Sweden confirms arrest of second person on spying charges

Säpo swedenThe Swedish public prosecutor’s office has confirmed media reports that a second espionage-related arrest took place in Stockholm this week. The latest arrest came just 24 hours after a man was arrested in the Swedish capital on Tuesday, allegedly for spying on behalf of Russia. As intelNews reported yesterday, a man was apprehended on Tuesday while meeting with a foreign diplomat in central Stockholm. The diplomat is allegedly a member of staff at the Russian embassy in Sweden. He is believed to be a Russian intelligence officer operating under official cover. A representative of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO, later said that the man who was meeting with the Russian diplomat had been recruited by Russian intelligence in 2017 or earlier, and had been in regular contact with his Russian handlers. His name has not been revealed to the media, but he is believed to be working for an unnamed technology company in Sweden.

On Thursday, the Stockholm-based newspaper Dagens Nyheter said that it had seen court papers involving the arrest of a second individual on Wednesday, reportedly in connection with espionage for a foreign power. The paper said that the arrest took place in the Swedish capital and the individual in question remained in detention. It added that Hans-Jorgen Hanstrom, of the public prosecutor’s office, had confirmed the arrest and that the main suspect had been charged with spying against Swedish interests for a foreign power. Hanstrom added that the suspect had been found to engage in espionage from April 10 until September 30, 2018. But he did not disclose the person’s name or nationality. SÄPO spokesman Karl Melin also confirmed the espionage-related arrest, but did not comment on whether it was related to Tuesday’s arrest.

Earlier in the week, officials from SÄPO’s counterespionage directorate said that Tuesday’s arrest was the result of a lengthy operation that took “a substantial period of time” and involved “intensive intelligence and investigation work”. The alleged spy was scheduled to be placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday, but his hearing was postponed for Friday. The Russian embassy in Stockholm has not commented on the reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2019 | Permalink

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Sweden arrests man for spying for Russia; diplomatic expulsions expected soon

Russian Embassy SwedenAuthorities in Sweden have announced the arrest of a man who is accused of spying for Russia. The man was reportedly apprehended while meeting with a Russian diplomat in central Stockholm. The alleged spy, who has not been identified in media reports, is believed to be working for an unnamed technology company in Sweden. A report by Swedish police said that the man is working “in a field that is known to be of interest to the intelligence services of foreign powers”.

The unnamed man is suspected of having been recruited by intelligence officers of Russia in 2017 or earlier. He is believed to have met with his Russian handlers on a regular basis since his recruitment, and to have passed classified information to the Russian government. He was reportedly arrested on Tuesday evening as he was meeting his alleged Russian handler in a downtown area of the Swedish capital. Both he and his alleged handler were detained by officers of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO. The alleged handler was a member of staff of the Russian embassy in Stockholm and has diplomatic immunity. SÄPO said that the Russian embassy officer is believed to be a Russian intelligence officer who works under diplomatic cover. Swedish media said on Tuesday that the diplomat’s expulsion from the country was imminent.

However, SÄPO declined to provide information on the identity of the alleged spy, who is not believed to have diplomatic immunity and is therefore liable to prosecution. Daniel Stenling, head of SÄPO’s counterespionage directorate, said that Tuesday’s arrest was the result of a prolonged probe that took “a substantial period of time” and involved “intensive intelligence and investigation work”. SÄPO spokesman Gabriel Wernstedt said on Wednesday that the agency did not believe that the alleged spy is a member of a ring involving other suspects. He warned, however, that espionage threats against Sweden “are now more far reaching than [they have] been for many years”.

The alleged spy is scheduled to be placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday or Friday at the latest. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which reported Tuesday’s arrest, said it reached out to the Russian embassy in Stockholm but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 February 2019 | Permalink

Lithuania widens espionage probe, several now in custody for spying for Russia

Algirdas PaleckisA growing number of individuals are in custody in Lithuania, as the Baltic state continues a probe into an alleged Russian espionage ring whose members reportedly included a former diplomat and member of one of the country’s most revered political families. On Tuesday, government prosecutors asked for an eight-year prison sentence for Roman Sheshel, who stands accused for giving Moscow classified information on Lithuania’s naval forces. Sheshel, a Russian-born Lithuanian citizen, is also believed to have given his Russian handlers intelligence regarding warships belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Lithuania is a member. He is accused of having worked for the Russians from early 2015 until his capture by Lithuanian authorities in December of 2017. His trial has been taking place behind closed doors in order to protect state secrets.

