Senior North Korean diplomat reportedly defects in London (updated)

DPRK Embassy in LondonA senior member of North Korea’s diplomatic representation in the United Kingdom, who is considered one of his country’s leading specialists in Western European affairs, has reportedly defected “to a third country” with his family. The alleged defection was first reported on Tuesday by South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo. Citing “a source with in-depth knowledge of North Korea”, the Seoul-based paper said that the diplomat had disappeared several weeks ago, and that staff at the embassy of North Korea in London had failed in attempts to find him. Later on the same day, the British state-owned broadcaster BBC identified the missing diplomat as Thae Yong-Ho.

In a brief report, the BBC said that the diplomat had lived with his wife and children in London for a decade, and that the family —especially its younger members— were very integrated in British culture and way of life. Further updates in South Korean media said Thae was serving as deputy consul at the embassy, essentially as second-in-command after Ambassador Hak Bong Hyon. It is also believed that Thae was tasked with promoting a positive image of North Korea to British audiences, and was also in charge of cultivating the embassy’s relations with the UK Korean Friendship Association, an organized group of North Korean ideological sympathizers in Britain. But some reports indicate that the alleged defector also performed intelligence tasks, such as monitoring the activities of North Korean defectors living in London.

Thae is believed to be a senior member of North Korea’s diplomatic community. He grew up in China and is fluent in Chinese and English, in addition to his native Korean. He joined North Korea’s diplomatic ranks soon after graduating from university and is said to be one of the country’s foremost experts on Western Europe. If confirmed, his defection will deliver a serious blow to North Korea’s prestige and arguably hurt its intelligence capabilities in the West. This development will also have a major impact on the operations of the Asian country’s embassy in London, which is run by only five diplomats, including the ambassador. No comments have been made on this story by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the embassy of North Korea in London, or the government of South Korea. According to JoongAng Ilbo, Thae is currently “going through procedures to seek asylum in a third country” with his family.

Update 17 Aug. 2016, 5:00 p.m. GMT: The BBC now reports that Thae has defected to South Korea and that he and his family are “under the [South Korean] government’s protection”, according to officials in Seoul. He is believed to be the most senior North Korean official to have ever defected in the history of the communist state.

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

MI6 spy found dead in 2010 may have used female disguise, says expert

Gareth WilliamsA British intelligence officer, who was found dead in his London apartment in 2010, was not a transvestite, as some media reports have speculated, but probably worked undercover dressed as a woman, according to a leading forensic investigator. Gareth Williams, a mathematician in the employment of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, had been seconded to MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, to help automate intelligence collection. He had also worked with several United States agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. But his career came to an abrupt end in August 2010, when he was found dead in a padlocked sports bag at his home in Pimlico, London.

The discovery of £15,000 ($20,000) worth of women’s clothing in Williams’ apartment caused some in the British media to speculate that sexual jealousy may have behind the spy’s death. British tabloid The Sun suggested at the time that Williams was “a secret transvestite who may have been killed by a gay lover”. There were also reports that police investigators themselves suspected that Williams’ death may have been the result of “a sex game gone wrong”. This appeared to be substantiated by the discovery that Williams had visited gay bars and drag nightclubs in London in the weeks before his death. Subsequent reports, however, suggested that law enforcement investigators described Williams’ death as “a neat job”, a term used to refer to professional killings. There have also been official denials by police that Williams’ murder was sex-related.

Now a leading forensic investigator has said that Williams was not a transvestite and that he probably dressed in women’s clothing for his job with MI6. Peter Faulding, who specializes in deaths within confined spaces, and has advised British and American law enforcement agencies, has previously spoken publicly against the theory that Williams locked himself in the bag. He said he tried without success to lock himself in the same type of bag 300 times before discounting the self-lock theory. Faulding spoke again to The Sun last week, this time to suggest that there is no evidence that the late MI6 spy was a transvestite. “The key question never asked was: were these clothes used for his job?” he said, referring to the feminine attire found in Williams’ apartment. He told The Sun that the clothes were “used for work, rather than pleasure”. “I am certain he made a very convincing female”, said Faulding. “He was slim, with feminine features, and as a cyclist he shaved his legs”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 September 2015 | Permalink

Lawyer alleges MI6 withheld data in spy’s death

Gareth WilliamsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A lawyer representing the family of an MI6 employee found dead in his London apartment in 2010, has accused the British intelligence agency of deliberately withholding evidence from police investigating his death. The allegation was made on Tuesday morning at the Coroner’s Court in Westminster, London, during an official inquest into the death of Gareth Williams, a mathematician in the employment of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ. A few years ago, Williams was seconded to MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, to help automate intelligence collection. He had also worked with several United States agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. But his career came to an abrupt end in 2010; on August 23, he was found dead in a padlocked sports bag at his home in Pimlico, London. The bizarre murder case, which has preoccupied British media for 21 months, took a new twist this week, after it was revealed in open court that MI6 had failed to share nine computer memory sticks with officers of the London Metropolitan Police, who were investigating Williams’ death. It was also revealed that MI6 did not allow the Met to handle the case, due to its alleged sensitivity. Instead, MI6 asked for the force’s Counter-Terrorism Command (also known as SO15 Branch), whose officers have security clearances, to act as a go-between linking MI6 with the police. Government witnesses also disclosed that MI6 had searched the memory sticks without telling the police, and that it had failed to share with detectives a detailed list of Williams’ possessions. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #647

