Australian spies helped expose secret pact between China and Solomon Islands

Honiara Solomon IslandsAUSTRALIAN INTELLIGENCE HAD A role in the mysterious disclosure of a secret memorandum about a controversial defense pact between China and the Solomon Islands, which is causing consternation in the West. Western leaders claim that the pact will turn the tiny Melanesian nation into a logistical hub for Chinese warships in a strategic region of the Pacific Ocean. The pact also stipulates a training role for Chinese police and military personnel, who are called to “assist […] in maintaining social order” in the island nation.

The Solomon Islands is an archipelago consisting of nearly 1,000 islands of various sizes in an area northwest of Vanuatu and east of Papua New Guinea. It gained its independence from Britain in the mid-1970s. Australia has historically provided security for this island nation of 700,000 inhabitants, which has no standing military. However, China has become a dominant player in Solomon Islands politics in recent years. In 2019, the government of the island nation abruptly withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and aligned itself with Beijing.

The move sparked concerns in Malaita, the Solomons’ largest island, which is home to a sizeable Chinese community. There were demonstrations against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara (pictured). Eventually, the demonstrators attempted to storm the Parliament and depose Sogavare’s administration by force. There were also attacks on Chinese-owned businesses in the capital, as well as on a number of police stations, which were set on fire. Eventually, Australian, New Zealander, Papuan and Fijian troops restored order in downtown Honiara.

In late March, the text of a defense pact between the Solomon Islands and China appeared online. The pact centers on law enforcement and military cooperation, involving training programs and joint exercises between the two nations. Some Western nations, including New Zealand, Australia and the United States, are concerned about the possibility that China could use the agreement to build a military base in the Solomon Islands. The island nation is strategically located near Australia and New Zealand, as well as near the island of Guam, which hosts a large American military base.

On Sunday, several Australian newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported that intelligence agencies in Australia were aware of plans by the governments of China and the Solomon Islands to sign the pact. According to “[m]ultiple government and security sources”, Australian spies had known about the pact “for months”. In March, they decided to “encourage a leak from within the Solomons” in an effort to sabotage the planned deal. According to reports, the hope was that the revelation would “build domestic and international pressure to get the Solomons to change course”.

It appears, however, that the leak of the secret document was not sufficient to dissuade the government of the Solomon Islands to back away from the agreement. Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare eventually signed the agreement with China, arguing that it would “improve the quality of lives” of his people and would “address soft and hard security threats facing the country”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 April 2022 | Permalink

British government phones were hacked with Pegasus spy software, group claims

NSO GroupTELEPHONE SYSTEMS BELONGING TO the British government were compromised by the Pegasus surveillance software, according to a Canadian research group. The allegation was made on Monday in an investigative report by The New Yorker, which focuses on NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based near Tel Aviv. The company is behind the development of Pegasus, which is arguably the most powerful telecommunications surveillance software available in the private sector.

As intelNews and others have previously reported, Pegasus is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users to click a link or download an application. Upon installation, the software provides the spying party with near-complete control of a targeted telephone. This includes the ability to browse through the device’s contents, such as photographs and videos, record conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user’s consent or knowledge.

According to The New Yorker, the information about the use of Pegasus software against British government telephone networks was disclosed by the Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. The research unit said it notified the British government in 2020 and 2021 that a number of its telephone networks had been infected with the Pegasus software. The compromised networks were allegedly being used by officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as in 10 Downing Street, which houses the office of the prime minister.

The article claims that the compromise originated from users in the United Arab Emirates, as well as users in India, Cyprus and Jordan. This does not necessarily mean that malicious actors from these countries penetrated the British government’s telephone systems. These could be spies of third countries operating abroad; alternatively, there could be a link to unsuspecting British diplomats, whose government-issue cell phones were compromised by Pegasus in foreign countries. The Citizen Lab said it could not be sure about what kind of data may have been compromised as a result of the penetration.

NSO Group Technologies was among two Israeli firms that the US Department of Commerce placed on a sanctions list in November of 2021. According to a statement issued by the US government, the two firms engaged “in activities that [were] contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2022 | Permalink

China steps up ‘people’s war’ against alleged Western espionage offensive

Supreme People’s ProcuratorateCHINESE STATE-OWNED MEDIA has stepped up warnings of an alleged Western espionage offensive, to mark China’s annual “national security education day”, a new initiative promoted by the Chinese Communist Party (CPC). The decision to designate April 15 “national security education day” was adopted by the CPC in 2015, during its 12th National People’s Congress. Since then, the Chinese government has promoted the day as an effort to create a “positive atmosphere of national security” across the nation.

