Alleged Pegasus phone-tapping list includes phones of at least 14 heads of state

Emmanuel Macron

AT LEAST FOURTEEN CURRENT or former heads of state, including presidents, prime ministers, and one king, are included in a list of 50,000 telephone numbers that were allegedly compromised through a controversial surveillance software. Known as Pegasus, the controversial spyware is marketed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in near Tel Aviv.

Pegasus is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users to click a link, or download an application. Upon installation, it provides the spying party with near-complete control of a targeted telephone. This includes the ability to browse through the device’s contents, such as photographs and videos, record conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user’s consent or knowledge.

Earlier this week, a consortium of newspapers from several countries said they had analyzed a leaked list of 50,000 victims of Pegasus, which allegedly includes the names of senior government officials, lawyers, labor leaders, human-rights activists and investigative journalists in almost every country. New in a new report, The Washington Post, which participated in the initial investigation into Pegasus, claims that the leaked list contains the names of 14 current or former heads of state.

According to the newspaper, the list contains telephone devices belonging to three presidents, France’s Emmanuel Macron (pictured), South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, and Iraq’s Barham Salih. The telephone devices of three current prime ministers are also on the list, says The Post. These are, Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani, Egypt’s Mostafa Madboul, and Pakistan’s Imran Khan.

Also on the list are three former prime ministers, who were in office when they were allegedly targeted by Pegasus users: France’s Édouard Philippe, Belgium’s Charles Michel, Italy’s Romano Prodi, Lebanon’s Saad Hariri, Kazakhstan’s Bakitzhan Sagintayev, Uganda’s Ruhakana Rugunda, Algeria’s Noureddine Bedoui, and Yemen’s Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr. A telephone number belonging to the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, is also reportedly on the list. Finally, the list allegedly includes several senior officials of international organizations, including the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The Post report also includes part of a statement by NSO Group Technologies, in which the company says it keeps tabs on the use of its software by its clients, and has the power to block any misuse of Pegasus. The company also states that it intends to “continue to investigate all credible claims of misuses [of Pegasus] and take appropriate action” if needed, including “shutting down of a customers’ system”, which it has done “multiple times in the past and will not hesitate to do again if a situation warrants”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 July 2021 | Permalink

German think-tank researcher arrested on suspicion of spying for Chinese intelligence

Shanghai

A GERMAN POLITICAL SCIENTIST, who worked for years as a senior member of a prominent Munich-based think-tank, has been arrested by German authorities on suspicion of spying for Chinese intelligence. In line with German privacy laws, the man has been named only as “Klaus L.”. He is believed to be 75 years old and to live in Munich.

According to reports, the suspect worked since the 1980s for the Hanns Seidel Stiftung, a political research foundation named after a former chairman of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria. The Munich-headquartered foundation is the informal think-tank of the CSU, which is the Bavarian arm of German Chancellor Angela Merkels’ Christian Democratic Union.

As part of his job, Klaus L. traveled frequently to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as former Soviet states. It is also believed that, for over 50 years, he had worked as a paid informant for the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) —Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, which is equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. According to a government press statement, Klaus L. would provide the BND with information relating to his foreign travels, conference attendance and other “certain issues” of interest to the spy agency. In return, the BND allegedly funded some of his travel and conference expenses, and provided him with a regular stipend.

But in the summer of 2010, Klaus L. was allegedly approached by Chinese intelligence during a trip to the city of Shanghai. According to German counterintelligence, he was persuaded by the Chinese to cooperate with Chinese intelligence operatives, and did so until the end of 2019. In November of that year, German police searched his home in Munich, as part of an investigation into his activities. In May of this year, Klaus L. was charged with espionage and on July 5 he was formally arrested.

