Japan releases files on 1942 Tokyo spy ring that helped USSR win World War II

Richard SorgeJapan has released secret documents from 1942 relating to the Tokyo spy ring led by Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR and is often credited with helping Moscow win World War II. The documents detail efforts by the wartime Japanese government to trivialize the discovery of the Sorge spy ring, which was at the heart of modern Japan’s biggest spy scandal. Thirty-five people, many of them highly placed Japanese officials, were arrested in Tokyo in October of 1941 for spying for the Soviet Union. Sorge, the German head of the spy ring, had fought for the Central Powers in World War I, but had subsequently become a communist and trained in espionage by Soviet military intelligence. He was then sent to Tokyo where he struck a close friendship with the German Ambassador and joined the German embassy. He eventually informed Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east. That tip allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped the USSR beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, which has seen the declassified documents, said they were among the personal files of Taizo Ota, a Japanese counterintelligence official who led Division VI of Japan’s Ministry of Justice. The unit was in charge of political policing and counterespionage during World War II. The documents date from May 1942, which was when the Japanese government finally publicized the arrest of Sorge and his comrades, more than six months after they were caught spying for Moscow. The documents were issued by Japan’s Ministry of Justice but —according to experts— were most likely authored by officials in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who were in charge of investigating the Sorge spy ring case. According to Mainichi Shimbun, the documents were part of a broader effort by the Japanese government to cover up the espionage case by instructing the country’s media to give it marginal attention.

One document instructs newspaper editors to cover the incident on an inside page and to use a headline smaller than the length of four columns. Another document states that newspaper editors should not use pictures in reporting on the spy ring, and adds that no information other than what is included in government press releases should be printed. A third document specifically instructs newspaper editors to avoid all mention of Kinkazu Saionji, a core participant in the Sorge spy ring. Saionji was a member of Japan’s governing aristocracy and a grandson of former Prime Minister Kinmochi Saionji, the country’s most esteemed interwar politician. Indeed, much of the information in the newly unearthed documents details efforts by the Japanese state to conceal the magnitude of communist penetration in the country’s leading families and governing circles.

Coverage of the Sorge incident in Japan’s two leading newspapers of the time, the Nichi Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun indicate that the government pressure was successful, according to Mainichi Shimbun. Both papers covered the incident but neither paper published information about it on its front page, nor was there mention of Saionji or of other senior Japanese officials who were members of the Sorge spy ring. According to Japanese researchers, the documents provide rare detailed examples of attempts by the country’s wartime government to guide reporting on national-security affairs. The files are currently archived in the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room of the National Diet Library in downtown Tokyo.

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

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British police arrest man over mystery killing of Seychelles leader in 1985

Gérard HoarauA man has been arrested by British counter-terrorism police in Northern Ireland, reportedly in connection with the assassination of a Seychelles exiled political leader in London in 1985. No-one has ever been charged with the murder of Gérard Hoarau, who was gunned down with a Sterling submachine gun in Edgware, London, on November 29, 1985. At the time of his killing, the 35-year-old Hoarau led the Mouvement Pour La Resistance (MPR), which was outlawed by the Seychelles government but was supported by Western governments and their allies in Africa. The reason was that the MPR challenged the president of the Seychelles, France-Albert René, leader of the leftwing Seychelles People’s United Party —known today as the Seychelles People’s United Party. The British-educated René assumed the presidency via a coup d’etat in 1977, which was supported by neighboring Tanzania, and remained in power in the island-country until 2004.

Despite proclaiming that he espoused a “moderate socialist ideology”, his critics —including Hoarau— accused him of being a secret admirer of Cuban-style communism and called for his removal from office. In 1979, Hoarau was one of several critics of René who were ordered to leave the Seychelles under threat of imprisonment. He initially found refuge in South Africa. But in 1981, the Seychelles security forces foiled an armed invasion by South African-supported mercenaries, which aimed to depose René. The mercenaries —most of them South African Special Forces veterans, former Rhodesian soldiers, Belgian veterans of the Congo Crisis, and American Vietnam War veterans— were led by British-Irish mercenary Thomas Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare. The group of over 50 armed men was intercepted at the Seychelles International Airport in Mahé and managed to escape only after taking hostages and hijacking an Air India passenger airplane that happened to be at the airport. However, they left behind five mercenaries, including at least one officer of South Africa’s National Intelligence Service.

In 1982, South Africa struck a deal with the Seychelles for the release of the captured mercenaries. In return, it promised to stop sheltering René’s opponents, including Hoarau. The latter was thus forced out of South Africa and sought refuge in London, England, where he was assassinated three years later. At the time of Hoarau’s killing, there was strong suspicion that the government of the Seychelles was directly involved in his assassination. There were also reports in the British press that a British hitman may have been hired to assassinate Hoarau. But despite several arrests in connection with the case, no-one was ever charged with the Seychellois exiled leader’s assassination. This, however, may soon change. In 2016, the British Metropolitan police re-opened the case and, according to a police press statement “established fresh lines of inquiry”. On Thursday, a 77-year-old man was reportedly arrested in Antrim town, Northern Ireland, by officers of the Metropolitan Police and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The man, who has not been named, was transported to London for questioning “on suspicion of conspiracy to murder”. A police spokesman said on Thursday that the man had not previously been arrested as part of the Hoarau murder investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 August 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

