Czechs ask EU and NATO to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity against Moscow

Jan HamacekCZECH GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS SAID they would welcome the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, in support of Prague’s ongoing diplomatic spat with Moscow. The Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats last weekend, in order to protest against an explosion at a remote munition depot in the east of the country, which the government claims was part of a Russian intelligence operation.

As intelNews reported on Monday, the explosion occurred in October of 2014. It killed two people and destroyed a munitions storage facility belonging to the Military Technical Institute of the Czech Ministry of Defense. Although the blast was initially classified as an accident, Czech investigators have recently come to the conclusion that it was in fact caused by Unit 29155, a Russian elite spy outfit. Little is known about Unit 29155, which is believed to operate under the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU.

The Kremlin responded to the expulsions of its diplomats by ordering 20 Czech diplomats to leave Russia, and condemning Prague’s move as an “unprecedented” and “a hostile act” that was designed “to please the United States”. Meanwhile the Czech Republic’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Hamacek (pictured), stated on Tuesday that Prague “would welcome” if its allies in the EU and NATO “expelled officers of Russian special services” in the coming days, in an act of solidarity with the efforts of his office.

Following consultations with Hamacek, the office of the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said that it stood in “full support and solidarity” with the Czech Republic. No EU or NATO country has so far announced that it plans to expel Russian diplomats in response to Prague’s request. According to Czech media, discussions on the matter between Hamacek and several of his counterparts in the EU’s so-called Visegrad Group —consisting of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia— are ongoing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 April 2021 | Permalink

Russia expels Czech diplomats after Prague links Kremlin to munitions depot explosion

Vrbětice Czech Republic ammunition depot explosions

RUSSIA AND THE CZECH Republic ordered expulsions of each other’s diplomats over the weekend, after authorities in Prague said the Kremlin was behind a mystery explosion that leveled a munitions depot. The explosion took place on October 16, 2014, in a remote forest area near the village of Vlachovice, which is situated 171 miles southeast of the Czech capital, Prague.

The storage depot belonged to the Military Technical Institute of the Czech Ministry of Defense, and it was managed by a contractor, Imex Group. The blast killed two security guards and forced the evacuation of several communities located nearby. It was assumed to have been the result of an accident, though investigators were unable to determine the cause of the explosion.

On Saturday, Czech authorities announced that the blast was the work of Unit 29155, a Russian elite spy outfit, whose goal is to subvert European political and economic systems and processes. As intelNews has reported in the past, Unit 29155 operates under the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. It has allegedly been in existence since at least 2009. According to Czech investigators, two members of Unit 29155 visited the munitions depot days prior to the explosion. They used forged passports from Tajikistan and Moldova, and claimed to be members of the National Guard of Tajikistan that were scheduled for an inspection. Based on their passport photographs, the two men, who used the cover names Ruslan Tabarov and Nicolaj Popa, appear to be the same men who tried to kill GRU defector Sergei Skripal in England in 2018.

The reasons why the Russians allegedly decided to blow up the munitions depot are unclear. It is speculated that some of the weapons in the depot were intended to be delivered to Ukraine on behalf of Bulgarian weapons dealer Emilian Gebrev. In 2015 Gebrev was hospitalized for several days for signs of poisoning, along with his son and one of his company’s executives. They eventually made a full recovery, but have since alleged that they were targeted by Moscow, because Gebrev’s firm sells weapons to adversaries of the Kremlin, including the government of Ukraine.

On Saturday, the Czech government gave 18 Russian diplomats, which its claims are intelligence officers, 48 hours to leave the country. It also said it would provide detailed information about its probe into the blast to European Union ministers and representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But Moscow called the allegations “unfounded and absurd” and condemned the expulsions of its diplomats, describing them as “unprecedented” and “a hostile act” that was designed “to please the United States”. On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that 20 diplomats of the Czech Republic would be expelled from Russian in retaliation to the expulsion of its diplomats by its former Cold War ally.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2021 | Permalink

US Capitol Police ignored warnings prior to January 6, lacked adequate training

US Capitol

THE POLICE FORCE OF the United States Capitol did not take into account warnings ahead of the January 6, 2021, attack on Congress, and lacked adequate training to respond to it, according to its own inspector general. These findings are presented in a 104-page report that was given to Congress on Thursday, a day after it was leaked to NBC News.

