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

US Defense Intelligence Agency responds to claims it was asked to spy on protesters

Defense Intelligence Agency DIAThe United States Defense Intelligence Agency, a Pentagon organization tasked with collecting foreign military secrets, has rejected reports that it is spying on protestors inside the country. However, it confirmed that it has set up an “internal coordination group” to respond to “requests for information” by the Department of Defense. This development follows reports that some DIA employees communicated their concerns about being asked to spy domestically to the organization’s director last week.

Several government agencies are reportedly involved in monitoring the waves of protests that have reputed  throughout the United States in recent weeks, following the death of George Floyd. Floyd, 46, died on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis. His death, which was captured on video by a bystander, has prompted nationwide calls for police accountability and regulation of excessive force by police officers, especially against members of minority groups.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has responded to the demonstrations —some of which have turned violent— with a show of force involving a wide range of federal law enforcement agencies. This is especially true in the nation’s capital, where military personnel have been repeatedly deployed to help police monitor and control the protests. Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News reported that the Trump administration authorized the Drug Enforcement Administration to “conduct covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on individuals and groups participating in the protests.

Now Yahoo News reports that some DIA employees are wondering whether their agency might follow suit. The DIA operates under the US Department of Defense and collects foreign military intelligence. Like the Central Intelligence Agency, the DIA is prevented by law from spying domestically. However, its personnel can support domestic intelligence efforts, providing they are detailed to a domestic law enforcement agency for specific operations or tasks.

According to Yahoo News’s Jenna McLaughlin, the possibility that DIA personnel might be assigned to domestic intelligence tasks relating to the nationwide protests was discussed last week during an agency-forum. The unclassified forum —called a “virtual town hall” was led last Wednesday by DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley. McLaughlin cites “two sources” who were “briefed on what happened during the town hall”. They said that Gen. Ashley was asked by a DIA employee about the agency’s position on domestic intelligence operations. “We have been told that DIA is setting up a task force on ‘unrest’ in our country”, said the employee. “Is this true? Is it legal given intelligence oversight? What options will there be for employees who are morally opposed to such an effort?”

According to McLaughlin, the DIA director responded that the agency’s “core mission is foreign intelligence” and that it is “focused on the foreign nexus”. Gen. Ashley’s words were interpreted to mean that the DIA had been asked to investigate possible interference in the protests by foreign intelligence agencies —possibly in a manner similar to the meddling by Russian spies in the 2016 US elections. He added that the DIA’s Office of the General Counsel had “reviewed the issue to ensure that [the agency] was in compliance with the law”. However, Gen. Ashley did not explain whether the DIA had proceeded to carry out such an investigation.

On Saturday, DIA spokesman James M. Kudla told Yahoo News that the agency had set up “an internal coordination group to respond to increased and appropriate Department requests for information”. However, he added that “the mission of the Defense Intelligence Agency is to provide intelligence on foreign militaries to prevent and win wars”. He went on to say that “any claims that DIA has taken on  a domestic mission are false”. The “DIA has not established any task force related to the current domestic situation”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #903

Israel Lebanon borderState-level espionage on EU a ‘very high threat’ says report. The most successful attempts of espionage at a top EU institution are state sponsored, according to an internal document produced by a subcommittee of the European Council, which is composed of heads of state or government of all European Union member-states. The restricted document presents an analysis of threats to the security of information at the General Secretariat of the Council.
Man shot after crossing into Israel, apparently to spy, returned to Lebanon. A Syrian national who was shot after he crossed the border into Israel from Lebanon last month, apparently to perform reconnaissance for Hezbollah, was sent back to Lebanon on Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said. According to the IDF, the International Red Cross transported him back to Lebanon through the rarely used Rosh Hanikra border crossing.
As virus toll preoccupies US, rivals test limits of American power. The coronavirus may have changed almost everything, but it did not change this: global challenges to the United States spin ahead, with America’s adversaries testing the limits and seeing what gains they can make with minimal pushback. A New York Times analysis claims that COVID-19 has not created a new reality as much as it has widened divisions that existed before the pandemic. And with the United States looking inward, preoccupied by the fear of more viral waves, unemployment soaring over 20% and nationwide protests ignited by deadly police brutality, its competitors are moving to fill the vacuum, and quickly.

