Top Syrian chemical weapons scientist spied for CIA for 14 years, new book claims

Syrian Scientific Studies and Research CenterTHE TOP SCIENTIST IN Syria’s chemical weapons program, reputed to be among the world’s deadliest, spied for the United States Central Intelligence Agency for 14 years, according to a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Toby Warrick. The claim is included in Warrick’s latest book, Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America’s Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World, which has been published this week by Doubleday.

The scientist, whose name Warrick is withholding from publication, was partly educated in the United States in the 1980s, after receiving an academic scholarship. Upon returning to Syria, he became a senior researcher in Institute 3000, a secret chemical weapons program that was hidden within the Damascus-based Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC). Known mostly by its French name, Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS), the center coordinated scientific research throughout the country. Camouflaged as a CERS engineering outfit, Institute 3000 maintained over 40 research and storage facilities that manufactured and housed Damascus’ stockpiles of military grade sarin, mustard gas, VX, and other nerve agents.

Citing interviews with “three former US intelligence officials familiar with the case”, and with a Syrian defector who knew the scientist, Warrick claims that the scientist was in his 30s when he reached out to the CIA. It allegedly happened in the mid-1990s, when the scientist was attending a conference in Europe. A number of months later, the scientist, who is simply referred to as “Ayman” in Warrick’s book, was approached in Damascus by a CIA case officer. He soon began sharing classified information with the CIA, which included samples of nerve agents that the Syrians were working on. In return he received regular payments from the US spy agency “in the form of cash transfers to a foreign bank account”, according to Warrick.

But the scientist’s service to the CIA ended abruptly in late 2001, says Warrick, when officers from Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence agency appeared at his Damascus office and took him away for questioning. It turns out they were there to investigate reports that he had been asking foreign suppliers to CERS for payoffs, in return for recommending them for contracts with the research agency. But the scientist thought his work for the CIA had been betrayed, so he confessed to everything, without realizing that the Mukhabarat had no idea about his espionage. He was executed by firing squad on April 7, 2002 in the Adra Prison, on the northeast outskirts of Damascus, says Warrick.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 February 2021 | Permalink

Ion Pacepa, Cold War’s highest-ranking Soviet Bloc defector, dies of COVID-19

Ion Mihai PacepaION MIHAI PACEPA, WHO defected to the West as acting head of the Romanian intelligence service, making him the Cold War’s highest-ranking defector from the Soviet Bloc , has reportedly died in the United States of COVID-19. There has been no official announcement of Pacepa’s passing. However, a number of American and Romanian news outlets have reported his death in the past week, noting that he passed away on February 14. He reportedly died in hospital at “an undisclosed location”, having lived under protection from the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Resettlement Operations Center since his defection in 1978. He was 92.

Pacepa was born in Bucharest in 1928. He joined the Securitate, Romania’s secret police and intelligence service, in 1951, having earlier graduated with a degree in engineering from the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute. From his initial post in the Securitate’s Counter-Sabotage Directorate —a domestic assignment— Pacepa was moved to its Foreign Intelligence Directorate in 1955. He gradually reached the rank of station chief, serving in Frankfurt, West Germany. By the early 1970s Pacepa had reached the equivalent rank of a two-star general, and served as advisor to the Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu on matters of industrial and technological innovation. In 1978 he was appointed assistant secretary of the Ministry of the Interior and acting director of the Securitate.

But in July of that year, Pacepa defected to the United States while on assignment in Bonn, West Germany. He simply presented himself to the United States embassy there and was soon granted political asylum by Washington. Since that time, he lived under an assumed identity in a series of undisclosed locations in the United States. He reportedly had to change his living arrangements and assume new identities at least twice after his defection, in order to escape Romanian assassination squads who had been tasked with killing him. Among Pacepa’s aspiring assassins was Carlos the Jackal, who had allegedly been promised $1 million by Ceauşescu in return for killing the high-ranking defector.

