Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia breaks silence to warn of spies

Chen YonglinA Chinese diplomat, who made international news headlines in 2005 when he defected to Australia, has ended a decade of silence to warn about an alleged increase in Chinese espionage operations against his adopted country. Chen Yonglin was a seasoned member of the Chinese diplomatic corps in 2001, when he was posted as a political affairs consul at the Chinese consulate in Sydney, Australia. His job was to keep tabs on the Chinese expatriate community in Australia, with an emphasis on individuals and organizations deemed subversive by Beijing. He later revealed that his main preoccupation was targeting members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is illegal in China. He also targeted supporters of Taiwanese independence, as well as Tibetan and East Turkestan nationalists who were active on Australian soil.

But in 2005, Chen contacted the Australian government and said that he wanted to defect, along with his spouse and six-year-old daughter. He was eventually granted political asylum by Canberra, making his the highest-profile defection of a Chinese government employee to Australia in over half a century. During a subsequent testimony given to the Parliament of Australia, Chen said that he was in contact with Australian intelligence and was giving them information about alleged Chinese espionage activities. He said at the time that China operated a network of over 1,000 “secret agents and informants” in Australia. Chen distinguished agents and informants from Chinese intelligence officers, most of whom were stationed in Chinese diplomatic facilities.

Chen, who now works as a businessman, disappeared from the public limelight after his defection. But last weekend, he reappeared after a decade of obscurity and gave an interview to ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster. The ABC journalist reminded Chen that in 2005 he had estimated the number of Chinese agents and informants operating in Australia at 1,000, and asked him how many he thought were active today. Chen responded that an increase in the number is certain, given that “China is now the wealthiest government in the world”. That meant, said Chen, that Beijing has the funds that are necessary to maintain “a huge number of spies” in Australia. However, the former diplomat said that most Chinese agents are “casual informants”, not trained spies, and that they are dormant for long periods of time in between operations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 November 2016 | Permalink

Iran arrests 12 nuclear negotiators on espionage charges

Iran nuclear negotiationsIranian authorities have reportedly arrested at least 12 members of the country’s team of nuclear negotiators on charges of espionage. The 12 are believed to have represented Iran in international talks about its nuclear program between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

The arrests were revealed by Iranian opposition parliamentarian Hussein Ali Haji Degana, who told reporters on Thursday that those detained held significant posts in the Iranian team that negotiated with representatives of the P5+1 group. Mr. Degana added that some of the 12 held dual citizenships, but did not specify the names of those arrested or their countries of citizenship. Iranian media, which is heavily controlled by the government in Tehran, did not report Degana’s comments. But they were widely publicized by Arab media, including Saudi and Iraqi news agencies.

In March of 2015, Amir Hossein Motaghi, a media advisor to the Iranian president, who covered the international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, defected to the West. Last August, the office of the Iranian prosecutor said that a dual national with Iranian citizenship had been arrested for spying on Tehran for an unspecified foreign intelligence service. The individual was later identified as Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a dual Iranian and Canadian citizen, who was allegedly recruited by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. Esfahani was said to be an accountant with some involvement in the financial aspects of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and foreign powers.

It is not known whether the alleged arrests of 12 more members of the Iranian negotiating team are connected with the espionage charges against Esfahani. Mr. Degana said he hopped that the names of the 12 detainees will be released to the media by the authorities and that their trials will be transparent and open to public scrutiny.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 November 2016 | Permalink

Russian defectors claim US intelligence agencies failed to protect them

Janosh NeumannTwo Russian intelligence officers, who defected to the United States in 2008, claim that they had to fend for themselves after American spy agencies failed to protect them despite promises to the contrary. Janosh Neumann (born Alexey Yurievich Artamonov) and his wife Victorya were employees of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) specializing in investigations of money laundering and corruption. But in 2008 they traveled from Russia to Germany and from there to the Dominican Republic. Once in the Caribbean island, they entered the US embassy and offered to work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The couple claim that they provided “a trove of secrets” to the CIA, including information on FSB officials who engaged in corrupt practices such as bribing, money-laundering and large-scale tax evasion. In return, the CIA transported the Neumanns to America, where they were granted permission to settle temporarily based on humanitarian grounds. The two Russian defectors claim that they were promised green cards and, eventually, American citizenship. For several months following their entry into the US, the Neumanns were kept in a government safe house, where they were debriefed, given polygraph tests, and met regularly with officials from the Departments of Justice and Treasury, as well as with employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the CIA. They say they gave information to the CIA about the methods used by Russian intelligence operatives to infiltrate American corporations. But when the CIA tried to convince them to move back to Russia and work there for the US government as agents-in-place, the Neumanns refused and chose instead to work for the FBI.

