One dead after masked gunmen with AK-47s raid Austrian Airlines plane in Tirana

Tirana Airport

At least two members of an armed gang remain at large after raiding an Austrian Airlines plane on the runway of the Tirana International Airport in Albania, and managing to get away with an estimated $11 million in cash. To defend against bank robberies —a regular occurrence in crime-ridden Albania— the Bank of Albania does not accept large cash deposits. Consequently, branches of foreign-owned banks that operate in Albania export their hard-currency deposits abroad via regular flights to Vienna, Austria.

On Tuesday, as the Austrian Airlines airplane was preparing to take off from the Tirana International Airport, a white van bearing the logo of the General Directorate of Taxation —the revenue collection agency of the Albanian Government— smashed through the gate used by the airport’s emergency services and drove up to the airplane. Three masked men dressed in military fatigues exited the van and reportedly threatened the luggage handlers with AK-47 rifles. They then forced open the cargo doors of the plane and removed several bags full of hard currency. In less than four minutes, they started to drive back toward the emergency gate, when they were confronted by a police patrol that opened fire on them. One of the robbers was reportedly shot in the head and died instantly.

On Wednesday, police identified the dead robber as Admir Murataj and said that he had been the mastermind of the operation. By the end of Wednesday, police had arrested four men and questioned at least 40 other people in connection with the robbery. Initial reports said that the robbers had left the scene of the crime with about $2.8 million in cash, but subsequent reports said that as much as $11 million had been stolen. Investigators said that the robbers must have had inside knowledge about the Austrian Airlines plane and its cargo. A spokesperson for Austrian Airlines said that there would be no further transfers of cash from Albania to Austria following the robbery.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 April 2019 | Permalink

Details of Albania’s clandestine operatives posted online due to admin error

Albanian State Intelligence Service Sensitive information about the identities and activities of Albania’s intelligence operatives appeared online, apparently due to an administrative blunder. The incident has reportedly alarmed officials at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Albania has been a member since 2009. British newspaper The Independent, which reported the incident earlier this month, described it as “a dangerous breach that could have international consequences”. The paper quoted a former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency who described the breach as “the type of bureaucratic catastrophe that could put lives at risk”.

Until the end of the Cold War, Albania was a communist state aligned with China. Since 1991, however, the former communist country has tried to align itself with the West. As part of this strategy, successive Albanian administrations have tried to combat widespread nepotism and government corruption. A significant aspect of this ongoing anti-corruption campaign involves the daily publication of the financial activities of Albanian government agencies. This information is available in searchable spreadsheets on the website of Albania’s Ministry of Finance and Economy. Recently, however, Vincent Triest, a researcher with British-based investigative website Bellingcat, noticed that the publicly available spreadsheets contained information about the State Intelligence Service, Albania’s spy agency, known as SHISH. In reading through the spreadsheets, Triest was able to find the names, official job titles, salaries and monthly expenses of at least eight senior members of SHISH. Most of them, said Triest, serve under official (diplomatic) cover at Albanian embassies and consulates in Greece, Italy, Belgium, Serbia, and elsewhere in Europe.

In a follow-up article posted yesterday on Bellingcat’s website, Triest said that the spreadsheets on the website of the Albanian Finance Ministry contain names and national identification records of SHISH officers, the agency field offices where they are serving, and even the make and model of the vehicles they drive along with their license plate numbers. A separate spreadsheet lists the construction contractors, plumbers and electricians used by various SHISH field offices, as well as the mechanics that are contracted to service the agency’s vehicles. Remarkably, at least two of the exposed SHISH officers are serving in “sensitive posts at NATO headquarters in Brussels”, writes Triest. This has raised alarms at NATO, as Albanian intelligence officers with access to NATO’s secrets could now become susceptible to possible recruitment by adversary spy agencies, said The Independent. The paper added that it notified the Albanian government of the security breach, and was told that the sensitive data would be promptly removed from government websites.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2018 | Permalink

News you may have missed #814

Ilir KumbaroBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israel accuses Palestinian of spying for Hezbollah. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency says a Palestinian man has been charged with relaying information to Hezbollah in Lebanon about sensitive government sites, including parliament. It identified the suspect as Azzam Mashahara, a resident of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, unlike Palestinians from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, have Israeli identity cards that allow them to travel freely within Israel. Mashahara was charged with maintaining contacts with a foreign agent and relaying information to the enemy.
►►UK agency tries to crack coded message from WWII-era carrier pigeon. The note, written on official stationary with the heading “Pigeon Service,” was discovered in a red canister attached to the skeletal leg of a pigeon in a chimney in Surrey, England. The message is made up of 27 seemingly random five-letter blocks and though it’s undated, government analysts believe the pigeon met his end while on a secret mission during the Second World War. The note is signed “Sjt W Stot” and was intended for the destination “XO2”. In a statement, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), said that during the war secret communications would often utilize specialized codebooks “in which each code group of four or five letters had a meaning relevant to a specific operation, allowing much information to be sent in a short message”. The GCHQ said that those messages may have been put through an additional layer of security by being re-coded with what’s known as a one-time pad.
►►Albania court convicts fugitive ex-spy chief. An Albanian court has convicted Ilir Kumbaro, the country’s fugitive former intelligence chief, of murder for the 1995 death of a suspect who was illegally detained for an alleged plot to murder the President of the Republic of Macedonia. The victim, businessman Remzi Hoxha, an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia, was abducted by the secret police 17 years ago along with two other suspects for allegedly planning to kill then-Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov during a visit to Albania. The court said the three suspects were held illegally and tortured during questioning. Kumbaro traveled to Britain in 1996 under a false identity, claiming to be a refugee from Kosovo. He has been missing for a year, after skipping an extradition hearing in London. Hoxha was never found and is presumed to have died in custody.

