Russia claims ‘misunderstanding’ led to arrests of four spies in Holland

Sergei LavrovRussia’s minister of foreign affairs has downplayed the arrest and expulsion of four Russian military intelligence officers in Holland last April, saying that the incident was caused by a “misunderstanding”. Last Thursday, the US government named and indicted seven officers of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, known as GRU. The seven are alleged to have participated in cyber-attacks on international agencies, private companies and government computer networks in at least half a dozen countries around the world since 2015. Four of the men named last week were reportedly detained in April of this year while trying to hack into the computer network of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Headquartered in The Hague, the OPCW oversees efforts by its 193 member states to detect and eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles around the world. In the past year, the OPCW has been probing the failed attempt to poison the Russian former double spy Sergei Skripal in England, which the British government has blamed on Moscow.

On Monday, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov dismissed Washington’s accusations against the GRU and said that the Dutch authorities had overreacted in detaining the four Russian officers in April. Following a meeting in Moscow with his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Lavrov said that the visit of the four GRU officers in Holland had been “customary”, adding that “there was nothing clandestine in it”. The GRU specialists were in Holland in order to secure computer servers used at the Russian embassy there. “They were not trying to hide from anyone once they arrived at the airport”, said Lavrov. They then “checked into a hotel and paid a visit to our embassy”, he added. Had they been engaged in espionage, the men would have taken strict precautions, said the Russian foreign affairs minister. They were eventually “detained by Dutch police without any reason or explanations, and were not allowed to contact our embassy”, said Lavrov. Eventually they were “asked to leave the country”, but it was “all because of a misunderstanding”, he concluded.

The Russian official did not address the information provided a series of photographs released by Holland’s Ministry of Defense, which show a car used by the four Russians at the time of their arrest in April. The photographs show that the car was equipped with WiFi antennas and transformers. A wireless server and batteries can also be seen in the photographs. Lavrov said that the allegations against the GRU were meant to draw attention to Russia and distract Western citizens from “widening divisions that exist between Western nations”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 October 2018 | Research credit: S.F. | Permalink

Britain sees Russian government hackers behind Islamic State cyber group

Cyber CaliphateA new report by the British government alleges that the so-called ‘Cyber Caliphate’, the online hacker wing of the Islamic State, is one of several supposedly non-state groups that are in fact operated by the Russian state. The group calling itself Cyber Caliphate first appeared in early 2014, purporting to operate as the online wing of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which was later renamed Islamic State. Today the Cyber Caliphate boasts a virtual army of hackers from dozens of countries, who are ostensibly operating as the online arm of the Islamic State. Their known activities include a strong and often concentrated social media presence, as well as computer hacking, primarily in the form of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage.

But an increasing number of reports, primarily by Western government agencies, have claimed in recent years that the Cyber Caliphate is in fact part of a Russian state-sponsored operation, ingeniously conceived to permit Moscow to hack Western targets without retaliation. On Wednesday, a new report by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) described the Cyber Caliphate and other similar hacker groups as “flags of convenience” for the Kremlin. The report was authored by the NCSC in association with several British and European intelligence agencies. American spy agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also helped compile the report, according to the NCSC. The report names several hacker groups that have been implicated in high-profile attacks in recent years, including Sofacy, Pawnstorm, Sednit, Cyber Berkut, Voodoo Bear, BlackEnergy Actors, Strontium, Tsar Team, and Sandworm. Each of these, claims the NCSC report, is “an alias of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces”, more commonly known as the GRU. The report concludes that Cyber Caliphate is the same hacker group as APT 28, Fancy Bear, and Pawn Storm, three cyber espionage outfits that are believed to be online arms of the GRU.

The NCSC report echoes the conclusion of a German government report that was leaked to the media in June of 2016, which argued that the Cyber Caliphate was a fictitious front group created by Russia. In 2015, a security report by the US State Department concluded that despite the Cyber Caliphate’s proclamations of connections to the Islamic State, there were “no indications —technical or otherwise— that the groups are tied”. In a statement issued alongside the NCSC report on Wednesday, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, described the GRU as Moscow’s “chosen clandestine weapon in pursuing its geopolitical goals”. The Russian government has denied these allegations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 October 2018 | Permalink

Western spy agencies thwarted alleged Russian plot to hack Swiss chemical lab

OPCW HagueWestern intelligence agencies thwarted a plot involving two Russians intending to travel to a Swiss government laboratory that investigates nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and hack its computer systems. According to two separate reports by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, the two were apprehended in The Hague in early 2018. The reports also said that the Russians were found in possession of equipment that could be used to compromise computer networks. They are believed to work for the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU, Russia’s foremost military intelligence agency. The apprehension was the result of cooperation between various European intelligence services, reportedly including the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Organization (MIVD).

