Reports allege third man was involved in poisoning of Sergei Skripal

Sergei SkripalNew reports from Russian investigative sites claim that a third man using a fake name was involved in the attempted assassination of former double spy Sergei Skripal in England last year. Skripal, a former military intelligence officer, was resettled in the English town of Salisbury in 2010, after spending several years in a Russian prison for spying on behalf of Britain. But he and his daughter Yulia almost died in March 2018, after they were poisoned with a powerful nerve agent that nearly killed them. The attack has been widely blamed on the Russian government, though the Kremlin denies it had any role in it. Two assailants have so far been identified by British intelligence. They have been named as Dr. Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin —cover name ‘Alexander Petrov’— and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga —cover name ‘Ruslan Boshirov’. Both are said to be employees of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, commonly referred to as the GRU. The two men spoke on Russian television last year, denying any involvement in the attack on the Skripals. Their whereabouts since their television interview remain unknown. Moscow denies that it had any role in the attack.

In October of last year, the Russian investigative news site Fontanka claimed that a third man under the name of Sergey Fedotov, may have been involved in the attack on Skripal. Last Thursday, another Russian investigative news site, Bellingcat, said that the name Sergey Fedotov appears to have been created out of thin air for operational purposes by Russia’s intelligence services. According to Bellingcat, Fedotov appears to have no past prior to 2010, when his identity was invented using the same techniques that the fake identities of ‘Petrov’ and ‘Boshirov’ were concocted by the GRU. Moreover, Fedotov’s records show that he traveled extensively in the Middle East, Asia and Europe between 2010 and 2015. The Russian news site claims that he was in Bulgaria in late April 2015, when Emilian Gebrev, a wealthy local defense industry entrepreneur, fell violently ill. Gebrev was hospitalized for signs of poisoning along with his son and one of his company’s executives for several days, eventually making a full recovery. As the Bulgarian businessman was being taken to hospital, Fedotov skipped his return flight out of Sofia and instead drove to Istanbul, Turkey, where he bought a one-way airline ticket to Moscow, says Bellingcat.

The BBC’s Gordon Corera said he contacted the Russian embassy in London and the Kremlin in Moscow. Both sources strongly refuted the Bellingcat report. A Kremlin spokesman cautioned the BBC to be skeptical about Bellingcat’s report, since “we don’t know what [its] authors based their work on [or] how competent they are”. British Police told Corera that they were “still investigating whether further suspects were involved” in the attack on Skripal and were “not prepared to discuss” details pertaining to “an ongoing investigation”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 February 2019 | Permalink

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US weapons given to UAE and Saudi Arabia are diverted to al-Qaeda-linked groups

Shabwani EliteWeapons supplied to the Saudi and Emirati governments by the United States and other Western nations are ending up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militias in Yemen, according to two separate investigations. The weapons are being supplied to the militaries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the West on the understanding that they will be used in the war in Yemen. The war has been going on since 2015, when a alliance of rebel groups from Yemen’s Shiite communities formed the Houthi movement, which quickly seized control of much of the country. The Houthis effectively toppled the government, prompting a reaction by a coalition of Sunni Arab states, which see the Shiite movement as an Iranian front. In an effort to restore Yemen’s Sunni-dominated government, Western countries have supplied Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with more than $5 billion-worth of weaponry.

However, a report published this week by Amnesty International alleges that some of that weaponry, including machine guns, mortars and even armored vehicles, are being deliberately diverted to Sunni militia groups in Yemen. Among them are three militias that are known to be supported by the government of the Emirates, namely the Giants, the Security Belt and the Shabwani Elite. These groups, says Amnesty, have been seen using Western-supplied weaponry in the field of battle and in their compounds throughout Yemen. In its report, the human-rights group says that these groups are not accountable to any government and have been linked to serious war crimes against civilians. Meanwhile, a separate investigation aired this week by CNN claims that American-manufactured weaponry and materiel given by Washington to the Saudi and Emirati militaries is ending up in the hand of Salafist militias in Yemen. The report names the Sunni Abu al-Abbas Brigade, which is closely linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The CNN report also claims that some of the American weaponry has fallen in the hands of Houthi fighters.

On Wednesday the BBC quoted a senior American general who said that the Pentagon plans to investigate whether American and other Western-supplied weapons are being illegally diverted into the hands of non-state Sunni militias in Yemen. The government of the United Arab Emirates has not commented on the reports. As intelNews reported last August, an investigative report published by the Associated Press claimed that senior AQAP commanders were on the payroll of US-backed Sunni militias in Yemen and that its fighters were being recruited to fight against the Houthis. The report also argued that Washington was privy to the secret agreements between Yemen’s Sunni militias and AQAP.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 February 2019 | Permalink

Japanese police investigate online sale of uranium on Yahoo! auction website

Uranium yellow cakePolice in Japan are investigating how a man was able to offer uranium for sale through an online auction website operated by Yahoo!, a California-based provider of Internet services. Japanese news agencies reported on Friday that the alleged product was displayed packed inside a transparent glass tube on the online auctions site. It was advertised as “Uranium 99.9%”. There was no information about the sale’s starting price on Yahoo! Auctions. The website, Yahoo! Kantan Kessai, is a rare remnant of the California-based company’s worldwide auction service, which terminated its operations in most countries between 2002 and 2008. But smaller segments survive in Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong.

