Threat from espionage is bigger than terrorism, says Australia’s spy chief

Duncan LewisThe director of Australia’s main national security agency has warned in a public speech that the threat from espionage —including cyber espionage— is greater than terrorism, and poses an “existential” danger to established states. Duncan Lewis was appointed director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in 2014, having already served for more than four decades in the Australian military and civilian government sectors. On Wednesday, Lewis gave a rare public address at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, ahead of his retirement from government service later this month.

The ASIO director said in his speech that terrorism poses “a terrible risk” and should be seen as “a very serious matter”. On the other hand, “terrorism has never been an existential threat to established states”, said Lewis. Additionally the risk from the current wave of Salafi-Jihadist terrorism has “plateaued” and should not be expected to increase drastically, he noted. On the other hand, the threat of foreign espionage “is ultimately an existential threat to the state, or it can be an existential threat to the state”, added Lewis. The ASIO director described espionage and foreign-influence activities as “typically quiet, insidious and with a long tail”. Thus, “unlike the immediacy of terrorism incidents”, the harmful effects of espionage may not appear for many years or even decades after the initial activity has been carried out, he said.

Additionally, said Lewis, Australia’s “middle power status” and close alliances with Western countries make it a major target for state-sponsored human and cyber espionage attacks. Adversary nations see Australia as “a rich target”, he said, and launched espionage operations against it daily. As a result, foreign intelligence operations against Australia are “on a growth path” and are taking place on an “unprecedented” scale and scope, according to Lewis. Such operations include “covert attempts to influence and shape the views of the [Australian] public, media, government and diaspora communities, both within Australia and overseas”, said Lewis, adding that they take place “every day”.

The espionage threat to Australia does not come from “one particular nation”, said the AFIO director, although some nations tend to display more “intent, sophistication and commitment” than others. Australia is obligated to resist against these threats by continuing to develop its counter-espionage capabilities and finding innovative and effective ways to detect and defend against foreign interference, Lewis said at the conclusion of his talk.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 September 2019 | Permalink

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Analysis: Did the US Central Intelligence Agency lose 17 spies in Iran?

US embassy IranIf the announcements from Tehran are to be believed, the United States Central Intelligence Agency lost at least 17 spies in Iran in the months leading up to March 2019. According to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, the Islamic Republic busted an alleged “CIA network” operating in sensitive private sector companies and government agencies that relate to defense, aerospace and energy. At least some of the 17 alleged spies have reportedly been sentenced to death, though their exact number remains unknown.

Officials in Tehran said on Sunday that all of the purported spies are Iranian nationals and were lured by the CIA with promises of receiving visas to enter America. Others were already in possession of visas and were “blackmailed” to spy for the US in order to have them renewed by the US Department of State, according to Iranian media reports. Visa applicants were allegedly carefully selected based on their work in critical areas such as Iran’s nuclear program or defense procurement.

A government-sanctioned documentary, which aired on Iran’s state owned television on Monday, claimed that the 17 spies did not know each other, but all had been trained independently in clandestine tradecraft. This allegedly included setting up and using secret communications systems, as well as carrying out dead drops without being detected. Dead drops utilized containersQ Quote made to look like rocks, which were located “in parks and other mountainous areas” in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, according to Iranian officials. Some of the assets communicated with their handlers while attending science conferences through- out Europe, Africa and Asia.

The Iranian television documentary claimed that the 17 arrests had “dealt a lethal blow to US foreign intelligence”. But US President Donald Trump said in a tweet that Tehran’s allegations were “totally false” and contained “zero truth”, just “more lies and propaganda” from Tehran.

Who is right? To begin with, there is no question that the CIA recruits heavily in Iran, given that the Islamic Republic is one of America’s —indeed the world’s— primary intelligence targets. What is more, since 1979, when Washington lost its embassy in Iran, the CIA have found it more difficult to collect accurate information from inside the energy-rich country. Therefore, the need for dependable assets inside Iran has increased exponentially, and has become even more pressing now, given the importance placed on Iran by Donald Trump. Additionally, Read more of this post

Pakistan sentences two, including senior military officer, to death for espionage

Inter-Services Public Relations PakistanA military court in Pakistan has sentenced two men to death and one to 14 years in prison for espionage. The alleged spies, who have been named, include a lieutenant general and civilian employee of a security agency. In February, several Pakistani news outlets reported that “an international spying network” had been dismantled in the country following the arrests of at least five intelligence and security officials who were working for foreign interests. Soon afterwards, the online reports were taken down and nothing more was said about the arrests. But on Thursday, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the country’s Armed Forces, said in a statement that three men had been sentenced for “espionage/leakage of sensitive information to foreign agencies” which “prejudiced national security”.

