Russian deep-cover spy speaks to Western media for first time

Elena Vavilova Andrei BezrukovOne of the ten Russian deep-cover spies who were arrested in the United States in 2010, and swapped with American- and British-handled spies held by Moscow, has spoken to Western media for the first time. Elena Vavilova was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June of 2010 along with her husband, Andrei Bezrukov. In its two decades of operating under deep cover in the US, the married couple used the stolen identities of two dead Canadian citizens, Tracy Foley and Donald Heathfield. Vavilova claimed to be of French-Canadian origin and worked as a real estate agent. The couple never spoke Russian at home and their two sons, Alex and Tim Foley, were unaware of their parents’ secret identities.

Last week, Vavilova, who now works as a private consultant in Moscow, spoke to Shaun Walker, Russia correspondent for British newspaper The Guardian. It was the first face-to-face encounter between a Western news outlet and one of the 10 outed Russian ‘illegals’. The reason for the interview was Vavilova’s upcoming book, A Woman Who Can Keep Secrets (in Russian), which presents a fictionalized account of her career and marriage to Bezrukov. It offers rare insights into the longstanding Russian ‘illegals’ program, which dates back to Soviet times. The book’s two protagonists meet as students in Siberia, where they are eventually recruited by the KGB, and spend several years training in languages and tradecraft. Part of their training includes living in a KGB house modeled after suburban American homes, so that they can get used to domestic life in the West. This account is believed to include true elements of the lives and careers of Vavilova and Bezrukov. The two married in Russia but moved to Canada separately, using fake Canadian identities. They pretended to meet for the first time in Canada, where they ‘dated’ and eventually ‘married’ before moving to the US to begin their espionage work.

Vavilova told Walker that the popular view of the 10 Russian illegals as having achieved little of intelligence value during their time in the US is misguided. “Of course I can’t talk about it”, she said, “but I know what we were doing and it doesn’t matter what others say”. She also said that training for illegals involved learning how to handle guns and using martial arts. But she added that these skills were never used in the field and were mostly good for building self-confidence —especially for missions that took place under cover of night in America, where street crime was far more prevalent than in Russia during the Cold War. Walker said that Vavilova’s English remains perfect, as does her husband’s. Like Vavilova, Bezrukov now works as a consultant and also teaches at a university in Moscow. Vavilova refused to discuss current Russian politics in her interview.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 August 2019 | Permalink

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Spy novel written by Kim Philby’s granddaughter to be published this week

Charlotte PhilbyA spy novel written by the granddaughter of Kim Philby, the British senior intelligence officer who secretly spied for the Soviet Union, will be published this week. Charlotte Philby, 36, is the London-based daughter of John Philby, who was one of the five children Kim Philby had with his English wife Aileen Furse. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied for the Soviet NKVD and KGB. His espionage activities lasted from about 1933 until 1963, when he defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War. He was part of a larger ring of upper-class British spies, known collectively as ‘the Cambridge spies’ because they were recruited by Soviet intelligence during their student days at the University of Cambridge in England.

Following his sensational defection, Philby lived in the Soviet capital until his death in 1988 at the age of 76. His granddaughter gave an interview to British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, in which she said that her father, John, “never said anything against Kim” and “enjoyed a very good relationship” with him. The family visited Kim Philby in Moscow every year until his death, when Charlotte was five. She told The Telegraph that she remembers these trips, and staying at Kim Philby’s apartment. She said the family would be met at the airport in Moscow “by men in grey suits” who would usher them into a government car and “whiz [them] to the gated apartment block where Kim lived” in downtown Moscow. During those trips, the family would give the double spy supplies of his favorite English foods and magazines. This may surprise some, given that Philby abandoned his second wife, an American, and his five children from his first wife. She had died six years prior to his defection, so the children, including Charlotte Philby’s father, were raised by relatives and family friends.

