Tip by Belgian spy agency helped US foil Islamic State plot to kill George Bush

George W. BushA TIP BY BELGIAN intelligence helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation foil a plot by Iraqi nationals to kill former United States President George W. Bush. American news outlets reported in May of this year that the FBI had prevented a scheme by an Iraqi national to smuggle Islamic State operatives into the United States, with the aim of killing the former president. Soon afterwards, the Department of Justice announced that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force had arrested Ahmed Shihab, an Iraqi national, who was the alleged mastermind of the operation.

Shihab, 52, had applied for political asylum in the United States. However, he had reportedly joined the Islamic State in secret, and had devised a scheme to kill Bush during a speech that the former president had been scheduled to deliver in Dallas, Texas. For several weeks, Shihab had allegedly surveilled Bush’s Texas homes in Dallas and Crawford, capturing footage in cellphones and video cameras. Shihab had the support of thee other alleged Islamic State supporters, who had traveled to the United States from Iraq through Denmark, Egypt and Turkey.

In a report that aired late last week, Belgium’s Flemish-language state broadcaster VRT, said that the plan to kill Bush had been foiled thanks to a tip shared with the United States by Belgian intelligence. Specifically, the information was reportedly shared by the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency. According to the VRT, the VSSE gave actionable intelligence about Shihab to the United States Secret Service, which then worked with the FBI to foil the alleged plot. The VRT report suggests that the VSSE was able to collect the intelligence through its systematic monitoring of Belgian Islamists, who fought in the Middle East between 2014 and 2016, before eventually making their way back to Belgium.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2022 | Permalink

Ukraine war prompts European Union to overhaul counter-surveillance practices

European Commission buildingTHE POLITICAL FALLOUT OF the Russian invasion of Ukraine is prompting the European Union (EU) to radically upgrade the security of its facilities, according to a series of internal memoranda. On July 14, the EUObserver, an EU-focused news agency based in Brussels, said it had seen an internal EU document that describes the creation of a new anti-surveillance unit. The unit’s mission will reportedly center on providing security for closed-door EU meetings, using counter-measures standards employed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

According to EUObserver, EU member states have agreed to establish a so-called “CSC-TSCM Expert Group,” which will spearhead the formation of this new unit. In security parlance, TSCM stands for technical security counter-measures, a method of counter-surveillance. In their most basic form, TSCM operations are carried out by teams of technical experts trained in the use of anti-bugging equipment. These are able to detect radio emissions, which are generated by most surveillance devices —commonly referred to as ‘bugs’.

The internal memorandum stipulates that the “CSC-TSCM Expert Group” will be officially set up after July 25. It will consist of experts from several EU states. The resulting unit’s mission will be to “prevent, detect and potentially neutralise eavesdropping of information in any physical or electronic form,” the memorandum states. Counter-measures operations will include regular inspections of “facilities and vehicles and the protection of classified meetings” in buildings that house the EU Council, EU Parliament, and the European Commission.

The forthcoming formation of the “CSC-TSCM Expert Group” appears to be closely linked to news, published earlier this month, relating to the construction of a new facility. The new facility is described in the media as an EU “secure bunker.” According to the EUObserver, the €8 million ($8.07 million) enclosed space will operate as a designated EU sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF). The term denotes a secure area within a larger building, which is used to discuss sensitive topics and process classified information. Read more of this post

Newspaper discloses names of Russian alleged spies expelled from Belgium

Russian embassy in BelgiumA BRUSSELS-BASED NEWSPAPER has publicized the names and backgrounds of nearly two dozen Russian diplomats, who were recently expelled by the Belgian government on suspicion of espionage. A total of 21 Russian diplomats were expelled from Belgium in April, in co-ordination with dozens of European governments. The move was part of a broader European wave of diplomatic expulsions of Russian diplomatic personnel, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Like other governments in Europe, the Belgians carried out the expulsions of Russian diplomats in secret, and employed a “no comment” policy in response to media requests. Such an approach is customary when it comes to diplomatic expulsions. It allows the government ordering the expulsions to expect a similar level of discretion if and when its own diplomats are expelled in a possible tit-for-tat move by an adversary. It is therefore highly unusual for information concerning expelled diplomatic personnel to be made public. And yet that is precisely what happened earlier this week, when the EUObserver, an English language newspaper based in Brussels, published information about the names and backgrounds [PDF] of the 21 expelled Russian diplomats. The paper said the information was leaked by a source, but did not elaborate.

