Ion Pacepa, Cold War’s highest-ranking Soviet Bloc defector, dies of COVID-19

Ion Mihai PacepaION MIHAI PACEPA, WHO defected to the West as acting head of the Romanian intelligence service, making him the Cold War’s highest-ranking defector from the Soviet Bloc , has reportedly died in the United States of COVID-19. There has been no official announcement of Pacepa’s passing. However, a number of American and Romanian news outlets have reported his death in the past week, noting that he passed away on February 14. He reportedly died in hospital at “an undisclosed location”, having lived under protection from the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Resettlement Operations Center since his defection in 1978. He was 92.

Pacepa was born in Bucharest in 1928. He joined the Securitate, Romania’s secret police and intelligence service, in 1951, having earlier graduated with a degree in engineering from the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute. From his initial post in the Securitate’s Counter-Sabotage Directorate —a domestic assignment— Pacepa was moved to its Foreign Intelligence Directorate in 1955. He gradually reached the rank of station chief, serving in Frankfurt, West Germany. By the early 1970s Pacepa had reached the equivalent rank of a two-star general, and served as advisor to the Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu on matters of industrial and technological innovation. In 1978 he was appointed assistant secretary of the Ministry of the Interior and acting director of the Securitate.

But in July of that year, Pacepa defected to the United States while on assignment in Bonn, West Germany. He simply presented himself to the United States embassy there and was soon granted political asylum by Washington. Since that time, he lived under an assumed identity in a series of undisclosed locations in the United States. He reportedly had to change his living arrangements and assume new identities at least twice after his defection, in order to escape Romanian assassination squads who had been tasked with killing him. Among Pacepa’s aspiring assassins was Carlos the Jackal, who had allegedly been promised $1 million by Ceauşescu in return for killing the high-ranking defector.

Pacepa authored several books since his defection, with this first one, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, being the most notable. Translated from the original English into Romanian, the book was used by the prosecutors that argued in favor of the death penalty for Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena. Both were executed by firing squad in December 1989.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 February 2021 | Permalink

North Korean diplomat, related to top regime official, defected to South, say sources

Kuwait CityA NORTH KOREAN ACTING ambassador, who is believed to be the son of one of the most senior officials of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), reportedly defected with his family to South Korea, according to sources. Two South Korean news outlets, the Yonhap News Agency and the Maeil Business Newspaper, reported the alleged defection on Monday. They both cited sources in the South Korean government.

The alleged defector is Ryu Hyun-Woo, who was serving as acting charge d’affaires at the North Korean embassy in Kuwait City, Kuwait. He assumed his post in October 2017, when the Kuwaiti government expelled the North Korean ambassador from the country. The expulsion was ordered in response to a nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang in September of that year, which was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution barring the communist state from carrying out nuclear activities.

The government in Pyongyang attributes major significance to its embassy in Kuwait City, since it constitutes its sole diplomatic presence in the Gulf region. Personnel who serve at the embassy are carefully vetted and come from some the most loyal families in the inner circle of the WPK. However, it appears that Ryu, who headed the embassy after October 2017, defected with his wife and children in September 2019. The family reportedly flew to South Korea, where they requested asylum upon arrival. According to the Maeil Business Newspaper, Ryu said he defected in order “to provide his children with a better future”.

According to the South Korean reports, Ryu is the son-in-law of Jon Il-Chun, who formerly directed the Central Committee Bureau 39 —or Office 39— of the WPK. This is the agency tasked by the North Korean regime with securing highly-sought-after hard foreign currency for use by the ruling family and their closest aides. It has been described as the operational nerve center of the North Korean government. If the reports of Ryu’s defection are correct, they would mark a major incident of disloyalty to the regime by a member of the innermost circle of the ruling elite.

Last October it was reported that Jo Song-gil, North Korea’s ambassador to Italy, who disappeared without trace in 2018, was believed to have resettled in South Korea. If true, that would make him the most senior official to defect from North Korea in over 20 years, and it would make Ryu the second most senior official to defect during that time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2021 | Permalink

George Blake, arguably the most prolific Soviet spy of the Cold War, dies at 98

George BlakeGEORGE BLAKE, A DUTCH-born British intelligence officer, whose espionage for the Soviet Union gained him notoriety in the West and hero status in Moscow, has died aged 98. His death was announced on Saturday by the state-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti. It was later corroborated by a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), who said Blake “had a genuine love for our country”.

