Bulgarian ex-spy director jailed for embezzling millions from public coffers

Kircho KirovA former director of Bulgaria’s intelligence service, who headed the agency for nearly a decade, has been jailed for embezzling millions of dollars from public funds. General Kircho Kirov, 67, was director of the Bulgarian National Intelligence Service (NIS) from February 2003 until January 2012. After stepping down from his post he was appointed national security advisor to Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boiko Borissov. But he soon fell out with Borrisov and was fired after just two months on the job. Now Borissov’s administration has jailed Kircho for 15 years, accusing him of misappropriating funds intended for NIS operations.

Government prosecutors said that during his tenure as NIS director, General Kircho conspired with a subordinate NIS employee, Dimitar Lidarev, to siphon NIS funds to a private account. They told a court in Bulgarian capital Sofia that General Kircho and Lidarev falsified documents to allow them to divert nearly $3.2 million to private accounts for their personal use. Most of the funds were stolen between 2007 and 2011, according to court documents. On Tuesday, the court handed General Kircho a 15 year jail sentence and ordered the confiscation of 50 percent of his personal assets. Lidarev, who was General Kircho’s co-defendant at his trial, was sentenced to three years in prison with another five years’ probation, for aiding and abetting General Kircho’s embezzlement by forging documents. The court decision quashed General Kircho’s appeal against an earlier sentence, delivered in 2015, that jailed him for 10 years for embezzling nearly $4 million of state funds between 2007 and 2011.

Throughout his latest trial, General Kircho insisted he was innocent and accused government prosecutors of carrying out a politically motivated campaign against him, directed by his former ally, Prime Minister Borissov. The former spy director added that he was targeted as part of a deliberate effort to convince the European Union that Bulgaria is targeting financial corruption. Next week, Prime Minister Borissov’s government will be facing a no-confidence vote in parliament, over claims that corruption remains rife in the Balkan country of 7 million people.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 January 2018 | Permalink

Advertisements

Lebanese media accuses Mossad of assassination attempt in Sidon

Mohammad HamdanMedia reports from Lebanon claim that Israel was behind a bomb explosion that injured an official of the Palestinian group Hamas in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon eight days ago. The official, Mohammad Abu Hamza Hamdan, who is originally from the Gaza Strip, suffered light wounds when his parked car blew up on January 14. Television footage posted online by Lebanon24 from the site of the alleged attack shows smoke coming out of a white BMW car, parked on the courtyard of Hamdan’s home. Reporters at the site said the car belonged to Hamdan and that it had been booby-trapped by unknown assailants. Hamdan was reportedly transported to a nearby hospital, where he received treatment for light wounds.

Reports quoted Lebanese officials who pointed to the fact that the booby-trapped car was parked inside the enclosed courtyard of Hamdan’s home as evidence that the attack was specifically targeted at Hamdan. Others said that the attackers may have originally planned to kill Hamdan’s brother, Osama Hamdan, also from the Gaza Strip, who has served as Hamas’ Lebanon representative for 30 years. Now a new article published by Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper has accused Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency of having orchestrated the assassination attempt. The paper also said that Lebanese security officials had managed to identify the Mossad operatives that carried out the attack. It said they were headed by Ahmed Battiya, a Dutch-born Lebanese man who was recruited by the Mossad in Holland and has participated in prior assassination operations perpetrated by the Israeli spy agency. Al Akhbar said that Battiya had traveled extensively inside Lebanon on behalf of the Mossad, in order to identify Hamas officials and track their movements. The article was published hours after Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite paramilitary group Hezbollah, also accused Israel of attempting to kill Hamdan.

In Israel, however, government officials appeared to reject claims that the Mossad was behind the attack on Hamdan. The country’s Minister of Defense, Avigdor Liberman, told reporters that the Lebanese media blames Israel for everything that happens in Lebanon, and warned Hamas not to open a “new front against Israel from Lebanon”. Yisrael Katz, Israel’s Minister for Intelligence, said that, if Israel had been involved in the attack against Hamdan, “this wouldn’t have ended with him lightly wounded”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 January 2018 | Permalink

Lebanese spy agency used Android app to spy on thousands, say researchers

GDGS EFF LookoutThe spy agency of Lebanon used a virus designed for the Android mobile operating system to compromise the cell phones of thousands of people in at least 20 countries, according to a new mobile security report. The 50-page report was published on Thursday by a team of researchers from Lookout, a mobile security company, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Washington, DC. In an accompanying press release, the researchers said that the virus, which they named Dark Caracal, has been in existence for at least six years. They added that it was traced to a building in Beirut belonging to the General Directorate of General Security (GDGS), Lebanon’s primary external intelligence agency.

