Republican ex-intelligence officials launch high-profile campaign against Trump

Trump CIAA group of former United States senior intelligence and national security officials, who support the Republican Party, launched today a campaign to deny Donald Trump a second term as president. Calling itself Former Republican National Security Officials for Biden, the group launched its high-profile campaign with a full-time ad in the business broadsheet The Wall Street Journal.

The ad is signed by 73 members and supporters of the Republican Party, who served in senior intelligence and national security posts under presidents Donald Trump, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. The list of signatories includes former Air Force Secretary Mike Donley, former National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director General Michael Hayden. William Webster, who served as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the CIA, and Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary of Homeland Security, also signed the ad.

The text of the ad accuses the US president of corruption and lambasts him for lacking “the character and competence to lead this nation” in a time of crisis. It argues that Trump is “unfit to serve as president” because he “solicited foreign influence”, “disparaged [the US] armed forces, intelligence agencies, and diplomats”, and “imperiled America’s security”. In these and other ways, says the Republican group, Trump has “demonstrated that he is dangerously unfit to serve another term”.

This development highlights the contentious and at times downright adversarial relationship that has existed between the White House and parts of the United States Intelligence Community during Trump’s presidency. At the same time, such a high-profile effort by established intelligence and national security figures to deny the US president a second term in office, could be used by the Trump campaign as evidence of his crusade against what his supporters refer to as the ‘deep state’. The term refers to a purported network of unelected interests that resist the president’s efforts to implement his political agenda.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 August 2020 | Permalink

Norway expels Russian diplomat in espionage case involving Norwegian citizen

Russian embassy OsloThe government of Norway expelled a Russian diplomat on Wednesday, accusing him of committing espionage in a case that involves a Norwegian citizen, who has been arrested on charges of spying for Russia. Meanwhile local media named the Norwegian citizen involved in the case, while the Russian diplomat was also named yesterday in media reports.

As intelNews reported yesterday, a Norwegian citizen was arrested on Saturday, reportedly after he met with a Russian intelligence officer in an Oslo restaurant. The arrest of was announced on Monday by the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST), Norway’s counterintelligence agency. Norwegian authorities said the man had “access to information that would be of interest to foreign nations” through his work in the private sector.

On Wednesday, Norwegian media identified the man as Dr. Harsharn Singh Tathgar, a 50-year-old naturalized Norwegian citizen, who was born in India. Tathgar reportedly received his PhD in 2001 from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, after completing research on the properties of nickel and magnesium in the department of Materials Technology. According to the PST, Tathgar has admitted sharing restricted information with the Russian diplomat. According to the judge who remanded Tathgar in custody on Monday, the Indian-born Norwegian man received from the Russians monetary compensation for his services that was “not insignificant”. It is also believed that Tathgar met his alleged Russian handler several times in the past year, or even longer.

The Russian diplomat was not arrested along with Tathgar, because he holds diplomatic immunity. However, he now appears to have been declared persona non grata in Norway. Representatives from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters on Wednesday the Norwegian government had “informed the Russian ambassador that one of his employees is unwanted in Norway and has been asked to leave the country”. The diplomat has been named as Aleksandr Stekolshchikov. He reportedly served as Deputy Trade Representative at the Russian embassy in Oslo. He now stands accused by the Norwegian government of engaging in “activities that are not in accordance with his role and status as a diplomat”. He has been given until the end of the week to leave the country.

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Oslo has filed a complaint with Norwegian authorities, claiming that a bag Stekolshchikov was carrying when he was confronted by the PST was illegally searched, despite his diplomatic status. The Russians also claim Stekolshchikov was “unjustly detained” by the PST following “a meeting with a Norwegian citizen”. Moscow is now accusing the Norwegian Foreign Ministry of violating the diplomatic status of its embassy personnel. Oslo has denied these accusations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2020 | Permalink

Researchers find lost interview of MI6 officer who helped plan 1953 coup in Iran

Mohammad MossadeghBritish researchers have found a lost interview by a senior British intelligence officer who led the joint Anglo-American coup in Iran in 1953. The coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled the shah (king) of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a close Western ally. London was alarmed by Dr. Mossadegh’s decision to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later renamed to British Petroleum, or BP), which would deny Britain its lucrative stake in the Middle Eastern energy market. The British also viewed Dr. Mossadegh as being too close to the Soviet Union.