Pacepa authored several books since his defection, with this first one, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, being the most notable. Translated from the original English into Romanian, the book was used by the prosecutors that argued in favor of the death penalty for Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena. Both were executed by firing squad in December 1989.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 February 2021 | Permalink

Irish officials raise espionage concerns about expansion of Russian embassy in Dublin

IRELAND’S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE SERVICE HAS launched an investigation into an expansion project at the embassy of Russia in Dublin. According to sources cited by The Times newspaper, the Irish government is concerned that the expansion project is part of a secret plan by Moscow to turn its embassy in Dublin into a major espionage hub in Europe.

The two nations had no diplomatic relations until September 1973, when the Republic of Ireland officially recognized the Soviet Union, and the two countries proceeded to establish embassies at each other’s capitals. Since then, the Russian embassy in Dublin has been located on Orwell Road, in the southern suburb of Rathgar. For at least three decades, the embassy has been considered by Western intelligence a hub of Russian intelligence collection operations in Europe. Some claim that the tranquil environs of the Irish capital, coupled with Ireland’s relatively relaxed counterintelligence posture, have encouraged Moscow to use its Dublin embassy as a support base for espionage activities throughout much of Western Europe.

But the Irish government changed its stance in 2018 when, in a surprising move, it introduced emergency legislation aimed at stopping a previously approved expansion of the Russian embassy complex. The government reportedly feared that the initial plan, which proposed to add 86,000 sq ft of structures to the embassy’s existing 21,000 sq ft of building space, threatened Ireland’s national security. The Russians had little choice but to comply with the restrictions imposed by the Irish government. Now, however, the Irish government is reportedly concerned that Moscow was able to proceed with the establishment of an “intelligence hub”, despite the reduced size of the embassy’s expansion.

According to The Times, the Irish government’s concerns center on a building inside the Russian embassy compound, “whose design appears to incorporate military security features”. Another issue concerns an underground car park built by the Russians at the southern rear of the embassy complex, which can accommodate up to 23 vehicles. Apparently, Irish officials cannot explain why the Russians would go to the added trouble —and expense— of building an underground car park, when there appear to be sufficient car parking spaces above ground inside the embassy compound.

The paper reports that the new review of the Russian embassy compound is being led by the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the National Crime and Security Intelligence Service of the Garda, Ireland’s national police and security service. These two entities are expected to brief the National Security Committee in the coming weeks. Known also as “Cabinet Subcommittee F”, the National Security Committee is Ireland’s highest executive decision-making body, which is led by the prime minister.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 February 2021 | Permalink

Trump pardons alleged recruiter of US Navy analyst who spied for Israel

Jonathan PollardDURING HIS LAST DAY in office, United States President Donald Trump issued a federal pardon for Aviem Sella, an Israeli former intelligence officer, who allegedly recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American who sold secrets to Israel. Pollard was released in November of 2015, after serving a 30-year sentence for being what US government prosecutors called “one of the most damaging spies in American history”. The convicted spy recently relocated to Israel, where many see him as a national hero.

In 1987, along with Pollard, the US government indicted Sella, accusing him of recruiting and helping handle Pollard on behalf of Israeli intelligence. Sella, who today is 75, was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. He allegedly began working for Israeli intelligence in the early 1980s. He left the US just days before Pollard was arrested while trying to enter the grounds of the Israeli embassy in Washington, seeking political protection. Israel refused to extradite him to the US and refused to charge him with a crime.

But in his last day in office yesterday, President Trump included Sella’s name in a list of 144 names of individuals to whom he granted last-minute federal pardons. In a statement, the White House explained Trump’s decision by saying that Israel had “issued a full and unequivocal apology [for Pollard’s spying], and has requested the pardon in order to close this unfortunate chapter in US-Israeli relations”. In a statement issued a few hours later, Pollard and his Israeli wife, Esther, said they were “truly happy” about Trump’s decision. They went on to day that pardoning Sella “puts an end to the affair’s bleeding wounds after 35 years”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 January 2021 | Permalink | Thanks to A.B. for corrections

Analysis: Potential espionage aspects of attack on US Capitol must be considered

US CapitolTHE INSURGENTS WHO STORMED the United States Capitol Building Complex on January 6 may have unwittingly provided cover for teams of foreign spies, who could have stolen or compromised sensitive electronic equipment. This largely neglected security-related aspect of the attack is discussed in an insightful article by David Gewitz, a ZDNet and CNET columnist who writes about cybersecurity affairs.

