American held on espionage charges in Russia has three other citizenships

Paul WhelanAn American former Marine, who faces espionage charges in Russia, is a citizen of at least three other countries, namely Canada, Britain and the Republic of Ireland, according to reports. Paul Whelan, 48, was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on December 28 at the Metropol, a five-star hotel in downtown Moscow. News of Whelan’s arrest first emerged on January 3 in a report from Rosbalt, a Moscow-based news agency that known to be close to the Russian security services. He was reportedly indicted on Thursday and is now facing between 10 to 20 years in prison for espionage. His trial is not expected to take place until March.

According to Rosbalt, the FSB arrested Whelan in his hotel room while he was meeting with a Russian citizen who allegedly handed him a USB drive containing a list that included “the names of all employees of a [Russian] security agency”. However, Whelan’s family claim that the former Marine arrived in Moscow on December 22 to attend the wedding of an American friend who married a Russian woman. Whelan served two tours in Iraq with the United States Marines and was reportedly discharged for bad conduct. At the time of his arrest last month, he was the director of global security for BorgWarner, a Michigan-based manufacturer of spare parts for cars. He is believed to have visited Russia regularly since 2006, and is thought to have a basic command of the Russian language. He is currently being held in solitary confinement in Moscow’s Lefortovo detention center.

At the time of his arrest, Whelan was identified as an American citizen. On Friday, however, the Associated Press reported that he also has United Kingdom citizenship because he was born to British parents. Additionally, he is now believed to hold Canadian citizenship as well, because he was born in Canada. He then acquired American citizenship after arriving in the US with his parents as a child. It is not known how he acquired Irish citizenship, but the Irish government confirmed it on Friday. Also on Friday, the Washington-based National Public Radio said that embassies of at least four Western countries —the US, Britain, Ireland and Canada— were working to gain consular access to Whelan. On Thursday, the former Marine was visited in prison by Jon Huntsman, America’s ambassador to Russia. Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said London was “extremely worried” about Whelan’s fate and warned Moscow “not to try to use [him] as a diplomatic pawn”, possibly by exchanging him with Russians arrested for espionage in the West.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2019 | Permalink

Advertisements

Wave of bomb threats prompts hundreds of evacuations in four countries

Toronto subway evacuationAn unprecedented “flood of bomb threats” prompted hundreds of evacuations and closures of private buildings, transport hubs and offices in four countries on Thursday, causing confusion and in some cases panic. The threats —which numbered in the hundreds— were issued throughout the day Thursday against businesses, schools, hospitals and media companies in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. It is the first time in history that such a large wave of bomb threats was issued against so many targets internationally.

Police agencies in the United States and Canada said that most of the threats were emailed, but some were phoned in by unknown individuals. They warned that devices containing explosive compounds such as tetryl or trinitrotoluene would be detonated unless funds were deposited into an international account using the virtual currency bitcoin. The messages also warned that the alleged devices would be detonated if “any police activity or unusual behavior” were detected. A deadline of one business day was given to deposit the funds. Throughout the day, police agencies across three continents issued notices cautioning people to remain aware of their surroundings and report suspicious messages or behavior. It was eventually determined that virtually all bomb threats were not credible.

However, it was the sheer number and geographical extent of the threats that shocked law enforcement agencies across four countries. In the United States, threats were reported in cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Oklahoma City, where over dozens of specific addresses were targeted. Nearly 30 schools were placed on lockout in the state of Colorado, while numerous buildings were evacuated in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Cincinnati and Seattle. Smaller cities were also affected, including South Bend, Indiana, Grand Rapids, Iowa, Charlotte, North Carolina, Norfolk, Virginia, and Park City, Utah. In Canada dozens of bomb threats were issued in Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Toronto, where five of the city’s subway stations were shut down for several hours. Media reports late on Thursday said it was unclear how many —if any— of those targeted paid the bitcoin ransoms demanded by the hoaxers.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 December 2018 | Permalink

Canada arrests daughter of Chinese telecom giant’s founder at US request

Meng WanzhouThe daughter of the founder of Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers, has been arrested in Canada, reportedly at the request of the United States. Meng Wanzhou (pictured, also known as Sabrina Meng) serves as Huawei’s deputy chair and chief financial officer. She is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei a former officer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who established the company in 1988 and has since amassed a personal fortune estimated at $3.5 billion. By virtue of her family background and position in Huawei, Meng is often referred to as “a member of China’s corporate royalty”.

