An assessment of Russia’s espionage network in Switzerland

Russian embassy SwitzerlandSINCE LATE FEBRUARY, WHEN Russian troops invaded Ukraine, over 500 Russian diplomats have been expelled from Western countries. Even former Russian allies have contributed to the growing list of expulsions —most recently Bulgaria, which ousted a near-unprecedented 70 Russian diplomats last week, citing espionage concerns. Amidst that sea of expulsions, Switzerland remains an island. It is among the few European countries that have yet to officially expel Russian diplomats. Abiding by its centuries-old policy of neutrality, it has resisted calls to take sides in the intelligence war between the West and Russia.

“No-Questions-Asked” Approach to Espionage

Russia has been able to take advantage of Switzerland’s neutrality policy since February. Instead of returning to Moscow, at least some of the expelled Russian diplomats have been reposted to Switzerland. They continue to operate there under a “no-questions-asked” policy, which has prevailed since the days of the Cold War. For this and other reasons (i.e. proximity to prime intelligence targets, safety, advanced telecommunications systems), Switzerland has been a major intelligence hub for decades. According to the Nachrichtendienst des Bundes (NDB), Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service, the past few years have witnessed higher levels of activity by foreign intelligence services than any other period since the Cold War.

Russia’s Intelligence Presence in Switzerland

During that time, Russia has been able to build a pan-European espionage hub in the small alpine state. That is the conclusion of a report by Jonas Roth, which was published last week in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Switzerland’s newspaper of record. The report, entitled “So Spioniert Russland in der Schweiz” (“How Russian spies operate in Switzerland”), features commentary by several experts and government officials. One source tells Roth that, despite the intense diplomatic pressure Russia has faced globally since February, its espionage structures in Swiss cities like Geneva and Bern “are still intact”.

How many Russian intelligence officers are currently operating in Switzerland? According to the report, at least a third of Russia’s 220-strong diplomatic presence in the country consists of intelligence officers. These 70 or so intelligence officers represent all three of Russia’s primary intelligence agencies, namely the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU), and the Federal Security Service (FSB). Officers from these agencies handle an unknown number of informants and agents; these are Swiss or third-country nationals, who provide the Russians with intelligence on a regular basis. Special activities are carried out by Russian intelligence personnel who travel to Switzerland on an ad hoc basis. Read more of this post

Despite expectations, a cyber-blitz has not occurred in Ukraine. Experts explain why

Russian invasion of Ukraine IN THE OPENING STAGES of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was a widespread expectation among security experts that the world would witness a new chapter in the history of cyber-warfare: something akin to carpet-bombing in cyberspace. These fears, however, have not materialized. Although cyber-attacks have occurred on both sides, their scale has remained markedly modest. Consequently, their effect has been limited and has had no traceable strategic impact on the conflict.

Why is that? According to two experts, Nadiya Kostyuk, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Cybersecurity and Privacy, and Aaron Brantly, assistant professor and director of Virginia Tech’s Tech4Humanity Lab, the reasons partly relate to how nation-states form cyber-alliances, as well as to Russia’s overall approach to this war. The two experts attempt to forensically analyze this topic in their article entitled “War in the Borderland Through Cyberspace: Limits of Defending Ukraine Through Interstate Cooperation”, which was published on June 29 in Contemporary Security Policy.

Does the Improved Cyber-Defense Argument Stand to Reason?

In their article, Kostyuk and Brantly systematically scrutinize a number of reasons that other experts have proposed to explain the absence of a major cyber-war campaign by Russia. Among them is the view that Ukraine significantly improved its cyber-defenses after 2015, when it began collaborating closely with Western countries —notably the United States and the United Kingdom. Specially designated “cyber-warfare teams” from these countries have been helping Ukraine in tasks ranging from “the synchronization of [its] cyber-related legislation” with Western standards, as well as aligning them with NATO standards, so that Ukrainian cyber-warfare units can make use of advanced technologies and systems. Could it be, therefore, that Ukraine has improved its cyber-security posture enough to be able to defend itself against relentless Russian cyber-attacks?