According to the Lookout/EFF research team, the trojanized phone application was camouflaged as a secure messaging service, resembling popular applications like Signal or WhatsApp. However, once an Android user downloaded it, it gave remote users access to the compromised phone’s cameras and microphone, thus turning it into a bugging device. The virus also stole email and text messages, pins and passwords, lists of contacts, call logs, photographs, as well as video and audio recordings stored on the compromised device. The report states that compromised devices were found in over 20 countries, including Lebanon, France, Canada, the United States and Germany. The majority of those targeted by the virus were civilian and military officials of foreign governments, defense contractors, and employees of manufacturing companies, financial institutions and utility providers.

On Thursday, Reuters contacted Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who serves as director general of GDGS. He insisted that the GDGS is known for collecting intelligence using human sources, not cyber technologies. “General Security does not have these type[s] of capabilities. We wish we had these capabilities”, General Ibrahim told the news agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 January 2018 | Permalink

Ex-CIA case officer was arrested after being lured back to US at least once

FBIA former case officer in the Central Intelligence Agency, who was arrested this week for violating the United States Espionage Act, was lured back to America from Hong Kong at least once by counterintelligence investigators, according to reports. Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, served in the CIA from 1994 to 2007. He was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation officers on Monday, as soon as he arrived in the US from Hong Kong. He is accused of carrying with him top-secret information about CIA agents and operations, which he was not authorized to possess. It now appears that the FBI had been investigating Lee since 2010, and that he was lured to the US in 2012 so that he could be investigated. It is also possible that he was lured back to the US from his home in Hong Kong on Monday, so that he could be arrested by the FBI.

The New York Times said on Wednesday that a consortium of FBI agents and CIA officers identified Lee as a suspect in a counterintelligence case involving the loss of over a dozen CIA assets in China between 2010 and 2012. By that time, Lee had left his job as a case officer —essentially a spy handler— in the CIA and was living in Hong Kong. According to NBC, the FBI decided to lure Lee back to American soil by creating a job for him in the nation’s capital. That was the reason why Lee traveled with his family back to the US in August of 2012. The family stopped in Hawaii, where, according to court documents, the FBI surreptitiously searched Lee’s possessions in a Honolulu hotel. FBI officers also searched Lee’s belongings in a hotel in Virginia a few days later. Lee was found to have with him two notebooks containing “operational notes from asset meetings”, “operational phone numbers” and even “the addresses of CIA covert facilities” —safe houses where CIA case officers meet their assets in privacy.

According to The Times, the FBI confronted Lee five times in subsequent months, but did not inform him that his belongings had been surreptitiously searched or that he had been found to possess classified information without authorization. But the FBI did not press charges against Lee, nor did it prevent him from returning to Hong Kong with his family in the summer of 2013. Instead, it focused on establishing a connection between Lee and the catastrophic loss of CIA assets in China. It was only this week, when Lee returned to the US, that authorities decided to arrest him. The reason why Lee decided to return to the US remains unknown. The possibility that he may have been lured back to the US by the FBI, just as he was in 2012, should not be excluded.

It appears that investigators have not at this point connected Lee with the more serious charge of conveying the classified information to foreign agents. Instead, the former CIA officer is charged simply with possessing top-secret information, but not with communicating it. The charge is believed to be “the same single charge that could have been brought years ago”, namely when Lee was found to be carrying classified information with him in Hawaii.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2018 | Permalink

Ex-CIA case officer arrested in New York for violating Espionage Act

CIAA former operations officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency has been arrested on charges of illegally possessing top secret information, including lists of real names of foreign assets and addresses of CIA safe houses. The news emerged on Tuesday, as the US Department of Justice announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had filed a criminal complaint over the weekend. The complaint identifies the former case officer as Jerry Chun Shing Lee, also known as Zhen Cheng Li. Lee, a 53-year-old naturalized American, served in the CIA from 1994 to 2007 “in various overseas positions and locations”, according to court documents. Lee has reportedly been living in Hong Kong since his retirement from the CIA. He was arrested by FBI officers on Monday, as he arrived on a flight that landed at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The FBI criminal complaint alleges that Lee kept on his person a number of notebooks that contained classified details of his CIA work. These included the real names of covert CIA personnel and the real names of foreign assets —providers of intelligence information that are recruited by CIA case officers. The notebooks also contained “operational notes from asset meetings” (presumably meetings between Lee and the assets he handled during his CIA career), “operational phone numbers” and even “the addresses of CIA covert facilities” —safe houses where CIA case officers meet their assets in privacy. From the court documents it appears that the FBI has been investigating Lee since at least 2012. In August of that year, the FBI surreptitiously searched Lee’s possessions in a hotel in Hawaii, where he was staying while on holiday with his family. A few days later, FBI officers also searched Lee’s possessions in a hotel in Fairfax, Virginia, and photographed them.

