News you may have missed #881 (Cold War history edition)

Vehicle tracking deviceBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►McCarthy-era prisoner tries to overturn espionage conviction. In 1950, Miriam Moskowitz was secretary to Abraham Brothman, an American chemical engineer who was convicted for providing secret industrial information to communist spy Elizabeth Bentley. Moskowitz, who was having an affair with Brothman at the time of his arrest, was convicted of obstructing justice and served two years in prison. Now at age 98, she claims she has discovered evidence that key witness testimony about her role in Soviet espionage was falsified, and wants her conviction thrown out. In 2010, Moskowitz authored the book Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice, about her case.
►►Files show USSR spied on Czechoslovak communist leaders after 1968. The Soviet KGB spied aggressively on senior members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ) for two decades following the Prague Spring of 1968, because it mistrusted them. The information on Soviet intelligence activities against the KSČ comes from files in to the so-called Mitrokhin Archive. Vasili Mitrokhin was a KGB archivist, who painstakingly copied tens of thousands of pages of the spy agency’s files prior to defecting to Britain following the dissolution of the USSR.
►►Canada’s spy agency reveals Cold War-era spying equipment. As part of its celebrations for its 30-year anniversary, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service has released photographs of what it calls “tools of the trade” –gadgets designed to hide or transport secret communication, acquire surreptitious photographs, listen in on private conversations, etc., without detection. The gadgets include Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko‘s gun, a toy truck with a concealment compartment for hiding a microdot reader, a hollowed-out battery used to contain clandestine messages or microfilm, and many others.

Communist-era spy allegations surface in Czech political wrangling

Andrej BabišBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Allegations that a senior Czech political figure was a government informant during the country’s communist period may disrupt the emergence of a national governing coalition. The Social Democratic Party won 20.5 percent in last October’s parliamentary election, emerging as the leading party in the Czech Republic’s fragmented political scene. The center-left party has said it is planning to form a governing coalition by reaching out to the centrist Christian Democratic Union, as well as a new center-right party calling itself ANO 2011 (Ano stands for ‘yes’ in Czech). The new party says it aims to end corruption in the country, abolish immunity from prosecution for elected parliamentarians, tackle unemployment, and improve the Czech Republic’s crumbling infrastructure. The party has also said it is willing on principle to join a wider government coalition, providing it is offered control of the country’s finance ministry. A leading contender for the ministerial position is ANO’s founder and main financial backer, Andrej Babiš. A business tycoon, who made his fortune importing and exporting fertilizers, Babiš is the Czech Republic’s second richest man, with an estimated fortune of $2 billion. His spectacular entrance into Czech politics was confirmed when ANO, which he founded in 2011, came in second in last October’s elections, receiving 18 percent of the national vote and gaining 47 seats in parliament. However, plans for a three-party coalition have been halted by allegations that Babiš may have been an informant for Czechoslovakia’s StB secret police during the 1980s. The claims first emerged in a Slovak newspaper shortly before last October’s elections, but failed to prevent ANO and Babiš from making a spectacular entry into Czech national politics. Later, however, the media allegations were substantiated by Slovakia’s Institute of National Memory, which provides public access to previously classified records of the StB and other Czechoslovak intelligence agencies during the country’s communist period. The Institute says that Babiš, who was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, had regular contact with the StB in the 1980s. At that time he was living in North Africa working for Petrimex, a Czechoslovakian government-owned international trade company. Read more of this post

