New paper sheds light on Russian and Chinese influence in Italy

Russia Italy Putin ConteA NEW PAPER, PUBLISHED by the United Kingdom’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for Defence and Security Studies, sheds light the complex relationship between Italy and the West’s two principal adversaries, Russia and China. Italy is a major global economic power. It is a prominent member of the Group of Seven (G7), which collectively account for more than 50 percent of global net wealth. It is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Despite —or perhaps because of— its central place in the Western alliance, Italy has long been a leading advocate for cooperation and dialogue between the West and Russia. In 2019, it became the first G7 member and the first major European Union power to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with China on Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Additionally, the Italian private sector has been far more hesitant than those of other Western countries to abandon Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, with only a single Italian company having completely exited the Russian market since February of this year.

According to two Italian researchers, RUSI Senior Associate Fellow Raffaello Pantucci, and Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), Italy’s cooperative attitude toward China and Russia has led some to accuse Rome of being a “Trojan horse in Europe”. But in their research paper published by RUSI earlier this week, Pantucci and Ambrosetti argue that the reality is far more complex, especially in the case of Italian-Russian relations. They point out that Italy has, in fact, been a leading voice in favor of the imposition of harsh sanctions on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Currently the Italian state is actively seeking to disengage its energy-import sector from Russia.

Strategy of Engagement

The research paper, entitled “Russian and Chinese Influence in Italy”, argues that Italy’s tendency to “hedge between its close transatlantic ties and its longstanding connections with Moscow and Beijing” is not new. In fact it reflects a longstanding Italian strategy, which tends to remain relatively constant and “does not change according to the political color of the government in charge” in Rome. As a result, Italy’s relations with Russia and China “show a roughly consistent pattern” in the post-Cold War era, as Rome is largely oriented “toward engagement” with both Moscow and Beijing. Read more of this post

An assessment of Russia’s espionage network in Switzerland

Russian embassy SwitzerlandSINCE LATE FEBRUARY, WHEN Russian troops invaded Ukraine, over 500 Russian diplomats have been expelled from Western countries. Even former Russian allies have contributed to the growing list of expulsions —most recently Bulgaria, which ousted a near-unprecedented 70 Russian diplomats last week, citing espionage concerns. Amidst that sea of expulsions, Switzerland remains an island. It is among the few European countries that have yet to officially expel Russian diplomats. Abiding by its centuries-old policy of neutrality, it has resisted calls to take sides in the intelligence war between the West and Russia.

“No-Questions-Asked” Approach to Espionage

Russia has been able to take advantage of Switzerland’s neutrality policy since February. Instead of returning to Moscow, at least some of the expelled Russian diplomats have been reposted to Switzerland. They continue to operate there under a “no-questions-asked” policy, which has prevailed since the days of the Cold War. For this and other reasons (i.e. proximity to prime intelligence targets, safety, advanced telecommunications systems), Switzerland has been a major intelligence hub for decades. According to the Nachrichtendienst des Bundes (NDB), Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service, the past few years have witnessed higher levels of activity by foreign intelligence services than any other period since the Cold War.

Russia’s Intelligence Presence in Switzerland

During that time, Russia has been able to build a pan-European espionage hub in the small alpine state. That is the conclusion of a report by Jonas Roth, which was published last week in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Switzerland’s newspaper of record. The report, entitled “So Spioniert Russland in der Schweiz” (“How Russian spies operate in Switzerland”), features commentary by several experts and government officials. One source tells Roth that, despite the intense diplomatic pressure Russia has faced globally since February, its espionage structures in Swiss cities like Geneva and Bern “are still intact”.

