North Korea said to have executed senior nuclear negotiators as ‘spies’

Kim Song-hye Kim Hyok-cholNorth Korea has executed at least five of its senior nuclear negotiators and imprisoned several others, according to a report in a leading South Korean newspaper. Rumors of executions of North Korean nuclear negotiators have circulated in international diplomatic circles since February, but specific allegations have not surfaced in the news media. That changed on Friday, when Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s highest-circulation newspaper, said that at least five executions of nuclear negotiators took place in Pyongyang in March.

According to the paper, the most senior North Korean official to be executed was Kim Hyok-chol (pictured), who led the nuclear negotiations with Washington until February, when the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met US President Donald Trump in Vietnam. Citing an “anonymous source” Chosun Ilbo said on Friday that Kim was executed by a firing squad at the Pyongyang East Airfield in Mirim, a suburb of the North Korean capital. Four other Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were executed at the same time, allegedly for having been “swayed by American imperialists to betray the Supreme Leader”, said the newspaper. Two more senior North Korean nuclear negotiators, Kim Yong-chol and Kim Song-hye (also pictured), have been stripped of their government posts and sent to labor camps, according to the report. Until recently, Kim Song-hye headed the Bureau of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, Pyongyahg’s main agency for negotiations with South Korea. Kim Yong-chol was one of several vice-chairs of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. He visited Washington with Kim Song-hye for negotiations prior to last February’s high-level summit in Vietnam.

There have been no reports in North Korean media about purges of senior officials or executions of alleged spies. However, the three officials named in the Chosun Ilbo report have not been seen in public in nearly a month. Additionally, last week the official Workers’ Party of Korea newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published an editorial that condemned “counter-party and counter-revolutionary actions” of government officials who “claim to labor for the Supreme Leader […] but clandestinely harbor other machinations behind the back of the Supreme Leader”. The New York Times reached out to the South Korean and American governments about the Chosun Ilbo report, but no-one would comment on record. If the Chosun Ilbo report is accurate, it would support the view that there is exasperation in Pyongyang about the breakdown of its nuclear negotiations with Washington. It would also signify that Kim has radically reshuffled his team of negotiators, but this does not necessarily denote a change in his negotiating stance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2019 | Permalink

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Pakistan sentences two, including senior military officer, to death for espionage

Inter-Services Public Relations PakistanA military court in Pakistan has sentenced two men to death and one to 14 years in prison for espionage. The alleged spies, who have been named, include a lieutenant general and civilian employee of a security agency. In February, several Pakistani news outlets reported that “an international spying network” had been dismantled in the country following the arrests of at least five intelligence and security officials who were working for foreign interests. Soon afterwards, the online reports were taken down and nothing more was said about the arrests. But on Thursday, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the country’s Armed Forces, said in a statement that three men had been sentenced for “espionage/leakage of sensitive information to foreign agencies” which “prejudiced national security”.

The three men were identified as Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal, Brigadier (ret.) Raja Rizwan, and Dr. Wasim Akram, who was reportedly “employed at [an unidentified] sensitive organization”. Iqbal and Akram were sentenced to death, while Rizwan was sentenced to 14 years of “vigorous imprisonment”, according to ISPR. Reports in local media said that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army’s Chief of Staff, had approved the sentences handed to the men by the military judges. This means that the sentences will be carried out unless Pakistan’s President, Arif Alvi, pardons them. Interestingly, the ISPR statement noted that the three men were tried in separate military courts for separate cases. No further information was provided. As intelNews reported in February, Pakistani media claimed at the time that those arrested included a Pakistani official with diplomatic credentials who was serving in a Pakistani embassy “in a European capital”.

No information has emerged about the country or countries to which the alleged spies gave sensitive information. Back in February, Pakistan’s leading conservative daily, The News International, claimed that the spies’ handlers belonged to an intelligence agency of one of “the world’s most powerful countries”. The paper also hinted that the alleged spy network may have been working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, but provided no information to support this claim. It added that the network had been “completely dismantled” following a counterintelligence operation that an unnamed source described to the paper as “remarkable”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May | Permalink

Venezuelan paramilitary groups in Colombia prepare to launch cross-border raids

Venezuelan defectorsGroups of Venezuelan expatriates are reportedly forming armed militias in Colombia and say they are preparing to launch cross-border attacks to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas. It is believed that over a million Venezuelans have crossed the border into Colombia since 2016, when the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela began to deepen. Among them are at least 1,400 members of various branches of Venezuela’s Armed Forces. Many of these defectors have declared their support for Juan Guaidó, the United States-supported President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, who has publicly called on the country’s Armed Forces to remove Maduro from power. According to a May 28 report by the Reuters news agency, some of these defectors are forming militias in Colombia and say they are preparing to launch cross-border attacks into Venezuela.

