US prosecutors to use secret surveillance evidence in Huawei lawsuit

Huawei 2Prosecutors in the United States have informed lawyers representing the Chinese telecom- munications firm Huawei that they intend to use evidence obtained through secret surveillance in a lawsuit against the company. The case involves the arrest of Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities in December of last year. Meng, 47, is Huawei’s deputy chair and chief financial officer, and is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who founded the telecommunications giant in 1988. She was detained on December 1 in Vancouver at the request of the US, which claims it has evidence that she “tried to evade the American embargo against Iran”. On March 1, the Canadian Department of Justice formally commenced Meng’s extradition process to the US, which Huawei’s lawyers are currently seeking to prevent.

In a lawsuit brought by US government prosecu- tors against Huawei, the Chinese telecom- munications firm is accused of having conspired to defraud several multinational banks by misrepresenting its relationship with a company called Skykom Tech. Washington says that the company is in fact a front used to conceal illicit activities conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. American government prosecutors claim that Huawei worked with Skykom Tech to evade US-imposed economic sanctions on Iran. At a Thursday morning hearing in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York, Assistant US Attorney Alex Solomon said that US authorities had used “secret surveillance” to collect evidence against Huawei. He also said that the evidence had been obtained under a US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which is issued by a secret court and usually pertains to counterintelligence investigations —i.e. when a target is suspected of spying against the US.

Solomon said that the evidence against Huawei was “obtained […] from electronic surveillance and physical search”. He did not elaborate, but added that US government’s legal team had notified Huawei that it planned to use the FISA evidence in court. Last month Huawei rejected all charges filed against it. The company has not yet commented on the FISA evidence. The next date in the court case has been scheduled for June 19, 2019.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 April 2019 | Permalink

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Holland recalls Iran ambassador after Tehran expels Dutch diplomats

Holland embassy IranHolland said on Monday that it had recalled its ambassador from Tehran after Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats, in a deepening dispute involving the assassination of two Dutch citizens by alleged Iranian agents. In July of last year, Holland announced its decision to expel two Iranian diplomats from The Hague, but did not explain the reason for the expulsions. In January of this year, the Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed that the diplomatic expulsions were in retaliation to the assassination of two Dutch nationals of Iranian background. One of the victims, Mohammad-Reza Kolahi, was shot dead in the head at point-blank range by two assailants in December 2015 in Almere, a coastal town 25 miles east of Amsterdam. Nearly two years later, in November 2017, another man, Ahmad Mola Nissi, was shot in the head in broad daylight in The Hague. Both men were members of Iranian militant anti-government groups that the Iranian state accuses of terrorism and crimes against the state.

On Monday, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok informed the Dutch House of Representatives in The Hague that Tehran had informed his Ministry on February 20 that two Dutch diplomats would be expelled from Holland’s embassy in the Iranian capital. The two diplomats, who have not been named, were ordered to leave the country by Monday, March 4. Later on Monday, Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that “two of the diplomats of the Netherlands embassy in Tehran were considered undesirable elements in the framework of a retaliatory measure and were asked to leave the country”. The Iranian move was not made public until last Monday. Blok wrote to the House of Representatives that, in response to Tehran’s move, the Dutch government had decided to recall its ambassador to Iran “for consultations” on how to proceed. Blok noted in his letter that Iran’s decision to expel the Dutch diplomats was “unacceptable and damaging to the bilateral relations between the two countries”.

Late on Monday, the Dutch government also summoned the Iranian ambassador in order to protest the expulsions of its diplomats from Tehran. It was also reported in the Dutch media that a series of financial sanctions imposed on Iran by Holland and its European Union partners in June —presumably over the alleged assassinations that took place on Dutch soil— would remain in place. The sanctions are against two individuals associated with Iranian military intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 March 2019 | Permalink

FBI seeks arrest of US counterintelligence officer who defected to Iran

Monica WittAn American intelligence officer, who held the highest level of security clearance for over a decade, defected to Iran in 2012 and has been spying against the United States ever since, it was revealed yesterday. Monica Witt, 39, was a counterintelligence officer for the United States Air Force from 1997 until 2008, specializing in the Middle East. Throughout her career, she was deployed by the US military to the Middle East on several occasions, in order to carry out counterintelligence missions the details of which remain classified to this day.