According to the newspaper, all 21 expelled diplomats were men. It further alleged that 10 of them were intelligence personnel of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff. A further nine diplomats worked for the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR, Russia’s equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency), while two were employees of the external service of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Most were in their 40s, though at least one was in his early 60s and one was in his late 20s. The EUObserver said that some of the information about the alleged spies was unearthed by The Dossier Center, a British-based open-source information outlet, which is similar to Bellingcat. The Dossier Center is funded by the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is a critic of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Read more of this post

Several EU member states expel dozens of Russian diplomats for suspected espionage

Russian Embassy PragueA WEEK AFTER POLAND announced the expulsion of 45 Russian diplomats, the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and the Netherlands announced on March 29, 2022 that they would expel Russian diplomats. A day later, Slovakia followed up by announcing it will expel 35 Russian diplomats. On Monday, April 4, France, Germany and Lithuania followed suit with dozens of expulsions.

The German federal government announced it will expel 40 Russian diplomats who, according to minister of foreign affairs Annalena Baerbock, “worked every day against our freedom and against the cohesion of our society”, and are “a threat to those who seek our protection”. The persons involved have five days to leave Germany. Later that day, France announced it will expel “many” Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to our security interests”, adding that “this action is part of a European approach”. No further details are known at this time.
Furthermore, Lithuania ordered the Russian ambassador to Vilnius to leave the country, and announced their ambassador to Ukraine will return to Kyiv. In an official statement, foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Lithuania was “lowering the level of diplomatic representation with Russia, this way expressing its full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who are suffering from Russia’s unprecedented aggression”. Meanwhile, Latvian minister of foreign affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs announced in a tweet that Latvia will “limit diplomatic relations” with the Russian Federation “taking into account the crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”, and that “specific decisions will be announced once internal procedures have been complete”.

The Czech Republic, which in 2021 called on the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity against Moscow, announced the expulsion of one diplomat from the Russian embassy in Prague, on a 72-hour notice. In a tweet, the Czech ministry of foreign affairs stated that “Together with our Allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU”.

Belgium has order the expulsion of 21 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. Minister Sophie Wilmès said the measure was taken to protect national security and was unrelated to the war in Ukraine. “Diplomatic channels with Russia remain open, the Russian embassy can continue to operate and we continue to advocate dialogue”, Wilmès said.

The Netherlands will be expelling 17 diplomats from the Russian embassy in The Hague. According to minister Wopke Hoekstra, the diplomats were secretly active as intelligence officers. Hoekstra based this on information from the Dutch secret services AIVD and MIVD. The Russian embassy in The Hague has 75 registered diplomats, of which 58 will remain. Hoekstra says the decision was taken with “a number of like-minded countries”, based on grounds of national security. Like his Belgian colleague, Woekstra adds he wants diplomatic channels with Russia to remain open.

Ireland will be expelling four “senior officials” from the Russian embassy in Dublin, for engaging in activities “not […] in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”. They were suspected of being undercover military officers of the GRU and were already on the radar of Garda Síochána, the Irish national police and security service, for some time.

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Russia shuts down NATO mission in Moscow following espionage allegations

NATO headquarters

THE MILITARY LIAISON MISSION of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to Moscow is to be closed, in retaliation to the expulsion of several Russian diplomats from Belgium for alleged espionage earlier this month. The claims of espionage were made by NATO against members of staff of the Russian permanent mission to the military alliance. The mission was established in 1997 as a “mechanism of consultation, cooperation, joint decision-making and joint action […] between NATO and Russia”. At its height it was staffed by as many as 20 Russian diplomatic personnel, who were stationed in the Belgian capital Brussels.

