Dozens purged as Kremlin blames Russian spy services for botched Ukraine invasion

FSB - IAMore than 150 officers have been purged form the ranks of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), as President Vladimir Putin is placing blame on his intelligence agencies for the setbacks experienced during the invasion of Ukraine. This assessment was communicated to the London-based Times newspaper by British intelligence sources, who added that many of those purged have been dismissed from the service, while others remain under house arrest. A few —among them senior FSB officials— are in prison. The FSB is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence operations, which were carried out by the KGB during the Cold War.

According to The Times, the purge has mostly targeted officers in the FSB’s Service for Operational Information and International Communications, which is informally known as the Fifth Service of the FSB. As intelNews has previously explained, the FSB’s Fifth Service was established in 1992 in order to fill the vacuum created by a host of no-spy agreements between Moscow and the governments of former Soviet Republics. These agreements prevent Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) from spying inside the territories of former Soviet states.

By 1995, the Fifth Service had become known as the “foreign spy wing” of the FSB. It grew in size drastically after 1999, and some claim it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. Today, the Fifth Service is reportedly in charge of Kremlin’s “kill list” of Ukrainian senior officials and other dissidents who live in Ukraine. Until recently, the Fifth Service was led by Sergei Beseda and Anatoly Bolyukh (or Bolukh).

However, The Times claims that both officials have been dismissed from their posts in recent weeks. Initially, the Russian government claimed that Beseda had embezzled funds, and placed him under house arrest. He has since been transferred to a prison, according to the paper, and has now been formally charged with misinforming the Kremlin about the conditions on the ground in Ukraine. Bolyukh has been dismissed from his post but is reportedly not in prison. His current whereabouts remain unclear.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 April 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian agency publishes personal data of 600 alleged Russian intelligence officers

Kyrylo BudanovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has published a list that contains the names, addresses and passport numbers of 600 Russians, who it alleges are employees of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB is Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, but its personnel also operate in former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. It has been claimed that the FSB is the main source of intelligence that the Kremlin has used to plan and execute the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The list of alleged FSB personnel was published on Monday on the website of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Ukraine’s primary military intelligence agency. The list is titled, “Russian FSB officers involved in criminal activities by the aggressor state in Europe”. Most entries include the names, birth dates and passport numbers of the alleged FSB officers. Their residential addresses are also listed. Some entries include subscriber identity module (SIM) card numbers, as well as vehicle registration numbers. Some observers noted on Monday that at least some of the names on the list appear to come from prior leaks of alleged FSB officers, which have been leaked online over the years. Other listings, however, appear to contain names that were not previously associated with the FSB.

In a separate but potentially related development, Kyrylo Budanov (pictured), the director of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said on Monday that his agency had a number of assets inside the Kremlin. In an interview to an American newsmagazine, Budanov claimed that Ukrainian intelligence had “managed to infiltrate many sectors of Russia’s leading military, political and financial institutions”. He added that the Ukrainian military’s recent combat successes in eastern Ukraine had been achieved due to intelligence supplied by assets inside the Russian government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2022 | Permalink

Putin allegedly places his senior spies under arrest for faulty Ukraine intelligence

FSB - JFTHERE ARE GROWING INDICATIONS that a number of senior Russian intelligence officials have been placed under arrest, reportedly because the Kremlin is blaming them for its stalled military campaign in Ukraine. Some intelligence officials are believed to have been detained and interrogated, while others are said to have been placed under house arrest in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Information about the alleged detentions of senior intelligence officials first surfaced on Friday 11 March on Meduza.io, a Latvia-based news website run by dissident Russian journalists. The website quoted Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov, two longtime observers—and critics—of the Russian intelligence agencies. Two days later, the Sunday edition of the British newspaper The Times claimed that several senior members of the Russian intelligence agencies had been detained.