Interestingly, Klaus L. does not deny that he provided sensitive information to China. He argues, however, that he informed his BND handler about his contacts with the Chinese, and that these were known to German intelligence. He therefore claims that his Chinese contacts were part of a German counterintelligence operation targeting the Chinese government. His trial is scheduled for this fall.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 July 2021 | Permalink

News you may have missed #912: Analysis edition

Trojan Shield

SolarWinds: How Russian spies hacked US government departments. Last year, in perhaps the most audacious cyber attack in history, Russian military hackers sabotaged a tiny piece of computer code buried in a popular piece of software called SolarWinds. After it was installed, Russian agents went rummaging through the digital files of the US departments of Justice, State, Treasury, Energy, and Commerce —among others— and for nine months, they had unfettered access to top-level communications, court documents, even nuclear secrets. On July 4, the CBS television show 60 Minutes aired a special segment on this topic.

Why did the FBI’s encrypted phone sting not target US suspects? In 2018, a San Diego-led federal sting secretly launched an encrypted communications company as part of Operation TROJAN SHIELD (pictured). Over the next few years, FBI agents, working with law enforcement partners in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, seeded thousands of spyware-infected phones into the hands of criminals and used them to build cases against 300 organized crime groups around the world, from Australian biker gangs to Italian mafia cells. But one country was off limits for investigating agents: the United States. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kristina Davis explains why.

Opinion: Clearance holders need to protect America by studying espionage. John William Davis, retired counterintelligence officer who instructed the threat portion of the US Department of the Army’s Operations Security Course, argues that “many, many techniques for recruiting spies continue much as they did over preceding years. We can learn from the past and apply what we learn to the future.”

Afghans who spied for CIA say they fear retaliation once US forces withdraw

Antony Blinken

AFGHAN CIVILIANS WHO WERE recruited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency as local assets say they fear retaliation by a resurgent Taliban once American forces withdraw from Afghanistan in September. Last April, US President Joe Biden announced that American troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. The date will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which caused Washington to send troops to Afghanistan in response.

The CIA has been a major component of America’s presence in Afghanistan over the past two decades. When operating in the Central Asian country, CIA officers have routinely relied on local people to collect intelligence, provide translation services, and guard its facilities and personnel. These local assets were typically paid in cash for their services, which were secret in nature and often life-threatening.

Now many of these local assets —possibly thousands— are apprehensive of the pending withdrawal of their American protectors from Afghanistan, and fear retaliation from a resurgent Taliban. According to The Wall Street Journal, these local CIA assets say that “their lives are now at risk”. A large number of them have submitted applications for a US Special Immigrant Visa. This is a State Department program that aims to offer protection to local people who have carried out “sensitive and trusted activities” on behalf of American government personnel abroad.

But the Special Immigrant Visa process is complicated and expensive, and is currently plagued by major delays. The Wall Street Journal reports that, even though the law stipulates Special Immigrant Visa requests must be processed within nine months, applications are currently taking between three to five years to be adjudicated. The Department of State says it is currently working through a backlog of 18,000 applications from around the world. The situation is particularly dire for Afghan CIA assets, says the paper, because many find it difficult to prove they ever worked for the CIA. The spy agency’s record-keeping was minimal throughout its time in Afghanistan, especially in the opening years of the conflict, according to the report. Furthermore, some local assets may not even be named in CIA documentation, so as to protect their identity.

In response to calls for faster processing of Special Immigrant Visa requests, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (pictured) said earlier this month: “We’re determined to make good on our obligation to those who helped us, who put their lives on the line, put their families’ lives on the line working with our military, working with our diplomats”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 June 2021 | Permalink

Germany arrests Russian PhD student on suspicion of spying for Moscow

University of Augsburg

A RUSSIAN DOCTORAL STUDENT in mechanical engineering, who is studying in a Bavarian university, has been arrested by German police on suspicion of spying for Moscow, according to official statements and reports in the German media. According to a press statement issued by the Federal Public Prosecutor General’s office in the city of Karlsruhe, the PhD student was arrested on Friday, June 18.

The student was subsequently identified by the German authorities only as “Ilnur N.”, in accordance with German privacy laws. On Monday, however, local media identified the suspected spy as Ilnur Nagaev, a doctoral candidate at the University of Augsburg, which is located 50 miles northwest of Munich. Nagaev reportedly works as a research assistant there, while pursuing his doctoral studies in mechanical engineering.

