Analysis: Biometric passports, iris scanners, worry undercover spooks

Biometric passportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
False passports are to intelligence operatives what petrol is to automobiles. In the absence of forged travel documentation, intelligence officers working undercover are unable to operate internationally without revealing their identity. This is why, traditionally, intelligence operatives are known to “use and discard false passports like hand wipes”, in the words of one knowledgeable source. But according to a fascinating article by veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein, authored for Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, “the day of the trench-coated spy easily slipping in and out of countries on false papers multiple times [may be] coming to an end”. The reason is “the electronic curtain [that] is descending all over the world”, most notably the increasing deployment of iris recognition devices and biometric passports at airports and hotels around the world, says Stein. Over the coming decade, iris scanners, which employ mathematical pattern-recognition techniques to identify individuals by their irides, will become increasingly common at international airports. The same applies to biometric passports, namely travel documents with embedded microchips that store a massive amount of personal information. These technologies are ostensibly being introduced in international transport hubs in order to combat transnational terrorism and organized crime. But they are also expected to heavily interfere with the work of undercover intelligence operatives, says Stein, especially as they are being introduced in popular spy routes, in countries such as India, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, as well as in several European Union entry points. He quotes an unnamed “career spook” currently working for the Central Intelligence Agency as a consultant, who explains that an undercover officer’s biometric identity will be forever linked to the passport that he or she first uses to enter these countries. If the officer were to try to enter these countries again, using a different alias, alarm bells will ring: “you can’t show up again under a different name with the same data”, says the CIA consultant. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #680

General Ziauddin KhawajaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Did Pakistani ex-leader know bin Laden’s hideout? General Ziauddin Khawaja, who was head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) from 1997 to 1999, claims Pakistan’s former President, Pervez Musharraf, knew bin Laden was in Abbottabad.
►►Sweden expels Rwanda diplomat for spying. Sweden has expelled a Rwandan diplomat for allegedly spying on Rwandan exiles there, according to the Associated Press. The diplomat, Evode Mudaheranwa, was sent back to Rwanda last week, according to a sources close to the Swedish government. Mudaheranwa was the Rwandan embassy’s second-highest-ranking official. The Swedish action comes as amid charges that Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s government sends agents overseas to silence critics.
►►Mossad continues to use foreign passports. Agents of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency are still using foreign passports to conduct undercover operations in other countries, according to a report in The Sunday Times of London. The paper says that new evidence shows that foreign nationals residing in Israel are willingly allowing the Mossad to use their passports. The Times interviewed several Israelis who revealed details of how they were approached by intelligence officials about the possibility of volunteering their passports for the Mossad.

Bush “did nothing” about Mossad using US passports to recruit terrorists

Jundallah ForcesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Current and former American intelligence officials have accused Israeli spy operatives of posing as US citizens to recruit members of a Pakistani terrorist group in a covert war against Iran. In an explosive exposé, the respectable US-based journal Foreign Policy has revealed that officers of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency used forged US passports to pose as American personnel of the Central Intelligence Agency. They used their fake American identities to contact members of Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah, which is responsible for numerous brutal strikes against civilian targets in Iran. Jundallah (soldiers of God) is an extremist militant organization that claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran. Most of its members belong to the Baluch ethnic group, which is concentrated along the Iranian-Pakistani border. The Foreign Policy article cites interviews conducted over the past 18 months with six anonymous US government officials, including two serving intelligence officers and at least two others who “have monitored Israeli intelligence operations from senior positions inside the US government”. They told the journal that, in 2007, during the concluding years of the administration of President George W. Bush, the CIA discovered that the Mossad was using forged US passports and US currency to court and fund Jundallah operatives, in a series of secret meetings in London, England. One US government source told Foreign Policy that American officials “were stunned by the brazenness” of the Mossad, saying: “it’s amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with […]. They apparently didn’t give a damn what we thought”. A retired CIA officer told the journal that Agency analysts drafted official memoranda that made their way “up the US intelligence chain of command”, eventually reaching the White House. The CIA officer added that President Bush “went absolutely ballistic” when briefed on the Mossad operation. Read more of this post