How many Russian intelligence officers are currently operating in Switzerland? According to the report, at least a third of Russia’s 220-strong diplomatic presence in the country consists of intelligence officers. These 70 or so intelligence officers represent all three of Russia’s primary intelligence agencies, namely the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Main Directorate of the Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU), and the Federal Security Service (FSB). Officers from these agencies handle an unknown number of informants and agents; these are Swiss or third-country nationals, who provide the Russians with intelligence on a regular basis. Special activities are carried out by Russian intelligence personnel who travel to Switzerland on an ad hoc basis. Read more of this post

Havana syndrome unlikely to be caused by adversary action, CIA report finds

CIAMOST CASES OF THE so-called “Havana syndrome”, a mysterious medical condition affecting mostly American government officials abroad, are unlikely to have been caused by a directed energy weapon or other device constructed by a foreign adversary, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The condition is believed to have afflicted around 1,000 American and Canadian diplomats around the world in recent years, and many claim it is the result of a mystery weapon built by Russia or other adversaries of the United States.

The matter first came to light in 2017, when Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that the diplomats suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injury. In the most recent known case, “about two dozen” personnel at the US embassy in Vienna showed Havana syndrome symptoms in the first half of 2021.

But now a study by the CIA has concluded that the vast majority of Havana syndrome cases could be “explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress”. The study, described as “comprehensive” by CIA sources, supports the view that environmental causes, rather than “a sustained global campaign by a foreign power”, could explain most Havana syndrome cases. According to The Times, the conclusion of the CIA study is broadly shared by other members of the United States intelligence community, though confidence levels vary.

The Director of the CIA, William Burns, said yesterday that the agency had “reached some significant interim findings”, but would continue to investigate the Havana syndrome, given that two dozen cases remained difficult to explain. However, the conclusions of the study appear to have displeased many victims, according to The Times. One organized group of victims described the CIA study as “interim” and said that its results “cannot and must not be the final word on the matter”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 January 2022 | Permalink

Leaked documents show Georgian intelligence service spied on Western diplomats

Tbilisi

THE EUROPEAN UNION HAS summoned the chief Georgian envoy to Brussels, in response to allegations that European, American and other diplomats were spied on by the Georgian security services. The allegations have emerged from an extensive collection of documents, which were released to the media by an anonymous whistleblower earlier this month.

The documents appear to confirm long-held suspicions among many in the former Soviet Republic, that the Georgian State Security Service (SSS) has been spying on members of the clergy, as well as on opposition politicians, journalists and others. But the documents also allege that the SSS has been spying on diplomats from the European Union, the United States, Israel, and other countries, who are stationed in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Among those who have allegedly been targeted is the European Union’s ambassador to Georgia, Carl Hartzell.

The European External Action Service, which is the European Union’s foreign-policy diplomatic and foreign office, described the revelations as “a very serious matter”, and added that they have “implications in the framework of the Vienna Convention [on] Diplomatic Relations”. On Wednesday, the European Union reportedly summoned Georgia’s ambassador to Brussels, Vakhtang Makharoblishvili, in order to issue a formal complaint. Ambassador Hartzell said that the “volume and nature” of the alleged espionage went “beyond the normal activities of security services” and “raised serious questions about the relationship” between Georgia and the West.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Prime Minister, Irakli Gharibashvili, described revelations in the leaked documents as “fabrications and falsifications”, and blamed his government’s political opponents for leaking them to the press. He also defended the conduct of the SSS, saying that the agency “conducts [only] legitimate wiretaps within the limits established by [Georgian] law”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Turkey and Qatar emerge as Taliban government’s main envoys to the West

Turkish embassy in Afghanistan

TURKEY AND QATAR, TWO countries with a growing diplomatic and intelligence network inside Afghanistan, are emerging as significant envoys to the Western world for the new government of the Taliban. Their newfound role in the Central Asian country puts them in direct competition with China and Russia, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open throughout the dramatic events of the past month. Three other countries with historically close ties to the Taliban, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also important players amidst the new reality in the war-torn country.

As a recent article by the BBC points out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s, when the group last held the reins of power in Kabul. But they quickly cut diplomatic ties with it following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their contacts with some of the older Taliban leaders remain strong, however.

