Domestic extremists now pose the ‘greatest terrorism threat’ to the US, says report

US Capitol - IADOMESTIC EXTREMISTS, MOTIVATED BY conspiracy theories and opposed to mitigation measures against the coronavirus, pose “the greatest domestic terrorism threats” against the United States in 2021, according to a new government report. The report, dated January 13, is contained in a Joint Intelligence Bulletin, which is produced jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center. It was accessed by Yahoo News, which reported on its contents on Wednesday.

Using blunt language, the bulletin warns that the attack on the Capitol on January 6 is very likely to motivate extremists to carry out more violent attacks across the country in 2021. In the coming months, violence will likely be “more sporadic, lone actor or small cell violence”, and will be carried out by “a loosely organized, sustained, and significant […] population” of domestic violent extremists (DVEs). These can be grouped into anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists (AGAAVE), militia violent extremists (MVEs), and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs), according to the bulletin.

These actors broadly view the riot as a success for their cause and perceive it “as a step toward achieving their initiatives”. It will therefore “likely serve as a significant driver of violence [and] inspire others to commit” further violence in the coming weeks and months, the bulletin warns. The attack on the Capitol should therefore be seen as “part of an ongoing trend, in which extremists use demonstrations to carry out ideologically motivated violence”. Such violence is increasingly directed against members of the media, who are seen by DVEs as being complicit “in a system hostile to their beliefs”.

The bulletin also cautions that the recent purges of DVE users from mainstream social media platforms is prompting them to resort to fringe platforms, which they perceive as more secure. This mass migration is “further challenging” the ability of the authorities “to identify and warn of specific threats”, the bulletin concludes.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 January 2021 | Permalink

Austria expels alleged assassin accused of working for Turkish government

Berivan AslanAUSTRIAN AUTHORITIES HAVE REPORTEDLY expelled from the country an Italian citizen of Turkish origin, who was allegedly hired by the Turkish government as an assassin. The man, Feyyaz Öztürk, 53, reportedly turned himself in to Austrian intelligence last year. According to the British press, Öztürk claimed he had been hired by the Turkish government to assassinate Berivan Aslan (pictured). Aslan, who is of Kurdish heritage, is a Viennese parliamentarian and a leading critic of Turkey’s treatment of its minority Kurdish population.

News reports claimed Öztürk’s mission was to terrorize members of the Kurdish expatriate community in Austria and elsewhere in Europe, who tend to be vocal critics of the Turkish government’s human rights record. British newspaper The Telegraph claimed that Öztürk had been tasked by Ankara to “ensure [Aslan] was hurt or died”, so that “other politicians get the message”. Öztürk also claimed that Turkish intelligence officials had blackmailed him in order to force him to carry out Alsan’s assassination. Moreover, he had been asked to kill two more Austrian public figures who are of Kurdish origin.

However, Öztürk reportedly aborted the assassination operation in March of last year, after he broke his leg in an accident during a trip to the northern Italian city of Rimini. Austrian prosecutors confirmed that an official investigation on Öztürk had concluded. It found that he had carried out “military espionage on behalf of a foreign state”, but did it not identify the state. Turkey has strongly denied that its intelligence agencies have any connection with Öztürk.

Öztürk’s espionage trial has been scheduled for February 4. However, according to Austrian law, he cannot be held in pre-trial detention and must be freed prior to his day in court. Rather than allow him freedom of movement inside Austria, the authorities decided to expel him to Italy. Öztürk’s lawyer said yesterday that her client had been designated “an imminent danger to public security” and taken to the Italian border shortly before Christmas.

The lawyer added that Öztürk wishes to return to Austria to attend his trial in February. There are suspicions among intelligence observers that the Austrian state would prefer Öztürk not to return to Austria, so as to avoid exposing espionage methods and sources in court. Meanwhile, Aslan said she remains under police protection, which was initially extended to her last year, when the alleged assassination plot against her became known.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 January 2020 | Permalink

Isaac Shoshan, Israeli undercover operative and case officer, dead at 96

MossadIsaac Shoshan, an Israeli undercover operative, who was involved in some of Israel’s most daring and controversial intelligence operations for over 40 years, has died. In 1990, Shoshan co-authored the book Men of Secrets, Men of Mystery with another Israeli former intelligence officer, Rafi Sutton. In 2019, his career was featured in the book Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, written by the Israeli-Canadian journalist Matti Friedman.

