British judge denies request to name alleged new member of Cambridge spy ring

Corpus Christi College CambridgeA document that allegedly contains the name of a man who could be connected to one of the most sensational spy rings of the Cold War is to remain secret after a judge rejected a request to have it released. The man is believed by some to have been associated with the so-called ‘Cambridge spy ring’, a group of upper-class British graduates of Cambridge University, who spied for the USSR from the 1930s until the 1960s. Among them was Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1979, it was revealed that Anthony Blunt, an art history professor who in 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, was also a member of the group. A fifth member, career civil servant and former intelligence officer John Cairncross, was publicly outed as a Soviet in 1990, shortly before his death.

Over the years, more individuals have been suggested by historians as potential members of the group, including intelligence officers Leo Long and Guy Liddell, academics Ludwig Wittgenstein and Andrew Gow, and physicist Wilfrid Mann. But according to British newspaper The Daily Mail, another individual may be identified in a classified document as a possible member of the Cambridge spy ring. The document was allegedly traced by Andrew Lownie, who authored the recently published Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess. Lownie filed a Freedom of Information request to have the document, which is held at the National Archives in London, released. But the request was denied, and a judge has now upheld the decision.

In denying the request, the judge argued that the man named in the document is still alive and that a possible release of the document could “jeopardize […] personal relationships”. He also contended that the case is too old to warrant immediate public interest, and thus there was “no pressing need” to declassify the file. The Mail speculates that the individual named in the document could have cooperated with the British government in the past in return for protection, or that the file in question may contain details that could embarrass the British government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 September 2016 | Permalink

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was KGB agent, researchers claim

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

Two Israeli researchers claim that a document from the archives of the Cold-War-era KGB identifies the current president of the Palestine Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as a Soviet agent. The document was found in the United Kingdom, and was smuggled out of Russia by a former senior archivist of the Soviet KGB. Abbas is the leader of the largely secular Palestinian group Fatah, which controls the West Bank. Unlike Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by Israel and its allies, Fatah is seen by Tel Aviv as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. That is disputed by Hamas, a religiously inspired group, which controls the Gaza Strip and maintains a tense relationship with Fatah and Abbas himself.

The allegation about Abbas’ past emerged on Wednesday in the Israeli media, after two local academic researchers disclosed the contents of a KGB document discovered at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre in Britain. The researchers, Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor, of the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the document dates from 1983. It was found among thousands of similar documents that were secretly smuggled out of Russia in the early 1990s by British intelligence, following the defection of Vasili Mitrokhin, an archivist in the First Chief Directorate of the KGB during the Cold War. Some of the documents later formed the basis of a two-volume edition on the activities of Soviet intelligence, which was edited by Cambridge University Professor Christopher Andrew.

According to Remez and Ginor, the document identifies Mahmoud Abbas as a “KGB agent” based in Damascus, Syria, codenamed krotov, which in Russian means ‘mole’. Abbas was born in Palestine in 1935, but his family fled to Syria in 1948, following the establishment of the state of Israel and the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war. The young Abbas grew up in Damascus, where he went to university and joined the local branch of the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, of which Fatah is a member. If true, the allegation that Abbas worked for the KGB will not come as a surprise to observers of Palestinian politics. For most of the Cold War, the PLO was known to be close to Moscow, while Abbas was intimately involved with the Palestinian-Soviet Friendship Association, a pro-Moscow group that was widely seen as an agent of communist influence in the Palestinian territories. But the document from the Mitrokhin archives may be the first concrete evidence that Abbas was handled by the KGB.