That is unlikely, say the authors, given that “Ukraine’s cyber capabilities are still organizationally and operationally under- developed” in comparison to Russia’s. That is exacerbated by the endemic corruption and clientelism (the creation of patronage networks) in Ukraine, as well as by the bitter in-fighting between government agencies —notably the Ministry of Defense and the Security Service of Ukraine. It should not go without notice, Kostyuk and Brantly note, that the Ukrainian government sought frantically to develop a “volunteer cyber-army” on an ad hoc basis to defend the nation in the first days of the Russian invasion. That did not exactly instill trust in the country’s level of preparation to withstand a cyber-campaign by Moscow. Read more of this post

Can one ever truly leave the Russian intelligence services? It depends, says expert

Kremlin, RussiaRUSSIANS ARE AWARE OF the phrase “there is no such thing as a former chekist”. The term “chekist” dates from the Bolshevik-era All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (VChK, pronounced “cheka”), which was formed in 1917 as the first Soviet-era state security agency. By the 1940s, intelligence posts had come to be seen as life-long relationships between chekists and the Soviet government, which continued even after one’s retirement. In the words of Joseph Stalin, “[a] chekist has only two paths: toward promotion or to prison”. Is that still the case? It depends on who you ask, says Dr. Kevin Riehle, a 30-year counterintelligence veteran with the United States government, who now teaches at the University of Mississippi’s Center for Intelligence and Security Studies.

Riehle, author of Soviet Defectors: Revelations of Renegade Intelligence Officers, 1924-1954 (Edinburgh University Press, 2022), discusses this topic in an article published earlier this month in The International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence. The article, entitled “Post-KGB Lives: Is There Such a Thing as a Former Chekist?”, examines this concept with reference to three Russian intelligence agencies, all of which trace their origins to the Soviet-era Cheka —namely the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Federal Protective Service (FSO).

The author explains that the history of chekist organizations is replete with examples of officers, especially those with military backgrounds, who “received post-separation jobs with no apparent obligation to continue cooperation with the [intelligence] service[s]”. However, since the rise of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency, the Kremlin has imposed tight restrictions on the post-retirement activities of former intelligence personnel. As of 2019, such former personnel are not permitted to leave Russia for any reason for five years following their retirement. There is another category of Putin-era intelligence retirees, who enter careers in business or politics. Many of them maintain their intelligence contacts and “continue to fulfil service requirements” while displaying a sense of pride for their government service. This often results in business or political advantages, notes Riehle. Read more of this post

Analysis: HUMINT insights from the Muller/Cherkasov case

AIVD HollandAT A TIME WHEN dozens of countries are routinely expelling record numbers of Russian intelligence officers, news of the unmasking of yet another Russian spy is barely newsworthy. However, the case of Sergey Cherkasov/Victor Muller is different. That is because, unlike the vast majority of Russian spies with blown covers, he did not operate under diplomatic protection. This is not necessarily uncommon —in fact, there are probably dozens of Russian case officers operating internationally without diplomatic cover. What is unusual is that one of them has been publicly unmasked. What is more, the case offers some interesting pointers for those interested in contemporary human intelligence (HUMINT).

The Facts

According to the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), which publicized the case last week, a man using a Brazilian passport attempted to enter Holland in April of this year. His passport had been issued under the name Victor Muller Ferreira, allegedly born to an Irish father and a Spanish-speaking mother in Niteroi (near Rio de Janeiro) on April 4, 1989. However, according to the AIVD, the man’s real name is Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, a citizen of Russia, who was born on September 11, 1985. Based on the information released by Dutch intelligence, Cherkasov is an intelligence officer of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly known as the GRU.

The AIVD claims that the reason for Cherkasov’s visit to the Netherlands was to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, as a paid intern. He eventually planned to transition into full-time employment in the ICC, where he “would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services”. The AIVD reportedly notified the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service, which detained Cherkasov upon his arrival at Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol. The Dutch government declared the alleged GRU officer persona non grata and promptly expelled him back to Brazil “on the first flight out”.

Cherkasov’s Cover and Legend

Cherkasov arrived in Holland with a cover, a term that refers to a fake operational identity used for purposes of espionage. It is unlikely that his cover was natural, meaning that he is probably not Brazilian by birth —though it is possible that at least one of his parents was/is not Russian by birth. What is more likely is that Cherkasov’s cover is contractual, meaning that it was crafted especially for him by the GRU after he was hired as an intelligence officer. This likely happened as many as 10 years ago, when Cherkasov was in his early 20s. Read more of this post

Analysis: What We Are Likely to See in the Coming Weeks in Ukraine

Ukraine Russia war“THERE ARE DECADES WHERE nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. These words by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin offer a fitting description of the cataclysmic events witnessed since February 24. In the early hours of that day, the largest country in the world launched a strategic ground offensive against the largest country in Europe. What began as a “special military operation” has now escalated into the most extensive military conflict in Europe since World War II. It is clear that Russia’s original plan for this war collapsed within hours of the initial attack. But the correlation of forces continues to overwhelmingly favor the Russian side. Moreover, the bulk of the Russian forces are heading for Kyiv. This could result in the largest and most deadly urban battle since World War II.

