Russian deep-cover spy sentenced in New York court

VnesheconombankA Russian intelligence officer, who posed as a banker in the United States, has been handed a prison sentence by a court in New York. Evgeny Buryakov, 41, posed as an employee of the New York branch of Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned bank headquartered in Moscow. However, in January 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Buryakov along with Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27, who were employees of the trade office of the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. According to their indictment, Sporyshev and Podobnyy were in fact employees of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. The FBI said the two were employed by the SVR’s ‘ER’ Directorate, which focuses on economics and finance. Operating under diplomatic guise, they regularly met with Buryakov, who the FBI said was the third member of the alleged spy ring.

However, unlike Sporyshev and Podobnyy, Buryakov was operating under non-official cover, posing as a bank employee. Non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are typically referred to in the US Intelligence Community, are usually high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that employs them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for conducting espionage.

The court documents also reveal that Sporyshev and Podobnyy broke basic rules of intelligence tradecraft by contacting Buryakov using an unencrypted telephone line and addressing him by his real name, rather than his cover name. These conversations, which occurred in April 2013, turned out to be monitored by the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which promptly recorded them. The three SVR officers were arrested following a successful FBI sting operation, which involved an undercover FBI agent posing as an American investor offering to provide Buryakov with classified documents from the US Treasury. In March of this year, Buryakov pleaded guilty to working in the US as unregistered agent of Russia’s SVR. He has been sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison and ordered to pay a $10,000. Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who held diplomatic immunity, were expelled from the US following their arrest.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 May 2016 | Permalink

Analysis: The security implications of the Panama Papers

First Post HAside from their immediate shock value, the Panama Papers reveal the enormous extent of tax evasion on a worldwide scale. This unprecedented phenomenon is inextricably tied with broader trends in globalized finance-capitalism that directly threaten the very survival of the postwar welfare state. National intelligence agencies must begin to view offshore tax evasion as an existential threat to the security of organized government and need to augment their economic role as part of their overall mission to protect and secure law-abiding citizens.

THE BACKGROUND OF THE LEAK

The source of the Panama Papers leak —the largest in history— is apparently a single individual who contacted the widely respected German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung over a year ago. After receiving assurances that his or her anonymity would be safeguarded, the source proceeded to provide the paper with what eventually amounted to over 11.5 million files. They include company emails, banking transaction records, and files of clients that span the years 1977 to 2015. The source asked for no financial compensation or other form of reimbursement in return, saying only that he or she wanted to “make these crimes public”.

Faced with the largest data leak in recorded history, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reporters contacted the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which is the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity. With ICIJ acting as an umbrella group, the German reporters were eventually joined by 370 journalists representing 100 news outlets from 76 Q Quotecountries. On Sunday, following a year-long analysis of the data, the reporting partners began publishing revelations from the Panama Papers, and say they will continue to do so for several days to come.

THE ROLE OF MOSSACK FONSECA

The documents are from the internal records of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm headquartered in Panama City, Panama, with offices in 42 countries. The company is one of the world’s most prolific registrars and administrators of shell companies in offshore locations. It has created more than 300,000 shell companies throughout its history, most of them in offshore tax havens like the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, or Guernsey. Its clients are offered the ability to incorporate a generic-sounding company and headquarter it in an offshore tax haven. In exchange for an annual fee, Mossack Fonseca provides the company with a sham director and shareholders, thus concealing the true owner and actual beneficiary of the business.

The power of the leaked documents is that they reveal the actual owners of 214,000 offshore shell companies managed by Mossack Fonseca. The long list of names includes dozens of current and former heads of state, as well as hundreds of politicians, public figures and celebrities. Many of these individuals have failed to declare their earnings from their shell companies in their annual tax Q Quotestatements, which means they have not been paying taxes in their country of citizenship or residency. Thus, there are now thousands of Mossack Fonseca clients in over 100 countries who are preparing to face the legal consequences of tax evasion.

SECURITY IMPLICATIONS

Equally importantly, however, the leaked documents reveal that Mossack Fonseca’s clients appear to include at least 33 individuals and companies that are involved in organized crime or have close contacts with terrorist organizations. This sheds light on the increasingly disappearing line that once separated illicit activities such as tax avoidance and tax evasion, from money laundering, organized crime and terrorism. This phenomenon is assisted by unscrupulous companies like Mossack Fonseca, which act as anonymizing platforms for wealthy celebrities, criminals and terrorists alike.

The leak also shows the extent to which national governments have been unable to stem the tide of unfettered finance-capitalism, which today threatens the stability and cohesion of developed and developing economies alike. Moreover, the sheer scale of offshore capital funds, which, according to one expert, amount to as much as $32 trillion, threaten the economic security of nation states and must be viewed as an existential threat to the ability of states to fund public expenditures though taxation. The political arrangement that led to the creation of the postwar welfare state is today being directly threatened by the inability or unwillingness of organized states to monitor the largely unregulated flow of capital to offshore tax havens.

