France launches probe into spying on media by Moroccan intelligence services

NSO Group

PROSECUTORS IN FRANCE HAVE opened an investigation into claims that the intelligence services of Morocco spied on French journalists’ phones, using a controversial surveillance software marketed by an Israeli firm. Since 2018, IntelNews has covered the controversial spyware, Pegasus, and its maker, NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Pegasus surveillance software is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users clicking a link, or downloading an application. It then provides the spying party with near-complete control over the targeted telephone. Among other things, it gives the spying party the ability to browse through the telephone’s contents, including photographs and videos, record telephone conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user being aware that these devices are on.

Earlier this week, an investigative report published by a consortium of newspapers, including The Washington Post (United States), Le Monde (France) and The Guardian (United Kingdom), claimed that Pegasus’ victims number in their tens of thousands. Reporters said they had analyzed a leaked list of 50,000 victims of Pegasus, which include senior government officials, lawyers, labor leaders, human-rights activists and investigative journalists in almost every country in the world.

The recent revelations have made headlines in France, where the names of well-known journalists from several newspapers, magazines and news agencies feature on the leaked list of Pegasus’ victims. On Tuesday, the French investigative website Mediapart filed a legal complaint, claiming that two members of its staff, including its founder, Edwy Plenel, had been spied on by the Moroccan intelligence services through the Pegasus software. Another French investigative outlet, the newspaper Le Canard Enchaine, said it would also launch a complaint against the intelligence services of Morocco. More media outlets are expected to follow suit.

NSO Group Technologies denies that its Pegasus software is being used maliciously, and claims that it only sells the software to government agencies who use it in legitimate law enforcement investigations. The government of Morocco also denied the claims against its intelligence agencies, saying that it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices”.

However, the Office of the Paris Prosecutor said on Tuesday that it had launched an official investigation on the use of the Pegasus software by Moroccan intelligence. In a statement published on its website, the prosecutor’s office said it would examine the complaints by media companies from the perspective of as many as 10 possible charges, including criminal association, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and breach of personal privacy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2021 | Permalink

France suspends aid to Central African Republic over espionage charges

Juan Remy Quignolot

THE GOVERNMENT OF FRANCE has suspended all civilian and military aid to the Central African Republic (CAR), after authorities there charged a French national with espionage and conspiracy to overthrow the state. The charges were announced approximately a month after the arrest of Juan Remy Quignolot, 55 (pictured), who was arrested in CAR capital Bangui on May 10 of this year. Following Quignolot’s arrest, CAR police said they found more than a dozen cell phones, machine guns, ammunition and foreign banknotes in his hotel room.

Speaking to reporters in Bangui on Wednesday, the CAR’s attorney general, Eric Didier Tambo, said that Quignolot had been charged with espionage, illegal weapons possession, as well as conspiracy against the security of the state. According to CAR authorities, Quignolot has been providing training and material support to anti-government rebel groups for nearly a decade. However, CAR authorities have not specified for which country or group Quignolot performed his alleged activities.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French embassy in Bagnui have not commented on Quignolot’s charges. When the French national was arrested in May, French Foreign Affairs Ministry officials said the move was part of “an anti-French campaign” orchestrated by Russia. Paris has been competing with Moscow for influence in this former French colony —a diamond- and gold-producing country of nearly 5 million people— which remains highly volatile following a bloody civil war that ended in 2016.

Earlier this week, France said it would immediately suspend its $12 million-a-year civilian and military aid to the CAR. The reason is that the African nation’s government had allegedly failed to take measures against “massive disinformation campaigns”, purportedly originating from Russia, which have “targeted French officials” in the CAR and the broader central African region. Despite suspending financial aid, France continues to maintain approximately 300 soldiers in the CAR. In recent years, however, France’s military presence in its former colony has been dwarfed by contingents of Russian military instructors, who are now training government forces.