The two Russians say the worked for the Bureau for five years, during which time they were paid approximately $1 million. But in 2013 when their employment contracts expired, the FBI did not renew them. Later that year, the Neumanns’ temporary visa to remain in the US expired. Meanwhile, US immigration authorities denied Janosh’s application for a green card because he allegedly hinted that he tortured people for the FSB during his interview with a US immigration official. Eventually, the Russian defectors convinced the FBI to send immigration officials a letter stating that there was no reason to assume that Janosh had tortured or persecuted people in Russia. Earlier this year, the Newmanns, who recently had a baby here in the US, were allowed to stay and have now applied for green cards again. But they say they reserve the right to sue the US government for having previously denied them protection and citizenship.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 November 2016 | Permalink

India and Pakistan recall diplomats accused of espionage

Pakistani embassy in IndiaIndia is in the process of recalling eight of its diplomats from Pakistan, after their names and photographs were published in Pakistani newspapers with accusations that they are intelligence officers. According to anonymous sources in the government of Pakistan, three of the eight recalled diplomats have already left Islamabad for New Delhi. Five more are expected to leave the country before the end of the week. The three who left Pakistan yesterday were identified in the Pakistani media as Madhavan Nanda, Vijay Kumar Verma and Anurag Singh. Pakistani media said earlier this week that the three are “undercover agents”, suggesting that they are intelligence officers posted in India under diplomatic cover.

The eight Indian diplomats were recalled less than a week after Pakistan withdrew six of its diplomats from its embassy in New Delhi. Their names were released to the Indian media by the country’s intelligence services, following the arrest of Mahmood Akhtar, a Pakistani diplomat who was detained by Indian authorities, allegedly while committing espionage. Indian authorities said Akhtar admitted he was an intelligence officer under interrogation, and identified five more Pakistani diplomats as undercover intelligence operatives. All six were accused of espionage by New Delhi, declared persona non grata (unwanted persons) and were ordered to leave the country. Observers see the recent outing of the Indian diplomats in the Pakistani media as a tit-for-tat response by Islamabad.

Interestingly, none of the eight Indian diplomats were officially declared persona non grata by Pakistani authorities. But the publication of their names and photographs in the Pakistani media were sufficient to prompt the Indian government to recall them back to New Delhi. Tensions between the two neighboring countries have been rising in recent months, mostly over ethnic and religious tensions in the disputed region of Kashmir, which belongs to India but is populated primarily by Muslims. On Tuesday, one Indian soldier and thee Pakistani civilians were killed on both sides of the border, after fire was exchanged between warring sides.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2016 | Permalink

Political tension rises in Serbia amidst espionage allegations

Montenegro coupA weapons cache that was found buried last week near the apartment of Serbia’s prime minister has fuelled tensions in the Balkan country, amid rumors that a failed coup in neighboring Montenegro was planned in Serbia by Russian spies. Serbian authorities announced the discovery of the stockpile on October 29; it included ammunition, hand grenades and a portable missile launcher and was located near the residence of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. The government later said that the weapons find dated back to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and was not connected with  at Vučić’s administration. But politics in the country remain tense, following allegations made earlier in October that Russian intelligence agents used Serbia as a base to plan a military coup in Montenegro.

The coup allegations surfaced on October 16, after 20 Serbians and Montenegrins were arrested by Montenegrin authorities for allegedly planning a military coup against the government. The arrests took place on election day, as Montenegrins were voting across the country of 650,000 people. According to media reports, the failed coup aimed to prevent the reelection of Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, who is pushing for Montenegro to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Đukanović, who was eventually reelected, claimed that the coup plotters were supported by Russia. Moscow has raised strong objections to the possibility of Montenegro joining NATO. A few days later, Serbian Prime Minister Vučić appeared to substantiate Đukanović’s allegations. According to Vučić, the Serbs who were arrested in Montenegro had hatched their coup plot in Serbia, assisted by Russian intelligence. Vučić added that he would not allow Serbia to “act as the puppet of world powers”, a comment that was clearly directed at Moscow.