According to the US government, one of these missions involved her attendance of an international conference organized by New Horizon Organization. The group is believed to operate as a public relations arm of the Quds Force —the intelligence and paramilitary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, whose mission is to spread the ideals of the Islamic Revolution around the world. Witt’s mission was allegedly to monitor the conference proceedings and collect information on attendees. It was while attending that conference that, according to US government documents, Witt started to become attracted to the Iranian government’s world view. She left the US Air Force in 2008 and moved to Central Asia, initially teaching English in Afghanistan and later in Tajikistan. A year later, she vanished. She allegedly reemerged in Iran in 2013, where she appeared on several television programs in which she renounced United States policy on the Middle East and publicly espoused Shi’a Islam. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, soon after she defected to Iran, Witt used social media to identify and then compile lists of the whereabouts of several of her colleagues in US Air Force counterintelligence. She then gave this information to the Iranian intelligence services, which used it to launch a series of operations targeting current and former US intelligence personnel.

At a press conference held yesterday in Washington, DC, officials from the FBI, the Department of State and the Department of Treasury announced criminal charges against Witt and New Horizon Organization, which they accused of conducting espionage against the US. They also announced charges against employees of the Iranian-registered Net Peygard Samavat Company, which they said used Witt’s information to launch targeted information operations against American government personnel. Witt remains at large and is believed to reside in Iran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 February 2019 | Permalink

FBI releases new information on alleged Iranian deep-cover spies

MEK supporters CaliforniaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has charged two men of Iranian descent, who were arrested in California, of operating as deep-cover spies for Iran. Documents filed in a federal court in Washington, DC, name the men as Majid Ghorbani, 59, and Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, 38. Both have American citizenship and were arrested by the FBI in August, following a year-long counterintelligence investigation. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ghorbani is believed to have immigrated to the US from Iran in 1995. For the past two decades he has worked as a waiter at an upscale Persian restaurant in Santa Ana. Doostdar was born in the southern Californian city of Long Beach, but eventually moved with his family to Canada, and later to Iran, where he grew up. But he kept his US citizenship and made regular trips to America. It is believed that he planned to eventually move with his family to California.

According to the FBI, the two men were tasked by Iranian intelligence with carrying out surveillance on Jewish religious, cultural and political facilities in the US. They were also tasked with conducting surveillance and compiling reports of diplomatic and other facilities connected to the state of Israel. Another part of their mission, said the FBI, was collecting information on the activities and individual members of Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group that has roots in radical Islam and Marxism. The MEK initially supported the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but later withdrew its support, accusing the government of Ayatollah Khomeini of “fascism”. It continued its operations in 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 US officially considered the MEK a terrorist organization. But the group’s sworn hatred against 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 list of foreign terrorist organizations. Today the group enjoys open protection from the EU and the US.

Documents filed in court by the FBI state that the two men were secretly recorded during a year-long counterintelligence operation, as they traveled throughout the US to observe MEK rallies and gather intelligence or Israeli diplomatic facilities. Locations visited by the two men allegedly include Chicago, New York and Washington, as well as several cities in the American West Coast. During those visits, they would compile reports that, according to the FBI, were meant to “enable an intelligence or military unit find [and] neutralize a threat”. The men also traveled back to Iran through third countries, bringing back written operational instructions from their Iranian intelligence handlers, according to the FBI documents. IntelNews wrote about the arrest of the two men in August. However, this is the first concrete information released by the FBI about their identities and activities. They are both accused of acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government —a technical term for deep-cover espionage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 January 2019 | Permalink

Holland says Iranian spies assassinated two men on Dutch soil

Dutch Police HagueAuthorities in Holland have officially accused Iran of ordering the contract murders of two men on Dutch soil in 2015 and 2017, one of them just a block away from the Dutch foreign ministry’s headquarters. The announcement illuminates the reason behind the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats from Holland last year, which the authorities did not explain at the time.

