Militaries around the world scramble to contain impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 ChinaMilitary forces around the world are scrambling to contain the impact of COVID-19 on military readiness, as the virus continues to infect troops and commanders at an alarming rate. On Tuesday, the Polish government announced that General Jaroslaw Mika, who serves as general commander of Branches of the Armed Forces, had tested positive for the coronavirus. General Mika is believed to have contracted the virus during a military conference that took place in the German city of Wiesbaden, where North Atlantic Treaty Organization commanders gathered to plan an American-led military exercise.

Also on Tuesday, the United States Department of Defense said that the commander of the US Army in Europe, Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli, participated at the Wiesbaden conference, along with several other US Army staff members. They are currently being tested for exposure to COVID-19. Meanwhile the Reuters news agency reported that the US Pentagon acknowledged that “the US military’s official tally of servicemembers and related personnel who have been infected by the coronavirus likely undercounts the actual total”. Sources told the news agency that the low age and good health of American troops was “a mixed blessing of sorts”, since it allows US servicemembers to survive the virus but at the same time reduces their symptoms that would normally trigger testing for COVID-19.

The government of Taiwan said on Tuesday that over 400 members of its armed forces had entered self-imposed quarantine in order to prevent a possible COVID-19 outbreak among military personnel. This brings the total number of Taiwanese servicemembers who are currently in quarantine to over 2,000, which includes two generals. The country’s Minister of Defense, Yen De-fa, insisted on Tuesday that the virus had not impacted Taiwan’s military readiness.

Chinese officials have not provided information about the effect of the coronavirus on the country’s military. The Chinese-language website of The Epoch Times said last week that, according to unnamed insiders, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had “forcibly isolated” tens of thousands of servicemembers this month. There are no reports of specific numbers in the Chinese media or non-Chinese news outlets.

Finally, according to Daily NK, a South Korean website that specializes on news from North Korea, approximately 180 North Korean soldiers have died as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the past month. The website cited “a source inside the North Korean military”, who said that Pyongyang had forcibly quarantined at around 3,700 soldiers of all ranks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s military.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 March 2020 | Permalink

Russia detains American diplomats for traveling to top-secret military site

SeverodvinskRussian authorities detained three American diplomats because they allegedly tried to enter a highly secret weapons testing site in northern Russia, according to reports. The site in question is located near the northern Russian city of Severodvinsk. The city is home to a number of military shipyards and is thus restricted for non-Russians. The latter require a special permit to enter it.

In August of this year, Western media reported on a mysterious explosion that took place in a weapons research site located near Severodvinsk. The explosion allegedly happened during testing of a top-secret prototype rocket engine. Russian authorities revealed that five workers died as a result of the explosion, but denied media reports that the explosion had caused a radiation leak that had affected Severodvinsk. The Russian Ministry of Defense also denied allegations that a large-scale nuclear clean-up operation had been conducted in and around Severodvinsk. At the same time, Russian authorities restricted maritime traffic in the White Sea, on the shores of which Severodvinsk is situated.

On Wednesday, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that three American diplomats had been detained by authorities near Severodvinsk, allegedly because they tried to enter the city without the necessary permits. The diplomats were not named but are believed to be military attachés that serve in the United States embassy in Moscow. Interfax said the three were detained on Monday while onboard a passenger train. They were removed from the train, questioned and eventually released. However, they might still face charges of trying to enter a restricted area without permission.

The United States Department of State issued a statement claiming that the three diplomats “were on official travel and had properly notified Russian authorities of their travel”. A State Department spokesman said on Wednesday that the three diplomats’ travel plans had been authorized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. But authorities in Russia said that the three military attachés had been authorized to travel to the city of Arkhangelsk, which is located approximately 30 miles east of Severodvinsk. “We are quite willing to provide the United States embassy with a map of the Russian Federation”, the Russian statement concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2019 | Permalink

Colombian spy chief resigns over fake dossier that linked militants to Venezuela

Comando Conjunto de InteligenciaColombia’s military spy chief has resigned, after the Colombian president was found to have misused intelligence at a United Nations speech to blame Venezuela for allegedly aiding paramilitary groups. For many years, authorities in Bogotá have accused Venezuela of aiding armed groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). These groups have been engaged in a decades-long guerrilla war against the Colombian state. In 2017, the largest of these groups, the FARC, laid down its weapons and signed a peace treaty with the Colombian government. But the ELN has refused to follow suit, while a number of hardline FARC leaders recently announced that they would be resuming their armed struggle against the Colombian authorities.