The laboratory, located in the western Swiss city of Spiez, has been commissioned by the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to carry out investigations related to the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March of this year. It has also carried out probes on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Russian-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In the case of the Skripals, the laboratory said it was able to duplicate findings made earlier by a British laboratory.

Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) reportedly confirmed the arrest and subsequent expulsion of the two Russians. The Swiss agency said it “cooperated actively with Dutch and British partners” and thus “contributed to preventing illegal actions against a sensitive Swiss infrastructure”. The office of the Public Prosecutor in the Swiss capital Bern said that the two Russians had been the subject of a criminal investigation that began as early as March 2017. They were allegedly suspected of hacking the computer network of the regional office of the World Anti-Doping Agency in Lausanne. The Spiez laboratory was a target of hacking attempts earlier this year, according to a laboratory spokesperson. “We defended ourselves against that. No data was lost”, the spokesperson stated.

On April 14, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov stated that he had obtained the confidential Spiez lab report about the Skripal case “from a confidential source”. That report confirmed earlier findings made by a British laboratory. But the OPCW, of which Russia is a member, states that its protocols do not involve dissemination of scientific reports to OPCW member states. Hence, the question is how Foreign Minister Lavrov got hold of the document.

As intelNews reported in March, in the aftermath of the Skripals’ poisoning the Dutch government expelled two employees of the Russian embassy in The Hague. In a letter [.pdf] sent to the Dutch parliament on March 26 —the day when a large number of countries announced punitive measures against Russia— Holland’s foreign and internal affairs ministers stated that they had decided to expel the two Russian diplomats “in close consultation with allies and partners”. The Russians were ordered to leave the Netherlands within two weeks. It is unknown whether the two expelled Russian diplomats are the same two who were apprehended in The Hague, since none have been publicly named.

A November 2017 parliamentary letter from Dutch minister of internal affairs Kajsa Ollongren, states[4] that Russian intelligence officers are “structurally present” in the Netherlands in various sectors of society to covertly collect intelligence. The letter added that, in addition to traditional human intelligence (HUMINT) methods, Russia deploys digital means to influence decision-making processes and public opinion in Holland.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 17 September 2018 | Permalink

Same hacker group is targeting French and German elections, says report

Konrad Adenauer FoundationThe same group cyber-spies that attacked the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is now attacking German institutions that are connected to the country’s ruling coalition parties, according to a report by a leading cyber-security firm. The Tokyo-based security software company Trend Micro published a 41-page report on Tuesday, in which it tracks and traces the attacks against French and German political targets over the past two years. The report, entitled From Espionage to Cyber Propaganda: Pawn Storm’s Activities over the Past Two Years, concludes that the hackers are seeking to influence the results of the national elections in the European Union’s two most powerful nations, France and Germany.

The Trend Micro report focuses on a mysterious group that cyber-security experts have dubbed Pawn Storm —otherwise known as Sednit, Fancy Bear, APT28, Sofacy, and STRONTIUM. It says that the group has launched an aggressive phishing campaign against German political institutions, which has intensified in the past two months. The group allegedly set up fake computer servers in Germany and the Ukraine, and used them to try to infiltrate the computer networks of two elite German think-tanks, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FEF). The KAF is connected with the Christian Democratic Union party, which is led by Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The FEF has strong ties with the centrist Social Democratic Party, which is part of Germany’s governing alliance.