But on Wednesday, October 6, the Western military alliance announced the expulsion of eight members of staff of the Russian military liaison mission. According to a NATO source, the eight diplomats were in reality undeclared intelligence officers operating in Brussels under official cover. The eight Russians had their diplomatic accreditations revoked and were ordered to leave Belgium by October 31. In addition to expelling the eight diplomats, NATO also eliminated two further positions at the Russian mission, which had been scheduled to be filled later this year. This effectively halved the size of the Russian mission from 20 to 10 diplomats.

Speaking in Moscow on Monday, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would be “suspending the activity of the NATO military liaison mission in Moscow and […] recalling the accreditation of its staff”. He added that the move was in retaliation to NATO’s expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats from Brussels earlier this month. When asked how Moscow would communicate with NATO from now on, Lavrov responded: “If NATO has some urgent matters, it may contact our ambassador in Belgium on these issues”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2021 | Permalink

Belgian minister raises spy concerns about Chinese e-retail center at Liege airport

Liège Airport

BELGIUM’S MINISTER OF JUSTICE has raised espionage concerns about a new logistics hub that is under construction in eastern Belgium by a firm operating on behalf of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The hub is currently being built on a lot adjacent to the Liège Airport, which is situated 25 miles southwest of the Dutch city of Maastricht.

Based in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, Alibaba is a multinational technology firm that specializes in e-commerce and e-retail. It is often described as the Chinese version of the American e-retail giant Amazon. Today it is among the world’s 10 wealthiest companies and among the 30 largest public firms in the world. In its effort to expand its area of operations beyond Asia, Alibaba recently announced the construction of six global logistics hubs, which will enable it to deliver products anywhere in the world within 72 hours.

Scheduled to become operational by the end of this year, the logistics center in Liège is part of that larger effort by Alibaba. When completed, the center will be operated by Cainiao, which is Alibaba’s logistics arm. When it was announced last year, the project was praised by Belgian officials in the state of Wallonia, where the hub will be based, as a great innovation that will create new jobs and other employment opportunities for local people.

But now Belgium’s Justice Minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, has expressed concerns about the project. Speaking last Thursday before the Belgian Federal Parliament’s Committee on Justice, Van Quickenborne was asked by a parliamentarian whether the Alibaba hub posed security concerns for the state. The minister responded saying that the placement of Chinese workers and logisticians at the hub could potentially be exploited by the Chinese government to plant intelligence operatives at the airport. Additionally, the logistics center could have access to commercial and personal data of Alibaba’s European customers, and could share them with Beijing, said Van Quickenborne.

The minister claimed that, like every other Chinese firm, Alibaba is obligated to “obey the Chinese security apparatus” and hire government spies as employees when asked to do so. He added that “this interest [by the Chinese state] is not limited to intelligence and security purposes but can be viewed within a broader political and economic framework”. Van Quickenborne concluded his remarks by saying that his ministry had been warned by the Surete de l’Etat —Belgium’s counterintelligence agency— of the security dangers embedded in China’s growing economic influence in the country.

On Friday a press statement issued by the embassy of China in Brussels decried Van Quickenborne’s comments as “baseless allegations” that harmed relations between Belgium and China. The statement added that, contrary to reports in the Western media, the Chinese state does not “demand Chinese enterprises to engage in activities that breach local laws or regulations”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 May 2021 | Permalink

Belgium says foreign spies have infiltrated its largest mosque

Vincent Van QuickenborneBELGIUM’S LARGEST MOSQUE has been infiltrated by Moroccan intelligence, according to the Belgian minister of justice, who allegedly consulted the country’s spy services in making that determination. The announcement has further-strained relations between the Belgian government and the country’s Muslims, which account for about 5% of the Belgian population.

