More on senior North Korean diplomat who defected in London

Thae Yong-HoA high-ranking North Korean diplomat, who defected with his wife and children in London, and is now in South Korea, is from a privileged family with a long revolutionary pedigree in North Korean politics. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification confirmed on Wednesday that Thae Yong-Ho, the second-in-command at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom, had defected with his wife and children and had been given political asylum in South Korea. As intelNews reported earlier this week, Thae, a senior career diplomat believed to be one of North Korea’s foremost experts on Western Europe, had disappeared with his family and was presumed to have defected “to a third country”.

New information has since emerged on Thae and his family, confirming that both he and his wife are members of North Korea’s privileged elite, with decades-old connections to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. According to the Seoul-based JoongAng Daily, Thae’s wife, O Hye-Son, is a niece of the late O Peak-Ryong, a decorated communist guerrilla who fought Korea’s Japanese colonialists in the 1930s. O, who died in the 1980s, joined the Korean anti-Japanese struggle alongside Kim Il-Sung, founder of the Workers’ Party of Korea and first leader of North Korea. This means that O Hye-Son is also the cousin of O Peak-Ryong’s son, General O Kum-Chol, who is currently vice chairman of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army. Thae himself is the son of Thae Pyong-Ryol, a four-star general who also fought against the Japanese in the 1930s, alongside Kim Il-Sung. In the postwar period, General Thae became a senior member of the Workers’ Party of Korea and was appointed to the Party’s powerful Central Committee. He died in 1997.

JoongAng Daily quoted an unnamed “source familiar with the matter” of Thae’s defection, who said that the diplomat’s loyalty to the North Korean leadership had been unquestioned prior to his surprise defection. Most North Korean diplomats are posted at an embassy abroad for a maximum of three years before being moved elsewhere in the world. The fact that Thae had been allowed to remain in the United Kingdom for 10 years shows his privileged status within the Workers’ Party of Korea, said the source. Additionally, the children or most North Korean diplomats are required to return to their native country after completing high school. But this did not seem to apply to Thae, whose three children were living with him in Britain even after graduating from university. This and many other clues reflect Thae’s “impeccable credentials”, said the source, which made him one of the most trusted government officials in the regime’s bureaucratic arsenal.

It is believed that Thae defected because he had been told that his tenure in London was coming to an end after a decade, and he would have to relocate to a less desirable location, or possibly recalled back to Pyongyang. Defections among North Korea’s privileged elite are rare, but have been happening increasingly frequently in the past few years. This makes some observers believe that disillusionment among Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un’ inner circle is growing and that the North Korean regime is becoming weaker.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 August 2016 | Permalink

Senior North Korean diplomat reportedly defects in London (updated)

DPRK Embassy in LondonA senior member of North Korea’s diplomatic representation in the United Kingdom, who is considered one of his country’s leading specialists in Western European affairs, has reportedly defected “to a third country” with his family. The alleged defection was first reported on Tuesday by South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo. Citing “a source with in-depth knowledge of North Korea”, the Seoul-based paper said that the diplomat had disappeared several weeks ago, and that staff at the embassy of North Korea in London had failed in attempts to find him. Later on the same day, the British state-owned broadcaster BBC identified the missing diplomat as Thae Yong-Ho.

In a brief report, the BBC said that the diplomat had lived with his wife and children in London for a decade, and that the family —especially its younger members— were very integrated in British culture and way of life. Further updates in South Korean media said Thae was serving as deputy consul at the embassy, essentially as second-in-command after Ambassador Hak Bong Hyon. It is also believed that Thae was tasked with promoting a positive image of North Korea to British audiences, and was also in charge of cultivating the embassy’s relations with the UK Korean Friendship Association, an organized group of North Korean ideological sympathizers in Britain. But some reports indicate that the alleged defector also performed intelligence tasks, such as monitoring the activities of North Korean defectors living in London.

Thae is believed to be a senior member of North Korea’s diplomatic community. He grew up in China and is fluent in Chinese and English, in addition to his native Korean. He joined North Korea’s diplomatic ranks soon after graduating from university and is said to be one of the country’s foremost experts on Western Europe. If confirmed, his defection will deliver a serious blow to North Korea’s prestige and arguably hurt its intelligence capabilities in the West. This development will also have a major impact on the operations of the Asian country’s embassy in London, which is run by only five diplomats, including the ambassador. No comments have been made on this story by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the embassy of North Korea in London, or the government of South Korea. According to JoongAng Ilbo, Thae is currently “going through procedures to seek asylum in a third country” with his family.

