Turkey arrests four members of alleged French spy ring in Istanbul

French consulate in Istanbul TurkeyFour men have been arrested by Turkish authorities in Istanbul, allegedly for being members of a spy ring operated by an agent who collected information on extremist groups for France’s external spy agency. The arrests were reported on Tuesday by a newspaper with close links to the Turkish government. It is worth noting, however, that the reports have not been confirmed by Turkish officials. If true, the incident points to further deterioration in the relations between the two nations, which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Turkish daily newspaper Sabah said on Tuesday that the leader of the French-handled spy ring is named Metin Özdemir. He is reportedly a Turkish citizen who worked in the security department of the French consulate in Istanbul. According to the paper, Özdemir admitted to Turkish police that he was sent to France where he took an eight-month-long surveillance and counter-surveillance training course. He was then sent to Georgia by France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), where he gathered intelligence for his French handlers. In exchange for his services, the DGSE allegedly gave Özdemir regular cash payments and offered him a job in the French Foreign Legion.

Özdemir eventually returned to Turkey and was allegedly handled by two DGSE officials that he named as “Virginia” and “Sebastian”. He recruited three more Turkish citizens, including two utility workers, who formed a spy ring. The spy ring members were supplied by the DGSE with forged credentials, identifying them as employees of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). According to Sabah, the spy ring supplied the DGSE with information on 120 individuals, most of whom were members of ultra-conservative religious organizations with alleged links to the Islamic State. The spy ring also allegedly spied on the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Turkey’s state-funded religious authority. Recently, however, Özdemir reportedly fell out with his French handlers and approached Turkish authorities, who promptly arrested him and the rest of the members of his spy ring.

The Sabah report comes just days after France filed a formal complaint with NATO, alleging that one of its warships was threatened in the open seas by a Turkish Navy vessel on June 10. According to French officials, the warship Courbet attempted to approach a Turkish Navy ship named Cirkin, which was believed to be smuggling weapons to Libya. The Turkish vessel refused to identify itself to the Courbet, which was inquiring on behalf of the NATO alliance. It also flashed its radar lights at the French ship, which is usually seen as a sign of impending confrontation, while its crew members were seen wearing bullet-proof vests and standing behind the ship’s mounted weapons. Turkey has denied the French allegations, but NATO said it will launch an investigation into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2020 | Permalink

Seeking to expand, French spy agency is frustrated with poor quality of job applicants

dgse franceFrance’s primary external intelligence agency has expressed frustration with the overall poor quality of job applicants, as it tries to expand its staff by 20 percent in the coming years. The Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, known as DGSE, is France’s equivalent to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. It is tasked with procuring secret political, military and economic information from foreign targets.

During the past decade, the DGSE has nearly doubled the size of its personnel. In 2008, it employed fewer than 4,500 people. By 2019, its staff size had grown to over 7,000, including many thousands of operations officers serving secretly abroad. Last year, the agency announced that it planned to grow its personnel size to 8,500 by 2022. To do so, it launched an unprecedented recruitment campaign, which French security experts described as nothing short of revolutionary. The staunchly reclusive DGSE sent recruiters to job fairs across France —mostly at universities— and began advertising its job vacancies online, primarily on YouTube and LinkedIn.

As a result of its efforts, the agency said that it received 400 applications for 14 positions that were advertised in January. Of those 14 positions, 10 required advanced knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs and geopolitical developments, while two sought candidates with logistical and administrative expertise. The remaining two positions equired fluency in Arabic.

But, according to the British newspaper The Times, the French spy agency struggled to fill the positions. On Thursday the paper cited a DGSE report, which said that the performance of candidates during the selection process “revealed critical shortcomings”. Candidates appeared for interviews severely under-prepared and their level of knowledge, as demonstrated in interviews, was “unacceptable for someone wishing to join the ranks of the DGSE”, said the report. It added that job candidates showed “markedly limited grasp” of global geopolitics, while their knowledge of intelligence work was even more limited. Even minimum requirements, like a résumé free of spelling mistakes were rarely met, it said.