Quignolot’s trial is expected to take place by December. Speaking about the Frenchman’s possible sentence, attorney general Tambo said on Wednesday that, “in cases of harming domestic security, you’re talking about lifetime forced labor”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 June 2021 | Permalink

French lieutenant-colonel serving with NATO arrested for spying for Russia

Florence ParlyFrench authorities are reportedly investigating a senior military officer, who is serving with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Italy, for spying on behalf of Russia, according to a news report from France. On Sunday, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly (pictured), gave a press conference in Paris, during which she provided limited information about the ongoing investigation. Parly said she could confirm that “a senior officer” in the French military was undergoing “legal proceedings” relating to a “security breach”. She refused to provide specific details on the case.

Later on Sunday, however, French radio station Europe 1 reported that the military officer was a lieutenant-colonel who is currently serving at a NATO facility in Italy. The officer is believed to speak Russian and is considered a specialist on Russian military affairs, said the station. It added that French authorities began investigating him after he was spotted in Italy with a man who was later identified as an intelligence officer with the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU. According to Europe 1, the French military officer was arrested by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), France’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency.

At the time of his arrest, the unnamed man was making preparations to return to his NATO post in Italy, after holidaying in France, according to the radio station’s report. He is currently in detention in the French capital on suspicion of having supplied classified military documents to Russian intelligence. Europe 1 cited an unnamed source who said the officer would be prosecuted for “collecting [and] sharing information with a foreign power” that “harms the fundamental interests of the [French] nation” and “harms national defense”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2020 | Permalink

More information on French spies’ mysterious plot to kill woman in Paris

DGSE FranceFrench media have released new information on a puzzling murder conspiracy by three operations officers in France’s external intelligence agency, who planned to kill a middle-aged woman in Paris. As intelNews reported earlier this month, the three men work for the Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service is France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Like the CIA, the DGSE is not permitted to carry out operations inside France.

Two of the men were arrested by police early in the morning of July 24 in Val-de-Marne, a boulevard in Créteil, a southeastern suburb of the French capital. On July 31, French authorities arrested a third man, also in Paris, who is also believed to be a DGSE operations officer. New media reports from France have identified the two men arrested on July 24 as “Pierre B.” and “Karl E.”. They are believed to be members of the DGSE’s Action Division, a group that is trained by DGSE to carry out covert operations on foreign soil.

In the past week, authorities arrested two more men, who are also believed to be among the plotters in this strange case. They have not been named. One is believed to own a private security firm and the other is a former DGSE employee who now works as a private detective specializing in electronic crime. The two men have been charged with conspiracy and attempted murder.

Bizarrely, when Pierre B. and Karl E. were arrested on July 24, they claimed they were on an official DGSE mission. This, if true, would violate French law, since the agency is not permitted to operate on French soil. Additionally, the two men appear to have broken the law by identifying themselves as DGSE employees to the police officers who arrested them. According to French media reports, the two suspects continue to claim that they were on a mission ordered by their superiors at DGSE, and believe that the agency will eventually help them clear all charges against them.

Meanwhile, their intended victim has not been named. She is reportedly a psychotherapist who specializes in hypnotherapy. She has allegedly told police investigating the case that her murder might have been planned by rival hypnotherapists. However, police are finding it difficult to believe that professional rivalries could have resulted in the hiring of highly trained DGSE operations officers to commit a murder.

Four suspects, including the two operations officers arrested on July 24, remain in custody. The fifth man, the DGSE officer arrested on July 31, has reportedly been released on bail.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2020 | Permalink

Paris prosecutor charges three French spies with mysterious plot to kill woman

dgse franceThe Paris prosecutor has charged three officers of France’s external spy agency with a mysterious plot to kill a woman, after two of them were caught driving a stolen vehicle and in possession of weapons. The three men are reportedly operations officers in the Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Like the CIA, the DGSE is not permitted to carry out operations inside France.