Hundreds of unauthorized people entered the US Capitol last Wednesday. Many of them entered the offices of several members of Congress, some of whom are members of Congressional committees on intelligence, armed services, defense, and other sensitive matters. According to Gewitz, “there is absolutely no knowing what actions were taken against digital gear inside the building” by the intruders. Most of them were clearly members of disorganized mobs, who appeared to have no concrete plan of action once inside the Capitol. However, points Gewitz, it would have been easy for foreign actors to blend in with the crowd of wild-eyed rioters and surreptitiously entered the Capitol in order to steal or compromise sensitive electronic equipment.

In addition to stealing electronic equipment, foreign spies could have stolen sensitive documents, access codes and passcodes, says Gewitz. He adds that more sophisticated efforts could have included loading malware onto Capitol computer systems, or plugging surreptitious USB drives into the internal ports of tower PCs —a process that takes less than two minutes for someone who is equipped with an pocket-size electric screwdriver. Foreign actors could also have left dozens of “generic USB drives in various drawers and on various desks” around the Capitol, hoping that members of Congress or their aides will make use of them in the coming days or weeks. For all we know, says Gewitz, the place could now be riddled with USB chargers with built-in wireless key-loggers, devices that look like power strips but actually hide wireless network hacking tools, fake smoke detectors, electric outlets or switches that contain bugs, and many other surreptitious spying devices.

What should Capitol security personnel do to prevent the potential espionage fallout from the January 6 attack? Gewitz argues that, given the extremely sensitive nature of the information that is stored in the Capitol’s digital systems, federal cybersecurity personnel should “assume that ALL the digital devices at the Capitol have been compromised”, he writes. They will therefore need to resort to “a scorched Earth remediation effort”, meaning that they will have to “completely scrub” those systems, and even lock the USB drive slots of every PC in the building complex. This damage will take months, even years, to clean up, he concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2021 | Permalink

Afghans expel 10 Chinese spies who allegedly made contact with pro-Taliban group

The Afghan government reportedly expelled from the country 10 Chinese intelligence officers on Saturday, after they were found to have contacts with pro-Taliban groups. Meanwhile the White House was recently briefed about claims that Beijing offered Afghan militants bounties for killing American soldiers.

Several Indian news agencies reported last month that Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested 10 Chinese nationals in Kabul on December 10, on suspicion of espionage. The 10 Chinese included at least one woman, and were believed to work for the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s primary intelligence agency.

According to reports in the Indian press, the Chinese nationals had used Kabul as a base to buld a fictitious chapter of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Based in China’s heavily Muslim Xinjiang Province, ETIM is a sepratist armed group, which seeks to create an Islamic breakaway state for ethnic Uighurs. The purpose of the ruse was reportedly to entrap ETIM supporters and members who were operating in Afghanistan.

It is also alleged that at least two of the Chinese spies had contacts with the Haqqani network, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to the leadership of the Taliban, but maintains an independent command structure. Indian news networks named the two Chinese alleged spies with Haqqani Network contacts as Li Yangyang and Sha Hung. Interestingly, the arrests of the 10 Chinese nationals took place shortly before United States President Donald Trump was reportedly briefed about contacts between the MSS and pro-Taliban groups in Afghanistan. According to Axios, US intelligence agencies told the president that Chinese spies had offered Afghan militants bounty in exchange for killing American troops.

