Israeli prime minister publicly thanks Mossad chief for help with COVID-19

Yossi Cohen MossadThe embattled Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, met publicly with the Director of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and thanked him for leading the country’s procurement efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting was a rare public acknowledgement of the central role that the secretive spy agency played during the pandemic.

Early on during the COVID-19 outbreak, it was reported that the intelligence agencies of Israel were playing an increasingly important role in the Jewish state’s effort to combat the effects of the coronavirus in its territory. In an uncharacteristic move, the government went out of its way to advertise the participation of its secretive spy agencies in the national effort to limit the spread of the virus.

In a television interview, an unnamed official for Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, said the agency had managed to secure 100,000 coronavirus testing kits, 25,000 N-95 masks and 100 ventilators. The material had been acquired “from unnamed countries” by Mossad officers, he said. The officers had to “race to [foreign] factories” and secure these critical supplies after they had been “ordered by other countries”, he added. The agents then had to coordinate secret airlifts so that the medical material could be transported to Israel in time.

But many of the coronavirus testing kits procured by the Mossad turned out to be incomplete. According to local media reports, when the kits arrived in Israel from “an unidentified Gulf state”, scientists realized that they were useless. That was because they arrived without the chemical reagents that were required to carry out complete tests on subjects. These reagents were eventually procured from South Korea and arrived in Israel nearly a month later, when demand for them was far less urgent. The Mossad was heavily criticized for this operation.

But last weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly thanked the Mossad director for leading the nation’s Joint Procurement Command Center during the COVID-19 pandemic. He told Director Cohen that he had carried out his tasks “exceptionally well [and] the results speak for themselves”. The meeting took place to mark the return of the procurement centers’ command to the Ministry of Health. But the Mossad may be asked to step in again, said Netanyahu: “we are currently passing the torch”, said the prime minister. However, “we do not know what the next day, or the next month, will bring. Since you have acquired the experience, remember it, we may need it again”, he told Cohen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2020 | Permalink

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Kevin RuddDutch spies helped Britain break Argentine crypto during Falklands War. Flowing from revelations made earlier this year that Swiss cipher machine company Crypto AG was owned by the CIA and its German counterpart the BND during most of the Cold War, an academic paper has described the Maximator alliance which grew from the Crypto AG compromise. Authored by Professor Bart Jacobs of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, the article argues that Dutch spies operating as a part of the Maximator alliance helped Britain’s GCHQ break Argentinian codes during the Falklands War.
The Pandemic’s Geopolitical Aftershocks Are Coming. With most European countries confident that they are past the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, their attention is turning to the chance of its resurgence once society returns to some semblance of normal. But beyond the epidemiological challenges lies a slowly amassing threat that is not pathological in nature, but economic, political, and military. This is the geopolitical second wave, and its power is already starting to concern Western leaders.
The coming post-COVID anarchy. The former prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd (pictured), argues in this article that “China and the United States are both likely to emerge from this crisis significantly diminished […]. Both powers will be weakened, at home and abroad”, he opines. And he goes on to suggest that “the result will be a continued slow but steady drift toward international anarchy across everything from international security to trade to pandemic management […]. The chaotic nature of national and global responses to the pandemic thus stands as a warning of what could come on an even broader scale”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 May 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #898

Félicien KabugaMajor suspect in Rwanda genocide arrested in France using fake identity. Félicien Kabuga (pictured), one of the most wanted suspects of the Rwandan genocide, was arrested last week in a dawn raid in Asnières-sur-Seine, near Paris, where he had been living under a false identity. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda accuses him of having been the main financier of the ethnic Hutu extremists who slaughtered 800,000 people in 1994. The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
US and Afghan officials disagree over whether Taliban or ISIS was behind hospital massacre. Afghan officials on Friday blamed the Taliban for a bloody attack on a maternity hospital in the capital, Kabul, this week, rejecting a US assertion that it was carried out by ISIS militants. The Taliban, who struck a deal with the United States in February clearing the way for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the end of America’s longest war, denied responsibility.
Thousands defer plans to leave the US military during coronavirus crisis. Across the US military, uncertainty about future jobs or college opportunities is driving more service members to re-enlist or at least postpone their scheduled departures. As unemployment, layoffs and a historic economic downturn grip the nation, the military —with its job security, steady paycheck and benefits— is looking much more appealing. The influx of people re-enlisting will offset any shortfalls in recruiting, which has been hampered by the outbreak. And that will help the services meet their total required troop levels for the end of the year.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 May 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #897

