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

French intelligence made secret deal with Palestinian militants, ex-spy chief claims

Goldenberg RestaurantFrance allowed Palestinian militants to operate freely on its soil in exchange for not carrying out terrorist attacks there, according to the former director of France’s domestic security service. The alleged deal was struck between the French government and a die-hard Palestinian militant group known as the Abu Nidal Organization, or ANO. The group’s official name was Fatah – The Revolutionary Council, but it was usually referred to by the name of its founder and leader, Abu Nidal. The group was formed in 1974 after a split in Fatah, the Palestinian armed group led by Yasser Arafat. Abu Nidal (real name Sabri Khalil al-Banna) accused Arafat and other senior officials of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of being conciliatory toward Israel. Eventually Abu Nidal moved to Iraq and declared war on Fatah and the PLO, accusing them of betraying the Palestinian cause.

Over the next 20 years, ANO carried out dozens of violent attacks that killed over 1500 people around the world, in countries such as Britain, Austria, Italy, Tunisia, Sudan, Turkey, Pakistan and India. The main targets of the ANO were Israel, the United States, and other Palestinian groups, which the group saw as deserters from the struggle for an independent Palestine. On August 9, 1982, ANO guerillas used grenades and machine guns to attack the Goldenberg Restaurant in Paris, France, killing six and wounding 22 people (pictured above). The attackers fled the scene of the crime and were never captured. It was only in 2015 that some former ANO members provided evidence about the terrorist attack to French magistrates, after having been granted immunity from prosecution. Based on these testimonies, the French government issued arrest warrants for three of the attackers who today live in Europe and Palestine. None, however, have been extradited to France to face justice.

The plot thickened last Thursday, however, when France’s Le Parisien newspaper reported excerpts of testimonies given to the magistrates who are investigating the Goldenberg Restaurant attack. One of the testimonies was allegedly provided by former spy Yves Bonnet, who directed the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) in the 1980s. Until 2008 the DST operated as the counterintelligence and counterterrorism wing of the French National Police. According to Le Parisien, Bonnet, now 83, said in his testimony that the DST struck a deal with Abu Nidal after 1982, which allowed them to continue to operate in France on the understanding that they would not carry out further terrorist attacks on French soil. “We made something of an oral agreement”, Bonnet is quoted as having told the magistrates. “I want no further attacks on French soil, and in return I will allow you to enter France and promise that you will face no harm”. The former spy added that the DST informed the chief of staff of France’s president at the time, François Mitterrand, about the secret deal. However, nothing about the agreement was ever recorded in official meeting minutes, he said. The agreement between the DST and Abu Nidal “was successful”, said Bonnet, as the group carried no more attacks on French soil after the attack on the Goldenberg Restaurant.

As can be expected, the allegations by Le Parisien angered France’s Jewish community. A committee representing the victims and affected families of the Goldenberg Restaurant attack said through its lawyer that, if true, Bonnet’s admission was “disgraceful”. The committee called on the French government to declassify all documents relating to exchanges between the French state and the Abu Nidal Organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2019 | Permalink

France admits ownership of missiles found in Libyan rebels’ hands

FGM-148 JavelinThe French government has admitted that four anti-tank missiles found in a Libyan rebel camp belonged to its Special Forces units, but denied accusations that it deliberately breached the United Nations-imposed weapons embargo on Libya. Libya’s UN-recognized government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, announced in June that it discovered a cache of FGM-148 Javelin portable anti-tank missiles during a raid on a rebel camp. The camp belonged to forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a rogue Libyan warlord who is supported by a group of Western-led nations that includes the United States, France, Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The GNA released photographs of the laser-guided missiles and their shipping containers, which showed that the weapons were property of the “Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates”. This appeared to constitute a clear breach of the UN-imposed weapons embargo on Libya, which has been in place since 2011. Last week, officials in Abu Dhabi said that the weapons did not belong to the Emirates, and claimed that the government of the oil kingdom was upholding the UN embargo on the North African country. On Tuesday, The New York Times cited anonymous French government sources, who said that Paris had purchased the four Javelin missiles from the US in 2010 for nearly $700,000. Finally, yesterday the French Armed Forces Ministry issued a statement admitting that it had indeed purchased the missiles from the US in 2010, and that they had been transferred to Libya for “the self-protection of a French military unit deployed to carry out counter-terrorism operations” there (incidentally, France does not officially have troops in Libya, so this statement is Paris’ second admission of the presence of French Special Forces in the country). The Ministry’s statement went on to claim that the missiles were “defective” and had been marked for destruction. The statement insisted that the missiles were not meant to be “transferred to local forces”. Instead, like all “damaged and unusable armaments, they were being temporarily stocked at a depot ahead of their destruction”, it said.