However, Serbian authorities made no arrests following the October 16 developments in Montenegro, despite much media attention in Belgrade. Shortly prior to the alleged failed coup in Montenegro, Nikolai Patrushev, former director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and current secretary of Russia’s Security Council, visited the Serbian capital. There were rumors that he returned to Moscow with three Russian intelligence officers who had been caught engaging in espionage by Serbian counterintelligence. Meanwhile, some Serbian newspapers alleged last week that an official in the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration had been arrested for selling classified information to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Meanwhile, Russian and Byelorussian troops arrived in Serbia this week to hold joint military exercises with their Serbian counterparts, codenamed Slavic Brotherhood.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 03 November 2016 | Permalink

NSA contractor charged with spying removed both electronic and printed files

NSAA United States federal contractor, who was charged with espionage after he was found to have stolen classified documents, was able to remove both electronic and printed files from his office at the National Security Agency, according to a report. The man was identified by The New York Times last week as Harold Thomas Martin III, a 51-year-old employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest federal contractors in the US. Last August, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Martin’s house in Maryland and arrested him on charges of stealing government property and illegally removing classified material.

In reporting on the disclosure earlier this week, we noted that the FBI found classified information “on a variety of electronic devices that Martin had stored —though apparently not hidden— in his house and car”. It turns out, however, that at least some of the classified files in Martin’s possession were in printed format. According to The Washington Post, which revealed this information on Wednesday, this means that Martin extracted the information from his office at the NSA “the old-fashioned way, by walking out of the workplace with printed-out papers he had hidden”. The paper cites unnamed US government officials who claim that Martin was repeatedly able to walk out the front door of the NSA with what one anonymous congressional aide described as “a whole bunch of stuff”. The paper alleged that printed classified material found in Martin’s possession amounts to “thousands of pages”.

It appears that Martin extracted most of the documents before the fall of 2013, when the NSA and other US intelligence agencies imposed strict security controls on data access following the defection of Edward Snowden, another federal contractor who worked for the NSA and is today living in Russia. But the revelation will undoubtedly raise further questions about the ability of US intelligence agencies to scrutinize the activities of hundreds of thousands of employees who have access to classified information. The Post notes that the NSA and other US intelligence agencies do not employ universal searches of personnel that enter or exit government facilities. Instead they prefer random checks for reasons of convenience and to foster a sense of trust among employees. That, however, may change if more cases like those of Snowden and Martin become known.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 October 2016 | Permalink

Arrested contractor may have worked for NSA’s elite cyber spy unit

NSAA United States federal contractor, who remains in detention following his arrest last summer for stealing classified documents, may have worked for an elite cyber espionage unit of the National Security Agency. The man was identified by The New York Times last week as Harold Thomas Martin III, a 51-year-old employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest federal contractors in the US. The paper said that, prior to joining Booz Allen Hamilton, Martin served as a US Navy officer for over a decade, where he specialized in cyber security and acquired a top secret clearance. But last August, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Martin’s house in Maryland and arrested him on charges of stealing government property and illegally removing classified material.

Media reports suggest that the FBI discovered significant quantities of classified information, some of it dating back to 2006, on a variety of electronic devices that Martin had stored —though apparently not hidden— in his house and car. Another interesting aspect of the case is that there is no proof at this point that Martin actually shared the classified information with a third party. There is some speculation that he may be behind a disclosure of a collection of NSA hacking tools, which were leaked in August of this year by a previously unknown group calling itself “the Shadow Brokers”. But some speculate that Martin may have taken the classified material home so he could write his dissertation for the PhD he is currently undertaking at the University of Maryland’s Information Systems program.

A few days ago, The Daily Beast quoted an unnamed former colleague of Martin who said that the NSA contractor was a member of one of the agency’s elite cyber spy units. The existence of the secretive unit, which is known as the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, was revealed in June 2013 by veteran NSA watcher Matthew M. Aid. Writing in Foreign Policy, Aid cited “a number of highly confidential sources” in alleging that the NSA maintained a substantial “hacker army” tasked with conducting offensive cyber espionage against foreign targets. More information on NSA’s TAO was provided in January 2014 by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. If The Daily Beast’s allegations about Martin are accurate, they would explain why anonymous government sources told The Washington Post last week that some of the documents Martin took home “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States”. The case also highlights the constant tension between security and the privatization of intelligence, which was also a major parameter in the case of Edward Snowden, another Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who defected to Russia in 2013.

Meanwhile, Martin remains in detention. If he is convicted, he will face up to 11 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2016 | Permalink