Flurry of diplomatic expulsions as European states respond to Russia spy allegations

Russian embassy RomaniaSEVERAL EASTERN EUROPEAN STATES announced plans to expel Russian diplomats this week, as Moscow declared an Italian diplomat persona non grata in a tit-for-tat dispute with Rome over espionage allegations. Earlier this month, the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats in protest against an explosion that totaled a remote munition depot in the east of the country, which Prague claims was part of a Russian intelligence operation.

The explosion, which occurred in October of 2014, killed two people and destroyed a munitions storage facility belonging to the Military Technical Institute of the Czech Ministry of Defense. Czech investigators recently concluded it was perpetrated by Unit 29155, a Russian elite spy outfit that operates under the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. The Kremlin responded to the expulsions of its diplomats by ordering 20 Czech diplomats to leave Russia, and condemning Prague’s move as an “unprecedented” and “a hostile act” that was designed “to please the United States”.

The Czechs retorted by calling their allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union to “expelled officers of Russian special services” in solidarity. In recent days, five countries have answered Prague’s call. Seven Russian diplomats have been given just days to leave Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Meanwhile, Romania announced on Monday that it would expel Alexei Grichayev, who serves as a deputy military attaché at the Russian embassy in Bucharest. The Romanian government said Grichayev’s “activities and actions [were] contrary to the Convention of Vienna on diplomatic relations” —a phrase used to denote espionage in diplomatic parlance.

Also on Monday, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Russian ambassador in order to file an official complaint, while Hungary, Poland and Slovakia issued a joint statement decrying what they described as “deplorable act[s] of aggression and breach of international law committed by Russia on European soil”. In a separate development, Moscow said on Monday it would expel an Italian diplomat in response to the expulsions of two Russian diplomats from its embassy in Rome last month. The two Russians were accused of recruiting an Italian Navy captain, who has been charged with spying for the Kremlin.

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

Czechs ask EU and NATO to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity against Moscow

Jan HamacekCZECH GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS SAID they would welcome the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, in support of Prague’s ongoing diplomatic spat with Moscow. The Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats last weekend, in order to protest against an explosion at a remote munition depot in the east of the country, which the government claims was part of a Russian intelligence operation.

As intelNews reported on Monday, the explosion occurred in October of 2014. It killed two people and destroyed a munitions storage facility belonging to the Military Technical Institute of the Czech Ministry of Defense. Although the blast was initially classified as an accident, Czech investigators have recently come to the conclusion that it was in fact caused by Unit 29155, a Russian elite spy outfit. Little is known about Unit 29155, which is believed to operate under the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU.

The Kremlin responded to the expulsions of its diplomats by ordering 20 Czech diplomats to leave Russia, and condemning Prague’s move as an “unprecedented” and “a hostile act” that was designed “to please the United States”. Meanwhile the Czech Republic’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Hamacek (pictured), stated on Tuesday that Prague “would welcome” if its allies in the EU and NATO “expelled officers of Russian special services” in the coming days, in an act of solidarity with the efforts of his office.

Following consultations with Hamacek, the office of the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said that it stood in “full support and solidarity” with the Czech Republic. No EU or NATO country has so far announced that it plans to expel Russian diplomats in response to Prague’s request. According to Czech media, discussions on the matter between Hamacek and several of his counterparts in the EU’s so-called Visegrad Group —consisting of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia— are ongoing.

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

Russia expels Czech diplomats after Prague links Kremlin to munitions depot explosion

Vrbětice Czech Republic ammunition depot explosions

RUSSIA AND THE CZECH Republic ordered expulsions of each other’s diplomats over the weekend, after authorities in Prague said the Kremlin was behind a mystery explosion that leveled a munitions depot. The explosion took place on October 16, 2014, in a remote forest area near the village of Vlachovice, which is situated 171 miles southeast of the Czech capital, Prague.

The storage depot belonged to the Military Technical Institute of the Czech Ministry of Defense, and it was managed by a contractor, Imex Group. The blast killed two security guards and forced the evacuation of several communities located nearby. It was assumed to have been the result of an accident, though investigators were unable to determine the cause of the explosion.