Charlotte Philby worked as a journalist for The Independent, a London-based British newspaper that ceased print circulation in 2016, and has since been writing as a freelancer. Her first novel, entitled The Most Difficult Thing, features a female protagonist who has to balance her espionage work with her relationship with those closest to her. The author says that Kim Philby’s ghost “hovers over the pages”. She notes that, if her grandfather had any regrets at the end of his life, “they wouldn’t be to do with betraying his country but with the individuals and the family members that he had to dupe and separate from”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 July 2019 | Permalink

North Korean leader’s half-brother worked with CIA before his death, paper claims

Kim Jong-nam murderKim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with American intelligence officers before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia. Two women approached Kim Jong-nam as he was waiting to board a plane at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017. The estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was about to travel to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. Soon after his encounter with the two women, Kim collapsed and eventually died from symptoms associated with VX nerve agent inhalation.

But a new book published on Tuesday by a Washington Post reporter, and an article that came out in The Wall Street Journal on the same day, allege that Kim Jong-nam was working with the United States Central Intelligence Agency and was in fact in Malaysia to meet with his American spy hander when he was killed. The Wall Street Journal article said that many details of Kim Jong-nam’s precise relationship with the CIA remain “unclear”. It is doubtful that the late half-brother of the North Korean leader had much of a powerbase in the land of his birth, where few people even knew who he was. So his usefulness in providing the CIA with crucial details about the inner workings of the North Korean regime would have been limited. However, the paper quoted “a person knowledgeable about the matter” as saying that “there was a nexus” between the CIA and Kim. The article also alleges that Kim met with CIA case officers “on multiple occasions”, including during his fateful trip to Malaysia in February of 2017.

In her just-published book The Great Successor, Anna Fifield, a correspondent with The Washington Post, claims that Kim spent a number of days on the island of Langkawi, a well-known resort destination in Malaysia. Security footage at his hotel showed him meeting with “an Asian-looking man [Korean-American, according to The Wall Street Journal] who was reported to be an American intelligence [officer]”. It was one of regular trips Kim took to places like Singapore and Malaysia to meet his spy handlers, according to Fifield, who cites “someone with knowledge of the intelligence”. She adds that, although meeting with this CIA handler may not have necessarily been the sole purpose of Kim’s fateful trip to Malaysia, it was certainly a major reason. Fifield alleges that the backpack Kim was carrying when he was killed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport was found to contain $120,000 in cash. The Wall Street Journal claims that, in addition to meeting with the CIA, Kim held regular meetings with spy agencies of other countries, including China.

Meanwhile, two South Korean government agencies, the National Intelligence Service and the Ministry of Reunification, said on Tuesday that they were unable to confirm that Kim was indeed an asset of the CIA or any other intelligence agency. They also said that they could not confirm whether Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet with a CIA case officer at the time of his assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2019 | Permalink

Pakistan’s ex-spy chief stripped of army pension for writing controversial book

Asad DurraniThe former director of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency has been stripped of his military pension and associated benefits for co-authoring a controversial book about intelligence with his Indian counterpart. Lieutenant General Asad Durrani (ret.) served as director-general of Pakistan’s Directorate for Military Intelligence between 1988 and 1989. From 1990 to 1992 he was director of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which is arguably Pakistan’s most powerful government institution. Durrani, 78, has been severely criticized in some Pakistani nationalist circles for co-authoring a book entitled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with his Indian counterpart, A.S. Daulat. Daulat, 79, headed India’s Research and Analysis Wing from 1999 to 2000.

The book was edited by the widely respected Indian journalist Aditya Sinha. It contains details about Pakistan’s systematic efforts to foment armed unrest in the heavily Muslim Indian state of Kashmir, for instance by funding and training a host of Islamist paramilitary organizations that operate in the disputed region. The book also claims that the Pakistani government was aware of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and that it worked closely with the United States to kill the co-founder of al-Qaeda. Islamabad has consistently denied allegations that it knew of bin Laden’s hideout in the city of Abbottabad, and that it gave permission to US Special Forces troops to raid his compound.

Last Friday, Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor announced that a military court had found Durrani guilty of having violated the military code of conduct of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Consequently, he said, the retired general would be stripped of his Army pension and all associated benefits. The military court had conferred behind closed doors, said Ghafoor, adding that he was unable to provide further details on the case. Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court announced on Thursday that it rejected a plea by Durrani’s lawyers to have his name removed from Pakistan’s Exit Control List. The list contains names of individuals who are prohibited from leaving Pakistan for reasons relating to corruption, economic crime, as well as terrorism and drug-related activity, among other violations. Durrani was placed on that list in March of last year, shortly after his controversial book was published in India.

