German court sentences intelligence officer who spied for CIA

Markus ReichelA court in Germany has sentenced a former officer of the country’s intelligence agency, who spied for the United States and Russia from 2008 to 2014. Regular readers of this website will recall the case of ‘Markus R.’, a clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. The 32-year-old was arrested in July 2014 on suspicion of having spied for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. Germany’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said at the time that Markus R. voluntarily made contact with the CIA in 2008 and offered his services to the American spy agency. He began working for the United States as a double agent soon afterwards. Soon after Markus R.’s arrest was made public, the German government ordered the immediate removal from Germany of the CIA chief of station –who was essentially the top American intelligence official in the country. Berlin also instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice.

On Thursday, Markus R., identified in some German media as Markus Reichel, was sentenced for selling over 200 classified German government documents to the CIA between 2008 and 2012, for which he said he received €80,000 ($90,000). During his trial, Reichel also admitted giving German government documents to personnel at the consulate of the Russian Federation in Munich in the summer of 2014. Among the documents that the former BND clerks is said to have given the CIA was a list of thousands of German intelligence operatives —including agents— stationed abroad, which contained their operational cover names and real identities. But Reichel was caught when German counterintelligence officers intercepted correspondence between him and his handlers and then used the information to set up a successful sting operation.

During his trial, Reichel issued a formal apology for engaging in espionage against the German state. He told the court that he had been motivated by boredom and by “lust for adventure”, which he said he did not get working for the BND. He also said he was frustrated by the lack of confidence that his superiors and colleagues had in him. “At the BND, I had the impression that no one trusted me with anything”, said Reichel. “But the CIA was different. You had the opportunity to prove yourself”, he added. Reichel was found guilty of treason against the German state and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 March 2016 | Permalink

Spy charges for journalists who claimed Turkey arms Syrian Islamists

Can Dündar Erdem GülTwo leading Turkish journalists, who claimed in a series of articles that Ankara has been arming militant Islamists in Syria, are facing espionage charges for “airing Turkish state secrets”. The two, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, work for Cumhuriyet, (The Republic), Turkey’s oldest newspaper, which typically voices staunchly secularist views representing the center-left of the political spectrum. Last year Dündar, who is the paper’s editor, and Gül, who serves as the paper’s bureau chief in Ankara, published a series of articles claiming that the Turkish government was secretly supporting Salafi Jihadist groups in Syria.

In the articles, Dündar and Gül alleged that a convoy of trucks had been intercepted on its way from Turkey to Syria. According to the two reporters, the trucks were transporting large quantities of weapons and ammunition to Syrian rebels as part of a secret operation conducted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkey’s main spy agency. But the MİT had not shared details of the operation with Turkish police, which promptly stopped the vehicles, searched them and found them to be “loaded with weapons” and ammunition, according to Cumhuriyet. The paper also published video footage showing the alleged MİT trucks.

When the story was published, it caused major ripples in Turkish political life and prompted the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to issue official denials directed against the paper’s accusations. Government spokespeople claimed that the captured trucks contained humanitarian assistance, and not weapons. Later, however, Turkish officials admitted that the trucks were indeed carrying weapons, but that they were destined for Turkmen guerrillas operating in Syrian territory. President Erdoğan, however, was furious with Cumhuriyet and warned the paper’s investigative reporters that they would “pay a heavy price” for revealing state secrets.

The two reporters were arrested in November of last year and have since been held in detention. On Wednesday, state prosecutors charged Dündar and Gül with espionage, attempting to topple the Turkish government by force, and supporting terrorism. Interestingly, the main plaintiffs in the case are President Erdogan and Hakan Fidan, the director of MİT. If found guilty, the two Cumhuriyet journalists will face up to life in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 January 2016 | Permalink

US defense contractors allegedly hired Russian computer programmers

PentagonTwo American firms contracted by the Department of Defense have settled a lawsuit accusing them of having hired Russian programmers based in Moscow to write computer code for classified systems. The hires allegedly occurred as part of a $613 million contract, which was awarded by the US Pentagon to Massachusetts-based Netcracker Technology Corporation and Virginia-based Computer Systems Corporation (CSC). The two companies were hired to write software for the US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), a Pentagon outfit that provides the US armed forces with secure real-time combat communications. But in 2011, contractor John C. Kingsley, who had a supervisory role in the project, notified the US government that the two companies had farmed out part of the contract’s coding duties to programmers in Moscow and other Russian cities.

