Recent conviction of Chinese spy in a US court could be game changer, say insiders

Chinese Ministry of State Security

THE RECENT CONVICTION OF a Chinese intelligence officer for espionage in a United States court could be a “seminal moment” for American counterintelligence, according to several former intelligence professionals. They spoke to The Daily Beast’s Shannon Vavra about the case of Yanjun Xu, who is also known as Qu Hui or Zhang Hui. As intelNews and others reported last month, Xu is a deputy division director in the Ministry of State Security (MSS) —China’s intelligence agency.

Xu was arrested by Belgian police in April 2018, while attempting to meet an employee of GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric, whom he had allegedly tried to recruit at an academic conference in China in 2017. The Belgians extradited Xu to the United States, where he was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to commit acts of economic espionage against GE Aviation. During the trial, which took place in Cincinnati, prosecutors successfully made the case that Xu’s espionage activities were part of a broader 10-year plan by the MSS to spy on aviation manufacturers around the world.

Xu’s extradition marked the first time that an employee of a Chinese intelligence agency was tried on American soil. His conviction could be a game changer, says to Bill Evanina, who was director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center until earlier this year. Evanina told The Daily Beast that the case against Xu will almost certainly serve as a “legal template for future cases” by the United States government against Chinese espionage. Evanina’s view was echoed by Jim Olson, former Chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency. He told The Daily Beast that Xu’s arrest, extradition and conviction “is a huge shakeup for the MSS” and its impact on how China conducts its espionage operations against the United States will be “tremendous”.

Meanwhile China has rejected all accusations against Xu. Liu Pengyu, spokesman for China’s embassy in the United States, told The Daily Beast that the charges against Xu were “pure fabrications”. He added that the Chinese state demands that Washington handles Xu’s case “according to the law and in a just manner”, so that this Chinese citizen’s “rights and interests” would be ensured.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 November 2021 | Permalink

Turkish pro-government newspaper publishes interview with alleged Mossad spy

Ram Ben-BarakA POPULAR TURKISH NEWSPAPER has published an interview with a member of a network of spies who were allegedly recruited by the Israeli agency Mossad to spy on Palestinian students living in Turkey. As intelNews reported last week, Turkish intelligence announced the arrests of 15 members of an alleged spy ring for the Mossad. Turkish media said that the 15 individuals were arrested on October 7 during simultaneous raids that took place across four different provinces. The counterintelligence operation to arrest the alleged spies took nearly a year and involved more than 200 officers of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Last Friday, Turkey’s Sabah newspaper published a lengthy interview with one of the 15 alleged spies. The paper, which is politically aligned with the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, referred to the alleged spy using the initials “M.A.S.”, and claimed he is a Turkish citizen who was recruited by the Mossad. The alleged spy told the paper that he was first contacted in December 2018 by “an agent called A.Z.” through the WhatsApp phone application. After providing this individual with information about Turkish universities, he was sent funds via Western Union wire transfers. Other times he was paid by a man he met in a market in Istanbul, after showing him his identity card, along with a receipt that had been sent to him by A.Z.

Eventually, M.A.S. said he was instructed to travel to Switzerland, having first secured a visa for his trip through a company called European Student Guidance Center. Sabah claims the M.A.S.’ trip to Switzerland was paid for by the Mossad. While in there, M.A.S. met his alleged handlers, who taught him how to use strong encryption for sending documents and other information via secure email applications. However, even at that point he did not realize he was working for a foreign government, having been told by his handlers that they were employees of an “intelligence-like organization” in the private sector. According to Sabah, other members of the alleged spy ring met with their handlers, abroad, mostly in Switzerland and Croatia. Most were paid with cryptocurrency, conventional international money transfers, or sometimes in gold jewelry or foreign currency.

Importantly, Sabah did not say how its reporters were able to gain access to M.A.S. after his arrest by the Turkish authorities. The Turkish government has made no official statement about these arrests. Also on Friday, a number of Israeli public figures, including Ram Ben-Barak (pictured), former deputy director of the Mossad and current chairman of the Knesset’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, said that “none of the published names [in Turkey] were [of] Israeli spies”. Ben-Barak also cast doubt on the professionalism and capabilities of Turkish counterintelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 October 2021 | Permalink

Turkey announces arrest of Russian and Israeli alleged spies following crackdown

MIT Turkey

THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKEY has announced the arrest of 21 individuals, among them foreign citizens, whom it accuses of “political and military espionage” on behalf of Israel, and of planning assassinations ordered by Russia. Turkish authorities released separately two statements on Thursday, announcing the arrests of alleged spies for Israel and Russia respectively. The two sets of arrests do not appear to be connected, despite the fact that they were announced on the same day.

