KGB spy shares details of his escape to Britain in 1985

Oleg GordievskyA Soviet double spy, who secretly defected to Britain 30 years ago this month, has revealed for the first time the details of his exfiltration by British intelligence in 1985. Oleg Gordievsky was one of the highest Soviet intelligence defectors to the West in the closing stages of the Cold War. He joined the Soviet KGB in 1963, eventually reaching the rank of colonel. But in the 1960s, while serving in the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gordievsky began feeling disillusioned about the Soviet system. His doubts were reinforced by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was soon afterwards that he made the decision to contact British intelligence.

Cautiously, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6) communicated with Gordievsky, and in 1974 he secretly became an agent-in-place for the United Kingdom. Eight years later, in 1982, Gordievsky was promoted to KGB rezident (chief of station) in London. While there, he frequently made contact with his MI6 handlers, giving them highly coveted information on Soviet nuclear strategy, among other things. He is credited with informing London of Mikhail Gorbachev’s imminent ascendency to the premiership of the Soviet Union, long before he was seen by Western intelligence as a viable candidate to lead the country.

But in May of 1985, Gordievsky was suddenly recalled to Moscow, where he was detained by the KGB. He was promptly taken to a KGB safe house in the outskirts of Moscow and interrogated for five hours, before being temporarily released pending further questioning. Remarkably, however, Gordievsky managed to escape his KGB surveillance and reappear in Britain less than a week later. How did this happen? On Sunday, the former double spy gave a rare rare interview to The Times, in which he revealed for the first time the details of his escape to London. He told The Times’ Ben Macintyre that he was smuggled out of the USSR by MI6 as part of Operation PIMLICO. PIMLICO was an emergency exfiltration operation that had been put in place by MI6 long before Gordievsky requested its activation in May of 1985.

Every Tuesday, shortly after 7:00, a British MI6 officer would take a morning stroll at the Kutuzovsky Prospekt in Moscow. He would pass outside a designated bakery at exactly 7:24 a.m. local time. If he saw Gordievsky standing outside the bakery holding a grocery bag, it meant that the double agent was requesting to be exfiltrated as a matter of urgency. Gordievsky would then have to wait outside the bakery until a second MI6 officer appeared, carrying a bag from the Harrods luxury department store in London. The man would also be carrying a Mars bar (a popular British candy bar) and would bite into it while passing right in front of Gordievsky. That would be a message to him that his request to be exfiltrated had been received.

Four days later, Gordievsky used his skills in evading surveillance and shook off (or dry-cleaned, in espionage tradecraft lingo) the KGB officers trailing him. He was then picked up by MI6 officers and smuggled out of the country in the trunk of a British diplomatic car that drove to the Finnish border. Gordievsky told The Times that Soviet customs officers stopped the car at the Finnish border and surrounded it with sniffer dogs. At that moment, a British diplomat’s wife, who was aware that Gordievsky was hiding in the car, came out of the vehicle and proceeded to change her baby’s diaper on the trunk, thus safeguarding Gordievsky’s hiding place and masking his scent with her baby’s used diaper. If it hadn’t been for the diplomat’s wife, Gordievsky told The Times that he might have been caught.

After crossing the Soviet-Finnish border, Gordievsky traveled to Norway and from there he boarded a plane for England. Soviet authorities promptly sentenced him to death, but allowed his wife and children to join him in Britain six years later, after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally lobbied the Soviet government. Gordievsky’s death penalty still stands in Russia. In 2007, the Queen made Gordievsky a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George for services rendered to the security of the British state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 6 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/06/01-1729/

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Nazi letter to one of history’s greatest double spies found in Tokyo

Richard SorgeA congratulatory letter sent by a senior Nazi official to Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR, and is sometimes credited with helping Moscow win World War II, has been found in Japan. The letter was sent by Joachim von Ribbentrop, a senior German Nazi Party member and Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is directly addressed to Sorge, who was himself a member of the Nazi Party, but spied for the USSR throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

Born in what eventually became Soviet Azerbaijan to a German father and a Russian mother, Sorge fought as a German soldier in World War I and received commendations for his bravery. But he became a communist in the interwar years and secretly went to Moscow to be trained as a spy by the Fourth Directorate of the Soviet Red Army, which was later renamed GRU —Soviet military intelligence. He then traveled back to Germany as a non-official-cover principal agent for the USSR, joined the Nazi Party and became a journalist for Die Frankfurter Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading newspapers at the time. When the paper sent him to Tokyo to be its Japan correspondent, Sorge struck a friendship with German Ambassador to Tokyo Eugen Ott, who eventually hired him as his trusted press secretary and advisor. It was from him that Sorge found out that Hitler was preparing to violate his non-aggression pact with the USSR, and promptly notified Moscow. His warnings, however, were dismissed as fantastical by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose government was caught by complete surprise by the eventual German onslaught. Several months later, when Sorge told Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east, Stalin took the tip seriously. The information provided by Sorge partly allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

The letter was found by Yoshio Okudaira, a document expert working for Japanese antique book dealer Tamura Shoten in Tokyo. It was among a stack of World War II-era documents brought to the antique dealer by a resident of the Japanese capital. The documents belonged to a deceased relative of the man, who was reportedly unaware of their contents or significance. According to the Deutsche Welle news agency, the letter was addressed to Sorge on the occasion of his 43rd birthday, and is dated 1938. It was written by von Ribbentrop’s personal secretary and includes a signed black-and-white photograph of Hitler’s foreign-affairs minister. The accompanying note commends the double spy on his “exceptional contribution” to the Third Reich as press secretary of the German embassy in Tokyo.

