Bulgarian ex-spy director jailed for embezzling millions from public coffers

Kircho KirovA former director of Bulgaria’s intelligence service, who headed the agency for nearly a decade, has been jailed for embezzling millions of dollars from public funds. General Kircho Kirov, 67, was director of the Bulgarian National Intelligence Service (NIS) from February 2003 until January 2012. After stepping down from his post he was appointed national security advisor to Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boiko Borissov. But he soon fell out with Borrisov and was fired after just two months on the job. Now Borissov’s administration has jailed Kircho for 15 years, accusing him of misappropriating funds intended for NIS operations.

Government prosecutors said that during his tenure as NIS director, General Kircho conspired with a subordinate NIS employee, Dimitar Lidarev, to siphon NIS funds to a private account. They told a court in Bulgarian capital Sofia that General Kircho and Lidarev falsified documents to allow them to divert nearly $3.2 million to private accounts for their personal use. Most of the funds were stolen between 2007 and 2011, according to court documents. On Tuesday, the court handed General Kircho a 15 year jail sentence and ordered the confiscation of 50 percent of his personal assets. Lidarev, who was General Kircho’s co-defendant at his trial, was sentenced to three years in prison with another five years’ probation, for aiding and abetting General Kircho’s embezzlement by forging documents. The court decision quashed General Kircho’s appeal against an earlier sentence, delivered in 2015, that jailed him for 10 years for embezzling nearly $4 million of state funds between 2007 and 2011.

Throughout his latest trial, General Kircho insisted he was innocent and accused government prosecutors of carrying out a politically motivated campaign against him, directed by his former ally, Prime Minister Borissov. The former spy director added that he was targeted as part of a deliberate effort to convince the European Union that Bulgaria is targeting financial corruption. Next week, Prime Minister Borissov’s government will be facing a no-confidence vote in parliament, over claims that corruption remains rife in the Balkan country of 7 million people.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 January 2018 | Permalink

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Dissident playwright assassinated with poison pellet 35 years ago

Georgi MarkovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
This past Sunday marked 35 years since the assassination with a poisoned umbrella pellet of Bulgarian literary icon and political dissident Georgi Markov. By 1969, when he defected from Bulgaria, Markov had achieved considerable fame in his homeland and was considered one of the Eastern Bloc’s most talented and promising young novelists. Increasingly, however, Markov fraternized with dissident artists and intellectuals, and several of his short stories and plays were disapproved by Bulgarian government censors. In 1969, while visiting his brother in Bologna, Italy, Markov decided to remain in the West. Two years later, he moved to the United Kingdom where he was offered a job at the Bulgarian unit of the BBC World Service. He also did contract work for Germany’s Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe, which was funded by the United States government. This prompted the Bulgarian authorities to view Markov’s actions as a defection, and he was sentenced in absentia to nearly seven years in prison by a court in Sofia. But Markov continued his work unabated, earning critical acclaim for his plays in the UK and elsewhere in the West. But on September 7, 1978, the Bulgarian dissident developed a powerful fever and was admitted to a London hospital, where he died 72 hours later, on September 11. Following an autopsy, Britain’s Metropolitan Police concluded that Markov had been poisoned by a micro-engineered pellet made of platinum, which had been filled with ricin. While on his deathbed, Markov had told police investigators that he had felt a sharp pinch on the back of his right thigh while walking across London’s Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames. When he turned around, prompted by the pinching feeling, he said he saw a well-dressed man picking up an umbrella from the ground. The man then quickly crossed the street and hailed a taxi. Since then, Soviet intelligence defectors, including Oleg Gordievsky and Oleg Kalugin, have suggested that Markov’s murder had been planned by the Soviet KGB and carried out by Bulgarian intelligence. Read more of this post

Canadian passports still highly coveted by spies and terrorists

Canadian passportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An extensive investigation into a bus bombing that targeted Israeli tourists in Bulgaria points to the continued attraction of forged Canadian passports for terrorist groups and intelligence agencies. Bulgaria’s Minister of the Interior, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said on Tuesday that the July 18, 2012, terrorist attack, was perpetrated by Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the military wing of Hezbollah. The militant Shiite group, which controls large parts of southern Lebanon, has denied involvement in the bombing, which killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists. Tsvetanov said that, during a lengthy police investigation, which was assisted by American and Israeli investigators, the printer used to produce forged driver licenses found on two of the plotters was traced to Lebanon. He also told a press conference in Bulgarian capital Sofia that the suicide bomber, who died in the attack, entered Bulgaria using a forged Canadian passport. Commentator Paul Koring, of Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, correctly suggests that the revelation by the Bulgarian authorities points to the continued status of Canadian passports as the international travel documents of choice for both spies and terrorists. In the 1970s, Hezbollah’s biggest enemy, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, used Canadian passports in Operation WRATH OF GOD (also known as Operation BAYONET). The operation exterminated almost every original member of Black September, the Palestinian group that perpetrated the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich. In 1997, the Israeli spy agency employed Canadian passports once again, during the famously disastrous attempt to kill Khaled Mashal, Chairman of the Political Bureau of Palestinian militant group Hamas, in Jordan. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer urges Bulgaria to probe alleged Hezbollah attack alone