In 2017, two leading American experts, including a former special counsel for the US Department of Defense and a Harvard University law professor, accused Haftar of having committed large-scale war crimes. Unfazed by such criticisms, Haftar launched a large-scale offensive in April of this year, with the aim of conquering Tripoli and ousting the GNA. Several UN reports have since indicated that Haftar’s forces are secretly supported by several Western countries, Israel, Egypt and the Emirates, but this is denied by officials from those countries. In April of this year, a number European Union member states led by Italy criticized France for blocking a joint resolution calling on all warring factions in Libya to cease all hostilities and return to the negotiating table.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 July 2019 | Permalink

French spy agency summons reporters, prompting press-freedom concerns

DGSI FranceFrance’s domestic intelligence agency has summoned eight journalists for questioning in relation to two separate investigative reports, prompting concerns about press freedom, according to reports from Paris. Last month, France’s domestic security and counter- intelligence agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), summoned three journalists for questioning. The summonses related to a leaked document that detailed the use of French-made weapons in the Yemeni Civil War. The 15-page document was prepared by France’s main military intelligence agency, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM). It was reportedly meant to be read only by France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, and senior members of his security cabinet, including ministers. However, the report was leaked to the media and published in full. The leaked report revealed that a significant amount of French-made weapons are being used by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni Civil War. The weapons allegedly include laser-guided missile systems and armored vehicles, as well as tanks, which the Saudi-led coalition is deploying against Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen.

On Wednesday, new summonses were issued for five more reporters, including two senior members of staff of Le Monde, which, along with Libération, and Le Figaro, is one of France’s newspapers of record. One of the reporters who have been summoned by DGSI is senior Le Monde reporter Ariane Chemin, who in 2018 broke a story about Alexandre Benalla, a senior security aide to President Macron. Benalla is believed to have illegally participated in a scuffle with ‘yellow vest’ protesters while wearing police riot gear in 2018. Subsequent reports in Libération linked Benalla with a questionable state contract handed out to a security company owned by a Russian oligarch. The reports centered on a former officer in the French Air Force named Chokri Wakrim, who some say facilitated Benalla’s contacts with the Russian’s company. An official anti-corruption investigation was sparked by these revelations. But in April of this year, Wakrim filed a complaint against the press, claiming that his identification in the media broke legal statutes that forbid the “revelation of the identity of a member of the [French] special forces”. This counter-complaint, according to reports from Paris, is what prompted Wednesday’s five new summonses by the DGSI.

On Thursday, nearly 40 French media outlets issued a joint statement in support of those journalists who were summoned by DGSI. The statement condemns the summonses an attack on press freedom and as “a new attempt by authorities to circumvent” France’s laws on freedom of the press and the protection of sources, which date back to 1881. In reference to the Wakrim case, the statement goes on to say that “military secrecy cannot restrict the right to information, which is essential for informed public debate, nor can it be [used] to deter [journalists] from investigating and publishing”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 May 2019 | Permalink

Italy rebukes France for blocking EU resolution calling for end to Libyan war

khalifa haftarSeveral European Union member states, led by Italy, have criticized France for blocking a joint resolution calling on all warring factions in Libya to cease all hostilities and return to the negotiations table. The latest round of hostilities was sparked by an all-out attack by a group calling itself the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades. In 2011, following an uprising that toppled Gaddafi, Haftar returned to Libya and launch a military campaign from the eastern city of Tobruk. Since that time, he has led the LNA in a war of attrition against the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Last week, Haftar launched an all-out attack to defeat the GNA and take Tripoli —a move that many observers have been expecting for several months. With the LNA receiving substantial military assistance from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, most observers expected that Haftar would be the ruler of Tripoli within days. But his troops were unexpectedly pushed back by GNA troops on Monday, and have been unable to enter Tripoli from the south, as was their initial plan. Meanwhile the EU attempted on Wednesday to issue a joint statement calling on all warring sides to put down their weapons and enter into negotiations. But France blocked the draft statement, prompting heavy criticism.

On Thursday, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini criticized France for blocking the EU statement “for economic and commercial reasons” and warned that he would “not stand by and watch” France continue to support “a party that is fighting” in the Libyan Civil War. Salvini expressed the view that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military intervention in Libya in 2011, which was strongly supported by France, was “triggered more by economic and commercial interests than by humanitarian concerns”. Unlike France, which has been a strong supporter of Haftar, Italy backs the UN-supported GNA and Libya’s legitimate Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj.

