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

Finnish Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic extremism quickly ‘metastasizing’, US intelligence report warns

US Capitol

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

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

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

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

Nashville Christmas Day bombing was not terrorism, FBI concludes

Nashville Tennessee

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

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

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

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

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

Israel behind mysterious attacks on Iranian oil tankers, report claims

Iran oil tanker

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

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

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

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

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

CIA base in northern Niger expands, as Islamism spreads in the Sahel

Dirkou NigerA REMOTE BASE THAT houses an outpost of the United States Central Intelligence Agency in northeast Niger appears to have expanded in recent months, as Islamist groups continue to make their presence felt in Africa’s Sahel region. The base was built quietly in 2018 in Dirkou, a small oasis town and commune located 800 miles northeast of Niamey, Niger’s capital. The area where the CIA base is located is sparsely populated and arid, making it one of the world’s most inhospitable regions.

Northeast Niger, where Dirkou is located, is part of the Sahara. The region is largely inhabited by nomads, who journey in caravans between networks of oases that include Dirkou. In recent years, however, the territories of north-central Niger, northern Mali, southern Algeria, northern Chad and southern Libya, have witnessed an alarming growth of extremist groups, many of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. Increasing numbers of young men are joining these groups, whose leaders also exploit local grievances stemming from poverty, ethnic divisions and the dramatic effects of climate change.

Since 2014, France, the region’s former colonial power, has spearheaded a counterinsurgency campaign led by a 5,000-strong military force stationed in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. But the effort has seen few successes, and its commanders have been forced to downgrade their objectives: instead of their original goal of neutralizing the Islamist insurgency, they now hope to contain it in the Sahara, and not let it spread to the region’s urban areas. It is within this context that the CIA outpost in Dirkou was set up in 2018.

The New York Times, which first reported the existence of the CIA outpost three years ago, said last week that it has seen no evidence to suggest that the outpost has been used for anything more than to carry out airborne surveillance using drones. However, the outpost now has a paved runway, which appears to be twice the length of the original landing strip of 2018. There are also a new buildings at the outpost, as well as a fixed perimeter, which indicates increased security, according to The Times. This, says the paper, shows that the CIA would now “be ready to carry out armed drone strikes” in the region, if authorized to do so by the White House.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 March 2021 | Permalink

German court blocks intelligence agency’s plan to spy on far-right party

BfV GermanyA GERMAN COURT HAS temporarily blocked an attempt by the country’s intelligence service to place a domestic far-right party under government surveillance for the first time since the Nazi era. The far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD, was established in 2013. It shocked the German political establishment in 2017, when it received nearly 6 million votes, which amounted to 12.6% of the national vote. Since then, however, the AfD has been shunned by other political parties and the German media, for its alleged links with neo-Nazi groups and sympathizers.

Last week, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel revealed that the country’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), had launched an operation to place the entirety of the AfD under surveillance. The purpose of the operation was to assess whether the party is part of a concerted campaign to undermine the German system of government and the constitution. According to Der Spiegel, the BfV decided to launch a surveillance campaign against the AfD following the conclusion of a two-year investigation into the legality of the party’s political platform and activities.

The BfV plan would enable the spy agency to monitor the AfD’s telecommunications, keep tabs on its officials, members and supporters, and investigate the party’s finances for foreign or illicit sources of income. The BfV’s proposed plan marked the first time that a German political party would become the target of systematic surveillance by the state since the Nazi era.

But a court in Cologne has now placed a temporary halt on the BfV’s plans, following a number of legal cases and emergency motions filed by the AfD against the plan, according to reports in the German media. The party reportedly argued that being placed under surveillance by the state would prevent it from competing fairly in elections against other political parties that were not targeted by state surveillance. On Friday, the court concluded that the BfV could not initiate its surveillance of the AfD until the party’s legal challenges against the measure had concluded. This means that the BfV plan is currently suspended until the courts decide on the case. It is not known at this time if the BfV intends to appeal the court’s decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2021 | Permalink

Turkey and United States co-examine Russian missile system captured in Libya

Mitiga International AirportTURKEY AND THE UNITED States, two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies with a checkered relationship, have agreed to jointly examine a Russian missile system that was captured by fighters in Libya. Turkish troops are present on the ground in Libya, where they are fighting in support of the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. The United Arab Emirates and Russia support the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar.

