German chancellor warns of threat to democracy from anti-vaccine militants

BfV GermanyGERMANY’S NEW CHANCELLOR, OLAF Scholz, warned that democracy “stands ready to defend itself”, after a special police unit uncovered an alleged assassination plot by anti-vaccine extremists in the city of Dresden. Dresden is located in the state of Saxony, which is considered a stronghold of anti-vaccine sentiment in Germany. It has one of the country’s highest COVID-19 infection rates and one of the lowest rates of vaccination among the local population.

On Wednesday morning, police raided at least five different properties in Dresden and a property in the nearby town of Heidenau, in connection with an alleged assassination plot against local government officials. According to a police statement, the searches were connected with an investigation of six German nationals, five men and one woman, who range in age from 32 to 64. All six are reportedly members of an online group calling itself “Dresden Offlinevernetzung” (“Dresden Offline Network”), which describes itself as an anti-vaccination and anti-government entity.

According to media reports, the group brings together conspiracy theorists, far-right extremists and anti-government militants, who frequently issue online calls to oppose mitigation measures against COVID-19 “with armed resistance, if necessary”. Police officials claim that members of Dresden Offlinevernetzung were planning to assassinate the prime minister of the state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, 47, as well as other local government officials.

Assassination plans had allegedly been discussed by members of the group through online messaging platforms, such as Telegram, as well as in face-to-face meetings. Additionally, a number of group members had posted messages indicating they had access to working firearms, machetes or hunting-style crossbows. Several members of Dresden Offlinevernetzung are now in detention and are waiting to be arraigned. A few hours after the raids and arrests, Germany’s new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said that German democracy was “ready to defend itself” against “this tiny minority of uninhibited extremists trying to impose their will on our entire society”. He added that he had authorized the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s federal domestic intelligence agency, to prioritize operations against violent anti-vaccine militants.

Last week, a group of anti-vaccine extremists held a Nazi-style torchlit rally in front of the home of Saxony’s Minister of Health, Petra Köpping.

► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 December 2021 | Permalink

Percentage of unvaccinated US spy agency employees remains unknown: report

COVID-19 Pentagon

MOST AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES will not disclose the percentage of their employees who are vaccinated for COVID-19, or how many are resisting government vaccination mandates for federal workers. All United States federal government employees and federal contractors are required to comply with vaccination mandates by November 22. Those who refuse to get vaccinated without having been granted a medical exemption, are likely to face a suspension for up to 14 days, which could result in permanent dismissal.

The vaccine mandate for government workers is part of a nationwide effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 people in the United States since early 2020. Studies by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that unvaccinated virus hosts are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated. It is currently estimated that around 80 percent of the adult population of the United States has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and around 70 percent is fully vaccinated.

The percentage of intelligence employees and contractors who are vaccinated against the coronavirus is not known, though it is generally believed to be higher than the percentage among the general population in the country. The Central Intelligence Agency has disclosed that fewer than 3% of its employees are unvaccinated, while the National Reconnaissance Office has stated that about 9 percent of its employees have yet to receive a single shot of the vaccine. No information is available about the 16 other agencies of the United States intelligence community.

Last week, Chris Stewart (R-UT), who is a member of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, claimed that as many as 20 percent of government personnel remain unvaccinated in some of the intelligence agencies. He added that agencies “that are more closely affiliated with the military tended to report lower vaccination rates”. He did not elaborate, but questioned whether suspending or dismissing unvaccinated employees of intelligence agencies was a prudent course of action, given their role in national security.

But other lawmakers expressed support for implementing the government’s vaccination mandate in the intelligence community. Jason Crow (D-CO), who also belongs to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the nation’s intelligence agencies were seeing high rates of vaccination. He added that, if some employees are “not willing to do what’s necessary to protect their own health and the health of their unit, that actually calls into question their ability to effectively do the job” of protecting national security.