Six alleged assassins operating under Russian command were arrested on October 8 in Antalya, a tourist resort located on Turkey’s southern coast. Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) said the group includes four Russians, a Ukrainian and an Uzbek. They allegedly planned to kill a number of Chechen separatists who live in Turkey. In preparation of the alleged assassinations, group members “were in the process of obtaining weapons”, according to Turkish government prosecutors.

A court in Istanbul has reportedly ruled that the members of the alleged assassination team should remain behind bars, pending a trial for espionage. Meanwhile the a Russian government spokesman said on Thursday that the Kremlin was “not aware” of any Russian citizens having been arrested on espionage charges in Turkey, adding that the Russian embassy in Ankara had not been informed of any such arrests.

Meanwhile, in a separate announcement issued on Thursday, the MİT disclosed the arrests of 15 members of an alleged spy ring for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Turkish media reports said the 15 individuals had been arrested in a series of raids that took place across four Turkish provinces on October 7, following a year-long counterintelligence operation. Turkish authorities claim that the spy ring monitored the activities of Palestinians living in Turkey and provided the information to the Mossad, in return “for tens of thousands of dollars and euros”. The Israeli government has not commented on these reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 October 2021 | Permalink

US charges couple with attempting to sell secrets to unidentified foreign country

SSN-774 Virginia class submarine

AUTHORITIES IN THE UNITED States have charged a married couple with contacting a foreign power and trying to sell it military secrets, which some reports describe as “some of the United States’ most closely held”. Court documents unsealed on Sunday identify the couple as Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, of Annapolis, Maryland. The husband is reportedly a nuclear engineer who has been working on naval nuclear propulsion for at least a decade.

From 2017 until 2020, Toebbe worked for the United States military as a civilian nuclear engineer. He had a top-secret clearance and even worked for over a year out of the office of the Chief of Naval Operations —the head of the US Navy, who is typically an admiral. Toebbe reportedly left his government post in December of 2020. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a few months earlier he had sent a letter to a foreign government offering military secrets in return for money.

The US government claims that, in April of 2020, Toebbe sent a letter to a foreign government with a note asking its recipient to “please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency”. The note added: “I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax”. However, the recipient of the letter forwarded the letter to the FBI, which proceeded to launch a sting operation targeting Toebbe. FBI special agents contacted Toebbe pretending to be representatives of the foreign government he had tried to contact by mail.

In a series of messages he exchanged with the FBI special agents, the nuclear engineer offered to share classified information relating to nuclear submarine propulsion, in exchange for $100,000 in cryptocurrency. According to the court documents, the information related to the propulsion system of the US Navy’s SSN-774 “Virginia” class submarines, which, according to The New York Times, is among “the United States’ most closely held secrets on submarine technology”.

Notably, the FBI affidavit does not identify the country that Toebbe attempted to solicit payments from. Given the fact that the country Toebbe had in mind voluntarily shared the information with the FBI, it is possible that it may be a Western country, rather than a country with which Washington has traditionally had adversarial relations. It is also important to note that the SSN-774 class submarine was at the heart of a recent diplomatic controversy between the United States, Australia and France.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2021 | Permalink

CIA asks its case officers to focus more on security in ‘unusual’ message

CIA

IN A MESSAGE DESCRIBED by observers as “unusual”, the United States Central Intelligence Agency has warned its case officers to give priority to security when recruiting spies in foreign countries. Fictional treatments of espionage work usually refer to CIA personnel as “spies”. In real-life espionage work, however, this term is actually reserved for citizens of foreign countries who are recruited by CIA case officers to work as informants.

According to The New York Times, large numbers of these foreign CIA informants have been “captured or killed” in recent years. The number is reportedly so high that the CIA’s counterintelligence mission center sent “an unusual top secret cable” last week to every CIA station around the world, drawing attention to that fact. The cable was unusual in its candor and even went so far as to relay the precise number of informants who had been captured, killed or compromised in recent times. According to the paper, the cable made specific mention of informants who were neutralized in countries such as Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia.

The top-secret cable continued by highlighting the importance of placing security at the center of the CIA’s mission, especially when recruiting new informants, said The Times. Case officers —personnel in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, whose job is to recruit foreigners— are expected to recruit with consistency, and are promoted based on that consistency. But the top-secret cable “reminded CIA case officers to focus not just on recruiting sources, but also on security issues, including vetting informants and evading adversarial intelligence services”, according to The Times. The paper added that the language in the cable implied that CIA case officers have often underestimated the agency’s adversaries abroad.