German authorities maintain that the suspect began working “for a Russian secret service” in early October of 2020, and possibly earlier. He is also accused of having met with an unidentified “member of a Russian foreign secret service” at least three times between October 2020 and June of this year. According to German federal prosecutors, Nagaev shared unspecified information with his alleged Russian handler, and received cash in return at the end of each meeting.

German police reportedly searched Nagaev’s home and work office looking for further clues about the case. In the meantime, a judge at the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) in the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, which is Germany’s highest court on matters of ordinary jurisdiction, ordered that Nagaev be kept in pre-trial detention, pending a possible indictment. Neither the Russian nor the German federal governments have commented on this case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2021 | Permalink

Russian actors had access to Dutch police computer network during MH17 probe

Flight MH17

Russian hackers compromised the computer systems of the Dutch national police while the latter were conducting a criminal probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), according to a new report. MH17 was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, 196 of them Dutch citizens, were killed.

Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, which revealed this new information last week, said the compromise of the Dutch national police’s computer systems was not detected by Dutch police themselves, but by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). The paper said that neither the police nor the AIVD were willing to confirm the breach, but added that it had confirmed the breach took place through multiple anonymous sources.

On July 5, 2017, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium, Australia and Malaysia announced the establishment of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) into the downing of flight MH-17. The multinational group stipulated that possible suspects of the downing of flight MH17 would be tried in the Netherlands. In September 2017, the AIVD said it possessed information about Russian targets in the Netherlands, which included an IP address of a police academy system. That system turned out to have been compromised, which allowed the attackers to access police systems. According to four anonymous sources, evidence of the attack was detected in several different places.

The police academy is part of the Dutch national police, and non-academy police personnel can access the network using their log-in credentials. Some sources suggest that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) carried out the attack through a Russian hacker group known as APT29, or Cozy Bear. However, a growing number of sources claim the attack was perpetrated by the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known commonly as GRU, through a hacker group known as APT28, or Fancy Bear. SVR attackers are often involved in prolonged espionage operations and are careful to stay below the radar, whereas the GRU is believed to be more heavy-handed and faster. The SVR is believed to be partly responsible for the compromise of United States government agencies and companies through the supply chain attack known as the SolarWinds cyber attack, which came to light in late 2020.

Russia has tried to sabotage and undermine investigation activities into the MH17 disaster through various means: influence campaigns on social media, hacking of the Dutch Safety Board, theft of data from Dutch investigators, manipulation of other countries involved in the investigation, and the use of military spies. The Dutch police and public prosecution service were repeatedly targeted by phishing emails, police computer systems were subjected to direct attacks, and a Russian hacker drove a car with hacking equipment near the public prosecution office in Rotterdam.

The above efforts are not believed to have been successful. But the attack that came to light in September 2017 may have been. The infected police academy system ran “exotic” (meaning uncommon) software, according to a well-informed source. The Russians reportedly exploited a zero day vulnerability in that software. After the incident, the national police made improvements in their logging and monitoring capabilities, and in their Security Operations Center (SOC). It is not currently known how long the attackers had access to the national police system, nor what information they were able to obtain.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 17 June 2021 | Permalink

France suspends aid to Central African Republic over espionage charges

Juan Remy Quignolot

THE GOVERNMENT OF FRANCE has suspended all civilian and military aid to the Central African Republic (CAR), after authorities there charged a French national with espionage and conspiracy to overthrow the state. The charges were announced approximately a month after the arrest of Juan Remy Quignolot, 55 (pictured), who was arrested in CAR capital Bangui on May 10 of this year. Following Quignolot’s arrest, CAR police said they found more than a dozen cell phones, machine guns, ammunition and foreign banknotes in his hotel room.

