Indonesia to investigate North Korean restaurant reportedly used as spy base

Pyongyang Restaurant in Jakarta, IndonesiaIndonesian authorities said on Sunday that they will investigate a North Korean restaurant in the country, after a Singaporean news agency claimed it was being used as a center for espionage. The announcement comes amidst heightened tensions between North Korean and its neighbors, following the murder last week in Malaysia of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. Kim, the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison. Sources in South Korea and the United States have pointed at Pyongyang as the culprit of the assassination.

On Friday of last week, the Singapore-based news agency Asia One published a lengthy report into alleged North Korean espionage operations in Southeast Asia. The report claimed that North Korean intelligence agencies have operated extensive networks of operatives in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and that these networks have operated unimpeded for over two decades. The news agency cited an unnamed “intelligence source” as saying that the spy networks are operated by North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB). The RGB is in charge of special activities abroad, which include covert operations and intelligence collection involving espionage. It operates under the Ministry of State Security and answers directly to North Korea’s supreme leader.

According to Asia One, the RGB maintains some of its largest spy networks abroad in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, where Kim Jong-nam met a gruesome death last week. RGB personnel operating in these countries are North Korean citizens who are employed in the construction sector, as well as the tourism industry. Some operate North Korean restaurants, which are popular tourist attractions across Southeast Asia. The unnamed intelligence source told Asia One that North Korean restaurants serve “as a main front to conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance [against] Japanese and South Korean politicians, diplomats, top corporate figures and businessmen”. The RGB’s network in Indonesia is based in textile factories located in several Indonesian cities, said Asia One. There is also “an apartment located above a North Korean restaurant in [the Indonesian capital] Jakarta that is part of the RGB Indonesia office”, according to the report.

Following the news agency’s allegations, Argo Yuwono, senior commander for the Indonesian National Police, said that an investigation would take place into Asia One’s allegations. He said that his detectives would coordinate their activities with the Indonesian Foreign Ministry before moving ahead with the probe.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 February 2017 | Permalink

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Two women arrested for assassinating North Korean leader’s half-brother

Kim Jong-namTwo women have been arrested in the past 48 hours in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s supreme leader, who died in Malaysia on Monday. Kim, the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison. Some reports suggest that he was injected with a poisoned needle. According to Malaysian media, Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

On Wednesday, Malaysian authorities announced the arrest of a woman carrying a Vietnamese travel document, which identified her as Doan Thi Huong (also reported as Doan Thin Hoang). No elaboration was offered on whether the travel document is genuine or forged. The 28-year-old woman is believed to have been arrested at the same airport where Kim’s assassination took place. Apparently she returned there by herself on Wednesday to catch an outbound flight to Vietnam, but was recognized by security personnel through the airport’s closed-circuit television monitoring system. Another woman, carrying an Indonesian passport, was arrested on Thursday in connection with the assassination, but no information was released about her. Some reports in the Malaysian media suggested that the second woman had been observed wandering around the Kuala Lumpur International Airport immediately following Kim’s assassination. It is believed that her co-conspirators inadvertently left her behind as they escaped the scene of the crime. Malaysian police said they also arrested a taxi driver who transported the women to the airport on the morning of the assassination. Four males, who are also believed to have helped organize the attack, remain at large.

Meanwhile South Korean and American government sources told news agencies that the assassins are thought to be agents of the North Korean government. Malaysian media said that senior North Korean diplomats were dispatched to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday and held lengthy meetings with Malaysian government officials. Reports suggest that Pyongyang exercised pressure on Malaysian officials to cancel a planned post mortem examination of Kim’s body. But the request was allegedly denied. Malaysian officials did not respond to queries about whether Kim’s body will be handed to North Korea or flown to China for burial.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 February 2017 | Permalink

North Korean leader’s half-brother killed by female assassins in Malaysia

DPRK assassinThe half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has been killed in an audacious attack in Malaysia, reportedly by two female assassins who used a poisonous substance to murder him. Kim Jong-nam, was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, and grandson of Kim Il-Sung, who founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948. However, he left the country in 2007, reportedly after it became clear that his younger half-brother, Kim Jong-un, was the regime’s preferred successor to his father, Kim Jong-il.