The Times said it reached out to the CIA with questions about the top-secret memo, but “a CIA spokeswoman declined to comment”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 October 2021 | Research credit: J.S. | Permalink

Man caught with pistol and ammunition is Turkish spy, German prosecutor says

MIT Turkey

GERMAN AUTHORITIES ARE TREATING the arrest of a Turkish citizen, who was found with a pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition, “as a case of suspected espionage on behalf of the Turkish state” according to reports. The case was revealed late last week by Germany’s Federal Prosecutor General, Peter Frank, who said that the suspected spy was arrested at a hotel in the western German city of Düsseldorf during a raid that took place on September 17.

Local reports said the hotel raid was carried out by members of the Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK), a police tactical unit, who stormed the building and used an armored vehicle to barricade its front door. They emerged from the hotel with the suspect, who has been identified in German media reports only as “Ali D.”, a Turkish citizen. He is now under investigation for collecting information on alleged supporters of the so-called Gülen movement. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims it was behind the failed 2016 coup against Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Federal Prosecutor General’s office has said that Ali D. was acting “on behalf of and under the guidance” of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which is the state intelligence agency of Turkey. It also claims that “sufficient evidence” has emerged to establish this case as a “counterintelligence matter”. In his statement to the press, Frank said Ali D. was found in possession of a pistol, 200 rounds of ammunition and documents containing names and other personal information of alleged supporters of the Gülen movement. Some reports suggest that the police has linked this case with a suspected planned attack against Gülen supporters in Düsseldorf and Cologne.

The investigation of Ali D. has now officially been moved from the Düsseldorf Prosecutor’s office to the office of the Federal Prosecutor General.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 October 2021 | Permalink

Alleged spy at British embassy in Berlin aroused suspicion by not using bank account

British embassy BerlinAn employee of the British embassy in Berlin, who was arrested last week on suspicion of spying for Russia, drew the attention of the authorities after he stopped using his bank account, according to reports. The man, who was arrested on August 10 by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), has been identified in German media as David Smith, 57. His arrest is believed to have come as a result of a joint investigation by British and German authorities.

Smith is a longtime resident of Potsdam, a city located southeast of Berlin, and was married for 20 years to a woman from Ukraine, who is believed to have Russian heritage. According to some reports, however, his wife has not been living with him for some time. It has also been reported that Smith had been working for the British embassy in Berlin “for three or four years” in the period leading up to his arrest last week. It is also believed that he had previously served in the Royal Air Force and the Germany Guard Service (GGS). The latter is a joint British-German civilian volunteer force with roots in the Cold War, which provides security support to British Forces stationed in Germany.

Last week, several German news outlets said that Smith first aroused suspicions among British and German counterintelligence experts, after they noticed that he had not made use of his debit or credit cards for several months. His sudden lack of withdrawals from his bank accounts caused them to think that may have secured a cash-based source of income —possibly from a foreign intelligence agency. Citing anonymous intelligence officials, German media report that Smith passed on “low-grade information” to his Russian handlers, including lists of names of visitors to the British embassy. He was arrested, however, after British and German authorities allegedly feared that he was preparing to give Moscow more sensitive information in his possession.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 August 2021 | Permalink

Employee of British embassy in Berlin charged with spying for Russia

British embassy in BerlinAn employee of the British embassy in Berlin has been arrested by German authorities, who charged him with spying for the intelligence services of the Russian Federation, according to reports. The German newsmagazine Focus said on Wednesday that the employee is a 57-year-old British citizen. He was reportedly arrested on Tuesday by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). His arrest took place in Potsdam, a city located southeast of Berlin. His arrest is believed to have come as a result of a joint investigation by British and German authorities.

There appears to be some confusion about the man’s position at the British embassy. In some reports, he is referred to as a “liaison officer”, a term that describes diplomatic personnel whose job is to exchange security-related information with the relevant authorities of the host-country. However, other reports suggest that the man is locally based in Berlin, and was working as support personnel at the British embassy, without having been granted diplomatic status. This would mean that he does not have diplomatic immunity in Germany or elsewhere.