Last year, General Haftar led the LNA in a major offensive aimed at capturing Tripoli and ending the conflict between the two sides, which has raged for nearly a decade. He was supported by Emirati advisors and Russian troops, which are ostensibly in Libya as private security contractors, but are commonly thought to receive directions from the Kremlin. In a surprise move, Turkey sent troops to assist in the defense of Tripoli. These troops were instrumental in beating back the LNA, and effectively terminating General Haftar’s ambitions.

In the process of beating back General Haftar’s’s offensive, GNA fighters took over the LNA’s airbase in Al-Watiya, 100 miles southwest of Tripoli, which LNA forces abandoned in haste. Among the looting was a Russian-built Pantsir missile defense system —reportedly captured in pristine condition. This is the Russian armed forces’ state-of-the-art self-propelled anti-aircraft system, which fires medium-range surface-to-air missiles. It had reportedly been given to the LNA by the Emiratis.

The captured Pantsir system disappeared for a few weeks, and eventually reappeared in the hands of a local militia in the town of Zawiya. The militia is commanded by Mohamed Bahroun, a Libyan warlord with links to the Islamic State. Turkish troops struck a deal with Bahroun, whose forces agreed to deliver the Pantsir to the Turkish-controlled Mitiga International Airport on the outskirts of Tripoli. Shortly afterwards, the United States warned Turkey that it was prepared to forcibly take control of the missile system, fearing that it could fall in the hands of the Islamic State. Washington also wanted to get its hands on Russia’s state-of-the-art anti-aircraft system.

According to reports, the two countries reached a deal in recent weeks. The United States sent a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane to Mitiga airport from its AFRICOM base in Germany, and collected the Pantsir. It then delivered it to Ankara, where it is now being examined by a joint team of Turkish and American weapons experts. Some weapons specialists suggest that this development could significantly affect Russia’s ability to counter NATO military systems, given that the Pantsir’s technology will now be compromised.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 March 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Without fanfare, FBI places Putin’s right-hand man on most wanted list

Yevgeny PrigozhinWITHOUT MUCH FANFARE LAST week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed on its most wanted list Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest collaborators. Known as “Putin’s chef”, for providing catering services to the Kremlin, Prigozhin was indicted in February 2018 by United States prosecutors for his alleged role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Special Counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, Prigozhin bankrolled the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which in turn played a central coordinating role in the effort to influence the outcome of the elections.

But it is one thing to be indicted by the US government, and quite another to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. What does this mean? And why did the FBI wait three years to place Prigozhin on its list of infamy?

With characteristic flamboyance, Prigozhin boasted victory against the FBI back in March of 2020, when US federal prosecutors requested that the Mueller-era criminal case against Concord Management and Consulting (CMC) be dismissed. Founded in 1995, CMC is Prigozhin’s flagship company. According to the US government, CMC was used to fund the IRA’s activities in the run-up to the 2016 US elections. Although some were surprised by that decision, it made sense from an intelligence point of view. US federal prosecutors said at the time that it would not be possible to prove the allegations against CMC due to a “classification determination”. The term basically meant that the US government could not prove the claims made against CMC without revealing “methods and sources”. The term refers to witnesses that have probably been recruited as US government assets, as well as to methods of surveillance that the government wishes to keep secret.

Even though the individual indictment against Prigozhin was never dropped, the flamboyant Russian boasted at the time that the dismissal of the case against CMC proved that he was not implicated in the US election meddling affair. He became even more boastful after September of last year, when Interpol removed his name from its international alert list. He reportedly began traveling outside Russia again, something that he had stopped doing after his 2018 indictment, out of an abundance of caution. At that time, everyone assumed that US prosecutors would eventually drop the case against Prigozhin too, for the same reason they had dropped the CMC case —namely a “classification determination”. Read more of this post

British SIGINT agency vows to integrate artificial intelligence into its operations

GCHQBRITAIN’S GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS, one of the world’s most advanced signals intelligence agencies, has published a position paper that vows to embrace artificial intelligence in its operations. For over 100 years, GCHQ, as it is known, has been in charge of spying on global communications on behalf of the British state, while protecting the government’s own communications systems from foreign espionage. In a report published on Thursday, the agency says it intends to use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect and analyze complex threats, and to fend against AI-enabled security challenges posed by Britain’s adversaries.

