Russian espionage in US increasingly sophisticated and brazen, say sources

Russian embassy in WashingtonRussian espionage in the United States has become increasingly sophisticated and brazen, and American counterintelligence professionals are finding it difficult to contain it “after years’ worth of inattention” according to sources. According to Politico, Washington ignored Russian intelligence operations in the 1990s, believing that Moscow’s numerous domestic problems kept its attention away from America. But under Vladimir Putin, Russia rebuilt its espionage network in the US, to the point that now “Moscow’s espionage ground game [on American soil] is growing stronger and more brazen than ever”.

The news outlet cited “half a dozen current and former US intelligence officials”, who said that America has been “ignoring Russia for the last 15 years”. During that time, Washington focused much of its intelligence-related attention to the Middle East and Central Asia. But Russia used that opportunity to rebuild its espionage network on American soil. Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation —the US agency that is in charge of counterintelligence work— is finding it difficult to keep an eye on Russian espionage operations, partly because of the size of Russian operations. One US intelligence official told Politico that the Russians “have just got so many bodies” and are able to evade FBI surveillance.

It is now commonplace, say sources, for Russian “diplomats” to be found wandering around the US without permission from American authorities. Foreign diplomats are required to notify the US Department of State in advance each time they intend to travel more than 50 miles from their consular base, and the FBI must consent before permission to do so is granted. But the Russians are now routinely breaking this requirement; what is more, “half the time they’re never confronted” by the FBI, allegedly because Washington is does not wish to antagonize Moscow in light of the fragile state of affairs in Syria. One US intelligence official told Politico that the Russian “diplomats” appear to be secretly visiting locations across America “where underground fiber-optic cables tend to run”. They appear to be mapping the US telecommunications infrastructure, “perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it”, said the source.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 June 2017 | Permalink

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Ukraine raids Russian internet search engine company as part of ‘treason’ probe

YandexUkrainian security service personnel raided the offices of a Russia-based internet search engine firm in two cities on Tuesday, as part of a treason investigation. The probe is reportedly related to the ongoing dispute between Kiev and Moscow, which intensified after 2014, when Russia unilaterally annexed the Russian district of Crimea. The Ukrainian government also accuses the Kremlin of clandestinely supporting pro-Russian insurgents in southeastern Ukraine, something that Moscow denies.

Earlier this month, Kiev announced that it would be blocking its citizens from using social media networks that are popular in Russia, including Yandex, a search engine that holds the lion’s share of the Russian internet usage market. The Ukrainian government argued that Russian social are were being used by Moscow to stir up pro-Russian sentiment and organize pro-Russian insurgents and activists inside Ukraine.

On Tuesday, members of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) raided the offices of Yandex in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and in the city of Odessa, Ukraine’s third largest city, located on the Black Sea coast. The two locations that were raided by the SBU are registered as subsidiaries of Yandex, which is based in the Russian capital Moscow. In a statement issued on the same day, the SBU said that the simultaneous raids were part of a wider “treason probe”. The security service argues in the statement that Yandex had been found to be sharing the personal information of Ukrainian Internet users with the Russian intelligence services. The illegally shared information included the details of Ukrainian military personnel, said the SBU statement. In turn, Moscow used the data provided by Yandex to plan, organize and carry out “espionage, sabotage and subversive operations” in Ukraine, said the SBU.

Late on Tuesday, a statement issued by Yandex in Moscow confirmed the SBU raids and said it would cooperate with the investigation by the Ukrainian authorities. Meanwhile, Kiev has said that the ban on Russian social media and Internet search engines will remain active for at least three years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May 2017 | Permalink

China dismantled large CIA spy network in 2010, say sources

CIAA few years ago, China busted an extensive network of secret operatives run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA has yet to recover from the massive blow to its operations, say sources. The CIA has devoted substantial resources to gathering intelligence in China in recent years, and has painstakingly built a network of spies. The latter are Chinese nationals recruited by CIA officers to spy on Beijing on behalf of the United States. But, according to The New York Times, in early 2010 the CIA’s assets began to disappear one by one. By 2012, the Agency’s network of secret operatives in China had been all but wiped out.

According to the Times report, published on Saturday, the CIA lost as many as 20 agents on the ground in China, who were either executed or imprisoned by the authorities in Beijing. The paper cites “ten current and former American officials”, who claim that many of the agents had operated for years deep inside the Chinese state apparatus prior to their capture. At least one of them, say sources, was executed “in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building” in an attempt to dissuade other government employees from spying on the Chinese state. At least 12 of the CIA’s assets in the country were executed between 2010 and 2012, according to The Times.