Two of the men were arrested by police on the night of July 23 to 24 in Val-de-Marne, a boulevard in Créteil, a southeastern suburb of the French capital. They have been identified in the French media as ‘Pierre’ and ‘Karl’, and are reportedly 25 and 28 years old respectively. According to the Paris prosecutor, the men were found driving a stolen car with forged license plates. Inside the vehicle, police officers found a bag containing a handgun along with 12 rounds of ammunition. Both men were carrying military-issue knives. On July 31, French authorities arrested a third man, also in Paris, who is allegedly connected to the case. The third man, who has not been named in the media, is also believed to be a DGSE operations officer.

An official statement issued this week by the Paris prosecutor’s office said the three men plotted to kill a 54-old woman. It added that the murder plot was not part of their DGSE duties, and that the three operations officers were acting in a “rogue” fashion. There has been no information released about the motive behind the plot to kill the woman. On Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor said it filed preliminary charges for attempted murder against the two men who were caught in Val-de-Marne in the early hours of July 24. The third man was handed preliminary charges of complicity in the murder attempt and of being part of a criminal conspiracy. His co-conspirators were also charged with car theft and being in possession of a weapon. If convicted, each man could face up to 10 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 August 2020 | Permalink

France sentences former intelligence officers to prison for spying for China

DGSE FranceA court in Paris has sentenced to prison two former employees of France’s external intelligence agency, who were accused of spying for the government of China. A third person, the wife of one of the accused, was also handed a jail sentence.

The two men have been identified in media reports only as “Henri M.”, 73, and “Pierre-Marie H.”, 69. They are both reportedly former employees of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Additionally, “Laurence H.”, reportedly the wife of Pierre-Marie H., stood accused of “concealing property derived from espionage on behalf of a foreign power, which is likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation”.

Pierre-Marie H. was arrested in late 2017 while transiting between flights at Zurich airport. He was found to be carrying on him a large amount of undeclared cash, which was reportedly given to him by his Chinese handler, following a meeting on “an island in the Indian Ocean”. Henri M. served as DGSE station chief in Beijing, where he was officially listed as the second secretary at the French embassy there. However, he was recalled to Paris less than a year after his arrival in China, for having an affair with the ambassador’s Chinese interpreter. After his retirement in 2003, Henri M. reportedly moved to China, where he married the interpreter and settled in the southern Chinese island of Hainan. He was arrested by French authorities in 2017.

Both men stood accused of “delivering information to a foreign power” and by doing so “damaging the fundamental interests of the French nation”. French officials described the cases of the two men as “extremely grave”. Their trial took place behind closed doors. On Monday, the court sentenced Pierre-Marie H. to 12 years in prison. Henri M. was given an 8-year prison sentence. Laurence H. was sentenced to 4 years in prison, with a 2-year suspension.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2020 | Permalink

France charges two former intelligence officers with spying for China

dgse franceThe trial of two French former intelligence officers begins today in Paris, with the two men accused by French authorities of having spied for China in the 1990s and 2000s. French officials have remained largely silent on the two cases, but media reports have suggested that the two former intelligence officers were found to have carried out espionage tasks for the Chinese government.

The two men have been identified in media reports only as “Henri M.” and “Pierre-Marie H.”. They are both reportedly former employees of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. A third suspect, “Laurence H.” is reportedly the wife of Pierre-Marie H., and stands accused of “concealing property derived from espionage on behalf of a foreign power, which is likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation”.

According to reports in the French media, Pierre-Marie H. was arrested in late 2017 while transiting between flights at Zurich airport. He was found to be carrying on him a large amount of undeclared cash, which was reportedly given to him by his Chinese handler, following a meeting on “an island in the Indian Ocean”. He is currently free on bail.

