Brussels will ‘not comment’ on reports Britain is spying on EU Brexit committee

Sabine WeyandRelations between the European Union and the United Kingdom hit a new low on Thursday, as the European Council refused to comment on claims that British spy agencies have spied on Brexit negotiators in Brussels. Consultations between the two sides have progressed at an alarmingly slow pace ever since June 23, 2016, when voters in the island nation elected to leave the EU during a nationwide referendum. In March of 2017, London officially invoked Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which requires that Britain’s withdrawal from the multinational body be completed within two calendar years. But there are many who think that a mutual agreement will not be reached between the two sides.

On Wednesday, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph alleged that a number of EU Brexit negotiators believe that their closed-door meetings are being spied upon by the British Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. According to The Telegraph, fears of espionage were raised by Sabine Weyand, a German EU official who is currently serving as Deputy Chief of the European Council’s Article 50 Working Party. On July 13, during a meeting of the European Council, Weyand reportedly said “it could not be excluded” that British intelligence agencies had found ways to listen in to the closed-door meetings of EU Brexit negotiators. According to The Telegraph, Weyand and other EU officials became suspicious after London appeared to be privy to information discussed on July 5 at a closed-door meeting of the Article 50 Working Party. Weyand told the European Council that the information had reached London “within hours” of it having been presented in Brussels. Just hours following the secret presentation, senior British government officials were reportedly lobbying in public against the information contained in it.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the European Commission, which operates as the EU’s cabinet, did not deny that concerns about espionage were raised by EU Brexit negotiators. When asked by reporters in Brussels about The Telegraph’s allegations, the spokesperson responded: “The Commission’s position today is that we cannot comment on these press reports”. As the press conference was taking place, British negotiators were arriving in Brussels in order to resume the latest round of Brexit talks with the EU’s Article 50 Working Party.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2018 | Permalink

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Crowdfunding campaign seeks release of CIA’s mind control program files

CIA headquartersAn online fundraising campaign is seeking to secure the release of over 4,000 pages of documents relating to a controversial mind control program developed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The project, referred to as MKNAOMI/MKULTRA in US government files, was a joint effort by the CIA and the US Department of Defense to study the effects of substances such as heroin and LSD on the human brain. It began in 1953 and over the years involved the work of hundreds of scientists, many of whom were not aware they were working on a CIA project. But it was hurriedly shut down in 1976, once post-Watergate investigations by the US Congress revealed that it led to the death of at least one person and involved the application of drugs on hundreds of nonconsenting subjects. Several lawsuits relating to MKULTRA have been filed in US courts in recent years.

In 2004, the Black Vault, a volunteer website specializing in publishing declassified government documents, released tens of thousands of pages that were released by the CIA following a lengthy Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application. The agency released the file along with an 85-page index that listed the file’s contents. But in 2016, a Black Vault reader noticed that some of the listings contained in the file were missing from the documents. Working through the news aggregation and discussion website Reddit, a group of readers identified all the irregularities in the released documents and notified Black Vault’s owner, John Greenwald. Greenwald then contacted the CIA and, following a two-year exchange with the agency’s FOIA desk, he was told that the missing pages would require a separate FOIA request. The reason, according to the CIA, is that the original FOIA request had requested documents pertaining to “mind control”, whereas the missing pages related to “behavioral modification”, which is a separate topic.

The CIA told Greenwald that releasing the pages pertaining to “behavioral modification” would require a payment of $425.80, at 10 cents per page. After failing to convince the CIA that it should release the pages for free, because they should have been included in the original 2004 FOIA petition, Greenwald decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign. He used the popular crowdfunding website GoFundMe to request $500 toward a new FOIA and related expenses. By Wednesday night, the campaign had exceeded the amount requested by Greenwald. The owner of the Black Vault website now says that he is preparing to file a FOIA for 4,358 pages about MKULTRA that are missing from the original 2004 document release.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 August 2018 | Permalink

ISIS remains strong with 30,000 members in Iraq and Syria, experts warn

ISIS forces in RamadiThe Islamic State has recovered from some of its recent defeats in the battlefield and has as many as 30,000 committed members in Iraq and Syria, according to two reports by American and United Nations experts. Last month, the Iraqi government announced that the war against the group, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had been won. The statement was echoed by the United States President Donald Trump, who said that the war against the militant Sunni group was “98 percent” over. But now two new reports, one produced by the United States Department of Defense and the other by an expert UN panel, warn that both ISIS and al-Qaeda remain powerful, popular and dangerous in Iraq, Syria, and many other regions of the world.