If true, Kingsley’s allegations would mean that Netcracker and CSC were in violation of federal regulations, which specify that only American citizens with the appropriate security clearances should be employed to work on classified communications systems. A subsequent government investigation, which lasted four years, gave rise to a lawsuit against the two companies. The court was told that the code written by the Russian programmers had allowed the installation of “numerous viruses” on the communications systems of the Pentagon “on at least one occasion”. Witnesses also accused Netcracker and CSC of being guided mainly by greed, since it was able to save over 60% of wage costs by employing the Russian programmers.

Last week, the two companies chose to settle the case, by paying the government a combined fee of nearly $13 million in civil penalties. It is important to note, however, that they both deny the government’s accusations that they violated the terms of their federal contract. In statement issued last week, the companies stated that their decision reflected their belief that it was “in the best interest of all stakeholders to settle the matter”. A spokeswoman for the DISA told The Daily Beast that she could not comment on the case, because doing so would “compromise the Agency’s national security posture”. According to The Daily Beast, last week’s settlement does not prevent the Department of Justice from filing criminal charges against Netcracker and CSC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 November 2015 | Permalink | News tip: C.H.

Third person charged in probe into alleged US Pentagon ‘rogue operation’

PentagonA third person has been charged in a complex criminal investigation into the procurement of weapon silencers by the United States Department of Defense, which one American newspaper has described as a possible “rogue operation”. The case concerns the Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration, an obscure civilian-led Pentagon office, whose stated mission is to provide logistical support and procurement for intelligence operations conducted by the US Navy and Marine Corps.

According to media reports, more than three years ago the Directorate ordered 349 weapon suppressors, known commonly as silencers. By general admission, silencers are not the type of military hardware used in conventional combat. More importantly, the procurement cost of the silencers should have been no more than around $10,000. However, purchase records show that the Directorate paid the supplier of the silencers over $1.6 million. The supplier then turned out to be the brother of the Directorate’s officer in charge of intelligence, David W. Landersman. Last week it was revealed that Landersman became the third person to face charges of theft and conspiracy as part of the investigation.

Initially, Pentagon officials suggested that the silencers had been purchased for a top-secret operation codenamed UPSTAIRS. The operation was allegedly a “special-access program” aimed at arming foreign paramilitary forces while avoiding the risk of the weapons being traced back to the US. Though limited details were provided, one government witness told the court that military hardware acquired through UPSTAIRS was intended for the US Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Team 6, commonly known as US Navy SEAL Team 6. The special-forces team became famous in 2010, when it carried out the Central Intelligence Agency’s operation NEPTUNE SPEAR, which killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Later during the course of the investigation, however, SEAL Team 6 representatives told court officials that their unit “had not ordered the silencers” and knew nothing about them. Following that development, government prosecutors objected to further discussion of the case in open court due to the alleged “sensitive nature” of the case. Since then, much of the court documentation on the case has been filed under seal on grounds of national security.

But the discrepancies in the case led The Washington Post to speculate last year that the procurement of the weapons silencers may have been part of a “rogue operation”, that is, a military activity not authorized by the Pentagon leadership. The Post spoke to an unnamed “former senior Navy official familiar with the investigation”, who said the Pentagon’s Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration was “building its own mini law enforcement and intelligence agency” without oversight from higher-ups. Another unnamed source, a former Pentagon official familiar with the Directorate, told the paper that “deeper issues might be in play” in the case.

Last week, a Pentagon spokesman said Landersman was “no longer performing duties in any way associated with intelligence” for the US government, though he appeared to still be employed by the US Navy in a clerical capacity, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 October 2015 | Permalink

German government charges CIA spy with treason

BND GermanyA German intelligence officer, who is accused of spying for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, has been officially charged with treason by authorities in Berlin. The 32-year-old man, identified in court papers only as “Markus R.”, worked as a clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was arrested in July 2014 on suspicion of having spied for the CIA for approximately two years. German prosecutors say they have evidence that shows Markus R. supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000.

