Venezuela claims capture of ‘American spy’ near major oil refining complex

Paraguaná Refinery ComplexThe President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, announced on Friday the arrest of an alleged “American spy”, who was reportedly arrested near the largest oil refinery complex in the country. The alleged spy, who has not been named, was reportedly in the vicinity of the Paraguaná Refinery Complex, which is known as the third largest refinery complex in the world. It combines the Amuay, Bajo Grande and Cardón refineries, which together produce nearly a third of Venezuela’s daily oil output.

During a live address on Venezuelan national television, Maduro said an American citizen had been arrested on Thursday in Falcon State, in Venezuela’s northeast. Falcon is the site of the Amuay and Cardón oil refineries and much of the local population is employed in the state-owned oil industry. The Venezuelan president said the alleged spy is “a marine” who was “serving on [Central Intelligence Agency] bases in Iraq” prior to arriving in Venezuela. He added that the alleged spy was “captured with large amounts of cash, large quantities of dollars and other items”. He did not elaborate further, but said the detainee was in the process of “giving a statement in custody”.

Maduro also said that Venezuelan security forces had foiled a separate plot to bomb El Palito, which is another oil refinery, located in Carabobo State. He then urged workers in oil refineries to “be on alert” in case more attacks are planned. Venezuela’s oil production has fallen to nearly a third of its peak output in 2009, when the country was producing 3.2 million barrels per day. The government blames the oil shortage on acts of sabotage from domestic and foreign enemies of President Maduro, but opposition parties claim that mismanagement and corruption are behind the demise of the Venezuelan oil industry.

Earlier this year, a Venezuelan court sentenced two American former servicemen to 20 years in prison for their role in what the Venezuelan media refer to as “enfrentamiento en El Junquito” (“El Junquito raid”), or “Operación GEDEÓN”. GEDEÓN refers to a failed coup plot carried out on May 3 and 4, 2020, by a group of up to 60 armed men. It is alleged that the coup was masterminded by Major General Clíver Alcalá Cordones, a retired member of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army, with the support of Silvercorp USA, a private security group led by Jordan Goudreau, a Canadian-born former sergeant in the US Green Berets. The United States government has denied involvement in the coup plot.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 September 2020 | Permalink

US troops remain in Russian-dominated Syria with no clear goal, say insiders

Free Syrian ArmyAmerican forces remain in Syria without a clear goal in sight, as the conflict there nears its 10-year anniversary, and with Russia having emerged as the principal guarantor of security in the war-torn country, according to insiders. In an article published last week, Newsweek said American and American-supported Syrian officials feel disillusioned about America’s goals in the country. The website cited an anonymous senior United States intelligence official who described the US military mission there as “a clusterf**k”.

Officially, the goal of the US Department of Defense’s mission in Syria is to “ensure the enduring defeat” of the Islamic State. On the political level, the US seeks the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the departure of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from the country. Last year, however, US President Donald Trump seemed to suddenly change the Pentagon’s mission, by telling reporters that the US military was in Syria only to secure access to the oil and natural gas fields that lay in the country’s northeast. He repeated that statement in August of this year.

This goal appears to have been adopted by the Pentagon as its new mission. Currently what remains of the US military presence in Syria is concentrated around a cluster of oil and gas fields in the northeastern part of the country. Sources told Newsweek that the US troops feel “stranded” and “forgotten” in Syria, and are virtually surrounded by numerically dominant Russian and Iranian forces. US allies in the area are shifting their alliances and looking to Russia, seeing Washington as a non-dependable actor.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Tehran have assumed leading roles in bringing rival forces to the table, while also fighting what is left of the Islamic State. Several meetings between representatives from rival factions, including the Assad government, pro-Turkish militias, and the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces, have taken place under Russian tutelage in the past year. The US has not participated in these negotiations, said Newsweek.

► Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 September 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

Norway arrests man for espionage that harmed ‘fundamental national interests’

Norway Police Security ServiceAuthorities in Norway will not release the name of a man who was arrested on Saturday, reportedly after he met with a Russian intelligence officer in Oslo. The arrest of the unnamed man, who is a Norwegian citizen, was announced on Monday by the Norwegian Police Security Service, Norway’s counterintelligence agency.

