India expels Pakistan embassy officials for allegedly carrying out espionage

Pakistan embassy IndiaIndia has expelled two officials at the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi, after they were allegedly caught with fake Indian identity papers while trying to acquire classified documents. But the Pakistani government has rejected the allegations and subsequent expulsions as “a part of persistent anti-Pakistan propaganda” from India, and said the two officials were tortured while under detention by Indian authorities.

The expulsion orders followed the arrest of three Pakistani citizens, who were identified as Abid Hussain, 42, Tahir Khan, 44, and Javed Hussain. The Times of India said Abid Hussain had been working at the Pakistani embassy’s visa issuance department since late 2018. Khan was “an upper division clerk” at the embassy and arrived in India at around the same time Abid Hussain did, said the paper. Javed Hussain has been working as a driver at the embassy since 2015, and was reportedly released by the Indian authorities after he was found not to have been implicated in the alleged espionage.

The Times cited unnamed sources in New Delhi in claiming that the three Pakistanis had been arrested by Indian police at an undisclosed location in the Indian capital’s centrally located Karol Bagh neighborhood. The men were reportedly there to receive “highly sensitive information” by unnamed Indian “defense personnel”. Javed Hussain and Khan were reportedly found to be carrying Indian identification cards bearing fake names. They also had in their possession what the newspaper called “incriminating documents”, two smartphones and 15,000 rupees, which equal to around $200.

On Sunday, India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Javed Hussain and Khan had been declared “persona non grata” and had been ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. The reason for their expulsion was “indulging in activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission”. The phrase is used in the international legal vernacular to describe an accredited diplomat engaging in intelligence operations abroad without the consent of his or her host nation. The Ministry also said that it had summoned the Pakistani ambassador and issued him with a “strong protest” about the incident.

The Indian government said late on Sunday that it was investigating whether other Pakistani embassy officials had been engaging in espionage. Diplomatic observers expressed certainty last night that Islamabad would expel at least two Indian diplomats from the country in a tit-for-tat response to India’s move.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2020 | Permalink

As ISIS goes online due to COVID-19, it publishes a new cybersecurity magazine

Islamic StateAs the Islamic State continues to transfer its activities online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the group has published the first issue of a new cybersecurity magazine, aimed at helping its members evade surveillance. The Islamic State, known previously as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has always been active online. But the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted it to augment the volume and intensity of its online work, for two reasons: first, to protect its members from the virus; second, to recruit young people who are spending more time online as a result of lockdowns taking place across the world.

Amidst this shift to the online environment, the Islamic State has published the first issue of what appears to be a new cybersecurity magazine. Veteran reporter Bridget Johnson, currently the managing editor for Homeland Security Today, said earlier this week that the 24-page magazine is titled The Supporter’s Security and is published in two versions, one in the Arabic and one in the English language.

Johnson reports that the new magazine is produced by the Electronic Horizons Foundation (EHF), the Islamic State’s information technology wing. Since its appearance in 2016, the EHF has taken it upon itself to operate “as an IT help desk of sorts” to assist Islamic State supporters avoid online tracking and surveillance by state agencies, says Johnson. It its inaugural proclamation, the EHF called on Islamic State supporters to “face the electronic surveillance” and educate themselves about “the dangers of the Internet” so that “they don’t commit security mistakes that can lead to their bombardment and killing”. Read more of this post

Russia flew unmarked military aircraft to Libya to evacuate mercenaries, US claims

Libyan National Army LibyaThe United States has alleged that the Russian military flew over a dozen unmarked aircraft to Libya, in an attempt to provide air support for Russian mercenaries who are fighting in Tripoli. If true, this development marks a major escalation of Russia’s military intervention in the Libyan civil war.

The war has been raging in Libya since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Much of the east of the country is controlled by the United States-backed Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Russia also backs the LNA and is vying with the United States for influence among Haftar’s commanders and troops. The LNA is fighting against the United Nations-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), which is supported by Qatar and Turkey.

On Tuesday, the Africa Command of the United States Department of Defense alleged that Russian pilots had flown military planes to Jufra, an LNA stronghold. The Americans claimed that the jets had been repainted in Syria to hide their Russian Federation insignia, before being flown first to Tobruk, in Libya’s east, and from there to Jufra. According to the Pentagon, the Russian planes were flown to Libya in order to provide air support to over 1,000 Russian mercenaries who are fighting alongside the LNA.

The mercenaries reportedly belong to the PMC Wagner (also known as the Wagner Group), a Russian security contractor with presence on the ground in Syria, eastern Ukraine, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere. Western officials allege that Russian private contractor firms like Wagner could not operate without permission from the Kremlin. According to recent reports, Wagner personnel have been participating in the LNA’s year-long effort to take Tripoli from the hands of the GNA and by doing so put an end to the Libyan civil war. But the offensive has not been going well in recent days, and Wagner forces were reportedly pushed back by Turkish- and Qatari-supported GNA troops.

The US Pentagon alleged that Moscow sent the Russian military aircraft to Libya in order to “provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the LNA’s fight”. Other commentators have argued that the main purpose of the mission was to reach the outskirts of Tripoli and airlift the Russian mercenaries to safety. But Ahmed Mismari, a spokesman for the LNA, rejected reports of the arrival of Russian military aircraft to Libya as “media rumors and lies”. He said that all aircraft used by the LNA were “repaired […] old Libyan jets”. The Russian military has not commented on the allegations by the US Pentagon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 May 2020 | Permalink

Exiled former intelligence official says Saudi government abducted his children

Muhammad bin NayefA Saudi government official, who served as a senior advisor to the oil kingdom’s former Crown Prince, has accused the Saudi monarchy of abducting his children in order to force him to end his self-exile in Canada. With a doctorate in artificial intelligence from the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Saad al-Jabri was until 2015 a rare example of a highly educated government administrator among Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite. Dr. al-Jabri rose in the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (pictured). Prince bin Nayef is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz, and until 2015 was destined to succeed King Abdullah and occupy the kingdom’s throne. Eventually, bin Nayef appointed Dr. al-Jabri as Minister of State and made him his most senior and trusted adviser on matters of security and intelligence.