Consequently, and despite the fact that majority of the applicants had graduate degrees, the DGSE struggled to fill the positions, with the process taking much longer than expected. The report said that 12 of the 14 job posts were eventually filled. The remaining two posts —requiring fluency in Arabic— remain unfilled “for want of suitable candidates”, noted The Times.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 May 2020 | Permalink

French government report says thousands approached by Chinese spies on LinkedIn

LinkedInA French government report warns of an “unprecedented threat” to security after nearly 4,000 leading French civil servants, scientists and senior executives were found to have been accosted by Chinese spies using the popular social media network LinkedIn. The report was authored by France’s main intelligence agencies, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) and the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE). According to the Paris-based Le Figaro newspaper, which published a summary of the classified report, the two intelligence agencies presented it to the French government on October 19.

The report describes Chinese efforts to approach senior French scientists, business executives, academics and others, as “widespread and elaborate”, and warns that it poses an “unprecedented threat against the national interests” of the French state. It goes on to state that nearly 4,000 carefully selected French citizens have been approached by Chinese intelligence operatives via the LinkedIn social media platform. Of those nearly half, or 1,700, have leading posts in French industry, while the remaining 2,300 work in the public sector. In their totality, those targeted are involved nearly every area of industry and government administration, including those of nuclear energy, telecommunications, computing and transportation, said the report. According to Le Figaro, those targeted were approached online by Chinese spies who employed fake identities and identified themselves as headhunters for Chinese corporations, think-tank researchers or consultants for major companies. They then invited targeted individuals to all-expenses-paid trips to China for conferences or research symposia, or offered to pay them as consultants.

The DGSI-DGSE report concludes that most of those targeted displayed shocking levels of “culpable naivety” and a “completely insufficient” awareness of online espionage methods. To address this, French intelligence agencies have produced guidelines on detecting and evading attempts at recruitment or luring from intelligence operatives using social media, said Le Figaro. French civil servants are now being informed of these guidelines through a concerted campaign by the French intelligence community, said the paper. The report, however, did not say whether similar efforts were taking place in the French private sector.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 October 2018 | Permalink

France arrests two intelligence officers on charges of spying for China

dgse franceFrance has confirmed the arrest of two French intelligence officers who are accused of spying for the Chinese government. It appears that the two officers were captured and charged in December. However, their arrests were not publicized at the time, because French counterintelligence officials wanted to avoid alerting more members of a possible spy ring, which some say may include up to five French citizens. It was only last Friday, a day after French media published leaked reports of the arrests, that the French government spoke publicly about the case.

France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, told France’s CNews television on Friday that two French intelligence officers were “accused of extremely serious acts of treason” against the French state. The two officers had been charged with delivering classified information to a foreign power”, she said. Parly added that the spouse of one of the officers was also being investigated for participating in acts of espionage on behalf of a foreign country. When asked to identify the country that the two officers are accused of spying for, the minister refused to respond. But the Agence France Presse news agency cited an anonymous “security source”, who said that the two intelligence officers were being suspected of spying for China and that they had been captured following a sting operation by French counterintelligence officers.

French television station TFI1 said on Friday that both spy suspects are officers in the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), France’s primary external intelligence agency. The station added that at least one of the two suspects was stationed at the embassy of France in Beijing when French counterintelligence became aware of the alleged espionage. According to some reports, the two suspects had retired from the DGSE by the time they were arrested, but committed their alleged espionage while still in the service of the spy agency. French government officials have refused to provide information about the length of the alleged espionage or the nature of the classified information believed to have been compromised. Additionally, no information is available about whether the two alleged spies were working in cooperation with each other. The BBC asked China last week about the arrests in France, but the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was not aware of the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 May 2018 | Research credit: E.W. and P.C.  | Permalink

French spy who helped bomb Rainbow Warrior tracked down 32 years later

Christine CabonA French spy who infiltrated the environmentalist group Greenpeace and in 1985 helped bomb the organization’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has spoken to the media for the first time. The British-based activist organization had purchased the trawler from the British government in 1977 and used it to carry out maritime research and other operations. In July 1985, the Rainbow Warrior, captained by the American environmental activist Peter Wilcox, was docked at the port of Auckland, New Zealand. It was being prepared to lead a flotilla of vessels to the French Polynesian atoll of Mororoa, in order to try to stop a planned nuclear test by the French military.

