Taiwan should prepare for war with China, says US national security adviser

Robert O'Brien

THE TAIWANESE MILITARY AND society should be prepared to prevent and deter a possible military invasion by China, according to White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien. O’Brien, the fourth person to hold that position at the White House during the presidency of Donald Trump, said last week he did not believe that Beijing was planning an all-out military invasion of Taiwan. He added, however, that the island should be prepared to deter so-called “gray zone operations” by China, as well a direct “amphibious landing” by Chinese forces.

The Reuters news agency reported last week that many in Taiwan fear a possible Chinese invasion, should the upcoming presidential election in the United States lead to political confusion and disorder in Washington. Tensions between China and Taiwan have been growing in recent months. China sees Taiwan as a renegade province, a view that contrasts sharply with the majority view in Taiwan. The island sees itself as independent from China, though fewer than 20 countries around the world have officially recognized its independent status. Earlier this month, the Chinese government said it had launched an extensive counterintelligence operation aiming to uncover Taiwanese spies. Meanwhile, Chinese government-run media aired footage last week of a military exercise that appeared to simulate an amphibious invasion of Taiwan.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the Aspen Strategy Group on Friday, O’Brien opined that Taiwan should “start looking at some asymmetric and anti-access area denial strategies […] and really fortify itself”. He added that the goal of such a fortification would be to “deter the Chinese from any sort of amphibious invasion or even a gray zone operation” —that is, aggressive economic and political actions that fall short of a direct military invasion. O’Brien’s comments came less than a week after Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s economic and cultural representative in Washington (effectively Taiwan’s ambassador to the US) urged the Trump administration to provide the island with “some degree of clarity” on whether the US would come to its aid, should China invade.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2020 | Permalink

Chinese authorities announce counterespionage crackdown with 100s of arrests

China and Taiwan

Authorities in China said on Sunday that a nationwide counterespionage operation launched earlier this year has identified “hundreds of espionage cases”, most of them involving Taiwanese intelligence agencies. In a concerted fashion, Chinese state-run media published dozens of reports over the weekend, hailing the alleged success of the project.

According to the reports, China’s Ministry of State Security codenamed the operation THUNDER 2020. It follows on the heels of an earlier counterespionage crackdown, known as THUNDER 2018, or THUNDERBOLT 2018. Last year, Chinese authorities said that the year-long 2018 operation had uncovered over 100 espionage cases throughout mainland China

The information released on Sunday includes claims that espionage activities uncovered under the THUNDER 2020 crackdown centered on “attempts to disrupt cross-Straits exchanges” —meaning efforts by China to raise support among the Taiwanese for reunification with the mainland. Other alleged espionage activities focused on encouraging “Hong Kong separatism” and on “instigating diplomatic ties between […] China and other countries”. No specific information was provided to support these claims.

In what appears to be a controlled leak, several Chinese news media reported on the case of a Taiwanese businessman identified as Li Mengju, or Lee Meng-chu. He was allegedly arrested in August of 2019 by authorities in the in southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which is adjacent to Hong Kong. “Anonymous” sources in Shenzhen claim that Lee directs the “Taiwan Independence organization”, as well as another group calling itself “Taiwan United Nations Association” or “Association for the Advancement of Taiwan”. These appear to be groups that campaign against the possible reunification of Taiwan with China.

According to Chinese state-run sources, Lee was arrested “at a harbor in Shenzhen as he tried to flee after he was spotted conducting espionage activities”. He was allegedly found to be in possession of audiovisual material that had been “taken illegally” and included “secret-level military information”, such as “combat equipment, and quantity of troops”. No further information was provided by Chinese media.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2020 | Permalink

British former MI6 employee denies having passed secrets to Chinese operatives

Brussels BelgiumA former employee of British intelligence has strongly denied accusations, which surfaced last week in the European press, that he gave secrets to two Chinese operatives in exchange for money. Some news outlets have suggested that he is currently under investigation by at least one European government.

The individual in question is Fraser Cameron, a British businessman who worked in an intelligence capacity from 1976 to 1991. During those years, Mr. Cameron was reportedly employed by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s version of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. He then worked for the British Foreign Office and the European Commission, before relocating to Belgium, where he is believed to have lived for much of the past 20 years. According to the news website Politico, Mr. Cameron has been “a visiting professor at several universities in Asia” and currently directs the Belgium-based EU-Asia Centre.