In reporting on this story, the Associated Press said last week it had contacted a number of intelligence agencies to inquire about the vaccination rates among their employees, but had received no information. The news agency said that several intelligence organizations, among them the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, had “declined to provide their vaccination rate when asked”. Similarly, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates the activities of the intelligence community, also “declined several requests to provide figures for the intelligence community” as a whole.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 November 2021 | Permalink

Russia-linked PR firm asked social media influencers to spread doubts about vaccines

Coronavirus COVID-19

A PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRM with alleged links to Russia offered to pay French and German social media influencers if they published content casting doubts on the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The allegations about the firm’s efforts were made on Twitter and on French websites, and later appeared in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

According to the reports, French and German social media bloggers and influencers who are active on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms, were contacted last week by a public relations firm. The firm is called Fazze. It claims to be based in London and describes itself as an “influencer marketing platform […] connecting bloggers and advertisers”.

In an email sent to social media influencers, Fazze reportedly asked them to post information that draws attention to “the death rate among the vaccinated with Pfizer which is almost 3x higher than the vaccinated by AstraZeneca” [sic]. The email from Fazze also reportedly asked the social media influencers to draw attention to a leaked report that supposedly questions the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The report, published recently by French newspaper Le Monde, is based on an internal document that was stolen by Russian hackers from the European Medicines Agency and was later posted on the Dark Web. The document contains no evidence of the supposed danger of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. However, it has become the basis of anti-vaccine conspiracies on social media in Europe and the United States.

The social media influencers were encouraged to tell their audiences that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is “dangerous to the health of the people” and to question why “governments [are] actively purchasing” this vaccine. They were also instructed to “act like you have the passion and interest in this topic” [sic] and to present the material “as your own independent view”. When asked, Fazze reportedly refused to identify its client, but said that its budget for the project was “considerable” and invited the social media influencers to name “the rate you wish” for their financial compensation.

The company claimed to be based at 5 Percy Street in London, but it is not registered there, according to the Guardian. The British paper also claimed that the company’s management “come from Moscow and have worked for an agency reportedly founded by a Russian entrepreneur”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 May 2021 | Permalink

German spy agency says it is monitoring anti-lockdown conspiracy movement

Querdenker GERMANY’S DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said on Wednesday it has begun monitoring groups associated with conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, who are “challenging the legitimacy of the state”. Germany is home to one of the most vocal anti-lockdown movements in the Western world, with public rallies against lockdown measures taking place nearly every week across the country. These rallies attract a peculiar mix of participants who come from a variety of backgrounds, including anti-vaccination proponents, various conspiracy theorists, and supporters of both far-left and far-right parties.

In recent months, demonstrations against lockdown measures have been turning violent, as members of militant far-right groups have begun to participate in large numbers. They include members of Germany’s largest far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), as well as the anti-Semitic Reichsbürger movement and followers of the Selbstverwalter —the Germany’s version of the American Sovereign Citizens movement. Some of these groups are coalescing around a new nucleus of anti-government activists, who describe themselves as members of the Querdenker movement.

The term Querdenker translates into “lateral thinkers”. It represents what Germany’s domestic spy agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) describes as “a new category” of anti-government militancy. Its adherents do not conform to either far-left, far-right, or religiously motivated militancy. Over 90 percent of Querdenker followers are over the age of 30, with their average age being nearly 50. Over two thirds describe themselves as middle class, and vote for far left and the far right parties in equal numbers. Others do not vote at all. But, according to sociological studies, xenophobia and negative views of Muslims are prominent among Querdenker followers.

This is the first time that Germany’s domestic spy agency has formally identified a group that is associated with anti-lockdown activities as the target of a national security investigation. Meanwhile, Querdenker leaders have vowed to continue their anti-lockdown activities across Germany in the coming weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 April 2021 | Permalink

Foreign espionage at highest level since the Cold War, says Canada’s spy agency

CSIS Canada

CANADA’S PRIMARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said in a new report this week that foreign espionage activities on Canadian soil are at their highest level since the end of the Cold War. In its unclassified Public Report for the year 2020, published on Monday, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said that espionage threats against Canadian interests grew during 2020, but also accelerated in force and evolved in character.

Many of the changed characteristics of foreign espionage against Canadian targets over the past year related to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic. Specifically, the large number of people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic prompted foreign threat actors to take advantage of telework environments. These actors “sought to exploit the social and economic conditions created by the pandemic” in order to collect intelligence, according to the CSIS report.

The report singled out China and Russia as two of the most aggressive espionage actors against Canadian interests. What is more, these two countries carried out a growing portion of their espionage operations through “nontraditional collectors”, namely individuals or entities who are not officially connected with their sponsoring governments. These can be academic researchers or private sector employees, who are tasked by their governments to collect sensitive military, political and economic information in and about Canada.