During the same press briefing on Friday, Ghafoor also said that two Pakistani military officers had been placed in custody facing espionage charges. The Pakistan Army spokesman gave no information about the officers’ names or the countries for which they allegedly spied for.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 February 2019 | Permalink

Book alleges 1980s British Labour Party leader was Soviet agent

Michael FootThe leadership of the Labour Party in Britain has reacted with disdain after a new book by a leading author and columnist claimed that Michael Foot, who led the Party in the early 1980s was paid agent of the Soviet KGB. Foot, a staunch and vocal representative of the postwar British left, was a member of parliament for over 40 years, eventually serving as leader of the House of Commons. He rose to the post of deputy leader of the Labour Party and in 1980 succeeded Jim Callahan as head of the Party. But he stepped down in 1983 in the aftermath of Labour’s largest electoral defeat in over half a century.

Two years later, in 1985, Oleg Gordievsky, a colonel in the Soviet KGB, defected to Britain and disclosed that he had been a double spy for the British from 1974 until his defection. In 1995, Gordievsky chronicled his years as a KGB officer and his espionage for Britain in a memoir, entitled Next Stop Execution. The book was abridged and serialized in the London-based Times newspaper. In it, Gordievsky claimed that Foot had been a Soviet “agent of influence” and was codenamed “Agent BOOT” by the KGB. Foot proceeded to sue The Times for libel, after the paper published a leading article headlined “KGB: Michael Foot was our agent”. The Labour Party politician won the lawsuit and was awarded financial restitution from the paper.

This past week, however, the allegations about Foot’s connections with Soviet intelligence resurfaced with the publication of The Spy and the Traitor, a new book chronicling the life and exploits of Gordievsky. In the book, Times columnist and author Ben Macintyre alleges that Gordievsky’s 1995 allegations about Foot were accurate and that Gordievsky passed them on to British intelligence before openly defecting to Britain. According to Macintyre, Gordievsky briefed Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, a senior civil servant and cabinet secretary to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Lord Armstrong, a well-connected veteran of British politics, in turn communicated the information to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the summer of 1982, says Macintyre. The Times columnist alleges that MI6 received specific information from Lord Armstrong, according to which Foot had been in contact with the KGB for years and that he had been paid the equivalent of £37,000 ($49,000) in today’s money for his services. The spy agency eventually determined that Foot may not himself have been conscious that the Soviets were using him as an agent of influence. But MI6 officials viewed Gordievsky’s allegations significant enough to justify a warning given to Queen Elizabeth II, in case the Labour Party won the 1983 general election and Foot became Britain’s prime minister.

The latest allegations prompted a barrage of strong condemnations from current and former officials of the Labour Party. Its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who like Foot also comes from the left of the Party, denounced Macintyre for “smearing a dead man, who successfully defended himself [against the same allegations] when he was alive”. Labour’s deputy leader, John McDonnell, criticized The Times for “debasing [the] standards of journalism in this country. They used to be called the gutter press. Now they inhabit the sewers”, he said. Neil Kinnock, who succeeded Foot in the leadership of the Labour Party in 1983, said Macintyre’s allegations were “filthy” and described Foot as a “passionate and continual critic of the Soviet Union”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2018 | Permalink

Pro-Soviet radicals planned to kill Gorbachev in East Germany, book claims

Mikhail GorbachevA group of German radicals planned to assassinate Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in East Germany in 1989, thus triggering a Soviet military invasion of the country, according to a new book written by a former British spy. The book is entitled Pilgrim Spy: My Secret War Against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi (Hodder & Stoughton publishers) and is written by “Tom Shore”, the nom de guerre of a former officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The book chronicles the work of its author, who claims that in 1989 he was sent by MI6 to operate inside communist East Germany without an official cover. That means that he was not a member of the British diplomatic community in East Germany and thus had no diplomatic immunity while engaging in espionage. His mission was to uncover details of what MI6 thought was a Soviet military operation against the West that would be launched from East Germany.