In 1952, when Iran severed diplomatic relations with Britain, London intensified its efforts to convince the United States that overthrowing the Iranian government was imperative to keep communism out of the region. Until then, British plans for a coup had been led by Norman Darbyshire, who headed the Persia station of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. With American help, Darbyshire continued his plotting from Cyprus, where he had relocated after having been expelled from Tehran by the Iranian government. He died in 1993. But in 1985 he gave an interview to Granada, a British production company, for a television documentary titled “End of Empire: Iran”. Because Darbyshire refused to speak in front of the camera, the producers of the documentary ended up not using his interview.

Recently, however, a team of researchers found the interview and the associated transcript while researching archival material for a new documentary on the overthrow of Mossadegh. The documentary, titled “Coup 53”, is scheduled for release this coming Wednesday, which marks the 67th anniversary of the coup. On Monday, the Security Archive at George Washington University released the typewritten transcript of Darbyshire’s interview. It describes how British intelligence worked systematically over several years to convince the United States to support the coup plans, and that British spies also found it difficult to secure the support of a reluctant Shah Pahlavi.

According to Darbyshire, MI6 and the CIA tried to bribe Iranian parliamentarians, offering them money in exchange for defecting from Dr. Mossadegh’s party, thus eliminating its parliamentary majority. When that effort failed, the spies approached the Iranian military and proposed plans for a coup. In his interview, the late MI6 spy claims that the coup cost the British government £700,000. “I know because I spent it”, he says. He also claims that much of that money was smuggled into Iran in cash, concealed inside “biscuit tins”.

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

Israel intel official says Bahrain and Oman could follow UAE in normalizing relations

Eli CohenIsrael’s minister of intelligence has said Bahrain and Oman could follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, following last week’s historic announcement. Israel said on Thursday that the UAE had agreed to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, in return for Israel’s pledge to cancel its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank. The agreement, which was sponsored by Washington, makes the UAE only the third Arab country to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm and skepticism, with some observers claiming it could reshape Middle East politics, and others warning it could bring Palestinian factions closer to Iran. But on Sunday, Eli Cohen, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and member of the country’s Security Cabinet, said the agreement between Israel and the UAE was likely to be the first of several similar deals. Speaking on Israel Army Radio, Cohen said that “additional agreements” would follow “in the wake of this agreement”, and that “Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda”. The two Gulf countries are close allies of the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is one of Iran’s strongest regional rivals. In official statements issued on Thursday, Bahrain and Oman praised the normalization of relations between the UAE and Iran, but did not speak to whether they were contemplating following in the UAE’s footsteps. Meanwhile, the government of Kuwait said in an official statement last week that its position toward Israel remained unchanged, signaling that a change of status in its treatment of the Jewish state was not on the horizon.

Cohen also told Israel Army Radio that, in his assessment, “there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be [agreements between Israel and] Muslim countries in Africa […] chief among them Sudan”. In recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Omani and Sudanese leaders. The Israeli prime minister said last week he expected “more countries will be joining us in the peace circle”, adding that the Israel-UAE agreement signaled “a historic change which advances peace with the Arab world and will eventually advance a real, sober and secure peace with the Palestinians”. There are many critics of this view, especially among Netanyahu’s own voter base, which was highly supportive of his prior pledges that Israel would annex parts of the West Bank.

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

More information on French spies’ mysterious plot to kill woman in Paris

DGSE FranceFrench media have released new information on a puzzling murder conspiracy by three operations officers in France’s external intelligence agency, who planned to kill a middle-aged woman in Paris. As intelNews reported earlier this month, the three men work for the Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service is France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Like the CIA, the DGSE is not permitted to carry out operations inside France.

Two of the men were arrested by police early in the morning of July 24 in Val-de-Marne, a boulevard in Créteil, a southeastern suburb of the French capital. On July 31, French authorities arrested a third man, also in Paris, who is also believed to be a DGSE operations officer. New media reports from France have identified the two men arrested on July 24 as “Pierre B.” and “Karl E.”. They are believed to be members of the DGSE’s Action Division, a group that is trained by DGSE to carry out covert operations on foreign soil.