Among them, said The Times, were Sergei Beseda and Anatoly Bolyukh (or Bolukh). Both work for the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence service. Importantly, Bolyukh heads the Service for Operational Information and International Communications—known as the Fifth Service—of the FSB. As intelNews has explained, the FSB’s Fifth Service was created in 1992 to fill the vacuum left by a host of no-spy agreements, which were signed between Moscow and the governments of former Soviet Republics. These agreements prevent Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) to spy inside the territories of former Soviet states.

By 1995, the Fifth Service had become known as the foreign spy wing of the FSB. It grew in size drastically after 1999, and some claim it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. The Fifth Service is reportedly in charge of Kremlin’s “kill list” of Ukrainian senior officials and other dissidents who live in Ukraine. Today the Fifth Service it is led by Beseda, with Bolyukh as his deputy. Both men are said to be under house arrest, according to the reports.

The official reason given for the detentions was “accusations of embezzlement of funds”, according to The Times. However, the actual reason was “The real reason is unreliable, incomplete and partially false information about the political situation in Ukraine”, according to one source. The Times went as far as to suggest that Russian intelligence agencies were experiencing a full-scale purge of some of their most senior members. These began last week, said the paper, as teams of FSB officers conducted searches at more than 20 addresses in Moscow alone.

But other sources with contacts inside Russia dismissed the reports of an all-out purge as “exaggerated”. These sources agreed that some senior Russian intelligence officials had indeed been questioned over financial corruption, but that none of them had been placed under arrest. British newspaper The Independent said Western intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, could not confirm that the alleged purges had taken place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 March 2022 | Permalink

Report by whistleblower alleges up to 10,000 Russian casualties in Ukraine (updated)

Ukraine KharkivA REPORT BY AN anonymous Russian intelligence analyst alleges that the Russian forces in Ukraine could have suffered as many as 10,000 casualties, and claims that the Kremlin has lost contact with a number of divisions. The claims are included in a 2,000-word document published online by Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian anti-corruption activist and vocal critic of the Kremlin, who has been living in France since 2015. In the past, Osechkin has collaborated with the investigative website Bellingcat.

According to British newspaper The Times, which first reported on the claims made by Osechkin, the document originates from an anonymous intelligence analyst in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB has inherited the domestic functions of the Soviet-era KGB and today operates as Russia’s internal security and counterintelligence agency. The anonymous analyst claims that the Kremlin kept the FSB in the dark about its intentions to order a military invasion of Ukraine.

The report adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin had based its estimations about whether the country could withstand Western economic sanctions on a number of optimistic forecasts produced by the FSB in the run-up to the war in Ukraine. However, these forecasts were nothing more than “hypothetical box-ticking exercises” in which intelligence analysts were expected to make Russia “the victor” in order to avoid the wrath of their superiors. No-one in the FSB thought these forecasts were going to be used by the Kremlin to make actual decisions about a war in Ukraine, it is claimed.

The Kremlin now realizes the extent of its miscalculation, says the anonymous analyst. However, it is too late to avert this “total failure”, which is comparable militarily only to the “collapse of Nazi Germany” in 1944 and 1945. The Russian forces in Ukraine could have already suffered as many as 10,000 casualties, even though the Russian government has only acknowledged close to 500 deaths of servicemen, the document claims. The true number is unknown even to President Putin himself, given that the Ministry of Defense has “lost contact with major divisions” in Ukraine. The report concludes with the assessment that “Pandora’s Box has been opened” and that Moscow “has no way out” of this debacle. “There are no options for a possible victory, only defeat”, it warns.

The Times said it showed the report to Christo Grozev, a Bulgarian investigative journalist, who supervises Bellingcat’s reporting on Russian affairs. Grozev told the paper that Ukrainian intelligence has previously produced fake FSB documents in order to frame the public narrative about the war. He argued, however, that “this letter appeared different” and that former FSB agents who had seen it appeared convinced of its authenticity. He added that Osechkin’s disclosures from Russian sources tend to be reliable.

