CIA lost four paramilitary officers in daring South China Sea operation, say sources

Luzon Island PhilippinesFour highly trained paramilitary officers of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) died during a secret maritime operation off the coast of the Philippines in 2008, according to a new report. Yahoo News, which revealed the alleged incident last week, cited anonymous former intelligence officers in its reporting.

The four men were allegedly paramilitary operations officers (PMOOs) working for the CIA’s Maritime Branch, one of the three branches of the Agency’s Special Operations Group (SOG). The SOG operates under the CIA’s Special Activities Center (formerly Special Activities Division), which plans and supervises paramilitary and psychological operations around the world.

According to Yahoo News, the ill-fated operation took place in the South China Sea, a contested region that forms the epicenter of an ongoing rivalry between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, among other countries. The four PMOOs had been tasked with planting a sophisticated tracking device, disguised as a rock, which was designed to intercept signals produced by Chinese vessels belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.

The operation involved the use of a 40-foot vessel belonging to the CIA and registered to a front company in the Philippines. Onboard the ship were four PMOOs, according to Yahoo News: Stephen Stanek, Michael Perich, Jamie McCormick and Daniel Meeks. Stanek, the group leader, had served as an ordnance disposal diver in the US Navy before he was hired by the CIA. His co-diver, Perich, had joined the CIA after having recently graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy. McCormick and Meeks had orders to stay onboard the vessel as supporting personnel.

Yahoo News claims the four men departed from Malaysia; they were carrying fake papers stating they had been hired by a Japanese company to transport the 40-foot ship to Japan. As they approached Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island, they decided to proceed with the mission, despite Tropical Storm Higos, which was dangerously approaching their location. The operation’s planners believed the storm would change course and would not affect the Luzon region. They were wrong, however, and the four men were lost at sea. Their bodies have never been found, according to Yahoo News.

Several months after the fatal incident, the CIA approached the families of the four late officers and invited them to Langley for a private ceremony, which was attended by the CIA’s leadership. That was the first time those family members were told that their loved ones had worked for the CIA. Yahoo News said it reached out to the family members, but they did not wish to comment on the story. The CIA also refused commenting on the report.

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

Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats for espionage, Russia vows to respond in kind

Russian embassy BulgariaBulgaria, a once close Soviet ally, which is now a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has expelled two Russian diplomats whom it accuses of conducting military espionage. This raises to five the number of Russian diplomats who have been expelled from Bulgaria for espionage in the past year.

In a hastily announced press conference on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters in the Bulgarian capital Sofia that the ministry had “declared two Russian diplomats personae non grate”, a Latin term meaning unwanted persons. He added that the Bulgarian government had notified the Russian embassy of its decision with an official diplomatic note. The two Russian diplomats, who have not been named, were given 72 hours to leave the country, said the spokesman.

In addition to the expulsion of the two diplomats, it was later reported that the Bulgarian government had denied an earlier request by Moscow to provide diplomatic accreditation to Russia’s new military attaché to the country, who was expected to assume his post in Sofia this coming December. It is believed that this action by the Bulgarian government is connected to the alleged espionage case involving the two Russian diplomats.

Bulgarian government prosecutors allege that the two Russians have engaged in espionage activities in Bulgaria since 2016. Their goal, according to the Bulgarians, was to obtain classified information about the technological modernization of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, which is ongoing. They had allegedly already made contacts with Bulgarian officials who were privy to such information, and in some cases had already provided them with money in exchange for secrets. The two diplomats are believed to be working for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly referred to as GRU.

The Russian Embassy in Sofia confirmed late on Wednesday that it had received a telephone call from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informing it of the expulsion order issued for the two diplomats. It added, however, that it had not been given proof of acts of espionage by the two diplomats. In the same statement, the Russian Embassy said the two diplomats would leave Bulgaria as instructed, but warned that Moscow reserved the right “to a response in kind”.

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

CIA launches new research and development laboratory to compete with Silicon Valley

Dawn MeyerriecksThe United States Central Intelligence Agency has announced the creation of a new advanced research laboratory system that it hopes will allow it to compete with Silicon Valley for attracting top technical talent. The initiative, announced on Monday, is called CIA Labs, and it aims to attract scientists and engineers with an interest in advanced research projects that have applied potential in the area of national security.

According to Dawn Meyerriecks (pictured), who heads the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, the purpose behind this new initiative is to allow the agency to attract and retain scientists and engineers, who are highly sought after by some of America’s top technology firms, like Google and Oracle. MIT’s Technology Review, which wrote about this initiative, referred to it as a “skunkworks”. The term refers to a select team of experts within an organization, who are given the flexibility to operate with independence and without restrictions by bureaucratic red tape, in order to produce something new and innovative.