Today, entire economies, including much of southern Europe, the Balkans, as well as Latin America, are crumbling under the fiscal weight created by mass-scale tax evasion and organized crime. Organized criminals are now actively working closely with the banking sector, thus creating even more opportunities for money laundering and other financial illegality on an unprecedented scale. The Süddeutsche Zeitung revelations demonstrate that the line that separates legitimate economic activity from the rogue underbelly of global capitalism is exceedingly thin. It is high time that Western intelligence agencies viewed this worrying development as an asymmetrical threat against the security of law-abiding societies and began dealing with offshore tax havens with the same intensity that they have displayed against terrorist safe havens since 9/11.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 April 2016 | Permalink

Ex-NATO supreme commander warns of ‘Grexit security nightmare’

James StavridisAn American former supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has warned that a possible Greek exit from the Eurozone “could become a geopolitical nightmare” for the European Union and NATO. James Stavridis, a retired four-start US Navy admiral, who served as NATO’s 16th Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 2009 to 2013, said solving the Greek crisis should not be left to the central bankers. In an article published Wednesday in Foreign Policy, Stavridis said the financial administrators that are handling the Greek crisis were not sufficiently cognizant of the massive geostrategic implications of a possible “Grexit”.

The retired admiral said that if the Greek economy continues its downward spiral, the country may not be able to fulfil its defense obligations to NATO, in which Greece has held full membership since 1952. As a result, the country may leave not only the EU, but also NATO. Neither organization has ever lost a member-state, said Stavridis, adding that such a development would constitute terra incognita and would “shake both organizations in fundamental ways” by weakening their broader ideological cohesion.

However, said Stavridis, chances are that Greece will remain a member of EU and NATO despite possibly exiting the Eurozone. But it would be “an angry disaffected and battered nation”, he said, and could thus wreak havoc in both organizations. The latter are consensus-driven, meaning that their actions depend on the unanimous agreement of all member-states. If Greece adopted an “uncooperative” attitude, it would easily bring both organizations to a halt when it comes to pressing issues, such the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, the Iranian nuclear program, or even negotiations about transatlantic trade. Currently, Greece’s important geographic position means that its naval bases constitute the maritime flank of NATO during a critical time of tension in the eastern Mediterranean, said Stavridis.

And what if Greece, shunned by the West, started to look elsewhere for support? Russia, which shares strong historical and religious links with Greece, could be a “prospective partner” for Athens, argued Stavridis. If Moscow offered even marginal economic assistance to Athens, Greece could be tempted to further distance itself from its Western partners, both diplomatically and militarily.

Admiral Stavridis’ warning came a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Greece had played “an important role in southern Europe as a NATO member” and urged Athens not to make cuts in its defense spending due to the ongoing economic crisis.

Global finance fears grow as Greece faces economic meltdown

GreeceSeveral Western countries issued travel warnings for Greece on Sunday, as the Greek government shut down all banks and imposed capital controls following the breakdown of talks between Athens and the European Union. British and American citizens traveling or living in Greece were advised to have enough cash on hand, as ATMs were quickly running out of currency. In a late-night televised address to the nation, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said banks would remain closed until July 6 –the day after Greeks vote in a nationwide referendum on whether to accept the bailout terms proposed to Greece by its creditors. Police tightened security around ATM machines, as lines were reportedly formed in petrol stations in the capital.

The decision to shut down the banks was taken after finance ministers in the eurozone –the a monetary union of 19 European Union (EU) member states that have adopted the euro as their common currency– rejected Athens’ request to prolong a financial-assistance program. The decision could prompt Greece to default on a €1.5 billion payment to the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s main creditors. Additionally, the European Central Bank, which oversees Greece’s banking system, refused on Sunday to infuse cash to the Greek banks, in order to accommodate the mass withdrawal of cash by panicked citizens. On Saturday, Greece’s Minister of Finance, Yannis Varoufakis, was not allowed to attend a eurozone meeting in Brussels –a historic first that could mean Greece is close to being kicked out of the eurozone and maybe even the EU as a whole.

Finance ministers of the 18 countries that attended Saturday’s meeting issued a joint statement pledging “to do whatever it takes to stabilize the common currency area” and shield it from possible domino effects caused by the Greek financial meltdown. However, it is difficult to predict what will happen to the financial markets if Greece declares a default, as some of the world’s largest banking institutions share ownership of the country’s mammoth €300 billion debt. Financial analysts warned that the euro will become “increasingly vulnerable” to ripple effects from the Greek crisis, while the London-based Financial Times crisis meeeting the developments in Greece were “expected to trigger a sharp reaction” in the world’s markets this week. The big question, said The Times, is whether the economic fallout from the latest dramatic developments would be limited to Greece or become “a global event”. There was no question, said the paper, that the markets were “at a critical juncture” and that investors were “taking the possibility of contagion very seriously”.