Lastly, the CSIS report points to the intensification of foreign intelligence operations against expatriate communities in Canada. These communities, who often voice criticism of the state in their country of origin, are targeted by that country’s intelligence services with threats and intimidation. In other cases, adversarial intelligence services will try to infiltrate these communications in order to collect intelligence on dissidents and other outspoken individuals. Such activities “constitute a threat to Canada’s sovereignty and to the safety of Canadians”, the CSIS report concludes.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 April 2021 | Permalink

Brazil ‘spiraling out of control’ as commanders of all three military branches resign

Fernando Azevedo e Silva

IN WHAT NATIONAL MEDIA described as “a political earthquake”, the commanders of all three branches of Brazil’s armed forces tended their resignations on Tuesday, prompting analysts to question the stability of the country. It is the first time in Brazilian history that all three senior commanders of the nation’s armed forces have resigned on the same day.

The resignations came less than 24 hours after Brazilian media reported that the country’s rightwing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, summarily fired his Minister of Defense, General Fernando Azevedo e Silva. The general, a longtime close friend of the president, was handpicked for the post of defense minister by Bolsonaro himself soon after his election in 2018. However, he was fired on Monday after a tense meeting with the president that reportedly lasted only three minutes.

According to some reports, the minister was removed from his post after repeatedly making public statements suggesting that that the Brazilian armed forces would defend the country’s constitution, rather than protect the president. The three commanders of Brazil’s armed forces branches, Admiral Ilques Barbosa, General Edson Leal Pujol, and Lieutenant-Brigadeer Antônio Carlos Bermudez, met with the new defense minister on Tuesday and tended their resignations, during what one source described as “a dramatic and heated encounter”.

Late on Tuesday, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the branch heads of the armed forces had resigned, but did not provide a reason, nor did it name their replacements. Meanwhile, Brazil is in the throes of one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, which has cost the lives of nearly 320,000 people. Over 3,500 Brazilians die every day, with numbers of infections and deaths reaching new records every 24 hours.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 March 2021 | Permalink

UK spy agency to launch offensive cyber operation against anti-vaccine propaganda

GCHQ

BRITAIN’S SIGNALS INTELLIGENCE AGENCY is preparing to launch a major offensive cyber operation against state-sponsored propaganda aimed at undermining research on the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the London-based Times newspaper, which published the information about the purported cyber operation, it will be aimed mostly against disinformation campaigns coming out of Russia.

The alleged disinformation campaigns appear to be targeting research taking place at Oxford University, which seeks to create an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus. A main theme in these campaigns promotes the claim that the vaccine will turn those who take it in to chimpanzees. Dozens of memes around this theme are said to have flooded Russian social media websites, with English-language translations making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Times reports that the British government considers shutting down the alleged Russian disinformation campaign a strategic priority, which grows in significance the closer British scientists get to their goal of creating a successful vaccine against the pandemic. London has therefore ordered the British Army’s 77th Brigade, which specializes in information operations, to launch an online campaign that will counter deceptive narratives about a potential vaccine against the coronavirus.

Whitehall has also mobilized the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency, which focuses on cyber-security, to launch offensive operations against the sources of the disinformation, says The Times. The paper cites a government source as saying that the spy agency will be using tools originally developed to monitor and incapacitate websites and other online platforms used by the Islamic State for recruitment.

According to the paper, the operational mandate of the 77th Brigade and GCHQ prevents them from tackling disinformation and misinformation originating from ordinary social media users, rather than state agencies. Additionally, the offensive cyber campaign cannot target websites that are based in Britain’s so-called Five Eyes allies, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Instead, British spies are required to notify their Five Eyes counterparts, so they can take action instead.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2020 | Permalink

Israeli Mossad secretly secured COVID-19 vaccine from China, say sources

Yossi Cohen Mossad

THE ISRAELI EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE agency, the Mossad, has allegedly secured a Chinese-produced vaccine against the coronavirus, according to reports on Israeli television. The report came as the Israeli government confirmed over the weekend that “several diplomatic efforts are occurring behind the scenes” to acquire various vaccines against COVID-19.