Speaking to reporters in Bangui on Wednesday, the CAR’s attorney general, Eric Didier Tambo, said that Quignolot had been charged with espionage, illegal weapons possession, as well as conspiracy against the security of the state. According to CAR authorities, Quignolot has been providing training and material support to anti-government rebel groups for nearly a decade. However, CAR authorities have not specified for which country or group Quignolot performed his alleged activities.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French embassy in Bagnui have not commented on Quignolot’s charges. When the French national was arrested in May, French Foreign Affairs Ministry officials said the move was part of “an anti-French campaign” orchestrated by Russia. Paris has been competing with Moscow for influence in this former French colony —a diamond- and gold-producing country of nearly 5 million people— which remains highly volatile following a bloody civil war that ended in 2016.

Earlier this week, France said it would immediately suspend its $12 million-a-year civilian and military aid to the CAR. The reason is that the African nation’s government had allegedly failed to take measures against “massive disinformation campaigns”, purportedly originating from Russia, which have “targeted French officials” in the CAR and the broader central African region. Despite suspending financial aid, France continues to maintain approximately 300 soldiers in the CAR. In recent years, however, France’s military presence in its former colony has been dwarfed by contingents of Russian military instructors, who are now training government forces.

Quignolot’s trial is expected to take place by December. Speaking about the Frenchman’s possible sentence, attorney general Tambo said on Wednesday that, “in cases of harming domestic security, you’re talking about lifetime forced labor”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 June 2021 | Permalink

Russian spy activity has reached Cold War levels, say Germany’s intelligence chiefs

Thomas Haldenwang Bruno Kahl

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITY in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, while espionage methods by foreign adversaries are now more brutal and ruthless, according to the country’s spy chiefs. These claims were made by Thomas Haldenwang, who leads Germany’s Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and Bruno Kahl, head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), which operates externally.

The two men spoke to the Sunday edition of Die Welt, one of Germany’s leading newspapers. Their joint interview was published on June 6. Haldenwang told Die Welt am Sonntag that the presence of Russian spies on German soil reflects Moscow’s “very complex intelligence interest in Germany”. Accordingly, Russia has “increased its [espionage] activities in Germany dramatically” in recent years, said Haldenwang.

The counterintelligence chief added that Russia has a “large number of agents” that are currently active in German soil. Their goal is to try to “establish contacts in the realm of political decision-making”. One of many topics that the Kremlin is intensely interested at the moment is the future of Russia’s energy relationship with Germany, according to Haldenwang.

At the same time, Russia’s espionage methods are becoming “coarser” and the means that it uses to steal secrets “more brutal”, said the spy chief. Kahl, his external-intelligence colleague, agreed and added that Germany’s adversaries are “employing all possible methods […] to stir up dissonance between Western states”. Their ultimate goal is to “secure their own interests”, concluded Kahl.

However, despite Russia’s increased intelligence activity in Germany, the most serious threat to the security and stability of the German state is not Moscow, but domestic rightwing extremism, said Haldenwang. Notably, the German spy chief discussed the unparalleled rise of rightwing rhetoric on social media and websites. Such propaganda is being spread by people that he termed “intellectual arsonists”. Their “hate-filled messages” are essentially anti-democratic, said Haldenwang.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2021 | Permalink

US Pentagon’s ‘secret army’ of clandestine operatives dwarfs CIA spy force: report

Pentagon

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Defense maintains a “secret army” of over 60,000 operatives, many of whom work across the world in a clandestine capacity, with fake identities and manufactured backgrounds, according to a new report. Newsweek, which published the report on Monday, said that the Pentagon force is “more than ten times the size” of the clandestine wing of the Central Intelligence Agency, which is commonly associated with carrying out covert operations abroad.

According to William Arkin, author of the Newsweek report, the Pentagon’s secret operatives are part of a wider US government effort known as “signature reduction”. The program provides undercover government operatives the ability to operate domestically and around the world without the fear of having their links to spy agencies or the military discovered by online sleuths. Some of these operatives carry out clandestine tasks under their real names, claims Arkin, but without having any formal connections with the US government, or even their country of citizenship.

Others operate under manufactured identifies, which, according to the report, are created by the Pentagon’s Operational Planning and Travel Intelligence Center. Its purpose is to alter databases of US government agencies, such as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or the Customs and Border Protection agency, so as to protect the manufactured identities of covert operatives. Such operatives are also provided with technologies that allow them to evade face-recognition and other biometric identification measures, including fingerprint scanners, according to Newsweek.