Meanwhile, several European countries announced they will be holding emergency meetings on Monday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited German party leaders to a crisis meeting, while the office of French President Francois Hollande said he would be holding a “restricted emergency cabinet meeting” to discuss the developments in Greece. The British government said its ministers were “taking steps” to protect the country from possible economic turbulence in the eurozone –of which the United Kingdom is not a member. British newspaper The Observer said in a lengthy editorial published on Sunday that the Greek crisis, coupled with rising tensions over immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, heightened terrorism fears, as well as the impending British EU referendum, were causing a “perfect storm [of] tension and division at Europe’s core”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/29/01-1724/

More on Russian citizens charged with espionage by the FBI

TASS news agency headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A criminal complaint unsealed Monday in a Manhattan court has revealed more details about a complex counterintelligence operation by American authorities against three Russian citizens in New York. The Federal Bureau of Investigation filed charges against two Russian diplomats, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, as well as Evgeny Buryakov, an employee of a major Russian bank in Manhattan. All three are believed to be officers of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to the criminal complaint, the two diplomats met Buryakov nearly fifty times between March 2012 and September 2014. FBI counterintelligence agents witnessed the Russians pass “small objects or notes” between each other in public, said the indictment. As intelNews reported yesterday, the three Russians were in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization” in the US. According to The Daily Beast, the news organization in question is the Moscow-based TASS news agency, which is owned by the Russian government. The court documents also reveal that Sporyshev and Podobnyy broke basic rules of intelligence tradecraft, by contacting Buryakov using an unencrypted telephone line and addressing him by his real name, rather than his cover name. These conversations, which occurred in April 2013, turned out to be monitored by the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which promptly recorded them. In subsequent telephone conversations, Sporyshev and Podobnyy exchanged views on how to recruit female assets in New York. According to the transcripts provided by the FBI, Sporyshev expressed the view that female assets posed problems, in that they would not let male SVR case officers “get close enough” unless they entered a sexual relationship, which made recruitment of assets complicated. Eventually, the FBI set up a sting operation targeting Buryakov. He was approached by an undercover FBI agent posing as an American investor, offering to provide the Russian with classified documents from the US Treasury. In exchange for the documents, he wanted assistance from the Kremlin to build a chain of casinos in Russia. Buryakov spoke with Sporyshev on the phone about the investor’s offer, and was advised by the diplomat that it could be “some sort of a set up —a trap of some kind”. When Sporyshev told Buryakov to proceed cautiously, the latter received from the undercover FBI agent documents purporting to be from a US Treasury source. The Russian was promptly arrested and now faces up to 20 years in prison on charges of operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign power.

US busts Russian spy ring, charges three with espionage

Russian mission to the UNBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the United States have charged three Russian citizens, two of them diplomats, with operating a New York-based spy ring on orders from Moscow. Early on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation named the diplomats as Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27. It said the two were employees of the trade office of the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. But the FBI had apparently been monitoring the two accredited diplomats since March of 2012. Its agents eventually uncovered that Sporyshev and Podobnyy were in fact employees of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to their indictment, the two were employed by the SVR’s ‘ER’ Directorate, which focuses on economics and finance. The two SVR employees, operating under diplomatic guises, regularly met with a third member of the alleged spy ring, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, also an SVR officer. However, unlike Sporyshev and Podobnyy, Buryakov was operating under non-official cover, posing as an employee in the Manhattan office of a major Russian bank. Non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community, are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for conducting espionage. US government prosecutors suggested on Monday that the three alleged SVR operatives were also in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization”, presumably in the US. They also tried to recruit American citizens to spy for Moscow, including employees of “major companies” and “several young women with ties to a major university in New York”, according to the indictment. It is believed that the three Russians were primarily interested in information relating to potential US government sanctions against Russian financial institutions, as well as Washington’s efforts to promote the development of alternative resources of energy. The FBI said Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, “no longer reside in the US”. Presumably they were expelled. Buryakov, however, appeared in a Manhattan court on Monday.

Western companies to suffer backlash in China-US espionage spat

China and the United StatesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
China’s response to America’s allegations of cyberespionage will probably not be directed against the United States government, but at Western technology companies, according to business insiders. On Monday, the United States Department of Justice identified five members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as directly responsible for a series of cyberespionage operations targeting American firms. Since then, sources in the business community have said that American companies operating in China were “caught off guard” by the Justice Department’s charges, and that they were “given no advanced notice” by US government officials. On the one hand, business insiders claim that Chinese cyberespionage against Western firms is so aggressive that many in the corporate community were broadly supportive of Washington’s move. But, on the other hand, some industry analysts have told the Reuters news agency that, although Beijing’s response to Washington’s allegations will not be “immediate or obvious”, Western technology firms should prepare to face a lot more difficulties in doing business in China. Specifically, some business observers expect the Chinese government to respond to America’s cyberespionage allegations by “precluding foreign companies from certain sectors” of its economy. Beijing might even use the controversy to justify a “turn to internal suppliers” of technological products and services, say experts. The news agency reports that American hardware and software suppliers have already seen their sales in China drop as a result of the revelations by American intelligence defector Edward Snowden. The current clash over cyberespionage between America and China is likely to have a further negative effect on American business activities all over Southeast Asia. The ongoing dispute between the two countries is likely to have an effect in Europe as well, say The Financial Times. The London-based paper reports that Washington’s recent indictment has “struck a chord in German industry”, which is also concerned about the perceived theft of intellectual property by Chinese hackers. Read more of this post