Book alleges 1980s British Labour Party leader was Soviet agent

Michael FootThe leadership of the Labour Party in Britain has reacted with disdain after a new book by a leading author and columnist claimed that Michael Foot, who led the Party in the early 1980s was paid agent of the Soviet KGB. Foot, a staunch and vocal representative of the postwar British left, was a member of parliament for over 40 years, eventually serving as leader of the House of Commons. He rose to the post of deputy leader of the Labour Party and in 1980 succeeded Jim Callahan as head of the Party. But he stepped down in 1983 in the aftermath of Labour’s largest electoral defeat in over half a century.

Two years later, in 1985, Oleg Gordievsky, a colonel in the Soviet KGB, defected to Britain and disclosed that he had been a double spy for the British from 1974 until his defection. In 1995, Gordievsky chronicled his years as a KGB officer and his espionage for Britain in a memoir, entitled Next Stop Execution. The book was abridged and serialized in the London-based Times newspaper. In it, Gordievsky claimed that Foot had been a Soviet “agent of influence” and was codenamed “Agent BOOT” by the KGB. Foot proceeded to sue The Times for libel, after the paper published a leading article headlined “KGB: Michael Foot was our agent”. The Labour Party politician won the lawsuit and was awarded financial restitution from the paper.

This past week, however, the allegations about Foot’s connections with Soviet intelligence resurfaced with the publication of The Spy and the Traitor, a new book chronicling the life and exploits of Gordievsky. In the book, Times columnist and author Ben Macintyre alleges that Gordievsky’s 1995 allegations about Foot were accurate and that Gordievsky passed them on to British intelligence before openly defecting to Britain. According to Macintyre, Gordievsky briefed Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, a senior civil servant and cabinet secretary to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Lord Armstrong, a well-connected veteran of British politics, in turn communicated the information to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the summer of 1982, says Macintyre. The Times columnist alleges that MI6 received specific information from Lord Armstrong, according to which Foot had been in contact with the KGB for years and that he had been paid the equivalent of £37,000 ($49,000) in today’s money for his services. The spy agency eventually determined that Foot may not himself have been conscious that the Soviets were using him as an agent of influence. But MI6 officials viewed Gordievsky’s allegations significant enough to justify a warning given to Queen Elizabeth II, in case the Labour Party won the 1983 general election and Foot became Britain’s prime minister.

The latest allegations prompted a barrage of strong condemnations from current and former officials of the Labour Party. Its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who like Foot also comes from the left of the Party, denounced Macintyre for “smearing a dead man, who successfully defended himself [against the same allegations] when he was alive”. Labour’s deputy leader, John McDonnell, criticized The Times for “debasing [the] standards of journalism in this country. They used to be called the gutter press. Now they inhabit the sewers”, he said. Neil Kinnock, who succeeded Foot in the leadership of the Labour Party in 1983, said Macintyre’s allegations were “filthy” and described Foot as a “passionate and continual critic of the Soviet Union”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2018 | Permalink

Advertisements

Germany’s ruling coalition in ‘permanent crisis mode’ over far-right spy row

Hans-Georg MaassenGermany’s fragile ruling coalition continues to face strong criticism two days after removing the country’s domestic intelligence chief over concerns that he may harbor far-right sympathies. Hans-Georg Maassen, a career civil servant, led Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) from August 2012 until his removal on Thursday of this week. His hasty removal from the BfV was caused by the so-called Chemnitz protests, a series of prolonged anti-immigrant rallies, pogroms and riots that shook the east German city of Chemnitz in the last week of August of this year. They were prompted by news of the death of a German man, reportedly during a fight with two Kurdish immigrants. Videos of the protests surfaced on social media, showing participants throwing Nazi salutes, singing Nazi-era German songs and chasing people perceived to be immigrants in the streets of Chemnitz.