Citing “diplomats and security officials in Kabul” who are “familiar with the matter”, The Hindustan Times reported on Monday that the ten Chinese nationals had been released after 23 days in detention. They boarded a chartered airplane heading for China on Saturday, said the paper. None were formally charged. Their release was reportedly ordered by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, following direct negotiations with Beijing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2021 | Permalink

George Blake, arguably the most prolific Soviet spy of the Cold War, dies at 98

George BlakeGEORGE BLAKE, A DUTCH-born British intelligence officer, whose espionage for the Soviet Union gained him notoriety in the West and hero status in Moscow, has died aged 98. His death was announced on Saturday by the state-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti. It was later corroborated by a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), who said Blake “had a genuine love for our country”.

Blake was nearly 18 when German troops entered his native Holland, prompting him to join the local anti-Nazi resistance forces. A British subject thanks to his Egyptian Jewish father, who had acquired British citizenship by fighting in British uniform during World War I, Blake eventually made his way to London via neutral Spain and Gibraltar. Within two years, he had been recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and by war’s end he was working in its Dutch Section.

Named after King George by his fiercely pro-British and royalist father, Blake drew no suspicion by his MI6 colleagues. He was hard-working and came across as a strict Calvinist, with strong religious leanings. But his view of the Soviet Union began to change at Cambridge University, where he had been sent by MI6 to learn Russian language and history. In 1950, while he was serving under official cover at the British embassy in Seoul, Korea, he was captured and detained for three years by North Korean forces. His ideological defection to communism appears to have taken place during his capture, during which he was given access to English-language Marxist literature and had long discussions with Soviet political instructors.

By 1953, when he was released by his captors and returned to a hero’s welcome in London, Blake was a committed communist. Less than a month following his release, he made contact with Nikolai Rodin (codename SERGEI) who was the KGB’s station chief in London. He began to spy for the Soviet Union, and did so for eight years, including during his stint as an MI6 case officer in Berlin. During that time, he is believed to have betrayed information that led to the detection of over 500 Western intelligence officers and assets operating behind the Iron Curtain, with as many as 44 of those losing their lives as a result. His career as a double spy ended in 1960, when he was betrayed by Polish defector Michael Goleniewski. Goleniewski’s debriefing by the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped Britain identify two Soviet moles inside its intelligence establishment, one of whom was Blake.

In 1960, after pleading guilty to espionage, Blake began serving a 42-year prison sentence in Britain’s Wormwood Scrubs maximum security prison complex. But in 1966 he was able to escape with the help of a group of Irish republican prisoners, and made contact with Soviet intelligence. He was eventually smuggled into East Germany and from there to Russia. Once there, he joined the KGB and served as a consultant and instructor until his retirement in the early 1990s. He learned to speak Russian fluently, married a Russian wife (his British wife having divorced him once he was convicted of espionage) and had a son.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on Sunday, praising Blake’s espionage “in the cause of peace”, while the SVR described him as a model intelligence officer. A report published by RIA Novosti on Sunday said that the Moscow city council was considering a proposal to rename a street in the Russian capital after Blake.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2020 | Permalink

Colombia and Russia expel diplomats over espionage allegations

SVR hqCOLOMBIA EXPELLED TWO RUSSIAN diplomats earlier this month, without publicly explaining why, according to news reports. Several Colombian news outlets reported on Tuesday that the two Russians were expelled after they were found engaging in espionage. Also on Tuesday, Colombian officials confirmed earlier reports that Moscow had expelled two Colombian diplomats in a tit-for-tat response.

At a press conference held in Bogota on Tuesday December 22, officials from Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that two Russian diplomats had been expelled from the Colombian capital on December 8. However, they refused to provide the reasons for the expulsions, other than to claim that the two Russians had “engaged in violations” of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. In a separate interview, Colombian President Ivan Duque said that “to reveal more information at this moment would not correspond with the principal of continuing bilateral relations” between Colombia and Russia.

However, several leading Colombian newspapers, including El Tiempo and Semana claimed that the two Russians had engaged in espionage that targeted Colombia’s energy and minerals industry in the city of Cali. An urban center of 2.2 million inhabitants, Cali is known as southern Colombia’s leading economic hub, and is among Latin America’s fastest-growing local economies.