Blake was nearly 18 when German troops entered his native Holland, prompting him to join the local anti-Nazi resistance forces. A British subject thanks to his Egyptian Jewish father, who had acquired British citizenship by fighting in British uniform during World War I, Blake eventually made his way to London via neutral Spain and Gibraltar. Within two years, he had been recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and by war’s end he was working in its Dutch Section.

Named after King George by his fiercely pro-British and royalist father, Blake drew no suspicion by his MI6 colleagues. He was hard-working and came across as a strict Calvinist, with strong religious leanings. But his view of the Soviet Union began to change at Cambridge University, where he had been sent by MI6 to learn Russian language and history. In 1950, while he was serving under official cover at the British embassy in Seoul, Korea, he was captured and detained for three years by North Korean forces. His ideological defection to communism appears to have taken place during his capture, during which he was given access to English-language Marxist literature and had long discussions with Soviet political instructors.

By 1953, when he was released by his captors and returned to a hero’s welcome in London, Blake was a committed communist. Less than a month following his release, he made contact with Nikolai Rodin (codename SERGEI) who was the KGB’s station chief in London. He began to spy for the Soviet Union, and did so for eight years, including during his stint as an MI6 case officer in Berlin. During that time, he is believed to have betrayed information that led to the detection of over 500 Western intelligence officers and assets operating behind the Iron Curtain, with as many as 44 of those losing their lives as a result. His career as a double spy ended in 1960, when he was betrayed by Polish defector Michael Goleniewski. Goleniewski’s debriefing by the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped Britain identify two Soviet moles inside its intelligence establishment, one of whom was Blake.

In 1960, after pleading guilty to espionage, Blake began serving a 42-year prison sentence in Britain’s Wormwood Scrubs maximum security prison complex. But in 1966 he was able to escape with the help of a group of Irish republican prisoners, and made contact with Soviet intelligence. He was eventually smuggled into East Germany and from there to Russia. Once there, he joined the KGB and served as a consultant and instructor until his retirement in the early 1990s. He learned to speak Russian fluently, married a Russian wife (his British wife having divorced him once he was convicted of espionage) and had a son.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on Sunday, praising Blake’s espionage “in the cause of peace”, while the SVR described him as a model intelligence officer. A report published by RIA Novosti on Sunday said that the Moscow city council was considering a proposal to rename a street in the Russian capital after Blake.

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

Mossad helped Syrian intelligence official flee to Austria, despite alleged crimes

BVT AustriaA SYRIAN INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL, who was denied political asylum in France due to claims he committed serious war crimes, received protection from Austria with assistance from Israel, according to a report. This was revealed on Sunday by British newspaper The Telegraph, which said it had been given the information by “a judicial source”.

The Syrian official in question is Khaled al-Halabi, a former Brigadier General in the Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). He served as head of the MID in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa amidst the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011. But in 2013, as the civil war became fiercer, al-Halabi defected from Syria and took his family to France, where applied for political asylum.

Two years later, al-Halabi was notified by the French authorities that his application for political asylum had been denied, due to serious concerns that he had been involved in criminal acts against opponents of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, soon after being notified that his application for asylum had been rejected, al-Halabi mysteriously disappeared from France, and was never seen there again.

According to The Telegraph, while waiting for a decision from the French authorities in regards to his application for asylum, al-Halabi was negotiating with the Israeli external intelligence agency, the Mossad. The Israeli spy agency allegedly whisked al-Halabi away from France and took him to nearby Austria. Once there, al-Halabi went into the custody of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT), Austria’s primary intelligence agency.

In December of 2015, al-Halabi was granted asylum in Austria, and today he is believed to live in Vienna, in a four-bedroom apartment provided to him by the Austrian government. The decision by the Austrian government to give the former Syrian spy official asylum made headlines in Austria in October, causing significant controversy. This is because at least one lawsuit has been filed against al-Halabi for his alleged participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Syrian Civil War, according to The Telegraph.

But the alleged involvement of the Mossad in al-Halabi’s case was not known until last Sunday. If true, the Mossad’s role in this case could signify that al-Halabi had established a relationship with the Israeli spy agency prior to his defection from Syria in 2013. According to the Austrian press, al-Halabi denies that he was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 December 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #911

HamasAnalysis: The outstanding issue of the Libyan intelligence services. The post of Chief of the Libyan Intelligence Service of Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) is still vacant. Therefore, this is an optimal situation for the Head of Tripoli’s government, who is currently pro tempore Director of the GNA agencies, while the struggle for the next Intelligence Service director is intensifying.