The first of the two assassinations happened on December 15, 2015, in Almere, a coastal town located 25 miles east of Amsterdam. The victim was Mohammad-Reza Kolahi, a 56-year-old electrician who was wanted in Iran for allegedly planting a bomb in 1981. The bomb targeted the headquarters of the ruling Islamic Republican Party, killing more than 70, and is often referred to as the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in Iran’s history. Kolahi, a member of a Marxist-Islamist group calling itself the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), fled the country and was sentenced to death in absentia. He eventually married a Dutch national and acquired Dutch citizenship, changing his name to Ali Motamed. He was reportedly shot in the head at point-blank range by two assailants dressed in all black. Nearly two years later, on November 9, 2017, Ahmad Mola Nissi was also shot in the head in broad daylight by two assailants. The murder took place in the middle of the street in downtown Hague, site of Holland’s parliament and a host of international institutions. Nissi, 52, was a co-founder of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), a secessionist group that seeks an independent Arab homeland in the oil-rich southwestern regions of Iran. Tehran has claimed for decades that both groups, MEK and ASMLA, have been supported by Iraq, Israel, the United States and the European Union.

On Tuesday, Holland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok, informed the Dutch parliament that the country’s intelligence services had provided “strong evidence” that the Islamic Republic was involved in the assassinations of Kolahi and Nissi. He added that both men were Dutch citizens and that their murders on Dutch soil were “hostile actions” that directly violated Dutch sovereignty. He also revealed that the expulsions of two Iranian diplomats from Holland in June of last year were in direct response to the evidence unearthed by the Dutch intelligence services about the two murders. IntelNews readers will recall that the Dutch Foreign Ministry did not explain the reason for the expulsions when these were announced last summer. Also on Tuesday, the European Union announced the imposition of financial sanctions against two individuals associated with Iranian military intelligence, reportedly in response to Holland’s announcement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 January 2019 | Research credit: M.K. | Permalink

CIA suffered ‘catastrophic’ compromise of its spy communication system

CIAThe United States Central Intelligence Agency suffered a “catastrophic” compromise of the system it uses to communicate with spies, which caused the death of “dozens of people around the world” according to sources. This is alleged in a major report published on Friday by Yahoo News, which cites “conversations with eleven former US intelligence and government officials directly familiar with the matter”. The report by the online news service describes the compromise of an Internet-based covert platform used by the CIA to facilitate the clandestine communication between CIA officers and their sources —known as agents or spies— around the world.

According to Yahoo News, the online communication system had been developed in the years after 9/11 by the US Intelligence Community for use in warzones in the Middle East and Central Asia. It was eventually adopted for extensive use by the CIA, which saw it as a practical method for exchanging sensitive information between CIA case officers and their assets in so-called ‘denied areas’. The term refers to regions of the world where face-to-face communication between CIA case officers and their assets is difficult and dangerous due to the presence of ultra-hostile intelligence services or non-state adversaries like the Taliban or al-Qaeda. However, it appears that the system was flawed: it was too elementary to withstand sustained scrutiny by Internet-savvy counterintelligence experts working for state actors like Iran, China or Russia.

In September of 2009, Washington made a series of impressively detailed revelations about the advanced status of Iran’s nuclear program. These angered Tehran, which redoubled its efforts to stop the US and others from acquiring intelligence information about the status of its nuclear program. Some sources told Yahoo News that one of the CIA assets inside Iran’s nuclear program was convinced by the Iranians to become a double spy. He proceeded to give Tehran crucial information about the CIA’s online communication system. Based on these initial clues, the Iranians allegedly used Google-based techniques “that one official described as rudimentary” to identify an entire network of CIA-maintained websites that were used to communicate with assets in Iran and elsewhere. The Iranians then kept tabs on these websites and located their users in order to gradually unravel an entire network of CIA agents inside their country. Around that time, Iranian media announced that the Islamic Republic’s counterintelligence agencies had broken up an extensive CIA spy ring consisting of more than 30 informants.