On Saturday, Czech authorities announced that the blast was the work of Unit 29155, a Russian elite spy outfit, whose goal is to subvert European political and economic systems and processes. As intelNews has reported in the past, Unit 29155 operates under the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. It has allegedly been in existence since at least 2009. According to Czech investigators, two members of Unit 29155 visited the munitions depot days prior to the explosion. They used forged passports from Tajikistan and Moldova, and claimed to be members of the National Guard of Tajikistan that were scheduled for an inspection. Based on their passport photographs, the two men, who used the cover names Ruslan Tabarov and Nicolaj Popa, appear to be the same men who tried to kill GRU defector Sergei Skripal in England in 2018.

The reasons why the Russians allegedly decided to blow up the munitions depot are unclear. It is speculated that some of the weapons in the depot were intended to be delivered to Ukraine on behalf of Bulgarian weapons dealer Emilian Gebrev. In 2015 Gebrev was hospitalized for several days for signs of poisoning, along with his son and one of his company’s executives. They eventually made a full recovery, but have since alleged that they were targeted by Moscow, because Gebrev’s firm sells weapons to adversaries of the Kremlin, including the government of Ukraine.

On Saturday, the Czech government gave 18 Russian diplomats, which its claims are intelligence officers, 48 hours to leave the country. It also said it would provide detailed information about its probe into the blast to European Union ministers and representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But Moscow called the allegations “unfounded and absurd” and condemned the expulsions of its diplomats, describing them as “unprecedented” and “a hostile act” that was designed “to please the United States”. On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that 20 diplomats of the Czech Republic would be expelled from Russian in retaliation to the expulsion of its diplomats by its former Cold War ally.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2021 | Permalink

Russia responds angrily to Czech expulsions of Russian diplomats in poison probe

Andrei KonchakovMoscow has reacted angrily to the Czech government’s decision to expel two Russian diplomats from the country, in response to allegations that the Kremlin plotted to assassinate three outspoken Czech politicians using a deadly poison. Russian officials pledged to respond in kind to Prague’s “indecent and unworthy deed”.

In April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in Prague. The magazine said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

A few weeks later, the Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believed Konchakov was a actually an intelligence officer for Russia.

Now the Czech government has officially declared Konchakov and one of his colleagues at the Center for Science and Culture persona non grata (unwanted persons) and has ordered their expulsion from the country. In a statement issued on Friday, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the two diplomats of “trying to harm the relations of the two countries”. At a news conference in Prague, Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek told reporters that Prague had “made efforts to settle the situation discreetly and diplomatically”. However, “Russia’s approach gives us no choice but to expel the diplomats”, said Petricek.

Speaking later that day, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, dismissed Prague’s allegations as “absurd”. The head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, called the expulsions “a very vile and mean provocation by the Czech authorities” and vowed that “retaliatory measures will be taken”. In a press statement issued in response to the expulsions, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Czech authorities had “seriously damaged” bilateral relations between the two countries “without any basis”. The statement went on to state that “Prague’s actions will not only receive an adequate response, but will also be taken into account when forming the Russian policy on bilateral relations with the Czech Republic”.

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

Czech media name alleged Russian spy behind poison plot against Prague officials

Andrei KonchakovNews media in the Czech Republic have named a Russian diplomat who allegedly transported poison to Prague last month, in what officials claim was a foiled plot to kill as many as three high-profile Czech politicians. Late last April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in the capital Prague.

Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

This past Sunday, Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believe Konchakov is a actually an non-official-cover intelligence officer for Russian intelligence. Konchakov is alleged to have arrived at Prague’s Vaclav Havel International Airport on in April, where he was picked up by a Russian Embassy car and driven to the compound of the Russian diplomatic representation in the Czech capital.

Soon after the allegations against him emerged, Konchakov spoke to the Czech news website Seznam Zprávy. He strongly denied the accusations against him and told the website that the suitcase he was carrying with him during upon his arrival in Prague contained “disinfectant and candies”. He added that he would not, for the time being, respond to further questions, as he would first have to be granted permission to do so from the Russian government. Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in Prague released a statement claiming that it had asked Czech authorities to provide police protection for Konchakov, because of “credible threats” he had received following the allegations against him by 168 Hodin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 May 2020 | Permalink

Russia denies accusations it planned to assassinate two Czech politicians

Zdenek HribThe Russian government has strongly denied accusations in the Czech media that it dispatched an assassin to Prague to kill two leading Czech politicians. The denial was issued by the Kremlin a day after Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib said he had been placed under 24/7 police protection because of fears his life could be in danger.