Hamas admits one of its number spied for Israel before defecting. Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk has confirmed Arabic media reports that Hamas commander Mohammad Abu Ajwa collaborated with and subsequently defected to Israel. The defection was first reported by Al-Arabiya, which said that Israel’s Mossad spy agency had recently facilitated the escape of senior commander Mohammad Abu Ajwa. According to Al-Arabiya, Abu Ajwa had previously led Hamas’s naval special forces.

Russia used US intelligence to target dissidents in Europe. Russia routinely exploited a US policy of increased information sharing to target Chechen dissidents, according to three law-enforcement and intelligence officials in Europe. The practice emerged after the Trump administration backed a policy of sharing more secret information with Russia, in hope of strengthening relations.

US arrests Mexican man for spying for Russia in mystery case involving informant

FBI MiamiThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested a Mexican man, who is accused of spying in the city of Miami on behalf of the Russian government. Local media reports suggest that the target of the man’s spying was a Russian defector who gave American authorities information about Russian espionage activities on US soil.

In a news release issued on Tuesday, the US Department of Justice identified the man as Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a Mexican citizen residing in Singapore. The statement said that Fuentes was arrested on Monday and was charged with “conspiracy” and “acting within the United States on behalf of a foreign government”.

According to the statement, Fuentes was recruited in April of 2019 by an unnamed Russian government official. His first assignment was to rent an apartment in Miami-Dade County using fake identification. One he carried out the assignment, Fuentes allegedly traveled to Russia, where he briefed his handler. He was then asked to return to Miami and drive to an apartment complex, where he was to observe a vehicle belonging to an individual that the Department of Justice statement describes as a “US government source”. Fuentes was tasked with providing his Russian handler with the vehicle’s license plate number.

Having been given a detailed physical description of the vehicle by his Russian handler, Fuentes drove to the apartment complex in Miami, but was stopped at the entrance to the complex by a security guard. While Fuentes was speaking with the security guard, Fuentes’ wife allegedly exited the car and took a photograph of the vehicle in question. According to the FBI, she later shared the photograph with Fuentes’ Russian handler on the mobile phone application WhatsApp. The photograph was discovered by US Customs and Border Protection agents on the smartphone of Fuentes’ wife on Sunday, as the pair tried to board a flight to Mexico City.

The US Department of Justice news release does not identify Fuentes’ alleged espionage target. But an article in The Miami Herald claims that the target is an FBI informant who has provided the Bureau’s counterintelligence division with critical information about Russian espionage operations in the Miami area. Fuentes is scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial detention hearing this coming Friday. His arraignment has been scheduled for March 3. The press release does not explain why Fuentes’ wife was not arrested.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 February 2020 | Permalink

Russian security services honor members of the Cambridge spy ring with plaque

Guy BurgessThe intelligence service of Russia has openly honored two British members of the so-called Cambridge Five spy ring, who caused great controversy during the Cold War by defecting to Moscow. The intelligence services of the Soviet Union recruited five Enlishmen, H.A.R. ‘Kim’ Philby, John Cairncross, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, as well as an unnamed fifth person, to spy for them in the 1930s. All five were recruited while they were promising young students at Britain’s elite Cambridge University, and entered the diplomatic and security services in order to supply Moscow with classified information about Britain and its allies.

In 1951, shortly before they were detained by British authorities on suspicion of espionage, Burgess and Maclean defected to the Soviet Union. They both lived there under new identities and, according to official histories, as staunch supporters of Soviet communism. Some biographers, however, have suggested that the two Englishmen grew disillusioned with communism while living in the Soviet Union, and were never truly trusted by the authorities Moscow. When they died, however, in 1963 (Burgess) and 1983 (Maclean), the Soviet intelligence services celebrated them as heroes.

On Friday, the Soviet state recognized the two defectors in an official ceremony in the Siberian city of Samara, where they lived for a number of years, until the authorities relocated them to Moscow. Kuibyshev, as the city was known during Soviet times, was technically a vast classified facility where much of the research for the country’s space program took place. While in Kuibyshev, Burgess and Maclean stayed at a Soviet intelligence ‘safe house’, where they were debriefed and frequently interrogated, until their handlers were convinced that they were indeed genuine defectors.