It is also believed that BKA officers searched the man’s home and workplace. According to Focus, he has been charged with carrying out espionage activities on behalf of Russian intelligence. German prosecutors said he began working for Russian intelligence in November of 2020 at the very latest. During that time, he allegedly provided classified information to his Russian handlers on at least one occasion, in exchange for cash. Media reports suggest that the information he allegedly gave the Russians relates to counter-terrorism operations. No further information is known about the case at this stage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2021 | Permalink

Israeli AG investigating claims that ex-Mossad chief had extra-marital relationship

Yossi CohenTHE GOVERNMENT OF ISRAEL is reportedly investigating allegations that Yossi Cohen, who recently stepped down from the helm of the Mossad, Israel’s external spy agency, had an extra-marital affair for two years. It is also claimed that the extra-marital relationship took place while Cohen was director of the Mossad, and that he shared classified information with his alleged mistress, who is reportedly a flight attendant.

Cohen, 59, with four children, assumed the directorship of the Mossad in 2015. He is a 35-year veteran of Israel’s pre-eminent spy agency, which he left briefly in 2013 to chair Israel’s National Security Council and advise the prime minister. He is known as one of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most trusted advisers. Cohen grew up in Jerusalem and became a fighter pilot before joining the Mossad. He gradually rose through the agency’s ranks to become its deputy director. Prior to that role, he led for several years the Mossad’s Department of Collections, which handles operations officers around the world. He then led the agency’s Political Action and Liaison Department, which is tasked with facilitating cooperation between the Mossad and foreign intelligence agencies.

According to Israel’s privately owned Channel 13 television, Israel’s Ministry of Justice is currently handling an official complaint, according to which Cohen has been having “a close relationship” for the past two years with a woman who is not his wife, and who is believed to be a flight attendant. Additionally, the complaint claims that Cohen shared classified information with his alleged mistress during the course of their affair. According to Channel 13, the complaint has been handed over to the Attorney General of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, who is reviewing it.

The Channel 13 report said Cohen has strongly denied the allegations, saying that “there is no flight attendant [and] there is no close relationship”. The former Mossad chief added that he had not been contacted by Attorney General Mandelblit about the complaint, or for any other reason. The television station gave no further information about the alleged complaint, the identity of the flight attendant, or the state of the Attorney General Mandelblit’s investigation.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Cohen would head the Israel-based investment arm of SoftBank, a Japanese-headquartered multinational conglomerate holding company, which specializes in investing in firms in the financial, energy and technology sectors of the economy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 July 2021 | Permalink

Two decades after 9/11, West must refocus on threats by state actors, MI5 chief says

MI5 HQ Thames HouseNearly 20 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it is time for Western intelligence agencies to refocus on stopping covert operations by foreign state actors, according to the director of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. General Ken McCallum is a 20-year career officer in the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence agency. He assumed the position of director in April of 2020, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

In a rare public speech on Wednesday, General McCallum said it made sense why, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Western spy services dedicated unprecedented attention and resources to countering terrorist threats. Efforts during these two decades have concentrated on preventing attacks by religious extremists, both domestically and abroad. General McCallum went on to say that, in light of the ongoing instability in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, religious extremism will continue to require both attention and resources by Western spy agencies.

But he added that, even though counter-terrorism remains MI5’s primary task, the agency recognizes the need to “refocus attention” to threats from state actors. The attention given in the past two decades to non-state groups has allowed countries like Russia, China and Iran to develop “a growing assertiveness” in the areas of covert operations, said General McCallum. As a result, their activities in the fields of espionage, sabotage, and even assassinations, have become “increasingly daring” and threatening.

Spies working for foreign countries have killed targets, stolen sensitive technology, and tried to recruit public figures and other key individuals through blackmail. They have also attacked telecommunications infrastructure and have perfected a host of methods for launching cyber-attacks on both the public and private sectors, with potentially catastrophic consequences, he said.

The MI5 chief illustrated his statements by revealing that British counterintelligence officers have “disrupted hostile power activity” on British soil, which could otherwise have resulted in the killing of a targeted individual. He said that this operation took place after the attempted assassination of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in the spring of 2018, but provided no further details.

General McCallum’s statement came as prosecutors in the United States charged four Iranian intelligence officers with participating in a plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American New York-based journalist and human-rights activist, who is known for her critical stance of the government in Tehran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 July 2021 | Permalink

Polish counterintelligence arrest man for giving military secrets to Russia

Poland ABW

POLAND’S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AGENCY HAS announced the arrest of a Polish citizen, who reportedly admitted spying for Russian military intelligence. The 43-year-old man has been named only as “Marcin K.”, in compliance with Polish law. He was reportedly arrested on May 5 by officers of the Internal Security Agency (ABW), Poland’s domestic counter-intelligence agency.