In 1942, Shoshan, a Syrian Jew, traveled for the first time from his native Aleppo to Palestine, which was then under a British mandate. The 18-year-old was soon recruited by the Palmach, the intelligence wing of the Haganah, an armed underground Zionist organization. He carried out undercover work under the Palmach’s so-called ‘Arab Section’, or ‘Arab Platoon’, which consisted of Zionist paramilitaries and intelligence collectors who had grown up speaking Arabic.

After undergoing Islamic religious and cultural training, Shoshan participated in a Palmach operation to kill Sheikh Nimr al-Khatib, in early 1948. Al-Khatib was a Palestinian warlord that the Haganah feared would lead an Arab insurrection against Israel after the impending British withdrawal from Palestine. Although the assassination operation failed, al-Khatib was seriously injured and effectively incapacitated for the rest of his life.

Shoshan was then tasked with carrying out operations in several Arab countries, posing as an Arab. His base was Beirut, where he operated a taxi and worked at a kiosk as a cover. His activities included an elaborate assassination operation against Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Riad al-Suhl, which was aborted at the last minute by the Israeli leadership.

In the mid-1950s, Israeli intelligence disbanded its Arab units, following several failed operations, such as the so-called ‘Lavon affair’, which led to the arrests and executions of some of its undercover operatives. At that time, Shoshan was recalled to Israel, where he began to work as a case officer, with occasional undercover trips abroad, during which he posed as an Arab. He retired in 1982, but continued to carry out contracting work for the Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies until the late 1980s.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2021 | Permalink

Afghans expel 10 Chinese spies who allegedly made contact with pro-Taliban group

The Afghan government reportedly expelled from the country 10 Chinese intelligence officers on Saturday, after they were found to have contacts with pro-Taliban groups. Meanwhile the White House was recently briefed about claims that Beijing offered Afghan militants bounties for killing American soldiers.

Several Indian news agencies reported last month that Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested 10 Chinese nationals in Kabul on December 10, on suspicion of espionage. The 10 Chinese included at least one woman, and were believed to work for the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s primary intelligence agency.

According to reports in the Indian press, the Chinese nationals had used Kabul as a base to buld a fictitious chapter of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Based in China’s heavily Muslim Xinjiang Province, ETIM is a sepratist armed group, which seeks to create an Islamic breakaway state for ethnic Uighurs. The purpose of the ruse was reportedly to entrap ETIM supporters and members who were operating in Afghanistan.

It is also alleged that at least two of the Chinese spies had contacts with the Haqqani network, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to the leadership of the Taliban, but maintains an independent command structure. Indian news networks named the two Chinese alleged spies with Haqqani Network contacts as Li Yangyang and Sha Hung. Interestingly, the arrests of the 10 Chinese nationals took place shortly before United States President Donald Trump was reportedly briefed about contacts between the MSS and pro-Taliban groups in Afghanistan. According to Axios, US intelligence agencies told the president that Chinese spies had offered Afghan militants bounty in exchange for killing American troops.

Citing “diplomats and security officials in Kabul” who are “familiar with the matter”, The Hindustan Times reported on Monday that the ten Chinese nationals had been released after 23 days in detention. They boarded a chartered airplane heading for China on Saturday, said the paper. None were formally charged. Their release was reportedly ordered by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, following direct negotiations with Beijing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2021 | Permalink

Iran state media claims Britain and Germany helped US kill Soleimani

Qasem SoleimaniIRANIAN STATE MEDIA CLAIMED last week that several countries, including Britain and Germany, helped the United States assassinate its top paramilitary commander, Qassem Soleimani (pictured). The reports emerged on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Soleimani, who led Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He was killed by a drone strike on January 3, 2020, in Baghdad, Iraq. The same missile strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who commanded the Popular Mobilisation Committee, an umbrella organization composed of about 40 pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

Last week, Iran’s state-owned DEFA Press news agency reported that Tehran’s own investigation into the assassination operation showed that Washington was assisted by several countries, and even by some private security firms. According to the report, the Iranian government’s prosecutor, Ali Alqasimehr, stated that G4S, a security services contractor based in Britain, had “played a role” in Soleimani and al-Muhandis’ killing. He added that the US forces also made use of facilities at the Ramstein Air Base, located in southwestern Germany, to carry out the attack.

