High-security trial of neo-Nazi group that wanted to spark civil war begins in Germany

AMIDST EXTREMELY TIGHT SECURITY, the trial of 12 members and supporters of a secretive neo-Nazi group that planned to destabilize society and spark a nationwide civil war has begun in the German city of Stuttgart. According to the indictment, the goal of the group, which calls itself “Gruppe S”, was to “shake and ultimately topple the state and social order” in Germany, in order to “spark a civil conflict”.

In accordance with German law, the accused have been identified in the media by their first names and last name initials only. All are German citizens, between the ages 32 and 61. It is worth noting that one of them is a police officer in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He is accused of supporting the group by offering €5,000 (nearly $6,000) for them to purchase weaponry in the illicit market. Another member of the group, who has not been arrested and remains at large, is being tried in absentia.

According to authorities, Gruppe S members had around 30 firearms in their possession, which they were using to train in preparation for war. All firearms were reportedly unlicensed. Shortly prior to their arrest in February of last year, Gruppe S members were reportedly preparing to purchase a Kalashnikov assault rifle and at least one Uzi submachine gun, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades.

It is believed that the investigation that led to the arrest of Gruppe S members begun after an informant came forward and alerted the authorities. This person is now believed to be the government’s chief witness, and is living under police protection. The trial is being conducted inside the Stammheim super-maximum security prison complex in Stuttgart, which is the same prison that housed the leading members of the Red Army Faction urban guerrilla group in the 1970s. The Gruppe S trial is scheduled to conclude in August.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 April 2021 | Permalink

US political operative convicted for illegal lobbying has CIA links, newspaper claims

Imaad Zuberi

A HIGH-FLYING AMERICAN political operative, who was convicted earlier this year for operating as an unregistered foreign agent, violating campaign-finance laws and large-scale tax-evasion, may have been an informant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, according to a new report. In February of this year, a court in the US state of Virginia sentenced Imaad Zuberi, a 50-year-old Pakistani-born entrepreneur, to 12 years in prison, for —among other things— lobbying US politicians on behalf of foreign governments, giving illegal financial donations to both American political parties, hiding sources of income from the Internal Revenue Service, and obstructing justice. In addition to his long prison sentence, he is required to pay the US government nearly $18 million in back taxes and fines.

Prior to his conviction, Zuberi was mostly known as a high-level political fundraiser and donor, who had contributed millions to the election campaigns of both Democratic and Republican politicians, including those of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. After he was arrested and criminally charged in October of 2019, Zuberi quickly confessed to working as a foreign agent and hiding his lobbying activities from the US government. Among his clients were, according to the Associated Press, the governments of Sri Lanka and Turkey, as well as eastern European oligarchs with alleged ties to the Kremlin. According to government prosecutors, Zuberi would receive money from foreign government officials and tycoons in order to introduce them to influential American political figures.

In March of this year, Zuberi’s links to the CIA were discussed in a detailed account of his case by SpyTalk‘s veteran intelligence editor Jeff Stein. After reviewing “confidential case information” and speaking to intelligence insiders, Stein concluded there were “strong suggestions” that Zuberi “may indeed have carried out extremely sensitive operations against major U.S. adversaries for the CIA over the past 15 years”. Stein alleges that, among other things, “Zuberi paid off foreign politicians on the CIA’s behalf” in order to sabotage a foreign oil project by “a major US adversary”.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Zuberi’s legal team is now preparing to challenge his prison sentence in an appeal that will rest primarily on his alleged work for the CIA, detailed by Stein. The Journal claims to have seen Zuberi’s legal filing, which suggests that he has cooperated with the CIA for over a decade. Based on court documents, and sources that the paper described as being “familiar with the businessman’s defense”, it appears that Zuberi’s began cooperating with the CIA as an informant. Eventually, however, his role “grew to involve more formal tasks and missions”, according to the article. The paper did not elaborate on the nature of Zuberi’s alleged work for the spy agency.