According to ABW spokesman Stanisław Żaryn, the accused spy had been handing over classified “information and materials” to the Russian secret services. Much of the classified information reportedly related to the “military field”. The Russians also received sensitive information relating to “Polish entities and citizens”, according to government prosecutors. The Polish government described the information as “extremely important for Russian operations […] and to the detriment of the Republic of Poland”. No further information has been provided about the case.

Importantly, Polish authorities have not shared information about Marcin K.’s possible Russian handlers, who are likely to be employees of the Russian embassy in Warsaw. Regular intelNews readers will recall that Poland was among several European countries that expelled Russian diplomats last month, following a call for solidarity by the Czech Republic. Prague issued the call after it expelled 18 Russian diplomats in protest against an explosion that totaled a remote munition depot in the east of the country, which the Czechs claim was part of a Russian intelligence operation. In addition to expelling a number of Russian diplomats, Poland joined Hungary and Slovakia in issuing a joint statement decrying what it described as “deplorable act[s] of aggression and breach of international law committed by Russia on European soil”.

According to news reports, Marcin K. has been placed in pre-trial detention for three months, as investigators are interviewing witnesses and gathering material evidence for a pending trial.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2021 | Permalink

US Army Special Forces soldier sentenced to 15 years for spying for Russia

Peter Debbins

A FORMER MEMBER OF the United States Army’s Special Forces has been sentenced for spying for Russia for 15 years, after he was reportedly groomed by Russian military intelligence at a young age. Peter Debbins, 46, born in the US to an American father and a Soviet-born mother, admitted in 2020 to spying for Russia for over 20 years.

Even though he had Russian background from his mother’s side of the family, he had never been to Russia until he traveled there in 1994. On that trip he met his Russian family members for the first time, as well as a young Russian woman who would eventually become his wife. In 1996 Debbins returned to Russia as an exchange student from the University of Minnesota, and reconnected with a Russian woman. She was from the city of Chelyabinsk, located near the Russian-Kazakh border. The woman’s father was reportedly a colonel in the Russian Air Force.

It was during that second trip, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that he was spotted by the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known commonly as GRU. By 1997, when Debbins returned to Russia to marry his girlfriend, he was already working for the GRU, according to US government prosecutors. It is stated in his indictment that he told his GRU handler he saw himself as a “son of Russia” and sought to limit America’s dominance in the world.

Between 1998 and 2005, Debbins served in the US Army, where he became a Green Beret. He was discharged and lost his security clearance after “violating protocols” while he was stationed in Azerbaijan. Throughout his time in the US Army, Debbins frequently traveled to Russia, where his wife was studying at the time. While there he met with his GRU handlers. The court heard that he gave the GRU information on a variety of classified subjects, as well as private information on other members of the Green Berets. This information was intended to be used to blackmail these soldiers to work for the GRU.

Following his stint in the US Army, Debbins worked as a contractor for the US military, on topics relating to Russian language translation, as well as counterintelligence. Throughout that time, he reportedly continued to apply for dozens of positions in the US intelligence community, but without success. He is believed to have stopped spying for Russia in 2011.

The judge who hand down Debbins’ sentence ordered that his incarceration should begin immediately. Debbins’ legal team has requested that he be incarcerated near the Washington Metropolitan Area, so that he can remain in contact with his wife and four daughters.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Without fanfare, FBI places Putin’s right-hand man on most wanted list

Yevgeny PrigozhinWITHOUT MUCH FANFARE LAST week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed on its most wanted list Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest collaborators. Known as “Putin’s chef”, for providing catering services to the Kremlin, Prigozhin was indicted in February 2018 by United States prosecutors for his alleged role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Special Counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, Prigozhin bankrolled the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which in turn played a central coordinating role in the effort to influence the outcome of the elections.

But it is one thing to be indicted by the US government, and quite another to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. What does this mean? And why did the FBI wait three years to place Prigozhin on its list of infamy?

With characteristic flamboyance, Prigozhin boasted victory against the FBI back in March of 2020, when US federal prosecutors requested that the Mueller-era criminal case against Concord Management and Consulting (CMC) be dismissed. Founded in 1995, CMC is Prigozhin’s flagship company. According to the US government, CMC was used to fund the IRA’s activities in the run-up to the 2016 US elections. Although some were surprised by that decision, it made sense from an intelligence point of view. US federal prosecutors said at the time that it would not be possible to prove the allegations against CMC due to a “classification determination”. The term basically meant that the US government could not prove the claims made against CMC without revealing “methods and sources”. The term refers to witnesses that have probably been recruited as US government assets, as well as to methods of surveillance that the government wishes to keep secret.