In addition to Britain and Germany, Iranian officials said that the governments of Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq assisted in the operation by providing logistical support and intelligence. According to DEFA Press, more countries are likely to be added to the Iranian government’s list of culprits, once Tehran concludes its investigation into the killing. Iranian officials have provided no evidence for such claims. It is also unclear whether Iran is considering launching revenge attacks against countries that allegedly assisted the US in its effort to kill the two paramilitary commanders.

Speaking during a commemoration event on Friday, Soleimani’s successor at the helm of the IRGC, Esmail Ghaani, said that Iran was “ready to avenge” Soleimani’s death. During the event, which was held at the University of Tehran, Ghaani warned that “someone who will retaliate for your crime […] may emerge from inside your own house”. He did not elaborate. Large commemorative gatherings to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassinations took place throughout Iran and Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups hold significant power.

Last January Iran issued a warning against Greece, saying that it would retaliate if the US used its military bases on Greek soil to attack the Islamic Republic. It was the first time that Iran had threatened to launch attacks against a member of the European Union in connection with the ongoing rise in tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2021 | Permalink

George Blake, arguably the most prolific Soviet spy of the Cold War, dies at 98

George BlakeGEORGE BLAKE, A DUTCH-born British intelligence officer, whose espionage for the Soviet Union gained him notoriety in the West and hero status in Moscow, has died aged 98. His death was announced on Saturday by the state-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti. It was later corroborated by a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), who said Blake “had a genuine love for our country”.

Blake was nearly 18 when German troops entered his native Holland, prompting him to join the local anti-Nazi resistance forces. A British subject thanks to his Egyptian Jewish father, who had acquired British citizenship by fighting in British uniform during World War I, Blake eventually made his way to London via neutral Spain and Gibraltar. Within two years, he had been recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and by war’s end he was working in its Dutch Section.

Named after King George by his fiercely pro-British and royalist father, Blake drew no suspicion by his MI6 colleagues. He was hard-working and came across as a strict Calvinist, with strong religious leanings. But his view of the Soviet Union began to change at Cambridge University, where he had been sent by MI6 to learn Russian language and history. In 1950, while he was serving under official cover at the British embassy in Seoul, Korea, he was captured and detained for three years by North Korean forces. His ideological defection to communism appears to have taken place during his capture, during which he was given access to English-language Marxist literature and had long discussions with Soviet political instructors.

By 1953, when he was released by his captors and returned to a hero’s welcome in London, Blake was a committed communist. Less than a month following his release, he made contact with Nikolai Rodin (codename SERGEI) who was the KGB’s station chief in London. He began to spy for the Soviet Union, and did so for eight years, including during his stint as an MI6 case officer in Berlin. During that time, he is believed to have betrayed information that led to the detection of over 500 Western intelligence officers and assets operating behind the Iron Curtain, with as many as 44 of those losing their lives as a result. His career as a double spy ended in 1960, when he was betrayed by Polish defector Michael Goleniewski. Goleniewski’s debriefing by the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped Britain identify two Soviet moles inside its intelligence establishment, one of whom was Blake.

In 1960, after pleading guilty to espionage, Blake began serving a 42-year prison sentence in Britain’s Wormwood Scrubs maximum security prison complex. But in 1966 he was able to escape with the help of a group of Irish republican prisoners, and made contact with Soviet intelligence. He was eventually smuggled into East Germany and from there to Russia. Once there, he joined the KGB and served as a consultant and instructor until his retirement in the early 1990s. He learned to speak Russian fluently, married a Russian wife (his British wife having divorced him once he was convicted of espionage) and had a son.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on Sunday, praising Blake’s espionage “in the cause of peace”, while the SVR described him as a model intelligence officer. A report published by RIA Novosti on Sunday said that the Moscow city council was considering a proposal to rename a street in the Russian capital after Blake.

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

Colombia and Russia expel diplomats over espionage allegations

SVR hqCOLOMBIA EXPELLED TWO RUSSIAN diplomats earlier this month, without publicly explaining why, according to news reports. Several Colombian news outlets reported on Tuesday that the two Russians were expelled after they were found engaging in espionage. Also on Tuesday, Colombian officials confirmed earlier reports that Moscow had expelled two Colombian diplomats in a tit-for-tat response.