News you may have missed #902

asio australiaAustralian spy agency seeks expanded powers. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) says it needs expanded powers to question suspected foreign spies and their helpers, because there are more currently operating in the country than at the height of the Cold War. A bill introduced to parliament this month would expand ASIO’s existing powers to subject people to compulsory questioning, which it has used 16 times since 2003 but only for terrorism-related intelligence gathering. “The threats posed today by espionage and foreign interference operate at a scale, breadth and ambition that has not previously been seen in Australia”, ASIO says in its submission to parliament.
US Intelligence Community seeks new COIVD-19 tracking tools. In a call issued last week, the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or IARPA, said it is seeking new tools for rapidly diagnosing COVID in people with and without symptoms, via contact-less methods such as breath analysis. IARPA, which operates as the US Intelligence Community’s search lab, says it is also seeking tools for contact tracing among populations without mobile phones, via the Internet-of-things or other means -and do it while preserving privacy.
Why printers add secret tracking dots. These “microdots” are well known to security researchers and civil liberties campaigners. Many color printers add them to documents without people ever knowing they’re there. There is a long-running debate over whether it is ethical for printers to be attaching this information to documents without users knowing. In fact, there has even been a suggestion that it is a violation of human rights. Still, many believe that the use of covert measures to ensure the secrecy of classified documents remains necessary in some cases.

US embassy in UAE declined free COVID-19 tests due to Chinese spying concerns

Abu DhabiThe embassy of the United States in the United Arab Emirates declined free COVID-19 testing kits for its staff, because of concerns that the private labs offering the kits had ties to China, according to a new report. The testing kits were offered by a testing facility that was set up in March in Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the oil-rich UAE —a close American ally in the Middle East.

The facility was built in record time, through a collaboration between two private companies. The main partner in the scheme is Group42, a privately owned artificial intelligence firm, which is based in the UAE and is believed to be partly owned by members of the kingdom’s royal family. Its partner in the venture is BGI Group, a Chinese company —formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Group— that specializes in genomics research. Since its establishment, the facility has reportedly delivered over 2 million COVID-19 testing kits —complete with reagents— for the population of the UAE, which numbers just over 9 million. Given these numbers, local officials have hailed the initiative as a success and credit it with having produced “one of the largest per capita testing rates in the world”. The oil-rich kingdom has so far reported about 36,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, which have resulted in 270 deaths —about 2.5 deaths per 100,000 UAE residents.

But, according to The Financial Times, the United States embassy in Abu Dhabi turned down an offer for free COVID-19 testing kits for its employees by Group42. The paper quoted an anonymous United States government official, who said that the offer was “politely declined” last month by the embassy leadership. American State Department officials were allegedly concerned that the DNA information of tested embassy employees could be compromised and “find its way to Beijing”, said the source. “Concerns were raised about patient privacy and the way that the tests could be used”, added the official, and described the involvement of BGI in the venture as “a red flag” for Washington.

BGI Group told the paper that it had no links to the government of China and no access to the data of patients, which were stored in Group42 facilities in the Emirates. The UAE-based company said that it followed “strict information security and data privacy protocols are in place” to protect sensitive information. The firm refused to divulge information about its owners, citing strict laws that are in place in the kingdom.

But the incident illustrates the growing suspicion in relations between the US and China. This poses difficult dilemmas for third countries, like the UAE. The oil-rich state is among several monarchies in the Gulf that have deepened their relations with China in recent years, in both the political and economic domains. Since 2000, the value of bilateral trade between Abu Dhabi and Beijing has grown from $2 billion to nearly $70 billion per year. At the same time, the UAE is one of the largest purchasers of US military technology in the world. The oil-rich monarchy spends on average $3 billion annually to acquire American weapons. Recently, however, Abu Dhabi has shown an increasing interest in Chinese-made weapons. Its armed forces and police departments now use several Chinese weapons and surveillance systems. At the same time, Huawei, a Chinese-owned telecommunications hardware producer, is scheduled to build the nation’s 5G cellular network. Washington has expressed serious concerns about that decision.