At Friday’s ceremony, officials unveiled a memorial plaque at the entrance to the building where Burgess and Maclean lived. According to the Reuters news agency, the plaque reads: “In this building, from 1952-1955, lived Soviet intelligence officers, members of the ‘Cambridge Five’, Guy Francis Burgess and Donald Maclean”. On the same day, a letter written by Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB, appeared online. In the letter, Naryshkin said that Burgess and Maclean had made “a significant contribution to the victory over fascism [during World War II], the protection of [the USSR’s] strategic interests, and ensuring the safety” of the Soviet Union and Russia.

Last year, Russian officials named a busy intersection in Moscow after Harold Adrian Russell Philby. Known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, Philby was a leading member of the Cambridge spies. He followed Burgess and Maclean to the USSR in 1963, where he defected after a long career with the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 December 2019 | Permalink

Victor Sheymov, among Cold War’s most important KGB defectors, dies at 73

Victor SheymovVictor Ivanovich Sheymov, who is often referred to as one of the most important intelligence defectors of the Cold War, has reportedly died in the American state of Virginia. He was one of the most senior officials in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security (KGB) to ever defect to the West, and revealed important KGB secrets to the United States.

Sheymov was born in 1946 to a family of elite Soviet scientists. His father was an engineer and his mother a doctor specializing in cardiology. A gifted mathematician and student-athlete, Sheymov was recruited into the KGB almost as soon as he graduated from the elite Bauman Moscow State Technical University, where he majored in engineering. By his early 30s, Sheymov had risen to the rank of major under the KGB’s Eighth Chief Directorate, which handled secret communications systems. He oversaw a large unit that monitored the flow of information between the KGB’s headquarters and the agency’s operatives around the world. In later years, Sheymov was assigned code-breaking and counter-espionage tasks, and oversaw the preparation of daily classified briefings for the Politburo —the Communist Party’s highest policy-making body.

But in the 1970s Sheymov grew disillusioned with Soviet politics, and began to feel slighted by the infighting and incompetence inside the KGB. While visiting Poland on KGB business, he volunteered his services to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by walking into the US embassy in Warsaw. The CIA eventually gave him the cryptonym CKUTOPIA and, after verifying his senior status inside the KGB, exfiltrated him to the United States along with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. His was the first known instance of a successful CIA exfiltration of a defector from Soviet territory.

After spending several months being debriefed and polygraphed at a CIA safe house, Sheymov and his family were given new identities and US citizenship. But the defector decided to emerge from hiding in 1990, as the USSR was dissolving. In his book about his espionage work and defection, titled Tower of Secrets, Sheymov said he informed the CIA about the KGB’s unsuccessful plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and about the successful operation to assassinate Afghan President Hafizullah Amin in 1979. His insights were also instrumental in the decision of the US State Department to demolish the US embassy in Moscow, due to fears about the presence of listening devices planted inside the building’s walls by Soviet builders. The building was eventually replaced with another structure built by vetted American workers.

Sheymov was awarded the US Intelligence Medal and lived the rest of his life in America, where he headed a computer security company. He died on October 18 in Vienna, Virginia, but his death was not publicly reported until this week. Sheymov’s wife told reporters that he died from health complications arising from chronic pulmonary disease.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 December 2019 | Permalink

As Australia launches probe, skeptics cast doubts on Chinese defector’s spy claims

Wang LiqiangAs the Australian government has launched an official investigation into the claims made by a self-styled Chinese intelligence defector, some skeptics have begun to cast doubts about his revelations. The claims of Wang “William” Liqiang have dominated news headlines in Australia for over a week. The 26-year-old from China’s eastern Fujian province reportedly defected to Australia in October, while visiting his wife and newborn son in Sydney. He is currently reported to be in a safe house belonging to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

The Australian spy agency confirmed last week that Mr. Wang had provided a 17-page sworn statement, in which he detailed his work as an undercover intelligence officer for Chinese military intelligence. He is also said to have shared the identities of senior Chinese intelligence officers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and to have explained how they plan to carry out espionage operations on behalf of Bejing. Some media reports claimed that Mr. Wang had shared details about deep-cover Chinese intelligence networks in Australia. The Australian government said on Tuesday that an official investigation had been launched into Mr. Wang’s claims.

