Russia expelled Japanese reporter accusing him of espionage, say sources

VladivostokRussian authorities detained a Japanese journalist last month, and eventually expelled him after accusing him of espionage, according to sources. Even though it occurred last month, the incident was reported only on Monday by Russia’s RIA Novosty news agency.

According to the news agency the Japanese journalist was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on December 25, 2019. At the time of his detention, the journalist was working in Vladivostok for Kyodo, Japan’s largest news agency. Vladivostok, a city of 600,000, features the largest Russian port on the Pacific coast and hosts the main base of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told RIA Novosty that the Japanese journalist was detained because he was “trying to acquire secret materials about Russia’s military capabilities in the Far East”. He was eventually released following an interrogation session that lasted for over five hours. Upon his release he was given 72 hours to leave the country. Later that day, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned an official from the embassy of Japan in Moscow to file an “official diplomatic protest” about the incident, according to RIA Novosty.

The Reuters news agency said on Monday that officials from Japan’s Kyodo News confirmed that one of their reporters —which it did not name— had been detained in Russia. The Japanese news agency also confirmed that the reporter had been expelled from Russia, but denied that he had been involved in espionage, saying instead that he was “engaged in standard reporting activities”. Kyodo News officials added that the reporter had left Russia as instructed, “for safety reasons”.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Reuters that it “could not comment” on the matter.

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

Leader of American far-right paramilitary group is based in Russia

The BaseThe mysterious leader of an American far-right paramilitary group, which authorities say is seeking to overthrow the United States government, runs the organization from Russia, according to a probe conducted by the BBC. The group, which calls itself The Base, is thought to have been formed in the summer of 2018. Since then, it is believed to have recruited dozens of members using encrypted messaging applications.

The Base urges its members to undergo paramilitary training and learn how to evade surveillance by government agencies. It also instructs them to create and use ciphers for communication and trains them to use encrypted applications to exchange messages so that government agencies cannot access their content. The Federal Bureau of Investigation describes The Base as a “racially motivated violent extremist group” that “seeks to accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war, and establish a white ethno-state”. Earlier this month, authorities arrested three alleged members of the organization, which are accused of engaging in a conspiracy to commit murder.

Despite the attention that The Base has received from American authorities, almost no information is available about the group’s leader and founder. This individual goes by the aliases “Norman Spear” and “Roman Wolf”. But a recent investigation alleged that his name is Rinaldo Nazzaro and that he is a 46-year-old American man from New York. Prior to founding The Base, Nazzaro is believed to have purchased land in a remote area of America’s Pacific Northwest region with the goal of creating a white-only enclave.

Now the BBC has said that Nazzaro is living in Russia, from where he is allegedly running The Base. He is thought to have married a Russian woman in 2012 in the New York borough of Manhattan. The couple probably relocated to the Russian city of St. Petersburg “less than two years ago”, according to the BBC. In an article published on Friday, the BBC said that its researchers had been able to identify Nazzaro from his online activity and from photographs and videos he had posted online in the past year.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 January 2020 | Permalink

Intelligence officer who forged credentials did not betray secrets, says Sweden

Sweden militaryA man who rose through the ranks of the Swedish Armed Forces by using forged credentials, and worked as an intelligence officer in NATO while liaising with the Russian security services, did not betray national secrets, according to Swedish officials.

The man, who has not been named by the Swedish government, served in the Försvars- makten —the Swedish Armed Forces— for 18 years. He used forged certificates to claim that he had a university degree in political science. He also claimed that he had successfully completed the Swedish Army’s officer training program, a claim that he supported with a forged certificate of completion.

During his military career, he participated in Sweden’s international peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, as well as in Afghanistan, where he served with the rank of major. Between 2007 and 2010, and then again in 2013, the unnamed man was an employee of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST), where he worked as a liaison between MUST and Russia’s Federal Security Service.