Government prosecutors allege that Sheshel was part of a sizeable spy network of Lithuanians who were recruited by Russia in the past five years and whose “activities threatened Lithuanian national security”. Among them is allegedly Alģirds Paleckis, a former parliamentarian and diplomat, Paleckis was born in 1971 in Switzerland, where his father, Justas Vincas, served as a Soviet diplomat. His grandfather, Justas Paleckis, was a towering figure in the Communist Party of Lithuania, which in 1940 spearheaded Lithuania’s amalgamation into the Soviet Union. But his son, Paleckis’ father, broke ranks with the family’s communist past and became a leading nationalist parliamentarian in 1990, when the country seceded from the USSR. Paleckis followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the diplomatic service before entering parliament. But in 2008, after a successful career as a pro-Western reformist politician, Paleckis began to veer to the left, eventually founding the Lithuanian Socialist People’s Front, a small leftist party that is often accused of being too close to Moscow. The party is a vocal opponent of Lithuania’s membership in the European Union and NATO. Paleckis’ critics also note that he is married to a Russian woman whose father is reportedly a Russian intelligence officer.

The German news agency Deutsche Welle reported last week that Paleckis attracted the attention of Lithuanian counterintelligence investigators after he “fully paid back the mortgage on a house too quickly”. He is now accused of giving his Russian handlers information about a Lithuanian government investigation into Soviet-era informant networks in the small Baltic country. He has been in custody since last October, along with an undisclosed number of other alleged members of a purported Russian spy ring. Earlier this week, Lithuanian authorities said that evidence collected from the unnamed detainees are helping them broaden their probe into alleged Russian espionage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 February 2019 | Permalink

Senior Belgian counterintelligence officer arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia

NATO HQ BrusselsA senior counterintelligence official in Belgium’s external intelligence service is under house arrest on suspicion of sharing classified documents with Russian spies, according to a Belgian newspaper. Additionally, the chief of the agency’s counterintelligence directorate has been barred from his office while an internal investigation is underway on allegations that he illegally destroyed government documents. These allegations surfaced last Thursday in a leading article in De Morgen, a Flemish-language daily based in Brussels.

Citing anonymous sources from the General Information and Security Service —Belgium’s military intelligence agency— the paper said that the arrestee has the equivalent rank of major in the General Intelligence and Security Service. Known as GISS, the agency operates as the Belgian equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency or Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service —better known as MI6. GISS officers collect information abroad and are not permitted to operate within Belgium’s borders. The man, a career counterintelligence official, is suspected of having passed secrets to Russia with the help of a woman who claims to be Serbian, but who is in fact believed to be an operative for Russian intelligence. It is not known whether the compromised information included secrets involving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Belgium is a founding member. In the same article, De Morgen also said that Clement Vandenborre, who serves as chief of GISS’s counterintelligence directorate, has been barred from his office while an investigation is taking place into allegations of mismanagement. He is also accused of having shredded classified government documents without permission. It is not believed that this case is connected with the alleged Russian penetration.

De Morgen quoted a spokesperson for Belgium’s Ministry of Defense, who confirmed that an investigation into alleged foreign espionage targeting a GISS employee was underway, but added that “no comment” would be made on the subject so as “not to hinder” the probe. Ironically, German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported last week that the European Union’s diplomatic agency warned officials in Belgium to watch out for “hundreds of spies” from various foreign countries, including from Russia and China. The warning, issued by the European Union’s diplomatic agency, the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that “approximately 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies” were operating in Brussels.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 February 2019 | Permalink

FBI seeks arrest of US counterintelligence officer who defected to Iran

Monica WittAn American intelligence officer, who held the highest level of security clearance for over a decade, defected to Iran in 2012 and has been spying against the United States ever since, it was revealed yesterday. Monica Witt, 39, was a counterintelligence officer for the United States Air Force from 1997 until 2008, specializing in the Middle East. Throughout her career, she was deployed by the US military to the Middle East on several occasions, in order to carry out counterintelligence missions the details of which remain classified to this day.

