Russia fired officials over Smolenkov defection, filed INTERPOL search request

INTERPOLThe Russian government reportedly fired a number of officials over the defection of a senior Kremlin aide, who alleged worked as an American spy. Meanwhile, Moscow has filed a search request with INTERPOL about the alleged defector’s whereabouts. News of the defection was reported on September 9 by the American news network CNN. The network alleged that the man —which it did not name— was exfiltrated from Russia in 2017 by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, over fears about his life. A subsequent report in the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant identified the alleged defector as Oleg Smolenkov, 50, and said that he disappeared along with his wife and three children in the summer of 2017 while on holiday in Montenegro.

On September 11, the Reuters news agency revealed that Smolenkov was a career diplomat who served as senior aide to Yuri Ushakov, Russia’s former ambassador to the United States and senior international affairs advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the Kremlin disputes claims that Smolenkov was a highly placed official or that he could have been in possession of damaging classified intelligence.

According to a new report from Russia’s InterFax news agency, the Kremlin disciplined a number of Russian officials for permitting Smolenkov and his family to travel to Montenegro. The disciplinary action was taken soon after Smolenkov’s disappearance and led to a number of firings, said InterFax, citing anonymous government sources. In the summer of 2016, the Kremlin had issued a travel ban for Montenegro, which barred government employees from traveling there, due to the deteriorating relations between Moscow and the former Yugoslav Republic. Montenegrin authorities had previously claimed that Russia tried to stage a coup and planned to kill the country’s prime minister. According to InterFax, an investigation by “the relevant law enforcement agencies” concluded that those officials who had allowed the Smolenkovs to travel to Montenegro had “violated the ban”. They were therefore “disciplined and [some] were fired”, said the anonymous source.

Meanwhile it was reported on Friday that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a search request for Smolenkov and his family with INTERPOL, the international agency that facilitates worldwide cooperation between national police organizations. When asked about it by Western news media, a Russian government spokeswoman said that Russia did what any other country would do in this situation: it contacted INTERPOL with “questions regarding the disappearance of […] a citizen of Russia on the territory of a foreign state along with his family […] and his presence on the territory of the United States”, said the spokeswoman.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2019 | Permalink

Miami police arrest Panama’s ex-president on charges of wiretapping

Ricardo MartinelliPolice in the United States have arrested Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli, who is wanted in the Central American country on charges of using state resources to spy on his political opponents and business rivals. The center-right US-educated businessman won the 2009 presidential election in the country with a landslide, receiving over 60 percent of the national vote. His election prompted positive comments from Washington, because it marked a rare ascent to power of a conservative Latin American leader in a sea of socialist heads of state. But the euphoria did not last long. In 2014, Martinelli was succeeded in the presidency by his Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela. Varela promptly launched nearly 200 criminal investigations against his former political partner on issues ranging from embezzlement of state funds to political espionage.

Martinelli is now accused of embezzling $45 million in funds that should have been allocated to a government-run school lunch program for children of disadvantaged families. According to Panamanian prosecutors, Martinelli diverted $13 million of these funds to launch a secret wiretapping program that targeted some of his main political opponents and business rivals. Some of the individuals allegedly targeted in the secret surveillance program were senior members of Martinelli’s own Party of Democratic Change, Supreme Court judges, lawyers, journalists and union activists. The government of Panama also claims that Martinelli wiretapped the telephones of his business rivals, as well as their family members and mistresses.

It appears that Martinelli’s allies within the Panamanian government notified him early on that corruption investigations would be launched against him. This would explain why the former political strongman was able to flee the country days before these investigations were officially launched. Since January 2015, Martinelli has lived in Florida. In 2016, the government of Panama issued an arrest warrant against Martinelli. It also notified the international police agency, Interpol. Last month, Interpol circulated a ‘red notice’, an official alert notifying its counterparts around the world of a wanted individual. On Tuesday, US Marshals arrested Martinelli at his home in the city of Coral Gables in Florida, in response to the red notice issued by Interpol.

Speaking to reporters in Miami on Tuesday, Martinelli’s legal team questioned the timing of the Panamanian government’s arrest warrant, claiming that it came soon after the former president announced he would be running again for office. But the office of Adam S. Fels, the assistant US attorney who ordered Martinelli’s arrest, said that the US intended to fulfill its treaty obligations with the government of Panama. Martinelli is currently in prison in Miami and is expected to remain there until his preliminary court date on June 20.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 June 2017 | Permalink

Colombia’s fugitive ex-spy chief wanted by Interpol surrenders

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s security service, who is accused of spying on senior political figures, has turned herself over to the authorities after five years on the run. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared.

