Spy chiefs from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan hold high-level meeting

Sergei NaryshkinIntelligence directors from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan met on Tuesday to discuss regional cooperation with particular reference to combating the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Information about the high-level meeting was revealed yesterday by Sergei Ivanov, media spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Ivanov told Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency that the meeting was held in Pakistan and included the participation of SVR director Sergei Naryshkin. TASS reported that the meeting was held under the auspices of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and was attended by “senior intelligence officials” from Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China.

Ivanov said that discussions during the meeting “focused on the dangers arising from a buildup of the Islamic State on the Afghan territory”. The Islamic State announced the formation of its Afghan province (wilayah in Arabic) in January 2015, using the term “Khorasan Province”. By July 2016, two of its most prominent leaders had been killed in coordinated drone strikes by the United States, but the group continues to launch operations to this day. Its core is thought to be made up of nearly 100 fighters from the Islamic State’s former strongholds in Syria and Iraq. According to Russian reports, security officials in China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran are concerned that the Islamic State’s Afghan command is becoming stronger as fighters from the group are leaving the Middle East and moving to Afghanistan.

Tuesday’s high-level meeting in Islamabad follows an announcement last month by the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that it would adopt a more active stance on security issues in Afghanistan. Early in June, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani described the SCO as “an important platform for anti-terrorist cooperation and enhancing regional connectivity” in Central and South Asia. President Ghani made these comments shortly before traveling to China to attend the annual summit of the SCO, of which Afghanistan is an observer country.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 July 2018 | Permalink

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Holland expels two Iranian diplomats, but stays silent on reasons

Iran embassy HagueHolland has expelled two Iranian diplomats without saying why, leading to speculation that the expulsions may be related to the arrests of members of an alleged Iranian sleeper cell in Belgium, Germany and France last week. On Friday, a spokesperson from Holland’s General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) told reporters that “two persons accredited to the Iranian embassy” in the Hague “were expelled from the Netherlands on June 7”. The spokesperson continued saying that, although the AIVD was able to confirm that the two unnamed persons had been expelled from the country, they would “not provide any further information”. When journalists contacted Holland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they were told that there would be no comment on the matter from the Dutch government.

Late on Friday, the Reuters news agency cited an unnamed “European government official and a Western intelligence source” who said that the two Iranian embassy personnel were expelled from Holland “up to two months ago”. But Holland’s state-owned Dutch Broadcast Foundation (NOS) reported that the expulsions took place on June 7. No further information appears to be publicly available. However, assuming that the expulsions took place last week, and not two months ago, they appear to have coincided with the arrests of members of an alleged Iranian sleeper cell on June 30 and July 1. As intelNews reported last week, the arrests began on June 30, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group arrested a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent in Brussels. The couple were found to be carrying explosives and a detonator. On the following day, July 1, German police arrested an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria. On the same day, a fourth person, who has not been named, was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection with the three other arrests.

All four individuals appear to have been charged with a foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place on June 30 in Paris. The NCRI is led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a Marxist militant group that has roots in radical Islam and Marxism. Until a few years ago, the MEK was designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, but has since been reinstated in both Brussels and Washington. There is also speculation that last week’s expulsions in Holland may be related to the assassinations of dissident Iranian expatriates in Holland in 2015 and 2017, which have been blamed on the government in Tehran.

On Saturday, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Dutch ambassador to protest against the expulsions of its diplomats, while a ministry spokesperson warned that “the Islamic Republic reserves the right to retaliate”. Reuters quoted an unnamed “senior Iranian official” who said that “all these arrests and expulsions are part of our enemies’ attempts to harm efforts to salvage the nuclear deal”, a reference to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 July 2018 | Research credit: M.K. | Permalink

Iran sleeper cell agents, including diplomat, arrested in three European countries

National Council of Resistance of IranAn Iranian diplomat and members of what authorities described as an “Iranian sleeper cell” were arrested this week in Belgium, Germany and France, as they were allegedly planning to a bomb a high-level meeting in Paris. The arrests came after a complex investigation by several European intelligence agencies and were announced by Belgium’s Minister of the Interior, Jan Jambon.