Politico and a number of other news outlets said last week that Belgian security agencies are investigating Mr. Cameron’s alleged contacts with “two Chinese journalists accredited in Brussels”, who are believed to work as intelligence officers. Politico cited “a person close to the case”, who claimed that an investigation was launched by Belgium’s office of the federal prosecutor after the two Chinese journalists were found to be secretly working for China’s Ministry of State Security. The news website said that, according to sources in Belgium, Mr. Cameron’s alleged activities “could constitute a risk for European officials”. The BBC cited “a senior [British] official”, who claimed that the Belgian probe was the result of a “long-running joint inquiry between British and Belgian intelligence” into the case, which had achieved “a breakthrough in recent months.

But Mr. Cameron strongly denied these allegations, which he termed “absurd” in his messages to various media outlets. He described the claims as “without foundation” and added: “I retired 15 years ago from official employment and have zero access to any sensitive information”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2020 | Permalink

France sentences former intelligence officers to prison for spying for China

DGSE FranceA court in Paris has sentenced to prison two former employees of France’s external intelligence agency, who were accused of spying for the government of China. A third person, the wife of one of the accused, was also handed a jail sentence.

The two men have been identified in media reports only as “Henri M.”, 73, and “Pierre-Marie H.”, 69. They are both reportedly former employees of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Additionally, “Laurence H.”, reportedly the wife of Pierre-Marie H., stood accused of “concealing property derived from espionage on behalf of a foreign power, which is likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation”.

Pierre-Marie H. was arrested in late 2017 while transiting between flights at Zurich airport. He was found to be carrying on him a large amount of undeclared cash, which was reportedly given to him by his Chinese handler, following a meeting on “an island in the Indian Ocean”. Henri M. served as DGSE station chief in Beijing, where he was officially listed as the second secretary at the French embassy there. However, he was recalled to Paris less than a year after his arrival in China, for having an affair with the ambassador’s Chinese interpreter. After his retirement in 2003, Henri M. reportedly moved to China, where he married the interpreter and settled in the southern Chinese island of Hainan. He was arrested by French authorities in 2017.

Both men stood accused of “delivering information to a foreign power” and by doing so “damaging the fundamental interests of the French nation”. French officials described the cases of the two men as “extremely grave”. Their trial took place behind closed doors. On Monday, the court sentenced Pierre-Marie H. to 12 years in prison. Henri M. was given an 8-year prison sentence. Laurence H. was sentenced to 4 years in prison, with a 2-year suspension.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #910

Ajit DovalIn-fighting erupts between Syrian intelligence and army in Damascus. Violent clashes broke out between Syrian regime intelligence forces and local militias affiliated with the army’s 4th Division and national defense in Damascus’ countryside, local media sources reported. Sporadic fighting reportedlhy broke out for the third consecutive day in the Daf Al-Shouk region between militiamen affiliated with the 4th Division and the national defense on the one hand, and security formations from the Palestine Branch of the Syrian military intelligence on the other. This came after the 4th Division and the national defense refused to hand over their weapons and end the military tasks assigned to them in the region.

India gold smuggling case sparks political row. A political row has broken out in India after gold was found being smuggled into the country in diplomatic baggage. Customs officials at the international airport in the southern state of Kerala found more than 30kg (66lb) of gold hidden inside bathroom fittings. The package was addressed to the United Arab Emirates’ consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. The UAE has denied any knowledge of the package and said a former local employee had been arrested. Local reports suggest another person has also been detained.

The ex-spy who brought India and China back from the brink. It takes nerves of steel and a cool wit to negotiate a truce in the face of a grave provocation – such as the brutal killing of 20 soldiers – and getting two nuclear-armed rivals to pull back from the brink of a full-scale confrontation. But that’s what Ajit Doval (pictured), India’s national security adviser, managed to do as he walked a diplomatic tightrope in recent talks with Chinese officials.

France charges two former intelligence officers with spying for China

dgse franceThe trial of two French former intelligence officers begins today in Paris, with the two men accused by French authorities of having spied for China in the 1990s and 2000s. French officials have remained largely silent on the two cases, but media reports have suggested that the two former intelligence officers were found to have carried out espionage tasks for the Chinese government.

