Head of Saudi king’s security detail shot dead in mysterious circumstances

Abdulaziz al-FaghamThe head of the security detail of Saudi Arabia’s king Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has been shot dead in mysterious circumstances. Abdulaziz al-Fagham was a Major General in Saudi Arabia’s Royal Guard Corps, whose mission is to protect the senior members of the oil kingdom’s royal family. Al-Fagham served two kings, king Salman and his predecessor, king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and was constantly seen alongside the in official functions. Since much current-affairs coverage in Saudi Arabia’s state-owned media revolves around the activities of the royal family, al-Fagham’s figure was familiar to most Saudis. They were reportedly shocked by the murder of such a familiar figure who was very close to the Saudi royal family.

But details of al-Fagham’s killing remain sparse. Saudi officials began posting social-media messages of condolence about al-Fagham and his family late on Saturday evening. It wasn’t until late on Sunday evening that the kingdom’s official media began to publish official reports of al-Fagham’s demise. State-run Saudi television said that al-Fagham, whom it described as a “bodyguard of the custodian of the two holy mosques”, had been killed following a “dispute of a personal nature”. A subsequent television report stated that al-Fagham had died on Saturday evening at a house belonging to a close friend of his in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, which is located on the shores of the Red Sea.

It has since emerged that while visiting his friend’s house, al-Fagham had a prolonged argument with another visitor named Mamdouh bin Meshaal al-Ali. The latter left the house in anger and later returned with a rifle, which he used to kill al-Fagham and injure two others, according to reports. Al-Fagham was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died of gunshot wounds. Meanwhile, police surrounded the house where the shootout took place and tried to arrest al-Ali. But the alleged culprit refused to surrender to police and was subsequently shot dead by security officers, following a firefight that injured several people.

The New York Times said on Sunday that around al-Fagham’s murder the Saudi intelligence services contacted their American counterparts seeking information on a number o Saudi citizens with alleged connections to terrorism. But it is not known whether the request for intelligence was in any way connected to al-Fagham’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 September 2019 | Permalink

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White House whistleblower is a CIA officer, report claims

Donald TrumpThe individual who filed a report claiming that United States President Donald Trump sought help from a foreign country to win the 2020 election is believed to be a male employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. The man, who is legally classified as a whistleblower, filed the report on August 12. It was released for publication on Thursday and is now available [.pdf] online. It claims that Trump tried to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 US presidential election. The basis of this claim refers to a telephone exchange between the US president and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, which took place on July 25.

The whistleblower’s report states that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine. The implication of the whistleblower’s allegation is that Trump sought to subvert the election effort of one of his main rivals for the US presidency. The whistleblower report, along with transcripts and memoranda that describe the July 25 telephone conversation between the two heads of state, form the basis of an impeachment inquiry that has been launched by Trump’s political rivals in Congress.

On Thursday, The New York Times cited what it said were three people who knew the identity of the whistleblower. The paper said that the whistleblower is a male employee of the CIA. In the past, the man had been assigned to work in the White House, said The Times. The secondment of CIA personnel to the White House is a regular occurrence. CIA personnel are temporarily assigned to perform duties relating to National Security Council meetings, or manage the White House Situation Room. They also monitor and help manage the White House secure communications system. The paper said that the CIA officer’s White House secondment had ended and that he had returned to the CIA headquarters by the time the July 25 telephone call between Trump and Zelensky took place. In his report [.pdf], the whistleblower states that he was “not a direct witness to most of the events described”. However, he cites accounts of these events by “multiple officials” who shared the information with him “in the course of official interagency business”.

Some have criticized The Times for leaking information about the whistleblower’s place of employment and past assignments. They argue that the information could allow the White House to identify the source of the complaint. By law, whistleblowers in the US have the right to remain anonymous, and thus be protected from possible retaliation from those whom they accuse of abusing their power. But the paper claims that the American public has a right to information about the whistleblower’s “place in government”, so as to assess his credibility and evaluate the significance of his allegations.

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

Executive of Danish bank implicated in massive money laundering found dead

Danske BankThe former chief executive of Danske Bank’s subsidiary in Estonia, which is implicated in a massive money laundering scheme, has been found dead in an apparent suicide in Tallinn. Aivar Rehe, 56, headed the Estonian subsidiary of the Copenhagen-based Danske Bank, one of Northern Europe’s largest retail banks, which was founded in 1871. He belonged to a group of dynamic young entrepreneurs who spearheaded the privatization of the Estonian economy in the post-Soviet era.

