MI6 to revert to old-fashioned ways of recruitment, says director

Alex YoungerBritain’s primary external-intelligence agency will revert to old-fashioned ways of recruiting employees, including the co-called “tap on the shoulder” method, according to its director. Known informally as MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) was founded in 1908 to protect Britain’s national security by collecting intelligence from foreign sources. However, the agency has had difficulty recruiting a diverse group of people, and many still view it as a professional destination for a small wealthy elite, drawn primarily from Britain’s most prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

MI6 is now trying to diversify the makeup of its employees, according to its director, Alex Younger. Younger, who is known at MI6 as ‘C’, gave an interview to British newspaper The Guardian on Thursday. He did so as the agency he leads prepares to increase its personnel numbers by 40 percent in the next four years. Last year, the British government announced that MI6’s personnel strength would grow from its current size of 2,500 employees to approximately 3,500 by 2020. The reason for the increase, said Younger, is that Britain is facing “more threats than ever before […] from terrorist groups and hostile states”. As a result, “the demands on our services [and] capabilities are on the up”, Younger told The Guardian in his first-ever interview with a national newspaper.

But MI6 would function more efficiently and achieve better results it if had a “more diverse workforce”, said Younger. Therefore, he said, the agency must go out of its way to “draw in a new cadre of black and Asian officers”. In doing so, the spy service would need to reach out to minority communities who are “selecting themselves out” of working for the British intelligence community. Useful in this process are what Younger called “old recruitment techniques”, such as the so-called “tap on the shoulder”. The term refers to the deliberate recruitment of individuals who will be approached by MI6 without having applied for employment with the agency. “We have to go to people that would not have thought of being recruited to MI6”, said Younger, adding that the “tap on the shoulder” method can be redeployed in order to increase diversity among MI6’s workforce and “reflect the society we live in”.

The spy agency is preparing to launch an aggressive recruitment campaign next week, aiming at bringing its overall size to 3,500 —a historic high, according to intelligence observers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 March 2017 | Permalink

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

KGB spy shares details of his escape to Britain in 1985

Oleg GordievskyA Soviet double spy, who secretly defected to Britain 30 years ago this month, has revealed for the first time the details of his exfiltration by British intelligence in 1985. Oleg Gordievsky was one of the highest Soviet intelligence defectors to the West in the closing stages of the Cold War. He joined the Soviet KGB in 1963, eventually reaching the rank of colonel. But in the 1960s, while serving in the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gordievsky began feeling disillusioned about the Soviet system. His doubts were reinforced by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was soon afterwards that he made the decision to contact British intelligence.

Cautiously, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6) communicated with Gordievsky, and in 1974 he secretly became an agent-in-place for the United Kingdom. Eight years later, in 1982, Gordievsky was promoted to KGB rezident (chief of station) in London. While there, he frequently made contact with his MI6 handlers, giving them highly coveted information on Soviet nuclear strategy, among other things. He is credited with informing London of Mikhail Gorbachev’s imminent ascendency to the premiership of the Soviet Union, long before he was seen by Western intelligence as a viable candidate to lead the country.

But in May of 1985, Gordievsky was suddenly recalled to Moscow, where he was detained by the KGB. He was promptly taken to a KGB safe house in the outskirts of Moscow and interrogated for five hours, before being temporarily released pending further questioning. Remarkably, however, Gordievsky managed to escape his KGB surveillance and reappear in Britain less than a week later. How did this happen? On Sunday, the former double spy gave a rare rare interview to The Times, in which he revealed for the first time the details of his escape to London. He told The Times’ Ben Macintyre that he was smuggled out of the USSR by MI6 as part of Operation PIMLICO. PIMLICO was an emergency exfiltration operation that had been put in place by MI6 long before Gordievsky requested its activation in May of 1985.

Every Tuesday, shortly after 7:00, a British MI6 officer would take a morning stroll at the Kutuzovsky Prospekt in Moscow. He would pass outside a designated bakery at exactly 7:24 a.m. local time. If he saw Gordievsky standing outside the bakery holding a grocery bag, it meant that the double agent was requesting to be exfiltrated as a matter of urgency. Gordievsky would then have to wait outside the bakery until a second MI6 officer appeared, carrying a bag from the Harrods luxury department store in London. The man would also be carrying a Mars bar (a popular British candy bar) and would bite into it while passing right in front of Gordievsky. That would be a message to him that his request to be exfiltrated had been received.

