on personnel matters”. The Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General said it would not confirm nor deny that Ellis was under investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 January 2020 | Permalink

Trump pardons alleged recruiter of US Navy analyst who spied for Israel

Jonathan PollardDURING HIS LAST DAY in office, United States President Donald Trump issued a federal pardon for Aviem Sella, an Israeli former intelligence officer, who allegedly recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American who sold secrets to Israel. Pollard was released in November of 2015, after serving a 30-year sentence for being what US government prosecutors called “one of the most damaging spies in American history”. The convicted spy recently relocated to Israel, where many see him as a national hero.

In 1987, along with Pollard, the US government indicted Sella, accusing him of recruiting and helping handle Pollard on behalf of Israeli intelligence. Sella, who today is 75, was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. He allegedly began working for Israeli intelligence in the early 1980s. He left the US just days before Pollard was arrested while trying to enter the grounds of the Israeli embassy in Washington, seeking political protection. Israel refused to extradite him to the US and refused to charge him with a crime.

But in his last day in office yesterday, President Trump included Sella’s name in a list of 144 names of individuals to whom he granted last-minute federal pardons. In a statement, the White House explained Trump’s decision by saying that Israel had “issued a full and unequivocal apology [for Pollard’s spying], and has requested the pardon in order to close this unfortunate chapter in US-Israeli relations”. In a statement issued a few hours later, Pollard and his Israeli wife, Esther, said they were “truly happy” about Trump’s decision. They went on to day that pardoning Sella “puts an end to the affair’s bleeding wounds after 35 years”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 January 2020 | Permalink | Thanks to A.B. for corrections

CIA chief ‘threatened to resign’ to prevent her replacement by Trump loyalist

Gina HaspelTHE DIRECTOR OF THE United States Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, reportedly threatened to resign on the spot in order to prevent a plan by the White House to replace her with a loyal ally of President Donald Trump. This was reported on Saturday by the American news website Axios, which cited three anonymous “senior administration officials” with direct knowledge of the matter.

President Trump reportedly planned to fire the heads of several federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including CIA, if he was re-elected in November. Following his electoral defeat, he discussed with his closest aides the possibility of proceeding with his plan to fire senior security and intelligence officials, as a form of retaliation against a part of the federal government that he views as disloyal to him. In particular, the president appears to believe that the CIA is in possession of secret documents that, if declassified, would harm the reputation of his domestic political enemies.

On November 9, the president summarily fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Chris Miller, who until then was serving as director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He also installed Kash Patel as Miller’s chief of staff. Patel is an attorney whose rise within the ranks of the Trump administration has been nothing short of meteoric. In 2019, after serving as Principal Deputy to the Director of National Intelligence for a number of months, Patel became senior director of the Counterterrorism Directorate at the National Security Council. He was also a former aide to Representative Devin Nunes (R-Ca), and is believed to have been the main author of a memorandum issues by Nunes, which accuses the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of participating in a conspiracy to destroy Trump.

This memorandum, claims Axios, convinced Trump that Patel would make a good acting CIA director. He therefore planned to replace the CIA’s current deputy director, Vaughn Bishop, with Patel. He then planned to fire Haspel, which would elevate Patel to acting CIA director, according to Axios. The website claims that the president instructed the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to begin the process of replacing Bishop with Patel in early December. However, once Haspel was notified of the plan, she threatened to resign before Patel was installed at the CIA. Her resignation would mean that Trump would have to also fire Haspel’s replacement, Bishop, in order to place Patel at the helm of the agency.

By December 11, Trump had reportedly been convinced to keep Haspel as CIA director. A relatively amicable meeting between him and Haspel, followed by the counsel of his senior aides, allegedly contributed to his decisoin. Among those who spoke in Haspel’s favor was Vice President Mike Pence and Pat Chipollone, who serves as White House Counsel. At that time, said Axios, Meadows contacted Haspel to inform her that the president had reversed his decision, and canceled the paperwork for installing Patel at the CIA.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Emergence of an armed insurgency is now a distinct possibility in the US

US CapitolWITH DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON RESEMBLING a large military encampment, a repeat of last week’s shocking assault on the Capitol Complex is highly improbable. But America could witness escalating levels of violence across many states, as supporters of the January 6 insurrection continue to organize themselves into a coherent armed movement. Their ability to threaten American national security will depend on whether they can overcome major internal divisions. It will also be determined by the speed with which United States authorities will respond to the rise of what is quickly becoming a dangerous militant movement.