Coronavirus not slowing Russian, Chinese space activities, US general says. Lt. Gen. David Thompson (pictured), the US Space Force vice commander, said this week that Russia and China continue to launch military rockets and test space weapons amid the coronavirus pandemic. Russia tested a satellite-killing missile last month, drawing scorn from US military leaders. Meanwhile in April, a Chinese rocket carrying an Indonesian satellite failed to reach orbit, according to sources.
US security clearances become more lucrative amid pandemic. Security clearances will almost certainly become an even more valuable credential as the US economy transforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While well over 30 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March, those employed in jobs that require a security clearance remain largely insulated from the economic volatility caused by the pandemic. The ever-increasing desirability of a security clearance has raised the stakes for those looking to gain or maintain a clearance in these economically uncertain times.
Michigan cancels legislative session to avoid armed protests. Michigan closed down its capitol in Lansing on Thursday and canceled its legislative session rather than face the possibility of an armed protest and death threats against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The gathering, meant to advocate opening the state for business despite the coronavirus pandemic, followed one April 30 that resulted in pictures of protesters clad in military-style gear and carrying long guns crowding the statehouse. They confronted police and taunted lawmakers. The debate grew more tense in recent days as some lawmakers read about threats to the governor’s life on social media, which were published in the Detroit Metro Times.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 May 2020 | Permalink

Iran’s coronavirus crisis exacerbates internal struggle between government and IRGC

IRGC IranA tense struggle is unfolding in Iran between the country’s civilian leaders and the parallel state of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The two entities are fighting about who will control the national response to COVID-19, according to sources. The outbreak of the pandemic in Iran followed closely that of China. Today the Iranian government claims the disease has infected no more than 115,000 people and killed fewer than 7,000. But these numbers seem low for a country of 82 million, and many observers dispute them.

The secrecy with which the government is treating the coronavirus epidemic may be masking an increasingly tense turf war between Iran’s civilian leaders, led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the IRGC. The latter is controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iran watchers describe the IRGC as a ‘praetorian guard’ whose members possess immense power and often wealth. Today the IRGC is a military force with a command structure that is distinct from that of Iran’s regular Armed Forces. It maintains its own army, navy and air force, has its own paramilitary and political protection units, and is in charge of Iran’s nuclear program.

The IRGC has seen its income fall drastically in the past two years, partly due to the continuing economic pressure that Iran is facing from strict sanctions imposed on it by the United States. The effects of the dramatic reduction in the value of Iran’s currency —down nearly 2/3 since 2018— have only been exacerbated by the monumental drop in global oil prices, which has practically decimated Tehran’s main source of foreign income.

According to sources, Khamenei and the IRGC forced the country’s civilian leadership to re-open the economy last month, fearing an absolute economic collapse. But this only resulted in a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases in nearly every region of the country. The IRGC is now reportedly trying to take control of Iran’s civilian healthcare system, in an effort to prevent the government from disclosing the extent of the re-emergence of the virus throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the IRGC’s prestige has suffered greatly this year, following the accidental shoot-down of a Ukrainian civilian airliner over Tehran in January, which killed nearly 180 people, most of them Iranians. Last week, the IRGC was believed to behind a missile test that went terribly wrong, resulting in the destruction of an Iranian navy ship that killed as many as 31 sailors. These fatal errors are for the time being giving President Rouhani the right to question the IRGC’s competence and resist giving away his administration’s control of the national response to COVID-19. The turf war continues to intensify, however, and it is difficult to forecast which side will prevail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2020 | Permalink