In recent months, the rise of Venezuela’s Western-supported opposition leader Juan Guaidó has further-fueled tensions between Colombia and Venezuela. Bogotá has come out in support of Guaidó, while many anti-government Venezuelans, some of them armed, have sought refuge in Colombia. Colombia rejects Venezuela’s claims that it is giving shelter to terrorists and argues instead that it is providing humanitarian aid to Venezuelan refugees. In turn, it accuses Caracas of sheltering ELN and FARC guerrillas, a claim that the Venezuelan government strongly denies.

Last week, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Colombian President Iván Duque unveiled a dossier of evidence that purportedly proved beyond doubt Venezuela’s collusion with Colombian paramilitaries. Duque told the United Nations gathering that the collusion was supervised by no other than the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. But within hours of Duque’s speech, reporters who scrutinized the dossier found that much of the photographic evidence in it had been downloaded from the Internet. Moreover, the photographs were not taken in Venezuela, as Duque claimed in his speech, but in Colombia.

The revelations have dominated the news headlines in Colombia and Venezuela in the past week, with the Colombian government engaging in damage control. On Monday, General Oswaldo Peña, Colombia’s military intelligence chief, resigned over the fake dossier. General Peña directed the Comando Conjunto de Inteligencia (Joint Intelligene Command) of the Colombian Armed Forces, which was seen as the primary spy agency behind the information contained in the dossier. In his resignation letter, General Peña wrote that “as a general of the [Colombian] Republic” he was fully aware that he needed to take responsibility for his activities and the activities of his subordinates. President Duque has not commented on the general’s resignation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 October 2019 | Permalink

Russia is looking for nuclear missile that went missing, US sources claim

Russian nuclear-powered missileRussia is preparing to carry out an extensive search for a nuclear-powered missile that went missing during a test several months ago, according to American intelligence sources. The missing missile appears to be part of a new Russian-made weapon system that President Vladimir Putin boasted about earlier this year. During his annual state-of-the-union speech in Moscow on March 1, Putin said that Russia had developed a new type of nuclear-powered missile with a virtually unlimited range. This new type of weapon, said the Russian president, could fly indefinitely and thus deliver nuclear warheads to any target around the world. Additionally, the new system was designed in such a way that it could evade every known missile defense system and was thus “invulnerable to interception”, he claimed.

According to observers, the recently announced Russian weapon has been in development for more than 15 years. It is based on gasoline-powered engines that are used during the missile’s takeoff. But soon afterwards, they give way to a nuclear-powered engine that guides the missile to its eventual destination. However, despite Putin’s claims, the weapon has never been successfully tested according to American intelligence sources. The Americans claim that the Russian military tested these missiles at least four times between November of 2017 and February of this year, and that all four missiles crashed long before they reached their intended destination. The idea of indefinite flight, therefore, which Putin boasted about earlier this year, remains unrealized, according to American sources. Moscow, however, denies that the missiles crashed during the testing stage.

Now the American news network CNBC has said that Russia is preparing to launch a large-scale search operation for one of the nuclear-powered missiles that went missing in the Arctic Ocean in November of 2017. It is believed that the missile crashed in the Barents Sea, a vast expanse of water located off the northern coasts of Russia and Norway. Citing anonymous individuals “with direct knowledge of a US intelligence report” on the subject, CNBC said on Tuesday that the Russian search mission will consist of three vessels, at least one of which will be specially equipped to handle radioactive material from the missing missile’s nuclear core. The American news network said that the Russian search mission has no definite timeline. The Russian government has not commented on CNBC’s allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 August 2018 | Research credit: A.G.B. | Permalink

Taiwan admits for the first time that Chinese general Liu Liankun was one of its spies

Taiwan MIBThe government of Taiwan has acknowledged publicly for the first time that a Chinese major general, who was executed by Beijing in 1999 for espionage, was indeed one of its spies. The military officer was Liu Liankun, a logistician for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who headed its Department of General Logistics. However, China arrested Liu for espionage in 1999, and accused him of having spied for Taiwan for five years, in exchange for money. At the time, Taiwan denied that Liu spied on its behalf and refused to acknowledge that it had any role in the major general’s alleged espionage activities.

According to his Chinese government accusers, Liu passed information to Taiwan during the so-called 1996 missile crisis —known in Taiwan as the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. The crisis was prompted by a series of missile tests conducted by Beijing in the waters around the island of Taiwan. The crisis lasted several months, from July of 1995 to March of 1996. Many in Taiwan were convinced that China’s missile tests were the precursors of a military advance by Beijing, aimed at conquering the island one and for all. However, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense eventually issued a press statement saying it was aware that the Chinese missiles were not equipped with armed warheads. The information was correct, but it made China realize that Taiwan was receiving information from a highly placed source inside its military. After an extensive counterintelligence investigation, the Chinese arrested Liu and accused him of having spied for Taiwan in exchange for nearly $2 million in bribes. Liu was eventually executed by lethal injection in a Beijing prison. He was 58. At the time of his conviction, Liu was the most senior Chinese military officer to have ever been convicted of spying for Taiwan.

