Allegations of espionage rock Credit Suisse, as more employees come forward

Credit SuisseCredit Suisse, one of the world’s most powerful banking firms, says it has opened an investigation into claims that it paid private investigators to spy at individuals, just two months after a similar scandal involving espionage and surveillance rocked the company.

In October of this year, two senior Credit Suisse executives resigned amidst a high-stakes espionage scandal, which may have prompted a suicide. The alleged target of the espionage was Iqbal Khan, the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Credit Suisse’s wealth-management division. Khan alleged that he was spied on by private investigators, paid for by Credit Suisse, after leaving the firm. One of the private investigators involved in the case, described as “an external security expert” who mediated between Credit Suisse and the investigation firm, committed suicide.

At the time, Credit Suisse described the surveillance on Khan as “strictly an isolated incident”. However, on December 11, The Wall Street Journal published allegations by another Credit Suisse executive, Colleen Graham, who said that she had been spied on after leaving her job at the firm. She alleged that she underwent three days of intensive surveillance by persons unknown in July of 2017. Credit Suisse was dismissive of Graham’s claims, saying that they were baseless.

But on Wednesday the firm announced the launching of a new probe after a third employee, who used to work directly under Credit Suisse Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam, alleged that he too had been spied on. The allegations were made by Peter Goerke, and were the subject of a headline article by the respected Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The article was accompanied by documents and photographs submitted by Goerke, which are said to support his claims.

There are now concerns that spying on former and current employees may have been a standard operating procedure at Credit Suisse. In an article published on Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal said that the alleged incidents “highlight the ethical and reputational pitfalls companies encounter when they physically monitor employees”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2019 | Permalink

German government to hire 600 new officers to help monitor far-right activity

German Federal Criminal Police OfficeThe German government has announced plans to hire hundreds of new police and intelligence officers, in order to step up its monitoring of violent far-right groups in the country. The announcement came at a press conference hosted on Tuesday in Berlin by Horst Seehofer, Germany’s Interior Minister.

Seehofer told reporters that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution —BfV, Germany’s domestic intelligence and counterterrorism agency— would hire 300 new officers whose job will be to focus on domestic far-right extremism. The German Federal Criminal Police Office will hire an additional 300 offers for the same purpose, added Seehofer. With these additional 600 officers, federal authorities will be able to increase their monitoring of far-right political groups, football fan clubs, far-right websites, and other hubs of far-right activity, said the minister.

German authorities estimate that there are 12,000 committed far-right extremists in the country who are willing and able to carry out violent attacks inside Germany or abroad. However, nearly 50 percent of actual attacks by adherents of far-right ideologies that have taken place in Germany in recent years have been carried out by individuals who were not on the radar of the police and intelligence services.

In addition to hiring 300 new intelligence officers, the BfV will set up a new “Central Office for Far Right Extremism in Public Service”, whose task will be to uncover adherents of far-right ideologies working in government agencies. The new office will concentrate its investigations on the police, the military and other government bodies.

During his press conference on Tuesday, Minister Seehofer stressed that the intensification of investigations into far-right terrorism would not happen at the expense of probing political violence from the far left and Islamist extremists.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 December 2019 | Permalink

Denmark arrests 22 in counter-terrorism raids, allegedly with help from Israel

Danish policeLast Thursday Danish authorities arrested 22 terrorism suspects in early morning raids across the country. Reports from Israel suggest that the raids were carried out following a tip from Israeli intelligence. The 22 suspects include men and women. Danish police said they were involved in the final stages of a plot to carry out attacks “in Denmark or abroad”, but have provided no specific information, except to say that the attacks were “thwarted” while they were well underway.

Danish media reported that the early-morning raids by police and intelligence personnel resulted in the arrest of 22 individuals. These have not yet been named in accordance with Denmark’s strict privacy laws. Among them are four men between 21 and 25 years of age, and a 38-year-old woman. All were remanded in a court in Copenhagen on Thursday and Friday of last week. A sixth individual, aged 28, was remanded to custody separately from the other five. His hearing was reportedly held in secret, and no information other than his age and gender has been made public.

The six suspects are accused of trying to build bombs using triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosive. They are also accused of trying to purchase guns, ammunition and sound suppressors, commonly known as silencers. Danish police said the suspects planned to use the explosives and guns “in connection with one or more terrorist attacks inside Denmark or abroad”. However, no further information has been provided about the targets of the alleged terrorist plot.