At a press conference held in Bogota on Tuesday December 22, officials from Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that two Russian diplomats had been expelled from the Colombian capital on December 8. However, they refused to provide the reasons for the expulsions, other than to claim that the two Russians had “engaged in violations” of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. In a separate interview, Colombian President Ivan Duque said that “to reveal more information at this moment would not correspond with the principal of continuing bilateral relations” between Colombia and Russia.

However, several leading Colombian newspapers, including El Tiempo and Semana claimed that the two Russians had engaged in espionage that targeted Colombia’s energy and minerals industry in the city of Cali. An urban center of 2.2 million inhabitants, Cali is known as southern Colombia’s leading economic hub, and is among Latin America’s fastest-growing local economies.

El Tiempo named the two Russians as Alexander Paristov and Alexander Belousov. Also on Tuesday, Colombia’s W Radio alleged that Paristov is an officer in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, which is the Russian equivallent of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. It added that Belousov is an officer in the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is known as GRU.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian embassy in Bogota did not respond to questions by Colombian media about the diplomats’ expulsions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 December 2020 | Permalink

British Channel Islands being used as ‘offshore global spy center’ study finds

Cell Phone - IATHE CHANNEL ISLANDS, AN archipelago consisting of dependencies of the British Crown located off the northern coast of France, are being used as an offshore global spy center due to their unregulated telecommunications industry, according to a new study. The archipelago is made up of Jersey and Guernsey, groups of islands that are not technically part of Britain, but are instead considered offshore British territories. They are regularly new study as offshore tax havens.

But now a referred to by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, claims that lax regulation of the Channel Islands’ telecommunications systems is allowing foreign spy agencies and contractors to use them as a base to carry out worldwide surveillance operations. Many of these operations rely on SS7, a decades-old feature of the global cellular telecommunications system, which allows cellular providers to provide service to mobile phone users as they travel internationally.

The SS7 system allows a mobile phone registered in a specific country to be used in a different country, and its user to be billed for the service. But to do so with accuracy, the SS7 system enables the service provider to track the owner of the device being charged for the phone call. This is done through what is known in cellular telecommunications parlance as a Provide Subscriber Location, or PSL, request.

Citing “leaked data, documents and interviews with industry insiders”, the study claims that intelligence agencies exploit the Channel Islands’ lax telecommunications regulation, which allows them to file PSL requests, not for billing purposes, but to detect the physical whereabouts of targets around the world. They do so by renting access from mobile phone operators based in the Channel Islands.

These PSL requests originate from Britain’s +44 country code, which is generally trusted in the global telecommunications industry, and are thus facilitated without raising suspicions. Notably, many of these PSL queries do not seek to acquire bulk data on users, but rather target specific individuals around the world. Additionally, if handled in certain ways, PSL queries can provide spies with access to the content of targeted communications, and thus information relating to unsuspecting users’ personal data, including text messages, bank accounts and passwords.

The study suggests that the British government is aware of this misuse of the system, but is finding it difficult to stop it because it has no direct legal jurisdiction over the Channel Islands.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 December 2020 | Permalink

White House seeks to split Pentagon cybersecurity functions from signals intelligence

NSATHE WHITE HOUSE IS reportedly trying to implement what could be one of the most important changes in the United States Department of Defense in recent years, by separating the cybersecurity functions from its signals intelligence functions. Until 2009, the US National Security Agency (NSA) was in charge of protecting America’s cyber networks and combating online threats. But in 2009 the administration of US President Barack Obama determined that the online environment represented a new theater of war and established a brand new Cyber Command (CYBERCOM).

Since that time, these two agencies, NSA and CYBERCOM, have been operated in parallel and have been led by the same director, who is always a four-star military officer. Moreover, CYBERCOM has historically relied on NSA’s impressive technical infrastructure and cyber arsenal. But there are some in government, especially those who support a more offensive US cyber posture, who have championed the view that CYBERCOM should be removed from the NSA’s command structure, and should operate as a completely separate agency. The administration of US President Donald Trump pushed this idea in 2017, but strong resistance from the NSA prevented it from materializing.