The report, entitled “Pioneering a New National Security: The Ethics of AI”, includes a foreword by GCHQ Director, Jeremy Fleming. Fleming was a career officer of the Security Service (MI5) until he became head of GCHQ in 2017. In his introductory note he argues that “technology and data” are engrained in the structure of GCHQ, and that AI has “the potential […] to transform [the agency’s] future operations”. The report acknowledges that GCHQ has been using AI for some time for functions including intelligence collection and automated translation. But the ability of AI to distinguish patterns in large sets of data in seconds, which would normally take humans months or years to detect, offers a transformational potential that should not be overlooked, it posits.

Security-related applications of AI are endless, says the report. They include measures against online child exploitation —for instance by detecting the methods used by child sex abusers to conceal their identities across multiple online platforms. Another potentially revolutionary application would be mapping global drug- or human-trafficking networks, by analyzing up-to-the-minute financial transactions and money-laundering activities around the world. Illicit activities that take place in the so-called “dark web” could also be mapped and monitored by AI systems, according to the report.

The report also states that GCHQ will seek ways to promote AI-related research and development in the United Kingdom. Its goal will be to establish bridges with industry by funding start-up ventures in AI, it states. Lastly, GCHQ will seek to formulate an ethical code of practice in AI, which will include best-practice guidelines, and will purposely recruit a diverse personnel of engineers, computer and data scientists. Future reports will tackle emerging technologies such as computational science and synthetic biology, among many others, the GCHQ report concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2021 | Permalink

Sweden charges consultant with spying for Russia, expels Russian diplomat

ScaniaA SWEDISH MAN HAS been charged with spying for Russia, after he was apprehended while meeting with a Russian diplomat stationed at the Russian embassy in Stockholm. Neither the Swedish man nor the Russian diplomat —who is believed to have been expelled from Sweden— have been named. Swedish government officials reportedly expelled the Russian diplomat following the incident, accusing him of working as an intelligence officer under diplomatic cover.

Government prosecutors said the Swedish man is 47 years old and worked as a consultant for numerous Swedish manufacturers. His employers included the car manufacturer Volvo, as well as Scania, a company that builds commercial vehicles, such as buses and trucks. According to Sweden’s public broadcaster, SVT, the man was arrested two years ago, in February 2019, while he was meeting in Stockholm with an accredited Russian diplomat. According to news reports, during the meeting the Swedish man gave the Russian a bag containing commercial secrets. In return, he received an envelope containing 27,800 Swedish kronor (US$3,350). These were confiscated by Swedish counterintelligence.

The indictment states that the 47-year-old Swede spied for Russia “for a number of years”, during which he routinely “transferred commercial secrets from his work computer to his home computer”. He would then transfer the files to USB memory sticks and pass them on to his Russian hander. Eventually, when his employer installed security software that monitored employees’ use of USB memory sticks, the consultant resorted to photographing material appearing on his work computer screen. He now faces “a lengthy sentence” if convicted, according to SVT.

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

Iran spies on dissidents via web server based in Holland, registered in Cyprus

Computer hackingA WEB SERVER BASED in Holland and owned by a company registered in Cyprus is being used by the Iranian government to spy on its critics abroad, according to Dutch public radio. The information about Iranian espionage was revealed on Thursday by NPO Radio 1, one of Holland’s public radio stations, with the help of Romanian cybersecurity firm BitDefender.

The discovery was reportedly made after an Iranian dissident based in Holland was sent an infected file by a user of the popular instant messaging application Telegram. Instead of opening the file, the recipient contacted cybersecurity experts, who identified it as a type of infected software that is known to have been used in the past by the Iranian state. Once it infects a computer, the software takes screenshots and uses the machine’s built-in microphone to make surreptitious recordings.

