Senior Russian intelligence defector to the US is allegedly dead

Aleksandr PoteyevA Russian former senior intelligence officer, who reportedly defected to the United States after helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrest 10 Russian spies in 2010, is believed to have died. The arrests, which revealed the so-called “Russian illegals program” in the US, were part of a counterintelligence operation codenamed GHOST STORIES by the FBI. The operation culminated in June 2010 with the dramatic arrests of 10 Russian ‘illegals’ in several US states. The Russian illegals, deep-cover intelligence operatives with no official connection to the country that employs them, had been operating in the US for over a decade prior to their arrest, using passports from third countries, including Britain, Canada and Uruguay. They were eventually exchanged with spies for the West that had been imprisoned in Russia.

Moscow blamed the arrests of the illegals on Colonel Aleksandr Poteyev, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, who rose through the ranks of the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR, to become second-in-command in the so-called Department S. The senior leaders of Department S are believed to be appointed directly by the president of Russia, and are tasked with directing the activities of all Russian illegals operating abroad. According to the Russian government, which tried Poteyev in absentia in 2011, he began working for the US Central Intelligence Agency in 1999, shortly before entering the senior echelons of Department S.

A panel of judges was told during Poteyev’s Moscow trial that he left Russia without permission on June 24, 2010, just days before the FBI arrested the 10 Russian illegals in the US. He initially went to Belarus, from where he notified his unsuspecting wife via a text sent from a mobile phone that he was leaving Russia for good. He then traveled to Ukraine and from there to Germany, where he was allegedly picked up by his American CIA handler. It is believed that was provided with a new identity and passport, which he used to enter the US. By the time the Russians sentenced him to 25 years in prison for treason, Poteyev was adjusting to his new life in America.

But on July 7, the Moscow-based Interfax news agency reported that Poteyev, had died in the US, aged 64. The brief report did not specify the cause of Poteyev’s alleged death, nor did it state how Interfax acquired the information. Since the report was issued, no confirmation of Poteyev’s purported death has appeared from any other news source, or from government agencies. Russia’s Sputnik News contacted the SVR last week, but the agency declined to comment. It is believed that Poteyev’s two children were working in the US at the time of his defection, and that they are still living in the country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 July 2016 | Permalink

Elite Hamas military commander reportedly defects to Israel

Kerem Shalom border crossingA senior member of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, is believed to have defected to Israel. News of the rumored defection first appeared on the website of Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank. On Tuesday, Al-Hayat said that the man, a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, had not been seen for several days.

The alleged defector was later named as Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, and reportedly comes from a well-known family in Kahn Younis, on the southern sector of the Gaza Strip. Baraka’s father is believed to be a religious judge that serves in Gaza under Hamas’ jurisdiction. According to Al-Hayat, the missing man is an elite member of the al-Qassam Brigades and specializes in operating inside the numerous underground tunnels that are said to span the entirety of the Palestinian enclave. The tunnels are of strategic importance to Hamas, as they secretly connect it with the outside world, despite Israeli efforts to prevent the trafficking of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip. Some Israeli military officials believe that Hamas operatives are able to travel from one end of the Strip to the other without having to emerge from the ground. Since the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza, Tel Aviv has said that it views the elimination of Hamas’ vast underground tunnel network as a national security priority.

According to Palestinian websites, Baraka told members of his family that he was stepping out for a brief hike but never returned. He is believed to have voluntarily approached the border fence that separates Gaza from Israel and surrendered himself to a group of Israeli soldiers. Al-Hayat reports that Baraka’s family has already been informed from representatives of the Red Cross that he is in Israeli hands. Palestinian sources suggest that the Israeli soldiers that took in Baraka were aware of his pending defection and were waiting for him at the border. He was also reportedly carrying a laptop computer with him.

Israel is known to aggressively recruit informants in the Gaza Strip, many of them affiliated with Hamas. In 2010 it was revealed that Mosab Hassan Yousef, whose father is a senior Hamas official, was a secret informant for Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency. Yousef defected to Israel and is now believed to be living in the United States.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 June 2016 | Permalink

Jail for man involved in planned assassination of senior North Korean defector

Hwang Jang-yopAn appeals court in Seoul has upheld the conviction of a South Korean member of a spy cell that planned to assassinate the most senior North Korean defector to the South. The man, identified in media reports only by his last name, Park, is a South Korean citizen who allegedly helped a North Korean spy cell “based in China” plan the assassination of Hwang Jang-yop. In 1997, Hwang caused a sensation on both sides of the border when he defected to the South. A former secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, Hwang was Pyongyang’s primary theorist and the ideological architect of juche, the philosophy of self-reliance, which is North Korea’s officially sanctioned state dogma. He was also believed to have ideologically mentored North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il, the father of the country’s current Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. Until his death from heart failure in April 2010, Hwang, had been living in the South with around-the-clock security protection.