In November 2017, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority was notified by a user that a product described as “Uranium 99.9%” was on offer on the auction website. After investigating the case, the agency notified the police in January of the following year, which in turn contacted Yahoo! and brought the auction to its attention. The incident was not disclosed to the media at the time, so that the police and intelligence services could investigate whether a network of individuals was involved in the case. Meanwhile, the seller and several individuals who had made bids on the product were arrested and questioned. The substance was confiscated and given to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency for tests. According to local media reports, initial tests conducted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency showed that the substance is indeed radioactive. Further tests showed that the material is uranium, as advertised, though a question remains as to whether it is depleted uranium or uranium concentrate. It is not known whether the uranium is enriched (thus having an increased percent composition of uranium-235 through isotope separation) or depleted (the less radioactive byproduct of the process of isotope separation).

Reports also suggest that the main suspect in the case told authorities that he acquired the uranium from a seller located outside Japan, who sold it on an international auction website. Reports suggest that, depending on the outcome of ongoing laboratory results, the seller of the substance faces imprisonment of up to a year and a fine of up to ¥1 million (less than $10,000).

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 February 2019 | Permalink

Pakistan dismantled ‘major international spy network’, say media reports [updated]

Pakistan Federal Investigation AgencyMedia reports in Pakistan claimed yesterday that “an international spying network” had been dismantled in the country following the arrests of at least five intelligence officials who were working for foreign interests. According to The News International, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, the arrests were carried out earlier this week by the Federal Investigation Agency, the country’s primary counterintelligence agency. Those arrested were allegedly members of Pakistan’s intelligence and security forces, it said. They reportedly include a Pakistani official with diplomatic credentials who was serving in a Pakistani embassy “in a European capital”. [Update: by 1700 EST on Friday, the article on The News International website had been taken down; but an English-language summary of the article can still be found on this website].

The report did not specify the foreign intelligence agency for which the Pakistani officials were allegedly working. But it said that it belonged to one of “the world’s most powerful countries”. It added that the network had been “completely dismantled” following a counterintelligence operation that an unnamed source described to the paper as “remarkable”. As a result, the adversary spy network in Pakistan had been “crippled […] completely”, added The News International.

The conservative-leaning paper, which supports Pakistan’s new center-right Prime Minister Imran Khan, hinted that the alleged spy network may have been working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. It said that the agency that was involved in running the spy ring had been allowed by the government of Pakistan to “roam free” inside Pakistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Its case officers had been allowed to recruit agents in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region in the northwest of the country that is seen as a Taliban stronghold. The paper also protested against prior arrangements that permitted the foreign agency’s case officers to enter and leave Pakistan “with no scrutiny of their luggage”. It added that the government of Prime Minister Khan decided to move against this and other spy networks run by the foreign intelligence agency after it determined that these networks were “working for the interests of that agency in Pakistan and not for Pakistan’s national interests”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2019 | Permalink

Morton Sobell, convicted of conspiracy in the Rosenberg espionage case, dies at 101

Morton SobellMorton Sobell, an American radar engineer who in 1951 was convicted of conspiracy alongside Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in one of the Cold War’s most prominent espionage cases, has died at 101 years old. His death was announced yesterday by his son, Mark, who also said that his father died on December 26 last year at a nursing home, but that the family had not alerted the media.

Sobell was born in New York’s Manhattan Island in 1917 and worked on radar tracking systems for defense contractors. During college, he and several of his friends, including fellow-engineer Julius Rosenberg, joined the United States Communist Party, partly in reaction to the Great Depression. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation began to arrest members of what the United States government claimed was a Soviet atomic spy ring led by Rosenberg, Sobell escaped with his family to Mexico, where he used a fake identity to evade the authorities. But he was dramatically abducted by a paramilitary force and surrendered to the FBI.

He was then tried alongside Rosenberg and his wife Ethel for conspiracy to commit acts of espionage. The Rosenbergs refused to cooperate with the FBI and were sentenced to death. Both were executed in 1953 and remain to this day the only American citizens to have been executed for espionage after the Civil War. Sobel was found guilty of the lesser charge of conspiracy and no evidence was presented in court that connected him to atomic espionage. He was therefore sentenced to 30 years in prison and served 18 of those, following a successful public-relations campaign organized by his wife, Hellen. He was released from prison in 1969 and continued to insist that he had never been a spy and had been wrongly convicted of conspiracy.