A prosecutor for the agency, Line Nyvoll Nygaard, told reporters that the man was observed by counterintelligence officers as he met with the alleged Russian intelligence officer at a restaurant. Little information is known about him. He is said to be in his 50s. According to Nygaard, he is believed to have “access to information that would be of interest to foreign nations” through his work.

The case is thought to be of significance, given that Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, was notified about it over the weekend. According to reports in the Norwegian media, the case is about industrial espionage. The man is believed to be working, or to have worked, for DNV GL, a major provider of technical advice and services for energy companies around the world. The company is also a major force in the global shipping industry as an accredited registrar, meaning that it is licensed to classify and categorize ships.

According to Nygaard, the espionage case is significant enough to pose “a major threat to the core national interests of Norway”. The government will seek the maximum prison penalty of 15 years, she said. The man is currently being detained and will soon be facing a custody trial that is expected to take place in secret.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 August 2020 | Permalink

Turkey offers to send troops to Libya as tensions rise with Greece, Egypt

Turkey LibyaTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said his country is prepared to deploy troops to Libya, just days after Ankara surprised analysts by announcing an agreement with the embattled Libyan government in Tripoli. The Turkish-Libyan agreement has spurred angry reactions from Israel, Greece and Egypt, all of which are competing with Turkey for control of newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean seabed.

The Turkish-Libyan agreement merges the two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and ostensibly prevents other players in the area, including Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus, from drilling for natural gas without the consent of Ankara and Tripoli. However, according to Greece, the agreement disregards the presence of several Greek islands —including the largest one, Crete— in the Turkish-Libyan EEZ. Athens says that it views the Turkish-Libyan agreement as a direct claim against its territory. Last week the Greek government summarily expelled the Libyan ambassador from the country, marking a dramatic deterioration in the historically close relationship between Athens and Tripoli.

To further-complicate matters, several European countries, as well as Russia and the United States, do not support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), with which Turkey has signed its agreement. Instead, they support the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Haftar lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011. The LNA, which is based in eastern Libya, is also supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other American allies in the Persian Gulf.

It follows that, if Turkey deploys troops to Libya, it may be entering a collision course with several of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. Ankara’s move will also be confronted by Russia, which is purported to have troops in eastern Libya. On Tuesday, however, Turkish President Erdoğan seemed determined to proceed with his plan. In a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish leader proclaimed that, “if Libya were to make a request, we would send a sufficient number of troops”, adding that “there is no hurdle” to doing so “after the signing of the security agreement” between Ankara and Tripoli.

This is the first time that Turkey has secured an agreement with a regional ally in the matter of energy exploration rights. Previously, Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus struck a deal to coordinate their gas exploration activities, and eventually supply Europe with Israeli and Cypriot natural gas via a projected gas pipeline that would pass through Greece. But the Turkish move raises doubts about the prospects of such a project, with some analysts even speculating whether centuries-old rivals Greece and Turkey may be getting closer to war.

In a speech on Monday, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos warned Ankara that “Greece will defend its borders [and] territory”. Meanwhile European Union leaders met on Monday behind closed doors to discuss the imposition of sanctions on Turkey as punishment for disputing the maritime territorial boundaries of Cyprus, a European Union member.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2019 | Permalink

US and Saudi Arabia ‘suffered intelligence blackout’ during Iran drone strikes: sources

Saudi AramcoSaudi Arabia and the United States suffered “a total and embarrassing [intelligence] failure” in the lead-up to the drone strikes that shut down half of the kingdom’s oil production last month, according to Israeli sources. In the early hours of September 14, missiles struck two refineries belonging to the world’s largest crude oil processing facility in eastern Saudi Arabia. The facilities, which belong to Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s government-owned oil conglomerate, were forced to cease operation so that repairs could be carried out. This drastically reduced Saudi Arabia’s oil production by close to 50 percent, which amounted to a 5 percent drop in global oil production. By Monday morning, global oil prices had seen their most significant one-day surge since the 1991 Gulf War.

Soon after the attacks, Saudi and American officials accused Iran of having launched the missile strikes. But according to Breaking Defense, Riyadh and Washington suffered “a total and embarrassing [intelligence] failure” in the hours prior to and following the attacks. The US-based website cited a number of anonymous Israeli sources, who said that officials in Tel Aviv were surprised by the lack of intelligence in the US and Saudi Arabia about the missile strikes. The Israelis told Breaking Defense that Saudi intelligence agencies “had no idea Iran was planning to attack the kingdom’s oil facilities […]. It seems that the Americans were also in the dark [or that possibly] Washington […] did not share the data in time with the Saudis”, they added.