In the past week, authorities arrested two more men, who are also believed to be among the plotters in this strange case. They have not been named. One is believed to own a private security firm and the other is a former DGSE employee who now works as a private detective specializing in electronic crime. The two men have been charged with conspiracy and attempted murder.

Bizarrely, when Pierre B. and Karl E. were arrested on July 24, they claimed they were on an official DGSE mission. This, if true, would violate French law, since the agency is not permitted to operate on French soil. Additionally, the two men appear to have broken the law by identifying themselves as DGSE employees to the police officers who arrested them. According to French media reports, the two suspects continue to claim that they were on a mission ordered by their superiors at DGSE, and believe that the agency will eventually help them clear all charges against them.

Meanwhile, their intended victim has not been named. She is reportedly a psychotherapist who specializes in hypnotherapy. She has allegedly told police investigating the case that her murder might have been planned by rival hypnotherapists. However, police are finding it difficult to believe that professional rivalries could have resulted in the hiring of highly trained DGSE operations officers to commit a murder.

Four suspects, including the two operations officers arrested on July 24, remain in custody. The fifth man, the DGSE officer arrested on July 31, has reportedly been released on bail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2020 | Permalink

Slovakia expels three Russian diplomats in connection with 2019 murder in Berlin

Russian embassy in SlovakiaThree Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave Slovakia, reportedly in connection with the killing in Germany of a Chechen former separatist, which many believed was ordered by Moscow. On Monday, the Foreign Ministry of Slovakia confirmed media reports that three Russian diplomats had been declared ‘unwanted persons’ and ordered to leave the country.

The three diplomats are stationed at Russia’s embassy in Bratislava. They are believed to be intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover. A spokesman from the Slovak Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday, citing “information from the Slovak intelligence services”, according to which the three Russians engaged in “activities [that] were in contradiction with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations”. Additionally, said the statement, Slovak authorities had uncovered “an abuse of visas issued at the Slovak general consulate in St. Petersburgh, and in this connection a serious crime was committed on the territory of another European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state”.

The statement did not elaborate on the specifics of the “serious crime”, but Slovak media report that it refers to the killing last August of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a leading figure in the Second Chechen War, which pitted the Russian military against groups of Muslim fighters in the North Caucasus between 1999 and 2009. Khangoshvili, a Muslim born in Georgia, was a bodyguard of Aslan Maskhadov, the self-described leader of the Muslim separatists in the Northern Caucasus. In 2015, Khangoshvili sought political asylum in Germany after two men tried to kill him in Tbilisi. The German authorities initially placed him on a terrorism watch list, but removed him after he began to collaborate with German counterterrorist agencies and participate in programs designed to de-radicalize Muslim youth. He was shot in broad daylight in Berlin by a man wearing a wig and carrying a pistol fitted with a silencer. Officials from the Berlin prosecutor’s office said at the time there were “indications the deed was pre-planned and may have political motives behind it”. It is now believed that at least one of the men suspected of involvement in planning Khangoshvili’s killing had traveled from Russia to the European Union on a visa issued by the Slovakian consulate in St. Petersburgh.

The three Russian diplomats have reportedly been told that they have until this coming Sunday to leave Slovakia. The Russian embassy in Bratislava said it would not comment on the expulsions. Kremlin officials have strongly denied that the Russian government had any ties to the killing of Khangoshvili. Moscow has vowed to expel an equal number of Slovak diplomats from the Russian capital in the coming days.

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

Large-scale cyberattacks, Internet disruptions, reported on Belarus election day

BelarusBelarus experienced large-scale cyberattacks that crippled many government websites, while parts of the Internet were inoperative during a national election on Sunday, as large-scale demonstrations erupted all over the country. The demonstrations, which went on late into Sunday night, were sparked by reports that the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, had secured a record sixth term in office, despite facing a serious challenge from opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Tsikhanouskaya is married to Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed blogger with substantial social-media following among young voters.