Robert BaerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 22-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who spent over a decade in the Middle East, has urged Bulgaria to probe a recent suicide attack against Israeli tourists on its soil without relying on American or Israeli assistance. Robert Baer, who is considered a foremost intelligence expert on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group accused of orchestrating the attack, said that Bulgarian authorities should keep the investigation free of the “intelligence games” currently taking place between the US, Israel and Iran. He was speaking Sunday on Bulgaria’s bTV, in reference to the July 18 blast that hit a bus stationed outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. The suicide bomber, whose identity remains unknown, killed himself, the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israeli tourists. Soon after the attack, Israel announced that it had gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind the suicide bombing. But according to Baer, who spent several years in Lebanon in the 1980s, Israeli and American intelligence investigators are too politicized to be able to provide objective evidence as to the culprits of the attack. The former CIA case officer told bTV that both Tel Aviv and Washington “want to lead a war in Iran” and that they will be tempted to point at Tehran as the main instigator of the suicide blast in Burgas. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #768

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►‘CIA could get bin Laden but can’t get a gym’. As CIA Director, General David Petraeus is credited by some as having helped turn the tide in the Iraq War, flush the Taliban from southern strongholds in Afghanistan, and infiltrated al-Qaeda in Yemen. But his campaign to improve the Agency’s fitness gyms has been a marathon effort –one that defeated other CIA directors over a course of some 16 years. Petraeus arrived at the CIA in 2011 to find two basement gyms at the Langley, Va., headquarters, one with original flooring dating to 1964. One gym is so small it can’t contain the punching bags and medicine balls that spill into the hall, where people stretch out and do mat exercises.
►►Israel convinced Hezbollah behind Bulgaria bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government has gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind a suicide bombing in Bulgaria last week that killed five Israeli nationals. The Israeli leader said the Mossad had drawn close parallels between the attack in Bulgaria and a foiled operation in Cyprus earlier this month, involving an alleged Hezbollah operative.
►►Hezbollah silent on reports of Israel spy arrests. Hezbollah would not comment on a local newspaper report on Wednesday, which said the Lebanese Shiite party had detained three men, including two of its own members, for spying for Israel. Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar said Hezbollah’s security apparatus had detained two Hezbollah members and a member of a Bekaa village municipal council on the suspicion that they have been collaborating with Israel.

Mossad gave us no terror warning before blast, says Bulgaria -updated

Burgas, BulgariaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Bulgarian authorities received no warning from Israeli intelligence prior to yesterday’s bombing in eastern Bulgaria, which killed at least seven and injured over 30 Israeli tourists. The bomb blast occurred outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. Less than an hour earlier, Air Bulgaria flight 392, which had departed from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, had landed at the Burgas International Airport, carrying nearly two hundred Israeli tourists. The latter were boarding three buses scheduled to transport them to various hotels in Burgas, when one of them was ripped apart by a blast —most likely caused by an explosive device placed in the vehicle’s storage compartment a suicide bomber. Reports from Bulgaria and Israel said last night that at least two of the injured were in critical condition and could die soon. Speaking to local media gathered at the site of the blast, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said that Israeli intelligence services had provided no warning of a planned attack inside the country. Plevneliev said that members of Bulgaria’s security apparatus met a month ago with officials from the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, but received “no warning of an expected attack”. Earlier this year, it was reported that the Bulgarian intelligence services had uncovered a plot by Lebanese militant group Hezobllah to strike Israel-linked targets in Bulgarian capital Sofia. Last January, Israel had asked Bulgaria to increase security provisions for Israeli tourists, after a suspicious package was found on a tour bus carrying Israeli holidaymakers from Turkey into Bulgaria. Ironically, Dan Shenar, head of security at the Israeli Transportation Ministry, said at the time that security measures were excellent in Bulgarian airports, but “the situation is not the same outside them”. Read more of this post

Israeli-Iranian ‘dirty war’ nearing point of no return

Bomb blast in New DelhiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The ongoing intelligence war between Israel and Iran appears to be reaching unprecedented levels following the exposure earlier this week of a simultaneous bombing campaign against Israeli targets in Europe and Asia. The wife of Israel’s Defense Attaché in New Delhi, India, was among four people injured on Monday, after a magnetic bomb attached to her car exploded just 500 yards from the gates of the Israeli embassy. Three thousand miles away, in Tbilisi, Georgia, a sharp-eyed employee of the Israeli embassy there discovered a bomb attached to a diplomatic car; the device was eventually diffused by Georgian counterterrorist authorities. A few hours later, the government of Thailand announced that two Iranian nationals had been detained following an explosion at a rented house in the capital Bangkok, which critically injured one of the arrestees. A second man was reportedly arrested in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport while he was trying to board a flight to Malaysia. At least two other men, also Iranian nationals, remain at large, though Thai officials suspect they have already fled to Iran. (Update: Thai authorities have confirmed the bombers’ targets were Israeli diplomats). Speaking anonymously to Bloomberg news agency, US intelligence officials said that operations directed at Israeli targets were also “disrupted” in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, as well as in Bulgaria. Observers have also noted that the attack that injured the wife of the Israeli diplomat was carried out in one of Israel’s strongest allies in Asia, thus delivering a two-fold message to both Tel Aviv and New Delhi. India’s Home Affairs Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, told journalists yesterday that the attack in the Indian capital was conducted by a “well trained” motorcyclist, who attached “a magnetic device” to the car before speeding away. Read more of this post