Sons of exposed Russian deep-cover spies want their Canadian citizenship back

FoleyThe sons of a Russian couple, who fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for espionage in the United States, are seeking to reinstate their Canadian citizenship, which was annulled when their parents were found to be Russian spies. Tim and Alex Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES —a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following their arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

The two boys were at the family’s home in suburban Cambridge, MA, on Sunday, June 27, 2010, when FBI agents conducted coordinated raids across New England, arresting their parents and eight more Russian ‘illegals’. The term is used to signify Russian non-official-cover operatives, namely intelligence officers who operate abroad without diplomatic cover and typically without connection to the country they spy for. It is now believed that Bezrukov and Vavilova were recruited as a couple in the 1980s by the KGB’s Department S, which operated the agency’s ‘illegals’ program.

But the two brothers, who were born in Canada, are currently involved in a prolonged legal battle to have their Canadian citizenship reinstated. The latter was rescinded when it became clear that their parents’ Canadian passports were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers argue that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, they told Canada’s newsmagazine Maclean’s in August, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes.

This past June, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alex Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. Now the government has until September 20 to decide whether to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court. If it does not, or if it upholds the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, it is thought that Alex’s brother, Tim, will also have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.

But the case may be further-complicated by allegations made by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that Tim was aware of his parents’ espionage activities when they were arrested by the FBI. The CSIS claims that the two Russian spies had groomed Tim to enter the intelligence profession, and that the then-20-year-old had given an oath of allegiance to the SVR —the KGB’s post-Cold-War successor agency. But Tim Vavilov denies he was groomed or “sworn-in” by the Russians, and argues that he has never been presented with evidence of this allegation, even though his parents’ home in Massachusetts was bugged by the FBI for nearly a decade.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2017 | Permalink

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Former head of Qatar spy agency sides with Saudis in diplomatic quarrel

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani with US President Donald Trump A former director of Qatar’s intelligence agency broke ranks with the government of Qatar and accused Doha of supporting terrorism. He also warned that the United States, which has a base in Qatar, would not allow the presence of foreign troops there.

Tensions between Qatar and other predominantly Muslim countries rose dangerously in recent weeks. The crisis erupted soon after Qatar’s state-controlled news agency published an interview with the country’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, in which he appeared to praise Iran and Israel, Saudi Arabia’s primary regional adversaries. Despite protestations by the Saudi government, the Qatari emir then contacted Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, to congratulate him on his reelection, a move that was interpreted as adversarial by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia also feels threatened by Al Jazeera, a Qatari-based television network with worldwide reach, which is often critical of the Gulf’s oil monarchies other than Qatar.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and 16 other predominantly Muslim countries, including Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, announced a series of diplomatic, commercial and military sanctions on Qatar. The sanctions are ostensibly designed to curtail the country’s alleged support for international terrorism. Riyadh and its allies accuse Doha of secretly supporting militant groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Hamas and the Taliban, among others. Currently all sea, air and land connections between these 16 countries and Qatar have been suspended, while no diplomatic relations exist between them. The tense situation has prompted some analysts to describe the diplomatic crisis as the worst in the Gulf region since the 1991 Gulf War.

In response to the diplomatic boycott, the government of Qatar said last week that it would invite military personnel from three of its allies, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, to protect its territory. But the former director of Qatar’s intelligence service said in an interview on Monday that Qatar’s threat would not materialize. Read more of this post

MI6 to revert to old-fashioned ways of recruitment, says director

Alex YoungerBritain’s primary external-intelligence agency will revert to old-fashioned ways of recruiting employees, including the co-called “tap on the shoulder” method, according to its director. Known informally as MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) was founded in 1908 to protect Britain’s national security by collecting intelligence from foreign sources. However, the agency has had difficulty recruiting a diverse group of people, and many still view it as a professional destination for a small wealthy elite, drawn primarily from Britain’s most prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

MI6 is now trying to diversify the makeup of its employees, according to its director, Alex Younger. Younger, who is known at MI6 as ‘C’, gave an interview to British newspaper The Guardian on Thursday. He did so as the agency he leads prepares to increase its personnel numbers by 40 percent in the next four years. Last year, the British government announced that MI6’s personnel strength would grow from its current size of 2,500 employees to approximately 3,500 by 2020. The reason for the increase, said Younger, is that Britain is facing “more threats than ever before […] from terrorist groups and hostile states”. As a result, “the demands on our services [and] capabilities are on the up”, Younger told The Guardian in his first-ever interview with a national newspaper.

But MI6 would function more efficiently and achieve better results it if had a “more diverse workforce”, said Younger. Therefore, he said, the agency must go out of its way to “draw in a new cadre of black and Asian officers”. In doing so, the spy service would need to reach out to minority communities who are “selecting themselves out” of working for the British intelligence community. Useful in this process are what Younger called “old recruitment techniques”, such as the so-called “tap on the shoulder”. The term refers to the deliberate recruitment of individuals who will be approached by MI6 without having applied for employment with the agency. “We have to go to people that would not have thought of being recruited to MI6”, said Younger, adding that the “tap on the shoulder” method can be redeployed in order to increase diversity among MI6’s workforce and “reflect the society we live in”.

