Britain’s MI6 to increase its size by 40% in four years

MI6Britain’s primary external intelligence agency, MI6, will see a 40 percent increase in personnel numbers in the next four years, according to a new report. The agency, which is formally known as the Secret Intelligence Service, currently employs about 2,500 people. But the BBC said on Wednesday that the number of MI6 employees will rise to approximately 3,500 by 2020. The broadcaster said that no public announcement had been made about the planned increase, but that it had verified the information “via Whitehall sources”, referring to the official seat of the British government.

If the BBC’s report is accurate, the planned increase will be the biggest personnel boost for MI6 since the Cold War. It reflects a renewed emphasis in foreign intelligence collection using human sources, which is the primary task of the spy agency. The broadcaster said that the increase in personnel has been “made necessary by the development of the Internet and technology” in recent years. Earlier this week, the director of MI6, Alex Younger, said during a panel presentation in Washington, DC, that the operating environment of MI6 had fundamentally changed due to “the information revolution”. The latter, he said, presented the agency with “an existential threat” and a “golden opportunity” at the same time.

The reported increase is consistent with an announcement made by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron in November 2015, that London would boost significantly the size of its intelligence services. Cameron made the announcement shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed over 130 people and injured 700. In a subsequent report, called the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the British government said it would incorporate 1,900 additional staff to its intelligence and security services. It now appears that over half of these new recruits will join MI6, while the Security Service (MI5), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorist Command will hire the remaining 900 people.

A similar rise in personnel numbers occurred after the July 7 London bus bombings in 2005. Following those attacks, the MI5, which focuses on domestic security and counterterrorism, saw its personnel size increase by approximately 35 percent.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2016 | Permalink

Conflicting details on Iranian nuclear negotiator arrested for espionage

Iran nuclear negotiationsIranian officials have confirmed reports from earlier this month that a member of the country’s team of nuclear negotiators has been arrested for engaging in espionage for a foreign country. But there are conflicting details about the case in Iranian media reports. Rumors about the identity of the individual began to circulate on August 16, after the office of the Iranian prosecutor announced that a dual national with Iranian citizenship had been arrested for spying on Tehran for a foreign intelligence service. The individual was not named, but some reports connected him with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6.

On Sunday, Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, identified the man as Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani. Ejeie was specifically asked about the espionage case during his weekly press conference, and responded saying that an “espionage infiltration” had indeed been detected and that “legal action” was being taken against Esfahani. He did add, however, that the arrest and concurrent investigation had not yet resulted in a case that could stand in court, thus Esfahani had been released on bail. When asked whether Esfahani would be charged, Ejeie said that official charges had not been filed, because “the charge against [Esfahani] has not been proven yet”. He implied, however, that charges would eventually be filed.

There are also conflicting reports about Esfahani’s background and involvement with the Iranian government. Early reports suggested that he is a dual citizen of Canada and Iran. But subsequent reports stated that he holds both Iranian and British passports, and that he had been recruited by MI6. Some unconfirmed reports claimed that Esfahani received payments from both British and American intelligence agencies. What appears more certain is that Esfahani is an accountant with some involvement in the financial aspects of the recent nuclear negotiations between Iran and foreign powers. It is also believed that he was not a core member of Iran’s negotiating team, but provided a supporting role on financial aspects of the negotiations.

The recently concluded negotiations, were aimed at bridging the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. In March 2015, Hossein Motaghi, a media advisor to the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who was in Switzerland to cover the negotiations, defected and filed an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 August 2016 | Permalink

Relations between UK spy agencies “broke down” during war on terrorism

Eliza Manningham-BullerRelations between two of Britain’s most powerful intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, suffered a “serious and prolonged breakdown” during the American-led war on terrorism. Citing sources in the British government, the London-based Guardian newspaper said on Tuesday that the two agencies entered an extensive row over Britain’s support for extraordinary rendition. The policy refers to the government-sponsored abduction of individuals and their extrajudicial transfer across national borders. It was widely practiced by the administration of US President George W. Bush, despite its connection to documented cases of torture of terrorism detainees, in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Jordan.

