Russian espionage in US increasingly sophisticated and brazen, say sources

Russian embassy in WashingtonRussian espionage in the United States has become increasingly sophisticated and brazen, and American counterintelligence professionals are finding it difficult to contain it “after years’ worth of inattention” according to sources. According to Politico, Washington ignored Russian intelligence operations in the 1990s, believing that Moscow’s numerous domestic problems kept its attention away from America. But under Vladimir Putin, Russia rebuilt its espionage network in the US, to the point that now “Moscow’s espionage ground game [on American soil] is growing stronger and more brazen than ever”.

The news outlet cited “half a dozen current and former US intelligence officials”, who said that America has been “ignoring Russia for the last 15 years”. During that time, Washington focused much of its intelligence-related attention to the Middle East and Central Asia. But Russia used that opportunity to rebuild its espionage network on American soil. Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation —the US agency that is in charge of counterintelligence work— is finding it difficult to keep an eye on Russian espionage operations, partly because of the size of Russian operations. One US intelligence official told Politico that the Russians “have just got so many bodies” and are able to evade FBI surveillance.

It is now commonplace, say sources, for Russian “diplomats” to be found wandering around the US without permission from American authorities. Foreign diplomats are required to notify the US Department of State in advance each time they intend to travel more than 50 miles from their consular base, and the FBI must consent before permission to do so is granted. But the Russians are now routinely breaking this requirement; what is more, “half the time they’re never confronted” by the FBI, allegedly because Washington is does not wish to antagonize Moscow in light of the fragile state of affairs in Syria. One US intelligence official told Politico that the Russian “diplomats” appear to be secretly visiting locations across America “where underground fiber-optic cables tend to run”. They appear to be mapping the US telecommunications infrastructure, “perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it”, said the source.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 June 2017 | Permalink

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China dismantled large CIA spy network in 2010, say sources

CIAA few years ago, China busted an extensive network of secret operatives run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA has yet to recover from the massive blow to its operations, say sources. The CIA has devoted substantial resources to gathering intelligence in China in recent years, and has painstakingly built a network of spies. The latter are Chinese nationals recruited by CIA officers to spy on Beijing on behalf of the United States. But, according to The New York Times, in early 2010 the CIA’s assets began to disappear one by one. By 2012, the Agency’s network of secret operatives in China had been all but wiped out.

According to the Times report, published on Saturday, the CIA lost as many as 20 agents on the ground in China, who were either executed or imprisoned by the authorities in Beijing. The paper cites “ten current and former American officials”, who claim that many of the agents had operated for years deep inside the Chinese state apparatus prior to their capture. At least one of them, say sources, was executed “in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building” in an attempt to dissuade other government employees from spying on the Chinese state. At least 12 of the CIA’s assets in the country were executed between 2010 and 2012, according to The Times.

The damage to the CIA has been incalculable, according to sources, and the Agency is still recovering from the loss of an extensive network of operatives that took years to assemble. Sources described the loss of the network to the Times as “one of the worst in decades” and compared it to the loss of assets caused in the 1980s and 1990s by two notorious American spies for the Soviet Union and Russia, CIA officer Aldrich Ames and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Hanssen. At that time, dozens of agents and over 100 intelligence projects were compromised.

According to the report, the FBI and the CIA set up Project HONEY BADGER, a joint counterintelligence investigation into the China breach. But the results of the investigation reportedly remain inconclusive. Some argue that such a major dismantling of a network of assets could only have originated from a mole inside the US Intelligence Community. Others believe that the arrests of CIA agents resulted from a sophisticated Chinese computer hacking operation that targeted the CIA. A third theory posits that the breach was caused by the infiltration of the intelligence community of Taiwan, an important American ally in Southeast Asia.

Since 2012, the CIA has been trying to rebuild its network in China, but it will take it years to reach the level of sophistication in had achieved in 2010. The New York Times said it reached out to the CIA and FBI for comment but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2017 | Permalink

Iranian spies second most active in Germany, says Interior Ministry

BND GermanyIranian intelligence operatives are the second most active in Germany after Russian spies, with much of their activity focusing on Israeli targets in the country, according to the German Interior Ministry. The information is contained in a report that was issued in response to a request by a member of Germany’s Bundestag last week. It states that Iranian spies have engaged in nearly two dozen known intelligence operations on German soil since 2007, and have even targeted individuals for assassination.