Another part of the “signature reduction” program, according to the report, consists of private-sector enterprises that work with the Pentagon to provide its clandestine operatives with contractual covers. These allow the operatives to work abroad under civilian cover and without any official connection to US embassies or military bases, according to Newsweek.

The report claims that the largest component of the Pentagon’s “signature reduction” program consists of members of Special Operations Forces. The remaining components of the program are made up of military intelligence and counterintelligence specialists with a variety of skills, including linguistics specialists and cyber operations. The latter form “the fastest growing” group within the program, and are tasked with collecting information about targets online, as well as engaging in influence campaigns utilizing social media platforms around the world.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 May 2021 | Permalink

US Army Special Forces soldier sentenced to 15 years for spying for Russia

Peter Debbins

A FORMER MEMBER OF the United States Army’s Special Forces has been sentenced for spying for Russia for 15 years, after he was reportedly groomed by Russian military intelligence at a young age. Peter Debbins, 46, born in the US to an American father and a Soviet-born mother, admitted in 2020 to spying for Russia for over 20 years.

Even though he had Russian background from his mother’s side of the family, he had never been to Russia until he traveled there in 1994. On that trip he met his Russian family members for the first time, as well as a young Russian woman who would eventually become his wife. In 1996 Debbins returned to Russia as an exchange student from the University of Minnesota, and reconnected with a Russian woman. She was from the city of Chelyabinsk, located near the Russian-Kazakh border. The woman’s father was reportedly a colonel in the Russian Air Force.

It was during that second trip, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that he was spotted by the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, known commonly as GRU. By 1997, when Debbins returned to Russia to marry his girlfriend, he was already working for the GRU, according to US government prosecutors. It is stated in his indictment that he told his GRU handler he saw himself as a “son of Russia” and sought to limit America’s dominance in the world.

Between 1998 and 2005, Debbins served in the US Army, where he became a Green Beret. He was discharged and lost his security clearance after “violating protocols” while he was stationed in Azerbaijan. Throughout his time in the US Army, Debbins frequently traveled to Russia, where his wife was studying at the time. While there he met with his GRU handlers. The court heard that he gave the GRU information on a variety of classified subjects, as well as private information on other members of the Green Berets. This information was intended to be used to blackmail these soldiers to work for the GRU.

Following his stint in the US Army, Debbins worked as a contractor for the US military, on topics relating to Russian language translation, as well as counterintelligence. Throughout that time, he reportedly continued to apply for dozens of positions in the US intelligence community, but without success. He is believed to have stopped spying for Russia in 2011.

The judge who hand down Debbins’ sentence ordered that his incarceration should begin immediately. Debbins’ legal team has requested that he be incarcerated near the Washington Metropolitan Area, so that he can remain in contact with his wife and four daughters.

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

Foreign espionage at highest level since the Cold War, says Canada’s spy agency

CSIS Canada

CANADA’S PRIMARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said in a new report this week that foreign espionage activities on Canadian soil are at their highest level since the end of the Cold War. In its unclassified Public Report for the year 2020, published on Monday, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said that espionage threats against Canadian interests grew during 2020, but also accelerated in force and evolved in character.

Many of the changed characteristics of foreign espionage against Canadian targets over the past year related to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic. Specifically, the large number of people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic prompted foreign threat actors to take advantage of telework environments. These actors “sought to exploit the social and economic conditions created by the pandemic” in order to collect intelligence, according to the CSIS report.

The report singled out China and Russia as two of the most aggressive espionage actors against Canadian interests. What is more, these two countries carried out a growing portion of their espionage operations through “nontraditional collectors”, namely individuals or entities who are not officially connected with their sponsoring governments. These can be academic researchers or private sector employees, who are tasked by their governments to collect sensitive military, political and economic information in and about Canada.