Palestinian officials quickly dismissed the document on Wednesday as a fabrication and a deliberate slander. Mohammed al-Madani, a member of the central committee of Fatah, and a close associate of Abbas, said the allegation was part of a “clear effort to damage [Abbas] by various actors, including the government of Israel”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2016 | Permalink

German court sentences ex-Yugoslav spies to life for 1983 murder of dissident

Josip PerkovićA German court has given life sentences to two senior intelligence officers in Cold-War-era Yugoslavia, who masterminded the murder of a Croat dissident in 1983. Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustać, both former senior officials in the Yugoslav State Security Service, known as UDBA, were extradited to Germany from Croatia in 2014. They were tried in a German court in the Bavarian capital Munich for organizing the assassination of Stjepan Đureković on July 28, 1983. Đureković’s killing was carried out by UDBA operatives in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria as part of an UDBA operation codenamed DUNAV. Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company until 1982, when he suddenly defected to West Germany. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. It was the reason why he was killed by the government of Yugoslavia.

The court proceedings in Munich included dramatic testimony by another former UDBA operative, Vinko Sindicić, who named both Perković and Mustać as direct accomplices in Đureković’s murder. Sindicić told the court that Perković was acting on orders to kill the German-based dissident, which came directly from the office of UDBA Director Zdravko Mustać. He added that Perković helped organize the logistics of Đureković’s assassination, including the location in Munich where the killing actually took place. Sindicić told the court that a female UDBA operative living in Munich was also involved in organizing the operation, and that the weapons used to kill Đureković had been secretly transported to Germany through Jadroagent, an international shipping and freight company based in Yugoslavia.

On Wednesday, the court found both former UDBA officials guilty of complicity in the assassination of Đureković and convicted them for life. German media reported that the convicted men’s defense team plans to appeal the ruling by advancing the case to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, which is Germany’s highest ordinary-jurisdiction court. Perković and Mustać declined requests to make comments to the press at the end of the trial. It is believed that at least 22 Croat nationalists were murdered in West Germany by the Yugoslavian intelligence services during the Cold War.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2016 | Permalink

North Korea resumes Cold-War-era radio broadcasts for its spies abroad

Voice of KoreaIn a development that is reminiscent of the Cold War, a radio station in North Korea appears to have resumed broadcasts of encrypted messages that are typically used to give instructions to spies stationed abroad. The station in question is the Voice of Korea, known in past years as Radio Pyongyang. It is operated by the North Korean government and airs daily programming consisting of music, current affairs and instructional propaganda in various languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, English, and Russian. Last week however, the station interrupted its normal programming to air a series of numbers that were clearly intended to be decoded by a few select listeners abroad.

According to the South Korean public news agency, Yonhap, the coded segment was broadcast on shortwave at 12:45 a.m. on Friday, July 15. It featured a female announcer slowly reading a series of seemingly random numbers from an instruction sheet. The announcer began the segment by stating that she would “now provide a review on the topic of mathematics, as stipulated by the distance-learning university curriculum for the benefit of agents of the 27th Bureau”. She went on to read a series of numbers: “turn to page 459, number 35; page 913, number 55; page 135, number 86; page 257 number 2”, etc. This went on for approximately 12 minutes, said Yonhap.

The technique described above is informally known as ‘numbers stations’, and was extensively used by both Western and communist countries during the Cold War to send operational instructions to their intelligence personnel stationed abroad. Armed with a shortwave radio, an intelligence officer would turn to the right frequency on a pre-determined date and time, write down the numbers read out and proceed to decrypt them using a ‘number pad’, a tiny book that contained the key to deciphering the secret message aired on the radio. But the era of the Internet, mobile phones and microwave communications has caused the demise of ‘numbers stations’. The latter are rarely heard nowadays, though a number of nations, including Cuba, South Korea and Israel, are believed to still use them.

The last time North Korea is thought to have employed ‘numbers stations’ to contact its spies stationed abroad was in the spring of 2000, prior to the historic first Inter-Korean Summit that featured a face-to-face meeting of the then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the then North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. Since that time, the North Koreans are believed to have stopped deploying broadcasts to communicate with their intelligence operatives in foreign countries. Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean government source as saying that last Friday’s broadcast was the first number sequence aired by Pyongyang in over 16 years. According to the news agency, the broadcast has Seoul worried about “possible provocations” that may be planned by North Korean spies living secretly in the south.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 July 2016 | Permalink

Ex-Yugoslav spy testifies in German trial about 1983 murder of dissident

Josip Perkovic Zdravko MustacA former officer in the Cold-War-era Yugoslav intelligence service has begun testifying at a trial concerning the 1983 murder in Germany of a Yugoslav dissident by assassins sent by authorities in Belgrade. Stjepan Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, defected from Yugoslavia to Germany in 1982, while he was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. He was killed on July 28, 1983, in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria. His killing was part of an operation codenamed DUNAV, which was conducted by the Yugoslav State Security Service, known by its Serbo-Croatian acronym, UDBA.

