Turkey arrests four members of alleged French spy ring in Istanbul

French consulate in Istanbul TurkeyFour men have been arrested by Turkish authorities in Istanbul, allegedly for being members of a spy ring operated by an agent who collected information on extremist groups for France’s external spy agency. The arrests were reported on Tuesday by a newspaper with close links to the Turkish government. It is worth noting, however, that the reports have not been confirmed by Turkish officials. If true, the incident points to further deterioration in the relations between the two nations, which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Turkish daily newspaper Sabah said on Tuesday that the leader of the French-handled spy ring is named Metin Özdemir. He is reportedly a Turkish citizen who worked in the security department of the French consulate in Istanbul. According to the paper, Özdemir admitted to Turkish police that he was sent to France where he took an eight-month-long surveillance and counter-surveillance training course. He was then sent to Georgia by France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), where he gathered intelligence for his French handlers. In exchange for his services, the DGSE allegedly gave Özdemir regular cash payments and offered him a job in the French Foreign Legion.

Özdemir eventually returned to Turkey and was allegedly handled by two DGSE officials that he named as “Virginia” and “Sebastian”. He recruited three more Turkish citizens, including two utility workers, who formed a spy ring. The spy ring members were supplied by the DGSE with forged credentials, identifying them as employees of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). According to Sabah, the spy ring supplied the DGSE with information on 120 individuals, most of whom were members of ultra-conservative religious organizations with alleged links to the Islamic State. The spy ring also allegedly spied on the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Turkey’s state-funded religious authority. Recently, however, Özdemir reportedly fell out with his French handlers and approached Turkish authorities, who promptly arrested him and the rest of the members of his spy ring.

The Sabah report comes just days after France filed a formal complaint with NATO, alleging that one of its warships was threatened in the open seas by a Turkish Navy vessel on June 10. According to French officials, the warship Courbet attempted to approach a Turkish Navy ship named Cirkin, which was believed to be smuggling weapons to Libya. The Turkish vessel refused to identify itself to the Courbet, which was inquiring on behalf of the NATO alliance. It also flashed its radar lights at the French ship, which is usually seen as a sign of impending confrontation, while its crew members were seen wearing bullet-proof vests and standing behind the ship’s mounted weapons. Turkey has denied the French allegations, but NATO said it will launch an investigation into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2020 | Permalink

Spy report urges Israel to annex occupied lands now, in case Trump loses election

PNA police West BankA leaked report produced by analysts at Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence urges the government to annex occupied territories in the West Bank as soon as possible, in case Donald Trump loses the upcoming United States presidential elections in November. The report advises the Israeli government that it “should not expect” a widespread outbreak of violence in the streets. It also forecasts that “a wave of diplomatic protests” will gradually give its place to acceptance, as “the international system acclimates itself to annexation”.

The report was leaked to Israel Hayom, a rightwing publication, which is currently Israel’s most widely read newspaper. It discusses the so-called Netanyahu Annexation Plan, which was first unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 10, 2019, just days before Israel’s legislative elections. It proposes the annexation by Israel of several Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, which are viewed as illegal by the United Nations. The plan has been condemned by the United Nations and many Western countries, but has the approval of the White House.

Palestinian groups and several Arab countries have warned Israel that there will be serious consequences if it proceeds with the proposed annexation. But the Intelligence Ministry report, authored at the request of the Intelligence Services Minister Eli Cohen, claims that these warnings should not worry the Israeli government. A possible annexation of the Israeli settlements will cause some demonstrations throughout the Arab World, it says, but it won’t substantially “rouse the Arab street” against Arab governments. This, it claims, “will make it clear to Arab leaders that the Palestinian issue is not a threat” to their political survival.

The report goes further, suggesting that an aggressive move by Israel may bring Arab governments closer to it, once Arab leaders realize that the annexation of Palestinian lands by the Jewish state will not prompt major reactions among their citizens. Additionally, it suggests that the timing for the annexation works in Israel’s favor, as the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has been substantially weakened by its disagreement with the White House. Additionally, it says, Hamas “lacks appetite for another round of fighting” and most Palestinians are “mostly concerned with the troubles of day-to-day-life”. Other countries are mostly preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, and the Arab public outside Palestine has “more pressing concerns at home”, the report opines.