Update: Meanwhile in Washington, Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, Director of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Congressional hearing on Tuesday that between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian troops have so far been killed in Ukraine. He added there was “low confidence” for this estimate, and that it was derived from clandestine and and open-source intelligence collection.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2022 | Permalink

Little-known Russian spy unit is behind alleged Ukraine ‘kill/capture list’

FSB - JFA LITTLE KNOWN SPY unit, which experts have described as a mysterious “third espionage agency” inside the Russian intelligence apparatus, is said to be behind a “kill/capture list” that Moscow allegedly plans to put to use in Ukraine. United States government officials insisted on Monday that such a list exists, despite strong denials from Russia. American officials claimed that the purpose of the list is to minimize popular resistance by Ukrainians to an invading Russian army, and to destabilize the government in Kiev, so that a pro-Russian government can eventually replace it.

The alleged list reportedly contains the names of senior Ukrainian politicians, Ukraine-based critics of the Russian and Belarusian governments, journalists and other activists. These individuals are to be captured or killed in the event of an invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, according to Washington. Speaking on Monday on behalf of the Kremlin, Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the list “a fake” and insisted that it does not exist. Moscow also stressed that the United States did not provide details about the alleged list, nor did it cite the sources of its information.

According to the United States government, the alleged kill/capture list is maintained by the foreign intelligence arm of the Russia’s Federal Security Service. Known as FSB, the agency’s primary mission is to carry out counterintelligence and counterterrorism tasks inside the borders of the Russian Federation. But the FSB includes a little-known intelligence unit, known as the Service for Operational Information and International Communications—or the Fifth Service, in short.

The Fifth Service was created in 1992 to fill the vacuum left by a host of no-spy agreements, which were signed between Moscow and the governments of former Soviet Republics. These agreements prevent Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) to spy inside the territories of former Soviet states. By 1995, the Fifth Service had become known as the foreign spy wing of the FSB. It grew in size drastically after 1999, and some claim that it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. Today it is led by close Putin ally Sergei Beseda, who is a colonel general in the FSB. Its Ukraine wing is believed to have grown to over 200 officers in recent years.

The main task of the Fifth Service is political action of a covert nature, aimed at electoral subversion, political influence campaigns, psychological operations, and the undermining of groups or movements that oppose Russia’s continuing influence in the territories of the former Soviet Union. Some Western news sources have recently alleged that the Fifth Service has been tasked with coordinating activities between the Russian government and pro-Russian groups inside Ukraine, as well as “engineering [mini] coups in Ukraine’s major cities”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 February 2022 | Permalink

UK names Russian intelligence operatives who allegedly poisoned Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT HAS announced sanctions against seven Russian intelligence operatives who, according to London, participated in the poisoning of the Russian blogger and political activist Alexei Navalny. Navalny, 45, remains in prison after being arrested last year by Russian authorities, who accused him of violating his parole. His arrest occurred as soon as he arrived in Russia from Germany. He had gone there to receive emergency treatment after he was allegedly poisoned during a domestic Russian flight that originated from Siberia.

While in Germany, Navalny was in a comatose condition for over three weeks, and then spent a further 32 days recovering in hospital. Medical examiners concluded that he was most likely poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. Many Western biomedical experts believe that Navalny, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was poisoned with a so-called Novichok substance —a technical term that describes a category of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Novichok agents are typically designed to asphyxiate their host by paralyzing the muscles they come in contact with.

On Friday —the day that marked the first anniversary of Navalny’s alleged poisoning— the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced that it would impose sanctions against seven Russian citizens. They were named as: Ivan Osipov, Alexei Sedov, Vladimir Panyaev, Kirill Vasilyev, Vladimir Bogdanov, Alexey Alexandrov and Stanislav Makshakov. All are believed to be employees of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which operates as the country’s primary counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency.