The report’s leading author, cyber-security expert Feike Hacquebord, told the Reuters news agency that the hackers were possibly seeking to infiltrate the two think-tanks as a means of gaining access to the two political parties that are connected with them. Some cyber-security experts in Europe and the United States have said that the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, the country’s military intelligence agency, known as GRU, is behind the cyber-attacks on France, Germany and the United States. But the Trend Micro report did not attempt to place blame on Moscow or any other country for the cyber-attacks. The Kremlin has denied involvement with the alleged hacking operations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 April 2017 | Permalink

Head of Russian military intelligence dies unexpectedly at 58

Igor SergunThe director of Russia’s powerful military intelligence agency has died unexpectedly at 58, according to the Kremlin, which has yet to release precise information about the circumstances of his death. General Igor Sergun had led the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU, since 2011, when he replaced his predecessor, Colonel General Aleksandr Shlyakhturov, in a Kremlin-instigated reshuffle. The Russian government said at the time that Shlyakhturov, who had spearheaded a major shake-up of the GRU since his appointment in 2009, had “reached retirement age” and gave no other reason for his sudden replacement. General Sergun’s death was announced in a statement posted on the official website of the Kremlin on January 4. It said that the GRU director had “suffered a sudden death” on January 3. It gave no further details as to the exact cause or circumstances surrounding the general’s death.

General Sergun was a career GRU officer, having joined the service as soon as he graduated from the Military Academy of the Soviet Army in 1984. Under his leadership, the GRU —Russia’s largest intelligence agency, which operates under the supervision of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces— became increasingly important in Moscow’s foreign policy maneuvers. The agency was central during the Russian military campaign in Georgia in 2008, and observers considered its role during the onset of the eastern Ukraine crisis in 2013 as indispensable for Russia. This view was reflected early in 2014, when the European Union and the United States imposed economic sanctions on General Sergun, accusing him of coordinating “the activities of GRU officers in eastern Ukraine”.

The January 4 online statement by the Kremlin quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reportedly contacted the late general’s family to offer his condolences. The Russian leader was quoted as saying that General Sergun had given his “life in its entirety to the service of the homeland and the Armed Forces” of the Russian Federation. The late general was “respected for their professionalism, strength of character, honesty and integrity”, said the statement. Moscow has not yet announced Sergun’s replacement at the helm of the GRU.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 January 2016 | Permalink

Nazi letter to one of history’s greatest double spies found in Tokyo

Richard SorgeA congratulatory letter sent by a senior Nazi official to Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR, and is sometimes credited with helping Moscow win World War II, has been found in Japan. The letter was sent by Joachim von Ribbentrop, a senior German Nazi Party member and Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is directly addressed to Sorge, who was himself a member of the Nazi Party, but spied for the USSR throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

Born in what eventually became Soviet Azerbaijan to a German father and a Russian mother, Sorge fought as a German soldier in World War I and received commendations for his bravery. But he became a communist in the interwar years and secretly went to Moscow to be trained as a spy by the Fourth Directorate of the Soviet Red Army, which was later renamed GRU —Soviet military intelligence. He then traveled back to Germany as a non-official-cover principal agent for the USSR, joined the Nazi Party and became a journalist for Die Frankfurter Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading newspapers at the time. When the paper sent him to Tokyo to be its Japan correspondent, Sorge struck a friendship with German Ambassador to Tokyo Eugen Ott, who eventually hired him as his trusted press secretary and advisor. It was from him that Sorge found out that Hitler was preparing to violate his non-aggression pact with the USSR, and promptly notified Moscow. His warnings, however, were dismissed as fantastical by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose government was caught by complete surprise by the eventual German onslaught. Several months later, when Sorge told Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east, Stalin took the tip seriously. The information provided by Sorge partly allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

The letter was found by Yoshio Okudaira, a document expert working for Japanese antique book dealer Tamura Shoten in Tokyo. It was among a stack of World War II-era documents brought to the antique dealer by a resident of the Japanese capital. The documents belonged to a deceased relative of the man, who was reportedly unaware of their contents or significance. According to the Deutsche Welle news agency, the letter was addressed to Sorge on the occasion of his 43rd birthday, and is dated 1938. It was written by von Ribbentrop’s personal secretary and includes a signed black-and-white photograph of Hitler’s foreign-affairs minister. The accompanying note commends the double spy on his “exceptional contribution” to the Third Reich as press secretary of the German embassy in Tokyo.

Okudaira, the document expert who realized the significance of the letter, said it is of historical interest because it confirms the high level of trust that the Nazi Party had in Sorge, who was never suspected by Berlin or by his German colleagues in Tokyo of having any connection with the Soviet government. However, Sorge’s espionage was eventually uncovered by Japanese counterintelligence, who promptly arrested and tortured him severely, before executing him in November of 1941. In 1961, the Soviet government awarded him posthumously the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which was the country’s highest distinction during the communist era.

