Surge in Russian spy activity prompts US agencies to bring back retired officers

FBIA surge in the activity of Russian intelligence personnel on United States soil has caused American spy agencies to rehire retired Russia specialists, according to Newsweek. Additionally, Russian defectors living in the US are reevaluating their personal safety in light of the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England last month, said Newsweek’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein in an article published on Sunday. Writing from Washington, Stein said that US counterintelligence agencies —notably the Federal Bureau of Investigation— are “on edge” over the attack on Skripal, which the British government said was carried out with a military-grade nerve agent on orders of the Kremlin.

Soviet spy agencies have a long history of assassinating defectors, called ‘wet operations’ in Russian spy parlance. But such activities were considerably scaled back after the 1970s. However, many claim that the rise of Vladimir Putin to power brought back these tactics, and that Moscow may now be investing more time and money in ‘wet operations’ training. Stein quoted one anonymous Russian defector living in the US as saying that it would be “easy [for Russian spy services] to find us if they are really determined”. It usually takes an email, text or phone call to friends or relatives back in Russia for Moscow to start tracking the physical whereabouts of defectors. In other cases, family members of defectors may be followed by Russian intelligence personnel while visiting the US to reunite with relatives, said the US-based defector.

The same source told Stein that suspected Russian intelligence personnel had been spotted by US counterintelligence teams surveilling the neighborhoods where Russian defectors reside. To address what they see as an “uptick in Russian activity […] over the past two years”, the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency “have been bringing people out of retirement” with expertise on Russian intelligence operations, Stein reports. The veteran intelligence correspondent also spoke to retired CIA officers, who did not rule out an attempt by Russian intelligence to carry out a ‘wet operation’ on American soil. Stein contacted the CIA and the FBI, asking them to respond to these concerns. He said the CIA declined to comment, while the FBI did not return his messages.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 April 2018 | Permalink

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US spies fear Trump travel ban will hurt recruitment of Muslim assets

US Customs and Border Protection officers at JFK International AirportIntelligence veterans have raised concerns that the temporary ban on immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations, which has been imposed by the White House, will significantly hinder American efforts to recruit intelligence assets and sources in Muslim countries. United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday, banning entry into the United States of citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. According to the White House, the goal of the temporary ban is to help increase domestic security in the US. But according to Jeff Stein, a former intelligence officer and veteran intelligence correspondent, many in the US Intelligence Community view the travel ban as counterproductive and potentially fatal for their ability to operate.

In an article for Newsweek, Stein explains that, ever since the Cold War, American intelligence agencies have guaranteed to their assets —foreigners who agree to spy for the US— that they and their families will be exfiltrated to America if their lives are in danger. In other cases, assets or their family members are given costly medical treatment or educational opportunities in the US. The promise of eventual resettlement in America is a core recruiting tool used by case officers working in agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency. It is especially valuable in Muslim countries, where American spy agencies have traditionally found it difficult to operate, and where asset recruitment is arduous and dangerous. If current and potential assets are in any way concerned that they may not be able to enter the US, or not respected once they enter, their willingness to cooperate with their American spy handlers can quickly evaporate. Stein quotes Cindy Storer, who served 20 years as an analyst in the CIA, mostly on counterterrorism, and was in the agency team that led the successful hunt for al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Storer exclaimed that the travel ban “hurts, capital H-U-R-T-S” the CIA’s ability to collect intelligence. Another CIA veteran, Phillip Lohaus, who also served in the US Special Operations Command, lamented the “reduced likelihood that those in countries targeted by the ban will work with us in the future”.

Henry Miller-Jones, who worked for many years as a CIA operations officer in the Middle East, warned that the travel ban was likely to damage the flow of useful intelligence collected by US agencies from “students, professors, visiting businessmen and others” from Muslim countries. The latter are often recruited by US intelligence agencies when visiting America. Additionally, said Miller-Jones, Americans who travel or live in the Muslim world would now “get the cold shoulder” from potentially valuable contacts in those regions. He told Stein that CIA case officers often struggle to convince potential assets that America respects their religion and culture. The travel ban, no matter how geographically limited or temporary, will make it even more difficult to convince these potential assets to work for US intelligence now, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 January 2017 | Permalink

Further arrests in Edward Lin spy case ‘possible’, says US official

Edward LinAn American official has told Newsweek magazine that the possibility of further arrests in the espionage case of United States Navy flight officer Edward Lin should not be ruled out. Last Sunday, the US Navy reported the arrest Lt. Cmdr. Lin, who faces two counts of espionage and three counts of attempted espionage, among other charges. Aside from a three-page, heavily redacted charge sheet released by the Navy, almost nothing is known about this case. However, as intelNews opined earlier this week, there are several clues that point to the seriousness of the charges against Lin, and their potential ramifications for US national security, which are likely to be extensive.

