Israeli military says Hamas lured its soldiers using online profiles of women

Cellular telephoneThe Israel Defense Forces told a press conference on Wednesday that hackers belonging to the Palestinian militant group Hamas lured Israeli soldiers by posing as young women online. Wednesday’s press conference was led by an IDF spokesman who requested to remain anonymous, as is often the case with the Israeli military. He told reporters that the hackers used carefully crafted online profiles of real Israeli women, whose personal details and photographs were expropriated from their publicly available social media profiles. The hackers then made contact with members of the IDF and struck conversations with them that in many cases became intimate over time. At various times in the process, the hackers would send the Israeli soldiers photographs of the women, which were copied from the women’s online public profiles.

The anonymous IDF spokesman said that, if the soldiers continued to show interest, they were eventually asked by the hackers posing as women to download an application on their mobile telephones that would allow them to converse using video. Once the soldiers downloaded the application, the ‘women’ would find excuses to delay using the application, or the relationships would abruptly end. But the soldiers would leave the application on their telephones. It would then be used by the Hamas hackers to take control of the camera and microphones on the soldiers’ mobile devices. According to the IDF spokesman, dozens of Israeli soldiers were lured by the Hamas scam. No precise number was given.

Media reports suggest that the Hamas hackers were primarily interested in finding out information about IDF maneuvers around the Gaza Strip, the narrow plot of densely inhabited territory that is controlled by the Palestinian militant group. They were also interested in collecting information about the size and weaponry of the Israeli forces around Gaza. Media representatives were told on Wednesday that the operation “had potential for great damage”. But the IDF claims that the harm to its operations was “minimal”, because it primarily targeted low-ranking soldiers. Consequently, according to the Israeli military, the hackers were not able to acquire highly sensitive information.

In 2009, dozens of members of Sweden’s armed forces serving with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan were found to have been approached via Facebook, and asked to provide details on NATO’s military presence in the country. The Afghan Taliban are believed to have carried out the operation.

Hamas has not commented on the allegations by the IDF.

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

Pakistani man sought out assassination targets for Iran, says Germany

Reinhold RobbeAuthorities in Germany have pressed espionage charges against a Pakistani man who allegedly spied for Iran and even compiled lists of potential targets for assassination. The man, who has been identified in media reports only as “Syed Mustafa H.”, is a 31-year-old worker at the German Aerospace Center in the northern German city of Bremen. He is also reportedly a graduate of the Materials Science and Production Engineering department of the Universität Bremen. According to court documents, he is believed to have been spying for Iranian intelligence since the summer of 2015. It appears that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, had been aware of the man’s espionage activities for at least a year prior to his arrest.

German media, including the newspapers Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit, as well as public broadcasters Taggesschau, WDR and NDR, report that Syed Mustafa H.’s main task was to compile lists of potential assassination targets. These included prominent Jews or German-Israelis living in northern Germany. Among them was Reinhold Robbe, a politician with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who served for a number of years as president of the German-Israeli Congress (DIG). According to reports, the Pakistani spy had compiled detailed maps of Robbe’s daily movements, which outlined his travel routines and the routes he took from his home to the DIG headquarters in Berlin. German officials believe that the type of surveillance that Syed Mustafa H. carried out against Robbe indisputably leads to the conclusion that the politician’s assassination was being planned.

Reports in the German media suggest that Syed Mustafa H.’s work was a small part of a much broader operation by Iranian intelligence. The operation aims to identify prominent individuals throughout Europe, who have Israeli connections. These individuals can be targeted during a future conflagration between Israel and Iran, or in retaliation to an Israeli intelligence operation against Tehran. If Syed Mustafa H. is found guilty of targeting Robbe, it will mark the first proven case of a German political figure who has been targeted for possible assassination by an Iranian intelligence agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 January 2017 | Permalink

British intelligence ‘among the first’ to notify US about Russian hacking

MI6British intelligence agencies gave their United States counterparts an early warning about Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the American presidential election, according to The New York Times. The American newspaper cited “two people familiar with the conclusions” of a US intelligence report, who said that British spies helped “raise the alarm” in Washington about Russian hacking. The Times were referring to a classified US intelligence report that purports to prove that Moscow tried to skew the US election results in favor of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump. The report, parts of which have been released to the public, was shared with Trump in a secret meeting with US intelligence officials last week.

Interestingly, media reports suggest that US intelligence agencies were not aware of the severity of Russian hacking operations until they were notified by allied intelligence agencies. British spy agencies were “among the first” to tell their transatlantic partners that Moscow was engaged in an allegedly large-scale operation against American political parties and institutions. According to The Times, British intelligence reports mentioned Russian hacking operations against the Democratic National Committee in Washington, DC, as well as against senior officials in the Democratic Party. There is no mention in the report about how the British acquired the information. The London-based newspaper The Guardian speculates that British intelligence agencies picked up clues by monitoring Russian government communications (voice intercepts and computer traffic). However, the possibility that the information was acquired through an agent should not be ruled out.

