Domestic extremism quickly ‘metastasizing’, US intelligence report warns

US Capitol

A MAJOR INTELLIGENCE REPORT produced for the United States Congress and the White House warns that violent extremism by ethnically and racially motivated militants is “metastasizing”, and “will almost certainly” result in further attacks in 2021. The report was produced by the National Counterterrorism Center of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. A declassified version of the report was released online, shortly after the White House and Congress were given a classified briefing on the matter.

The report —the first of its kind to be issued after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol Complex, points to threats from several strains of domestic violent extremism, ranging from environmental activists to animal rights extremists, anarchists and adherents of far-right ideologies. It states, however, that by far the greatest threat to public security is presented by ethnically and racially motivated violent extremists, in combination with armed militias. These groups “will almost certainly” grow more active in the coming months, due to a number of economic, political and social factors. Their members are feeling emboldened following the January 6 attacks, and social media are allowing these groups to expand their presence among the population. Widespread conspiracy theories about last November’s presidential elections are also fueling rightwing armed militancy, according to the report.

The same can be said about the economic pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns, which anti-government extremists view as the imposition of tyranny by a government that should be overthrown. These kinds of social disruptions “will almost certainly” fuel further violence this year, according to the report. Members of domestic extremist organizations are currently exchanging ideas on methods of violence, and devising “innovations in targeting and attack tactics”, it adds. Additionally, white supremacist groups appear to rely on “the most persistent and concerning transnational connections” of any type of domestic violent extremist organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 March 2021 | Permalink

Nashville Christmas Day bombing was not terrorism, FBI concludes

Nashville Tennessee

A MAN WHO LAST December detonated a massive bomb in Nashville, capital of the American state of Tennessee, was not motivated by political ideology, but by paranoid alien conspiracies, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Anthony Quinn Warner kept the bomb inside his recreational vehicle, which he had parked in downtown Nashville. He was inside the vehicle as he detonated the bomb at 6:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, 2020, killing himself and injuring three people. Minutes before the explosion, Warner used an outdoor speaker attached to his vehicle’s sounds system to broadcast a pre-recorded message warning that a bomb was about to detonate.

The incident has perplexed authorities, because Warner did not seem to have a clear motive for his action. Additionally, his background did not fit that of a typical ideologically or racially motivated violent extremist. Now, however, after nearly three months of research, which included over 250 interviews with people who knew Warner, the FBI has concluded its investigation. The law enforcement agency said that Warner acted completely alone, and that he was not motivated by an ideological belief, nor was he aiming to bring about social or political change. This means that his violent action cannot be officially classified as terrorism.

The FBI investigation also rejects the intense speculation that took place following the attack, according to which Warner may have been motivated by fringe conspiracy theories about 5G technology. These rumors emerged due to the location of the attack. The latter caused extensive damage to a facility owned and operated by AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecommunications providers. However, the FBI concluded that Warner was not concerned about AT&T or 5G technologies. Instead, he was apparently motivated by a concoction of conspiracy theories fueled by paranoia. Most of these conspiracy theories revolved around a race of reptiles that Warner believed had secretly infiltrated human societies. He told some of his friends that he saw his personal mission as hunting down these aliens.

In addition to alien conspiracy theories, Warner’s act of violence was triggered by a number of personal relationships that deteriorated in the months prior to his suicide. However, his violent act was not aimed as revenge fueled by grievances against specific individuals or groups of people that lived near the site of the explosion, according to the FBI.

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

Informant helped FBI infiltrate US militia accused of plot to kidnap politician

Michigan governor mansionA CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANT, WHO infiltrated an armed militia on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will testify in a United States court about an alleged plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. State prosecutors accuse members of Wolverine Watchmen, a self-styled anti-government militia, with plotting to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in October of last year. A total of 14 men have been charged in connection with the alleged plot.

Two days or preliminary hearings have taken place this week, relating to three of those charged. Pete Musico, 43, Joseph Morrison, 26, and Paul Bellar, 22, are facing several charges, including providing material support to acts of terrorism and belonging to Wolverine Watchmen, which the FBI says was a domestic terrorist organization. According to the FBI, the group was founded specifically to recruit individuals who agreed with the goal of capturing and killing politicians, including Governor Whitmer.

The group’s ultimate goal, says the FBI, was to overthrow the government of the state of Michigan and then launch an all-out war against the federal government of the United States. The plan would begin with an attack on the Michigan governor’s residence, during which the assailants would use Molotov cocktails to draw out members of law enforcement. They would then detonate home-made bombs and other explosive devices to kill law enforcement responding to the fire.