Now, however, the Trump administration appears determined to implement this proposed split, despite strong resistance from NSA’s leadership. Citing anonymous US officials, Defense One reported last week that the White House had sent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller documents detailing the proposed split. The two men are required to consent to the proposal before its implementation is officially authorized.

Acting Secretary Miller is believed to be in support of the move, according to several sources. However, General Milley has previously voiced support for the logic behind the existing close operational relationship between NSA and CYBERCOM. Therefore, some believe he may decide to stall on the proposal, thus waiting for the Trump administration to transition out of power. On Sunday a spokesman for Milley said that the General had “not reviewed, nor endorsed, any proposal to split CYBERCOM and NSA”.

According to reports, there are some at the Pentagon who feel strongly that the decision to split CYBERCOM from NSA should be left to the incoming administration. Nevertheless, the Trump administration seems determined to demonstrate that it can enact sweeping changes in the Department of Defense, as demonstrated by its recent decision to scale down significantly America’s military footprint in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

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

Activist portrayed in movie Hotel Rwanda sues airline for alleged abduction

Paul KagameAn anti-genocide activist, whose story was made famous in the 2004 Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, has sued an airline company for complicity in his alleged abduction from Dubai and eventual imprisonment in Rwanda. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital Kigali. The hotel catered largely to Westerners, and its grounds were seen as off-limits by the brutal armed gangs that perpetrated the genocide. Therefore, Rusesabagina used his position to shelter over 1200 displaced civilians from the warring militias.

After the end of the genocide, Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became a vocal critic of Rwanda’s Tutsi president, Paul Kagame (pictured). In 1996, Rusesabagina survived an assassination attempt, after which he went into self-exile in Belgium, of which he is a citizen. Eventually he obtained permanent residency to the United States and relocated to San Antonio, Texas. He continued to voice strong criticisms of President Kagame from exile, whom he accuses of dictatorial tendencies, corruption and mismanagement.

In August 2020, Rusesabagina boarded a chartered airplane in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which he was told would transport him to Burundi. While there, he had agreed to do a lecture tour, hosted by a Christian group. However, according to Rusesabagina, the invitation was a trap designed to lure him to Rwanda. He was allegedly bound and gagged shortly after the plane took off from Dubai. He was then transported to Kigali, where he was arrested on August 31 on an international warrant issued by the Rwandan government.

Rusesabagina has remained in prison since his arrest, charged with terrorism, murder, kidnap, arson, and forming, as well as funding, terrorist organizations. He rejects these charges and claims he was abducted and subjected to extraordinary rendition for supporting groups that oppose President Kagame’s rule. He is awaiting trial, which is scheduled to take place on January 26, 2021.

On Thursday, Rusesabagina’s lawyers filed a lawsuit in the US state of Texas, claiming that GainJet, the charter airline company whose plane was allegedly used to transport him from Dubai to Kigali, was complicit in his abduction. According to the BBC, the airline, which is registered in Greece, agreed to participate in his abduction because of its close relationship with senior Rwandan government officials. Rusesabagina’s lawyers are expected to file a similar lawsuit against GainJet in Belgium.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 December 2020 | Permalink

Massive hacker attack triggers US National Security Council emergency meeting

White HouseA large-scale cyberespionage attack targeting United States government computer systems, which some experts described as potentially being among “the most impactful espionage campaigns on record”, triggered an emergency meeting of the US National Security Council on Sunday, according to reports. Chaired by the US president, the National Security Council is the country’s most senior decision-making body.

Although it was only discovered last week, the cyberespionage campaign is believed to date to last spring, possibly as early as March. Sources called it a highly sophisticated operation that originated from a “top-tier” adversary –a term that refers to a handful of state actors that have access to the most elite cyber operatives and advanced technologies known to exist.

As of last night, US government officials had not publicly identified the state actor believed to be behind the cyberespionage campaign, which experts have coined the “2020 supply chain attack”. But several American and European news outlets pointed to Russia as the culprit, citing sources familiar with the investigation. The Washington Post said the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR, was behind the attack. The Russian government denied on Monday that its agencies had any role in the attacks.