The damage to the CIA has been incalculable, according to sources, and the Agency is still recovering from the loss of an extensive network of operatives that took years to assemble. Sources described the loss of the network to the Times as “one of the worst in decades” and compared it to the loss of assets caused in the 1980s and 1990s by two notorious American spies for the Soviet Union and Russia, CIA officer Aldrich Ames and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Hanssen. At that time, dozens of agents and over 100 intelligence projects were compromised.

According to the report, the FBI and the CIA set up Project HONEY BADGER, a joint counterintelligence investigation into the China breach. But the results of the investigation reportedly remain inconclusive. Some argue that such a major dismantling of a network of assets could only have originated from a mole inside the US Intelligence Community. Others believe that the arrests of CIA agents resulted from a sophisticated Chinese computer hacking operation that targeted the CIA. A third theory posits that the breach was caused by the infiltration of the intelligence community of Taiwan, an important American ally in Southeast Asia.

Since 2012, the CIA has been trying to rebuild its network in China, but it will take it years to reach the level of sophistication in had achieved in 2010. The New York Times said it reached out to the CIA and FBI for comment but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2017 | Permalink

Swiss officials defend alleged spying on German tax-fraud investigators

SwitzerlandSenior Swiss government officials, including the defense minister and the director of the country’s intelligence agency, have defended Switzerland’s right to spy on European tax-fraud investigators who meddle in Swiss affairs. Earlier this week, German authorities announced the arrest of a Swiss national who was allegedly spying on the activities of German tax-fraud investigators in Frankfurt. According to German officials and media reports, the man, identified only as Daniel M., is an employee of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service. The agency, known by its German-language initials, NDB, is Switzerland’s main intelligence organization.

As intelNews reported on Monday, Daniel M. was said to be monitoring the activities of German tax-fraud investigators who have been trying for years to stop German citizens from having secret bank accounts abroad. In the past decade, German authorities have paid nearly $100 million to employees of Swiss banks in return for information about the identities of German bank account holders in the small alpine country. The Swiss government has strongly criticized Berlin for encouraging Swiss banking sector employees to steal internal corporate information, a practice that goes against Switzerland’s stringent privacy laws. On Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, summoned Switzerland’s ambassador to Germany, Christine Schraner Burgener, to the Foreign Ministry, in order discuss Daniel M.’s arrest. A press statement that the Foreign Ministry sent on Tuesday to the German media said that the meeting had been called “in the interest of German-Swiss friendship”.

But the Swiss do not appear to be interested in discussing. On Tuesday, Markus Seiler, Director of the NDB, defended his agency’s right to spy on anyone who “uses illegal methods in Switzerland to steal state or business secrets”. Seiler, who was speaking in Bern, classified all such practices as espionage targeting the the Swiss economy. Asked by reporters whether Daniel M. was an NDB employee, Seiler said he could not comment. But he defended the NDB’s right to “fight the theft of business secrets” and “uphold Swiss laws”. He also refused to specify whether the NDB is active in Germany, stating instead that the agency is “active at home and abroad”. Switzerland’s Minister of Defense, Guy Parmelin, who supervises the NDB’s activities, was equally general when asked to discuss the arrest of Daniel M. He said simply that he and other Swiss government officials had to “protect [the NDB’s] methods and sources”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 April 2017 | Permalink

Germany arrests Swiss spy who was monitoring tax-fraud investigators

Frankfurt AirportAuthorities in Germany have announced the arrest of a Swiss national who was allegedly spying on the activities of German tax-fraud investigators in Frankfurt. According to prosecutors in the German state of Hesse, of which Frankfurt is the largest city, the Swiss man was arrested on Friday and is currently in custody. He has been identified only as Daniel M., and is believed to be in his mid-50s. According to news reports, German counterintelligence officers had been monitoring the suspect for over a year. They were issued a warrant for his arrest in December of last year, but waited until he was on German soil to arrest him. He was arrested at Frankfurt Airport.

German federal prosecutors said simply that Daniel M. was employed in the financial and banking sectors of Germany until early 2012. However after that time, he is believed to have been employed by “the intelligence service of a foreign power”. German officials refused to identify the “foreign power”. However, the Berlin-based German newspaper Die Welt said on Sunday that the Swiss man arrested on Friday is an employee of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service. The agency, known by its German-language initials, NDB, is Switzerland’s main intelligence agency, tasked with safeguarding the security of the small alpine nation by collecting and analyzing information.