The UN report was published on Monday by the organization’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, which is tasked with monitoring the impact of UN-imposed international sanctions. The report recognizes that ISIS has suffered unprecedented military defeats in Iraq and Syria in the past year, and that many of its most hardened fighters are dead or have abandoned the conflict zones in the region. But it warns that the militant organization is now morphing into a “covert version” of its former self and that its organizational core remains mostly intact in both Iraq and Syria. What is more, ISIS’ center is backed by as many as 30,000 unreconstructed members, who are split roughly equally between the two countries. The US Pentagon report, which was delivered this week to Congress states that ISIS has as many as 17,100 fighters in Iraq and another 14,000 in Syria. Many of those surviving fighters are citizens of dozens of different countries around the world, according to the report. Some of them are still engaged in armed fighting, while others are “hiding out in sympathetic communities and urban areas”, mostly in Iraq, the UN report states.

There are also tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and supporters in Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, and in several West African and Southeast Asian countries, according to the reports’ authors. These fighters are led by commanders who remain in contact with senior ISIS leaders and continue to revere Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the group’s central figure. In addition to ISIS, al-Qaeda also remains strong and dangerous, according to the UN report. Its regional structure “continues to show resilience” and in some regions of the world it is far stronger than ISIS. These include several regions of Africa, including areas of Somalia and the Sahel, as well as in Yemen, where al-Qaeda is believed to command as many as 7,000 armed fighters at the moment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 August 2018 | Permalink

Montenegro seeks arrest of ex-CIA officer accused of role in pro-Russian coup

Montenegro coupGovernment prosecutors in Montenegro, the youngest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, claim that a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped pro-Russian plotters organize a coup in 2016. In October of that year, authorities in Montenegro accused “nationalists from Russia and Serbia” of staging a failed plot. Their goal was allegedly to kill the country’s then-Prime Minister Milo Dukanović, spark a pro-Russian coup in the country, and prevent its entry into NATO. The allegations surfaced after 20 Serbians and Montenegrins were arrested in Montenegro for allegedly planning an armed coup. The arrests took place on election day, October 16, 2016, as Montenegrins were voting across the Balkan country of 650,000 people. The plotters had even hired a “long-distance sharpshooter” who was “a professional killer” for the task of killing Đukanović, according to Montenegrin police. After killing the prime minister, the plotters allegedly planned to storm the parliament and prompt a pro-Russian coup.

Russia has vehemently denied the allegations. But in March of last year, the then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson appeared to validate the Montenegrin government’s allegations. Since then, a sensational trial has been taking place in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica of the 20 men who were arrested in October 2016, in addition to two Russians who are being tried in absentia. During the trial, prosecutors fingered Joseph Assad, a former CIA officer, as a co-conspirator in the coup plot. The Egyptian-born Assad served as a counter-terrorism expert in the CIA after arriving in the US in 1990, but eventually left the agency to launch his own security firm. It is believed that at the time of the alleged coup plot, Assad’s firm was employed by Aron Shaviv, a political strategist connected with the Democratic Front, a vocal pro-Russian opposition party in Montenegro. Shaviv, who has joint British and Israeli citizenship, said he hired Assad’s firm to provide counter-surveillance against Montenegro’s security services. According to Shaviv, the Montenegrin authorities spied on him and harassed him because of his connections to a domestic political party that is seen as pro-Russian.