Swedish double spy who escaped to Moscow in 1987 dies at 77

Stig BerglingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Sweden’s most notorious Cold-War spy, who went on the run for nearly a decade after managing to escape from prison in 1987, has died in Stockholm. Born in the Swedish capital in 1937, Stig Eugén Bergling became a police officer in the late 1950s prior to joining SÄPO, the Swedish Security Service, in 1967. He initially worked in the Service’s surveillance unit, and later joined several counterintelligence operations, mostly against Soviet and East European intelligence services. In 1979, while posted by SÄPO in Tel Aviv, he was arrested by the Israelis for selling classified documents to the GRU, the military intelligence agency of the USSR.

He was promptly extradited to Sweden, where he stood trial for espionage and treason. His trial captivated the headlines, as details about the spy tradecraft he employed while spying for the Soviets, including radio transmitters, invisible ink and microdots, were revealed in court. He said in his testimony that he sold over 15,000 classified Swedish government documents to the Soviets, not due to any ideological allegiance with the Kremlin, but simply in order to make money. Bergling was sentenced to life in prison, while lawyers for the prosecution argued in court that the reorganization of Sweden’s defense and intelligence apparatus, which had been caused by Bergling’s espionage, would cost the taxpayer in excess of $45 million. For the next six years, the convicted spy disappeared from the headlines, after legally changing his name to Eugen Sandberg while serving his sentence.

But in 1987, during a conjugal visit to his wife, he escaped with her using several rented cars, eventually making it to Finland. When they arrived in Helsinki, Bergling contacted the Soviet embassy, which smuggled him and his wife across to the USSR. The couple’s escape caused a major stir in Sweden, and an international manhunt was initiated for their capture. In 1994, the two fugitives suddenly returned to Sweden from Lebanon, where they had been living, claiming they were homesick and missed their families. They said they had lived in Moscow and Budapest under the aliases of Ivar and Elisabeth Straus. Bergling was sent back to prison, while his wife was not sentenced due to ill health. She died of cancer in 1997. Bergling changed his name again, this time to Sydholt, and lived his final years in a nursing home in Stockholm until his recent death. He was 77.

Russia expels Polish, German diplomats in ongoing spy row

Polish embassy in MoscowBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government has formally expelled several Polish and German diplomats in what appears to be a tit-for-tat move, following the removal of Russian envoys from Warsaw and Berlin on charges of espionage. The Polish government expelled a number of Russian diplomats last week, after it announced the arrest of two Polish citizens in Warsaw, on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of an unnamed foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to unconfirmed Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Last Friday, Polish media reports said that four Polish diplomats stationed in Moscow had been given 48 hours to leave the country. One report suggested that the diplomats included an employee of the political section of the Polish embassy in the Russian capital, as well as three military attachés. The four had reportedly left the country by Sunday night. Authorities in Moscow said they had been forced to take the step of expelling the Polish diplomats following Warsaw’s “unfriendly and unfounded step” of ordering a number of Russian envoys to leave Poland. The four Poles were officially declared “unwanted persons” in Russia for “activities incompatible with their [diplomatic] status”, which is considered code-language for espionage. Also on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the expulsion from Moscow of a German diplomat, just hours after a Russian diplomat was asked to leave the German city of Bonn by German authorities. Diplomatic sources said the German diplomat, a female employee at the German embassy in Moscow, was expelled in direct response to the earlier removal of the Russian diplomat, who was exposed as a spy following an extensive surveillance operation that lasted several months. German authorities refused to comment on the case. In Poland, Minister of Foreign Affairs Grzegorz Schetyna said simply that Warsaw “now considered the matter closed”.