The report’s lead author is Michael A. Bolton, who serves as the inspector general of the US Capitol Police. He presented his findings on Thursday before the Committee on House Administration, which deals with the general administration of the United States House of Representatives, including matters relating to employment, safety and appropriation.

According to Bolton’s report, Capitol Police did not act on intelligence reports that gave prior warning about the propensity for violence by supporters of the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement that formed around Donald Trump in late 2020. One intelligence warning, which is quoted in the inspector general’s report, stated that the Stop the Steal movement was attracting “white supremacists, militia members and others who actively promote violence [and] may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike”.

Another intelligence report, issued on January 3, warned Capitol Police that Trump’s supporters had concrete plans to descend on the Capitol and were “actively promoting violence” with “Congress itself [as] the target”. Yet another intelligence report, issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, notified Capitol Police that maps of the Capitol Complex underground tunnel system were being circulated on online message boards frequented by Trump supporters.

The report concludes that, by the time the attack began to unfold on the afternoon of January 6, it was too late for Capitol Police force to stop it, because its personnel “lacked policies and procedures” that were needed to do so. The force was thus “severely unprepared” to deal with the mass insurrection that led to several deaths and many more injuries, the inspector general report concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 April 2021 | Permalink

High-security trial of neo-Nazi group that wanted to spark civil war begins in Germany

AMIDST EXTREMELY TIGHT SECURITY, the trial of 12 members and supporters of a secretive neo-Nazi group that planned to destabilize society and spark a nationwide civil war has begun in the German city of Stuttgart. According to the indictment, the goal of the group, which calls itself “Gruppe S”, was to “shake and ultimately topple the state and social order” in Germany, in order to “spark a civil conflict”.

In accordance with German law, the accused have been identified in the media by their first names and last name initials only. All are German citizens, between the ages 32 and 61. It is worth noting that one of them is a police officer in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He is accused of supporting the group by offering €5,000 (nearly $6,000) for them to purchase weaponry in the illicit market. Another member of the group, who has not been arrested and remains at large, is being tried in absentia.

According to authorities, Gruppe S members had around 30 firearms in their possession, which they were using to train in preparation for war. All firearms were reportedly unlicensed. Shortly prior to their arrest in February of last year, Gruppe S members were reportedly preparing to purchase a Kalashnikov assault rifle and at least one Uzi submachine gun, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades.

It is believed that the investigation that led to the arrest of Gruppe S members begun after an informant came forward and alerted the authorities. This person is now believed to be the government’s chief witness, and is living under police protection. The trial is being conducted inside the Stammheim super-maximum security prison complex in Stuttgart, which is the same prison that housed the leading members of the Red Army Faction urban guerrilla group in the 1970s. The Gruppe S trial is scheduled to conclude in August.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 April 2021 | Permalink

Foreign espionage at highest level since the Cold War, says Canada’s spy agency

CSIS Canada

CANADA’S PRIMARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said in a new report this week that foreign espionage activities on Canadian soil are at their highest level since the end of the Cold War. In its unclassified Public Report for the year 2020, published on Monday, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said that espionage threats against Canadian interests grew during 2020, but also accelerated in force and evolved in character.

Many of the changed characteristics of foreign espionage against Canadian targets over the past year related to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic. Specifically, the large number of people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic prompted foreign threat actors to take advantage of telework environments. These actors “sought to exploit the social and economic conditions created by the pandemic” in order to collect intelligence, according to the CSIS report.

The report singled out China and Russia as two of the most aggressive espionage actors against Canadian interests. What is more, these two countries carried out a growing portion of their espionage operations through “nontraditional collectors”, namely individuals or entities who are not officially connected with their sponsoring governments. These can be academic researchers or private sector employees, who are tasked by their governments to collect sensitive military, political and economic information in and about Canada.