But prosecutors in the trial of the alleged coup plotters claim that Assad’s role was to organize and provide escape routes and methods for the coup plotters. In light of these allegations, a warrant has been issued for Assad, accusing him of “operating a criminal enterprise”, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Assad has rejected the charges as a “deception campaign”. In a statement issued on Saturday, he said he was “a loyal American who had no role in any crimes or coup in Montenegro”. Meanwhile, the Democratic Front and a number of other opposition parties in Montenegro denounced the government’s claims of a failed coup as “publicity stunts” aimed at distracting the country’s citizens from the state of the economy and other domestic concerns.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 August 2018 | Permalink

Vietnam arrests deputy security minister in unprecedented anti-corruption campaign

Phan Van Anh VuIn a move that has stunned Vietnamese society, authorities in Hanoi have arrested one of the country’s most powerful security officials, allegedly for helping a business tycoon and former intelligence agent escape abroad. The move, which observes described as “unprecedented” in modern Vietnamese history, signals a widening of the anti-corruption campaign that started in 2016 and is now affecting Vietnam’s powerful intelligence agencies. Vietnam boasts one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, but its economic performance is severely hampered by corruption, which is endemic in the communist country of 93 million. In its most recent Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International ranked Vietnam 107th out of the world’s 180 countries, behind nations like Colombia, Albania and Zambia. Two years ago, the Vietnamese government launched an anti-corruption campaign, which has so far resulted in a wave of arrests and demotions of senior officials in the country’s lucrative energy and banking sectors. The moves have stunned the Vietnamese public, which is not used to witnessing public discussions of corruption, let alone the open punishment of state officials.

Until this week, one major area of government appeared to have been spared from the anti-corruption probe: the feared security and intelligence community. This largely means the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), which is the most powerful civilian agency in the country and has traditionally been off-limits during previous transitional periods in Vietnam’s turbulent history. The MPS is in charge of the country’s extensive police force, its civilian intelligence wing, and its nascent cyber security units. The size of its employee base is classified, though it is believed to be vast.

But now the traditional shielding of the MPS from the unprecedented changes taking place in the Vietnamese government appears to have ended. On Wednesday, authorities announced the arrest of Bui Van Thanh, MPS’ deputy minister and the country’s second most powerful intelligence official. A press statement issued by the government said that Thanh had committed “serious violations in his work”. Consequently, he had been dismissed and his military rank would be lowered from lieutenant general to colonel. Government officials said Thanh came under suspicion for facilitating the escape of Phan Van Anh Vu, a government employee who became a property tycoon after amassing a large personal fortune while working as an MPS agent. Vu was wanted by Hanoi for allegedly selling state secrets in exchange for money, but managed to leave the country. In January, however, he was arrested in Singapore and extradited to Vietnam. He reportedly told authorities that a fake passport in his possession had been given to him by Thanh. He also said that Thanh helped him buy state property by giving him inside information affecting the sale prices. In July, Vu was jailed or nine years for espionage and corruption, following a closed-door trial. The precise charges against him remain unclear.

Earlier this week, the Vietnamese government announced that a “major restructuring” would be taking place in the MPS, with the aim of reducing its size and maximizing its efficiency. Government media reported that “hundreds of departments” would be merged and the overall structure of the organization would be heavily scrutinized. Many observers believe that more arrests and demotions will follow in connection with this announcement. Some critics have argued, however, that political infighting is fueling the anti-corruption probe and that it is a concealed attempt to neutralize intra-party opponents of the current administration in Hanoi.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 August 2018 | Permalink

 

 

Germany arrests Jordanian intelligence operative who spied on mosque

Hildesheim mosqueAuthorities in Germany announced yesterday the arrest of a German national who is accused of spying on a central German mosque on behalf of Jordan, according to media reports. The man was reportedly arrested on Tuesday at an unknown location by officers of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). In a press statement, the agency said the man is a 33-year-old German national named “Alexander B.”. German privacy rules forbid the public identification of crime suspects prior to their conviction in a court of law.

