US embassy in UAE declined free COVID-19 tests due to Chinese spying concerns

Abu DhabiThe embassy of the United States in the United Arab Emirates declined free COVID-19 testing kits for its staff, because of concerns that the private labs offering the kits had ties to China, according to a new report. The testing kits were offered by a testing facility that was set up in March in Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the oil-rich UAE —a close American ally in the Middle East.

The facility was built in record time, through a collaboration between two private companies. The main partner in the scheme is Group42, a privately owned artificial intelligence firm, which is based in the UAE and is believed to be partly owned by members of the kingdom’s royal family. Its partner in the venture is BGI Group, a Chinese company —formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Group— that specializes in genomics research. Since its establishment, the facility has reportedly delivered over 2 million COVID-19 testing kits —complete with reagents— for the population of the UAE, which numbers just over 9 million. Given these numbers, local officials have hailed the initiative as a success and credit it with having produced “one of the largest per capita testing rates in the world”. The oil-rich kingdom has so far reported about 36,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, which have resulted in 270 deaths —about 2.5 deaths per 100,000 UAE residents.

But, according to The Financial Times, the United States embassy in Abu Dhabi turned down an offer for free COVID-19 testing kits for its employees by Group42. The paper quoted an anonymous United States government official, who said that the offer was “politely declined” last month by the embassy leadership. American State Department officials were allegedly concerned that the DNA information of tested embassy employees could be compromised and “find its way to Beijing”, said the source. “Concerns were raised about patient privacy and the way that the tests could be used”, added the official, and described the involvement of BGI in the venture as “a red flag” for Washington.

BGI Group told the paper that it had no links to the government of China and no access to the data of patients, which were stored in Group42 facilities in the Emirates. The UAE-based company said that it followed “strict information security and data privacy protocols are in place” to protect sensitive information. The firm refused to divulge information about its owners, citing strict laws that are in place in the kingdom.

But the incident illustrates the growing suspicion in relations between the US and China. This poses difficult dilemmas for third countries, like the UAE. The oil-rich state is among several monarchies in the Gulf that have deepened their relations with China in recent years, in both the political and economic domains. Since 2000, the value of bilateral trade between Abu Dhabi and Beijing has grown from $2 billion to nearly $70 billion per year. At the same time, the UAE is one of the largest purchasers of US military technology in the world. The oil-rich monarchy spends on average $3 billion annually to acquire American weapons. Recently, however, Abu Dhabi has shown an increasing interest in Chinese-made weapons. Its armed forces and police departments now use several Chinese weapons and surveillance systems. At the same time, Huawei, a Chinese-owned telecommunications hardware producer, is scheduled to build the nation’s 5G cellular network. Washington has expressed serious concerns about that decision.

Speaking to The Financial Times, the anonymous US government official said that these steps by the UAE leadership, which are bringing it closer to China, “risk rupturing the long-term strategic relationship [the country has] with the US”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 June 2020 | Permalink

Islamic State’s new leader issues video vowing ‘not a single day without bloodshed’

ISIS SyriaIn a recent video message, the new head of the Islamic State calls COVID-19 a “great torment” from God against unbelievers, and vows that “not a single day will pass without bloodshed” due to attacks by his forces. The 39-minute video is entitled “The Crusaders Will Know Who Will Win in the End”, and began to circulate on the popular messaging application Telegram last Thursday.

The message in the video is delivered by Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who last year succeeded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the leadership of the Islamic State. The Sunni militant group announced al-Qurashi’s ascension to the leadership on October 31, 2019, lust days after its founder and spiritual leader was killed by American troops in Syria. The United States is offering up to $5 million reward for information leading to al-Qurashi’s capture or death.

The video is the third message issued by the Islamic State’s new leader, and the second one this year. In it, al-Qurashi refers to the coronavirus pandemic, recent political changes in Iraq, and the ongoing negotiations between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The video also admonishes al-Qaeda’s branches in Africa, several of which are engaged in an increasingly bloody battle with forces allied to the Islamic State.