On Thursday, longtime intelligence and security correspondent Jeff Stein wrote in Newsweek magazine that Lin appeared to have “scores of friends in sensitive places” in the US and Taiwan. That is not surprising, given that Lin served as the Congressional Liaison for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Financial Management and Comptroller, between 2012 and 2014. A cursory survey of Lin’s LinkedIn page, said Stein, shows endorsements by a senior commander at the US Naval Air Station at Guantanamo, Cuba, as well as the US Pacific Fleet’s senior intelligence analyst on Southeast Asia. Other endorsers include Congressional liaison officers for the US Navy, a Taiwanese military attaché, and a former official in Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense.

It is believed that Lin was arrested over eight months ago, but Stein says the investigation, which is being conducted jointly by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is still underway. He quotes an unnamed “US official who asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing some details of the case” as saying that, given Lin’s extensive contacts in the US intelligence establishment, the possibility of further arrests in the case should not be ruled out. Lin is currently being held in the Naval Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2016 | Permalink

Will Israeli spy Pollard receive secret spy wages after US lets him go?

Jonathan PollardLawyers for Jonathan Pollard, an American with Israeli citizenship who spied on the United States for Israel in the 1980s, confirmed on Tuesday that he will be released in November, by which time he will have served 30 years of a life sentence. The news was welcomed by Pollard’s supporters in Israel, who consider him a hero, as well as by pro-Israel Americans, who have been pressuring the US government to release him. But Newsweek’s veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein responded to the news of Pollard’s release by posing an interesting question: when Pollard is released, will he have access to close to $1 million in spy wages that his Israeli handlers are reputed to have deposited for him in a Swiss bank account?

Stein was referring to a practice that is common among intelligence agencies, namely to deposit cash in offshore bank accounts as a way of compensating their assets. The latter can gradually access those funds during trips abroad, usually after their retirement, long after having ceased their espionage activities. If the asset is arrested or perishes, the funds are usually passed on to the asset’s surviving relatives. This method protects the asset from the prying eyes of counterintelligence agencies in the asset’s home country, and sends a message to future recruits that assets and their families will be taken care of by their handlers.

Following Pollard’s arrest in 1985, US government prosecutors repeatedly rejected the view, put forward by Pollard’s legal team, that the former US Navy analyst was a romantic who had spied on the US for Israel because he wanted to assist a small country surrounded by enemies. They told the court that Pollard had also spied for South Africa and had tried to spy for Australia, before finally settling for working for Israel. Far from being a romantic, they said, Pollard was a calculated businessman, who sought financial compensation for his services to the Jewish state. Indeed, according to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pollard had pocketed at least $50,000 from his Israeli handers by the time of his arrest, in addition to receiving several expensive items as gifts. The spy had also been promised that Israel would deposit $30,000 every year in a Swiss bank account, which Pollard could access after his retirement.

In his article published Tuesday, Stein wonders whether Israel has continued to deposit $30,000 a year in Pollard’s reputed Swiss bank account, which is a standard practice for intelligence agencies. If the answer is yes, then the amount available today would be in the neighborhood of $1 million. If Pollard moves to Israel come November, as many believe he will, will he then have access to the money he earned by spying on the US government as an unregistered agent of a foreign power? And if so, how should this be expected to affect the already rocky relations between Washington and Tel Aviv?

Stein said he spoke to Pollard’s New York lawyer, Eliot Lauer, who called the rumors of a secret Swiss bank account “poppycock” and added that Pollard had been “secured employment and housing […] in the New York area”. Additionally, there are some who speculate that Pollard may not be allowed to leave the US as part of the conditions of his parole. At this stage, however, nobody knows for sure. Stein contacted the US Parole Commission, NCIS and the Central Intelligence Agency, but all declined comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/29/01-1745/

‘Gloves are coming off’ in US-Israel clash over Iran, says intel insider

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An American former intelligence operative has called the latest revelations of Israeli spying against the United States “appalling” and warned that “the gloves are coming off” in the clash between Washington and Tel Aviv over Iran. The unnamed former operative, described as having “long, firsthand familiarity with Israeli operations”, told Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that he was not surprised to find out Israel has been spying on the closed-door talks between the US and the Islamic Republic.

He was referring to The Wall Street Journal’s leading article on Monday, which alleged that the Jewish state’s intelligence services have been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The paper said the spy operation against the US forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which aim to bridge the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Newsweek has reported before allegations about aggressive Israeli espionage against the US. Last year, Stein elicited a strong reaction from the Israeli government when he quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal American secrets. According to Stein, intelligence representatives had briefed members of Congress about Israeli spy operations against US interests that were “unrivaled and unseemly” and had reached levels far higher than similar activities by other allied countries, such as Britain or Japan.