However, according to testimony delivered on Thursday by FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola, a member of Wolverine Watchmen, who did not agree with the plot, contacted the authorities. The FBI then convinced the disillusioned member of the group to continue to attend meetings, in order to infiltrate the organization and provide further evidence of the plot. According to reports, the confidential informant is scheduled to testify at the hearing in the coming days.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 March 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Without fanfare, FBI places Putin’s right-hand man on most wanted list

Yevgeny PrigozhinWITHOUT MUCH FANFARE LAST week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed on its most wanted list Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest collaborators. Known as “Putin’s chef”, for providing catering services to the Kremlin, Prigozhin was indicted in February 2018 by United States prosecutors for his alleged role in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Special Counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, Prigozhin bankrolled the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which in turn played a central coordinating role in the effort to influence the outcome of the elections.

But it is one thing to be indicted by the US government, and quite another to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. What does this mean? And why did the FBI wait three years to place Prigozhin on its list of infamy?

With characteristic flamboyance, Prigozhin boasted victory against the FBI back in March of 2020, when US federal prosecutors requested that the Mueller-era criminal case against Concord Management and Consulting (CMC) be dismissed. Founded in 1995, CMC is Prigozhin’s flagship company. According to the US government, CMC was used to fund the IRA’s activities in the run-up to the 2016 US elections. Although some were surprised by that decision, it made sense from an intelligence point of view. US federal prosecutors said at the time that it would not be possible to prove the allegations against CMC due to a “classification determination”. The term basically meant that the US government could not prove the claims made against CMC without revealing “methods and sources”. The term refers to witnesses that have probably been recruited as US government assets, as well as to methods of surveillance that the government wishes to keep secret.

Even though the individual indictment against Prigozhin was never dropped, the flamboyant Russian boasted at the time that the dismissal of the case against CMC proved that he was not implicated in the US election meddling affair. He became even more boastful after September of last year, when Interpol removed his name from its international alert list. He reportedly began traveling outside Russia again, something that he had stopped doing after his 2018 indictment, out of an abundance of caution. At that time, everyone assumed that US prosecutors would eventually drop the case against Prigozhin too, for the same reason they had dropped the CMC case —namely a “classification determination”. Read more of this post

FBI is vetting all 25,000 US National Guard members at Biden’s inauguration

US Capitol attackIN AN UNPRECEDENTED MOVE, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly vetting every member of the United States National Guard who will be present at the upcoming inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. According to the Associated Press, the decision to vet the National Guard troops was taken after US defense officials expressed concerns about a potential “insider attack […] from service members involved in securing” the inauguration ceremony.

Approximately 25,000 members of the National Guard will be present in Washington on Wednesday, alongside police and other security personnel. Their numbers are expected to dwarf protective measures taken in previous inaugural events, including those of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. It is not uncommon for troops to undergo background checks, especially in the post-9/11 security environment. But it is highly unusual for the FBI to vet that many individuals so quickly in preparation of a specific event. It is also uncommon in recent years for the focus to be on domestic rightwing threats to security, as opposed to Islamist threats.

On Monday the Associated Press quoted the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, who said that military officials were “conscious of the potential threat” to security by insider threats. He added that he had “warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within the ranks” in the run-up to Wednesday. The news agency said the FBI began vetting the troops over a week ago, and expected to complete the process in time for the inauguration.

Meanwhile, in a related report, the Associated Press said last week that investigators probing the attack on the US Capitol on January 6 were concerned about the large numbers of attackers who appeared to display evidence of military training during the riot. There were “scores of people” mixed in the crowd of insurgents who “either had military training or were trained by those who did”, said the news agency. Others sported military-style gear, such as body armor, helmets, tactical vests, and two-way radios. There were even groups of insurgents who appeared to employ military tactics, such as moving among the crowd in formation.

The US Department of Defense is reportedly conducting investigations into its members who were allegedly involved in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Large police departments around the country, including Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Houston, are also investigating whether any of their employees participated in the attack on the Capitol, according to the Associated Press.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 January 2021 | Permalink

FBI, NYPD forewarned Capitol Police of serious violence by Trump supporters

US CapitolTHE FEDERAL BUREAU OF Investigation and the New York Police Department gave Capitol Police officials specific warnings that supporters of United States President Donald Trump were determined to engage in serious violence on January 6, according to federal officials. The FBI even made contact with known far-right radicals across the United States in early January, and warned them not to travel to Washington for the pro-Trump rally that resulted in the bloody attack on the US Capitol, according to NBC News.