The majority of the video focuses on the coronavirus pandemic, which al-Qurashi describes as “a great torment” sent by God to non-Muslims, and says that he and his leadership “rejoice” in seeing the virus’ effects on the West. He adds that the enemies of the Islamic State will continue to be “struck down” by the pandemic like Egypt’s pharaohs were struck by the 10 plagues described in the Bible.

But al-Qurashi also focuses on Iraq, speaking with visible satisfaction about the apparent withdrawal of US troops from the country in recent months. Since the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the US in January, American troops have withdrawn from at least six military bases throughout Iraq, which are now under the control of the Shi’a-dominated Iraq Security Forces. They include critical installations in the outskirts of Baghdad, in Kirkuk near the country’s Kurdish-dominated northern region, in Mosul, in western Iraq, and along the Syrian border. Additionally, Iraq now has a new Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has vowed to crush the remnants of the Islamic State throughout his country.

Without substantial military presence by the US, the Islamic State does not see the Iraq Security Forces as capable of defending those regions —after all it has defeated them before. It therefore views the US military’s withdrawal as an unexpected opportunity to reignite its insurgency and even take back the lands that it controlled until a few years ago. In the latest video, al-Qurashi directly addresses the Iraqi government, which it describes as the “government of infidels in Iraq” and as “the American government”. He warns that “not a single day will pass without bloodshed”, as “jihadists will start to increase their attacks against the crusaders”. These attacks he says, will be “only the start of bigger attacks in Iraq and Syria”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #901

Michal GarbovitzUS Army already looking to future pandemics. While still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the US Army is already thinking ahead about the impacts of future pandemics and how they will affect the service, according to the head of Army Futures Command. General John Murray, Futures Command’s commanding general, said on May 27 that “The chances of this happening again are not zero for sure”. “It’s demographics, it’s urbanization, it’s economies, it’s pandemics,” he said during a teleconference with reporters hosted by George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security.
The sex worker who spied for Israel’s pre-state militia. Once a disregarded sex worker, today Michal Garbovitz is hailed for aiding the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization in British-Mandate Palestine between 1920 and 1948. Described in contemporary accounts as a “good-looking and handsome” woman, Garbovitz was estranged by her Jewish family for fraternizing with Arabs. However, during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 against the Mandatory forces, she “exploited her contacts with Arabs and British police officers to extract vital information and transfer it to the Haganah”.
Should COVID-19 status be a protected classification? People who have recovered from COVID-19 already face significant disadvantages, even if they have fully recuperated from the virus. For instance, the military announced several weeks ago that recovering from COVID-19 would be a permanently disqualifying condition for entrance into the armed services. Although the military later clarified that such a disqualification would only apply to individuals hospitalized because of COVID-19, many people who have recovered from the virus will face obstacles to joining the military due to these restrictions.

Israeli prime minister publicly thanks Mossad chief for help with COVID-19

Yossi Cohen MossadThe embattled Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, met publicly with the Director of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and thanked him for leading the country’s procurement efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting was a rare public acknowledgement of the central role that the secretive spy agency played during the pandemic.

Early on during the COVID-19 outbreak, it was reported that the intelligence agencies of Israel were playing an increasingly important role in the Jewish state’s effort to combat the effects of the coronavirus in its territory. In an uncharacteristic move, the government went out of its way to advertise the participation of its secretive spy agencies in the national effort to limit the spread of the virus.

In a television interview, an unnamed official for Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, said the agency had managed to secure 100,000 coronavirus testing kits, 25,000 N-95 masks and 100 ventilators. The material had been acquired “from unnamed countries” by Mossad officers, he said. The officers had to “race to [foreign] factories” and secure these critical supplies after they had been “ordered by other countries”, he added. The agents then had to coordinate secret airlifts so that the medical material could be transported to Israel in time.

But many of the coronavirus testing kits procured by the Mossad turned out to be incomplete. According to local media reports, when the kits arrived in Israel from “an unidentified Gulf state”, scientists realized that they were useless. That was because they arrived without the chemical reagents that were required to carry out complete tests on subjects. These reagents were eventually procured from South Korea and arrived in Israel nearly a month later, when demand for them was far less urgent. The Mossad was heavily criticized for this operation.