Lastly, the CSIS report points to the intensification of foreign intelligence operations against expatriate communities in Canada. These communities, who often voice criticism of the state in their country of origin, are targeted by that country’s intelligence services with threats and intimidation. In other cases, adversarial intelligence services will try to infiltrate these communications in order to collect intelligence on dissidents and other outspoken individuals. Such activities “constitute a threat to Canada’s sovereignty and to the safety of Canadians”, the CSIS report concludes.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 April 2021 | Permalink

US political operative convicted for illegal lobbying has CIA links, newspaper claims

Imaad Zuberi

A HIGH-FLYING AMERICAN political operative, who was convicted earlier this year for operating as an unregistered foreign agent, violating campaign-finance laws and large-scale tax-evasion, may have been an informant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, according to a new report. In February of this year, a court in the US state of Virginia sentenced Imaad Zuberi, a 50-year-old Pakistani-born entrepreneur, to 12 years in prison, for —among other things— lobbying US politicians on behalf of foreign governments, giving illegal financial donations to both American political parties, hiding sources of income from the Internal Revenue Service, and obstructing justice. In addition to his long prison sentence, he is required to pay the US government nearly $18 million in back taxes and fines.

Prior to his conviction, Zuberi was mostly known as a high-level political fundraiser and donor, who had contributed millions to the election campaigns of both Democratic and Republican politicians, including those of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. After he was arrested and criminally charged in October of 2019, Zuberi quickly confessed to working as a foreign agent and hiding his lobbying activities from the US government. Among his clients were, according to the Associated Press, the governments of Sri Lanka and Turkey, as well as eastern European oligarchs with alleged ties to the Kremlin. According to government prosecutors, Zuberi would receive money from foreign government officials and tycoons in order to introduce them to influential American political figures.

In March of this year, Zuberi’s links to the CIA were discussed in a detailed account of his case by SpyTalk‘s veteran intelligence editor Jeff Stein. After reviewing “confidential case information” and speaking to intelligence insiders, Stein concluded there were “strong suggestions” that Zuberi “may indeed have carried out extremely sensitive operations against major U.S. adversaries for the CIA over the past 15 years”. Stein alleges that, among other things, “Zuberi paid off foreign politicians on the CIA’s behalf” in order to sabotage a foreign oil project by “a major US adversary”.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Zuberi’s legal team is now preparing to challenge his prison sentence in an appeal that will rest primarily on his alleged work for the CIA, detailed by Stein. The Journal claims to have seen Zuberi’s legal filing, which suggests that he has cooperated with the CIA for over a decade. Based on court documents, and sources that the paper described as being “familiar with the businessman’s defense”, it appears that Zuberi’s began cooperating with the CIA as an informant. Eventually, however, his role “grew to involve more formal tasks and missions”, according to the article. The paper did not elaborate on the nature of Zuberi’s alleged work for the spy agency.

The article claims, however, that Zuberi’s alleged links with the CIA were discussed at length during a closed-door hearing in court, under a law that is used in rare instances to protect government-sanctioned intelligence sources and methods. Since that time, Zuberi’s legal team has allegedly secured the assistance of two former CIA officials, who are willing to testify as witnesses in his appeal. The Wall Street Journal said it contacted the CIA for comment, but was told to reach out to the Department of Justice. When contacted by the paper, the Department of Justice said it had no comment to make on Zuberi’s case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2021 | Permalink

Taiwan files charges against couple identified by Chinese defector as alleged spies

Wang Liqiang

AUTHORITIES IN TAIWAN HAVE filed money-laundering charges against a Chinese couple, who were identified as spies by a man who defected to Australia in 2019, claiming to be a Chinese intelligence operative. Wang “William” Liqiang, 28, from China’s eastern Fujian province, defected to Australia in October of 2019, while visiting his wife and newborn son in Sydney. He and his family are currently believed to be living under the protection of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

In a 17-page sworn statement filed shortly after his defection, Wang reportedly gave details of his work as an undercover intelligence officer for Chinese military intelligence. He is also said to have shared the identities of senior Chinese intelligence officers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and to have explained how they carry out espionage operations on behalf of Beijing. Some media reports claimed that Mr. Wang had shared details about deep-cover Chinese intelligence networks in Australia. Wang also claimed that he worked for a Hong Kong-based company called China Innovation Investment Limited (CIIL), which was in reality a front company set up to provide proprietary cover for Chinese spies like himself.

The Chinese government responded to Wang’s allegations by publicly calling him a “fraud” and claiming that his Chinese passport and Hong Kong identity papers were forgeries. Meanwhile, CIIL filed legal action against Wang for libel and spreading malicious falsehoods. But that did not stop Taiwanese authorities from arresting CIIL’s directors, Xiang Xin and Gong Qing, on November 24, 2019. The directors, a married couple, were about to board an international flight at Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport, when they were detained by members of the country’s Investigation Bureau. Following their detention, they were barred from leaving the country until further notice.