In its concluding section, the report appears to dismiss the conventional thinking that the annexation of the settlements will destroy even the remotest possibility of a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. It report argues that “after a period in which the international system acclimates itself to the annexation”, the Palestinians and their supporters in the region will be compelled “to return to peace talks”, and even seek “solutions and arrangements that aren’t affixed to the 1967 lines and primarily territorial aspects”. In its concluding section, the report suggests that the Israeli government would have more to gain by proceeding with the annexation as soon as possible, rather than waiting, because it is “impossible to know how the US presidential election in November will unfold”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 June 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: A look at the CIA’s half-century-old ‘disease intelligence’ program

CIAThe general discussion about how and when the White House was alerted by its spy agencies about COVID-19, points to the existence of ‘disease intelligence’ programs in the United States Intelligence Community. Relatively little is known about the history and current state of these programs. Last weekend, however, ABC News’ investigative correspondent Lee Ferran brought to light an article from 48 years ago in a declassified intelligence publication that sheds light on the roots of the Central Intelligence Agency’s disease intelligence effort.

The article was published in the declassified edition of Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s in-house research publication. Written by Warren F. Carey and Myles Maxfield, the article appeared [.pdf] in the spring 1972 issue of the journal, and is titled “Intelligence Implications of Disease”. It discusses the 1966 outbreak of meningitis in China’s Guangdong Province, which prompted the CIA to begin tracking diseases in a systematic way. The outbreak first appeared in the city that is today known as Guangzhou, and within weeks it had resulted in a military takeover of the Chinese healthcare system. The latter collapsed in places, and prompted the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (known today as the Directorate of Science and Technology) to begin collecting data in order to assess the political fallout of the disease.

The article states that the CIA cryptonym for the disease was Project IMPACT. Its scope was limited, but it expanded 1968, when the world health community began to issue alerts about the so-called Hong Kong flu. Known officially as Hong Kong/A2/68, the virus spread around the world in a few months, and is believed to have killed between 1 and 4 million people, including around 100,000 Americans. At that time, according to the article in Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s Project IMPACT “went global”, and was combined with BLACKFLAG, an ongoing effort by the Agency to “computerize disease information and derive trends, cycles and predictions” on a global scale.

Project BLACKFLAG tracked the spread of the disease in the Soviet Union and in North Vietnam, and issued regular analyses of the political ramification of the epidemic. That was not easy, say the authors, given the fact that most nations of the communist bloc tried to conceal information about it. The CIA was also able to issue warnings to its teams of operatives abroad, instructing them to shield themselves from the flu as it spread around East Asia and, eventually, the world.

According the authors, the CIA’s early disease intelligence projects were able to demonstrate that data aggregation was critical in helping monitor and forecast outbreaks. It also showed that these such forecasts could have “an initiating and vital role” in political, military and economic intelligence. Today, says Ferran, the CIA’s disease intelligence program has the same twofold mission it had when it was first conceived: first, to collect intelligence about the actual extent of the spread of diseases abroad —which may differ from the official information provided by foreign governments; and second, to try to forecast the consequences of these trends for American interests in the regions impacted by an ongoing epidemic or pandemic.

► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #907

India External Affairs MinistryPakistan releases two Indian diplomats. Pakistan has released two employees of rival India’s embassy in Islamabad after briefly detaining them in connection with a hit-and-run road accident in the capital. A city police report noted the Indian officials were taken into custody on Monday morning after their “reckless driving” injured a pedestrian. The Indian External Affairs Ministry on Monday summoned the deputy chief of the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi to protest the detention of its officials and demanded their immediate release. Pakistani authorities familiar with the incident argued the detainees were released to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad within hours because they held diplomatic immunity.

As US intelligence community returns to work, employees confront new anxieties. More US federal employees and contractors in the intelligence community have been gradually returning to their office spaces in the past two weeks. But for IC leadership, “reopening” isn’t only about rearranging office spaces and cobbling together cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, it’s also about easing the concerns of their employees and contractors who are uneasy or nervous to return to the physical workplace.

Belgian police officer convicted of spying for terrorist network. A police officer in Brussels has been jailed for four years after prosecutors found he had acted as an informant for the brother of a man seen as the mastermind of the Brussels and Paris attacks. The 53-year-old officer with the Brussels North police zone was sentenced to 50 months imprisonment, his lawyers confirmed on Friday.

