Sweden arrests man for spying for Russia; diplomatic expulsions expected soon

Russian Embassy SwedenAuthorities in Sweden have announced the arrest of a man who is accused of spying for Russia. The man was reportedly apprehended while meeting with a Russian diplomat in central Stockholm. The alleged spy, who has not been identified in media reports, is believed to be working for an unnamed technology company in Sweden. A report by Swedish police said that the man is working “in a field that is known to be of interest to the intelligence services of foreign powers”.

The unnamed man is suspected of having been recruited by intelligence officers of Russia in 2017 or earlier. He is believed to have met with his Russian handlers on a regular basis since his recruitment, and to have passed classified information to the Russian government. He was reportedly arrested on Tuesday evening as he was meeting his alleged Russian handler in a downtown area of the Swedish capital. Both he and his alleged handler were detained by officers of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO. The alleged handler was a member of staff of the Russian embassy in Stockholm and has diplomatic immunity. SÄPO said that the Russian embassy officer is believed to be a Russian intelligence officer who works under diplomatic cover. Swedish media said on Tuesday that the diplomat’s expulsion from the country was imminent.

However, SÄPO declined to provide information on the identity of the alleged spy, who is not believed to have diplomatic immunity and is therefore liable to prosecution. Daniel Stenling, head of SÄPO’s counterespionage directorate, said that Tuesday’s arrest was the result of a prolonged probe that took “a substantial period of time” and involved “intensive intelligence and investigation work”. SÄPO spokesman Gabriel Wernstedt said on Wednesday that the agency did not believe that the alleged spy is a member of a ring involving other suspects. He warned, however, that espionage threats against Sweden “are now more far reaching than [they have] been for many years”.

The alleged spy is scheduled to be placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday or Friday at the latest. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which reported Tuesday’s arrest, said it reached out to the Russian embassy in Stockholm but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 February 2019 | Permalink

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German far-right party wins lawsuit against domestic intelligence agency

BfV GermanyGermany’s largest far-right party, Alternative for Germany, has won a lawsuit against the country’s domestic intelligence agency, which is now barred from collecting intelligence on the group’s activities. Known by its German initials AfD, which stand for Alternative für Deutschland, the party was founded in 2013 on an anti-immigration, Eurosceptic, German-nationalist, and in some cases pro-Russian, platform. In 2017 it became the third-largest political party in the country after winning 94 seats in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament. Since the two leading parties formed a governing alliance, the AfD is currently Germany’s official parliamentary opposition.

Last year, however, government officials warned that elements within the AfD were actively organizing to subvert the German constitution and expressed concern about the AfD’s political views. In January of this year, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s primary domestic security agency, publicly announced that it would designate the AfD as a “test case” organization. According to German law, a group or organization can be designated as a “test case” when it displays “extremist elements” in its behavior, which may indicate that it “poses a threat to the constitutional order”. Once a group or organization is designated as a “test case”, the BfV is legally permitted to monitor open-source information about it. It is not allowed to resort to other methods of intelligence collection, including conducting human intelligence operations, employing informants, etc.

Shortly after the BfV disclosed the AfD’s “test case” designation, the far-right party sued the security agency, claiming that its “test case” designation amounted to public defamation. On Tuesday, Cologne’s Administrative Court ruled that the BfV had unfairly designated the AfD as a “test case” by relying on little more than “fragments of suspicion”. The court also found that the public designation of the AfD as a “test case” had unfairly defamed the party and could have a serious negative effect on its electoral performance by giving “a negative public impression”. The court decision is seen as a major symbolic victory for the far-right party ahead of several regional elections this year, in which the AfD hopes to defeat Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union.

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

Destabilization fears grow as hundreds of armed ISIS fighters enter Iraq from Syria

Islamic State ISISIntelligence officials warn that Iraq’s fragile stability may be at risk, following reports that as many as a thousand armed Islamic State fighters have entered Iraq from Syria in recent weeks. The organization calling itself the Islamic State (known also as the Islamic State of Iraq an Syria, or ISIS) is on its last legs in Baghouz, a Syrian village located on the banks of the Euphrates River near the Syrian-Iraqi border. Its fighters are report by a large number of American-backed forces led by Syrian Kurds, in what appears to be the Islamic State’s last territorial stronghold in the Middle East.

Many or the militant Sunni group’s fighters, however, have managed to slip past the American-led coalition’s offensive lines and are now making their way across the border into Iraq’s Sunni-majority northwestern provinces. To prevent this, the Shiite-led Iraqi army has reportedly deployed more than 20,000 soldiers across the 370-mile border with Syria. But the size of the border, as well as the region’s rugged and inhospitable terrain, are making it very difficult to police it. A major surrounded published by the Associated Press late last week claims that hundreds of Islamic State fighters are slipping across the border into Iraq at night, or using tunnels that were constructed by the Islamic State in 2013 and 2014. Others are making their way into Iraq disguised as women or local farmers. Most are armed, says the Associated Press, or know where to go to dig up weapons caches and money, which the Islamic State buried as it retreated into Syria last year under concerted attacks by the Iraqi army.