The three men were identified as Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal, Brigadier (ret.) Raja Rizwan, and Dr. Wasim Akram, who was reportedly “employed at [an unidentified] sensitive organization”. Iqbal and Akram were sentenced to death, while Rizwan was sentenced to 14 years of “vigorous imprisonment”, according to ISPR. Reports in local media said that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army’s Chief of Staff, had approved the sentences handed to the men by the military judges. This means that the sentences will be carried out unless Pakistan’s President, Arif Alvi, pardons them. Interestingly, the ISPR statement noted that the three men were tried in separate military courts for separate cases. No further information was provided. As intelNews reported in February, Pakistani media claimed at the time that those arrested included a Pakistani official with diplomatic credentials who was serving in a Pakistani embassy “in a European capital”.

No information has emerged about the country or countries to which the alleged spies gave sensitive information. Back in February, Pakistan’s leading conservative daily, The News International, claimed that the spies’ handlers belonged to an intelligence agency of one of “the world’s most powerful countries”. The paper also hinted that the alleged spy network may have been working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, but provided no information to support this claim. It added that the network had been “completely dismantled” following a counterintelligence operation that an unnamed source described to the paper as “remarkable”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May | Permalink

Family of alleged UAE spy who died in Turkish prison call for investigation

Zaki Mubarak Hassan and Samer ShabanThe family of a man who died in a Turkish prison on Sunday while awaiting trial for allegedly spying for the United Arab Emirates has called for an international investigation into this death. Zaki Mubarak Hassan and Samer Shaban —both Palestinians— were reportedly arrested by Turkish police on April 21 and charged with espionage. Turkish counterintelligence officials suspect that at least one of the suspects may have been involved in a spy operation that relates to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was killed last October inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul by a 15-member team of Saudi intelligence officers.

Shortly after the two men were arrested, the Reuters news agency cited an anonymous “senior Turkish official” who said that one of two men arrived in Turkey just days after Khashoggi’s murder. He was allegedly monitored by Turkish counterintelligence for a period of six months and his activities led investigators to the second man. The latter is believed to have traveled to Turkey in order “to help his colleague with the workload”, said Reuters. The source added that the two UAE nationals had undergone several hours of interrogation, during which they had confessed that they were employees of the UAE intelligence service. They had also admitted to recruiting local residents as informants. Their activities and targets were consistent with intelligence operations aimed at exiled Arab nationals and students living in Turkey, said the source. The unnamed Turkish official told Reuters that authorities had amassed “extensive evidence” on “covert activities on Turkish soil” by the two men, and described the case against them as “airtight”.

Yesterday, however, the Turkish government announced that one of the men, Zaki Mubarak Hassan, had been found dead in his prison cell in Istanbul. Press reports said that Hassan was found “Sunday morning hanging from a bathroom door” in his cell, and that prosecutors were investigating the formal cause of his death. Late on Monday, his family told the Saudi Arabian Arab News channel that they did not believe Hassan had killed himself. Speaking to Arab News from his home in Bulgaria, Hassan’s brother, Zakeria, said that agents of the Turkish government killed his brother because they realized he was not a spy for the UAE and “they didn’t want to show that they made a mistake”. He added that he had notified the Palestinian ambassador in Ankara of his brother’s arrest, but the ambassador did not seem interested in assisting the family. Meanwhile, the uncle of the second man, Samer Shaban, told another Saudi news channel, Al Arabiya, that his nephew had left the Gaza Strip in 2007 for Egypt. Zaki Mubarak said that Shaban, a Palestinian police officer, was a Fatah supporter and eventually moved from the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip to the UAE, where he began working as an employee of the Palestinian Authority’s consulate in Dubai. His goal, said Mubarak, was to immigrate with his family to Turkey and from there to Europe.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 April 2019 | Permalink

Turkey announces arrests of two alleged UAE intelligence officers in Istanbul

UAE nationals arrested in Turkey on espionage charges

Covert surveillance photograph of two UAE nationals arrested in Turkey on espionage charges (TRT Haber)

Turkish authorities have announced the arrest of two men believed to be intelligence officers for the United Arab Emirates; the two have already confessed to recruiting local informants, according to Reuters. The news agency said Turkish counterintelligence officials suspect that at least one of the suspects may be involved in a spy operation that relates to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was killed last October inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul by a 15-member team of Saudi intelligence officers.