News you may have missed #906

Gustavo ArribasTurkish court jails US consulate employee for terrorism offenses. A Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul has been sentenced to almost nine years in prison, allegedly for aiding a terrorist organisation. Metin Topuz was arrested in 2017 and accused of having links to an “armed terror group” that Turkey blames for a failed coup the previous year. Topuz is reported to have spent decades working as a translator and fixer for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul. He denies the allegations. The US has said there is “no credible evidence” to support his conviction.

India arrests LeT female spy ring. India’s National Investigation Agency has busted an alleged female spy racket in the country and taken a 22-year-old Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) handler into 10-day custody. The female spy was allegedly in touch with many handlers in Pakistan, including 26/11 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed. Sources also claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was honey-trapping Indian officials through the female spy, in order to gain sensitive information.

Illegal espionage claims put former Argentine president in spotlight. Argentina’s former president, Mauricio Macri, has found himself back in the national spotlight after the emergence of extraordinary claims alleging the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) –-headed at the time by his close ally Gustavo Arribas (pictured) during the former president’s 2015-2019 administration-– carried out illegal espionage more than 500 journalists, academics, politicians and business leaders. Prior to heading the federal intelligence agency, Arribas had no prior public service, having worked as a notary and a football agent. He is a close personal friend of Macri.

NSA director claims Bolton’s book would cause ‘irreparable damage’ to US secrets

Paul NakasoneThe director of America’s largest spy agency claims in a signed affidavit that a forthcoming book by John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, would critically compromise intelligence secrets if published. Bolton served in that capacity from April 2018 until September 2019. His memoir of his time as President Trump’s national security advisor, titled The Room Where It Happened, is scheduled for publication on Tuesday.

But the White House has sued Bolton, claiming that he did not follow the requirements of his pre-publication screening process by government officials. President Trump’s legal team also claims that, if published, the book would damage critical areas of United States national security.

On Wednesday, the White House’s stance on the book was affirmed by the director of the National Security Agency, General Paul M. Nakasone. In a signed affidavit filed in US District Court in Washington, Gen. Nakasone said he had been asked by the legal adviser of the National Security Council to review “a limited portion” of the draft manuscript of Bolton’s book. He added that he had identified “classified information” in that portion of the manuscript, some of which was classified at the Top Secret/Sensitive and Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) level.

According to Gen. Nakasone’s affidavit, “compromise of this information could result in the permanent loss of a valuable SIGINT source and cause irreparable damage to the US SIGINT system”. SIGINT refers to the gathering of intelligence by intercepting communications signals in the form of information exchanged orally between people or mediated via electronic means.

Gen. Nakasone goes on to state that the unauthorized disclosure of the information contained in Bolton’s book could “reasonably […] be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage” to US national security. This includes causing “considerable difficulties in US and allied relations with specific nations”. The NSA director does not detail the precise damage that Bolton’s revelations could cause to US national security, stating only that the information would compromise an intelligence-collection “capability” that “significant manpower and monetary investments have been and continue to be made to enable and maintain”.

Alongside Gen. Nakasone’s affidavit, the Department of Justice submitted an emergency filing on Wednesday, seeking to block the publication of Bolton’s book on national security grounds. Another affidavit was filed on Wednesday by John Ratcliffe, President Trump’s newly appointed Director of National Intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 June 2020 | Permalink

Cybersecurity researchers uncover first-ever use of LinkedIn to spread malware

LinkedInCybersecurity researchers have uncovered what is believed to be the first-ever case of hackers using LinkedIn to infect the computers of targeted users with viruses, according to a new report. The hackers appear to have been sponsored by government and to have targeted employees of carefully selected military contractors in central Europe, according to sources.

The existence of the alleged cyberespionage operation was revealed on Wednesday by researchers at ESET, a cybersecurity firm based in Bratislava, Slovakia, which is known for its firewall and anti-virus products. The researchers said that the operation was carried out in 2019 by hackers who impersonated employees of General Dynamics and Collins Aerospace, two leading global suppliers of aerospace and defense hardware.