Until recently, the Grand Mosque of Belgium had been operated by the Muslim World League (MWL), a Saudi Arabian missionary society that is primarily funded and controlled by Riyadh. The lease agreement was struck between the Saudi Arabia and Belgian governments in 1969. It stipulated that Saudi Arabia would supply Belgium with cheap oil, in return for the MWL operating the Grand Mosque without interference from the Belgian state. Since then, Saudi Arabia has been able to have a say in the selection of imams who preach at the mosque.

But the Belgian security services began to scrutinize the activities of the Grand Mosque following the 2016 Brussels bombings —three coordinated suicide attacks carried out by the Islamic State. The attacks killed 32 people and injured hundreds. Earlier this year, the Belgian government annulled the 1969 agreement with Saudi Arabia, claiming that the oil kingdom was using the mosque to spread the tenets of radical Wahhabi Islam. Belgian authorities said at the time that they would assume control over the Grand Mosque, in order to “terminate foreign interference in the teachings of Islam” in Belgium.

Last week, the Belgian government rejected an effort by the Grand Mosque to be officially recognized as a local community provider of faith services. The designation comes with substantial financial support from the Belgian state. Media reports suggested that the decision to deny the application was made by Belgium’s Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne (pictured), following consultations with the country’s intelligence services. According to the reports, Belgium’s intelligence services have identified at least three members of the Grand Mosque’s clerical and administrative staff as members of the Moroccan intelligence services.

On Friday, the minister gave an interview to VRT Radio 1, Belgium’s Flemish-language public broadcaster, in which he justified his decision to turn down the mosque’s application. “I am unable to —and will not— accept that foreign agencies can hijack Islam for their own ideological and political goals”, said Van Quickenborne. He added that he saw it as his duty to stop those who attempt to “prevent Muslims in [Belgium] from developing their own progressive Islam”.

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

British former MI6 employee denies having passed secrets to Chinese operatives

Brussels BelgiumA former employee of British intelligence has strongly denied accusations, which surfaced last week in the European press, that he gave secrets to two Chinese operatives in exchange for money. Some news outlets have suggested that he is currently under investigation by at least one European government.

The individual in question is Fraser Cameron, a British businessman who worked in an intelligence capacity from 1976 to 1991. During those years, Mr. Cameron was reportedly employed by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s version of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. He then worked for the British Foreign Office and the European Commission, before relocating to Belgium, where he is believed to have lived for much of the past 20 years. According to the news website Politico, Mr. Cameron has been “a visiting professor at several universities in Asia” and currently directs the Belgium-based EU-Asia Centre.

Politico and a number of other news outlets said last week that Belgian security agencies are investigating Mr. Cameron’s alleged contacts with “two Chinese journalists accredited in Brussels”, who are believed to work as intelligence officers. Politico cited “a person close to the case”, who claimed that an investigation was launched by Belgium’s office of the federal prosecutor after the two Chinese journalists were found to be secretly working for China’s Ministry of State Security. The news website said that, according to sources in Belgium, Mr. Cameron’s alleged activities “could constitute a risk for European officials”. The BBC cited “a senior [British] official”, who claimed that the Belgian probe was the result of a “long-running joint inquiry between British and Belgian intelligence” into the case, which had achieved “a breakthrough in recent months.

But Mr. Cameron strongly denied these allegations, which he termed “absurd” in his messages to various media outlets. He described the claims as “without foundation” and added: “I retired 15 years ago from official employment and have zero access to any sensitive information”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2020 | Permalink

Belgium knew about Russian bounty offered to Taliban, defense minister says

Belgian German AfghanistanBelgium’s spy services were aware of financial rewards that Russia allegedly offered to the Taliban in exchange for killing American and other Western troops in Afghanistan, according to Belgium’s defense minister. Late last month, three leading American newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal alleged that the White House had been briefed about an alleged Russian bounty program that was in existence in Afghanistan. According to the allegations, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known as GRU, had offered Taliban fighters financial rewards in exchange for killing American and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops. Both the White House and the Kremlin denied the allegations, with US President Donald Trump dismissing them as “fake news” and “a hoax”.