In contrast to the older generation, some of the younger leaders of the Taliban see Qatar and Turkey as important mediators and conduits of communication with the outside world, and especially with the West. It is no accident that the Taliban entrusted the restoration of the —undoubtedly soon to be renamed— Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to technicians from Turkey and Qatar, who were hurriedly flown to the Afghan capital last week for that purpose.

In establishing relations of trust with the Taliban, Qatar is relying on a lengthy record of facilitating diplomatic connections between the militant group and Western powers. It should be recalled that it was in Doha that American and Taliban representatives negotiated the terms of Washington’s exit over several meetings spanning several administrations in the White House. In the past month, the Qataris used their links to the Taliban to assist numerous Western nations, including the United States, in evacuating their citizens from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Two dozen US diplomats in Vienna show signs of ‘Havana syndrome’, report claims

Vienna Austria

ABOUT TWO DOZEN PERSONNEL of the United States embassy in the Austrian capital Vienna have been experiencing unexplained neurological symptoms that are similar to the so-called “Havana syndrome”, a mysterious medical condition that continues to puzzle brain scientists. The condition is believed to have afflicted at least 130 American and Canadian diplomats around the world in recent years.

The matter first came to light in 2017, when Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that the diplomats suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injury.

Now a new report by The New Yorker’s Adam Entous claims that “about two dozen” personnel at the US embassy in Vienna have shown Havana syndrome symptoms “since Joe Biden took office” in January of this year. If accurate, this number of incidents would mean that the Austrian capital is now the largest Havana syndrome location in the world after Cuba. In his report, Entous cited a spokesman for the US Department of State, who said that department was “vigorously investigating” reports of “possible unexplained health incidents” among US diplomats and other embassy personnel in Vienna. The expression “unexplained health incidents” is the official term that the US government uses to refer to what is informally known as the Havana syndrome.

Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency reported a statement issued on Saturday by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. It said the ministry was “working with the US authorities on jointly getting to the bottom of this”, adding that the Austrian government took “these reports very seriously”, as they potentially affected “the safety of the diplomats sent to Austria and their families”, which was a “top priority” for the Austrian government.

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

New report says ‘Havana Syndrome’ was caused by directed microwave radiation

US embassy in CubaA NEW REPORT BY the United States National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, has found that the so-called ‘Havana Syndrome’, which afflicted American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba and China in 2016 and 2017, was likely caused by directed microwave radiation. The study, which was commissioned by the US Department of State, is the latest in a long list of scientific assessments of the mysterious syndrome. The case remains a source of debate in the scientific, diplomatic and intelligence communities.

In 2017 Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from the US embassy in Havana, and at least two more diplomats from the US consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that they suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of 2019 the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns.

The latest study by the National Academies of Sciences resulted from the coordination of leading toxicologists, epidemiologists, electrical engineers and neurologists. The resulting 66-page report describes in detail the symptoms experienced by nearly 40 US government employees, who were examined for the purposes of the study. Its authors said they examined numerous potential causes, including psychological factors, infectious diseases, directed radio frequency energy, and even exposure to insecticides. Ultimately, the authors concluded that “many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms and observations reported by [US government] employees are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy”, according to their report.

However, the study does not attempt to answer the burning question of whether the symptoms experienced by the sufferers resulted from deliberate attacks, and if so, who may have been behind them. Some have accused the governments of Cuba and/or Russia of being responsible for the syndrome. However, the Cuban and Russian governments have strongly denied the accusations. The National Academies of Sciences report does state that the systematic study of pulsed radio frequency energy has a history of over half a century in Russia and the Soviet Union.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 December 2020 | Permalink

Israel intel official says Bahrain and Oman could follow UAE in normalizing relations

