Russian aid center in Serbia rejects claims that it is an intelligence base

Russian-Serbian Humanitarian CenterStaff at a Russian disaster relief center in southern Serbia have rejected claims by American officials that the facility operates as an espionage arm of Moscow’s foreign policy in the Balkans. The Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center was built in 2012, at a cost of nearly $40 million, following an agreement between Belgrade and Moscow. Its stated mission is to “provide humanitarian emergency response in Serbia and other Balkan states” through the provision of humanitarian assistance to those in need and training local emergency response crews. The center is located in the outskirts of Serbia’s fourth largest city of Niš, not far from the country’s border with Kosovo, a former Serbian province that unilaterally declared independence in 2008. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, a decision that is strongly backed by Russia. It is also close to the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s peacekeeping force stationed in Kosovo, which houses 4,000 international troops, including 600 Americans.

Western officials have raised concerns that the disaster relief center is in reality an intelligence base, from which Russia conducts some of its espionage operations in the Western Balkans. It has also been suggested that the center could operate as a military base in a potential Russian military operation in the former communist state. In June, the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Hoyt Brian Yee, publicly described the compound as “the so-called humanitarian center” in Serbia. Speaking during a US Senate hearing on southeastern European politics, Yee said the Department of State was concerned about the center’s unofficial use. He also expressed reservations about Moscow’s request that the Serbian government grants the center diplomatic immunity, similar to that which covers the activities of the Russian embassy in Belgrade.

Moscow responded to American allegations of espionage by inviting local and international media representatives to the center on Wednesday. The center’s co-director, Viacheslav Vlasenko, told reporters that the center was “very open”, adding that its staff consisted of 15 Serbs and five Russians who were dispatched to Serbia from Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, known as EMERCOM. Vlasenko said that Moscow’s request for diplomatic immunity for the center was solely aimed at reducing the annual taxes that the facility had to pay.

Regular readers of intelNews will recall allegations made last October by authorities in Serbia’s neighboring state of Montenegro —later repeated by Britain— that nationalists from Russia and Serbia were behind a failed plot to kill the country’s then-Prime Minister Milo Dukanović and spark a pro-Russian coup in the country. The allegations surfaced after 20 Serbians and Montenegrins were arrested by police in Montenegro on election day, October 16, as Montenegrins were voting across the Balkan country of 650,000 people. In response to allegations that the coup had been hatched in neighboring Serbia, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said that he would not allow Serbia to “act as the puppet of world powers”, a comment that was clearly directed at Moscow. Russia has vehemently denied the allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2017 | Permalink

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Russia allegedly planning to expel 30 American diplomats in a few weeks

US embassy in MoscowRussia is planning to expel approximately 30 American diplomats from its territory, and seize buildings and property belonging to the United States Department of State, according to Russian media reports. The expulsions will be in response to the expulsion last December of 35 Russian diplomats stationed in the US by the administration of President Barack Obama. In addition to expelling the diplomats, Washington also reclaimed two “recreational facilities” (in reality intelligence outposts) that were used by the Russians in New York and Maryland. The White House said that the expulsions were ordered in response to alleged efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.

Observers, including the present author, were confident at the time that the Kremlin would respond in kind. In a surprising move, however, the Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would not respond to Mr. Obama’s move, in the hope that US-Russian relations would improve with the arrival of the new president in the White House. He added that Russia reserved the right to retaliate at a later time. Moscow’s response was met with praise by the then-president-elect Donald Trump and his transition team.

But Russia’s hopes for warmer relations with the US under Mr. Trump’s leadership do not seem to be materializing. A recent article in the daily Russian newspaper Izvestia reported that the Kremlin thought it was “outrageous” that the Trump White House had not yet returned the two seized compounds to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not rescinded the expulsions of the 35 diplomats and their families. It also claimed that President Putin raised the issue with his US counterpart during their July 7 meeting in the German city of Hamburg. The Moscow-based newspaper quoted unnamed senior Russian officials, who said that Russia was preparing to expel dozens of American diplomats and seize US diplomatic facilities soon.