According to Meyerriecks, CIA Labs will give the agency’s top technical talent the ability to file patents in the public domain. That was impossible in the past, given that virtually all of the research that takes place in the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology is classified. However, there may be civilian applications of some of these inventions that do not impinge on classified research. In such cases, CIA scientists who file patents will be able to profit from them, by making up to 15 percent of the income of a patent, while the Agency will keep the remaining 85 percent. The additional salary cap that an inventor is limited to is $150,000, which would more than double the yearly income of most CIA scientists.

Meyerriecks said on Monday that, ideally, CIA Labs will end up generating more funds for the agency than it costs to set up. She added that some of the areas of research that the new CIA venture is interested in include biotechnology, advanced materials science, as well as artificial intelligence, data analytics and high-performance quantum computing. The latter three are needed to help the CIA manage the immense volume of data it gathers on a daily basis, said Meyerriecks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2020 | Permalink

British former MI6 employee denies having passed secrets to Chinese operatives

Brussels BelgiumA former employee of British intelligence has strongly denied accusations, which surfaced last week in the European press, that he gave secrets to two Chinese operatives in exchange for money. Some news outlets have suggested that he is currently under investigation by at least one European government.

The individual in question is Fraser Cameron, a British businessman who worked in an intelligence capacity from 1976 to 1991. During those years, Mr. Cameron was reportedly employed by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s version of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. He then worked for the British Foreign Office and the European Commission, before relocating to Belgium, where he is believed to have lived for much of the past 20 years. According to the news website Politico, Mr. Cameron has been “a visiting professor at several universities in Asia” and currently directs the Belgium-based EU-Asia Centre.

Politico and a number of other news outlets said last week that Belgian security agencies are investigating Mr. Cameron’s alleged contacts with “two Chinese journalists accredited in Brussels”, who are believed to work as intelligence officers. Politico cited “a person close to the case”, who claimed that an investigation was launched by Belgium’s office of the federal prosecutor after the two Chinese journalists were found to be secretly working for China’s Ministry of State Security. The news website said that, according to sources in Belgium, Mr. Cameron’s alleged activities “could constitute a risk for European officials”. The BBC cited “a senior [British] official”, who claimed that the Belgian probe was the result of a “long-running joint inquiry between British and Belgian intelligence” into the case, which had achieved “a breakthrough in recent months.

But Mr. Cameron strongly denied these allegations, which he termed “absurd” in his messages to various media outlets. He described the claims as “without foundation” and added: “I retired 15 years ago from official employment and have zero access to any sensitive information”.

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

Trump’s ex-spy chief warns American democracy may not survive November election

Dan CoatsThe former United States Director of National Intelligence, who served in the administration of President Donald Trump as the highest-ranking intelligence official until 2019, has warned that American democracy may not survive the upcoming presidential election. In a stark editorial published on Thursday in The New York Times, Dan Coats warns that whether “the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history”, will survive after November, remains an open question.

The Trump administration appointed Coats in 2017 to head the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which was set up in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Its mission is to direct the 17-member United States Intelligence Community and to advise the president, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council on matters of national security. In July 2019 Coats resigned, reportedly after disagreeing with President Trump’s policies on North Korea, Russia and the Islamic State.

In his editorial, Coats urges Congress to pass “emergency legislation” that will establish a “supremely high-level bipartisan and non-partisan commission to oversee the [upcoming 2020 Presidential] election”. The proposed commission would supervise the mechanisms that “tabulate, evaluate or certify the results” of the election and assure the American public that “the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed”, argues Coats. Additionally, it would refer “to the proper law enforcement agency” any incident of election “interference, fraud, disinformation or other distortions”.

Coats also calls on American leaders to perform what he describes as the “most urgent task [they] face”, which is “to ensure that the election results are accepted as legitimate”. Doing the opposite would mean succumbing to the pressure of enemies who “want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; [and] that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people”.

The former Director of National Intelligence concludes by warning that if the nation fails “to take every conceivable effort to ensure the integrity of the election”, there will be no winners, but only losers, after November. Consequently, the American voters will not simply be choosing a president, he says, but will be deciding “whether the American democratic experiment […] will survive”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 September 2020 | Permalink

US spy agencies uncovered Iranian plot to kill American ambassador to South Africa

Lana MarksAn Iranian plot to kill the United States’ ambassador to South Africa was reportedly uncovered by American intelligence agencies, which believe Tehran is still seeking to avenge the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in January of this year. The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite paramilitary force, was killed by a US drone strike during a visit to the Iraqi capital Baghdad, sparking major tension between Washington and Tehran.