In recent months, Beijing has called on the country’s citizens to combat an alleged espionage offensive against China. According to Chinese officials, the alleged offensive is being led by the United States. Chinese citizens are being called to “wage a people’s war” against foreign espionage, by reporting suspicious activities by foreigners and locals alike to the authorities.

The call to war against alleged espionage follows a resolution by the CPC in November of last year, which critiqued the country’s inability to maintain a high level of national security. The resolution called on various elements of the government and general population to address the nation’s “ability to respond to various major risks […] and the coordination mechanisms for maintaining national security”. Notably, the resolution described these efforts as “currently not strong”.

On Friday, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), China’s highest government agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity, issued a call to Chinese citizens to be watchful of using “popular social media platforms”. The SPP noted that such platforms had become “a hotbed for the infiltration of foreign hostile forces”. The warning made special mention of employment and dating websites, which prayed on “students, migrant workers and unemployed youth who know little about national security”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 April 2022 | Permalink

Dozens purged as Kremlin blames Russian spy services for botched Ukraine invasion

FSB - IAMore than 150 officers have been purged form the ranks of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), as President Vladimir Putin is placing blame on his intelligence agencies for the setbacks experienced during the invasion of Ukraine. This assessment was communicated to the London-based Times newspaper by British intelligence sources, who added that many of those purged have been dismissed from the service, while others remain under house arrest. A few —among them senior FSB officials— are in prison. The FSB is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence operations, which were carried out by the KGB during the Cold War.

According to The Times, the purge has mostly targeted officers in the FSB’s Service for Operational Information and International Communications, which is informally known as the Fifth Service of the FSB. As intelNews has previously explained, the FSB’s Fifth Service was established in 1992 in order to fill the vacuum created by a host of no-spy agreements between Moscow and the governments of former Soviet Republics. These agreements prevent Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) from spying inside the territories of former Soviet states.

By 1995, the Fifth Service had become known as the “foreign spy wing” of the FSB. It grew in size drastically after 1999, and some claim it “graduated into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial gendarme”. Today, the Fifth Service is reportedly in charge of Kremlin’s “kill list” of Ukrainian senior officials and other dissidents who live in Ukraine. Until recently, the Fifth Service was led by Sergei Beseda and Anatoly Bolyukh (or Bolukh).

However, The Times claims that both officials have been dismissed from their posts in recent weeks. Initially, the Russian government claimed that Beseda had embezzled funds, and placed him under house arrest. He has since been transferred to a prison, according to the paper, and has now been formally charged with misinforming the Kremlin about the conditions on the ground in Ukraine. Bolyukh has been dismissed from his post but is reportedly not in prison. His current whereabouts remain unclear.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 April 2022 | Permalink

American computer programmer jailed for giving technical know-how to North Korea

North Korea PyongyangAN AMERICAN COMPUTER PROGRAMMER has been jailed for 63 months for providing “highly technical information” to North Korea, which related to cryptocurrency systems, according to United States officials. The programmer, Virgil Griffith, 39, also known as “Romanpoet”, became widely known in the early 2000s, when he began describing himself as a “disruptive technologist”. He later consulted with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies in the area of the dark web and cryptocurrencies.

In later years, however, Griffith developed what his lawyer described as a “curiosity bordering on obsession” with North Korea. The FBI arrested Griffith in November of 2019, accusing him of deliberately providing the North Korean government with “highly technical information” relating to blockchain and cryptocurrency systems. According to US government prosecutors, Griffith committed a crime when he delivered an invited presentation at an international conference on cryptocurrencies in Pyongyang, North Korea, in April of 2019.

Prior to attending the conference, Griffith had been barred from traveling to North Korea by the United States Department of State. He managed to get there anyway and, according to US prosecutors, “advised more than 100 people” on the use of cryptocurrencies to evade banking regulations and international sanctions. Griffith should have known that many of those he spoke to were employees of the North Korean government, US prosecutors said. They argued that Griffith’s actions amounted to an illegal transfer of highly technical knowledge. By attending the conference, Griffith essentially provided services to a foreign power that is hostile to the United States, prosecutors claimed.

