Czech spy agency says it neutralized Hezbollah cyberespionage network

Czech Security Information ServiceOfficials in the Czech Republic have announced that the country’s spy agency headed an operation in several countries, aimed at neutralizing a cyberespionage network operated by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Early last week, the Security Information Service (BIS), the primary domestic national intelligence agency of the Czech Republic, issued a short statement saying that it “played a big part in helping to identify and disconnect Hezbollah servers in the Czech Republic, other EU member states and the US”. But it did not elaborate. On Tuesday, however, ZDNet’s Zero Day security blog published more information from the Czechs about the BIS operation.

According to the BIS, its cyber security force discovered a number of servers located on Czech soil, which were “almost certainly” used by Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large swathes of territory in Lebanon. The servers were allegedly used in a wide-range cyberespionage operation that began in 2017 by a group of Hezbollah hackers based in Lebanon. It was there, said the BIS, where the command-and-control facilities of the operation were located. The servers located on Czech soil were used to download phone apps that contained malicious software. The hackers targeted individual phone users located mainly in the Middle East, according to the BIS, but other targets were in eastern and central Europe. It is believed that the majority of targets were Israeli citizens. Invariably, targeted individuals were approached online, mostly through fake Facebook profiles. Most of the targets were men, and the fake Facebook profiles featured pictures of attractive young women. After initial messages were exchanged via Facebook, the targets were convinced to download phone applications that would allow them to continue communicating with the ‘women’. These applications would install spyware on their phones, thus allowing Hezbollah hackers to capture the content of messages and calls made on the phones. The latter could also be used as eavesdropping devices.

According to BIS Director Michal Koudelka, the spy agency “played a significant role in identifying and uncovering the hackers’ system. We identified the victims and traced the attack to its source facilities. Hacker servers have been shut down”, he said. Koudelka added that some of the servers used by Hezbollah were located in other European Union countries and in the United States. These were shut down following a joint cyber operation by BIS and “partners”, said Koudelka, though he did not identify them.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2018 | Permalink

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Authorities in Eastern Europe warn about rise of heavily armed paramilitary groups

Night Wolves SlovakiaSecurity agencies in Eastern Europe have voiced concern about the rise of far-right paramilitary groups whose members have access to heavy weaponry, including in some cases armored vehicles and tanks. The most recent warning came on Sunday, when the Czech daily newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes published excerpts of a leaked security report on the subject. The report was authored by analysts in the Security Information Service (BIS), the country’s primary domestic intelligence agency. It detailed the recent activities of a group calling itself the National Home Guard, a far-right, anti-immigrant militia that some experts say consists of around 2,000 members throughout the Czech Republic. Although this is officially denied, the group is believed to be the armed wing of National Democracy, a far-right nationalist political party that received 36,000 votes in the 2017 legislative election.

The BIS report states that the National Home Guard has 90 branches across the nation and is now in possession of significant quantities of weapons, some of which have been smuggled into the Czech Republic from Libya. Many of the organization’s largest branches, in the cities of Prague, Ostrava, and elsewhere, organize regular weapons training sessions in secret locations. In some smaller cities around the country, where police presence is limited, National Home Guard is now holding regular armed patrols, in which immigrants —especially those from predominantly Muslim countries— are targeted. Additionally, the group has recently started to recruit heavily from the ranks of the police and the Czech Armed Forces, according to the BIS report.

The Mlada Fronta Dnes revelation comes only a month after a report by the BBC said that two far-right militias in Slovakia had begun training at a paramilitary base that contains armored personnel carriers and tanks. The base belongs to the Night Wolves, a biker gang that is known for its anti-immigrant and anti-European Union stance. Recently, however, the Night Wolves have been training in paramilitary tactics in coordination with two other groups, the Slovak Levies and NV Europe, said the BBC. Located in the village of Dolna Krupa, 45 miles north of the Slovakian capital Bratislava, the base contains several tanks and other armored vehicles. The Night Wolves claim that the facility hosts a World War II museum, which explains the presence of the military vehicles. But the BBC said that the group is suspected of using the base to train pro-Russia Ukrainian separatists and other Eastern European paramilitary groups. The BIS report states that far-right paramilitary groups in Czech and Slovakia —which until 1993 were regions of unified Czechoslovakia— maintain regular contact with each other.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 September 2018 | Permalink | Research credit: J.R.
IntelNews thanks J.J. for helping to ensure the factual accuracy of this report

