Greece expels Russian diplomats who ‘tried to bribe Greek officials’

Greece RussiaIn a rare moment of downturn in relations between Athens and Moscow, Greece has expelled two Russian diplomats and refused to accredit two more, reportedly for “undermining Greek national security”. Greece was not among nearly 30 countries that expelled or refused to accredit over 150 Russian diplomats in March, in an act of solidarity with the United Kingdom. The expulsions came in response to the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former intelligence officer who had been living in England since 2010. Britain accused the Kremlin of having sponsored the attack on Skripal. But the Greek government, which has enjoyed warm relations with Moscow for decades, warned against unduly aggressive measures against the Kremlin.

Things changed swiftly on Wednesday, however, when Athens announced the surprise expulsion of two Russian diplomats from the Greek capital. One of the two diplomats has been named as Victor Yakovlev, third secretary of the Russian embassy in Athens, who some say is in fact an intelligence officer. Two more Russian diplomats, who have not been publicly named, were barred from entering Greece —a move that effectively amounts to a refusal by the Greek government to accredit them. According to an official statement from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the expulsions were meant to prevent the “undermining of [Greek] national security”. However, a report in the Greek daily Kathimerini said that the move was taken in response to attempts by Russian spies to bribe Greek state officials. Other reports claim that the Russians were caught trying to blackmail Greek lawmakers over the possible expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Greece is a member.

Some of the allegations in the Greek press refer to the country’s three-decade long dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which Athens accuses of harboring territorial ambitions against its neighbors. Greece —the wealthiest and most powerful state in the Balkans— has barred the entry of its northern neighbor into the European Union and NATO until it complies with a list of Greek demands. Chief among those is the drawing of a clear distinction between Greek Macedonia —once an ancient Greek kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great— and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which encompasses a small portion of Alexander’s former empire. Last month, the decades-long dispute between the two neighboring countries appeared to draw to a close with the proposed adoption of “Northern Macedonia” as the official name of the former Yugoslav republic. The agreement would open the way for the tiny landlocked country to enter into negotiations for eventual entry into NATO. However, nationalists in both countries have staged public rallies to protest against the proposed agreement.

It appears that Russian diplomats may have tried to convince Greek lawmakers —through extortion, bribing or both— to vote against the proposed agreement. There are also reports that Russian diplomats assisted in the organization of nationwide rallies against the proposed agreement in Greece, possibly by funding them or by spreading information about them on social media. The Russian government said on Wednesday that it would protest the expulsion of its diplomats from Athens. It also said that it reserved the right to respond to Greece’s move in kind, possibly by expelling an equal number of Greek diplomats from Moscow.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 July 2018 | Research credit: SF | Permalink

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Serbia recalls all staff from embassy in Macedonia, alleges espionage

Serbian President Aleksandar VucicSerbia recalled its entire diplomatic staff from its embassy in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Monday, claiming that it wanted to protect its diplomats from “offensive intelligence activities” directed against them. The move came without warning and surprised journalists in the two former Yugoslav republics. No official reason was given for the recall on Monday morning. Later, however, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said that he had decided to recall the diplomats back to Belgrade due to “sufficient evidence of highly offensive intelligence activities against certain bodies and institutions in Serbia”. He did not specify what he meant, but added that the duty of the government of Serbia was to ensure that “our people be prepared and ready”.

Some reports in Macedonia media suggested that Serbia’s move was related to rumors in Skopje that the Macedonian government plans to support an expected attempt by the Republic of Kosovo to join the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Kosovo was a province of Serbia until 2008, when it proclaimed its independence, a move that was backed by many Western powers, including the United States. However, Serbia has not recognized Kosovo’s independence and has actively opposed Kosovo’s attempts to become a full member of international bodies. Belgrade successfully blocked Kosovo’s entry into UNESCO in 2015. At that time, the former Serbian province country did not receive enough votes to join the organization. But there are concerns in Serbia that, Kosovo might apply again this year and that this time it may be successful.

Serbia has kept a cautionary stance on the current political crisis in Macedonia, which began in 2015 when thousands of people took to the streets in Macedonian capital Skopje to protest against the conservative government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. The crisis deepened in late 2016, when many intelligence officers, including a former director of the national spy service, were accused of illegally wiretapping thousands of people on orders of the government. Under growing pressure, Gruevski stepped down and was eventually replaced by the leader of the center-left opposition, Zoran Zaev, who is now prime minister. During his election campaign last spring, Zaev was critical of Serbia, which he accused of behaving nationalistically against other former Yugoslav republics.

Speaking to reporters in Belgrade on Monday, Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić, said he believed Serbian diplomatic staff would be back in Skopje by the end of August. Mr. Vucic simply commented that there was a “different, new atmosphere” in the Macedonian capital and said he hoped that the situation would become clearer in the coming days.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 August 2017 | Permalink

Macedonian ex-spy chief is among officers indicted for wiretap scandal

Zoran ZaevSeveral former and current intelligence officers, including a former director of the national spy service, have appeared in court in Macedonia, accused of illegally wiretapping thousands of people on orders of the government. The wiretap scandal has sparked the deepest political crisis in the impoverished Balkan country, which has existed since declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The scandal was revealed last year by Zoran Zaev leader of the leftwing Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which is the main political opposition in the country of 2 million people. According to information that has since surfaced in the national media, the wiretapping scheme targeted nearly 6,000 telephone numbers between 2008 and 2015. The wiretaps allegedly resulted in the recording of private conversations of 20,000 people, including members of the media, the judiciary, law enforcement, politicians, and church officials. Zaev claims that the wiretaps were orchestrated by the country’s prime minister at the time, Nikola Gruevski, and his cousin, Saso Mijalkov, who led the country’s main spy agency, the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence (UBK), from 2006 until 2015. Zaev’s revelations led to the resignation of Prime Minister Gruevski, which resulted in early elections that have been scheduled for December of this year.

