Turkish foreign minister accuses West of hiring journalists as spies

Erdogan and CavusogluIn a further sign of worsening relations between Turkey and the West, Turkey’s foreign minister has accused Western countries of secretly employing journalists to spread “terrorist” propaganda against his country. His claims come just days after European leaders strongly criticized Ankara for imprisoning foreign journalists without trial. During a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in Brussels last week, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel protested the arrest of Deniz Yücel, a reporter for German newspaper Die Welt, who was arrested in Turkey in February. Yücel, who is a German citizen, has remained imprisoned without trial for more than three months. Germany’s protests were echoed by France at the NATO conference. The newly elected French President, Emmanuel Macron, criticized the arrest by Turkish authorities of National Geographic photojournalist Mathias Depardon. Depardon, a French citizen, was arrested earlier this month and is currently on hunger strike to protest the conditions of his detention.

But in an interview with BuzzFeed, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu dismissed these complaints as part of a conspiracy against Ankara. Speaking last weekend from the Slovenian capital Bratislava, Çavuşoğlu accused “the secret services of these countries” of “using journalists and also bloggers in Turkey”. He said that this was “the new trend in Europe”, namely for spy services of Western countries to hire journalists as spies. In a tone that the BuzzFeed reporter described as “conspiratorial”, Çavuşoğlu said that when journalists working as spies are arrested by Turkish police, European governments “make a lot of noise [and] it becomes a big issue”. Çavuşoğlu also claimed that he directly contacted German authorities to claim that Yücel , the Die Welt reporter, “was working for the secret service of Germany”.

Çavuşoğlu’s claims epitomize the worsening relations between Ankara and Western countries, which have followed a rapidly downward spiral since the July 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey. The coup attempt included an armed attack on the country’s parliament and the murder of over 200 people across Turkey. Ankara claims that the coup was sponsored by supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims that its members have stealthily infiltrated state institutions since the 1980s.

Earlier this month, Turkey’s relations with the United States were tested after members of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s personal detail engaged in violent clashes with protesters in Washington, during an official visit of the Turkish leader. A subsequent report in The New York Times blamed Mr. Erdoğan’s security guards for the mayhem. But Çavuşoğlu dismissed the report as the work of pro-Gülen centers. “They have been attacking Turkey and Erdoğan for two years and we know who is behind this”, said the Turkish foreign minister, adding that “this kind of anti-Turkey and anti- Erdoğan coverage” is sponsored by “terrorist acolytes”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 May 2017 | Permalink

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Did North Korean leader’s brother meet with a US spy before he was assassinated?

Kim Jong-nam murderThe exiled half-brother of North Korea’s leader, who was assassinated in Malaysia in February, is thought to have met with a man believed to be an American intelligence officer shortly before he was killed, according to reports. Kim Jong-nam the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison on February 13 of this year. Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile with his family since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

According to Malaysian investigators, who have been probing Kim’s murder, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean dictator arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Macau on February 6, a week before he was killed there. Two days later, on February 8, he traveled to Langkawi, a resort island in the Andaman Sea, located 20 miles from Malaysia’s mainland coast, near the Thai border. According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, a day after his arrival at Langkawi, Kim met with a man believed by Malaysian authorities to be in the employment of American intelligence. The man, who has not been named, is reportedly middle-aged, Korean-American with United States citizenship, and lives in Bangkok. The Osaka-based paper said that Malaysian police have accessed footage from the Langkawi hotel’s security cameras, which show Kim and the American man enter a hotel suite and staying there for nearly two hours before departing.

The newspaper further claims that Malaysian counterintelligence has been tracking the American man each time he has entered Malaysia from Thailand for quite some time, believing him to be a case officer. It is also thought that Kim had met the same man in Malaysia “several times in the past”, said Asahi Shimbun. The paper further states that Malaysian investigators believe the meeting between Kim and the American man was the reason behind North Korea’s decision to kill him. The American man reportedly left Malaysia on February 13, the same day Kim was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2017 | Permalink

Israel revises intel-sharing rules with US, after alleged disclosure to Russians

Donald Trump and Benjamin NetanyahuAuthorities in Israel have revised their intelligence-sharing protocols with the American government after it became known that United States President Donald Trump inadvertently exposed Israeli secrets to Russia. The alleged exposure of Israeli secrets came earlier this month, during a meeting between Mr. Trump and a delegation of Russian government officials, which included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s Ambassador to Washington.