But Taiwan continued to deny any involvement in Liu’s case. That changed last week, however, when Taiwan’s Military Information Bureau unveiled its renovated memorial, which is housed at its headquarters in Taipei City. The memorial features plaques commemorating 75 individuals who have died while carrying out MIB intelligence operations. Those featured include both intelligence officers and their assets —foreign people recruited by intelligence officers to spy for Taiwan. Among the plaques, visitors to the memorial saw one dedicated to Liu for the first time. A note beneath the plaque acknowledges Liu’s contributions during the 1996 missile crisis. But it also states that the Chinese military official also provided assistance to Taiwan during earlier crises with China in the 1990s, as well as inside information about the death of Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping in 1997.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 6 April 2018 | Permalink

Latvian citizen arrested for allegedly spying for Russia

Latvian Security PoliceThe Latvian Security Police have announced the arrest of a man who is suspected of spying for a foreign country, with some reports claiming it is Russia. The Latvian state-owned news agency, LETA, said late last month that the man, who has not been named, was arrested by Security Police officers on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. However, the arrest was not announced by Latvian authorities until recently. A statement issued by government authorities in Riga said that the man’s arrest had been followed by searches at several different properties in the Latvian capital.

The detainee, who is reportedly a Latvian national, is being investigated for espionage and has already been charged with illegally possessing a firearm. A court in the Latvian capital ruled last week that the suspect should be remanded in custody. Initially, the Security Police refused to identify the detainee or reveal the name of the country that he allegedly spied for. But some private Latvian news outlets, who are believed to be close to the government, said on the morning of February 7 that the detainee worked for the Russian state. One report claimed that the man was tasked with collecting military-related information from the region of Latvia that borders Russia. He would then share the information with his Russian handlers, according to the report. On February 8, the Security Police confirmed that the detainee was indeed suspected of working for Russia. According to the agency, he gave his Russian handlers information about the National Armed Forces, Latvia’s military force.

Also on February 8, Latvian authorities warned the country’s citizens that they should remain vigilant. A government statement said that Moscow was intensely interested in collecting classified information about Latvia and that the Russian secret services preferred to recruit Latvians when the latter visited Russia. Reports late last week said that, if found guilty of spying, the detained man could face up to 14 years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 February 2018 | Permalink

Russia announces detention of Norwegian citizen on espionage charges

Frode BergAuthorities in Russia have announced the arrest of a Norwegian citizen, whom they accuse of receiving classified information relating to Russia’s Armed Forces. The detainee has been named as Frode Berg, 62, from Kirkenes, a small town in Norway’s far north, located 100 miles from the Russian city of Murmansk. According to articles in the Russian press, Berg is a 24-year veteran of the Office of the Norwegian Border Commissioner, an obscure government agency that operates under Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Among other tasks, the Office of the Norwegian Border Commissioner is responsible for enforcing and monitoring bilateral compliance with the Soviet (now Russian)-Norwegian Border Agreement of 1949. Berg, who worked closely with Norway’s National Police Directorate as part of his job, retired from the Office in 2014.

According to reports in the Russian media, Berg was arrested two weeks ago by officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the agency responsible for domestic security and counterintelligence. He is now in detention and is accused of receiving classified information relating to the Russian Navy. It is believed that Berg received the classified documents from an unnamed Russian national, who was arrested by the FSB in early December and now faces charges of high treason. No further information has been made public about Berg’s arrest. Relations between Norway and Russia have been tense in recent years, partly due to attempts by the two nations to assert control over undersea territories in the arctic region, which are becoming accessible due to global warming. In 2015, Norway’s state broadcaster accused the FSB of pressuring a Norwegian newspaper, The Barents Observer, to fire one of its journalists who covered fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic Ocean. But the Russian government denied that it has played any role in the journalist’s firing.

Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that it had established contact with a Norwegian national who was behind bars in Russia, but did not give the person’s name or further details. Berg’s family in Norway said the last time they had news from him was two weeks ago, when he was holidaying in Moscow. The Russian state prosecutor’s office said that Berg’s lawyers had filed an appeal against his detention, but that the Norwegian would remain in jail until his appeal is heard in court.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 December 2017 | Permalink