Her whereabouts remained unknown until last Friday, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in. Colombian authorities immediately flew her to Bogota on a specially chartered plane. Upon her arrival at the Colombian capital, a judge ordered her arrest and she was taken to prison. She is currently awaiting trial inside a high-security ward at the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Bogota. Authorities say Hurtado is under heavy police protection, as there are fears that some of her former colleagues in the now defunct DAS may try to assassinate her.

Ex-CIA officer seeks Italian pardon for role in abduction operation

Giorgio Napolitano By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has been convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in an abduction operation, has contacted the Italian president seeking a formal pardon. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Earlier this week, Lady wrote a letter to the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, saying he had never intended to “disrespect Italy’s sovereignty” and asking for the President’s “personal forgiveness and pardon”. In his letter, Lady argues that he operated “under orders from senior American officials” with the aim of protecting lives, adding that US intelligence activities had been able to “stop numerous plans and targets of terrorists operating in Milan and elsewhere in Italy”. The former CIA officer also claims that the 2003 kidnapping of Nasr had taken place “in liaison with senior members of the Italian government”. He concludes by expressing his “regret” for his “participation in any activities which could be viewed as contrary to the laws of Italy”. Read more of this post

Former CIA station chief arrested in Panama ‘has been released’

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, who was detained in Panama last week for his alleged role in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy, returned to the United States on Friday. The US Department of State said Robert Seldon Lady had been released by Panamanian authorities 24 hours after he was detained near Panama’s border with Costa Rica. Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Lady was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica at a remote jungle border crossing early on Thursday, when, according to Costa Rican authorities, “a check on his passport triggered an INTERPOL alert”. Following negotiations between Costa Rican and Panamanian authorities, Lady was detained by Panamanian border guards, who alerted INTERPOL and Italy. Late on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to offer details on the case, but confirmed that Lady was “either en route or back in the United States”. A Panamanian foreign ministry source told Reuters that Lady was released because “Panama does not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”. Read more of this post

Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A retired 21-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by INTERPOL for participating in the abduction of a Muslim cleric in Italy, has been detained by police in Panama. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA officers, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, known also as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. On February 17, 2003, Nasr was seized in dramatic fashion by a group of CIA operatives in broad daylight in Milan. He was stuffed into an unmarked white van and eventually ended up in Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Nasr’s case helped raise awareness of the US government’s extraordinary rendition program. Under the controversial program, suspected terrorist operatives were secretly taken to third-party countries where they were subjected to aggressive interrogation techniques. Italian authorities were irritated by Nasr’s kidnapping, which they claimed took place without the consent of the Italian government. There are also reports that the Italian intelligence services were monitoring Nasr at the time and were trying to recruit him as a source, which might explain why they were incensed when the Egyptian was snatched by the CIA without their authorization. Read more of this post

Did Australian bodyguard help Gaddafi’s son flee to Niger?

Gary Peters

Gary Peters

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Australian private security consultant is accused of having helped one of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s sons escape to relative safety in Niger. For several years, Gary Peters, who lives in Ontario, Canada, worked as a personal bodyguard for Al-Saadi al-Gaddafi, the third oldest son of Libya’s deceased former leader. A few days ago, Peters, who is now back in Canada, told the country’s National Post newspaper that he led “an international security team” tasked with exfiltrating Saadi Gaddafi to the African country of Niger, located immediately to the south of Libya. He also told the paper that he was injured when the three-car convoy carrying Gaddafi’s international security team came under fire as it returned to Libya from Niger. But he said he only “discovered” his injuries while onboard a flight back to Toronto, and was subsequently hospitalized in Canada. Now the paper hosts comments from Nada Basir, spokesperson of the Canadian Libyan Council, which has called for an official investigation into whether Peters broke international laws and sanctions imposed on Libya, by helping a member of the Gaddafi family escape abroad. As with other members of Libya’s former ruling family, Saadi Gaddafi is wanted by INTERPOL, which has issued an international arrest warrant in his name. Basir told The Post that it was an insult to have a Canadian resident apparently defy the NATO mission in Libya, to which the government of Canada is party; he added that Canada’s Libyan community hopes that the government takes this issue seriously. Peters previously told the newspaper that he had been interviewed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but that no charges had been filed against him. Read more of this post

More underreported WikiLeaks revelations

Julian Assange

Julian Assange

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As the world’s media shift their attention to the consequences of the WikiLeaks revelations for its founder Julian Assange, as well as the reactions of American officials, the leaked diplomatic cables keep coming in, almost on an hourly basis. Some of the least noticed revelations include a 2009 dispatch from a US diplomat in Tel Aviv, which appears to confirm the close secret relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, despite the fact that these two countries have no official diplomatic connections. Another diplomatic cable reveals that Iranian intelligence officials approached their Canadian counterparts in 2008 and offered to share with them “information on potential attacks in Afghanistan”. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Canadians reacted guardedly, with Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director Jim Judd stating that his agency had “not figured out what they [the Iranians] are up to”. Read more of this post