On Sunday afternoon, the National Computer Incident Response Center of Belarus (CERT) reported that the servers of the State Security Committee (KGB), the country’s spy agency, had come under sustained attack. The Internal Affairs Ministry’s website and servers had also been affected by what CERT called “a large wave” of cyberattacks. These were first noticed on Saturday, but continued well into the evening of Sunday, according to reports. Other government websites and services were subjected to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, during which online servers crashed after being flooded with requests for information.

Meanwhile, Internet and cell phone users reported having difficulty accessing popular websites like Google, and social media services, including Telegram and Signal. Internet-based cell phone service was almost completely down throughout the country by Sunday afternoon. Beltelecom, the state-owned telephone service provider, said its systems were “experiencing interruptions in access” and “congestion of channels due to foreign traffic in large quantities”. It added that its technicians had not yet determined “whether people or machines” were behind the disruptions in service.

Late last month, the Belarusian secret services arrested 33 Russian citizens, who were allegedly members of the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-backed private military firm. The government of Belarus accused the group of trying to subvert the presidential elections on behalf of Moscow. The 33 Russians were charged with terrorism against the state. Russia has denied claims by the Belarussian government that it is behind an effort to destabilize the former Soviet Republic.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 August 2020 | Permalink

Canada thwarted plot to assassinate exiled Saudi former top spy, lawsuit alleges

Saad al-JabriCanadian border guards thwarted a sophisticated plot to kill a Saudi former senior intelligence official, who has been targeted by the oil kingdom’s crown prince because he served a rival member of the royal family, according to a lawsuit filed in an American court.

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. That was effectively a bloodless palace coup, which purged bin Nayef and everyone who was closely associated with him. 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.

Now a new 106-page lawsuit (.pdf), filed yesterday with the United States District Court in Washington, DC, claims that bin Salman sent spies to conduct physical surveillance on at least one of Dr. al-Jabri’s properties in the US, in an effort to locate 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.

The lawsuit claims that the members of the assassination team attempted to enter Canada in small groups, using tourist visas, and did not declare their affiliation to the Saudi intelligence services. However, Canadian border guards became suspicious of the men, after realizing that they were part of a larger group. Prior to expelling them from Canada, Canadian border officials searched the men’s belongings and found “two bags of forensic tools”, according to the lawsuit. The suit further claims that the Tiger Squad included “forensic personnel experienced with the clean-up of crime scenes, including an instructor” who had links with “the forensic specialists who dismembered Khashoggi with a bone saw”.

The Saudi palace has made no comment about Dr. al-Jabri’s lawsuit. Earlier this year, Riyadh denied allegations of harassment by Dr. al-Jabri and his family, and claimed he is wanted in Saudi Arabia for financial discrepancies and corruption.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2020 | Permalink

Paris prosecutor charges three French spies with mysterious plot to kill woman

dgse franceThe Paris prosecutor has charged three officers of France’s external spy agency with a mysterious plot to kill a woman, after two of them were caught driving a stolen vehicle and in possession of weapons. The three men are reportedly operations officers in the Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Like the CIA, the DGSE is not permitted to carry out operations inside France.

Two of the men were arrested by police on the night of July 23 to 24 in Val-de-Marne, a boulevard in Créteil, a southeastern suburb of the French capital. They have been identified in the French media as ‘Pierre’ and ‘Karl’, and are reportedly 25 and 28 years old respectively. According to the Paris prosecutor, the men were found driving a stolen car with forged license plates. Inside the vehicle, police officers found a bag containing a handgun along with 12 rounds of ammunition. Both men were carrying military-issue knives. On July 31, French authorities arrested a third man, also in Paris, who is allegedly connected to the case. The third man, who has not been named in the media, is also believed to be a DGSE operations officer.

An official statement issued this week by the Paris prosecutor’s office said the three men plotted to kill a 54-old woman. It added that the murder plot was not part of their DGSE duties, and that the three operations officers were acting in a “rogue” fashion. There has been no information released about the motive behind the plot to kill the woman. On Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor said it filed preliminary charges for attempted murder against the two men who were caught in Val-de-Marne in the early hours of July 24. The third man was handed preliminary charges of complicity in the murder attempt and of being part of a criminal conspiracy. His co-conspirators were also charged with car theft and being in possession of a weapon. If convicted, each man could face up to 10 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 August 2020 | Permalink

North Korea targeted UN Security Council officials with spear-phishing campaign

United Nations headquartersComputer hackers working for North Korea launched cyberattacks against carefully selected officials of national delegations belonging to the United Nations Security Council, according to a soon-to-be released report. The report is expected to be submitted early next month to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea.