Speaking to The Financial Times, the anonymous US government official said that these steps by the UAE leadership, which are bringing it closer to China, “risk rupturing the long-term strategic relationship [the country has] with the US”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 June 2020 | Permalink

Islamic State’s new leader issues video vowing ‘not a single day without bloodshed’

ISIS SyriaIn a recent video message, the new head of the Islamic State calls COVID-19 a “great torment” from God against unbelievers, and vows that “not a single day will pass without bloodshed” due to attacks by his forces. The 39-minute video is entitled “The Crusaders Will Know Who Will Win in the End”, and began to circulate on the popular messaging application Telegram last Thursday.

The message in the video is delivered by Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who last year succeeded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the leadership of the Islamic State. The Sunni militant group announced al-Qurashi’s ascension to the leadership on October 31, 2019, lust days after its founder and spiritual leader was killed by American troops in Syria. The United States is offering up to $5 million reward for information leading to al-Qurashi’s capture or death.

The video is the third message issued by the Islamic State’s new leader, and the second one this year. In it, al-Qurashi refers to the coronavirus pandemic, recent political changes in Iraq, and the ongoing negotiations between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The video also admonishes al-Qaeda’s branches in Africa, several of which are engaged in an increasingly bloody battle with forces allied to the Islamic State.

The majority of the video focuses on the coronavirus pandemic, which al-Qurashi describes as “a great torment” sent by God to non-Muslims, and says that he and his leadership “rejoice” in seeing the virus’ effects on the West. He adds that the enemies of the Islamic State will continue to be “struck down” by the pandemic like Egypt’s pharaohs were struck by the 10 plagues described in the Bible.

But al-Qurashi also focuses on Iraq, speaking with visible satisfaction about the apparent withdrawal of US troops from the country in recent months. Since the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the US in January, American troops have withdrawn from at least six military bases throughout Iraq, which are now under the control of the Shi’a-dominated Iraq Security Forces. They include critical installations in the outskirts of Baghdad, in Kirkuk near the country’s Kurdish-dominated northern region, in Mosul, in western Iraq, and along the Syrian border. Additionally, Iraq now has a new Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has vowed to crush the remnants of the Islamic State throughout his country.

Without substantial military presence by the US, the Islamic State does not see the Iraq Security Forces as capable of defending those regions —after all it has defeated them before. It therefore views the US military’s withdrawal as an unexpected opportunity to reignite its insurgency and even take back the lands that it controlled until a few years ago. In the latest video, al-Qurashi directly addresses the Iraqi government, which it describes as the “government of infidels in Iraq” and as “the American government”. He warns that “not a single day will pass without bloodshed”, as “jihadists will start to increase their attacks against the crusaders”. These attacks he says, will be “only the start of bigger attacks in Iraq and Syria”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2020 | Permalink

Argentine former president and spy agency director indicted in wiretapping probe

kirchner fernandezThe former president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, has been indicted as part of a widening investigation into a domestic spying program, which allegedly targeted opposition politicians, journalists and other public figures. The alleged espionage took place between 2015 and 2019, when Macri occupied the country’s highest office.

In 2015, Macri, a successful businessman and former mayor of Buenos Aires, became the first democratically-elected president of Argentina in 100 years that came from a party other than the populist brand described as ‘Peronist’ in the post-war era. His presidency was marked by a turn to the right, as well as numerous investigations into allegations of corruption against prior heads of state, notably Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom Macri succeeded in the presidency.

But Kirchner is now back, serving as vice-president under Argentina’s new president, Alberto Fernández. Fernández, a Peronist, took office in December of 2019, after defeating Macri in a hotly contested race. Among Fernández’s top agenda items is the reform of the country’s Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI). The agency used to be known as the Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) until 2015, when then-President Kirchner dissolved the organization and replaced it with the AFI, in order to combat alleged human-rights abuses by SIDE agents. But Kirchner has always said that her work in reforming the old SIDE was left incomplete. Her running mate, Fernández, promised to complete her work if elected. In his first post-election speech, President Fernández said that the SIDE/AFI would be reformed. He famously told his jubilant supporters: “Never again, the secret state. Never again, the cellars of democracy”. Soon afterwards, Fernández appointed Cristina Caamaño, an attorney and government administrator with experience in the area of civil liberties, to lead the AFI.