Few details of Meng’s arrest have been publicized. On Wednesday, Canada’s Department of Justice confirmed that the Huawei CFO was detained on December 1 in Vancouver as she was transferring between flights. The Justice Department also confirmed that the arrest occurred at the request of American law enforcement officials. In a carefully worded statement, the Canadian government said Meng is “sought for extradition by the United States” and that her bail hearing will be taking place this coming Friday. On Wednesday, the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail cited an unnamed “Canadian law enforcement source with knowledge of the arrest”, who said that US authorities had evidence that Meng “tried to evade the American embargo against Iran”. This statement appears to refer to reports in Western media in April of this year, according to which the US Departments of Commerce and Treasury were probing suspected violations of Washington’s sanctions against Iran and North Korea by Huawei.

The embassy of China in Canada immediately protested news of Meng’s arrest, saying that the Huawei CFO had been detained despite “not violating any American or Canadian law”. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the embassy added that it had “lodged stern representations” to the Canadian government and “urged them to immediately […] restore the personal freedom of Ms. Meng Wanzhou”. Meanwhile, a representative at Huawei’s corporate headquarters in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen told the BBC that the company is certain “the Canadian and US legal systems will ultimately reach a just conclusion” in the case.

Several officials in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and other Western countries, have repeatedly flagged Huawei as a company that is uncomfortably close to the Chinese government and its intelligence agencies. In 2011, the US Open Source Center, which acts as the open-source intelligence arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, became the first US government agency to openly link Huawei with the Chinese intelligence establishment. In 2013, the British government launched an official review of Huawei’s involvement in the UK Cyber Security Evaluations Centre in Oxfordshire, England, following a British Parliament report that raised strong concerns about the Chinese company’s links with the government in Beijing. And in 2017 the Australian government expressed concern about Huawei’s plan to provide high-speed Internet to the Solomon Islands, a small Pacific island nation with which Australia shares Internet resources.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 December 2018 | Permalink

Saudi state spies on dissidents in Canada using software built by Israeli firm

Embassy of Saudi Arabia in CanadaThe government of Saudi Arabia is spying on expatriate dissidents in Canada using commercially available software designed by an Israeli company, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. This is alleged in a new report published on Monday by the Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. The report’s authors say they have “high confidence” that intrusive surveillance software is being deployed to target the electronic communications of Saudi dissidents, including Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who has been living in Canada’s Quebec province for nearly 10 years.

Abdulaziz, 27, arrived in Canada on a student visa in 2009. In 2014, having publicly voiced criticisms of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia’s repressive political system, and having been threatened by Saudi authorities, Abdulaziz successfully applied for political asylum in Canada. In 2017 he was granted permanent residency status. For the past eight years, Abdulaziz has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Saudi government, mostly through his satirical channel on YouTube. The channel, called Yakathah, has over 120,000 subscribers and its content has angered Saudi authorities. The latter have warned Abdulaziz’s parents and last summer arrested two of his brothers, in what he describes as attempts to silence him.

Researchers from Citizen Lab claim that the Saudi government has been targeting expatriate dissidents such as Abdulaziz using various techniques, such as sending them spyware-infested messages that express support for anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. The report also notes that these messages make use of Pegasus, a surveillance software system that has been previously implicated in surveillance activities against political dissidents from Gulf countries. The software was designed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Citizen Lab report comes at a time of heightened tensions in relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. In August, Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry issued sharp criticisms of the Saudi government’s human rights record, while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “gravely concerned” about the suppression of political speech in the Kingdom. She also urged the Saudi government to release a number of jailed political activists and stop censoring Saudi women activists seeking gender equality. But her comments enraged the Saudi royal family, which controls the Kingdom. Within days, the Saudi government expelled Canada’s ambassador from Riyadh and restricted its economic ties with Canada. The Kingdom also recalled several thousand Saudi students who were studying in Canadian universities on Saudi government scholarships.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2018 | Permalink

Canada seeks to take away passports from children of Russian spies

Vavilov FoleyTwo Canadian brothers, whose Russian-born parents fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for spying on the United States for Moscow, are not entitled to Canadian citizenship, according to the government of Canada. Tim and Alex Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES, a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following the couple’s arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

But the two brothers, who had never been to Russia prior to their parents’ arrest in 2010, are currently involved in a prolonged legal battle to keep their Canadian citizenship, after the government of Canada refused to recognize their Canadian passports. The latter were annulled when it became clear that the Canadian passports of the brothers’ parents were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers argue that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, they say, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes, and insist that Canada is the only home they know.

Last year, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alex Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. According to the Appeals Court, the Vavilov could not be considered as having been born to employees of a foreign government, since his parents were not accredited diplomats, nor did they enjoy diplomatic privileges while living in Canada. Since that time, the two brothers have had their Canadian passports renewed and say they hope to be able to settle and work in Canada. But the Canadian government was given until September 20 of this year to decide whether to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision, and take the case to the Supreme Court.