The operation against the alleged sleeper cell began on Saturday, June 30, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group stopped a Mercedes car in Brussels. The car was carrying a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent, named in media reports as Amir S., 38, and Nasimeh N., 33. According to the Belgian Ministry of the Interior, Nasimeh N. was found to be carrying 500 grams of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosive and a detonator inside a toiletries bag. On the following day, Sunday, July 1, German police arrested Assadollah A., an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria. According to reports, the diplomat was driving a rental car in the southeastern German state of Bavaria, heading to Austria. On the same day, a fourth person, who has not been named, was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection with the other three arrests.

The four detainees were in contact with each other and were allegedly working for the Iranian government. All four have been charged with an alleged foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place last Saturday, June 30, in a Paris suburb. The National Council of Resistance of Iran is a France-based umbrella group of Iranian dissidents, led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group that has roots in radical Islam and Marxism. Between 1970 and 1976, the group assassinated six American officials in Iran and in 1970 tried to kill the United States ambassador to the country. It initially supported the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but later withdrew its support, accusing the government of Ayatollah Khomeini of “fascism”. It continued its operations from exile, mainly from Iraq, where its armed members were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab leftist groups.

Until 2009, the European Union and the United States officially considered the MEK a terrorist organization. But the group’s sworn hatred of the government in Iran brought it close to Washington after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. By 2006, the US military was openly collaborating with MEK forces in Iraq, and in 2012 the group was dropped from the US Department of State’s foreign terrorist organizations. Today the group enjoys open protection from the EU and the US. According to Belgian authorities, the four members of the Iranian sleeper cell were planning to bomb the MEK-sponsored NCRI meeting in Paris under instructions by the Iranian government. Conference participants included over 30 senior US officials, including US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who addressed the meeting. Stephen Harper, Canada’s former prime minister, also spoke at the conference.

Speaking in Brussels this week, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jambon praised the country’s intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies for foiling the alleged bomb plot in Paris. But Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, dismissed claims of an Iranian sleeper cell as “fake news” and described reports of a foiled bomb attack as “a sinister false flag plot”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2018 | Permalink

Israel charges former cabinet minister with spying for Iran

Gonen SegevIsrael has charged Gonen Segev, who served as the Jewish state’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, with spying for its archenemy, Iran. Segev, 62, was reportedly detained last month during a trip to Equatorial Guinea following a request by Israeli officials. He was then extradited to Israel and arrested as soon as he arrived in Tel Aviv last month, according to a statement by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. On Monday it emerged that Israeli authorities had imposed a gag order on the case, forbidding Israeli media from reporting any information about it. The order appears to have now been lifted.

In 1992, when he was 35, Segev was elected as one of the Knesset’s youngest members, representing the conservative Tzomet party. Initially an opposition Knesset member, Segev eventually left Tzomet and joined a governing coalition with the Labor Party, in which he served as Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. After exiting politics, Segev, who is a medical doctor by training, became a businessman and traveled frequently abroad. But in 2004 he was arrested on a flight from Holland, while reportedly trying to smuggle several thousand ecstasy pills into Israel. He was jailed for five years but was released from prison in 2007, after a commendation for good conduct. Shortly after his release, Segev moved to the Nigerian city of Abuja, where he practiced medicine. It was there, the Shin Bet claims, that he was recruited by Iranian intelligence.

In a statement released on Monday, the Shin Bet said that Segev had admitted being in regular contact with Iranian intelligence agents in Nigeria and other countries around the world. He is reported to have said that he was given a fake passport by his handlers, which he used to visit Iran on two separate occasions in order to hold secret meetings with Iranian intelligence officers. He also traveled to several other countries in order to meet with his Iranian handlers and hand them information about Israel’s energy sector and the location of energy-related security sites in the country. The Shin Bet statement added that Segev introduced his Iranian handlers —who posed as foreign businessmen— to Israeli security officials on several occasions.

It is believed that Segev appeared before a court in Jerusalem on Friday. He was charged with “assisting an enemy in wartime” and with “carrying out espionage against the State of Israel”. The judge also charged him with numerous instances of transmitting classified information to a foreign power.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 June 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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Sweden grants citizenship to man accused by Iran of being a Mossad spy

Ahmadreza DjalaliThe government of Sweden has granted citizenship to an academic who is on death row in Iran for allegedly helping Israel kill Iranian nuclear scientists. Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed on Saturday that Ahmadreza Djalali, who lives in Sweden and has lectured at Stockholm’s renowned Karolinska Institute, is now a Swedish citizen. IntelNews has covered extensively the case of Dr. Djalali, 45, a professor of disaster medicine who has also taught at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in the Belgian capital, as well as in the VUB’s European Master’s program in Disaster Medicine in Italy.