Last week, Caamaño gave a federal court in Buenos Aires a deposition containing list of over 80 names of Argentine citizens, who were allegedly spied on by the AFI without a warrant during Macri’s administration. In her deposition, Caamaño alleges that the individuals had their emails “spied on without any court order”, from as early as June 2016 until the final days of Macri’s presidency. According to local media reports, the list of alleged victims includes political opponents of Macri, as well as investigative journalists, government officials, and notable members of Argentina’s business community. There are also police and military officers on the list as well as artists, intellectuals, and trade unionists. Caamaño asked the court to investigate, aside for Macri, Gustavo Arribas, who served as AFI director under the previous president, as well as his deputy director in the spy agency, Silvia Majdalani, and her brother-in-law, Darío Biorci. The names of other alleged culprits in Caamaño’s deposition remain secret, reportedly because these individuals are still serving as undercover agents in the AFI.

On Wednesday, Caamaño’s deposition was shared with the Argentine Congress, and are now being debated in various committees, including the intelligence committee. Congress members from President Fernández’s Partido Justicialista have expressed strong support for the probe. But the opposition is highly skeptical and has asked for more information from Caamaño’s office.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 June 2020 | Permalink

India expels Pakistan embassy officials for allegedly carrying out espionage

Pakistan embassy IndiaIndia has expelled two officials at the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi, after they were allegedly caught with fake Indian identity papers while trying to acquire classified documents. But the Pakistani government has rejected the allegations and subsequent expulsions as “a part of persistent anti-Pakistan propaganda” from India, and said the two officials were tortured while under detention by Indian authorities.

The expulsion orders followed the arrest of three Pakistani citizens, who were identified as Abid Hussain, 42, Tahir Khan, 44, and Javed Hussain. The Times of India said Abid Hussain had been working at the Pakistani embassy’s visa issuance department since late 2018. Khan was “an upper division clerk” at the embassy and arrived in India at around the same time Abid Hussain did, said the paper. Javed Hussain has been working as a driver at the embassy since 2015, and was reportedly released by the Indian authorities after he was found not to have been implicated in the alleged espionage.

The Times cited unnamed sources in New Delhi in claiming that the three Pakistanis had been arrested by Indian police at an undisclosed location in the Indian capital’s centrally located Karol Bagh neighborhood. The men were reportedly there to receive “highly sensitive information” by unnamed Indian “defense personnel”. Javed Hussain and Khan were reportedly found to be carrying Indian identification cards bearing fake names. They also had in their possession what the newspaper called “incriminating documents”, two smartphones and 15,000 rupees, which equal to around $200.

On Sunday, India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Javed Hussain and Khan had been declared “persona non grata” and had been ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. The reason for their expulsion was “indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission”. The phrase is used in the international legal vernacular to describe an accredited diplomat engaging in intelligence operations abroad without the consent of his or her host nation. The Ministry also said that it had summoned the Pakistani ambassador and issued him with a “strong protest” about the incident.

The Indian government said late on Sunday that it was investigating whether other Pakistani embassy officials had been engaging in espionage. Diplomatic observers expressed certainty last night that Islamabad would expel at least two Indian diplomats from the country in a tit-for-tat response to India’s move.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #901

Michal GarbovitzUS Army already looking to future pandemics. While still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the US Army is already thinking ahead about the impacts of future pandemics and how they will affect the service, according to the head of Army Futures Command. General John Murray, Futures Command’s commanding general, said on May 27 that “The chances of this happening again are not zero for sure”. “It’s demographics, it’s urbanization, it’s economies, it’s pandemics,” he said during a teleconference with reporters hosted by George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security.
The sex worker who spied for Israel’s pre-state militia. Once a disregarded sex worker, today Michal Garbovitz is hailed for aiding the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization in British-Mandate Palestine between 1920 and 1948. Described in contemporary accounts as a “good-looking and handsome” woman, Garbovitz was estranged by her Jewish family for fraternizing with Arabs. However, during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 against the Mandatory forces, she “exploited her contacts with Arabs and British police officers to extract vital information and transfer it to the Haganah”.
Should COVID-19 status be a protected classification? People who have recovered from COVID-19 already face significant disadvantages, even if they have fully recuperated from the virus. For instance, the military announced several weeks ago that recovering from COVID-19 would be a permanently disqualifying condition for entrance into the armed services. Although the military later clarified that such a disqualification would only apply to individuals hospitalized because of COVID-19, many people who have recovered from the virus will face obstacles to joining the military due to these restrictions.