But last weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly thanked the Mossad director for leading the nation’s Joint Procurement Command Center during the COVID-19 pandemic. He told Director Cohen that he had carried out his tasks “exceptionally well [and] the results speak for themselves”. The meeting took place to mark the return of the procurement centers’ command to the Ministry of Health. But the Mossad may be asked to step in again, said Netanyahu: “we are currently passing the torch”, said the prime minister. However, “we do not know what the next day, or the next month, will bring. Since you have acquired the experience, remember it, we may need it again”, he told Cohen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #899

Kevin RuddDutch spies helped Britain break Argentine crypto during Falklands War. Flowing from revelations made earlier this year that Swiss cipher machine company Crypto AG was owned by the CIA and its German counterpart the BND during most of the Cold War, an academic paper has described the Maximator alliance which grew from the Crypto AG compromise. Authored by Professor Bart Jacobs of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, the article argues that Dutch spies operating as a part of the Maximator alliance helped Britain’s GCHQ break Argentinian codes during the Falklands War.
The Pandemic’s Geopolitical Aftershocks Are Coming. With most European countries confident that they are past the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, their attention is turning to the chance of its resurgence once society returns to some semblance of normal. But beyond the epidemiological challenges lies a slowly amassing threat that is not pathological in nature, but economic, political, and military. This is the geopolitical second wave, and its power is already starting to concern Western leaders.
The coming post-COVID anarchy. The former prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd (pictured), argues in this article that “China and the United States are both likely to emerge from this crisis significantly diminished […]. Both powers will be weakened, at home and abroad”, he opines. And he goes on to suggest that “the result will be a continued slow but steady drift toward international anarchy across everything from international security to trade to pandemic management […]. The chaotic nature of national and global responses to the pandemic thus stands as a warning of what could come on an even broader scale”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 May 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #898

Félicien KabugaMajor suspect in Rwanda genocide arrested in France using fake identity. Félicien Kabuga (pictured), one of the most wanted suspects of the Rwandan genocide, was arrested last week in a dawn raid in Asnières-sur-Seine, near Paris, where he had been living under a false identity. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda accuses him of having been the main financier of the ethnic Hutu extremists who slaughtered 800,000 people in 1994. The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
US and Afghan officials disagree over whether Taliban or ISIS was behind hospital massacre. Afghan officials on Friday blamed the Taliban for a bloody attack on a maternity hospital in the capital, Kabul, this week, rejecting a US assertion that it was carried out by ISIS militants. The Taliban, who struck a deal with the United States in February clearing the way for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the end of America’s longest war, denied responsibility.
Thousands defer plans to leave the US military during coronavirus crisis. Across the US military, uncertainty about future jobs or college opportunities is driving more service members to re-enlist or at least postpone their scheduled departures. As unemployment, layoffs and a historic economic downturn grip the nation, the military —with its job security, steady paycheck and benefits— is looking much more appealing. The influx of people re-enlisting will offset any shortfalls in recruiting, which has been hampered by the outbreak. And that will help the services meet their total required troop levels for the end of the year.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 May 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #897

Coronavirus not slowing Russian, Chinese space activities, US general says. Lt. Gen. David Thompson (pictured), the US Space Force vice commander, said this week that Russia and China continue to launch military rockets and test space weapons amid the coronavirus pandemic. Russia tested a satellite-killing missile last month, drawing scorn from US military leaders. Meanwhile in April, a Chinese rocket carrying an Indonesian satellite failed to reach orbit, according to sources.
US security clearances become more lucrative amid pandemic. Security clearances will almost certainly become an even more valuable credential as the US economy transforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While well over 30 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March, those employed in jobs that require a security clearance remain largely insulated from the economic volatility caused by the pandemic. The ever-increasing desirability of a security clearance has raised the stakes for those looking to gain or maintain a clearance in these economically uncertain times.
Michigan cancels legislative session to avoid armed protests. Michigan closed down its capitol in Lansing on Thursday and canceled its legislative session rather than face the possibility of an armed protest and death threats against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The gathering, meant to advocate opening the state for business despite the coronavirus pandemic, followed one April 30 that resulted in pictures of protesters clad in military-style gear and carrying long guns crowding the statehouse. They confronted police and taunted lawmakers. The debate grew more tense in recent days as some lawmakers read about threats to the governor’s life on social media, which were published in the Detroit Metro Times.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 May 2020 | Permalink