The article claims, however, that Zuberi’s alleged links with the CIA were discussed at length during a closed-door hearing in court, under a law that is used in rare instances to protect government-sanctioned intelligence sources and methods. Since that time, Zuberi’s legal team has allegedly secured the assistance of two former CIA officials, who are willing to testify as witnesses in his appeal. The Wall Street Journal said it contacted the CIA for comment, but was told to reach out to the Department of Justice. When contacted by the paper, the Department of Justice said it had no comment to make on Zuberi’s case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2021 | Permalink

In historic first, alleged North Korean spy to face trial in the United States

DPRK North Korean embassy in Malaysia

FOR THE FIRST TIME in history, an alleged intelligence officer of North Korea is going to be tried in a United States court, according to American government officials. In a surprise move last week, Malaysia extradited to the US an export-finance trader named Mun Chol-myong. Aged 55, Mun is a North Korean citizen based in Singapore, where until 2019 he worked for a company called Sinsar Trading Pte. Ltd. The Malaysians arrested him in May 2019 and charged him with using his position to defraud a number of international banks and launder money though the US financial system.

Responding to a US request to have Mun tried in a US court, Malaysia announced his extradition last week, angering Pyongyang. Shortly following Mun’s extradition to the US, North Korea shut down its embassy in Kuala Lumpur, one of only 46 embassies maintained by Pyongyang across the world. Then last Wednesday North Korea fired two ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations sanctions designed to restrict the country’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea’s fury at Mun’s extradition can perhaps be explained by information contained in the newly unsealed indictment [pdf], which dates to 2018. The indictment accuses Mun and a number of other unnamed suspects of being North Korean “intelligence operatives”.

Specifically, the indictment accuses Mun of being an undercover employee of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s primary foreign-intelligence agency. The RGB operates under the supervision of the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army and the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. According to the indictment, Mun utilized shell companies set up by Pyongyang in order to hide his connections with the RGB. His primary mission was allegedly to gain access to international banking institutions and wire services, with the aim of laundering illicit North Korean cash and breaking sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the United Nations and the United States. The indictment accuses Mun of having personally participated in the laundering of $1.5 million in funds in recent years.

In a statement released last week, John Demers, assistant attorney general for the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice, described Mun as “the first North Korean intelligence operative —and the second ever foreign intelligence operative— to have been extradited to the United States”. Meanwhile, the administration of US President Joe Biden said last week it was still reviewing “in depth” the state of US-North Korean relations following the administration of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2021 | Permalink

German court blocks intelligence agency’s plan to spy on far-right party

BfV GermanyA GERMAN COURT HAS temporarily blocked an attempt by the country’s intelligence service to place a domestic far-right party under government surveillance for the first time since the Nazi era. The far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD, was established in 2013. It shocked the German political establishment in 2017, when it received nearly 6 million votes, which amounted to 12.6% of the national vote. Since then, however, the AfD has been shunned by other political parties and the German media, for its alleged links with neo-Nazi groups and sympathizers.

Last week, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel revealed that the country’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), had launched an operation to place the entirety of the AfD under surveillance. The purpose of the operation was to assess whether the party is part of a concerted campaign to undermine the German system of government and the constitution. According to Der Spiegel, the BfV decided to launch a surveillance campaign against the AfD following the conclusion of a two-year investigation into the legality of the party’s political platform and activities.

The BfV plan would enable the spy agency to monitor the AfD’s telecommunications, keep tabs on its officials, members and supporters, and investigate the party’s finances for foreign or illicit sources of income. The BfV’s proposed plan marked the first time that a German political party would become the target of systematic surveillance by the state since the Nazi era.