The Interior Ministry’s report reveals that German authorities initiated counterintelligence investigations against 22 cases of espionage by Iranian agents during the past decade. These account for over 17 percent of all counterintelligence cases conducted by the German state since 2007. Of the remaining cases, 27 concerned Russian spies, while China and Turkey are believed to be behind 15 spy cases each. Syrian intelligence operatives were found to be behind a total of eight spy operations conducted on German soil in the past decade. According to the report, the majority of intelligence operations conducted in Germany by Iranian agents were attempts to secure material and technologies that could be used in Iran’s nuclear program. Approximately half of Germany’s federal states reported attempts by Iranian agents to secure nuclear-related goods in recent years.

But Tehran has also allegedly been implicated in attempted assassinations of German citizens, according to the report. One example mentioned in the document is that of Mustafa Haidar Syed-Naqfi. Sayed-Naqfi, who is a Pakistani national, was arrested in the northern German city of Bremen in January of this year for spying on behalf of Iran. According to German authorities, the Pakistani man compiled lists of potential targets for assassination by Iran. As intelNews reported at the time, Syed-Naqfi’s list of targets included prominent Jews or German-Israelis living in northern Germany. Among them was Reinhold Robbe, a politician with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who served for a number of years as president of the German-Israeli Congress. According to reports, the spy had compiled detailed maps of Robbe’s daily movements, which outlined his travel routines and the routes he took from his home to the DIG headquarters in Berlin. German officials believe that the type of surveillance that Sayed-Naqfi. carried out against Robbe indisputably leads to the conclusion that the politician’s assassination was being planned.

German authorities believe that Syed-Naqfi worked for the Quds Force, a Special-Forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is responsible for covert operations outside Iran. Last month, the Pakistani man was given a four-year prison sentence by a Berlin court for engaging in espionage on German soil.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 April 2017 | Permalink

FBI accuses US State Department official of contacts with Chinese spies

US Department of StateAn employee of the United States Department of State has been charged with lying to authorities about her contacts with Chinese intelligence operatives, who gave her money and gifts in return for information. Candace Claiborne, 60, joined the Department of State in 1999 as an office management specialist. She lives in Washington, DC, but has served overseas in American diplomatic facilities in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and China, where she was stationed in Beijing and Shanghai. According to information provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Claiborne had a top security clearance, which required her to report contacts with foreign nationals.

However, federal prosecutors said earlier this week that Claiborne interacted on a regular basis with Chinese intelligence personnel without informing her employer. According to court documents, her contacts with the Chinese were extensive and occurred from 2011 until earlier this year. The Chinese gave Claiborne gifts, including computers and smartphones, tuition-free studies in a Chinese technical school, and an all-expenses-paid holiday to Thailand. They also gave her a regular stipend and provided her with a furnished apartment abroad, according to prosecutors. In return, Claiborne allegedly gave the Chinese information relating to American economic policy on China, among other topics.

It appears that the FBI monitored the State Department employee for a while, after securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court warrant. When it confronted Claiborne, she apparently denied the accusations and lied to FBI agents. She is now charged with obstruction of justice and providing false statements to the FBI. Claiborne is currently under house arrest and will remain there until April 18, when she will appear at a preliminary hearing in Washington. She is reportedly facing a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 March 2017 | Permalink

China has 5,000 spies in Taiwan, says official amidst espionage arrests

China and TaiwanA Taiwanese government official has alleged that China maintains an army of more than 5,000 spies in Taiwan, many of whom have infiltrated the highest levels of government and industry. The allegation came after two sensational arrests were made in Taiwan last week, of people accused of spying for Beijing. Taiwanese counterintelligence officers reportedly arrested a bodyguard of Annette Lu, Taiwan’s former vice president. The bodyguard, who has been identified in Taiwanese media as Wang Hong-ju, has been charged with receiving payments from his Chinese intelligence handler in return for providing information about Mrs. Lu. This incident followed another arrest, made earlier in the week, this time of a Chinese man who is believed to have initially come to Taiwan as a student. Zhou Hong-xu is accused of trying to recruit officials in the Taiwanese government by offering them money.

Following reports of the arrests, Taiwanese media quoted an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that Beijing maintains “about 5,000 individuals” who spy in Taiwan. These agents are allegedly tasked with “collecting state secrets” in the island country, over which China claims ownership. The anonymous Taiwanese official said that authorities in Taipei had uncovered no fewer than 60 espionage plots linked to China since 2002. Less than a third of those were uncovered before 2009, said the official. The year is important, because it marks the time when communications and transportation systems between the two nations were reestablished after decades of mutual isolation. The ease with which people from the two countries can travel in each other’s territory has increased exponentially since 2009. But so have instances of espionage by China, said the Taiwanese official.