ESET researchers said that the hackers made use of the private messaging feature embedded in LinkedIn to reach out to their targets. After making initial contact with their intended victims, the hackers allegedly offered their targets lucrative job offers and used the LinkedIn private messenger service to send them documents that were infected with malware. In many cases, the targets opened the documents and infected their computers in the process.

The use of the LinkedIn social media platform by hackers to make contact with their unsuspecting victims is hardly new. In 2017, German intelligence officials issued a public warning about what they said were thousands of fake LinkedIn profiles created by Chinese spies to gather information about Western targets. Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said it had identified 10,000 German citizens who had been contacted by Chinese spy-run fake profiles on LinkedIn in a period of just nine months. And in 2018, a report by France’s two main intelligence agencies, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) and the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), warned of an “unprecedented threat” to security after nearly 4,000 leading French civil servants, scientists and senior executives who were found to have been accosted by Chinese spies on LinkedIn.

Tricking a target into accessing a virus-infected document file is not a new method either. However, according to the researchers at ESET, this was the first case where LinkedIn was used to actually deliver the malware to the victims. As for the identity of the hackers, there appears to be no concluding information. However, ESET said the attacks appeared to have some connections to Lazarus, a group of hackers with North Korean links. Lazarus has been linked to the 2014 Sony Pictures hack and the 2016 Central Bank of Bangladesh cyber heist, which was an attempt to defraud the bank of $1 billion.

LinkedIn told the Reuters news agency that it had identified and terminated the user accounts behind the alleged cyberespionage campaign. Citing client confidentiality, ESET said it could not reveal information about the victims of the attacks. Meanwhile, General Dynamics and Raytheon Technologies, which owns Collins Aerospace, have not commented on this report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 June 2020 | Permalink

Lax security behind greatest data loss in CIA’s history, internal report concludes

WikiLeaksComplacency and substandard security by the United States Central Intelligence Agency were behind the Vault 7 leak of 2017, which ranks as the greatest data loss in the agency’s history, according to an internal report. The Vault 7 data loss was particularly shocking, given that the CIA should have taken precautions following numerous leaks of classified government information in years prior to 2017, according to the report.

The Vault 7 data leak occurred in the first half of 2017, when the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks began publishing a series of technical documents belonging to the CIA. Once all documents had been uploaded to the WikiLeaks website, they amounted to 34 terabytes of information, which is equivalent to 2.2 billion pages of text. The information contained in the Vault 7 leak is believed to constitute the biggest leak of classified data in the history of the CIA.

The Vault 7 documents reveal the capabilities and operational details of some of the CIA’s cyber espionage arsenal. They detail nearly 100 different software tools that the agency developed and used between 2013 and 2016, in order to compromise targeted computers, computer servers, smartphones, cars, televisions, internet browsers, operating systems, etc. In 2017 the US government accused Joshua Adam Schulte, a former CIA software engineer, of giving the Vault 7 data to WikiLeaks. Schulte’s trial by jury was inconclusive, and a re-trial is believed to be in the works.

Now an internal report into the Vault 7 disclosure has been made public. The report was compiled by the CIA WikiLeaks Task Force, which the agency set up with the two-fold mission of assessing the damage from the leak and recommending security procedures designed to prevent similar leaks from occurring in the future. A heavily redacted copy of the report has been made available [.pdf] by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) who is a member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. An analysis of the report was published on Tuesday by The Washington Post.

The report recognizes that insider threats —a data leak perpetrated on purpose by a conscious and determined employee, or a group of employees— are especially difficult to stop. It adds, however, that the Vault 7 leak was made easier by “a culture of shadow IT” in which the CIA’s various units developed distinct IT security practices and their own widely different systems of safeguarding data. Many cyber units prioritized creative, out-of-the-box thinking, in order to develop cutting-edge cyber-tools. But they spent hardly any time thinking of ways to safeguard the secrecy of their projects, and failed to develop even basic counterintelligence standards —for instance keeping a log of which of their members had access to specific parts of the data— according to the report.

Such standards should have been prioritized, the report adds, given the numerous high-profile leaks that rocked the Intelligence Community in the years prior to the Vault 7 disclosure. It mentions the examples of Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, who defected to Russia, as well as Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for the US Army, who gave government secrets to WikiLeaks. Manning spent time in prison before being pardoned by President Barack Obama. Snowden remains in hiding in Russia.

