Australia continues to detain whistleblower who revealed espionage behind oil deal

Bernard CollaeryAustralia continues to deny freedom of movement to a former intelligence officer who revealed that Canberra bugged government offices in the small island nation of Timor-Leste, in an effort to secure a lucrative oil deal. The former intelligence officer, known only as “Witness K.”, is believed to be a former director of technical operations in the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Australia’s foreign-intelligence agency. In 2013, he publicly objected to an intelligence-collection operation that targeted the impoverished Pacific island nation of Timor-Leste, known also as East Timor.

According to Witness K., a group of ASIS officers disguised themselves as members of a renovation crew and planted numerous electronic surveillance devices in an East Timorese government complex. The inside information collected from those devices allegedly allowed the Australian government to gain the upper hand in a series of complex negotiations that led to the 2004 Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) treaty. The treaty awards Australia a share from profits from oil exploration in the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field, which is claimed by both Australia and East Timor. But in 2013, the East Timorese government took Australia to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, claiming that the CMATS treaty should be scrapped. The East Timorese claimed that during the sensitive negotiations that preceded the CMATS treaty, the Australian government was in possession of intelligence acquired through ASIS bugging.

The claim of the East Timorese government was supported by Witness K., who argued that ASIS’ espionage operation was both “immoral and wrong” because it was designed to benefit the interests of large energy conglomerates and had nothing to do with Australian national security. But as soon as the East Timorese told the Permanent Court of Arbitration that they would be questioning a witness from ASIS, officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the country’s domestic intelligence agency, raided the Canberra law offices of Bernard Collaery, East Timor’s lawyer in the case. The raiders took away documents that disclosed the identity of Witness K., and then proceeded to detain him for questioning. They also confiscated his passport, which prevented him from traveling to the Netherlands to testify in the case. Read more of this post


New Zealand spy agency warns of persistent foreign espionage threats

NZSIS New ZealandThe intelligence agency of New Zealand has issued a report warning that the country is being targeted by foreign spies who operate using fake covers. Many of them aim to infiltrate some of the highest levels of the government, according to the agency. The warning appeared in the annual report of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), the country’s main national intelligence organization, which is responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence and counter- terrorism. The NZSIS’ latest report covers the 12 months leading up to June 30, 2016. The unclassified version of the report was presented last week to the New Zealand House of Representatives, which must by law be kept informed about the activities of the NZSIS.

The report warns that “[f]oreign powers continue to conduct espionage activity and other hostile state-sponsored activities, including foreign interference, against New Zealand”. To illustrate this point, the report mentions the case of an alleged “foreign intelligence officer” who entered New Zealand under a “cover identity”, presumably in 2016. The officer approached and met senior New Zealand government officials, including some “with high level security clearances”, claims the report. The undercover officer also came in contact with individuals who worked in “key New Zealand business facilities” and sensitive industries, according to the document. However, NZSIS was able to identify the officer and subsequently contacted all New Zealand government officials that came in contact with the officer. The officials were debriefed and advised to be “cautious in their conversations” with foreign nationals, said the report.

The case study may point to efforts by foreign intelligence agencies to gain insights or manipulate the operations of New Zealand’s government and business community, said NZSIS. However, when asked by reporters, the agency refused to provide further details of the case of the foreign undercover officer. An agency spokesman said simply that the case highlights “some of the security threats that New Zealand currently faces”. The NZSIS is currently in the middle of a hiring spree, after its budget was raised last year. It is estimated that the agency’s staff has increased by nearly a fifth since late 2015.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 January 2017 | Permalink

Russia says it foiled major foreign cyber attack on its financial system

FSB - IARussian authorities say they prevented a large-scale cyber attack by “a foreign intelligence service”, which had been designed to destabilize the country’s financial system and subvert its economy. In an official statement published on its website last week, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said the perpetrators of the foiled attack had planned to carry it out on December 5. The spy agency, which stems from the Soviet-era KGB, said that the cyber attack had been designed to bring down computer systems belonging to some of Russia’s largest banking institutions.