Under Taiwanese law, authorities in the island country had until April 14 of this year to file charges against the couple, or allow them to leave the country. On Thursday, the Office of the Taipei District Prosecutor announced that money laundering charges had been filed against the two CIIL directors. According to the indictment, the couple used nearly $26 million that they allegedly acquired illicitly from China, in order to purchase three luxury apartments in Taipei’s affluent Xinyi district. Additionally, the Prosecutor’s office said the two Chinese citizens continue to be under investigation for potentially violating Taiwan’s National Security Act.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 April 2021 | Permalink

Vienna’s wartime Gestapo chief worked for West German intelligence, records show

Franz Huber

THE HEAD OF THE secret police in Nazi-occupied Vienna, who oversaw the mass deportation of Austrian Jews to concentration camps, worked for West Germany’s postwar spy agency, according to newly released records. Starting his career as a police officer in Munich during the Weimar Republic, Franz Josef Huber joined the Nazi Party in 1937. Due to his prior law enforcement work, he was immediately appointed to the office of Heinrich Müller, who headed the Gestapo —Nazi Germany’s secret police.

Following the German annexation of Austria in 1938, the Nazi Party sent Huber to Vienna, where he oversaw all criminal and political investigations by the Gestapo. He remained head of the Nazi secret police in the Austrian capital until December of 1944. Under his leadership, the Vienna branch of the Gestapo became one of the agency’s largest field offices, second only to its headquarters in Berlin, with nearly 1000 staff members. Huber himself was in regular communication with Adolf Eichmann, who was the logistical architect of the Holocaust. Nearly 66,000 Austrian Jews, most of them residents of Vienna, perished in German-run concentration camps under Huber’s watch.

In May of 1945, following the capitulation of Germany, Huber surrendered to American forces and was kept in detention for nearly four years. During his trial in the German city of Nuremburg, Huber admitted to having visited German-run concentration camps throughout his tenure in the Gestapo. But he claimed that he had not noticed signs of mistreatment of prisoners. He was eventually cleared of all charges against him and released in 1949, allegedly because allied forces wanted to concentrate on more senior members of the Nazi Party, including Huber’s boss, Heinrich Müller.

Last week, German public-service broadcaster ARD said it found Huber’s name in records belonging to the Federal Intelligence Service —Germany’s external intelligence agency. It turns out that, following his release from detention in 1948, Huber joined the Gehlen Organization —named after the first director of the BND, Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen was a former general and military intelligence officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht, who had considerable experience in anti-Soviet and anti-communist operations. In 1956, as the Cold War was intensifying, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which acted as the BND’s patron, appointed Gehlen as head of the BND, a post which he held until 1968. During his tenure, Gehlen staffed the BND with numerous Nazi war criminals, who had considerable expertise on the Soviet Union and anti-communism.

According to the ARD, Huber worked for the BND under Gehlen until 1967, when he retired along with other former Nazi BND officers. His retirement occurred at a time when the BND, under popular pressure, tried to cut ties with some of the most notorious former Nazis in its ranks. However, Huber was given a state pension, which he kept until his death in 1975. Following his retirement from the BND, he allegedly worked for an office equipment supplier in his hometown of Munich, without ever facing any prosecution for his wartime role in the Gestapo. In an article published on Monday, The New York Times claimed that the United States government was fully aware of Huber’s Nazi past.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 April 2021 | Permalink

Cambridge spy ring member gave USSR British royals’ pro-Nazi letters

Anthony Blunt

ANTHONY BLUNT, A MEMBER of the so-called Cambridge ring of communist spies, gave Soviet intelligence private letters written by members of the British royal family, which revealed “the depth of their Nazi sympathies”, according to a new television documentary. This revelation is included in “Queen Elizabeth and the Spy in the Palace”, the second of a three-part documentary series entitled Royals Declassified. The program was aired last week by Britain’s Channel 4 television station. According to the documentary, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the post-Soviet inheritor of the KGB’s external functions, may still be in possession of these controversial letters.

The Cambridge Spies were a group of British diplomats and intelligence officers who worked secretly for the Soviet Union from their student days in the 1930s until the 1960s. They included Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1964, Sir Anthony Blunt, an art historian and former British Security Service (MI5) agent, who in April of 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, admitted under interrogation by the British Security Service (MI5) that he had operated as the fourth member of the spy ring.