Revealed: British government minister spied for Czechoslovakia

Raymond MawbyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The BBC has uncovered evidence that a Conservative Party minister was a longtime paid informant for Czechoslovakia’s Cold-War-era secret intelligence service. The discovery was made earlier this month by the BBC’s security correspondent, Gordon Corera, while visiting the declassified archives of the Czechoslovakian ŠtB to investigate an alleged attempt to blackmail British Conservative politician Edward Heath in the 1970s.  Corera’s discovery shows that Raymond Mawby, who was a Tory Member of Parliament from 1955 until 1983, spied for the ŠtB in return for money for nearly a decade, starting in 1961.  The BBC describes Mawby, who served as assistant Postmaster General from 1963 to 1964, and rose to the rank of junior minister in 1963, as “an unusual Tory”, since he was “a working class trade unionist” from Devon. Indeed, his extensive ŠtB file, uncovered by the BBC, shows that he was not as loyal to conservative values as one might think. Mawby was first approached by Czechoslovakian intelligence in November 1960, while attending a cocktail reception at the Czechoslovakian embassy in London. His contacts with his ŠtB handlers became more frequent during the following year when, operating under the codename Laval, he began providing them with political information from the British Houses of Commons, in exchange for regular payments of £100. By 1964, he was on a £400 monthly retainer by the ŠtB, in return for supplying the Czechoslovaks with documents from Parliament, details about the personal lives of his colleagues, and lists of Parliamentary committee members. In one instance, Mawby even supplied his foreign handlers with a hand-drawn floor plan of the office of the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. Read more of this post

Did Czechoslovakian spies plan to blackmail British leader?

Ted HeathBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In 1975, Czechoslovakian intelligence officer Josef Frolík, who had defected to the United States, published a book titled The Frolik Defection: The Memoirs of an Intelligence Agent. Among several revelations in the book was an alleged plot by the ŠtB, Czechoslovakia’s Cold-War-era secret intelligence service, to sexually blackmail British Conservative politician Edward “Ted” Heath. According to Frolík, the ŠtB had concluded that Heath, a lifelong bachelor and Britain’s Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974, was gay. Based on this —highly questionable— belief, Jan Mrázek, an ŠtB officer working out of the Czechoslovakian embassy in London, had allegedly devised a plan in the mid-1960s, which aimed to expose Heath to homosexual blackmail. Frolík claims in his book that Mrázek developed the plot around Heath’s well-known preoccupation with classical music. Specifically, he planned to recruit Czechoslovakian classical organist Jiří Reinberger, who would be instructed to meet the British conservative politician in London and invite him to Prague for a concert. While there, the ŠtB hoped that a romantic affair would ensue, under the watchful eye of Czechoslovakian spies, who would make sure to capture the more intimate moments of the two men on camera. The audiovisual evidence would, the ŠtB believed, convince Heath to spy for Czechoslovakian intelligence. According Frolík, the plan was put to action but was eventually scrapped after MI5, Britain’s counterintelligence agency, warned Heath that a trip to Czechoslovakia would expose him to blackmail by that country’s intelligence service. When Frolík’s book came out, Heath, who had stepped down from his post as Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, dismissed the story as a fabrication, and threatened to sue the author. But was Frolík telling the truth? Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer sheds light on 1977 spy arrests in Moscow

Martha D. PetersonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A recently retired CIA officer has spoken publicly for the first time about the 1977 arrest and eventual suicide of a Soviet double agent considered one of the Central Intelligence Agency’s most important assets during the Cold War. Aleksandr Dmitryevich Ogorodnik was an official in the Soviet diplomatic service who, while stationed at the Soviet embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, was compromised and later blackmailed by Colombian intelligence into spying on Moscow. Ogorodnik was initially handled by the Colombians, with little success. Later, however, when he was moved to a sensitive post in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, the Colombians turned him over to the CIA. He was handled by CIA officer Aldrich Ames —himself a double spy for the Soviet KGB— who gave Ogorodnik the codename TRIGON. After establishing contact with him in Moscow, the CIA provided Ogorodnik with a miniature camera and other essentials, which he used regularly to take photographs of classified Soviet documents. As a go-between, the Agency selected Martha D. Peterson, the first female CIA case officer ever to be posted in Moscow. Peterson was a fresh CIA recruit, who had completed her Career Training program in 1974, less than a year before being sent to the Soviet capital. Having retired in 2003, after 31 years with the CIA, Peterson has now published a memoire entitled The Widow Spy. In it, she reveals that she coordinated regular dead-drops with Ogorodnik for nearly two years, picking up his used film while supplying him with fresh film and other espionage accessories. On July 15, 1977, however, her mission was abruptly terminated after she was arrested by a large team of KGB officers underneath a railway bridge in Moscow, a few minutes after conducting a dead-drop for Ogorodnik. She was taken to the KGB’s Lubyanka prison, where she says she was interrogated for three days before being released by way of her diplomatic immunity, and ordered to leave the USSR. Ogorodnik was not so fortunate. A few months prior to his arrest, he had requested that the CIA provide him with a poison pill, which he could take in case he was arrested by the KGB. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #535