Griffith has been given a 63-month prison sentence, which will be followed by a 3-year supervised release. He has also been fined $100,000. As intelNews has previously reported, a United Nations report warned earlier this year that the North Korean missile program has developed rapidly in recent times, partly due to an influx of stolen cryptocurrency, which has now become “an important revenue source” for Pyongyang.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 April 2022 | Permalink

Leaked plan for China-Solomon Islands security alliance raises concerns in the Pacific

Manasseh Sogavare Solomon IslandsA LEAKED PLAN FOR a security alliance between China and the small Melanesian nation of the Solomon Islands has sparked concerns about a large-scale military buildup by regional powers in the South Pacific. The draft agreement, which was leaked online last week, appears to turn the Solomon Islands into a logistical hub for Chinese warships. It also stipulates a training role for Chinese police and military personnel, who are called to “assist […] in maintaining social order” in the island nation.

The Solomon Islands is an archipelago consisting of six major and nearly 1,000 smaller islands in an area northwest of Vanuatu and east of Papua New Guinea. It gained its independence from Britain in the mid-1970s. Australia has historically provided security for this island nation of 700,000 inhabitants, which has no standing military. However, China has become a dominant player in Solomon Islands politics in recent years. In 2019, the government of the island nation abruptly withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and aligned itself with Beijing.

The move sparked concerns in Malaita, the Solomon Islands’ largest island, which is home to a sizeable Chinese community. There were demonstrations against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (pictured) in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. Eventually, the demonstrators attempted to storm the Parliament and depose Sogavare’s administration. There were also attacks on Chinese-owned businesses in Honiara, as well as on a number of police stations, which were set on fire. Eventually, Australian, New Zealander, Papuan and Fijian troops restored order in Honiara.

Tensions have risen again in recent weeks, however, after Sogavare’s government signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China. The memorandum centers on law enforcement and military cooperation, involving training programs and joint exercises between the two nations. The Solomon Islands government described the MOU as “necessary” to allow it to quell “recurring internal violence” in Honiara and elsewhere. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the MOU as an agreement that “aims to maintain the safety of people’s lives and property”. Read more of this post

Security guard at British embassy in Berlin charged with spying for Russia

British embassy in BerlinA BRITISH CITIZEN, WHO worked as a security guard at the British embassy in Berlin, has been charged with spying for the Russian intelligence services. Authorities in the United Kingdom announced on Wednesday that David Ballantyne Smith, 57, who lives in Potsdam, Germany, has been charged on nine different offenses under the 1911 Official Secrets Act.

The BBC reports that Smith was arrested by Germany’s Federal Police on August 10 of last year. Shortly after his arrest, German counterintelligence officers searched Smith’s home and office, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Smith has now been charged with offenses relating “to the collection and communication of information useful to the Russian state”.

On Wednesday evening, Smith was flown to the United Kingdom. He is scheduled to appear before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court later today. According to the CPS, Smith engaged in espionage for Russia between October 2020 and his arrest in August of 2021. He is accused of having committed seven offenses during that time, which relate to the collection of information with the intent of passing it on to the Russian state. Smith has also been charged with attempting to communicate information to Russian government agents, as well as with providing information to an individual he believed worked for Russian intelligence.

According to British television channel SkyNews, Smith was the subject of a joint counterintelligence operation by Britain’s Security Service (MI5) and Germany’s Federal Police. No information is currently available about the type of information Smith is accused of having collected on behalf of Russia. It is also not known whether Smith’s alleged Russian handler(s) were identified during the counterintelligence operation that led to his arrest.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 April 2022 | Permalink

Russian diplomats expelled from Ireland ‘met with members of paramilitary groups’

Russian embassy IrelandFOUR RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS, WHO Ireland claims are undercover intelligence officers, met with Irish paramilitaries as part of a wider plan to “stoke political unrest” in Britain and Ireland, according to a new report. In a press conference held in Dublin last week, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin announced that his government would expel four employees of the Russian Embassy there.

