Iran says it dismantled a ‘complicated’ CIA cyber operation in several countries

Ali ShamkhaniA senior Iranian security official said on Monday that Tehran had dismantled “one of the most complicated” espionage operations by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, leading to “arrests and confessions” of suspects in several countries. The announcement was made by Ali Shamkhani (pictured), secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, the Islamic Republic’s highest security decision-making body, which is chaired by the country’s president.

Speaking in Tehran to reporters from pro-government news agencies, including IRIB and Fars News, Shamkhani said that Iran had “exposed” what he described as a CIA-run cyber espionage network, which carried out “operations in different countries”. He said the alleged espionage network had been detected by Iranian counterintelligence agencies “some time ago and was dismantled”. Iran’s counterintelligence actions had led to the “identification and arrest of CIA intelligence agents”, said Shamkhani, many of whom had been arrested “in different countries”. The arrests occurred after Iran “shared the information about the exposed network with our allies”, said Shamkhani, which led to the “disclosure and dismantling of a network of CIA officers” as well as the “detention and punishment of several spies”. Shamkhani did not specify the number of people arrested, or in which countries, but appeared to refer to both CIA personnel and local assets. He concluded his remarks by saying that Iran was building a regional alliance “to counter American espionage”. He also urged Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to release “videos and confessions” relating to the arrests.

Meanwhile, Iranian anti-government groups based abroad alleged on Monday that a senior official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was arrested in Tehran for allegedly working for Israel. The unidentified individual is believed to have helped Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency gain access to the archive of the Iranian nuclear program in 2018, and steal an unspecified number of classified documents. It is not known whether this alleged arrest is connected with Shamkhani’s announcement on Monday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 June 2019 | Permalink

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North Korean leader’s half-brother worked with CIA before his death, paper claims

Kim Jong-nam murderKim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with American intelligence officers before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia. Two women approached Kim Jong-nam as he was waiting to board a plane at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017. The estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader was about to travel to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. Soon after his encounter with the two women, Kim collapsed and eventually died from symptoms associated with VX nerve agent inhalation.

But a new book published on Tuesday by a Washington Post reporter, and an article that came out in The Wall Street Journal on the same day, allege that Kim Jong-nam was working with the United States Central Intelligence Agency and was in fact in Malaysia to meet with his American spy hander when he was killed. The Wall Street Journal article said that many details of Kim Jong-nam’s precise relationship with the CIA remain “unclear”. It is doubtful that the late half-brother of the North Korean leader had much of a powerbase in the land of his birth, where few people even knew who he was. So his usefulness in providing the CIA with crucial details about the inner workings of the North Korean regime would have been limited. However, the paper quoted “a person knowledgeable about the matter” as saying that “there was a nexus” between the CIA and Kim. The article also alleges that Kim met with CIA case officers “on multiple occasions”, including during his fateful trip to Malaysia in February of 2017.

In her just-published book The Great Successor, Anna Fifield, a correspondent with The Washington Post, claims that Kim spent a number of days on the island of Langkawi, a well-known resort destination in Malaysia. Security footage at his hotel showed him meeting with “an Asian-looking man [Korean-American, according to The Wall Street Journal] who was reported to be an American intelligence [officer]”. It was one of regular trips Kim took to places like Singapore and Malaysia to meet his spy handlers, according to Fifield, who cites “someone with knowledge of the intelligence”. She adds that, although meeting with this CIA handler may not have necessarily been the sole purpose of Kim’s fateful trip to Malaysia, it was certainly a major reason. Fifield alleges that the backpack Kim was carrying when he was killed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport was found to contain $120,000 in cash. The Wall Street Journal claims that, in addition to meeting with the CIA, Kim held regular meetings with spy agencies of other countries, including China.

Meanwhile, two South Korean government agencies, the National Intelligence Service and the Ministry of Reunification, said on Tuesday that they were unable to confirm that Kim was indeed an asset of the CIA or any other intelligence agency. They also said that they could not confirm whether Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet with a CIA case officer at the time of his assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2019 | Permalink

Despite spying allegations, African Union deepens ties with Chinese telecoms firm

African UnionDespite allegations in the French press that China has been spying for years on the internal communications of the African Union, the organization appears to be deepening its ties with a leading Chinese telecommunications firm. The allegations surfaced in January of last year in the Paris-based Le Monde Afrique newspaper. The paper claimed in a leading article that African Union technical staff found that the computer servers housed in the organization’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were secretly communicating with a server facility in Shanghai, China. The secret communications reportedly took place at the same time every night, namely between midnight and 2 in the morning. According to Le Monde Afrique, the African Union servers forwarded data to the servers in Shanghai from 2012, when the building opened its doors, until early 2017.