News you may have missed #900

Marco RubioChina may set up Hong Kong spy agency under new law. China’s new national security legislation may be used to establish a domestic intelligence agency in Hong Kong similar to the British colonial-era’s Special Branch, according the territory’s former leader Leung Chun Ying. Leung’s comments could give weight to concern among some Hong Kongers and Western governments that national security legislation will herald a new era of political surveillance and law enforcement controlled from the mainland.
Islamic State is back and this time the west is ill-prepared to take it on. Hassan Hassan, of the Center for Global Policy, and co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, argues that “the current trends seem more favourable to the Islamic State than to local forces in Iraq”. Additionally, “tensions between the US and Iraqi forces also make it harder for the two partners to work in harmony as they did during the fight against Isis in places like Mosul”.
New Senate intelligence committee director warns against virus conspiracies. Senator Marco Rubio (pictured), the new Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has warned that foreign actors will seek to amplify conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and find new ways to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. The Florida Republican said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that one possibility could be an effort to convince people that a new vaccine against the virus, once created, would be more harmful than helpful.

As ISIS goes online due to COVID-19, it publishes a new cybersecurity magazine

Islamic StateAs the Islamic State continues to transfer its activities online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the group has published the first issue of a new cybersecurity magazine, aimed at helping its members evade surveillance. The Islamic State, known previously as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has always been active online. But the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted it to augment the volume and intensity of its online work, for two reasons: first, to protect its members from the virus; second, to recruit young people who are spending more time online as a result of lockdowns taking place across the world.

Amidst this shift to the online environment, the Islamic State has published the first issue of what appears to be a new cybersecurity magazine. Veteran reporter Bridget Johnson, currently the managing editor for Homeland Security Today, said earlier this week that the 24-page magazine is titled The Supporter’s Security and is published in two versions, one in the Arabic and one in the English language.

Johnson reports that the new magazine is produced by the Electronic Horizons Foundation (EHF), the Islamic State’s information technology wing. Since its appearance in 2016, the EHF has taken it upon itself to operate “as an IT help desk of sorts” to assist Islamic State supporters avoid online tracking and surveillance by state agencies, says Johnson. It its inaugural proclamation, the EHF called on Islamic State supporters to “face the electronic surveillance” and educate themselves about “the dangers of the Internet” so that “they don’t commit security mistakes that can lead to their bombardment and killing”. Read more of this post

Russia flew unmarked military aircraft to Libya to evacuate mercenaries, US claims

Libyan National Army LibyaThe United States has alleged that the Russian military flew over a dozen unmarked aircraft to Libya, in an attempt to provide air support for Russian mercenaries who are fighting in Tripoli. If true, this development marks a major escalation of Russia’s military intervention in the Libyan civil war.

The war has been raging in Libya since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Much of the east of the country is controlled by the United States-backed Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Russia also backs the LNA and is vying with the United States for influence among Haftar’s commanders and troops. The LNA is fighting against the United Nations-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), which is supported by Qatar and Turkey.

On Tuesday, the Africa Command of the United States Department of Defense alleged that Russian pilots had flown military planes to Jufra, an LNA stronghold. The Americans claimed that the jets had been repainted in Syria to hide their Russian Federation insignia, before being flown first to Tobruk, in Libya’s east, and from there to Jufra. According to the Pentagon, the Russian planes were flown to Libya in order to provide air support to over 1,000 Russian mercenaries who are fighting alongside the LNA.