Martin did not provide details about the Russian diplomats, nor did he give their names. He said, however, that his administration had been provided with detailed information about the activities of the Russians by members of the National Crime and Security Intelligence Service of the An Garda Síochána (police service of the Republic of Ireland) and the Defence Intelligence Section of the Irish Armed Forces.

On Monday, an article by the London-based Times newspaper alleged that a major reason why Dublin decided to expel the Russian diplomats was their “efforts to cultivate contacts with dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries” in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, which is British soil. The Russian diplomats began meeting dissident republicans under the pretext of attending lectures and presentations on Irish history in Dublin and elsewhere, The Times said.

According to the paper, the activities of the Russian diplomats were part of a wider campaign by Russian intelligence to “undermine confidence” in European institutions, by exploiting nationalist tensions stirred by Britain’s recent exit from the European Union. The effort is being led by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, which is widely known by its Cold War-era initials, GRU. The spy agency is in charge of a campaign to amplify the voices of republican and loyalist paramilitary groups on social media and other platforms, in order to undermine regional security, The Times said.

The paper added that at least one of the four expelled Russian diplomats is believed to be an intelligence officer for the GRU. IntelNews has discussed previously a number of concerns among Irish officials regarding the size of the Russian embassy in Dublin. Many believe that Moscow intends to turn its embassy in the Irish capital into a major espionage hub in Europe. In 2018, the Irish government denied a request by Moscow to expand its embassy complex by 86,000 sq ft.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 April 2022 | Permalink

Several EU member states expel dozens of Russian diplomats for suspected espionage

Russian Embassy PragueA WEEK AFTER POLAND announced the expulsion of 45 Russian diplomats, the foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and the Netherlands announced on March 29, 2022 that they would expel Russian diplomats. A day later, Slovakia followed up by announcing it will expel 35 Russian diplomats. On Monday, April 4, France, Germany and Lithuania followed suit with dozens of expulsions.

The German federal government announced it will expel 40 Russian diplomats who, according to minister of foreign affairs Annalena Baerbock, “worked every day against our freedom and against the cohesion of our society”, and are “a threat to those who seek our protection”. The persons involved have five days to leave Germany. Later that day, France announced it will expel “many” Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to our security interests”, adding that “this action is part of a European approach”. No further details are known at this time.
Furthermore, Lithuania ordered the Russian ambassador to Vilnius to leave the country, and announced their ambassador to Ukraine will return to Kyiv. In an official statement, foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Lithuania was “lowering the level of diplomatic representation with Russia, this way expressing its full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who are suffering from Russia’s unprecedented aggression”. Meanwhile, Latvian minister of foreign affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs announced in a tweet that Latvia will “limit diplomatic relations” with the Russian Federation “taking into account the crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”, and that “specific decisions will be announced once internal procedures have been complete”.

The Czech Republic, which in 2021 called on the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity against Moscow, announced the expulsion of one diplomat from the Russian embassy in Prague, on a 72-hour notice. In a tweet, the Czech ministry of foreign affairs stated that “Together with our Allies, we are reducing the Russian intelligence presence in the EU”.

Belgium has order the expulsion of 21 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Brussels and consulate in Antwerp. Minister Sophie Wilmès said the measure was taken to protect national security and was unrelated to the war in Ukraine. “Diplomatic channels with Russia remain open, the Russian embassy can continue to operate and we continue to advocate dialogue”, Wilmès said.

The Netherlands will be expelling 17 diplomats from the Russian embassy in The Hague. According to minister Wopke Hoekstra, the diplomats were secretly active as intelligence officers. Hoekstra based this on information from the Dutch secret services AIVD and MIVD. The Russian embassy in The Hague has 75 registered diplomats, of which 58 will remain. Hoekstra says the decision was taken with “a number of like-minded countries”, based on grounds of national security. Like his Belgian colleague, Woekstra adds he wants diplomatic channels with Russia to remain open.

Ireland will be expelling four “senior officials” from the Russian embassy in Dublin, for engaging in activities “not […] in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”. They were suspected of being undercover military officers of the GRU and were already on the radar of Garda Síochána, the Irish national police and security service, for some time.