El Tiempo named the two Russians as Alexander Paristov and Alexander Belousov. Also on Tuesday, Colombia’s W Radio alleged that Paristov is an officer in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, which is the Russian equivallent of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. It added that Belousov is an officer in the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is known as GRU.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian embassy in Bogota did not respond to questions by Colombian media about the diplomats’ expulsions.

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

Holland expels two Russian diplomats, summons Kremlin envoy to issue protest

AIVD HollandOn 10 December 2020, the Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Kajsa Ollongren, sent a letter to the House of Representatives to inform them about the disruption of a Russian espionage operation in the Netherlands by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD).

In connection with Ollongren’s revelations, two Russians using a diplomatic cover to commit espionage on behalf of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) were expelled from the Netherlands. The Russian ambassador to the Netherlands was summoned by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs, which informed him that the two Russians have been designated as persona non grata (unwanted persons). In an unusual move, the AIVD also issued a press statement about this incident in English. The AIVD also released surveillance footage (see 32nd minute of video) of one of the two Russian SVR officers meeting an asset at a park and exchanging material.

The two expelled persons were officially accredited as diplomats at the Russian embassy in The Hague. Minister Ollongren says one of the two SVR intelligence officers built a “substantial” network of sources working in the Dutch high-tech sector. He pursued unspecified information about artificial intelligence, semiconductors, and nano technology that has both civilian and military applications. The Netherlands has designated “High Tech Systems and Materials” (HTSM) as one of 10 “Top Sectors” for the Dutch economy.

In some cases the sources of the SVR officers received payments for their cooperation. According to Erik Akerboom, Director-General of the AIVD, said the agency had detected “relatively intensive” contact between sources and the SVR officers in ten cases. The case involves multiple companies and one educational institute, whose identities have not been revealed. The minister states in her letter that the espionage operation “has very likely caused damage to the organizations where the sources are or were active, and thereby to the Dutch economy and national security”.

The minister announced that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) will take legal action against one source of the two Russians, on the basis of immigration law. The minister also announced that the government will look into possibilities to criminalize the act of cooperating with a foreign intelligence service. Currently, that act on and by itself is not a punishable offense. Under current Dutch and European law, legal possibilities do exist to prosecute persons for violation of confidentiality of official secrets or company secrets.

This newly revealed espionage operation follows other incidents in the Netherlands, including a GRU operation in 2018 that targeted the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, and a case in 2015 involving a talented Russian physicist working on quantum optics at the Eindhoven University of Technology. In the latter case, no information was made public about what information the physicist sold to Russian intelligence services. And in 2012, a senior official of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs was arrested for intending to sell classified official information to a Russian couple in Germany who spied for Russia. He was eventually given an eight year prison sentence.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 14 December 2020 | Permalink

Trump administration cancels parole for US Navy analyst who spied for Israel

Pollard - aA UNITED STATES NAVY analyst who spent 30 years in prison after being convicted of spying on the United States for Israel, is expected to receive a hero’s welcome in Israel in the coming days, after the administration of President Donald Trump lifted his parole restrictions that prevented him from leaving the country. Jonathan Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy, was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving a lengthy sentence for selling US government secrets to Israel.

Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, claiming that the convicted spy did not harm American interests, but was simply trying to help Israel. However, the US Intelligence Community and successive American presidents consistently rejected Israel’s claims, arguing that Pollard’s activities were severely detrimental to US interests. Pollard was eventually released after serving the entirety of his sentence.

Ever since his release, Pollard had been required to wear an ankle monitor at all times. His Internet browsing was strictly regulated by the US government and he was not permitted to leave his New York home after sunset. He was also not permitted to leave the US, and Washington had refused to allow him to move to Israel, for fear that the Israeli government would provide him with monetary rewards for his espionage.

