Swiss vote to give unprecedented surveillance powers to spy agencies

Federal Intelligence Service SwitzerlandVoters in Switzerland have strongly approved a proposed law that aims to expand the surveillance powers of Swiss intelligence agencies. The move is uncharacteristic of the Swiss, who have historically been skeptical of giving far-reaching surveillance powers to their government. In the late 1980s, Swiss public opinion was shocked by the revelation that the country’s Federal Military Department had spied without permission on tens of thousands of Swiss citizens for many decades under a top-secret project codenamed P-27. In response to the revelations, P-27 was ended, the Swiss intelligence agencies were reorganized, and stricter parliamentary controls were imposed on their activities. Today, even CCTV cameras are rarely used in Switzerland, while Google has not been given permission to incorporate the country’s streets into its Streetview application due to strict local privacy laws.

Opponents of the proposed law warned that it would end Switzerland’s long history of protecting civil liberties and would increase cooperation between Swiss and foreign spy agencies, thus harming the country’s tradition of political neutrality. But terrorist attacks in nearby Belgium and France have shaken public opinion in the small alpine country, which is home to numerous international agencies, including a regional branch of the United Nations. Consequently, nearly 66 percent of voters backed the proposal in elections on Sunday, which saw a 41 percent rate of participation. The result will allow the Swiss intelligence and security services, such as the Federal Intelligence Service, to put suspects under electronic surveillance using wiretaps, internet-based software, and hidden devices such as cameras and microphones.

Despite its long history of political neutrality, Switzerland is not unaccustomed to espionage scandals. In 2009, Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper said that a number of listening devices, most likely of Israeli origin, had been discovered in a room designated for sensitive meetings on disarmament issues at the United Nations building in Geneva. In June 2013, the Swiss parliament blocked legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after it was revealed that the US Central Intelligence Agency had conducted an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. And in 2015, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider, Swisscom AG, had been spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 September 2016 | Permalink

Poland’s intelligence watchdog chief says 52 journalists were spied on

ABW PolandOver 50 journalists and their contacts were systematically spied on by the Polish intelligence services between 2007 and 2015, according to the former director of an anti-corruption watchdog. Until 2009, Mariusz Kamiński led the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, which was set up by the office of the Polish Prime Minister in 2006 to address corruption in the country. The body is also responsible for monitoring the operations of Poland’s intelligence services, including the Internal Security Agency (ABW).

Kamiński made the spying allegation on Wednesday at the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, during a parliamentary hearing held to assess the performance of the previous government. He said that dozens of journalists of all political persuasions had been illegally spied on by the ABW between 2007 and 2015, on direct orders by the previous government. He was referring to the administrations of Donald Tusk and Ewa Kopacz, who held successive prime ministerial posts until last year. The two politicians represented a center-left alliance between the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), which ruled Poland from 2007 to 2015. But Kamiński, who is currently a member of the Sejm elected with the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), claimed that, under Tusk and Kopacz’s watch, the ABW spied on prominent journalists, their families and their contacts, secretly photographing them and tapping their telephones in order to see who they communicated with. He also claimed that the ABW spied on him and his colleagues at the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau in an attempt to intimidate them.

The center-right Law and Justice Party (PiS), which Kamiński represents at the Sejm, rose to power in October of last year after gaining a majority in both houses of the Polish Parliament. It had remained in opposition from 2007 to 2015, while the PO-PSL alliance governed the country. In his presentation, Kamiński claimed that the current center-right administration is “not placing anyone under surveillance due to their political views”, as these types of illegal activities would “directly violate freedom of speech and democracy” in Poland. At the end of his talk, Kamiński presented a list of journalists’ names who were allegedly targeted by the ABW. But opposition politicians dismissed Kamiński’s charges as being politically motivated and said they aimed to discredit the previous administration.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 May 2016 | Permalink

Spy charges for journalists who claimed Turkey arms Syrian Islamists

Can Dündar Erdem GülTwo leading Turkish journalists, who claimed in a series of articles that Ankara has been arming militant Islamists in Syria, are facing espionage charges for “airing Turkish state secrets”. The two, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, work for Cumhuriyet, (The Republic), Turkey’s oldest newspaper, which typically voices staunchly secularist views representing the center-left of the political spectrum. Last year Dündar, who is the paper’s editor, and Gül, who serves as the paper’s bureau chief in Ankara, published a series of articles claiming that the Turkish government was secretly supporting Salafi Jihadist groups in Syria.