Israel has secretly worked with Emirates against Iran for decades, report alleges

Mohammed bin Rashid EmiratesA lengthy exposé by a leading American newsmagazine has claimed that Israel and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that officially have no relations, have been secretly collaborating for more than two decades. Their secret cooperation has been extremely tight and has included clandestine weapons sales and intelligence-sharing, according to the exposé, which was published on the website of The New Yorker on Monday and will feature in the magazine’s print edition on June 18. The lengthy piece, which deals with the changing geopolitics of the Middle East, is written by Adam Entous, national security correspondent for The Washington Post, who has previously reported for more than two decades for Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

Officially, Israel and the UAE have never had bilateral relations. The Emirates, an Arab federal state ruled through an absolute monarchical system, does not recognize Israel as a country. Consequently, the two Middle Eastern states have no official diplomatic, economic or military relations. But in his lengthy article published on Monday, Entous claims that Israeli and Emirati officials have been meeting in secret for at least 24 years. He alleges that the first clandestine meeting between the two sides happened in 1994 in Washington, after Abu Dhabi sought to purchase a number of American-made F-16 fighter jets. The US warned the UAE that Israel would veto the deal, fearing that these fighter jets in the hands of Arabs may eventually be used against it. But Israel did not pose a veto. Motivated by the Oslo I Accord, which it had signed the previous year, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin secretly reached out to the Emiratis and offered “to discuss the matter directly” with them.

The first series of meetings between the two sides took place “off the record […] in a nondescript office in Washington”, says Entous. Israeli and Emirati officials were diametrically at odds over the Palestinian issue, but were in almost complete agreement on the topic of Iran. Abu Dhabi saw Iran as a major threat to the stability of the Middle East, and so did Israel. Following the secret meetings, Israel lifted its objections to Washington’s sale of F-16s to the Emiratis. That, says Entous, helped “build a sense of trust” between the two Middle Eastern countries. By the end of the 1990s, there were allegedly regular secret meetings between Israeli and Emirati officials, which included the sharing of military, security and intelligence data.

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MI5 releases new information about Soviet ‘Portland Spy Ring’

DocumentFiles released on Monday by the British government reveal new evidence about one of the most prolific Soviet spy rings that operated in the West after World War II, which became known as the Portland Spy Ring. Some of the members of the Portland Spy Ring were Soviet operatives who, at the time of their arrest, posed as citizens of third countries. All were non-official-cover intelligence officers, or NOCs, as they are known in Western intelligence parlance. Their Soviet —and nowadays Russian— equivalents are known as illegals. NOCs are high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the authorities of the country that employs them. During much of the Cold War, NOCs posed as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for engaging in espionage.

The existence of the Portland Spy Ring has been known since 1961, when British authorities arrested five people throughout England. Two of them were British citizens, Harry Houghton, a clerk at the Royal Navy’s Underwater Detection Establishment facility in Dorset, England, and his mistress, Ethel Gee. Their Soviet handler was Konon Molody, a Soviet intelligence officer who was posing as a Canadian, under the name Gordon Lonsdale. Also arrested was a married couple from New Zealand, Peter and Helen Kroger. But in reality they were Americans, whose real names were Morris and Lona Cohen, and had worked for Soviet intelligence since the late 1930s. Collectively, the five were referred in media reports as members of the Portland Spy Ring.

The newly declassified files about the spy ring were released by the Security Service, known commonly as MI5, Britain’s primary counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. They reveal how British authorities managed to bust the Portland Spy Ring. According to the files, the initial tip-off came from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The American agency had managed to recruit Michael Goleniewski, codename SNIPER, a Polish military counterintelligence officer, who led the technical office of Poland’s military intelligence. In the spring of 1960, Goleniewski told the CIA that Polish intelligence were running a British agent who was recruited while serving in the office of the naval attaché at the British embassy in Warsaw. The CIA shared the information with British intelligence, who soon identified the agent as Harry Houghton in Dorset. MI5 agents followed Houghton and his girlfriend, Ethel Gee, as they met with a successful Canadian businessman in London, Gordon Lonsdale (real name Konon Molody). Molody had grown up with a family member in California in the 1930s, and spoke fluent English. He had joined Soviet intelligence during World War II and sent to Britain posing as a Canadian. When he arrived there, in 1954, he established the KGB’s first known illegal residency in the British Isles.

In turn, Molody led MI5 to Peter and Helen Kroger from New Zealand (real names Morris and Lona Cohen), who were posing as antique book dealers. The couple acted as couriers, radio operators and technical support officers for Molody. They were born in the United States and had been recruited by Soviet intelligence in the 1930s. It is now known that they had contacts with several other Soviet illegals in America, including Rudolf Abel (real name William Fisher) who was captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1957. The couple had left the United States on orders of the KGB in 1952 and reappeared in the United Kingdom using New Zealand passports and new names.