The news website Politico said on Sunday that the Iranian government had authorized a plan to kill Lana Marks (pictured), a South African-born American handbag designer, who is a longtime personal friend of US President Donald Trump. Marks, 66, assumed her post in October of this year. Citing “a US government official […] and another official who has seen the intelligence”, Politico said Marks had been “made aware of the threat”. The website added that the assassination plot against Marks involved operatives stationed at the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Pretoria.

According to the report, American spy agencies uncovered the plot several months ago. However, the confidence level regarding the intelligence was low. In recent weeks, the threat has become “more specific”, said Politico. This alleged plot aside, Politico said US intelligence agencies believe Tehran is weighing “several options” for avenging Soleimani’s killing, which include assassinating American diplomats abroad, as well as military commanders. On Monday, President Trump warned Iran on Twitter that “Any attack […], in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”.

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

Venezuela claims capture of ‘American spy’ near major oil refining complex

Paraguaná Refinery ComplexThe President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, announced on Friday the arrest of an alleged “American spy”, who was reportedly arrested near the largest oil refinery complex in the country. The alleged spy, who has not been named, was reportedly in the vicinity of the Paraguaná Refinery Complex, which is known as the third largest refinery complex in the world. It combines the Amuay, Bajo Grande and Cardón refineries, which together produce nearly a third of Venezuela’s daily oil output.

During a live address on Venezuelan national television, Maduro said an American citizen had been arrested on Thursday in Falcon State, in Venezuela’s northeast. Falcon is the site of the Amuay and Cardón oil refineries and much of the local population is employed in the state-owned oil industry. The Venezuelan president said the alleged spy is “a marine” who was “serving on [Central Intelligence Agency] bases in Iraq” prior to arriving in Venezuela. He added that the alleged spy was “captured with large amounts of cash, large quantities of dollars and other items”. He did not elaborate further, but said the detainee was in the process of “giving a statement in custody”.

Maduro also said that Venezuelan security forces had foiled a separate plot to bomb El Palito, which is another oil refinery, located in Carabobo State. He then urged workers in oil refineries to “be on alert” in case more attacks are planned. Venezuela’s oil production has fallen to nearly a third of its peak output in 2009, when the country was producing 3.2 million barrels per day. The government blames the oil shortage on acts of sabotage from domestic and foreign enemies of President Maduro, but opposition parties claim that mismanagement and corruption are behind the demise of the Venezuelan oil industry.

Earlier this year, a Venezuelan court sentenced two American former servicemen to 20 years in prison for their role in what the Venezuelan media refer to as “enfrentamiento en El Junquito” (“El Junquito raid”), or “Operación GEDEÓN”. GEDEÓN refers to a failed coup plot carried out on May 3 and 4, 2020, by a group of up to 60 armed men. It is alleged that the coup was masterminded by Major General Clíver Alcalá Cordones, a retired member of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army, with the support of Silvercorp USA, a private security group led by Jordan Goudreau, a Canadian-born former sergeant in the US Green Berets. The United States government has denied involvement in the coup plot.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 September 2020 | Permalink

Ex-intelligence chief at US Department of Homeland Security files whistleblower claim

Kirstjen NielsenThe former head of intelligence at the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has filed a whistleblower complaint, alleging that he was pressured to manipulate his analyses for political reasons. The 24-page complaint was filed on Tuesday with the Office of the DHS Inspector General. The whistleblower is identified as Brian Murphy, who served as acting chief of intelligence for the DHS. The contents of the complaint have been made available online on the website of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Murphy alleges that his superiors, including senior officials in the DHS, engaged in “attempted abuse of authority” and possibly violated federal law. In his whistleblower complaint, Murphy says his supervisors essentially fabricated intelligence products on pressing security matters, in order to make them agreeable to President Donald Trump. In doing so, claims Murphy, these officials tried to “censor and manipulate the intelligence information” produced by DHS analysts, in order to further President Trump’s agenda.

In his complaint, Murphy identifies acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, his predecessor, Kirstjen Nielsen (pictured), and Wolf’s deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, as individuals who pressured him to change his intelligence products. The pressures allegedly began with reference to Russian interference in the US presidential elections of 2016. According to Murphy, his supervisors instructed him to “cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, [and] instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran”.