Russia’s Original Strategy

The Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine was premised on a rapid military campaign, which was designed to trigger the collapse of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration within about a week. The original plan appears to have rested on quickly introducing non-conscript military units inside Kyiv, in order to force the government toQ Quote 1 flee to Lviv. At the same time, elite formations from the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU) and Spetsnaz (special operations forces) were sent to the Ukrainian capital to assassinate leading government figures.

Based on that assumption, Russia’s original strategy was to avoid engaging in clashes in major urban centers, barring those that are located along key transportation routes. That is because urban terrain heavily favors the defender and tends to result in mass invader casualties. The Russians can’t afford too many of those, given that the Russian expeditionary force of about 150,000 non-conscript troops is grossly insufficient to conquer—let alone occupy—a country the size of Ukraine, with a largely young population of well over 40 million. Read more of this post

Analysis: A Western-supported anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine is unlikely

Ukraine RussiaAS THE FULL-SCALE invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces continues to unfold, some Western commentators have begun to speculate about the possible launch of an anti-Russian insurgency by the Ukrainian population. This kind of speculation is not unreasonable. Indeed, given their enormous disparity in size and might, a symmetric confrontation between the two belligerents seems unthinkable. One simply cannot imagine that a direct military confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian military forces could result in anything other than a resounding victory for Moscow. However, although the rise of an armed anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine is possible, it is unlikely to be large in scale, and even more unlikely to succeed.

On first glance, Ukraine seems like a textbook case for a possible insurgency. Russia aside, it is Europe’s largest country by landmass, with a population of nearly 50 million. Even under the most favorable conditions, the Russians would find it difficult to occupy and control it without the consent of the local populace. Moreover, Ukraine shares borders with seven countries, including Russia, four of which—Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland—are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The geographic proximity of a host of NATO bases would easily allow Western intelligence agencies to provide the local population with war materiel, including advanced military hardware and other supplies. Lastly, due to the protracted war in Donetsk and Luhansk, the Ukrainian military has amassed significant experience in insurgency over the past decade.

However, as Brown University visiting professor Lyle Goldstein cautions in a recent article, things are never simple in war. Although no fewer than four NATO states border Ukraine, the military alliance and its leading patron, the United States, will need to exercise immense caution. In using these states to arm Ukrainian insurgents, Western powers will need to ensure a maximum degree of plausible deniability. Should Russia determine that Western countries are using these NATO powers as front-line states in a new Cold War, it could be tempted to launch military operations against them—an act that could spiral into an out-of-control multi-state war. It is also likely that these front-line NATO member-states will resist calls to be involved in this conflict, in order to avoid being dragged into a wider regional war.

Moreover, although numerous regions of Ukraine appear to be under fire at the moment, it is doubtful that the Russian military will seek to occupy the entire country. Moscow is thus unlikely to try to extend its control past the largely pro-Russian regions of eastern and east-central Ukraine. Such a strategy would ensure that Russian troops would be able to operate in a largely friendly environment. It would also make it difficult for Ukrainian insurgents to operate effectively anywhere east of Kiev. Lastly, the Russian Armed Forces have amassed substantial counter-insurgency experience in the post-Cold War era, having fought in large numbers in Chechnya and Syria, as well as in various regions of Africa through the Wagner Group.

In short, unless the Russians over-play their hand and try to take over the entire country, Western powers are likely to find it difficult to organize, support and sustain a concerted armed insurgency on Ukrainian soil. This does not mean that the ongoing Russian military campaign in Ukraine will inevitably be successful. War is inherently unpredictable, so anything can happen in the coming weeks and months. However, defeating the Russians in any military context will require many years of extremely brutal, bloody and fierce war.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 February 2022 | Permalink

Director of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency replaced following much speculation

Inter-Services Public Relations PakistanTHE DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) directorate, which is one of the country’s most powerful institutions, has been replaced, following weeks of speculation. On Wednesday, a press release issued by the Pakistani military announced that Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed would step down from his post of director of ISI, and will be replaced by Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum. General Hameed will now assume charge of Pakistan’s elite Corps XI in Peshawar, according to the press release.