The Channel 4 documentary features an interview with Australian author and historian Roland Perry, who recounts his conversations with the late Soviet intelligence officer Yuri Ivanovich Modin. Modin handled the Cambridge Spies from 1948 to 1951 as an officer of the Ministry for State Security (MGB), the immediate forerunner of the KGB. According to what Modin told Perry, in 1945 Blunt was tasked with a secret mission by King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, who is Britain’s current reigning monarch.

Blunt’s mission was to accompany the British royal family’s librarian, Sir Owen Morshead, on a trip to Germany’s Darmstadt region. By that time the Third Reich had collapsed and the Darmstadt region was under American military occupation. The purpose of the secret trip was to take ownership of nearly 4,000 personal letters sent by various British royals to their German relatives during the first four decades of the 20th century. According to Perry, among these letters were several items of correspondence written in the years immediately preceding World War II by two of George V’s sons, Princes Edward and George. Perry claims that the letters expressed strong support for German National Socialism and, according to media reports, “would have proved hugely embarrassing” for the British royal family, had they been made public. The potential fallout of these letters was deemed so critical that Blunt and Morshead’s secret mission was personally sanctioned, not only by George VI, but also by British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

The two men recovered the letters, the majority of which were held at Friedrichshof Castle, located 12 miles northwest of Frankfurt. But the Channel 4 documentary alleges that Blunt secretly took photographs of the letters and passed them on to the Soviets. Perry claims that Modin told him during one of their meetings that the letters were highly incriminating and that Soviet intelligence could have blackmailed the British royals, had it chosen to do so. But the Cambridge spy ring handler said that the KGB decided not to take action on the matter —most likely to protect Blunt.

Despite his allegedly full confession in 1964, Blunt was never seriously disciplined for his espionage activities against Britain. In return for revealing his spy activities and naming others who had assisted him, he was granted immunity from prosecution.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 April 2021 | Permalink

Jordanian news agency claims Mossad involvement in helping alleged coup plotter

A NEWS AGENCY IN Jordan has said that a man with alleged ties to Israeli intelligence offered protection to Hamzah bin Hussein, half-brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who is reportedly under house arrest in Amman. Prince Hamzah is among at least 16 members of the Jordanian royal family and other senior officials, who were apparently arrested last week, with the government claiming soon afterwards that a coup to depose the country’s monarch had been averted.

Hours after his arrest, Prince Hamzah’s family leaked a video to the BBC, in which the King’s half-brother said he was under house arrest, and blamed the ruling family for corruption and for incompetence in dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Hamzah was Jordan’s crown prince until 2004, when he was stripped of his title by his half-brother. King Abdullah II has ruled the Hashemite Kingdom since the 1999 passing of his father, King Hussein, who ruled the country for nearly 50 years.

Hamzah claimed in the leaked video that he was being punished for participating in meetings in which Jordan’s “ruling system” had been criticized. This emerging dispute is rare in Jordan, as the royal family is extremely private and the media are strongly discouraged from reporting about internal splits and other disagreements among senior royals. This development also points to potential sources of instability in one of the Middle East’s few stable political entities. Critics claim that Jordan’s stability is an apparition that masks growing social angst amidst a state-run system of censorship.

On Sunday, Jordan’s largest news agency, Ammon, cited an “informed source” in claiming that an Israeli businessman made contact with Hamzah’s family and offered to fly them out of Jordan using a private airplane. The report also claimed that the businessman, Roy Shaposhnik, had previously been associated with Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Shaposhnik served as an adviser to Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, but is today primarily known for his company, RS Logistical Solutions, which is contracted for services by governments around the world.

In a subsequent media interview, Shaposhnik reportedly confirmed that he had offered to help Hamzah, because he was his “close personal friend”. But he denied ever having worked for the Mossad, saying he is simply “an Israeli living in Europe. I never served in any role in the Israeli intelligence services”. On Sunday, Israel’s Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz, said that the alleged coup plot was “an internal Jordanian issue”, but added that Israel was “prepared to assist Jordan as necessary” and cited the close security ties between Israel and Jordan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2021 | Permalink

Wife of Italian spy for Russia says he was desperate for money due to COVID-19

Embassy of Russia in Italy

THE WIFE OF AN ITALIAN Navy captain, who is facing espionage charges for allegedly selling classified documents to Russia, has claimed that he resorted to spying after facing bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio described the case on Wednesday as “an extremely grave matter […] tied to spying and state security”.