The pressures, according to Murphy, later expanded to include efforts to get him to downplay the domestic terrorist threat posed by far-right organizations, and to accentuate purported links between terrorism and immigration to the US coming from Latin America. In late 2018, the then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress that nearly 3,800 documented terrorists crossed the US border from Mexico. But Murphy alleges that the actual number was just three confirmed cases.

The complaint further alleges that Murphy was removed from his post in August of this year, and was “de facto demoted” after he confronted Wolf and Cuccinelli and refused to “manipulate intelligence for political reasons”. Murphy’s removal was one of a number of “retaliatory actions” against him for refusing to comply with his superiors’ pressures, according to the complaint.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 September 2020 | Permalink

Spanish high court broadens illegal wiretap probe to include senior politicians

Luis BárcenasA court in Spain has begun to examine the findings of a long-running probe into an illegal network that spied on people in return for payments, which almost certainly implicates senior figures in the former governing party. The probe focuses on what is known in Spain as the Gürtel case, which is described by observers as one of the most extensive corruption scandals in Spanish political history. It centers on an extensive network of tax evasion, bribery and money laundering, which brought together leading business executives, criminal kingpins, and senior politicians from Spain’s conservative Popular Party (PP).

In May of 2018, Spain’s highest criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional, ruled that senior PP officials had enriched themselves with kickbacks and bribes, and had laundered the money with assistance from the criminal underworld. The scandal effectively brought an end to the government of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy later that year, and has virtually annihilated the once robust electoral popularity of the PP.

IntelNews has followed a series of scandals linked to the Gürtel case, notably a case involving José Manuel Villarejo, a 67-year-old former police chief, who was arrested in November of 2017 for carrying out illegal wiretaps, and remains in custody. According to Spanish prosecutors, Villarejo was in charge of an illicit information-collection enterprise that violated the privacy of hundreds of unsuspecting citizens. The latter were targeted by corporate competitors and individual wealthy clients. Many of Villarejo’s targets were eventually blackmailed by the recipients of information collected by the former police chief and his network.

Now a new side of the Gürtel case is about to emerge, as the Audiencia Nacional has unsealed a probe that sheds further light into Operation KITCHEN. This refers to an espionage effort connected to the Gürtel case, which targeted Luis Bárcenas, a senator and party treasurer of Spain’s conservative Partido Popular. Bárcenas had in his possession bookkeeping documents that shed light on a secret system for recording illicit funds in possession of PP administrators and senior party figures —for which Bárcenas was eventually given a 33-year prison sentence that he is currently serving.

Once senior government executives were notified by advisors that Bárcenas had these documents, and that he may be planning to share them with the authorities in order to secure a lighter prison sentence for himself, they allegedly set up an espionage operation aimed at preventing Bárcenas’ documents from ending up in the hands of the authorities. Villarejo was allegedly in charge of the espionage operation, which is how Operation KITCHEN connects with the broader Gürtel case. The probe of Operation KITCHEN was unsealed on Monday by Audiencia Nacional Judge Manuel García Castellón. A new series of prosecutions is now expected to take place in the coming weeks, in connection to Operation KITCHEN, which will almost certainly involve leading PP figures.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 September 2020 | Permalink

US troops remain in Russian-dominated Syria with no clear goal, say insiders

Free Syrian ArmyAmerican forces remain in Syria without a clear goal in sight, as the conflict there nears its 10-year anniversary, and with Russia having emerged as the principal guarantor of security in the war-torn country, according to insiders. In an article published last week, Newsweek said American and American-supported Syrian officials feel disillusioned about America’s goals in the country. The website cited an anonymous senior United States intelligence official who described the US military mission there as “a clusterf**k”.

Officially, the goal of the US Department of Defense’s mission in Syria is to “ensure the enduring defeat” of the Islamic State. On the political level, the US seeks the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the departure of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from the country. Last year, however, US President Donald Trump seemed to suddenly change the Pentagon’s mission, by telling reporters that the US military was in Syria only to secure access to the oil and natural gas fields that lay in the country’s northeast. He repeated that statement in August of this year.

This goal appears to have been adopted by the Pentagon as its new mission. Currently what remains of the US military presence in Syria is concentrated around a cluster of oil and gas fields in the northeastern part of the country. Sources told Newsweek that the US troops feel “stranded” and “forgotten” in Syria, and are virtually surrounded by numerically dominant Russian and Iranian forces. US allies in the area are shifting their alliances and looking to Russia, seeing Washington as a non-dependable actor.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Tehran have assumed leading roles in bringing rival forces to the table, while also fighting what is left of the Islamic State. Several meetings between representatives from rival factions, including the Assad government, pro-Turkish militias, and the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces, have taken place under Russian tutelage in the past year. The US has not participated in these negotiations, said Newsweek.

► Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 September 2020 | Permalink

COVID-19 prompts spy agencies’ mission shift that is ‘reminiscent of the space race’

COVID-19 coronavirusThe worldwide competition to invent a vaccine that can curtail the spread of COVID-19 has prompted a mission shift in major intelligence agencies around the world, which is “reminiscent of the space race”, according to The New York Times. In an article published on Saturday, the paper cited “interviews with current and former intelligence officials and others tracking the espionage efforts”, who suggest that the mission shift observed in spy agencies worldwide has been among the fastest in history.

According to The New York Times, “every major spy service around the globe is trying to find out what everyone else is up to” in coronavirus research, and “to steal information about vaccine research”. Much of this biomedical espionage is taking place in international bodies, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO), where spies try to access useful data from rival countries. The paper said that the Central Intelligence Agency and other Western spy agencies are closely watching their rivals, including Chinese and Russian operatives, inside the WHO.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is “has moved to protect [American] universities and corporations doing the most advanced work” on the virus, including the University of North Carolina (UNC). The paper said that UNC’s Epidemiology Department came under a sustained attack by foreign hackers recently, as have major American pharmaceutical research companies, including Gilead Sciences, Novavax and Moderna. In other cases, foreign spies have tried to gain physical proximity to biomedical researchers. According to The Times, part of the reason why the administration of US President Donald Trump decided to shut down the Chinese consulate in Huston in July, was because it believed Chinese spies had used it as a base from where to make contacts with American biomedical researchers.

Officially, America’s stance on the coronavirus espionage race is purely defensive. But, according to The Times, American spy agencies are also trying to find out what Russian, Chinese and Iranian scientists have in their possession, in an attempt to see if is stolen. As they do that, “they could encounter information on those countries’ research and collect it”, said the paper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 September 2020 | Permalink

Belarus strongman Lukashenko replaces intelligence leadership, as protests continue

Alexander LukashenkoBelarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (pictured) replaced the heads of the intelligence service and other security bodies on Thursday, as he continues to face the most serious challenge to his 26-year rule. Mass protests have been held in urban centers since last month, when Lukashenko claimed victory with over 80 percent of the vote in the presidential elections, and returned to office for a record sixth term.

Over 7,000 people have been arrested by the authorities in recent weeks for participating in anti-government demonstrations, which Lukashenko blames on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and “the European Union states bordering Belarus”. Regional observers point to the Belarusian military and security services as holding the key to what will transpire in former Soviet republic during the coming months. It is believed that, if the Armed Forces and the security services continue to stand by Lukashenko, the Belarusian strongman is unlikely to leave office.

In a surprise move on Thursday, the Belarusian president reshuffled the country’s intelligence and security leadership, including the head of the State Security Council (the highest national security decision-making body in Belarus) and the director of the State Security Service, known as KGB. Former Defense Minister General Andrei Ravkov, who has headed the State Security Council since January of this year, stepped down and was replaced by Valery Vakulchik, who until recently served director of the KGB. His post in the KGB was filled by Ivan Tertel, a KGB career official, who most recently served as chairman of Belarus’ financial investigative force, known as the State Control Committee. In an equally surprising move, the mayor of Minsk, Anatoly Sivak, was named deputy prime minister.

The reshuffle has been interpreted as by regional observers as an attempt by Lukashenko to surround himself with some of his most trusted apparatchiks, as rumors abound about possible divisions in the country’s military and intelligence services. Meanwhile, the Belarussian strongman is scheduled to meet with the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and a delegation of senior Russian intelligence officials in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 September 2020 | Permalink

Austria to press charges on man caught spying for Turkish intelligence service

Karl NehammerThere were angry exchanges between Austrian and Turkish officials on Tuesday, after the Austrian government announced it would press charges against an individual allegedly caught spying for Turkish intelligence. The charges were announced on Tuesday morning local time by Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (pictured), during a press conference in the Austrian capital Vienna.

During the press conference, Nehammer said the Austrian government wished to send “a clear message to the Turkish Republic: Turkish espionage and interference by Turkey in the civil liberties [of Austrian citizens] have no place in Austria”. Additionally, the Austrian official said his government would “work at the European level to make sure that Turkey does not interfere in the internal affairs of European Union states”. Vienna had already notified Horst Seehofer, president of the European Council, of the espionage case, said Nehammer.

