Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats for espionage, Russia vows to respond in kind

Russian embassy BulgariaBulgaria, a once close Soviet ally, which is now a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has expelled two Russian diplomats whom it accuses of conducting military espionage. This raises to five the number of Russian diplomats who have been expelled from Bulgaria for espionage in the past year.

In a hastily announced press conference on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters in the Bulgarian capital Sofia that the ministry had “declared two Russian diplomats personae non grate”, a Latin term meaning unwanted persons. He added that the Bulgarian government had notified the Russian embassy of its decision with an official diplomatic note. The two Russian diplomats, who have not been named, were given 72 hours to leave the country, said the spokesman.

In addition to the expulsion of the two diplomats, it was later reported that the Bulgarian government had denied an earlier request by Moscow to provide diplomatic accreditation to Russia’s new military attaché to the country, who was expected to assume his post in Sofia this coming December. It is believed that this action by the Bulgarian government is connected to the alleged espionage case involving the two Russian diplomats.

Bulgarian government prosecutors allege that the two Russians have engaged in espionage activities in Bulgaria since 2016. Their goal, according to the Bulgarians, was to obtain classified information about the technological modernization of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, which is ongoing. They had allegedly already made contacts with Bulgarian officials who were privy to such information, and in some cases had already provided them with money in exchange for secrets. The two diplomats are believed to be working for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly referred to as GRU.

The Russian Embassy in Sofia confirmed late on Wednesday that it had received a telephone call from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informing it of the expulsion order issued for the two diplomats. It added, however, that it had not been given proof of acts of espionage by the two diplomats. In the same statement, the Russian Embassy said the two diplomats would leave Bulgaria as instructed, but warned that Moscow reserved the right “to a response in kind”.

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

Russia expels Austrian diplomat in tit-for-tat move involving espionage claims

Russian embassy in AustriaRussia has expelled a diplomat stationed at the Austrian embassy in Moscow, just hours after the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expelled a Russian diplomat from Austria, allegedly for engaging in espionage. Austrian officials reportedly gave the unnamed Russian diplomat until Tuesday, September 1, to leave Austrian soil, in a move that surprised observers, given the close relations between Austria and Russia in recent years.

The Russian diplomat is accused by the Austrian authorities of engaging in “behavior that violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”. The Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not elaborate on the accusations against the diplomat, and refused to name him. However, the Vienna-based Kronen Zeitung newspaper, said on Monday that the Russian diplomat had carried out “industrial espionage” for several years. According to the paper, the Russian had recruited an Austrian citizen who worked for a technology firm to spy for Moscow. Austrian authorities arrested the man, who promptly identified the Russian diplomat as handler. The paper also said that, according to some sources, the man turned himself in to the authorities.

Later on Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Johannes Aigner, Austria’s ambassador to Russia, and “strongly protested the unjustified course of action to cancel the accreditation of a Russian diplomat and order him to leave Austrian soil”. Moscow said in a statement its decision to expel an Austrian diplomat was “guided by the principle of reciprocity”. It is not known at this time how this incident will affect bilateral relations between Russia and Austria, which have been among Moscow’s warmest with a Western country in recent years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 August 2020 | Permalink

Norway expels Russian diplomat in espionage case involving Norwegian citizen

Russian embassy OsloThe government of Norway expelled a Russian diplomat on Wednesday, accusing him of committing espionage in a case that involves a Norwegian citizen, who has been arrested on charges of spying for Russia. Meanwhile local media named the Norwegian citizen involved in the case, while the Russian diplomat was also named yesterday in media reports.

As intelNews reported yesterday, a Norwegian citizen was arrested on Saturday, reportedly after he met with a Russian intelligence officer in an Oslo restaurant. The arrest of was announced on Monday by the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST), Norway’s counterintelligence agency. Norwegian authorities said the man had “access to information that would be of interest to foreign nations” through his work in the private sector.

On Wednesday, Norwegian media identified the man as Dr. Harsharn Singh Tathgar, a 50-year-old naturalized Norwegian citizen, who was born in India. Tathgar reportedly received his PhD in 2001 from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, after completing research on the properties of nickel and magnesium in the department of Materials Technology. According to the PST, Tathgar has admitted sharing restricted information with the Russian diplomat. According to the judge who remanded Tathgar in custody on Monday, the Indian-born Norwegian man received from the Russians monetary compensation for his services that was “not insignificant”. It is also believed that Tathgar met his alleged Russian handler several times in the past year, or even longer.