Citing “senior law enforcement officials”, including “a senior FBI official”, NBC reported on Sunday that the FBI had “credible and actionable information” about specific far-right radicals who intended to join the protest on January 6. This information was allegedly communicated to Capitol Police officials, according to the report. The senior FBI official, who is not named in report, told NBC that the Bureau made contact with those radicals and warned them not to travel to Washington for the protest. Citing “multiple law enforcement officials”, the news network also said that the Capitol Police was given extensive intelligence by NYPD about planned acts of violence on January 6. The intelligence was “specific”, “detailing the threats and extremist rhetoric on social media”, according to the news network.

Despite these warnings, however, Capitol Police reportedly turned down an offer of assistance by the US National Guard three days before the fateful siege of the Capitol Building Complex by thousands of pro-Trump insurgents, many of whom were armed. According to the Associated Press, despite the advanced and detailed warnings given to it, “the Capitol Police planned only for a free speech demonstration”.

Meanwhile, the experts warning of a significant risk of widespread violence on January 20, when President-Elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be sworn into office, are growing in number. On Sunday, Cindy Otis, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and vice-president of the Alethea Group, which tracks online threats, warned that “we are in a tinderbox situation right now”. She pointed to numerous threats made online, which claim that last Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol was “just a taste of things to come”. There are reports that far-right insurgents are preparing for a violent showdown in DC, aimed at preventing Biden from entering the White House on January 20. Other reports suggest that groups of insurgents seek to organize synchronous potentially violent rallies in every state of the union that day.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 January 2021 | Permalink

Trump plans to axe defense secretary, FBI, CIA directors, if re-elected, say sources

Donald TrumpIF RE-ELECTED IN NOVEMBER, United States President Donald Trump has laid out plans to replace the secretary of defense, as well as the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to a new report. The website Axios, which published the report on Sunday, said the US president and his senior advisors have drafted a much longer list of names of senior military and intelligence officials who will be axed in November. However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel top the list, said Axios.

The website cited two sources who have allegedly discussed with President Trump himself the fate of these and other officials. The sources told Axios that CIA Director Haspel is “despised and distrusted almost universally” within the president’s inner circle, whose members view her motives with “a lot of suspicion”. Another source familiar with “conversations at the CIA” told Axios that Haspel intends to step down —and possibly retire— “regardless of who wins the election” in November.

Trump is also “incensed” with FBI Director Wray, because he told Congress last month that the Bureau had not detected significant election-related fraud with either online activity or mail-in ballots, according to Axios. Additionally, the president reportedly lost trust in Defense Secretary Esper after he objected to the White House’s plan to deploy active-duty military personnel in major American cities, in response to popular protests sparked by allegations of abusive practices by law enforcement.

Axios added that, despite President Trump’s critical comments about his Attorney General, William Barr, in recent weeks, he has no “formal plans” to replace him at the present time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 October 2020 | Permalink

FBI reorganizes cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage divisions as cases rise

FBI

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is reorganizing its cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage divisions in order to combat growing activity in those areas, while also increasing its cross-agency contacts. The goal is to reinforce investigations into computer hacking perpetrated by organized cyber-criminals, as well as by foreign states aiming to steal government and corporate secrets.

According to the Reuters news agency, the FBI made the decision to reorganize its cyber divisions after Internet-based crime and espionage cases rose to unprecedented levels in the past year, a trend that is partly driven by the COVID-19 epidemic. Aside from the damage caused to national security, the financial loss associated with computer hacking is said to be incalculable.

In an interview with Reuters, Matt Gorham, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division (established in 2002), said the reorganization includes both the Bureau’s cyber-crime and foreign cyber-espionage wings. It also includes increased FBI emphasis on the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF), an amalgamation of cyber-security specialists from dozens of US federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Under the new system, the NCIJTF will serve as the coordinating body of the US government’s cyber-security efforts. Additionally, said Gorham, the FBI is creating “mission centers” located within various cyber units, and connect their work with the NCIJTF. These mission centers will include concentrations on specific cyber-espionage actors, such as Iran, North Korea, China or Russia. Lastly, the restructured NCIJTF will increase its contacts with domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, as well as with telecommunications service providers, which are engaged on the front lines of the fight against cyber-crime and cyber-espionage.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2020 | Permalink

US intelligence reports warn of political violence during presidential election

Jared MaplesIntelligence reports by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other American security agencies warn that domestic extremists are preparing to wage violence in November, with one official calling the situation a “witch’s brew” that could spell unprecedented chaos throughout the country.