The Associated Press report quotes three Iraqi intelligence officials and a United States military official, who say that more than 1,000 ISIS fighters entered Iraq from Syria since last September. Iraqi intelligence sources allegedly estimate that between 5,000 and 7,000 armed ISIS fighters are now present in Iraq. Many of them remain in hiding, but others are engaged in systematic efforts to revitalize the group’s presence in Iraq’s Sunni-majority provinces. This was confirmed in a recent press briefing by a senior Iraqi Army spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasoul, who warned that “ISIS is trying to assert itself in Iraq, because of the pressure it is under in Syria”. At least nine major ISIS attacks were recorded in Iraq in January, and several have taken place in February, including the recent killing of five fishermen in Najaf Province, which prompted officials to warn that ISIS may be making a comeback in the region. Iraqi intelligence officials told the Associated Press that the attacks are aimed at warning locals not to share intelligence with the Iraqi military, and to “restore the extortion rackets that financed the group’s rise to power six years ago”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2019 | Permalink

Pakistan’s ex-spy chief stripped of army pension for writing controversial book

Asad DurraniThe former director of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency has been stripped of his military pension and associated benefits for co-authoring a controversial book about intelligence with his Indian counterpart. Lieutenant General Asad Durrani (ret.) served as director-general of Pakistan’s Directorate for Military Intelligence between 1988 and 1989. From 1990 to 1992 he was director of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which is arguably Pakistan’s most powerful government institution. Durrani, 78, has been severely criticized in some Pakistani nationalist circles for co-authoring a book entitled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with his Indian counterpart, A.S. Daulat. Daulat, 79, headed India’s Research and Analysis Wing from 1999 to 2000.

The book was edited by the widely respected Indian journalist Aditya Sinha. It contains details about Pakistan’s systematic efforts to foment armed unrest in the heavily Muslim Indian state of Kashmir, for instance by funding and training a host of Islamist paramilitary organizations that operate in the disputed region. The book also claims that the Pakistani government was aware of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and that it worked closely with the United States to kill the co-founder of al-Qaeda. Islamabad has consistently denied allegations that it knew of bin Laden’s hideout in the city of Abbottabad, and that it gave permission to US Special Forces troops to raid his compound.

Last Friday, Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor announced that a military court had found Durrani guilty of having violated the military code of conduct of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Consequently, he said, the retired general would be stripped of his Army pension and all associated benefits. The military court had conferred behind closed doors, said Ghafoor, adding that he was unable to provide further details on the case. Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court announced on Thursday that it rejected a plea by Durrani’s lawyers to have his name removed from Pakistan’s Exit Control List. The list contains names of individuals who are prohibited from leaving Pakistan for reasons relating to corruption, economic crime, as well as terrorism and drug-related activity, among other violations. Durrani was placed on that list in March of last year, shortly after his controversial book was published in India.

During the same press briefing on Friday, Ghafoor also said that two Pakistani military officers had been placed in custody facing espionage charges. The Pakistan Army spokesman gave no information about the officers’ names or the countries for which they allegedly spied for.

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

Analysis: Women becoming growing force inside Islamic State, says expert

Islamic State womenThe role of women inside the Islamic State is growing, as the Sunni militant group is transmuting into an underground organization, according to a Harvard University terrorism expert. Since its meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has been known for advocating for strict segregation between men and women. In the early stages of the group’s emergence, combat roles were exclusively performed by men, while women’s roles were limited to childbearing and housework. But according to Vera Mironova, Visiting Scholar in the Economics Department at Harvard University, and former Associate of the International Security Program at Harvard’s Belfer Center, the Islamic State’s policy on gender roles is shifting rapidly.

Mironova, who has carried out research in Iraq while embedded with the country’s Special Operations Forces, argues that the Islamic State has been “quietly shifting its insistence of strict gender hierarchy” and is now “allowing, even celebrating, female participation in military roles”. In an article published earlier this week in The New York Times, Mironova states that early indications of this shift were visible as early as 2017. In October of that year, ISIS publications issued calls for “women to prepare for battle”. Within a year, the group was publicly praising its women fighters and even published a video showing veiled Islamic State female fighters firing AK-47 assault rifles. The video praised women fighters for “seeking revenge for [their] religion and for the honor of [their] sisters”.

In her article, the Harvard terrorism expert says that it is not possible to estimate with accuracy the number of women who have picked up arms on behalf of the Islamic State. But she adds that interviews with Iraqi military and police officials suggest that female Islamic State fighters are now “a regular presence that no longer surprises, as it did a few years ago”. There is a tradition of fervent women supporters of the militant group that dates from its very beginning, claims Mironova. She gives the example of female radicals who insisted that their husbands or sons join the Islamic State, or who sought to marry Islamic State combatants in order to be part of “mujahedeen families”. Recently, however, the relative scarcity of male fighters in the ranks of the militant group has led to calls for females to take their place in the front lines. As the Islamic State is transmuting into an underground organization, women are also becoming more useful as covert operatives because they attract less attention by Iraqi or Syrian government troops.