The Russian diplomat was not arrested along with Tathgar, because he holds diplomatic immunity. However, he now appears to have been declared persona non grata in Norway. Representatives from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters on Wednesday the Norwegian government had “informed the Russian ambassador that one of his employees is unwanted in Norway and has been asked to leave the country”. The diplomat has been named as Aleksandr Stekolshchikov. He reportedly served as Deputy Trade Representative at the Russian embassy in Oslo. He now stands accused by the Norwegian government of engaging in “activities that are not in accordance with his role and status as a diplomat”. He has been given until the end of the week to leave the country.

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Oslo has filed a complaint with Norwegian authorities, claiming that a bag Stekolshchikov was carrying when he was confronted by the PST was illegally searched, despite his diplomatic status. The Russians also claim Stekolshchikov was “unjustly detained” by the PST following “a meeting with a Norwegian citizen”. Moscow is now accusing the Norwegian Foreign Ministry of violating the diplomatic status of its embassy personnel. Oslo has denied these accusations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2020 | Permalink

Slovakia expels three Russian diplomats in connection with 2019 murder in Berlin

Russian embassy in SlovakiaThree Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave Slovakia, reportedly in connection with the killing in Germany of a Chechen former separatist, which many believed was ordered by Moscow. On Monday, the Foreign Ministry of Slovakia confirmed media reports that three Russian diplomats had been declared ‘unwanted persons’ and ordered to leave the country.

The three diplomats are stationed at Russia’s embassy in Bratislava. They are believed to be intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover. A spokesman from the Slovak Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday, citing “information from the Slovak intelligence services”, according to which the three Russians engaged in “activities [that] were in contradiction with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations”. Additionally, said the statement, Slovak authorities had uncovered “an abuse of visas issued at the Slovak general consulate in St. Petersburgh, and in this connection a serious crime was committed on the territory of another European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state”.

The statement did not elaborate on the specifics of the “serious crime”, but Slovak media report that it refers to the killing last August of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a leading figure in the Second Chechen War, which pitted the Russian military against groups of Muslim fighters in the North Caucasus between 1999 and 2009. Khangoshvili, a Muslim born in Georgia, was a bodyguard of Aslan Maskhadov, the self-described leader of the Muslim separatists in the Northern Caucasus. In 2015, Khangoshvili sought political asylum in Germany after two men tried to kill him in Tbilisi. The German authorities initially placed him on a terrorism watch list, but removed him after he began to collaborate with German counterterrorist agencies and participate in programs designed to de-radicalize Muslim youth. He was shot in broad daylight in Berlin by a man wearing a wig and carrying a pistol fitted with a silencer. Officials from the Berlin prosecutor’s office said at the time there were “indications the deed was pre-planned and may have political motives behind it”. It is now believed that at least one of the men suspected of involvement in planning Khangoshvili’s killing had traveled from Russia to the European Union on a visa issued by the Slovakian consulate in St. Petersburgh.

The three Russian diplomats have reportedly been told that they have until this coming Sunday to leave Slovakia. The Russian embassy in Bratislava said it would not comment on the expulsions. Kremlin officials have strongly denied that the Russian government had any ties to the killing of Khangoshvili. Moscow has vowed to expel an equal number of Slovak diplomats from the Russian capital in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #908

Sergei NaryshkinRussian spy chief in rare interview with the BBC. In an exclusive interview, Sergei Naryshkin (pictured), the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has told the BBC that America has been trying to “rule the world” and this could lead to “disaster”. Russia’s spy chief, who was talking to the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, also said that Russia doesn’t trust what the British government says about the Salisbury poisonings.

India and Pakistan embassies to cut staff by half over spy row. India is expelling close to half of the staff at Pakistan’s embassy in New Delhi over espionage claims. Islamabad has reciprocated with the same orders for the Indian High Commission. Notably, both commissions do not have a permanent ambassador in place. Tensions have remained high since India scrapped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status last year.

Israel moves to redeploy spy agency to track surging virus cases. Israel’s parliament gave initial approval Wednesday to a controversial bill enabling the government to use its domestic security agency to track cases of coronavirus, which are rising again. Cabinet mandated Shin Bet to use cell phone surveillance as an emergency measure to combat the virus in mid-March as mounting numbers of Israelis tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The specifics were kept secret, but security officials said the agency had tracked virus carriers’ movements through their phones. The measure was discontinued on June 10 as infection rates dropped. But following two weeks that have seen growing numbers of Israelis infected with the virus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to table the bill.