The spy agency is preparing to launch an aggressive recruitment campaign next week, aiming at bringing its overall size to 3,500 —a historic high, according to intelligence observers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 March 2017 | Permalink

France’s ex-cyber spy chief speaks candidly about hacking operations

Bernard BarbierThe former director of France’s cyber spy agency has spoken candidly about the recent activities and current state of French cyber espionage, admitting for the first time that France engages in offensive cyber operations. Between 2006 and 2013, Bernard Barbier was director of the technical division of the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency, which is commonly known as DGSE. During his tenure at DGSE, the organization’s technical division witnessed unprecedented financial and administrative growth. Today it is said to employ over 2500 people, nearly half of DGSE’s total personnel.

Earlier this month, Barbier was interviewed on stage during a symposium held by the CentraleSupélec, a top French engineering university based in Paris. He spoke with surprising candor about France’s cyber espionage operations. In the first part of his interview, which can be watched on YouTube, he recounted the history of what he described as “France’s cyber army”. He said that France began to build “teams of hackers” in 1992. Around that time, the DGSE purchased an American-built Cray supercomputer, said Barbier, and soon discovered that it could use the machine’s immense computing power to break passwords. More recently, said the former cyber spy chief, the DGSE has been trying to “catch up” with its American and British counterparts, the National Security Agency and the Government Communications Headquarters, by increasing its annual budget to over half a billion and hiring hundreds of young hackers. Many of these new employees have little to no university education, said Barbier, and are instead self-taught, having started hacking in their teenage years.

Like most governments, France will not officially admit to conducting offensive cyber operations using computer hacking and other techniques. But Barbier said during his interview that France was behind an offensive cyber operation that targeted Iran in 2009. He added that the DGSE has also directed cyber operations against Canada, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Norway, as well as its European Union partners Spain and Greece. He also complained that French government executives do not understand the importance of cyber operations and are not aiming high enough when it comes to planning, direction and hiring. The DGSE’s technical division still needs between 200 and 300 more staff members, Barbier argued in his interview.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2016 | Permalink

CIA tip led to Mandela’s fateful 1962 arrest, claims US ex-diplomat

MandelaThe arrest of Nelson Mandela in 1962, which led to his 28-year incarceration, came after a tip from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, according to an American diplomat who was in South Africa at the time. At the time of his arrest, Mandela was the head of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), an organization he founded in 1961 to operate as the armed wing of the anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC). But the white minority government of South Africa accused Mandela of being a terrorist and an agent of the Soviet Union. The US-Soviet rivalry of that era meant that the ANC and its leader had few supporters in America during the early stages of the Cold War.

Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962 in the KwaZulu-Natal town of Howick by members of the South African Police. He was pretending to be the chauffeur of Cecil Williams, a white member of the ANC who was riding in the back seat of the car that Mandela was driving that night. The details of what led to Mandela’s arrest have always been mysterious, and the ANC has long suspected that the MK leader was betrayed by informants placed within the organization by the apartheid government. But an article in the London-based Sunday Times has said that it was the CIA that tipped off the South Africans about Mandela’s whereabouts that night. The claim is based on an interview with Donald Rickard, an American diplomat —now dead— who was serving as Washington’s vice-consul in Durban at the time of Mandela’s arrest. Some believe that Rickard was actually a CIA officer posing as a diplomat until his retirement from the service in 1978, and he himself never denied it.

Two weeks before he died, Rickard gave an interview to British filmmaker John Irvin, who was filming for his latest documentary, entitled Mandela’s Gun, about Mandela’s role in the MK. According to The Times, the former US diplomat told Irvin that in the early 1960s Mandela was “the most dangerous communist anywhere outside the USSR”. This is despite Mandela’s repeated denials that he had ever been a member or sympathizer of the South African Communist Party, which at the time was actively supporting the ANC. Rickard allegedly told Irvin: “I found out when [Mandela] was coming down and how he was coming […]. That’s where I was involved and that’s’ where Mandela was caught”. In his interview, Rickard insisted that Mandela was “completely under the control of the Soviet Union [and effectively] a toy for the communists”. Moreover, he said the CIA believed that he was planning to organize the large Indian population of Natal Province and incite them into an uprising led by communists, which, according to Rickard, could have prompted an armed Soviet invasion of South Africa. The former diplomat is quoted as telling Irvin: “We were teetering on the brink here and it had to be stopped, which meant Mandela had to be stopped. And I put a stop to it”.