Beijing donated $200 million toward the project and hired the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation to build the tower, which was completed in 2012. Since then, the impressive 330 feet, 19-storey skyscraper, with its reflective glass and brown stone exterior, has become the most recognizable feature of Addis Ababa’s skyline. The majority of the building material used to construct the tower was brought to Ethiopia from China. Beijing even paid for the cost of the furniture used in the impressive-looking building. The paper noted that, even though the organization was allegedly notified about the breach by its technical staff in January of 2017, there was no public reaction on record. However, according to Le Monde Afrique, African Union officials took immediate steps to terminate the breach. These included replacing the Chinese-made servers with new servers purchased with African Union funds, without Beijing’s mediation. Additionally, new encryption was installed on the servers, and a service contract with Ethio Telecom, Ethiopia’s state-owned telecommunications service provider, which uses Chinese hardware, has been terminated.

Last week, however, the African Union deepened its ties with Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecommunications firm that provided all the hardware, as well as much of the software, used in the organization’s headquarters. Last week, at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Thomas Kwesi Quartey, deputy chair of the African Union’s Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with Philippe Wang, Huawei’s vice president for North Africa. According to the memorandum, Huawei will increase its provision of hardware and services to the African Union “on a range of technologies”. These range from broadband telecommunications to cloud computing, as well as 5G telecommunications capabilities and artificial intelligence systems. The Chinese firm will also continue to train African Union information technology and telecommunications technicians. Both the African Union and the government of China have denied the Le Monde Afrique allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2019 | Permalink

In a surprise move, Iran releases Washington resident accused of espionage

Nizar ZakkaIran has announced that it will release a Lebanese national and United States permanent resident, who has served nearly half of his 10-year prison sentence for allegedly spying for Washington. Nizar Zakka, 52, was born in Lebanon but was schooled in the US, where he lived permanently until 2015. In September of that year, Zakka traveled to the Iranian capital Tehran at the invitation of the government of Iran, where he spoke at a conference on Internet-based entrepreneurship. He attended the event as an information technology expert who worked for companies like Cisco and Microsoft before setting up his own company called IJMA3. Based in Washington, DC, IJMA3 lobbies investors to help build online networks in the Middle East in order to develop the region economically, socially and politically.

But on September 18, 2015, as Zakka was traveling to the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran for his return flight, he was detained by Iranian security officers and never made it out of the country. A year later, he was convicted of spying for the US and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The court also handed him a $4.2 million fine, allegedly for “collaborating with a government that was hostile to Iran”. Iran’s state-run media said Zakka was a “treasure trove” of intelligence on the American military. But the Lebanese IT expert denied all charges leveled against him. He said he was tortured during his interrogation and he went on frequent hunger strikes to protest his innocence and the conditions of his detention. Throughout his imprisonment, the Lebanese government pressured Iran for his release. The US also raised the issue through Congress and the Department of State. But Washington’s ability to influence Iran was limited, as it does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran.

On Tuesday, however, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had received word from Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon that Zakka would be released soon. The Iranians reportedly said they decided to release Zakka following personal interventions by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the country’s President Michel Aoun. Additionally, said the Iranian ambassador, Zakka would be released as “a goodwill gesture” during Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. The statement added that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was “ready to receive a Lebanese delegation at any time for the extradition of the Lebanese prisoner Nizar Zakka”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 June 2019 | Permalink

Leaked documents show Cuban spies targeted Miami International Airport

Miami International AirportDocuments that were allegedly leaked by a Cuban intelligence insider show that Cuban spies targeted the Miami International Airport (MIA) and may have acquired MIA internal files, passwords and other sensitive information. The documents were published on Monday by CiberCuba, an online news portal that was founded in 2014 by Cuban exiles in Spain. The website said that it was given access to several batches of classified Cuban intelligence files by an “anonymous source”. The files allegedly contain copies of internal emails and email attachments, personnel contracts, financial information, as well as intelligence collected on “persons of interest” to the Cuban government.