But the reputation of the Estonian banking sector was tarnished last year, when a criminal investigation was launched into an alleged money laundering scandal. The investigation focused on customers from Russia and other Eastern European countries who allegedly used Danske Bank’s subsidiary in Estonia to launder billions of dollars in illicit funds. The probe prompted Danske Bank to pull out of the Baltic countries. Meanwhile, the probe extended to Sweden, Germany and the United States. Deutsche Bank, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, is currently being investigated for allegedly helping facilitate Danske Bank’s customers launder money by converting it into United States dollars. The criminal probe has damaged the previously spotless reputation of the Scandinavian banking sector and has made Central European banks hesitant to do business in the Baltics. Some financial observers have even warned that the Danske Bank scandal could drag the Baltic economies into a prolonged recession.

Rehe was not involved in the money laundering scandal. However, much of the money laundering took place between 2007 and 2015, when he was in charge of the Estonian subsidiary of Danske Bank. Under his leadership the bank’s operations were allegedly marred by “deficiencies in controls and governance”, which allowed for criminal activity to occur unnoticed, according to an internal Danske Bank investigation into the money laundering affair. Rehe had been missing from his home since Monday, having apparently left without taking his wallet and cellphone. His body was discovered on Wednesday in the garden of his home in the Estonian capital. Police have ruled his death an apparent suicide and believe that no foul play was involved.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2019 | Permalink

Opinion: Saudi Arabia will not go to war with Iran, but it may pay others to do so

Saudi AramcoEver since a barrage of drone and missile attacks struck Saudi Arabia on September 14, many have wondered whether the oil kingdom will go to war with Iran. Riyadh has directly accused the Islamic Republic of being behind the attacks. But the speculation about a possible war is baffling, argues Nesrine Malik in a well-argued article published last Sunday in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Saudi Arabia does not “go to war”, she says —it pays others to do so on its behalf.

The war in Yemen is a perfect example, argues Malik. Even though the Saudi monarchy is leading the foreign military involvement in that war, Saudi Arabia is supplying almost no ground troops in that war. There are only Saudi commanders who are managing groups of mercenaries from Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. A large portion of the Saudi-led force consists of Sudanese child soldiers, whose families are paid handsomely for supplying the oil kingdom’s force in Yemen with what Malik describes as “cannon fodder”. The Saudi commanders communicate their battle orders to their hired troops via satellite phones and use unmanned drones and high-flying planes to attack the predominantly Shiite Houthi rebels. That largely explains the high civilian toll in that war.

Meanwhile, the United States government announced last week that it will be sending several hundred troops to the oil kingdom and will be beefing up its air defense systems. But Malik wonders why it is that Saudi Arabia, which has been the world’s largest weapons importer since 2014, and whose 2018 arms purchases accounted for 12 percent of global defense spending last year, requires the presence of American troops on its soil for its protection. The answer is simple, she says: the Saudi regime purchases weapons, not to use them, but to make Wester defense industries dependent on its purchasing power. In other words, the Saudi monarchy buys Western weapons for political reasons. These purchases enable it to get away with its abysmal human-rights record at home, as well as its kidnappings and assassinations abroad.

In the meantime, says Malik, if Saudi Arabia goes to war against Iran, it will do so the way it always does: it will hire proxies —including the United States— to fight on its behalf.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 September 2019 | Permalink

Extracts from Kim Philby’s espionage confession published today for the first time

Kim PhilbyExtensive extracts from the confession of Kim Philby, one of the Cold War’s most prolific double spies, are scheduled to be released today for the first time by Britain’s National Archives. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet OGPU and NKVD, the intelligence services that later became known as the KGB. His espionage activities lasted from 1933 until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War. He was part of a spy ring of upper-class British communists who were known collectively as ‘the Cambridge spies’ because they were recruited by Soviet intelligence during their student days at the University of Cambridge in England.

Britain’s intelligence establishment has never released Philby’s confession, which he made to his friend Nicholas Elliott, an intelligence officer in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in January 1963. The MI6 had sent Elliott to Beirut, where Philby was working as a journalist, to inform him that his espionage role for the Soviets had been established beyond doubt. The MI6 officer had been authorized to offer Philby immunity from prosecution in return for a full confession. Philby accepted the offer and began his confession while in Beirut. But a few days later he vanished and reemerged in Moscow in July of that year. He died there in 1988.