Update 17 Aug. 2016, 5:00 p.m. GMT: The BBC now reports that Thae has defected to South Korea and that he and his family are “under the [South Korean] government’s protection”, according to officials in Seoul. He is believed to be the most senior North Korean official to have ever defected in the history of the communist state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2016 | Permalink

Harassment of diplomats is part of escalating US-Russian ‘gray war’

US embassy in RussiaA notable increase in incidents of harassment of American diplomats stationed in Europe by Russian intelligence personnel appears to be part of what some officials describe as an escalating “gray war” between the US and Russia. For over a year now, American State Department personnel stationed in Europe have been complaining of a systematic campaign of “harassment and intimidation” against them and their families by Russian intelligence operatives. The campaign is allegedly being waged in Moscow and other European capitals, and has prompted one US diplomat to say that he and his colleagues were “feeling embattled out there in the embassy”. The Washington Post, which published the story on Monday, said that the diplomats’ concerns about the Russian campaign of intimidation were raised again at a recent meeting in Washington of US ambassadors serving in Europe and Russia.

According to The Post, some of the harassment can be characterized as routine, and involves Russian intelligence personnel conducting surveillance of American diplomats, taunting them at social events, or bribing local journalists to report negatively on their activities. But these pranks have allegedly become uglier and even criminal after 2014. The Post said that it had read “a series of secret memos” sent to the State Department by US embassies and consulates in Russia and Europe, which suggest that the increasing harassment of American diplomats is connected to the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia after its military intervention in Ukraine. In some instances, Russian intelligence operatives broke into the homes of American diplomats at night and rearranged the furniture, or turned on all the lights and electronic equipment before leaving. In another case, a US diplomat’s children were followed to school, while another’s car tires were slashed repeatedly, said the paper.

The State Department’s press secretary John Kirby told The Post that incidents of overt harassment of US diplomatic personnel by Russian government employees had indeed increased. Norm Eisen, America’s former ambassador to the Czech Republic, told the paper that the intimidation was part of “the gray war” between Washington and Moscow, which has escalated following Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine.

A statement from the Russian embassy in Washington denied that the Russian government was behind the alleged incidents. But it went on to state: “In diplomatic practice there is always the principle of reciprocity and, indeed, for the last couple of years our diplomatic staff in the United States has been facing certain problems”. This statement can be seen to imply that Russia is responding to instances of intimidation of its diplomats by US authorities. The statement added: “The deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations […] was not caused by us, but rather by the current [US] administration’s policy of sanctions and attempts to isolate Russia”. The Post said that US Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issued directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow in March, but that the harassment has continued. US President Barack Obama is apparently aware of the situation, but has ordered US intelligence agencies “not to respond with similar measures against Russian diplomats”, said the paper.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 1 June 2016 | Permalink

Concerns about Israeli spying prompt debate on EU security measures

EU headquartersA debate on information security measures in the European Union was prompted last week after some officials voiced concerns that the proceedings of a closed-door meeting were secretly monitored by Israel. The meeting took place on January 15 as part of regular proceedings by the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC). The main item on the agenda was the EU’s Middle Eastern policy. According to some meeting participants, Israeli diplomats appeared to be aware of a statement discussed during the PSC meeting “in real time”, which prompted a wider debate on EU information security policies.

According to the Brussels-based EU Observer, which reported on the story, EU member state ambassadors present at the meeting worded a statement that contained a sentence deemed critical to Israel’s policy on Palestine. The sentence allegedly stated: “The EU will continue to unequivocally and explicitly make the distinction between Israel and all territories occupied by Israel in 1967”. According to some ambassadors who were present at the PSC meeting, “Israeli contacts sent text messages to them with requests to alter wording shortly after each new draft [of the PSC statement] went around”. Further suspicions were raised when, at the conclusion of the meeting, the Greek delegate vetoed the contentious line, standing alone against the remaining 27 delegates who had earlier supported it.

Last week, sources told the EU Observer that Israel may have placed bugs in the room where the PSC meeting took place. They added that the committee was debating whether to begin holding meetings in a secure room located in the EU headquarters building in Brussels, where the use of cell phones by meeting participants is not possible. They also said that a stricter classification policy should apply to PSC documents. Others, however, said that the source of the leak may have been the Greek delegate —the sole participant at the meeting who assumed a seemingly pro-Israeli stance. The Greek ambassador may have shared the details of the proceedings with Israeli officials, thus effectively spying on the conference on behalf of Israel, speculated the EU Observer. Another PSC meeting delegate told the paper that “the spy theory” was effectively concocted “in order to avoid confrontation” with the Greek delegation.

The EU Observer contacted the Greek mission to the EU, but was told that the Greek ambassador would never spy on the EU “as a matter of principle”. The Israeli mission to the EU declined to comment.