Lastly, the CSIS report points to the intensification of foreign intelligence operations against expatriate communities in Canada. These communities, who often voice criticism of the state in their country of origin, are targeted by that country’s intelligence services with threats and intimidation. In other cases, adversarial intelligence services will try to infiltrate these communications in order to collect intelligence on dissidents and other outspoken individuals. Such activities “constitute a threat to Canada’s sovereignty and to the safety of Canadians”, the CSIS report concludes.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 April 2021 | Permalink

Wife of Italian spy for Russia says he was desperate for money due to COVID-19

Embassy of Russia in Italy

THE WIFE OF AN ITALIAN Navy captain, who is facing espionage charges for allegedly selling classified documents to Russia, has claimed that he resorted to spying after facing bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio described the case on Wednesday as “an extremely grave matter […] tied to spying and state security”.

The Navy captain has been named as Walter Biot, 54, who served in the National Security Policy Department of the Italian Ministry of Defense. His job duties included advising military and civilian officials on formulating national security policy in coordination with Italy’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners. He was reportedly arrested late on Tuesday evening at a car park in Rome, alongside two members of the Russian embassy in the Italian capital.

Reports in the Italian media said Biot was caught as he was handing the Russians documents and a memory card containing classified data, for which he received €5,000 (approximately $6,000) in cash. Italian authorities said on Thursday that the material Biot handed over to the Russians included 181 photos of secret and top-secret documents belonging to the Italian government, as well as 47 classified documents belonging to NATO.

On Thursday, Biot’s legal team told Italian media that their client was a father of four, and that his income was insufficient to provide for one of his children, who was “seriously ill and needed special care”. Biot’s wife, Claudia Carbonara, said in an interview that her husband committed espionage in order to supplement the family’s €3,000 ($3,500) income, which had been reduced significantly in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to his lawyers, Biot reportedly said that he “made a mistake but I did it for my family [during] a moment of great weakness and fragility”.

Meanwhile, the two Russian diplomats who were arrested alongside Biot have been identified as Dmitry Ostroukhov and Alexei Nemudrov. They reportedly served in the office of the military attaché at the Russian embassy in Rome. Both have been expelled from the country. Russia has threatened to retaliate in the coming days, possibly by expelling a number of Italian diplomats from Moscow.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 April 2021 | Permalink

Bulgaria expels Russian diplomats over spy claims, Moscow threatens retaliation

Bulgaria MFA

TWO RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS STATIONED in Bulgaria were declared personae non grata by the Bulgarian government on Monday, after they were allegedly implicated in acts of espionage, according to reports. The two Russians, who have not been officially named, were stationed at the embassy of Russia in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. They were allegedly implicated in an espionage affair that has resulted in the arrests of at least six Bulgarian citizens, accused of carrying out acts of espionage on behalf of Moscow.

As intelNews reported on Monday, six members of the alleged spy-ring were arrested by Bulgarian counterintelligence on Thursday, March 18. They were charged with espionage on behalf of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU, which is Russia’s main military intelligence agency. The six alleged spies reportedly gave Moscow secrets about Bulgarian military affairs, as well as information concerning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Bulgaria, a former ally of the Soviet Union, joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

On Tuesday, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it proceeded to declare the two Russian diplomats personae non grata on March 22. The decision to expel the diplomats was reportedly taken soon after the ministry received official confirmation from the state prosecutor’s office that the two Russians had been implicated in the alleged spy ring’s espionage activities. The Russian embassy was given 72 hours to make arrangements for the two diplomats to leave Bulgaria. Nor further information was provided by the ministry.

The Russian embassy in Sofia said on Tuesday that the Kremlin could carry out reprisals against the Bulgarian government in the coming days —potentially by expelling at least two Bulgarian diplomats from Moscow or St. Petersburgh. In a statement posted on its website, the embassy blasted what it described as “another groundless demarche of the Bulgarian authorities [that] will not contribute to the further building of a constructive Russian-Bulgarian dialogue”. The statement added that “[t]he Russian side reserves the right to retaliate” to the Russian diplomats’ expulsions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 March 2021 | Permalink

American spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard gives rare interview to Israeli newspaper

Jonathan Pollard

JONATHAN POLLARD, AN AMERICAN who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, and is now free after spending 30 years in prison, has given a rare interview to Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely distributed newspaper. Pollard, who is now 66, is a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy. He 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, but failed to have Pollard freed prior to serving the entirety of his sentence. Initially barred from leaving the United States, the former spy was eventually allowed to relocate to Israel by the administration of US President Donald Trump. He and his wife arrived in Israel in December, where they received a hero’s welcome.