The DGSE appointed Henri M. in the Chinese capital Beijing as its station chief. He was allegedly listed as the second secretary at the French embassy there. However, he was recalled to Paris less than a year following the start of his foreign assignment, after he was found to have an affair with the female interpreter of the ambassador. The interpreter was reportedly a Chinese citizen. In 2003, following his retirement, Henri M. reportedly relocated to China, where he married the interpreter and settled in the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Like Pierre-Marie H., Henri M. was arrested in late 2017, reportedly after a lengthy surveillance operation by French counterintelligence, which lasted several months. Both men are accused of “delivering information to a foreign power” and by doing so “damaging the fundamental interests of the French nation”. French officials have described the cases of the two men as “extremely grave”. The trial will take place in a special court that will convene behind closed doors. The verdict is due to be announced on July 10. If convicted of all charges against them, the two men face 15 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2020 | Permalink

Turkey arrests four members of alleged French spy ring in Istanbul

French consulate in Istanbul TurkeyFour men have been arrested by Turkish authorities in Istanbul, allegedly for being members of a spy ring operated by an agent who collected information on extremist groups for France’s external spy agency. The arrests were reported on Tuesday by a newspaper with close links to the Turkish government. It is worth noting, however, that the reports have not been confirmed by Turkish officials. If true, the incident points to further deterioration in the relations between the two nations, which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Turkish daily newspaper Sabah said on Tuesday that the leader of the French-handled spy ring is named Metin Özdemir. He is reportedly a Turkish citizen who worked in the security department of the French consulate in Istanbul. According to the paper, Özdemir admitted to Turkish police that he was sent to France where he took an eight-month-long surveillance and counter-surveillance training course. He was then sent to Georgia by France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), where he gathered intelligence for his French handlers. In exchange for his services, the DGSE allegedly gave Özdemir regular cash payments and offered him a job in the French Foreign Legion.

Özdemir eventually returned to Turkey and was allegedly handled by two DGSE officials that he named as “Virginia” and “Sebastian”. He recruited three more Turkish citizens, including two utility workers, who formed a spy ring. The spy ring members were supplied by the DGSE with forged credentials, identifying them as employees of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). According to Sabah, the spy ring supplied the DGSE with information on 120 individuals, most of whom were members of ultra-conservative religious organizations with alleged links to the Islamic State. The spy ring also allegedly spied on the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Turkey’s state-funded religious authority. Recently, however, Özdemir reportedly fell out with his French handlers and approached Turkish authorities, who promptly arrested him and the rest of the members of his spy ring.

The Sabah report comes just days after France filed a formal complaint with NATO, alleging that one of its warships was threatened in the open seas by a Turkish Navy vessel on June 10. According to French officials, the warship Courbet attempted to approach a Turkish Navy ship named Cirkin, which was believed to be smuggling weapons to Libya. The Turkish vessel refused to identify itself to the Courbet, which was inquiring on behalf of the NATO alliance. It also flashed its radar lights at the French ship, which is usually seen as a sign of impending confrontation, while its crew members were seen wearing bullet-proof vests and standing behind the ship’s mounted weapons. Turkey has denied the French allegations, but NATO said it will launch an investigation into the incident.

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

News you may have missed #905

Twitter IAFrench forces kill al-Qaeda head and capture ISIS leader in Mali. In the past few days, the French military successfully conducted two key operations in the Sahel, killing the emir of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), Abdelmalek Droukdal, and capturing Mohamed el Mrabat, a leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group. The US military assisted the French special operations forces by providing intelligence that helped locate the target.

Isis operations increase in Iraq as coalition withdraws. The Islamic State staged at least 566 attacks in Iraq in the first three months of the year and 1,669 during 2019, a 13 per cent increase from the previous year, according to security analysts who track the group’s activities. The jihadists have exploited a partial drawdown of the international anti-Isis coalition, analysts said, while tensions between the US and Iran, disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and political paralysis in Baghdad, have also combined to provide an opportunity for the insurgents to regroup.

Twitter removes more than 170,000 pro-China accounts. Twitter has removed more than 170,000 accounts it says were tied to an operation to spread pro-China messages. Some of those posts were about the coronavirus outbreak, the social media platform has announced. The firm said the Chinese network, which was based in the People’s Republic of China, had links to an earlier state-backed operation it broke up alongside Facebook and YouTube last year.