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France’s military intelligence chief fired ‘for failing to warn about Ukraine war’

Éric VidaudTHE DIRECTOR OF FRANCE’S military intelligence agency has been asked to resign, allegedly because of his agency’s failure to anticipate the Russian invasion of Ukraine. General Éric Vidaud is a career military officer, who rose through the ranks to command the 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, one of the three units in the French Army Special Forces Command. In 2018, he was placed at the helm of the Special Operations Command, which oversees the joint activities of special forces units from all of France’s military branches. In August of last year, Vidaud assumed command of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM), which operates under France’s Armed Forces Ministry.

On Thursday it was announced that Vidaud will be leaving his post, after just seven months on the job. The official government line is that his departure is part of a wider effort to reorganize the structure of the DRM. But several French news media report that the general is paying the price for the DRM’s failure to anticipate the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Unlike some of its allies, France did not appear to believe that the Kremlin was intent on launching a large-scale conventional military invasion of Ukraine. Two weeks into the war, General Thierry Burkhard, France’s Chief of the Defense Staff (head of the Armed Forces), said in an interview that French military analysts been caught by surprise. They believed that the sheer financial cost of conquering Ukraine “would have been monstrous” for Russia, and that the Kremlin had “other options” to bring down the Ukrainian government.

The assumption that the Russian President Vladimir Putin was bluffing about launching a military invasion of Ukraine led to repeated public statements by his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, who kept assuring the world that a diplomatic solution would eventually be found. Some French media now report that President Macron is blaming the DRM, and General Vidaud personally, for his being led to believe that the Kremlin was bluffing. One report claims that Vidaud has been accused by France’s political leadership of “lacking a mastery of subjects” relating to Russia and Ukraine, and providing Macron with “inadequate briefings” on these subjects.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 April 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian agency publishes personal data of 600 alleged Russian intelligence officers

Kyrylo BudanovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has published a list that contains the names, addresses and passport numbers of 600 Russians, who it alleges are employees of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The FSB is Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, but its personnel also operate in former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. It has been claimed that the FSB is the main source of intelligence that the Kremlin has used to plan and execute the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The list of alleged FSB personnel was published on Monday on the website of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Ukraine’s primary military intelligence agency. The list is titled, “Russian FSB officers involved in criminal activities by the aggressor state in Europe”. Most entries include the names, birth dates and passport numbers of the alleged FSB officers. Their residential addresses are also listed. Some entries include subscriber identity module (SIM) card numbers, as well as vehicle registration numbers. Some observers noted on Monday that at least some of the names on the list appear to come from prior leaks of alleged FSB officers, which have been leaked online over the years. Other listings, however, appear to contain names that were not previously associated with the FSB.

In a separate but potentially related development, Kyrylo Budanov (pictured), the director of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said on Monday that his agency had a number of assets inside the Kremlin. In an interview to an American newsmagazine, Budanov claimed that Ukrainian intelligence had “managed to infiltrate many sectors of Russia’s leading military, political and financial institutions”. He added that the Ukrainian military’s recent combat successes in eastern Ukraine had been achieved due to intelligence supplied by assets inside the Russian government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2022 | Permalink

More Russian spies in Mexico than anywhere else in the world, US official claims

Glen VanHerckTHE PRESIDENT OF MEXICO has stated that his country is “sovereign” in response to comments, made by a senior United States military official, that Mexico hosts more Russian intelligence personnel than any other country in the world. These claims were made on Thursday by US Air Force General Glen VanHerck (pictured), during his appearance before the Senate Committee on Armed Services. General VanHerck is commander of the US Northern Command, which is one of the US Department of Defense’s eleven unified combatant commands.

While speaking at the open-door hearing on Thursday, General VanHerck said the Russian embassy in Mexico City was among the largest in all of Latin America. He added that the embassy hosts an unusually high number of officers of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces. Known by its Russian initials, GRU, the Directorate is Moscow’s primary military intelligence agency. According to General VanHerck, the GRU uses Russian diplomatic facilities in Mexico as a base from which to access the United States.

The general added that Russian and Chinese intelligence operatives were “very aggressive and active” in the entire area that falls under the regional mission of the US Northern Command, including in Caribbean islands, such as the Bahamas. As the intelligence competition between the US and Russia heats up over Ukraine, Latin America and the Caribbean have the potential to attract intelligence personnel from both the United States and Russia.