During the meeting, the US President allegedly gave the two Russians details about plans by the Islamic State to smuggle explosives onboard airplanes, by hiding them inside laptop computers. However, according to reports in the American press, the information shared by Mr. Trump originated from Israel, which had voluntarily shared it with US intelligence. What is more, Tel Aviv had not authorized Washington to share the precise details behind this intelligence with other countries. Some reports in the US media suggest that Mr. Trump shared the Israeli-derived intelligence with the Russians in such a way as to expose ‘sources and methods’ —that is, the most sensitive aspects of the intelligence business, which intelligence agencies typically never disclose to adversaries. Additionally, even though the US president claims he never disclosed the source of the information, American media reports suggest that the Russians could easily determine that it came from Israel.

Israeli sources allegedly complained strongly to Washington, claiming that the intelligence shared by the US president “had put an [Israeli] agent’s life in peril”. Tel Aviv’s reaction appears to have been swift. On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in an interview that Tel Aviv promptly “did our checks” and “clarified [things] with our friends in the United States”. Speaking to Israel Army Radio, the official radio station of the Israel Defense Forces, Mr. Liberman said that Israel had done “a spot repair”, prompting the Voice of America to claim that the Jewish state had altered its intelligence-sharing methods with the US. Liberman was asked by the Israel Army Radio to clarify, but refused to specify what changes had been made in the Israel-US intelligence-sharing arrangements. He only added that “there is [now] unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2017 | Permalink

China dismantled large CIA spy network in 2010, say sources

CIAA few years ago, China busted an extensive network of secret operatives run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA has yet to recover from the massive blow to its operations, say sources. The CIA has devoted substantial resources to gathering intelligence in China in recent years, and has painstakingly built a network of spies. The latter are Chinese nationals recruited by CIA officers to spy on Beijing on behalf of the United States. But, according to The New York Times, in early 2010 the CIA’s assets began to disappear one by one. By 2012, the Agency’s network of secret operatives in China had been all but wiped out.

According to the Times report, published on Saturday, the CIA lost as many as 20 agents on the ground in China, who were either executed or imprisoned by the authorities in Beijing. The paper cites “ten current and former American officials”, who claim that many of the agents had operated for years deep inside the Chinese state apparatus prior to their capture. At least one of them, say sources, was executed “in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building” in an attempt to dissuade other government employees from spying on the Chinese state. At least 12 of the CIA’s assets in the country were executed between 2010 and 2012, according to The Times.

The damage to the CIA has been incalculable, according to sources, and the Agency is still recovering from the loss of an extensive network of operatives that took years to assemble. Sources described the loss of the network to the Times as “one of the worst in decades” and compared it to the loss of assets caused in the 1980s and 1990s by two notorious American spies for the Soviet Union and Russia, CIA officer Aldrich Ames and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Hanssen. At that time, dozens of agents and over 100 intelligence projects were compromised.

According to the report, the FBI and the CIA set up Project HONEY BADGER, a joint counterintelligence investigation into the China breach. But the results of the investigation reportedly remain inconclusive. Some argue that such a major dismantling of a network of assets could only have originated from a mole inside the US Intelligence Community. Others believe that the arrests of CIA agents resulted from a sophisticated Chinese computer hacking operation that targeted the CIA. A third theory posits that the breach was caused by the infiltration of the intelligence community of Taiwan, an important American ally in Southeast Asia.

Since 2012, the CIA has been trying to rebuild its network in China, but it will take it years to reach the level of sophistication in had achieved in 2010. The New York Times said it reached out to the CIA and FBI for comment but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2017 | Permalink

North Korea accuses US of murder plot as CIA opens new DPRK mission center

North KoreaThe United States Central Intelligence Agency has announced the establishment of a new center focusing on North Korea, shortly after Pyongyang accused Washington of plotting to assassinate its supreme leader. Last week, the regime’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Han Song Ryol, said the CIA tried to kill North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. He was speaking during a meeting with foreign diplomats in the North Korean capital, where he repeated previously stated claims by government officials that American spies had tried to assassinate their country’s leader. According to Pyongyang, the plot involved an attack by a North Korean CIA agent, who had been trained in the use of a biochemical weapon by his handlers. The North Koreans also accuse South Korea of collaborating with the alleged CIA assassination plot, claiming that Seoul either bribed or blackmailed the would-be assassin.