Eli CohenIsrael’s minister of intelligence has said Bahrain and Oman could follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, following last week’s historic announcement. Israel said on Thursday that the UAE had agreed to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, in return for Israel’s pledge to cancel its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank. The agreement, which was sponsored by Washington, makes the UAE only the third Arab country to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm and skepticism, with some observers claiming it could reshape Middle East politics, and others warning it could bring Palestinian factions closer to Iran. But on Sunday, Eli Cohen, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and member of the country’s Security Cabinet, said the agreement between Israel and the UAE was likely to be the first of several similar deals. Speaking on Israel Army Radio, Cohen said that “additional agreements” would follow “in the wake of this agreement”, and that “Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda”. The two Gulf countries are close allies of the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is one of Iran’s strongest regional rivals. In official statements issued on Thursday, Bahrain and Oman praised the normalization of relations between the UAE and Iran, but did not speak to whether they were contemplating following in the UAE’s footsteps. Meanwhile, the government of Kuwait said in an official statement last week that its position toward Israel remained unchanged, signaling that a change of status in its treatment of the Jewish state was not on the horizon.

Cohen also told Israel Army Radio that, in his assessment, “there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be [agreements between Israel and] Muslim countries in Africa […] chief among them Sudan”. In recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Omani and Sudanese leaders. The Israeli prime minister said last week he expected “more countries will be joining us in the peace circle”, adding that the Israel-UAE agreement signaled “a historic change which advances peace with the Arab world and will eventually advance a real, sober and secure peace with the Palestinians”. There are many critics of this view, especially among Netanyahu’s own voter base, which was highly supportive of his prior pledges that Israel would annex parts of the West Bank.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2020 | Permalink

Russia detains American diplomats for traveling to top-secret military site

SeverodvinskRussian authorities detained three American diplomats because they allegedly tried to enter a highly secret weapons testing site in northern Russia, according to reports. The site in question is located near the northern Russian city of Severodvinsk. The city is home to a number of military shipyards and is thus restricted for non-Russians. The latter require a special permit to enter it.

In August of this year, Western media reported on a mysterious explosion that took place in a weapons research site located near Severodvinsk. The explosion allegedly happened during testing of a top-secret prototype rocket engine. Russian authorities revealed that five workers died as a result of the explosion, but denied media reports that the explosion had caused a radiation leak that had affected Severodvinsk. The Russian Ministry of Defense also denied allegations that a large-scale nuclear clean-up operation had been conducted in and around Severodvinsk. At the same time, Russian authorities restricted maritime traffic in the White Sea, on the shores of which Severodvinsk is situated.

On Wednesday, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that three American diplomats had been detained by authorities near Severodvinsk, allegedly because they tried to enter the city without the necessary permits. The diplomats were not named but are believed to be military attachés that serve in the United States embassy in Moscow. Interfax said the three were detained on Monday while onboard a passenger train. They were removed from the train, questioned and eventually released. However, they might still face charges of trying to enter a restricted area without permission.

The United States Department of State issued a statement claiming that the three diplomats “were on official travel and had properly notified Russian authorities of their travel”. A State Department spokesman said on Wednesday that the three diplomats’ travel plans had been authorized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. But authorities in Russia said that the three military attachés had been authorized to travel to the city of Arkhangelsk, which is located approximately 30 miles east of Severodvinsk. “We are quite willing to provide the United States embassy with a map of the Russian Federation”, the Russian statement concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2019 | Permalink

Iran arrests Russian journalist for espionage in rare spat with key ally Moscow

Yulia YuzikIn a surprising move last week, Iranian authorities arrested a Russian journalist and expert on the Caucasus region, whom they accused of spying for Israel. They later agreed to release her following significant diplomatic pressure from Russia. But the move surprised observers, because Iran rarely acts in ways that have the potential to damage its close relations with Moscow.

The journalist in question is Yulia Yuzik, a 38-year-old reporter with considerable expertise on Russia’s Caucasus region. Her articles on the security situation in the Caucasus have been published in several Russian and Western outlets, including Foreign Policy and GQ. She has also authored a number of books on Islamist militancy in the Russian Caucasus, which have been translated into several foreign languages, such as German, Italian and French.