Last Friday, Reuters cited an anonymous “senior Turkish official” who said that both men are Emirati nationals and that one of them arrived in Turkey just days after Khashoggi’s murder. He was allegedly monitored by Turkish counterintelligence for a period of six months and his activities led investigators to the second man. The latter is believed to have traveled to Turkey in order “to help his colleague with the workload”, said Reuters. Turkey’s state-owned news agency, TRT Haber, published Turkish police photographs of the two men in custody, but did not name them. It also published covert surveillance photographs of the two men, presumably taken by Turkish counterintelligence. A source told Reuters that Turkish counterintelligence officials had entered an Istanbul apartment used by the two men as a safe house, where they found an encrypted computer “in a hidden compartment”. The source added that the two UAE nationals had undergone several hours of interrogation, during which they had confessed that they were employees of the UAE intelligence service. They had also admitted to recruiting local residents as informants. Their activities and targets were consistent with intelligence operations aimed at exiled Arab nationals and students living in Turkey, said the source.

The unnamed Turkish official told Reuters that authorities had amassed “extensive evidence” on “covert activities on Turkish soil” by the two men, and described the case against them as “airtight”. However, when contacted by Reuters, Turkey’s Ministry of Interior declined to comment on the arrests. A spokesman for Istanbul’s Police Department confirmed that a police operation against the two Emirati nationals was ongoing. Turkish media reports on Saturday said that the two men had appeared before a court in Istanbul and that they were being kept in custody on charges of espionage against the Turkish state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 April 2019 | Permalink

Russian diplomat involved in espionage leaves Sweden after ‘unusual’ delay

Russian Embassy SwedenRussia has recalled one of its diplomats from Sweden after he was caught receiving classified information from a computer expert at a nightclub in Stockholm. The computer expert was later identified as Kristian Dmitrievski, a 45-year-old naturalized Swede who was born in Russia. The Swedish government accuses him of having been recruited by Russian intelligence in 2017 or earlier. He allegedly met with his Russian handlers on a regular basis since his recruitment, passing them classified information of a technical nature.

Dmitrievski was reportedly arrested on the evening of February 26, while meeting his alleged Russian handler in a downtown area of the Swedish capital. Both Dmitrievski and his alleged handler were detained by officers of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO. Swedish authorities later said that Dmitrievski’s alleged handler was a member of staff of the Russian embassy in Stockholm and had diplomatic immunity. SÄPO added that the Russian diplomat was believed to be a Russian intelligence officer who worked under diplomatic cover. The Russian man’s diplomatic status granted him immunity, so Swedish authorities were unable to file espionage charges against him. However, the Swedish Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to file a protest, while the alleged intelligence officer was told to leave the country.

Surprisingly, however, Moscow did not recall the diplomat, as expected, and no further reports were issued about the incident. Then on March 28, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter named the Russian diplomat as Yevgeny Umerenko. Later that day, the Associated Press news agency said that it had seen “an intelligence report from a European service” that identified Dmitrievski’s Russian handler as Yevgeny Umerenko. The Associated Press described Umerenko as a “Line X officer” —a Soviet-era classification referring to case officers specializing in technological espionage. Western intelligence agencies had apparently been monitoring Umerenko’s activities ever since he had a similar role at the Russian embassy in Berlin, immediately before being transferred to Stockholm.

In its report, the Associated Press said that Moscow had finally recalled Umerenko from its embassy in Sweden, and that he was back in Russia. The news agency added it spoke to Anna Lundbladh, a spokeswoman for Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who confirmed that Umerenko had left Sweden, but went on to say that the Swedish government would “not discuss this matter in further detail”.

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

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