Israeli spy agency to launch anonymous technology investment fund

MossadThe Mossad, Israel’s primary intelligence agency, is preparing to launch a technology investment fund that will support Israeli-based hi-tech startups, with an eye to utilizing cutting-edge technologies in its spy operations. Israeli spy services are known internationally for their advanced use of technology in intelligence collection and special operations. But the planned investment fund is expected to systematize the Mossad’s use of cutting-edge technological solutions to intelligence challenges. It is interpreted by some commentators as “mark[ing] a new and surprising turn” in the spy agency’s approach to technology.

On Wednesday, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said it spoke to several unnamed Israeli bankers, who confirmed that the Mossad was “putting the finishing touches” on the anonymous technology investment fund. The bankers also told the newspaper that the fund would be officially launched “at the end of this month”. Once launched, the fund will invest in Israeli-owned technology startups, using money from the Mossad’s budget, without any outside capital. But instead of getting its share of the financial profit, the Mossad will ask instead to own the rights to the startup companies’ end-products and to be able to use them in intelligence-related work, said Ha’aretz.

According to the Israeli newspaper, the move by the Mossad is partly modeled after In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit venture capital firm that operates as the technology investment firm of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Based in Arlington, Virginia, In-Q-Tel invests in hi-tech technology startups focusing on new technologies that may be of use to the US Intelligence Community. Ha’aretz said it contacted the office of the Israeli prime minister for information about the Mossad’s alleged investment fund, and was told that the prime minster was looking into the matter.

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

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Israeli spy agencies’ budget has doubled in ten years

Yossi CohenThe combined budget of the two primary intelligence agencies of Israel, the Mossad and the Shin Bet, has doubled in the past decade, according to a report issued by the Israeli Ministry of Finance. Shin Bet is Israel’s domestic intelligence service, and is primarily responsible for counterterrorism and counterintelligence. The Mossad is Israel’s primary intelligence service, which means that it collects intelligence from foreign targets. The secretive agency also conducts covert and clandestine operations when authorized to do so by Israel’s government. The two agencies tend to work together with varying degrees of succces, but have distinct budgets.

Last week saw a rare instance of the release of a government report on the finances of these two agencies, which tend to shy away from discussing details about their financial scope. The information was included in a larger report about the Israeli government budget for 2018. The Finance Ministry report said that the 2018 budget for the Shin Bet and the Mossad will reach 8.6 billion shekels in the coming year. That amounts to approximately $2.5 billion. The ministry report noted that the budget for the two spy agencies has increased by just under 10 percent since last year. The same budget for 2017 was 7.8 billion shekels. That represented an increase of 300 million shekels from the 2016 budget.

Observers noted, however, that, although seemingly incremental, Israel’s spy budget for the Shin Bet and the Mossad appears to have doubled in just a decade. In 2006, under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the combined Shin Bet/Mossad annual budget was below 4.5 billion shekels. By 2009, when Olmert was succeeded by Benjamin Netanyahu, the budget for the Shin Bet and the Mossad had reached 5.3 billion shekels. But Netanyahu, who promotes his image as a big believer in the capabilities of the Israeli intelligence community, presided over large budgetary increases for the Shin Bet and the Mossad alike. During his presidency, the Israeli intelligence community has seen near-unprecedented rates of growth in both its size and wealth.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 May 2017 | Permalink

Sophistication of Hamas official’s killing points to Mossad, say sources

Mazen FaqhaThe sophistication behind the killing of a senior Hamas official, who was assassinated in his home in the Gaza Strip on Friday evening, points almost certainly to Israel, according to observers. Mazen Faqha, 38, helped plan several lethal operations by the Palestinian militant group, including a 2002 suicide bombing that killed nine and wounded over 50. Following an extensive manhunt, Israeli authorities arrested Faqha in the West Bank and in 2003 convicted him to nine life sentences. But in 2011, Faqha was among 1,027 Palestinian and Arab-Israeli prisoners that Israel released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, who was held prisoner by Hamas. Since that time, Faqha had lived in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave that has been under strict Israeli blockade since 2006.

Last Friday, March 24, Faqha was found dead inside the garage of his apartment block in Tel el-Hawa, a densely populated neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City. Initial reports stated that the Hamas official had been shot dead by a team of assailants outside his home. But subsequent accounts revealed that several gunmen were waiting for Faqha inside the car garage located on the bottom floor of the building that houses his apartment. It now appears that the assailants had been hiding in the garage for several hours before Faqha entered it with his car. Minutes earlier, his wife and young daughter had exited the car and made their way to the front door of their apartment. As soon as Faqha drove his car to the garage and closed the garage’s electric door, the gunmen shot him four times in the head from point-blank range and vanished. There was hardly a sound, because the assailants used weapons equipped with silencers. Faqha’s body was not discovered until 7:30 in the evening, a full 90 minutes after he was shot dead. His wife apparently thought that he was talking to their neighbors.