But some skeptics in Australia and elsewhere have begun to raise doubts about the Chinese defector’s claims, suggesting that he has given little —if any information— that is genuinely new. Some argue that Mr. Wang is much too young to have been entrusted with senior-level responsibilities in the intelligence agency of a country that rarely promotes twenty-somethings in high-ranking positions. Additionally, Mr. Wang appears to have no military background —he claims to have been recruited while studying fine art— which is not typical of a Chinese military intelligence operative.

Furthermore, Mr. Wang episode interviewers from Australian television’s 60 Minutes program that he began feeling tormented by moral dilemmas when his staff officers supplied him with a fake passport bearing a different name, in preparation for an operation in Taiwan. However, by his own admission, Mr. Wang had been supplied with fake passports for previous operations, so it is not clear why he lost his nerve at the time he did. In fact, case officers usually covet the opportunity to go undercover and feel a sense of exhilaration when they receive fake identification documents for an undercover mission.

Is Mr. Wang not sharing the entire background to his decision to defect to Australia? Or could he be deliberately amplifying his role in Chinese intelligence, in an effort to appear useful to the Australian government and thus secure political protection by Canberra? In the words of Alex Joske, an analyst at the  International Cyber Policy Centre of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the details in some of Mr. Wang’s claims mean that “government investigations should uncover the facts eventually. But we don’t know the full story and we probably never will”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 September 2019 | Permalink

Chinese defector reveals identities of Chinese undercover spies in Asia and Australia

Wang LiqiangA Chinese intelligence defector has reportedly given the Australian government information about entire networks of Chinese undercover spies in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, according to reports. The story of Wang “William” Liqiang, made headlines all over Australia during the weekend, culminating in an entire episode of 60 Minutes Australia about him airing on Sunday. The 26-year-old from China’s eastern Fujian province reportedly defected to Australia in October, while visiting his wife and newborn son, who live in Sydney. He is currently reported to be in a safe house belonging to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

Police in the Chinese city of Shanghai claim that Mr. Wang is a small-time criminal who has been found guilty of using fraudulent documents and has a 15-month suspended prison sentence on his record. In a statement issued on Sunday, China’s embassy in Canberra described Mr. Wang as a “convicted fraudster” who was “wanted by police after fleeing [China] on a fake passport”. But according to reports in the Australian media, Mr. Wang has provided the ASIO with a 17-page sworn statement, in which he details his work as an undercover intelligence officer. He is also said to have shared the identities of senior Chinese intelligence officers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and to have explained how they organize and implement espionage operations on behalf of Bejing.

In a leading article published on Saturday, The Sydney Morning Herald referred to Mr. Wang as “the first Chinese operative to ever blow his cover” and claimed that he had given the ASIO “a trove of unprecedented inside intelligence” about Chinese espionage operations in Southeast Asia. The newspaper said that the defector had revealed details about entire networks of Chinese intelligence operatives in Taiwan and Hong Kong. He also reportedly provided identifying information about deep-cover Chinese intelligence networks in Australia.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, Australian media said yesterday that the ASIO was examining allegations that a Chinese espionage ring tried to recruit an Australian businessman of Chinese background and convince him to run for parliament. According to reports, the spy ring approached Nick Zhao, a successful luxury car dealer, and offered to fund his political campaign with nearly $700,000 (AUS$1 million) if he run as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Australia. Zhao reportedly told the ASIO about the incident last year, shortly before he was found dead in a Melbourne hotel room. His death remains under investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 November 2019 | Permalink

Extracts from Kim Philby’s espionage confession published today for the first time

Kim PhilbyExtensive extracts from the confession of Kim Philby, one of the Cold War’s most prolific double spies, are scheduled to be released today for the first time by Britain’s National Archives. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet OGPU and NKVD, the intelligence services that later became known as the KGB. His espionage activities lasted from 1933 until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War. He was part of a spy ring of upper-class British communists who were known collectively as ‘the Cambridge spies’ because they were recruited by Soviet intelligence during their student days at the University of Cambridge in England.

Britain’s intelligence establishment has never released Philby’s confession, which he made to his friend Nicholas Elliott, an intelligence officer in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in January 1963. The MI6 had sent Elliott to Beirut, where Philby was working as a journalist, to inform him that his espionage role for the Soviets had been established beyond doubt. The MI6 officer had been authorized to offer Philby immunity from prosecution in return for a full confession. Philby accepted the offer and began his confession while in Beirut. But a few days later he vanished and reemerged in Moscow in July of that year. He died there in 1988.