India expels Pakistan embassy officials for allegedly carrying out espionage

Pakistan embassy IndiaIndia has expelled two officials at the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi, after they were allegedly caught with fake Indian identity papers while trying to acquire classified documents. But the Pakistani government has rejected the allegations and subsequent expulsions as “a part of persistent anti-Pakistan propaganda” from India, and said the two officials were tortured while under detention by Indian authorities.

The expulsion orders followed the arrest of three Pakistani citizens, who were identified as Abid Hussain, 42, Tahir Khan, 44, and Javed Hussain. The Times of India said Abid Hussain had been working at the Pakistani embassy’s visa issuance department since late 2018. Khan was “an upper division clerk” at the embassy and arrived in India at around the same time Abid Hussain did, said the paper. Javed Hussain has been working as a driver at the embassy since 2015, and was reportedly released by the Indian authorities after he was found not to have been implicated in the alleged espionage.

The Times cited unnamed sources in New Delhi in claiming that the three Pakistanis had been arrested by Indian police at an undisclosed location in the Indian capital’s centrally located Karol Bagh neighborhood. The men were reportedly there to receive “highly sensitive information” by unnamed Indian “defense personnel”. Javed Hussain and Khan were reportedly found to be carrying Indian identification cards bearing fake names. They also had in their possession what the newspaper called “incriminating documents”, two smartphones and 15,000 rupees, which equal to around $200.

On Sunday, India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Javed Hussain and Khan had been declared “persona non grata” and had been ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. The reason for their expulsion was “indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission”. The phrase is used in the international legal vernacular to describe an accredited diplomat engaging in intelligence operations abroad without the consent of his or her host nation. The Ministry also said that it had summoned the Pakistani ambassador and issued him with a “strong protest” about the incident.

The Indian government said late on Sunday that it was investigating whether other Pakistani embassy officials had been engaging in espionage. Diplomatic observers expressed certainty last night that Islamabad would expel at least two Indian diplomats from the country in a tit-for-tat response to India’s move.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2020 | Permalink

Trump administration considering mass expulsions of alleged Chinese spies

United States ChinaThe administration of United States President Donald Trump is considering the possibility of expelling from the country dozens of Chinese diplomats, journalists, and others, who are believed to be undercover spies. The expulsions relate to a spiraling information war between Washington and Beijing, which has erupted in recent weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government announced that it would expel 13 American journalists from three major newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Beijing also stipulated that all American news organizations operating in China had to provide its government with detailed information about their financial assets, employee structure and other organizational information. The journalists claimed that they were expelled for trying to report about the status of the COVID-19 pandemic inside China.

Around the same time, President Trump and senior members of his administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, began referring to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, known as novel coronavirus) as “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus”. The term refers to the Chinese province where the virus is believed to have originated. President Trump claims that he decided to use the term “Chinese virus” in response to unsubstantiated claims by government officials in Beijing that the novel coronavirus was brought to China by members of the US military.

On Thursday The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering expelling from the US a large number of Chinese citizens who work as diplomats or journalists. In some cases, the White House is reportedly considering shutting down the bureaus of some Chinese media outlets in the US. According to a number of administration officials, many Chinese journalists based in the US are in reality undercover intelligence officers, who regularly report to the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary external intelligence agency. Some of these alleged undercover intelligence officers —known in the world of intelligence as ‘non-official cover’— are allegedly embedded with China Global Television Network, the foreign-language arm of the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), according to some American officials.

On March 2, the Trump administration abruptly imposed quotas on the number of foreign citizens who are permitted to work for Chinese media organizations in the US. The Chinese media groups complied with the new directive in a timely manner, by recalling over 60 of their staff members to China. However, the White House now believes that a significant number of the 100 Chinese journalists who continue to operate in the US are undercover intelligence officers.

Meanwhile, on March 25, China’s English-language government-owned newspaper The Global Times raised eyebrows by repeating allegations that the novel coronavirus was brought to China by an American cyclist, who visited Wuhan in October of last year to compete in the Military World Games. Such allegations, which propagate the view that the novel coronavirus originated in the US, are quickly growing in popularity in Chinese social media platforms.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 March 2020 | Permalink

Czech intelligence foiled North Korean plan to smuggle arms through Africa

Czech Security Information ServiceThe Czech intelligence services foiled a secret plan by North Korea to smuggle weapons parts and surveillance drones, leading to the expulsion of a North Korean diplomat from the country, according to a report. The report, published this week by the Czech daily Deník N, claims that the alleged plot was foiled by the Czech Security Information Service, known as BIS.

