Ex-director of Danish spy agency charged with treason in ‘unprecedented’ case

Lars FindsenIN A CASE THAT observers have described as “unprecedented”, the recently dismissed director of Denmark’s external intelligence agency has been charged with committing acts of treason against the state. Lars Findsen directed the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE, or DDIS in English) from 2015 until his sudden dismissal in 2020. Prior to that, he directed the DDIS’ domestic counterpart, namely the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, or DSIS. As intelNews reported at the time, Findsen was dismissed from his DDIS post in August of 2020. His dismissal was announced with a brief statement by the Danish Ministry of Defense, which said simply that Findsen had been “relieved of duty for the time being”, pending an investigation.

Now it has been revealed that Findsen was among four current and former members of the DDIS and the DSIS, who were arrested last month. The Danish government made use of an obscure secrecy clause to bar the nation’s media from reporting the arrests. As a result, Findsen’s whereabouts were not known until Monday, when a court lifted the reporting ban after an early-morning closed-door hearing. Shortly afterwards, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, Denmark’s public broadcaster, reported that Findsen was arrested on the morning of December 8, 2021, at the Copenhagen Airport.

According to the report, Findsen has been charged with acts of treason related to disclosing state secrets to Danish journalists. Back in 2020, intelNews reported that Findsen’s dismissal was likely related to a damning assessment that had been issued by the Danish Oversight Board, known as TET, which is responsible for overseeing the work of Denmark’s spy agencies. The assessment had blasted the DDIS for effectively lying about its intelligence-collection practices while in full knowledge that they were in violation of Danish privacy law. Later that year, however, Danish intelligence agencies were severely criticized, after reports surfaced that they had secretly helped the United States spy on Western countries, including France, Sweden, Germany and Holland.

The above revelation have prompted strong criticism of the Danish spy services all over Europe. But it is not known whether Findsen’s arrest is connected with any of them. Reports said last night that the other three current and former intelligence personnel who were arrested alongside Findsen had been released on bail. Findsen, however, remains in detention, and faces charges that carry a 12-year prison sentence. Speaking to reporters following his court arraignment, Findsen said he looked forward to the opportunity to dispute the charges against him, which he described as “absolutely insane”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2022 | Permalink

Spain’s former prime minister denies knowledge of high-level spy operation

Mariano RajoySPAIN’S FORMER PRIME MINISTER, Mariano Rajoy, has denied knowledge of an alleged spy operation that prosecutors say is connected to one of the most extensive corruption scandals in Spanish political history. The alleged spy scandal relates to what is known in Spain as the Gürtel case, which centers on an extensive network of tax evasion, bribery and money laundering. The Gürtel case brought together leading business executives, criminal kingpins, and senior politicians from Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (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 large sums of money with assistance from the criminal underworld. The scandal effectively brought an end to the government of Prime Minister Rajoy later that year, and has virtually annihilated the once robust electoral popularity of the PP.

In 2020, another side of the Gürtel case emerged, which became known as Operation KITCHEN. This refers to an espionage effort that targeted senator Luis Bárcenas, who also served as treasurer of the PP. It was discovered that Bárcenas had in his possession bookkeeping documents that shed light on a secret system for recording illicit bribes paid to PP administrators and senior party figures. For his implication in the Gürtel case, Bárcenas was eventually given a 33-year prison sentence, which he is currently serving.

It appears that, once senior PP executives realized that Bárcenas had these documents in his possession, and that he may share them with the authorities so as 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.

On Monday, however, Rajoy, who served as prime minister from 2011 to 2018, claimed he had no knowledge of any espionage efforts undertaken against Bárcenas. Speaking before a parliamentary committee that is investigating Operation KITCHEN, Rajoy said he had nothing to do with the spy affair. He later told reporters: “I never had any knowledge of the existence of this operation […], so I gave instructions on something I knew nothing about? I don’t know what they [the committee] were looking for”. Rajoy also told the parliamentary committee: “I really don’t care what Mr. Bárcenas [and others implicated in the Gürtel case] might have said about me”.

The investigation into Operation KITCHEN continues.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 December 2021 | Permalink

Recent conviction of Chinese spy in a US court could be game changer, say insiders

Chinese Ministry of State Security

THE RECENT CONVICTION OF a Chinese intelligence officer for espionage in a United States court could be a “seminal moment” for American counterintelligence, according to several former intelligence professionals. They spoke to The Daily Beast’s Shannon Vavra about the case of Yanjun Xu, who is also known as Qu Hui or Zhang Hui. As intelNews and others reported last month, Xu is a deputy division director in the Ministry of State Security (MSS) —China’s intelligence agency.