It appears that Russia will wait until the upcoming meeting between the US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, which has been scheduled for later this month in St. Petersburg. If no US assurances for the return of the compounds and diplomats are made at that time, Moscow will proceed with its tit-for-tat plan. When asked about Izvestia’s article, the Russian Minster of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, replied that the Kremlin was “weighing specific measures” in response to last December’s expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US. However, Mr. Lavrov said he did not want to elaborate at the present time, while also refusing to deny the newspaper’s allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 July 2017 | Permalink

Headstone for unmarked grave of Nazi spy who died undetected in wartime Britain

Jan Willem Ter BraakThe unmarked grave of a Dutch-born Nazi spy, who killed himself after spending several months working undercover in wartime Britain, will be marked with a headstone, 76 years after his death by suicide. Born in 1914 in The Hague, Holland, Englebertus Fukken joined the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands, the Dutch affiliate of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party led by Adolf Hitler, in 1933. In 1940, shortly after the German invasion of Holland, Fukken, who had been trained as a journalist, was recruited by the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s military intelligence. Abwehr’s leadership decided to include Fukken in the ranks of undercover agents sent to Britain in preparation for Operation SEA LION, Germany’s plan to invade Britain.

Between October 31 and November 2, 1940, the 26-year-old Fukken was secretly parachuted over the Buckinghamshire village of Haversham in central England. British authorities found his discarded parachute a few days later, but by that time Fukken had made his way on foot to the city of Cambridge. Fukken’s precise mission remains unknown. Speculation that he was sent to Britain to assassinate the country’s wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, is dismissed as fantastical by most historians. What is known is that Fukken carried with him false Dutch papers identifying him as Jan Willem Ter Braak, and a suitcase that contained a radio transmitter supplied to him by the Abwehr.

In Cambridge, Fukken took lodgings with a local family, posing as a member of the Free Dutch Forces, anti-Nazi Dutch officials who had fled to London after the German invasion of Holland and formed a government in exile. Fukken spent the next four months living undercover in Cambridge, and did not register with the authorities, as required. He traveled on most days to locations in England bombed by the Luftwaffe, inspecting the damage and reporting back to his Abwehr handlers in Hamburg by radio or by mail, using secret writing techniques. But his failure to register with the authorities meant that he had no access to ration cards, which were required to purchase food in wartime Britain. He then attracted the attention of the local authorities, after presenting them with a forged ration card that was detected during inspection by a police officer. Fearing arrest, he quickly moved lodgings, but was unable to solve the problem of access to food. Repeated attempts to get the Abwehr to exfiltrate him failed, and his calls for money and usable ration cards were not facilitated, as the Nazi leadership in Berlin had begun to shelve Operation SEA LION. Read more of this post

French spy who helped bomb Rainbow Warrior tracked down 32 years later

Christine CabonA French spy who infiltrated the environmentalist group Greenpeace and in 1985 helped bomb the organization’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has spoken to the media for the first time. The British-based activist organization had purchased the trawler from the British government in 1977 and used it to carry out maritime research and other operations. In July 1985, the Rainbow Warrior, captained by the American environmental activist Peter Wilcox, was docked at the port of Auckland, New Zealand. It was being prepared to lead a flotilla of vessels to the French Polynesian atoll of Mororoa, in order to try to stop a planned nuclear test by the French military.

But on the night of July 10, 1985, two large explosions nearly split the ship in two, causing it to sink in less than five minutes. One of the Rainbow Warrior’s passengers, the Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira, drowned after he boarded the sinking ship in order to retrieve his cameras and lenses. Greenpeace blamed the government of France for the attack on the ship, but Paris denied any involvement. It later emerged, however, that the blasts had been caused by two plastic-wrapped explosive devices that had been placed on the exterior of the Rainbow Warrior’s engine room and on its propeller blades. The explosive mechanisms had been placed there by two divers working for the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), France’s external intelligence service. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA contractor says Pakistan’s leaders helped him escape murder charges

Raymond Allen DavisA former contractor for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who was released from a Pakistani prison in 2011 despite being implicated in a double murder there, says he was freed with the help of senior Pakistani officials. Raymond Allen Davis was a CIA contractor posted in the US consulate in Pakistan’s Punjabi capital, Lahore, which is also the country’s second-largest city. It has been suggested that, for a while, Davis was the CIA’s acting station chief in Lahore, thus technically the most senior American intelligence officer in Punjab.

On January 27, 2011, while driving in downtown Lahore, Davis opened fire against two men riding on a motorcycle, killing them instantly. Soon after the incident, Davis appears to have contacted the US consulate in Lahore, which rapidly dispatched a consular vehicle to remove him from the scene of the shooting. However, the vehicle was unable to reach Davis, who was surrounded by an angry crowd. Unable to pick up Davis, the car then returned to the consulate after running down and killing a motorcyclist who was unconnected with the earlier incident. Eventually Davis was arrested and charged with double murder and illegal possession of a firearm. The Pakistani government dismissed Washington’s assertion that Davis was an accredited diplomat, and was thus not subject to Pakistan’s legal system because of his diplomatic immunity. With public opinion in Pakistan heavily against Davis, the case sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Islamabad. Unexpectedly, however, Davis was released in March of the same year, after the families of the two men he killed appeared in court and said they forgave him and wanted him to be pardoned. It later emerged that the families of the murdered men had been given a total of $2.4 million as compensation for their deaths.

