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

Venezuelan intelligence spied on Citgo executives on US soil, spy alleges

CitgoVENEZUELAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICES SPIED on executives of the Citgo Petroleum Corporation in the United States for at least a year, according to court testimony by a Venezuelan former counterintelligence official. The espionage targeted six executives of Citgo, a Texas-headquartered oil company owned by the Venezuelan government. The executives have been named as Gustavo Cardenas, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Jorge Toledo. Five of them are reportedly American citizens.

In 2017 the Venezuelan government accused the six executives of knowingly involving Citgo in a corrupt refinancing agreement, thus damaging the company’s financial wellbeing. They were arrested in Caracas and last year were given prison sentences ranging from eight to 13 years. The United States government condemned the court proceedings for lack of impartiality, and late last year imposed sanctions on the judge and leading prosecutors in the case.

On Wednesday the Reuters news agency said it had reviewed court documents from the appeal of the so-called “Citgo Six”. The documents include testimony from Ramon Balza, who in 2017 was director of operations for the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM). The DGCIM is the military counterintelligence agency of Venezuela. According to Reuters, Balza told the appeals court on August 11 that the DGCIM and other Venezuelan intelligence agencies have been monitoring senior Citgo officials “ever since [Citgo] became Venezuelan”. He added that the monitoring includes physical surveillance, as well as wiretaps.

Balza’s testimony suggests that DGCIM and other Venezuelan intelligence personnel spied on the six (and possibly other) Citgo executives on American soil prior to their arrest in 2017. It is also possible, says Reuters, that the espionage against the executives was carried out by non-diplomatic foreign agents of Venezuela.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 March 2021 | Permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colombia and Russia expel diplomats over espionage allegations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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