According to Deník N, the alleged plot took place in 2012 and 2013. It was initiated by a North Korean diplomat who was serving at the DPRK’s embassy in Berlin as an economic attaché. However, claims Deník N, the diplomat was in fact operating on behalf of the North Korean intelligence services. The unnamed diplomat allegedly traveled to Prague and contacted a local businessman, seeking to purchase spare parts for use in Soviet-built T-54 and T-55 tanks, as well as spare parts for armored vehicles and jet airplanes. The diplomat also sought to purchase surveillance drones, according to the newspaper.

The buyers reportedly planned to smuggle the acquired weapons parts and drones to North Korea through ports in Africa and China, said Deník N. Such an act would have violated the international embargo that has been in place against the DPRK since 2006. However, the plot was foiled by the BIS, which informed the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Czech government eventually detained the diplomat and expelled him from the country, said Deník N.

Following the newspaper article, BIS spokesperson Ladislav Šticha said that he “could not comment on the details” of the case, but could confirm that “in the past BIS has indeed managed to prevent trade in weapons from the Czech Republic to the DPRK”. Hours later, the BIS posted on its Twitter account that it could not comment “on the details of this case”, but added that “its outcome was very successful”.

IntelNews regulars will remember a similar report in the German media in 2018, according to which North Korea used its embassy in Berlin to acquire technologies that were almost certainly used to advance its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 January 2020 | Permalink

US expels Chinese diplomats for the first time since 1987

Chinese embassy in the United StatesThe United States quietly expelled two Chinese diplomats in October of this year, a move that neither Washington nor Beijing chose to make public, according to a report published on Sunday. If true, the incident would signify the first known expulsions of Chinese diplomatic personnel from the US since 1987.

The incident was reported by The New York Times, which cited “six people with knowledge of the expulsions”. It said that the expulsions were triggered by an incident that took place in September in the US state of Virginia. It involved at least two Chinese diplomats stationed in Washington, who allegedly attempted to enter “a sensitive installation” near the city of Norfolk. The paper did not name the installation, but said that it belongs to the US Armed Forces and is also used by members of Special Operations forces.

According to the American side, a car carrying the Chinese diplomats and their spouses drove up to one of the checkpoints of the military installation. Upon realizing that the car’s passengers did not have permission to enter the base, the guard at the checkpoint asked the driver to proceed through the gated entry and immediately turn around, thus exiting the base. But the car allegedly drove straight into the base and did not slow down after military personnel pursued it. It came to a stop only after several fire trucks blocked its way.

Once apprehended, the car’s passengers claimed that their knowledge of English was limited and had thus misunderstood the instructions given to them by the guard at the entrance to the base. The New York Times reported that this explanation was echoed by associates of the Chinese diplomats, who said that they were on “a sightseeing tour when they accidentally drove onto the base”.

But US officials told The Times they are skeptical of that explanation, and suspect the Chinese diplomats were trying to assess the physical security of the installation. Moreover, at least one of the Chinese diplomats was allegedly an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover —a clue that heightened the skepticism of American officials.

Interestingly, although it complained about the expulsions of its diplomats following the incident in Virginia, Beijing did not retaliate, as is customary in such cases. Therefore, no American diplomats or intelligence officers have been expelled from China in response to Washington’s move. The last time the US expelled Chinese diplomats from its soil was in 1987, when two employees of the Chinese embassy in Washington —almost certainly intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover— were declared personae non gratae.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 December 2019 | Permalink

Russian diplomat involved in espionage leaves Sweden after ‘unusual’ delay

Russian Embassy SwedenRussia has recalled one of its diplomats from Sweden after he was caught receiving classified information from a computer expert at a nightclub in Stockholm. The computer expert was later identified as Kristian Dmitrievski, a 45-year-old naturalized Swede who was born in Russia. The Swedish government accuses him of having been recruited by Russian intelligence in 2017 or earlier. He allegedly met with his Russian handlers on a regular basis since his recruitment, passing them classified information of a technical nature.