In 2017, Yuzik spent several months in Iran while working on a number of stories. She returned to Russia before returning to Iran on September 29 of this year, reportedly “on a private trip”. Media reports stated that Yuzik intending to meet a number of Iranian journalists that she worked with back in 2017. However, upon landing at Iran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, Yuzik had her passport confiscated without explanation, and was forced to enter the country without identity and travel documents. Then, last Thursday she was arrested at her hotel in downtown Tehran by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who apparently broke down the door of her hotel room before arresting her.

There were no news of Yuzik’s whereabouts until the following day, when staff at the Russian embassy in the Iranian capital were contacted by her family. Yuzik’s family said that the IRGC had charged her with collecting intelligence for the Mossad, Israel’s spy service. Russian media reports said that the accusations against Yuzik took Russian diplomats by the surprise, given that Yuzik has no apparent connection to Israel, nor does she have a travel visa to enter that country. She reportedly spent a few days there in 2004 while writing a story about the Israel Defense Forces for Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Yuzik’s family told the Russian embassy that she had been scheduled to appear in a Tehran court on Saturday. The Russian embassy gave a press briefing to reporters on Friday, saying that the Russian Foreign Ministry had summoned the Iranian ambassador to Moscow to complain about Yuzik’s arrest. Then early on Saturday, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, announced that Yuzik would be released soon and would be allowed to return home to Russia.

The incident has surprised observers, because Russia is one of Iran’s closest international allies. It is therefore highly unusual for Tehran to take any action that might potentially provoke Moscow or otherwise damage its diplomatic relations with the Kremlin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 October 2019 | Permalink

‘Sonic attacks’ may have shrunk brains of US diplomats in Cuba, study finds

US embassy in CubaA series of alleged “sonic attacks” by a mysterious weapon may have caused the brains of American diplomats who served at the United States embassy in Cuba to shrink, according to a new scientific study. In 2017 Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from the US embassy in Havana and at least two more diplomats from the US consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and “unusual sounds or piercing noises”. Subsequent tests showed that they suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of this year the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. Subsequently, the US issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island and accused Cuba of neglecting to ensure the safety of US diplomatic personnel stationed there.

The theory that a sonic weapon caused the diplomats’ ailments is not universally held, with some scientists doubting the validity of such claims. But now a new study may have provided a tangible and measurable link that connects the physiological symptoms suffered by the diplomats. The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on a detailed examination of data from magnetic resonance imaging studies that assessed both structural and functional endpoints of the brains of the victims of the alleged sonic attacks. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania took these images of the brains of 40 individuals who complained of acute auditory and other sensory disturbances while in Cuba, and compared them with those of healthy participants. The latter were matched with the patients for age, lifestyle and general background. According to the study, the comparison revealed statistically significant differences in various structures of the subjects’ brains. The differences were most pronounced in the white matter of their brains. The white matter is important because it is comprised of the myelin-protected nerve fibers that are responsible for transmitting the electrical signals from one brain cell (neuron) to another. Damage to these regions would result in a reduction of the brain’s ability to process information as rapidly as the brains of non-affected individuals. According to the study, the volume of white matter in the brains of the alleged sonic attack victims was approximately five percent smaller than that in the brains of healthy adults.

One of the scientists behind the study told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph that his team of researchers have not seen “anything like it before”. But he added that he and his colleagues are “not sure […] what it is”, though “there does appear to be something there”. Another expert told the paper that the findings of the University of Pennsylvania study supported the validity of the symptoms reported by the American diplomats. However, they do not help answer the question of whether they suffered actual brain injuries. A spokesman from the United States Department of State told The Telegraph that the Department is “aware of the study and welcomes the medical community’s discussion of this incredibly complex issue”.