The controversy deepened when Maassen appeared to dispute the authenticity of the videos in an interview. The BfV director warned that the videos may have been faked as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at stirring racial tensions in Germany. The spy chief’s motives were questioned, however, when several investigative reporters, among them a team from the German public broadcaster association ARD, insisted that the videos were genuine and were posted online by people with real —not fake— accounts. Eventually Maassen became the focus of the story, as accusations surfaced that he may have leaked BfV documents to far-right activists and that he may even have coached them on how to evade government surveillance. The claims reignited widespread fears that members of Germany’s security and intelligence agencies may harbor sympathies for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a coalition of Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant and neo-Nazi groups that has gained prominence since its establishment in 2013. Currently, the AfD is Germany’s third-largest party, having received nearly 13% of the vote in the 2017 federal elections. The AfD is also the country’s main opposition party in the Bundestag, since the two leading parties, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the liberal Social Democratic Party (SPD), are members of the governing coalition.

Following nearly two weeks of controversy, the German Chancellery announced on Thursday that Maassen would be removed from head of the BfV and would serve instead as second in command in the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The decision was seen as a difficult compromise between the three members of the governing coalition —the liberals of the SPD, who wanted Maassen fired, and the conservatives of the CSU and its Bavarian wing, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, who are in favor of tighter immigration policies. But the controversy surrounding Maassen continues in light of news that the former spy chief will see his income rise in his new post. In a report from Berlin, the Reuters news agency described Maassen’s reassignment as “a clumsy compromise” that highlighted the “dysfunctional relationship” of the three “loveless partners” in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fragile governing coalition. One critic, SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil, told the news agency that the Maassen controversy had caused the government to “slide into a permanent crisis mode”. Meanwhile the name of Maassen’s replacement at the helm of the BfV has not yet been announced.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 September 2018 | Permalink

Dead Russian oligarch’s links to UK spy agencies must stay secret, judge rules

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA judge has ruled that the British government has the right to withhold information relating to alleged links between British spy agencies and a Russian millionaire who died in mysterious circumstances in England. Aleksandr Perepilichny was a wealthy and influential investment banker living in Moscow. In 2009, however, he fled Russia saying that his life had been threatened following a business disagreement. He resettled in Surrey, south of London, and began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multimillion dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. Described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, the scheme is said to have defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home from a three-day trip to France, Perepilichny went out to jog. He was found dead later that evening, having collapsed in the middle of a side street near his house. He was 44. A postmortem examination concluded that Perepilichny had died of natural causes and pointed to the strong possibility of a heart attack. However, lawyers representing the late businessman’s family told a pre-inquest hearing that Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of gelsemium, a shrub-like plant that is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”.

The case is now being revisited following the failed attempt last March, allegedly by the Kremlin, to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a Russian former spy who defected to England in 2010. For the past several months, submissions have been filed for an inquest into Perepilichny’s mysterious death. But the British government said that it would not reveal any information relating to possible contacts between the late Russian businessman and British intelligence. The question was raised in June by lawyers representing Legal and General, Perepilichny’s life insurance company. They argued that if Perepilichny had close dealings with British intelligence, it would have raised significantly the threat that his life was under. But British Home Secretary Sajid Javid argued that releasing documents implicating the intelligence services with the late Russian businessman would endanger national security.

On Monday the judge leading the inquest into Perepilichny’s death ruled in favor of the British government’s position. The judge, Nicholas Hilliard QC, has security clearance and was therefore able to review the relevant evidence behind closed doors, during a secret session. He then ruled that “publicly releasing intelligence information [relating to Perepilichny] would pose a real risk of serious harm to national security”. Critics argue that the Skripal case has heightened public interest in Russian covert activities on British soil and that the public has the right to know whether the death of Perepilichny was in any way connected to the intelligence realm. The inquest continues this week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2018 | Permalink

US intelligence reevaluates safety of Russian defectors in light of Skripal poisoning

CIAIntelligence officials in the United States are feverishly reassessing the physical safety of dozens of Russian defectors, in light of the case of Russian double spy Sergei Skripal, who was poisoned in England last March. Skripal, a former military intelligence officer who spied for Britain, was resettled in the English town of Salisbury in 2010 by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). But he and his daughter Yulia made international headlines in March, after they were poisoned by a powerful nerve agent that nearly killed them. The attack has been widely blamed on the Russian government, though the Kremlin denies that it had a role in it.