Okudaira, the document expert who realized the significance of the letter, said it is of historical interest because it confirms the high level of trust that the Nazi Party had in Sorge, who was never suspected by Berlin or by his German colleagues in Tokyo of having any connection with the Soviet government. However, Sorge’s espionage was eventually uncovered by Japanese counterintelligence, who promptly arrested and tortured him severely, before executing him in November of 1941. In 1961, the Soviet government awarded him posthumously the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which was the country’s highest distinction during the communist era.

German spies helped US find bin Laden, claims German newspaper

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence gave the United States a tip of “fundamental importance” about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, which helped the Americans locate him in Pakistan, according to a German media report. Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper, Bild am Sontag, said in its Sunday edition that the tip allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to corroborate separate intelligence tips pointing to the possibility that the wanted Saudi terrorist may have been hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Citing an unnamed “American intelligence official”, Bild said the tip was given to the CIA by its German equivalent, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, known in Germany as BND. It said the critical information originated from an agent handled by the BND inside Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). The agent was an officer of the ISI but had secretly worked as an agent of the BND “for years”, said the German newspaper.

The tip was eventually communicated by the Germans to the CIA, and was used by the American agency to corroborate information from a number of other sources, which eventually led to the decision to send a Special Forces team to kill the al-Qaeda leader. According to the German paper, the CIA was already leaning toward the view that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. However, the BND tip was “of fundamental importance” in enabling the CIA to make up its mind as to bin Laden’s whereabouts, said Bild. Moreover, the BND’s Pakistani agent allegedly told the German agency that the ISI leadership was protecting bin Laden while holding him under house arrest. If true, the Bild information would seem to confirm allegations made by American reporter Seymour Hersh and security expert R.J. Hillhouse that Pakistani leaders had secretly imprisoned the al-Qaeda founder in Abbottabad. The Bild article goes on to claim that German intelligence used its Bad Aibling Station listening posts to monitor the Pakistani government’s communications so as to help ensure that the planned American attack on bin Laden’s compound was not being anticipated by Islamabad.

However, in reporting on Bild’s allegations, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel questions the validity of the tabloid newspaper’s argument. Why, it asks, would the BND’s Pakistani agent approach his German handlers with the information about bin Laden’s whereabouts, instead of going directly to the Americans? Had the agent followed the latter course of action, he or she could have been able to claim the lucrative reward offered by the US Department of State in exchange for information that would help locate the al-Qaeda founder.

Swedish double spy who escaped to Moscow in 1987 dies at 77

Stig BerglingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Sweden’s most notorious Cold-War spy, who went on the run for nearly a decade after managing to escape from prison in 1987, has died in Stockholm. Born in the Swedish capital in 1937, Stig Eugén Bergling became a police officer in the late 1950s prior to joining SÄPO, the Swedish Security Service, in 1967. He initially worked in the Service’s surveillance unit, and later joined several counterintelligence operations, mostly against Soviet and East European intelligence services. In 1979, while posted by SÄPO in Tel Aviv, he was arrested by the Israelis for selling classified documents to the GRU, the military intelligence agency of the USSR.

He was promptly extradited to Sweden, where he stood trial for espionage and treason. His trial captivated the headlines, as details about the spy tradecraft he employed while spying for the Soviets, including radio transmitters, invisible ink and microdots, were revealed in court. He said in his testimony that he sold over 15,000 classified Swedish government documents to the Soviets, not due to any ideological allegiance with the Kremlin, but simply in order to make money. Bergling was sentenced to life in prison, while lawyers for the prosecution argued in court that the reorganization of Sweden’s defense and intelligence apparatus, which had been caused by Bergling’s espionage, would cost the taxpayer in excess of $45 million. For the next six years, the convicted spy disappeared from the headlines, after legally changing his name to Eugen Sandberg while serving his sentence.

But in 1987, during a conjugal visit to his wife, he escaped with her using several rented cars, eventually making it to Finland. When they arrived in Helsinki, Bergling contacted the Soviet embassy, which smuggled him and his wife across to the USSR. The couple’s escape caused a major stir in Sweden, and an international manhunt was initiated for their capture. In 1994, the two fugitives suddenly returned to Sweden from Lebanon, where they had been living, claiming they were homesick and missed their families. They said they had lived in Moscow and Budapest under the aliases of Ivar and Elisabeth Straus. Bergling was sent back to prison, while his wife was not sentenced due to ill health. She died of cancer in 1997. Bergling changed his name again, this time to Sydholt, and lived his final years in a nursing home in Stockholm until his recent death. He was 77.