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

Italy rebukes France for blocking EU resolution calling for end to Libyan war

khalifa haftarSeveral European Union member states, led by Italy, have criticized France for blocking a joint resolution calling on all warring factions in Libya to cease all hostilities and return to the negotiations table. The latest round of hostilities was sparked by an all-out attack by a group calling itself the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades. In 2011, following an uprising that toppled Gaddafi, Haftar returned to Libya and launch a military campaign from the eastern city of Tobruk. Since that time, he has led the LNA in a war of attrition against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Last week, Haftar launched an all-out attack to defeat the GNA and take Tripoli —a move that many observers have been expecting for several months. With the LNA receiving substantial military assistance from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, most observers expected that Haftar would be the ruler of Tripoli within days. But his troops were unexpectedly pushed back by GNA troops on Monday, and have been unable to enter Tripoli from the south, as was their initial plan. Meanwhile the EU attempted on Wednesday to issue a joint statement calling on all warring sides to put down their weapons and enter into negotiations. But France blocked the draft statement, prompting heavy criticism.

On Thursday, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini criticized France for blocking the EU statement “for economic and commercial reasons” and warned that he would “not stand by and watch” France continue to support “a party that is fighting” in the Libyan Civil War. Salvini expressed the view that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military intervention in Libya in 2011, which was strongly supported by France, was “triggered more by economic and commercial interests than by humanitarian concerns”. Unlike France, which has been a strong supporter of Haftar, Italy backs the UN-supported GNA and Libya’s legitimate Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj.

In 2017, two leading international legal scholars accused Haftar of having ordered his troops to commit war crimes. Ryan Goodman, a professor and former special counsel to the general counsel of the United States Department of Defense, and Alex Whiting, a Harvard University law professor who served as an international criminal prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said that in September of 2015, Haftar openly urged his troops to “to take no prisoners” in battle. The Libyan warlord denies these charges against him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2019 | Permalink

Moscow confirms arrival of Russian troops in Venezuela

Russian planes CaracasRussian media reports have confirmed that an airplane carrying 100 Russian troops arrived in Caracas on Saturday, causing tensions to rise between Washington and Moscow over the deepening crisis in Venezuela. The arrival of the Russian troops in the Venezuelan capital was first reported on Saturday morning by Venezuelan reporter Javier Mayorca, who said on Twitter that two Russian military airplanes had landed in Caracas. The reporter said that an Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo plane belonging to the Russian Air Force could be seen on the tarmac of the Simón Bolívar International Airport in the Venezuelan capital. Another, smaller aircraft, also bearing the Russian flag on its fuselage, landed shortly afterwards, said Mayorca.

Within hours, several Venezuelan media reports appeared to confirm Mayorca’s claims, some even posting photographs of the two Russian planes surrounded by what appeared to be uniformed Russian soldiers. The BBC reported that the Russian cargo plane had delivered 100 Russian troops and 35 tons of military equipment. The force was led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, commander of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, according to the BBC. Later on Saturday, the Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik confirmed that Russian troops had arrived in Caracas. Citing anonymous “diplomatic sources”, Sputnik said the Russian troops had been sent to Caracas in order “to fulfil technical military contracts” and “to take part in consultations […] on defense industry cooperation” with Venezuelan officials. It added that there was “nothing mysterious” about the visit and that it was “related to [military] contracts that had been signed by the two countries years ago”.

Russia has supported Venezuela militarily, economically and diplomatically ever since 1999, when Hugo Chávez became president. The recent political crisis in the Latin American country, which has prompted a direct diplomatic intervention by Washington, has brought Caracas and Moscow closer together, as Russia has strongly opposed efforts by the United States to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro. Earlier this year, Russia sent two Tu-160 long-range bomber aircraft to take part in a military exercise organized by the Venezuelan government.

On Monday, Washington said that the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov. Pompeo told his Russian counterpart that Moscow should “cease its unconstructive behavior” and warned him that the United States would “not stand idly by as Russia exacerbated tensions” in Venezuela. Late on Monday, Sputnik quoted a “diplomatic source” as saying that that the “visit of Russian military personnel to Venezuela [was] in no way connected to the statements of the United States on potential intervention in Venezuela”.

