German spies dismiss US warnings about Huawei threat to 5G network

Huawei 2German intelligence officials appear to be dismissing Washington’s warning that it will limit security cooperation with Berlin if China’s Huawei Telecommunications is allowed to build Germany’s 5G network. The company, Huawei Technologies, is a private Chinese venture and one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by some Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China. More recently, Washington has intensified an international campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with Britain, Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies.

In the past several months the United States has repeatedly warned Germany that intelligence sharing between the two countries will be threatened if the Chinese telecommunications giant is awarded a 5G contract by the German government. In March, Washington informed German officials that intelligence cooperation between the two allies would be severely impacted if Chinese telecommunications manufacturers were given the green light to build Germany’s 5G infrastructure. The warning was allegedly included in a letter to Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, written by Ambassador Richard Grenell, America’s top diplomat in Germany. The letter urged the German government to consider rival bids by companies belonging to American allies, such as the Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corporation, or the South Korean Samsung Corporation.

But a report by Bloomberg on Wednesday said that German authorities were not convinced by Grenell’s argument. Citing “four people with knowledge on the matter”, the news agency said that Germany’s intelligence community see Washington’s warnings as “political grandstanding”. The US and Germany “need each other’s resources to tackle global conflicts” and “rely on each other too much to risk jeopardizing crucial data sharing”, said the report. The anonymous officials told Bloomberg that Germany does benefit from America’s “vast array” of intelligence. However, German spy agencies also provide their American counterparts with crucial intelligence from several regions of the world, they said. The US Department of State did not comment on the Bloomberg report. The Chinese government has repeatedly dismissed allegations that Huawei poses an espionage threat to Western nations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 April 2019 | Permalink

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Spain returns stolen material to North Korean embassy in Madrid, say sources

North Korea SpainAuthorities in Spain have returned material that was stolen from the embassy of North Korea in Madrid by a group of raiders in February, according to a source that spoke to the Reuters news agency. The unprecedented attack took place in the afternoon of February 22 in a quiet neighborhood of northern Madrid, where the North Korean embassy is located. Ten assailants, all Asian-looking men, entered the three-story building from the main gate, brandishing guns, which were later found to be fake. They tied up and gagged the embassy’s staff and some visitors to the embassy. After several hours spent inside the buildings, the assailants abandoned the building in two embassy vehicles that were later found abandoned.

A few weeks following the raid, a North Korean dissident group calling itself Cheollima Civil Defense —also known as Free Joseon— claimed responsibility for the attack. Cheollima Civil Defense is North Korea’s first known active resistance group. Its members call for the overthrow of the Kim dynasty. Subsequent reports said that some of those who took part in the embassy raided fled to the United States and approached the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with an offer to hand over computer hardware and telephones captured in the attack. On Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported that the FBI “returned the material [to Spanish authorities] two weeks ago”, and that Spanish police handed it over to the North Koreans. Citing “a Spanish judicial source”, Reuters said that American authorities returned the material directly to the Spanish court that is investigating the raid.

According to the news agency, Spanish authorities returned the material to the North Korean embassy without reviewing its contents, thus complying with the norms of diplomatic protocol. Data and items belonging to foreign embassies are usually off-limits to the authorities of host nations. The report did not clarify whether the FBI returned all the material that was stolen by the raiders in February, nor did it state whether the FBI reviewed its contents prior to handing it over to the Spanish court.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 April 2019 | Permalink

Venezuelan ex-spy chief with ‘treasure trove of intel’ on Maduro arrested in Spain

Hugo CarvajalThe former director of Venezuela’s military spy agency, who is wanted in the United States for facilitating international drug trafficking, has been arrested in Spain and may be extradited to Washington. Hugo Carvajal is a retired general and former diplomat, who was a member of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s inner circle. From 2004 to 2011, under Chávez’s tutelage, Carvajal headed the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM). But in 2008, the US named Carvajal as a major facilitator of international drugs trafficking and imposed financial sanctions on his assets around the world. Washington accused Carvajal of assisting the paramilitary group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) transport drugs from Latin America to Mexico and from there to the US.