But on the night of July 10, 1985, two large explosions nearly split the ship in two, causing it to sink in less than five minutes. One of the Rainbow Warrior’s passengers, the Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira, drowned after he boarded the sinking ship in order to retrieve his cameras and lenses. Greenpeace blamed the government of France for the attack on the ship, but Paris denied any involvement. It later emerged, however, that the blasts had been caused by two plastic-wrapped explosive devices that had been placed on the exterior of the Rainbow Warrior’s engine room and on its propeller blades. The explosive mechanisms had been placed there by two divers working for the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), France’s external intelligence service. Read more of this post

French intelligence warn of Russian meddling in upcoming election

dgse franceFrance’s primary intelligence agency warned the country’s government this week that Russia has launched a secret operation to try to influence the outcome of the upcoming French presidential election in favor of the far right. According to the Paris-based weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné, France’s Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) has notified the country’s leadership that a covert operation by the Kremlin is already underway, and is expected to intensify in the run-up to April’s election. The spy agency allegedly believes that Russian efforts aim to promote Marine Le Pen, leader of the ultra-right National Front. Le Pen wants to curb immigration to France and remove the country from the European Union.

In an article published on Wednesday, Le Canard Enchaîné said the DGSE’s warning has alarmed the Élysée Palace. The paper also said that French President François Hollande, who chairs the country’s defense council, has decided to devote the entire agenda of the council’s next meeting to the subject of Russia’s alleged interference in the election. Anonymous sources told the paper that, according to a classified DGSE report, Russian spy agencies are using automated systems designed to “fill the Internet with tens of millions” of articles, images and memes that support the National Front candidate. Additionally, several news media that are controlled by Moscow will try to discredit Le Pen’s rivals for the presidency. At the same time, websites such as WikiLeaks —which some American commentators accuse of working with Moscow— will publish leaked information designed to damage Le Pen’s competitors.

The Le Canard Enchaîné allegations sound very similar to accusations leveled against the Kremlin by American intelligence agencies and by members of the United States Democratic Party. However, these allegations have not been supported by concrete evidence, and Russia denies that it had any involvement in last November’s presidential election in the US, which was won by Donald Trump.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February | Permalink

French citizens killed in Malta plane crash were intelligence officers

MaltaDespite initial denials, it appears that at least three of the five French citizens who were killed in an airplane crash in Malta earlier this week were employees of the country’s external intelligence agency. The crash happened in the early hours of Monday near the village of Luqa in southern Malta. Early reports identified that the plane as a light aircraft and was carrying five French citizens when it crashed, shortly after taking off from the nearby Malta International Airport. Initial statements from Maltese and French government officials said the plane was on a local flight route and had not been scheduled to land outside of the Mediterranean island. The five passengers were identified in press statements as “customs officers” who were conducting a joint project with their Maltese counterparts.

Subsequent reports in the French media, however, said that at least three of the five French passengers who perished in the crash were officers of the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency, which goes by the initials DGSE. It is also believed that the airplane was registered in the United States and was operated by a Luxembourg-based company. Reports from Libya state that the plane’s mission is “shrouded in mystery”. Some articles suggest that it was heading to the city of Misrata in northern Libya, or that it may have been conducting a reconnaissance operation over the Mediterranean, aimed at gathering intelligence on smuggling activities originating from Libya.

The French intelligence services are known to be active on the ground in Libya, where several Sunni Islamist groups, including the Islamic State, control territory. In July of this year, Paris acknowledged for the first time that it had Special Forces and intelligence operatives in Libya, after three DGSE officers were killed in a helicopter crash in the North African country. The latest air crash was not preceded by an explosion, according to French media. The French government has launched an investigation into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 October 2016 | Permalink

France’s ex-cyber spy chief speaks candidly about hacking operations

Bernard BarbierThe former director of France’s cyber spy agency has spoken candidly about the recent activities and current state of French cyber espionage, admitting for the first time that France engages in offensive cyber operations. Between 2006 and 2013, Bernard Barbier was director of the technical division of the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency, which is commonly known as DGSE. During his tenure at DGSE, the organization’s technical division witnessed unprecedented financial and administrative growth. Today it is said to employ over 2500 people, nearly half of DGSE’s total personnel.