More information emerges on Poles who ‘spied for Russia’

Zbigniew J.By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
More information has emerged on two Polish citizens who were arrested earlier this month in Warsaw on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported last week that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. The organization is believed to have over a dozen officers stationed at the Russian embassy in the Polish capital, posing as diplomats, as well as an unknown number of non-official-cover operatives, who are not officially connected to the Russian diplomatic mission. One of the two arrestees has been identified simply as Zbigniew J., and is said to be a lieutenant colonel serving in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense. Polish newsmagazine Wprost said last weekend that Z.J. worked in the Ministry’s “enlightenment and morale” department, a post that required him to visit military units around the country as part of a team of experts. He would then impart the information gained from his travels to his GRU handler, an officer serving under diplomatic cover in Russia’s Warsaw embassy, during biweekly meetings. Wprost said Z.J. would receive small amounts for cash in exchange for his services, which are believed to have amounted to approximately $30,000 over the course of several years. The newsmagazine suggested that Z.J.’s motivations were primarily financial and were related to unspecified “personal troubles”. The second alleged spy arrested last week has been named as Stanisław Szypowski. He is a lawyer-turned-political-lobbyist who worked for Stopczyk & Mikulski, a prestigious law firm involved in a government-funded project to build facilities able to import liquefied natural gas into Poland. Read more of this post

Secret Russian spy base in Syria seized by Western-backed rebels

Screenshot from FSA videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Rebel forces aligned to Syria’s Western-backed opposition have announced the seizure of a joint Syrian-Russian spy base, which observers say reveals the extent of Russia’s intelligence cooperation with Syria. The base is located at the base of the Tel Al-Hara Mountain, in southern Syria’s Golan Heights region, just south of the border crossing with Israel in the now largely destroyed Syrian city of Quneitra. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it took over the spy base on Sunday, following several weeks of fighting against rival groups, including Syrian government soldiers and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The FSA said the base, referred to as “Center C” by Russian intelligence, had been under Russian command until it was abandoned at a time and for reasons that remain unknown. In a three-minute video released by the Western-backed rebel group on YouTube, an FSA officer appears to be guiding the cameraman around part of the seized base. He points to several diagrams and captions on the walls, which are both in Arabic and in Russian. At some point in the video, the seal of Syrian intelligence is clearly visible, placed next to the seal of the GRU’s 6th Directorate, the branch of Russian military intelligence that is tasked with collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). At another point in the video, a series of photographs can be seen that depict Syrian and Russian intelligence officers working together in gathering and analyzing intelligence. Interestingly, one of the walls in the base features a map of northern Israel, an area that is adjacent to the Golan Heights, and appears to show the location of Israeli SIGINT stations and military encampments. It is unclear when exactly the spy base was abandoned by the Russian and Syrian intelligence officers that staffed it, Read more of this post

Ukraine rebels ‘admit downing Malaysia plane’ in phone intercepts

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Ukrainian intelligence has released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro- Russian rebels that they shot down a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, are presumed dead. An American intelligence official told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that Washington is certain the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. Late on Thursday, Valentyn Nalivaichenko, director of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU), said in a press conference that his agency had conclusive evidence showing that pro-Russian rebels had shot down the plane. Nalivaichenko said the evidence included recordings of telephone conversations between rebel commanders and Russian intelligence officers, which were intercepted just minutes after the plane was brought down. During Nalivaichenko’s press conference, the SSU published the intercepted conversations on YouTube with subtitles in English, French, German and Polish. The videos identify some of the participants in the conversations, including Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and Vasily Geranin, who is said to be a Colonel in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one phone call, allegedly made at 4:40 Kiev time, 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Bezler appears to tell Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane […]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. In a subsequent intercept, another rebel commander calls a Russian intelligence officer from the site of the crash to report that the downed plane appeared to be civilian, not military, as originally thought, and that the crash site was filled with casualties. “It’s 100 percent a passenger aircraft”, he reports, adding that there are no weapons visible on site: “absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper”, he says. Read more of this post