Meanwhile on Saturday, Israel’s Channel 12 television claimed that the Danish counter-terrorism raids were sparked by information provided to Danish authorities by the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency. The channel, a popular privately owned television station, did not provide evidence of the claim, or any specific information about the alleged intelligence tip.

Danish police said on Monday that 16 of those arrested last week have been released, but remain suspects in the investigation. The remaining six suspects all pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism on Saturday. They will remain in prison on pre-trial custody while the authorities continue to investigate the alleged terrorist plot.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 December 2019 | Permalink

US expels Chinese diplomats for the first time since 1987

Chinese embassy in the United StatesThe United States quietly expelled two Chinese diplomats in October of this year, a move that neither Washington nor Beijing chose to make public, according to a report published on Sunday. If true, the incident would signify the first known expulsions of Chinese diplomatic personnel from the US since 1987.

The incident was reported by The New York Times, which cited “six people with knowledge of the expulsions”. It said that the expulsions were triggered by an incident that took place in September in the US state of Virginia. It involved at least two Chinese diplomats stationed in Washington, who allegedly attempted to enter “a sensitive installation” near the city of Norfolk. The paper did not name the installation, but said that it belongs to the US Armed Forces and is also used by members of Special Operations forces.

According to the American side, a car carrying the Chinese diplomats and their spouses drove up to one of the checkpoints of the military installation. Upon realizing that the car’s passengers did not have permission to enter the base, the guard at the checkpoint asked the driver to proceed through the gated entry and immediately turn around, thus exiting the base. But the car allegedly drove straight into the base and did not slow down after military personnel pursued it. It came to a stop only after several fire trucks blocked its way.

Once apprehended, the car’s passengers claimed that their knowledge of English was limited and had thus misunderstood the instructions given to them by the guard at the entrance to the base. The New York Times reported that this explanation was echoed by associates of the Chinese diplomats, who said that they were on “a sightseeing tour when they accidentally drove onto the base”.

But US officials told The Times they are skeptical of that explanation, and suspect the Chinese diplomats were trying to assess the physical security of the installation. Moreover, at least one of the Chinese diplomats was allegedly an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover —a clue that heightened the skepticism of American officials.

Interestingly, although it complained about the expulsions of its diplomats following the incident in Virginia, Beijing did not retaliate, as is customary in such cases. Therefore, no American diplomats or intelligence officers have been expelled from China in response to Washington’s move. The last time the US expelled Chinese diplomats from its soil was in 1987, when two employees of the Chinese embassy in Washington —almost certainly intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover— were declared personae non gratae.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 December 2019 | Permalink

Germany convicts married couple of spying for Indian intelligence service

Manmohan S. Kanwal Jit K.A court in Frankfurt has found a married couple guilty of spying in Germany on behalf of India’s external intelligence service. Due to Germany’s strict privacy laws, the couple have been identified only as 50-year-old Manmohan S. and his wife, Kanwal Jit K., who is 51.

According to the prosecution, Manmohan S. was recruited by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in January of 2015. His wife joined his intelligence-collection activities in July 2017. Following their arrest, the couple told German authorities that they held regular meetings with a RAW case officer who was serving as a diplomat in the Indian consulate in Frankfurt. They also said they were paid nearly $8,000 for their services.

The two convicted spies said at their trial that they were tasked to spy on adherents of the Sikh religion and members of the Kashmiri expatriate community in Germany. The central European country is believed to host as many as 20,000 Indian Sikhs, many of whom openly proclaim secessionist aspirations. Many Sikhs in India and abroad campaign for the creation of a Sikh state in parts of northwestern India and Pakistan, which they call Khalistan. India is also concerned about the secessionist aspirations of Kashmiris, a predominantly Muslim population of 10 million that lives in the region of Jammu and Kashmir. Delhi has long claimed that expatriate groups living in Europe and the United States provide funding for secessionist groups that operate in the region.