The origins of the attack are believed to be in the private sector. It began when a sophisticated illicit cyber actor, known by the nickname Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 29, or Cozy Bear, stole cyber tools used by two major government contractors, FireEye and SolarWinds. These cyber tools are used to detect and patch vulnerabilities in computer systems. These companies provide services to numerous US government customers, including the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury and Commerce. Other US government customers include the National Security Agency and the Office of the President, including the White House Situation Room. All of these entities have reportedly been affected by this cyber espionage operation.

By disguising their malicious software as software patches, the hackers were reportedly able to access and monitor, in real time, email traffic within and between government agencies. It is not known at this time whether US intelligence agencies, other than the National Security Agency, have been affected by this hack. All branches of the US military maintain intelligence components. Additionally, the Department of the Treasury operates the Office of Intelligence Analysis, while the Department of State is in charge of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The White House said yesterday that it had asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to probe the attack and evaluate the extent of the damage caused to US government operations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 December 2020 | Permalink

Holland expels two Russian diplomats, summons Kremlin envoy to issue protest

AIVD HollandOn 10 December 2020, the Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Kajsa Ollongren, sent a letter to the House of Representatives to inform them about the disruption of a Russian espionage operation in the Netherlands by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD).

In connection with Ollongren’s revelations, two Russians using a diplomatic cover to commit espionage on behalf of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) were expelled from the Netherlands. The Russian ambassador to the Netherlands was summoned by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs, which informed him that the two Russians have been designated as persona non grata (unwanted persons). In an unusual move, the AIVD also issued a press statement about this incident in English. The AIVD also released surveillance footage (see 32nd minute of video) of one of the two Russian SVR officers meeting an asset at a park and exchanging material.

The two expelled persons were officially accredited as diplomats at the Russian embassy in The Hague. Minister Ollongren says one of the two SVR intelligence officers built a “substantial” network of sources working in the Dutch high-tech sector. He pursued unspecified information about artificial intelligence, semiconductors, and nano technology that has both civilian and military applications. The Netherlands has designated “High Tech Systems and Materials” (HTSM) as one of 10 “Top Sectors” for the Dutch economy.

In some cases the sources of the SVR officers received payments for their cooperation. According to Erik Akerboom, Director-General of the AIVD, said the agency had detected “relatively intensive” contact between sources and the SVR officers in ten cases. The case involves multiple companies and one educational institute, whose identities have not been revealed. The minister states in her letter that the espionage operation “has very likely caused damage to the organizations where the sources are or were active, and thereby to the Dutch economy and national security”.

The minister announced that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) will take legal action against one source of the two Russians, on the basis of immigration law. The minister also announced that the government will look into possibilities to criminalize the act of cooperating with a foreign intelligence service. Currently, that act on and by itself is not a punishable offense. Under current Dutch and European law, legal possibilities do exist to prosecute persons for violation of confidentiality of official secrets or company secrets.

This newly revealed espionage operation follows other incidents in the Netherlands, including a GRU operation in 2018 that targeted the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, and a case in 2015 involving a talented Russian physicist working on quantum optics at the Eindhoven University of Technology. In the latter case, no information was made public about what information the physicist sold to Russian intelligence services. And in 2012, a senior official of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs was arrested for intending to sell classified official information to a Russian couple in Germany who spied for Russia. He was eventually given an eight year prison sentence.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 14 December 2020 | Permalink

US Pentagon signals it will stop supporting CIA’s counterterrorism mission

PentagonTHE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Defense has reportedly notified the Central Intelligence Agency that it plans to terminate most of the military support it provides for the spy agency’s counterterrorism operations. Some of these changes may occur as early as January, according to reports published on Thursday in several US news outlets.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the CIA incorporated an increasingly expansive counterterrorist mission into its list of activities. But it has relied on Pentagon resources to support many of these activities, for things like transportation, physical security, logistics, and even execution. The Pentagon’s role in these activities tends to be crucial, given that they usually take place in active combat zones or other dangerous locations around the world. They therefore require heavy military protection.

However, President Trump has been implementing his plan to withdraw American military forces from warzones such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. These troops provide logistical and material support to CIA missions in some of the world’s most dangerous regions. Additionally, the Department of Defense has been signaling for quite some time its intention to focus less on counterterrorism and more on what experts refer to as “near-peer competitors” —namely China and Russia.