The above information was allegedly discussed at an emergency meeting of the Israeli defense cabinet on October 6, which included a briefing on the attacks by the Mossad, Israel’s main external intelligence agency. According to the Israeli sources, Mossad officials were quickly able state with high confidence that the missiles had been launched from military bases in southeast Iran or by Iranian militias in Iraq. It was only following an examination of missile fragments that Saudi and American intelligence officers were able to point the finger at Iran, according to Aahron Ze’evi Farkash, former director of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate.

Breaking Defense also said that Israeli intelligence analysts were impressed by the precision of the weapons systems used in the Iranian strikes. Additionally, the specific targets of the attacks were selected with the help of “very accurate intelligence”, said the Israeli sources.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2019 | Permalink

Opinion: Saudi Arabia will not go to war with Iran, but it may pay others to do so

Saudi AramcoEver since a barrage of drone and missile attacks struck Saudi Arabia on September 14, many have wondered whether the oil kingdom will go to war with Iran. Riyadh has directly accused the Islamic Republic of being behind the attacks. But the speculation about a possible war is baffling, argues Nesrine Malik in a well-argued article published last Sunday in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Saudi Arabia does not “go to war”, she says —it pays others to do so on its behalf.

The war in Yemen is a perfect example, argues Malik. Even though the Saudi monarchy is leading the foreign military involvement in that war, Saudi Arabia is supplying almost no ground troops in that war. There are only Saudi commanders who are managing groups of mercenaries from Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. A large portion of the Saudi-led force consists of Sudanese child soldiers, whose families are paid handsomely for supplying the oil kingdom’s force in Yemen with what Malik describes as “cannon fodder”. The Saudi commanders communicate their battle orders to their hired troops via satellite phones and use unmanned drones and high-flying planes to attack the predominantly Shiite Houthi rebels. That largely explains the high civilian toll in that war.

Meanwhile, the United States government announced last week that it will be sending several hundred troops to the oil kingdom and will be beefing up its air defense systems. But Malik wonders why it is that Saudi Arabia, which has been the world’s largest weapons importer since 2014, and whose 2018 arms purchases accounted for 12 percent of global defense spending last year, requires the presence of American troops on its soil for its protection. The answer is simple, she says: the Saudi regime purchases weapons, not to use them, but to make Wester defense industries dependent on its purchasing power. In other words, the Saudi monarchy buys Western weapons for political reasons. These purchases enable it to get away with its abysmal human-rights record at home, as well as its kidnappings and assassinations abroad.

In the meantime, says Malik, if Saudi Arabia goes to war against Iran, it will do so the way it always does: it will hire proxies —including the United States— to fight on its behalf.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 September 2019 | Permalink

US considering drastic increase in intel-sharing with Saudi Arabia after drone attacks

AramcoUnited States officials are considering increasing substantially America’s intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia following last weekend’s drone attacks that halved the Kingdom’s oil production and shook global markets. The attacks occurred in the early hours of Saturday, September 14, at two refineries located in eastern Saudi Arabia. The refineries are owned by Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s government-owned oil conglomerate, and are part of the world’s largest crude oil processing facility. The massive fires caused by the attacks were contained within hours and no casualties were reported. But the facilities had to cease operation so that repairs could be completed. This cut Saudi Arabia’s oil production by close to 50 percent, which amounted to a 5 percent reduction in global oil production. The impact on the world’s financial markets was immediate: by Monday morning, oil prices had seen their most significant one-day surge since the 1991 Gulf War.

The Houthi movement, a collection of Yemeni Shiite militias supported by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack. A Houthi movement spokesman said on Sunday that the attacks had been carried out with the use of modified commercially available drones. He also warned that Saudi Arabia would experience more attacks of this kind in the future. Iran has rejected accusations by American and some Saudi officials that it was responsible for the attacks.