On Sunday, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been underway earlier in April. Citing “sources in Czech intelligence”, Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate at least two high-profile Czech mayors, Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib and Ondřej Kolář, who is the mayor of a large municipality in the Czech capital.

The two men are known for being fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

According to Respekt Hřib filed a police complaint during the first week of April, alleging that someone had been following him near his residence. He was then placed under police protection, after —according to him— the police determined that his complaint was grounded in reality. He has since refused to state the precise reasons for the police protection —which means that the allegations in Respekt remain unconfirmed.

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the Respekt allegations as “fake”. He added that the Russian government “doesn’t know anything at all about this [police] investigation” in Prague. However, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that “there would be consequences” if the two men were harmed in the coming weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 April 2020 | Permalink

Czech intelligence foiled North Korean plan to smuggle arms through Africa

Czech Security Information ServiceThe Czech intelligence services foiled a secret plan by North Korea to smuggle weapons parts and surveillance drones, leading to the expulsion of a North Korean diplomat from the country, according to a report. The report, published this week by the Czech daily Deník N, claims that the alleged plot was foiled by the Czech Security Information Service, known as BIS.

According to Deník N, the alleged plot took place in 2012 and 2013. It was initiated by a North Korean diplomat who was serving at the DPRK’s embassy in Berlin as an economic attaché. However, claims Deník N, the diplomat was in fact operating on behalf of the North Korean intelligence services. The unnamed diplomat allegedly traveled to Prague and contacted a local businessman, seeking to purchase spare parts for use in Soviet-built T-54 and T-55 tanks, as well as spare parts for armored vehicles and jet airplanes. The diplomat also sought to purchase surveillance drones, according to the newspaper.

The buyers reportedly planned to smuggle the acquired weapons parts and drones to North Korea through ports in Africa and China, said Deník N. Such an act would have violated the international embargo that has been in place against the DPRK since 2006. However, the plot was foiled by the BIS, which informed the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Czech government eventually detained the diplomat and expelled him from the country, said Deník N.

Following the newspaper article, BIS spokesperson Ladislav Šticha said that he “could not comment on the details” of the case, but could confirm that “in the past BIS has indeed managed to prevent trade in weapons from the Czech Republic to the DPRK”. Hours later, the BIS posted on its Twitter account that it could not comment “on the details of this case”, but added that “its outcome was very successful”.

IntelNews regulars will remember a similar report in the German media in 2018, according to which North Korea used its embassy in Berlin to acquire technologies that were almost certainly used to advance its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 January 2020 | Permalink

Czechs accuse Moscow of ‘most serious wave of cyberespionage’ in years

Czech Security Information ServiceThe main domestic intelligence agency of the Czech Republic has accused Russia of “the most serious wave of cyberespionage” to target the country in recent years. The claim was made on Monday in Prague by the Security Information Service (BIS), the primary domestic national intelligence agency of the Czech Republic. Details of the alleged cyberespionage plot are included in the BIS’ annual report, a declassified version of which was released this week.

According to the document, the cyberespionage attacks were carried out by a hacker group known as APT28 or Fancy Bear, which is believed to operate under the command of Russian intelligence. The hacker group allegedly targeted the Czech Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the headquarters of the country’s Armed Forces. As a result, the electronic communication system of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was compromised “at least since early 2016”, said the report (.pdf). More than 150 electronic mailboxes of ministry employees —including diplomats— were accessed, and a significant number of emails and attachments were copied by the hackers. The compromise was terminated a year later, when BIS security personnel detected the penetration. The BIS report goes on to say that a separate cyberespionage attack was carried out by a Russian-sponsored hacker group in December of 2016. An investigation into the attacks concluded that the hackers were not able to steal classified information, says the report. It adds, however, that they were able to access personal information about Czech government employees, which “may be used to launch subsequent attacks [or to] facilitate further illegitimate activities” by the hackers.

The BIS report concludes that the hacker campaign was part of “the most serious wave of cyberespionage” to target the Czech Republic in recent years. Its perpetrators appear to have targeted individuals in “virtually all the important institutions of the state” and will probably continue to do so in future attacks, it says. Moreover, other European countries probably faced similar cyberespionage breaches during the same period, though some of them may not be aware of it, according to the BIS. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told parliament on Tuesday that his cabinet will discuss the BIS report findings and recommendations early in the new year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 December 2018 | Permalink

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

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

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