Following his arrest, Mandela served nearly 30 years in prison on terrorism charges, until his eventual release in 1990. In 1994, he was elected as South Africa’s first black president, a post he held until his retirement in 1999. The US, which officially designated Mandela a terrorist in the 1980s under the administration of US President Ronald Reagan, kept the ANC leader on its terrorism watch list until 2008.

The US government has refused comment on Rickard’s claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 May 2016 | Permalink

Interview with children of Russian deep-cover spies caught in the US

First Post HThe two sons of a Russian couple, who were among 10 deep-cover spies arrested in the United States, have given an interview about their experience for the first time. Tim and Alex Foley (now Vavilov) are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES, a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Following their arrest, their sons, who had grown up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that they were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

The two boys were at the family’s home in suburban Cambridge, MA, on Sunday, June 27, 2010, when FBI agents conducted coordinated raids across New England, arresting their parents and eight more Russian ‘illegals’. That term is used to signify Russian non-official-cover operatives, namely intelligence officers who operate abroad without diplomatic cover and typically without connection to the country they spy for. It is now believed that Bezrukov and Vavilova were recruited as a couple in the 1980s by the KGB’s Department S, which operated the agency’s ‘illegals’ program. They were trained for several years before being sent to Canada, where their mission was to blend into the society and establish a ‘legend’, a background story of their lives that could be supported by forged documentation supplied by the KGB. In 1995, the family moved to Paris, France, where Bezrukov, using the name Donald Heathfield, earned Master in Business Administration from the École des Ponts. Both their children had been born by 1999, when the family moved to Massachusetts so that Bezrukov could study at Harvard University. He then joined a consultancy firm, which he apparently planned to use as a vehicle in order to get close to influential American lawmakers.

Their two sons, who are now living in unspecified locations in Europe and Singapore, told British newspaper The Guardian that their childhood was “absolutely normal” and that they never suspected their parents of being spies. They told The Guardian’s Shaun Walker that their parents never discussed Russia or the Soviet Union, never ate Russian food, and never met Russian people while in Massachusetts. The sons, whose Russian names are Alexander and Timofei Vavilov, said they remember meeting their grandparents “somewhere in Europe” when they were very young, but that they later disappeared from their lives. Their parents told them that they lived in rural Alberta, Canada, and that they found it difficult to travel.

The two brothers said that, shortly after their parents were arrested by the FBI, they were put on a plane to Moscow. When they arrived there, a group of people appeared on the plane door and introduced themselves to them as “colleagues of their parents”. They were then placed in a van and taken to a Moscow apartment, where they were given information about their parents’ true backgrounds, including photographs of them from their teenage lives and military service in the USSR. It was then, they told The Guardian, that they finally believed that their parents were indeed Russian spies.

The family reunited a few days later in Moscow, after Bezrukov, Vavilova, and the other Russian ‘illegals’ were exchanged with four men held in Russian jails for spying for the West. The two brothers now want to regain their Canadian citizenship, which was taken from them by the government of Canada after their parents were found to have been using forged Canadian citizenship papers. They argue that they feel Canadian, not Russian, and that they are not responsible for their parents’ actions, which were hidden from them until their arrest in 2010.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 May 2016 | Permalink

US, Russian spies often cooperate despite differences, says CIA director

John BrennanRussia is being “very aggressive” toward the United States, but cooperation on counter-terrorism between Moscow and Washington is “highly active” despite the differences between them, according to the director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. John Brennan, a longtime CIA career officer, who has led the Agency for nearly three years, spoke on National Public Radio on Wednesday about US-Russian relations, Syria and the Islamic State. He told the Washington-based radio station that Russian President Vladimir Putin sees Russia as a superpower that has to assert its influence beyond its immediate region. Thus, said Brennan, Moscow’s actions in Ukraine could be understood in the context of Russia’s regional-power doctrine; but its “very assertive, very aggressive” support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is part of a wider strategy of geopolitical domination that includes the Middle East.

Brennan said that Russia is losing ground in Ukraine because its “hybrid war” is “not going as planned” and Putin “has found that he’s in a bit of a quandary” in the former Soviet republic. Not only is Putin “not realizing his objectives” in Ukraine, added the CIA director, but the widening geopolitical confrontation between Russian and the West is “causing a chill […] even in intelligence channels”. He added, however that the CIA continues to work closely with the Russian intelligence community in counter-terrorism operations directed against Islamist militants. Brennan described the CIA’s relationship with Russian intelligence operatives as a “very factual, informative exchange. If we get information about threats to Russian citizens or diplomats, we will share it with the Russians”, said the CIA director, adding: “they do the same with us”.

Brennan, a fluent Arabic speaker who spent many years in Saudi Arabia, used the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as an example of a collaborative project between the CIA and its Russian counterparts. “We worked very closely with them” during the Sochi games, said Brennan, in order to “try to prevent terrorist attacks”. “And we did so very successfully”, concluded the CIA director.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2016 | Permalink