Group of 13 North Korean defectors say they were ‘forcibly kidnapped’ by South

Pyongyang Restaurant in Jakarta, IndonesiaA group of 12 female North Korean restaurant workers and their male manager claim that their widely advertised defections in 2016 were fake, and that they were in fact abducted by South Korea’s spy services. The North Korean government maintains a chain of North Korea-themed restaurants throughout Asia, which operate as popular tourist attractions across Southeast Asia. The state-owned restaurants help provide the cash-strapped regime in Pyongyang with desperately needed foreign funds. The North Korean staff —almost all of them female— who work at these restaurants are carefully vetted and chosen to represent the reclusive regime abroad. Some observers claim that these restaurants serve “as a main front to conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance [against foreign] politicians, diplomats, top corporate figures and businessmen”.

In April of 2016, the entire staff of a North Korean restaurant in the Chinese city of Ningbo defected. They disappeared all of a sudden, and reappeared a few days later in South Korean capital Seoul, where South Korean authorities held a press conference. The South Koreans told reporters that the 13 North Koreans had decided to defect after watching South Korean television dramas, which allegedly caused them to lose faith in the North Korean system of rule. But Pyongyang dismissed the defections as propaganda and claimed that its citizens had been abducted by South Korean intelligence.

Now in a shocking interview published by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, Ho Kang-il, the male manager of the North Korean restaurant in Ningbo said that he and his staff had been forcibly taken to South Korea. Ho told Yonhap that he had been approached by officers of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) who tried to entice him to defect to South Korea. They told him that he could open a restaurant if he chose to lead a new life in the south. Initially Ho said he was interested in the offer. But when he appeared to change his mind, the NIS officers threatened to inform the North Korean embassy in China that he had been speaking with them. Ho also said that the NIS officers blackmailed his staff at the restaurant using similar methods. Consequently, all 13 of them decided to cooperate with the NIS, as they “had no choice but to do what they told [us] to do”, said Ho.

On Sunday, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea, Ojea Quintana, said during a press conference that the UN was concerned about the allegations made by Ho. He also said that some of the North Korean defectors had told UN personnel that they left China without knowledge of where they were being taken by South Korean intelligence. Quintana concluded his remarks by calling for a “thorough investigation” into the alleged abductions of the North Koreans.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 July 2018 | Permalink

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Spy chiefs from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan hold high-level meeting

Sergei NaryshkinIntelligence directors from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan met on Tuesday to discuss regional cooperation with particular reference to combating the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Information about the high-level meeting was revealed yesterday by Sergei Ivanov, media spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Ivanov told Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency that the meeting was held in Pakistan and included the participation of SVR director Sergei Naryshkin. TASS reported that the meeting was held under the auspices of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and was attended by “senior intelligence officials” from Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China.

Ivanov said that discussions during the meeting “focused on the dangers arising from a buildup of the Islamic State on the Afghan territory”. The Islamic State announced the formation of its Afghan province (wilayah in Arabic) in January 2015, using the term “Khorasan Province”. By July 2016, two of its most prominent leaders had been killed in coordinated drone strikes by the United States, but the group continues to launch operations to this day. Its core is thought to be made up of nearly 100 fighters from the Islamic State’s former strongholds in Syria and Iraq. According to Russian reports, security officials in China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran are concerned that the Islamic State’s Afghan command is becoming stronger as fighters from the group are leaving the Middle East and moving to Afghanistan.

Tuesday’s high-level meeting in Islamabad follows an announcement last month by the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that it would adopt a more active stance on security issues in Afghanistan. Early in June, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani described the SCO as “an important platform for anti-terrorist cooperation and enhancing regional connectivity” in Central and South Asia. President Ghani made these comments shortly before traveling to China to attend the annual summit of the SCO, of which Afghanistan is an observer country.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 July 2018 | Permalink

Chinese shipbuilding boss gave CIA aircraft carrier secrets, reports claim

Liaoning aircraft carrier ChinaOne of China’s most senior shipbuilding executives, who has not been seen in public for nearly two weeks, has been charged with giving secrets about China’s aircraft carriers to the United States. Sun Bo, 57, is general manager of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), China’s largest state-owned maritime manufacturer, which leads nearly every major shipbuilding project of the Chinese navy. Most notably, Sun headed the decade-long retrofitting of the Liaoning, a Soviet-built aircraft carrier that was commissioned to the Chinese Navy’s Surface Force after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The ship arrived at the CSIC’s Dalian shipyard in northeastern China in 2002. Work on the vessel was completed in 2012. Today CSIC heads the construction of so-called Type 001A, China’s first home-built aircraft carrier, which is said to be modeled largely on the Liaoning. The company is also spearheading the construction of numerous Chinese Navy frigates, latest-generation destroyers, and numerous other vessels. Earlier this year, it was announced the CSIC would build the Chinese Navy’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

As the second most senior official of China’s largest and most important shipbuilder, Sun has supervised all of the company’s projects during the past two decades. But Sun effectively disappeared after June 11, when he made his last known public appearance at a CSIC event. On June 17, a brief notice posted on the company’s website stated that Sun had been placed under investigation for “gross violation of laws and [Communist] Party [of China] discipline”. The brief notice said that the probe of Sun’s activities was led by China’s National Supervision Commission and the Communist Party of China’s Central Commissariat for Discipline Inspection, but provided no further details.