In October 2010, a few months before Hwang’s death, South Korean authorities revealed that two self-confessed North Korean spies, Tong Myong Kwan and Kim Myung Ho, had allegedly admitted to posing as defectors. Seoul said that Tong and Kim, who were both 36 at the time, were on an assassination mission assigned to them by the intelligence unit of the North Korean Ministry of Defense. The two reportedly stated under interrogation that they were selected for the mission in 2004 and were trained for six years in spy trade craft, as well as techniques of assimilating in life in South Korea, which apparently included “watching South Korean soap operas to gain a better understanding of South Korean society”.

At the time of Tong and Kim’s arrest, South Korean authorities had stated that the two alleged North Korean spies had been assisted by at least two South Korean citizens. One has never been named. The other, Park, was indicted last year of providing logistical support to foreign spies who were plotting to kill Hwang, in return for ₩25 million ($21,000). His legal team appealed the sentence, saying he had been framed by the North Koreans. But on Tuesday, the Seoul High Court rejected the Park’s appeal and upheld his original 3-year jail sentence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2016 | Permalink

South Korea announces most high-profile defection from North since Korean War

North and South KoreaA North Korean intelligence official who sought refuge in South Korea last year is the most high profile defector to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953, according to authorities in Seoul. An announcement issued by the South Korean government last week said the defector is a colonel in the Korean People’s Army who worked for the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a military-intelligence agency that resembles the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division.

The initial announcement was made by a spokesman representing South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which is the department of the government that is responsible for working towards the reunification of Korea. He said that the agency could not find any records of defectors that were of a more senior rank since the end of all-out hostilities in the Korean War. However, he declined to provide further details about the identity of the colonel and the details of his defection. Another spokesman, from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, confirmed the high-profile defection but said he had not been authorized to release further information on the case. But he said that the Reconnaissance General Bureau had defected to the South “last year”, without giving a precise timeline. He added that the North Korean colonel was providing South Korea with details about Pyongyang’s intelligence operations against the South.

Prior to this latest case, the most high-profile defection to the South of a North Korean government figure was that of Hwang Jang-yop, a senior Pyongyang official who was seen as the architect of ‘juche’, the official state ideology of North Korea. During a visit to Beijing, China, in 1997, Hwang entered the embassy of South Korea and asked for political asylum. He died in South Korea in 2010.

It is extremely rare for Seoul to acknowledge defections from North Korea; the South Korean government typically cites privacy and security concerns in response to questions about defectors. The unusual step of announcing the defection of the North Korean colonel several months after the fact led some opposition liberal figures in South Korea to accuse the conservative government of trying to use the case in order to win votes in last Wednesday’s legislative elections. The election was an upset victory for the liberal Minjoo party, which managed to deny the conservative Saenuri Party a majority in the parliament.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 April 2016 | Permalink

Extraordinary lecture by Soviet spy Kim Philby surfaces on videotape

Kim PhilbyA videotaped lecture by Kim Philby, one of the Cold War’s most recognizable espionage figures, has been unearthed in the archives of the Stasi, the Ministry of State Security of the former East Germany. During the one-hour lecture, filmed in 1981, Philby addresses a select audience of Stasi operations officers and offers them advice on espionage, drawn from his own career. 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 NKVD and KGB from the early 1930s 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 moments of the Cold War.

The videotaped lecture, which was never intended for public consumption, was found recently by the BBC in the archives of the BStU, the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Records in Berlin, Germany. Excerpts can now be viewed publicly for the first time.

The recording begins with an introduction by Markus Wolf, one of the most high-profile intelligence operatives of the Cold War, who was head of East Germany’s Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, the foreign intelligence division of the Stasi. Then Philby takes the stand and for about 15 minutes recounts his recruitment by the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB. He tells his audience that the Soviets recruited him despite his extremely young age and joblessness, seeing him as “a long range project”. They did so, he says, because they knew he was part of “the ruling class of the British Empire” and was thus bound to end up in a position of power. His NKVD handler was clear as to his agent’s task, says Philby: his mission was to join the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency. The young Philby then spent years trying to work his way into the intelligence agency, and did so successfully.

With extreme candidness, Philby proceeds to tell his East German audience about his mission, given to him by his NKVD handler in the late 1940s. It was to unseat Felix Cowgill, his boss in MI6’s Soviet counterespionage division, and take his place. He achieved that, he says, even though Cowgill was a man he “rather liked and admired. It was a very dirty story”, admits Philby, “but after all our work does imply getting dirty hands form time to time, but we do it for a cause that is not dirty in a way”.

Of particular interest to intelligence observers is Philby’s justification of his role in Operation VALUABLE/FIEND, in which the Central Intelligence Agency, in association with MI6 and other Western European intelligence agencies, secretly sent Western-trained Albanian agents into communist-controlled Albania. The agents were tasked with organizing an armed popular revolt against Albania’s communist rulers. But Philby, who had been given the job of overseeing the operation on behalf of MI6, betrayed the entire program to the Soviets, thus ensuring its complete failure. In his lecture, he justifies his betrayal by arguing that it helped prevent World War III. Had VALUABLE/FIEND succeeded, claims Philby, it would have been expanded to Bulgaria, at which point the USSR would have intervened, causing World War III.