On Thursday, Frankfurt’s Higher Regional Court found the couple guilty of conducting illegal espionage activities on German soil. It handed Manmohan S. a one-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence, while Kanwal Jit K. was given a fine that equates to 180 days of income.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 December 2019 | Permalink

Belgian university shuts down Chinese-funded institute due to espionage claims

Xinning SongOne of Belgium’s leading universities has decided to shut down a research institute funded by the Chinese government, after the Belgian intelligence service accused its director of spying on behalf of Beijing. The news was announced on Wednesday by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), one of Belgium’s leading higher-education institutions. The Confucius Institute has been operated at VUB since 2006. But the university’s board of directors now says that it will not be renewing its contact with the Institute in 2020.

The Confucius Institute at VUB is one of more than 500 such research bodies that the government of China has funded around the world since 2004. Their mission is to promote the language and culture of China to the world. However, numerous academic institutions in Japan, Canada, and a number of European countries, have recently shut down Confucius Institute branches, following allegations that their staff members carried out espionage tasks, or tried to stifle academic research critical of China. In Europe alone, the University of Lyon in France, Stockholm University in Sweden, and Holland’s University of Leiden have all recently terminated their cooperation with the Confucius Institute.

In October of this year, Belgium’s State Security Service (VSSE) concluded that the VUB Confucius Institute director, Dr. Song Xinning, carried out espionage tasks on behalf of the Chinese government. As a result, the Belgian government refused to renew the work visa of Dr. Song, who had lived in Belgium for over a decade. Additionally, the Chinese academic was barred from entering the European Union’s Schengen Area —which comprises 26 European countries— for eight years.

Dr. Song alleges that his work visa was revoked after he refused to cooperate with an American diplomat stationed in Brussels. He also denies that he was ever in the service of Chinese intelligence or the Chinese state. But the VUB appears to have sided with the Belgian government in this dispute. The university annulled its contract with Dr. Song and, as of January, will be terminating its relationship with the Confucius Institute. In a press statement published online, VUB Rector Caroline Pauwels said that the work of the Confucius Institute did not meet the “current policy objectives” of the university.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 December 2019 | Permalink

Victor Sheymov, among Cold War’s most important KGB defectors, dies at 73

Victor SheymovVictor Ivanovich Sheymov, who is often referred to as one of the most important intelligence defectors of the Cold War, has reportedly died in the American state of Virginia. He was one of the most senior officials in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security (KGB) to ever defect to the West, and revealed important KGB secrets to the United States.

Sheymov was born in 1946 to a family of elite Soviet scientists. His father was an engineer and his mother a doctor specializing in cardiology. A gifted mathematician and student-athlete, Sheymov was recruited into the KGB almost as soon as he graduated from the elite Bauman Moscow State Technical University, where he majored in engineering. By his early 30s, Sheymov had risen to the rank of major under the KGB’s Eighth Chief Directorate, which handled secret communications systems. He oversaw a large unit that monitored the flow of information between the KGB’s headquarters and the agency’s operatives around the world. In later years, Sheymov was assigned code-breaking and counter-espionage tasks, and oversaw the preparation of daily classified briefings for the Politburo —the Communist Party’s highest policy-making body.

But in the 1970s Sheymov grew disillusioned with Soviet politics, and began to feel slighted by the infighting and incompetence inside the KGB. While visiting Poland on KGB business, he volunteered his services to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by walking into the US embassy in Warsaw. The CIA eventually gave him the cryptonym CKUTOPIA and, after verifying his senior status inside the KGB, exfiltrated him to the United States along with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. His was the first known instance of a successful CIA exfiltration of a defector from Soviet territory.

After spending several months being debriefed and polygraphed at a CIA safe house, Sheymov and his family were given new identities and US citizenship. But the defector decided to emerge from hiding in 1990, as the USSR was dissolving. In his book about his espionage work and defection, titled Tower of Secrets, Sheymov said he informed the CIA about the KGB’s unsuccessful plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and about the successful operation to assassinate Afghan President Hafizullah Amin in 1979. His insights were also instrumental in the decision of the US State Department to demolish the US embassy in Moscow, due to fears about the presence of listening devices planted inside the building’s walls by Soviet builders. The building was eventually replaced with another structure built by vetted American workers.

Sheymov was awarded the US Intelligence Medal and lived the rest of his life in America, where he headed a computer security company. He died on October 18 in Vienna, Virginia, but his death was not publicly reported until this week. Sheymov’s wife told reporters that he died from health complications arising from chronic pulmonary disease.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 December 2019 | Permalink