Germany’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Thursday that Markus R. made contact with the CIA in 2008 and offered his services to the American spy agency. He began working for the United States as a double agent soon afterwards. His arrest last year added to the already tense relations between Berlin and Washington. The latter had been damaged a year earlier, when it was revealed that the US National Security Agency, America’s signals intelligence organization, had bugged the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The revelation, which was made public by Edward Snowden, an American defector to Russia who had previously worked for the NSA, showed that Chancellor Merkel had been targeted as part of a wider US spy operation against Germany.

The revelations sparked the establishment in Germany of a nine-member parliamentary committee that was tasked with evaluating Snowden’s revelations and proposing Germany’s response. It appears that Markus R. tried to spy on the activities of the committee on behalf of his American handlers. Soon after Markus R.’s arrest was made public, the German government ordered the immediate removal from Germany of the CIA chief of station –who was essentially the top American intelligence official in the country. Berlin also instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice.

It is worth noting that, before his arrest last year, Markus R. is also said to have approached Russian intelligence with an offer to work for them. He is thus believed to have supplied Moscow with classified German government documents as well.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 August 2015 | Permalink

Rwandan spies target government critics abroad: Canadian report

Paul KagameThe government of Rwanda uses intelligence operatives to systematically spy on, harass, and even kill opposition figures living abroad, according to a report issued by a Canadian security agency. The report was written by the National Security Screening Division of the Canada Border Services Agency, and was partly based on information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). It was released as part of a court case involving a Rwandan man living in Canada, who was accused of working as a spy for the government of Rwanda.

The report claims that there is “a well- documented pattern of repression of Rwandan government critics, both inside and outside Rwanda”, and says there is ample evidence of involvement by Rwandan spies in threats, attacks and even killings of opposition activists living abroad. The document cites the case of Patrick Karegeya, a leading member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an armed Tutsi rebel group that fought to end the genocide inflicted upon the Tutsis by their rival Hutus in the 1990s. Karegeya, who used to be director general of External Intelligence in the RPA, fell out with Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, in 2004. In January 2014, Karegeya was found dead in a hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he had been living in exile.

Also cited in the report is a case in the United Kingdom, where two Rwandan exiles were warned by the police in 2011 that there were “threats to their [personal] safety emanating from the Rwandan government”. There was also evidence of Rwandan intelligence activity targeting opposition figures in Canada, said the report. In one recent case, the Rwandan government had attempted to “organize indoctrination training” aimed at Canadian youths of Rwandan heritage, but had to drop its plan following an investigation by CSIS. IntelNews regulars might also remember the case of Evode Mudaheranwa, a Rwandan diplomat who was expelled by the government of Sweden in 2012 for allegedly operating under orders by the Kagame government to silence its critics abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2015 | Permalink

Canada watchdog body to hold secret hearings over illegal spying claims

CSIS canadaA government watchdog in Canada is preparing to hold a series of closed-door hearings to weigh accusations that the country’s intelligence services illegally spied on law-abiding activists opposing the construction of oil pipelines. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) sued the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in February 2014, claiming they spied on Canadian citizens engaging in legal protest. The lawsuit was filed after nearly 150 pages of internal records were accessed by The Vancouver Observer, following an official Access to Information request made by the newspaper.

The BCCLA argues that information contained in the released documents shows that the RCMP and the CSIS gathered data on individuals and groups —including the Sierra Club— who are opposed to the construction of oil pipelines connecting Alberta’s so-called tar-sands to a number of ports in British Columbia. According to the BCCLA’s lawsuit, the documents demonstrate a series of clear violations of the 1985 Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which expressly forbids intelligence-collection activities targeting individuals or groups engaged in “lawful advocacy, protest or dissent”. Additionally, the BCCLA claims that the RCMP and the CSIS communicated the illegally acquired information to members of the Canadian Energy Board, officials in the country’s petroleum industry, and even employees of private security companies.

The hearings will be conducted in Vancouver by the Security and Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), a government body that monitors Canada’s intelligence agencies. Josh Paterson, a lawyer for the BCCLA, told The Vancouver Sun newspaper that the hearings would be so secretive that even the legal teams representing the two sides of the dispute would not be allowed to remain in the room for the entire length of the proceedings.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2015 | Permalink

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