In Britain, the administration of Prime Minister Tony Blair secretly supported Washington’s extraordinary rendition operations. It instructed the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, to assist its American counterpart, the Central Intelligence Agency, in efforts to abduct and rendition terrorism suspects. However, not everyone in Britain’s intelligence establishment was in agreement with government policy. One strong critic was Eliza Manningham-Buller, the then-director of Britain’s Security Service, commonly known as MI5, which she led from 2002 to 2007. According to The Guardian’s sources, Manningham-Buller was “evidently furious” when she discovered that MI6 had secretly colluded with governments like those of Libya and Egypt to rendition terrorism detainees. Believing extraordinary rendition and torture to be “wrong and never justified”, the MI5 director effectively stopped her agency from cooperating with MI6. She even “threw out” of MI5’s Thames House headquarters several MI6 liaison staff who were working there at the time, said The Guardian.

Soon afterwards, Manningham-Buller complained in writing to Prime Minister Blair about the conduct of some MI6 officers, whose actions allegedly “threatened Britain’s intelligence gathering” and “compromised the security and safety of MI5 officers and their informants”. The Guardian does not provide further elaboration of the contents of Manningham-Buller’s letter to the prime minister, but alleges that it contributed to a “serious and prolonged breakdown” in relations between MI5 and MI6. The paper says it contacted the two intelligence agencies, as well as Manningham-Buller, who has since retired, but no one wished to comment on the story. Sources did tell the paper, however, that the relationship between the two agencies “has now been repaired after a difficult period”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 Jun 2016 | Permalink

Extraordinary lecture by Soviet spy Kim Philby surfaces on videotape

Kim PhilbyA videotaped lecture by Kim Philby, one of the Cold War’s most recognizable espionage figures, has been unearthed in the archives of the Stasi, the Ministry of State Security of the former East Germany. During the one-hour lecture, filmed in 1981, Philby addresses a select audience of Stasi operations officers and offers them advice on espionage, drawn from his own career. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB from the early 1930s until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic moments of the Cold War.

The videotaped lecture, which was never intended for public consumption, was found recently by the BBC in the archives of the BStU, the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Records in Berlin, Germany. Excerpts can now be viewed publicly for the first time.

The recording begins with an introduction by Markus Wolf, one of the most high-profile intelligence operatives of the Cold War, who was head of East Germany’s Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, the foreign intelligence division of the Stasi. Then Philby takes the stand and for about 15 minutes recounts his recruitment by the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB. He tells his audience that the Soviets recruited him despite his extremely young age and joblessness, seeing him as “a long range project”. They did so, he says, because they knew he was part of “the ruling class of the British Empire” and was thus bound to end up in a position of power. His NKVD handler was clear as to his agent’s task, says Philby: his mission was to join the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency. The young Philby then spent years trying to work his way into the intelligence agency, and did so successfully.

With extreme candidness, Philby proceeds to tell his East German audience about his mission, given to him by his NKVD handler in the late 1940s. It was to unseat Felix Cowgill, his boss in MI6’s Soviet counterespionage division, and take his place. He achieved that, he says, even though Cowgill was a man he “rather liked and admired. It was a very dirty story”, admits Philby, “but after all our work does imply getting dirty hands form time to time, but we do it for a cause that is not dirty in a way”.

Of particular interest to intelligence observers is Philby’s justification of his role in Operation VALUABLE/FIEND, in which the Central Intelligence Agency, in association with MI6 and other Western European intelligence agencies, secretly sent Western-trained Albanian agents into communist-controlled Albania. The agents were tasked with organizing an armed popular revolt against Albania’s communist rulers. But Philby, who had been given the job of overseeing the operation on behalf of MI6, betrayed the entire program to the Soviets, thus ensuring its complete failure. In his lecture, he justifies his betrayal by arguing that it helped prevent World War III. Had VALUABLE/FIEND succeeded, claims Philby, it would have been expanded to Bulgaria, at which point the USSR would have intervened, causing World War III.

Following the end of his prepared remarks, Philby takes a series of questions from his audience, including one about how he managed to “stay ideologically pure” while living in a capitalist society. In responding, the British defector praises his Soviet handler, who looked after his “political as well as physical health”, and advised his audience, which presumably included dozens of Stasi case officers, to do the same. A summary report of the recently unearthed videotape can be read on the BBC’s website, here. There is also an audio podcast on Philby’s lecture, which includes commentary from Professor Christopher Andrew, of Cambridge University, and Hayden B. Peake, most recently curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection.

