Moscow confirms arrival of Russian troops in Venezuela

Russian planes CaracasRussian media reports have confirmed that an airplane carrying 100 Russian troops arrived in Caracas on Saturday, causing tensions to rise between Washington and Moscow over the deepening crisis in Venezuela. The arrival of the Russian troops in the Venezuelan capital was first reported on Saturday morning by Venezuelan reporter Javier Mayorca, who said on Twitter that two Russian military airplanes had landed in Caracas. The reporter said that an Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo plane belonging to the Russian Air Force could be seen on the tarmac of the Simón Bolívar International Airport in the Venezuelan capital. Another, smaller aircraft, also bearing the Russian flag on its fuselage, landed shortly afterwards, said Mayorca.

Within hours, several Venezuelan media reports appeared to confirm Mayorca’s claims, some even posting photographs of the two Russian planes surrounded by what appeared to be uniformed Russian soldiers. The BBC reported that the Russian cargo plane had delivered 100 Russian troops and 35 tons of military equipment. The force was led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, commander of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, according to the BBC. Later on Saturday, the Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik confirmed that Russian troops had arrived in Caracas. Citing anonymous “diplomatic sources”, Sputnik said the Russian troops had been sent to Caracas in order “to fulfil technical military contracts” and “to take part in consultations […] on defense industry cooperation” with Venezuelan officials. It added that there was “nothing mysterious” about the visit and that it was “related to [military] contracts that had been signed by the two countries years ago”.

Russia has supported Venezuela militarily, economically and diplomatically ever since 1999, when Hugo Chávez became president. The recent political crisis in the Latin American country, which has prompted a direct diplomatic intervention by Washington, has brought Caracas and Moscow closer together, as Russia has strongly opposed efforts by the United States to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro. Earlier this year, Russia sent two Tu-160 long-range bomber aircraft to take part in a military exercise organized by the Venezuelan government.

On Monday, Washington said that the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov. Pompeo told his Russian counterpart that Moscow should “cease its unconstructive behavior” and warned him that the United States would “not stand idly by as Russia exacerbated tensions” in Venezuela. Late on Monday, Sputnik quoted a “diplomatic source” as saying that that the “visit of Russian military personnel to Venezuela [was] in no way connected to the statements of the United States on potential intervention in Venezuela”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 March 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

Mystery compound in Nicaragua shows Russia’s resurgence in Americas, say experts

GLONASS ManaguaA Russian facility built on a hillside facing the United States embassy in the Nicaraguan capital Managua is seen by some experts as symptomatic of Russia’s renewed presence in the Americas. The official Russian explanation for the heavily protected facility, which is surrounded by high walls, is that it is meant to operate as a tracking station for GLONASS, Russia’s version of the global positioning system (GPS). The Russians do not use GPS, because it is owned by the US government and operated by the US Air Force. But some believe that only part of the compound is dedicated to GLONASS activities, and that a major portion is a Russian listening base that sweeps US communications from throughout the region.

Nicaragua has a long Cold War legacy that culminated in the 1980s. In 1979, a leftist insurgency toppled the country’s longtime dictator, Anastazio Somoza. The rebels, who called themselves the Sandinista National Liberation Front (known widely as the Sandinistas), alarmed the government of US President Ronald Reagan. Consequently, the White House authorized a series of covert operations against Nicaragua’s leftist government. They centered on the Contras, an anti-communist counter-insurgency that was largely funded by Washington throughout the so-called Contra war that dominated the country’s politics in the 1980s. But the war also affected politics in the US, and almost toppled the Reagan administration when the Iran-Contra affair (illegal arms sales to Iran by the US government, which then used the proceeds to secretly fund the Contras) was revealed in the media.

In an article published last week, The Washington Post reported that, under the Presidency of Vladimir Putin, Russia has reemerged as a force in Latin American politics. Moscow now regularly supplies weapons to several countries in the hemisphere, including Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Venezuela. It has also expanded its influence through the banking sector and via government loans in countries such as Brazil and Mexico. But Nicaragua, says The Post, has emerged as Russia’s closest ally in the region. For over a decade, the country’s political landscape has been dominated by the Sandinistas, who returned to power in 2006 and continue to govern the country today. The party was supported by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and thus retains strong historical links with Moscow. The Post reports that, according to some analysts, Russia seeks to cement its presence in America’s traditional backyard as a form of response to the eastward expansion of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 April 2017 | Permalink

Peru crisis deepens as prime minister is ousted over spy scandal

Ollanta Humala and Ana JaraBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
For the first time in 50 years, the Peruvian Congress has voted to depose the nation’s prime minister, following allegations of espionage against opposition figures by the country’s intelligence agency. Prime Minister Ana Jara assumed office less than a year ago, after being asked to form a government by Peru’s embattled President, Ollanta Humala. Although her government faced sustained criticism from opposition forces almost from the very beginning, critics began calling for her immediate resignation on March 19, when allegations of politically motivated espionage surfaced in the national press. Peru’s leading weekly, Correo Semanal, said it had uncovered systematic spying by Peru’s National Intelligence Directorate (DINI) against law-abiding citizens who had voiced disagreements with the government. The paper alleged that DINI had for years gathered information on dozens of opposition politicians, military leaders and their families, business executives, as well as journalists known to be critical of government policies.