Supporters of the nationalist insurrection that shook the nation on January 6 will undoubtedly return to Washington in time to make a show of force during the Inauguration of Joe Biden. Intelligence reports by US federal agencies mention as many as 17 separate events being planned in the nation’s capital by a variety of militant groups. If these events materialize, the US is likely to witness the largest armed protests in its history. Other gatherings —many of them involving armed militants— are scheduled to take place in all 50 states between January 16 and 20.Q Quote 1

The militants who will descend on Washington in the coming days are unlikely to engage in all-out hostilities against as many as 20,000 members of the US National Guard. The latter have reportedly been given clear rules of engagement, which include the use of lethal force against assailants. The command and control capabilities that are needed to seriously threaten a 20,000-strong professional army, make it unlikely that the insurrectionists will attempt such a suicidal mission. Nevertheless, the possibility that one or more small groups of die-hard militants will descend on Washington determined to engage in direct combat against the US military should not be disregarded. Their chances of a martial victory are extremely slim, but victory can also be achieved through what their supporters will interpret as heroism and —ultimately— martyrdom.

What is far more likely to happen is that the insurrectionists will engage the forces of the government asymmetrically —that is, by resorting to strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare. Such scenarios are more likely to materialize in the coming months, or even years, in the countryside of so-called ‘red states’, where some supporters of President Donald Trump may be willing to help the insurgents by giving them protection and cover. Read more of this post

Analysis: Potential espionage aspects of attack on US Capitol must be considered

US CapitolTHE INSURGENTS WHO STORMED the United States Capitol Building Complex on January 6 may have unwittingly provided cover for teams of foreign spies, who could have stolen or compromised sensitive electronic equipment. This largely neglected security-related aspect of the attack is discussed in an insightful article by David Gewitz, a ZDNet and CNET columnist who writes about cybersecurity affairs.

Hundreds of unauthorized people entered the US Capitol last Wednesday. Many of them entered the offices of several members of Congress, some of whom are members of Congressional committees on intelligence, armed services, defense, and other sensitive matters. According to Gewitz, “there is absolutely no knowing what actions were taken against digital gear inside the building” by the intruders. Most of them were clearly members of disorganized mobs, who appeared to have no concrete plan of action once inside the Capitol. However, points Gewitz, it would have been easy for foreign actors to blend in with the crowd of wild-eyed rioters and surreptitiously entered the Capitol in order to steal or compromise sensitive electronic equipment.

In addition to stealing electronic equipment, foreign spies could have stolen sensitive documents, access codes and passcodes, says Gewitz. He adds that more sophisticated efforts could have included loading malware onto Capitol computer systems, or plugging surreptitious USB drives into the internal ports of tower PCs —a process that takes less than two minutes for someone who is equipped with an pocket-size electric screwdriver. Foreign actors could also have left dozens of “generic USB drives in various drawers and on various desks” around the Capitol, hoping that members of Congress or their aides will make use of them in the coming days or weeks. For all we know, says Gewitz, the place could now be riddled with USB chargers with built-in wireless key-loggers, devices that look like power strips but actually hide wireless network hacking tools, fake smoke detectors, electric outlets or switches that contain bugs, and many other surreptitious spying devices.

What should Capitol security personnel do to prevent the potential espionage fallout from the January 6 attack? Gewitz argues that, given the extremely sensitive nature of the information that is stored in the Capitol’s digital systems, federal cybersecurity personnel should “assume that ALL the digital devices at the Capitol have been compromised”, he writes. They will therefore need to resort to “a scorched Earth remediation effort”, meaning that they will have to “completely scrub” those systems, and even lock the USB drive slots of every PC in the building complex. This damage will take months, even years, to clean up, he concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2020 | Permalink

Afghans expel 10 Chinese spies who allegedly made contact with pro-Taliban group

The Afghan government reportedly expelled from the country 10 Chinese intelligence officers on Saturday, after they were found to have contacts with pro-Taliban groups. Meanwhile the White House was recently briefed about claims that Beijing offered Afghan militants bounties for killing American soldiers.

Several Indian news agencies reported last month that Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested 10 Chinese nationals in Kabul on December 10, on suspicion of espionage. The 10 Chinese included at least one woman, and were believed to work for the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s primary intelligence agency.