The names of 10 former and current intelligence officers who were charged last Friday have not been made public. But the office of the special prosecutor said that the individuals include a former director of the UBK. Prosecutors also said they have evidence that proves that some of the wiretaps continued even 2015, when Zaev revealed their existence. The recently resigned Gruevski, who is running again for prime minister with the rightwing VMRO-DPMNE party, has dismissed Zaev’s allegations as lies. He also accuses the special prosecutor of being a secret supporter of the opposition and of helping Zaev implement a constitutional coup against his administration. Next month’s elections have been already postponed twice, which leads some in the media to speculate that they may not take place until 2017.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 November 2016 | Permalink

Muslim man held in New York prison claims he was CIA spy

Blerim SkoroAn ethnic Albanian man facing deportation from the United States says he was trained by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on “the most ruthless, dangerous terrorists in the Balkans and the Middle East”. Blerim Skoro, 45, from the former Yugoslav Republic of Kosovo, was arrested last February in Brooklyn, New York, for illegally using a discounted student MetroCard. He was then found to have entered the US illegally and is currently in prison in New Jersey, facing possible deportation back to Kosovo. But Skoro told The New York Times in an interview published on Wednesday that he cannot be sent back to Kosovo because he operated there as a spy for the CIA.

According to The Times, Skoro came to the US in 1994. Six years later, he was convicted in a New York court of transporting drugs and laundering nearly $700,000 in criminal proceeds. But while in prison, Skoro was recruited as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and was tasked with monitoring inmates with militant Islamist leanings. In 2007, when Skoro was released from prison and deported back to Kosovo, he allegedly continued working for US intelligence. He told The Times that he was trained by US operatives in a CIA safe house in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia before taking on assignments in the Balkans, the Middle East and even Pakistan. Throughout that time, Skoro says he posed as a militant Islamist who had become radicalized while serving his prison sentence in America. He claims to have supplied the CIA with intelligence relating to al-Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist groups.

However, in 2010, while traveling to a CIA safe house in Macedonia for a meeting, he was shot by assailants who probably knew he was working for a foreign spy agency. That incident prompted the CIA to sever its relationship with him, dismissing him from his agent status and offering him approximately $40,000 in compensation. Soon afterwards, Skoro made his way to Canada, from where he entered the US illegally, in November 2014. Before getting arrested in Brooklyn in February, he says he made contact with US intelligence officials, offering to spy for the US against the Islamic State. But his offer was not accepted. The Times article speculates that US intelligence may have no use for Skoro because his identity has been compromised, or because his reliability has come into question.

Currently Skoro is being held without bond at the Bergin County Jail in northern New Jersey, because federal prosecutors believe he might flee if released. The Times contacted the CIA, the FBI and police sources, but all declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 July 2016 | Permalink

CIA ‘used fake British passports’ in kidnap operation

UK passport

British passport

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
British authorities are looking into allegations that a team of CIA agents made use of forged British passports during an abduction operation in 2003. The allegations surfaced last week in Spain, where a team of prosecutors is currently investigating the activities of 13 CIA agents (11 men and two women) who appear to have used the Spanish tourist resort of Majorca as a base for conducting various operations around Europe. Following the example of Italy, which last year convicted several CIA operatives for illegally abducting a Muslim cleric in Milan, Spanish authorities are now considering issuing arrest warrants for the 13 CIA agents. They are all believed to have been involved in the abduction and rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri. El-Masri was abducted in Skopje, Macedonia, in 2003, and later transferred on a secret CIA flight to a Syrian prison, where he says he was brutally tortured. He was later released without explanation, once US authorities realized they had the wrong man. Read more of this post

Who tried to burn down the US embassy in Skopje in 1999?

Dragan Pavlovic-Latas

Pavlovic-Latas

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On March 25, 1999, approximately 200 people broke off from a much larger crowd of pro-Serbian demonstrators in downtown Skopje, Macedonia, and, in a military-style operation, tore down the security perimeter around the US embassy and occupied its courtyard for several hours. With the US ambassador, Christopher Hill, and most of the embassy staff inside the building, the occupiers set fire to embassy cars and tried to set the building alight. By the time they were dispersed by police, the rioters had managed to destroy all the cars parked in the embassy’s courtyard, as well as a large part of the embassy building’s exterior. The demonstrators were protesting US and NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, which had begun on the previous day, sparked by brutal ethnic clashes in the Kosovo region. But the question remains: who, if anyone, organized the attempted burning down of the US embassy? Read more of this post

A terrible week for German spy agencies

BND logo

BND logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Germany’s largest intelligence agencies are in for a challenging few days, as two spy scandals are making headlines in the country’s media. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s foremost domestic intelligence organization, is firmly in the hot seat after it emerged that a woman it employed as an undercover informer was among seven extremists indicted for helping operate a hardcore neo-Nazi online radio station. The woman, who has been identified only as “Sandra F.”, had been hired by the spy agency to monitor the German People’s Union (DVU), a national socialist political grouping with substantial following in Brandenburg and Saxony. Read more of this post