In 2012 he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was dispatched to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, which is the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Allied Command Operations. Sweden is not a member of NATO but has close ties with the alliance. While in Belgium, the unnamed man joined the Afghanistan Mission Network, an intelligence-sharing platform for nations that participated in military and peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan. He then joined Sweden’s United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali as its chief of staff, with the rank of major.

The forgeries that he used to join the military were reportedly detected in 2019, but the case did not become public until earlier this month, when the Stockholm-based newspaper Dagens Nyheter published an claimed about it. On Thursday, the chief of staff of the Försvarsmakten, General Micael Byden, told the Defense Committee of the Swedish Parliament that the unnamed man did not harm Sweden’s national security. General Byden briefed the committee on the results of an internal investigation into the case by the armed forces. He claimed that the investigation had found “nothing that indicates that classified information had been disseminated” to Russia or any other foreign power by the unnamed man. NATO has not commented on the case.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 January 2020 | Permalink

French counterterrorism officer charged with selling forged documents online

DGSI FranceAn officer in France’s elite counterterrorism agency is to be tried along with four accomplices for selling forged identity documents and private data on the darknet. The case first emerged in 2018, after officers with France’s Central Office for the Prevention of Illegal Immigration (OCRIEST) detected a seller of high quality forged copies of official documents on the darknet.

The seller, who went by the nickname Haurus, offered French identification cards, drivers’ licenses, birth certificates and even bank documents, in exchange for between €100 and €300 ($110 and $330). The quality of the documents on sale was substantially higher than most forgeries sold on the darknet. According to French government investigators, the fake docments qualified as what anti-forgery experts call “the gold standard”. Haurus also sold private phone records and other information to track the whereabouts of individuals.

Government investigators eventually received an anonymous tip that helped identify Haurus. According to prosecutors, Haurus was an officer in the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), which serves as France’s main counterterrorism agency. In accordance with France’s strict privacy laws, he has been identified only as “Cédric D.”, 33. According to Le Parisien newspaper, Cédric D. worked as a counterterrorism investigator specializing on jihadist terrorist networks.

Upon his arrest, Cédric D. led prosecutors to four more people, including a private investigator, all of whom were eventually apprehended. Cédric D. was kept in pre-trial detention for several months. He was released five months ago and remains under judicial supervision. The investigation into his activities has now concluded, and a trial is expected to commence soon in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 January 2020 | Permalink

Britain warns its citizens following detention of alleged Russian spies in Switzerland

Davos SwitzerlandA Swiss newspaper has revealed a previously unreported detention of two Russian diplomats in the luxury Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, which is currently hosting the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The development prompted British authorities to warn some British citizens participating in the WEF meeting that they may be in physical danger.

The brief detention of the two Russians allegedly occurred in August of last year in Davos, a mountain resort in the canton of Graubünden, which is located in Switzerland’s eastern Alps region. According to the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, local police detained two Russians during the period between August 8 and 28 of last year. Citing anonymous sources from the police and security services, the paper said that the authorities were alerted about the two Russians by employees at a local resort. The employees reportedly found it strange that the Russians had booked hotel rooms for over three weeks, which is unusually long for Davos’ ultra-luxury resort setting.

When police officers approached the two men and inquired about their background, one of them said he worked as a plumber. However, when asked to provide identification papers, both men reportedly produced Russian diplomatic passports. However, none had received accreditation by the Swiss government, which means they had not been formally registered as diplomats in the Alpine nation. When Swiss police officials contacted the Russian embassy in Bern to inquire about the two men, Russian officials “threatened diplomatic consequences if the men were arrested” said Tages-Anzeiger.

The two Russians were eventually released, as Swiss police “could not ascertain any reason to detain them”, said the paper. However, Swiss officials said that the two Russians “obviously […] had their sights on the WEF” and were probably planning to install surveillance equipment around the Swiss resort town. Soon after the Tages-Anzeiger report was published, British counterterrorism police reportedly warned a number of British citizens attending the WEF meeting that they might be in physical danger.