In his book, Shore says that he did not collect any actionable intelligence on the suspected Soviet military operation. He did, however, manage to develop sources from within the growing reform movement in East Germany. The leaders of that movement later spearheaded the widespread popular uprising that led to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and its eventual unification with West Germany. While finding his way around the pro-democracy movement, Shore says that he discovered a number of self-described activists who had been planted there by the East German government or the Soviet secret services. Among them, he says, were members of the so-called Red Army Faction (RAF). Known also as the Baader Meinhoff Gang or the Baader-Meinhof Group, the RAF was a pro-Soviet guerrilla group that operated in several Western European countries, including Germany, Belgium and Holland. Its members participated in dozens of violent actions from 1971 to 1993, in which over 30 people were killed. Among other attacks, the group tried to kill the supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and launched a sniper attack on the US embassy in Bonn. The group is known to have received material, logistical and operational support from a host of Eastern Bloc countries, including East Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia.

According to Shore, the RAF members who had infiltrated the East German reform movement were planning to assassinate Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev during his official visit to East Germany on October 7, 1989. The visit was planned to coincide with the 40th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the German Democratic Republic in 1949, following the collapse of the Third Reich. Shore says he discovered that the assassination plot had been sponsored by hardline members of the Soviet Politburo, the communist country’s highest policy-making body, and by senior officials of the KGB. The plan involved an all-out military takeover of East Germany by Warsaw Pact troops, similar to that of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But Shore claims that he was able to prevent the RAF’s plan with the assistance of members of the East German reform movement. He says, however, that at least two of the RAF members who planned to kill Gorbachev remain on the run to this day. The RAF was officially dissolved in 1998, when its leaders sent an official communiqué to the Reuters news agency announcing the immediate cessation of all RAF activities. However, three former RAF members remain at large. They are Ernst-Volker Staub, Burkhard Garweg and Daniela Klette, all of them German citizens, who are believed to be behind a series of bank robberies in Italy, Spain and France in recent years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 September 2018 | Permalink

Pakistan bars its former spy chief from leaving the country over controversial book

Asad DurraniPakistan has officially barred a former director of its powerful intelligence agency from leaving the country, after he co-authored a controversial book with his Indian counterpart. Asad Durrani is a retired Pakistani Army general who served as director-general of Pakistan’s Directorate for Military Intelligence between 1988 and 1989. From 1990 to 1992, he served as director of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful government institution. Durrani, 77, has been severely criticized in some Pakistani circles for co-authoring a book entitled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with his Indian counterpart, A.S. Daulat. Daulat, 78, headed India’s Research and Analysis Wing from 1999 to 2000.

The book, which was edited by the widely respected Indian journalist Aditya Sinha, has prompted heavy criticism of its two co-authors in nationalist circles in the two rival regional powers. But Durrani’s position became more tenuous on Monday, after the government of Pakistan announced that he had been placed under formal investigation. Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters in Islamabad on Monday morning that the revelations made in Lieutenant General Durrani’s book would be investigated by a formal court of inquiry, headed by a three-star general. He also said that Durrani had been urgently summoned to the Pakistani Army’s headquarters to answer allegations that he violated the Pakistani military’s code of conduct. Additionally, Ghafoor announced that Durrani had been placed on an official government-administered “exit control list”, which means that he is not allowed to leave Pakistan until further notice.

The Pakistani armed forces have not explained the precise reasons why Durrani is under investigation. His book makes several controversial allegations relating to Islamabad’s intelligence operations. A large part of the book contains details about Pakistan’s systematic efforts to foment armed unrest in the heavily Muslim Indian state of Kashmir, for instance by funding and training a host of Islamist paramilitary organizations that operate in the disputed region. The book also claims that the Pakistani government was aware of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and that it cooperated closely with the United States to kill the co-founder of al-Qaeda. Islamabad has consistently denied allegations that it knew of bin Laden’s hideout in the city of Abbottabad, and that it gave permission to US Special Forces troops to raid his compound. If Durrani is charged with having violated the Pakistani military’s code of conduct, he could face a minimum of two years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 May 2018 | Permalink