In 2014, the US government officially charged Carvajal with orchestrating a shipment of 1,200lbs of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico. Washington also charged Carvajal with supplying FARC drug traffickers with Venezuelan passports bearing fake names, which they used to travel internationally to avoid detection. In 2014, Carvajal was arrested by authorities in Aruba, a Dutch overseas territory in Latin America, where he was serving as Venezuela’s consul general. But, to Washington’s dismay, he was released after the Dutch government ruled that his diplomatic immunity gave him immunity from prosecution. Following his release, Carvajal returned to Venezuela, where he was given a hero’s welcome by Chávez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro. It came as a shock, therefore, when in February of this year Carvajal posted a video on social media in which he denounced Maduro and sided with his arch-nemesis, Juan Guaido, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Carvajal’s issued his video a few weeks after Guaido declared himself president of Venezuela, citing powers afforded to him by the country’s constitution. He has since been openly supported by the United States and dozens of other Western countries. In his video, Carvajal urged the Venezuelan armed forces to stop siding with Maduro and support Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president.

The BBC reported that, shortly after Carvajal’s arrest in Spain, the US Department of Justice filed a formal request for the former spy chief’s extradition to the US. But the Reuters news agency cited an unnamed US government official who said that Carvajal was in possession of a “treasure trove” of intelligence about Maduro’s administration. The US official hinted that Carvajal may have willingly given himself up to Spanish police to express his desire to cooperate with the US. He is scheduled to appear before Spain’s High Court on Saturday. The court has 24 hours following Carvajal’s arrest to rule whether he will be extradited or freed from detention.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2019 | Permalink

Italy rebukes France for blocking EU resolution calling for end to Libyan war

khalifa haftarSeveral European Union member states, led by Italy, have criticized France for blocking a joint resolution calling on all warring factions in Libya to cease all hostilities and return to the negotiations table. The latest round of hostilities was sparked by an all-out attack by a group calling itself the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades. In 2011, following an uprising that toppled Gaddafi, Haftar returned to Libya and launch a military campaign from the eastern city of Tobruk. Since that time, he has led the LNA in a war of attrition against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Last week, Haftar launched an all-out attack to defeat the GNA and take Tripoli —a move that many observers have been expecting for several months. With the LNA receiving substantial military assistance from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, most observers expected that Haftar would be the ruler of Tripoli within days. But his troops were unexpectedly pushed back by GNA troops on Monday, and have been unable to enter Tripoli from the south, as was their initial plan. Meanwhile the EU attempted on Wednesday to issue a joint statement calling on all warring sides to put down their weapons and enter into negotiations. But France blocked the draft statement, prompting heavy criticism.

On Thursday, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini criticized France for blocking the EU statement “for economic and commercial reasons” and warned that he would “not stand by and watch” France continue to support “a party that is fighting” in the Libyan Civil War. Salvini expressed the view that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military intervention in Libya in 2011, which was strongly supported by France, was “triggered more by economic and commercial interests than by humanitarian concerns”. Unlike France, which has been a strong supporter of Haftar, Italy backs the UN-supported GNA and Libya’s legitimate Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj.

In 2017, two leading international legal scholars accused Haftar of having ordered his troops to commit war crimes. Ryan Goodman, a professor and former special counsel to the general counsel of the United States Department of Defense, and Alex Whiting, a Harvard University law professor who served as an international criminal prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said that in September of 2015, Haftar openly urged his troops to “to take no prisoners” in battle. The Libyan warlord denies these charges against him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2019 | Permalink

One dead after masked gunmen with AK-47s raid Austrian Airlines plane in Tirana

Tirana Airport

At least two members of an armed gang remain at large after raiding an Austrian Airlines plane on the runway of the Tirana International Airport in Albania, and managing to get away with an estimated $11 million in cash. To defend against bank robberies —a regular occurrence in crime-ridden Albania— the Bank of Albania does not accept large cash deposits. Consequently, branches of foreign-owned banks that operate in Albania export their hard-currency deposits abroad via regular flights to Vienna, Austria.

On Tuesday, as the Austrian Airlines airplane was preparing to take off from the Tirana International Airport, a white van bearing the logo of the General Directorate of Taxation —the revenue collection agency of the Albanian Government— smashed through the gate used by the airport’s emergency services and drove up to the airplane. Three masked men dressed in military fatigues exited the van and reportedly threatened the luggage handlers with AK-47 rifles. They then forced open the cargo doors of the plane and removed several bags full of hard currency. In less than four minutes, they started to drive back toward the emergency gate, when they were confronted by a police patrol that opened fire on them. One of the robbers was reportedly shot in the head and died instantly.