Security agencies have issued numerous reports warning of possible election violence in recent months, with the majority of these warnings coming from the FBI and the DHS. Earlier this month, Yahoo News reported sobering passages from a security alert issued jointly by the two agencies, which saw an increasing likelihood of election-related violence by domestic extremists. According to Yahoo News, the warning focused on domestic violent extremists “across the ideological spectrum”, who were likely to “continue to plot against government and election-related targets to express their diverse grievances involving government policies and actions”.

Last month a similar report from the DHS said law enforcement personnel should anticipate rapid mobilization by ideologically driven violent extremists, who are preparing to wage violence in the run-up to the November election, as well after. Until recently, the FBI and DHS reports had been circulated internally and were made available mostly to government personnel. Last week, however, New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJ OHSP) took the rare step of issuing public warnings relating to possible election violence.

In a statement, the NJ OHSP said that Americans should remain vigilant as the November elections approach. The statement includes comments by OHSP director Jared Maples (pictured), who warns that the country is facing “a witch’s brew that really hasn’t happened in America’s history. And if it has, it’s been decades if not centuries”. The elements of this instability include the coronavirus pandemic, growing civil unrest, rising political tensions between rival groups, as well as concerted disinformation campaigns from America’s foreign adversaries, according to the NJ OHSP.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 September 2020 | Permalink

After dropping charges, US prosecutors broaden indictment against Saudi spies

TwitterTwo days after dropping charges against three Saudi men for spying on American soil, United States prosecutors submitted a new indictment that restates the two original charges and adds five more. The original complaint was filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in November of last year in San Francisco, California. It accused three men of “acting as unregistered agents” of Saudi Arabia since 2015. The phrase is used in legal settings to refer to espionage.

According to the FBI, the Saudi government allegedly contacted Ali Alzabarah, a 35-year-old San Francisco-based network engineer working for Twitter. Ahmed Almutairi (also known as Ahmed Aljbreen), a “social media advisor” for Saudi Arabia’s royal family, arranged for Alzabarah to be flown to Washington to meet an unidentified member of the Saudi dynasty. He and another Twitter employee, 41-year-old Ahmad Abouammo, were allegedly given money and gifts by the Saudi government. These were given in return for the email addresses, IP addresses and dates of birth of up to 6,000 Twitter users who had posted negative comments about the Saudi royal family on social media.

Earlier this week, however, US government prosecutors filed a motion to drop the charges against the three men. The two-page filing did not offer a reason behind this sudden decision by the US government. Interestingly, however, it included a request to have the charges against the three men dismissed “without prejudice”, meaning that the US government could decide to file new charges against them in the future.

This has now happened, as the US government has filed fresh charges against the three men. In addition to the two original charges, the men have now been charged with acting as agents for a foreign government without notifying the US attorney general. They have also been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, committing wire fraud and money laundering, aiding and abetting, and destroying, altering or falsifying records in a federal investigation. The indictment also specifies the financial rewards Abouammo allegedly received from the Saudi government in return for his services. These included a wire transfer for $200,000 to a shell company and associated bank account in Lebanon, as well as a luxury watch valued at $20,000.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 July 2020 | Permalink

Without explanation, US dismisses charges against Saudis caught spying on US soil

Twitter IAIn a surprising move, the United States government is seeking to dismiss espionage charges it filed last year against three men, including a member of staff of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, who were caught spying on American soil. Last November, the Federal Bureau of Investigation filed a complaint in San Francisco, accusing the three men of “acting as unregistered agents” of Saudi Arabia. The phrase is used in legal settings to refer to espionage.

According to the FBI, the charges stemmed from an investigation that lasted several years and centered on efforts by the oil kingdom to identify and silence its critics on social media. In 2015, the Saudi government allegedly reached out to Ali Alzabarah, a 35-year-old network engineer working for Twitter, who lived in San Francisco. The complaint alleges that Ahmed Almutairi (also known as Ahmed Aljbreen), who worked as a “social media advisor” for Saudi Arabia’s royal family, arranged for Alzabarah to be flown from San Francisco to Washington to meet with an unidentified member of the Saudi dynasty.