In the articles, Dündar and Gül alleged that a convoy of trucks had been intercepted on its way from Turkey to Syria. According to the two reporters, the trucks were transporting large quantities of weapons and ammunition to Syrian rebels as part of a secret operation conducted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkey’s main spy agency. But the MİT had not shared details of the operation with Turkish police, which promptly stopped the vehicles, searched them and found them to be “loaded with weapons” and ammunition, according to Cumhuriyet. The paper also published video footage showing the alleged MİT trucks.

When the story was published, it caused major ripples in Turkish political life and prompted the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to issue official denials directed against the paper’s accusations. Government spokespeople claimed that the captured trucks contained humanitarian assistance, and not weapons. Later, however, Turkish officials admitted that the trucks were indeed carrying weapons, but that they were destined for Turkmen guerrillas operating in Syrian territory. President Erdoğan, however, was furious with Cumhuriyet and warned the paper’s investigative reporters that they would “pay a heavy price” for revealing state secrets.

The two reporters were arrested in November of last year and have since been held in detention. On Wednesday, state prosecutors charged Dündar and Gül with espionage, attempting to topple the Turkish government by force, and supporting terrorism. Interestingly, the main plaintiffs in the case are President Erdogan and Hakan Fidan, the director of MİT. If found guilty, the two Cumhuriyet journalists will face up to life in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 January 2016 | Permalink

Canada watchdog body to hold secret hearings over illegal spying claims

CSIS canadaA government watchdog in Canada is preparing to hold a series of closed-door hearings to weigh accusations that the country’s intelligence services illegally spied on law-abiding activists opposing the construction of oil pipelines. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) sued the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in February 2014, claiming they spied on Canadian citizens engaging in legal protest. The lawsuit was filed after nearly 150 pages of internal records were accessed by The Vancouver Observer, following an official Access to Information request made by the newspaper.

The BCCLA argues that information contained in the released documents shows that the RCMP and the CSIS gathered data on individuals and groups —including the Sierra Club— who are opposed to the construction of oil pipelines connecting Alberta’s so-called tar-sands to a number of ports in British Columbia. According to the BCCLA’s lawsuit, the documents demonstrate a series of clear violations of the 1985 Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which expressly forbids intelligence-collection activities targeting individuals or groups engaged in “lawful advocacy, protest or dissent”. Additionally, the BCCLA claims that the RCMP and the CSIS communicated the illegally acquired information to members of the Canadian Energy Board, officials in the country’s petroleum industry, and even employees of private security companies.

The hearings will be conducted in Vancouver by the Security and Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), a government body that monitors Canada’s intelligence agencies. Josh Paterson, a lawyer for the BCCLA, told The Vancouver Sun newspaper that the hearings would be so secretive that even the legal teams representing the two sides of the dispute would not be allowed to remain in the room for the entire length of the proceedings.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2015 | Permalink

South Korean spy’s suicide reportedly linked to wiretap controversy

NIS South KoreaA suicide note found next to the body of a South Korean intelligence officer mentions a phone hacking scandal that has caused controversy in the country. The 45-year-old man, identified only as “Lim” by South Korean authorities, worked for the country’s primary intelligence organization, the National Intelligence Service (NIS). He was found dead late on Saturday morning inside his car, which had been parked on a deserted rural road on the outskirts of South Korean capital Seoul. According to local reports, authorities found a metal plate with burnt-out coal inside his car, which had been locked from the inside. Finding no apparent marks on his body, the police have ruled his death a suicide.

The man reportedly left a three-page handwritten note on the passenger seat of his car, which is said to contain his will and a list of the reasons that drove him to kill himself. South Korean media cited a “senior government insider” who said that among the reasons mentioned in the suicide note is a controversial phone tapping scandal that has made national news in recent days. According to the insider, the program is identified in the letter as a wiretapping scheme “of national importance”.

The program appears to refer to the the disclosure made this month by a group of unidentified hackers that exposed the dealings of a surveillance software manufacturer with a markedly poor civil-liberties record. The disclosure, made by British newspaper The Guardian, shows that the Italian company, Hacking Team Ltd, is believed to have sold powerful surveillance software to governments with a history of civil-rights violations, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Among the customers, however, are a number of countries with stronger civil-rights protections, including South Korea and Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union. Cyprus’ intelligence chief resigned earlier this month as a result of the disclosure. According to technical experts, the software sold by Hacking Team can intercept data exchanged via cellular phones and other wireless devices. It can also spy on all communications devices connected to the Internet using malware that is undetectable by commonly used antivirus software. Moreover, software supplied by Hacking Team cannot be removed from a compromised cellular device unless it is reset at the factory.