On Wednesday, Philippe Goffin, who serves as Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense, told the Belgian Federal Parliament that his office was aware of the Russian bounty program. The minister was speaking before the parliament’s Committee on National Defense, where he responded to questions from committee members. According to Goffin, he had been briefed on the matter by the General Intelligence and Security Service (SGRS), Belgium’s military intelligence organization. He said the SGRS was “aware of Russian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan” and offered evidence that “confirmed Russian interference there”. He added that the Belgian intelligence services had linked “only one incident” to the Russian bounty program. It had occurred in April of 2019, and had resulted in the deaths of three American soldiers, he said.

Belgium is a founding member of NATO and hosts the alliance’s headquarters in its capital, Brussels. The country until recently participated in the NATO joint force in Afghanistan, but recalled its troops home in May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 July 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #907

India External Affairs MinistryPakistan releases two Indian diplomats. Pakistan has released two employees of rival India’s embassy in Islamabad after briefly detaining them in connection with a hit-and-run road accident in the capital. A city police report noted the Indian officials were taken into custody on Monday morning after their “reckless driving” injured a pedestrian. The Indian External Affairs Ministry on Monday summoned the deputy chief of the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi to protest the detention of its officials and demanded their immediate release. Pakistani authorities familiar with the incident argued the detainees were released to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad within hours because they held diplomatic immunity.

As US intelligence community returns to work, employees confront new anxieties. More US federal employees and contractors in the intelligence community have been gradually returning to their office spaces in the past two weeks. But for IC leadership, “reopening” isn’t only about rearranging office spaces and cobbling together cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, it’s also about easing the concerns of their employees and contractors who are uneasy or nervous to return to the physical workplace.

Belgian police officer convicted of spying for terrorist network. A police officer in Brussels has been jailed for four years after prosecutors found he had acted as an informant for the brother of a man seen as the mastermind of the Brussels and Paris attacks. The 53-year-old officer with the Brussels North police zone was sentenced to 50 months imprisonment, his lawyers confirmed on Friday.

Malta protests French media claims that its Brussels embassy is bugged by China

25 Rue ArchimedeThe Maltese government has strongly denied allegations, made by a leading French newspaper, that the island nation’s embassy in Brussels is being used by China to spy on European Union institutions. The allegations concern a nine-story building located at 25 Rue Archimede, in one of downtown Brussels’ most desirable areas. The building houses the Embassy of Malta in Belgium, as well as Malta’s Permanent Representation to the European Union. It is conveniently located across the street from Le Berlaymont —the headquarters of the European Commission, which is the European Union’s executive branch. It is also around the corner from the headquarters of the European Council, which operates as the collective presidency of the European Union.

Last Friday, leading French newspaper Le Monde, alleged that China had installed concealed surveillance equipment throughout the building at 25 Rue Archimede. The paper claimed that the Chinese had supplied the funds to buy and refurbish the building as a gift to Malta, a country with which Beijing has had traditionally warm relations since 1972, when Malta became the world’s first nation to formally recognize the People’s Republic of China. The paper also alleged that Belgium’s state security services had long suspected that the building “harbored technical [surveillance] equipment” planted by Chinese intelligence with the aim of spying on nearby European Union facilities located nearby. The report added that the Belgians had previously been initially alerted by British intelligence about the use of 25 Rue Archimede as a “spy tower” by the Chinese.

According to Le Monde, this information had been relayed to the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Alain Winants, when he served as Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE). However, both Winants and his successor, Jaak Raes, declined to comment when asked by Le Monde. The paper said that the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also declined an opportunity to comment, saying that “such affairs relate to the state affairs of Belgium”.

Over the weekend, the Maltese government issued a formal statement denying the clams by Le Monde, and protesting the “incorrect allegations” in the paper’s report. Additionally, Maltese officials told local media that the building in question had undergone successive “internal and external audits” by the Maltese Security Service and the European Council, and had been found to be clear of bugs every time. Another Maltese government source said that 80% of the building’s furniture had been “disposed of” in the past two years and replaced with “new furniture procured from Malta”.