Text to the statement by the FSB, the planned attack consisted of several components. One component included the use of social media and text messages to be spread through the mobile phone system. The goal was to spread rumors claiming that Russia’s financial system was facing imminent collapse and create panic in the Russian stock exchange. The FSB alleged that several large cities throughout Russia were to be targeted under the foiled plan. The spy agency claimed that the attack originated from a “foreign intelligence service”, but did not identify any countries as culprits of the operation. However, it said that a Ukrainian web hosting company had been used as a base from which to launch the attack through servers located in the Netherlands. On Friday, the Ukrainian web host, BlazingFast, denied that its systems had been used to prepare an attack on the Russian financial sector. In a statement published on Facebook, the company said it had not been contacted by Russian authorities, and assumed that the FSB had “been able to handle the situation without the need of BlazingFast’s cooperation”. It added that it was willing “to cooperate with any legal entity” to investigate Russia’s accusations.

In August of this year, the FSB disclosed that “a meticulously coded and sophisticated virus” had been found on the computer networks of at least 20 major Russian agencies and organizations. As intelNews reported at the time, the targets appeared to have been carefully selected by the malware’s authors. They included government bodies, weapons laboratories and defense contractors located throughout Russia.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 December | Permalink

New documents show US spied ‘on every major French company’

NSANew information published by international whistleblower website WikiLeaks seems to suggest that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) collected information on export contracts by French companies and sought inside information on France’s position in international trade negotiations. According to the website, which published the new material on Monday, the documents appear to suggest concerted efforts by Washington to obtain secret information about the economic policies of the French government and the country’s financial sector.

The WikiLeaks release contains a list of “Information Needs” (IN), which signifies collection requirements on France that are part of the US National Signals Intelligence Requirements List. The latter is updated regularly to reflect wide-ranging intelligence requirements put to the NSA by its customers, who include US policy makers and other members of the US Intelligence Community. The IN list is labeled “2002-204”, which means it was created in 2002 and has been updated ever since. The documents also include an “Essential Elements of Information” (EEI) list, which points to more narrow areas of interest that the NSA’s collection teams are instructed to focus on. The EEI list released by WikiLeaks includes France’s economic relations with the US and other Western countries and France’s dealings with international financial agencies and institutions. It also includes France’s international economic and trade policies, as well as its policy maneuvers in the G-8 and G-20 group of nations.

At one point, the EEI list appears to instruct NSA collection units to target every French-registered company involved in negotiations for international projects or other sales contracts valued at over $200 million. According to WikiLeaks, the target list would inevitably include every major French company, including car makers Peugeot and Renault, banking conglomerate BNP Paribas, as well as Credit Agricole, one of Europe’s leading agricultural credit unions.

Representatives of the US Intelligence Community do not deny spying on foreign companies. But they insist that Washington does not use information collected from such operations to benefit American companies competing for international contracts. However, the latest WikiLeaks revelations are bound to fuel speculation in Europe that US intelligence-collection priorities may include an economic component. Last week, US President Barack Obama had to personally assure his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, that he was not being spied on by the NSA, after WikiLeaks released documents showing that the American spy agency had targeted the communications of three successive French presidents.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 June 2015 | Permalink:

Airbus to sue Germany for helping US spy on its operations

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgBND headquarters in Berlin
European conglomerate Airbus has announced it will file a criminal complaint over allegations that German intelligence services collaborated with their American counterparts to spy on the aerospace firm. The impending lawsuit stems from allegations made last week in the German media that Berlin colluded with Washington to carry out industrial espionage in several European countries. The alleged collaboration involved Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst, known as BND, and the United States’ National Security Agency. According to German media reports, the two agencies joined forces at the request of the NSA, in order to determine whether European companies were breaking international trade embargoes. For that purpose, the two agencies launched a joint communications interception project that targeted telephone, email and other online exchanges involving a host of governmental and corporate targets in Europe. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said last week that the BND used its Bad Aibling listening station to spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as Airbus, which is headquartered in Toulouse.