According to the British newspaper, government officials in London were “alarmed” by the close contacts between Moscow and the inner circle of Donald Trump’s campaign. They even contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and passed information about what The Guardian describes as “the depth and nature of contacts” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. There is no information, however, about whether the FBI did anything with that information. Meanwhile, the British government is eager to cultivate good relations with the US president-elect, despite concerns in Whitehall about the close Russian connections of the incoming American administration. London needs Washington’s support as it is disengaging from the European Union, says The Guardian.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 9 January 2017 | Permalink

Indonesia halts joint military training with Australia ‘over espionage fears’

Indonesia AustraliaThe Indonesian military has halted all forms of cooperation with the armed forces of Australia, with some media reports suggesting that the decision was prompted by fears of espionage. Indonesia and Australia have held joined military training sessions for many decades. In recent weeks, members of the Kopassus, the elite special forces of the Indonesian military, were training on a base in Perth, Australia, with their counterparts in the Australian Special Air Service. On Wednesday, however, the Indonesian government said that it was suspending all military cooperation with Canberra, effective immediately.

The unexpected announcement was made by a spokesman of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, who said that “all forms of cooperation with the Australian military, including joint training” would be “temporarily withheld”. When asked about the reasons behind the sudden move, the spokesman said it was “due to multiple reasons”, but refused to give specifics. Later on Wednesday, Indonesian officials said some print material had been found at the training center in Perth, which offended the Indonesian people. But Australian media suggested that the Indonesian government had decided to terminate the joint military training program because it feared that its special forces troops would be recruited as spies by the Australians. Some reports brought up some relevant comments made in November of last year by a senior Indonesian military official, General Gatot Nurmantyo. The general said he had ended military cooperation between troops under his command and their Australian colleagues due to fears that his troops may be compromised by the Australians during training.

But Australia’s Minister of Defense, Marise Payne, rejected that Australian espionage activities were behind Jakarta’s surprise decision. Speaking on ABC Radio on Wednesday, Payne said it was “not the case” that Australian intelligence officers had tried to recruit Indonesian soldiers. That “is something which we would not countenance”, she said. In 2013, Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Canberra and terminated all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia, after it emerged that Australian spies had targeted the communications of the Indonesian President and other senior officials. But tensions subsided in August of 2014, when the two countries signed a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other. The last time Australia and Indonesia halted military cooperation was in 1999, when it was revealed that Kopassus troops had taken part in human rights abuses in East Timor. But the joint training was resumed in 2002, after the Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, many of them Australian tourists.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 January | Permalink

Lebanese president says Israel is behind businessman’s murder in Angola

Michel AounThe president of Lebanon said on Wednesday that Israeli intelligence was behind the killing of a Lebanese businessman who was shot dead by a team of assailants last weekend in southwestern Africa. Amine Bakri, 54, who was from southern Lebanon, had lived and worked in Angola since his mid-20s. He was a well-known businessman in the Angola capital Luanda, where he owned a number of factories that make furniture and various medical equipment. On Sunday, Bakri was driving on an unpaved road in the Angolan capital, when his vehicle was ambushed by a group of three armed assailants. According to media reports, one of the men shot the windshield of Bakri’s car and then proceeded to shoot him in the head at close range. The men fled the scene and Bakri was transported to a local hospital, where he soon died from his wounds.

Initial reports stated that Bakri’s killing resulted from a botched robbery by a local gang of youths. But the murdered man’s nephew and business partner, Mohammad Maatuk, told Lebanese media that the men who ambushed his uncle were not interested in money. Maatuk told the Lebanese news website an-Nahar that the men did not give Bakri an opportunity to offer them money or other valuables. Instead they opened fire almost immediately and fled the scene in a calm, pre-arranged, professional manner, said Maatuk.

On Wednesday, the newly elected President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, opened the weekly meeting of the Lebanese government by announcing that there was “information that the [Israeli intelligence agency] Mossad was behind this operation” to kill Bakri in Lebanon. He added that the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration was “collecting information” in light of new evidence about Israel’s alleged involvement. According to media reports, Aoun did not provide details about the evidence that the Mossad was behind Bakri’s murder. Nor is there any information about the reasons why Israel might want Bakri dead.

Angola is home to a sizeable Lebanese community, whose members concentrate mostly in Luanda. As of this morning there has been no information about whether Amine Bakri was in any way related to Imad Bakri. Bakri, a Shiite Lebanese merchant in Luanda, has been identified in several intelligence reports as a link between the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and UNITA, the Western-supported right-wing rebel group that lost in the Angolan Civil War and today is the country’s second-largest political party. Bakri’s body is expected to arrive in Lebanon today. It will be transported to the Iraqi Shiite city of Najaf, where he will be buried.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2017 | Permalink

Accused Chinese nuclear spy ‘to plead guilty’ in US court this week

China General Nuclear PowerA man at the center of the first case of Chinese nuclear espionage in United States history will be pleading guilty on Friday, according to court documents. This could mean that the alleged spy has decided to give the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) details of Chinese nuclear espionage in the US. The accused man is Szuhsiung ‘Allen’ Ho, a Taiwanese-born engineer and naturalized American citizen. Ho was arrested by the FBI in April on charges of sharing American nuclear secrets with the government of China.