Seeking to expand, French spy agency is frustrated with poor quality of job applicants

dgse franceFrance’s primary external intelligence agency has expressed frustration with the overall poor quality of job applicants, as it tries to expand its staff by 20 percent in the coming years. The Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, known as DGSE, is France’s equivalent to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. It is tasked with procuring secret political, military and economic information from foreign targets.

During the past decade, the DGSE has nearly doubled the size of its personnel. In 2008, it employed fewer than 4,500 people. By 2019, its staff size had grown to over 7,000, including many thousands of operations officers serving secretly abroad. Last year, the agency announced that it planned to grow its personnel size to 8,500 by 2022. To do so, it launched an unprecedented recruitment campaign, which French security experts described as nothing short of revolutionary. The staunchly reclusive DGSE sent recruiters to job fairs across France —mostly at universities— and began advertising its job vacancies online, primarily on YouTube and LinkedIn.

As a result of its efforts, the agency said that it received 400 applications for 14 positions that were advertised in January. Of those 14 positions, 10 required advanced knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs and geopolitical developments, while two sought candidates with logistical and administrative expertise. The remaining two positions equired fluency in Arabic.

But, according to the British newspaper The Times, the French spy agency struggled to fill the positions. On Thursday the paper cited a DGSE report, which said that the performance of candidates during the selection process “revealed critical shortcomings”. Candidates appeared for interviews severely under-prepared and their level of knowledge, as demonstrated in interviews, was “unacceptable for someone wishing to join the ranks of the DGSE”, said the report. It added that job candidates showed “markedly limited grasp” of global geopolitics, while their knowledge of intelligence work was even more limited. Even minimum requirements, like a résumé free of spelling mistakes were rarely met, it said.

Consequently, and despite the fact that majority of the applicants had graduate degrees, the DGSE struggled to fill the positions, with the process taking much longer than expected. The report said that 12 of the 14 job posts were eventually filled. The remaining two posts —requiring fluency in Arabic— remain unfilled “for want of suitable candidates”, noted The Times.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 May 2020 | Permalink

Spain ‘shifts to a war economy’ and calls on NATO for help with COVID-19

COVID-19 SpainThe government of Spain said on Tuesday it had begun to shift to “a war economy”, as the Spanish Ministry of Defense called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for assistance to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The term war economy is used to describe the rapid reorganization of a nation’s production and distribution capacity in response to a direct military threat to its existence.

Spanish officials announced on Tuesday that the rate of COVID-19 illness in the country was growing faster than in Italy. Despite a nationally mandated lockdown, which began on March 14, coronavirus infections exceeded 42,000 yesterday, up from 25,000 on Saturday. Spanish medical facilities announced 514 new deaths in a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths to 2696. The deaths are reflective of Spain’s desperate struggle to provide sufficient medical supplies for its healthcare workers, or treatment hardware for patients.

On Tuesday afternoon, NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) said it had received “a request for international assistance from the Armed Forces of Spain in their response to the global pandemic”. The EADRCC said in a press statement that the Spanish military had asked its “international partners […] to provide assistance to the Ministry of Defense of Spain”. Spanish media reported that the request included “450,000 respirators, 500,000 rapid testing kits, 500 ventilators and 1.5 million surgical masks”.

Meanwhile the Spanish military helped convert an ice ring in Madrid’s popular Palacio de Hielo mall into a makeshift morgue, in order to accommodate the projected surge in deaths due to COVID-19 in the coming days. The Spanish capital has suffered over 30 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the past week. Over the weekend, a nearby convention center was converted into a hospital that can accommodate 5,500 patients.

In neighboring France, the army set up a field hospital on French territory for the first time in the country’s peacetime history. Field hospitals are temporary tent structures designed to provide medical services to wounded soldiers and civilians in a warzone. The erection of field hospital tents in the eastern city of Mulhouse, close to the Swiss and German borders, was described by the French media as an unprecedented sight.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 March 2020 | Permalink

French counterterrorism officer charged with selling forged documents online

DGSI FranceAn officer in France’s elite counterterrorism agency is to be tried along with four accomplices for selling forged identity documents and private data on the darknet. The case first emerged in 2018, after officers with France’s Central Office for the Prevention of Illegal Immigration (OCRIEST) detected a seller of high quality forged copies of official documents on the darknet.