The CIA has not commented on the release of the internal Vault 7 report. An agency spokesman, Timothy Barrett, told The New York Times that the CIA was committed to incorporating “best-in-class technologies to keep ahead of and defend against ever-evolving threats”. In a letter accompanying the release of the report, Senator Wyden warned that “the lax cybersecurity practices documented in the CIA’s WikiLeaks task force report do not appear limited to just one part of the intelligence community”.

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

Russia accuses its top Arctic scientist of giving China submarine secrets

Valery MitkoRussian prosecutors have accused one of the country’s most respected hydroacoustics specialists, and globally recognized expert on the Arctic region, of spying for Chinese intelligence. This development highlights the competitive relationship between the two neighboring countries, who in recent years have tended to work together against what they perceive as a common threat coming from the United States.

The scientist in question is Dr. Valery Mitko, a St. Petersburgh-based hydroacoustics researcher, who is also president of Russia’s Arctic Academy of Sciences. Investigators with the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, are accusing Dr. Mitko, 78, of having provided classified documents to Chinese intelligence.

The FSB first detained Dr. Mitko in February, when he returned from a stint as a visiting professor at Dalian Maritime University. Located in China’s northeastern Liaoning province, near the North Korean border, Dalian Maritime University is considered China’s foremost higher-education institution on maritime subjects, with many of its research projects funded directly by the Chinese Ministry of Transport. According to sources, Dr. Mitko gave a series of lectures at Dalian University in early 2018.

Upon arriving back to Russia from China, Dr. Mitko was detained and placed under house arrest. The FSB now claims that the Russian scientist gave the Chinese classified information relating to the underwater detection of submarines. The agency alleges that Dr. Mitko received payments in return for sharing this information with Chinese spies. However, Dr. Mitko’s lawyers argue that the information he shared with the Chinese “came from open sources”, and that he never knowingly came in contact with Chinese intelligence operatives.

There have been several arrests of Russian academics in recent years, who have been accused by the FSB of providing China with classified information. Last week saw the release from prison of Vladimir Lapygin, a 79-year-old avionics researchers, who was jailed in 2016 for allegedly giving China classified information on Russian hypersonic aircraft designs. In 2018, Russian authorities charged Viktor Kudryavtsev, a researcher at a Russian institute specializing in rocket- and spacecraft design, with passing secret information on spacecraft to researchers at the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium. The FSB claimed that some of that information ended up in Chinese hands.

If convicted of the crime of espionage against the Russian state, Dr. Mitko faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years. He denies the charges against him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 June 2020 | Permalink

Researchers claim discovery of remote eavesdropping method using light bulbs

Black HatResearchers at a university in Israel claim to have discovered a new low-tech eavesdropping technique, which relies on sound vibrations on the glass surface of light bulbs and requires equipment costing less than $1,000. The researchers claim that the technique, which they call “lamphone”, enables eavesdroppers to intercept, in real time, audible conversations from a room located hundreds of feet away, simply by recording the vibrations that sounds create on the glass surface of a common light bulb present in the room.

The announcement was made by Ben Nassi, Yaron Pirutin and Boris Zadov, who work at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Weizmann Institute of Science, near Tel Aviv. The three researchers said they used a low-cost telescope, which they placed nearly 100 feet from a target room containing a commercially available standard light bulb. They then placed each telescope behind a $400 electro-optical sensor. The goal of the contraption was to measure the minuscule changes in light output from the bulb, which are caused by sound vibrations off the bulb’s surface.

The electrical signals captured by the telescopes were digitized using commercially available analog-to-digital converters, before being transferred onto a laptop. The researchers then used commercially available software to filter out noise, and were gradually able to reconstruct clearly audible recordings of the sounds inside the target room. They claim that the resulting recording is clearly audible and can even be transcribed using Google speech-to-text software.

The three Israeli researchers say they now plan to present their findings at the Black Hat security conference in August, which will be held virtually due to health concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking to Wired magazine last weekend, they said that their goal is “not to enable spies or law enforcement, but to make clear to those on both sides of surveillance what’s possible”. “We’re not in the game of providing tools”, they said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #905

Twitter IAFrench forces kill al-Qaeda head and capture ISIS leader in Mali. In the past few days, the French military successfully conducted two key operations in the Sahel, killing the emir of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), Abdelmalek Droukdal, and capturing Mohamed el Mrabat, a leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group. The US military assisted the French special operations forces by providing intelligence that helped locate the target.