The Yahoo News report says that the CIA was able to successfully exfiltrate some of its assets from Iran before the authorities were able to apprehend them. The agency also had to recall a number of undercover officers, after they were identified by the Iranians. The effects of the compromise, however, persisted on a global scale, according to former US intelligence officials. In 2011 and 2012, another network of CIA spies was busted in China, leading to the arrest and execution of as many as three dozen assets working for the US. Many, says Yahoo News, believe that the Iranians coached the Chinese on how to use the CIA’s online communication system to identify clandestine methods and sources used by the agency.

Along with other specialist websites, IntelNews monitored these developments as they took place separately in Iran and China. However, the Yahoo News report is the first to piece together these seemingly disparate developments and suggest that they were likely triggered by the same root cause. What is more, the report suggests that the CIA had been warned about the potential shortcomings of its online communication system before 2009, when the first penetrations began to occur. In response to the compromise, the CIA has reportedly modified, and at times completely abandoned, its online communication system. However, the implications of the system’s compromise continue to “unwind worldwide” and the CIA is “still dealing with the fallout”, according to sources. The effects on the agency’s operational work are likely to persist for years, said Yahoo News.

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

Denmark recalls its envoy from Tehran, accuses Iran of assassination plot

Finn Borch AndersenThe Danish government has recalled its ambassador from Iran and has accused the intelligence services of the Islamic Republic of plotting an assassination operation on Danish soil. Danish government officials also said that Copenhagen would seek to impose further economic and diplomatic sanctions on Tehran, in coordination with the European Union. The accusations against Iran were leveled during an emergency news conference in the Danish capital on Tuesday, led by Anders Samuelsen, Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Finn Borch Andersen (pictured), Director of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, known as PET.

The two men said that “an Iranian intelligence agency” had planned “an attack on Danish soil”, which  Defense Minister Samuelsen condemned as “completely unacceptable”. PET Director Andersen said that a Norwegian national of Iranian background had been arrested in Sweden on October 21, and was now in custody awaiting extradition to Denmark. The arrestee is an employee of Iranian intelligence, said Andersen, and had been observed conducting surveillance against a Danish-based leading member of an Iranian separatist group. The alleged target is a member of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), a hardline separatist group campaigning for a separate homeland for Iran’s Arab minority. Approximately 2 percent of Iranians (around 1.5 million people) belong to the country’s ethnic Arab population. Most of them are concentrated in Khuzestan, a region in Iran’s oil-rich southwest, which borders neighboring Iraq. Some of these ethnic Arabs seek autonomy from Tehran, which they see as an alien regime. ASMLA represents the militant wing of Iran’s separatist Arab community and has a history of staging terrorist attacks inside Iran. Last September, the group claimed it was behind an armed attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz —a major urban center in Iran’s Arab-speaking region— which killed 24 people, including some women and children. Later, however, a representative of the group retracted the claim.

On Tuesday, several Iranian officials issued strong denials of the Danish government’s allegations. Speaking in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi dismissed Denmark’s claims as “spiteful”. He added that the timing of reports linking Iran to assassination operations on European soil were suspect and described them as “a plot by [Iran’s] enemies to damage Tehran’s growing relations with European countries”. Earlier this month, France seized the financial assets of individuals whom it described as Iranian spies, after blaming Tehran for a foiled bomb attack in Paris. The move followed the arrest of six people in France, Germany and Belgium, who allegedly planned to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) last June. The NCRI is led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group with roots in radical Islam and Marxism, which Iran sees as a terrorist organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2018 | Permalink