Like MI6, the US Central Intelligence Agency also has a protection program for foreign nationals whose life may be at risk because they spied for the US. The CIA’s protection division, called the National Resettlement Operations Center, helps resettle and sometimes hide and protect dozens of foreign agents, or assets, as they are known in CIA lingo. But following the Skripal case, some CIA resettlement officials have expressed concern that protection levels for some foreign assets may need to be significantly raised. The New York Times, which published the story last week, said that it spoke to “current and former American intelligence officials”, which it did not name. In light of those concerns, US counterintelligence officials have been carrying out what The Times described as “a wide-reaching review” of every Russian asset who has been resettled in the US. The purpose of the review is to assess the ease with which these former assets can be traced through their digital footprint on social media and other publicly available information.

According to the paper, several Russians who defected to the US after working for the CIA and other US intelligence agencies were tracked down by the Kremlin in recent years. In the mid-1990s, says The Times, the CIA actually found an explosive device placed under the car of a Russian defector living in the US. More recently, US intelligence traced the movements of a suspected Russian assassin who visited the neighborhood of a resettled Russian defector in Florida. In the past, Russian CIA assets who have been resettled in the US have voluntarily revealed their whereabouts by reaching out to relatives back in Russia out of homesickness. In some cases, they have left the US in order to meet a lover who may have been planted by the Russian spy services —with sometimes fatal consequences.

In addition to the US, at least one more country has initiated a thorough review of the way it protects former Russian assets living in its territory in light of the Skripal case. As intelNews reported in March, the British secret services tightened the physical security of dozens of Russian defectors living in Britain only a week after the attempted murder of Skripal. Britain’s security services reportedly viewed the attack on Skripal as an intelligence failure and launched a comprehensive review of the risk to British-based Russian double spies and defectors from “unconventional threats”. The latter included attacks with chemical and radiological weapons.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 September 2018 | Permalink

US sees Russian weapon behind US diplomats’ mystery ailments, say officials

Kirtland Air Force BaseA Russian-made device caused the mystery ailments that affected more than two dozen American diplomats in Cuba and China, according to United States government officials who have been briefed on the matter. Since September of last year, Washington has recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that they suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing as well as from various forms of brain injuries. In April of this year the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. More recently, the US issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island and accused Cuba of neglecting to ensure the safety of US diplomatic personnel stationed there.

In early September, Douglas H. Smith, who heads the team of scientists tasked by the US government to examine the matter, said that microwave radiation was almost certainly responsible for the diplomats’ ailments. He added that microwaves were considered “a main suspect” and that his team of scientists was now “increasingly sure” that the diplomats had suffered brain injuries caused by microwave radiation. Now the US news network NBC reports that Russia is viewed as the primary culprit behind the mystery ailments that plagued US diplomats. Reporting on Tuesday the news network cited three unnamed officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump, as well as “congressional aides and others briefed on the investigation”. Specifically, NBC reported that the Russian connection was supported by “evidence from communications intercepts” (signals intelligence or SIGINT), though it did not elaborate on their precise nature. It also said that the ongoing investigation into the purported weapon involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency among other US intelligence and security agencies. Another leading actor in the investigation is the US Air Force, said NBC, stating that experts in its directed energy research program at the Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, New Mexico, are trying to reverse-engineer the alleged weapons based on the symptoms that they cause.

But NBC noted that the evidence remains relatively inconclusive and is not yet sufficient to allow Washington to openly accuse Moscow of having masterminded the alleged microwave attacks on the US diplomats. The news network said it reached out to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence but received no response. A spokeswoman from the US Department of State said that the investigation into the diplomats’ ailments was ongoing and that the Department had made “no determination of who or what is responsible for the health attacks” on its personnel.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2018 | Permalink

Pro-Soviet radicals planned to kill Gorbachev in East Germany, book claims

Mikhail GorbachevA group of German radicals planned to assassinate Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in East Germany in 1989, thus triggering a Soviet military invasion of the country, according to a new book written by a former British spy. The book is entitled Pilgrim Spy: My Secret War Against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi (Hodder & Stoughton publishers) and is written by “Tom Shore”, the nom de guerre of a former officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The book chronicles the work of its author, who claims that in 1989 he was sent by MI6 to operate inside communist East Germany without an official cover. That means that he was not a member of the British diplomatic community in East Germany and thus had no diplomatic immunity while engaging in espionage. His mission was to uncover details of what MI6 thought was a Soviet military operation against the West that would be launched from East Germany.