Isis operations increase in Iraq as coalition withdraws. The Islamic State staged at least 566 attacks in Iraq in the first three months of the year and 1,669 during 2019, a 13 per cent increase from the previous year, according to security analysts who track the group’s activities. The jihadists have exploited a partial drawdown of the international anti-Isis coalition, analysts said, while tensions between the US and Iran, disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and political paralysis in Baghdad, have also combined to provide an opportunity for the insurgents to regroup.

Twitter removes more than 170,000 pro-China accounts. Twitter has removed more than 170,000 accounts it says were tied to an operation to spread pro-China messages. Some of those posts were about the coronavirus outbreak, the social media platform has announced. The firm said the Chinese network, which was based in the People’s Republic of China, had links to an earlier state-backed operation it broke up alongside Facebook and YouTube last year.

News you may have missed #904

Al-Qaeda AfghanistanUN report says Afghan Taliban still maintain ties with al-Qaida. The Taliban in Afghanistan still maintain close ties with the al-Qaida terror network, despite signing a peace deal with the United States in which they committed to fight militant groups, a UN report said. The U.N. committee behind the report said several significant al-Qaida figures were killed over the past months but a number of prominent leaders of the group, once led by Osama bin Laden, remain in Afghanistan. The report said they maintain links with the feared Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban, and still play a significant role in Taliban operations.

Britain’s SIGINT agency sees workload spike amid COVID-19 vaccine hunt. Britain is one of the leading countries developing a COVID-19 vaccine with Oxford University and Imperial College London at the forefront, along with Sinovac in China. Whoever develops it first will reap billions from global sales, making research information highly valuable. This is having a major impact on the workload of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), its director, Jeremy Fleming, said last week.

Indian IT firm spied on politicians and Investors around the world. New Delhi-based BellTroX InfoTech offered its hacking services to help clients spy on more than 10,000 email accounts over a period of seven years. During that time, the firm targeted government officials in Europe, gambling tycoons in the Bahamas, and well-known investors in the United States including private equity giant KKR and short seller Muddy Waters, according to three former employees, outside researchers, and a trail of online evidence.

Austrian court finds unnamed retired Army colonel guilty of spying for Russia

Igor Egorovich ZaytsevA court in Austria has found a retired Army colonel guilty of providing classified military information to Russia, following a closed-door trial. Interestingly, the alleged spy’s name has not been made public. Some Austrian media have been referring to him as “Martin M.”.

The retired colonel was arrested in November of 2018, reportedly after having recently retired following a long military career. Austria’s Defense Ministry said at the time that the arrest came after a tip given to the Austrian government by an unnamed European intelligence agency from a “friendly country”. Martin M. reportedly served in peacekeeping missions in the Golan Heights and Cyprus before being posted at one of the Austrian Armed Forces’ two headquarters, located in the western city of Salzburg. It was around that time, say prosecutors, that the unnamed man began spying for Russia. Starting in 1992, he was in regular contact with his Russian handler, who was known to him only as “Yuri”.

“Yuri” was later identified by Austrian authorities as Igor Egorovich Zaytsev, who is allegedly an intelligence officer for the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. Known as GRU, the organization is Russia’s primary military-intelligence agency. The Austrian government has issued an international arrest warrant for a Zaytsev.

Zaytsev reportedly trained Martin M. in the use of “sophisticated equipment”, according to the Austrian prosecutor, which he used to communicate classified information to Moscow. He is thought to have given Russia information on a range of weapons systems used by the Austrian Army and Air Force, as well as the personal details of high-ranking officers in the Austrian Armed Forces. Austrian media initially reported that the alleged spy was paid nearly $350,000 for his services to Moscow.

During his trial, Martin M. reportedly admitted that he had received payments form the Russians to provide information. But he claimed that the information he gave them was already publicly available. His legal team compared his role to that of a “foreign correspondent” for a news service. The court, however, did not accept that argument and on Tuesday sentenced Martin M. to three years in prison.

