Britain knew of Saudi plan to target journalist, warned Saudis against it

Jamal KhashoggiBritish intelligence had prior knowledge of a plot by the Saudi government to target Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist who was killed in the hands of Saudi intelligence officers in Istanbul on October 2, and allegedly warned Riyadh not to proceed with the plan, according to a report. Khashoggi was a former Saudi government adviser who became critical of the kingdom’s style of governance. He is believed to have been killed by a 15-member Saudi hit squad while visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there for a scheduled appointment in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government admitted last week that the journalist was killed while inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It has pledged to punish those responsible and reform the Kingdom’s intelligence services. But critics accuse Riyadh of ordering the dissident’s murder.

Now a new report claims that Britain’s external intelligence agency, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), was aware of a plot by the Saudi government to kidnap Khashoggi in order silence him. British newspaper The Sunday Express says it has evidence from “high ranking intelligence sources” that MI6 was in possession of communications intercepts containing conversations about Khashoggi. The conversations were between Saudi government officials and officers of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Kingdom’s primary spy agency. In the intercepts, a member of the Saudi royal family is allegedly heard giving orders for the GID to kidnap Khashoggi from Turkey sometime in early September. He also instructs the GID to secretly transport the dissident journalist to Saudi soil where he could be interrogated. During the conversation, a discussion took place about the possibility that Khashoggi would physically resist his abductors. At that point in the conversation, the high ranking intelligence source told The Express, the royal family member “left the door open for alternative remedies […] should Khashoggi be troublesome”.

The paper reports that MI6 “became aware” of the arrival of a 15-member Saudi hit squad in Istanbul on October 1, a day before Khashoggi went missing. According to the paper’s source “it was pretty clear what their aim was”, so MI6 contacted the GID directly and warned the Saudi spy agency to “cancel the mission”, said the source. However, the source added, “this request was ignored”.  On October 10, The Washington Post, the newspaper that employed Khashoggi, said that American intelligence agencies had evidence that the Saudi royal family tried to lure The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, in order to capture him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 October 2018 | Permalink

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US intelligence has evidence Saudis planned to capture missing journalist

Jamal KhashoggiAmerican intelligence agencies have evidence that the Saudi royal family tried to lure The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, in order to capture him, according to sources. Khashoggi, 59, is a Saudi government adviser who in 2015 became a critic of the kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. He also joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies. He has been missing since Tuesday, when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there for a scheduled appointment in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia.

Last Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate during his visit, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle. Saudi Arabia has denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post cited anonymous US officials in claiming that the Saudi royal family had devised an elaborate plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to capture him. The paper said that US intelligence agencies are in possession of communications intercepts of exchanges between Saudi officials, in which the plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia is discussed. The Post also cited “several of Khashoggi’s friends” who said that in recent months he received phone calls from Saudi officials close to the kingdom’s controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The officials reportedly offered Khashoggi political protection from prosecution if he returned to Saudi Arabia. They also offered him high-level government jobs, said The Post. But Khashoggi was skeptical of the offers and rejected them, his friends said.

The paper also cited an anonymous “former US intelligence official” who said that the travel details of the 15-member Saudi diplomatic team that went to Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance “bore the hallmarks of [an extralegal] rendition” —a person’s unauthorized removal from one country and detention and interrogation in another. Turkey has said that the Saudi team arrived in Istanbul in two separate groups using private aircraft, and departed from the country at different times going to different destinations in the hours after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2018 | Permalink

Turkey claims Saudi dissident was killed, dismembered inside Saudi consulate

Jamal KhashoggiTurkish government sources have said that a former trusted aide of the Saudi royal family, who was shunned by Riyadh after criticizing Saudi policies, was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi, 59, is an American-educated former adviser to Saudi royals. He worked for years as an advisor to Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s most recognizable public figures who represented the Kingdom as ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. But in 2015, when Mohammad bin Salman, favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, began to rise through the ranks of the royal family, Khashoggi became sharply critical of changes in the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. Earlier this year, Khashoggi joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies.