Now the Canadian government has filed a new court submission, effectively challenging the Federal Court of Appeals’ decision. It its submission, the government claims that the Vavilov brothers should be denied Canadian citizenship because their parents were, effectively, secret employees of a foreign government. The two Russian spies may not have been accredited by the Canadian state as foreign employees, it says, but they were in reality “dedicated to serving their home country, except in their case, the employment was carried out clandestinely”. Canada’s Supreme Court has said that it plans to hear the case before the end of the year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2018 | Permalink

Chinese influence in New Zealand threatens intelligence-sharing, says Canadian report

CSIS canadaChina’s influence in New Zealand is so extensive that it threatens the traditionally close intelligence contacts between New Zealand and its Western allies, according to a report written by the Canadian spy agency. Since World War II, New Zealand has been a member of what is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement. Known also as the UKUSA Agreement or the Five Eyes alliance, the pact, which was strengthened in 1955, provides a multilateral framework for intelligence cooperation between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But a new report produced by Canadian intelligence warns that Chinese political and economic influence in New Zealand is making it difficult for the Pacific Ocean island country to continue to operate within the framework of the agreement.

The report, entitled China and the Age of Strategic Rivalry, was authored by experts at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). It contains a summary of views expressed by participants at an academic outreach workshop that was organized in Canada by the CSIS. In a section focusing on Chinese “interference in democratic systems”, the report suggests that, despite its small size, New Zealand is “valuable to China […] as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence”. In recent years, claims the report, Beijing has adopted “an aggressive strategy” that has sought to co-opt political and economic elites in New Zealand as a means of influencing political decision making in the country. As part of that process, China seeks to gain advantages in trade and business negotiations, suppress negative views of China, facilitate espionage and control the views of the Chinese expatriate community in New Zealand, according to the report. Ultimately, Beijing seeks to “extricate New Zealand from […] its traditional [military and intelligence] partners]” as a means of asserting its regional and —eventually— global influence, the report concludes.

In a separate but connected development, it emerged this week that China expert Peter Mattis told an American Congressional committee last month that New Zealand’s position in the Five Eyes alliance was tenuous due to China’s influence. Mattis, a former China analyst for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, was speaking before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a group of experts that advise the US Congress. He told the Commission that the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in New Zealand is so deep that it raises questions about whether the Pacific Ocean country can continue to share intelligence with the other members of the Five Eyes alliance.

On Wednesday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emphatically dismissed questions about her country’s role in the Five Eyes alliance. She told reporters in Wellington that the issue of New Zealand’s Five Eyes membership had “never been raised” with her “or anyone else” by Five Eyes partners. Ardern added that her government received its information “from official channels, not opinions expressed at a workshop”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May 2018 | Permalink

Canadian intelligence monitoring far-right activities after Charlottesville

Unite the Right rallyCanadian spy organizations are working with domestic and international agencies in response to reports that several Canadian far-right activists attended the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. The rally drew the attention of the world’s media after violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters left a woman dead. Two Virginia State Police officers were also killed when a helicopter used in crowd control in Charlottesville crashed near the site of the demonstrations. The rally, which took place on August 11 and 12, drew members of various white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups. There were also heavily armed members of a self-styled militia at Emancipation Park, where a soon-to-be-removed statue of the late Confederate General Robert E. Lee became the focal point of the far-right demonstrators.

Canadian news watchers were surprised to find out that several Canadian citizens traveled to the United States to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally. At least two were identified on social media after appearing in a Vice News documentary about the rally. One Canadian participant is believed to be an activist with Le Meute (The Wolf Pack), a far-right group that appeared in Quebec in 2015 and today boasts 43,000 registered members. The stated position of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s primary national intelligence agency, is that far-right extremism is not a major problem in Canada. In 2014, the agency said that rightwing extremism was not “as significant a problem in Canada in recent years”. The statement added that Canadians who held far-right extremist views “have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures”.

Speaking to the Canadian online newspaper The National Observer, the CSIS declined to comment specifically about the events in Charlottesville. It also did not respond to a question about whether it monitors the international travels of Canadian far-right activists. A CSIS spokeswoman, Tahera Mufti, told the newspaper that the agency was unable to discuss details about its ongoing investigations into Charlottesville “due to national security reasons”. But she added that CSIS was working “with its Canadian and international partners” to combat the activities of “those who support right-wing extremism”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 August 2017 | Permalink