Obama delegation switches hotels allegedly due to espionage fears

Waldorf AstoriaThe president of the United States and his delegation will be housed at a different hotel during a United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month, allegedly due to concerns over Chinese espionage activity. Since the late 1940s, the American president and his diplomatic entourage have resided at the Waldorf Astoria for several days in September, while attending the annual UN General Assembly in New York. The luxury hotel, which is located on Park Avenue on the island of Manhattan, has also served since 1947 as the residence of the US ambassador to the UN. That is also why the American delegation is usually hosted there, courtesy of the ambassador. This year, however, President Barack Obama and his sizeable delegation will be staying at the New York Palace Hotel, located at the corner of Manhattan’s 50th Street and Madison Avenue. The announcement was made last week by the White House and the US Department of State.

According to The Associated Press and The New York Times, the decision to relocate the American high-level delegation is primarily due to security concerns. The reports cited well-placed sources in the US government as stating that the relocation was prompted by the sale last year of the Waldorf Astoria to the Chinese firm Anbang Insurance Group. The McLean, VA-headquartered Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., which sold the hotel to the Chinese firm, pocketed nearly $2 billion from the transaction. Based on the terms of the agreement, the American company will continue to operate the Waldorf Astoria until 2114. But Anbang announced last spring that the hotel would be undergoing a massive renovation program, which, according to media reports, has alarmed American counterintelligence officials. The latter are concerned that Chinese intelligence technicians may use the renovation to install eavesdropping equipment in Waldorf Astoria’s rooms and compromise the hotel’s Internet network.

The US diplomatic exit from the Waldorf Astoria was first reported back in mid-June, but was not confirmed by the White House or the Department of State. Since that time, no American cabinet official, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, has stayed at the Waldorf. But President Obama’s upcoming trip renewed the media’s interest in the change of hotels, and US government officials finally confirmed that the Chinese-owned hotel had been dropped based “on several considerations, including space, costs and security”. A State Department official told reporters last week that the change took “into account changing circumstances”. The Times also reported that the US government is examining whether its ambassador to the UN will continue to be headquartered at the Waldorf.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 September 2015 | Permalink

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FBI searched for Soviet atom bombs in 1950s’ New York, files show

Redacted page from FBI filesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American authorities suspected that Soviet intelligence had smuggled atom bombs in New York City and that Moscow was planning to detonate them “at an expedient time”, according to declassified documents. The revelation comes from a set of internal FBI files, which were declassified and released in redacted form in 2010. Copies of the documents, which date from the early 1950s, were posted (.pdf) on The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents were then noticed last week by The Village Voice‘s Anna Merlan. The file (.pdf), titled “Atomic Bomb in Unknown Consulate, New York City”, is nearly 80 pages-long. It indicates that the search for a supposed Soviet atomic weapon in New York began shortly after the summer of 1950, when the FBI received a tip from a source in Brazil. The source reportedly told the Bureau that Soviet operatives had “placed an atom bomb in a consulate […] in New York City to be detonated at such time as the Soviets consider expedient”. The problem was that the FBI was not aware of the identity of the consulate, which was presumed to belong to the USSR or to a country politically aligned with it. The Bureau thus actively engaged in searching for the bomb during the years of 1951 and 1952. The search was primarily conducted by the FBI’s informants in various communist-bloc consulates and agencies in New York, including the Soviet mission to the United Nations, located on Park Avenue, as well as the Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian missions, located a few blocks away from their Soviet equivalent, on East 67th Street. The FBI also appears to have mobilized its informants inside the Soviet government-run Amtorg Trading Corporation, which handled the USSR’s trade with foreign countries, as well as the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) offices at Rockefeller Plaza. A clandestine search was also conducted at the Soviet diplomatic mission’s retreat on Long Island. American customs agents were also notified to keep their eyes open for oddly shaped diplomatic packages “which appear to be suspiciously heavy in proportion to their dimensions”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #702

James BamfordBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA chief denies domestic spying allegations. In a rare break from the NSA’s tradition of listening but not speaking, National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander was grilled last week on the topic of eavesdropping on Americans in front of a House subcommittee. The questioning from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) was prompted by Wired magazine’s cover story earlier this month on the NSA’s growing reach and capabilities. But author James Bamford (photo) and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake insist that the NSA is quietly building America’s the largest spy center in Utah, as part of a secret domestic surveillance program codenamed STELLAR WIND.
►►NY police says it monitored Iran operatives taking photos. Speaking before the US House Homeland Security Committee, Michael Silber, director of New York Police Department Intelligence Analysis, said New York City Police have observed Iranian operatives photographing key transportation sites at least six times since September 11, 2001. He gave an example of six men on an East River sightseeing cruise in 2005, who paired off with maps and cell phones while taking photographs and videos of the bridges over the river. The NYPD determined each was on the payroll of Iranian government, one employed at Iran’s mission to the United Nations.
►►Major Canadian Cold War era mole hunt operation revealed. Newly released archival records show that even the cream of Canada’s foreign service was not immune from scrutiny in a top secret RCMP investigation known as Operation FEATHER BED. The probe, which stretched from the late 1950s into the 1970s, saw RCMP security branch investigators pore over the backgrounds of possible Communist sympathizers in the public service and political sphere —including a future Mountie spy chief. There is no evidence the highly confidential investigation ever identified a Soviet agent.

News you may have missed #612 (analysis edition)

Cevat Ones

Cevat Ones

►►What is a senior CIA clandestine officer doing at NYPD? Three months ago, one of the CIA’s most experienced clandestine operatives started work inside the New York Police Department. His title is special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence. On that much, everyone agrees. Exactly what he’s doing there, however, is much less clear.
►►Iranian plot shows even super spies have bad days. The alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States may have revealed the biggest secret of all –intelligence agencies mess up and do not always live up to the James Bond ideal.
►►Former spy makes plea for peace in Turkey. Cevat Ones, former deputy chief of MİT, Turkey’s leading spy agency, speaks candidly to Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper about the state of Turkey’s internal security and foreign policy.

News you may have missed #577

Waihopai base

Waihopai base

►►Interview with Michael Hayden. The former director of the CIA and the NSA gave a lengthy interview in preparation for his keynote speech at the Raleigh Spy Conference. Among other things, he says that he does “not immediately conclude that senior levels of the Pakistani government knew about” Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.
►►CIA denies helping police spy on NY Muslims. The Central Intelligence Agency is denying a news report that it helped the New York Police Department conduct covert surveillance on Muslims. The agency said suggestions that it engaged in domestic spying were “simply wrong” and that the report “mischaracterized the nature and scope” of the CIA’s support for the New York police.
►►Spy base reservoir not a pool after all... A journalist at New Zealand’s Marlborough Express newspaper noticed what looked suspiciously like a swimming pool on a satellite photo (pictured) of the super-secret Waihopai listening base near Blenheim. Do spies go swimming on the base, he asked? It turns out they don’t. According to Government Communications Security Bureau Waihopai station chief Chris Farrow, the landmark is in fact a water reservoir, to be used in case of fire.

Massive IMF cyberattack ‘was state-backed’, say sources

International Monetary Fund seal

IMF seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A massive and sophisticated cyberattack that targeted the computer systems of the International Monetary Fund last month was “linked to a foreign government”, according to sources familiar with the incident. The IMF, an international institution which oversees financial crises around the world, revealed the security breach in an internal email sent last week, but has yet to make a public announcement about the incident. Although the cyberattack was not publicly announced, it was revealed last weekend by The New York Times, which cited a “security expert […] familiar with the incident”. The paper notes that IMF’s computer databases function as “a repository of highly confidential information about the fiscal condition of many nations”, and that they contain “potentially market-moving information”. British daily The Independent adds that “internal political opponents and foreign intelligence services could […] find [in the IMF databases] explosive information about government dealings with the fund”. Intriguingly, the attack occurred in the weeks prior to the arrest of the Fund’s Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was detained on American soil on charges of sexually assaulting a female worker at his luxury New York hotel. Read more of this post

Cold War KGB agent Judith Coplon dies in Manhattan

Judith Coplon

Judith Coplon

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Judith Coplon, an American Justice Department analyst who spied for the Soviet Union, and whose 1949 espionage trial became an international sensation, died last weekend in New York. When she was arrested by the FBI at age 27, Coplon worked as an analyst for the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Section, and was privy to counterintelligence reports issued daily by the Bureau. A few years prior to her March 1949 arrest, Coplon had begun an affair with Valentin A. Gubitchev, a married Soviet NKGB (forerunner of the KGB) officer stationed at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It is believed that Gubitchev recruited her and acted as her handler, meeting her regularly at various New York locations in order to obtain from her copies of Justice Department documents. In 1948, her role as an NKGB agent code-named ‘Sima’, was revealed through the National Security Agency’s VENONA project, which decoded wartime Soviet diplomatic cables that had been intercepted by US intelligence. Read more of this post