According to BitDefender’s cybersecurity experts, the server is being used for “command and control” functions in order to facilitate remote control of infected computers and phones. These functions include stealing data, as well as collecting screen shots and audio recordings. The server had been previously used to penetrate computers in Holland, Sweden, Germany, and several other countries, including India.

Cybersecurity experts from BitDefender found that the infected file was delivered to its target via a web server facility based in Haarlem, a city located 20 miles west of Amsterdam. The cybersecurity company said the server is registered to a company that belongs to a Romanian service provider. The company is registered in Cyprus and provides services to a number of companies, including in this case an American company. The latter reportedly stopped using the service provider once it was told of the Iranian connection, according to reports.

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

Citing security concerns, Lithuania bans Chinese airport baggage scanners

Vilnius International AirportCITING NATIONAL SECURITY GROUNDS, the government of Lithuania has canceled an agreement with a Chinese-owned company to supply baggage-scanning equipment at airports across the Baltic country. The Beijing-based company, Nuctech, is owned by Tsinghua Tongfang, which is in turn controlled by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Tasked with managing China’s nuclear fuel supply and development program, CNCC is owned by the Chinese government.

Since its founding in 1997, Nuctech has become a major supplier of security-screening products and equipment in airports in Asia, Europe and Africa. Early in 2020, the company was awarded a competitive bid to install baggage-scanning equipment at several major Lithuanian airports, including those in Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga. But in January of this year, it was reported that the United States government had approach several European governments with the aim of convincing them to drop Nuctech on security grounds. The Americans were claiming that passenger data collected by Nuctech could potentially be shared with the Chinese intelligence services, under a 2017 law that obligates state-owned companies to contribute to national intelligence gathering.

On Wednesday, following a closed-door meeting of the Lithuanian cabinet, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office announced that the government had “decided that the contract [with Nuctech] does not meet the interests of national security”. Earlier on Wednesday, a local news agency had quoted the United States ambassador to Lithuania, Robert Gilchrist, as saying that Washington welcomed the fact that Lithuania was reconsidering Nuctech’s role in airport security. Late on Wednesday, a Nuctech representative said the company failed to understand the Lithuanian government’s reasoning for canceling the agreement, since the scanning equipment used in Lithuanian airports would be manufactured in Poland, rather than in China.

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

Ion Pacepa, Cold War’s highest-ranking Soviet Bloc defector, dies of COVID-19

Ion Mihai PacepaION MIHAI PACEPA, WHO defected to the West as acting head of the Romanian intelligence service, making him the Cold War’s highest-ranking defector from the Soviet Bloc , has reportedly died in the United States of COVID-19. There has been no official announcement of Pacepa’s passing. However, a number of American and Romanian news outlets have reported his death in the past week, noting that he passed away on February 14. He reportedly died in hospital at “an undisclosed location”, having lived under protection from the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Resettlement Operations Center since his defection in 1978. He was 92.

Pacepa was born in Bucharest in 1928. He joined the Securitate, Romania’s secret police and intelligence service, in 1951, having earlier graduated with a degree in engineering from the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute. From his initial post in the Securitate’s Counter-Sabotage Directorate —a domestic assignment— Pacepa was moved to its Foreign Intelligence Directorate in 1955. He gradually reached the rank of station chief, serving in Frankfurt, West Germany. By the early 1970s Pacepa had reached the equivalent rank of a two-star general, and served as advisor to the Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu on matters of industrial and technological innovation. In 1978 he was appointed assistant secretary of the Ministry of the Interior and acting director of the Securitate.

But in July of that year, Pacepa defected to the United States while on assignment in Bonn, West Germany. He simply presented himself to the United States embassy there and was soon granted political asylum by Washington. Since that time, he lived under an assumed identity in a series of undisclosed locations in the United States. He reportedly had to change his living arrangements and assume new identities at least twice after his defection, in order to escape Romanian assassination squads who had been tasked with killing him. Among Pacepa’s aspiring assassins was Carlos the Jackal, who had allegedly been promised $1 million by Ceauşescu in return for killing the high-ranking defector.