COVID-struck Iraq sees ‘biggest ISIS resurgence’ since group’s defeat in 2017

ISIS IraqIraq is currently witnessing the largest resurgence of the Islamic State since December of 2017, when the Iraqi government declared it had defeated the group, according to local and international observers. The Sunni militant group, which became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is exploiting a moment of opportunity, as Iraqi security forces, Shia militias and American troops are essentially sheltering in place to avoid the effects of COVID-19.

Iraq has been on involuntary lockdown since March 22 in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s security forces are busy providing humanitarian relief to communities under lockdown. Additionally, large numbers of soldiers and police officers are either sick or sheltering in place with their families and are not turning up for work. Furthermore, United States forces have significantly scaled back their presence in the country following the assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in January of this year, in an effort to avoid armed confrontations with Iraq’s pro-Iranian militias.

These conditions are allowing Islamic State fighters to emerge from hiding and conduct operations in nearly every province of Iraq. Last week the militant group launched a series of coordinated attacks in nearly 30 different locations across Iraq, which left dozens of Iraqi security forces and Shia militia members dead. Additionally, Islamic State saboteurs destroyed several power lines across northeastern Iraq, disrupting electricity supply to tens of thousands of homes in the region.

On Tuesday, Iraqi security forces teamed up with the Popular Mobilization Forces —a mostly Shia paramilitary group— to launch several operations against the Islamic State. The operations aimed to neutralize known Islamic State enclaves in mostly Sunni regions of northern and western Iraq. They also aimed to capture Islamic State regional commanders, most of whom operate along Iraq’s borders with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria.

But nobody knows how this campaign will end up in light of the coronavirus. The pandemic is causing major disruption on the Iraqi economy, while the historic drop in oil prices is dramatically reducing the nation’s primary source of income. The Islamic State thrives in conditions of instability, which is precisely what many fear, as the effects of the pandemic are continuing to manifest in the Middle East.

► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 May 2020 | Permalink

Spy agencies target biomedical secrets in worldwide race to find COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 coronavirusSpy agencies from every country are participating in a worldwide competition to develop a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic, by protecting their own biomedical secrets while trying to steal other nations’ research. Much like frantic efforts to secure personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, ongoing research to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 appears to be taking the form of a competition between nations. The country that first develops a successful vaccine to combat the epidemic is likely to emerge as a major power-player in a post-coronavirus world.

The government of the United States, whose race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 is reportedly codenamed Operation WARPSPEED, has warned its biomedical experts that foreign intelligence agencies may be trying to spy on their research. This warning was relayed to the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera on April 1 by Bill Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). The NCSC is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the US agency created after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to coordinate the activities of American spy agencies. The mission of the NCSC is to manage the US government’s counterintelligence activities.

Evanina told the BBC that the NCSC has “every expectation that foreign intelligence services, to include the Chinese Communist Party, will attempt to obtain what we are making here”. He added that his organization had contacted “every medical research organization” carrying out COVID-19-related research and warned them that they should be “very, very vigilant”. However, Evanina would not tell the BBC whether scientific data had actually been stolen by foreign intelligence agencies.

According to the BBC, other Western governments, including those of the United Kingdom and Canada, have warned that foreign spies have become active in the field of biomedical intelligence, with attempts to steal scientific data related to COVID-19. In March, Canada’s Centre for Cyber Security warned that research and development data related to the pandemic may be targeted by “sophisticated threat actors” operating online.

The BBC notes, however, that Western intelligence agencies are also likely to be interested in biomedical data from China and other countries. Their interest may be two-fold: on the one hand trying to determine the precise origins of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the precise case load of the virus in these countries, while on the other seeking to steal information about “research on vaccines and treatments”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 May 2020 | Permalink