But a court in Cologne has now placed a temporary halt on the BfV’s plans, following a number of legal cases and emergency motions filed by the AfD against the plan, according to reports in the German media. The party reportedly argued that being placed under surveillance by the state would prevent it from competing fairly in elections against other political parties that were not targeted by state surveillance. On Friday, the court concluded that the BfV could not initiate its surveillance of the AfD until the party’s legal challenges against the measure had concluded. This means that the BfV plan is currently suspended until the courts decide on the case. It is not known at this time if the BfV intends to appeal the court’s decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2021 | Permalink

Activist portrayed in movie Hotel Rwanda sues airline for alleged abduction

Paul KagameAn anti-genocide activist, whose story was made famous in the 2004 Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, has sued an airline company for complicity in his alleged abduction from Dubai and eventual imprisonment in Rwanda. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital Kigali. The hotel catered largely to Westerners, and its grounds were seen as off-limits by the brutal armed gangs that perpetrated the genocide. Therefore, Rusesabagina used his position to shelter over 1200 displaced civilians from the warring militias.

After the end of the genocide, Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became a vocal critic of Rwanda’s Tutsi president, Paul Kagame (pictured). In 1996, Rusesabagina survived an assassination attempt, after which he went into self-exile in Belgium, of which he is a citizen. Eventually he obtained permanent residency to the United States and relocated to San Antonio, Texas. He continued to voice strong criticisms of President Kagame from exile, whom he accuses of dictatorial tendencies, corruption and mismanagement.

In August 2020, Rusesabagina boarded a chartered airplane in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which he was told would transport him to Burundi. While there, he had agreed to do a lecture tour, hosted by a Christian group. However, according to Rusesabagina, the invitation was a trap designed to lure him to Rwanda. He was allegedly bound and gagged shortly after the plane took off from Dubai. He was then transported to Kigali, where he was arrested on August 31 on an international warrant issued by the Rwandan government.

Rusesabagina has remained in prison since his arrest, charged with terrorism, murder, kidnap, arson, and forming, as well as funding, terrorist organizations. He rejects these charges and claims he was abducted and subjected to extraordinary rendition for supporting groups that oppose President Kagame’s rule. He is awaiting trial, which is scheduled to take place on January 26, 2021.

On Thursday, Rusesabagina’s lawyers filed a lawsuit in the US state of Texas, claiming that GainJet, the charter airline company whose plane was allegedly used to transport him from Dubai to Kigali, was complicit in his abduction. According to the BBC, the airline, which is registered in Greece, agreed to participate in his abduction because of its close relationship with senior Rwandan government officials. Rusesabagina’s lawyers are expected to file a similar lawsuit against GainJet in Belgium.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 December 2020 | Permalink

Saudi crown prince dismisses US lawsuit brought by ex-spy official as ‘baseless’

Saad al-JabriA LAWSUIT FILED IN a United States court by a Saudi former senior intelligence official, accuses Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of planning an illegal assassination on Canadian soil. But in a new court filing, the crown prince denies the accusation and claims that it is an attempt to distract attention from the alleged crimes carried out by the plaintiff.

The target of the alleged assassination attempt is Dr. Saad al-Jabri, who rose through the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s, under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Prince bin Nayef is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, and until 2015 was destined to succeed King Abdullah and occupy the kingdom’s throne. Eventually, bin Nayef appointed Dr. al-Jabri as Minister of State and made him his most senior and trusted adviser on matters of security and intelligence.

But Dr. al-Jabri’s standing changed suddenly in 2015, when King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman. Salman then quickly began to rely on his son, Mohammed bin Salman, who he eventually named as his successor. That meant that Dr. al-Jabri’s mentor and protector, Prince bin Nayef, was effectively usurped. Bin Salman abruptly fired Dr. al-Jabri in September of 2015. Less than two years later, bin Nayef was dismissed from his post as Minister of Interior and went under house arrest in Saudi Arabia’s coastal resort city of Jeddah. Fearing for his life, Dr. al-Jabri took his eldest son, Khalid, and escaped to Canada in the middle of the night. They remain there to this day.