Xu was arrested by Belgian police in April 2018, while attempting to meet an employee of GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric, whom he had allegedly tried to recruit at an academic conference in China in 2017. The Belgians extradited Xu to the United States, where he was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to commit acts of economic espionage against GE Aviation. During the trial, which took place in Cincinnati, prosecutors successfully made the case that Xu’s espionage activities were part of a broader 10-year plan by the MSS to spy on aviation manufacturers around the world.

Xu’s extradition marked the first time that an employee of a Chinese intelligence agency was tried on American soil. His conviction could be a game changer, says to Bill Evanina, who was director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center until earlier this year. Evanina told The Daily Beast that the case against Xu will almost certainly serve as a “legal template for future cases” by the United States government against Chinese espionage. Evanina’s view was echoed by Jim Olson, former Chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency. He told The Daily Beast that Xu’s arrest, extradition and conviction “is a huge shakeup for the MSS” and its impact on how China conducts its espionage operations against the United States will be “tremendous”.

Meanwhile China has rejected all accusations against Xu. Liu Pengyu, spokesman for China’s embassy in the United States, told The Daily Beast that the charges against Xu were “pure fabrications”. He added that the Chinese state demands that Washington handles Xu’s case “according to the law and in a just manner”, so that this Chinese citizen’s “rights and interests” would be ensured.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 November 2021 | Permalink

Unusual trial of alleged Chinese state intelligence officer begins in the United States

General Electric

AN UNUSUAL TRIAL OF an alleged Chinese spy is taking place in the United States, which observers say marks the first time that an employee of a Chinese intelligence agency is being tried on American soil. The court case centers on Yanjun Xu, also known as Qu Hui or Zhang Hui. According to prosecutors, Xu is a deputy division director in the Ministry of State Security (MSS) —China’s intelligence agency.

Xu was arrested by Belgian police in April 2018 and was eventually extradited to the US. Following his extradition, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to commit acts of economic espionage against GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric, which is headquartered in the US state of Ohio. Throughout the trial, which began last week at a District Court in the city of Cincinnati, prosecutors have been making the case that Xu’s espionage activities were part of a broader plan by the MSS to spy on aviation manufacturers around the world. The alleged espionage campaign has been taking place since at least 2013, say the prosecutors.

According to the prosecutors, the purpose of the MSS’ espionage campaign is to reverse-engineer GE Aviation’s advanced gas turbine engine, which, according to one witness who testified at the trial, Beijing has been trying to steal for many years. Among other activities, Xu is accused of having tried to pay off employees of aviation contractors, in return for access to proprietary blueprints of engines and other components. In other cases, computer viruses were used in efforts to compromise secrets. In one alleged example, a project manager with French aviation manufacturer Safran testified this week that his laptop computer was infected with a malware during a 2014 business trip to China.

The trial is expected to last until the middle of November.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 October 2021 | Permalink

New Zealand judge refuses to disclose identities in rare espionage case

New Zealand Defence Force

A JUDGE IN NEW Zealand rejected on Monday a request by news media to lift the ban on the identity of a soldier, who was arrested nearly two years ago for allegedly spying for a foreign country. The soldier was arrested in December of 2019, and is being prosecuted under New Zealand’s 1961 Crimes Act. It is the first time in the post-Cold War era that this act has being used to prosecute someone in New Zealand.

The accused is facing a total of 17 charges, including six counts of espionage and attempted espionage, three counts of accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose, and two counts of possessing an objectionable publication. The latter charge is believed to relate to the accused’s alleged connection with far-right and white nationalist organizations in New Zealand and possibly Australia. This claim has not been confirmed, however.

Since the arrest of the soldier, his name, as well as that of his wife and of multiple witnesses for the government, have been suppressed by the court. Importantly, the country for which the accused allegedly spied for has also been suppressed. This was done at the request of the government of New Zealand, which claims that doing otherwise could imperil “the defense and security of New Zealand”. The government also argues that naming the country for which the accused is believed to have spied could harm New Zealand’s diplomatic relations with that country.