In 2009, following testimonies by several former UDBA agents, who were arrested in connection with the crime, the Office of the German Federal Prosecutor issued a European Arrest Warrant for Josip Perković, a former senior official in the UDBA. He is accused of having played a central role in organizing Đureković’s assassination. In 2014, Croatia, where Perković has been living since the demise of Yugoslavia, agreed to extradite Perković to Germany. The agreement materialized after heavy pressure was exercised on Croatia by the European Commission, after the country’s admission into the European Union.

Perković is now co-defendant in the trial taking place in Munich, along with another former UDBA intelligence official, Zdravko Mustać (see photo). Tuesday’s proceedings included testimony by another former UDBA man, Vinko Sindicić, who named both Perković and Mustać as direct accomplices in Đureković’s murder. Sindicić told the court that Perković was acting on orders to kill the German-based dissident, which came directly from the office of UDBA Director Zdravko Mustać. He added that Perković helped organize the logistics of Đureković’s assassination, including the location in Munich where the killing actually took place. Sindicić told the court that a female UDBA operative living in Munich was also involved in organizing the operation, and that the weapons used to kill Đureković had been secretly transported to Germany through Jadroagent, an international shipping and freight company based in Yugoslavia. During his testimony, which lasted for several hours, Sindicić claimed that the two men who carried out Đureković’s murder were UDBA assassins Branko Bijelić and Luka Sekula. The former died in 2004, but the latter still lives in Sweden and has yet to be extradited to Germany in connection with the murder trial.

It is worth noting that Sindicić spent a decade behind bars for his role in a failed attempt to kill another Yugoslav dissident émigré, Nikola Stedul, whom the UDBA tried to kill in the United Kingdom in 1988. Further charges against him were dropped in 2000, in a trial where he stood accused of complicity in the murder of yet another exiled Yugoslav dissident, Bruno Busić, who was killed in Paris in 1978. Both Perković and Mustać deny any involvement in Đureković’s assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2016 | Permalink

US, UK, had secret plan to bomb Middle East oil facilities if Soviets invaded

Iraq Oil Petroleum CompanyRecently uncovered documents shed further light on an ultra-secret plan, devised by the British and American governments, to destroy oil facilities in the Middle East in the event the region was invaded by Soviet troops. The documents, published on Thursday by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, were found in the British government archives and date from 1951 to 1955. They describe a top-secret United States plan known as NSC 26/2, which was approved by the National Security Council in 1949 and authorized by President Harry Truman. The plan aimed to prevent the use of Middle East oil facilities by Soviet troops if the latter were able to successfully invade the region.

American documents from the 1950s describe NSC 26/2 as a “denial policy”, which called for a secret collaboration between Middle East-based American and British oil companies. The goal was to sabotage or completely destroy oil facilities and equipment that were in British and American hands, before the Soviets could take them over. The most sensitive part of the plan was the need to keep it secret from the governments of Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, even though most of them were allies of the West at the time.

The existence of NSC 26/2 was first revealed in 1996, when the American newspaper Kansas City Star published an extensive article about it, written by Steve Everly. But the recently unearthed British documents shed more light than ever before on the intelligence aspects of the secret plan. Specifically, they reveal the leading role played by the Central Intelligence Agency in implementing the details of the plan in nearly every Middle Eastern country, including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. As part of the plan, the CIA systematically inserted what the National Security Archive describes as “undercover operatives” into posts in American and British oil companies. Their mission was to collect inside information and recruit other oil employees to facilitate the requirements of NSC 26/2. In essence, says the National Security Archive, the CIA created “a paramilitary force ready to execute the denial policy”.