The Spain-based website said on Monday that the leaked documents, which it dubbed “CiberCubaleaks”, constitute one of history’s largest and most significant disclosures of internal files of the Cuban Ministry of Interior. In a lading article on Monday, CiberCuba published six documents from the Ministry’s Directorate of Counterintelligence, which are dated between mid-2015 and late 2017. The documents contain information provided by two spies in the United States, codenamed CHARLES and EL GORDO. They contain internal passcodes that can be used to access secure areas at MIA, sensitive records relating to the commercial airlines that use the airport, and descriptions of restricted areas at MIA.

But in a statement made to The Miami Herald, the Director of Aviation for Miami-Dade County, Lester Sola, dismissed the information in the leaked documents as “not credible”. Sola said that the description of MIA documents in the leaded files did not seem accurate and missed some basic clues, such as a correct description of the colors of MIAs security protocols. Consequently, said Sola, “nothing in the [CiberCuba] report poses a credible security threat”. However, his office did not ignore the information and shared it with government agencies; consequently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was “looking into” the CiberCuba report as of Monday morning, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 June 2019 | Permalink

Pakistan sentences two, including senior military officer, to death for espionage

Inter-Services Public Relations PakistanA military court in Pakistan has sentenced two men to death and one to 14 years in prison for espionage. The alleged spies, who have been named, include a lieutenant general and civilian employee of a security agency. In February, several Pakistani news outlets reported that “an international spying network” had been dismantled in the country following the arrests of at least five intelligence and security officials who were working for foreign interests. Soon afterwards, the online reports were taken down and nothing more was said about the arrests. But on Thursday, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the country’s Armed Forces, said in a statement that three men had been sentenced for “espionage/leakage of sensitive information to foreign agencies” which “prejudiced national security”.

The three men were identified as Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal, Brigadier (ret.) Raja Rizwan, and Dr. Wasim Akram, who was reportedly “employed at [an unidentified] sensitive organization”. Iqbal and Akram were sentenced to death, while Rizwan was sentenced to 14 years of “vigorous imprisonment”, according to ISPR. Reports in local media said that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army’s Chief of Staff, had approved the sentences handed to the men by the military judges. This means that the sentences will be carried out unless Pakistan’s President, Arif Alvi, pardons them. Interestingly, the ISPR statement noted that the three men were tried in separate military courts for separate cases. No further information was provided. As intelNews reported in February, Pakistani media claimed at the time that those arrested included a Pakistani official with diplomatic credentials who was serving in a Pakistani embassy “in a European capital”.

No information has emerged about the country or countries to which the alleged spies gave sensitive information. Back in February, Pakistan’s leading conservative daily, The News International, claimed that the spies’ handlers belonged to an intelligence agency of one of “the world’s most powerful countries”. The paper also hinted that the alleged spy network may have been working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, but provided no information to support this claim. It added that the network had been “completely dismantled” following a counterintelligence operation that an unnamed source described to the paper as “remarkable”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May | Permalink

Jonathan Pollard, US spy for Israel, complains of neglect by Israeli state

Jonathan PollardJonathan Pollard, an American who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, and is now free after spending 30 years in prison, has spoken of his frustration with the Israeli government, which it claims has forgotten about him. 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. But 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 has been required to wear an ankle monitor at all times. His Internet browsing is strictly regulated by the US government and he is not permitted to leave his New York home after sunset. He is also not permitted to leave the US, and Washington has refused to allow him to move to Israel.

Last week, Israel’s Channel 12 television station aired a rare interview with Pollard, in which the former spy claimed he had been “forgotten” by the Israeli government. Speaking from a restaurant in New York with his wife Esther by his side, Pollard told Channel 12 that no officials from the Israeli government had made contact with him since his release. He added that he felt “there is always something more urgent than me” for the government of Israel, whether it is “the [nuclear] deal with Iran or the [US] embassy’s move to Jerusalem, or the sovereignty of the Golan Heights”. When the Channel 12 reporter asked him whether he was disappointed by Israel’s perceived lack of efforts to bring him to Israel, Pollard replied that he would be “very depressed” if his “faith in God and [his] love for Israel and its people [was not] so strong”. At another point in the interview, Pollard appeared to criticize the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am very concerned about what this entails for the [government’s] commitment and for [Israel’s] security”, he said. “If you do not care about someone like me, who spent 30 years in prison for the land of Israel and its citizens, how much concern is there for others in the country, [whether they are] soldiers or civilians?”.

In November of 2017, Israel’s Channel 2 television reported that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had asked the United States President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard to move to Israel. However, despite the popular perception of the Trump administration as strongly pro-Israel, there are no indications that such a move may be taking place any time soon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 May 2019 | Permalink