German intelligence spied on EU and NATO allies, report finds

Bad Aibling - IAA major parliamentary inquiry into the operations of Germany’s main intelligence agency has concluded that it spied on nearly 3,500 foreign targets in recent years, most of which belonged to allied countries. The inquiry was initiated by the German government in response to a number of recent public controversies involving the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND.

In 2015, the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German investigative magazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its facilities at Germany’s Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, and the France-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities. The extent of the BND-NSA collaboration prompted widespread public criticism in Germany. In response to the criticism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promptly fired the director of the BND in April of this year. Additionally, the German chancellor authorized a parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the BND, which was completed last spring.

The resulting 300-page report has not been made public. But summaries leaked to the German media reveal that the BND spied on 3,300 targets until the end of 2013. Nearly 70 percent of these targets belonged to countries that are members of the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and are thus some of Germany’s closest international allies. The targets allegedly included “hundreds of diplomatic missions” in Europe and elsewhere, as well as heads of state, government ministers, aides to foreign cabinet officials, and heads of foreign militaries. The report summary also states that the BND targeted non-governmental organizations and private corporations that are operate in the areas of aviation, weapons design, transportation, advertising and the media.

Last month, the German cabinet approved draft legislation that aims to reform the BND. The legislation explicitly bans the agency from spying on foreign governments or corporations for the benefit of German companies. It also prevents it from spying on targets within the European Union, unless the operation pertains to “information to recognize and confront threats to internal or external security”. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a new independent oversight body consisting of senior judges and representatives of the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, whose job will be to evaluate and approve the BND’s proposed espionage activities against foreign targets.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 July 2016 | Permalink

EU parliament member loses immunity over claims he spied for Russia

European ParliamentIn a historic first, the parliament of the European Union (EU) has waived the immunity of one of its elected members over “reasonable suspicions” that he may have spied for Russia. The member of the European Parliament (MEP) is Béla Kovács, 55, who belongs to the far-right Movement for a Better Hungary. Founded in 2003, the party, known as Jobbik (movement, in Hungarian), has called for Hungary to leave the EU and instead join the Eurasian Union, an economic and political alliance led by Russia. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Jobbik won just over 20% of the popular vote, placing third nationwide. The result was a marked difference from its performance in 2006, when it had barely received 2.2% of the vote share.

The party’s ideological proximity to Moscow, as well as its radical views on minorities and Jews, have added to its notoriety, causing many to denounce it as the EU’s most far-right political grouping. The party’s troubles grew further in September 2014, when the Hungarian public prosecutor officially requested form the European Parliament that it suspends Kovács’ immunity so that the Budapest-born politician, whose father is Russian, could be investigated for alleged ties to Russian intelligence. The EU parliament said it would consider the matter.

Meanwhile, Hungarian media published several allegations about Kovács’ alleged ties to Moscow, which, some reports suggested, date to the late 1970s. Other reports stated that Kovács’ Russian spouse, Svetlana Izstosina had been an agent of the KGB during the Cold War and that she operated as a courier for Moscow. In another bizarre twist, one report suggested that Izstosina was legally married to two other men, one of whom was a nuclear physicist working at the Lomonosov Moscow State University. Some Hungarian newspapers alleged that the government in Budapest was in possession of secret recordings of conversations between Kovács and Russian diplomats, which allegedly took place in the past six years.

An EU Parliament spokesperson told Bloomberg last week that the waiver of Kovács’ immunity did “not entail […] a judgment as to [the Hungarian MEP’s] guilt or innocence”. She added that she knew of no other cases where an MEP had been stripped of his immunity over allegations of espionage. If found guilty of spying for Moscow, Kovács could face up to eight years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #655

►►DARPA awards team that reassembled shredded documents. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a US government group that funds high-tech military research, has awarded $50,000 to a group of programmers that came up with a way to quickly and effectively piece together shredded documents.
►►Europeans refuse to disclose CIA flight data. A majority of 28 mostly-European countries have failed to comply with freedom of information requests about their involvement in secret CIA flights carrying suspected terrorists, two human rights groups say. London-based Reprieve and Madrid-based Access Info Europe accuse European nations of covering up their complicity in the so-called ‘extraordinary rendition’ program by failing to release flight-traffic data that could show the paths of the planes.
►►Final look at GCHQ’s Cheltenham site. The Oakley site of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency, is being decommissioned with the last few staff members leaving for the nearby Benhall site, nicknamed ‘the doughnut’. The BBC published an interesting tour of the site, which opened in 1951.