According to reports in the Indian press, the Chinese nationals had used Kabul as a base to buld a fictitious chapter of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Based in China’s heavily Muslim Xinjiang Province, ETIM is a sepratist armed group, which seeks to create an Islamic breakaway state for ethnic Uighurs. The purpose of the ruse was reportedly to entrap ETIM supporters and members who were operating in Afghanistan.

It is also alleged that at least two of the Chinese spies had contacts with the Haqqani network, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to the leadership of the Taliban, but maintains an independent command structure. Indian news networks named the two Chinese alleged spies with Haqqani Network contacts as Li Yangyang and Sha Hung. Interestingly, the arrests of the 10 Chinese nationals took place shortly before United States President Donald Trump was reportedly briefed about contacts between the MSS and pro-Taliban groups in Afghanistan. According to Axios, US intelligence agencies told the president that Chinese spies had offered Afghan militants bounty in exchange for killing American troops.

Citing “diplomats and security officials in Kabul” who are “familiar with the matter”, The Hindustan Times reported on Monday that the ten Chinese nationals had been released after 23 days in detention. They boarded a chartered airplane heading for China on Saturday, said the paper. None were formally charged. Their release was reportedly ordered by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, following direct negotiations with Beijing.

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

Iran state media claims Britain and Germany helped US kill Soleimani

Qasem SoleimaniIRANIAN STATE MEDIA CLAIMED last week that several countries, including Britain and Germany, helped the United States assassinate its top paramilitary commander, Qassem Soleimani (pictured). The reports emerged on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Soleimani, who led Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He was killed by a drone strike on January 3, 2020, in Baghdad, Iraq. The same missile strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who commanded the Popular Mobilisation Committee, an umbrella organization composed of about 40 pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

Last week, Iran’s state-owned DEFA Press news agency reported that Tehran’s own investigation into the assassination operation showed that Washington was assisted by several countries, and even by some private security firms. According to the report, the Iranian government’s prosecutor, Ali Alqasimehr, stated that G4S, a security services contractor based in Britain, had “played a role” in Soleimani and al-Muhandis’ killing. He added that the US forces also made use of facilities at the Ramstein Air Base, located in southwestern Germany, to carry out the attack.

In addition to Britain and Germany, Iranian officials said that the governments of Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq assisted in the operation by providing logistical support and intelligence. According to DEFA Press, more countries are likely to be added to the Iranian government’s list of culprits, once Tehran concludes its investigation into the killing. Iranian officials have provided no evidence for such claims. It is also unclear whether Iran is considering launching revenge attacks against countries that allegedly assisted the US in its effort to kill the two paramilitary commanders.

Speaking during a commemoration event on Friday, Soleimani’s successor at the helm of the IRGC, Esmail Ghaani, said that Iran was “ready to avenge” Soleimani’s death. During the event, which was held at the University of Tehran, Ghaani warned that “someone who will retaliate for your crime […] may emerge from inside your own house”. He did not elaborate. Large commemorative gatherings to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassinations took place throughout Iran and Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups hold significant power.

Last January Iran issued a warning against Greece, saying that it would retaliate if the US used its military bases on Greek soil to attack the Islamic Republic. It was the first time that Iran had threatened to launch attacks against a member of the European Union in connection with the ongoing rise in tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2021 | Permalink

George Blake, arguably the most prolific Soviet spy of the Cold War, dies at 98

George BlakeGEORGE BLAKE, A DUTCH-born British intelligence officer, whose espionage for the Soviet Union gained him notoriety in the West and hero status in Moscow, has died aged 98. His death was announced on Saturday by the state-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti. It was later corroborated by a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), who said Blake “had a genuine love for our country”.

Blake was nearly 18 when German troops entered his native Holland, prompting him to join the local anti-Nazi resistance forces. A British subject thanks to his Egyptian Jewish father, who had acquired British citizenship by fighting in British uniform during World War I, Blake eventually made his way to London via neutral Spain and Gibraltar. Within two years, he had been recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and by war’s end he was working in its Dutch Section.

Named after King George by his fiercely pro-British and royalist father, Blake drew no suspicion by his MI6 colleagues. He was hard-working and came across as a strict Calvinist, with strong religious leanings. But his view of the Soviet Union began to change at Cambridge University, where he had been sent by MI6 to learn Russian language and history. In 1950, while he was serving under official cover at the British embassy in Seoul, Korea, he was captured and detained for three years by North Korean forces. His ideological defection to communism appears to have taken place during his capture, during which he was given access to English-language Marxist literature and had long discussions with Soviet political instructors.