It has now been reported by multiple Chinese news websites that Sun is under investigation not simply for graft, but for far more serious activities involving espionage. Specifically, it is claimed that Sun was recruited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency because of his supervisory role in China’s aircraft carrier building programs. He is believed to have provided the CIA with information about the decade-long retrofitting of the Liaoning. More importantly, there are reports that Sun gave the CIA blueprints and other technical specifications of the Type 001A, which is currently under construction at a top-secret facility. The Hong Kong-based English-language news website Asia Times said on Thursday that, given the sensitive nature of the charges against Sun, it is unlikely that the Chinese government would reveal the outcome of the investigation of the CSIC executive.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2018 | Permalink

US evacuates more diplomats from China over ‘abnormal sounds and symptoms’

US consulate in GuangzhouThe United States has evacuated at least two more diplomatic personnel from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, after they experienced “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. The latest evacuations come two weeks after the US Department of State disclosed that a consulate worker in Guangzhou had been flown home for medical testing, in response to having experienced “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”.

The evacuations from China have prompted comparisons to similar phenomena that were reported by US diplomatic personnel in Cuba in 2016. Last September, Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana and issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island. These actions were taken in response to allegations by the US Department of State that at least 21 of its diplomatic and support staff stationed in Cuba suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, causing them to be diagnosed with brain injuries. In April, the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in Havana over similar health concerns.

US State Department sources told The New York Times on Wednesday that the two latest evacuees were among approximately 179 American diplomats and consular personnel stationed in Guangzhou, one of China’s largest commercial hubs. The city of 14 million, located 70 miles north of Hong Kong, hosts one of Washington’s six consulates in China. The building that houses the US consulate was presented to the public in 2013 as a state-of-the-art construction, which, as The Times reports, is “designed to withstand electronic eavesdropping and other security and intelligence threats”. The paper said that one Guangzhou consular employee that was evacuated this week is Mark A. Lenzi, who works as a security engineering officer. He is reported to have left China along with his wife and two children. An unnamed senior US official told The Times that a State Department medical team arrived in Guangzhou on May 31, and is currently examining all diplomatic personnel and their families.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2018 | Permalink

Facebook shared user data with Chinese firm despite warnings by US intelligence

HuaweiThe online social media company Facebook shares data about its users with a Chinese telecommunications company that has been flagged in United States government reports as a threat to security. The New York Times revealed on Tuesday that Facebook has been routinely giving access to the private data of its users to four Chinese companies since at least 2010. The paper said that the data-sharing agreement with Lenovo, Oppo, TCL, and Huawei Technologies, has its roots in 2007. That was the year when Facebook began an effort to entice cell phone hardware and software manufacturers to include Facebook-friendly apps and features in their products. As part of the agreement, Facebook gave cell phone manufacturers access to its users’ private data, including “religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status”, said the Times.

However, several sources in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and other governments, 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. It said that Huawei relied on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security, which oversee and administer China’s military and civilian intelligence apparatus. 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 last year 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.

In a statement, Facebook said that all data shared with Huawei remained stored on users’ phones and was not downloaded on the Chinese’ company’s private servers. It also said that it would “phase out” the data-sharing agreement with Huawei by the middle of June. The Times noted on Tuesday that Facebook has been officially banned in China since 2009. However, the social media company has been trying to make a comeback in the Chinese market, by cultivating close links with Chinese Communist Party officials. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited China in October of last year, and met with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and other senior officials.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 June 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

France arrests two intelligence officers on charges of spying for China

dgse franceFrance has confirmed the arrest of two French intelligence officers who are accused of spying for the Chinese government. It appears that the two officers were captured and charged in December. However, their arrests were not publicized at the time, because French counterintelligence officials wanted to avoid alerting more members of a possible spy ring, which some say may include up to five French citizens. It was only last Friday, a day after French media published leaked reports of the arrests, that the French government spoke publicly about the case.

France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, told France’s CNews television on Friday that two French intelligence officers were “accused of extremely serious acts of treason” against the French state. The two officers had been charged with delivering classified information to a foreign power”, she said. Parly added that the spouse of one of the officers was also being investigated for participating in acts of espionage on behalf of a foreign country. When asked to identify the country that the two officers are accused of spying for, the minister refused to respond. But the Agence France Presse news agency cited an anonymous “security source”, who said that the two intelligence officers were being suspected of spying for China and that they had been captured following a sting operation by French counterintelligence officers.

French television station TFI1 said on Friday that both spy suspects are officers in the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), France’s primary external intelligence agency. The station added that at least one of the two suspects was stationed at the embassy of France in Beijing when French counterintelligence became aware of the alleged espionage. According to some reports, the two suspects had retired from the DGSE by the time they were arrested, but committed their alleged espionage while still in the service of the spy agency. French government officials have refused to provide information about the length of the alleged espionage or the nature of the classified information believed to have been compromised. Additionally, no information is available about whether the two alleged spies were working in cooperation with each other. The BBC asked China last week about the arrests in France, but the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was not aware of the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 May 2018 | Research credit: E.W. and P.C.  | Permalink