Known previously as the UN Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1718, the committee was created in 2006 as part of the UN Security Council’s resolution 1718. The resolution was implemented in response to the first nuclear test conducted by North Korea on October 9 of that year, which confirmed beyond doubt the existence of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The committee’s mission is to gather information about North Korea’s nuclear activities, examine and evaluate the impact of international sanctions, and issue periodic recommendations to the UN National Security Council.

A draft version of the report was leaked to the media earlier this week. It states that a North Korean cyberattack targeted at least 11 officials belonging to six different national delegations that are members of the UN National Security Council. According to the draft report, the 11 officials were targeted earlier this year via a so-called “spear-phishing” campaign. The term refers to cyber-espionage operations in which hackers carefully select specific staff members of larger organizations for penetration. The targeted officials were reportedly approached using Gmail and WhatsApp, by a group of hackers who used fake identities.

The report also details efforts by the North Korean regime to acquire foreign hard currency through illicit hacking operations, as well as by illicitly acquiring virtual assets, such as cryptocurrencies. There is increasing speculation among North Korea observers about Pyongyang’s involvement in the cryptocurrency industry —though how exactly the government manages to cash out its alleged cryptocurrency assets remains a mystery.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 August 2020 | Permalink

Rare internal budgetary report shows Mossad ‘explosive growth’ since 2016

Yossi Cohen MossadA rare declassified budgetary report shows that Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, the Mossad, has received large increases in funding since 2016. The report was released on Monday by the Office of the State Comptroller. It covers a two-year period starting from August 2016. It is extremely rare for any document on Mossad’s internal affairs, including its budget, to be made available for public viewing.

The document shows that the Mossad exceeded its budget by over 50 percent during the two-year period covered in the report. It also includes statements made by Mossad director, Yossi Cohen, which show that the agency’s leadership is aware that requests for more funds are typically approved by Israel’s Ministry of Finance without much resistance. One of the Mossad’s deputy commanders is quoted as saying that “the Finance Ministry is a partner [of the Mossad] whether it wants to be or not”.

Observers have attributed the recent growth of the Mossad to the close personal relationship between Cohen and his political mentor, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Increased support by the government in recent years has helped the agency augment its technical resources and add to the ranks of its operations officers, which are believed to have reached record numbers this year. But the State Comptroller’s report criticizes the Mossad, saying that it has argued in favor of growth without having explained in detail how it intends to utilize its newly acquired resources. The report also criticizes the Office of the Prime Minister and the subcommittee of ministers for having failed to restrain the Mossad’s spending and inquire in detail about how the agency uses its funds.

In response to the release of the State Comptroller’s report, the Mossad issued the following press statement: “Due to the increasing security threats against Israel and due to its unique and decisive contributions, the Mossad’s role and missions as part of the [nation’s] national security campaign have broadened in recent years. As a result of this, the Mossad has received additional resources and budgets in order to carry out its goals and to perform at the highest levels preserving the state’s security”. The statement adds that budgetary decisions at the Mossad involve “careful planning, transparency and full oversight from the Ministry of Finance, taking into account the approved budget for the Mossad, and taking care not to create budgetary obligations which were not approved by the Ministry”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2020 | Permalink

Grandfather of new MI6 boss was IRA fighter who won medals in war with Britain

Richard MooreThe grandfather of the incoming director of Britain’s main external intelligence agency was a member of the Irish Republican Army and was awarded a medal by Irish separatists for fighting against British rule in Ireland. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced last week that Richard Moore would take over as director of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Moore, 57, will be replacing Sir Alex Younger, who has served as MI6 chief since 2014. British media reported that Moore served as an undercover MI6 officer for years before being appointed ambassador in 2014. Moore was born in Libya to British parents and studied at the Universities of Oxford and Harvard. He then joined MI6 and served under official cover in Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey, where his cover was as the British embassy’s press attaché, from 1990 to 1992. He then held a number of posts in Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including his current position, Director General for Political Affairs. Before that he served as British Ambassador to Turkey, where he lived from 2014 to 2017.