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German parliament report on NSA spying contains little consensus

Angela MerkelA lengthy parliamentary report on American intelligence activities in Germany was presented last week in Berlin, but was condemned by opposition parties as insufficient and incomplete, prompting calls for a new investigation. The parliamentary probe was initiated in 2013, following a series of revelations by Edward Snowden, a former employee of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency who defected to Russia. Snowden alleged that both agencies spied on Germany, with the NSA going so far as to eavesdrop on the personal telephone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The allegations shocked German public opinion, and resulted in the unprecedented expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin —the most senior US intelligence official in the country. However, the parliamentary probe soon broadened its scope to include subsequent allegations that German intelligence agencies collaborated with the NSA in spying against other Western countries.

Last Wednesday, after three years of work, the parliamentary committee, known officially as the “German Parliamentary Committee Investigating the NSA Spying Scandal”, presented its findings to the Bundestag. They consist of thousands of pages of technical details concerning interception methods and capabilities. However, the final report fails to draw concrete conclusions, and its concluding section does not reflect a consensus among the committee’s members. The section begins by noting that, “unfortunately, despite an initial shared conviction by all parliamentary groups about the need for the investigation, substantial disagreements emerged between the governing and opposition groups, concerning the methodology and goals of the committee’s work”. Read more of this post

Saudi Arabia’s recently deposed crown prince reportedly under house arrest

Prince Mohammed bin SalmanOne of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful men, who until last week was first in line to the throne, is reportedly under house arrest. If true, this development would reveal a deep and growing division within the ruling House of Saud. Until the early hours of June 21, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, was the officially appointed successor to the Saudi ruler, King Salman. In addition to running the country’s feared security services, Prince Nayef was close to Washington, and is a trusted friend of numerous American intelligence officials. But on June 21, King Salman announced radical changes to the line of succession to the throne, stunning the Saudi establishment and international observers alike. The announcement, which came shortly after midnight, completely deposed Prince Nayef from the line of succession.

In Prince Nayef’s place, the King appointed his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, who is now the new crown prince. Prince Salman was virtually unknown until 2015, when his father became monarch. He quickly appointed him to Secretary of Defense in the oil kingdom. Since that time, Prince Salman —the world’s youngest defense minister— has been tasked with overseeing Saudi Arabia’s oil monopoly, and finding ways to diversify the country’s economy. Additionally, he has raised eyebrows at home and abroad, by promoting an aggressive foreign policy in Yemen and Syria. He is also believed to have spearheaded Riyadh’s aggressive foreign-policy maneuvers in relation to Iran and Qatar.

Since the day of the surprise announcement, Prince Nayef has virtually disappeared from public life. It subsequently emerged that he was also fired from his post as Minister of Interior, and replaced by one of his nephews. According to The New York Times, the reason for the prince’s disappearance is that he has been virtually under house arrest. Citing “four current and former American officials” and an unspecified number of “Saudis close to the royal family”, The Times said on Wednesday that Prince Nayef has been “confined to his palace” in the coastal city of Jeddah. The paper alleged that, as soon as he went to his palace in the early hours of Wednesday, the prince found that his trusted security guards had been secretly dismissed and replaced with men who are loyal to Prince Salman.

Sources in the Saudi government, who are close to the king, have dismissed The Times’ report as “baseless and false”. However, no member of Prince Nayef’s inner circle has come forward to dismiss the allegations about his house arrest. If true, the reports would suggest that there is a deep split inside the Saudi royal family and that Prince Nayef, along with members of his immediate family, are being kept in isolation from their supporters.

Meanwhile, there have been no comments from Western governments on Prince Nayef’s surprise dismissal. Regular intelNews readers will recall a leaked German intelligence report from 2015, in which Prince Salman —who is now first in line to the throne— was described as spearheading an “impulsive policy of intervention”. The report, authored by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, warned that Prince Salman’s radical maneuvers were jeopardizing the Kingdom’s relationship with important regional allies and with Washington. Things have changed since then, however, with the ascent of Donald Trump to the White House. The new American president and his senior aides have repeatedly expressed strong support for King Salman and his son.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 June 2017 | Permalink