The revelations prompted a swift reorganization of DINI’s upper echelons on orders of the prime minister. But members of Congress said the restructuring of the intelligence agency had been an attempt by Prime Minister Jara to pacify her critics and called for her ouster. In a barrage of editorials in the Peruvian press, opposition figures accused the prime minister of failing to control the country’s unruly and corrupt intelligence community, whose controversial history is marred by excesses during and after the Cold War.

Late on Monday evening, the Peruvian Congress voted by 72 to 42 and two abstentions to unseat the prime minister. She will now have to tend her resignation to the president within 72 hours of losing Monday’s confidence vote. Presidnet Humala will then seek to form a government under a new prime minister, the eighth in his four years in power. The outgoing prime minster, meanwhile, accused Congress of treating her as a scapegoat and blasted the opposition for politicizing the issue of domestic espionage. In a message posted on her personal Twitter account, Jara said it was “an honor” for her to have been censured “by this Congress”.

News you may have missed #675

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Panama refuses to extradite Colombian ex-spy chief. Panama’s foreign ministry cited the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, an international accord on asylum and Panamanian law, as reason for denying Colombia’s request to extradite Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who faces charges in Bogota over an illegal wiretapping scandal. Currently enjoying asylum in Panama are former presidents of Guatemala, Jorge Serrano Elias; and Ecuador, Abdala Bucaram; as well as erstwhile Haitian military strongman Raoul Cedras.
►►Russian spy chief to visit Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday he and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov will visit Syria and meet with President Bashar al-Assad on February 7. The visit will be made on instructions from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Lavrov did not reveal any details of the upcoming the visit.
►►US spy chief: ‘we don’t know if Iran is building a bomb’. At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last Tuesday, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, released the following statement: “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.  We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons”.

News you may have missed #654

Abdel Hakim Belhaj►►Libyan military commander sues British intelligence. Just as he said he would, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who commands the new Libyan military forces in Tripoli, has sued Britain for its role in his rendition into imprisonment and torture at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. He said he resorted to legal action after waiting in vain for the British government to offer an apology for his seven years spent in the jails of the secret police.
►►Argentine Admiral fired over espionage scandal. The head of the Argentine Navy, Admiral Jorge Godoy, has stepped down after being accused of illegal espionage. He has been indicted for alleged practices of “domestic intelligence” –which are prohibited by Argentina’s laws– against political leaders and of human rights activists, in the years between 2003 and 2006.
►►US intelligence warned of strive after US Iraq pullout. This is what Reuters news agency reports, citing anonymous sources inside the US government. Then again, US intelligence agencies warned in 2002 of increasing strife in case of a US invasion in Iraq, and nobody in government listened to them. So why would anyone listen to them now?

Colombian ex-spy chief gets 25 years for aiding death squads

Jorge Noguera

Jorge Noguera

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In a continent dominated by leftwing governments, Colombia is one of Washington’s few remaining allies. It is therefore unfortunate that the US-supported conservative government of Álvaro Uribe, which ruled Colombia from 2002 to 2010, has been one of the most corrupt regimes in recent Latin American history. The disgraced Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS) appears to have been the cornerstone in the Uribe administration’s corruption complex. Last Wednesday, Colombia’s Supreme Court convicted Jorge Noguera, Director of DAS from 2002 to 2005, to 25 years in prison, for systematically collaborating with illegal far-right death-squads. Noguera’s conviction was based on evidence recovered from the computer of a former death-squad commander, which led to a revealing testimony from former DAS director of information technology, Rafael Garcia. According to Garcia, Noguera routinely provided rightwing paramilitaries with lists of leftist politicians and activists, labor union leaders, and even journalists, who were then targeted for intimidation, blackmail or —in several instances— assassination. One such murdered victim was the late Dr Alfredo Correa de Andreis, who was shot by a death-squad in 2004. The court ordered Noguera to pay Professor Correa’s family nearly US$100,000 in restitution fees, as well as another US$2 million to the state for illegally destroying and expropriating confidential government documents. It is worth noting that at least one of Noguera’s predecessors, Miguel Maza Marquez, who directed DAS in the late 1980s, turned himself in to the authorities in 2009, and is now facing charges of ordering the 1989 assassination of reformist Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán —a self-styled enemy of Colombia’s drug cartels. Noguera’s successor at DAS, Maria Pilar Hurtado, is also wanted for her part in a nationwide wiretapping scandal that targeted several of Uribe’s political opponents, as well as labor leaders, journalists and academics. Read more of this post

