Analysis: US expulsion of Russian spies is mostly symbolic, aimed domestically

Russian embassy in WashingtonThere had been rumors for some time about a possible expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States, in response to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. The White House confirmed the rumors on Thursday morning, by announcing the expulsion of 35 accredited Russian diplomats from the US, and the reclamation of two “recreational facilities” used by Russian diplomats in New York and Maryland. Washington said the Russian diplomats are spies operating under diplomatic cover and that the recreational facilities were being “used for Russian intelligence activities”. Although the sanctions may seem significant at first, they are mostly symbolic, and their impact will be temporary and limited. They may even end up hurting the United States more than Russia.

As I told Newsweek‘s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein earlier today, the current size of Russia’s human-intelligence presence in the United States is estimated at more than 100 officers. Therefore, the expulsion of a third of those operatives will set back Russian human-intelligence activities on US soil —but only temporarily, since most of the expelled officers will be replaced in time. Moreover, Moscow will probably respond in kind, so Washington is likely to suffer a proportional reduction of its human-intelligence presence in Russia. That could hurt the US more than Russia, because the American human-intelligence presence in Russia is smaller and more needed in a relatively closed society as Russia’s. Thus, a proportional expulsion of Russian and American spies from each other’s territory may actually harm Washington more than Moscow.

In reality, the expulsions and sanctions pertain more to domestic American politics than foreign policy. They are designed to place the incoming president, Donald Trump, who is seen as a friend of Russia, in a difficult position, by further-complicating Russian-American relations in the last weeks of President Barack Obama’s Administration. These measures should arguably have been implemented much earlier this year, and certainly before November 8, when they may have had some impact. At this late stage, they can hardly be taken seriously, given the inconsistency in US national policy toward Russia, as shown in the differing viewpoints of the Obama and Trump teams.

Assuming that Russia was indeed behind a systematic effort to influence the 2016 US Presidential election, it has already achieved one of its main goals. It was to weaken the reputation of American political institutions as a whole and to divide America by intensifying the already growing mistrust between American —and by extension Western— civil society and its political institutions. Moscow will see the US response, such as it is, as a price worth paying, given the broader accomplishments of its covert operation against US democracy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 December 2016 | Permalink

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India expels high-profile Chinese journalists, allegedly for spying

Wu XiangFor the first time in history, India has refused to extend temporary residency visas for three senior Chinese media correspondents, effectively expelling them from the country, allegedly for espionage activities. All three reporters are employees of China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. They include Xinhua’s bureau chief in the Indian capital, New Delhi, Wu Xiang, and the agency’s Mumbai bureau chief, Lu Tang. A third journalist, She Yonggang, also based in Mumbai, has been asked to leave India by no later than July 31.

According to several Indian news media, the decision to refuse visa renewals for the Chinese journalists was taken after Indian intelligence agencies confirmed that the three were engaging in activities that “were incompatible with their journalistic capacity”. The phrase typically refers to espionage and related activities. According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the Chinese reporters have been officially asked to leave the country by the end of this month. All three are reportedly reputable experts in Indian affairs. Xinhua’s Mumbai bureau chief, Lu Tang, is typical: a fluent Hindi speaker and Jawaharlal Nehru University graduate, she specializes in Indo-Chinese relations and has written for some of Asia’s most best known publications.

Indian sources have not confirmed that the decision to expel the journalists relates to espionage activities. Government officials insist that the three had let their visas expire four months ago and were staying in India based on temporary fortnightly extensions. The Indian government simply made the decision not to renew the journalists’ already expired visas, they said. When asked about his impending expulsion, Xinhua’s New Delhi bureau chief, Wu Xiang, said he and his two colleagues had not been given a reason for the Indian government’s refusal to extend their visas. Indian officials told reporters that Xinhua would be allowed to replace the three reporters’ posts. The Chinese government has not yet responded to the news of the expulsions. There are reportedly five Indian journalists working in China for Indian news agencies.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 July 2016 | Permalink