The question is, what was a Swiss spy doing in Germany, and why was he arrested? According to Die Welt, Daniel M. was monitoring the activities of German tax-fraud investigators who have been trying for years to stop German citizens from having secret bank accounts abroad. The German government believes that billions of euros are deposited by its citizens in banking institutions in European tax-havens like Liechtenstein, Switzerland or Monaco. For the past decade, German authorities have resorted to bribing whistleblowers in offshore banks in order to acquire internal documents that reveal the identities of German citizens who are hiding their money in foreign bank accounts. It is estimated that over a hundred million dollars have been paid to whistleblowers by German authorities since 2006. The latter argue that the proceeds collected from unpaid taxes and fines more than justify the payments made out to whistleblowers. But the Swiss government has strongly criticized Berlin for encouraging Swiss banking sector employees to steal internal corporate information that often breaks Switzerland’s stringent privacy laws.

It is believed that Daniel M. was arrested while monitoring efforts by German tax-fraud investigators to approach potential whistleblowers working in the Swiss banking sector. Soon after the Swiss man’s arrest, officers from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) searched a hotel room, several apartments and a number of business premises in Frankfurt and nearby cities. It is worth noting that Frankfurt is a major global financial center, which also hosts the headquarters of the European Central Bank. If found guilty, Daniel M. could face up to 10 years in prison for espionage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2017 | Permalink

Crisis looms over Pakistan’s impending execution of alleged Indian spy

Kulbhushan JadhavAnalysts warn that South Asia may witness its worst crisis since the 2008 Mumbai attacks if Pakistan carries out its threat to execute an Indian former naval officer whom it accuses of espionage. Authorities in Islamabad say Kulbhushan Jadhav (pictured) worked for the Indian Navy until 2003, when he was recruited by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), a government intelligence agency that conducts operations abroad. The Pakistanis claim that Jadhav was arrested in southwest Pakistan in 2016, where he was engaged in funding and training secessionist militants from Pakistan’s Baluch minority. The Baluch are an Iranic people, most of whom live in a region known as Baluchistan, which is split between Iran and Pakistan. There are populous Baluch communities in the southern city of Karachi, one of Pakistan’s most populous ports. Some members of the Baluch community have secessionist aspirations and are accused of terrorism by Iranian and Pakistani authorities.

Soon after Jadhav’s arrest in March 2016, the Pakistani military released excerpts of an alleged videotaped confession by the Indian former naval officer. In it, Jadhav can be seen confessing to having worked on instructions by the Indian government to inflame ethnic divisions in Pakistan, from 2013 until his arrest. Last month, a secret military court in Pakistan sentenced Jadhav to death on charges of espionage. India, however, has rejected Pakistan’s allegations, saying that Jadhav’s confession was extracted through torture. The Indians claim that Jadhav was kidnapped by Pakistani operatives in Iran and brought to Pakistan by force. Indian officials dismissed Islamabad’s claim Jadhav was carrying his Indian passport when the Pakistanis captured him, saying that no undercover intelligence officer operating abroad would be carrying an Indian passport. New Delhi has warned of “serious consequences” if Pakistan engages in “premeditated murder” by executing Jadhav.

Some observers have noted that Jadhav was tried by a secret court martial, which signifies a radical break from standard practice. Moreover, the public announcements about his fate were made by the Pakistani military, rather than the civilian government, which is unprecedented. This leads some analysts to the conclusion that the Jadhav case is being handled solely by the military, which is trying to use Jadhav’s case to dissuade the government in Islamabad from reaching out to India with an offer for negotiations. There are also suggestions that the timing of Jadhav’s sentence might indicate that Islamabad hopes to exchange him for one or more of its intelligence officers that are being held by India.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 April 2017 | Permalink

FBI accuses US State Department official of contacts with Chinese spies

US Department of StateAn employee of the United States Department of State has been charged with lying to authorities about her contacts with Chinese intelligence operatives, who gave her money and gifts in return for information. Candace Claiborne, 60, joined the Department of State in 1999 as an office management specialist. She lives in Washington, DC, but has served overseas in American diplomatic facilities in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and China, where she was stationed in Beijing and Shanghai. According to information provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Claiborne had a top security clearance, which required her to report contacts with foreign nationals.

However, federal prosecutors said earlier this week that Claiborne interacted on a regular basis with Chinese intelligence personnel without informing her employer. According to court documents, her contacts with the Chinese were extensive and occurred from 2011 until earlier this year. The Chinese gave Claiborne gifts, including computers and smartphones, tuition-free studies in a Chinese technical school, and an all-expenses-paid holiday to Thailand. They also gave her a regular stipend and provided her with a furnished apartment abroad, according to prosecutors. In return, Claiborne allegedly gave the Chinese information relating to American economic policy on China, among other topics.

It appears that the FBI monitored the State Department employee for a while, after securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court warrant. When it confronted Claiborne, she apparently denied the accusations and lied to FBI agents. She is now charged with obstruction of justice and providing false statements to the FBI. Claiborne is currently under house arrest and will remain there until April 18, when she will appear at a preliminary hearing in Washington. She is reportedly facing a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 March 2017 | Permalink