White House reinstalls visas for 2009 Honduran coup plotters

Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On June 26, 2009, a clandestine meeting of the Honduran Supreme Court issued a secret warrant for the arrest of the country’s democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya. Less than 48 hours later, in the early hours of June 28, uniformed officers of the Honduran Army stormed the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa and arrested Zelaya. Shortly afterwards, the deposed President was placed on a plane and sent into enforced exile. It was the first coup d’état in the Central American country since 1978, and the first in Latin America in several years. The US administration of President Barack Obama almost immediately condemned the coup and halted American military aid to Honduras; but it failed to officially designate Zelaya’s ouster as a ‘military coup’, which would have required Washington to outlaw and terminate nearly all forms of government —and some private— aid to Honduras. In August, after several weeks of heavy criticism from Latin American governments, the Obama White House proceeded to “temporarily suspend” non-immigrant visas for over 1,000 Honduran military and civilian leaders, who had endorsed President Zelaya’s unconstitutional ouster. Many of whom had participated in the first post-coup government of former Speaker of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti. But a news report by the Associated Press suggests that Washington may now be quietly reinstating visas to Micheletti government officials, and that some of them are already travelling to and from the United States. The article quotes a “US embassy spokesperson”, who “spoke on condition of anonymity”, as saying that “the Department of State has determined that some of the Hondurans whose eligibility for visas was restricted following the June 2009 coup d’etat are again eligible to be considered for visas”. Read more of this post

Documents reveal MI5 role in Guyana coup

Cheddi and Janet Jagan

The Jagans

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Secret intelligence documents declassified last week reveal that Britain’s Security Service, known as MI5, played a significant role in the lead-up to the 1953 coup that toppled the democratically elected government of British Guiana. The Latin American territory, which borders Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil, was once one of the British Empire’s most lucrative sugar-producing colonies. In 1963, after gaining its independence from Britain, it was officially renamed the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana. Instrumental in the fight for independence was Cheddi Jagan —an ethnic Indian former dentist who is today considered the father of the nation— and his American-born wife Janet (née Rosenberg). In 1950, the couple founded the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which became the primary pro-independence political vehicle in the British colony. But dozens of folders of classified documents that were released last Friday by Britain’s National Archives show that MI5 was suspicious of the Jagans, and believed that Janet had been a member of the Communist Party of the United States in the 1940s. Several MI5 reports from the 1950s express concern that the PPP intended to establish close proximity between a newly independent Guyana and the Soviet Union. The declassified MI5 archives contain countless transcribed telephone conversations between the Jagans and their political allies, as well as copies of intercepted correspondence and reports of physical surveillance by MI5 informants. They reveal that British intelligence closely monitored the Jagans for at least a decade. Even though MI5 concluded that the PPP had no close contacts with Soviet agents or agencies, and that the party was “not receiving any financial support from any Communist organization outside the country”, it continued to describe Janet Jagan as “a committed communist” and remained apprehensive of the couple’s “disruptive antics”. The British government of Winston Churchill decided to take aggressive action in 1953, after a landslide election victory for the PPP in British Guiana elections. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #504

  • Israel spy pleads to Obama for release. United States Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel, has pleaded for his release in a personal letter to President Barack Obama. The letter was apparently handed to Obama by Israeli President Shimon Peres when he visited the White House on April 5.
  • US-Pakistan spy feud boils over CIA drone strikes. The Pakistani government has voiced strong criticism of a fresh CIA drone attack, which has killed 26 people. But an anonymous US counterterrorism official, who spoke to the McClatchy news agency, said that “the Pakistanis should spend less time complaining to the press [about the drone strikes] and more time trying to root out terrorists within their country”.
  • Colombia to issue international warrant for ex-spy chief. Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office will issue an international arrest warrant for Maria Pilar Hurtado, former director of the country’s disgraced DAS intelligence agency, who was granted political asylum in Panama.