Meanwhile, the CIA announced last week that it has established a dedicated center focusing on developments in the Korean peninsula. The purpose of the center, said the CIA, is to “address […] the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea”. There are only 11 such centers in the CIA, which the Agency calls “Mission Centers”. They focus on specific issues or locations around the world, in accordance with the geopolitical priorities of the US policymaker community, led by the White House. The establishment of a dedicated Korean Mission Center is designed to reflect the elevation of the North Korean government’s missile program to a critical foreign-policy issue by the administration of US President Donald Trump.

The new Mission Center will be located at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and will bring together several intelligence analysts and even operations officers from a variety of directorates and units across the Agency. The goal of the new Center, according to the CIA, is to “integrate [these individuals] in one entity” in order to produce regular situation reports and analytical forecasts from the troubled region. Speaking to reporters late last week, CIA spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak said that the new Mission Center would allow Langley to “harness the full resources, capabilities and authorities of the Agency” in dealing with Pyongyang. But she refused to comment on North Korea’s allegations that the CIA tried to assassinate the communist state’s leader.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 May 2017 | Permalink

Canada suspected Soviets of stealing prime minister’s private diary

William Lyon Mackenzie KingCanadian officials speculated that Soviet spies stole a missing volume from the private diary collection of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, who led the country in the run-up to the Cold War. A liberal anticommunist, Mackenzie King was Canada’s prime minister from 1925 to 1948, with a break from 1930 to 1935. He is known for having led the establishment of Canada’s welfare state along Western European standards.

When King died in 1950, he left behind instructions asking for his private diaries to be destroyed. However, the executioners of his will decided instead to turn over King’s private papers —including his diaries— to the Canadian state. In 1975, the Library and Archives of Canada began releasing King’s private diaries to the public. The diaries contain daily entries that span over half a century, up until King’s death. One crucial volume, however, is missing. It covers the last two months of 1945, when Canada was engaged in intensive deliberations with the Allies about the shape of postwar Europe and Asia. These deliberations also involved frank discussions between King and his British and American counterparts about the atom bomb, and possibly measures to uncover suspected infiltration of Western government institutions by communist sympathizers.

Now a new book, written by Trent University history professor Christopher Dummitt, reveals
that Soviet spies were suspected of stealing the missing volume. The book, Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life, claims that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was notified of the missing diary volume in 1969. Shortly afterwards, the CSIS launched an investigation into the missing memoir. In 1985, says Dr. Dummitt, a CSIS memo speculated that an agent of the Soviet KGB might have stolen the diary, because it contained information that was of interest to Moscow. Interestingly, however, the previous diary volume, which covers the case of Igor Gouzenko, is not missing. Gouzenko was a cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, whose 1945 defection to Canada is sometimes credited with starting the Cold War. Why would a Soviet spy not steal that volume as well, the skeptics ask?

Professor Dummitt entertains a simpler idea in his book, which is that Jean-Louis Daviault, an employee of the Library and Archives of Canada, may have stolen the volume. Daviault, who had been tasked with photographing King’s diary collection, was caught trying to sell parts of the diary to a Canadian newspaper. It was probably he who stole the missing volume, in order to sell it to the press, or a rival intelligence agency, argues Dr. Dummitt.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2017 | Permalink

FBI acting head says he will report attempts to stop Russia probe

Andrew McCabeThe interim director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has told an intelligence panel in the United States Senate that he will not hesitate to report any attempts by the White House to interfere with an official investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. Andrew McCabe assumed the leadership of the FBI on Tuesday, after US President Donald Trump abruptly fired the Bureau’s director, James Comey. A trained lawyer who joined the FBI in 1996, McCabe amassed significant experience in countering organized crime and terrorism before being appointed Deputy Director of the Bureau in 2016.

It is worth noting that Republican Party officials have criticized McCabe for being close to former Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. McCabe’s wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, campaigned for a seat in the Virginia State Senate in 2015, on a Democratic Party ticket.

McCabe spoke on Thursday before the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, along with the directors of five other American intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. During their testimony, the six intelligence officials repeated their agencies’ previously stated claims that Moscow engaged in systematic efforts to assist the election of Donald Trump in last November’s presidential elections. McCabe also responded to specific questions by Democratic senators about alleged attempts by the White House to prevent probes in to Russia’s alleged intervention.

When asked by Democratic Senator Mark Warner whether he would inform the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence of attempts by the Trump administration to stop the probe, McCabe responded saying: “I absolutely do”. There are currently at least three parallel investigations into Russia’s alleged involvement in the US presidential elections, of which the Senate’s is one. The US House of Representatives and the Department of Justice are also conducting separate investigations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 May 2017 | Permalink