Following the end of his prepared remarks, Philby takes a series of questions from his audience, including one about how he managed to “stay ideologically pure” while living in a capitalist society. In responding, the British defector praises his Soviet handler, who looked after his “political as well as physical health”, and advised his audience, which presumably included dozens of Stasi case officers, to do the same. A summary report of the recently unearthed videotape can be read on the BBC’s website, here. There is also an audio podcast on Philby’s lecture, which includes commentary from Professor Christopher Andrew, of Cambridge University, and Hayden B. Peake, most recently curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection.

Author: Ian Allen and Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2016 | Permalink

Defector reveals thousands of Islamic State internal documents

ISIS - JFTens of thousands of classified documents belonging to the Islamic State have been released by a disillusioned former member of the organization, who says that the group has been taken over by secularists. According to British-based agency Sky News, the documents were provided on a memory stick stolen from the Islamic State by a Syrian former member of the organization, who goes by the name “Abu Hamed”. Hamed allegedly stole the documents from the Islamic State’s “internal security police”, which Sky News also refers to as “the group’s Security Service”. He took it with him when he defected from the organization, which he says he joined as a convert from the non-Islamist Free Syrian Army. He told Sky News’ Stuart Ramsay that he left the group after concluding that it had been “taken over” by former Iraqi soldiers belonging to Ba’ath, the secularist party that was at the heart of the regime led by the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. As a result, “Islamic rules […] have totally collapsed” inside the Islamic State, said Hamed.

The documents that Hamed gave Sky News are said to number in the “tens of thousands” and reportedly identify nationals from over 50 countries who are members of the Islamic State. Many of the documents contain the 23-question form that all prospective members of the Islamic State have to complete before being admitted into the organization. The questionnaires contain the prospective members’ names and aliases, contact information and family background, among other identifying data. Ramsay said he met Hamed “in a secret location in Turkey”, where the former Free Syrian Army soldier is now living after defecting from the Islamic State. According to the Sky News reporter, Hamed said he abandoned the Islamist organization because its current leadership consists almost exclusively of Ba’athists, who are not known for their religious views or lifestyle.

Ramsay reports that many of the names of Islamic State members that are contained in the documents are already “well-known” to Western and Middle Eastern intelligence agencies. But the collection of members’ names contains several individuals from the Middle East, Northern Africa, Europe, as well as North America, who were allegedly not included in intelligence agencies’ lists. One file surrendered by Hamed is headlined “Martyrs”, and allegedly features the names of members of a brigade that consists “entirely of fighters who wanted to carry out suicide attacks and were trained to do so”. Hamed is also reported to have told Sky News that the Islamic State is gradually abandoning its self-described state capital of Raqqa in Syria and relocating to Iraq. Sky News said it had informed Western government agencies about the documents.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 March 2016 | Permalink

Frank Terpil, CIA operative who defected to Cuba, dies

Frank TerpilFrank Terpil, a former operative of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who defected to Cuba in 1981 to avoid charges of criminal conspiracy, has died. He was 76. Terpil resigned from the CIA in 1970, allegedly after he was caught running a pyramid scheme in India, where he had been posted by the CIA. Soon after his forced resignation from the Agency, US federal prosecutors leveled criminal charges on Terpil and his business partner. The former CIA operative was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, after it was found that he had helped facilitate the illegal transfer of over 20 tons of plastic explosives to the government of Libya.

Terpil managed to leave the US and reappeared in Lebanon in 1980, shortly before a court in New York sentenced him in absentia to five decades in prison for conspiring to smuggle 10,000 submachine guns to African warlords, including Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin. As agents of various countries started to zero in on Terpil’s Lebanon hideout, he disappeared again and resurfaced in 1981 in Havana, Cuba. Shortly afterwards, Cuba’s General Intelligence Directorate hired him as an operative under the operational alias CURIEL. Since that time, Terpil has been repeatedly mentioned as having played a part in Cuban intelligence operations around the world, but rarely gave interviews. He appeared again in 2014, however, in a documentary entitled “Mad Dog: Inside the Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi”. The film was made by British company Fresh One Productions on behalf of Showtime, an American premium cable and satellite television network. In the documentary, Terpil admitted that he helped the Libyan dictator “eliminate” his opponents —most of them Libyan exiles living abroad.

British newspaper The Observer, which published news or Terpil’s death, said the former CIA operative’s legal status in Cuba “was never quite clear”. He had allegedly expressed concerns in recent months that the rapprochement between Washington and Havana could threaten his sanctuary in the Caribbean island. His Cuban wife told The Observer that complications from diabetes had caused his legs to be amputated in recent months. She told the paper that Terpil “died peacefully” on March 1, of heart failure.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 March 2016 | Permalink

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