The seller, who went by the nickname Haurus, offered French identification cards, drivers’ licenses, birth certificates and even bank documents, in exchange for between €100 and €300 ($110 and $330). The quality of the documents on sale was substantially higher than most forgeries sold on the darknet. According to French government investigators, the fake docments qualified as what anti-forgery experts call “the gold standard”. Haurus also sold private phone records and other information to track the whereabouts of individuals.

Government investigators eventually received an anonymous tip that helped identify Haurus. According to prosecutors, Haurus was an officer in the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), which serves as France’s main counterterrorism agency. In accordance with France’s strict privacy laws, he has been identified only as “Cédric D.”, 33. According to Le Parisien newspaper, Cédric D. worked as a counterterrorism investigator specializing on jihadist terrorist networks.

Upon his arrest, Cédric D. led prosecutors to four more people, including a private investigator, all of whom were eventually apprehended. Cédric D. was kept in pre-trial detention for several months. He was released five months ago and remains under judicial supervision. The investigation into his activities has now concluded, and a trial is expected to commence soon in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 January 2020 | Permalink

Elite Russian spy unit used French Alps region as logistical base

Chamonix FranceAn elite group Russian military intelligence officers, who have participated in assassinations across Europe, have been using resorts in the French Alps as logistical and supply bases, according to a new report. The report concerns Unit 29155 of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. According to The New York Times, which revealed its existence of 29155 in October, the unit has been operating for at least 10 years. However, Western intelligence agencies only began to focus on it in 2016, after it was alleged that an elite group of Russian spies tried to stage a coup in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro.

Unit 29155 is believed to consist of a tightly knit group of intelligence officers led by Major General Andrei V. Averyanov, a hardened veteran of Russia’s Chechen wars. The existence of the unit is reportedly so secret that even other GRU operatives are unlikely to have heard of it. Members of the unit frequently travel to Europe to carry out sabotage and disinformation campaigns, kill targets, or conduct other forms of what some experts describe as the Kremlin’s hybrid war. They are believed to be responsible for the attempt on the life of Sergei Skripal, a former GRU intelligence officer who defected to Britain. He almost died in March 2018, when two Russian members of Unit 29155 poisoned him in the English town of Salisbury.

On Wednesday, a new report in the French newspaper Le Monde claimed that Unit 29155 used the French Alps as a “rear base” to carry out operations throughout Europe. According to the paper, the information about the unit’s activities in France emerged following forensic investigations of the activities of its members by British, Swiss, French and American intelligence agencies. In the same article, Le Monde published the names of 15 members of Unit 29155, which allegedly stayed in various French alpine towns and cities between 2014 and 2018. The paper said that they traveled to France from various countries in Europe, such as Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or directly for Russia.

The alleged Russian spies stayed in France’s Haute-Savoie, which borders Switzerland, and is among Europe’s most popular wintertime tourist destinations. The area includes the world-famous Mont Blanc mountain range and the picturesque alpine towns of Annemasse, Evian and Chamonix. Several members of the unit visited the region repeatedly, said Le Monde, while others entered France once or twice, in connection with specific spy missions. It is believed that the reasoning behind their trips to the French Alps was to blend in with the large numbers of international tourists that travel to the region throughout the year. However, the unit also utilized several other areas in Eastern Europe as rear bases, including cities and towns in Moldova, Montenegro and Bulgaria, said Le Monde.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 December 2019 | Permalink

Iranians may have used female spy to ‘honey-trap’ dissident living in France

Ruhollah ZamThe Iranian government may have used a female intelligence officer to lure a leading Iranian dissident from his home in France to Iraq, where he was abducted by Iranian security forces and secretly transported to Iran. Iranian authorities announced the arrest of Ruhollah Zam on October 15. On that day, Iranian state television aired a video showing a blindfolded Zam surrounded by officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Zam, 46, was a prominent online voice of dissent during the 2009 Green Movement, an Iranian youth-based reform campaign whose leaders called for the toppling of the government in Tehran. He joined other young Iranians in launching AmadNews, a website whose stated purpose was “spreading awareness and seeking justice” in Iran. Soon after its emergence, AmadNews became the online voice of the Green Movement. Following a brief period of detention in 2009, Zam fled Iran and settled in France, from where he continued his online work through AmadNews and its successor, a website and Telegram channel called Seda-ye Mardom (Voice of the People).