News you may have missed #890

Kim Kuk-giBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US DEA agents given prostitutes and gifts by drug cartels. US Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department. Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members. Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in gatherings with prostitutes and received suspensions of two to 10 days.
►►Polish lieutenant accused of spying for Russia. A Polish Air Force pilot allegedly copied several thousand flight plans for F-16 fighters and handed them to Russian intelligence. According to Polish media, the airman was arrested by authorities last November, but the information has only recently emerged. The pilot was allegedly suspended from his duties, his passport was confiscated, and he was banned from leaving the country. Some reports suggest that soon after the arrest of the lieutenant, a Russian diplomat was expelled from the country for spying.
►►North Korea claims arrest of South Korean spies. North Korea said it had arrested two South Koreans engaged in espionage. The two arrested men, identified as Kim Kuk-gi (see photo) and Choe Chun-gil, were presented at a press conference in Pyongyang attended by journalists and foreign diplomats. A North Korean media report said Kim and Choe had gathered information about North Korea’s “party, state and military secrets”. It was not immediately clear where or when the two men were arrested. In Seoul, the country’s intelligence agency said the charge that the two men were working for the agency was “absolutely groundless”.

Sri Lanka expels Indian spy official for meddling in elections

Maithripala SirisenaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Sri Lanka has expelled a senior Indian intelligence official, accusing him of meddling in national elections that took place earlier this month. Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down on January 9 after losing a nationwide electoral contest to his former cabinet aide and main contender for the post, Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena led a coalition of opposition parties and figures, including several of Rajapaksa’s government ministers, who defected to the opposition en masse in the months leading to the election. Rajapaksa’s defeat surprised observers, who believed he would easily win a successive third term in office. Since 2005, when he was first elected president, Rajapaksa led an all-out military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as Tamil Tigers), after dismissing a prior truce deal between the government and the separatist group as “treasonous”. Under his leadership, the Sri Lankan military drove the Tigers out of Sri Lanka’s entire Eastern Province, reducing the extent of the group’s territorial control by 95%. However, relations with India, a traditional Sri Lankan ally, deteriorated drastically under Rajapaksa’s leadership. New Delhi became concerned that Colombo was making too many openings toward India’s geopolitical rival China. Late last year the Indian government protested after Sri Lanka permitted Chinese submarines to dock there without first informing its northern neighbor. On December 28, Sri Lankan media alleged that the senior representative of India’s Research and Analysis Wing in Colombo had been expelled from the country due to his behind-the-scenes support of the opposition’s electoral campaign. According to Sri Lankan sources, it was the Indian intelligence official who convinced Sirisena to resign from President Rajapaksa’s cabinet and run against him. The Indian intelligence operative then hosted secret meetings between Sirisena and other opposition figures, during which a united political front against Rajapaksa was formed. The allegations were also reported by the Reuters news agency on January 18, in an article that cited “political and intelligence sources” in Sri Lanka and India. New Delhi denied the allegations, saying that the intelligence official had been replaced because his overseas tour had expired, not because he had been expelled by authorities in Colombo. Meanwhile, the newly installed President Sirisena said he intends visit New Delhi on his first foreign trip in February, adding that India will form his government’s “first, main concern” on matters of foreign policy.