The file that is scheduled to be released today by the National Archives is marked “Secret” and comes from the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s primary counterintelligence agency. It contains details about Philby’s first assignments for Soviet intelligence, which included identifying other communist students at Cambridge who would be susceptible to recruitment. Philby’s list included the names of Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, who later became members of the Cambridge spy ring. Philby states in his confession that he cautioned his Soviet handlers about recruiting Burgess due to “his unreliability and indiscretion”, but his objections were “overruled”, he says.

When asked by Elliott how he could have sided with Soviet intelligence at a time when the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, was slaughtering millions, Philby responds by comparing his service for the KGB to joining the armed forces. Following orders, he says, does not imply that a soldier unquestionably agrees to every action of the government he serves. He goes on to reveal that his Soviet handlers never attempted to win his “total acceptance on the technical level. In short”, Philby continues, “I joined [Soviet intelligence] as one joined the army [… I often] obeyed orders although convinced they were wrongly conceived”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 September 2019 | Permalink

Russia fired officials over Smolenkov defection, filed INTERPOL search request

INTERPOLThe Russian government reportedly fired a number of officials over the defection of a senior Kremlin aide, who alleged worked as an American spy. Meanwhile, Moscow has filed a search request with INTERPOL about the alleged defector’s whereabouts. News of the defection was reported on September 9 by the American news network CNN. The network alleged that the man —which it did not name— was exfiltrated from Russia in 2017 by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, over fears about his life. A subsequent report in the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant identified the alleged defector as Oleg Smolenkov, 50, and said that he disappeared along with his wife and three children in the summer of 2017 while on holiday in Montenegro.

On September 11, the Reuters news agency revealed that Smolenkov was a career diplomat who served as senior aide to Yuri Ushakov, Russia’s former ambassador to the United States and senior international affairs advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the Kremlin disputes claims that Smolenkov was a highly placed official or that he could have been in possession of damaging classified intelligence.

According to a new report from Russia’s InterFax news agency, the Kremlin disciplined a number of Russian officials for permitting Smolenkov and his family to travel to Montenegro. The disciplinary action was taken soon after Smolenkov’s disappearance and led to a number of firings, said InterFax, citing anonymous government sources. In the summer of 2016, the Kremlin had issued a travel ban for Montenegro, which barred government employees from traveling there, due to the deteriorating relations between Moscow and the former Yugoslav Republic. Montenegrin authorities had previously claimed that Russia tried to stage a coup and planned to kill the country’s prime minister. According to InterFax, an investigation by “the relevant law enforcement agencies” concluded that those officials who had allowed the Smolenkovs to travel to Montenegro had “violated the ban”. They were therefore “disciplined and [some] were fired”, said the anonymous source.

Meanwhile it was reported on Friday that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a search request for Smolenkov and his family with INTERPOL, the international agency that facilitates worldwide cooperation between national police organizations. When asked about it by Western news media, a Russian government spokeswoman said that Russia did what any other country would do in this situation: it contacted INTERPOL with “questions regarding the disappearance of […] a citizen of Russia on the territory of a foreign state along with his family […] and his presence on the territory of the United States”, said the spokeswoman.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2019 | Permalink

Son of South Korean foreign minister defects to North Korea

Choe In-gukThe son of a South Korean former cabinet minister has defected to North Korea, marking a rare instance of a citizen of South Korea switching his allegiance to the North. It is even rarer for such high-profile South Korean citizens to defect to North Korea. The defector is Choe In-guk, son of Choe Deok-sin, who served as South Korea’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1970s under the South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. Choe was an American-trained army officer who served under United States command in the Korean War. He then served as a member of the cabinet and as South Korea’s ambassador to West Germany.

But by 1980, Choe had fallen out with the South Korean military government and was subsequently pushed out of the ruling Democratic Republican Party of Korea. He moved to the United States with his wife, Ryu Mi-yong, from where in 1986 the couple defected to North Korea. Soon after his defection, Choe was appointed director of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland under the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Until her death in 2012, Ryu served as chairwoman of the Chondoist Chongu Party, a nationalist North Korean political party that supports the policies of the ruling WPK.

North Korean media reported that Choe and Ryu’s son, Choe In-guk, arrived at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport on July 6. The North Korean state-run news website Uriminzokkiri published several photographs of the 73-year-old Choe being greeted by a welcoming committee of North Korean government officials holding flowers and gifts. Choe is reported to have given a brief speech upon his arrival in Pyongyang, praising North Korea’s leader and lamenting not having defected earlier in his life. The defector added that he intended to devote the remainder of his life to continue the work of his parents and to push for the reunification of the two Koreas.