Iran’s coronavirus crisis exacerbates internal struggle between government and IRGC

IRGC IranA tense struggle is unfolding in Iran between the country’s civilian leaders and the parallel state of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The two entities are fighting about who will control the national response to COVID-19, according to sources. The outbreak of the pandemic in Iran followed closely that of China. Today the Iranian government claims the disease has infected no more than 115,000 people and killed fewer than 7,000. But these numbers seem low for a country of 82 million, and many observers dispute them.

The secrecy with which the government is treating the coronavirus epidemic may be masking an increasingly tense turf war between Iran’s civilian leaders, led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the IRGC. The latter is controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iran watchers describe the IRGC as a ‘praetorian guard’ whose members possess immense power and often wealth. Today the IRGC is a military force with a command structure that is distinct from that of Iran’s regular Armed Forces. It maintains its own army, navy and air force, has its own paramilitary and political protection units, and is in charge of Iran’s nuclear program.

The IRGC has seen its income fall drastically in the past two years, partly due to the continuing economic pressure that Iran is facing from strict sanctions imposed on it by the United States. The effects of the dramatic reduction in the value of Iran’s currency —down nearly 2/3 since 2018— have only been exacerbated by the monumental drop in global oil prices, which has practically decimated Tehran’s main source of foreign income.

According to sources, Khamenei and the IRGC forced the country’s civilian leadership to re-open the economy last month, fearing an absolute economic collapse. But this only resulted in a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases in nearly every region of the country. The IRGC is now reportedly trying to take control of Iran’s civilian healthcare system, in an effort to prevent the government from disclosing the extent of the re-emergence of the virus throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the IRGC’s prestige has suffered greatly this year, following the accidental shoot-down of a Ukrainian civilian airliner over Tehran in January, which killed nearly 180 people, most of them Iranians. Last week, the IRGC was believed to behind a missile test that went terribly wrong, resulting in the destruction of an Iranian navy ship that killed as many as 31 sailors. These fatal errors are for the time being giving President Rouhani the right to question the IRGC’s competence and resist giving away his administration’s control of the national response to COVID-19. The turf war continues to intensify, however, and it is difficult to forecast which side will prevail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2020 | Permalink

COVID-struck Iraq sees ‘biggest ISIS resurgence’ since group’s defeat in 2017

ISIS IraqIraq is currently witnessing the largest resurgence of the Islamic State since December of 2017, when the Iraqi government declared it had defeated the group, according to local and international observers. The Sunni militant group, which became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is exploiting a moment of opportunity, as Iraqi security forces, Shia militias and American troops are essentially sheltering in place to avoid the effects of COVID-19.

Iraq has been on involuntary lockdown since March 22 in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s security forces are busy providing humanitarian relief to communities under lockdown. Additionally, large numbers of soldiers and police officers are either sick or sheltering in place with their families and are not turning up for work. Furthermore, United States forces have significantly scaled back their presence in the country following the assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in January of this year, in an effort to avoid armed confrontations with Iraq’s pro-Iranian militias.

These conditions are allowing Islamic State fighters to emerge from hiding and conduct operations in nearly every province of Iraq. Last week the militant group launched a series of coordinated attacks in nearly 30 different locations across Iraq, which left dozens of Iraqi security forces and Shia militia members dead. Additionally, Islamic State saboteurs destroyed several power lines across northeastern Iraq, disrupting electricity supply to tens of thousands of homes in the region.