Russia expels Polish, German diplomats in ongoing spy row

Polish embassy in MoscowBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government has formally expelled several Polish and German diplomats in what appears to be a tit-for-tat move, following the removal of Russian envoys from Warsaw and Berlin on charges of espionage. The Polish government expelled a number of Russian diplomats last week, after it announced the arrest of two Polish citizens in Warsaw, on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of an unnamed foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to unconfirmed Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Last Friday, Polish media reports said that four Polish diplomats stationed in Moscow had been given 48 hours to leave the country. One report suggested that the diplomats included an employee of the political section of the Polish embassy in the Russian capital, as well as three military attachés. The four had reportedly left the country by Sunday night. Authorities in Moscow said they had been forced to take the step of expelling the Polish diplomats following Warsaw’s “unfriendly and unfounded step” of ordering a number of Russian envoys to leave Poland. The four Poles were officially declared “unwanted persons” in Russia for “activities incompatible with their [diplomatic] status”, which is considered code-language for espionage. Also on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the expulsion from Moscow of a German diplomat, just hours after a Russian diplomat was asked to leave the German city of Bonn by German authorities. Diplomatic sources said the German diplomat, a female employee at the German embassy in Moscow, was expelled in direct response to the earlier removal of the Russian diplomat, who was exposed as a spy following an extensive surveillance operation that lasted several months. German authorities refused to comment on the case. In Poland, Minister of Foreign Affairs Grzegorz Schetyna said simply that Warsaw “now considered the matter closed”.

Aruba releases Venezuelan ex-spy despite US calls to detain him

Hugo Carvajal BarriosBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence, who had been arrested in Aruba following a request by the United States for his capture, has been released, sparking protests from Washington. On July 24, authorities in the Dutch-controlled Caribbean island announced the arrest of Hugo Carvajal Barrios, former director of Venezuela’s Dirección General de Inteligencia Militar (DGIM). Carvajal, a close associate of the country’s late president Hugo Chavez, was accused by the US Department of the Treasury in 2008 of weapons and drugs smuggling. According to the US government, Carvajal was personally involved in illegally providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftwing guerrilla group engaged in a decades-long insurgency war against the government of Colombia. It also accused the Venezuelan official of helping the FARC smuggle cocaine out of the country, in a bid to help them raise funds to support their insurgency against Colombian authorities. In January of this year, Caracas appointed Carvajal consul-general to Aruba. Aruban officials told reporters last week that, although Carvajal held a Venezuelan diplomatic passport, he had not yet received his official diplomatic accreditation from the Aruban authorities at the time of his arrest, and was therefore not an accredited diplomat. By the end of last week, it appeared almost certain that Carvajal would be extradited to the US. But the Dutch government suddenly reversed its position on Monday and decided to release Carvajal, who has reportedly been expelled from Aruba and declared persona non grata (unwanted person). Some observers, including Venezuela’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Milos Alcalay, opined that the Dutch territory reversed its decision following “diplomatic threats” by Venezuela, “entailing severe economic relations”. Read more of this post

‘Diplomatic earthquake’ as Germany halts spy cooperation with US

Angela Merkel and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The German government has instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice, according to media reports. The move follows news that Berlin requested on Thursday the immediate removal from Germany of the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station —essentially the top American intelligence official in the country. The request came after two German citizens, one working for the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, and one working for the country’s Federal Ministry of Defense, were allegedly found to have been secretly spying for the US. German media reported on Thursday that the temporary halt in Berlin’s intelligence collaboration with Washington applies across the spectrum, with the exception of areas directly affecting tactical security concerns for Germany, such as the protection of its troops in Afghanistan, or defending against immediate terrorist threats. Sources in the German capital claimed that the removal of the CIA station chief was technically a “recommendation for his departure”, and did not constitute an official diplomatic expulsion. However, German observers described the incident as a “diplomatic earthquake”, which would have been unthinkable as a policy option for the German government, barring actions against “pariah states like North Korea or Iran”. This is not the first time an American intelligence officer has been asked to leave Germany. Berlin expelled another CIA officer in the 1990s, after it emerged that the American intelligence Agency had tried to recruit a German official at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs. However, unlike the current imbroglio, the previous spy affair was handled discretely and with almost no media fanfare, as is customary among allies. The decision to recommend the CIA station chief’s removal was reportedly made at a senior governmental level, following a “fruitless” telephone exchange between CIA Director John Brennan and Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, the coordinator between the German Chancellery and the BND. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Brennan offered Fritsche no apology and had “nothing to contribute other than clichés about transatlantic ties”, as well as his expressed irritation about the way the media were handling the incident. Read more of this post