Leaked US cable reveals concern about China spying in Chile

WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A leaked US government document reveals strong concerns expressed by the US embassy in Santiago about Chinese intelligence operations in Chile. The document, classified “secret”, and dated August 29, 2005, was released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks. It contains a report sent by the embassy to the US Department of State, concerning Chinese intelligence collection activities in the South American nation. The report points out that the Chinese embassy in the Chilean capital is one of the largest in Latin America, with 22 employees, who are “all good Spanish speakers”. It also notes that Chinese news agency Xinhua maintains three full-time correspondents in Chile, who are “assumed [to be] involved in some kind of collection activity”. But the leaked document focuses mostly on alleged Chinese intelligence collection activities aimed at the Chilean military, which is heavily subsisted by the United States. It suggests that bilateral ties between the Chinese and Chilean military were significantly strengthened in 2004, when, during an official visit to China, the then Chief of the Chilean Army, General Juan Emilio Cheyre, adopted a Chinese proposal to establish a Mandarin-language training program for selected officers of the Chilean military, which became operational shortly after. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #478

  • Israel and Chile collaborated to spy on Iran and Venezuela. Documents released by WikiLeaks show Israel and Chile cooperated to spy on Iran as it developed bilateral links with Venezuela. A diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Santiago to the State Department in Washington, dated July 21, 2008, said Chile and Israel both expressed concern about growing ties as well as a potential Iranian presence on the border with Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
  • Korean spies broke into Indonesian delegation’s hotel room. Members of South Korea’s NIS spy agency broke into a hotel room of a visiting high-level Indonesian delegation to try to steal sensitive information on a possible arms deal, according to Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo newspaper. The report said the NIS officers left “after being disturbed by a delegate”.
  • High-ranking Libyan pilots defect to Malta. Two air force jets landed in Malta on Monday and their pilots, who said they are “senior colonels” in the Libyan air force, asked for political asylum. The pilots claim to have defected after refusing to follow orders to attack civilians protesting in Benghazi in Libya. Meanwhile, a group of Libyan army officers have issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to “join the people” and help remove Muammar Gaddafi by marching to Tripoli.

Ex-CIA agent and anti-Castro militant on trial in Texas

Carriles in 1962

Carriles in 1962

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former CIA agent and militant anticommunist, who is idolized by America’s anti-Castro Cubans, but is considered a terrorist in parts of Latin America, has gone on trial in Texas. Luís Posada Carriles, 82, known as “the bin Laden of the Americas” by his detractors, gained notoriety for his self-confessed participation in a string of bombings of hotels in Havana, Cuba, in 1997. He is wanted by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela for his alleged role in the dramatic 1976 midair bombing of Cubana flight 455, which killed all 73 crew and passengers onboard. The United States government has placed Carriles on trial for lying about his militant activities to US immigration officials, after arriving here in 2005. Specifically, Carriles faces 11 charges of perjury, obstruction and naturalization fraud, which he is said to have committed at a 2007 immigration hearing in El Paso. At that hearing, he allegedly denied under oath his participation in the 1997 Havana bombings, and failed to report being in possession of a fake Guatemalan passport, which he had used to enter the United States two years earlier. Read more of this post

Swapped spy says he is not Russian, wants to move to Peru

Mikhail Vasenkov

Mikhail Vasenkov

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
One of the 11 Russian spies arrested in the US in June, and later swapped with CIA assets held in Russian prisons, claims he is not Russian, speaks no Russian, and wants to move to Peru, where he lived in the 1970s. Juan Lazaro was arrested by the FBI on June 27, along with 9 other (and later one more) Russian deep-cover operatives, who had lived in the United States under false identities for up to three decades. Lazaro, who lived in Yonkers, New York, had a doctorate in Political Science, worked as an adjunct professor, and was married to Peruvian-born journalist Vicky Pelaez. But FBI investigators unmasked Lazaro’s real name, which is Mikhail Vasenkov, before deporting him and his wife, who is also accused of working for the Russian secret services, to Moscow. According to FBI records, Vasenkov assumed the Juan Lazaro identity and ‘legend’ (biographical narrative and supporting documentation for intelligence purposes) while living in Latin America in the 1970s, using the papers of the real Juan Lazaro, an Uruguayan child who died at age 3. But now Vasenkov’s American lawyer, Genesis Peduto, claims her client is not from Russia, speaks no Russian, but is in fact the real Juan Lazaro, and wishes to leave Russia for Peru. Read more of this post

CIA killed Chile Army commander, says Pinochet’s spy chief

Carlos Prats

Carlos Prats

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The convicted former chief of Chile’s intelligence services during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet has accused the CIA of murdering the deposed leader of the Chilean army and former Vice-President of Chile, in 1974. General Carlos Prats González was a close political ally of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was toppled by a CIA-assisted military coup in 1973, led by General Augusto Pinochet. General Prats managed to escape with his family to neighboring Argentina. It was there where, in 1974, he was killed along with his wife, Sofia Cuthbert, in a massive car bomb. A Chilean court has convicted General Manuel Contreras, who headed Pinochet’s feared DINA secret police, for the murder of General Prats and his wife. But Contreras, 81, who has been in prison since 1995, servicing over 100 years for several kidnappings and murders of anti-Pinochet dissidents, now accuses the CIA of the Prats murders. Read more of this post