British citizen among Mossad assassins intrigues investigators

Christopher Lockwood

Lockwood

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Only a handful of the 33 members of an Israeli assassination squad, who killed a senior Hamas member in Dubai last January, carried non-fraudulent passports. Most of the assassins, who in all probability worked for Kidon, an elite assassination unit within Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, used forged British, Irish, German, Australian, and other passports. Dubai officials investigating the murder of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh have identified at least one British citizen among non-fraudulent passport holders in the Mossad assassination team: he is 62-year-old Christopher Lockwood (photo), who helped facilitate al-Mabhouh’s assassination by transporting some of the Mossad members around Dubai “in a [rented] white minivan with tinted windows”. Read more of this post

Germany lets captured Mossad spy suspect return to Israel

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

Al-Mabhouh

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
German authorities have allowed an Israeli intelligence operative suspected of links to an assassination of a Palestinian official to return to Israel, despite outstanding passport forgery charges against him. The operative, whose travel documents identify him as Uri Brodsky, was arrested upon arriving in Poland on June 4, 2010. An Interpol arrest warrant for Brodsky had been previously issued by German prosecutors, who accuse Brodsky of  helping procure a forged German passport for use by a member of an assassination squad operating under Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. The user of the forged passport is believed to have used the travel document to enter Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in mid-January of this year, where he participated in the killing of Palestinian Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas weapons procurer, who was found dead in his luxury Dubai hotel room on January 20. Polish authorities decided to extradite Brodsky to Germany despite intense diplomatic pressure from Israel, who pressed Warsaw and Berlin to allow the operative to return home to Israel without facing charges. But intelligence observers, who were initially impressed with Poland and Germany’s strong stance on the issue, soon realized that Brodsky’s extradition was part of a Polish-German-Israeli deal, under which Brodsky would avoid jail sentence and get away with a minor fine for forging an official German travel document. This is precisely what happened. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #401

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Wanted Russian spy ring member skips bail in Cyprus

Achilleos Hotel

Achilleos Hotel

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Police in the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus have issued an arrest warrant for a member of an alleged Russian spy ring in the United States, who had been released on bail following his capture on Tuesday. The FBI says that Christopher R. Metsos, who holds Canadian citizenship, was the financial go-between in the 11-member Russian spy ring, which was busted in a series of coordinated raids across several US states on Saturday. On June 25, Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Metsos, who escaped arrest in the US because he was in Cyprus, where he had arrived on June 17. He was arrested at the island’s Larnaca International Airport on Tuesday, while trying to board a flight for Budapest, Hungary. Remarkably, however, Metsos was soon released on bail, awaiting an extradition request from Washington. Predictably, on Wednesday, he failed to report to Larnaca police, as stipulated in his bail release court order. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #353

  • Name of British Mossad agent handed to Interpol. Dubai police have identified another suspect in the January murder of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. He is reportedly a 62-year-old British citizen, who is believed to be currently hiding in western Africa.
  • Russia jails man for spying for the US. Gennady Sipachyov, a Russian whose age and profession have been kept secret by Moscow, has been sentenced to a four-year sentence for allegedly emailing secret military maps identifying classified Russian military infrastructure to the US Pentagon in 2008. Earlier this month, a Russian court rejected an appeal by another alleged US spy, Igor Sutyagin.
  • Bulgarian government wants to copy CIA. Bulgaria’s Defense Minister, Anyu Angelov, has proposed the merging of intelligence services to create a mega-structure of the CIA type. Meanwhile, a panel investigating Bulgaria’s communist-era police files has exposed two of the country’s former counterintelligence heads as former communist state security agents.

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News you may have missed #0291 (al-Mabhouh assassination edition #2)

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Mystery surrounds arrest of renegade CIA agent in Indonesia

Bogor, Indonesia

Bogor, Indonesia

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
In January of 2008, a man with an American accent appeared at a passport office in the popular West Java tourist resort of Bogor, Indonesia, and applied for an Indonesian passport. But his inability to speak Bahasa Indonesia triggered the suspicion of passport officials, who subsequently discovered that his Indonesian birth certificate was faked. He was arrested on the spot, but it took nearly a year for Indonesian authorities to ascertain the man’s real identity: he was Bob Marshall, a 61-year-old American-born former CIA agent who allegedly went renegade on the Agency in 1974. For the past 35 years, Marshall has reportedly been cited in dozens of countries, operating a worldwide arms smuggling and check-fraud network. There are rumors at Interpol that Marshall has made use of no fewer than 40 passports during this time, some of which he acquired while working for the CIA. Read more of this post