A statement by Airbus, which was quoted by the Reuters news agency, said that the company was well aware that large firms competing for international contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros “are often targets of espionage”. However, said the company, the recent case involving the alleged BND-NSA collaboration caused it considerable alarm, “because there are firm reasons for suspicion”. The company added that it did not wish to speculate further and noted that it had communicated with German federal authorities requesting further information on the allegations of corporate espionage. Meanwhile, Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere, who supervises the BND, denied rumors that Berlin had tried to cover up the collaboration between the BND and the NSA, and called for the espionage allegations to be investigated by parliament.

The news comes amidst a rocky period in the bilateral relationship between Germany and the United States. In July of last year, Germany expelled the CIA station chief —essentially the top American spy in the country— from its territory. The unprecedented move was prompted by a series of extraordinary disclosures made by US defector Edward Snowden, concerning extensive American intelligence operations against Germany.

News you may have missed #877

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN |
►►China to ditch US consulting firms over suspected espionage. State-owned Chinese companies will cease to work with US consulting companies like McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group over fears they are spying on behalf of the US government. Last Thursday, China announced that all foreign companies would have to undergo a new security test. Any company, product or service that fails will be banned from China. The inspection will be conducted across all sectors —communications, finance, and energy.
►►Ex-KGB general says Snowden is cooperating with Russian intelligence. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden probably never envisioned that he would someday be working for the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. But according to former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, he is now, albeit as a consultant or technical advisor. “The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him”, Kalugin claimed in an interview. “Whatever he had access to in his former days at NSA, I believe he shared all of it with the Russians, and they are very grateful”, added the former Soviet spy.
►►Snowden claims he was ‘trained as a spy’. American intelligence defector Edward Snowden says he knows how US spies operate because he was trained as one of them. In an interview with NBC News, Snowden dismissed allegations that he was just a low-level analyst with the US government before revealing highly classified details of US spying activities in 2013. “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not, and even being assigned a name that was not mine”, he said in a portion of the interview that aired on Tuesday.

The mysterious Chinese unit behind the cyberespionage charges

On Monday, the United States government leveled for the first time charges against a group of identified Chinese military officers, allegedly for stealing American trade secrets through cyberespionage. The individuals named in the indictment are all members of a mysterious unit within the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) command structure, known as Unit 61398. It is estimated that the unit has targeted at least 1,000 private or public companies and organizations in the past 12 years. Western cybersecurity experts often refer to the group as “APT1”, which stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat 1”, or “Byzantine Candor”. It is believed to operate under the Second Bureau of the PLA’s General Staff Department, which is responsible for collecting foreign military intelligence. Many China military observers argue that Unit 61398 is staffed by several thousand operatives, who can be broadly categorized into two groups: one consisting of computer programmers and network operations experts, and the other consisting of English-language specialists, with the most talented members of the Unit combining both skills. Computer forensics experts have traced the Unit’s online activities to several large computer networks operating out of Shanghai’s Pudong New Area district, a heavily built neighborhood in China’s largest city, which serves as a symbol of the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization. Among other things, Unit 61398 is generally accused of being behind Operation SHADY RAT, one of history’s most extensive known cyberespionage campaigns, which targeted nearly 100 companies, governments and international organizations, between 2006 and 2011. The operation is believed to be just one of numerous schemes devised by Unit 61398 in its effort to acquire trade secrets from nearly every country in the world during the past decade, say its detractors. American sources claim that the PLA Unit spends most of its time attacking private, rather than government-run, networks and servers. As the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, told reporters on Monday, Unit 61398 conducts hacking “for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of businesses here in the United States”. But The Washington Post points out that the recent revelations by US intelligence defector Edward Snowden arguably make it “easier for China to dismiss” Washington’s charges, since they point to Read more of this post