The two men have been identified in media reports only as “Henri M.” and “Pierre-Marie H.”. They are both reportedly former employees of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. A third suspect, “Laurence H.” is reportedly the wife of Pierre-Marie H., and stands accused of “concealing property derived from espionage on behalf of a foreign power, which is likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation”.

According to reports in the French media, Pierre-Marie H. was arrested in late 2017 while transiting between flights at Zurich airport. He was found to be carrying on him a large amount of undeclared cash, which was reportedly given to him by his Chinese handler, following a meeting on “an island in the Indian Ocean”. He is currently free on bail.

The DGSE appointed Henri M. in the Chinese capital Beijing as its station chief. He was allegedly listed as the second secretary at the French embassy there. However, he was recalled to Paris less than a year following the start of his foreign assignment, after he was found to have an affair with the female interpreter of the ambassador. The interpreter was reportedly a Chinese citizen. In 2003, following his retirement, Henri M. reportedly relocated to China, where he married the interpreter and settled in the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Like Pierre-Marie H., Henri M. was arrested in late 2017, reportedly after a lengthy surveillance operation by French counterintelligence, which lasted several months. Both men are accused of “delivering information to a foreign power” and by doing so “damaging the fundamental interests of the French nation”. French officials have described the cases of the two men as “extremely grave”. The trial will take place in a special court that will convene behind closed doors. The verdict is due to be announced on July 10. If convicted of all charges against them, the two men face 15 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2020 | Permalink

Chinese state-linked operatives funded Trump campaign to gain access, says report

Trump and Xi JinpingA report in The Wall Street Journal claims that individuals and groups with ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army donated substantial funds to the re-election campaign of United States President Donald Trump, in return for access to the White House.

The paper claims that nearly half a million dollars were donated to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign on behalf of Chinese-linked interests soon after he was sworn in as president in January of 2017. Some of these donations were allegedly among the biggest made to the campaign. The list of donors is headed by four men, according to The Journal, some of whom are naturalized Americans of Chinese background, and at least one is a Chinese citizen and American permanent resident, which means he does not get to vote in the United States. He is believed to have donated $150,000 to the Trump re-election campaign.

Many of these donations are gathered through an organization that was created in the United States in 2017 to help the president get re-elected in 2020, says the paper. Funds raised by the group are funneled to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. However, according to The Journal, the people behind the organization have ties to Chinese diplomats in the United States, as well as to the Chinese state.

The paper claims that the money given to the Trump re-election campaign earned some of these donors physical access to the White House and the president in at least one occasion, in May of 2017. Among those who were invited to visit the White House was a personal adviser to Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Others have ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, said the paper. It added that some of these donors have also attended Trump re-election campaign strategy meetings and meetings of the Republican National Committee.

The Wall Street Journal allegations came just days after Mr. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, claimed in a new book that the president solicited his Chinese counterpart for help in securing his re-election. In his new book, The Room Where it Happened, Mr. Bolton claims that the American president asked Mr. Xi to have China purchase billions of dollars of American soybeans, so that farming communities in the Midwest would continue to support the Trump ticket come 2020.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 June 2020 | Permalink

Russia accuses its top Arctic scientist of giving China submarine secrets

Valery MitkoRussian prosecutors have accused one of the country’s most respected hydroacoustics specialists, and globally recognized expert on the Arctic region, of spying for Chinese intelligence. This development highlights the competitive relationship between the two neighboring countries, who in recent years have tended to work together against what they perceive as a common threat coming from the United States.

The scientist in question is Dr. Valery Mitko, a St. Petersburgh-based hydroacoustics researcher, who is also president of Russia’s Arctic Academy of Sciences. Investigators with the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, are accusing Dr. Mitko, 78, of having provided classified documents to Chinese intelligence.

The FSB first detained Dr. Mitko in February, when he returned from a stint as a visiting professor at Dalian Maritime University. Located in China’s northeastern Liaoning province, near the North Korean border, Dalian Maritime University is considered China’s foremost higher-education institution on maritime subjects, with many of its research projects funded directly by the Chinese Ministry of Transport. According to sources, Dr. Mitko gave a series of lectures at Dalian University in early 2018.