Pacepa authored several books since his defection, with this first one, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, being the most notable. Translated from the original English into Romanian, the book was used by the prosecutors that argued in favor of the death penalty for Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena. Both were executed by firing squad in December 1989.

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

Irish officials raise espionage concerns about expansion of Russian embassy in Dublin

IRELAND’S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE SERVICE HAS launched an investigation into an expansion project at the embassy of Russia in Dublin. According to sources cited by The Times newspaper, the Irish government is concerned that the expansion project is part of a secret plan by Moscow to turn its embassy in Dublin into a major espionage hub in Europe.

The two nations had no diplomatic relations until September 1973, when the Republic of Ireland officially recognized the Soviet Union, and the two countries proceeded to establish embassies at each other’s capitals. Since then, the Russian embassy in Dublin has been located on Orwell Road, in the southern suburb of Rathgar. For at least three decades, the embassy has been considered by Western intelligence a hub of Russian intelligence collection operations in Europe. Some claim that the tranquil environs of the Irish capital, coupled with Ireland’s relatively relaxed counterintelligence posture, have encouraged Moscow to use its Dublin embassy as a support base for espionage activities throughout much of Western Europe.

But the Irish government changed its stance in 2018 when, in a surprising move, it introduced emergency legislation aimed at stopping a previously approved expansion of the Russian embassy complex. The government reportedly feared that the initial plan, which proposed to add 86,000 sq ft of structures to the embassy’s existing 21,000 sq ft of building space, threatened Ireland’s national security. The Russians had little choice but to comply with the restrictions imposed by the Irish government. Now, however, the Irish government is reportedly concerned that Moscow was able to proceed with the establishment of an “intelligence hub”, despite the reduced size of the embassy’s expansion.

According to The Times, the Irish government’s concerns center on a building inside the Russian embassy compound, “whose design appears to incorporate military security features”. Another issue concerns an underground car park built by the Russians at the southern rear of the embassy complex, which can accommodate up to 23 vehicles. Apparently, Irish officials cannot explain why the Russians would go to the added trouble —and expense— of building an underground car park, when there appear to be sufficient car parking spaces above ground inside the embassy compound.

The paper reports that the new review of the Russian embassy compound is being led by the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the National Crime and Security Intelligence Service of the Garda, Ireland’s national police and security service. These two entities are expected to brief the National Security Committee in the coming weeks. Known also as “Cabinet Subcommittee F”, the National Security Committee is Ireland’s highest executive decision-making body, which is led by the prime minister.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 February 2021 | Permalink

MI6 starts recruiting naturalized British citizens after change in rules

MI6BRITAIN’S MAIN EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE agency has begun hiring foreign-born British citizens for the first time in decades, reportedly in an effort to augment the skillsets of its personnel and diversify its workforce. For much of its history, the Secret Intelligence Service, known informally as MI6, required potential recruits to have been born in the United Kingdom to British-born parents. This excluded British-born children of immigrants to the United Kingdom.

In 2018, however, MI6 shelved the requirement that both parents of employment candidates had to be British-born. Since then, children of immigrants to the United Kingdom could apply for employment, so long as they had been born on British soil and held a British passport. This rule has now been shelved too. From now on, naturalized British citizens will be considered for work at MI6. The only stipulation is that one of their parents must be (or have been, if deceased) a British citizen, or have “substantial ties” to the United Kingdom.

The spy agency states that dual or multiple citizens who are hired to work at MI6 may be required to formally renounce their non-British citizenship(s), “depending on the type of role that they are offered”. reported to a government source cited in the London-based Times newspaper, the change in recruitment practices is aimed at creating a workforce “with a diversification of thought, not people who all think in similar ways”. The change in recruitment rules comes on the heels of a decision last year to lower the minimum age requirement for employment at MI6 from 21 to 18 years.

In a related development, several British newspapers reported last month that the spy agency had begun to recruit for the first time “part-time consultants” with valuable skills or contacts overseas. In several job advertisements that appeared online or in print publications, MI6 said it is seeking candidates with “diverse skill sets and life experiences for part-time and consulting roles”. The advertisements also note that MI6 is looking for “highly desirable individuals” with “expertise in their chosen field”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February 2021 | Permalink