 

 

Russia tried to kill ex-double spy because he trained Eastern European agencies

Sergei SkripalRussia may have made the decision to kill former double spy Sergei Skripal because he continued to provide counterintelligence assistance to Eastern European governments, according to media reports from Prague. Skripal, 66, a veteran military intelligence operative who spied for Britain in the early 2000s, has been living in England since 2010. He was recently released from hospital after he was poisoned with what London claims was a military-grade nerve agent. As soon as Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, fell critically ill in March of this year, some observers expressed skepticism at the suggestion that Moscow may have tried to assassinate the former double spy. Their argument was that Skripal was pardoned by the Kremlin in a spy-swap deal, in which ten Russian intelligence operatives were handed over to Moscow in exchange for four agents of United States and British intelligence organizations.

Typically a spy who has been pardoned as part of an authorized spy-swap will not need to worry about being targeted by the agency that he betrayed. If it indeed tried to kill Skripal, Russia may therefore have broken the unwritten rules of the espionage game, some argued. But according to the reputable Czech investigative newsmagazine Respekt, the Kremlin tried to kill Skripal because he broke the rules of his release, namely that he would not participate in any intelligence-related activities against Russia. Specifically, Respekt claimed on Sunday that Skripal traveled extensively in Eastern Europe, where he advised local intelligence agencies on how to defend against Russian espionage. According to the Prague-based newsmagazine, Skripal’s travels to countries like the Czech Republic and Estonia were facilitated by the British Secret Intelligence Service (known commonly as MI6). The British agency thus killed two birds with one stone, said Respect: on the one hand it cultivated friendly relations with Eastern European spy agencies, while at the same time it provided the out-of-work Russian defector with a steady income.

Skripal’s information was at times dated, said Respekt, but it was deemed valuable enough to entice intelligence officers from Estonia, the Czech Republic, and possibly other European intelligence agencies, to regularly travel to the United Kingdom and further-consult with Skripal. Skripal’s contacts with Eastern European intelligence personnel were kept strictly secret in order to protect him from the ire of the Kremlin. But Moscow found out about Skripal’s activities somehow, and decided to kill the former double spy, said Respekt. The Russian government has vehemently denied all allegations that it was behind an attempt to kill Skripal and his daughter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2018 | Permalink

North Korean leaders used fraudulent Brazilian passports to travel abroad

Josef PwagThe late Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, and his son and current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, used forged Brazilian passports to secure visas for overseas trips and to travel abroad undetected, according to reports. The Reuters news agency cited five anonymous “senior Western European security sources” in claiming that the two North Korean leaders’ images appear on Brazilian passports issued in the 1990s. The news agency posted images of the passports, which appear to display photographs of Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. It said that the two leaders’ faces had been verified through the use of facial recognition software.

The passports were issued in the name of Josef Pwag and Ijong Tchoi. Both bear fake dates of birth and list Sao Paulo, Brazil, as the passport holders’ birthplace. Both passports bear the issuance stamp of the “Embassy of Brazil in Prague”, Czech Republic, and are dated February 26, 1996. Reuters cited an anonymous source from Brazil, who said that the fake passports were not forged from scratch. They were in fact genuine travel documents that had been sent out in blank form for use by the Brazilian embassy’s passport issuance office. The Reuters report quotes an unnamed Western security official who said that the forged passports were mostly likely used by their holders to secure travel visas from foreign embassies in Southeast Asia, mostly in Japan and Hong Kong. They could also have been used as back-ups, in case the two Kims needed to be evacuated from North Korea in an emergency —for instance an adversarial military coup or a foreign military invasion. At the very least, the passports indicate a desire to secure and safeguard the Kims’ ability to travel internationally.

North Korea’s intelligence services are known for making extensive use of fraudulent passports. Readers of this blog will recall that the two female North Korean agents who killed Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, in February of 2017, had been supplied with forged passports. The two women, who are now in prison in Malaysia, were using Indonesian and Vietnamese passports.