Analysis: Crimea crisis brings Russian military spies back in the game

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The recent crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in Russia assuming control of Crimean Peninsula, marks the post-Soviet resurgence of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus and points to “a new playbook” in Moscow’s foreign policy strategy, according to a seasoned Russia analyst. In an article published on Monday in Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, who specializes in Russian security affairs, said Russia’s military intelligence agency is now “back in the global spook game”. He was referring to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU, which he said the Kremlin will be employing increasingly in the years to come as a major foreign-policy tool. It is no secret that, despite its significant role in Cold War intelligence operations, the GRU has been in decline in the post-Soviet era. Its substandard performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin that the agency was “unfit” for operations in what Russians call the “near-abroad” —the regions of the former Soviet Republics. In 2003, in addition to facing what Galeotti calls “a savage round of [budget] cuts”, the GRU saw its near-abroad functions taken over by the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. The FSB descends from the domestic component of the Soviet-era KGB, the agency that employed Vladimir Putin before he entered politics (as an aside, the SVR, which is the post-Soviet reincarnation of the KGB’s external intelligence directorates, is legally prevented from operating within the Commonwealth of Independent States). As late as last year there was even a discussion about whether the GRU should be demoted from a main directorate under the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff to a simple directorate, a move that would have fatally diminished its institutional stature. But in the recent Crimea crisis, says Galeotti, the GRU was able to turn the tables on Kiev by deploying its battle-ready Vostok Battalion, whose members cut their teeth in Chechnya. Read more of this post

As many Russian spies in UK today as in Cold War: Soviet defector

Oleg GordievskyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, has alleged that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, 74, a fluent speaker of Russian, German, Swedish, Danish, and English, entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He eventually joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Copenhagen, Denmark, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the UK. In 1985, when he was the KGB’s station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. In 2007, Gordievsky was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen “for services to the security of the UK”. Russia, however, considers Gordievsky a traitor and the government of Vladimir Putin refuses to rescind a death sentence given to him in absentia by a Soviet court. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week, Gordievsky said London is currently home to 37 officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the successor agencies to the KGB. Read more of this post

Israel special forces conducting cross-border operations in Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Teams of Israeli special forces are currently operating inside Syria in an effort to detect and sabotage the Syrian military’s chemical and biological arsenal. Citing an unnamed “Israeli source”, the London-based Sunday Times newspaper said yesterday that the operation is part of a wider “secret war” to track Damascus’ non-conventional weapons stockpiles and “sabotage their development”. The Israeli government refused comment on the paper’s allegation. However, Israel’s covert activities against the Syrian government’s chemical and biological arsenal go back almost 30 years. Reputedly, some of the more recent such activities may have involved the targeting of Russian scientists. Although Russia routinely denies it, it is believed that Syria’s non-conventional arsenal was significantly augmented in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the help of Russian retired general Anatoliy Kuntsevich. Kuntsevich, one of the Soviet Red Army’s top scientists, is said to have helped Damascus build its XV nerve agent stockpiles, which are still believed to be in existence today. Interestingly, Kuntsevich died suddenly in 2003 onboard a flight from the Syrian capital to Moscow. It was widely speculated at the time that the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, may have played a role in the Russian general’s sudden death. In 2010, another retired Russian general, Yuri Ivanov, who had served as Deputy Director of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, died in unclear circumstances. The body of 52-year-old Ivanov was found in Turkey on August 16, 2010, several days after he had disappeared close to a Russian naval facility in Syria. Russian media did not report Ivanov’s death until several days later, when he was quietly buried in Moscow. According to reports in the Israeli press, the former GRU official was on his way to a meeting with Syrian intelligence officers when he went missing. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #802 (Jeffrey Paul Delisle edition)

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New information released on Canadian spy case. Newly released information from Canadian naval officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle‘s bail hearing in January reveals that, facing chronic financial difficulties, Delisle began a four-year espionage career by walking into the Russian Embassy in Ottawa in 2007. Wearing civilian clothes, Delisle displayed his Canadian military identification badge and asked to meet someone from GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. Canadian prosecutors said Delisle regularly downloaded a ”vast amount” of classified information to share with his Russian handlers.
►►Canada spy had escape plan. Canadian naval officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle told a Canadian court that he had an escape plan in place —one he never got a chance to use. If he needed to seek refuge or re-establish contact with the Russians, for whom he spied for over four years, he was told he could walk into a Russian embassy —preferably not the one in Ottawa— and inform them he was “Alex Campbell”. The Russians would then ask him “did I meet you at a junk show in Austria?”, and he was supposed to reply “no, it was in Ottawa”.
►►Canada spy accessed Australia intelligence. This is not exactly news for intelNews readers, since we have covered it before, but it appears that Jeffrey Paul Delisle has openly admitted selling highly classified intelligence gathered by the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to Russian agents. He said he had access to signals intelligence produced by the US National Security Agency, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, Australia’s Defence Signals and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau.

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