Western intelligence officials credit Dr. al-Jabri with transforming the Saudi security establishment in the 2000s, by introducing scientific methods in investigations, associated with digital forensics, data mining and other advanced techniques. Thanks to his British upbringing and education, Dr. al-Jabri operated with ease and comfort in Western capitals. He soon became the primary link between Saudi Arabia and the so-called “Five Eyes Alliance” —a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Read more of this post

Israeli prime minister publicly thanks Mossad chief for help with COVID-19

Yossi Cohen MossadThe embattled Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, met publicly with the Director of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and thanked him for leading the country’s procurement efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting was a rare public acknowledgement of the central role that the secretive spy agency played during the pandemic.

Early on during the COVID-19 outbreak, it was reported that the intelligence agencies of Israel were playing an increasingly important role in the Jewish state’s effort to combat the effects of the coronavirus in its territory. In an uncharacteristic move, the government went out of its way to advertise the participation of its secretive spy agencies in the national effort to limit the spread of the virus.

In a television interview, an unnamed official for Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, said the agency had managed to secure 100,000 coronavirus testing kits, 25,000 N-95 masks and 100 ventilators. The material had been acquired “from unnamed countries” by Mossad officers, he said. The officers had to “race to [foreign] factories” and secure these critical supplies after they had been “ordered by other countries”, he added. The agents then had to coordinate secret airlifts so that the medical material could be transported to Israel in time.

But many of the coronavirus testing kits procured by the Mossad turned out to be incomplete. According to local media reports, when the kits arrived in Israel from “an unidentified Gulf state”, scientists realized that they were useless. That was because they arrived without the chemical reagents that were required to carry out complete tests on subjects. These reagents were eventually procured from South Korea and arrived in Israel nearly a month later, when demand for them was far less urgent. The Mossad was heavily criticized for this operation.

But last weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly thanked the Mossad director for leading the nation’s Joint Procurement Command Center during the COVID-19 pandemic. He told Director Cohen that he had carried out his tasks “exceptionally well [and] the results speak for themselves”. The meeting took place to mark the return of the procurement centers’ command to the Ministry of Health. But the Mossad may be asked to step in again, said Netanyahu: “we are currently passing the torch”, said the prime minister. However, “we do not know what the next day, or the next month, will bring. Since you have acquired the experience, remember it, we may need it again”, he told Cohen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2020 | Permalink

US threatens to end intelligence sharing if Australian state joins Chinese venture

Belt and Road InitiativeThe United States has warned that it might be forced to stop sharing intelligence with Australia if the country’s second most populous state enters into a much-heralded investment agreement with China. The Australian state of Victoria has said it intends to join Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a worldwide investment venture that was announced with much fanfare by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

The initial goal of the venture was to encourage economic cooperation between China and countries of the Eurasian region. Eventually, the project’s scope expanded to include agreements with countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, mostly through the Chinese-led construction of telecommunications and transportation networks, which trace the trading routes of the Silk Road of ancient times.

Although Australia is not a participant in the Belt and Road Initiative, the Australian state of Victoria announced its decision to join the project in late 2019. The decision has been criticized by senior Australian federal officials, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. These officials argue that any interference by China in the Australian national telecommunications network could compromise the national security of the country as a whole.

On Sunday, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Australia that Washington would look “incredibly closely” at aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative affecting telecommunications. Pompeo, who was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency before his current post, told Sky News that some aspects of the project were designed to “build up the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to do harm” around the world.

In his interview, Pompeo referred to the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance (also known as “UKUSA”), which is a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He added that the US government was concerned that the Victoria state government’s decision to participate in the Chinese venture project could “have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defense and intelligence communities”.

If that were to happen, said Pompeo, then the US would “not take any risks to our telecommunications infrastructure, [or] any risk to the national security elements of what we need to do with our Five Eyes partners”. In the US government determined that these risks were real, “we simply disconnect, we will simply separate”, Pompeo concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2020 | Permalink

Popular beer app used to trace movements of military and intelligence personnel

Untappd appResearchers have been able to uncover the identities and track the movements of military and intelligence personnel by using visual and geo-locational information found on a popular smartphone application for beer aficionados. The information uncovered included the home addresses of United States government personnel, some of whom were found to be working at a secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) facility.

The application, or “app” in question is Untappd, which is arguably the most popular social media platform for beer aficionados in the United States and much of Western Europe. The app is believed to have over 8 million users worldwide, with many of whom serving in the armed forces or intelligence agencies. Untappd users are able to rate beers, share reviews of breweries and bars, post photographs, and discuss their findings with other users.

Earlier this week, a team of researchers working for the investigative website Bellingcat said that visual and geo-locational information collected from Untappd users compromised the movements and whereabouts of military and intelligence personnel who used the app.

Much of the information was collected by monitoring the activity of app users at bars or breweries located near known facilities belonging to intelligence agencies or the military —including the Pentagon. In one case, the movements of an individual user were traced all the way from his home to the Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity (AFETA). Known as Camp Peary, AFETA is a United States Department of Defense facility that is believed to be home to the CIA’s training grounds.

In other instances, photographs of beers posted by Untappd users contained snippets of US government employee badges, sensitive or classified documents, and even credit card and other personal information. Used collectively, the data extracted from the app could be utilized to build travel and habit profiles of users, including the work and home locations of military and intelligence personnel, said Bellingcat.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 May 2020 | Permalink