Reuters said it contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, which said it was still investigating the whether the two passports were indeed issued to members of North Korea’s ruling family, and how they came to be issued. The news agency also contacted the embassy of North Korea in Brazil, but officials there declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2018 | Permalink

Czechs say number of Russian spies in Prague “extremely high”

PragueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The number of active Russian intelligence operatives in the Czech Republic increased notably in the past year, according to an official report by the country’s counterintelligence service. In its annual report released on Monday, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) said the number of Russian intelligence personnel stationed in the central European country had risen dramatically since the start of the crisis in Ukraine. The crisis, which brought Russian troops in Ukraine and resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia, has prompted the most serious crisis in the West’s relations with Russia since the end of the Cold War. The BIS report did not reveal the precise number of alleged Russian intelligence personnel on Czech soil, but it noted that the majority of them posed as diplomats in Russia’s embassy in Czech capital Prague. It stated that “when it comes to Russia’s diplomatic mission, in 2013 the number of intelligence officers working undercover as diplomats was extremely high”. It added that significant numbers of Russian intelligence operatives were in the Czech Republic in a non-official-cover (NOC) capacity, meaning there were not officially connected with the Russian embassy there and had no diplomatic immunity. These officers “travel to the Czech Republic as individuals, posing as tourists, experts, academics and entrepreneurs”, said the report, “or settled down in the country through purchasing property”. Nearly 50,000 Russian citizens live in the Czech Republic as long-term legal residents. Relations between Moscow and Prague have been frosty in the post-communist era, and have deteriorated significantly following the Czech Republic’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the summer of 2010, three Czech generals, including the head of the president’s military office and the country’s representative to NATO, resigned following revelations that one of their senior staffers had a romantic relationship with a Russian spy. Read more of this post

Czech police find weapons in house of late Palestinian diplomat

Palestinian diplomatic residence in PragueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the Czech Republic said they found several weapons in the residence of a Palestinian diplomat who died in a mysterious explosion on New Year’s Day. Jamal al-Jamal, who had assumed the post of Palestinian Ambassador to the Czech Republic in October, died in hospital on Wednesday, having suffered lethal injuries to his chest, abdomen and head. Czech authorities said the 56-year-old was killed by an explosion caused as he opened a safe that had been transferred to his residence from the old Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in downtown Prague. Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Malki said on Wednesday the safe al-Jamal was trying to open at the time of the explosion had come from the old PLO offices in downtown Prague where “no one had touched it for 20 to 25 years”. He added that the blast was triggered just moments after al-Jamal opened the safe in order to record its contents. On Thursday, however, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that several unregistered weapons had been found by police in the official residence of the late diplomat. The statement did not identify the weapons, but Czech government sources expressed concern that the discovery might suggest “a breach in diplomatic rules”. Czech law specifies that all firearms must be registered with the government and permits are compulsory for all who possess them. On Thursday afternoon, US-based news network CNN contacted Czech National Police, and was told by spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova that “several illegal firearms” had been seized by police in al-Jamal’s newly built apartment, located in Prague’s northern suburb of Suchdol. Diplomatic observers will be watching with interest for Prague’s response to these revelations, as the Czech Republic is considered among Israel’s closest allies in the European Union. During the communist era, Czechoslovakia was a staunch ally of the PLO. But successive Czech administrations have sided with Israel in recent years. Read more of this post

Bizarre explosion kills Palestinian diplomat in Prague

Jamal al-JamalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The ambassador of Palestine to the Czech Republic was pronounced dead yesterday following injuries he sustained from a mysterious explosion at his residence. Czech police said Jamal al-Jamal died in hospital on New Year ’s Day, having suffered lethal injuries to his chest, abdomen and head. According to early indications, the 56-year-old diplomat was killed by an explosion caused as he opened a safe that had been transferred to his residence from the old Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices in downtown Prague. During the Cold War, the PLO, which al-Jamal joined in 1975, maintained close relations with most of the nations of the communist bloc, including what was then Czechoslovakia. The organization, which was led by Fatah leader Yasser Arafat, maintained an office in the Czechoslovakian capital. However, according to the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riyad al-Malki, the Palestinian National Authority is currently in the process of moving its diplomatic premises from downtown Prague to the northern suburb of Suchdol, adjacent to the two-story building that housed Ambassador al-Jamal and his family. Al-Maliki said that the safe al-Jamal was trying to open at the time of the explosion had come from the old PLO offices in downtown Prague where “no one had touched it for 20 to 25 years”. He added that the blast was triggered just moments after al-Jamal opened the safe in order to record its contents, prior to having it moved to the new premises of the Palestinian diplomatic mission next door. “After he decided to open [the safe], apparently something happened inside and [it] went off”, said the minister. Read more of this post