According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper, an unnamed senior official in Israel’s Ministry of Health “who is in the know” said that Israel was close to reaching agreements with developers in several countries to purchase coronavirus vaccines. On Monday, however, Israel’s Channel 12 television said “multiple sources” had confirmed that the Mossad had secured the Chinese vaccine and “brought it to Israel”, so that it could be studied by Israeli scientists.

It was not immediately apparent why the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, was involved in the acquisition of the coronavirus vaccine. The implication in the report was that Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Health, were not involved in the effort to acquire the Chinese-made vaccine. On the other hand, this should not be taken to mean that the Mossad stole the vaccine from China. As intelNews has reported, the Mossad Director Yossi Cohen previously served as head of a national committee to secure resources needed to combat COVID-19, including medicines and protective supplies.

Channel 12 news said no Israeli government officials would agree to comment on the story on record. According to one theory, the Mossad purchased the vaccine from China in secret, because Israel did not want to offend the United States at a time when tensions between Washington and Beijing are growing. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health referred questions about Mossad’s role in acquiring a COVID-19 vaccine to the Office of the Prime Minster. A spokesman there refused to comment on the story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2020 | Permalink

NSA director and nearly all US Joint Chiefs of Staff in isolation for COVID-19

Pentagon

Seven of the eight members of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff —the group that brings together the nation’s most senior uniformed leaders— are in self-imposed isolation, after attending a meeting with a Coast Guard admiral who has since tested positive for COVID-19. As the list of senior American government officials that are in self-imposed isolation continues to grow, it was reported yesterday that the director of the National Security Agency, US Army General Paul Nakasone, was also self-isolating until further notice.

The decision to enter a period of self-isolation was taken yesterday, after it became known that Admiral Charles Ray, Vice Commandant of the US Coast Guard, had tested positive for COVID-19. Last Friday Admiral Ray attended a classified meeting at the Pentagon, which took place in the presence of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of the NSA. Now all of these officials and their aides are in self-isolation. They include three Army generals (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, General James McConville and General Daniel Hokanson), three Air Force generals (General Charles Brown, General John Hyten and General John Raymond of the US Space Command), and Admiral Mike Gilday.

The only member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is not currently in isolation is Marine Corps General David Berger, who was unable to attend Friday’s meeting because he was not in Washington. However, another member of US Armed Forces, an officer who at times carries the US president’s Emergency Satchel to be used in a nuclear emergency, has reportedly also come down with COVID-19.

On Tuesday afternoon, Department of Defense spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that “other Service Chiefs” were isolation, but did not provide their names. He added that none of those who are in isolation showed symptoms of infection by the coronavirus. However, they will be remaining in isolation “for the rest of the week and the first part of next week”, he added. Pentagon officials insisted on Tuesday that, despite the virus scare at the highest echelons of the US military establishment, there was “no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the US Armed Forces”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 October 2020 | Permalink

COVID-19 prompts spy agencies’ mission shift that is ‘reminiscent of the space race’

COVID-19 coronavirusThe worldwide competition to invent a vaccine that can curtail the spread of COVID-19 has prompted a mission shift in major intelligence agencies around the world, which is “reminiscent of the space race”, according to The New York Times. In an article published on Saturday, the paper cited “interviews with current and former intelligence officials and others tracking the espionage efforts”, who suggest that the mission shift observed in spy agencies worldwide has been among the fastest in history.

According to The New York Times, “every major spy service around the globe is trying to find out what everyone else is up to” in coronavirus research, and “to steal information about vaccine research”. Much of this biomedical espionage is taking place in international bodies, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO), where spies try to access useful data from rival countries. The paper said that the Central Intelligence Agency and other Western spy agencies are closely watching their rivals, including Chinese and Russian operatives, inside the WHO.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is “has moved to protect [American] universities and corporations doing the most advanced work” on the virus, including the University of North Carolina (UNC). The paper said that UNC’s Epidemiology Department came under a sustained attack by foreign hackers recently, as have major American pharmaceutical research companies, including Gilead Sciences, Novavax and Moderna. In other cases, foreign spies have tried to gain physical proximity to biomedical researchers. According to The Times, part of the reason why the administration of US President Donald Trump decided to shut down the Chinese consulate in Huston in July, was because it believed Chinese spies had used it as a base from where to make contacts with American biomedical researchers.