The file that is scheduled to be released today by the National Archives is marked “Secret” and comes from the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s primary counterintelligence agency. It contains details about Philby’s first assignments for Soviet intelligence, which included identifying other communist students at Cambridge who would be susceptible to recruitment. Philby’s list included the names of Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, who later became members of the Cambridge spy ring. Philby states in his confession that he cautioned his Soviet handlers about recruiting Burgess due to “his unreliability and indiscretion”, but his objections were “overruled”, he says.

When asked by Elliott how he could have sided with Soviet intelligence at a time when the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, was slaughtering millions, Philby responds by comparing his service for the KGB to joining the armed forces. Following orders, he says, does not imply that a soldier unquestionably agrees to every action of the government he serves. He goes on to reveal that his Soviet handlers never attempted to win his “total acceptance on the technical level. In short”, Philby continues, “I joined [Soviet intelligence] as one joined the army [… I often] obeyed orders although convinced they were wrongly conceived”.

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

Far-right terrorism a transnational threat backed by state actors, says US official

Slavic UnionThreats posed by white supremacist and other far-right groups are now global in nature and are increasingly backed by state actors, according to a Congressional testimony by an American former counterterrorism official. The testimony was delivered by Joshua Geltzer, former senior director for counterterrorism at the United States National Security Council. Geltzer, who now directs the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, testified on Friday before two subcommittees of the US House of Representatives. The Subcommittee on National Security and the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a joint hearing entitled “Confronting Violent White Supremacy”.

Geltzer said in his testimony [.pdf] that the type of violence perpetrated by white supremacist groups in America cannot any more be characterized as “domestic”, because it is quickly becoming transnational in character. White supremacist violence in America is part of a “global surge” that is “increasingly interlinked and internationalized”. In fact, the attackers themselves internationalize their role in this global movement by referencing white supremacist violence in other parts of the world to justify the use of violence in the US, said Geltzer. He added that the emerging center of this global surge of white supremacist violence appears to be located in Ukraine and Russia. It is there that funds provided by the Russian government are being used to train and educate white supremacist leaders in guerrilla warfare, social media propaganda and various forms of ideological training.

It is therefore imperative, said Geltzer, that the US Intelligence Community begins to examine white supremacist violence within this new transnational context. For instance, it would be helpful if the mission of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was changed to include a concentration in so-called “domestic terrorism”, including white supremacist violence, he argued.

Also on Friday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unveiled its new strategy report. The report views “domestic terrorism and mass attacks” as a growing threat to the United States that is equal in magnitude to the threat posed by Islamist terrorists. The report identifies what it describes as “a disturbing rise in attacks motivated by domestic terrorist ideologies”. One of the most powerful drivers of this new wave of domestic violence is “white supremacy”, according to the DHS.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 September 2019 | Permalink

Spanish court rejects US request to extradite Venezuelan ex-spy chief

Hugo CarvajalSpain has refused to extradite Venezuela’s former spy chief to the United States, where he is wanted for drug-running. The decision is also an intelligence setback for Washington, as the former spy, Hugo Carvajal, is reputed to possess a “treasure trove” of inside information on the Venezuelan government. Carvajal is a retired general, a former diplomat, and 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). 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 February of this year, Carvajal publicly unexpectedly denounced Maduro and sided with his arch-nemesis, Juan Guaido, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Carvajal urged the Venezuelan armed forces to stop siding with Maduro and support the US-backed Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president. In April of this year, Carvajal was arrested in Spain. Soon afterwards, the US Department of Justice filed a formal request for the former spy chief’s extradition to the US. An anonymous US official hinted at the time that Carvajal may have willingly given himself up to Spanish police to express his desire to cooperate with the US.

On Monday, however, Spain’s National Court (the country’s top criminal court) announced that Carvajal would not be extradited to the US. The former spy chief was released minutes after the court made its decision known. A court spokesman told reporters that a formal ruling and justification would be released “later”, but an official document has yet to be published. Carvajal’s lawyers told the court that the US request to have him extradited was politically motivated by the administration of US President Donald Trump. It is possible that the court may have sided with that view. There are also rumors that Carvajal may have agreed to cooperate with Spanish intelligence in return for receiving political asylum in Spain. The US Department of Justice has not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2019 | Permalink