Other sources told Maltese media that the allegations in Le Monde could be a form of retaliation against the government of Malta for seeking to withdraw from Operation IRINI, a European Union naval operation aimed at enforcing an international weapons embargo imposed on Libya. According to these claims, the embargo is preventing weapons from Turkey from reaching the United Nations-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord. If the embargo were to be lifted, or not thoroughly implemented, it could potentially strengthen the Libyan government, and thus hamper the efforts of Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is backed by France, among other Western powers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2020 | Permalink

Belgian university shuts down Chinese-funded institute due to espionage claims

Xinning SongOne of Belgium’s leading universities has decided to shut down a research institute funded by the Chinese government, after the Belgian intelligence service accused its director of spying on behalf of Beijing. The news was announced on Wednesday by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), one of Belgium’s leading higher-education institutions. The Confucius Institute has been operated at VUB since 2006. But the university’s board of directors now says that it will not be renewing its contact with the Institute in 2020.

The Confucius Institute at VUB is one of more than 500 such research bodies that the government of China has funded around the world since 2004. Their mission is to promote the language and culture of China to the world. However, numerous academic institutions in Japan, Canada, and a number of European countries, have recently shut down Confucius Institute branches, following allegations that their staff members carried out espionage tasks, or tried to stifle academic research critical of China. In Europe alone, the University of Lyon in France, Stockholm University in Sweden, and Holland’s University of Leiden have all recently terminated their cooperation with the Confucius Institute.

In October of this year, Belgium’s State Security Service (VSSE) concluded that the VUB Confucius Institute director, Dr. Song Xinning, carried out espionage tasks on behalf of the Chinese government. As a result, the Belgian government refused to renew the work visa of Dr. Song, who had lived in Belgium for over a decade. Additionally, the Chinese academic was barred from entering the European Union’s Schengen Area —which comprises 26 European countries— for eight years.

Dr. Song alleges that his work visa was revoked after he refused to cooperate with an American diplomat stationed in Brussels. He also denies that he was ever in the service of Chinese intelligence or the Chinese state. But the VUB appears to have sided with the Belgian government in this dispute. The university annulled its contract with Dr. Song and, as of January, will be terminating its relationship with the Confucius Institute. In a press statement published online, VUB Rector Caroline Pauwels said that the work of the Confucius Institute did not meet the “current policy objectives” of the university.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 December 2019 | Permalink

Senior Belgian counterintelligence officer arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia

NATO HQ BrusselsA senior counterintelligence official in Belgium’s external intelligence service is under house arrest on suspicion of sharing classified documents with Russian spies, according to a Belgian newspaper. Additionally, the chief of the agency’s counterintelligence directorate has been barred from his office while an internal investigation is underway on allegations that he illegally destroyed government documents. These allegations surfaced last Thursday in a leading article in De Morgen, a Flemish-language daily based in Brussels.

Citing anonymous sources from the General Information and Security Service —Belgium’s military intelligence agency— the paper said that the arrestee has the equivalent rank of major in the General Intelligence and Security Service. Known as GISS, the agency operates as the Belgian equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency or Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service —better known as MI6. GISS officers collect information abroad and are not permitted to operate within Belgium’s borders. The man, a career counterintelligence official, is suspected of having passed secrets to Russia with the help of a woman who claims to be Serbian, but who is in fact believed to be an operative for Russian intelligence. It is not known whether the compromised information included secrets involving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Belgium is a founding member. In the same article, De Morgen also said that Clement Vandenborre, who serves as chief of GISS’s counterintelligence directorate, has been barred from his office while an investigation is taking place into allegations of mismanagement. He is also accused of having shredded classified government documents without permission. It is not believed that this case is connected with the alleged Russian penetration.