On Monday, during a pre-trial court-martial hearing in Palmerston North, in which the suspect appeared via video-link, the chief judge in the case decided to extend the suppression of the information about the identity of those involved. The judge, Kevin Riordan, said that the name suppression would be extended at least until the next pre-trial hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. The trial was initially due to begin on October 6, but has been postponed indefinitely, due to complications arising from the use of classified evidence that the government’s lawyers intend to present during the court case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 September 2021 | Permalink

United States reaches agreement with ex-NSA staff who helped Emirates hack targets

US Department of JusticeThree former employees of American spy agencies, who helped the United Arab Emirates hack targets around the world, including United States citizens, have agreed to cooperate with the investigation into their activities. The US Department of Justice said on Tuesday that it had reached a “deferred prosecution agreement” with the three Americans, Ryan Adams, Marc Baier and Daniel Gericke. At least two of them are believed to have worked for the US National Security Agency before transferring their skills to the private sector.

According to US government prosecutors, the three men initially worked for a US-owned private cyber firm, before being hired by another firm that is registered to the UAE, which offered them “significant increases in their salaries”. According to the book This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends, by New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth, the UAE firm was behind Project RAVEN, a highly intrusive cyber-espionage campaign against domestic and international critics of the UAE monarchy.

As intelNews reported earlier this year, the existence of Project RAVEN was revealed by the Reuters news agency in 2019. Its extensive list of targets included foreign governments, officials of international bodies, as well as lawyers, human rights activists and suspected terrorists. Several of those targets were reportedly American citizens. Perlroth claims in her book that among Project RAVEN’s targets was former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The information released this week by the US Department of Justice details an agreement between the three defendants and the US government, according to which they are required to cooperate fully with the investigation into their activities. They are also required to pay a combined total of nearly $1.7 million to the US government as a form of restitution for violating military export-control standards. Moreover, they are banned from holding security clearances in the future, and are subject to a number of employment restrictions.

Several US news outlets described the agreement between the US government and the three defendants as the first of its kind. Meanwhile, a number of US government officials, including Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, warned other former US government employees to not violate “export-controlled information for the benefit of a foreign government or a foreign commercial company”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2021 | Permalink

Ex-Spanish King’s former mistress claims intelligence service spied on her

Juan Carlos ITHE EX-MISTRESS OF SPAIN’S former king has sued him in a British court, claiming that he deployed agents from Spain’s intelligence service in a “campaign of unlawful covert and over surveillance” against her. Juan Carlos I, 83, was king of Spain from 1975 until his abdication from the throne in 2014. He now lives in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates, having left Spain in August. His departure came amidst a barrage of media reports revealing his involvement in a host of financial scandals, which are still being investigated by Spain’s authorities.

In 2012, it became known that the king had a six-year love affair with German-born Danish business consultant Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, 57, who is based in Britain. Since the end of the affair, in 2009, it is alleged that Carlos has been trying to retrieve nearly £60 million ($84 million), which he reportedly gifted to Wittgenstein when they were lovers. According to some media reports, Wittgenstein claims that the funds were given to her by the then-monarch “as an expression of his love” for her.

Late last year, Wittgenstein filed a lawsuit in Britain, in which she accuses her former lover of a campaign of harassment against her. She also claims that he employed agents of the Spanish National Intelligence Agency (Centro Nacional de Inteligencia , or CNI) to spy on her. The lawsuit, made public on Wednesday, alleges that, starting in 2012, current or former CNI agents were deployed by the ex-king to keep Wittgenstein “under physical surveillance”. Wittgenstein’s lawyers claim that she was followed throughout Europe, and that her personal cellphones and computers were hacked by the CNI, or by private investigators. They also claim that a team of spies broke into her estate in Britain, and installed surveillance equipment through a “perfectly drilled hole” in her bedroom window.

The business consultant is now asking for a large sum —believed to be in the tens of millions of euros— to be paid to her as compensation for alleged damages caused to her reputation. She is also asking for a restraining order against Carlos, the CNI, and anyone working for the ex-king. The former monarch denies the charges.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 July 2021 | Permalink

Settlement reached in spying scandal that rocked Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse

CREDIT SUISSE, ONE OF the world’s most powerful banking firms, has announced that a settlement has been reached in a case in which it stood accused of having paid private investigators to spy at former executives. The case, which shocked Swiss public opinion in recent years, prompted the resignation of several Credit Suisse senior officials, and some claim it may have prompted a suicide.

In October of 2019, two senior Credit Suisse executives resigned amidst a high-stakes espionage operation, whose alleged target was Iqbal Khan, the former Chief Executive Officer of Credit Suisse’s wealth-management division. Khan alleged that, once he left the firm, he was spied on by private investigators paid for by Credit Suisse. In a dramatic turn of events, one of the private investigators involved in the case, described as “an external security expert”, who mediated between Credit Suisse and the investigation firm, committed suicide.