According to the US government, one of these missions involved her attendance of an international conference organized by New Horizon Organization. The group is believed to operate as a public relations arm of the Quds Force —the intelligence and paramilitary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, whose mission is to spread the ideals of the Islamic Revolution around the world. Witt’s mission was allegedly to monitor the conference proceedings and collect information on attendees. It was while attending that conference that, according to US government documents, Witt started to become attracted to the Iranian government’s world view. She left the US Air Force in 2008 and moved to Central Asia, initially teaching English in Afghanistan and later in Tajikistan. A year later, she vanished. She allegedly reemerged in Iran in 2013, where she appeared on several television programs in which she renounced United States policy on the Middle East and publicly espoused Shi’a Islam. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, soon after she defected to Iran, Witt used social media to identify and then compile lists of the whereabouts of several of her colleagues in US Air Force counterintelligence. She then gave this information to the Iranian intelligence services, which used it to launch a series of operations targeting current and former US intelligence personnel.

At a press conference held yesterday in Washington, DC, officials from the FBI, the Department of State and the Department of Treasury announced criminal charges against Witt and New Horizon Organization, which they accused of conducting espionage against the US. They also announced charges against employees of the Iranian-registered Net Peygard Samavat Company, which they said used Witt’s information to launch targeted information operations against American government personnel. Witt remains at large and is believed to reside in Iran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 February 2019 | Permalink

Hundreds of foreign spies in Brussels, European diplomatic agency warns

European Commission buildingThe European Union’s diplomatic agency has warned officials who are active in Belgium to watch out for “hundreds of spies” from various foreign countries, according to a German news report. The report appeared last weekend in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper, which cited a report from the European External Action Service (EEAS). Based in Brussels, the EEAS operates as the European Union’s diplomatic agency and is headed by Federica Mogherini, an Italian former government minister who has been serving as the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy since 2014.

According to Die Welt, the EEAS estimates that “approximately 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies” are operating in Brussels. Most of these intelligence officers are allegedly embedded in their countries’ embassies, trade missions, cultural centers and other outreach facilities in the Belgian capital. There are also many intelligence operatives from Western agencies, including those of the United States, as well as from Iran, Turkey and Morocco, among other foreign nations. The report in Die Welt adds that the EEAS advised European Union diplomats to avoid certain establishments in the European Quarter of Brussels, which are believed to be heavily frequented by international spies. Among them are “a popular steakhouse and café” that are “within walking distance of the Berlaymont building” —the headquarters of the European Commission. The same building houses the offices of the EEAS.

Such warnings are not new. In June of last year, Peter Gridling, head of Austria’s main counterintelligence agency, said during a rare public appearance that Vienna —the spy capital of the world— no longer topped the list of preferred destinations for the world’s spies. He said that the Austrian capital had been overtaken by Brussels as the spy capital of Europe and added that, according to his agency’s calculations, there was a greater density of spies in Brussels than in any other European capital. When asked to specify the number of foreign intelligence operatives that are active in Vienna, Gridling said it was “in the neighborhood of hundreds of people, but certainly fewer than 1,000”. In 2012, Alain Winants, former Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE), claimed that Brussels was home to more spies than any other city in the world.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 February 2019 | Permalink

Pakistan dismantled ‘major international spy network’, say media reports [updated]

Pakistan Federal Investigation AgencyMedia reports in Pakistan claimed yesterday that “an international spying network” had been dismantled in the country following the arrests of at least five intelligence officials who were working for foreign interests. According to The News International, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, the arrests were carried out earlier this week by the Federal Investigation Agency, the country’s primary counterintelligence agency. Those arrested were allegedly members of Pakistan’s intelligence and security forces, it said. They reportedly include a Pakistani official with diplomatic credentials who was serving in a Pakistani embassy “in a European capital”. [Update: by 1700 EST on Friday, the article on The News International website had been taken down; but an English-language summary of the article can still be found on this website].

The report did not specify the foreign intelligence agency for which the Pakistani officials were allegedly working. But it said that it belonged to one of “the world’s most powerful countries”. It added that the network had been “completely dismantled” following a counterintelligence operation that an unnamed source described to the paper as “remarkable”. As a result, the adversary spy network in Pakistan had been “crippled […] completely”, added The News International.

The conservative-leaning paper, which supports Pakistan’s new center-right Prime Minister Imran Khan, hinted that the alleged spy network may have been working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. It said that the agency that was involved in running the spy ring had been allowed by the government of Pakistan to “roam free” inside Pakistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Its case officers had been allowed to recruit agents in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region in the northwest of the country that is seen as a Taliban stronghold. The paper also protested against prior arrangements that permitted the foreign agency’s case officers to enter and leave Pakistan “with no scrutiny of their luggage”. It added that the government of Prime Minister Khan decided to move against this and other spy networks run by the foreign intelligence agency after it determined that these networks were “working for the interests of that agency in Pakistan and not for Pakistan’s national interests”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2019 | Permalink