NIS authorities in Seoul issued a press statement last week, claiming that the phone hacking software had been used only against North Korean targets abroad, including agents of Pyongyang operating around the world. But human rights organizations, as well as opposition parties in South Korea, said they believed the software had been used to monitor domestic dissent. Earlier this year, a former director of NIS was jailed for organizing an online propaganda campaign to dissuade citizens to vote for the liberal opposition. The NIS issued a statement last week saying that it would be willing to share the operational details and records of the controversial software with lawmakers in order to dispel rumors that it was used against domestic political activity.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/20/01-1738/

We must spy because of Turks, ISIS, says outgoing Cyprus spy chief

CyprusThe head of the main intelligence agency of the island state of Cyprus has resigned after an invoice leaked online showed that the agency made several purchases of controversial surveillance software. Andreas Pentaras, who has led the Cyprus Intelligence Service (KYP) since 2013, resigned on Saturday, less than a week after an unidentified group of hackers posted the controversial invoice online. The document, leaked to British broadsheet The Guardian and posted on Cypriot news site Sigmalive, shows that the KYP made numerous purchases of communications surveillance software from an Italian manufacturer with a markedly poor standing among civil-liberties advocates. The company, Hacking Team Ltd, is believed to have sold powerful surveillance software to governments that have documented records of civil-rights violations, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

According to technical experts in Cyprus, the software purchased by KYP can intercept data exchanged via cellular phones and other wireless devices. It can also spy on all communications devices connected to the Internet using malware that is undetectable by commonly used antivirus software. Moreover, software supplied by Hacking Team cannot be removed from a compromised cellular device unless it is reset at the factory. Pentaras also came under pressure to resign because the interception of communications is currently outlawed by the Cypriot Constitution. In 2011, the Cypriot parliament amended the Constitution to allow communications interception in extreme circumstances, but the legal interpretation of the amendment has yet to be officially outlined and approved. Technically, therefore, the interception of communications by the KYP remains illegal.

In an official statement issued on Friday, Pentaras said the surveillance software was purchased because of “the need and importance of maintaining a reliable operational intelligence service due to the circumstances caused by the occupation and due to the asymmetric threats caused by the instability in our region”. He was referring to the presence of up to 45,000 Turkish troops in the northern part of the island, which Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a military coup organized by a group of far-right colonels who ruled Greece at the time. Pentaras was also referring to the arrest last month of a suspected Lebanese Hezbollah operative, who was captured in the Cypriot city of Larnaca while in possession of 67 thousand packages of ammonium nitrate. In September of last year, Pentaras said it was possible that Sunni nationalists in occupied north Cyprus were assisting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to Cypriot media, the country’s President, Nicos Anastasiades, accepted Pentaras’ resignation, saying he did so “in order to protect the commendable accomplishments of the KYP in recent years”. Late on Saturday, another Cypriot senior official, Public Health Minister Filippos Patsalis, surrendered from his post. Sources from Nicosia said that Patsalis’ resignation was not related to the KYP controversy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/13/01-1733/

News you may have missed #892 (legislative update)

Jens MadsenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Canadian lawmakers vote to expand spy powers. Legislation that would dramatically expand the powers of Canada’s spy agency has cleared a key hurdle. The House of Commons on Wednesday approved the Anti-Terror Act, which was spurred by last year’s attack on parliament. The act would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) the ability to operate overseas and make preventative arrests. It also makes it easier for police to arrest and detain individuals without charge. Dominated by the Conservative party, the Senate is expected to approve the act before June.
►►Danish spy chief resigns over Islamist attacks. The head of Denmark’s Police Intelligence Service (PET), Jens Madsen, quit just hours before a report was due to be released into February’s fatal shootings in Copenhagen by an Islamist. Omar El-Hussein killed two people at a free speech debate and a synagogue before being shot dead by police. “It’s no secret that it is a very demanding position,” said Madsen, without giving a reason for his resignation. Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen declined to say whether the move was linked to criticisms of the police response to the attack.
►►OSCE urges France to reconsider controversial spying bill. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged French lawmakers to reconsider provisions of a proposed law that would expand government surveillance, a measure that was backed by French parliamentarians on Tuesday, despite criticism from rights groups. “If enforced, these practices will impact the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources and their overall work”, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said Wednesday. “If confidentiality of sources is not safeguarded within a trusted communications environment, the right of journalists to seek and obtain information of public interest would be seriously endangered”, he added