Israel arrests Belgian citizen for ‘spying for Iran’

Alex MansBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A Belgian citizen has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of spying on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The man, Alex Mans, was arrested two weeks ago, but the Israeli government kept the incident under wraps until Sunday. Israeli media reports state that Mans was arrested by Israeli Police and officers of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. He was reportedly detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport as he was preparing to leave Israel. According to Israeli security officials, Mans made frequent trips to Israel, during which he presented himself as a Belgian investor interested in export opportunities in Israel. He allegedly used his business venture in selling windows and roofing material for commercial buildings in order to establish contacts with businesses in Tel Aviv. But officials at Shin Bet maintain that Mans’ business operations, which included seemingly legitimate websites and social media profiles, served as a cover for his spy activities. These are alleged to have included “intelligence gathering [and support for] terrorism”, as well as efforts to “bypass the embargo on trade and financial transactions with Iran”. Israeli security officials believe that Mans was born in Iran in 1958 and had the name Ali Mansouri. He is thought to have moved to Turkey in 1980, aged 22, where he lived for nearly 20 years. In 1997 he received an immigration visa to Belgium, where he met and married a Belgian citizen and changed his name to Mans. Soon afterwards, however, he divorced, and in 2007 he moved back to Iran, where he married a local woman. According to Israeli media reports, Mans told Shin Bet interrogators that he was approached in 2012 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and offered up to $1 million to spy on Israel on behalf of the Iranian government. He reportedly agreed and was handled by Haji Mustafa, of the IRGC’s Special Operations Unit. Read more of this post

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Belgian state telecom targeted by ‘international espionage’

Belgacom headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Belgium’s largest telecommunications service provider has fallen victim to a sophisticated cyberespionage operation that was most likely carried out by a government agency of another country. According to Flemish newspaper De Standaard, the operation targeted Belgacom, which is Belgium’s state-owned telecommunications company. The paper said that the cyberhacking was uncovered in June of this year during a routine maintenance check by technicians, who detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. Belgacom’s technical experts seem to think that the malware had been active for at least two years on Belgacom’s computers, and that it specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries. Among them is Belgacom International Carrier Services (BCIS), which specializes in providing wholesale carrier services to over 1,000 telecommunications service providers across Africa and the Middle East. De Standaard’s article said that the sophisticated malware had been designed so as to prevent disruption of BCIS’ voice and Internet traffic, thus remaining unnoticed. Its ultimate goal, said the paper, was “not sabotage, but rather collecting strategic communications content”. Federal prosecutors told the Reuters news agency that the technical complexity of the virus meant that it must have been designed by “an intruder with significant financial and logistic means”. The malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “points towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”, said the Federal prosecutors. Commenting on the story, De Standaard claimed that “everything points to the [United States] National Security Agency as the culprit” of the cyberespionage. Read more of this post

Belgian intelligence employees ‘outed themselves’ on LinkedIn

LinkedIn logoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Several alleged employees of Belgian security and intelligence agencies have revealed their identities on social networking sites, it has been reported. Belgian newspaper De Standaard, which made the revelation in a leading article on Tuesday, said that many LinkedIn and Facebook users appear to list their employer as Belgium’s State Security Agency (Sûreté de l’État or SE/SV) or the Coordinating Body for Threat Analysis (OCAM/OCAD). The SE is Belgium’s foremost civilian intelligence agency, operating under the country’s Ministry of Justice. OCAM is one of Belgium’s several anti-terrorist intelligence collection and analysis agencies, which operates under the joint supervision of the Justice and Interior Ministries. De Standaard contacted the two agencies, which refused to comment on whether the social networking profiles are authentic. But the paper spoke with an unnamed Belgian senior intelligence official, who said that this was potentially a very serious issue for Belgian national security. “Russian and Chinese intelligence services employ thousands of people”, said the official, “and have the resources and time to manually search for such profiles and then exploit the information they provide. Our people could, by their very presence on such sites, become the target of hostilities”. De Standaard also spoke to Belgian Senator Dirk Claes, who is a member of the country’s Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence. He told the paper that his colleagues in the Committee would be up in arms if the profiles turned out to be authentic. “These individuals have security clearances and are obligated to stay in the background, as much as possible. I will be raising this issue in the [Intelligence] Committee”, Claes told De Standaard. Read more of this post