British authorities released a statement to explain their decision to impose the sanctions against the seven Russians. The statement notes that the seven alleged FSB officers were identified using “phone and travel records”. These suggest that they were “involved in the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted assassination of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny during his August 2020 visit to Siberia”, the statement said. In an accompanying statement, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, urged Moscow “to declare its full stock of Novichok nerve agents”. The Russian government has dismissed all allegations that it tried to kill Navalny.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2021 | Permalink

Russia arrests space agency employee for giving secrets to NATO country

Ivan SafronovRussia’s security service has arrested the media advisor to the director of the country’s space agency, accusing him of supplying military secrets to a spy agency of an unnamed Western country. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on Tuesday the arrest of Ivan Safronov, a former journalist specializing in military affairs.

Safronov was the military correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, which is described by some as the Russian equivalent of Britain’s Financial Times. He then worked as a military affairs reporter for Vedomosti, a Moscow-based financial daily, which has a reputation for independence from the Kremlin. He briefly represented the paper in the Kremlin pool of journalists, who accompany the Russian President Vladimir Putin on official trips.

Safronov resigned from Vedomosti last spring, along with several of his colleagues, following a dispute with the newspaper’s management over editorial freedom. In May he was hired by the Russian space agency, the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, where he now works as a media advisor for Dmitry Rogozin, the agency’s director-general.

On Tuesday, the FSB issued a statement to the press saying it had arrested Safronov for carrying out espionage for a foreign country. The statement said Safronov had “collected and surrendered to [the foreign nation’s] representative state secrets and information about military-technical cooperation and about the defense and security of the Russian Federation”. According to the FSB, the person that Safronov is alleged to have shared state secrets with is an intelligence officer of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state. However, the Russian security agency did not name the country in its statement to the media.

Also on Tuesday, the FSB published video footage showing Safronov being arrested by a group of plainclothes FSB agents outside his Moscow apartment. The agents are seen approaching Safronov and searching him before putting him inside an unmarked van and driving away. He has not been seen in public since, and some have suggested that Russian authorities have not permitted lawyers to contact him.

Following the statement by the FSB, reports in the Russian media claimed that Safronov had been approached repeatedly by security officers in the past and questioned about his work as a journalist. Some of Safronov’s colleagues have said on social media that he was arrested due to his political views, rather than alleged espionage activities. Meanwhile, Roscosmos director Rogozin told Russian media that Safronov did not have access to classified information, so it was unlikely that his arrest was related to his work at the space agency.

Safronov’s trial is expected to take place behind closed doors, due to the nature of the charges he is facing. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

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

Russia, Lithuania and Norway exchange prisoners in rare three-way spy-swap

Frode BergA rare three-way spy-swap has reportedly taken place between Russia and two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, Lithuania and Norway. Rumors of a possible exchange of imprisoned spies between the three countries first emerged in mid-October. However, all three governments had either denied the rumors or refused to comment at the time. It now turns out that the spy-swap, which international news agencies described as “carefully coordinated” was the result of painstaking negotiations between the three countries, which lasted several months.

A major part of the process that led to last week’s spy swap was the decision of the Lithuanian parliament to approve altering the country’s criminal code. The new code allows the president of Lithuania to pardon foreign nationals who have been convicted of espionage, if doing so promotes Lithuania’s national interest. The new amendment also outlines the process by which the government can swap pardoned foreign spies with its own spies —or alleged spies— who may have been convicted of espionage abroad. On Friday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda announced he had pardoned two Russian nationals who had been convicted of espionage against Lithuania, in accordance with the new criminal code. The president’s move was approved by the country’s multi-agency State Defense Council during a secret meeting.

Shortly after President Nausėda’s announcement, Sergei Naryshkin, Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) said that Moscow would immediately proceed with “reciprocal steps”. The Kremlin soon released from prison two Lithuanian nationals, Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis. Tamosaitis was serving a 12-year prison sentence, allegedly for carrying out espionage for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry in 2015. Mataitis, a dual Lithuanian-Russian citizen, was serving 13 years in prison, allegedly for supplying Lithuanian intelligence with classified documents belonging to the Russian government.

The two Lithuanians were exchanged for two Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko. Filipchenko is believed to be an officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who was arrested by Lithuanian counterintelligence agents in 2015. He had been given a 10-year prison sentence for trying to recruit double agents inside Lithuania, allegedly in order to install listening bugs inside the office of the then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. Moisejenko was serving a 10½ year sentence for conducting espionage and for illegally possessing firearms. Lithuania alleges that Moisejenko had been tasked by Moscow with spying on the armed forces of Lithuania and NATO. Along with the two Lithuanians, Russia freed Frode Berg (pictured), a Norwegian citizen who was serving a prison sentence in Russia, allegedly for acting as a courier for the Norwegian Intelligence Service.

On Saturday, Darius Jauniškis, Director of Lithuania’s State Security Department, told reporters in Vilnius that the spy swap had taken place in a remote part of the Russian-Lithuanian border. He gave no further information about the details exchange, or about who was present at the site during the spy-swap.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 November 2019 | Research credit: E.G. | Permalink

Russian government cyber spies ‘hid behind Iranian hacker group’

Computer hackingRussian hackers hijacked an Iranian cyber espionage group and used its infrastructure to launch attacks, hoping that their victims would blame Iran, according to British and American intelligence officials. The information, released on Monday, concerns a Russian cyber espionage group termed “Turla” by European cyber security experts.

Turla is believed to operate under the command of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and has been linked to at least 30 attacks on industry and government facilities since 2017. Since February of 2018, Turla is believed to have successfully carried out cyber espionage operations in 20 different countries. Most of the group’s targets are located in the Middle East, but it has also been connected to cyber espionage operations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

On Monday, officials from Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA) said Turla had hijacked the attack infrastructure of an Iranian cyber espionage group. The group has been named by cyber security researchers as Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 34, and is thought to carry out operations under the direction of the Iranian government.

The officials said there was no evidence that APT34 was aware that some of its operations had been taken over by Turla. Instead, Russian hackers stealthily hijacked APT34’s command-and-control systems and used its resources —including computers, servers and malicious codes— to attack targets without APT34’s knowledge. They also accessed the computer systems of APT34’s prior targets. In doing so, Turla hackers masqueraded as APT34 operatives, thus resorting to a practice that is commonly referred to as ‘fourth party collection’, according to British and American officials.

The purpose of Monday’s announcement was to raise awareness about state-sponsored computer hacking among industry and government leaders, said the officials. They also wanted to demonstrate the complexity of cyber attack attribution in today’s computer security landscape. However, “we want to send a clear message that even when cyber actors seek to mask their identity, our capabilities will ultimately identify them”, said Paul Chichester, a senior GCHQ official.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 October 2019 | Permalink

Russia preparing to swap imprisoned spies with NATO members, sources claim

LithuaniaThe Russian government is preparing to swap a number of imprisoned spies with at least two member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), according to reports. The Estonia-based news agency BNS, which is the largest news agency in the Baltics, said on Wednesday that negotiations between Russian and Lithuanian, as well as probably Norwegian, officials were nearing completion.

The alleged spies at the center of the reputed spy swap are said to include Nikolai Filipchenko, who is reportedly an intelligence officer with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Filipchenko was arrested by Lithuanian counterintelligence agents in 2015, allegedly while trying to recruit double agents inside Lithuania. He was charged with using forged identity documents to travel to Lithuania on several occasions between 2011 and 2014. His mission was allegedly to recruit officers in Lithuania’s Department of State Security in order to install listening bugs inside the office of the then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. In 2017, a district court in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius sentenced Filipchenko to 10 years in prison. The alleged Russian spy refused to testify during his trial and reportedly did not reveal any information about himself or his employer. He is believed to be the first FSB intelligence officer to have been convicted of espionage in Lithuania.

BNS reported that the Russians have agreed to exchange Filipchenko for two Lithuanian nationals, Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis. Tamosaitis is serving a 12-year prison sentence in Russia, allegedly for carrying out espionage for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry in 2015. In the following year, a Russian court sentenced Mataitis, a dual Lithuanian-Russian citizen, to 13 years in prison, allegedly for supplying Lithuanian intelligence with classified documents belonging to the Russian government. Lithuanian authorities have refused to comment publicly about Filipchenko and Mataitis, saying that details on the two men are classified. According to BNS, the spy swap may involve two more people, an unnamed Russian national and a Norwegian citizen, who is believed to be Frode Berg, a Norwegian retiree who is serving a 16-year jail sentence in Russia, allegedly for acting as a courier for the Norwegian Intelligence Service.

BNS said on Wednesday that the Lithuanian State Defense Council, which is chaired by the country’s president, had approved the spy exchange, and that Moscow had also agreed to it. On Thursday, however, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said she had “no information on this issue” that she could share with reporters.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 October 2019 | Research credit: E.G. | Permalink

ISIS threatens stability of former Soviet Republics, says Russian spy chief

ISIS Afghanistan

Thousands of Islamic State fighters are operating in Afghanistan’s northern border regions and are attempting to destabilize former Soviet Republics with substantial Muslim populations, according to Russia’s domestic spy chief. This warning was issued by Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which functions as Russia’s primary counter-terrorism agency. Bortnikov made these remarks during a visit to the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, for a meeting of the heads of intelligence agencies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an intergovernmental organization comprised of former Soviet Republics in the Eurasian region. The meeting was reportedly held behind closed doors, but Russia’s government-owned news agency TASS carried a summary of Bortnikov’s remarks.

The Russian intelligence chief said that, with the aid of the intelligence services of CIS states like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and others, the FSB was able to uncover and suppress eight Islamic State cells in the past year, which operated in the Central Asian region. However, the reach of the CIS countries does not extend to Afghanistan, said Bortnikov, where as many as 5,000 Islamic State fighters are congregating along the country’s border with three CIS states, namely Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many of these fighters are Turkmens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, and other citizens of CIS states, who previously fought with the Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere, and now form integral components of the Islamic State’s fighting force in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It appears that the Islamic State is now attempting to exploit the mountainous and porous borders of northern Afghanistan in order to destabilize neighboring countries, he said. These fighters intend to exploit “migrant and refugee flows [in Central Asia] in order to operate covertly from the Afghan battle zones to neighboring countries” and from there possibly to Russia, according to Bortnikov.

These covert activities of Islamic State fighters have already caused an escalation of tensions in the region and can be expected to continue to do so, as these groups radicalize and co-opt Muslim communities in CIS countries, noted Bortnikov. He added that popular responses to Islamist radicalization are prompting increasing incidents of “anti-Islamic terrorism”, which further-fuel religious and ethnic tensions in the region. As a reminder, last week the Islamic State announced that its so-called Khorasan Province fighters would be amalgamated into a new armed group calling itself Islamic State – Pakistan Province. Earlier this month, the group also proclaimed the establishment of a new overseas province in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, called “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind). In addition to these two forces, there are currently an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan’s Pashtun regions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2019 | Permalink

Suicide bomber who attacked Russian spy agency identified as ‘anarchist-communist’

Mikhail ZhlobitskyA teenager who killed himself with an improvised explosive device in the lobby of a regional office of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency appears to have identified himself as an “anarchist-communist” on social media. At 8:52 am local time on Wednesday, the 17-year-old entered the regional office of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the city of Archangelsk, located 800 miles north of Moscow. On CCTV footage released by the Russian security services, he is seen reaching into his backpack and taking out an object, which soon exploded, killing him and wounding three others.

The bomber was later identified in the Russian media as Mikhail Zhlobitsky, a student at a local technical college. Within hours, reports pointed to posts made on social media platforms by Zhlobitsky, who used several online aliases, including that of “Sergey Nechayev”, one of Russia’s leading 19th-century anarchists, who died in prison for advocating terrorism as a means of revolution. Shortly before the attack, someone using the alias “Valeryan Panov” commented on the social messaging application Telegram that he was about to bomb the FSB in Archangelsk. In the comment, which was posted on an anarchist forum, the user said that he had decided to act “because the FSB falsifies cases and tortures people”. The user added that he would probably die in the attack because he had to manually detonate the improvised explosive device he was carrying with him. He concluded his message with the words: “I wish you a glorious future of anarchist communism!”.

The activities of militant Russian anarchists and anarcho-communists date back to the mid-19th century; anarchist militants are responsible for numerous assassinations of senior Russian officials, including Emperor Alexander II, who was killed by a Russian anarchist in 1881. But the movement was ruthlessly suppressed by the Soviet state and today the FSB and other Russian security services are actively monitoring the remnants of the Russian anarchist movement. These include the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists, the group Autonomous Action, and the Siberian Confederation of Labor. Large sections of these groups have now moved underground, as the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has named anarchists as primary enemies of order and security in the Russian Federation. Earlier this month, another Russian teenager, Vladislav Roslyakov, killed himself after shooting 19 students and teachers at a technical college in Kerch, a Black Sea port city in Russian-annexed Crimea. No political motive for the attack has been reported.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 November 2018 | Research credit: S.F. | Permalink

US fired Moscow embassy employee who may have spied for Russia

US embassy in RussiaA female Russian national who worked for the United States Secret Service in Moscow was quietly dismissed in 2017, amidst concerns that she was spying for Russia. British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the story last week, did not name the Russian woman. But it said that she had worked at the US Embassy in Moscow “for more than a decade”, most recently for the Secret Service –a federal law enforcement agency that operates within the Department of Homeland Security. The Secret Service has several missions, the most important of which is to ensure the physical safety of America’s senior political leadership.

Throughout her Secret Service career, the Russian woman is thought to have had access to the agency’s email system and intranet network, said The Guardian, citing “an intelligence source”. She could also potentially have had access to “highly confidential material”, said the paper, including the daily schedules of America’s past and current presidents and vice presidents, as well as their family members’ schedules.

The unnamed Russian national first came under suspicion in 2016, said The Guardian, during a routine security review conducted by two counterintelligence staff members at one of the Department of State’s Regional Security Offices (RSO). These reviews usually take place every five years and scan the background and activities of employees at American embassies abroad. The review showed that the unnamed Russian national was holding regular meetings with officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic intelligence service. In January of 2017, the Department of State reportedly shared its findings with the Secret Service. But the latter waited until several months later to fire the Russian woman, having decided to do so quietly, said The Guardian.

According to the paper, instead of launching a major investigation into the State Department’s findings, the Secret Service simply dismissed the woman by revoking her security clearance. The paper said that the Russian national’s dismissal took place shortly before the US embassy in Moscow was forced to remove or fire over 750 employees as part of Russia’s retaliation against economic sanctions imposed on it by Washington. That coincidence helped the Secret Service “contain any potential embarrassment” arising from claims of espionage, said The Guardian. The paper contacted the Secret Service and was told that “all Foreign Service nationals” working for the agency “are managed accordingly to ensure that […US] government interests are protected at all times”. Their duties, therefore, are “limited to translation, interpretation, cultural guidance, liaison and administrative support. This is of particular emphasis in Russia”, said a Secret Service spokesman, who refused to discuss specific cases.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2018 | Research credit: S.F. | Permalink