Upon arriving back to Russia from China, Dr. Mitko was detained and placed under house arrest. The FSB now claims that the Russian scientist gave the Chinese classified information relating to the underwater detection of submarines. The agency alleges that Dr. Mitko received payments in return for sharing this information with Chinese spies. However, Dr. Mitko’s lawyers argue that the information he shared with the Chinese “came from open sources”, and that he never knowingly came in contact with Chinese intelligence operatives.

There have been several arrests of Russian academics in recent years, who have been accused by the FSB of providing China with classified information. Last week saw the release from prison of Vladimir Lapygin, a 79-year-old avionics researchers, who was jailed in 2016 for allegedly giving China classified information on Russian hypersonic aircraft designs. In 2018, Russian authorities charged Viktor Kudryavtsev, a researcher at a Russian institute specializing in rocket- and spacecraft design, with passing secret information on spacecraft to researchers at the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium. The FSB claimed that some of that information ended up in Chinese hands.

If convicted of the crime of espionage against the Russian state, Dr. Mitko faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years. He denies the charges against him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #905

Twitter IAFrench forces kill al-Qaeda head and capture ISIS leader in Mali. In the past few days, the French military successfully conducted two key operations in the Sahel, killing the emir of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), Abdelmalek Droukdal, and capturing Mohamed el Mrabat, a leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group. The US military assisted the French special operations forces by providing intelligence that helped locate the target.

Isis operations increase in Iraq as coalition withdraws. The Islamic State staged at least 566 attacks in Iraq in the first three months of the year and 1,669 during 2019, a 13 per cent increase from the previous year, according to security analysts who track the group’s activities. The jihadists have exploited a partial drawdown of the international anti-Isis coalition, analysts said, while tensions between the US and Iran, disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and political paralysis in Baghdad, have also combined to provide an opportunity for the insurgents to regroup.

Twitter removes more than 170,000 pro-China accounts. Twitter has removed more than 170,000 accounts it says were tied to an operation to spread pro-China messages. Some of those posts were about the coronavirus outbreak, the social media platform has announced. The firm said the Chinese network, which was based in the People’s Republic of China, had links to an earlier state-backed operation it broke up alongside Facebook and YouTube last year.

US embassy in UAE declined free COVID-19 tests due to Chinese spying concerns

Abu DhabiThe embassy of the United States in the United Arab Emirates declined free COVID-19 testing kits for its staff, because of concerns that the private labs offering the kits had ties to China, according to a new report. The testing kits were offered by a testing facility that was set up in March in Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the oil-rich UAE —a close American ally in the Middle East.

The facility was built in record time, through a collaboration between two private companies. The main partner in the scheme is Group42, a privately owned artificial intelligence firm, which is based in the UAE and is believed to be partly owned by members of the kingdom’s royal family. Its partner in the venture is BGI Group, a Chinese company —formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Group— that specializes in genomics research. Since its establishment, the facility has reportedly delivered over 2 million COVID-19 testing kits —complete with reagents— for the population of the UAE, which numbers just over 9 million. Given these numbers, local officials have hailed the initiative as a success and credit it with having produced “one of the largest per capita testing rates in the world”. The oil-rich kingdom has so far reported about 36,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, which have resulted in 270 deaths —about 2.5 deaths per 100,000 UAE residents.

But, according to The Financial Times, the United States embassy in Abu Dhabi turned down an offer for free COVID-19 testing kits for its employees by Group42. The paper quoted an anonymous United States government official, who said that the offer was “politely declined” last month by the embassy leadership. American State Department officials were allegedly concerned that the DNA information of tested embassy employees could be compromised and “find its way to Beijing”, said the source. “Concerns were raised about patient privacy and the way that the tests could be used”, added the official, and described the involvement of BGI in the venture as “a red flag” for Washington.

BGI Group told the paper that it had no links to the government of China and no access to the data of patients, which were stored in Group42 facilities in the Emirates. The UAE-based company said that it followed “strict information security and data privacy protocols are in place” to protect sensitive information. The firm refused to divulge information about its owners, citing strict laws that are in place in the kingdom.