Officially, America’s stance on the coronavirus espionage race is purely defensive. But, according to The Times, American spy agencies are also trying to find out what Russian, Chinese and Iranian scientists have in their possession, in an attempt to see if is stolen. As they do that, “they could encounter information on those countries’ research and collect it”, said the paper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 September 2020 | Permalink

US military records 22 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in one week

COVID-19 PentagonUnited States military officials are raising concerns about the rate of increase of COVID-19 cases in the Armed Forces, which appears to be growing at twice the national rate. Last week, the Department of Defense said that the number of its personnel that contracted the virus rose by 22 percent compared to the week before. The spike is even bigger in the Marine Corps, which saw a 30 percent increase last week.

Nearly 30,000 Department of Defense affiliated personnel —which includes civilians, contractors and dependents of employees— have contracted the virus since the first case of a military service member with COVID-19 made news in February. It took just over six weeks for 10,000 COVID-19 cases to be recorded among Pentagon personnel. But the number has now doubled in half that time, according to The Military Times.

What concerns American military planners is that the rapid rise in positive coronavirus cases is occurring despite the implementation of strict guidelines for wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and restricting the movement of military personnel outside bases. Part of the problem is that many of the southern states that are currently seeing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases, such as Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona, are home to large military bases.

Meanwhile, Kris Alexander, who recently retired after serving as a COVID-19 crisis planner at NORTHCOM in Colorado Springs, warned on Sunday that the virus is likely to spread even faster in the ranks of the military and National Guard during the upcoming hurricane season. He writes that the coronavirus has incapacitated volunteer organizations, like the Red Cross, whose trained disaster responders are usually older in age. The lack of volunteers, says Alexander, would necessitate the use of the National Guard in case of a natural disaster, which would likely stretch the already stretched National Guard to the breaking point. The next step, he says, would require the mobilization of troops under the US Army’s Defense Support to Civil Authorities mission.

“But the real problems would come after their exposure to the virus in the disaster zone”, says Alexander. Active-duty forces would do their best to help in a possible disaster zone, but many of them would likely contract the virus and bring it back to their bases, including to the military doctors who cater to the needs of Department of Defense personnel. Such a scenario would cause major spikes of the virus among military and security personnel by the end of the year, according to Alexander.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 July 2020 | Permalink

Serbia sees foreign spy services behind anti-lockdown rioters who stormed parliament

Aleksandar VucicThe president of Serbia has said that foreign intelligence services were partly behind a violent protest on Tuesday, which ended up with rioters storming the national parliament building in the capital Belgrade. The protest began in the afternoon, apparently prompted by the government’s decision to reintroduce lockdown measures following a resurgence of COVID-19 incidents in the country. But by the evening the rally had evolved into a full-scale riot led by far-right militants, as well as by some far-left groups.

Nationwide lockdown measures to combat the novel coronavirus were lifted on May 6, as the Serbian government sought to limit the effects of the disease on the nation’s economy. However, the reopening of the country appears to have taken place too soon, as virus cases began to spike almost immediately. The situation was not helped by the failure of many people to follow social distancing advice and to wear facemasks. As of last week, hospitals around the country reported being more overwhelmed than in the first two months of the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić addressed the nation and announced the re-imposition of a nationwide lockdown, starting on Friday, July 10, and ending on Monday, July 13. As soon as the president concluded his remarks, a seemingly spontaneous protest began taking shape in downtown Belgrade. News of the protest spread through messages on social media, as people sought to voice disapproval of President Vučić’s decision to re-impose a nationwide lockdown.

Although it began peacefully, the demonstration turned into a riot by nightfall, after it was joined by far-right groups. Many of the demonstrators began shouting slogans against immigrants, against Kosovo, and advocating a link between COVID-19 and 5G cellular networks. Then the rioters stormed past a row of riot police and entered the building of the national parliament. Some of the far-right demonstrators appeared to clash with far-left groups who were also present at the rally. The riot was aired live on many Serbian television stations. Police said over 60 people were injured and 30 were arrested.