De Morgen quoted a spokesperson for Belgium’s Ministry of Defense, who confirmed that an investigation into alleged foreign espionage targeting a GISS employee was underway, but added that “no comment” would be made on the subject so as “not to hinder” the probe. Ironically, German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported last week that the European Union’s diplomatic agency warned officials in Belgium to watch out for “hundreds of spies” from various foreign countries, including from Russia and China. The warning, issued by the European Union’s diplomatic agency, the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that “approximately 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies” were operating in Brussels.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 February 2019 | Permalink

Hundreds of foreign spies in Brussels, European diplomatic agency warns

European Commission buildingThe European Union’s diplomatic agency has warned officials who are active in Belgium to watch out for “hundreds of spies” from various foreign countries, according to a German news report. The report appeared last weekend in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper, which cited a report from the European External Action Service (EEAS). Based in Brussels, the EEAS operates as the European Union’s diplomatic agency and is headed by Federica Mogherini, an Italian former government minister who has been serving as the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy since 2014.

According to Die Welt, the EEAS estimates that “approximately 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies” are operating in Brussels. Most of these intelligence officers are allegedly embedded in their countries’ embassies, trade missions, cultural centers and other outreach facilities in the Belgian capital. There are also many intelligence operatives from Western agencies, including those of the United States, as well as from Iran, Turkey and Morocco, among other foreign nations. The report in Die Welt adds that the EEAS advised European Union diplomats to avoid certain establishments in the European Quarter of Brussels, which are believed to be heavily frequented by international spies. Among them are “a popular steakhouse and café” that are “within walking distance of the Berlaymont building” —the headquarters of the European Commission. The same building houses the offices of the EEAS.

Such warnings are not new. In June of last year, Peter Gridling, head of Austria’s main counterintelligence agency, said during a rare public appearance that Vienna —the spy capital of the world— no longer topped the list of preferred destinations for the world’s spies. He said that the Austrian capital had been overtaken by Brussels as the spy capital of Europe and added that, according to his agency’s calculations, there was a greater density of spies in Brussels than in any other European capital. When asked to specify the number of foreign intelligence operatives that are active in Vienna, Gridling said it was “in the neighborhood of hundreds of people, but certainly fewer than 1,000”. In 2012, Alain Winants, former Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE), claimed that Brussels was home to more spies than any other city in the world.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 February 2019 | Permalink

Israel says it foiled Iranian-sponsored bomb attack in France

MossadIsrael helped foil an alleged Iranian-sponsored bomb attack in Paris, which involved arrests of several Iranian agents and at least one diplomat in France, Belgium and Germany, according to media reports. As intelNews reported earlier this month, the arrests began on June 30, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group arrested a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent in Brussels. The couple were found to be carrying explosives and a detonator. On the following day, July 1, German police arrested an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria. On the same day, a fourth person, who has not been named, was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection with the three other arrests.

All four individuals appear to have been charged with a foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place on June 30 in Paris. The NCRI is led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group with roots in radical Islam and Marxism. The MEK was designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States until 2009 and 2012 respectively. But it has since been reinstated in both Brussels and Washington, reportedly because it provides the West with a vehicle to subvert the Iranian government.

On Thursday, authorities in Israel announced the lifting of a blanket censorship decree that prevented local media from discussing the country’s role in helping the Europeans foil the alleged bomb attack in Paris. According to Israel’s Channel 2, a private television station based in Jerusalem, the Iranian attack was prevented after the Israeli agency Mossad detected the whereabouts of several suspects involved in it. The Mossad then supplied Germany, Belgium and France with intelligence that led to the arrests of some of those suspects. However, Channel 2 said that the Israeli government did not give a reason for the initial censorship imposed on the country’s media, nor did it explain why it had decided to lift it. On July 4, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to hint that Israel had a role in the foiling of the alleged bomb attack in Paris. Speaking during a commemoration ceremony in Acre, Israel, Netanyahu said it was “no coincidence” that the attack in Paris had been stopped. But the Israeli leader did not expressly indicate that the Mossad had a role in the operation.

Following news of the arrests in Europe, the Iranian government said that it had no connection to the alleged plot in Paris and called the incident a “false flag” operation staged by Tehran’s enemies at home and abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 July 2018 | Permalink

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