The newly declassified documents show that MI5 decided to move against the five members of the Portland Spy Ring after Goleniewski became an open defector and was exfiltrated to the United States by officers in the CIA’s Berlin station. British authorities feared that Goleniewski’s open defection would prompt the Soviets to pull out Houghton, whose identity was known to Goleniewski. Houghton and Gee were sentenced to 15 years in prison. They were released in 1970, married the following year, and died in the 1980s. Molody was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 1964 and exchanged for Greville Wynne, a British spy captured in the USSR. The Cohens received 20 year sentences, but were released in 1969 and exchanged with Gerald Brooke, a British teacher who was arrested in the USSR for smuggling anti-communist literature and trying to organize dissidents inside the country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 November 2017 | Permalink

CIA believed Yugoslavia was on the brink of going nuclear in 1975

Josip Broz TitoThe United States Central Intelligence Agency believed that Yugoslavia was on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed state in 1975, due partly to assistance from Washington, according to newly declassified documents. The documents, which date from 1957 to 1986, were unearthed by Dr Filip Kovacevic, a Montenegrin expert on American foreign policy who teaches at the University of San Francisco in California. He accessed the documents in October of this year, after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA in 2016. In response, the spy agency sent Dr Kovacevic eight different files consisting of 84 pages of formerly classified scientific studies, analytical estimates and other reports.

The documents show that the CIA placed the beginning of the Yugoslav nuclear program at the end of World War II. At that time, the multi-ethnic Balkan country became the focus of an intense campaign for influence by the two emerging superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. But Yugoslavia’s communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, opted for a policy of nonalignment, refusing to side with Washington or Moscow. It was at that time that Tito began to explore the creation of a nuclear arsenal, which he hoped would enable Yugoslavia to remain independent amidst the pressures of the Cold War. Interestingly, his plans were quietly supported by the US, which invited Yugoslav physicists and engineers to study and conduct research at American universities. Washington also sent teams of geologists to conduct surveys across Yugoslavia in 1952. These and subsequent surveys detected substantial uranium deposits in northern and southern Yugoslavia, which were deemed sufficient to fuel several nuclear bombs. Two decades later, an American manufacturing company, Westinghouse Nuclear, was contracted by Belgrade to build Yugoslavia’s first nuclear power plant in Slovenia.

The papers unearthed by Dr Kovacevic suggest that in 1975 the CIA was convinced that Yugoslavia was technically and financially capable of building an atomic weapon within four years. In a study entitled “Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”, the spy agency said that Belgrade had made remarkable technical strides in the area of nuclear research and production in 15 years, partly with America’s support. The only question was whether the Yugoslav leadership would decide to go nuclear, something that the CIA’s analysts warned that it would be difficult to ascertain, as President Tito was unpredictable in his decision-making. Eventually, the Yugoslav leader opted to beef up his country’s conventional forces instead of going nuclear. As Tito’s health worsened in the latter half of the 1970s, ethnic rivalries between competing officials took center stage, and the nuclear weapons question lost its immediacy. Tito died in 1980, and almost immediately the country began to sink under the weight of deepening ethnic tensions.

According to Dr Kovacevic, the CIA documents show that the agency kept close tabs on Yugoslavia’s nuclear ambitions throughout the Cold War. Moreover, CIA analysts appeared to have detailed, accurate and up-to-date information about the Yugoslav nuclear program, on which they based their —broadly accurate— estimates. Crucial pieces of information came from the CIA’s “well-organized network of informants” who were placed “across the country’s institutions” and provided the US with highly dependable intelligence on Tito’s nuclear plans, said Dr Kovacevic.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 November 2017 | Permalink

MI6 chiefs used secret slush fund to finance operations, document shows

Sir Stewart MenziesSuccessive directors of the Secret Intelligence Service used a secret slush fund to finance spy operations without British government oversight after World War II, according to a top-secret document unearthed in London. The document was found in a collection belonging to the personal archive of the secretary of the British cabinet, which was released by the United Kingdom’s National Archives. It was discovered earlier this year by Dr Rory Cormac, Associate Professor of International Relations in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Nottingham in England. It forms the basis of an episode of BBC Radio 4’s investigative history program, Document, which was aired last weekend. In the program, the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera explains that the discovery of the secret slush fund reveals new information about the activities of the Secret Intelligence Service. It also raises questions about the underground activities of British spies in the Middle East following the British Empire’s postwar retreat.

Historically, the activities of the Secret Intelligence Service —known commonly as MI6— have been indirectly supervised by the British Parliament and its committees, which fund the agency through a secret vote. The use of the agency’s funds to carry out operations is also monitored by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who exercises political control over MI6. However, the document uncovered by Dr Cormac shows that, for many years, successive directors of the secretive spy agency financed operations using a sizeable personal fund, the existence of which was not disclosed to the government. The document describes a meeting held in 1952 between Sir Stewart Menzies, who was then the outgoing director of MI, and the permanent secretaries —essentially the top-ranking civil servants— to the Foreign Office and the Treasury. The meeting was held to prepare the ground for Sir Stewart’s retirement and to facilitate the smooth handover of power to his successor, Major-General Sir John Sinclair, who became director of MI6 in 1953. Read more of this post