Stella Rimington

Stella Rimington

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Last Monday’s Daily Telegraph carried a lengthy interview with Dame Stella Rimintgon, who headed MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, from 1992 to 1995. The interviewer notes that Rimington’s answers are often “so long you forget what you asked in the first place”, and when it comes to questions on MI5, she appears “practiced in the use of abstract generalities. I suspect is intentional”, she adds. No kidding. On July 10, the same newspaper revealed that, in the 1980s, an internationally renowned cancer researcher used his post at Britain’s Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories to steal samples and equipment on behalf of Eastern Bloc intelligence services. Jiri Bartek was working for the StB, Czechoslovakia’s secret intelligence service, says the paper. The paper notes that the revelation, which is based on declassified documents from the time, shows that Bartek (codename ‘Raki’), was probably “only one of dozens of Czech spies who used scientific positions in the West as cover for espionage”. Meanwhile, in South Africa, the country’s troubled National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has been hit an embarrassing revelation. It appears that Andre Vorster, a NIA specialist technical adviser at the agency’s Pretoria headquarters, claimed to have two doctorate degrees, both of which are fake. He also tried to swindle a leading British charity foundation by claiming to be acting on behalf of South African President Jacob Zuma. Vorster’s duties at the NIA included countersurveillance and the safeguarding of South African embassies and key installations around the world.

Indian police claim arrest of German ‘spy’ in Punjab

Bhakra dam

Bhakra dam

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A senior police official in the Indian district of Ropar has said that a German national arrested there last week was on a “spying mission” on behalf of the German government. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, senior superintendent of police L.K. Yadav claimed that Thomas Kuehn, of Hamburg, Germany, had confessed to being a “German spy”. The 45-year-old Kuehn was reportedly arrested last Friday in a Hindu temple near the Bhakra dam in Punjab. Police officials grew suspicious when the German national failed to present them with “passport, visa or other required documents”. He initially claimed that he had lost his travel documentation, but later said his passport had been taken by his “Russian girlfriend” who was “in Nepal”. Shortly afterwards, Indian police officials reportedly discovered that Kuenh spent 18 months in a German prison in the late 1980s, for spying on behalf of Czechoslovakia. Read more of this post

CIA not surprised by Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, documents show

Alexander Dubček

Alexander Dubček

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Newly declassified CIA documents from 1968 show that the Agency had warned the Lyndon B. Johnson administration that the USSR was preparing to invade Czechoslovakia later that year. Some of the documents have been released before, but were presented for the first time in an organized, searchable format last Friday, at a symposium held at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, on University of Texas campus. The symposium, entitled “Strategic Warning and The Role of Intelligence: Lessons Learned from the 1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia”, included participants from academia, as well as from the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Among documents presented at the gathering was a May 10, 1968, CIA memo, which termed Soviet-Czechoslovak relations a “crisis” and warned that the possibility of an armed Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia could “no longer be excluded”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0272

  • Outcry in Turkey over revealed coup plot. Turkish daily Taraf has revealed a military coup plot, which included detailed plans to trigger chaos in the country with the ultimate goal of a military takeover. This appears to be a new plot, not associated with the ongoing Ergenekon coup plot investigation.
  • US jails Sri Lankan LTTE operatives. A US federal court has sentenced Thiruthanikan Thanigasalam and Sahilal Sabaratnam to 25 years in prison for trying to purchase almost $1 million worth of high-powered weaponry for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which the US considers a terrorist organization.
  • Czechoslovakian spy lookout to be opened to public. The bell tower on St. Nicholas’ Church in Prague, where 20 years ago the Czechoslovakian secret police, the StB, kept a hidden lookout on activities outside nearby embassies, especially that of the US, is to be opened to the public later this year.