In a 106-page lawsuit, filed in August with the United States District Court in Washington, DC, Dr. al-Jabri claims that bin Salman sent spies to conduct physical surveillance on him. The lawsuit also claims that bin Salman dispatched members of his “personal mercenary group”, known as the Tiger Squad, to Canada, in order to assassinate Dr. al-Jabri. The members of the squad allegedly arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sometime in mid-October 2018. The documents claim that the Tiger Squad members traveled to Canada just days after they were dispatched to Istanbul, Turkey, where they killed Saudi journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi. However, they were allegedly turned back by suspicious Canada Border Services Agency officers.

Dr. al-Jabri’s lawsuit relies on the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows non-US citizens to file lawsuits in US courts for alleged human rights abuses that took place outside the US. But lawyers for the crown prince claim that he, along with his father, represent the top echelon of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. As such, they claim, the crown prince is “entitled to status-based immunity from any suit in a US court”. Therefore, they argue, Dr. al-Jabri’s complaint “fails as a legal pleading”. The crown prince’s lawyers also accuse the plaintiff and his associates of having embezzled nearly $11 billion in funds belonging to the Saudi government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 December 2020 | Permalink

Russian dissident sues US government to force release of records on alleged poisoning

Vladimir Kara-MurzaA United States-based Russian opposition activist, who claims he was poisoned twice by the Kremlin, is suing the United States government to force the release of records about his case, but is being met with resistance. The plaintiff is Vladimir Kara-Murza, 38, a senior figure in the Open Russia Foundation, a political pressure group founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, an ultra-wealthy Russian businessman living in self-exile in Switzerland, is one of Vladimir Putin’s arch-enemies.

Kara-Murza rose to prominence in 2013, when he became a member of a network of Putin critics who helped organize opposition protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He also co-authored a number of reports accusing the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin of corruption. For several years now, Kara-Murza, his wife and three children have been living in the United States. But he frequently travels back to Russia to meet with opposition activists and other organizers. During one of those visits in 2015, he was hospitalized with acute respiratory symptoms and was diagnosed with “kidney failure in connection with poisoning”. He claimed that his hospitalization resulted from an assassination attempt against him by people in power who wanted to silence him. He was also hospitalized in 2017 in Moscow with similar symptoms.

Earlier this year Kara-Murza filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, seeking access to all documents held by the Federal Bureau of Investigation relating to his alleged poisonings. After six months, the Russian dissident sued the Department of Justice, arguing that the Department was in violation of law by withholding documents about his case. On August 10, the court handling Kara-Murza’s case received a notice from the Department of Justice, stating that 400 pages would be released within a month, and another 1,100 pages would be released by October 15.

The 400 pages released earlier this month show that the FBI monitored Kara-Murza’s case closely, and that it sought the assistance of toxicologists and other experts to determine whether the Russian dissident had been the target of assassination attempts. The documents also show that FBI Director Christopher Wray was personally involved in the investigation and that, according to the Voice of America, the Bureau’s findings “reached the top levels of the White House”.

However, the Department of Justice recently communicated with the court handling Kara-Murza’s lawsuit, to announce that it would be unable to release the remaining 1,100 pages by October 15. Instead, it said it would do so by November 15 instead. Kara-Murza’s lawyer, Stephen Rademaker, said his client will challenge the Department of Justice’s request. The Department of Justice, the White House and the FBI have not issued any statements about Kara-Murza’s case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 October 2020 | Permalink

Spanish high court broadens illegal wiretap probe to include senior politicians

Luis BárcenasA court in Spain has begun to examine the findings of a long-running probe into an illegal network that spied on people in return for payments, which almost certainly implicates senior figures in the former governing party. The probe focuses on what is known in Spain as the Gürtel case, which is described by observers as one of the most extensive corruption scandals in Spanish political history. It centers on an extensive network of tax evasion, bribery and money laundering, which brought together leading business executives, criminal kingpins, and senior politicians from Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP).

In May of 2018, Spain’s highest criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional, ruled that senior PP officials had enriched themselves with kickbacks and bribes, and had laundered the money with assistance from the criminal underworld. The scandal effectively brought an end to the government of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy later that year, and has virtually annihilated the once robust electoral popularity of the PP.