A few snippets from Pollard’s interview with Israel Hayom were published on Monday. The paper said that the full interview, edited for brevity, will be published on Friday. In his comments, Pollard defends his decision to share US government secrets with Israel as a “duty” that he says he felt compelled to carry out, claiming: “I know I crossed a line, but I had no choice”. He adds that Washington was “stabbing Israel in the back” by refusing to share intelligence about Arab militaries, which included “serious” threats to the security of the Jewish state.

Pollard claims that he secretly managed to warn his Israeli recruiter, Aviem Sella, who did not have diplomatic immunity in the United States, and who was able to escape arrest in the US. Sella was pardoned by the Trump administration late last year. But Pollard also criticizes the decision of the Israelis to not give him protection at their embassy in Washington, DC, where Pollard tried to claim asylum as he was being followed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The former spy also describes his life in Israel as “wonderful” and says he can tell the Israeli people see him as “someone [who] was willing to sacrifice his life for them”.

Israel Hayom, which interviewed Pollard, was founded by the Sheldon Adelson, an American casino magnate who was a major financial backer of Donald Trump until his death in January of this year. Adelson was also a major supporter of Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The Associated Press notes that Adelson sent his private plane fly Pollard and his wife to Israel in December, after the former spy was permitted to leave American soil by the Trump administration.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2021 | Permalink

Bulgaria confirms arrest of six-member spy-ring allegedly working for Russia

Russian embassy Bulgaria

AUTHORITIES IN BULGARIA HAVE confirmed media reports aired last week, which alleged that at least six members of a spy-ring working for the government of Russia had been arrested in the capital Sofia. News of the arrests was first reported by the Bulgarian National Television, or BNT, late on Thursday, March 18. Citing “government sources”, BNT said that “several” Bulgarian citizens had been arrested in simultaneous raids by the country’s counterintelligence service.

On Friday, March 19, the Bulgarian government confirmed the BNT report, saying that six Bulgarian citizens had been charged with espionage on behalf of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU. The GRU is Russia’s foremost military intelligence agency. The six alleged spies reportedly gave Moscow secrets about Bulgarian military affairs, as well as information concerning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Bulgaria, a former ally of the Soviet Union, joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

Some reports claim that the spy ring members also gave information to the Russians about the presence and operations of United States intelligence personnel in Bulgaria. The American intelligence agencies that were allegedly affected by these disclosures include the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. The United States has not officially commented on these reports. On Friday, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price tweeted that “Bulgaria is a friend, NATO ally, and partner”, adding that Washington was “attentively watching the Bulgarian investigation into an alleged Russian spy ring”.

The head of the alleged spy ring is reportedly a retired senior official in the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense, who was allegedly recruited by the GRU and received training in clandestine tradecraft from his Russian handlers. Another member is a retired military counterintelligence officer, who is currently serving in a counterintelligence capacity in the Bulgarian parliament. Three other members of the spy ring are active or retired officers in the Bulgarian armed forces. According to the BNT report, the wife of the head of the spy ring, who is a citizen of both Bulgaria and Russia, operated as a courier for the spy ring. She allegedly made regular visits to the Russian embassy in Sofia, where she delivered stolen secrets in return for cash payments.

The Office of the Bulgarian State Prosecutor published a 20-minute video on Friday, which contains intercepted audio recordings of alleged conversations between members of the spy group and their Russian handlers. The video also contains surreptitiously filmed footage of alleged meetings between the members of the spy ring and their Russian handlers in public places. Some of the footage shows the exchange of documents with cash payments between assets and handlers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 March 2021 | Permalink