The investigation began when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) contacted the FBI with concerns about Ching Huey, a TVA senior manager. When the FBI questioned the TVA executive, he admitted that Allen Ho had paid him in exchange for information about nuclear power production. He also said that he had traveled to China for that purpose, and that the Chinese government had covered his travel expenses. A few months later, the FBI arrested Ho in Atlanta, Georgia, and charged him with espionage. The FBI also claims that Ho’s US business firm, Energy Technology International, gave secrets to China General Nuclear Power, a Chinese company that supplies nuclear energy technology to the Chinese government. According to Ho’s indictment, he used his technical expertise and business acumen to give Beijing US government information that could help China’s civilian and military nuclear program.

Government prosecutors argued successfully that Ho, who has close family in China, including a son from a former marriage, could flee there if freed. Prosecutors also claim that Ho has access to several million US dollars abroad. For the past months, Ho’s defense denied the espionage accusations against him. But on Tuesday, a newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Ho has been charged, said that the jailed engineer is preparing to plead guilty in court on Friday. Observers believe that this move by Ho’s legal team means that he has decided to cooperate with the FBI. He could therefore provide US authorities with information about Chinese nuclear espionage in the US, and secrets on “the inner workings of China’s nuclear program”, said the newspaper.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 4 January 2017 | Permalink

Year in review: The 10 biggest spy-related stories of 2016, part II

End of Year ReviewSince 2008, when we launched intelNews, it has been our end-of-the-year tradition to take a look back and highlight what we think were the most important intelligence-related stories of the past 12 months. In anticipation of what 2017 may bring in this highly volatile field, we present you with our selection of the top spy stories of 2016. They are listed below in reverse order of significance. This is part two in a two-part series; you can access part one here.

5. Turkey’s intelligence agency wins the 2016 ‘clueless’ award. It seems everyone predicted the July 15 coup in Turkey, except its spy agency. Unlike countless political analysts in Turkey and abroad, who have been warning about a possible coup as early as October 2015, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was caught in the dark. So unprepared was the agency, that it was unable to defend its headquarters in Ankara from an attack on the morning of July 16 by military helicopters. Meanwhile, dozens of Turkish nationals with diplomatic passports have been applying for political asylum in Germany and elsewhere since the coup. How many of those are MİT personnel, one wonders?

4. Panama papers leak shows immense extent of global financial crime. This year saw the unauthorized release of the Panama Papers, 11.5 million leaked documents that represent history’s largest leak. The documents were leaked form the vaults of the secretive Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, and reveal secret information relating to over 200,000 offshore entities. This website opined at the time that the Panama Papers reveal the enormous extent of tax evasion and money laundering on a worldwide scale, which now directly threatens the very survival of the postwar welfare state. National intelligence agencies must begin to view offshore tax evasion as an existential threat to the security of organized government and need to augment their economic role as part of their overall mission to protect and secure law-abiding citizens.

3. Nuclear power plant computers found to be infected with viruses. In April, the computers of Gundremmingen, a nuclear power plant in southern Germany, were found to be infected with computer viruses that are designed to steal files and provide attackers with remote control of the system. The power plant is located in Germany’s southern district of Günzburg, about 75 miles northwest of the city of Munich. It is owned and operated by RWE AG, Germany’s second-largest electricity producer. RWE AG insisted that the malware did not pose a threat to the nuclear power plant’s computer systems, because the facility is not connected to the Internet. But there was no explanation of how the viruses found their way into the nuclear power plant’s systems in the first place.

2. German intelligence accuses Russia of pretending to be ISIS online. In June, a German intelligence report alleged that the so-called ‘Cyber Caliphate’, the online hacker wing of the Islamic State, is in fact a Russian front, ingeniously conceived to permit Moscow to hack Western targets without retaliation. The Cyber Caliphate first appeared in early 2014, purporting to operate as the online wing of ISIS. Now, however, a German intelligence report claims that the Cyber Caliphate is in fact a project of APT28 (also known as ‘Pawn Storm’), a notorious Russian hacking collective with close ties to Russian intelligence. The findings of the German intelligence report echo previous assessments by French and American authorities.

1. Intelligence features heavily in domestic US politics. Many, including this website, saw last week’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats by US President Barack Obama as a move directed “more towoard domestic American politics than foreign policy”. The expulsion aimed to expose Moscow’s alleged campaign of interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections. But another of its goals was to force president-elect Donald Trump, seen widely as a Russo-file, to take sides. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by saying Moscow “reserves the right” to retaliate, but would not do so at this point. The Russian response was unexpected and highly uncharacteristic, an important reminder of the uncharted waters that US politics –and US-Russian relations– have entered in 2016. Still, it is remarkable to see the president-elect of the US effectively side with the Kremlin and not with his own country’s Intelligence Community. If nothing more, 2017 promises to be exceedingly interesting from an intelligence point of view.

This is part two in a two-part series; you can access part I here.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen | Date: 30 December 2016 | Permalink