IntelNews has followed a series of scandals linked to the Gürtel case, notably a case involving José Manuel Villarejo, a 67-year-old former police chief, who was arrested in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps, and remains in custody. According to Spanish prosecutors, Villarejo was in charge of an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. The latter were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many of Villarejo’s targets were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of information collected by the former police chief and his network.

Now a new side of the Gürtel case is about to emerge, as the Audiencia Nacional has unsealed a probe that sheds further light into Operation KITCHEN. This refers to an espionage effort connected to the Gürtel case, which targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular. Bárcenas had in his possession bookkeeping documents that shed light on a secret system for recording illicit funds in possession of PP administrators and senior party figures —for which Bárcenas was eventually given a 33-year prison sentence that he is currently serving.

Once senior government executives were notified by advisors that Bárcenas had these documents, and that he may be planning to share them with the authorities in order to secure a lighter prison sentence for himself, they allegedly set up an espionage operation aimed at preventing Bárcenas’ documents from ending up in the hands of the authorities. Villarejo was allegedly in charge of the espionage operation, which is how Operation KITCHEN connects with the broader Gürtel case. The probe of Operation KITCHEN was unsealed on Monday by Audiencia Nacional Judge Manuel García Castellón. A new series of prosecutions is now expected to take place in the coming weeks, in connection to Operation KITCHEN, which will almost certainly involve leading PP figures.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 September 2020 | Permalink

Canada thwarted plot to assassinate exiled Saudi former top spy, lawsuit alleges

Saad al-JabriCanadian border guards thwarted a sophisticated plot to kill a Saudi former senior intelligence official, who has been targeted by the oil kingdom’s crown prince because he served a rival member of the royal family, according to a lawsuit filed in an American court.

The target of the alleged assassination attempt is Dr. Saad al-Jabri, who rose through the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s, under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Prince bin Nayef is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, and until 2015 was destined to succeed King Abdullah and occupy the kingdom’s throne. Eventually, bin Nayef appointed Dr. al-Jabri as Minister of State and made him his most senior and trusted adviser on matters of security and intelligence.

But Dr. al-Jabri’s standing changed suddenly in 2015, when King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman. Salman then quickly began to rely on his son, Mohammed Bin Salman, who he eventually named as his successor. That meant that Dr. al-Jabri’s mentor and protector, Prince bin Nayef, was effectively usurped. Bin Salman abruptly fired Dr. al-Jabri in September of 2015. Less than two years later, bin Nayef was dismissed from his post as Minister of Interior and went under house arrest in Saudi Arabia’s coastal resort city of Jeddah. That was effectively a bloodless palace coup, which purged bin Nayef and everyone who was closely associated with him. Fearing for his life, Dr. al-Jabri took his eldest son, Khalid, and escaped to Canada in the middle of the night. They remain there to this day.

Now a new 106-page lawsuit (.pdf), filed yesterday with the United States District Court in Washington, DC, claims that bin Salman sent spies to conduct physical surveillance on at least one of Dr. al-Jabri’s properties in the US, in an effort to locate him. The lawsuit also claims that bin Salman dispatched members of his “personal mercenary group”, known as the Tiger Squad, to Canada, in order to assassinate Dr. al-Jabri. The members of the squad allegedly arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sometime in mid-October 2018. The documents claim that the Tiger Squad members traveled to Canada just days after they were dispatched to Istanbul, Turkey, where they killed Saudi journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi.

The lawsuit claims that the members of the assassination team attempted to enter Canada in small groups, using tourist visas, and did not declare their affiliation to the Saudi intelligence services. However, Canadian border guards became suspicious of the men, after realizing that they were part of a larger group. Prior to expelling them from Canada, Canadian border officials searched the men’s belongings and found “two bags of forensic tools”, according to the lawsuit. The suit further claims that the Tiger Squad included “forensic personnel experienced with the clean-up of crime scenes, including an instructor” who had links with “the forensic specialists who dismembered Khashoggi with a bone saw”.