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Iran monarchists, foreign spies, behind suspicious news reports

Mohammad Reza Madhi

M.R. Madhi

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
There is no question that the domestic security situation in Iran is critical, and that we may soon witness crucial political shifts in the Islamic Republic. At the same time, however, observers should be cognizant of what Politico’s Laura Rozen calls “a notable uptick […] in very fishy stories” forecasting the immediate end of the Islamic government by supposed radical Western-aligned forces. IntelNews has detected several such stories in recent days, such as this unconfirmed December 31 report in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which stated that the Iranian government was moving “[h]undreds of military forces and tens of armored vehicles towards Tehran”, something which never actually occurred. Two days earlier, a report in Dutch government-owned Radio Netherlands had suggested that members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, including Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, were preparing to abandon the country and seek political asylum in Russia. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0237

  • Christmas Day bomb plot exposes fissures in US spy community. As intelNews regulars know, turf wars between US intelligence agencies are nothing new. But lapses that allowed Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to board a Detroit-bound plane with a bomb on Christmas Day, and the finger-pointing that followed, have raised questions about supposedly sweeping changes made to improve intelligence-sharing after the 9/11.
  • Mysterious life of Soviet spy couple unveiled. Soviet agents Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey were legends among illegals –i.e. international spies operating without diplomatic credentials. Now the Russian government is carefully releasing information on their activities and missions, which ranged from the US to Israel, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.

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News you may have missed #0221

  • Part 5 of CIA defector’s writings now available. Former FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Eringer has published the fifth installment of the writings of Edward Lee Howard, a CIA officer who defected to the USSR in 1985 (see here for previous intelNews coverage). In this part, Howard explains why Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), was a “good town for covert operations” and the KGB’s “favorite pad for launching agents into Western Europe”.
  • African Union investigates officials of spying. Two officials from the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) and the United Nations Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) are reportedly under investigation for passing on sensitive information on AMISOM and Somalia to the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the South African Secret Service.

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News you may have missed #0206

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News you may have missed #0192

  • Ex-agent reveals botched CIA operation in Siberia. Former CIA operative Mike Ramsdell has described a botched post-Cold War CIA operation in Siberia, which almost cost him his life. Another, apparently unrelated, botched CIA operation in Siberia was revealed last August.
  • How secret Operation WEDGE ended Czechoslovak communism. “There are dozens of conspiracy theories about the Eastern European revolutions of 1989: that it was all the work of the CIA, the KGB, or a cabal of Western banks with mafia connections. Most are hokum. But in Czechoslovakia there really was a conspiracy behind the theory”.
  • Secret US-Japanese nuclear deal comes to light. IntelNews has previously discussed this secret arrangement, which reportedly allows US military vessels and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons to enter Japanese territorial waters, as long as Japan is protected by the US nuclear umbrella.

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News you may have missed #0182

  • China to keep Rio Tinto boss in prison. The Chinese government has extended (again) by two months a probe into Stern Hu, the jailed boss of Anglo-Australian mining corporation Rio Tinto. Hu was arrested by the Chinese last July on espionage charges.
  • Czech spy agency objects to outing Cold War agents. Recently a Czech research center published an extensive list of names of agents of StB, the country’s main intelligence agency in the communist era. But StB’s post-communist successor, the ÚZSI, condemned the airing of the names, calling it “a massive violation of protection of sources that is part of intelligence work, which also may have a negative impact on the Czech Republic’s [current] interests”.
  • Iran reportedly creates new domestic spy agency. A radical dissident Iranian group in Paris, with known ties to Washington, claims the Iranian regime has undertaken “the largest overhaul of the [country’s] intelligence structure since 1989”.

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