On Monday the Reuters news agency reported that the US is considering the possibility of drastically increasing the volume and quality of intelligence it shares with Saudi Arabia. The move is allegedly intended as one in a series of measures to be taken by Washington in response to Saturday’s drone attacks. In the past, the US has been selective in how much intelligence it shares with the Saudis, who have been involved in an increasingly bloody civil war in Yemen since 2015. Washington is weary of being seen to have a decisive role in support of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, in light of the criticism that the latter has drawn from numerous international bodies and governments around the world.

The US Congress has also condemned the Saudi campaign in an unusually bipartisan fashion, and has tried to stop President Donald Trump from providing material support to it. In May of this year, the US president defied Congress and signed two dozen arms sales agreements worth over $8 billion with the oil kingdom. The move upset many critics of Saudi Arabia in the Republican Party, who sharply criticized the Saudi government for killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last year. A possible decision by Washington to increase its intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia is bound to prompt a critical response from Congress, especially if it relates to the ongoing war in Yemen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 September 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: Iran’s energy sector is now a high-stakes espionage target

Iran Petroleum Oil MinistryThe state-owned energy sector of Iran, one of the world’s most lucrative, has become a major target of international espionage since the imposition of new sanctions by the United States this year. The purpose of Washington’s sanctions is to limit the Islamic Republic’s ability to export energy, and by doing so end the country’s reliance on its primary source of income. It is estimated that Tehran’s energy exports have fallen by about 80 percent during the past year, and may continue to fall if the US has its way. This means that American and Iranian intelligence agencies are currently engaged in an intense war of espionage that concentrates on what remains of Iran’s oil exports. Iran continues to entice international buyers by selling energy at below-market prices, while sales are facilitated through the use of throwaway bank accounts that are difficult to trace. Exports are then carefully smuggled into overseas destinations through a variety of means.

In an article published last week, The New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi explains that every snippet of information about Iran’s oil industry has now become “a prized geopolitical weapon” in a “a high-stakes global game of espionage and counterespionage”. Fassihi quotes a recent statement by Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zanganeh that “information about Iran’s oil exports is war information”. That includes information on how Iran manages to deliver its exports abroad and how it gets paid for doing so. Once the US tightened its sanctions on Tehran, Iranian energy officials began to suspect that most inquiries to purchase oil were from foreign spies in search of information on the methods of transaction, writes Fassihi. So the Ministry of Petroleum stopped allowing thousands of freelance energy brokers to mediate between it and buyers. It proceeded to concentrate all transactions into the hands of fewer than five vetted individuals with prior tenure in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and other vetted government agencies. It also began to train Ministry officials on security and counterespionage protocols.

When the Iranians made it difficult to access information through the Ministry of Petroleum, foreign spy agencies changed their tactics, writes Fassihi. They used foreign academic researchers, including PhD students, who offered payments in hard cash for information on Iranian oil export methods that would help them in their research. Others descended on Tehran offering visas to the US, alcohol, prostitutes, and cash payments ranging from $100,000 to over $1 million in exchange for intelligence on the Iranian energy export sector. There is an atmosphere of paranoia in the Iranian capital, writes Fassihi, and the process of purchasing oil from Iran resembles a Hollywood spy thriller. Representatives of foreign buyers are asked to come to Tehran in person and are regularly required to switch hotels in the middle of the night. Additionally, once a transaction is agreed upon, the buyer’s representative is required to stay at a Petroleum Ministry safe house until the funds are transferred into Iranian government coffers. After that, the representative is allowed to leave, writes Fassihi.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 August 2019 | Permalink

Australian ex-intelligence officer pleads guilty to disclosing spy operation

Bernard CollaeryAn Australian former intelligence officer will plead guilty to revealing an Australian spy operation against the impoverished nation of East Timor, which prompted international outcry and damaged Canberra’s reputation. IntelNews has covered the case of the former intelligence officer, known only as “Witness K.” since 2013, when it was first revealed. It is believed that Witness K. served as 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, also known as East Timor.

According to Witness K., a group of ASIS officers disguised themselves as members of a renovation crew and planted several electronic surveillance devices in an East Timorese government complex. The inside information gathered 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 argued that during the sensitive negotiations that preceded the CMATS treaty, the Australian government was in possession of intelligence acquired through illegal 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. It is worth noting that Witness K. said he decided to reveal the ASIS bugging operation in 2012, after he learned that Australia’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, had been hired as an adviser to Woodside Petroleum, an energy company that was directly benefiting from the CMATS treaty.

