Soviet memoirs suggest KGB abducted and murdered Swedish diplomat

Raoul WallenbergThe recently discovered memoirs of a former director of the Soviet KGB suggest that a senior Swedish diplomat, who disappeared mysteriously in the closing stages of World War II, was killed on the orders of Joseph Stalin. The fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg is one of the 20th century’s unsolved espionage mysteries. In 1944 and 1945, the 33-year-old Wallenberg was Sweden’s ambassador to Budapest, the capital of German-allied Hungary. During his time there, Wallenberg is said to have saved over 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, by supplying them with Swedish travel documents, or smuggling them out of the country through a network of safe houses. He also reportedly dissuaded German military commanders from launching an all-out armed attack on Budapest’s Jewish ghetto.

But Wallenberg was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. In January of 1945, as the Soviet Red Army descended on Hungary, Moscow gave orders for Wallenberg’s arrest on charges of spying for Washington. The Swedish diplomat disappeared, never to be seen in public again. Some historians speculate that Joseph Stalin initially intended to exchange Wallenberg for a number of Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers who had defected to Sweden. According to official Soviet government reports, Wallenberg died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947, while being interrogated at the Lubyanka, a KGB-affiliated prison complex in downtown Moscow. Despite the claims of the official Soviet record, historians have cited periodic reports that Wallenberg may have managed to survive in the Soviet concentration camp system until as late as the 1980s.

But the recently discovered memoirs of Ivan Serov, who directed the KGB from 1954 to 1958, appear to support the prevalent theory about Wallenberg’s demise in 1947. Serov led the feared Soviet intelligence agency under the reformer Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Joseph Stalin in the premiership of the USSR. Khrushchev appointed Serov to conduct an official probe into Wallenberg’s fate. Serov’s memoirs were found in 2012 by one of his granddaughters, Vera Serova, inside several suitcases that had been secretly encased inside a wall in the family’s summer home. According to British newspaper The Times, the documents indicate that Wallenberg was indeed held for two years in the Lubyanka, where he was regularly interrogated by the KGB. The latter were certain that the Swedish diplomat was an American spy who had also been close to Nazi Germany’s diplomatic delegation in Hungary. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin considered exchanging him for Soviet assets in the West. But eventually Wallenberg “lost his value [and] Stalin didn’t see any point in sending him home”, according to Serov’s memoirs. The KGB strongman adds that “undoubtedly, Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947”. Further on, he notes that, according to Viktor Abakumov, who headed the MGB —a KGB predecessor agency— in the mid-1940s, the order to kill Wallenberg came from Stalin himself.

In 2011, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, Chief Archivist for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), one of two successor agencies to the old Soviet KGB, gave an interview about Wallenberg, in which he said that most of the Soviet documentation on the Swedish diplomat had been systematically destroyed in the 1950s. But he said that historical reports of Wallenberg’s survival into the 1980s were “a product of […] people’s imagination”, and insisted that he was “one hundred percent certain […] that Wallenberg never was in any prison” other than the Lubyanka. An investigation by the Swedish government into the diplomat’s disappearance and eventual fate is ongoing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2016 | Permalink

Portuguese appeals court orders extradition of ex-CIA officer to Italy

Sabrina De SousaAn appeals court in Portugal has ruled that a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency is to be extradited to Italy, where she faces charges of helping kidnap a man as part of a secret operation sponsored by the United States government. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. After a decision was made to extradite De Sousa, her lawyers filed an appeal. Last week, however, her appeal was denied, which means that she is to be extradited after May 4. It appears that De Sousa will now have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she will probably have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa plans to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2016 | Permalink


Malaysia foiled Islamic State plan to kidnap prime minister, senior officials

Ahmad Zahid HamidAuthorities in Malaysia said they managed to foil a plan by the Islamic State to kidnap the country’s prime minister and two other senior cabinet officials, in exchange for ransom. According to the government of Malaysia, the Islamic State also planned to stage armed attacks throughout the country, including in major urban centers, such as Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital. News of the alleged plot was revealed in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of the Malaysian parliament, by Ahmad Zahid Hamid, the country’s deputy prime minister. He told members of parliament that Malaysian intelligence had managed to detect the plot, which had been planned for January 30, 2015, but that the government did not believe it was prudent to alarm the country until the investigation of the alleged plot had been finalized.

According to Hamid, 13 individuals with direct ties to the Islamic State were behind the plot to kidnap three senior members of the Malaysian government on the same day. The targets were the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, and Hamid himself, who informed the parliament on Tuesday. He said that the Islamic State members were planning to ask for a large amount of money in return for delivering the three politicians to the authorities unharmed. Along with the kidnappings, the Islamic State members had planned to raid military facilities and steal weapons, then plant explosions throughout the country. They also wanted to conduct a series of armed robberies in order to acquire funds for the militant organization.

Hamid told the parliament that intelligence agencies had not been able to establish proof of the existence of an independent network belonging to the Islamic State in Malaysia. Instead, Islamic State members and sympathizers in the country are being handled from abroad, primarily from Syria, he said. Speaking on Tuesday about the alleged plot, Defense Minister Hussein said that security had been increased at all military bases and that the personal protection detail of senior cabinet officials had been augmented as a result of the plot.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 March 2016 | Permalink

European court of human rights censures Italy over CIA abduction case

Abu Omar NasrEurope’s highest human rights court has ruled against Italy in the case of an Egyptian man who was abducted from Milan in 2003 by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, is a former member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Islamist group founded in the 1970s, which aimed to overthrow the Egyptian government and replace it with an Islamic regime. Members of the group have been implicated in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, as well as in numerous attacks on tourist facilities in Egypt in the 1990s. Once al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya was declared illegal in Egypt, Italian authorities offered Nasr political asylum, after he successfully argued that he would be subject to torture if arrested in Egypt.