In his book, Shore says that he did not collect any actionable intelligence on the suspected Soviet military operation. He did, however, manage to develop sources from within the growing reform movement in East Germany. The leaders of that movement later spearheaded the widespread popular uprising that led to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and its eventual unification with West Germany. While finding his way around the pro-democracy movement, Shore says that he discovered a number of self-described activists who had been planted there by the East German government or the Soviet secret services. Among them, he says, were members of the so-called Red Army Faction (RAF). Known also as the Baader Meinhoff Gang or the Baader-Meinhof Group, the RAF was a pro-Soviet guerrilla group that operated in several Western European countries, including Germany, Belgium and Holland. Its members participated in dozens of violent actions from 1971 to 1993, in which over 30 people were killed. Among other attacks, the group tried to kill the supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and launched a sniper attack on the US embassy in Bonn. The group is known to have received material, logistical and operational support from a host of Eastern Bloc countries, including East Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia.

According to Shore, the RAF members who had infiltrated the East German reform movement were planning to assassinate Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev during his official visit to East Germany on October 7, 1989. The visit was planned to coincide with the 40th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the German Democratic Republic in 1949, following the collapse of the Third Reich. Shore says he discovered that the assassination plot had been sponsored by hardline members of the Soviet Politburo, the communist country’s highest policy-making body, and by senior officials of the KGB. The plan involved an all-out military takeover of East Germany by Warsaw Pact troops, similar to that of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But Shore claims that he was able to prevent the RAF’s plan with the assistance of members of the East German reform movement. He says, however, that at least two of the RAF members who planned to kill Gorbachev remain on the run to this day. The RAF was officially dissolved in 1998, when its leaders sent an official communiqué to the Reuters news agency announcing the immediate cessation of all RAF activities. However, three former RAF members remain at large. They are Ernst-Volker Staub, Burkhard Garweg and Daniela Klette, all of them German citizens, who are believed to be behind a series of bank robberies in Italy, Spain and France in recent years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 September 2018 | Permalink

Trump officials ‘discussed secret coup plans’ with Venezuelan army officers

Nicolas MaduroUnited States President Donald Trump authorized American officials to attend secret meetings held by Venezuelan military officers who conspired to launch a military coup against President Nicolás Maduro. The claim was made on Saturday by The New York Times, which cited “interviews with 11 current and former American officials” and information from an unnamed Venezuelan former military commander. The former commander claims to have attended the secret talks, which allegedly were held over several meetings during the past year.

According to The Times, the meetings were sparked by a comment made by President Trump in August of 2017, that he did not rule out a “military option” to “restore calm” in Venezuela. That comment reportedly prompted at least three groups of Venezuelan military officers opposed to the rule of President Maduro to reach out to the White House. One of these groups, said The Times, had one of its representatives contact American diplomats in an unnamed European country. That outreach led to “a series of covert meetings abroad”, according to The Times, the first of which took place in the fall of 2017. The meetings continued until recently, and were held with a number of Venezuelan military officers who claimed to represent the views of several hundred members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. The rebellious officers allegedly told the US government’s representative that they planned to launch a military coup aimed at deposing President Maduro and installing a transitional government that would guarantee peaceful elections. They reportedly asked the White House representative to supply them with secure communications equipment, which they could use to coordinate their operations.

However, the White House eventually decided that backing a military coup in Venezuela would be too risky due to the potential for spiraling bloodshed. It thus distanced itself from the plan. Additionally, some US government officials were alarmed by the composition of the rebel officers: at least one of them was a serious violator of human rights who had previously been accused by the US of involvement of participating in drugs smuggling and having close links with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is on Washington’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations. Eventually the plotters canceled their plans for a coup, having assessed it would be met by fierce resistance by pro-Maduro forces.

The Times reached out to the White House, which rejected the paper’s report, saying it was important to “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy”. But it refused to respond to specific questions about the allegations of a possible coup in Venezueal with Washington’s backing. President Maduro has already blamed the US for two attempts to assassinate him in the past 18 months, with the most recent one involving the use of an exploding drone. In 2002, Maduro’s predecessor, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, was briefly deposed by a military putsch. Chávez was able to beat back the rebels with the help of his civilian and military supporters, and then accused Washington of having had direct involvement with the attempt to remove him from power. The US has strongly denied Chávez’s charges.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 September 2018 | Permalink