At the time, Credit Suisse described the surveillance on Khan as “strictly an isolated incident”. Later, however, two more Credit Suisse executives came forward alleging that they too had been spied on after leaving their job at the firm. These allegations prompted concerns that spying on former —and even current employees— may have been a standard operating procedure at Credit Suisse.

There is now a strong chance the allegations will never be investigated fully. On Sunday, a Credit Suisse spokesperson announced that the lawsuits brought by Khan against the firm, as well as against the private detectives who allegedly spied on him, would be dropped. The move followed a settlement between the three sides, which was reached out of court. When asked about the financial terms of the settlement, the spokesperson said no comment would be made about that.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 July 2021 | Permalink

US court rejects challenge of pre-publication review by ex-intelligence employees

4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia

A COURT OF APPEALS in the United States state of Virginia has rejected a lawsuit by former intelligence employees who claimed that the system of pre-publication review violated their freedom of speech. The case centered on the requirement for current and former employees of American intelligence agencies to submit for review any material they intend to publish in the unclassified domain, in case it contains government secrets.

The lawsuit originated in 2019, when it was brought before a court by five former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of Defense. All five plaintiffs intended to publish books on topics including the history of the CIA, government surveillance, as well as the prevalence of sexual violence and racism in the US armed forces.

The plaintiffs claimed that the pre-publication review system is unclear and confusing, that its scope is too broad, and that the process takes too long. They also claimed that many of the edits made on their manuscripts aimed to protect government agencies from embarrassment and criticism, rather than protect national security. Furthermore, they claimed that many of the alleged secrets that were edited out of manuscripts referred to information that was already available in the open domain. All five plaintiffs were represented by lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the American Civil Liberties Union. The government was represented by the US Department of Justice.

Last year, a US District Court in the US state of Maryland dismissed the claim on the grounds that the government was justified in wanting to protect its secrets, and that the pre-publication system was intricate but unambiguous. On Wednesday, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, upheld the District Court’s ruling. In a unanimous vote, the court’s three judges concluded that, by voluntarily agreeing to submit to the pre-publication review system, the plaintiffs had waived their right to challenge the system’s legality under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 June 2021 | Permalink

US Justice Department and CIA may intervene in Saudi lawsuit to protect secrets

Saad al-Jabri

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency may intervene in a civil lawsuit filed by an exiled Saudi spy against the oil kingdom’s de facto ruler, in order to protect state secrets. In a 106-page lawsuit, filed last year with the US District Court in Washington, DC, Dr. Saad al-Jabri claims that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, dispatched members of his “personal mercenary group”, known as the Tiger Squad, to North America, in order to assassinate him.

Al-Jabri was a courtier of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz. Bin Nayef, who was widely expected to be Saudi Arabia’s next king, eventually appointed al-Jabri Minister of State and made him his senior adviser on matters of security and intelligence —in essence his spy chief. But al-Jabri’s standing changed suddenly in 2015, when King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman. Salman then named his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as his successor, effectively usurping al-Jabri’s mentor and protector, Prince bin Nayef. Within weeks, al-Jabri had been fired, while his patron, bin Nayef had gone under house arrest. Fearing for his life, al-Jabri took his eldest son, Khalid, and escaped to Canada in the middle of the night. They remain there to this day.

Bin Salman’s lawyers have dismissed al-Jabri’s lawsuit as baseless, and accuse the former spy chief of embezzling $3.4 billion from Saudi state coffers under the pretense of funding security programs. Al-Jabri’s lawyers have told the court that an “examination of the counterterrorism and national security activities of the United States government” may be necessary in order to demonstrate that their client has not embezzled state funds.

This development has US government officials worried, according to The Washington Post’s well-sourced David Ignatius. He reports that, in April of this year, the US Department of Justice filed a document in a federal court in Massachusetts, in which it outlines its plans to intervene in al-Jabri’s lawsuit against bin Salman. According to the Department of Justice, al-Jabri’s legal team may intend “to describe information concerning alleged national security activities”, which is something the US government would like to prevent.

According to Ignatius, the Department of Justice could invoke the rarely used “state secrets privilege”, which allows the US government to refuse to disclose information when ordered to do so by a court of law, if there is a “reasonable danger” that doing so could threaten US national security. Ignatius added that the Central Intelligence Agency is also looking into whether it could resist a judge’s orders to disclose information pertaining to the case of al-Jabri.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 May 2021 | Permalink

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

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