By 1953, when he was released by his captors and returned to a hero’s welcome in London, Blake was a committed communist. Less than a month following his release, he made contact with Nikolai Rodin (codename SERGEI) who was the KGB’s station chief in London. He began to spy for the Soviet Union, and did so for eight years, including during his stint as an MI6 case officer in Berlin. During that time, he is believed to have betrayed information that led to the detection of over 500 Western intelligence officers and assets operating behind the Iron Curtain, with as many as 44 of those losing their lives as a result. His career as a double spy ended in 1960, when he was betrayed by Polish defector Michael Goleniewski. Goleniewski’s debriefing by the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped Britain identify two Soviet moles inside its intelligence establishment, one of whom was Blake.

In 1960, after pleading guilty to espionage, Blake began serving a 42-year prison sentence in Britain’s Wormwood Scrubs maximum security prison complex. But in 1966 he was able to escape with the help of a group of Irish republican prisoners, and made contact with Soviet intelligence. He was eventually smuggled into East Germany and from there to Russia. Once there, he joined the KGB and served as a consultant and instructor until his retirement in the early 1990s. He learned to speak Russian fluently, married a Russian wife (his British wife having divorced him once he was convicted of espionage) and had a son.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on Sunday, praising Blake’s espionage “in the cause of peace”, while the SVR described him as a model intelligence officer. A report published by RIA Novosti on Sunday said that the Moscow city council was considering a proposal to rename a street in the Russian capital after Blake.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2020 | Permalink

Colombia and Russia expel diplomats over espionage allegations

SVR hqCOLOMBIA EXPELLED TWO RUSSIAN diplomats earlier this month, without publicly explaining why, according to news reports. Several Colombian news outlets reported on Tuesday that the two Russians were expelled after they were found engaging in espionage. Also on Tuesday, Colombian officials confirmed earlier reports that Moscow had expelled two Colombian diplomats in a tit-for-tat response.

At a press conference held in Bogota on Tuesday December 22, officials from Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that two Russian diplomats had been expelled from the Colombian capital on December 8. However, they refused to provide the reasons for the expulsions, other than to claim that the two Russians had “engaged in violations” of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. In a separate interview, Colombian President Ivan Duque said that “to reveal more information at this moment would not correspond with the principal of continuing bilateral relations” between Colombia and Russia.

However, several leading Colombian newspapers, including El Tiempo and Semana claimed that the two Russians had engaged in espionage that targeted Colombia’s energy and minerals industry in the city of Cali. An urban center of 2.2 million inhabitants, Cali is known as southern Colombia’s leading economic hub, and is among Latin America’s fastest-growing local economies.

El Tiempo named the two Russians as Alexander Paristov and Alexander Belousov. Also on Tuesday, Colombia’s W Radio alleged that Paristov is an officer in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, which is the Russian equivallent of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. It added that Belousov is an officer in the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is known as GRU.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian embassy in Bogota did not respond to questions by Colombian media about the diplomats’ expulsions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 December 2020 | Permalink

White House seeks to split Pentagon cybersecurity functions from signals intelligence

NSATHE WHITE HOUSE IS reportedly trying to implement what could be one of the most important changes in the United States Department of Defense in recent years, by separating the cybersecurity functions from its signals intelligence functions. Until 2009, the US National Security Agency (NSA) was in charge of protecting America’s cyber networks and combating online threats. But in 2009 the administration of US President Barack Obama determined that the online environment represented a new theater of war and established a brand new Cyber Command (CYBERCOM).

Since that time, these two agencies, NSA and CYBERCOM, have been operated in parallel and have been led by the same director, who is always a four-star military officer. Moreover, CYBERCOM has historically relied on NSA’s impressive technical infrastructure and cyber arsenal. But there are some in government, especially those who support a more offensive US cyber posture, who have championed the view that CYBERCOM should be removed from the NSA’s command structure, and should operate as a completely separate agency. The administration of US President Donald Trump pushed this idea in 2017, but strong resistance from the NSA prevented it from materializing.

Now, however, the Trump administration appears determined to implement this proposed split, despite strong resistance from NSA’s leadership. Citing anonymous US officials, Defense One reported last week that the White House had sent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller documents detailing the proposed split. The two men are required to consent to the proposal before its implementation is officially authorized.