According to reports, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller sent a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel, in which he informs her of the Pentagon’s decision to make drastic changes to its support for the spy agency’s counterterrorism operations. It is believed that some of these changes will take place as early as January 5, 2021. It has also been reported that this decision marks the culmination of a so-called “pet project” of Acting Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Trump political appointee, who was placed in his current position by the president following November’s election.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2020 | Permalink

Research uncovers vast online disinformation network with presence in 100 countries

EU DisinfoLabA TEAM OF RESEARCHERS in Belgium has uncovered one of the world’s largest known online disinformation networks, which has existed for 15 years and is believed to incorporate at least 750 fake media outlets in over 100 countries. The network, described by researchers as “one of the most persistent and complex operations” in the area of disinformation, is believed to exist in order to support the national interests of India.

A team of researchers at the Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab has termed the network “Indian Chronicles”. This is also the title of an extensive 90-page report (.pdf), which was published on Wednesday. The researchers stress that the size of the disinformation network, and its systematic promotion of Indian interests, do not in themselves provide proof that the Indian government and its intelligence services are behind the project.

They do note, however, that the Indian Chronicles network of fake media outlets relies extensively on news reports that are produced by the Asian News International (ANI). Founded in 1971 in Delhi, ANI is India’s largest news bureau and the nation’s most prolific provider of news-related television content. There is no evidence that ANI is aware of the Indian Chronicles network. Additionally, according to EU DisinfoLab, the disinformation network has links with “at least 10” non-government organizations (NGOs) that have been accredited by the United Nations.

Some of these NGOs have been known to promote Indian views vis-à-vis Pakistan’s and China’s views in the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies. They also own think-tanks and publishing houses that publish books and monographs supporting Indian positions on international affairs. The network also relies on hundreds of fake news websites that use fake personas of fictitious editors and reporters, and have been registered using fake names and non-existent contact information. The content of these fake publishers is then forwarded to United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies, in an attempt to influence decision-making, according to EU DisinfoLab.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 December 2020 | Permalink

Saudi crown prince dismisses US lawsuit brought by ex-spy official as ‘baseless’

Saad al-JabriA LAWSUIT FILED IN a United States court by a Saudi former senior intelligence official, accuses Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of planning an illegal assassination on Canadian soil. But in a new court filing, the crown prince denies the accusation and claims that it is an attempt to distract attention from the alleged crimes carried out by the plaintiff.

The target of the alleged assassination attempt is Dr. Saad al-Jabri, who rose through the ranks of the Saudi aristocracy in the 1990s, under the tutelage of his patron, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. 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.

But Dr. al-Jabri’s standing changed suddenly in 2015, when King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman. Salman then quickly began to rely on his son, Mohammed bin Salman, who he eventually named as his successor. That meant that Dr. al-Jabri’s mentor and protector, Prince bin Nayef, was effectively usurped. Bin Salman abruptly fired Dr. al-Jabri in September of 2015. Less than two years later, bin Nayef was dismissed from his post as Minister of Interior and went under house arrest in Saudi Arabia’s coastal resort city of Jeddah. Fearing for his life, Dr. al-Jabri took his eldest son, Khalid, and escaped to Canada in the middle of the night. They remain there to this day.

In a 106-page lawsuit, filed in August with the United States District Court in Washington, DC, Dr. al-Jabri claims that bin Salman sent spies to conduct physical surveillance on him. The lawsuit also claims that bin Salman dispatched members of his “personal mercenary group”, known as the Tiger Squad, to Canada, in order to assassinate Dr. al-Jabri. The members of the squad allegedly arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sometime in mid-October 2018. The documents claim that the Tiger Squad members traveled to Canada just days after they were dispatched to Istanbul, Turkey, where they killed Saudi journalist Jamal al-Khashoggi. However, they were allegedly turned back by suspicious Canada Border Services Agency officers.

Dr. al-Jabri’s lawsuit relies on the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows non-US citizens to file lawsuits in US courts for alleged human rights abuses that took place outside the US. But lawyers for the crown prince claim that he, along with his father, represent the top echelon of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. As such, they claim, the crown prince is “entitled to status-based immunity from any suit in a US court”. Therefore, they argue, Dr. al-Jabri’s complaint “fails as a legal pleading”. The crown prince’s lawyers also accuse the plaintiff and his associates of having embezzled nearly $11 billion in funds belonging to the Saudi government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 December 2020 | Permalink