The Navy captain has been named as Walter Biot, 54, who served in the National Security Policy Department of the Italian Ministry of Defense. His job duties included advising military and civilian officials on formulating national security policy in coordination with Italy’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners. He was reportedly arrested late on Tuesday evening at a car park in Rome, alongside two members of the Russian embassy in the Italian capital.

Reports in the Italian media said Biot was caught as he was handing the Russians documents and a memory card containing classified data, for which he received €5,000 (approximately $6,000) in cash. Italian authorities said on Thursday that the material Biot handed over to the Russians included 181 photos of secret and top-secret documents belonging to the Italian government, as well as 47 classified documents belonging to NATO.

On Thursday, Biot’s legal team told Italian media that their client was a father of four, and that his income was insufficient to provide for one of his children, who was “seriously ill and needed special care”. Biot’s wife, Claudia Carbonara, said in an interview that her husband committed espionage in order to supplement the family’s €3,000 ($3,500) income, which had been reduced significantly in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to his lawyers, Biot reportedly said that he “made a mistake but I did it for my family [during] a moment of great weakness and fragility”.

Meanwhile, the two Russian diplomats who were arrested alongside Biot have been identified as Dmitry Ostroukhov and Alexei Nemudrov. They reportedly served in the office of the military attaché at the Russian embassy in Rome. Both have been expelled from the country. Russia has threatened to retaliate in the coming days, possibly by expelling a number of Italian diplomats from Moscow.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 April 2021 | Permalink

Brazil ‘spiraling out of control’ as commanders of all three military branches resign

Fernando Azevedo e Silva

IN WHAT NATIONAL MEDIA described as “a political earthquake”, the commanders of all three branches of Brazil’s armed forces tended their resignations on Tuesday, prompting analysts to question the stability of the country. It is the first time in Brazilian history that all three senior commanders of the nation’s armed forces have resigned on the same day.

The resignations came less than 24 hours after Brazilian media reported that the country’s rightwing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, summarily fired his Minister of Defense, General Fernando Azevedo e Silva. The general, a longtime close friend of the president, was handpicked for the post of defense minister by Bolsonaro himself soon after his election in 2018. However, he was fired on Monday after a tense meeting with the president that reportedly lasted only three minutes.

According to some reports, the minister was removed from his post after repeatedly making public statements suggesting that that the Brazilian armed forces would defend the country’s constitution, rather than protect the president. The three commanders of Brazil’s armed forces branches, Admiral Ilques Barbosa, General Edson Leal Pujol, and Lieutenant-Brigadeer Antônio Carlos Bermudez, met with the new defense minister on Tuesday and tended their resignations, during what one source described as “a dramatic and heated encounter”.

Late on Tuesday, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the branch heads of the armed forces had resigned, but did not provide a reason, nor did it name their replacements. Meanwhile, Brazil is in the throes of one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, which has cost the lives of nearly 320,000 people. Over 3,500 Brazilians die every day, with numbers of infections and deaths reaching new records every 24 hours.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 March 2021 | Permalink

In historic first, alleged North Korean spy to face trial in the United States

DPRK North Korean embassy in Malaysia

FOR THE FIRST TIME in history, an alleged intelligence officer of North Korea is going to be tried in a United States court, according to American government officials. In a surprise move last week, Malaysia extradited to the US an export-finance trader named Mun Chol-myong. Aged 55, Mun is a North Korean citizen based in Singapore, where until 2019 he worked for a company called Sinsar Trading Pte. Ltd. The Malaysians arrested him in May 2019 and charged him with using his position to defraud a number of international banks and launder money though the US financial system.

Responding to a US request to have Mun tried in a US court, Malaysia announced his extradition last week, angering Pyongyang. Shortly following Mun’s extradition to the US, North Korea shut down its embassy in Kuala Lumpur, one of only 46 embassies maintained by Pyongyang across the world. Then last Wednesday North Korea fired two ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations sanctions designed to restrict the country’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea’s fury at Mun’s extradition can perhaps be explained by information contained in the newly unsealed indictment [pdf], which dates to 2018. The indictment accuses Mun and a number of other unnamed suspects of being North Korean “intelligence operatives”.