The Saudi palace has made no comment about Dr. al-Jabri’s lawsuit. Earlier this year, Riyadh denied allegations of harassment by Dr. al-Jabri and his family, and claimed he is wanted in Saudi Arabia for financial discrepancies and corruption.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2020 | Permalink

France sentences former intelligence officers to prison for spying for China

DGSE FranceA court in Paris has sentenced to prison two former employees of France’s external intelligence agency, who were accused of spying for the government of China. A third person, the wife of one of the accused, was also handed a jail sentence.

The two men have been identified in media reports only as “Henri M.”, 73, and “Pierre-Marie H.”, 69. They are both reportedly former employees of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Additionally, “Laurence H.”, reportedly the wife of Pierre-Marie H., stood accused of “concealing property derived from espionage on behalf of a foreign power, which is likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation”.

Pierre-Marie H. was arrested in late 2017 while transiting between flights at Zurich airport. He was found to be carrying on him a large amount of undeclared cash, which was reportedly given to him by his Chinese handler, following a meeting on “an island in the Indian Ocean”. Henri M. served as DGSE station chief in Beijing, where he was officially listed as the second secretary at the French embassy there. However, he was recalled to Paris less than a year after his arrival in China, for having an affair with the ambassador’s Chinese interpreter. After his retirement in 2003, Henri M. reportedly moved to China, where he married the interpreter and settled in the southern Chinese island of Hainan. He was arrested by French authorities in 2017.

Both men stood accused of “delivering information to a foreign power” and by doing so “damaging the fundamental interests of the French nation”. French officials described the cases of the two men as “extremely grave”. Their trial took place behind closed doors. On Monday, the court sentenced Pierre-Marie H. to 12 years in prison. Henri M. was given an 8-year prison sentence. Laurence H. was sentenced to 4 years in prison, with a 2-year suspension.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2020 | Permalink

France charges two former intelligence officers with spying for China

dgse franceThe trial of two French former intelligence officers begins today in Paris, with the two men accused by French authorities of having spied for China in the 1990s and 2000s. French officials have remained largely silent on the two cases, but media reports have suggested that the two former intelligence officers were found to have carried out espionage tasks for the Chinese government.

The two men have been identified in media reports only as “Henri M.” and “Pierre-Marie H.”. They are both reportedly former employees of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, known as DGSE. The service operates as France’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. A third suspect, “Laurence H.” is reportedly the wife of Pierre-Marie H., and stands accused of “concealing property derived from espionage on behalf of a foreign power, which is likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation”.

According to reports in the French media, Pierre-Marie H. was arrested in late 2017 while transiting between flights at Zurich airport. He was found to be carrying on him a large amount of undeclared cash, which was reportedly given to him by his Chinese handler, following a meeting on “an island in the Indian Ocean”. He is currently free on bail.

The DGSE appointed Henri M. in the Chinese capital Beijing as its station chief. He was allegedly listed as the second secretary at the French embassy there. However, he was recalled to Paris less than a year following the start of his foreign assignment, after he was found to have an affair with the female interpreter of the ambassador. The interpreter was reportedly a Chinese citizen. In 2003, following his retirement, Henri M. reportedly relocated to China, where he married the interpreter and settled in the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Like Pierre-Marie H., Henri M. was arrested in late 2017, reportedly after a lengthy surveillance operation by French counterintelligence, which lasted several months. Both men are accused of “delivering information to a foreign power” and by doing so “damaging the fundamental interests of the French nation”. French officials have described the cases of the two men as “extremely grave”. The trial will take place in a special court that will convene behind closed doors. The verdict is due to be announced on July 10. If convicted of all charges against them, the two men face 15 years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2020 | Permalink

German court stops spy agencies from conducting mass surveillance of foreigners

BND GermanyGermany’s Federal Court of Justice has ruled that the country’s intelligence agencies are not entitled to spy en masse on the telecommunications exchanges of foreign citizens. The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by several journalist groups, including the German chapter of Reporters Without Borders. The groups partnered with the German-based Society for Civil Rights and argued in their lawsuit that existing law did not prevent German spy agencies from spying at will on the communications of journalists. This could potentially allow the intelligence agencies to identify trusted sources that journalists use in their work, and even share that information with intelligence agencies of other countries, they argued.