Earlier this month, the Iranian government announced that Zam had been captured in a “complicated intelligence operation” that used “modern intelligence methods and innovative tactics” to lure Zam out of France and into the hands of the IRGC. But it did not provide further information about the method that was used to convince Zam to travel to Iraq, whose government is closely aligned with Iran’s. A few days ago, however, the London-based newspaper The Times claimed that the IRGC used a woman to gain Zam’s trust and lure him to Iraq.

Citing exiled Iranian activists that work closely with Zam, the British newspaper said that the woman entered his life nearly two years ago, thus pointing to a lengthy intelligence operation by the IRGC. Over time, she won his trust and eventually convinced him to travel to Jordan on October 11, and from there to Baghdad, Iraq, on October 12. The reason for his trip was that, allegedly, the woman convinced him that Ali al-Sistani, one of the most prominent Shiite clerics in Iraq, had agreed to fund Zam’s online activities. However, the cleric needed to confer with the exiled dissident in person before agreeing to fund his work, according to the woman. It is not known whether Zam and the unnamed woman were romantically involved.

The Times also alleged that Zam’s abduction and arrest was met with “at least tacit approval” by the French intelligence services. The latter now expect that two French academics, who have remained imprisoned in Iran for alleged espionage activities for over a year, will be released as part of a swap with Zam.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 October 2019 | Permalink

Iran abducts France-based dissident in ‘complex intelligence operation’

Ruhollah ZamIranian authorities have announced the capture of a Paris-based Iranian dissident, who was reportedly lured out of France and then abducted by Iranian agents in a third country. The kidnapped dissident is Ruhollah Zam, 46, son of  Mohammad-Ali Zam, a well-known reformist cleric who served in top Iranian government posts after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But in 2009 the younger Zam distanced himself from this father and sided with the so-called Green Movement, whose leaders called for the toppling of the government in Tehran. Around that time, Zam was part of a group of Internet-savvy Iranians who launched AmadNews. The website’s stated purpose was “spreading awareness and seeking justice” in Iran, and it soon became the online voice of the Green Movement.

Zam was promptly arrested and jailed for urging Iranian protesters to topple the government. He was eventually released thanks to his father’s status and reputation. He quickly fled Iran and settled in France, from where he continued his online work through AmadNews and its successor, a website and Telegram channel called Seda-ye Mardom (Voice of the People). The Iranian government accuses Zam of inciting violence against the state and claim that his online agitation is funded by the intelligence services of countries like France, Israel and the United States.

On October 15, Iran’s state-owned media network aired a video showing a bound and blindfolded Zam surrounded by armed officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Iranian government announced that Zam had been captured following a “complicated intelligence operation” using “modern intelligence methods and innovative tactics” to lure Zam out of France and into the hands of the IRGC. It eventually emerged that Zam had flown from France to Jordan on October 11, and from there to Baghdad, Iraq, on October 12. He appeared to be under the impression that he would travel to the Iraqi city of Najaf in order to meet Ali al-Sistani, arguably the most senior Shiite cleric in Iraq.

In the same video, Zam is shown sitting in an armchair next to an Iranian flag, making a statement. He calmly looks at the camera and says that he “fully regrets” his actions directed against Iran. He then says that he made the mistake of entrusting his security to the intelligence services of France. Finally, he warns other dissidents who are involved in agitation against the Iranian state to not trust foreign governments. He names the latter as “the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey”. Iranian officials have not responded to questions about Zam’s current status and fate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 October 2019 | Permalink