Dmitrievski was reportedly arrested on the evening of February 26, while meeting his alleged Russian handler in a downtown area of the Swedish capital. Both Dmitrievski and his alleged handler were detained by officers of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO. Swedish authorities later said that Dmitrievski’s alleged handler was a member of staff of the Russian embassy in Stockholm and had diplomatic immunity. SÄPO added that the Russian diplomat was believed to be a Russian intelligence officer who worked under diplomatic cover. The Russian man’s diplomatic status granted him immunity, so Swedish authorities were unable to file espionage charges against him. However, the Swedish Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to file a protest, while the alleged intelligence officer was told to leave the country.

Surprisingly, however, Moscow did not recall the diplomat, as expected, and no further reports were issued about the incident. Then on March 28, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter named the Russian diplomat as Yevgeny Umerenko. Later that day, the Associated Press news agency said that it had seen “an intelligence report from a European service” that identified Dmitrievski’s Russian handler as Yevgeny Umerenko. The Associated Press described Umerenko as a “Line X officer” —a Soviet-era classification referring to case officers specializing in technological espionage. Western intelligence agencies had apparently been monitoring Umerenko’s activities ever since he had a similar role at the Russian embassy in Berlin, immediately before being transferred to Stockholm.

In its report, the Associated Press said that Moscow had finally recalled Umerenko from its embassy in Sweden, and that he was back in Russia. The news agency added it spoke to Anna Lundbladh, a spokeswoman for Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who confirmed that Umerenko had left Sweden, but went on to say that the Swedish government would “not discuss this matter in further detail”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 April 2019 | Permalink

Holland recalls Iran ambassador after Tehran expels Dutch diplomats

Holland embassy IranHolland said on Monday that it had recalled its ambassador from Tehran after Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats, in a deepening dispute involving the assassination of two Dutch citizens by alleged Iranian agents. In July of last year, Holland announced its decision to expel two Iranian diplomats from The Hague, but did not explain the reason for the expulsions. In January of this year, the Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed that the diplomatic expulsions were in retaliation to the assassination of two Dutch nationals of Iranian background. One of the victims, Mohammad-Reza Kolahi, was shot dead in the head at point-blank range by two assailants in December 2015 in Almere, a coastal town 25 miles east of Amsterdam. Nearly two years later, in November 2017, another man, Ahmad Mola Nissi, was shot in the head in broad daylight in The Hague. Both men were members of Iranian militant anti-government groups that the Iranian state accuses of terrorism and crimes against the state.

On Monday, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok informed the Dutch House of Representatives in The Hague that Tehran had informed his Ministry on February 20 that two Dutch diplomats would be expelled from Holland’s embassy in the Iranian capital. The two diplomats, who have not been named, were ordered to leave the country by Monday, March 4. Later on Monday, Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that “two of the diplomats of the Netherlands embassy in Tehran were considered undesirable elements in the framework of a retaliatory measure and were asked to leave the country”. The Iranian move was not made public until last Monday. Blok wrote to the House of Representatives that, in response to Tehran’s move, the Dutch government had decided to recall its ambassador to Iran “for consultations” on how to proceed. Blok noted in his letter that Iran’s decision to expel the Dutch diplomats was “unacceptable and damaging to the bilateral relations between the two countries”.

Late on Monday, the Dutch government also summoned the Iranian ambassador in order to protest the expulsions of its diplomats from Tehran. It was also reported in the Dutch media that a series of financial sanctions imposed on Iran by Holland and its European Union partners in June —presumably over the alleged assassinations that took place on Dutch soil— would remain in place. The sanctions are against two individuals associated with Iranian military intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 March 2019 | Permalink

Russia claims ‘misunderstanding’ led to arrests of four spies in Holland

Sergei LavrovRussia’s minister of foreign affairs has downplayed the arrest and expulsion of four Russian military intelligence officers in Holland last April, saying that the incident was caused by a “misunderstanding”. Last Thursday, the US government named and indicted seven officers of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, known as GRU. The seven are alleged to have participated in cyber-attacks on international agencies, private companies and government computer networks in at least half a dozen countries around the world since 2015. Four of the men named last week were reportedly detained in April of this year while trying to hack into the computer network of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Headquartered in The Hague, the OPCW oversees efforts by its 193 member states to detect and eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles around the world. In the past year, the OPCW has been probing the failed attempt to poison the Russian former double spy Sergei Skripal in England, which the British government has blamed on Moscow.