News you may have missed #781

Bahri ShaqirinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Syria denies Vice-President has defected. Syria denied reports over weekend that President Bashar al-Assad’s deputy had defected. Vice-President Farouq al-Shara “never thought for a moment about leaving the country”, said a statement from his office, broadcast on state television and issued in response to reports that the veteran Ba’ath Party loyalist had tried to defect to Jordan. Al-Sharaa’s office said the vice-president “supports get[ting] united support from the [United Nations] Security Council to carry out his mission without obstacles”.
►►What is inside the CIA’s Polish prison? A major political scandal erupted in Poland this year, over an alleged secret CIA ‘black site’ used to house high-ranking terrorism suspects. But exactly was in this prison? In this interview, aired yesterday on Washington DC-based National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition program, host Linda Wertheimer speaks to journalist and author Roy Gutman about his recent trip to Poland, to cover an investigation into the CIA interrogation facilities.
►►US ‘surprised’ after Albania replaces spy chief. Little more than a month after taking office, Albanian President Bujar Nishani has discharged the Director of the country’s State Security Agency, SHISH, Bahri Shaqirin. The move follows a request by Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who first proposed that Shaqirin should be removed. His replacement is Visho Ajazi Lika, currently Deputy Minister for Technology and Information. Some analysts note that Shaqirin enjoyed the support of the US Embassy in Tirana. One of its spokespersons said that “the US had not been informed about Shaqiri’s discharge and [Washington was] surprised by this fast and unexpected decision”.

News you may have missed #647

Ilir Nazmi Kumbaro

Ilir Kumbaro

►►Albanian ex-spy chief on the run in Britain. Albania’s former intelligence chief, Ilir Nazmi Kumbaro, who is wanted in his homeland for torture and kidnapping, failed to attend an extradition hearing on Thursday at Westminster magistrates’ court in London. He has reportedly left his home in Fulham, west London, and police believe he is being harbored by friends.
►►Secret CIA black site discovered in Romania. The hitherto secret location, code-named “Bright Light”, is said to have been one of the CIA’s notorious interrogation prisons in Eastern Europe. It has been traced to the basement of Romania’s National Registry Office for Classified Information, which lies in a busy residential district of the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
►►CIA leaves drone base in Pakistan. The US Central Intelligence Agency has vacated an air base in western Pakistan that it had been using for drone strikes against militants in the country’s tribal areas. Pakistan had ordered the CIA to leave the Shamsi air base in protest over NATO airstrikes that killed at least 25 Pakistani soldiers near the border with Afghanistan on November 26.

News you may have missed #0236

  • Airline bomb plotter’s father warned CIA about his son. Dr. Umaru AbdulMutallab, the father of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the Christmas Day airline bomb plot suspect, visited the US embassy in Nigeria in November, where he told a CIA agent that he believed his son was under the influence of religious extremists and had traveled from London, England, to Yemen.
  • New book details Stasi spying on Günter Grass. A new book, entitled Guenter Grass im Visier: Die Stasi-Akte (Günter Grass in the Crosshairs: The Stasi Files), is to be published in March in Germany. Among other things, it will detail spying operations against the Nobel Prize-winning author by the East German secret police, the Stasi.
  • Former Albanian spymaster claiming benefits in Britain. Ilir Kumbaro, Albania’s former spymaster, is wanted by authorities for having kidnapped and tortured three men in his homeland. But after falling out with officials there, he fled to Britain in 1996, where he has lived for 13 years using the alias Shaqa Shatri.

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A terrible week for German spy agencies

BND logo

BND logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Germany’s largest intelligence agencies are in for a challenging few days, as two spy scandals are making headlines in the country’s media. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s foremost domestic intelligence organization, is firmly in the hot seat after it emerged that a woman it employed as an undercover informer was among seven extremists indicted for helping operate a hardcore neo-Nazi online radio station. The woman, who has been identified only as “Sandra F.”, had been hired by the spy agency to monitor the German People’s Union (DVU), a national socialist political grouping with substantial following in Brandenburg and Saxony. Read more of this post