This time, however, says Stein, Israeli actions “mark a new frontier” in the intelligence rivalry between Washington and Tel Aviv. He quotes an American former intelligence insider who condemns Israeli efforts to sabotage US-Iranian talks as “manipulation of our institutions” and blasts American lawmakers siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “useful idiots” who “sacrifice the US national interest for a foreign ideology”, namely “Likud rightwing Zionism”. The unnamed source added that the controlled leaks about the widening rift in US-Israeli relations reveal the anger currently being felt in Washington against the Israeli government. Behind closed doors, officials in the White House, the foreign-policy and intelligence communities “are prepared to act on that anger”, he concluded.

CIA had central role in Hezbollah official’s killing, say sources

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States, not Israel, as previously thought, led an assassination operation that targeted a senior member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2008, according to two separate reports that came out last week. Imad Mughniyah was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon. At the time of his assassination, Mughniyah headed the Hezbollah’s security apparatus and some claim he was the organization’s second-in-command. He was killed on the evening of February 12, 2008, when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret. The Shiite group blamed Israel for his killing. But two reports that aired this week, one in The Washington Post and the other in Newsweek, cited unnamed former government officials in the US in claiming that the operation was in fact led by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima said the CIA was assisted in the operation by its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, while Newsweek’s Jeff Stein wrote that the effort was personally approved by then-US President George Bush and was closely supervised by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden.

According to the reports, the Mossad uncovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007 and alerted the CIA, suggesting a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. Soon after President Bush approved the strike, officers in the CIA’s Near East Division planned the logistics of the operation, which involved building a complex bomb, smuggling it into Syria and placing it inside the spare tire of a locally-purchased vehicle. The bomb was allegedly designed by technicians from the CIA’s Directorate of Science & Technology, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in Harvey Point, North Carolina.

The operation was allegedly coordinated from a CIA safe house located near Mughniyah’s apartment in the Syrian capital. On the evening February 12, a team of Mossad and CIA operatives employed facial-recognition technology to identify their target as he was walking out of a local restaurant. When Mughniyah approached the explosives-laden SUV, the bomb was remotely detonated, decapitating him and blasting his torso through a nearby window (note: Goldman and Nakashima claim that the bomb was remotely detonated by Mossad officers located in Tel Aviv; Stein suggests the blast was triggered by a CIA officer who had been placed in charge of the remote-control mechanism).

The reports describe the operation as “one of the most high-risk covert actions” undertaken by the CIA in recent years, because it targeted a high-profile individual in a country with which the US was not officially at war. Additionally, the method used —a car bomb— is particularly controversial, as it is typically a method of operation preferred by organized criminals and terrorist organizations.

The US has not acknowledged participation in Mughniyah’s assassination, and the CIA declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post on Friday. Mark Regev, spokesman for the office of the Israeli prime minister, said simply that Tel Aviv had “nothing to add at this time”.

Mystery surrounds CIA spy ‘of Cuban origin’ released last week

Rolando Sarraff TrujilloBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Almost nothing is known about a Cuban intelligence officer who spied for the United States and is now believed to be on American soil following his release from a Cuban prison last week. His release was part of a wider exchange between Washington and Havana of persons held in each other’s prisons on espionage charges. It included the release of Alan Gross, a contractor for the US Agency for International Development, who was imprisoned in the Caribbean island in 2009 on charges of political subversion. The deal also involved the release of the remaining three members of the so-called “Cuban Five”, a ring of Cuban intelligence officers operating on American soil, who were convicted in 1998 of spying on anti-Castro exile groups on behalf of Havana. But the ample media coverage has shied away from another prisoner who was exchanged as part of the deal, a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency who was described by US President Barack Obama as one of the most important intelligence assets that America has ever had in Cuba. The initial piece of information came from Cuban President Raul Castro himself, who on December 17 announced that an American spy “of Cuban origin” was to be released. Castro did not identify the spy. But later on that same day, Newsweek’s Jeff Stein said his name was “Rolando ‘Roly’ Sarraff Trujillo”, a former cryptographer in the Cuban Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of Intelligence. Trujillo was allegedly recruited by the CIA in the 1980s and spied for Washington until 1995, when he was arrested by Cuban counterintelligence, charged with espionage and sentenced to 25 years in prison. One source told Stein that the damage that Trujillo had caused Havana was so great that “the only thing that saved him from execution was the fact that both his parents were retired senior intelligence officers”. In a report published last Thursday, The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman said Trujillo’s release had been “a major priority for the [US] Intelligence Community” and would have been part of any spy swap with the Cuban government. Both Stein and Goldman claim that Trujillo was instrumental in the capture by the FBI of the Cuban Five, as well as in the 2009 arrest of State Department analysts Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, who spied on America for Cuba for 30 years. He is also said to have had a role in the capture of Ana Belen Montes, the top Cuba analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency, who was convicted in 2002 of spying for Cuba. All this is speculative, however, as no official confirmation has been issued on Trujillo from either Washington or Havana. One former senior CIA official told The Post that the Agency had another spy in Cuba, alongside Trujillo, codenamed TOUCHDOWN. But, unlike Trujillo, he managed to defect to the US in the late 1980s, before getting captured by the Cubans.