Reuters reporters spoke recently to eight Venezuelan defectors at an undisclosed location near the border between Colombia and Venezuela. The defectors said they represented a militia of 150 men, all of whom were had defected from the Venezuelan police force, army and intelligence services. One of the men identified himself as Eddier Rodriguez, 37, and said he now works as a private security guard in the Colombian city of Bogotá. He told Reuters that all 150 members of his militia were “willing to give our lives if necessary” to topple President Maduro. He added that his militia members had managed to arm themselves with handguns and were raising money to purchase more weapons and explosives. Rodriguez also claimed that his militia had been in contact with several Venezuelan “resistance groups” in Colombia, implying that his militia was not the only group of its kind. According to Rodriguez, his militia plans to coordinate with other similar groups to launch “Operation Venezuela”, an all-out cross-border attack against Venezuela, with the participation of “garrisons in Venezuela [which were] ready to fight once the operation began”.

Reuters said it was unable to independently verify the eight men’s claims about their militia group and other such groups in Colombia. However, reporters said they spoke with Victor Bautista, the Colombian Foreign Ministry’s director for border security, who assured them that the Colombian government “totally rejected” any attempts by armed groups to attack Venezuela. These groups would be considered “paramilitary organizations and would be detained by authorities If they were found”, Bautista told Reuters. The news agency also cited an anonymous Colombian intelligence official, who said that Colombia’s intelligence services had verified the existence of a number of Venezuelan paramilitary groups in the country. However, they “could not act against them because they had not yet committed any crimes”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 May 2019 | Permalink

Israel leaked video that brought down Austrian government, says German ex-spy chief

Strache GudenusIsraeli intelligence was likely behind the leaked video that brought down the far-right governing coalition in Austria on Monday, according to the former deputy director of Germany’s spy agency. The surreptitiously recorded video was leaked to two German media outlets on May 17, days before Austrian voters participated in the continent-wide elections for the European Union. In the video, two senior members of Austria’s governing far-right Freedom Party are seen conversing with an unnamed woman posing as a Russian investor. The two men in the video were Heinz-Christian Strache, the the Freedom Party’s leader and until recently Austria’s Vice Chancellor, and Johannes Gudenus, the party’s deputy leader and a member of parliament. In the video, Gudenus and Strache promise to award the woman’s firm state contracts if her uncle —a Russian oligarch— purchases an Austrian newspaper and uses it to support the Freedom Party. The video threw Austria’s political system into disarray and prompted the resignations of both Strache and Gudenus. On Monday, Austria’s Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was removed from power during a special parliamentary session in Vienna.

But the question is who leaked the video, and why? In an article in the Cicero, a monthly political magazine based in Berlin, a former senior official in Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) argues that Israeli intelligence was probably behind the leak. The article’s author is Rudolf Adam, who served as deputy director of the BND from 2001 to 2004, before serving as president of the Federal Academy for Security Policy of the German Ministry of Defense. Adam argues that the actions of Strache and Gudenus, as shown in the leaked video, seem “half mafia-like and half-treasonable”, and that the two should face legal consequences. But he goes on to ask “a far more interesting question”, namely “who is behind this intrigue [and] what were the intentions of its initiators?”. Adam points out that nothing is known about the woman in the video; she reportedly met Gudenus several months before the video was filmed. She posed as the Latvian niece of a Russian oligarch with ties to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. In exchanges that lasted for several months, the woman told Gudenus that she planned to move with her daughter to Vienna and was interested in investment opportunities. She eventually invited him and Strache to a meeting in a villa in the Spanish resort island of Ibiza. It was there where the video was recorded. Read more of this post

Jonathan Pollard, US spy for Israel, complains of neglect by Israeli state

Jonathan PollardJonathan Pollard, an American who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, and is now free after spending 30 years in prison, has spoken of his frustration with the Israeli government, which it claims has forgotten about him. Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy, was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving a lengthy sentence for selling US government secrets to Israel. Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, claiming that the convicted spy did not harm American interests, but was simply trying to help Israel. But the US Intelligence Community and successive American presidents consistently rejected Israel’s claims, arguing that Pollard’s activities were severely detrimental to US interests. Pollard was eventually released after serving the entirety of his sentence. Ever since his release, Pollard has been required to wear an ankle monitor at all times. His Internet browsing is strictly regulated by the US government and he is not permitted to leave his New York home after sunset. He is also not permitted to leave the US, and Washington has refused to allow him to move to Israel.

Last week, Israel’s Channel 12 television station aired a rare interview with Pollard, in which the former spy claimed he had been “forgotten” by the Israeli government. Speaking from a restaurant in New York with his wife Esther by his side, Pollard told Channel 12 that no officials from the Israeli government had made contact with him since his release. He added that he felt “there is always something more urgent than me” for the government of Israel, whether it is “the [nuclear] deal with Iran or the [US] embassy’s move to Jerusalem, or the sovereignty of the Golan Heights”. When the Channel 12 reporter asked him whether he was disappointed by Israel’s perceived lack of efforts to bring him to Israel, Pollard replied that he would be “very depressed” if his “faith in God and [his] love for Israel and its people [was not] so strong”. At another point in the interview, Pollard appeared to criticize the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am very concerned about what this entails for the [government’s] commitment and for [Israel’s] security”, he said. “If you do not care about someone like me, who spent 30 years in prison for the land of Israel and its citizens, how much concern is there for others in the country, [whether they are] soldiers or civilians?”.

