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

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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