Acting Secretary Miller is believed to be in support of the move, according to several sources. However, General Milley has previously voiced support for the logic behind the existing close operational relationship between NSA and CYBERCOM. Therefore, some believe he may decide to stall on the proposal, thus waiting for the Trump administration to transition out of power. On Sunday a spokesman for Milley said that the General had “not reviewed, nor endorsed, any proposal to split CYBERCOM and NSA”.

According to reports, there are some at the Pentagon who feel strongly that the decision to split CYBERCOM from NSA should be left to the incoming administration. Nevertheless, the Trump administration seems determined to demonstrate that it can enact sweeping changes in the Department of Defense, as demonstrated by its recent decision to scale down significantly America’s military footprint in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2020 | Permalink

Activist portrayed in movie Hotel Rwanda sues airline for alleged abduction

Paul KagameAn anti-genocide activist, whose story was made famous in the 2004 Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, has sued an airline company for complicity in his alleged abduction from Dubai and eventual imprisonment in Rwanda. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital Kigali. The hotel catered largely to Westerners, and its grounds were seen as off-limits by the brutal armed gangs that perpetrated the genocide. Therefore, Rusesabagina used his position to shelter over 1200 displaced civilians from the warring militias.

After the end of the genocide, Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became a vocal critic of Rwanda’s Tutsi president, Paul Kagame (pictured). In 1996, Rusesabagina survived an assassination attempt, after which he went into self-exile in Belgium, of which he is a citizen. Eventually he obtained permanent residency to the United States and relocated to San Antonio, Texas. He continued to voice strong criticisms of President Kagame from exile, whom he accuses of dictatorial tendencies, corruption and mismanagement.

In August 2020, Rusesabagina boarded a chartered airplane in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which he was told would transport him to Burundi. While there, he had agreed to do a lecture tour, hosted by a Christian group. However, according to Rusesabagina, the invitation was a trap designed to lure him to Rwanda. He was allegedly bound and gagged shortly after the plane took off from Dubai. He was then transported to Kigali, where he was arrested on August 31 on an international warrant issued by the Rwandan government.

Rusesabagina has remained in prison since his arrest, charged with terrorism, murder, kidnap, arson, and forming, as well as funding, terrorist organizations. He rejects these charges and claims he was abducted and subjected to extraordinary rendition for supporting groups that oppose President Kagame’s rule. He is awaiting trial, which is scheduled to take place on January 26, 2021.

On Thursday, Rusesabagina’s lawyers filed a lawsuit in the US state of Texas, claiming that GainJet, the charter airline company whose plane was allegedly used to transport him from Dubai to Kigali, was complicit in his abduction. According to the BBC, the airline, which is registered in Greece, agreed to participate in his abduction because of its close relationship with senior Rwandan government officials. Rusesabagina’s lawyers are expected to file a similar lawsuit against GainJet in Belgium.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 December 2020 | Permalink

Massive hacker attack triggers US National Security Council emergency meeting

White HouseA large-scale cyberespionage attack targeting United States government computer systems, which some experts described as potentially being among “the most impactful espionage campaigns on record”, triggered an emergency meeting of the US National Security Council on Sunday, according to reports. Chaired by the US president, the National Security Council is the country’s most senior decision-making body.

Although it was only discovered last week, the cyberespionage campaign is believed to date to last spring, possibly as early as March. Sources called it a highly sophisticated operation that originated from a “top-tier” adversary –a term that refers to a handful of state actors that have access to the most elite cyber operatives and advanced technologies known to exist.

As of last night, US government officials had not publicly identified the state actor believed to be behind the cyberespionage campaign, which experts have coined the “2020 supply chain attack”. But several American and European news outlets pointed to Russia as the culprit, citing sources familiar with the investigation. The Washington Post said the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR, was behind the attack. The Russian government denied on Monday that its agencies had any role in the attacks.

The origins of the attack are believed to be in the private sector. It began when a sophisticated illicit cyber actor, known by the nickname Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 29, or Cozy Bear, stole cyber tools used by two major government contractors, FireEye and SolarWinds. These cyber tools are used to detect and patch vulnerabilities in computer systems. These companies provide services to numerous US government customers, including the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury and Commerce. Other US government customers include the National Security Agency and the Office of the President, including the White House Situation Room. All of these entities have reportedly been affected by this cyber espionage operation.