In November of 2017, Israel’s Channel 2 television reported that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had asked the United States President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard to move to Israel. However, despite the popular perception of the Trump administration as strongly pro-Israel, there are no indications that such a move may be taking place any time soon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 May 2019 | Permalink

French spy agency summons reporters, prompting press-freedom concerns

DGSI FranceFrance’s domestic intelligence agency has summoned eight journalists for questioning in relation to two separate investigative reports, prompting concerns about press freedom, according to reports from Paris. Last month, France’s domestic security and counter- intelligence agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), summoned three journalists for questioning. The summonses related to a leaked document that detailed the use of French-made weapons in the Yemeni Civil War. The 15-page document was prepared by France’s main military intelligence agency, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM). It was reportedly meant to be read only by France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, and senior members of his security cabinet, including ministers. However, the report was leaked to the media and published in full. The leaked report revealed that a significant amount of French-made weapons are being used by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni Civil War. The weapons allegedly include laser-guided missile systems and armored vehicles, as well as tanks, which the Saudi-led coalition is deploying against Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen.

On Wednesday, new summonses were issued for five more reporters, including two senior members of staff of Le Monde, which, along with Libération, and Le Figaro, is one of France’s newspapers of record. One of the reporters who have been summoned by DGSI is senior Le Monde reporter Ariane Chemin, who in 2018 broke a story about Alexandre Benalla, a senior security aide to President Macron. Benalla is believed to have illegally participated in a scuffle with ‘yellow vest’ protesters while wearing police riot gear in 2018. Subsequent reports in Libération linked Benalla with a questionable state contract handed out to a security company owned by a Russian oligarch. The reports centered on a former officer in the French Air Force named Chokri Wakrim, who some say facilitated Benalla’s contacts with the Russian’s company. An official anti-corruption investigation was sparked by these revelations. But in April of this year, Wakrim filed a complaint against the press, claiming that his identification in the media broke legal statutes that forbid the “revelation of the identity of a member of the [French] special forces”. This counter-complaint, according to reports from Paris, is what prompted Wednesday’s five new summonses by the DGSI.

On Thursday, nearly 40 French media outlets issued a joint statement in support of those journalists who were summoned by DGSI. The statement condemns the summonses an attack on press freedom and as “a new attempt by authorities to circumvent” France’s laws on freedom of the press and the protection of sources, which date back to 1881. In reference to the Wakrim case, the statement goes on to say that “military secrecy cannot restrict the right to information, which is essential for informed public debate, nor can it be [used] to deter [journalists] from investigating and publishing”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 May 2019 | Permalink

Islamic State says it killed 20 Nigerian soldiers in shootout, executed 9 more

NigeriaThe West Africa province of the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the killing 20 Nigerian soldiers and the execution of nine more soldiers that were captured in various operations, according to Reuters. The group behind the attacks emerged in 2002 under the name Boko Haram (“Western education is forbidden”), as part of a growing wave of anti-government sentiment in Nigeria’s Muslim-majority northern regions. In 2014, the group pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria —otherwise known as Islamic State. Since that time, Boko Haram has rebranded itself as Islamic State – West Africa Province, while a smaller faction of the group has refused to align itself with the ISIS and continues to operate under the name Boko Haram.

In an English-language statement posted online on Wednesday, the ISIS-affiliated faction of Boko Haram said that its fighters were responsible for the deaths of 20 Nigerian Army soldiers, who were killed on Monday in Gubio, a town located in Nigeria’s extreme northeastern Borno State. Reuters cited an unnamed “security source and a humanitarian worker”, who said that the insurgents attacked a military barracks on the outskirts of Gubio late on Monday evening. According to the report, the attackers used motorcycles and non-standard technical vehicles, or ‘technicals’ —open-backed pickup trucks mounting heavy weapons. The attack was followed by an hour-long shootout between the Nigerian Army forces and the insurgents, which resulted in the soldiers retreating, leaving behind the bodies of at least 15 troops, said Reuters. On Wednesday, the Islamic State released a separate video that claims to show the execution of nine captured Nigerian soldiers. According to Reuters, the soldiers in the video disclose their names, rank and unit, before they are executed by masked militants. At the end of the video, a group of Islamic State fighters is shown pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi. The video concludes with footage of artillery, armored vehicles and tanks, and even boats, which the Islamic State claims to have captured from the Nigerian military.

This development is bound to increase skepticism about the Nigerian government’s repeated claims that it has been able to quell the Islamist insurgency that plagued the country’s northern regions for the past 15 years. In late 2015, the Nigerian government proclaimed the end of the Islamist insurgency after its troops destroyed all of Boko Haram’s camps in Borno State. However, the group appears to have reinvented itself and to have been able to use its new affiliation with the Islamic State to attract more funding and fighters during the past two years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 May 2019 | Permalink