As F.M. Shakil notes in The Asia Times, General Hameed’s removal from the top post at ISI had been speculated about for some time. His leadership in the ISI was marked by the spy agency’s increasingly close relations with the Afghan Taliban, as the group prepared to take back power in Afghanistan. Hameed’s activities in Afghanistan were strongly supported by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, who is believed to have fought to retain him as ISI director until the dust from the Taliban’s takeover settles in Kabul. The fact that Khan’s wish did not materialize is interesting, especially since, under Pakistani law, it is the prime minister’s office that appoints the director-general of the ISI.

Shakil suggests that Khan may have faced pressure from two fronts. First, from China, which is arguably Pakistan’s most important international ally. Beijing has been notably unhappy with the inability of the ISI to stop a string of armed attacks against Chinese workers, who are employed by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as well as other projects throughout Pakistan. These attacks have angered China, and have prompted strong calls for more security around Chinese-funded building projects in Pakistan. Beijing is believed to have asked for Hameed’s replacement as a result.

Second, the Pakistani military leadership saw Hameed’s relationship-building program with the Afghan Taliban as having gone a few steps too far. The issue is not so much the relationship-building itself —on the contrary, the Pakistani military wants to be in a position to influence Afghanistan’s new masters. But Hameed stands accused of having maneuvered too visibly. As Shakil notes, the ISI strongman visited Kabul just days after the Taliban takeover and was photographed “sipping green tea [next to Taliban leaders] with a triumphant smile”. That angered the Americans and caused some Pakistani military leaders to believe that Washington might even impose sanctions on Islamabad.

The argument, therefore, is that Hameed’s replacement pleases the Chinese, the Americans and the Pakistani military. The only side that did not get its way is that of the prime minister. Time will show what this means for the future of civilian rule in the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim-majority nation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 October 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Turkey and Qatar emerge as Taliban government’s main envoys to the West

Turkish embassy in Afghanistan

TURKEY AND QATAR, TWO countries with a growing diplomatic and intelligence network inside Afghanistan, are emerging as significant envoys to the Western world for the new government of the Taliban. Their newfound role in the Central Asian country puts them in direct competition with China and Russia, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open throughout the dramatic events of the past month. Three other countries with historically close ties to the Taliban, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also important players amidst the new reality in the war-torn country.

As a recent article by the BBC points out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s, when the group last held the reins of power in Kabul. But they quickly cut diplomatic ties with it following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their contacts with some of the older Taliban leaders remain strong, however.

In contrast to the older generation, some of the younger leaders of the Taliban see Qatar and Turkey as important mediators and conduits of communication with the outside world, and especially with the West. It is no accident that the Taliban entrusted the restoration of the —undoubtedly soon to be renamed— Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to technicians from Turkey and Qatar, who were hurriedly flown to the Afghan capital last week for that purpose.

In establishing relations of trust with the Taliban, Qatar is relying on a lengthy record of facilitating diplomatic connections between the militant group and Western powers. It should be recalled that it was in Doha that American and Taliban representatives negotiated the terms of Washington’s exit over several meetings spanning several administrations in the White House. In the past month, the Qataris used their links to the Taliban to assist numerous Western nations, including the United States, in evacuating their citizens from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Afghanistan chaos could revive CIA’s counterterrorism mission, say observers

US embassy in Afghanistan

THE RAPID TAKEOVER OF Afghanistan by the Taliban, and the potential descent of that country into an even deeper chaos, could force the United States Central Intelligence Agency to revive its counterterrorism mission, which it has been trying to put on the back-burner in recent years. This is discussed in an insightful article published last Friday in The New York Times by Julian Barnes, Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti (author of The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth).

The three reporters cite anonymous “current and former officials” who claim that the spiraling instability of Afghanistan “could draw the CIA back into a complex counterterrorism mission for years to come”. This comes as American officials are “reworking plans to counter threats that could emerge from Afghanistan’s chaos”, according to the report. Their ultimate fear is that Afghanistan could emerge as a beehive for militants of all backgrounds and stripes, just as Syria did in the 2010s, and before it Afghanistan in the 1990s. Even if the Taliban want to stop this from happening, the CIA has no faith in their ability to do so, the authors note.