Alzabarah, along with another Twitter employee, 41-year-old Ahmad Abouammo, were allegedly given money and gifts by the Saudi government in return for supplying it with private information about specific Twitter users, according to the FBI complaint. The information provided by the two Twitter employees to the Saudi authorities allegedly included the email addresses, IP addresses and dates of birth of up to 6,000 Twitter users, who had posted negative comments about the Saudi royal family on social media. Special Agents from the FBI’s Settle field office arrested Abouammo at his Seattle home. However, Alzabarah managed to flee the United States along with his family before the FBI was able to arrest him, and is believed to be in Saudi Arabia. The FBI issued a warrant for his arrest.

In a surprising move, however, US government prosecutors have now filed a motion to drop the charges against the three men. The motion, filed on Tuesday in San Francisco, is asking for permission from the judge in the case to have all charges against the three men dismissed “without prejudice”, meaning that the US government could decide to file new charges against them in the future. The two-page filing does not offer a reason behind this sudden decision by the US government. The Bloomberg news service, which reported the news on Tuesday, said it inquired about this case by calling and emailing the Saudi Embassy in Washington, the San Francisco US Attorney’s office, and Twitter. It received no responses.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 July 2020 | Permalink

US arrests Mexican man for spying for Russia in mystery case involving informant

FBI MiamiThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested a Mexican man, who is accused of spying in the city of Miami on behalf of the Russian government. Local media reports suggest that the target of the man’s spying was a Russian defector who gave American authorities information about Russian espionage activities on US soil.

In a news release issued on Tuesday, the US Department of Justice identified the man as Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a Mexican citizen residing in Singapore. The statement said that Fuentes was arrested on Monday and was charged with “conspiracy” and “acting within the United States on behalf of a foreign government”.

According to the statement, Fuentes was recruited in April of 2019 by an unnamed Russian government official. His first assignment was to rent an apartment in Miami-Dade County using fake identification. One he carried out the assignment, Fuentes allegedly traveled to Russia, where he briefed his handler. He was then asked to return to Miami and drive to an apartment complex, where he was to observe a vehicle belonging to an individual that the Department of Justice statement describes as a “US government source”. Fuentes was tasked with providing his Russian handler with the vehicle’s license plate number.

Having been given a detailed physical description of the vehicle by his Russian handler, Fuentes drove to the apartment complex in Miami, but was stopped at the entrance to the complex by a security guard. While Fuentes was speaking with the security guard, Fuentes’ wife allegedly exited the car and took a photograph of the vehicle in question. According to the FBI, she later shared the photograph with Fuentes’ Russian handler on the mobile phone application WhatsApp. The photograph was discovered by US Customs and Border Protection agents on the smartphone of Fuentes’ wife on Sunday, as the pair tried to board a flight to Mexico City.

The US Department of Justice news release does not identify Fuentes’ alleged espionage target. But an article in The Miami Herald claims that the target is an FBI informant who has provided the Bureau’s counterintelligence division with critical information about Russian espionage operations in the Miami area. Fuentes is scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial detention hearing this coming Friday. His arraignment has been scheduled for March 3. The press release does not explain why Fuentes’ wife was not arrested.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 February 2020 | Permalink

FBI examining FaceApp over potential counterintelligence concerns

FBIThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation says it is examining possible counterintelligence threats in connection with the popular online application FaceApp, which is headquartered in Russia. The application first made its appearance in January of 2017 and quickly became popular among smartphone users around the world. It allows users to upload a photograph of their face and then edit it with the help of artificial-intelligence software. The software can change the user’s photograph to make it look younger or older, or make it look as if it is from the opposite gender. The result can be impressively realistic and life-like.

The St. Petersburgh-based company behind FaceApp, Wireless Lab, claims that the photos of users are uploaded to cloud servers situated in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. They are then deleted within two days from the moment they are uploaded by users, without ever being transferred to servers located in the territory of Russia. But the FBI does not seem to believe these assurances. In a letter sent late last month to the Minority Leader of the US Senate, Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Bureau said it was examining FaceApp as part of its counterintelligence mission.

In the letter, which was published on Monday, Jill Tyson, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs, said the fact that Wireless Lab is based in Russia raised a number of counterintelligence concerns. These relate to the types of data Wireless Lab collects on its customers and the privacy policies that apply to Russian Internet companies. According to Tyson, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has the right to “remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request” to network providers. He added that, if the FBI found that FaceApp was involved in activities meant to interfere with upcoming elections in the United States, the Bureau would investigate the matter further, and possibly involve the Foreign Influence Task Force, an FBI-led body that was established after the 2016 US presidential elections.