Hezbollah official admits group ‘battling espionage’ in its ranks

Naim QassemBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Public comments by a senior Hezbollah official appear to confirm earlier reports that the man who directed the personal security detail of the Lebanese group’s leader was a spy for Israel. Several Lebanese news outlets reported in December that Mohammed Shawraba, a 42-year-old Hezbollah official from southern Lebanon, had been arrested by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force and was undergoing trial for having leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years. Sources said that Shawraba used to oversee the security detail of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general. He was subsequently promoted to director of Hezbollah’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which conducts intelligence operations on Israeli targets abroad. One Lebanese source described the Shawraba case as “one of the most significant security breaches” in the history of Hezbollah. Ever since the first public allegations emerged, the militant Shiite group has remained silent. On Saturday, however, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, admitted that the group was “battling espionage within its ranks” and that its counter-spies had been able to uncover “a number of significant infiltrations”. Qassem’s comments, made during an interview on Al-Nour, a Beirut-based radio station affiliated with Hezbollah, have been taken by observers as an indirect admission that the rumors about Shawraba are accurate. Qassem told the radio station that Hezbollah was a party that aimed for virtue and pureness, but that it was made up of human beings who are inevitably fallible. But he refused to be more specific about the cases of espionage, saying only that Hezbollah was Lebanon’s strongest and most resilient political organization and would easily overcome any harm caused by double agents within its ranks. A spokesman for the militant group, who was asked on Sunday whether Qassem’s comments were a reference to Shawraba, refused to comment on the case.

Revealed: Letters between Margaret Thatcher and KGB defector

Oleg GordievskyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released this week have revealed part of the personal correspondence between the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and one of the Cold War’s most important Soviet spy defectors. Oleg Gordievsky entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He soon joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Danish capital Copenhagen, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the United Kingdom. In 1985, shortly before he was to assume the post of KGB station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. His defection was announced a few days later by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had personally approved his exfiltration from the USSR. Files released this week by the British National Archives show that the British Prime Minister took a personal interest in Gordievsky’s wellbeing following his exfiltration, and even corresponded with him after the Soviet defector personally wrote to her to ask for her intervention to help him reunite with his wife Leila and two daughters, who remained in the Soviet Union. In his letter, written in 1985, Gordievsky told Thatcher that his life had “no meaning” unless he was able to be with his family. On September 7, 1985, the British Prime Minister responded with a letter to the Soviet defector, urging him not to give up. “Please do not say that life has no meaning”, she wrote. “There is always hope. And we shall do all to help you through these difficult days”. She added that the two should meet once the “immediate situation” of the worldwide media attention caused by his exfiltration subsided. Thatcher went on to publicly urge for Moscow to allow Gordievsky’s family to reunite with the Soviet defector, “on humanitarian grounds”. But it was in 1991, after the collapse of communism in the USSR, when Gordievsky’s family was finally able to join him in the UK.

Hezbollah leader’s senior bodyguard was Mossad agent

Hezbollah leader Hassan NasrallahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The man who directed the personal security detail of the secretary-general of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was an agent of Israeli intelligence, according to multiple sources in Lebanon. The agent, who was arrested earlier this year by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force, and is now undergoing trial, was able to penetrate the highest levels of the Shiite militant group, and leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years prior to his capture. American newspaper The Washington Post and Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star cite “security officials and people in Lebanon” who say they are familiar with the incident. They say the agent’s activities constitute “one of the most significant security breaches” in the history of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large swathes of Lebanese territory. Media reports have identified the alleged agent as Mohammed Shawraba, a man in his late 30s or early 40s 42, who is believed to come from a small village in southern Lebanon. According to reports from Lebanon, several years ago Shawraba used to direct the personal security detail of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general. Nasrallah has led the militant group since 1992, when his predecessor, Abbas al-Musawi, was assassinated by Israel. In 2008, after a number of years in the service of Nasrallah’s personal security detail, Shawraba was promoted to director of the group’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which collects information on Israeli activities abroad. However, unbeknownst to Hezbollah officials, Shawraba had been recruited by the Israeli spy agency Mossad even before he joined Nasrallah’s personal security team. According to The Post, the information he shared with the Mossad on a regular basis helped Israel thwart a number of high-profile Hezbollah operations in Lebanon and Israel, especially in 2006. Eventually, however, Hezbollah’s military commanders became increasingly suspicious of the high rate of failed operations, and began to suspect that a mole inside the group’s senior command structure was feeding sensitive operational information to the Israelis. Eventually, Shawraba was arrested after Hezbollah’s leadership was given crucial information from Iranian intelligence sources. Shortly afterwards, Shawraba was arrested in a Hezbollah-led sting operation, reportedly along with four other people who worked for him in the group’s Foreign Operations Unit. In an article published last week, the Beirut-based Daily Star said Shawraba is currently undergoing trial in a Hezbollah court. Israeli government officials have refused comment on the story.