But what can the CIA do in that regard? The spy agency has lost its extensive system of stations and outposts throughout Afghanistan. Its networks of agents inside the war-torn country have crumbled, and it doesn’t even have access to a US or other Western diplomatic facility from which to operate in-country. It will therefore need to negotiate with neighboring countries in order to establish facilities that can allow it to run agents and operations inside Afghanistan. This will not be easy, given the influence of Pakistan, Russia and China in the broader region.

The article cites a number of “senior US officials” who argue that the CIA’s priorities will not necessarily change after what happened in recent weeks in Afghanistan. Yes, there may be more urgency on counterterrorism following the victory of the Taliban, they say. They note, however, that US intelligence agencies are perfectly capable of handling “multiple priorities at once”. But the article also quotes Don Hepburn, who served both in the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who says that focusing on both state and non-state actors with the same intensity is not necessarily as simple as it sounds: “The agency is being drawn in many, many directions”, he cautions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 August 2021 | Permalink

Revealed: Unlike other Western nations, France began Afghan evacuations in May

Embassy of France in Afghanistan

UNLIKE OTHER WESTERN NATIONS, which are currently scrambling to evacuate their citizens and Afghan embassy workers amidst the chaotic takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, France began its evacuations back in May. It was then that the French government put in motion a complex operation to evacuate Afghans who had worked for its diplomatic facilities, as well as their families. It is believed that around 600 Afghans were evacuated in May, with several dozen more evacuations following in June and July.

The French government is now being praised from all sides for its “anticipatory planning”. Back in May, however, there was far more criticism than praise. On July 5, in an interview with France’s state-owned international television outlet, France24, Etienne Gille, director of the French aid charity Amité Franco-Afghan, derided the evacuations of Afghans by the French government as “premature”, saying they would hurt the aid work on the ground. In May, a German diplomat, who spoke anonymously to France’s Monde newspaper, criticized France for its decision to evacuate Afghans, and said Germany would not leave Afghanistan, but would instead invest €400 million to fortify civil society there.

Why was the French response so different from those of other Western nations? Britain’s former ambassador to France, Lord Peter Ricketts, has offered one explanation. He told British newspaper The Telegraph that the main reason behind France’s anticipatory planning was its distance from the United States. Britain, which has “stronger ties to Washington” compared to France, relied largely on the White House’s assessments on the situation in Afghanistan. France, on the other hand, maintains a “relative distance” from the United States, and was thus able to “act quickly on its own conclusions”, Lord Peter said. He added that Paris “just got on with it without feeling the need to coordinate closely with the US”.

Speaking recently about France’s decision to move forward with evacuations in May, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said: “France does not forget those who have worked for us”. The French government is still evacuating some of its diplomats, as well as Afghans, but the bulk of the evacuations have been completed.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 August 2021 | Permalink

News you may have missed #912: Analysis edition

Trojan Shield

SolarWinds: How Russian spies hacked US government departments. Last year, in perhaps the most audacious cyber attack in history, Russian military hackers sabotaged a tiny piece of computer code buried in a popular piece of software called SolarWinds. After it was installed, Russian agents went rummaging through the digital files of the US departments of Justice, State, Treasury, Energy, and Commerce —among others— and for nine months, they had unfettered access to top-level communications, court documents, even nuclear secrets. On July 4, the CBS television show 60 Minutes aired a special segment on this topic.

Why did the FBI’s encrypted phone sting not target US suspects? In 2018, a San Diego-led federal sting secretly launched an encrypted communications company as part of Operation TROJAN SHIELD (pictured). Over the next few years, FBI agents, working with law enforcement partners in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, seeded thousands of spyware-infected phones into the hands of criminals and used them to build cases against 300 organized crime groups around the world, from Australian biker gangs to Italian mafia cells. But one country was off limits for investigating agents: the United States. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kristina Davis explains why.

Opinion: Clearance holders need to protect America by studying espionage. John William Davis, retired counterintelligence officer who instructed the threat portion of the US Department of the Army’s Operations Security Course, argues that “many, many techniques for recruiting spies continue much as they did over preceding years. We can learn from the past and apply what we learn to the future.”