On Sunday, South Korean Ministry of Unification confirmed that Choe had defected to North Korea from the United States. The Ministry also said that Choe had not obtained permission to travel to North Korea, which is required of all South Korean citizens who wish to cross the border between the two countries. It appears that Choe first traveled to the United States and for there to a third country —possibly China— before entering North Korea. South Korean officials announced that an investigation into his defection has been launched.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 July 2019 | Permalink

US lifts sanctions on Venezuelan ex-spy chief, calls on others to defect

SEBIN VenezuelaIn an effort to persuade senior members of the Venezuelan government to defect, the United States has lifted punitive financial sanctions on the country’s intelligence director, who left his post on April 30. General Christopher Figuera became director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) in October 2018. SEBIN is Venezuela’s primary intelligence agency and has a dual domestic and international role. Much of its domestic mission is to protect and defend the Bolivarian Revolution, which forms the ideological framework of the government headed by President Nicolás Maduro. It follows that SEBIN’s employees are all trusted supporters of Venezuela’s embattled President.

On February 15 of this year, the United States government included General Figuera on a financial sanctions list of Venezuelan government officials who held senior posts in the Maduro government. But on April 30, General Figuera appeared to be one of relatively few senior Venezuelan officials to respond favorably to an open call by Juan Guaidó, the United States-supported President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, to remove Maduro from power. Figuera was reportedly denounced by Venezuelan government officials and summarily replaced by Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, who was director of SEBIN until he was replaced by Figuera in 2018.

On Tuesday, the United States government said that it had removed General Figuera from its financial sanctions list. Speaking before reporters in Washington, US Vice President Mike Pence said that Figuera was “an example to follow” for other senior Venezuelan government officials and urged more of them to follow Figuera’s example. Pence added that the US government wanted to reward Figuera for abandoning his post and denouncing Maduro. In a subsequent statement given to the media, the US Department of the Treasury said that removal of sanctions “may be available” for all senior Venezuelan officials “who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order” in the Latin American country. The statement did not elaborate on the meaning of taking “concrete and meaningful actions”.

In a potentially related development, the Venezuelan government said on Tuesday that it had taken control of three private airfields in the vicinity of the capital city of Caracas, in order “to prevent illicit acts which would compromise the safety of civil aviation”. It is believed that General Figuera left the country with his family using a private airfield, and that the Maduro government is trying to stop others from following his example.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 May 2019 | Permalink

FBI seeks arrest of US counterintelligence officer who defected to Iran

Monica WittAn American intelligence officer, who held the highest level of security clearance for over a decade, defected to Iran in 2012 and has been spying against the United States ever since, it was revealed yesterday. Monica Witt, 39, was a counterintelligence officer for the United States Air Force from 1997 until 2008, specializing in the Middle East. Throughout her career, she was deployed by the US military to the Middle East on several occasions, in order to carry out counterintelligence missions the details of which remain classified to this day.

According to the US government, one of these missions involved her attendance of an international conference organized by New Horizon Organization. The group is believed to operate as a public relations arm of the Quds Force —the intelligence and paramilitary wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, whose mission is to spread the ideals of the Islamic Revolution around the world. Witt’s mission was allegedly to monitor the conference proceedings and collect information on attendees. It was while attending that conference that, according to US government documents, Witt started to become attracted to the Iranian government’s world view. She left the US Air Force in 2008 and moved to Central Asia, initially teaching English in Afghanistan and later in Tajikistan. A year later, she vanished. She allegedly reemerged in Iran in 2013, where she appeared on several television programs in which she renounced United States policy on the Middle East and publicly espoused Shi’a Islam. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, soon after she defected to Iran, Witt used social media to identify and then compile lists of the whereabouts of several of her colleagues in US Air Force counterintelligence. She then gave this information to the Iranian intelligence services, which used it to launch a series of operations targeting current and former US intelligence personnel.

At a press conference held yesterday in Washington, DC, officials from the FBI, the Department of State and the Department of Treasury announced criminal charges against Witt and New Horizon Organization, which they accused of conducting espionage against the US. They also announced charges against employees of the Iranian-registered Net Peygard Samavat Company, which they said used Witt’s information to launch targeted information operations against American government personnel. Witt remains at large and is believed to reside in Iran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 February 2019 | Permalink