On Wednesday, President Vučić addressed the nation again, claiming that Tuesday’s protest had been led by “pro-fascist organizations” and “criminal elements”. He also said that the intelligence services of “foreign powers” had helped promote the demonstration on social media. He did not specify the countries he was referring to. The Serbian president also said the demonstration aimed to weaken his government ahead of a crucial meeting on July 10 with his Kosovar counterpart, Avdullah Hoti , in Paris. Serbian nationalists are opposed to negotiations with Kosovo, which was part of Serbia until it seceded with Western backing in 2008.

The Serbian president concluded his address saying that the nation’s security services “will have to work in a significantly more serious way” than before to address the involvement in national politics by foreign spy agencies.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 July 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #908

Sergei NaryshkinRussian spy chief in rare interview with the BBC. In an exclusive interview, Sergei Naryshkin (pictured), the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has told the BBC that America has been trying to “rule the world” and this could lead to “disaster”. Russia’s spy chief, who was talking to the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, also said that Russia doesn’t trust what the British government says about the Salisbury poisonings.

India and Pakistan embassies to cut staff by half over spy row. India is expelling close to half of the staff at Pakistan’s embassy in New Delhi over espionage claims. Islamabad has reciprocated with the same orders for the Indian High Commission. Notably, both commissions do not have a permanent ambassador in place. Tensions have remained high since India scrapped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status last year.

Israel moves to redeploy spy agency to track surging virus cases. Israel’s parliament gave initial approval Wednesday to a controversial bill enabling the government to use its domestic security agency to track cases of coronavirus, which are rising again. Cabinet mandated Shin Bet to use cell phone surveillance as an emergency measure to combat the virus in mid-March as mounting numbers of Israelis tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The specifics were kept secret, but security officials said the agency had tracked virus carriers’ movements through their phones. The measure was discontinued on June 10 as infection rates dropped. But following two weeks that have seen growing numbers of Israelis infected with the virus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to table the bill.

News you may have missed #907

India External Affairs MinistryPakistan releases two Indian diplomats. Pakistan has released two employees of rival India’s embassy in Islamabad after briefly detaining them in connection with a hit-and-run road accident in the capital. A city police report noted the Indian officials were taken into custody on Monday morning after their “reckless driving” injured a pedestrian. The Indian External Affairs Ministry on Monday summoned the deputy chief of the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi to protest the detention of its officials and demanded their immediate release. Pakistani authorities familiar with the incident argued the detainees were released to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad within hours because they held diplomatic immunity.

As US intelligence community returns to work, employees confront new anxieties. More US federal employees and contractors in the intelligence community have been gradually returning to their office spaces in the past two weeks. But for IC leadership, “reopening” isn’t only about rearranging office spaces and cobbling together cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, it’s also about easing the concerns of their employees and contractors who are uneasy or nervous to return to the physical workplace.

Belgian police officer convicted of spying for terrorist network. A police officer in Brussels has been jailed for four years after prosecutors found he had acted as an informant for the brother of a man seen as the mastermind of the Brussels and Paris attacks. The 53-year-old officer with the Brussels North police zone was sentenced to 50 months imprisonment, his lawyers confirmed on Friday.

News you may have missed #904

Al-Qaeda AfghanistanUN report says Afghan Taliban still maintain ties with al-Qaida. The Taliban in Afghanistan still maintain close ties with the al-Qaida terror network, despite signing a peace deal with the United States in which they committed to fight militant groups, a UN report said. The U.N. committee behind the report said several significant al-Qaida figures were killed over the past months but a number of prominent leaders of the group, once led by Osama bin Laden, remain in Afghanistan. The report said they maintain links with the feared Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban, and still play a significant role in Taliban operations.

Britain’s SIGINT agency sees workload spike amid COVID-19 vaccine hunt. Britain is one of the leading countries developing a COVID-19 vaccine with Oxford University and Imperial College London at the forefront, along with Sinovac in China. Whoever develops it first will reap billions from global sales, making research information highly valuable. This is having a major impact on the workload of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), its director, Jeremy Fleming, said last week.

Indian IT firm spied on politicians and Investors around the world. New Delhi-based BellTroX InfoTech offered its hacking services to help clients spy on more than 10,000 email accounts over a period of seven years. During that time, the firm targeted government officials in Europe, gambling tycoons in the Bahamas, and well-known investors in the United States including private equity giant KKR and short seller Muddy Waters, according to three former employees, outside researchers, and a trail of online evidence.

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