Ilir Nazmi Kumbaro

Ilir Kumbaro

►►Albanian ex-spy chief on the run in Britain. Albania’s former intelligence chief, Ilir Nazmi Kumbaro, who is wanted in his homeland for torture and kidnapping, failed to attend an extradition hearing on Thursday at Westminster magistrates’ court in London. He has reportedly left his home in Fulham, west London, and police believe he is being harbored by friends.
►►Secret CIA black site discovered in Romania. The hitherto secret location, code-named “Bright Light”, is said to have been one of the CIA’s notorious interrogation prisons in Eastern Europe. It has been traced to the basement of Romania’s National Registry Office for Classified Information, which lies in a busy residential district of the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
►►CIA leaves drone base in Pakistan. The US Central Intelligence Agency has vacated an air base in western Pakistan that it had been using for drone strikes against militants in the country’s tribal areas. Pakistan had ordered the CIA to leave the Shamsi air base in protest over NATO airstrikes that killed at least 25 Pakistani soldiers near the border with Afghanistan on November 26.

News you may have missed #568

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

►►Lebanon intercepts covert arms shipment bound for Syria. It looks like anti-Syrian Lebanese groups, allied with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, are smuggling Kalashnikovs and M-16s across the border to anti-government rebels in Banyas and other Syrian towns. The question is, where are these arms coming from? It is also worth noting that the Syrian army claimed last week that it has detained hundreds of Salafi fighters –including Afghans– with Lebanese documents.
►►Russian embassy cars seen near murdered MI6 officer’s flat. British paper The Daily Mail quotes an unnamed “former KGB agent who fled to London 12 years ago”, who says that he “logged two cars with Russian diplomatic number plates […] parked or driving close” to the central London apartment of MI6 and GCHQ officer Gareth Williams. The unnamed former agent says he noticed the vehicles around the time when Williams is believed to have been murdered in his apartment.
►►Indonesian intel reports on West Papua leaked. Hundreds of intelligence briefs from Indonesia’s elite special forces unit, Kopassus, have been obtained by Australian newspaper The Age. They include a detailed analysis of the separatist movement in oil-rich Western Papua. According to the Australian press, the reports “illustrate the level of paranoia in Jakarta about its hold over the resource-rich region”.

News you may have missed #538

Wali Karzai

Wali Karzai

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egyptian diplomat dead in London after bizarre suicide attempt. Police in London are trying to solve the mysterious apparent suicide of Ayman Mohammed Fayed, a 41-year-old employee of the Egyptian embassy, who plunged to his death from one of the embassy’s third-floor windows last week. Embassy officials said he did so after hurriedly signing a brief suicide note to his family. Interestingly, one witness saw him trying to get back into the building from the window, apparently having changed his mind about killing himself. But, says The Daily Mail, he seems to have “lost control and fell”. The death does not seem to be related to the political changes that have taken place in Egypt this year. ►►CIA agent Wali Karzai dead in Afghanistan. Another death, that of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother, has featured all over the news media in the past few days. Ahmed Wali Karzai, Afghan drug lord and influential strongman, was shot dead by his bodyguards last Tuesday. Wali Karzai’s role as a CIA agent is less widely advertised in obituaries (with a few notable exceptions). IntelNews readers will remember that, in October of 2009, The New York Times revealed that Wali Karzai had been financially sustained by the CIA ever since the initial US invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001, and that he was still —as of 2009— receiving “regular payments” from the Agency.  Read more of this post

Did compromised laptop prompt Israel to bomb Syrian nuclear reactor?

Al-Kibar reactor

Al-Kibar reactor

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the Middle East’s biggest mysteries in recent years concerns Operation ORCHARD, the September 6, 2007, attack by Israeli fighter jets on a site deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. Many observers, including former CIA Director, General Michael Hayden, have called for the secrecy surrounding the covert operation to be finally lifted. But it has been more-or-less confirmed that the attack targeted a plutonium production reactor, which was part of Syria’s secret nuclear weapons program. And officials in Tel Aviv have repeatedly hinted that Israel was behind the operation. The burning question, however, is how did Israel learn of the existence of Syria’s nuclear reactor at Al-Kibar, a secret and isolated site deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert? The authoritative account of the operation, which appeared in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel in 2009, suggested that the initial tip came from the US National Security Agency, which “detected a suspiciously high number of telephone calls between Syria and North Korea”. But it also alleged that the Mossad managed to acquire vital clues about the Al-Kibar building site by installing a stealth “Trojan horse” program on the laptop of a Syrian government official, while the latter was visiting Britain. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #493 (MI6 edition)

  • MI6 scientist’s death questioned by close friend. A close friend of MI6 worker Gareth Williams, whose body was found in a locked bag in a London apartment, has questioned suggestions that his death was linked to his private sex life.
  • Who killed MI6 agent Lionel Crabb? A relative of MI6 agent Lionel Crabb wants to know who killed him. Crabb is thought to have disappeared in a 1956 botched CIA/MI6 attempt to sabotage a Soviet warship docked at Portsmouth harbor. In 2007, Eduard Koltsov, a retired Russian military diver, said he killed a man he thinks was Crabb, as he was “trying to place a mine” on the Soviet ship.
  • Analysis: Libya gives spies a chance to shine. British officers of the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, are actively operating in Libya. Among their tasks is encouraging senior Libyan officials to defect to the West.