Analysis: The mysterious case of IDF ‘Officer X’ who died in an Israeli prison

Aviv Kochavi

The State of Israel has been in turmoil for several weeks, after it became known that an outstanding officer in one of the elite technological units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Division (Israel Military Intelligence, or IMI) was found dead while in custody in a military prison. He had been serving an eight-month sentence on suspicion of causing serious security damage to a critical intelligence technological system. The IDF’s chief of staff, Major General Aviv Kochavi (pictured), said in relation to the case: “The officer from the IMI committed very serious offenses. He committed them on purpose, for reasons I cannot describe. He almost [revealed] a big secret and we stopped it in the [last] minute”.

After the officer’s death, it was revealed by the IDF that his arrest was not a case of treason, or espionage and that he acted for personal, rather than for ideological, nationalistic or financial motives. Following public pressure about IDF’s handling of the matter and the unclear circumstances of the officer’s death, the IDF has provided some more details.

Officer X, who, according to an American website was named Tomer Aiges, was a 25-year-old captain with three honorary awards by the IMI. He had graduated from high school while simultaneously receiving a BSc in computer sciences at the age of 18. Before enlisting in the IDF, he worked in several hi-tech companies in Israel. People who worked with him there testified that he was a young man with extraordinary technical abilities, which is why he was recruited to the technology unit of the IMI.

There are two main issues of concern among the Israeli public. One is how the officer was held in custody for a long time without being brought to trial, even though a serious indictment —the details of which are not known— was filed against him, and when no one except his parents knew about it. To the young man’s acquaintances it seemed that he had mysteriously disappeared. What is more, much of his page on Facebook was deleted and no further updates appeared following his arrest. It was reported that during his arrest, there was a process of criminal mediation, in which the State of Israel sought to sentence him to ten years in prison.

The second problematic issue concerns the circumstances of his death. There are many questions about to how he could have died when his detention cell was under non-stop surveillance by closed-circuit cameras. Further questions remain as to why the investigation into the circumstances of his death has yet to be completed. There have been demands by Israeli former intelligence officers to hand over the investigation to a civilian inquiry committee headed by a Supreme Court judge, as there is grave concern that the IDF could be hiding information that could demonstrate it was negligent in protecting the officer’s life.

The publication of additional details about this case is subject to a strict ban by the Israeli military censorship —it should be noted that Israel is the only Western country that exercises security censorship. The Israeli public is eagerly awaiting the publication of further details about the circumstances of the death of the intelligence officer, Officer X.

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 18 June 2021 | Permalink

Operation Guardian of the Walls: Israel’s double intelligence failure

Lod Israel

For several days now, a war has been going on between the State of Israel and the Hamas organization that controls the Gaza Strip. The confrontation began after unrest broke out among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, who raised allegations of Israeli damage to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In firing missiles at Israel, Hamas tries to portray itself as protecting the sanctuaries of Islam in Jerusalem. In doing so, it seeks to strengthen its political position in Judea and Samaria against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is leading the Palestinian Authority. Since then, Israel has been using airstrikes against targets in Gaza, while Hamas has been firing hundreds of missiles at Israel daily. Israel is desperately trying to undermine Hamas’ military and operational capabilities, including armaments factories, while also eliminating senior commanders of the organization.

Hamas’ missile attacks managed to surprise Israel. Israeli intelligence (the Israeli Military Intelligence, known as IMI, and the Israeli Security Agency, ISA) previously estimated that Hamas’ goal was to maintain the status quo, and was not ready to initiate attacks against Israel. Not only did Israeli intelligence err in assessing Hamas’ intentions, but Hamas Q Quotesurprised observers with its range of weapons, such as long-range missiles with a reach that is in excess of 150 miles. This constitutes a strategic surprise for Israel. So far (May 13, 2021), Hamas has fired about 1,500 missiles at Israel, most of which have been intercepted by Israel’s air defense system called the Iron Dome.

At the same time, extensive riots broke out within Israel between Palestinian Israeli Arabs and Israeli far-right groups. The attacks have spread throughout the country, and the Israeli police appear unable to control them. The ISA is responsible for monitoring terrorism-related developments in the area of political subversion, including assessing the intentions of Israeli Arabs and the level of threat posed by these intentions. It appears that the ISA, was completely surprised by recent developments. The spontaneous mobilization of Israeli Arabs stems from fears that Israel intends to harm the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is also a form of identification with their brethren in the Gaza Strip. At present, the government of Israel has not managed to restrain the mobilization of the Israeli Arabs.