Four days later, Gordievsky used his skills in evading surveillance and shook off (or dry-cleaned, in espionage tradecraft lingo) the KGB officers trailing him. He was then picked up by MI6 officers and smuggled out of the country in the trunk of a British diplomatic car that drove to the Finnish border. Gordievsky told The Times that Soviet customs officers stopped the car at the Finnish border and surrounded it with sniffer dogs. At that moment, a British diplomat’s wife, who was aware that Gordievsky was hiding in the car, came out of the vehicle and proceeded to change her baby’s diaper on the trunk, thus safeguarding Gordievsky’s hiding place and masking his scent with her baby’s used diaper. If it hadn’t been for the diplomat’s wife, Gordievsky told The Times that he might have been caught.

After crossing the Soviet-Finnish border, Gordievsky traveled to Norway and from there he boarded a plane for England. Soviet authorities promptly sentenced him to death, but allowed his wife and children to join him in Britain six years later, after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally lobbied the Soviet government. Gordievsky’s death penalty still stands in Russia. In 2007, the Queen made Gordievsky a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George for services rendered to the security of the British state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 6 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/06/01-1729/

Links revealed between UK spy agencies and Gaddafi-era Libya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgTony Blair and Muammar Gaddafi in 2007
British spy agencies had close operational links with their Libyan counterparts during the rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, and even allowed Libyan spies to operate on British soil, according to documents. The Libyan government files, unearthed in the North African country following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, allegedly reveal a degree of cooperation between London and Tripoli that goes far beyond what has been publicly acknowledged. According to London-based newspaper The Guardian, which saw the documents, intelligence agencies from the two countries launched a series of joint operations between 2006 and 2011, aimed at political enemies of the Libyan ruler, many of whom were thought to have links with al-Qaeda. In an article published on Friday, The Guardian said that the Security Service (commonly known as MI5), invited Libyan intelligence operatives to Britain and allowed them to spy on enemies of the Gaddafi regime who were living there, having been granted political asylum by the British government. The paper said that the Libyan intelligence officers were even allowed to “intimidate a number of Gaddafi opponents” who were trying to organize anti-Gaddafi campaigns on British soil. In return, the Libyan government allowed MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) access to captured anti-Gaddafi dissidents in Libya, while the latter underwent interrogation that almost certainly involved torture. The British paper said the unearthed documents, which come straight from the archive vaults of the Gaddafi government, are being used in a lawsuit filed in Britain against MI5, MI6, as well as against a number of British government departments, by former anti-Gaddafi dissidents. The plaintiffs, all members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which tried to depose Gaddafi in the years prior to his death, claim that evidence against them was obtained through torture in Libyan prisons. They also claim that British intelligence agencies knew they were being tortured when they cooperated with the Libyan intelligence services that had captured them. In 2014, a former senior leader of LIFG, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, won the right to sue the British government over his claim that he was tortured by Libyan intelligence operatives with the cooperation of British and American intelligence agencies. In 2012, another prominent Libyan political dissident, Sami al-Saadi, was awarded £2.2 million ($3.5 million) by a British court, after claiming that he underwent torture in Libya following his abduction in a joint British/Libyan/American intelligence operation.

Britain’s MI6 appoints new director amidst mounting global crises

Alex YoungerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6) has announced the appointment of a new director at a period that some see as the most critical for the agency since the end of the Cold War. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a brief statement on Saturday that Alex Younger will be replacing Sir John Sawers, who earlier this year announced he would be stepping down from the post. Prior to his appointment, Younger, 51, held the position of chief of global operations, which is considered the number two position at MI6. The Foreign Office statement described Younger as a “career SIS officer” who has worked for the agency since 1991, when he joined from the Scots Guards regiment of the British Army. He holds an economics degree and has served with MI6 in the Middle East, Europe, and Afghanistan, where he represented the agency as its most senior officer in the country following the US-led military invasion of 2001. Upon his return to the United Kingdom, Younger directed MI6’s counterterrorism preparations in the lead-up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Some observers noted on Sunday that the new director’s appointment comes at a crucial period for Britain’s principal external intelligence agency, as it prepares to expand its operations in Iraq and Syria, in response to the growth of the Islamic State there. Additionally, British intelligence is refocusing on Eastern Europe, as the crisis in Ukraine threatens to further-damage relations between East and West, which appear to be on their direst state since the Cold War. Younger’s appointment will be seen as a reaffirmation by the government of the work of Sir John, who has led MI6 for four years. Many were surprised when Sir John, who was a diplomat, not an intelligence officer, was named as director of MI6 in 2010. It was said at the time that his appointment was meant to be seen as a public response by the government over strong accusations that the agency had seriously underperformed in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Sir John has tried to restore MI6’s reputation and has been particularly noted for his public appearances, which included lectures and speeches at parliamentary hearings. Read more of this post