Even though the individual indictment against Prigozhin was never dropped, the flamboyant Russian boasted at the time that the dismissal of the case against CMC proved that he was not implicated in the US election meddling affair. He became even more boastful after September of last year, when Interpol removed his name from its international alert list. He reportedly began traveling outside Russia again, something that he had stopped doing after his 2018 indictment, out of an abundance of caution. At that time, everyone assumed that US prosecutors would eventually drop the case against Prigozhin too, for the same reason they had dropped the CMC case —namely a “classification determination”. Read more of this post

CIA tells retired personnel to refrain from working for foreign governments

CIATHE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has told its retired personnel to refrain from working for foreign governments, “either directly or indirectly”. This was communicated in a note that, according to The New York Times, was drafted several months ago, but was sent out this week by Sheetal Patel, who serves as assistant director for counterintelligence at the CIA.

In the note, Patel reportedly writes that the agency has been noticing a “detrimental trend” of former CIA employees being hired by “foreign governments”, whose goal is to “build up their spying capabilities”. She adds that former CIA personnel who are employed by foreign governments “either directly or indirectly” may effectively undermine the mission of the CIA and “benefit […] foreign adversaries”.

In her note, Patel also urges retired CIA personnel to limit their participation in the media, including television broadcasts, conference panels, podcasts and activity on social media platforms. Media activity by former CIA personnel embodies “[t]he risk of unintended disclosure of classified information or confirmation of classified information by our adversaries”, writes Patel. This risk “increases with each exposure outside of established US government channels”, she concludes.

The paper said it contacted CIA spokeswoman Nicole de Haay, who rejected the claim that Patel’s note was unusual in any way. The CIA “routinely reiterate[s] counterintelligence guidance to current and former CIA officers alike”, said de Haay, adding that “reading more into [Patel’s note] than that is a mistake”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 January 2021 | Permalink

Holland expels two Russian diplomats, summons Kremlin envoy to issue protest

AIVD HollandOn 10 December 2020, the Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Kajsa Ollongren, sent a letter to the House of Representatives to inform them about the disruption of a Russian espionage operation in the Netherlands by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD).

In connection with Ollongren’s revelations, two Russians using a diplomatic cover to commit espionage on behalf of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) were expelled from the Netherlands. The Russian ambassador to the Netherlands was summoned by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs, which informed him that the two Russians have been designated as persona non grata (unwanted persons). In an unusual move, the AIVD also issued a press statement about this incident in English. The AIVD also released surveillance footage (see 32nd minute of video) of one of the two Russian SVR officers meeting an asset at a park and exchanging material.

The two expelled persons were officially accredited as diplomats at the Russian embassy in The Hague. Minister Ollongren says one of the two SVR intelligence officers built a “substantial” network of sources working in the Dutch high-tech sector. He pursued unspecified information about artificial intelligence, semiconductors, and nano technology that has both civilian and military applications. The Netherlands has designated “High Tech Systems and Materials” (HTSM) as one of 10 “Top Sectors” for the Dutch economy.

In some cases the sources of the SVR officers received payments for their cooperation. According to Erik Akerboom, Director-General of the AIVD, said the agency had detected “relatively intensive” contact between sources and the SVR officers in ten cases. The case involves multiple companies and one educational institute, whose identities have not been revealed. The minister states in her letter that the espionage operation “has very likely caused damage to the organizations where the sources are or were active, and thereby to the Dutch economy and national security”.

The minister announced that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) will take legal action against one source of the two Russians, on the basis of immigration law. The minister also announced that the government will look into possibilities to criminalize the act of cooperating with a foreign intelligence service. Currently, that act on and by itself is not a punishable offense. Under current Dutch and European law, legal possibilities do exist to prosecute persons for violation of confidentiality of official secrets or company secrets.

This newly revealed espionage operation follows other incidents in the Netherlands, including a GRU operation in 2018 that targeted the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, and a case in 2015 involving a talented Russian physicist working on quantum optics at the Eindhoven University of Technology. In the latter case, no information was made public about what information the physicist sold to Russian intelligence services. And in 2012, a senior official of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs was arrested for intending to sell classified official information to a Russian couple in Germany who spied for Russia. He was eventually given an eight year prison sentence.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 14 December 2020 | Permalink

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