On Tuesday, Iraqi security forces teamed up with the Popular Mobilization Forces —a mostly Shia paramilitary group— to launch several operations against the Islamic State. The operations aimed to neutralize known Islamic State enclaves in mostly Sunni regions of northern and western Iraq. They also aimed to capture Islamic State regional commanders, most of whom operate along Iraq’s borders with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria.

But nobody knows how this campaign will end up in light of the coronavirus. The pandemic is causing major disruption on the Iraqi economy, while the historic drop in oil prices is dramatically reducing the nation’s primary source of income. The Islamic State thrives in conditions of instability, which is precisely what many fear, as the effects of the pandemic are continuing to manifest in the Middle East.

► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 May 2020 | Permalink

Spy agencies target biomedical secrets in worldwide race to find COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 coronavirusSpy agencies from every country are participating in a worldwide competition to develop a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic, by protecting their own biomedical secrets while trying to steal other nations’ research. Much like frantic efforts to secure personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, ongoing research to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 appears to be taking the form of a competition between nations. The country that first develops a successful vaccine to combat the epidemic is likely to emerge as a major power-player in a post-coronavirus world.

The government of the United States, whose race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 is reportedly codenamed Operation WARPSPEED, has warned its biomedical experts that foreign intelligence agencies may be trying to spy on their research. This warning was relayed to the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera on April 1 by Bill Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). The NCSC is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the US agency created after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to coordinate the activities of American spy agencies. The mission of the NCSC is to manage the US government’s counterintelligence activities.

Evanina told the BBC that the NCSC has “every expectation that foreign intelligence services, to include the Chinese Communist Party, will attempt to obtain what we are making here”. He added that his organization had contacted “every medical research organization” carrying out COVID-19-related research and warned them that they should be “very, very vigilant”. However, Evanina would not tell the BBC whether scientific data had actually been stolen by foreign intelligence agencies.

According to the BBC, other Western governments, including those of the United Kingdom and Canada, have warned that foreign spies have become active in the field of biomedical intelligence, with attempts to steal scientific data related to COVID-19. In March, Canada’s Centre for Cyber Security warned that research and development data related to the pandemic may be targeted by “sophisticated threat actors” operating online.

The BBC notes, however, that Western intelligence agencies are also likely to be interested in biomedical data from China and other countries. Their interest may be two-fold: on the one hand trying to determine the precise origins of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the precise case load of the virus in these countries, while on the other seeking to steal information about “research on vaccines and treatments”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 May 2020 | Permalink

US Intelligence Community says COVID-19 was not man-made or bio-engineered

COVID-19 ChinaIn a rare public statement, the Intelligence Community of the United States has said that the novel coronavirus “was not manmade or genetically modified”. The statement was issued on Thursday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which manages the US National Intelligence Program and whose director serves as the country’s most senior intelligence officer.

The brief statement was posted on the ODNI’s website and represents the view of all 17 government agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. It states that the novel coronavirus “originated in China”, thus agreeing with the vast majority of public health experts about the origins of the disease. It goes on to state that “[t]he Intelligence Community […] concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”.

However, the statement does not rule out the possibility that the virus could have its roots in a scientific facility in China, and that it might have escaped “through contact with infected animals” or as “the result of an accident at a laboratory”. It goes on to state that the Intelligence Community “will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine” if there exists a laboratory connection to the virus.

Earlier this month, US Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the media that “the weight of evidence” seemed to indicate that COVID-19’s origins were “natural”. However, according to reports, American and other Western spy agencies are “still weighing the possibility” that the virus may have escaped from a government laboratory in Wuhan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Experts warn ISIS may be using COVID-19 crisis to stage global resurgence

ISIS IraqTerrorism experts have issued warnings that the Islamic State may be exploiting the global instability caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic to stage a worldwide resurgence. Indeed, there are signs that Islamic State activity has been intensifying in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and even Europe, in recent days.

On April 28, the Islamic State said it was responsible for a suicide attack in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which injured four people. The attack targeted the Information Protection Agency, which is the de-facto intelligence agency of the local Kurdish-led government in northern Iraq. It is estimated that the Islamic State commands at least 20,000 armed fighters in Iraq and Syria. Between April 15 and 21 alone, the Islamic State carried out at over 30 operations across Iraq, according to reports.