Investigators who are looking into Faqha’s murder say that his killers were intimately familiar with the architectural details of the apartment building where he lived, and had studied his daily routine. They also made sure to leave no traces behind. Consequently, their identity remains a mystery despite the presence of security cameras around the building. Hamas security officials say they believe that Faqha’s killers entered and exited the Gaza Strip by boat. The Palestinian militant group lost little time in blaming the murder on the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, which has targeted several Hamas officials for assassination in the past. Khalil al-Haya, Hamas’ second-in-command in the Gaza Strip said that Israel was the only beneficiary of Faqha’s demise. Khaled Mashal, who chairs Hamas’ Political Bureau, said Israel had “changed the rules of the game” by killing Faqha, adding that Hamas would “accept the challenge”. There has been no official comment from Israel in regards to Faqha’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: SF

Lebanon claims arrests of five Israeli spies holding third country passports

GDGS LebanonThe security services of Lebanon announced on Wednesday that they had arrested five foreign nationals who were allegedly spying of Israel. A brief statement issued by Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security (GDGS, also known as the General Security Directorate) said the five individuals were members of a “spy ring” set up by the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. The five —three men and two women— are accused of contacting Israeli embassies in countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, with the aim of passing information about domestic Lebanese affairs.

The statement from the GDGS said the alleged spy ring consisted of two male holders of Lebanese passports, a Palestinian Arab man (passport not specified), and two women with Nepalese passports. It said that the five foreigners were interrogated and “confessed to the charges”, which include “spying for Israeli embassies abroad”. According to articles in the Lebanese media, the members of the alleged spy ring admitted that they had dialed telephone numbers that were operated by the embassies of Israel in: Amman, Jordan; Ankara, Turkey; London, United Kingdom; and Kathmandu, Nepal. The reports state that the five foreigners said the reason they contacted the Israeli embassies was to “pass on information”, but no specifics were offered.

According to An Nahar, Lebanon’s leading daily newspaper, the two Nepalese women had been tasked with recruiting other Nepalese women working in Israel as maids or nannies. The recruits were allegedly instructed to call telephone numbers belonging to Israel’s embassy in Nepal and share information about their employers’ activities. No information has been given about the identity and occupation of those who employed the domestic workers. The GDGS statement said that the agency was seeking to arrest “the rest of the culprits”, but did not specify whether these were members of the same alleged spy ring.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 January 2017 | Permalink

Lebanese president says Israel is behind businessman’s murder in Angola

Michel AounThe president of Lebanon said on Wednesday that Israeli intelligence was behind the killing of a Lebanese businessman who was shot dead by a team of assailants last weekend in southwestern Africa. Amine Bakri, 54, who was from southern Lebanon, had lived and worked in Angola since his mid-20s. He was a well-known businessman in the Angola capital Luanda, where he owned a number of factories that make furniture and various medical equipment. On Sunday, Bakri was driving on an unpaved road in the Angolan capital, when his vehicle was ambushed by a group of three armed assailants. According to media reports, one of the men shot the windshield of Bakri’s car and then proceeded to shoot him in the head at close range. The men fled the scene and Bakri was transported to a local hospital, where he soon died from his wounds.

Initial reports stated that Bakri’s killing resulted from a botched robbery by a local gang of youths. But the murdered man’s nephew and business partner, Mohammad Maatuk, told Lebanese media that the men who ambushed his uncle were not interested in money. Maatuk told the Lebanese news website an-Nahar that the men did not give Bakri an opportunity to offer them money or other valuables. Instead they opened fire almost immediately and fled the scene in a calm, pre-arranged, professional manner, said Maatuk.

On Wednesday, the newly elected President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, opened the weekly meeting of the Lebanese government by announcing that there was “information that the [Israeli intelligence agency] Mossad was behind this operation” to kill Bakri in Lebanon. He added that the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration was “collecting information” in light of new evidence about Israel’s alleged involvement. According to media reports, Aoun did not provide details about the evidence that the Mossad was behind Bakri’s murder. Nor is there any information about the reasons why Israel might want Bakri dead.