On Wednesday, police identified the dead robber as Admir Murataj and said that he had been the mastermind of the operation. By the end of Wednesday, police had arrested four men and questioned at least 40 other people in connection with the robbery. Initial reports said that the robbers had left the scene of the crime with about $2.8 million in cash, but subsequent reports said that as much as $11 million had been stolen. Investigators said that the robbers must have had inside knowledge about the Austrian Airlines plane and its cargo. A spokesperson for Austrian Airlines said that there would be no further transfers of cash from Albania to Austria following the robbery.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 April 2019 | Permalink

Election meddling by foreign powers already underway, says Canadian spy agency

CSE CanadaThe manipulation of social media by foreign governments aiming to sow division in Canada ahead of the country’s federal election in October is growing, according to the country’s signals intelligence agency. In a report published Monday, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s national communications interception agency, warns that election meddling by foreign powers is already taking place. The report, titled “2019 Update: Cyber Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process”, says that voters, as well as specific political figures, have been targeted by foreign powers since 2015 in the North American country.

The foreign intelligence agencies behind the efforts to manipulate Canada’s electoral process have systematically attempted to “polarize Canadians or undermine Canada’s foreign policy goals”, says the report. These efforts will continue and intensify in the run-up to October, claims the report, and concludes by warning that Canadians should expect to “encounter some form of foreign cyber interference ahead of, and during, the 2019 federal election”. However, foreign cyber interference on the scale that was experienced in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States is improbable, according to the CSE.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, the former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s primary national intelligence service, said in an interview last week that Ottawa would have to be patient in dealing with Russia and —especially— China. Speaking at a public forum hosted by the Canadian International Council in Vancouver, Richard Fadden noted that neither China nor Russia wish to go to war with the West. What they want instead is to “fragment the West” and thus increase their own influence on the international scene, said Fadden, who directed the CSIS from 2009 to 2013. It would be fair for Canada to “poke back”, he said, but would have to be “careful how [to] do it”, he added. “We need to be realistic. We’re dealing with an emergent superpower and […] we’re going to have to be patient”, Fadden concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 April 2019 | Research credit: C.D. | Permalink

Russian teams bribed Madagascar presidential candidates, BBC claims

Marc Ravalomanana Andry RajoelinaTeams of “Russian technical specialists” bribed several leading candidates in last year’s presidential elections in Madagascar, in an effort to influence the outcome, according to an investigation by the BBC. The 2018 presidential campaign was among the most closely fought in Madagascar’s 60-year post-independence history. The electorate’s attention concentrated mostly on two former presidents, Marc Ravalomanana, and Andry Rajoelina. Following a closely contested second round in late December, Rajoelina was elected president, having received 500,000 votes more than his opponent. Since his election, Rajoelina has promoted closer ties with Russia. Most notably, he has strengthened his country’s military cooperation with Moscow —a process that was initiated by his predecessor in October of last year.

But a new investigation by the BBC suggests there was a “systematic and coordinated operation” by a group of Russian businessmen with ties to the Kremlin to help Rajoelina get elected. There were “clear signs of Russian meddling in the polls”, claims the BBC, adding that at least six leading candidates in the election were offered money by the Russians to support rival candidates in the second round of the elections. Among them was Andre Mailhol, a Christian pastor who ran for president and ended up in fourth place with around 60,000 votes. He told the BBC that a group of Russians paid his deposit to run in the election and funded his campaign. In return, they asked that he would support their preferred candidate in the second round of the elections. Mailhol said that the Russians made him sign a contract promising to do as he was told.

The BBC claims that the payments to several presidential candidates were made by “dozens of Russians” who are central figures in Madagascar’s business community. They allegedly include Andrei Kramar and Roman Pozdnyakov, who live permanently in the island country. Other alleged accomplices are diamond trader Vladimir Boyarishchev, as well as Maksim Shugaley, a political campaign manager who lives in Russia. The BBC claims that their activities were funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin operative who has been indicted in the United States for his alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Prigozhin has allegedly been financing “teams of Russian technical specialists” to sway the results of elections in Madagascar and other African countries, according to the BBC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 April 2019 | Permalink