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, is uniquely positioned with access to a vast volume of telecommunications data and content. This is because Germany hosts some of the busiest and highest-capacity Internet exchange points in the world. The country’s extensive telecommunications infrastructure includes the so-called DE-CIX exchange in Frankfurt, believed to be the world’s second-busiest Internet node. It is believed that the DE-CIX Internet exchange alone carries over a trillion messages per day to and from Western Europe, Russia, the Middle East and North Africa.

The BND is not allowed to spy on the communications of German nationals. However, according to German media reports, the agency had until now assumed that Internet messages sent by foreigners, which passed through German-based exchanges, were fair game for interception and analysis. This was because, according to the BND, foreign nationals were not protected under Germany’s Basic Law —a term that refers to the German Constitution— which means they and their communications had no privacy protections under German law.

But this assumption was dispelled on Tuesday by the Federal Court of Justice, which is Germany’s highest court. The court ruled that telecommunications surveillance against foreigners is subject to Article 10 of Germany’s Basic Law, which affords German citizens the right to privacy. In other words, the law also protects the telecommunications of foreigners, according to the court, which means that surveillance of foreign communications should be carried out only in a targeted fashion, in response to specific cases or to target specific individuals. The court challenged the mass-surveillance —as opposed to a targeted surveillance— model of the BND’s data collection, and said that it the spy agency’s activities required more stringent oversight, especially in relation to the communications of reporters and lawyers. Finally, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the constitutional safeguards against the BND’s ability to share its intercepted data with foreign spy agencies were insufficient.

In its ruling, the court gave the German government until December of 2021 to propose a new law governing telecommunications surveillance against foreigners, which will be compliant with the German Constitution.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 May 2020 | Permalink

Germany convicts married couple of spying for Indian intelligence service

Manmohan S. Kanwal Jit K.A court in Frankfurt has found a married couple guilty of spying in Germany on behalf of India’s external intelligence service. Due to Germany’s strict privacy laws, the couple have been identified only as 50-year-old Manmohan S. and his wife, Kanwal Jit K., who is 51.

According to the prosecution, Manmohan S. was recruited by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in January of 2015. His wife joined his intelligence-collection activities in July 2017. Following their arrest, the couple told German authorities that they held regular meetings with a RAW case officer who was serving as a diplomat in the Indian consulate in Frankfurt. They also said they were paid nearly $8,000 for their services.

The two convicted spies said at their trial that they were tasked to spy on adherents of the Sikh religion and members of the Kashmiri expatriate community in Germany. The central European country is believed to host as many as 20,000 Indian Sikhs, many of whom openly proclaim secessionist aspirations. Many Sikhs in India and abroad campaign for the creation of a Sikh state in parts of northwestern India and Pakistan, which they call Khalistan. India is also concerned about the secessionist aspirations of Kashmiris, a predominantly Muslim population of 10 million that lives in the region of Jammu and Kashmir. Delhi has long claimed that expatriate groups living in Europe and the United States provide funding for secessionist groups that operate in the region.

On Thursday, Frankfurt’s Higher Regional Court found the couple guilty of conducting illegal espionage activities on German soil. It handed Manmohan S. a one-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence, while Kanwal Jit K. was given a fine that equates to 180 days of income.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 December 2019 | Permalink

Unprecedented trial of ‘secret prisoner’ in Australia raises legal questions

Alexander Maconochie CentreAn unprecedented closed-door trial of a man identified only as “Witness J”, who was convicted earlier this year of a crime that cannot be revealed, has raised questions about the relationship between security and the law in Australia. The man, who is also known as “Prisoner 123458”, was sentenced to a jail sentence in February of this year. His sentencing came following a closed-door hearing, which was described by a judge as “generally undesirable” and “unusual”.