Following the announcement of Moore’s appointment as MI6 director, it emerged in the British press that his grandfather, Jack Buckley, was a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Cork, Ireland. Buckley reportedly joined the separatist IRA in 1916 and served in its ranks until 1922. He was eventually honored by Sinn Fein —the IRA’s political wing— with a medal for his service in the war against the British, which resulted in the independence of most of Ireland and the creation of the Free Irish State. It is today commemorated across Ireland as the Irish War of Independence.

Moore discussed his grandfather’s membership in the IRA during his stint as ambassador to Turkey. He told a Turkish newspaper that he was of Irish origin and that his grandfather had “fought against the British government in the separatist Irish Republican Army”. He was making the point that, over time, national differences between peoples can be smoothed out given the right conditions, and made a comparison between his family’s experience and the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds.

Moore is scheduled to assume his new post in the fall. He is expected to remain as director of MI6 until 2025.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 August 2020 | Permalink

Belarus arrests 33 Russians, accuses Kremlin of trying to subvert upcoming elections

Belarus KGBBelarussian secret services announced on Wednesday the arrest of 33 Russian citizens, who are allegedly members of a Kremlin-backed private military firm. The government of Belarus accuses the Russians of trying to subvert next month’s presidential elections on behalf of Moscow. The 33 Russians were charged with terrorism against the state on Thursday. They are allegedly employees of Wagner Group, a private Russian military company that some believe is in reality a private paramilitary wing of the Russian Armed Forces. However, the Kremlin has denied these accusations and says it has no connections with Wagner.

On Wednesday the state-owned Belarus 1 television channel aired footage of the 33 Russians being placed under arrest by the Belarussian State Security Committee (KGB). The arrests were later confirmed by Andrey Rawkow, secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, an interdepartmental body that supervises national security operations in the country. Rankow said the Investigative Committee, Belarus’ primary investigating authority, had determined that the 33 had entered the country as part of a 200-strong group of Russians working for Wagner, in order to “destabilize the situation during the election campaign”.

Rankow was referring to the upcoming presidential elections of August 9, in which the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, will be seeking a sixth term in office. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine in 1991, Lukashenko has ruled the country with an iron fist. This time, however, partly because of the growing coronavirus crisis, his leadership is in dispute more than ever before and opposition protests have gripped the country in recent months.

Meanwhile, the close relationship between Minsk and Moscow has suffered numerous setbacks since 2018, as Russia’s economic struggles have forced the Kremlin to curtail its financial outreach to Belarus. There have been differences between the two countries over the price of energy that Belarus imports from Russia each year. Sensing his faltering support among the population, which is broadly mistrustful of Moscow, Lukashenko has campaigned on a largely anti-Russian ticket this time around, hoping to attract independent voters.

According to Belarussian state television, the 33 Russians were found in possession of Sudanese currency and a Sudanese smartphone card. Sudan is one of the Wagner Group’s most active areas of operation, according to some observers, and in the past the company has used Belarus as a transit center from which it coordinates its operations in the African continent. There were also reports in the state-owned Belarussian media that the 33 Russians were connected with the jailed husband of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a leading opposition presidential candidate. Tsikhanouskaya’s husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, is a blogger with substantial social-media following among younger voters. Some now suspect that the government will use this opportunity to bar Tsikhanouskaya from running for office.

Late on Wednesday, Belarus’ state-owned Belta news agency published the names and birth dates of all 33 Russian suspects. Soon afterwards, the government of Ukraine said its intelligence agency, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), had asked it to file extradition requests for the 33 Russians, who are believed to have worked with separatists in eastern Ukraine in recent years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 July 2020 | Permalink

After dropping charges, US prosecutors broaden indictment against Saudi spies

TwitterTwo days after dropping charges against three Saudi men for spying on American soil, United States prosecutors submitted a new indictment that restates the two original charges and adds five more. The original complaint was filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in November of last year in San Francisco, California. It accused three men of “acting as unregistered agents” of Saudi Arabia since 2015. The phrase is used in legal settings to refer to espionage.