German commandos arrest couple ‘spying for Russia’

Russian and German flags

Russia & Germany

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Members of an elite German commando unit have arrested a man and a woman, on suspicion of having spied for Russia for over two decades. A statement issued by the German prosecutor’s office does not name the couple, nor does it explicitly identify them as Russian spies. It says simply that they are “suspected of having worked in Germany over a long period of time for a foreign intelligence agency”. But an article in Germany’s leading newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, identifies the couple as “Andreas A.” and “Heidrun A.”, and claims that the two have spied for Russian intelligence since at least 1988. The newsmagazine reports that the suspected spies were caught separately in the towns of Balingen and Marburg, located in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hesse respectively. It also suggests that the two were apprehended by members of Germany’s GSG-9, the elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police, and that the woman was actually caught in the act of listening to a coded radio message. Both were found to be in possession of forged Austrian passports, as well as —apparently fake— birth certificates stating that they were born in Argentina (Andreas) and Peru (Heidrun). Following the Spiegel article, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor confirmed that two people had indeed been arrested on suspicion of espionage activities on behalf of a foreign country. If a Russian connection is established, it will be the first international espionage case linking Russia and Germany since the latter’s reunification in 1990. If they are followed by convictions, the arrests could constitute a much needed success story for the German intelligence community, whose reputation has lately been damaged by several unsavory media stories. Read more of this post

Canada memos decry use of Canadian passports by Russian spies

Canadian passport

Canadian passport

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In June of 2010 media headlines were dominated by news of a Russian spy ring in the United States that was busted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On June 27, eleven people, all sleeper agents of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, were arrested in early morning raids across several US states. The arrestees, who included media sensation Anna Chapman, were later exchanged for four alleged CIA agents serving time in Russian jails. What is less known however, is the fact that four of the members of the busted spy ring were claiming to be Canadian citizens. SVR operative Natalia Pereverzeva was caught using a forged Canadian passport under the fake name ‘Patricia Mills’. Two other SVR officers, Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, were claiming Canadian nationality under the forged names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. A fourth alleged member of the spy ring, ‘Christopher Metsos’, was apprehended in Cyprus, after using a forged Canadian passport to enter the Mediterranean island. He later disappeared, having skipped bail. Now, sixteen months after the arrests of the Russian spies, The Canadian Press has acquired several hundred pages of memoranda and internal emails from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). Substantial portions of the documents, which were acquired through Canada’s Access to Information Act, remain censored; but The Press reports that they show that employees of DFAIT’s Passport Canada office held “urgent meetings and high-level briefings” in the days following the FBI arrests, in order to address the revelations concerning SVR’s illegal use of Canadian passports. In the documents, Canadian officials opine that the use by Russian spies of forged Canadian travel documents poses a “troubling threat to the integrity of Canadian [passports] and identity security”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #476

Ex-CIA agent and anti-Castro militant on trial in Texas

Carriles in 1962

Carriles in 1962

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former CIA agent and militant anticommunist, who is idolized by America’s anti-Castro Cubans, but is considered a terrorist in parts of Latin America, has gone on trial in Texas. Luís Posada Carriles, 82, known as “the bin Laden of the Americas” by his detractors, gained notoriety for his self-confessed participation in a string of bombings of hotels in Havana, Cuba, in 1997. He is wanted by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela for his alleged role in the dramatic 1976 midair bombing of Cubana flight 455, which killed all 73 crew and passengers onboard. The United States government has placed Carriles on trial for lying about his militant activities to US immigration officials, after arriving here in 2005. Specifically, Carriles faces 11 charges of perjury, obstruction and naturalization fraud, which he is said to have committed at a 2007 immigration hearing in El Paso. At that hearing, he allegedly denied under oath his participation in the 1997 Havana bombings, and failed to report being in possession of a fake Guatemalan passport, which he had used to enter the United States two years earlier. Read more of this post