By disguising their malicious software as software patches, the hackers were reportedly able to access and monitor, in real time, email traffic within and between government agencies. It is not known at this time whether US intelligence agencies, other than the National Security Agency, have been affected by this hack. All branches of the US military maintain intelligence components. Additionally, the Department of the Treasury operates the Office of Intelligence Analysis, while the Department of State is in charge of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The White House said yesterday that it had asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to probe the attack and evaluate the extent of the damage caused to US government operations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 December 2020 | Permalink

US Pentagon signals it will stop supporting CIA’s counterterrorism mission

PentagonTHE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Defense has reportedly notified the Central Intelligence Agency that it plans to terminate most of the military support it provides for the spy agency’s counterterrorism operations. Some of these changes may occur as early as January, according to reports published on Thursday in several US news outlets.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the CIA incorporated an increasingly expansive counterterrorist mission into its list of activities. But it has relied on Pentagon resources to support many of these activities, for things like transportation, physical security, logistics, and even execution. The Pentagon’s role in these activities tends to be crucial, given that they usually take place in active combat zones or other dangerous locations around the world. They therefore require heavy military protection.

However, President Trump has been implementing his plan to withdraw American military forces from warzones such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. These troops provide logistical and material support to CIA missions in some of the world’s most dangerous regions. Additionally, the Department of Defense has been signaling for quite some time its intention to focus less on counterterrorism and more on what experts refer to as “near-peer competitors” —namely China and Russia.

According to reports, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller sent a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel, in which he informs her of the Pentagon’s decision to make drastic changes to its support for the spy agency’s counterterrorism operations. It is believed that some of these changes will take place as early as January 5, 2021. It has also been reported that this decision marks the culmination of a so-called “pet project” of Acting Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Trump political appointee, who was placed in his current position by the president following November’s election.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2020 | Permalink

Saudi crown prince dismisses US lawsuit brought by ex-spy official as ‘baseless’

Saad al-JabriA LAWSUIT FILED IN a United States court by a Saudi former senior intelligence official, accuses Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of planning an illegal assassination on Canadian soil. But in a new court filing, the crown prince denies the accusation and claims that it is an attempt to distract attention from the alleged crimes carried out by the plaintiff.

The target of the alleged assassination attempt is Dr. Saad al-Jabri, who rose through the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s, under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Prince bin Nayef is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, and until 2015 was destined to succeed King Abdullah and occupy the kingdom’s throne. Eventually, bin Nayef appointed Dr. al-Jabri as Minister of State and made him his most senior and trusted adviser on matters of security and intelligence.

But Dr. al-Jabri’s standing changed suddenly in 2015, when King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman. Salman then quickly began to rely on his son, Mohammed bin Salman, who he eventually named as his successor. That meant that Dr. al-Jabri’s mentor and protector, Prince bin Nayef, was effectively usurped. Bin Salman abruptly fired Dr. al-Jabri in September of 2015. Less than two years later, bin Nayef was dismissed from his post as Minister of Interior and went under house arrest in Saudi Arabia’s coastal resort city of Jeddah. Fearing for his life, Dr. al-Jabri took his eldest son, Khalid, and escaped to Canada in the middle of the night. They remain there to this day.

In a 106-page lawsuit, filed in August with the United States District Court in Washington, DC, Dr. al-Jabri claims that bin Salman sent spies to conduct physical surveillance on him. The lawsuit also claims that bin Salman dispatched members of his “personal mercenary group”, known as the Tiger Squad, to Canada, in order to assassinate Dr. al-Jabri. The members of the squad allegedly arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sometime in mid-October 2018. The documents claim that the Tiger Squad members traveled to Canada just days after they were dispatched to Istanbul, Turkey, where they killed Saudi journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi. However, they were allegedly turned back by suspicious Canada Border Services Agency officers.

Dr. al-Jabri’s lawsuit relies on the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows non-US citizens to file lawsuits in US courts for alleged human rights abuses that took place outside the US. But lawyers for the crown prince claim that he, along with his father, represent the top echelon of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. As such, they claim, the crown prince is “entitled to status-based immunity from any suit in a US court”. Therefore, they argue, Dr. al-Jabri’s complaint “fails as a legal pleading”. The crown prince’s lawyers also accuse the plaintiff and his associates of having embezzled nearly $11 billion in funds belonging to the Saudi government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 December 2020 | Permalink