According to the FBI, the Saudi government allegedly contacted Ali Alzabarah, a 35-year-old San Francisco-based network engineer working for Twitter. Ahmed Almutairi (also known as Ahmed Aljbreen), a “social media advisor” for Saudi Arabia’s royal family, arranged for Alzabarah to be flown to Washington to meet an unidentified member of the Saudi dynasty. He and another Twitter employee, 41-year-old Ahmad Abouammo, were allegedly given money and gifts by the Saudi government. These were given in return for the email addresses, IP addresses and dates of birth of up to 6,000 Twitter users who had posted negative comments about the Saudi royal family on social media.

Earlier this week, however, US government prosecutors filed a motion to drop the charges against the three men. The two-page filing did not offer a reason behind this sudden decision by the US government. Interestingly, however, it included a request to have the charges against the three men dismissed “without prejudice”, meaning that the US government could decide to file new charges against them in the future.

This has now happened, as the US government has filed fresh charges against the three men. In addition to the two original charges, the men have now been charged with acting as agents for a foreign government without notifying the US attorney general. They have also been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, committing wire fraud and money laundering, aiding and abetting, and destroying, altering or falsifying records in a federal investigation. The indictment also specifies the financial rewards Abouammo allegedly received from the Saudi government in return for his services. These included a wire transfer for $200,000 to a shell company and associated bank account in Lebanon, as well as a luxury watch valued at $20,000.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 July 2020 | Permalink

Turkish spy agency hid Islamist views of candidates for CIA-funded Syrian rebel group

Free Syrian ArmyTurkey’s spy agency systematically downplayed the Islamist views of men seeking to join a Syrian rebel group, which was supported by the United States Central Intelligence Agency on account of its moderate leanings. The United States began to fund and train the Free Syrian Army (FSA) soon after it was established in 2011. The group said its mission was to depose the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and institute a Western-style multiparty democracy in Syria.

By 2015, much of the recruitment and vetting for the FSA was taking place in Turkish regions bordering northern Syria, where thousands of opponents of al-Assad’s regime had fled with their families. The CIA relied on its Turkish counterpart, the National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, to recruit and conduct initial vetting of FSA volunteers from Syrian refugee camps. The MİT was desperately short of personnel for such a large-scale operation, and reached out to the Turkish Special Forces Command for assistance. Eventually, Special Forces Command officers were put in charge of reaching out to potential FSA volunteers and vetting them. Successful candidates would then be forwarded to the CIA.

One such officer was Lt. Murat Aletirik, who vetted dozens of FSA volunteers in 2015 and 2016. However, he was arrested following the failed coup of July 15, 2016, and was tried for alleged participation in armed insurrection against the Turkish government. During his testimony in 2018, which was leaked this week, Lt. Aletirik told the court that he and his fellow officers were issued guidelines by the MİT on how to select fighters for the CIA-funded program.

According to Lt. Aletirik, the MİT guidelines centered on whether FSA candidates were “sympathetic towards the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as] PKK, the [Democratic Union Party, or] PYD, or offshoots of the PKK”. These groups support autonomy for the Kurds, a non-Turkish and non-Arab ethnic group in the Middle East. Turkey, along with the European Union and the United States, classify the Turkish-based PKK as a terrorist organization. Turkey claims that the PYD, which operates in Syria, is also a terrorist group. However, Washington supports and funds the PYD, and even worked with its militias in the war against the Islamic State.

According to Lt. Aletirik, the MİT guidelines had little to say about how to filter out potential FSA volunteers who were found to harbor sympathies for Salafi-Jihadist groups, such as the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, or al-Nusra. In fact, said Lt. Aletirik, he and his fellow officers had instructions to downplay such findings and forward candidates to the CIA, so long as they did not have pro-Kurdish sympathies. It is believed that, eventually, the CIA caught on to this, and began turning down hundreds of FSA candidates that had been vetted by the Turkish military. This slowed down the vetting process tremendously, with only a fraction —possibly fewer than 10 percent— of all candidates joining the CIA-run program.

In 2017, the United States shut down the program, reportedly after a direct order was issued by President Donald Trump. Today the FSA is almost completely supported and funded by the Turkish state. Locals often refer to it tongue-in-cheek as the “Free Syrian Turkish Army”.

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