In 2017, two leading international legal scholars accused Haftar of having ordered his troops to commit war crimes. Ryan Goodman, a professor and former special counsel to the general counsel of the United States Department of Defense, and Alex Whiting, a Harvard University law professor who served as an international criminal prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said that in September of 2015, Haftar openly urged his troops to “to take no prisoners” in battle. The Libyan warlord denies these charges against him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2019 | Permalink

French ex-spy accused of plot to assassinate Congolese politician found dead in Alps

Lucinges FranceA former paramilitary officer in the French intelligence service, who was under investigation for allegedly plotting to kill a senior Congolese opposition figure, has been shot dead near a village in the French Alps. Daniel Forestier, 57, served for nearly 15 years in a paramilitary unit of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) —France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. After his retirement from the DGSE, he moved with this wife and two children to the alpine village of Lucinges, near Geneva, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. He reportedly operated a tobacconist shop, served in the village council, and wrote spy novels in his spare time.

Last September, however, a judge placed Forestier under a pre-trial investigation for allegedly participating in a plot to kill General Ferdinand Mbahou. From 1992 to 1997 Mbahou (a.k.a. Mbaou) served as Director of Presidential Security in the Republic of the Congo. In 1997, Mbahou fled the country along with his employer, President Pascal Lissouba, who was ousted in a brutal civil war by militias loyal to Colonel Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congolese Labor Party. From his new home in Val d’Oise, just outside of Paris, Mbahou has continued to criticize Colonel Sassou Nguesso, who is the current president of the Republic of the Congo. Forestier and another former DGSE officer, Bruno Susini, were accused of having hatched a plan to kill Mbahou. Their indictment mentioned “participation in a criminal organization” and “possession of explosives”. Forestier reportedly told the magistrate that he was a member of a group that planned to assassinate Mbahou, but that he abandoned the effort after conducting reconnaissance and realizing that the plan was “impractical”.

Forestier’s body was discovered on Wednesday “in a pool of blood” in a parking lot in Haute-Savoie, an alpine resort area on the shores of Lake Geneva. According to a police report, he had been shot five times in the chest and head in what public prosecutor Philippe Toccanier described as “a professional job”. He added that Forestier’s killing was “almost undoubtedly […] a settling of scores”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2019 | Permalink

Libya gave French ex-president Sarkozy $8 million, says Gaddafi’s spy chief

Abdullah al-SenussiA senior intelligence advisor to Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi has reportedly told French investigators that the Libyan government gave $8 million to the election campaign of France’s ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s 30-year political legacy has been marred by a series of financial scandals, for which he is currently under investigation. In March of last year, the former French president issued strong denials of accusations that he accepted an illicit multi-million monetary donation from Gaddafi during his 2007 campaign for the presidency. During a 20-minute television interview, Sarkozy described the investigation into the allegations that he acted as an agent of influence for Libya as “a waste of time”, arguing that it was over an alleged donation of less than $45,000, which represented a tiny fraction of his campaign budget.

But according to the French investigative news website Mediapart, a team of French judges was told by Gaddafi’s former spy chief that Sarkozy was given millions of dollars in secret by the Libyan state. Abdullah al-Senussi, who oversaw the Libyan intelligence agencies under Gaddafi, reportedly told the French investigators that the funding was part of a secret deal between the two parties. In 1979, Senussi married the sister of Gaddafi’s wife and remained a trusted confidante of the Libyan leader until his violent death in 2011. According to Mediapart, he told the French judges that he personally supervised the transfer of funds to Sarkozy’s election campaign. He said that the payments entered the campaign’s coffers via a French government minister who received the funds from Libyan agents in two separate installments in 2006. In return, Sarkozy promised to help reinstate Gaddafi’s international image if he was elected president. He also promised to impede attempts by Western countries to arrest Gaddafi and some of his senior government aides —including Senussi— for terrorist crimes. Senussi allegedly said that Sarkozy himself promised him that his international arrest warrants would be quelled with the help of the French president’s personal lawyers. Sarkozy later hosted Gaddafi in Paris in a lavish setting in 2007.

Mediapart said that it accessed Senussi’s testimony before the French judges after getting hold of extracts from his formal statements during his interviews. It added that the information provided by Senussi appears to confirm similar claims made by other witnesses in the investigation about Sarkozy’s alleged illegal campaign funding. The former French president is currently involved in a separate legal dispute concerning alleged illegal spending during his failed campaign for the presidency in 2012.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 February 2019 | Permalink