Since that time, it is believed that the self-exiled Kim split his time between Singapore and China, and that he had a residence in the former Portuguese colony of Macau. It is also believed that he employed a variety of passports, including South Korean, Portuguese and Swiss, some of which were reputed to be forgeries. Even though Kim kept a relatively low profile in the past decade, relations between him and the North Korean regime were adversarial. He made occasional comments to the press that were critical of the government in Pyongyang, and at times criticized his half-brother’s character and actions. Intelligence sources in South Korea claimed that the DPRK tried to kill him at least once in the past.

It appears that Pyongyang may have finally managed to kill Kim on Monday morning, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia’s main international flight hub and one of Southeast Asia’s largest. The attack is believed to have taken place at 9:00 a.m. at the airport’s economy class terminal, where Kim was waiting to board a 10:00 a.m. flight to Macau. According to Malaysian news media, Kim was approached by two women, one of whom attacked him from behind. The female suspect reportedly covered Kim’s face with a “cloth laced with a poisonous liquid” that burned his eyes. A frantic Kim managed to run away and alert an airport employee, who called an ambulance. According to police, the victim told paramedics that someone had grabbed him from behind and “splashed a burning liquid on his face”. Some reports claimed that Kim was attacked with a poisonous needle or acid spray. According to Malaysian police spokesman Fadzil Ahmat, the grandson of North Korea’s founder expired on the way to a nearby hospital.

It was later confirmed that, at the time of his death, Kim was using a North Korean passport issued under the name “Kim Chol” and giving his date of birth as June 10, 1970. However, the travel document is believed to have been forged. Malaysian authorities said on Tuesday they had been unable to identify the suspects, but that an investigation was ongoing. Early on Wednesday, Malaysian authorities released CCTV footage of one of the suspects (pictured). Meanwhile, Kim’s body has been subjected to an autopsy, but the results remain unavailable. South Korean authorities told the Reuters news agency that Kim had been killed by assassins working for the North Korean government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 February 2017 | Permalink

Malaysia immigration probe reveals growing insider threat to passport security

Datuk Seri Sakib KusmiAs many as 100 Malaysian immigration officers are implicated in a widening investigation involving the deliberate sabotage of the country’s electronic passport control system. The investigation, which began over three months ago, focuses on a criminal ring of immigration personnel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), one of Southeast Asia’s major travel hubs. Reports suggest that 15 members of the alleged ring are in prison awaiting trial. Another 14 immigration officers have been suspended without pay, while 20 more staff members are under investigation by the intelligence subdivision of the Immigration Department of Malysia (IDM). On Wednesday, IDM Director-General Datuk Seri Sakib Kusmi said that the scope of the investigation had widened, and that 63 immigration officers would be transferred from the IDM’s headquarters in Putrajaya to KLIA, to replace members or suspected members of the criminal ring.

The officers implicated in the investigation are accused of deliberately sabotaging the automated passport control system used at KLIA. Known as myIMMs, the system allows passport control officers to validate the authenticity of international travelers’ passports, and to confirm that the latter have not been reported lost or stolen. It is believed that the myIMMs system was deliberately made to crash at least once a day, in order to allow human traffickers and other organized criminals to smuggle individuals in and out of Malaysia. With the system going offline, KLIA passport control officers were forced to screen passengers manually, which is now believed to have permitted countless individuals using forged and stolen passports to go through security undetected. The deliberate sabotage of myIMMs is believed to have been going on since 2010, and investigators are at a loss in trying to estimate the numbers of people who have been able to bypass computerized passport checks.

One investigator said Australia’s ABC news network that the criminal ring’s handlers were located overseas and would send immigration officers instructions via coded messages. The primary ring members had recruited IDM administrative staff, technology staff, and even software vendors, who were involved in sabotaging the system. The practice of organized criminal and terrorist groups using forged passports is both long and documented. But news of a criminal group that is able to set up an extensive ring of immigration officers, who then sabotage an electronic passport verification system at a major international transport hub, is rare and extremely alarming. It reveals a new form of insider threat, namely compromised immigration and passport control officers, who are bribed to facilitate the work of criminal groups and terrorist organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2016 | Permalink

Malaysia foiled Islamic State plan to kidnap prime minister, senior officials

Ahmad Zahid HamidAuthorities in Malaysia said they managed to foil a plan by the Islamic State to kidnap the country’s prime minister and two other senior cabinet officials, in exchange for ransom. According to the government of Malaysia, the Islamic State also planned to stage armed attacks throughout the country, including in major urban centers, such as Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital. News of the alleged plot was revealed in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of the Malaysian parliament, by Ahmad Zahid Hamid, the country’s deputy prime minister. He told members of parliament that Malaysian intelligence had managed to detect the plot, which had been planned for January 30, 2015, but that the government did not believe it was prudent to alarm the country until the investigation of the alleged plot had been finalized.