However, 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 revealed 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

Iran announces arrest of 16 oil ministry officials for spying for CIA

Iran Petroleum Oil MinistryIranian state media announced on Sunday the arrest of 16 officials in the country’s Ministry of Petroleum, allegedly for sabotaging Iranian energy policy. It is not known whether these arrests are in any way connected with Tehran’s announcement last week that it had dismantled “one of the most complicated” espionage operations by the United States Central Intelligence Agency in several countries. According to the state-owned Fars News Agency, the 16 officials were arrested over the weekend in synchronized pre-dawn raids. All of them had managerial positions in Iran’s oil industry —including in the areas of exploration, production and distribution of Iran’s oil and petrochemical products inside the country as well as abroad.

The report about the latest arrests cited Hossein Ali Haji Deligani, a senior legislator representing the most conservative political wing in the Iranian parliament. Deligani said that the ministry employees “operated under a woman”, whom he did not name. Working in concert, the employees had been “able to influence […] the oil ministry to put off important decisions” and to “make wrong decisions”. These decisions were “in line with the enemies’ goals and against Iran’s national interest”, and ultimately delivered “a blow to the country in the United States economic war against Iran”, said Deligani. He did not elaborate on the topic and did not discuss whether the arrests were linked to the dismantling of an alleged CIA cyber espionage operation, which Iran announced last week.

Sunday’s announcement by the Fars News Agency comes two days after the execution of Jalal Haji Zavar, an employee of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization, which operates under the Iranian a unit of the Ministry of Defense. Zavar was executed on Friday after a military court found him guilty of having committed espionage against Iran on behalf of the CIA. Media reports said that unspecified incriminating documents and “spying equipment” were found in Zavar’s home.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 June 2019 | Permalink

Malaysia is helping Iran evade US economic sanctions, intelligence sources claim

Petronas MalaysiaCiting “Western intelligence officials”, Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Thursday that a deepening alliance between Malaysia and Iran is expected to enable Tehran evade some of the economic sanctions imposed on it by the United States. In the past, every time Washington has imposed economic sanctions on Iran, it has issued renewable waivers for a number of countries whose economies have historically depended on substantial Iranian energy imports. This is done in order to prevent these economies from entering a recession due to lack of access to sufficient energy supplies. This week, however, US President Donald Trump said that Washington would not renew waivers for these countries, which include Italy, India, Turkey, South Korea and China. These waivers are now expected to run out on May 2, 2019, after which date the US has threatened to impose economic sanction on all countries that have substantial financial dealings with Tehran.

Many observers believe that these new sanctions will have a deep and immediate impact on the Iranian economy. But, according to Haaretz, the American sanctions are bringing Iran closer to Malaysia. Throughout the past month, says the Israeli newspaper, “atypical numbers” of oil tankers have been sailing between the two countries —a sign of trying to move as much oil as possible out of Iran before the US sanctions hit. Citing “Western intelligence officials”, Haaretz claims that Iran plans to continue to funnel funds from oil and natural gas sales through Malaysian banks. Much of that assistance, which sources claim will grow in the next month, is facilitated through Petronas, Malaysia’s state-owned oil company. As one of the world’s largest companies and the most powerful corporate entity in Malaysia, Petronas has immense political power. Much of the country’s political elite connected with Petronas —including the country’s current Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who was a senior advisor to the company in the early 2000s. In 2017, Petronas signed a cooperation agreement with an Iranian refinery facility and announced its intention to develop an emerging oilfield in the Middle Eastern country. Then in late 2018, Petronas officials traveled to Iran to sign a memorandum of understanding on mutual cooperation between the Malaysian company and Iran’s state-owned energy producer and distributor, the National Iranian Oil Company.