News you may have missed #430

  • Russians arrested outside US power plant. Police in the US state of Georgia have arrested one Kazakh and two Russian citizens, who were carrying “a machete, shovel, wire cutters and ski masks”, outside Georgia Power’s Plant McIntosh, at 1:00 in the morning. Hmm….
  • MI6 spy could have climbed into sports bag before death. British detectives reportedly believe that someone else padlocked GCHQ and MI6 employee Gareth Williams into the sports bag where his body was found on August 23. But they remain open to the possibility that Dr Williams climbed into the bag as part of a sex game and then suffocated.
  • Tamils claim espionage behind Canada HQ break-in. The Canadian Tamil Congress believes that lists containing the names of hundreds of Tamil asylum-seekers were stolen from its Toronto headquarters by Sri Lankan government spies.

Killer submerged British spy’s body in ‘chemical substance’

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Investigators are still in the dark about vital clues behind last month’s killing of a British intelligence employee in his London apartment. Detectives say they are still unsure about the exact cause of death of Dr. Gareth Williams, a 31-year-old mathematician employed by General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British government’s communications security and surveillance agency. It has been determined that Williams, who for the past year had been temporarily transferred to MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, was not stabbed or shot, and is unlikely to have been strangled by his murderer(s). There are, however, increasing signs that the GCHQ scientist’s murder was carried out in a professional manner, possibly by a member of a rival intelligence agency. Read more of this post

Police see ‘professional job’ in British spy’s death

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As authorities investigate the recent death of British spy Dr. Gareth Williams, the country’s notorious tabloid media industry is having a field day disorienting interested observers. It is thus easy to miss important news breakthroughs in the cacophony of sensationalized headlines about Williams, whose body was discovered a week ago, stuffed in a sports duffle bag in the bath of his London apartment. One such breakthrough was yesterday’s report by Britain’s widely respected Channel 4, which said that law enforcement investigators described Williams’ death as “a neat job”, a term used to refer to professional killings. The Channel 4 report was preceded by strong official denials by police that Williams’ murder was sex-related, as had been previously reported. Some investigators now believe that Williams was killed by a foreign agent, who then deliberately “planted a trail of clues” pointing to a homosexual link to the death. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #419 (Gareth Williams edition)

British MI6 employee found dead in London flat

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
British authorities are keeping silent on the mysterious death of a Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) employee, whose body was found in the bath of his London apartment, stuffed in a sports duffle bag. By Monday afternoon, when police entered the top apartment of the five-storey townhouse in Pimlico, London, the man had been laying dead for nearly a fortnight. On Wednesday, he was identified as Dr. Gareth Williams, a 31-year-old mathematician employed by General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British government’s foremost communications security and surveillance agency. For the past year, Williams had been temporarily transferred to MI6, the country’s external intelligence agency, whose headquarters is located less than a mile from the apartment where the mathematician’s body was discovered. Read more of this post

Comment: What Can the US Do To Stop WikiLeaks?

Julian Assange

Julian Assange

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Ever since whistleblower site WikiLeaks published 77,000 classified US military documents on the war in Afghanistan, several pundits have urged US government agencies, including the Pentagon, to take action. Late last week, former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen urged the Pentagon to unleash its “cyber capabilities to prevent WikiLeaks from disseminating those materials”. Some columnists have even suggested that US intelligence services should “come up with an up-to-date photo of [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange and distribute it to […] SEAL sharpshooters”. Pentagon representatives have also stepped up their rhetoric, warning that “[i]f doing the right thing isn’t good enough for [WikiLeaks], we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing”.

Read more of this post

Russian alleged CIA spy gives interview

Igor Sutyagin

Igor Sutyagin

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Of the four Russians alleged spies that the US and the UK received from Moscow in exchange for the 11 Russian illegals in July, only one is talking to the media. The Russian government convicted Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear proliferation expert, of having links with Alternative Futures, a British consulting company alleged by Moscow to be a CIA front. This past weekend, Sutyagin, who now lives in an undisclosed London location, gave a detailed interview to Natalya Golitsyna, a London-based correspondent for US government-owned Radio Liberty’s. As in his previous statements to the press, the Russian scientist rejected he was ever a spy, claiming that “[t]he first thing in my mind […] was doing and thinking for my country”. He also rejected accusations that he provided Alternative Futures with classified information on Russian nuclear weapons policy: “there was no transfer of information”, said Sutyagin, noting that the information he shared with the British-registered company “was just an illustration of the processes that are going on in Russia tasks”. Read more of this post