Belgian spy agencies say radical groups trying to exploit COVID-19 to sow chaos

VSSE GISS BelgiumThe two main intelligence agencies of Belgium have published a declassified report in which they warn that domestic groups on the far left and far right of the political spectrum are using the COVID-19 pandemic to destabilize society. Among other things, these groups are spreading disinformation in order to incite violence and spread disillusionment with the Belgian authorities’ response to the coronavirus, according to the report.

The report (pdf) was published on Wednesday on the website of the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s primary civilian intelligence agency. The agency said it co-authored the report with the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS), which is the main military intelligence service of Belgium. The document warns that political extremists are spreading disinformation —some of it produced and distributed online by foreign intelligence agencies— that propagates unfounded conspiracy theories. The disinformation is designed to turn groups of people against each other, undermine the state and spread hatred against medical experts.

Among the most active distributors of disinformation is the Brussels page of the worldwide anarchist website Indymedia, says the report. Earlier this month, posts on the page urged Belgians to commit acts of violence targeting police officers, and to sabotage infrastructure such as telecommunications, which can disrupt the work of first responders and other emergency workers. Posts on the page also urged readers to act quickly “while law enforcement is busy” with the pandemic.

Groups from the far-right are also active in spreading race-themed disinformation online, according to the VSSE/GISS report. For example, a white nationalist group calling itself the Knights of Flanders has been promoting conspiracy theories that connect COVID-19 with flu vaccines. Other groups have posted information claiming that Muslims have been instructed by religious figures to “cough in the faces of infidels”. Some far-right groups are claiming that personal protective equipment is deliberately being made scarce as part of a secret government plan to intimidate the population and exterminate elderly people.

Finally, a small number of —mostly far-right— groups is spreading messages that criticize Western responses to the coronavirus pandemic and praise the Russian government’s efforts to combat the disease. Among them is a new organization known as “Squadra Europa”, which has branches in several European countries, including Belgium, said the report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2020 | Permalink

Senior Belgian counterintelligence officer arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia

NATO HQ BrusselsA senior counterintelligence official in Belgium’s external intelligence service is under house arrest on suspicion of sharing classified documents with Russian spies, according to a Belgian newspaper. Additionally, the chief of the agency’s counterintelligence directorate has been barred from his office while an internal investigation is underway on allegations that he illegally destroyed government documents. These allegations surfaced last Thursday in a leading article in De Morgen, a Flemish-language daily based in Brussels.

Citing anonymous sources from the General Information and Security Service —Belgium’s military intelligence agency— the paper said that the arrestee has the equivalent rank of major in the General Intelligence and Security Service. Known as GISS, the agency operates as the Belgian equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency or Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service —better known as MI6. GISS officers collect information abroad and are not permitted to operate within Belgium’s borders. The man, a career counterintelligence official, is suspected of having passed secrets to Russia with the help of a woman who claims to be Serbian, but who is in fact believed to be an operative for Russian intelligence. It is not known whether the compromised information included secrets involving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Belgium is a founding member. In the same article, De Morgen also said that Clement Vandenborre, who serves as chief of GISS’s counterintelligence directorate, has been barred from his office while an investigation is taking place into allegations of mismanagement. He is also accused of having shredded classified government documents without permission. It is not believed that this case is connected with the alleged Russian penetration.

De Morgen quoted a spokesperson for Belgium’s Ministry of Defense, who confirmed that an investigation into alleged foreign espionage targeting a GISS employee was underway, but added that “no comment” would be made on the subject so as “not to hinder” the probe. Ironically, German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported last week that the European Union’s diplomatic agency warned officials in Belgium to watch out for “hundreds of spies” from various foreign countries, including from Russia and China. The warning, issued by the European Union’s diplomatic agency, the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that “approximately 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies” were operating in Brussels.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 February 2019 | Permalink