Author: Ian Allen and Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2016 | Permalink

Declassified files shed light on 1956 disappearance of MI6 agent

Lionel CrabbA set of newly released files from the archives of the British Cabinet Office shed light on the mysterious case of a highly decorated combat swimmer, who vanished while carrying out a secret operation against a Soviet ship. The disappearance happened during a historic Soviet high-level visit to Britain in 1956. In April of that year, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, and Nikolai Bulganin, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, arrived in Britain aboard Russian warship Ordzhonikidze, which docked at Portsmouth harbor. Their eight-day tour of Britain marked the first-ever official visit by Soviet leadership to a Western country. But the tour was marred by a botched undersea operation led by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known commonly as MI6. The operation, which aimed to explore the then state-of-the-art Ordzhonikidze, ended in the disappearance of MI6 diver Lionel “Buster” Crabb. The body of Crabb, one of several MI6 operatives involved in the operation, was never recovered.

Now a set of documents released by the Cabinet Office, a British government department tasked with providing support services to the country’s prime minister and senior Cabinet officials, show that the operation had been mismanaged by MI6 from the start. According to The Daily Telegraph, the documents show that miscommunication between the British Foreign Office and MI6 caused the latter to believe that the operation to target the Ordzhonikidze had been authorized by the government, when in fact no such thing had ever occurred.

Moreover, MI6 had housed Crabb and other operatives in a Portsmouth hotel, where the agency’s handler had provided the front-desk clerk with the real names and addresses of the underwater team members. The documents also reveal that several of Crabb’s relatives and friends had been told by him that he would be diving in Portsmouth on the week leading up to his death. Those who knew included one of Crabb’s business partners, with whom he operated a furniture outlet. The partner apparently told the authorities that he was contemplating “consulting a clairvoyant, Madame Theodosia”, in an effort to discover the fate of his missing business partner.

After Crabb disappeared, British government officials were convinced that he had been abducted or killed by the Soviets and that the KGB was in possession of his body. Should the Soviets decide to disclose the existence of the MI6 operation to the world, there would be “no action that [MI6] could take [that] could stave off disaster”, said one British government memo. As intelNews has reported before, n 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.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2015 | 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

‘Day of the Jackal’ author reveals he was MI6 agent for 20 years

Frederick ForsythFrederick Forsyth, the esteemed British author of novels such as The Day of the Jackal, has confirmed publicly for the first time that he was an agent of British intelligence for two decades. Forsyth, who is 77, worked for many decades as an international correspondent for the BBC and Reuters news agency, covering some of the world’s most sensitive areas, including postcolonial Nigeria, apartheid South Africa and East Germany during the Cold War. But he became famous for authoring novels that have sold over 70 million copies worldwide, including The Odessa File, Dogs of War and The Day of the Jackal, many of which were adapted into film. Several of his intelligence-related novels are based on his experiences as a news correspondent, which have prompted his loyal fans to suspect that he might have some intelligence background.

But Forsyth had never commented on these rumors until last weekend, when was interviewed on the BBC’s main evening news program. He spoke to the station on the occasion of the upcoming publication of his autobiography, The Outsider: My Life, which will be in stores in October. He told the BBC that he was first recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the late 1960s while covering the Nigerian Civil War. The bloody conflict, which is also known as the Biafran War, pitted the separatist Igbo people against the Nigerian federal government. Like other military conflicts in postcolonial Africa, it attracted the attention of the world’s powers, including France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain. London was firmly on the side of the government in Lagos, but MI6 had reservations, believing that the Nigerian military forces were committing mass atrocities in Biafra. Forsyth said he was recruited by an MI6 officer who wanted to know if children were dying in Biafra as a result of the Nigerian government’s military policies against the Igbo separatists. The intelligence service were apparently hoping that they could use this information to change London’s stance on the brutal civil war. The author told the BBC that he spent the rest of the war “sending both journalistic reports to the media and other reports to my new friend”, referring to his MI6 handler.

When asked if he was paid for his services, he said his assistance to MI6 was provided on a strictly voluntary basis. “The attitude, the spirit of the age, was different back then”, he said, adding that “the Cold War was very much on” and when the British government asked a reporter for a favor it was “very hard to say no”. He did say, however, that MI6 promised to approve passages of some of his novels by way of payment. The author of The Day of the Jackal said he was given a number to call and told to send MI6 his manuscripts for vetting. “If they are too sensitive, we will ask you not to continue”, Forsyth told the BBC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2015 | Permalink