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

British spy agencies foresee a more assertive China after COVID-19 pandemic

MI6British intelligence agencies are advising policymakers that China will become “more assertive” after the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, while some government officials are urging a re-examination of London’s relationship with Beijing.

According to The Guardian newspaper, analysts from Britain’s external and domestic spy agencies, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Security Service (MI5), expect that the Chinese government will aggressively promote a narrative that favorably compares its response to COVID-19 to that of Western nations. The goal of this narrative, according to British intelligence officials, will be to demonstrate the alleged superiority of China’s centralized one-party state over the pluralistic decision-making system that is prevalent in Western nations.

In response to this narrative by Beijing, the British government should adopt a more “realistic view” of its relationship with China and re-examine its dependency on the Chinese industry, especially in strategic areas of the economy, such as hi-tech research and production, as well as digital telecommunications and artificial intelligence. The Guardian said that the consensus in the British intelligence community continues to be that London acted wisely by giving the Chinese telecommunications hardware firm Huawei a 35 percent share in the construction of Britain’s 5G telecommunications network earlier this year, as the move does not compromise British strategic interests. Additionally, London should be careful not to criticize Beijing at the moment, given that much of the medical supplies that the country needs to defend itself the coronavirus are produced in China.

However, after the COVID-19 crisis, Britain is likely to re-examine its relationship —economic and political— with China, with the help of its intelligence agencies, said The Guardian. The paper reported that a group of conservative members of parliament have already formed a semi-official ‘China-skeptics block’. These parliamentarians reportedly wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, urging him to “rethink [Britain’s] relationship with China”, taking “a strategic view of Britain’s long-term economic, technical and security needs”.

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

US spy agencies conclude China intentionally concealed COVID-19 data

Trump and XiThe United States Intelligence Community has concluded that the Chinese government intentionally withheld and even fabricated crucial data about infections and deaths from COVID-19, according to reports. Consequently, the official numbers relating to the novel coronavirus outbreak in China allegedly represent a considerable under-reporting of both total cases and total deaths.

This claim was published on Wednesday on the website of the American news agency Bloomberg. The news agency cited “three [anonymous] US officials” in its report. The officials said that a summary of the evidence against China had been communicated to the White House in a classified report. The classified report is believed to conclude that the official Chinese numbers about COVID-19 are “intentionally incomplete”.

The claims against China include the accusation that the government in Beijing repeatedly changed the methodology it used to record and track cases —for instance by excluding asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers from the list for several months. There are also claims that the number of deaths owing to the virus may be much higher than official statistics show. This could be especially true in the city of Wuhan, in China’s east-central Hubei province, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated.

The embassy of China in Washington DC and the White House did not respond to questions about Bloomberg’s report on Wednesday. However, a number of pro-government media executives in China expressed concern in a Business Insider report late on Wednesday that the White House would try to exploit the Bloomberg report in order to “divert attention” from its own failures in preventing a surge of COVID-19 in America. They also claimed that China mobilized its health sector in a far more effective way than the US has done so far.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 April 2020 | Permalink

Trump administration considering mass expulsions of alleged Chinese spies

United States ChinaThe administration of United States President Donald Trump is considering the possibility of expelling from the country dozens of Chinese diplomats, journalists, and others, who are believed to be undercover spies. The expulsions relate to a spiraling information war between Washington and Beijing, which has erupted in recent weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government announced that it would expel 13 American journalists from three major newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Beijing also stipulated that all American news organizations operating in China had to provide its government with detailed information about their financial assets, employee structure and other organizational information. The journalists claimed that they were expelled for trying to report about the status of the COVID-19 pandemic inside China.

Around the same time, President Trump and senior members of his administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, began referring to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, known as novel coronavirus) as “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus”. The term refers to the Chinese province where the virus is believed to have originated. President Trump claims that he decided to use the term “Chinese virus” in response to unsubstantiated claims by government officials in Beijing that the novel coronavirus was brought to China by members of the US military.

On Thursday The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering expelling from the US a large number of Chinese citizens who work as diplomats or journalists. In some cases, the White House is reportedly considering shutting down the bureaus of some Chinese media outlets in the US. According to a number of administration officials, many Chinese journalists based in the US are in reality undercover intelligence officers, who regularly report to the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary external intelligence agency. Some of these alleged undercover intelligence officers —known in the world of intelligence as ‘non-official cover’— are allegedly embedded with China Global Television Network, the foreign-language arm of the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), according to some American officials.

On March 2, the Trump administration abruptly imposed quotas on the number of foreign citizens who are permitted to work for Chinese media organizations in the US. The Chinese media groups complied with the new directive in a timely manner, by recalling over 60 of their staff members to China. However, the White House now believes that a significant number of the 100 Chinese journalists who continue to operate in the US are undercover intelligence officers.

Meanwhile, on March 25, China’s English-language government-owned newspaper The Global Times raised eyebrows by repeating allegations that the novel coronavirus was brought to China by an American cyclist, who visited Wuhan in October of last year to compete in the Military World Games. Such allegations, which propagate the view that the novel coronavirus originated in the US, are quickly growing in popularity in Chinese social media platforms.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 March 2020 | Permalink

Militaries around the world scramble to contain impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 ChinaMilitary forces around the world are scrambling to contain the impact of COVID-19 on military readiness, as the virus continues to infect troops and commanders at an alarming rate. On Tuesday, the Polish government announced that General Jaroslaw Mika, who serves as general commander of Branches of the Armed Forces, had tested positive for the coronavirus. General Mika is believed to have contracted the virus during a military conference that took place in the German city of Wiesbaden, where North Atlantic Treaty Organization commanders gathered to plan an American-led military exercise.

Also on Tuesday, the United States Department of Defense said that the commander of the US Army in Europe, Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli, participated at the Wiesbaden conference, along with several other US Army staff members. They are currently being tested for exposure to COVID-19. Meanwhile the Reuters news agency reported that the US Pentagon acknowledged that “the US military’s official tally of servicemembers and related personnel who have been infected by the coronavirus likely undercounts the actual total”. Sources told the news agency that the low age and good health of American troops was “a mixed blessing of sorts”, since it allows US servicemembers to survive the virus but at the same time reduces their symptoms that would normally trigger testing for COVID-19.

The government of Taiwan said on Tuesday that over 400 members of its armed forces had entered self-imposed quarantine in order to prevent a possible COVID-19 outbreak among military personnel. This brings the total number of Taiwanese servicemembers who are currently in quarantine to over 2,000, which includes two generals. The country’s Minister of Defense, Yen De-fa, insisted on Tuesday that the virus had not impacted Taiwan’s military readiness.

Chinese officials have not provided information about the effect of the coronavirus on the country’s military. The Chinese-language website of The Epoch Times said last week that, according to unnamed insiders, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had “forcibly isolated” tens of thousands of servicemembers this month. There are no reports of specific numbers in the Chinese media or non-Chinese news outlets.

Finally, according to Daily NK, a South Korean website that specializes on news from North Korea, approximately 180 North Korean soldiers have died as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the past month. The website cited “a source inside the North Korean military”, who said that Pyongyang had forcibly quarantined at around 3,700 soldiers of all ranks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s military.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 March 2020 | Permalink