The FBI’s letter was written in response to an earlier letter sent to the Bureau by Senator Schumer in July, which expressed concerns about potential threats posed by FaceApp to the privacy of American Internet users and to the nations’ security as a whole.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 December 2019 | Permalink

FBI charges Twitter employees with working as spies for Saudi Arabia

TwitterUnited States authorities have charged two employees of the social media firm Twitter and a member of staff of Saudi Arabia’s royal family with spying for Riyadh. The Federal Bureau of Investigation filed a complaint on Wednesday in San Francisco, accusing the three men of “acting as unregistered agents” for Saudi Arabia. The phrase is used in legal settings to refer to espionage.

According to the FBI, the charges stem from an investigation that lasted several years and centered on efforts by the oil kingdom to identify and silence its critics on social media. In 2015, the Saudi government allegedly reached out to Ali Alzabarah, a 35-year-old network engineer working for Twitter, who lived in San Francisco. The complaint alleges that Ahmed Almutairi (also known as Ahmed Aljbreen), who worked as a “social media advisor” for Saudi Arabia’s royal family, arranged for Alzabarah to be flown from San Francisco to Washington to meet with an unidentified member of the Saudi dynasty.

Alzabarah, along with another Twitter employee, 41-year-old Ahmad Abouammo, were given money and gifts by the Saudi government in return for supplying it with private information about specific Twitter users, according to the complaint. The information provided by the two Twitter employees to the Saudi authorities allegedly included the email addresses, IP addresses and dates of birth of up to 6,000 Twitter users, who had posted negative comments about the Saudi royal family on social media.

Special Agents from the FBI’s Settle field office arrested Abouammo at his Seattle home on Tuesday. However, Alzabarah is believed to have fled the United States along with his family before the FBI was able to arrest him. He is currently believed to be in Saudi Arabia and is wanted by the FBI, which has issued a warrant for his arrest. The Saudi government has not commented on the case. Twitter issued a statement on Wednesday, saying it planned to continue to cooperate with the FBI on this investigation.

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

FBI files espionage charges against California man who allegedly spied for China

Xuehua Edward PengThe United States has pressed espionage charges against a naturalized American citizen who operated as a courier for Chinese intelligence while working as a tour operator in California. On Monday federal prosecutors in San Francisco filed espionage charges against Xuehua “Edward” Peng, a 56-year-old Chinese-born American citizen. Peng, a trained mechanical engineer, reportedly entered the United States in June 2001 on a temporary visa. In 2012 he became a naturalized American citizen. By that time he was working for US Tour and Travel, an independent tour operator in California.

On Friday, officers with the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Peng at his home in Hayward, California, and charged him with spying on behalf of the Ministry of State Security (MSS), which is China’s primary external intelligence agency. At a press conference held on Monday, David Anderson, US Attorney for the Northern District of California, said that Peng began working for the MSS in June 2015 and continued to do so until June of 2018. Throughout that time, Peng participated in at least six dead drops on behalf of the MSS, said the FBI. But he was unaware that the agent on the other end of the dead drop was in fact an FBI informant, who had lured Peng and the MSS into an elaborate sting operation. The informant is referred to in the indictment as “the source”. The FBI said it paid the informant nearly $200,000 to facilitate the sting operation.

Most of the dead drops took place at a hotel in Newark, California. Peng would book a room in the hotel using a popular online booking service. He would check in and go to his hotel room, where he would hide envelopes containing as much as $20,000 in cash. He would then leave the room key at the front desk for his contact to pick up. The contact (the FBI informant) would pick up the key and the cash, and leave memory sticks with classified US government information for Peng to pick up. Peng would then travel to China to deliver the classified information to the MSS.

Unbeknownst to Peng, the FBI was monitoring him all along, and managed to secretly tape his alleged espionage activities. The surveillance footage is now part of the federal affidavit that was unsealed on Monday. Moreover, the FBI appears to have given Peng classified information that was approved for the purposes of the counterespionage operation against him. It is not known whether the classified information was real, deceptive, or a mixture of the two. It is worth noting that Peng is not a foreign diplomat and is therefore not subject to the rules of diplomatic immunity. He now faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 October 2019 | Permalink