Earlier this month, Barbier was interviewed on stage during a symposium held by the CentraleSupélec, a top French engineering university based in Paris. He spoke with surprising candor about France’s cyber espionage operations. In the first part of his interview, which can be watched on YouTube, he recounted the history of what he described as “France’s cyber army”. He said that France began to build “teams of hackers” in 1992. Around that time, the DGSE purchased an American-built Cray supercomputer, said Barbier, and soon discovered that it could use the machine’s immense computing power to break passwords. More recently, said the former cyber spy chief, the DGSE has been trying to “catch up” with its American and British counterparts, the National Security Agency and the Government Communications Headquarters, by increasing its annual budget to over half a billion and hiring hundreds of young hackers. Many of these new employees have little to no university education, said Barbier, and are instead self-taught, having started hacking in their teenage years.

Like most governments, France will not officially admit to conducting offensive cyber operations using computer hacking and other techniques. But Barbier said during his interview that France was behind an offensive cyber operation that targeted Iran in 2009. He added that the DGSE has also directed cyber operations against Canada, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Norway, as well as its European Union partners Spain and Greece. He also complained that French government executives do not understand the importance of cyber operations and are not aiming high enough when it comes to planning, direction and hiring. The DGSE’s technical division still needs between 200 and 300 more staff members, Barbier argued in his interview.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2016 | Permalink

French government acknowledges it has special forces, spies, in Libya

French special forcesThe death of three French Special Forces soldiers in Libya has prompted the first public acknowledgement by France that its troops are involved in “dangerous intelligence operations” in the North African country. The acknowledgement was made on Wednesday in an official statement issued by Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Minister of Defense. In the statement, Le Drian said he “regretted the loss of three French officers who expired while on mission in Libya”. The acknowledgement came less than 24 hours after the Associated Press news agency claimed that a helicopter carrying French troops had been shot down in Libya. The report quoted unnamed Libyan officials as saying that the helicopter had been shot down by an Islamist militia in the outskirts of the city of Benghazi, in eastern Libya.

Paris has previously acknowledged the presence of French warplanes in Libya, which it says are only involved in reconnaissance operations. It is also known that France has set up a forward operating base in Niger, close to the southern Libyan border. But the French government has never before acknowledged the presence of French troops or intelligence operatives on Libyan soil. During the uprising that deposed longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, there were persistent rumors of daring operations by French commandos and intelligence operatives, which were never confirmed. In February of this year, French newspaper Le Monde claimed that French troops and spies were active in Libya. In a leading article titled “France’s Secret War in Libya”, the French daily said that President François Hollande had secretly authorized operations by elite special forces and officers of the DGSE, France’s General Directorate for External Security. But France’s Defense Ministry refused to comment on Le Monde’s allegations, while Laurent Fabius, who was then France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, denied the newspaper’s claims, saying that France did not have the means to intervene militarily in Libya.

Speaking shortly after Wednesday’s disclosure by the Defense Ministry, President Hollande said the three special forces soldiers had died while “carrying out perilous intelligence operations” in Libya. In a subsequent interview on the Paris-based France Info Radio, French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll admitted that French operatives are indeed active in Libya. Asked whether the Defense Ministry’s statement offered such an acknowledgement, Le Foll responded: “French special forces are [in Libya], naturally, to offer assistance and to ensure that France has a presence wherever the struggle against international terrorism is taking place”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2016 | Permalink