Ex-MI6 counterterror chief urges caution in tackling ISIS threat

Richard BarrettBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Britain should not hurriedly change its laws to counter the perceived danger posed by homegrown militants that have joined the Islamic State, according to the former head of counterterrorism for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Richard Barrett, a former diplomat, served as Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and is considered an international authority on counterterrorism. He told The Guardian newspaper that it would be wrong for the British government to introduce legislation effectively criminalizing travel to Iraq or Syria by British subjects. Barrett was responding to a newspaper article by London mayor Boris Johnson, who criticized Britain’s conservative government for not taking active steps to prevent British citizens form traveling to Syria and Iraq in order to join the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Johnson said he supported calls for British members of the Islamic State to be stripped of their British citizenship, even if that meant they would be left stateless —a violation of United Nations law. The London mayor further suggested that all British citizens travelling to Syria and Iraq without first notifying the government, should be legally considered as having traveled there “for a terrorist purpose”. He added that the burden should be on them to prove that they were “acting innocently” while abroad. But Barrett dismissed Johnson’s proposals, saying that they would cancel age-old principles of British common law and could potentially criminalize British citizens who traveled to the Middle East for legitimate purposes. Read more of this post

British spy chiefs ‘warn against’ Western military action in Ukraine

Map of UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The heads of British intelligence agencies are said to have advised London that interfering militarily in Ukraine would likely prompt a violent Russian response. The Sunday People said last weekend that Whitehall has been advised a Western military interference in Ukraine would “risk spiraling into an all-out war with Russia”. The Labour-supporting paper, which is published by the Trinity Mirror group, claimed that the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, is understood to have told British Prime Minister David Cameron that the Russian government “will not stand idly by” if Western troops enter Western Ukraine, ostensibly to prevent westward military advances by Russian forces. One “senior source” told The People that the message delivered to Whitehall was that “it’s not worth starting World War Three over Ukraine”. The briefing appears to rest on intelligence acquired from sources in Russia, as well as by MI6 operatives on the ground in eastern Ukraine, which, according to the paper, “have been moving around [eastern Ukraine] covertly, monitoring border crossing points and towns where Russian support is strongest”. Meanwhile on Monday the United States Department of State distributed an 11-page document with photographs alleging that Russian Spetsnaz (special purpose forces) troops are among the occupiers of government buildings in eastern Ukraine. The same document was distributed last week by Ukrainian officials at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Early on Tuesday, US Vice President Joe Biden, who is visiting Ukrainian capital Kiev, pledged $50 million to help the country’s government carry out unspecified “political and economic reforms”. About a fifth of that amount has been earmarked to help fund Ukraine’s presidential election in late May of this year. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #860

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Top US-backed rebel commander flees Syria. General Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army, who was the most senior Western-backed rebel commander in Syria, has fled the country amid growing infighting with Islamist rebels, American officials have said. The rebel military leader fled into Turkey and flew to Doha, Qatar on Sunday, after Islamist rebel groups took over his headquarters and warehouses of US-supplied military gear along the border between Turkey and Syria.
►►NSA co-worker calls Snowden ‘genius among geniuses’. Forbes magazine’s Andy Greenberg says he was contacted by a former co-worker of NSA technical expert Edward Snowden, who described the defector as “a principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors [at NSA] with sheer talent”. The unnamed source continued: “that kid was a genius among geniuses […], I’ve never seen anything like it”.
►►Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy. Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman. The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country. He said the accused was now on trial and had confessed. The nationality of the alleged spy is not yet known. The UK Foreign Office said it did not comment on intelligence matters.

Further evidence shows Litvinenko worked for MI6 when killed

Alexander LitvinenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
In 2012, a court in the United Kingdom was told that former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died of poisoning in 2006, had been working for British and Spanish intelligence when he was killed. Now British newspaper The Independent says it has proof that the late Russian spy provided “expert analysis” on Russian politics for British intelligence, shortly before his death. Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the UK. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting a former KGB/FSB colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. Many suspect that the Russian government is behind Litvinenko’s murder. But the dead spy’s family has argued for years that his killers did not only kill an intelligence defector, but also an officer of British intelligence. On Thursday, The Independent said it had seen a diplomatic memo that was given to Litvnenko for analysis by British external intelligence agency MI6. The document, known in the British Foreign Office lingo as a “diptel” (diplomatic telegram), was dispatched to several British embassies around the world in 2000. It includes a descriptive analysis of a confidential meeting in London between British intelligence officials and Sergei Ivanov. Currently a political powerhouse in Putin’s administration, Ivanon was at the time an unknown quantity in Western circles. He had entered politics after having spent nearly two decades working for Soviet and Russian external intelligence. The diptel seen by The Independent outlines the exchange of views between Ivanov and the British officials during the meeting, and evaluates his stance on a broad range of issues, ranging from the rise of Islamic militancy, to China, the Middle East, and the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Read more of this post