On Monday, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov dismissed Washington’s accusations against the GRU and said that the Dutch authorities had overreacted in detaining the four Russian officers in April. Following a meeting in Moscow with his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Lavrov said that the visit of the four GRU officers in Holland had been “customary”, adding that “there was nothing clandestine in it”. The GRU specialists were in Holland in order to secure computer servers used at the Russian embassy there. “They were not trying to hide from anyone once they arrived at the airport”, said Lavrov. They then “checked into a hotel and paid a visit to our embassy”, he added. Had they been engaged in espionage, the men would have taken strict precautions, said the Russian foreign affairs minister. They were eventually “detained by Dutch police without any reason or explanations, and were not allowed to contact our embassy”, said Lavrov. Eventually they were “asked to leave the country”, but it was “all because of a misunderstanding”, he concluded.

The Russian official did not address the information provided a series of photographs released by Holland’s Ministry of Defense, which show a car used by the four Russians at the time of their arrest in April. The photographs show that the car was equipped with WiFi antennas and transformers. A wireless server and batteries can also be seen in the photographs. Lavrov said that the allegations against the GRU were meant to draw attention to Russia and distract Western citizens from “widening divisions that exist between Western nations”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 October 2018 | Research credit: S.F. | Permalink

Western spy agencies thwarted alleged Russian plot to hack Swiss chemical lab

OPCW HagueWestern intelligence agencies thwarted a plot involving two Russians intending to travel to a Swiss government laboratory that investigates nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and hack its computer systems. According to two separate reports by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, the two were apprehended in The Hague in early 2018. The reports also said that the Russians were found in possession of equipment that could be used to compromise computer networks. They are believed to work for the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU, Russia’s foremost military intelligence agency. The apprehension was the result of cooperation between various European intelligence services, reportedly including the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Organization (MIVD).

The laboratory, located in the western Swiss city of Spiez, has been commissioned by the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to carry out investigations related to the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March of this year. It has also carried out probes on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Russian-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In the case of the Skripals, the laboratory said it was able to duplicate findings made earlier by a British laboratory.

Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) reportedly confirmed the arrest and subsequent expulsion of the two Russians. The Swiss agency said it “cooperated actively with Dutch and British partners” and thus “contributed to preventing illegal actions against a sensitive Swiss infrastructure”. The office of the Public Prosecutor in the Swiss capital Bern said that the two Russians had been the subject of a criminal investigation that began as early as March 2017. They were allegedly suspected of hacking the computer network of the regional office of the World Anti-Doping Agency in Lausanne. The Spiez laboratory was a target of hacking attempts earlier this year, according to a laboratory spokesperson. “We defended ourselves against that. No data was lost”, the spokesperson stated.

On April 14, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov stated that he had obtained the confidential Spiez lab report about the Skripal case “from a confidential source”. That report confirmed earlier findings made by a British laboratory. But the OPCW, of which Russia is a member, states that its protocols do not involve dissemination of scientific reports to OPCW member states. Hence, the question is how Foreign Minister Lavrov got hold of the document.

As intelNews reported in March, in the aftermath of the Skripals’ poisoning the Dutch government expelled two employees of the Russian embassy in The Hague. In a letter [.pdf] sent to the Dutch parliament on March 26 —the day when a large number of countries announced punitive measures against Russia— Holland’s foreign and internal affairs ministers stated that they had decided to expel the two Russian diplomats “in close consultation with allies and partners”. The Russians were ordered to leave the Netherlands within two weeks. It is unknown whether the two expelled Russian diplomats are the same two who were apprehended in The Hague, since none have been publicly named.

A November 2017 parliamentary letter from Dutch minister of internal affairs Kajsa Ollongren, states[4] that Russian intelligence officers are “structurally present” in the Netherlands in various sectors of society to covertly collect intelligence. The letter added that, in addition to traditional human intelligence (HUMINT) methods, Russia deploys digital means to influence decision-making processes and public opinion in Holland.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 17 September 2018 | Permalink

Greece expels Russian diplomats who ‘tried to bribe Greek officials’

Greece RussiaIn a rare moment of downturn in relations between Athens and Moscow, Greece has expelled two Russian diplomats and refused to accredit two more, reportedly for “undermining Greek national security”. Greece was not among nearly 30 countries that expelled or refused to accredit over 150 Russian diplomats in March, in an act of solidarity with the United Kingdom. The expulsions came in response to the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former intelligence officer who had been living in England since 2010. Britain accused the Kremlin of having sponsored the attack on Skripal. But the Greek government, which has enjoyed warm relations with Moscow for decades, warned against unduly aggressive measures against the Kremlin.