In many cases, women supporters of the Islamic State who lost male family members in the ongoing war pick up arms or put on suicide vests in order to extract revenge. In other cases they do in order to secure protection, favors or money for their families from the insurgents. The fact is, says Mironova, that women fighters are becoming more prominent in the Islamic State’s combat lines and are even participating in the group’s suicide bombing campaign. The latter continues unabated in Iraq and Syria, despite the near-complete loss of the Islamic State’s territorial control, says Mironova.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 February 2019 | Permalink

Libya gave French ex-president Sarkozy $8 million, says Gaddafi’s spy chief

Abdullah al-SenussiA senior intelligence advisor to Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi has reportedly told French investigators that the Libyan government gave $8 million to the election campaign of France’s ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s 30-year political legacy has been marred by a series of financial scandals, for which he is currently under investigation. In March of last year, the former French president issued strong denials of accusations that he accepted an illicit multi-million monetary donation from Gaddafi during his 2007 campaign for the presidency. During a 20-minute television interview, Sarkozy described the investigation into the allegations that he acted as an agent of influence for Libya as “a waste of time”, arguing that it was over an alleged donation of less than $45,000, which represented a tiny fraction of his campaign budget.

But according to the French investigative news website Mediapart, a team of French judges was told by Gaddafi’s former spy chief that Sarkozy was given millions of dollars in secret by the Libyan state. Abdullah al-Senussi, who oversaw the Libyan intelligence agencies under Gaddafi, reportedly told the French investigators that the funding was part of a secret deal between the two parties. In 1979, Senussi married the sister of Gaddafi’s wife and remained a trusted confidante of the Libyan leader until his violent death in 2011. According to Mediapart, he told the French judges that he personally supervised the transfer of funds to Sarkozy’s election campaign. He said that the payments entered the campaign’s coffers via a French government minister who received the funds from Libyan agents in two separate installments in 2006. In return, Sarkozy promised to help reinstate Gaddafi’s international image if he was elected president. He also promised to impede attempts by Western countries to arrest Gaddafi and some of his senior government aides —including Senussi— for terrorist crimes. Senussi allegedly said that Sarkozy himself promised him that his international arrest warrants would be quelled with the help of the French president’s personal lawyers. Sarkozy later hosted Gaddafi in Paris in a lavish setting in 2007.

Mediapart said that it accessed Senussi’s testimony before the French judges after getting hold of extracts from his formal statements during his interviews. It added that the information provided by Senussi appears to confirm similar claims made by other witnesses in the investigation about Sarkozy’s alleged illegal campaign funding. The former French president is currently involved in a separate legal dispute concerning alleged illegal spending during his failed campaign for the presidency in 2012.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 February 2019 | Permalink

Lithuania widens espionage probe, several now in custody for spying for Russia

Algirdas PaleckisA growing number of individuals are in custody in Lithuania, as the Baltic state continues a probe into an alleged Russian espionage ring whose members reportedly included a former diplomat and member of one of the country’s most revered political families. On Tuesday, government prosecutors asked for an eight-year prison sentence for Roman Sheshel, who stands accused for giving Moscow classified information on Lithuania’s naval forces. Sheshel, a Russian-born Lithuanian citizen, is also believed to have given his Russian handlers intelligence regarding warships belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Lithuania is a member. He is accused of having worked for the Russians from early 2015 until his capture by Lithuanian authorities in December of 2017. His trial has been taking place behind closed doors in order to protect state secrets.

Government prosecutors allege that Sheshel was part of a sizeable spy network of Lithuanians who were recruited by Russia in the past five years and whose “activities threatened Lithuanian national security”. Among them is allegedly Alģirds Paleckis, a former parliamentarian and diplomat, Paleckis was born in 1971 in Switzerland, where his father, Justas Vincas, served as a Soviet diplomat. His grandfather, Justas Paleckis, was a towering figure in the Communist Party of Lithuania, which in 1940 spearheaded Lithuania’s amalgamation into the Soviet Union. But his son, Paleckis’ father, broke ranks with the family’s communist past and became a leading nationalist parliamentarian in 1990, when the country seceded from the USSR. Paleckis followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the diplomatic service before entering parliament. But in 2008, after a successful career as a pro-Western reformist politician, Paleckis began to veer to the left, eventually founding the Lithuanian Socialist People’s Front, a small leftist party that is often accused of being too close to Moscow. The party is a vocal opponent of Lithuania’s membership in the European Union and NATO. Paleckis’ critics also note that he is married to a Russian woman whose father is reportedly a Russian intelligence officer.

The German news agency Deutsche Welle reported last week that Paleckis attracted the attention of Lithuanian counterintelligence investigators after he “fully paid back the mortgage on a house too quickly”. He is now accused of giving his Russian handlers information about a Lithuanian government investigation into Soviet-era informant networks in the small Baltic country. He has been in custody since last October, along with an undisclosed number of other alleged members of a purported Russian spy ring. Earlier this week, Lithuanian authorities said that evidence collected from the unnamed detainees are helping them broaden their probe into alleged Russian espionage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 February 2019 | Permalink