It is believed that the alleged Turkish spy was uncovered by Austrian authorities after a large political protest that took place in Vienna last June, which resulted in violent clashes between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish demonstrators. The protesters were members of pro-Kurdish organizations in Vienna, but were confronted by pro-Turkish demonstrators, which resulted in the whole rally descending into violent street clashes. An investigation by Austrian police determined that many of the pro-Turkish demonstrators were affiliated with a far-right Turkish group known as the Grey Wolves.

According to the Austrian Interior Ministry, however, it was also found that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, helped organize the Grey Wolves group that confronted the pro-Kurdish rally. Among the Grey Wolves rioters, say Austrian officials, was a man who had been “recruited” by the MİT to spy on pro-Kurdish activists or critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Nehammer said the alleged spy already confessed to working for Turkish intelligence.

In response to Nehammer’s statements, the Turkish government accused Austria’s national leadership of harboring an “anti-Turkey obsession”. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in Ankara that the Austrian government should “top chasing artificial agenda with shallow and domestic political calculations over Turkey, and act with […] seriousness, common sense, and sincere cooperation”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 September 2020 | Permalink

French lieutenant-colonel serving with NATO arrested for spying for Russia

Florence ParlyFrench authorities are reportedly investigating a senior military officer, who is serving with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Italy, for spying on behalf of Russia, according to a news report from France. On Sunday, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly (pictured), gave a press conference in Paris, during which she provided limited information about the ongoing investigation. Parly said she could confirm that “a senior officer” in the French military was undergoing “legal proceedings” relating to a “security breach”. She refused to provide specific details on the case.

Later on Sunday, however, French radio station Europe 1 reported that the military officer was a lieutenant-colonel who is currently serving at a NATO facility in Italy. The officer is believed to speak Russian and is considered a specialist on Russian military affairs, said the station. It added that French authorities began investigating him after he was spotted in Italy with a man who was later identified as an intelligence officer with the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known commonly as GRU. According to Europe 1, the French military officer was arrested by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), France’s counterintelligence and counterterrorism agency.

At the time of his arrest, the unnamed man was making preparations to return to his NATO post in Italy, after holidaying in France, according to the radio station’s report. He is currently in detention in the French capital on suspicion of having supplied classified military documents to Russian intelligence. Europe 1 cited an unnamed source who said the officer would be prosecuted for “collecting [and] sharing information with a foreign power” that “harms the fundamental interests of the [French] nation” and “harms national defense”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2020 | Permalink

Putin says US and Ukrainian intelligence ‘lured’ Russian mercenaries into Belarus

Belarus KGBRussian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that a group of Russian paramilitary contractors, who were arrested in Belarus last month, were lured there as part of a joint American-Ukrainian spy operation. On July 29, Belarussian secret services announced the arrest of 33 Russian citizens, who were employees of Wagner Group, a private Russian military company that some believe operates as a private paramilitary wing of the Russian Armed Forces.

The Investigative Committee, Belarus’ primary investigating authority, determined that the 33 had entered the country as part of a 200-strong group of Russians working for Wagner, in order to destabilize the country in the run-up to the presidential election. The election resulted in the return to office of Belarus’ authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, for a record sixth term. According to Belarussian state television, the 33 Russians were found in possession of Sudanese currency and a Sudanese smartphone card. Sudan is believed to be one of Wagner Group’s most active areas of operation, and in the past the company has used Belarus as a transit center from which it coordinates its operations in the African continent.

On Thursday, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the 33 Russians were arrested as part of a joint American-Ukrainian intelligence operation, which lured the Wagner employees into Belarus. Speaking to state-owned Rossiya 24 television, Putin said the alleged operation was “carried out jointly by Ukrainian and American special services. The Russians, he said, had been hired “for absolutely legal work in Latin America and the Middle East” by an employer who “dragged them into Belarus”. The men were then “presented as a ‘strike force’ to destabilize [Belarus] during the presidential campaign”, said the Russian strongman.

Putin’s statement follows reports earlier this month in the Russian media, which claim that the 33 Russians were given forged passports as part of the alleged joint American-Ukrainian operation, in order to enable them to leave Russia undetected. However, neither the Russian media nor the Russian leader have provided evidence for these claims. Meanwhile Belarus expelled 32 of the 33 Russians a few days following their arrest. One remains in prison in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

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