But the Russian embassy in Switzerland dismissed the Tages-Anzeiger report as “one more attempt to undermine Swiss-Russian relations”. Russian officials at the embassy accused Western countries of trying to “whip out a scandal out of nothing”, adding that Russian authorities had not been officially notified of the incident and that there was “no evidence of espionage” by the two men.

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

Western intelligence agencies see non-Arab as new head of ISIS

Abdullah QardashWestern intelligence agencies have reportedly confirmed that a non-Arab is now leading the Islamic State for the first time in the organization’s history. Rumors of a new leader of the group began to circulate just hours after American forces killed its self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On October 27, 2019, Newsweek magazine reported that the militant group, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had appointed a man known as Abdullah Qardash (pictured) at its helm. According to the magazine, Qardash’s name was sometimes spelled in English as Karshesh. Additionally, he was sometimes referred to by his ISIS moniker, Hajji Abdullah al-Afari.

However, the names reported by Newsweek were not immediately recognizable to Western intelligence officials and other experts who monitor the Islamic State. But now British newspaper The Guardian reports that Western intelligence services have concluded that the man referred to as “Abdullah Qardash” in October is indeed the new leader of ISIS. The paper said on Monday that the new ISIS leader’s birth name is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi. He is allegedly not an Arab, but rather an Iraqi Turkman whose family comes from Tal Afar, a northwestern Iraqi city that is close to the borders of Syria and Turkey. In fact, al-Salbi is reported to have a brother in Turkey, who is a prominent member of an ethic political grouping called the Turkmen Iraqi Front.

Al-Salbi, who was allegedly appointed as leader of ISIS just hours after al-Baghdadi’s demise, is believed to be the first non-Arab to ever lead the militant group. Like most of ISIS’ original founders, al-Salbi is believed to have met Baghdadi in 2004 in Camp Bucca, an American-administered prison in Umm Qasr. Similarly to al-Baghadi, al-Salbi’s background is in Islamic education —something that enabled him to quickly rise in the ranks of ISIS ideologues and command significant influence. By 2018, al-Salbi had become a central decision-maker within the group, and was able to shape its activities and policies within its territory in the Middle East and beyond. The Guardian article concludes that al-Salbi is “a hardened veteran in the same vein as al-Baghdadi”, which implies that no major changes in the Islamic State’s strategy are expected to take place under his leadership.

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

Iran threatens to retaliate against Greece if US uses military bases to launch attack

Iran embassy GreeceIran has issued a warning against Greece, saying that it will retaliate if the United States attacks the Islamic Republic using its military bases on Greek soil. It is the first time that Iran has threatened to launch attacks against a member of the European Union in connection with the recent rise in tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Iranian officials issued the warning against Greece in response to comments made by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during his recent visit to the White House, which coincided with the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the US. Speaking about Soleimani’s killing, Mitsotakis said that “we [Greeks] are allies with the US, so we stand by our allies through difficult times”. And he continued: “I understand this particular decision was taken by taking into consideration what is the US national interest, and we stand by that decision”.

Iran’s response to the Greek prime minister’s comments came in a letter that was sent by the Iranian embassy in Athens to one of Greece’s leading broadsheets, Kathimerini. The letter pointed out that Greece and Iran enjoyed “friendly, traditional and historical relations”. Given “the absence of any differences or tension between [the two countries] in recent centuries”, said the letter, “we believe that [Mr. Mitsotakis’] statement cannot be the official position of the Greek government”. It went on to warn that “The Islamic Republic of Iran has made it very clear that in the event of a US-led war against the country, the concession of [military] bases by any country to the American invader will be considered a hostile act and Iran reserves the right to respond in a clear and decisive manner”.

Last weekend, Greece’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Nikos Dendias, revealed that the Iranian government had delivered a statement to his office, protesting Mitsotakis’ comments. But he added that he had not had a chance to read it. He also said that his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had asked to speak with him about Greece’s stance in the US-Iran dispute.

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