But the incident illustrates the growing suspicion in relations between the US and China. This poses difficult dilemmas for third countries, like the UAE. The oil-rich state is among several monarchies in the Gulf that have deepened their relations with China in recent years, in both the political and economic domains. Since 2000, the value of bilateral trade between Abu Dhabi and Beijing has grown from $2 billion to nearly $70 billion per year. At the same time, the UAE is one of the largest purchasers of US military technology in the world. The oil-rich monarchy spends on average $3 billion annually to acquire American weapons. Recently, however, Abu Dhabi has shown an increasing interest in Chinese-made weapons. Its armed forces and police departments now use several Chinese weapons and surveillance systems. At the same time, Huawei, a Chinese-owned telecommunications hardware producer, is scheduled to build the nation’s 5G cellular network. Washington has expressed serious concerns about that decision.

Speaking to The Financial Times, the anonymous US government official said that these steps by the UAE leadership, which are bringing it closer to China, “risk rupturing the long-term strategic relationship [the country has] with the US”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #900

Marco RubioChina may set up Hong Kong spy agency under new law. China’s new national security legislation may be used to establish a domestic intelligence agency in Hong Kong similar to the British colonial-era’s Special Branch, according the territory’s former leader Leung Chun Ying. Leung’s comments could give weight to concern among some Hong Kongers and Western governments that national security legislation will herald a new era of political surveillance and law enforcement controlled from the mainland.
Islamic State is back and this time the west is ill-prepared to take it on. Hassan Hassan, of the Center for Global Policy, and co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, argues that “the current trends seem more favourable to the Islamic State than to local forces in Iraq”. Additionally, “tensions between the US and Iraqi forces also make it harder for the two partners to work in harmony as they did during the fight against Isis in places like Mosul”.
New Senate intelligence committee director warns against virus conspiracies. Senator Marco Rubio (pictured), the new Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has warned that foreign actors will seek to amplify conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and find new ways to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. The Florida Republican said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that one possibility could be an effort to convince people that a new vaccine against the virus, once created, would be more harmful than helpful.

US threatens to end intelligence sharing if Australian state joins Chinese venture

Belt and Road InitiativeThe United States has warned that it might be forced to stop sharing intelligence with Australia if the country’s second most populous state enters into a much-heralded investment agreement with China. The Australian state of Victoria has said it intends to join Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a worldwide investment venture that was announced with much fanfare by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

The initial goal of the venture was to encourage economic cooperation between China and countries of the Eurasian region. Eventually, the project’s scope expanded to include agreements with countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, mostly through the Chinese-led construction of telecommunications and transportation networks, which trace the trading routes of the Silk Road of ancient times.

Although Australia is not a participant in the Belt and Road Initiative, the Australian state of Victoria announced its decision to join the project in late 2019. The decision has been criticized by senior Australian federal officials, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. These officials argue that any interference by China in the Australian national telecommunications network could compromise the national security of the country as a whole.

On Sunday, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Australia that Washington would look “incredibly closely” at aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative affecting telecommunications. Pompeo, who was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency before his current post, told Sky News that some aspects of the project were designed to “build up the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to do harm” around the world.

In his interview, Pompeo referred to the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance (also known as “UKUSA”), which is a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He added that the US government was concerned that the Victoria state government’s decision to participate in the Chinese venture project could “have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defense and intelligence communities”.

If that were to happen, said Pompeo, then the US would “not take any risks to our telecommunications infrastructure, [or] any risk to the national security elements of what we need to do with our Five Eyes partners”. In the US government determined that these risks were real, “we simply disconnect, we will simply separate”, Pompeo concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2020 | Permalink

Malta protests French media claims that its Brussels embassy is bugged by China

25 Rue ArchimedeThe Maltese government has strongly denied allegations, made by a leading French newspaper, that the island nation’s embassy in Brussels is being used by China to spy on European Union institutions. The allegations concern a nine-story building located at 25 Rue Archimede, in one of downtown Brussels’ most desirable areas. The building houses the Embassy of Malta in Belgium, as well as Malta’s Permanent Representation to the European Union. It is conveniently located across the street from Le Berlaymont —the headquarters of the European Commission, which is the European Union’s executive branch. It is also around the corner from the headquarters of the European Council, which operates as the collective presidency of the European Union.

Last Friday, leading French newspaper Le Monde, alleged that China had installed concealed surveillance equipment throughout the building at 25 Rue Archimede. The paper claimed that the Chinese had supplied the funds to buy and refurbish the building as a gift to Malta, a country with which Beijing has had traditionally warm relations since 1972, when Malta became the world’s first nation to formally recognize the People’s Republic of China. The paper also alleged that Belgium’s state security services had long suspected that the building “harbored technical [surveillance] equipment” planted by Chinese intelligence with the aim of spying on nearby European Union facilities located nearby. The report added that the Belgians had previously been initially alerted by British intelligence about the use of 25 Rue Archimede as a “spy tower” by the Chinese.