Soon after his sentencing, the defendant was released on parole, after the court counted the 18 months he has served behind bars since his arrest as part of his prison sentence. His legal team said they plan to appeal the sentence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 May 2020 | Permalink

European neo-Nazis attended paramilitary training camps in Russia, article claims

UkraineMembers of neo-Nazi groups in Germany attended paramilitary training camps in Russia, which were organized by a group that the United States has designated a global terrorist organization, but which the Russian government has not banned. If true, these claims add further credence to the view that Russian far-right groups are becoming increasingly central in the worldwide network of racially motivated radical organizations.

The report was published on Friday by the German magazine Focus, which cited German “intelligence sources”. It said that the training camp was known in far-right circles as “Camp Partizan”, and was organized by a group calling itself the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM). As intelNews has reported previously, most RIM members are believed to be based in St. Petersburg, which is also the base of the group’s armed wing, the Imperial Legion. Most active members of the Imperial Legion are believed to have served in the Russian military.

Although it has been in existence since the early 2000s, the RIM drew considerable attention to its political platform after 2014, when it began to train groups of volunteers who then joined Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. In a surprising move last April, the United States added the RIM to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) groups. That designation marked the first time in history that the US Department of State formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization. The Department of State said at the time that the RIM had “provided paramilitary-style training to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe”. The statement cited two members of the far-right Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR), who were later convicted of carrying out a string of bombings targeting immigrants in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

Now, according to Focus, there is evidence that among Camp Partizan trainees were German rightwing extremists, who were members of two banned groups, the National Democratic Party and The Third Path. Members of these groups traveled to the outskirts of St. Petersburg, where they were allegedly trained in combat and were taught how to use makeshift weapons and explosives. Members of far-right groups from Scandinavia were also trained in the camp, and were able to use their skills as members of pro-Russian separatist militias in eastern Ukraine, according to Focus. The magazine said that the RIM’s armed wing , the aforementioned Imperial Legion, has a group of fighters in Ukraine.

Vice News reported last week that no Americans are believed to have received training in Camp Partizan. However, the website claimed that one of the organizers of the infamous 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is believed to have developed ties with the group, and even welcomed a RIM delegation to the US in 2017. Vice News spoke to intelligence experts from the Soufan Group who said that the RIM is emerging as “a critical node in the transnational white supremacy extremist movement” and that the Russian group is “going beyond networking and ideology, and is actually providing paramilitary training”.

The RIM’s relationship with the Kremlin can be described as complicated, and at times adversarial. The organization is openly critical of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which it accuses of being too liberal and too lenient on non-white immigration. However, the government in Moscow did not prevent —some argue it even facilitated— the group’s role in training Russian volunteers to join separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. The Russian government has criticized RIM views as extremist, and has at times arrested RIM members. However, it has not banned the group as a whole.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 June 2020 | Permalink

Russia responds angrily to Czech expulsions of Russian diplomats in poison probe

Andrei KonchakovMoscow has reacted angrily to the Czech government’s decision to expel two Russian diplomats from the country, in response to allegations that the Kremlin plotted to assassinate three outspoken Czech politicians using a deadly poison. Russian officials pledged to respond in kind to Prague’s “indecent and unworthy deed”.

In April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in Prague. The magazine said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

A few weeks later, the Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believed Konchakov was a actually an intelligence officer for Russia.

Now the Czech government has officially declared Konchakov and one of his colleagues at the Center for Science and Culture persona non grata (unwanted persons) and has ordered their expulsion from the country. In a statement issued on Friday, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the two diplomats of “trying to harm the relations of the two countries”. At a news conference in Prague, Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek told reporters that Prague had “made efforts to settle the situation discreetly and diplomatically”. However, “Russia’s approach gives us no choice but to expel the diplomats”, said Petricek.

Speaking later that day, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, dismissed Prague’s allegations as “absurd”. The head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, called the expulsions “a very vile and mean provocation by the Czech authorities” and vowed that “retaliatory measures will be taken”. In a press statement issued in response to the expulsions, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Czech authorities had “seriously damaged” bilateral relations between the two countries “without any basis”. The statement went on to state that “Prague’s actions will not only receive an adequate response, but will also be taken into account when forming the Russian policy on bilateral relations with the Czech Republic”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 June 2020 | Permalink