Some of the documents also show that American and British leaders discussed the possibility of bombing —in some cases using nuclear weapons— some oil facilities in countries like Iraq and Iran that were state-owned and thus had no Western connections. In 1953, NSC 26/2 was updated and replaced with NSC 176, which was later renamed NSC 5401. The plan continued to call for the destruction of oil facilities in the Middle East, using “direct action”, if they were close to being seized by Soviet troops.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 June 2016 | Permalink

Revealed: Iran’s Khomeini had secret dealings with US in 1979

KhomeiniNewly declassified files show that Ayatollah Khomeini, who led Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, had a secret channel of communication with the United States, and even sent a personal letter to US President Jimmy Carter. On January 16, 1979, after nearly a year of street clashes and protests against his leadership, the king of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, fled the country for the US. His decision to leave was strongly influenced by his American advisors, who feared that Iran was heading toward a catastrophic civil war. The Shah’s departure did little to calm tensions in the country. Protesters —many of them armed— engaged in daily street battles with members of the police and the military, who remained loyal to Pahlavi. Meanwhile, a national strike had brought the Iranian oil sector to a standstill, thereby threatening to bring about a global energy crisis. Moreover, the country was home to thousands of American military advisors and the Iranian military was almost exclusively funded and supplied by Washington. The Carter administration worried that the weaponry and technical knowledge might fall into the hands of a new, pro-Soviet government in Tehran.

It was in that tense and highly unpredictable context that the White House opened a secret channel of communication with Ayatollah Khomeini. Newly declassified US government documents show that these secret contacts began on January 15, 1979, just days before Khomeini returned to Iran from France, where he had been living in exile. The files have been accessed by the BBC’s Persian service, and allegedly contain “diplomatic cables, policy memos, meeting records” and other documents. They show that the first meeting between US government officials and Khomeini’s team took place in Neauphle-le-Château, a small village located a few miles west of Paris. It was led by Warren Zimmermann, a political secretary at the US embassy in Paris, and Ebrahim Yazdi, an Iranian-American physician who was Khomeini’s chief of staff in France. Through these secret meetings, Washington signaled to Khomeini on January 18 that American advisors in Tehran would not oppose a discussion about changing the Iranian constitution in order to abolish the monarchy and turn the country into a republic.

Khomeini letterNine days later, on January 27, Dr. Yazdi gave Zimmerman a letter written by Khomeini and addressed to President Carter. The letter, which addressed Carter in the first person, was cabled to the Department of State from the US embassy in Paris and, according to the BBC, reached the US president. In the letter, Khomeini promises to protect “America’s interests and citizens in Iran” if Washington pressured the Iranian military to stand aside and allow him and his advisers to return to Iran. Khomeini’s fear was that the royalist Iranian military would not allow a new government to take hold in Tehran. But the exiled cleric was aware of America’s influence in Iranian military circles, which at the time were effectively under the command of General Robert Huyser, Deputy Commander of US Forces in Europe, who had been dispatched to Tehran by President Carter. Before answering Khomeini’s letter, the White House sent a draft response to the embassy in Tehran for input and advice. But Khomeini did not wait for Washington’s response. On February 1, he returned to Iran, where he was greeted by millions of people in the streets and welcomed as the next leader of the country. Meanwhile, Washington had already instructed General Huyser to rule out the so-called “option C”, namely a military coup carried out by the Iranian armed forces.

The documents unearthed by the BBC show that, despite their apparent recalcitrance, the US government and Ayatollah Khomeini were far more engaged with each other than has generally been assumed. The revelations would appear to especially affect the official narrative of the Islamic Republic, which claims that Khomeini managed to take command of the Islamic Revolution despite frantic attempts by Washington to stop him. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tehran has dismissed the BBC’s revelations, calling the documents “fake” and denouncing what it described as “hostility from the British”. The Department of State has refused comment on the BBC’s revelations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 June 2016 | Permalink