According to Le Monde, this information had been relayed to the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Alain Winants, when he served as Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE). However, both Winants and his successor, Jaak Raes, declined to comment when asked by Le Monde. The paper said that the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also declined an opportunity to comment, saying that “such affairs relate to the state affairs of Belgium”.

Over the weekend, the Maltese government issued a formal statement denying the clams by Le Monde, and protesting the “incorrect allegations” in the paper’s report. Additionally, Maltese officials told local media that the building in question had undergone successive “internal and external audits” by the Maltese Security Service and the European Council, and had been found to be clear of bugs every time. Another Maltese government source said that 80% of the building’s furniture had been “disposed of” in the past two years and replaced with “new furniture procured from Malta”.

Other sources told Maltese media that the allegations in Le Monde could be a form of retaliation against the government of Malta for seeking to withdraw from Operation IRINI, a European Union naval operation aimed at enforcing an international weapons embargo imposed on Libya. According to these claims, the embargo is preventing weapons from Turkey from reaching the United Nations-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord. If the embargo were to be lifted, or not thoroughly implemented, it could potentially strengthen the Libyan government, and thus hamper the efforts of Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is backed by France, among other Western powers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2020 | Permalink

US Intelligence Community says COVID-19 was not man-made or bio-engineered

COVID-19 ChinaIn a rare public statement, the Intelligence Community of the United States has said that the novel coronavirus “was not manmade or genetically modified”. The statement was issued on Thursday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which manages the US National Intelligence Program and whose director serves as the country’s most senior intelligence officer.

The brief statement was posted on the ODNI’s website and represents the view of all 17 government agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. It states that the novel coronavirus “originated in China”, thus agreeing with the vast majority of public health experts about the origins of the disease. It goes on to state that “[t]he Intelligence Community […] concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”.

However, the statement does not rule out the possibility that the virus could have its roots in a scientific facility in China, and that it might have escaped “through contact with infected animals” or as “the result of an accident at a laboratory”. It goes on to state that the Intelligence Community “will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine” if there exists a laboratory connection to the virus.

Earlier this month, US Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the media that “the weight of evidence” seemed to indicate that COVID-19’s origins were “natural”. However, according to reports, American and other Western spy agencies are “still weighing the possibility” that the virus may have escaped from a government laboratory in Wuhan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2020 | Permalink

South Korea, China, urge caution over rumors of North Korean leader’s death

Korean DMZOfficials in South Korea and China have cast doubt on rumors circulating in recent days that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un may be dead or close to dying. The rumors about Kim’s demise began to circulate on April 15, when the North Korean leader failed to participate at an official ceremony held to mark the birthday of his grandfather. Known as the Day of the Sun —a public holiday in North Korea— the annual event commemorates the birth of the country’s founder, Kim il-Sung.

Kim’s absence sparked intense discussion in South Korea. On the same day, April 15, Daily NK and NK News, two South Korean websites that are critical of the North Korean government, claimed that Kim had been taken to hospital on April 11 and had not been seen since. The website, which regularly carries articles by North Korean defectors to the South, claimed that the 36-year-old supreme leader had undergone an emergency procedure to stabilize his cardiovascular system, and was recovering from the surgery.

On Monday the American news network CNN quoted an unnamed US official as saying that the sources of the reports about Kim’s health were “credible”. The official added that Washington was closely assessing reports that Kim’s life was “in grave danger”. But on Tuesday officials in South Korea said the reports about Kim’s imminent demise could not be corroborated. A spokesman at the Office of the President told reporters in Seoul that Kim was probably traveling in the countryside with an entourage of senior North Korean officials. The spokesman added that South Korean intelligence services had detected “no unusual signs” in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Also on Tuesday, a spokesman with the Department of International Liaisons of the ruling Communist Party of China, said “there was no reason to believe Kim was critically ill” or dead. There was speculation on Monday that Kim may be alive but staying indoors to avoid getting infected by the novel coronavirus. The United States government has not commented officially on the rumors about the state of Kim’s health.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 April 2020 | Permalink