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

China seeks clarification over alleged spy equipment ordered by US embassies

US embassy Berlin GermanyThe Chinese government says it is seeking explanations from Washington after a leaked procurement database showed that American embassies purchased data forensics software and various tactical spy equipment. The purported database was published on December 21 by the international anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, who is accused by some in the United States of having violated its espionage laws. WikiLeaks has dubbed the database the “US Embassy Shopping List” and says that it contains over 16,000 procurement requests from officials at American embassies located all over the world.

Most procurement requests included in the WikiLeaks database appear to be for commonplace items or services, such as passenger transportation, heating oil, outdoor freezers, or garage gates maintenance and repair. But there are some requests for so-called “tactical spy equipment”, such as those ordered by the US embassies in Colombia and El Salvador. These appear to be for miniature surveillance cameras hidden into everyday objects, such as buttons, baseball caps, watches and ties. Nearly 100 such items were requested for procurement by the US embassy in San Salvador. Several embassies ordered hardware and software for forensic examination of mobile phones. For example, the US embassy in Yerevan, Armenia, ordered a “Cell Phone Analyzer”, which allows users to access data from cell phones while bypassing security measures such as passwords. Similar devices were ordered by the US embassies in Berlin (pictured), and Kiev, capital of Ukraine, where fears were expressed on Monday about a possible military action by Russian troops during the holidays.

On Monday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was seeking “clarifications” from Washington about the documents made public by WikiLeaks. Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that the US owed “the rest of the world an explanation […] for what has recently been revealed by WikiLeaks”. Chunying also spoke about prior WikiLeaks revelations, including the so-called “PRISM-gate” in 2013, which revealed extensive intelligence-collection activities by the US on numerous countries, including some if its allies, such as Germany and France. She went on to ask, “why do American embassies buy so much secret surveillance equipment?”. Authorities in Washington had made no comment on the WikiLeaks revelation as of Tuesday morning.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 December 2018 | Permalink

Cyber spies accessed thousands of European Union diplomatic cables

European Commission buildingA group of hackers, allegedly working for the Chinese military, accessed thousands of classified diplomatic cables from the European Union during a protracted cyber-espionage operation, a report has revealed. Over 100 organizations are believed to have been targeted in the multi-year cyber-espionage campaign, including the United Nations, international labor groups, as well as government ministries from dozens of countries. The operation was revealed on Tuesday by Area 1, a cyber-security company founded by former officials of the United States National Security Agency, and reported by The New York Times.

The compromised cables come primarily from the European Union’s COREU communication network, a Telex-based network that uses teleprinters to exchange text-based messages. The European Union uses the COREU network to transmit information that is classified “limited” or “restricted” between officials representing the executive governments of the European Union’s member states, members of the European Commission, foreign-ministry officials, and other approved parties. Top-secret information (“tres secret” in European Union parlance) is typically not shared on the COREU network. Consequently, the hacked cables contain mostly low-level information. That does not mean, however, that their access by at least one adversary power does not represent a serious security breach. Area 1 said that its forensic examination of the method used by the hackers reveals a set of cyber-espionage techniques that are closely associated with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). These clues, in association with the PLA’s long history of attacking Western diplomatic targets, point to Beijing as a very likely culprit behind the attacks, according to Area 1.

The American cyber-security firm said it was able to access the compromised European Union cables and made over 1,100 of them available to The New York Times. The paper reported on Tuesday that the cables reflect increasing tension between Brussels and Washington, as European Union diplomats attempt to get a handle on the unpredictability of United States President Donald Trump. A series of diplomatic cables discusses the whether the European Union should bypass the White House and work directly with the Republican-controlled US Congress, which is viewed as more reliable and responsible. Another set of diplomatic exchanges describes the frustration of the Beijing’s leadership with Trump, which Chinese President Xi Jinping is said to have described to European Union officials as “a bully [engaged in a] no-rules freestyle boxing match”.

The Times said that it notified the European Union of the breach of its diplomatic cables and was told that officials were “aware of allegations regarding a potential leak of sensitive information and [were] actively investigating the issue”. The paper also contacted the White House National Security Council but did not get a response.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 December 2018 | Permalink

%d bloggers like this: