German ex-spy chief tells West to stop sharing intelligence with Austria

Peter GridlingA former director of Germany’s foreign intelligence service has warned Western officials to stop sharing intelligence with the government of Austria, because of its alleged proximity to the Kremlin. August Hanning served as chief of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, from 1998 to 2005. He went on to serve as the most senior civil servant in the Ministry of the Interior until his retirement in 2009. In an interview published on Wednesday in Germany’s Bild newspaper, Hanning argued that “caution is necessary with [an intelligence] service [like that of Austria,] which cannot protect its own secrets or the sources and sensitive information of its partners”. He went on to add that “there is […] now extreme caution when sharing information] with the Austrian intelligence services.

Hanning’s statement came less than a week after The Washington Post claimed in a major article that most Western intelligence services had stopped sharing sensitive information with the Austrian government. The newspaper alleged that the disruption in intelligence cooperation between Austria and other Western countries was sparked by an unprecedented police raid on the headquarters of Austria’s spy agency in February of this year. On February 28, Austrian police raided the central offices of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT), which operates as Austria’s domestic intelligence agency. By that evening, thousands of classified documents had been removed from the BVT’s headquarters and stored in police facilities in Vienna. Austrian officials claimed that the raid was sparked by allegations made by South Korean intelligence that blank Austrian passports had been acquired by the North Korean government.

However, according to The Post, the raid was politically motivated by Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which is part of the country’s ruling coalition. The purpose of the raid, said the article, was to neutralize the BVT, whose mission includes defending the Austrian constitution from domestic threats from the far left and the far right. Many Western services were alarmed by the February 28 raid on the BVT and immediately stopped sending sensitive information to the agency’s Vienna headquarters, according to The Post. It also said that Western European powers are concerned by the seemingly close relations between some members of Austria’s government and the Kremlin. Last week, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin traveled to Austria to attend the wedding of Karin Kneissl, Austria’s Minster of Foreign Affairs, who is politically close to the Freedom Party. The Russian leader said that he attended Kneissl’s wedding on a “purely private” capacity. But that did little to appease European Union leaders.

On Monday, the BVT rejected the claims made by The Post. In a statement issued to the media, BVT director Peter Gridling (pictured) said that “cooperation [between the BVT and] partner intelligence services continues to work well in key areas such as the fight against terrorism”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2018 | Permalink

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Germany arrests Jordanian intelligence operative who spied on mosque

Hildesheim mosqueAuthorities in Germany announced yesterday the arrest of a German national who is accused of spying on a central German mosque on behalf of Jordan, according to media reports. The man was reportedly arrested on Tuesday at an unknown location by officers of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). In a press statement, the agency said the man is a 33-year-old German national named “Alexander B.”. German privacy rules forbid the public identification of crime suspects prior to their conviction in a court of law.

According to the public statement issued by the BfV, the 33-year-old man is believed to have worked for “a Jordanian intelligence agency” —most likely the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, or GID, which is a branch of the Jordanian Armed Forces— since at least 2016. He is accused of having infiltrated a Sunni mosque in the central German city of Hildesheim, located 20 miles southeast of Hanover in Germany’s Lower Saxony region. His mission, according to the BfV, was to keep tabs on mosque goers who expressed support for the ideology of the Islamic State, and might even consider traveling to the Middle East to join the radical group. The alleged Jordanian intelligence operative was also tasked with reporting on news reaching the mosque from those of its members who had already gone to the Middle East and joined the Islamic State.

Last year, German authorities closed down the Hildesheim mosque, known in German as Deutschsprachiger Islamkreis Hildesheim e. V. (DIK), and arrested its imam, Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A., known as Abu Walaa. The Iraqi-born imam was charged with supporting a foreign terrorist organization by actively recruiting young Muslims on behalf of the Islamic State. The mosque has since remained closed, because authorities believe that it had become a beehive of fundamentalist activity. Jordan is one of the Middle East’s most liberal states and has been targeted repeatedly by the Islamic State, which views its leadership as pro-Western. However, it appears that Alexander B. was spying on the Hildesheim mosque —therefore on German soil— without having informed the host country of his activities. The government of Jordan has not commented on his arrest.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 August 2018 | Permalink

German far-right group is arming itself, poses serious threat, report warns

ReichsbuergerAdherents of a bizarre far-right movement in Germany, who claim to be citizens of Prussia, are arming themselves and pose a growing security threat, says a new report by the country’s domestic spy service. The members of the movement call themselves Reichsbuerger (“citizens of the Reich”) and reject the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany. Instead of the modern-day German state, which emerged in 1990 from the union of East and West Germany, Reichsbuergers swear allegiance to the Deutsches Reich (German Reich), the Nazi German state that existed between 1933 and 1945. They also claim that the Deutsches Reich, which they occasionally refer to as Prussia, continues to exist in its pre-1945 state and is still governed by a provisional government in exile.

In some cases, Reichsbuerger adherents have contacted foreign embassies in Berlin and asked to be recognized as citizens of the Third Reich, but without success. In addition, some Reichsbuerger associations issue Deutsches Reich identification cards and Deutsches Reich car license plates. But these are dismissed as “fantastical” by German authorities, who have historically refused to take Reichsbuerger adherents seriously. But now the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s main domestic security agency, has said that the Reichsbuerger movement is growing and needs to be viewed as a potential security threat. According to the BfV’s annual report, which was published on Tuesday, the Reichsbuerger movement has grown by more than 65 percent since 2016 and currently consists of approximately 20,000 committed members.

In its report, the BfV notes that the numerical growth of Reichsbuerger adherents may be partly attributed to the heightened attention that German authorities have been paying to far-right organizations in recent years. The agency also states that only about five percent of Reichsbuergers may be described as violent or potentially violent extremists. However, violent Reichsbuergers have risen from 500 in 2016 to 900 in 2017, an 80% increase in a year, according to the report. Moreover, says the BfV, many core members of the Reichsbuerger movement maintain close contacts with German far-right criminal networks, whose members include current and former supporters of the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Earlier this month, several NSU members were found guilty of having participated in 10 politically motivated killings of immigrants between 2000 and 2007. The BfV report states that Reichsbuergers increasingly view the NSU’s violent acts as examples to follow, and that they are systematically attempting –and usually succeeding– to obtain gun licenses. In a report published earlier this year, the BfV had warned that the Reichsbuerger movement was trying to build an army.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 July 2018 | Permalink

Israel says it foiled Iranian-sponsored bomb attack in France

MossadIsrael helped foil an alleged Iranian-sponsored bomb attack in Paris, which involved arrests of several Iranian agents and at least one diplomat in France, Belgium and Germany, according to media reports. As intelNews reported earlier this month, the arrests began on June 30, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group arrested a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent in Brussels. The couple were found to be carrying explosives and a detonator. On the following day, July 1, German police arrested an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria. On the same day, a fourth person, who has not been named, was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection with the three other arrests.

All four individuals appear to have been charged with a foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place on June 30 in Paris. The NCRI is led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group with roots in radical Islam and Marxism. The MEK was designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States until 2009 and 2012 respectively. But it has since been reinstated in both Brussels and Washington, reportedly because it provides the West with a vehicle to subvert the Iranian government.

On Thursday, authorities in Israel announced the lifting of a blanket censorship decree that prevented local media from discussing the country’s role in helping the Europeans foil the alleged bomb attack in Paris. According to Israel’s Channel 2, a private television station based in Jerusalem, the Iranian attack was prevented after the Israeli agency Mossad detected the whereabouts of several suspects involved in it. The Mossad then supplied Germany, Belgium and France with intelligence that led to the arrests of some of those suspects. However, Channel 2 said that the Israeli government did not give a reason for the initial censorship imposed on the country’s media, nor did it explain why it had decided to lift it. On July 4, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to hint that Israel had a role in the foiling of the alleged bomb attack in Paris. Speaking during a commemoration ceremony in Acre, Israel, Netanyahu said it was “no coincidence” that the attack in Paris had been stopped. But the Israeli leader did not expressly indicate that the Mossad had a role in the operation.

Following news of the arrests in Europe, the Iranian government said that it had no connection to the alleged plot in Paris and called the incident a “false flag” operation staged by Tehran’s enemies at home and abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 July 2018 | Permalink

Iran sleeper cell agents, including diplomat, arrested in three European countries

National Council of Resistance of IranAn Iranian diplomat and members of what authorities described as an “Iranian sleeper cell” were arrested this week in Belgium, Germany and France, as they were allegedly planning to a bomb a high-level meeting in Paris. The arrests came after a complex investigation by several European intelligence agencies and were announced by Belgium’s Minister of the Interior, Jan Jambon.

The operation against the alleged sleeper cell began on Saturday, June 30, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group stopped a Mercedes car in Brussels. The car was carrying a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent, named in media reports as Amir S., 38, and Nasimeh N., 33. According to the Belgian Ministry of the Interior, Nasimeh N. was found to be carrying 500 grams of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosive and a detonator inside a toiletries bag. On the following day, Sunday, July 1, German police arrested Assadollah A., an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria. According to reports, the diplomat was driving a rental car in the southeastern German state of Bavaria, heading to Austria. On the same day, a fourth person, who has not been named, was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection with the other three arrests.

The four detainees were in contact with each other and were allegedly working for the Iranian government. All four have been charged with an alleged foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place last Saturday, June 30, in a Paris suburb. The National Council of Resistance of Iran is a France-based umbrella group of Iranian dissidents, led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group that has roots in radical Islam and Marxism. Between 1970 and 1976, the group assassinated six American officials in Iran and in 1970 tried to kill the United States ambassador to the country. It initially supported the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but later withdrew its support, accusing the government of Ayatollah Khomeini of “fascism”. It continued its operations from exile, mainly from Iraq, where its armed members were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab leftist groups.

Until 2009, the European Union and the United States officially considered the MEK a terrorist organization. But the group’s sworn hatred of the government in Iran brought it close to Washington after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. By 2006, the US military was openly collaborating with MEK forces in Iraq, and in 2012 the group was dropped from the US Department of State’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Today the group enjoys open protection from the EU and the US. According to Belgian authorities, the four members of the Iranian sleeper cell were planning to bomb the MEK-sponsored NCRI meeting in Paris under instructions by the Iranian government. Conference participants included over 30 senior US officials, including US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who addressed the meeting. Stephen Harper, Canada’s former prime minister, also spoke at the conference.

Speaking in Brussels this week, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jambon praised the country’s intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies for foiling the alleged bomb plot in Paris. But Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, dismissed claims of an Iranian sleeper cell as “fake news” and described reports of a foiled bomb attack as “a sinister false flag plot”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2018 | Permalink

Nazi official Heinrich Himmler’s daughter worked for West German intelligence

Heinrich Himmler Gudrun BurwitzThe daughter of Heinrich Himmler, who was second in command in the German Nazi Party until the end of World War II, worked for West German intelligence in the 1960s, it has been confirmed. Gudrun Burwitz was born Gudrun Himmler in 1929. During the reign of Adolf Hitler, her father, Heinrich Himmler, commanded the feared Schutzstaffel, known more commonly as the SS. Under his command, the SS played a central part in administering the Holocaust, and carried out a systematic campaign of extermination of millions of civilians in Nazi-occupied Europe. But the Nazi regime collapsed under the weight of the Allied military advance, and on May 20, 1945, Himmler was captured alive by Soviet troops. Shortly thereafter he was transferred to a British-administered prison, where, just days later, he committed suicide with a cyanide capsule that he had with him. Gudrun, who by that time was nearly 16 years old, managed to escape to Italy with her mother, where she was captured by American forces. She testified in the Nuremberg Trials and was eventually released in 1948. She settled with her mother in northern West Germany and lived away from the limelight of publicity until her death on May 24 of this year, aged 88.

Late last Thursday, an article in the German tabloid newspaper Bild revealed for the first time that Burwitz worked for West Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in the early 1960s. The BND continues to operate today as reunited Germany’s main external intelligence agency. According to Bild, Himmler’s daughter had a secretarial post at the BND’s headquarters in Pullach, where the spy agency was headquartered for most of its existence. The paper said that Burwitz managed to be hired by the BND by using an assumed name. In a rare public statement, the BND’s chief archivist, Bodo Hechelhammer, confirmed Bild’s allegations. The archivist, who serves as one of the BND’s official historians, told the newspaper that Burwitz “was an employee of the BND for a number of years, until 1963”, working “under an assumed name”. She was dismissed once the BND began to purge former Nazis from its staff, toward the end of the tenure of its first director, Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen was a former general and military intelligence officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht, who had considerable experience in anti-Soviet and anti-communist operations. In 1956, in the context of the Cold War, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which acted as the BND’s parent organization, appointed him as head of the organization, a post which he held from until 1968.

It is believed that Burwitz remained a committed Nazi until the end of her life. She doggedly defended her father’s name and insisted that the Holocaust was an Allied propaganda ploy. It is also believed that she was a prominent member of Stille Hilfe (Silent Help), an underground group of leading former Nazis, which was established in 1945 to help SS officers and other Nazi officials escape prosecution for war crimes. Several German experts on neo-Nazi groups have alleged that Burwitz continued to attend neo-Nazi events and SS reunions throughout Europe, some as recently as 2014. Burwitz is believed to have died in Munich.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 July 2018 | Permalink

German intelligence chief says Russia tried to hack energy grid

BfV GermanyThe head of Germany’s domestic security agency has publicly blamed the Russian government for a large-scale cyberattack that has targeted German energy providers. The comments follow a June 13 announcement on the subject by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), which is charged with securing the German government’s electronic communications. According to the BSI, a widespread and systematic attack against Germany’s energy networks has been taking place for at least a year now. The attack, which the BSI codenamed BERSERK BEAR, consists of various efforts by hackers to compromise computer networks used by German companies that provide electricity and natural gas to consumers around the country.

The attacks have been mostly unsuccessful, said BSI, having managed to breach just a few office computer networks. Energy grids have remained largely unaffected by BERSERK BEAR, said BSI. But the agency has refused to disclose information about the extent of the alleged cyberattacks and the companies that were targeted. It claims, however, that the situation is now “under control”. On Wednesday, Hans-Georg Maassen, director of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said in an interview that the Russian government was most likely behind the attacks. There were “numerous clues pointing to Russia”, said Maassen, including the method with which the attack was carried out. The “modus operandi” of the attackers “is a major indicator that points to Russian control of the offensive campaign”, said Maassen.

Earlier this month, the United States imposed for the first time economic sanctions on Russian companies that allegedly helped the Kremlin tap undersea communications cables used by Western countries. One of the companies was identified by the US Department of the Treasury as Digital Security, which Washington said has helped 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. But the Kremlin fervently denies these accusations. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the office of the Russian presidency said that Moscow had “no idea what [Maassen] was talking about”. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters in the Russian capital that Germany and other countries “should provide facts” to justify their accusations against Moscow.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 June 2018 | Permalink