According to the public statement issued by the BfV, the 33-year-old man is believed to have worked for “a Jordanian intelligence agency” —most likely the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, or GID, which is a branch of the Jordanian Armed Forces— since at least 2016. He is accused of having infiltrated a Sunni mosque in the central German city of Hildesheim, located 20 miles southeast of Hanover in Germany’s Lower Saxony region. His mission, according to the BfV, was to keep tabs on mosque goers who expressed support for the ideology of the Islamic State, and might even consider traveling to the Middle East to join the radical group. The alleged Jordanian intelligence operative was also tasked with reporting on news reaching the mosque from those of its members who had already gone to the Middle East and joined the Islamic State.

Last year, German authorities closed down the Hildesheim mosque, known in German as Deutschsprachiger Islamkreis Hildesheim e. V. (DIK), and arrested its imam, Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A., known as Abu Walaa. The Iraqi-born imam was charged with supporting a foreign terrorist organization by actively recruiting young Muslims on behalf of the Islamic State. The mosque has since remained closed, because authorities believe that it had become a beehive of fundamentalist activity. Jordan is one of the Middle East’s most liberal states and has been targeted repeatedly by the Islamic State, which views its leadership as pro-Western. However, it appears that Alexander B. was spying on the Hildesheim mosque —therefore on German soil— without having informed the host country of his activities. The government of Jordan has not commented on his arrest.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 August 2018 | Permalink

US-backed alliance in Yemen war bribes, recruits al-Qaeda warlords, report finds

Al-Qaeda in YemenYemeni militias backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates are actively paying off al-Qaeda-allied factions to abstain from the fighting, and are recruiting al-Qaeda members to fight against Shiite rebels, according to a new investigative report. Ever since 2015, when the civil war in Yemen broke out, the US, along with its Arab allies UAE and Saudi Arabia, has supported Sunni troops in their war against Shiite Houthi rebels. The latter are believed to be supported by Iran, and the US-backed coalition is engaged in an effort to curtail what it sees as Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

But Iranian-supported fighters are just one of the many well-armed factions involved in the Yemeni Civil War, which Washington is ostensibly against. Another such faction is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Peninsula (AQAP), believed to be the strongest surviving branch of the group that carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001. For several years now, the US-led coalition in Yemen has argued that its forces have severely limited AQAP’s strength and ability to fight, and that the group’s territorial control has been shattered. But a new investigative Text published on Monday by the Associated Press argues that the reason why AQAP’s activities appear to have decreased in Yemen, is that its commanders are being bribed by US-backed Sunni militias and that its fighters are being recruited to fight against the Houthis. As strict Sunni Salafists, AQAP members view the Shiite Houthis as apostates and enemies of Islam. They are therefore “effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition” in Yemen, note the editors of the Associated Press report. Citing “interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and […] members of al-Qaeda”, the report’s authors say that US-backed Sunni militias “actively recruit al-Qaeda militants […] because they’re considered exceptional fighters”.

The Associated Press report also claims that the Sunni coalition has struck a series of secret agreements with AQAP, under which it paid off its fighters to abandon several Yemeni towns that were under their control. Upon leaving, these AQAP fighters were allowed to take with them tons of military equipment and valuables, including cash. In one case, AQAP was bribed to abandon the port city of Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth-largest urban center, and its fighters were allowed to keep their weapons and up to $100 million in looted cash deposits, said the Associated Press. In another case, AQAP militants were paid off to leave several towns in Yemen’s Abyan province, and 250 of them were incorporated into the so-called Security Belt, a Sunni militia backed by the government of the UAE. The AQAP fighters reportedly told their Security Belt commanders that they would “unite with the devil [himself] in the face of Houthis”.

The Associated Press notes that there is no evidence that funds supplied to Yemeni Sunni militias by the US have ended up into the hands of AQAP. Additionally, the US government has repeatedly denied accusations by Russia, Syria, and others that it supports various al-Qaeda factions. However, the Associated Press argues that the US Pentagon has been privy to the secret agreements between the Sunni militias and AQAP, which some say may end up strengthening al-Qaeda’s most formidable local branch anywhere in the world.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2018 | Research credit: M.A. | Permalink