US imposes sanctions on companies for helping Russian spy agencies

YantarThe United States has for the first time imposed economic sanctions on a number of Russian companies, which it says helped the Kremlin spy on targets in North America and Western Europe. On Monday, the US Department of the Treasury said it would apply severe economic restrictions on a number of Russian firms that work closely with the Kremlin. One of the companies was identified as Digital Security, which Washington says has been helping Russian intelligence agencies develop their offensive cyber capabilities. Two of Digital Security’s subsidiaries, Embedi and ERPScan, were also placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list. Monday’s statement by the Treasury Department named another Russian firm, the Kvant Scientific Research Institute, which it described as a front company operated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

But the Russian firm that features most prominently in Monday’s announcement is Divetechnoservices, an underwater equipment manufacturer. The US alleges that the FSB paid the company $15 million in 2011 to design equipment for use in tapping underwater communications cables. According to Washington, equipment designed by Divetechnoservices is today used by a fleet of Russian ships that sail on the world’s oceans searching for underwater communications cables to tap. One such ship, according to reports, is the Yantar (pictured), ostensibly an oceanic research vessel, which Washington says is used to detect and tap into underwater communications cables.

In addition to Divetechnoservices, the US Treasury has named three individuals who will face economic sanctions due to what Washington says is their personal involvement with the underwater hardware manufacturer. They are: Vladimir Yakovlevich Kaganskiy, the company’s owner and former director; Aleksandr Lvovich Tribun, who serves as Divetechnoservices’ general director; and Oleg Sergeyevich Chirikov, identified as the manager of Divetechnoservices’ underwater surveillance program. These men —all Russian citizens— will not be able to enter into business relationships with American companies or citizens. On Tuesday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the latest round of US sanctions as an act of desperation. The White House would fail in its effort to “force the Russian Federation to change its independent course of action in the international arena”, said the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 June 2018 | Permalink

Discovery of cocaine in Russian diplomatic luggage leads to numerous arrests

FSB drug arrestsA Russian former diplomatic employee and an Argentine police officer are among six people arrested following the discovery of nearly 1000 pounds of cocaine inside the Russian diplomatic compound in Buenos Aires. The arrests took place last Thursday and were announced in Argentina by the country’s Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. She told reporters that the arrests came after a 14-month investigation in Argentina, Russia and Germany. She added that the investigation unveiled “one of the most complex and extravagant drug-dealing operations” in Argentina’s history.

The 14-month probe dates to December of 2016, when Victor Koronelli, Russia’s ambassador to Argentina, and thee members of Russia’s Federal Security Service, discreetly approached Argentinian authorities. They informed the Argentinians that they had discovered 16 pieces of luggage filled with drugs inside an annex of the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires. Argentinian authorities were given permission to secretly enter the embassy grounds and inspect the suitcases. They confirmed that they contained more than 850 pounds (390 kilos) of cocaine, with a street value of more than $60 million. The suitcases were intended for transfer to Russia via a diplomatic flight. Cargo transferred on diplomatic flights cannot be searched by international customs officials due to the privilege of diplomatic immunity.

According to Bullrich, diplomatic counter-narcotics officers secretly transferred the bags to a separate location, where they replaced the cocaine with flour and fitted the suitcases with GPS tracking devices, before returning them to the Russian embassy annex. The luggage was eventually transferred to Russia via airplane in December 2017, a year after it was bugged by the Argentinians. Several Argentinian customs officers traveled to Russia to monitor the transfer of the shipment, in coordination with Russian authorities. The latter arrested two Russian citizens who tried to collect the suitcases. Another Russian citizen, and former staff member of the Russian embassy in Argentina, Alia Abyanov, was arrested in Moscow. Officials said Abyanov helped plan the transfer of the suitcases to Russia.

Two Argentines with dual Russian citizenship were also arrested in Buenos Aires. One of them has been named as Iván Blizniouk, a police officer, who is believed to have mediated between the drug smugglers and corrupt Argentine customs officers. A seventh suspect, identified only as “Señor K.” by the Argentine authorities, remains at large. He is believed to be living in Germany and is currently wanted by Interpol pursuant to an international warrant that has been issued for his arrest.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 February 2018 | Permalink

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