Specifically, the indictment accuses Mun of being an undercover employee of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s primary foreign-intelligence agency. The RGB operates under the supervision of the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army and the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. According to the indictment, Mun utilized shell companies set up by Pyongyang in order to hide his connections with the RGB. His primary mission was allegedly to gain access to international banking institutions and wire services, with the aim of laundering illicit North Korean cash and breaking sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the United Nations and the United States. The indictment accuses Mun of having personally participated in the laundering of $1.5 million in funds in recent years.

In a statement released last week, John Demers, assistant attorney general for the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice, described Mun as “the first North Korean intelligence operative —and the second ever foreign intelligence operative— to have been extradited to the United States”. Meanwhile, the administration of US President Joe Biden said last week it was still reviewing “in depth” the state of US-North Korean relations following the administration of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2021 | Permalink

Chinese hackers used Facebook to target Uighur activists with malware

Facebook

CHINESE HACKERS USED FAKE Facebook accounts to target individual activists in the expatriate Uighur community and infect their personal communications devices with malware, according to Facebook. The social media company said on Wednesday that the coordinated operation targeted approximately 500 Uighur activists living in the United States, Canada, Australia, Syria, Turkey and Kazakhstan.

At least 12 million Uighurs, most of them Muslims, live in China’s Xinjiang region, which is among the most impoverished in the country. The Chinese state is currently engaged in a campaign to quell separatist tendencies among some Uighurs, while forcibly integrating the region’s population into mainstream culture through a state-run program of forcible assimilation. It is believed that at least a million Uighurs are currently living in detention camps run by the Communist Party of China, ostensibly for “re-education”. Meanwhile, thousands of Uighur expatriates, most of whom live in Kazakhstan and Turkey, are engaged in a concerted campaign aimed at airing human-rights violations occurring in the Chinese detention camps throughout Xinjiang.

According to Facebook, Chinese hackers set up around 100 accounts of fake personas claiming to be journalists with an interest in reporting on human rights, or pro-Uighur activists. They then befriended actual Uighur activists on Facebook and directed them to fake websites that were designed to resemble popular Uighur news agencies and pro-activist websites. However, these websites were carriers of malware, which infected the personal communications devices of those who visited them. Some Facebook users were also directed to fake smartphone application stores, from where they downloaded Uighur-themed applications that contained malware.

Facebook said it was able to detect and disrupt the fake account network, which has now been neutralized. It also said it was able to block all fake domains associated with the hacker group, and notified users who were targeted by the hackers. It added that its security experts were not able to discern direct connections between the hackers an the Chinese state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 March 2021 | Permalink

Bulgaria expels Russian diplomats over spy claims, Moscow threatens retaliation

Bulgaria MFA

TWO RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS STATIONED in Bulgaria were declared personae non grata by the Bulgarian government on Monday, after they were allegedly implicated in acts of espionage, according to reports. The two Russians, who have not been officially named, were stationed at the embassy of Russia in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. They were allegedly implicated in an espionage affair that has resulted in the arrests of at least six Bulgarian citizens, accused of carrying out acts of espionage on behalf of Moscow.

As intelNews reported on Monday, six members of the alleged spy-ring were arrested by Bulgarian counterintelligence on Thursday, March 18. They were charged with espionage on behalf of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU, which is Russia’s main military intelligence agency. The six alleged spies reportedly gave Moscow secrets about Bulgarian military affairs, as well as information concerning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Bulgaria, a former ally of the Soviet Union, joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

On Tuesday, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it proceeded to declare the two Russian diplomats personae non grata on March 22. The decision to expel the diplomats was reportedly taken soon after the ministry received official confirmation from the state prosecutor’s office that the two Russians had been implicated in the alleged spy ring’s espionage activities. The Russian embassy was given 72 hours to make arrangements for the two diplomats to leave Bulgaria. Nor further information was provided by the ministry.

The Russian embassy in Sofia said on Tuesday that the Kremlin could carry out reprisals against the Bulgarian government in the coming days —potentially by expelling at least two Bulgarian diplomats from Moscow or St. Petersburgh. In a statement posted on its website, the embassy blasted what it described as “another groundless demarche of the Bulgarian authorities [that] will not contribute to the further building of a constructive Russian-Bulgarian dialogue”. The statement added that “[t]he Russian side reserves the right to retaliate” to the Russian diplomats’ expulsions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 March 2021 | Permalink