On the same day, April 28, a motorist who appears to have deliberately rammed his vehicle into two police motorcyclists in Paris said he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Earlier this month, police in the German city of Frankfurt arrested three alleged members of the Islamic State, who were in the process of planning a bomb attack aimed to kill large numbers of civilians. These attacks follow a reported “uptick in propaganda] by the Islamic State, aimed at a European audience.

On April 17, an Islamic State-linked group in the Philippines ambushed a military convoy and executed 11 soldiers after capturing them. The soldiers were attempting to arrest or kill a senior commander of the militant group. And on April 24, the government of Mozambique announced that the Islamic State is present and active there, after a group or armed militants killed 52 civilians in a village in Cabo Delgado, which is Mozambique’s oil-rich region.

Meanwhile, Islamic State publications and media messages describe the novel coronavirus as a divine form of retribution against atheist China, as well as against “polytheist” Iran, and the “crusaders” of Europe. Some Islamic State outlets have urged the group’s followers to refrain from venturing into heavily infected regions. But more recent messages have asked for an “insurrection” to coincide with the Ramadan, which will last for most of May.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 April 2020 | Permalink

DHS warns of rise in attacks by violent extremists amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus COVID-19The Department of Homeland Security has warned law enforcement departments across the United States that violent extremists are mobilizing against health restrictions imposed to combat the novel coronavirus. This is the third warning known to have been issued by the DHS in the past month about the potential of violence by domestic violent extremists, as America continues to battle the pandemic.

The latest warning was issued on Thursday, April 23, in the form of a memorandum, which was communicated to law enforcement personnel throughout the US. The memorandum was marked ‘unclassified/law enforcement sensitive’ and was accessed by Politico, which reported on it on Thursday. It comes as a self-styled ‘Liberate’ movement is forming in several American states, which aims to pressure government officials to end lockdowns across the country.

The memorandum states that “recent incidents and arrests nationwide illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic is driving violent actors —both non-ideologically and ideologically motivated— to threaten violence”. It goes on to cite arrests of violent extremists who have issued threats against elected and appointed government officials. There have also been threats made against government facilities, including police stations and federal buildings, by people protesting the lockdowns.

A man, described in the DHS report as an “anti-government extremist”, was arrested earlier this month after he threatened to kill the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Grisham, over her decision to impose ‘stay at home’ orders. Another man was arrested in Florida after he threatened to take action against the COVID-19 lockdown by blowing up the headquarters of the Orlando Police Department. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a plot by a white supremacist and anti-government radical to blow up a medical facility in the Kansas City, Missouri, area. On March 23, the DHS issued another report stating that American white supremacists were exploring ways to weaponize the coronavirus as early as January.

The latest DHS memorandum warns that the danger posed by domestic violent extremists will continue to escalate “until the virus is contained and the normal routine of US societal life resumes”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 April 2020 | Permalink

Belgian spy agencies say radical groups trying to exploit COVID-19 to sow chaos

VSSE GISS BelgiumThe two main intelligence agencies of Belgium have published a declassified report in which they warn that domestic groups on the far left and far right of the political spectrum are using the COVID-19 pandemic to destabilize society. Among other things, these groups are spreading disinformation in order to incite violence and spread disillusionment with the Belgian authorities’ response to the coronavirus, according to the report.

The report (pdf) was published on Wednesday on the website of the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s primary civilian intelligence agency. The agency said it co-authored the report with the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS), which is the main military intelligence service of Belgium. The document warns that political extremists are spreading disinformation —some of it produced and distributed online by foreign intelligence agencies— that propagates unfounded conspiracy theories. The disinformation is designed to turn groups of people against each other, undermine the state and spread hatred against medical experts.

Among the most active distributors of disinformation is the Brussels page of the worldwide anarchist website Indymedia, says the report. Earlier this month, posts on the page urged Belgians to commit acts of violence targeting police officers, and to sabotage infrastructure such as telecommunications, which can disrupt the work of first responders and other emergency workers. Posts on the page also urged readers to act quickly “while law enforcement is busy” with the pandemic.