In recent months, Khashoggi moved to Istanbul and planned to marry Hatice Cengiz, a local graduate student. Last Tuesday, in preparation for his wedding with Cengiz, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on a prescheduled visit, reportedly to request a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. The document was reportedly required under Turkish marital law. But The Washington Post columnist has not been seen since. On Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi had been brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon. But Turkish officials, speaking anonymously to local media, said that the government had “concrete proof” and that the case would be solved soon through a series of public announcements. However, no accusations have been issued publicly and some doubt that Ankara has evidence to implicate the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Others wonder whether the Turkish government will wish to enter into an escalating diplomatic confrontation with the powerful Saudi royal family. The New York Times said late on Sunday that the Turkish government “was waiting until the investigation was complete” before making a full disclosure regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance. Meanwhile government representatives in the United States, a close ally of the Saudi government, said on Sunday that the Department of State “cannot confirm Mr. Khashoggi’s fate” and that it is “following the case”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 October 2018 | Permalink

Saudi state spies on dissidents in Canada using software built by Israeli firm

Embassy of Saudi Arabia in CanadaThe government of Saudi Arabia is spying on expatriate dissidents in Canada using commercially available software designed by an Israeli company, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. This is alleged in a new report published on Monday by the Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. The report’s authors say they have “high confidence” that intrusive surveillance software is being deployed to target the electronic communications of Saudi dissidents, including Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who has been living in Canada’s Quebec province for nearly 10 years.

Abdulaziz, 27, arrived in Canada on a student visa in 2009. In 2014, having publicly voiced criticisms of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia’s repressive political system, and having been threatened by Saudi authorities, Abdulaziz successfully applied for political asylum in Canada. In 2017 he was granted permanent residency status. For the past eight years, Abdulaziz has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Saudi government, mostly through his satirical channel on YouTube. The channel, called Yakathah, has over 120,000 subscribers and its content has angered Saudi authorities. The latter have warned Abdulaziz’s parents and last summer arrested two of his brothers, in what he describes as attempts to silence him.

Researchers from Citizen Lab claim that the Saudi government has been targeting expatriate dissidents such as Abdulaziz using various techniques, such as sending them spyware-infested messages that express support for anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. The report also notes that these messages make use of Pegasus, a surveillance software system that has been previously implicated in surveillance activities against political dissidents from Gulf countries. The software was designed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Citizen Lab report comes at a time of heightened tensions in relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. In August, Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry issued sharp criticisms of the Saudi government’s human rights record, while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “gravely concerned” about the suppression of political speech in the Kingdom. She also urged the Saudi government to release a number of jailed political activists and stop censoring Saudi women activists seeking gender equality. But her comments enraged the Saudi royal family, which controls the Kingdom. Within days, the Saudi government expelled Canada’s ambassador from Riyadh and restricted its economic ties with Canada. The Kingdom also recalled several thousand Saudi students who were studying in Canadian universities on Saudi government scholarships.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2018 | Permalink

US spy agency to help human rights groups monitor North Korea

NGAThe National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), one of America’s most secretive spy organizations, will work with a number of human-rights groups to monitor human rights in North Korea, according to a senior NGA official. Formed in 1996 as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the NGA operates under the supervision of the US Department of Defense. It is tasked with supporting US national security by collecting, analyzing and distributing geospatial intelligence. It also performs a combat-support mission for the Pentagon. The agency collects most of its data from satellites, surveillance aircraft and unmanned surveillance drones. Headquartered in a vast 2.3 million square foot building in Washington, the NGA is known for its secretive nature and rarely makes headlines.

Recently, however, NGA data expert Chris Rasmussen told Foreign Policy that the agency is finalizing an innovative agreement to work with human rights groups on North Korea. Rasmussen, a longtime military analyst, said that the NGA would provide the groups with access to raw imagery collected through airborne reconnaissance, and would share with them analyses by its experts. The groups would also be able to use a digital imagery application developed by NGA for use by its analysts. The human rights groups specialize on human rights in North Korea and have in the past used commercial satellite imagery data to help locate mass execution sites and mass graves in the secretive Asian country. They have also been able to locate concentration camps and have evaluated the impact of natural disasters in North Korea. Now the NGA will share its intelligence collection arsenal with these groups, in an attempt to shed further light on the state of human rights in North Korea.