Haaretz notes that cultural and political ties between Malaysia and Iran run deep. The Southeast Asian country is one of a handful of nations that allow Iranians to visit without first having to obtain a visa. If fails to note, however, that in recent times there have been tensions between the two countries, due to concerns in Kuala Lumpur that Iran is trying to spread a militant version of Shia Islam in Malaysia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2019 | Permalink

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

North Korea secretly imports Russian oil through Singapore, says defector

Ri Jong-hoThe government of North Korea uses intermediary firms in Singapore to import thousands of tons of Russian oil each year, according to a senior North Korean defector who has spoken publicly for the first time since his defection. Ri Jong-ho was a senior official in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under its previous leader, the late Kim Jong-il. He rose through the ranks of the Workers’ Party of Korea and was directly mentored by Kim, who personally appointed him to a post in Bureau 39. The powerful body is in charge of securing much-needed foreign currency for Pyongyang —often through illegal activities— and partly funds the personal accounts of the ruling Kim dynasty.

From the mid-1990s until his 2014 defection, Ri spent nearly three decades in senior positions inside the DPRK. These included the chairmanship of the board of the Korea Kumgang Group, a state-managed firm that oversees large-scale economic activity in North Korea, such as constructing energy networks and commissioning oil and natural-gas exploration. Between 1998 and 2004, Ri lived in the Chinese city of Dalian, where he headed the local branch of the Korea Daesong Trading Corporation. The Pyongyang-based company facilitates North Korea’s exports to China in exchange for Chinese goods and products.

But Ri’s mentor, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011. His son and successor, Kim Jong-un, engaged in a brutal campaign to remove his father’s advisers and replace them with his own people. During that time, said Ri, thousands of senior and mid-level officials were purged, some physically. Frightened and disillusioned, Ri defected with his family to South Korea in October 2014; fifteen months later, in March 2016, he arrived in the United States. On Tuesday, the Voice of America published Ri’s first public interview since his defection.

Among other things, the former Bureau 39 official said that the North Korean regime sustains itself with the help of oil it imports from nearby countries. One of the regime’s main sources of energy is Russia, which supplies Pyongyang with between 200,000 and 300,000 tons of oil every year. But the trade does not occur directly, said Ri. Moscow sells the oil to energy-trading companies in Singapore. These mediators then sell the oil to the DPRK through separately agreed contracts, so that Russia does not appear to be providing Pyongyang with desperately needed oil. The so-called “Singapore line” was established by North Korea in the 1990s, said Ri, and appears to still be active. In addition to Russian oil, the DPRK imports approximately 500,000 tons of oil per year from China, through pipelines, according to Ri.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 June 2017 | Permalink

US, UK, had secret plan to bomb Middle East oil facilities if Soviets invaded

Iraq Oil Petroleum CompanyRecently uncovered documents shed further light on an ultra-secret plan, devised by the British and American governments, to destroy oil facilities in the Middle East in the event the region was invaded by Soviet troops. The documents, published on Thursday by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, were found in the British government archives and date from 1951 to 1955. They describe a top-secret United States plan known as NSC 26/2, which was approved by the National Security Council in 1949 and authorized by President Harry Truman. The plan aimed to prevent the use of Middle East oil facilities by Soviet troops if the latter were able to successfully invade the region.

American documents from the 1950s describe NSC 26/2 as a “denial policy”, which called for a secret collaboration between Middle East-based American and British oil companies. The goal was to sabotage or completely destroy oil facilities and equipment that were in British and American hands, before the Soviets could take them over. The most sensitive part of the plan was the need to keep it secret from the governments of Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, even though most of them were allies of the West at the time.

The existence of NSC 26/2 was first revealed in 1996, when the American newspaper Kansas City Star published an extensive article about it, written by Steve Everly. But the recently unearthed British documents shed more light than ever before on the intelligence aspects of the secret plan. Specifically, they reveal the leading role played by the Central Intelligence Agency in implementing the details of the plan in nearly every Middle Eastern country, including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. As part of the plan, the CIA systematically inserted what the National Security Archive describes as “undercover operatives” into posts in American and British oil companies. Their mission was to collect inside information and recruit other oil employees to facilitate the requirements of NSC 26/2. In essence, says the National Security Archive, the CIA created “a paramilitary force ready to execute the denial policy”.

Some of the documents also show that American and British leaders discussed the possibility of bombing —in some cases using nuclear weapons— some oil facilities in countries like Iraq and Iran that were state-owned and thus had no Western connections. In 1953, NSC 26/2 was updated and replaced with NSC 176, which was later renamed NSC 5401. The plan continued to call for the destruction of oil facilities in the Middle East, using “direct action”, if they were close to being seized by Soviet troops.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 June 2016 | Permalink