Witness J is believed to be in his mid-30s and to have served as an intelligence officer in the Australian military, with a Top Secret security clearance. According to ABC News, he served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and East Timor and had a distinguished service record. But he drew the attention of counterintelligence investigators in 2018, while undergoing a five-year re-evaluation of his security clearance status. During that time he was reportedly serving as a civilian in an undisclosed country in Southeast Asia.

ABC News said that “some anomalies in [Witness J’s] answers” —presumably while he was undergoing a polygraph test— raised further questions about whether “he could be compromised”. This, according to ABC News, coincided with the deterioration of his mental health, which led him to seek “internal help” from his employer on several occasions. Reportedly, his Top-Secret clearance status did not allow him to seek outside professional advice about his condition. Witness J was eventually jailed in mid-May 2018 and spent a month in solitary confinement. He was then placed in a high-security wing for serious sex offenders at the Alexander Maconochie Centre prison in Canberra. This was not because he was a sex offender, but because it was determined that he would be safer there than in the other wings of the prison.

In February of this year, Witness J was sentenced in a closed-door trial, held under the secrecy provisions of Australia’s 2004 National Security Act. Australia’s Attorney General, Christian Porter, told ABC that the information shared in Witness J’s hearing was “of a kind that could endanger the lives or safety of others”. The only reason why records of Witness J’s incarceration have appeared on the public record was because officers of the Australian Federal Police obtained a warrant to search his prison cell in order to confiscate a personal memoir that they allege the prisoner composed about his case during his incarceration.

It is believed that Witness J was released from prison in August of this year, 16 months before completing his sentence. He is not able to speak to the press, or identify himself in public in connection with this case. According to ABC News, he is only allowed to refer to his conviction as having been for “mishandling classified information”. Several experts have commented on the secret trial of Witness J One expert, Bret Walker, a barrister and former independent national security legislation monitor, told “ABC News that the case of Witness J was “a perfectly well-intentioned piece of national security legislation might not be operating in the way one would like”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 December 2019 | Permalink

Spain’s second largest bank under investigation in massive espionage scandal

José Manuel VillarejoSpain’s second largest bank has been placed under investigation in connection with a probe into an illegal network that spied on scores of politicians, business executives, journalists and judges for over 20 years. The investigation centers on José Manuel Villarejo (pictured), a 67-year-old former police chief, who remains in pre-trial custody following his arrest in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps. State prosecutors accuse Villarejo of running an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. Villarejo’s victims were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of the information that was collected by the former police chief and his network.

On Tuesday, Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, placed the country’s second-largest bank, the BBVA, under formal investigation in connection with the Villarejo case. Audiencia Nacional Judge Manuel García-Castellón took the decision to investigate the BBVA after government prosecutors argued that the bank was one of Villarejo’s main clients, as shown in documents seized from the former police chief in 2017. According to the prosecution, the bank made illicit payments to a company called Cenyt, which was owned by Villarejo. The payments lasted for over 13 years, during which Villarejo earned close to €10 million ($11.1 million) from BBVA. In return, Villarejo and his employees carried out surveillance operations on behalf of the bank. One of the operations targeted Sacyr, a large Spanish-based construction company, which had tried to purchase BBVA in 2004 and 2005. Spanish government prosecutors now accuse BBVA of bribery, disclosure of sensitive information, and corrupt business practices.

In January of 2018 five active police officers and an employee of the Agencia Tributaria, Spain’s tax revenue service, testified in court about having worked for Villarejo’s network. They disclosed information about Operation KITCHEN, an espionage effort that targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular. The purpose of Operation KITCHEN was to wiretap Bárcenas’ communications without acquiring a court warrant, said the witnesses. Last year Bárcenas was jailed for 33 years for his role in the so-called Gürtel case, the largest corruption scandal in modern Spanish history, which brought down the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in July of 2017. Villarejo’s trial continues.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 July 2019 | Permalink