News you may have missed #491

Spanish spies remain active in UK territory of Gibraltar



The British Crown has ruled Gibraltar since the early 1700s, but Spain has never ceased to claim national rights over the territory. Today, la Cuestión de Gibraltar (the Gibraltar question) is as critical an issue in Spanish-British relations as it has been for over 300 years. A recent article in Gibraltar’s English-language Panorama news site reminds us that, even though the two countries are NATO and European Union allies, Spanish intelligence agents remain active in the territory. It is true that the Rock is frequented by agents of Spain’s Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI), who are mostly concerned with assessing economic and political life in the British possession. The article lacks sources, but its views are probably not far from the truth, considering Gibraltar’s immense geostrategic significance. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0210

  • Turkey arrests secret service officials over coup allegations. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization’s (MİT) branch in the city of Erzincan, identified only as Ş.D., and two other regional MİT officials, are under arrest in connection with the ongoing investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine network charged with plotting to overthrow the Turkish government.
  • European Union gives CIA access to Europe bank records. Some have condemned the agreement, due to come into force in two months’ time, because it contains no reciprocal arrangement under which European authorities can easily access the bank accounts of US citizens in America.

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EU foreign minister’s husband shunned KGB approaches in 1980s

Peter Kellner

Peter Kellner

The husband of the recently appointed European Union minister for foreign affairs has acknowledged that the KGB tried to cultivate a relationship with him in the 1980s. Peter Kellner, who now presides over influential British polling company YouGov, is married to Baroness Ashton of Upholland (born Catherine Margaret Ashton), who assumed the prominent EU post on November 19. Intelligence documents show that British domestic intelligence agency MI5 had tagged Kellner and his wife as “communist sympathizers”, because of their anti-apartheid activism and long-term involvement with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, considered a “subversive” movement within the intelligence services. Read more of this post

Belgian intelligence concerned about increasing spy presence

Alain Winants

Alain Winants

Despite Belgium’s strategic location and central role in the Cold War, the Belgian secret services have historically had a very limited presence in the country. Their postwar function has been primarily one of information analysis, and it was not until 2006 that they were given powers to intercept communications, conduct authorized breaking-and-entry operations, or detain and question suspects. This situation is changing, however, as the Belgian Federal Parliament prepares to consider a bill on “special intelligence methods” that will further expand the powers of Belgian intelligence services. Last week, Alain Winants, Director of Belgium’s State Security Service (SV/SE) said his agents required expanded investigative powers to combat the increasing presence of foreign spies in the country. Read more of this post

Analysis: Iranian Terrorist Group Enjoys US, EU Protection

The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, is one of several armed groups deemed terrorist by Washington and the European Union (EU). On January 26, however, the EU decided to remove MEK from its official list of terrorist organizations, a move that some observers believe was secretly supported by the US. This is because, despite MEK’s terrorist designation, Washington has routinely collaborated with it since 2003, prompted by the group’s fierce opposition to the regime in Tehran. In 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, American forces entered Camp Ashraf, MEK’s main military base in Iraq, to find “armored personnel carriers, artillery, anti-aircraft guns and vehicles […] along with more than 2,000 well-maintained tanks”. However, even though the group if officially classified by the US as terrorist, US troops were ordered by the Pentagon to give military protection to MEK armed groups in Iraq. Since then, Western correspondents in Iraq have frequently reported that US military personnel “regularly escort MEK supply runs between Baghdad and […] Camp Ashraf”. Read article →

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