Asked about the alleged targets of Chinese espionage in Taiwan, the official said that nearly 80 percent of identified cases of espionage by Beijing’s agents were aimed at military targets, with only 20 percent focusing on the civilian sector. However, the apparent disparity in numbers does not mean that China shows more interest in Taiwanese military secrets. Rather, the Taiwanese military has better counterintelligence defenses and thus a higher detection rate than the country’s civilian sector, said the anonymous source.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 March 2017 | Permalink

Swedish intelligence says it identified foreign spies searching for secrets

Sweden militaryThe military intelligence service of Sweden warned last week that there were increasing incidents of espionage perpetrated against Sweden by operatives identified “beyond doubt” as agents of foreign powers. In its annual report for 2016, the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) said large numbers of spies were detected around “sensitive installations” mostly of a military nature. Headed by an Army general, MUST is responsible for military intelligence and counterintelligence in Sweden. Every year it produces a report of its activities for the Swedish government and defense establishment, and also publishes a declassified version. Its latest report warns about growing attempts by foreign countries to “gather intelligence about Sweden’s defense assets and capabilities”.

On Friday, Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet published an interview with senior MUST official Jan Kinnander. He told the paper that MUST was able to identify beyond doubt that certain individuals were “connected to the intelligence services of foreign states”. These persons traveled to Sweden “under false pretenses”, according to the official. A few of them were diplomats, said Kinnander, while most attempted to travel around the Scandinavian country using “conspiratorial methods”. Many were detected prowling around government installations that are linked to Sweden’s national defense while having “no reasonable cause” to be there, said Kinnander.

When asked to identify the countries that engage in espionage against Sweden, Kinnander said he could not elaborate, except to say that MUST linked the alleged spies with “several countries, including Russia”. In December of last year, MUST Director Gunnar Karlsson told Swedish media that Russia was a leading perpetrator of intelligence operations against Sweden. These operations included active measures involving propaganda, deception and other psychological activities, he said. In recent years, the Swedish authorities have arrested Polish, Lithuanian and other Eastern European nationals, allegedly because they were seen photographing Swedish military installations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 February 2017 | Permalink

Top aide to Trump’s security adviser denied security clearance by CIA

Michael FlynnA senior aide to Michael Flynn, National Security Adviser to United States President Donald Trump, will have to step down from his post because his application for a security clearance was rejected, say sources. Flynn had chosen Robin Townley, a former intelligence officer in the US Marine Corps, to serve as Senior Director for Africa on the National Security Council, a forum chaired by the president, which makes key decisions on domestic and foreign issues. Townley, who is described as “one of Flynn’s closest deputies”, held a top-secret security clearance for many years during his government career. But joining the National Security Council requires a so-called “sensitive compartmented information” clearance. This elite-status clearance allows designated individuals to access government programs and operations that are deemed highly sensitive.

According to Politico, Townley’s application for a sensitive compartmented information clearance was rejected last week. The news website cited two anonymous sources “with direct knowledge of the situation”, who said that Townley was informed on Friday that his application had been rejected. The rejection came from the Central Intelligence Agency, said Politico. One source told the website that the rejection had been met with agreement by Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s appointee to head the CIA. Townley cannot reapply for clearance, which means that he will have to give up his National Security Council post. Flynn will have to replace him.

The Politico report claims that Flynn and his team were “infuriated” by the CIA’s decision, which is expected to further-escalate tensions between the retired lieutenant-general and the Intelligence Community. Flynn has been criticized for his allegedly close connections to the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2015, he delivered a speech in Moscow in return for a fee, and dined with Putin. Earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated a telephone conversation between Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the US, as part of a counterintelligence probe. Last week, The Washington Post alleged that Flynn and Kislyak discussed the topic of American economic sanctions on Russia, and that Flynn told the Russian diplomat that they would be lifted by the Trump administration.

The Politico report said that Flynn’s team views the rejection of Townley’s security clearance application as “a hit job from inside the CIA on Flynn and the people close to him”. It also said that Flynn’s team believe that the Intelligence Community feels “threatened by Flynn and his allies”. The website contacted the National Security Council and the CIA but received no responses.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 February 2017 | Permalink