According to The New York Times, Lee’s arrest is connected with reports last May that the Chinese intelligence services had arrested or killed over a dozen CIA assets in China between 2010 and 2012. There is intense speculation that the Chinese acted on information they received from a mole inside a US intelligence agency, possibly the CIA. But the court documents in Lee’s case do not mention any connection to foreign intelligence and do not accuse Lee of sharing classified information with unauthorized users. As of yesterday evening, the CIA was referring all media inquiries to the Department of Justice.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 January 2018 | Research Credit: C.B. | Permalink

Syrian rebels visit Washington to request resumption of CIA assistance

Free Syrian Army delegationA delegation of Syrian rebels is currently in Washington to ask that that United States President Donald Trump authorizes the Central Intelligence Agency to resume giving them military assistance. In 2013, the then-US President Barack Obama instructed the CIA to provide covert support to fighters in Syria. The CIA promptly began to assist fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), whose goal was to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Under the project, which was codenamed TIMBER SYCAMORE, CIA personnel trained FSA fighters and gave them light weaponry. But in July of last year, President Trump abruptly terminated the CIA program, which he called “dangerous and wasteful”.

Now the FSA has sent a delegation to Washington to argue that, if the CIA does not help them, Iranian-backed militias will dominate much of Syria. On Monday, the Reuters news agency quoted Mustafa Sejari, a senior representative of the FSA, who said that the Syrian delegation had met with US Congress members and White House officials. This week they were hoping to speak with representatives from the Departments of State and Defense, said Sejari. Members of the delegation, Sejari told Reuters, “asked for the resumption of aid and explained the dangers of leaving moderate FSA forces without support”. He added that, if the US “is serious about challenging growing Iranian influence in Syria” by Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, it should resume its support of the FSA. Sejari also described Mr. Trump’s decision to end TIMBER SYCAMORE as “damaging”. The FSA, he said “endorse[s] President Trump’s statements about the need to confront Iranian hegemony in the region. It is time to turn words into action”. We went on to claim that “until now on the ground it’s the Iranian militias that are expanding without serious resistance”.

Shortly after President Trump announced his decision to terminate CIA support for the FSA, some experts warned that the move could backfire by causing the suddenly unemployed fighters to join jihadist organizations, if only to secure sources of income. In late August, it was reported that US troops deployed in Syria had exchanged fire with former FSA rebels that were now led by Turkish-trained commanders. In a related development, the government of Turkey dismissed on Monday plans by the US military to train members of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as “terror army” tactics. The US-led coalition in Syria said that it planned to train a 30,000-strong SDF force as a professional army that could maintain control of the territories captured last year from the Islamic State.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 January 2018 | Permalink

Russian-trained Serb separatists are forming paramilitary group in Bosnia

Serbian Honor militiaA group of hardline Bosnian Serbs, some of whom have been trained in military tactics by Russian instructors, are secretly creating a paramilitary group to undermine the territorial integrity of Bosnia, according to reports. Information about the alleged paramilitary group was published on the Friday edition of Žurnal, a nonpartisan investigative newsmagazine. The allegations exposed by Žurnal were later repeated by Dragan Mektić, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Minister for Security, who is himself a Bosnian Serb. Žurnal’s revelations came just days after hardline Serb separatists, dressed in dark-colored combat gear, staged a military-style rally in Banja Luka. The city of 200,000 is the administrative center of the Republika Srpska, the semi-autonomous Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The entity was established under the terms of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, which ended the Bosnian War that began in 1992.

The rally was held despite an earlier decision by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which ruled that military-style marches by separatist organizations were unconstitutional. According to Žurnal, the rally was organized by Srbska čast (Serbian Honor), a militia made up of hardline Serb separatists. The group strongly supports Milorad Dodik, a Serb nationalist who has served as president of Republika Srpska since 2010. The investigative news site said that several members of Srbska čast’s were trained by Russian paramilitary instructors in the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center, a Russian-funded disaster relief center based in southern Serbia, which Western officials claim is really an intelligence base. Žurnal also said that one of Srbska čast’s leading figures, Bojan Stojković, a former commando, was trained in military schools in Russia and has been decorated by the Russian military.

Friday’s report by the investigative news outlet quoted extensively from a leaked report by Bosnia and Herzegovnia’s intelligence agency. The report allegedly states that Srbska čast leaders, including Stojković, met secretly with Dodik and discussed the formation of a new, heavily armed paramilitary unit, which will operate as an extrajudicial force in support of Dodik’s administration in Republika Srpska. One quote from the document said that the paramilitary force would engage in “possible intervention if the opposition [i.e. those opposed to Dodik] seeks to obstruct the functioning of the authorities” in the Republika Srpska. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 2006. The country has gone through a series of stages in negotiations with NATO and ratified a membership action plan in 2010. Bosnia’s application is heavily supported by Turkey, NATO’s only predominantly Muslim member state, but is fiercely opposed by Russia and by the Balkan country’s Serb minority.

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