According to Hamid, 13 individuals with direct ties to the Islamic State were behind the plot to kidnap three senior members of the Malaysian government on the same day. The targets were the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, and Hamid himself, who informed the parliament on Tuesday. He said that the Islamic State members were planning to ask for a large amount of money in return for delivering the three politicians to the authorities unharmed. Along with the kidnappings, the Islamic State members had planned to raid military facilities and steal weapons, then plant explosions throughout the country. They also wanted to conduct a series of armed robberies in order to acquire funds for the militant organization.

Hamid told the parliament that intelligence agencies had not been able to establish proof of the existence of an independent network belonging to the Islamic State in Malaysia. Instead, Islamic State members and sympathizers in the country are being handled from abroad, primarily from Syria, he said. Speaking on Tuesday about the alleged plot, Defense Minister Hussein said that security had been increased at all military bases and that the personal protection detail of senior cabinet officials had been augmented as a result of the plot.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 March 2016 | Permalink

US spies say incriminating flight MH17 recordings are genuine

Malaysia Airlines crash site near DonetskBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials said on Tuesday that the intercepted conversations between pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, in which they admit shooting down a plane at approximately the same time Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, are “authentic”. The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity at a press briefing in Washington, organized by the United States government to provide its own take on the tragic incident, which killed almost 300 people last week. On Monday, Russian military officials said Moscow had evidence that a Ukrainian fighter jet was trailing the civilian airliner shortly before it crashed. But American officials told reporters on Tuesday that satellite images, voice traffic, as well as information gathered from social media used by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, “point overwhelmingly” to direct rebel responsibility for the attack. The officials said that the possibility that Ukrainian military forces might have shot down the plane was “not a plausible scenario”, because Kiev had “no antiaircraft missile system within range of the Malaysian flight at the time it was struck”. They added that photos from the crash site showed damage consistent with that caused by a Russian-made SA-11 missile, though they stressed that the data backing this assertion is still preliminary. They also pointed out, however, that US intelligence experts had verified the authenticity of the intercepted telephone conversations released shortly after the plane disaster by the Security Service of Ukraine. The voices in the recordings are allegedly those of senior pro-Russian rebel commanders, as well as of officials in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU. In one conversation, recorded 20 minutes after the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, Igor Bezler, a leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, tells GRU Colonel Vasily Geranin: “We have just shot down a plane […]. It fell down beyond Yenakievo”. Read more of this post

Russia says it traced Ukraine fighter jet near downed Malaysia plane

General Kartopolov (left) speaking in MoscowBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Russian government officials have made a presentation in Moscow showing alleged evidence of a Ukrainian fighter jet, which they claim was trailing a civilian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, which came down in a field east of the city of Donetsk, were killed. Last week, Ukrainian intelligence sources released telephone intercepts said to contain direct admissions by pro-Russian rebels that they shot down the civilian airliner. But Russian defense officials fought back on Monday with a hi-tech news conference in Moscow, which included several slides, charts and images relating to the airline disaster over Donetsk. The media briefing, which was specifically called to showcase Moscow’s take on the incident, featured two senior-ranking officials from the Russian general staff. One of the presenters, Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov, told the gathered reporters that the government of Ukraine was most likely behind the plane’s downing. He said Russian radars showed the Malaysian Airlines plane had been forced to “deviate from its route to the north” for up to “14 kilometers” (10 miles). He added that the plane was all the while being trailed by an SU-25 fighter jet belonging to the Ukrainian government, which Russian radars indicated was flying at a distance of “three to five kilometers” (3 miles) from the civilian airplane. Kartopolov stressed that the SU-25 fighter jets are typically armed with air-to-air missiles. Pointing to a series of graphs showing radar activity around Donetsk, the Russian general stated that Ukrainian radar stations had also displayed “unusual activity” in the hours preceding the attack on the civilian airliner. He told reporters that the Russian Ministry of Defense had evidence that “the intensity of the operation of Ukrainian radar stations increased to the maximum” during the time period surrounding the fateful attack on the plane. Read more of this post