But now Pollard is expected to travel to Israel soon, after the Department of Justice announced on Friday that his parole would not be renewed —a move that effectively allows Pollard to leave the United States for the first time since his imprisonment. His lawyer, Eliot Lauer, told an Israeli television station that Pollard would soon be departing for Israel, adding that he looked forward to “seeing our client in Israel”. On Saturday, a press statement issued from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the lifting of Pollard’s parole restrictions, and said Israeli leaders “hope to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon”.

Pollard is expected to receive a hero’s welcome in Israel, where he has achieved celebrity status. He is especially revered by supporters of the center-right Likud party, which is currently led by Netanyahu. There are, however, many in Israel who see Pollard as an opportunist and have derided him publicly for accusing the state of Israel of abandoning him. Others in the Israeli intelligence community see the Pollard episode as deeply damaging to relations between the United States and Israel, and are critical of the decision to recruit Pollard, whose carelessness and brazen espionage style were bound to lead to his arrest sooner or later.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 November 2020 | Permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austria to press charges on man caught spying for Turkish intelligence service

Karl NehammerThere were angry exchanges between Austrian and Turkish officials on Tuesday, after the Austrian government announced it would press charges against an individual allegedly caught spying for Turkish intelligence. The charges were announced on Tuesday morning local time by Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (pictured), during a press conference in the Austrian capital Vienna.

During the press conference, Nehammer said the Austrian government wished to send “a clear message to the Turkish Republic: Turkish espionage and interference by Turkey in the civil liberties [of Austrian citizens] have no place in Austria”. Additionally, the Austrian official said his government would “work at the European level to make sure that Turkey does not interfere in the internal affairs of European Union states”. Vienna had already notified Horst Seehofer, president of the European Council, of the espionage case, said Nehammer.

It is believed that the alleged Turkish spy was uncovered by Austrian authorities after a large political protest that took place in Vienna last June, which resulted in violent clashes between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish demonstrators. The protesters were members of pro-Kurdish organizations in Vienna, but were confronted by pro-Turkish demonstrators, which resulted in the whole rally descending into violent street clashes. An investigation by Austrian police determined that many of the pro-Turkish demonstrators were affiliated with a far-right Turkish group known as the Grey Wolves.

According to the Austrian Interior Ministry, however, it was also found that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, helped organize the Grey Wolves group that confronted the pro-Kurdish rally. Among the Grey Wolves rioters, say Austrian officials, was a man who had been “recruited” by the MİT to spy on pro-Kurdish activists or critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Nehammer said the alleged spy already confessed to working for Turkish intelligence.

In response to Nehammer’s statements, the Turkish government accused Austria’s national leadership of harboring an “anti-Turkey obsession”. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in Ankara that the Austrian government should “top chasing artificial agenda with shallow and domestic political calculations over Turkey, and act with […] seriousness, common sense, and sincere cooperation”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 September 2020 | Permalink

French lieutenant-colonel serving with NATO arrested for spying for Russia

Florence ParlyFrench authorities are reportedly investigating a senior military officer, who is serving with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Italy, for spying on behalf of Russia, according to a news report from France. On Sunday, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly (pictured), gave a press conference in Paris, during which she provided limited information about the ongoing investigation. Parly said she could confirm that “a senior officer” in the French military was undergoing “legal proceedings” relating to a “security breach”. She refused to provide specific details on the case.

Later on Sunday, however, French radio station Europe 1 reported that the military officer was a lieutenant-colonel who is currently serving at a NATO facility in Italy. The officer is believed to speak Russian and is considered a specialist on Russian military affairs, said the station. It added that French authorities began investigating him after he was spotted in Italy with a man who was later identified as an intelligence officer with the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU. According to Europe 1, the French military officer was arrested by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), France’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency.

At the time of his arrest, the unnamed man was making preparations to return to his NATO post in Italy, after holidaying in France, according to the radio station’s report. He is currently in detention in the French capital on suspicion of having supplied classified military documents to Russian intelligence. Europe 1 cited an unnamed source who said the officer would be prosecuted for “collecting [and] sharing information with a foreign power” that “harms the fundamental interests of the [French] nation” and “harms national defense”.

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

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

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

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

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

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