News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

Middle East expert to lead France’s external spy agency

Bernard BajoletBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A career diplomat, who spent many years serving in embassies in predominantly Muslim countries, has been nominated to head France’s main external intelligence agency. French President François Hollande announced on Tuesday that Bernard Bajolet has been nominated for the post of Director of France’s Directorate General for External Security (Direction Générale des Services Extérieurs, or DGSE). He will be replacing Erard Corbin de Mangoux, who has headed the 5,000-strong organization since 2008. To some extent, the change of guard at DGSE is seen as a political move, as de Mangoux is a conservative known to be close to France’s former President, Nicolas Sarkozy. However, Bajolet’s nomination is interpreted by some as part of a wider effort to recalibrate the DGSE’s operational agenda to reflect the country’s increased military involvement in predominantly Muslim parts of Africa. The 63-year-old Bajolet served for many years as a career diplomat in countries such as Bosnia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, and is currently France’s Ambassador to Afghanistan. Prior to serving overseas, Bajolet was Deputy Director for Middle Eastern Affairs at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2008 until 2011, when he departed for Afghanistan, he served as the first-ever intelligence advisor to the French executive under President Sarkozy. Working under the direction of the French Ministry of National Defense, the DGSE has had to reinvent itself in the post-Cold-War era, shifting its focus from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc to non-state actors in North Africa and beyond. During that time, many diplomats joined the agency’s personnel, which had historically been staffed primarily by military officials. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #558

Amrullah Saleh

Amrullah Saleh

►► US government says Iran aids al-Qaeda. The US Treasury Department has accused the Iranian authorities of aiding al-Qaeda, saying Tehran had entered into financial agreements with six people believed to be al-Qaeda operatives in Iran, Kuwait, Qatar and Pakistan. According to Treasury officials, one of the six “is believed to have recently ascended to the No. 2 position in Al Qaeda, reporting directly to the organization’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri”.
►►Interview with Afghan spy chief. CNN has an exclusive interview with Amrullah Saleh, the –usually media-shy– former head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security. The interview is essentially one long attack on Pakistan, which Saleh blames for destabilizing Afghanistan, hiding and sheltering al-Qaeda members, and providing funding and arms to the Taliban.
►►Sudan’s spy chief secretly visited France in June. The director of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS), Mohamed Atta al-Moula Abbas, secretly traveled to Paris last June. He held talks there with Read more of this post

News you may have missed #360

  • New book hints at covert US-French spy war. A forthcoming book, Diplomats: Behind the Façade of France’s Embassies, by Franck Renaud, claims that in 2008 French security agents discovered hidden bugs placed by the CIA in the Paris apartment of Pierre Brochand, head of the  DGSE, France’s primary intelligence agency. A CIA spokesperson refused to speculate on the accuracy of the allegations.
  • Obama rethinking his lead pick for DNI. Following skepticism expressed by intelligence insiders, President Obama is reportedly reevaluating his initial choice of James R. Clapper as the leading contender for the post of the Director of National Intelligence.

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Comment: Was Clotilde Reiss a French Spy in Iran?

Clotilde Reiss

Clotilde Reiss

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The case of Clotilde Reiss acquired new momentum earlier this week, after a former French intelligence official claimed she had collaborated with French secret services. Pierre Siramy, who until late last year was a senior official at DGSE, France’s external intelligence agency, said on Sunday that Reiss had worked “very well” for France. Reiss, a 25-year-old Farsi-speaking French-language assistant at the University of Isfahan, was arrested in Iran last year on accusations of being a ‘nuclear spy’. But last weekend her ten-year prison sentence was suddenly commuted to a fine, and she was able to return home to France, in an apparent secret deal with Paris, which included the release of two Iranian operatives held in France.

Read more of this post

Iranian defector briefed UN inspectors on Iran nuclear program

Iranian nuclear facility in Qum

Qum facility

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Iranian nuclear scientist who vanished during a pilgrimage to Mecca last June has defected to the West and has briefed American and United Nations officials about Iran’s nuclear program. As intelNews reported on October 9, rumors have been circulating in the Arab press that Shahram Amiri, a senior figure in the Iranian nuclear research program, was not abducted by Saudi and Western intelligence agencies, as Iran claims, but actually defected to the West. Now British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph has cited “a source close to France’s overseas secret service, the DGSE”, who claims that Amiri’s defection was facilitated through a carefully planned intelligence operation involving the CIA, as well as French and German operatives. Read more of this post