But in 2008, at the age of 91, Sobell spoke to The New York Times and publicly admitted for the first time that he had been a spy for the Soviet Union. He said that he had worked systematically to provide Moscow with information on weapons systems and other classified technologies. However, he had “never thought of it” as spying, he said. He also told The Times that he had developed a favorable impression of Soviet communism during the Great Depression, when he and many others saw the Soviet economic system as an antidote to crisis-ridden capitalism. “Now I know it was an illusion”, he told the paper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 January 2019 | Permalink

Hundreds of MI5 officers prepare for Brexit violence in Northern Ireland

New IRAThe British Security Service (MI5) has over 700 officers —more than 20 percent of its entire force— stationed in Northern Ireland, due to fears that the Brexit process might reignite the centuries-long sectarian conflict there. In 1922, nationalist rebels managed to dislodge Ireland from the British Empire. But six counties in Ireland’s north remained under British dominion, and today form the British territory of Northern Ireland. Irish nationalists have for decades engaged in an unsuccessful campaign —at times peaceful and at times violent— to unite these counties with the Republic of Ireland. Following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, nationalist and British loyalist groups in Northern Ireland terminated their armed operations and entered the political arena, effectively sharing power in the British territory. The integration of Ireland and Britain into the European Union helped in that process by effectively bringing to an end border checks between the two countries. Thus, pro-British loyalists continued to live under British rule, while nationalists have been able to cross from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic and back without restrictions, as if the two states were effectively unified.

But this open-border regime is about to change once Britain leaves the European Union in March. Many fear that the reinstated border will remind nationalist communities in the North that the island of Ireland remains partitioned and will thus reignite secessionist sentiments. A few days ago, the London-based newspaper The Daily Mail cited an unnamed “counterterrorism source” who said that MI5, Britain’s primary counterterrorism agency, had stationed a fifth of its force in Northern Ireland. The agency is allegedly monitoring a number of dissident republican groups —a term used to describe armed groups of Irish nationalists who continue to reject the nationalist community’s majority view to endorse the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998. One such group —which is commonly seen as the most formidable in existence today— is the self-described New Irish Republican Army. The New IRA was formed in 2012 when dissident republican cells joined another dissident nationalist group, known as the Real IRA. The new formation is particularly strong in Northern Ireland’s extreme northwest, which includes urban centers like Derry. British security officials believe that the New IRA consists of about 40 hardcore members who are committed to an armed campaign against British rule in the North.

Nearly 50 New IRA militants are currently serving sentences in the British and Irish prison systems, while several raids of New IRA members’ residences and other properties have unearthed weaponry —including fully automatic weapons— and explosives. But the group managed to detonate a car bomb in Derry on January 19 of this year. The bomb employed gas canisters and went off nearly 30 minutes after an unidentified man called a charity shop located nearby and issued a bomb warning. Police officers rushed to the scene and were there when the bomb exploded. There were no injuries, according to reports in local media.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 January 2019 | Permalink

South African probe into murder of Rwandan ex-spy chief unearths new evidence

Patrick KaregeyaA public inquest into the 2014 killing of a Rwandan dissident and former spy chief, who had been given political asylum in South Africa, has unearthed evidence showing that South African authorities believed the killers had close links to the government of Rwanda. It also appears that the South Africans chose not to prosecute the killers in order to protect their diplomatic ties with the Rwandan government. Patrick Karegeya was a leading member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was founded in 1987 in Uganda by Rwandan Tutsi refugees. In 1994, the RPA, led by Paul Kagame, took control of Rwanda, thus putting an end to the genocide of up to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Soon afterwards Karegeya was named Director General of External Intelligence in the RPA, which was renamed to Rwandan Defense Forces.

In 2004 however, after falling out with Kagame, who had become President of Rwanda in 2000, Karegeya was arrested, stripped of his rank of colonel, and served 18 months in prison for “insubordination and desertion”. He fled the country in 2007 and received political asylum in South Africa. In 2011, the Rwandan government issued an international arrest warrant for Karegeya, but South Africa refused to extradite him. His body was discovered on December 31, 2014, in a room at the Michelangelo Towers Hotel in Sandton, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. He was 53.

Earlier this month, in response to pressures from Karegeya’s family and human rights groups, the government of South Africa began a formal inquest into the murder, in anticipation of launching a possible court case. Earlier this week, the magistrate in charge of the inquest, Mashiane Mathopa, made public a previously secret letter from the South African prosecutor’s office about Karegeya’s murder. In the letter, dated June 5, 2018, explains the prosecutor’s decision to “decline at this stage” to prosecute the murder. The decision rests on two arguments. The first argument is that the four men who were believed to have killed Karegeya had already “left South Africa and returned to Rwanda”. The second argument is that there were “close links […] between the suspects and the current Rwandan government”.

On Monday, Mathopa suggested that the South African authorities may have decided not to investigate Karegeya’s murder in order to “help repair” South Africa’s bilateral relations with Rwanda. He then halted the inquest and gave police officials two weeks to “explain their failure to prosecute” Karegeya’s alleged murderers. He also requested detailed information about the “steps, if any, [that] have been taken to arrest the four suspects […], since their whereabouts and their identity are known” to the authorities. Supporters of the inquest said earlier this week that Mathopa could potentially order a trial of the case, which might lead to a formal request made by South Africa for Rwanda to extradite the four men implicated in the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2019 | Permalink