The mercenaries reportedly belong to the PMC Wagner (also known as the Wagner Group), a Russian security contractor with presence on the ground in Syria, eastern Ukraine, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere. Western officials allege that Russian private contractor firms like Wagner could not operate without permission from the Kremlin. According to recent reports, Wagner personnel have been participating in the LNA’s year-long effort to take Tripoli from the hands of the GNA and by doing so put an end to the Libyan civil war. But the offensive has not been going well in recent days, and Wagner forces were reportedly pushed back by Turkish- and Qatari-supported GNA troops.

The US Pentagon alleged that Moscow sent the Russian military aircraft to Libya in order to “provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the LNA’s fight”. Other commentators have argued that the main purpose of the mission was to reach the outskirts of Tripoli and airlift the Russian mercenaries to safety. But Ahmed Mismari, a spokesman for the LNA, rejected reports of the arrival of Russian military aircraft to Libya as “media rumors and lies”. He said that all aircraft used by the LNA were “repaired […] old Libyan jets”. The Russian military has not commented on the allegations by the US Pentagon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 May 2020 | Permalink

Exiled former intelligence official says Saudi government abducted his children

Muhammad bin NayefA Saudi government official, who served as a senior advisor to the oil kingdom’s former Crown Prince, has accused the Saudi monarchy of abducting his children in order to force him to end his self-exile in Canada. With a doctorate in artificial intelligence from the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Saad al-Jabri was until 2015 a rare example of a highly educated government administrator among Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite. Dr. al-Jabri rose in the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (pictured). Prince bin Nayef is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, and until 2015 was destined to succeed King Abdullah and occupy the kingdom’s throne. Eventually, bin Nayef appointed Dr. al-Jabri as Minister of State and made him his most senior and trusted adviser on matters of security and intelligence.

Western intelligence officials credit Dr. al-Jabri with transforming the Saudi security establishment in the 2000s, by introducing scientific methods in investigations, associated with digital forensics, data mining and other advanced techniques. Thanks to his British upbringing and education, Dr. al-Jabri operated with ease and comfort in Western capitals. He soon became the primary link between Saudi Arabia and the so-called “Five Eyes Alliance” —a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Read more of this post

Israeli prime minister publicly thanks Mossad chief for help with COVID-19

Yossi Cohen MossadThe embattled Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, met publicly with the Director of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and thanked him for leading the country’s procurement efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting was a rare public acknowledgement of the central role that the secretive spy agency played during the pandemic.

Early on during the COVID-19 outbreak, it was reported that the intelligence agencies of Israel were playing an increasingly important role in the Jewish state’s effort to combat the effects of the coronavirus in its territory. In an uncharacteristic move, the government went out of its way to advertise the participation of its secretive spy agencies in the national effort to limit the spread of the virus.

In a television interview, an unnamed official for Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, said the agency had managed to secure 100,000 coronavirus testing kits, 25,000 N-95 masks and 100 ventilators. The material had been acquired “from unnamed countries” by Mossad officers, he said. The officers had to “race to [foreign] factories” and secure these critical supplies after they had been “ordered by other countries”, he added. The agents then had to coordinate secret airlifts so that the medical material could be transported to Israel in time.

But many of the coronavirus testing kits procured by the Mossad turned out to be incomplete. According to local media reports, when the kits arrived in Israel from “an unidentified Gulf state”, scientists realized that they were useless. That was because they arrived without the chemical reagents that were required to carry out complete tests on subjects. These reagents were eventually procured from South Korea and arrived in Israel nearly a month later, when demand for them was far less urgent. The Mossad was heavily criticized for this operation.

But last weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly thanked the Mossad director for leading the nation’s Joint Procurement Command Center during the COVID-19 pandemic. He told Director Cohen that he had carried out his tasks “exceptionally well [and] the results speak for themselves”. The meeting took place to mark the return of the procurement centers’ command to the Ministry of Health. But the Mossad may be asked to step in again, said Netanyahu: “we are currently passing the torch”, said the prime minister. However, “we do not know what the next day, or the next month, will bring. Since you have acquired the experience, remember it, we may need it again”, he told Cohen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2020 | Permalink