Things changed swiftly on Wednesday, however, when Athens announced the surprise expulsion of two Russian diplomats from the Greek capital. One of the two diplomats has been named as Victor Yakovlev, third secretary of the Russian embassy in Athens, who some say is in fact an intelligence officer. Two more Russian diplomats, who have not been publicly named, were barred from entering Greece —a move that effectively amounts to a refusal by the Greek government to accredit them. According to an official statement from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the expulsions were meant to prevent the “undermining of [Greek] national security”. However, a report in the Greek daily Kathimerini said that the move was taken in response to attempts by Russian spies to bribe Greek state officials. Other reports claim that the Russians were caught trying to blackmail Greek lawmakers over the possible expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Greece is a member.

Some of the allegations in the Greek press refer to the country’s three-decade long dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which Athens accuses of harboring territorial ambitions against its neighbors. Greece —the wealthiest and most powerful state in the Balkans— has barred the entry of its northern neighbor into the European Union and NATO until it complies with a list of Greek demands. Chief among those is the drawing of a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia —once an ancient Greek kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great— and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which encompasses a small portion of Alexander’s former empire. Last month, the decades-long dispute between the two neighboring countries appeared to draw to a close with the proposed adoption of “Northern Macedonia” as the official name of the former Yugoslav republic. The agreement would open the way for the tiny landlocked country to enter into negotiations for eventual entry into NATO. However, nationalists in both countries have staged public rallies to protest against the proposed agreement.

It appears that Russian diplomats may have tried to convince Greek lawmakers —through extortion, bribing or both— to vote against the proposed agreement. There are also reports that Russian diplomats assisted in the organization of nationwide rallies against the proposed agreement in Greece, possibly by funding them or by spreading information about them on social media. The Russian government said on Wednesday that it would protest the expulsion of its diplomats from Athens. It also said that it reserved the right to respond to Greece’s move in kind, possibly by expelling an equal number of Greek diplomats from Moscow.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 July 2018 | Research credit: SF | Permalink

Holland expels two Iranian diplomats, but stays silent on reasons

Iran embassy HagueHolland has expelled two Iranian diplomats without saying why, leading to speculation that the expulsions may be related to the arrests of members of an alleged Iranian sleeper cell in Belgium, Germany and France last week. On Friday, a spokesperson from Holland’s General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) told reporters that “two persons accredited to the Iranian embassy” in the Hague “were expelled from the Netherlands on June 7”. The spokesperson continued saying that, although the AIVD was able to confirm that the two unnamed persons had been expelled from the country, they would “not provide any further information”. When journalists contacted Holland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they were told that there would be no comment on the matter from the Dutch government.

Late on Friday, the Reuters news agency cited an unnamed “European government official and a Western intelligence source” who said that the two Iranian embassy personnel were expelled from Holland “up to two months ago”. But Holland’s state-owned Dutch Broadcast Foundation (NOS) reported that the expulsions took place on June 7. No further information appears to be publicly available. However, assuming that the expulsions took place last week, and not two months ago, they appear to have coincided with the arrests of members of an alleged Iranian sleeper cell on June 30 and July 1. As intelNews reported last week, the arrests began on June 30, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group arrested a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent in Brussels. The couple were found to be carrying explosives and a detonator. On the following day, July 1, German police arrested an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria. On the same day, a fourth person, who has not been named, was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection with the three other arrests.

All four individuals appear to have been charged with a foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place on June 30 in Paris. The NCRI is led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a Marxist militant group that has roots in radical Islam and Marxism. Until a few years ago, the MEK was designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, but has since been reinstated in both Brussels and Washington. There is also speculation that last week’s expulsions in Holland may be related to the assassinations of dissident Iranian expatriates in Holland in 2015 and 2017, which have been blamed on the government in Tehran.

On Saturday, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Dutch ambassador to protest against the expulsions of its diplomats, while a ministry spokesperson warned that “the Islamic Republic reserves the right to retaliate”. Reuters quoted an unnamed “senior Iranian official” who said that “all these arrests and expulsions are part of our enemies’ attempts to harm efforts to salvage the nuclear deal”, a reference to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 July 2018 | Research credit: M.K. | Permalink