ExxonMobil executive shot dead ‘assassination-style’ in Brussels

Nicholas MockfordBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A senior British executive of American multinational oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil has been killed in an alleged “assassination-style” shooting in Belgium. Nicholas Mockford, 60, was a technical support manager for ExxonMobil Chemicals, Europe, specializing in intermediate technology, also known as alternative energy generation. He was shot dead at 10:00 in the evening as he was leaving an Italian restaurant on Rue de Beyseghem, in Neder-over-Heembeek, a leafy suburb of Belgian capital Brussels, where he lived with his Belgian wife and three children from a previous marriage. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which published news of the incident last week, said that Mr. Mockford was killed on October 14. But the paper said a “judicial instruction” had been imposed on the case by the investigating judge, which amounted to a news blackout. According to reports, Mr. Mockford was with his wife Mary when he was shot in the attack, which witnesses said happened “very quickly”. The couple was allegedly seen walking across the street from the restaurant to their car, when all of a sudden several shots were fired. The Telegraph said that Mr. Mockford’s wife was left at the scene of the crime “covered in blood” and crying for help. Two men were apparently seen running away from the area where the shooting took place, carrying motorcycle crash helmets. Soon afterwards Mr. Mockford died on his way to the hospital, said the paper. Read more of this post

Belgium suspends senior diplomat on suspicion of spying for Russia

Belgian embassy in CopenhagenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Belgian government has admitted suspending one of its senior diplomats following allegations in the press that he had spied for the Soviet Union and Russia for over two decades. According to Flemish-language Belgian magazine MO, the diplomat, identified only as “O.G.”, has been “suspended in the interest of the [Belgian diplomatic] service” and is currently under investigation by the Office of the Federal Prosecutor. Citing “sources in the Belgian State Security Service”, the SV/SE, the article said the subject was stationed at the Belgian embassy in Danish capital Copenhagen when he was recalled to Brussels late last year. The man is said to have spent nearly three decades as an employee of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having served in several Belgian embassies and consulates in Japan, India, Algeria, Nigeria, Portugal, and the United States, prior to arriving in Denmark. However, according to the MO article, he was accosted by the Soviet KGB in the late 1980s, shortly after he arrived at the Belgian embassy in Tokyo, Japan, for his first-ever diplomatic posting. Since that time, said the magazine, “O.G.” has spied for the KGB and its successor, the SVR, having stayed in contact with “several different Russian handlers”. Prior to 2011, when he ceased contact with Russian intelligence, the Belgian diplomat was allegedly tasked with providing the FSB with information that could be used to concoct false identities belonging to deceased Belgian citizens. The Russians would then use these identities to supply their intelligence operatives with high-quality Belgian identity papers and travel documentation. Late last week, another Belgian publication, The EU Observer, contacted the Belgian Foreign Ministry to inquire about “O.G.”. A Ministry spokesperson told the paper: “we can confirm that an official from our ministry was suspended from his functions a bit over one year ago, following indications of a security breach”. Read more of this post

Belgian intelligence chief says Brussels is world’s spy capital

Alain WinantsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The head of Belgium’s counterintelligence service has said in an interview that Brussels, which hosts the head offices of several international organizations, is home to more spies than any other city in the world. Alain Winants, Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE), made the comment during a rare public interview to the Brussels-based English-language newspaper EU Observer. Winants told the paper that Belgium hosts “an enormous concentration” of diplomats, members of international non-governmental organizations, as well as employees of transnational institutions, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Because of this, he said, Belgium “is like a kindergarten” for spies, “the place to be” for intelligence operatives. The latter often operate under diplomatic cover or pretend to be students, lobbyists or business executives, he added. When asked how many case officers and spies operate in the Belgian capital, Winants, whose organization is responsible for counterterrorism and counterespionage, said “we are not speaking in the dozens; we are speaking in the hundreds, several hundreds”. He added that the numbers of intelligence operatives currently active in Belgium are “at the same level as the Cold War”. These intelligence operatives, he added represent countries such as Russia, China, and many others. When asked whether nations allied with the European Union also conduct espionage in the Belgian capital, Winants responded diplomatically that intelligence “is one field where the difference between neutral, friendly and unfriendly services tends to disappear”, as “every service is in competition with the others”. And he added that “it would be naïve to think that only countries like Russia, China, Iran are spying” in the Belgian capital. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #554

Bat Khurts

Bat Khurts

►►UK and US tried to delay Pakistan nuclear weapons program. We have written before about attempts by the CIA to delay or stop Pakistan’s nuclear program. Now newly declassified documents show that the United States and Great Britain undertook a coordinated secret diplomatic campaign between 1978 and 1981 to prevent Pakistan’s attempted covert purchasing of “gray area” technology for its nuclear weapons program.
►►FBI monitoring new phone technologies. According to an internal FBI document, obtained by the Federation of American Scientists through a FOIA request, the FBI continuously monitors the surveillance challenges posed by new mobile phone technologies. The document highlights the Bureau’s concerns that that 4G will require agencies to “deal with significantly higher data rates than in current wireless network intercepts”.
►►Mongolian ex-spy chief to be extradited to Germany. Britain has decided to extradite Bat Khurts, former director of the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia, to Germany. Read more of this post