Rasmussen said he could not yet reveal the names of the human rights groups that the NGA is preparing to work with, nor give details about the precise topics that the collaboration would focus on, because the official agreements are still being formalized. However, he said that no US intelligence agency had ever worked so closely with human rights organizations. “This kind of collaboration has never been done before with an intelligence agency”, said Rasmussen. He added that the NGA is hoping to use this collaboration as an incubator to “expand to other areas” with human rights groups and think tanks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 March 2018 | Permalink

Egypt president removes spy officials following damning human-rights report

Abdel Fatah al-SisiSeventeen senior Egyptian intelligence officials were summarily removed from their posts hours after the government’s human-rights monitoring body issued a damning report of violations by security agencies. The removal of the officers was announced on Sunday in the official journal of the Egyptian government, in an article that bore the signature of Egypt’s President, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. It listed the names of 17 senior officers of Egypt’s feared General Intelligence Directorate (GID). The article said the 17 would go into early retirement “based on their own requests”, but provided no information on the reasons why they allegedly asked to retire as a group, or who will replace them.

The announcement of the intelligence officers’ removal came shortly after the publication of the annual report on the state of human rights in Egypt by the country’s official government monitoring organization. Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights said in its 2016 report, published over the weekend, that the rights of citizens have “not yet become a priority for the state”. It added that the state of human rights in Egypt remains alarmingly poor despite the adoption of the country’s new constitution in 2014. Egyptian and international rights monitoring organizations claim that as many as 60,000 people have been arrested for political reasons since 2013, when the military overthrew the government of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, following months of protests against his administration.

Focusing on the period between April 2015 and March of this year, the report lists over 260 cases of enforced disappearances of individuals, of which 143 remain under what is termed by the authorities “pretrial detention”. The report further notes that “pretrial detention”, which is often indefinite, has become “a punishment in itself”, and points out that the numbers of prisoners currently held pretrial detention centers exceed their capacity three times over. Consequently, pretrial detainees are forced to “take turns sleeping due to lack of space”, says the report. It also criticizes Egypt’s security and intelligence services for failing to curb the use of torture, which remains widespread despite its condemnation by the government and the conviction of several police and security officers who were found to have tortured detainees to death.

The removal of the 17 senior GID officers highlights the embattled state and internal divisions that continue to plague the Sisi administration, two years after the military strongman assumed power in the country, following a military coup. His administration has focused largely on a violent crackdown against the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which includes the imposition of death sentences on hundreds of thousands of people who were convicted in mass trials. Sisi’s legitimacy is disputed by the Muslim Brotherhood —arguably Egypt’s most popular social movement— and secularist reformers, who boycotted en masse the election that propelled him to the presidency. Sisi won with 97 percent of the vote in a heavily boycotted ballot that was reminiscent of the staged elections held by longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. At the same time, however, Sisi is facing challenges from within the military and intelligence services, which some believe may be planning another coup. In June 2014, a less than a month after taking office, SIS replaced 14 senior GID officials. He fired another 11 a year later, while 13 more were forced to retire last December.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 July 2016 | Permalink

 

Saudis recall ambassador from Sweden after arms deal is scrapped

Margot WallströmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its ambassador from Sweden after the Scandinavian country annulled a multimillion dollar defense contract with the Arab kingdom. Stockholm scrapped the contract on Monday, a day after the Saudis blocked a scheduled speech by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, at the Arab League conference in Cairo. Wallström said she was “astonished” after Arab delegates backed a last-minute push by the Saudi delegation to the meeting to block her from speaking. The effort to block the Swedish politician’s speech was initiated once it became clear that she intended to criticize the Kingdom’s human-rights record. The Swedish politician had reportedly planned to broach the issue of freedom of expression and religious worship, as well as touch on the subject of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The speech was meant to highlight Wallström’s “feminist foreign policy”, which she has previously said will form “an integral part” of the policy strategy of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under her leadership.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced that a lucrative weapons agreement, which was first signed between Stockholm and Riyadh in 2005, would be scrapped in protest against the Arab Kingdom’s poor human-rights record. The day before the announcement, Wallström had proceeded to post online the text of the speech that she had been scheduled to deliver in Cairo, where she had been invited by the Arab League as a guest of honor. Fewer than 24 hours later, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said it would be recalling its ambassador to Sweden, Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim, in protest against what it said were Sweden’s “offensive” and “harmful” actions against the Kingdom. An official statement by the Saudi government described Wallström’s criticisms as a “blatant interference” in the Kingdom’s internal affairs that had “violated accepted international conventions”.

Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed late on Wednesday that the Saudi ambassador to the country was being recalled, but it refused to speculate on whether it would respond by recalling its ambassador to the Arab Kingdom.