Groups from the far-right are also active in spreading race-themed disinformation online, according to the VSSE/GISS report. For example, a white nationalist group calling itself the Knights of Flanders has been promoting conspiracy theories that connect COVID-19 with flu vaccines. Other groups have posted information claiming that Muslims have been instructed by religious figures to “cough in the faces of infidels”. Some far-right groups are claiming that personal protective equipment is deliberately being made scarce as part of a secret government plan to intimidate the population and exterminate elderly people.

Finally, a small number of —mostly far-right— groups is spreading messages that criticize Western responses to the coronavirus pandemic and praise the Russian government’s efforts to combat the disease. Among them is a new organization known as “Squadra Europa”, which has branches in several European countries, including Belgium, said the report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2020 | Permalink

Extremist groups see coronavirus pandemic as opportunity to spread chaos: report

Islamic StateExtremist groups around the world are capitalizing on the novel coronavirus pandemic to rally their members around a common cause and spread chaos and violence, according to a new report. In an article published on Tuesday, veteran reporter Bridget Johnson, currently the managing editor for Homeland Security Today, writes that the world’s most active militant groups have issued numerous edicts and proclamations about COVID-19.

Johnson explains that most militant groups “have shown some concern” about their members’ health and wellbeing amidst the pandemic. The Islamic State was arguably the first Islamist group to instruct its members to take precautions against COVID-19. Johnson writes that the group began highlighting the threat of the virus in January, when an article in Al-Naba­, the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, expressed “growing concern about the spread of the infectious virus”. The militant group has since prescribed that “the healthy should not enter the land of the epidemic and the afflicted should not exit from it”, and has advised its members to wash their hands and “cover the mouth when yawning and sneezing”.

In the past month, the Afghan Taliban have been carrying a “COVID-19 awareness campaign” in areas under their control. The campaign centers on community events that feature the distribution of masks, soap and informational pamphlets to families, writes Johnson. Taliban commanders have also been issuing regular warnings and threats against those who are caught resorting to price gouging or hoarding food and supplies. In recent communiques, the Taliban have called the coronavirus “a decree of Allah” and have urged their followers to respond to it “in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Prophet”, including daily readings of the Quran, repenting and reciting prayers.

Al-Qaeda publications have described COVID-19’s spread in Muslim communities as “a consequence of our own sins and our distance from the divine methodology, [our widespread] obscenity and moral corruption”. The group has also instructed its followers to view the coronavirus as “a powerful tsunami” that has the potential to ruin the American economy. A recent article by al-Qaeda propagandists stressed that the group’s co-founder, Osama bin Laden, “would often inquire about the economic impact of the [September 11] attacks, unlike most others who would limit the discussion to casualties”, according to Johnson. She adds that al-Qaeda has called on its members to “turn this calamity into a cause for uniting our ranks, [because] now is the time to spread the correct Aqeedah [creed], call people to jihad in the Way of Allah, and revolt against oppression and oppressors”.

Meanwhile, Islamic State publications in countries such as India have been pointing out that, with soldiers and police officers “deployed in streets and alleys” during the coronavirus pandemic, jihadists have “easy targets”. Islamic State members are also being urged to “intensify the pressure” while national governments around the world are “preoccupied with protecting their countries”, something that will inevitably distract them in the coming weeks and months, writes Johnson.

In the United States the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Counterterrorism Center have issued several warnings regarding threats made by racially motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in connection with the pandemic. The warnings state that RMVEs have discussed weaponizing the virus and using it to infect members of racial or ethnic minorities. Some white supremacist theorists have utilized online forums to discuss their hope that the responses to the pandemic by governments around the world “could crash the global economy, hasten societal collapse, and lead to a race war”. Other RMVE groups have been promoting conspiracy theories blaming ethnic and religious minorities —primarily Jews— for the coronavirus pandemic, writes Johnson.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 April 2020 | Permalink

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