But in 2003, the CIA, which believed that Nasr was involved with al-Qaeda-linked groups in Europe, abducted him from Milan in broad daylight. After his abduction, Nasr was delivered by the CIA to Egyptian authorities under Washington’s “extraordinary rendition” program. He was then imprisoned in Egypt for four years without trial. Following his release in 2008, Nasr said he was brutally tortured and raped by his Egyptian captors and was never given access to a lawyer. Regular readers of intelNews will recall that the Nasr abduction prompted international headlines after an Italian court convicted 23 Americans and two Italians for Nasr’s kidnapping. The American defendants, most of whom are believed to be CIA officers, were tried in absentia. Washington has since refused to extradite them to Italy.

On Tuesday, Italy was found guilty of human rights violations in the Nasr case by the European Court of Human Rights, the highest court of justice sanctioned by the Council of Europe. The court said that the Italian state imposed “the principle of state secrecy […] in order to ensure that those responsible [for Nasr’s abduction] did not have to answer for their actions”. Consequently, those responsible for the abduction were “ultimately […] granted immunity”, said the court, implying that the Italian executive sabotaged the Italian trial in order to allow for the alleged CIA officers to escape justice. The court also ordered Italy to pay Nasr €115,000 ($127,000) in restitution.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 February 2016 | Permalink

Portugal court rules to extradite ex-CIA officer wanted in Italy for kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA court in Portugal has ruled to extradite a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Italy, where she faces charges of kidnapping a man as part of a secret operation. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. The Reuters news agency said on Friday that De Sousa would “be surrendered to Italian authorities” so that she could be informed of the Italian court’s decision to convict her in 2009. The news agency was reportedly told by a Portuguese court official that De Sousa would have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she would have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa planned to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2016 | Permalink

Portugal detains ex-CIA operative wanted for 2003 kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by Italian authorities for her alleged role in the abduction and rendition of a suspected Islamist militant in Italy, has been arrested by police in Portugal. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured and raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

According to The Associated Press, Vice News and Newsweek, De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday. She is believed to have spent two nights in jail before being released on Wednesday. However, De Sousa’s passport was seized by Portuguese authorities, who are now trying to decide whether to extradite her to Italy to face charges for helping kidnap Nasr in 2003, and for failing to appear in court in 2009. Shortly after her conviction, De Sousa told American media that the CIA operation against Nasr in Italy “broke the law”, but had been authorized by the leadership of the CIA. The latter, she said, “abandoned and betrayed” those who carried out Nasr’s abduction, leaving them “to fend for themselves”.

In 2013, another convicted CIA operative, Robert Seldon Lady, who is believed to have been the CIA’s station chief in Milan at the time of Nasr’s kidnapping, was detained while attempting to enter Panama from Costa Rica at a remote jungle border-crossing. Costa Rican authorities said later that “a check on his passport [had] triggered an INTERPOL alert”. However, he was released a day later. According to the Panamanian foreign ministry, Lady was released because “Panama did not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink

Israeli nuclear whistleblower recalls his 1986 capture by the Mossad

Mordechai VanunuIsraeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for revealing the existence of Israel’s nuclear program, has spoken for the first time about his 1986abduction by the Mossad in Rome. Vanunu was an employee at Israel’s top-secret Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the desert city of Dimona, which was used to develop the country’s nuclear arsenal. But he became a fervent opponent of nuclear proliferation and in 1986 fled to the United Kingdom, where he revealed the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to the The Times of London. His action was in direct violation of the non-disclosure agreement he had signed with the government of Israel; moreover, it went against Israel’s official policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, which means that the country refuses to confirm or deny that it maintains a nuclear weapons program.

Soon after Vanunu settled in London, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad began making plans to capture him. The spy agency sent one of its American-born female officers, Cheryl Bentov, to befriend Vanunu. The decision was taken after Mossad psychologists determined that Vanunu was lonely and longed for female companionship. Masquerading as an American tourist by the name of ‘Cindy’, Bentov convinced Vanunu to go with her on Vacation to Rome, Italy. Soon after the couple arrived in the Italian capital, Vanunu was abducted by a Mossad team who injected him with a paralyzing drug before taking him away in a van. Vanunu was then transferred onboard the INS Noga, an Israeli signals-intelligence ship masquerading as a merchant vessel, which transported him to Israel. He was convicted to 18 years in prison and was released in 2004, after having spent 11 years in solitary confinement.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 2 television showed excerpts of Vanunu’s first-ever interview to an Israeli media outlet. The interview, which is to be aired in full on Friday, includes Vanunu’s personal account of his capture by the Mossad. He told the interviewer that ‘Cindy’ first spoke to him as she walked alongside him while the two of them were crossing a London street. But he said that it was he who “initiated the relationship” with the woman posing as an American tourist. That was a critical moment in the whole process, said Vanunu, because “if she initiates you’ll suspect her”. The nuclear whistleblower insisted, however, that he did not “fall in love with her”, as some accounts of the Mossad operation have suggested, though he was “definitely attracted” to her, he said.

Vanunu added that the thought of ‘Cindy’ being a Mossad officer had initially crossed his mind; but he disregarded it and did not realize he was being tricked “until the very last moment”. He told Channel 2 that even after several days after his capture, he still believed that ‘Cindy’ had also been abducted. It was only later that he “reached the conclusion that she was part of the plan”, he said. At another point in the interview, Vanunu said that ‘Cindy’ was not the only Mossad officer who had tried to befriend him while he was in London, but that he was able to detect every other attempt by Israeli intelligence operatives.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 September 2015 | Permalink