Angola is home to a sizeable Lebanese community, whose members concentrate mostly in Luanda. As of this morning there has been no information about whether Amine Bakri was in any way related to Imad Bakri. Bakri, a Shiite Lebanese merchant in Luanda, has been identified in several intelligence reports as a link between the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and UNITA, the Western-supported right-wing rebel group that lost in the Angolan Civil War and today is the country’s second-largest political party. Bakri’s body is expected to arrive in Lebanon today. It will be transported to the Iraqi Shiite city of Najaf, where he will be buried.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2017 | Permalink

Mossad identified Hamas drone expert as principal target ‘years ago’: expert

Mohamed ZaouariDespite persistent silence from Tel Aviv, commentators there seem increasingly convinced that Israeli spies were behind last week’s killing of an aviation engineer who worked for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The man, Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. He was reportedly shot dead outside his home in east-central Tunisia by an unidentified group of assailants carrying guns equipped with silencers. A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, blamed Zaouari’s killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency.

Writing for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the veteran security correspondent Ronen Bergman said on Monday that Israeli spies had identified Zaouari “years ago” as a potential target. Bergman claims that Israeli intelligence agencies monitored Zaouari “as soon as he left Tunisia for [the Syrian capital] Damascus” over a decade ago. Eventually, the Israelis began to see Zaouari as a major contributor to efforts by Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to develop unmanned aerial vehicle programs. Through constant surveillance, Israeli intelligence was able to confirm that Zaouari was in regular contact with other Palestinian and Lebanese technical experts. The latter allegedly included Hassan Lakkis, a leading Hezbollah commander, who was one of the Shiite militant group’s primary weapons procurer and developer. Lakkis was killed on the evening of December 3, 2013, outside his home in Beirut, in circumstances that appear to be similar to last week’s killing of Zaouari in Tunisia.

Bergman argues that, if Israeli intelligence was indeed behind Zaouari’s killing, he was targeted because he was seen “as an increasingly dangerous element” and the Israelis believed that his death would cause Hamas “considerable damage”. The decision to target him in a distant location like Tunisia bore considerable risk, says Bergman, given that Zaouari was almost certainly aware that he was under threat from rival intelligence agencies and was taking precautions. Additionally, as the Mossad found out in the aftermath of the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, the world is now “filled with cameras and biometric systems” that make covert operations dangerous. Consequently, these types of high-risk operations are reserved for principal targets whose removal will subtract strategic abilities from Israel’s adversaries. Bergman notes that, if Zaouari was killed by Israeli operatives, his death will mark one of the first major operations by the Mossad under the new leadership of Yossi Cohen, who was appointed as head of the secretive agency a year ago.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 December 2016 | Permalink

Hamas drone expert shot dead in Tunisia by assailants using gun silencers

Mohamed ZouariA senior aviation engineer who headed the unmanned aerial vehicle program of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, has been shot dead outside his home in Tunisia by a group of assailants using gun silencers. Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for Hamas, the Palestinian group that today controls the Gaza Strip. He had lived outside of Tunisia for much of his life, most recently in Syria, where he is believed to have worked as an engineer in a private firm, while also consulting with the Palestinian group. He had returned to Tunisia in 2011, following the upheaval in the country that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.

Zaouari was reportedly shot on Thursday in his hometown of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, located 170 miles southeast of the capital Tunis. Local media said he was shot dead at the wheel of his car, which was parked outside his home. His body was riddled with over 20 bullets, according to a police statement. On Friday, Tunisia’s Deputy Prosecutor General, Mourad Turki, said during a radio interview that several people are believed to have participated in Zaouari’s killing. Eight people had been arrested in connection with the crime, while at least two others were still at large, said Turki. All ten are believed to be Tunisian citizens. Among them is a woman, claiming to be a journalist, who has reportedly interviewed Zaouari in the past. She was allegedly arrested as she was boarding a flight from the Tunis-Carthage International Airport to the Hungarian capital Budapest. Additionally, officials from Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said that four rental vehicles had been seized in connection with Zaouari’s killing, and that two weapons equipped with silencers had been found in one of the vehicles.

A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said Zaouari had been a part of Hamas for a decade, and blamed his killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. Hamas leaders said that Zaouari’s contribution to the organization would be celebrated during a specially designated “day of mourning”, and that his killing would be avenged. “The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zaouari will not go in vain”, said a statement issued by Hamas on Saturday. Israel has not responded to Hamas’ accusations. Tzachi Hanegbi, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of National Security and Foreign Affairs, said late on Saturday that Israel was “not connected” with Zaouari’s killing and added that “none of those people arrested are our allies”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2016 | Permalink