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

Israel, Saudi Arabia, acknowledge holding secret talks on Iran

Dore Gold and Anwar Majed EshkiRepresentatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have publicly admitted for the first time that they met secretly to discuss their common foe Iran, even though Saudi Arabia does not officially acknowledge Israel’s existence. The admission was made at a symposium held on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign-policy think tank based in Washington, DC.

According to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, who covered the event, it featured speeches by Saudi General (ret.) Anwar Majed Eshki, and Israeli career diplomat Dore Gold. Eskhi is a former adviser to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Gold is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, and is currently seen as a strong candidate to lead Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lake notes that Eshki gave his speech in Arabic, Gold gave his in English, and that no questions were taken from the audience.

At least five meetings appear to have taken place between senior Israeli and Saudi officials since early 2014, in secret venues located in Italy, India and the Czech Republic. The main purpose of the clandestine meetings was to discuss what Tel Aviv and Riyadh see as Iran’s increasingly powerful role in Middle Eastern affairs, and to explore ways of stopping Tehran from building nuclear weapons.

The admission of the secret meetings between Israeli and Saudi diplomats will not come as a surprise to seasoned Middle East observers. Many have suspected that the two countries, who have historically been bitter enemies, have sought to collaborate behind the scenes against Iran. However, as Lake correctly points out, this week’s acknowledgement is the first time that this collaboration has been openly admitted by the two sides. He quotes one participant at Thursday’s symposium, Israeli General (ret.) Shimon Shapira, who says that Tel Aviv and Riyadh have also discussed “political and economic” means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This admission, however, does not mean that the Saudis are about to recognize Israel, or that the Israelis are any closer to accepting the Saudis’ 2002 Arab-Israeli peace plan, which Tel Aviv has flatly rejected, says Lake. Admittedly, the rising power of Iran can only do so much to bring Israelis and Arabs closer.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/05/01-1709/

‘Gloves are coming off’ in US-Israel clash over Iran, says intel insider

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An American former intelligence operative has called the latest revelations of Israeli spying against the United States “appalling” and warned that “the gloves are coming off” in the clash between Washington and Tel Aviv over Iran. The unnamed former operative, described as having “long, firsthand familiarity with Israeli operations”, told Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that he was not surprised to find out Israel has been spying on the closed-door talks between the US and the Islamic Republic.

He was referring to The Wall Street Journal’s leading article on Monday, which alleged that the Jewish state’s intelligence services have been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The paper said the spy operation against the US forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which aim to bridge the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Newsweek has reported before allegations about aggressive Israeli espionage against the US. Last year, Stein elicited a strong reaction from the Israeli government when he quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal American secrets. According to Stein, intelligence representatives had briefed members of Congress about Israeli spy operations against US interests that were “unrivaled and unseemly” and had reached levels far higher than similar activities by other allied countries, such as Britain or Japan.

This time, however, says Stein, Israeli actions “mark a new frontier” in the intelligence rivalry between Washington and Tel Aviv. He quotes an American former intelligence insider who condemns Israeli efforts to sabotage US-Iranian talks as “manipulation of our institutions” and blasts American lawmakers siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “useful idiots” who “sacrifice the US national interest for a foreign ideology”, namely “Likud rightwing Zionism”. The unnamed source added that the controlled leaks about the widening rift in US-Israeli relations reveal the anger currently being felt in Washington against the Israeli government. Behind closed doors, officials in the White House, the foreign-policy and intelligence communities “are prepared to act on that anger”, he concluded.

Israel ‘spied on the United States’ during Iran nuclear negotiations

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The intelligence services of Israel have allegedly been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal said the spy operation forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which are aimed at bridging the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

In a leading article published on Monday, the paper said it decided to reveal the existence of the Israeli spying program after interviewing “more than a dozen current and former US and Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials, policy makers and lawmakers”. Ironically, according to The Journal, the administration of US President Barack Obama found out about the Israeli spying after instructing American intelligence agencies to conduct a counterintelligence operation against Tel Aviv, in order to see what they knew about the secret negotiations with Iran. After spying on Israeli government officials, the American agencies concluded that they were in possession of confidential information that could only have been acquired from spying on participants in the negotiations.

According to The Journal, American officials were not surprised by the spying. But they were especially perturbed, said the paper, to find out that the Israeli government proceeded to leak the secret information to American lawmakers opposed to a possible deal with Iran, in order “to undermine US diplomacy”, according to one unnamed senior American official.

Israeli officials told The Journal that Tel Aviv had indeed acquired confidential information about the negotiations, but that they had done so by spying on Iranian, not American, negotiators. Speaking late on Monday, a spokesman for the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the American newspaper’s allegations were “utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies”, he said, adding that the “false allegations” were “clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel”.

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