Sophisticated cyberespionage operation focused on high-profile targets

Rocra malware programming codeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
After Stuxnet and Flame, two computer programs believed to have made cyberespionage history, another super-sophisticated malware has been uncovered, this time targeting classified computer systems of diplomatic missions, energy and nuclear groups. The existence of the malware was publicly announced by Russian-based multi-national computer security firm Kaspersky Lab, which said its researchers had identified it as part of a cyberespionage operation called Rocra, short for Red October in Russian. The company’s report, published on Monday on Securelist, a computer security portal run by Kaspersky Lab, said that the malware has been active for at least six years. During that time, it spread slowly but steadily through infected emails sent to carefully targeted and vetted computer users. The purpose of the virus, which Kaspersky Lab said rivals Flame in complexity, is to extract “geopolitical data which can be used by nation states”. Most of the nearly 300 computers that have so far been found to have been infected belong to government installations, diplomatic missions, research organizations, trade groups, as well as nuclear, energy and aerospace agencies and companies. Interestingly, the majority of these targets appear to be located in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics in Central Asia. On infected computers located in North America and Western Europe, the Rocra virus specifically targeted Acid Cryptofiler, an encryption program originally developed by the French military, which enjoys widespread use by European Union institutions, as well by executive organs belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #444

Russian intelligence arrests, extradites fmr Kyrgyz interior minister

Moldomusa Kongantiyev

Kongantiyev

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
If there were any doubts that Russia is aggressively courting the new interim government in Kyrgyzstan, they were dispelled earlier today with the announcement that Russian authorities arrested the Central Asian republic’s former interior minister. Kyrgyzstan’s National Security State Service (NSSS) announced that Moldomusa Kongantiyev was arrested on Sunday in Moscow, by agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and will be extradited to Bishkek, where he will face charges of using state repression against demonstrators. Kongantiyev had escaped to Russia in mid-April, after he was abducted and viciously beaten by Kyrgyz opposition demonstrators, who released him after his family paid a significant amount of money as ransom. IntelNews hears that Kongantiyev suspected that Moscow planned to extradite him to Kyrgyzstan, and that some of the supporters of the deposed regime in Russia offered to hide him. But their attempt to smuggle him out of a hospital in Moscow, where he was receiving medical care, was thwarted by the FSB, after a tip from  NSSS. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #328 (breaking)

  • Breaking: Real IRA admits NI MI5 base bomb. The Real IRA has admitted it was behind a car bomb which exploded shortly after midnight local hour, outside the Palace Barracks army base, in Holywood, County Down, which houses MI5’s Northern Ireland headquarters. Police said no warning was given.
  • Venezuela releases 4 of 8 alleged spies. Four of the eight Colombians arrested by Venezuela on espionage charges last week have been released, after a judge found there was not enough evidence to take them to trial. Meanwhile Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has said that the alleged spy ring used “secret or semi-secret codes”.
  • Analysis: Security services will determine fate of Kyrgyz uprising. Unlike the 2005 so-called Tulip Revolution, this time the anti-government protesters in Kyrgyzstan are armed. But the real question may be whether they have the support of (and control over) the Internal Security Services and the military.

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Analysis: The Downward Spiral in US-Pakistan Intelligence Relations

Pragati magazine

Pragati

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For decades, US geopolitical interests in southern Asia have centered on controlling the Indian Ocean, with its lucrative energy transport routes to and from Japan and China. The events of 9/11, however, in association with nuclear weapons proliferation and the rise of al-Qaeda, have immensely complicated US regional goals. This newfound complexity has created severe tensions between Washington and Islamabad, which are most notable in their rapidly deteriorating intelligence relations. In recent months, the inter-agency conflict between the CIA and Pakistan’s security agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, has intensified to a stage of open war. I explain how this situation came about in a guest article for Pragati, the English-language review of Southeast Asian international relations published in India. The article is available here. In fact, for those looking for informed views on Central and Southeast Asian diplomacy and security issues, it is worth downloading (.pdf) the entire latest issue of this very professional publication.

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News you may have missed #0246

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News you may have missed #0133

  • Book examines Central Asian espionage in WWI. On Secret Service East of Constantinople, by Peter Hopkirk (John Murray Publishers), examines the role of German intelligence services in Kaiser Wilhelm’s attempt to gain influence in the Ottoman Empire, the Caucasus, Persia, Afghanistan and India. A very interesting, under-researched aspect of World War I.
  • CIA intercepted communication between Zazi and al-Qaeda. A local TV station in Denver, Colorado, quotes “intelligence officials familiar with the investigation” of Najibullah Zazi, as saying that the CIA alerted US federal agencies after intercepting a conversation between Zazi and a senior al-Qaida operative. No word yet about this from the FBI, which is supposed to handle domestic terrorism cases.
  • US defense secretary hints at more secret nuke sites in Iran. Speaking alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last night at a CNN/George Washington University forum, Robert Gates dropped what seemed to be a big hint that the United States knows much more about the Iranian nuclear program than the Iranians might think.

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Israel diplomats angry at ex-Mossad man’s ambassadorial appointment

Avigdor Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israel’s hardline foreign minister has reportedly angered several Israeli diplomats after announcing that a former Mossad official will be Israel’s ambassador to Turkmenistan. Earlier this week, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman announced the pending appointment of Reuben Dinal as Israel’s first-ever ambassador to the central Asian nation. Intelligence observers probably remember that Dinal headed the Mossad’s bureau in Russia in the early 1990s, until he was expelled by Moscow in 1996 for allegedly engaging in “undeclared intelligence activities”. Since Turkmenistan’s independence from the Soviet Union, Israel has regarded the central Asian nation as particularly sensitive, not only because of its wealth in energy resources and the predominantly Muslim faith of its population, but also because it borders the Islamic Republic of Iran. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0063

  • UK government ministers, MI6 boss, reject torture accusations. Britain’s home secretary, Alan Johnson, and foreign secretary, David Miliband, have rejected claims that the UK operated a “policy to collude in, solicit, or directly participate in abuses of [war on terrorism] prisoners” or to cover up abuses. The outgoing director of MI6, Sir John Scarlett, has also said that there has been “no torture and there is no complicity with torture” by British agents.
  • Ex-spy may succeed Kazakh leader. An unnamed senior security official may eventually succeed Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan for 20 years.
  • Congressman tells Holder to widen torture probe. Several news outlets are verifying earlier rumors (reported on by intelNews on July 13) that the Obama Administration is considering the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the use of torture by US intelligence agencies after September 11, 2001. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, has said he wants US Attorney General Eric Holder to extend the rumored investigation beyond CIA interrogators, and determine whether high-level officials of the Bush administration committed war crimes.

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Austrian police officers arrested on Kazakh espionage charges

Rakhat Aliyev

Rakhat Aliyev

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last month we reported on Rakhat Aliyev, former Director of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB) and former son-in-law to the country’s dictatorial president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. In 2007, following his divorce with Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Aliyev was stripped of his government positions, issued with an arrest warrant, and now lives in exile in Vienna, Austria. Soon afterwards, Aliyev began exposing President Nazarbayev’s corrupt dealings with foreign oil companies operating in Kazakhstan. In January of this year, a Kazakh-employed public relations firm working to “exonerate” Nazarbayev was found to have received assistance from “two anonymous serving officers of MI6”, Britain’s external intelligence agency. Now a new scandal has erupted in Vienna, where two Austrian police officers have been arrested by the country’s authorities and charged with “spying for Kazakhstan”. The two officers were apprehended by counterintelligence agents while reportedly “gathering information from a computer about Rakhat Aliyev”. Read more of this post

MI6 agents accused of assisting corrupt Kazakh oil propaganda effort

Rakhat Aliyev

Rakhat Aliyev

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Until recently, Rakhat Aliyev was deeply embedded in Kazakhstan’s corrupt governing establishment. Having served for years as the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Director of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (the intelligence service, also known as KNB) he is uniquely aware of the annals of sleaze and fraud that dominate Kazakh political culture. In 2007, following his divorce with Dariga Nazarbayeva, eldest daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Aliyev became estranged from the Kazakh leadership. He was stripped of his government positions, issued with an arrest warrant, and now lives in exile in Vienna, Austria. Soon after his estrangement from the Kazakh leadership, Aliyev began accusing President Nazarbayev of regularly receiving secret commissions from foreign oil companies operating in Kazakhstan, and of illegally expropriating state assets worth billions of US dollars. Read more of this post