In conclusion, Israeli intelligence demonstrates two blind spots. One concerns Hamas’ intentions and offensive capabilities. The other concerns misreading the intentions and degree of threat to public order in Israel by Israeli Arabs. This is why the military clash between Israel and Hamas, as well as the riots by Israeli Arabs, have not yet ended.

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 14 May 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Without fanfare, FBI places Putin’s right-hand man on most wanted list

Yevgeny PrigozhinWITHOUT MUCH FANFARE LAST week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed on its most wanted list Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest collaborators. Known as “Putin’s chef”, for providing catering services to the Kremlin, Prigozhin was indicted in February 2018 by United States prosecutors for his alleged role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Special Counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, Prigozhin bankrolled the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which in turn played a central coordinating role in the effort to influence the outcome of the elections.

But it is one thing to be indicted by the US government, and quite another to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. What does this mean? And why did the FBI wait three years to place Prigozhin on its list of infamy?

With characteristic flamboyance, Prigozhin boasted victory against the FBI back in March of 2020, when US federal prosecutors requested that the Mueller-era criminal case against Concord Management and Consulting (CMC) be dismissed. Founded in 1995, CMC is Prigozhin’s flagship company. According to the US government, CMC was used to fund the IRA’s activities in the run-up to the 2016 US elections. Although some were surprised by that decision, it made sense from an intelligence point of view. US federal prosecutors said at the time that it would not be possible to prove the allegations against CMC due to a “classification determination”. The term basically meant that the US government could not prove the claims made against CMC without revealing “methods and sources”. The term refers to witnesses that have probably been recruited as US government assets, as well as to methods of surveillance that the government wishes to keep secret.

Even though the individual indictment against Prigozhin was never dropped, the flamboyant Russian boasted at the time that the dismissal of the case against CMC proved that he was not implicated in the US election meddling affair. He became even more boastful after September of last year, when Interpol removed his name from its international alert list. He reportedly began traveling outside Russia again, something that he had stopped doing after his 2018 indictment, out of an abundance of caution. At that time, everyone assumed that US prosecutors would eventually drop the case against Prigozhin too, for the same reason they had dropped the CMC case —namely a “classification determination”. Read more of this post

Analysis: Emergence of an armed insurgency is now a distinct possibility in the US

US CapitolWITH DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON RESEMBLING a large military encampment, a repeat of last week’s shocking assault on the Capitol Complex is highly improbable. But America could witness escalating levels of violence across many states, as supporters of the January 6 insurrection continue to organize themselves into a coherent armed movement. Their ability to threaten American national security will depend on whether they can overcome major internal divisions. It will also be determined by the speed with which United States authorities will respond to the rise of what is quickly becoming a dangerous militant movement.

Supporters of the nationalist insurrection that shook the nation on January 6 could possibly return to Washington in time to make a show of force during the Inauguration of Joe Biden. Intelligence reports by US federal agencies mention as many as 17 separate events being planned in the nation’s capital by a variety of militant groups. If these events materialize, the US is likely to witness the largest armed protests in its history. Other gatherings —many of them involving armed militants— are scheduled to take place in all 50 states between January 16 and 20.Q Quote 1

The militants who will descend on Washington in the coming days are unlikely to engage in all-out hostilities against as many as 20,000 members of the US National Guard. The latter have reportedly been given clear rules of engagement, which include the use of lethal force against assailants. The command and control capabilities that are needed to seriously threaten a 20,000-strong professional army, make it unlikely that the insurrectionists will attempt such a suicidal mission. Nevertheless, the possibility that one or more small groups of die-hard militants will descend on Washington determined to engage in direct combat against the US military should not be disregarded. Their chances of a martial victory are extremely slim, but victory can also be achieved through what their supporters will interpret as heroism and —ultimately— martyrdom.

What is far more likely to happen is that the insurrectionists will engage the forces of the government asymmetrically —that is, by resorting to strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare. Such scenarios are more likely to materialize in the coming months, or even years, in the countryside of so-called ‘red states’, where some supporters of President Donald Trump may be willing to help the insurgents by giving them protection and cover. Read more of this post

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