It is believed that Djalali was arrested in Iran in 2016, during a visit from Sweden, where he has been living for several years. He was sentenced to death last year for allegedly helping Israel assassinate nuclear scientists and sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program. Four Iranian physicists, who were employed in Iran’s nuclear program, are known to have been assassinated between 2010 and 2012. Most were killed by magnetic bombs that were placed on their vehicles by unknown assailants, who were then able to escape on motorcycles. Tehran believes that the assassinations were carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, with the help of agents recruited by the Israelis from within Iran’s nuclear program.

The office of Tehran’s public prosecutor claims that Djalali admitted holding “several meetings with the Mossad”, during which he allegedly “provided [the Mossad] with sensitive information about Iran’s military and nuclear installations”. The Iranians further claim that Djalali gave Israel the names and addresses of at least 30 senior members of the country’s nuclear program. The list included nuclear physicists, engineers, as well as intelligence and military officials with nuclear specializations. In return for supplying inside information, the Israelis allegedly helped Djalali secure permanent residency in Sweden and financed his move there. Iran claims that the information given to the Mossad by Djalali resulted in the assassination of at least one Iranian scientist. But in a letter written from prison in Iran, the jailed academic claims that he was sentenced to death after he refused to carry out espionage operations on behalf of the Iranian state.

A spokeswoman for Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday that the Swedish government was aware that Djalali had been granted citizenship by the country’s Migration Board. Consequently, the Ministry was in touch with Iranian authorities and had requested access to the jailed scientist, she said. She added that the Swedish government’s demand was that “the death penalty is not carried out” in the case of Djalali.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 February 2018 | Permalink

Iranian military official says West used lizards to spy on Iran’s nuclear program

Hassan FiruzabadiThe former chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces has said that foreign governments used different species of lizards, including chameleons, to spy on the Iranian nuclear program. The claim was made by Hassan Firuzabadi, a veteran Iranian military official, who from 1989 to 2016 served as the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces —the most senior military post in the Islamic Republic. Since his retirement in 2016, Firuzabadi has served in a number of key consultancy roles and is currently a senior military advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s reform-minded supreme leader.

On Tuesday, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), a pro-reformist news and analysis outlet, published a lengthy interview with Firuzabadi. The former military strongman was speaking in response to reports earlier this week that a prominent Iranian-Canadian environmental campaigner had died in prison, allegedly of suicide. Kavous Seyed Emami, 63, was a professor of sociology, director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, and political activist. He was arrested with seven of his colleagues on January 24 and charged with espionage. On February 9, Emami’s family said that they had been informed by authorities of his death in prison, reportedly as a result of suicide. The news was later confirmed by Iran’s chief prosecutor. Emami’s family, as well as numerous environmental campaigners and activists, dispute the government’s claims of suicide as a cause of his death.

But in his interview published on ILNA’s website, Firuzabadi claimed that environmental activists with links to foreign countries have in the past been found to engage in espionage against the Islamic Republic. He told the news outlet that some years ago Iranian authorities arrested a group of foreigners who were visiting Iran to raise funds for Palestinian political prisoners. He added that among the foreigners’ possessions authorities found “a species of desert reptile, like a chameleon”, which puzzled them. Firuzabadi then said that, “following studies” on the lizards, Iranian authorities concluded that their skin “attracts atomic waves”. They therefore concluded that the foreigners were in fact “nuclear spies” who had entered Iran in order to “find out where [in the country] are uranium mines and where the government is engaged in nuclear-related activities”. Firuzabadi also said that many foreigners who are engaged in environmental activism “are not even aware of the fact that they are actually spying” on Iran.

But Western scientists and science reporters dismissed Firuzabadi’s claims as fantastical. On Tuesday, John Timmer, science editor for the United States-based technology and science website Ars Technica, called the Iranian military official’s claims “insane” and added that there was “no scientific evidence that reptiles […] are effective as Geiger counters”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 February 2018 | Research credit: C.F. | Permalink