Speaking on Friday at a scheduled press conference in Mexico City, Mexico’s President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, appeared to evade a question by a journalist about General VanHerck’s allegations. When asked to respond to the allegations, President Obrador said he and his team “don’t have information on this”. He went on to state that Mexico is a “free, independent, sovereign country”, adding that the country’s territory was not a base from which “Moscow […] Beijing or Washington” could “spy on anybody”. The Russian embassy in Mexico City has not yet commented on General VanHerck’s claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2022 | Permalink

Russian defense minister not seen in public since March 11, prompting speculation

Sergei ShoiguRUSSIA’S MINISTER OF DEFENSE, Sergei Shoigu, who has been one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest confidantes for nearly two decades, has not been seen in public for nearly two weeks, prompting speculation that he may be under arrest. Shoigu, 66, was appointed Minister of Defense in 2012. Since then, he has been arguably the most media-friendly member of the Putin administration, and has formed a close alliance between the Russian military and pro-government media outlets.

Once Russian troops invaded Ukraine, on February 24, Shoigu became an almost permanent fixture on pro-Kremlin television channels and radio stations. He gave several interviews each day, and provided incessant public commentary about what the Kremlin termed a “special military operation”. All that ended after March 11, when Shoigu made his last known public appearance. On that day, the RIA Novosti news agency showed him participating in a ceremony to honor Russian soldiers who fought in the invasion of Ukraine.

On March 18, a statement on the website of the Kremlin claimed that Shoigu had taken part in a meeting about Ukraine with senior cabinet officials, which was chaired by with President Putin himself. But no photographs or video footage of the meeting were published. Archive footage of Shoigu was used instead.

As Newsweek reports, a number of Russian investigative reporters are now claiming that Shoigu may have been arrested. The reporters, from banned news outlets like Agentstvo and Mediazona, point out that the absence of Russia’s most senior military official from the public media sphere for nearly two weeks is unusual. It is even more unusual, given that it is happening during a full-scale strategic offensive by the Russian military in Ukraine. Other rumors suggest that Shoigu may be facing health problems, which may include having suffered a hear attack in recent days. He could, therefore, be hospitalized, or even dead.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 March 2022 | Permalink

Ukrainian spy agency sees plot to oust Putin, but West is skeptical of claim

Alexander BortnikovUKRAINE’S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said on Sunday that a plot was underway by senior Russian government officials, with the goal of ousting President Vladimir Putin and entering into a negotiated settlement with the West. However, Western intelligence sources told the United States government-owned Voice of America that claims of a possible coup plot in Moscow were likely part of a Ukrainian information operation aimed at “sow[ing] doubts about loyalty within the top echelons of Putin’s Kremlin”

The initial claim of a coup was made by the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which is Kyiv’s military intelligence agency. In a statement, the spy agency alleged that the coup against President Putin was being planned by “a group of influential figures […] among the Russian business and political elite”. The leaders of the group were “siloviki”—members of the Soviet intelligence and military nomenclature, who rose to power in the 1990s alongside Putin, according to the agency.

These siloviki were oligarchs, business magnates and politicians from the era of Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s predecessor in the Russian presidency. They were allegedly planning to depose Putin “as soon as possible” in a “palace coup” and replace him with his most senior intelligence advisor, Alexander Bortnikov (pictured). Bortnikov is a Soviet-era intelligence operative who today heads the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency.

There are reports that Putin blames the FSB’s substandard intelligence for the botched military campaign in Ukraine, and that he and Bortnikov have fallen out as a result. Meanwhile, several Yeltsin-era oligarchs have begun to voice criticism of the war in Ukraine—among them the banking magnate Mikhail Fridman, the metals mogul Oleg Deripaska, and Oleg Tinkov, who owns a network of banking and investment firms in Russia.

However, in a report published on Tuesday, the Voice of America, which is funded by the United States Department of State, said Western intelligence officials remained unconvinced of Ukraine’s claims about a possible coup in Moscow. The news service cited anonymous “Western intelligence sources” as saying they could not see men in Putin’s inner circle having the will or ability to turn against the Russian strongman. Moreover, Kremlin grandees like Bortnikov are not qualitatively different from Putin in how they think about Russian domestic and international strategy, the sources said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 March 2022 | Permalink

Secret CIA training program helping Ukrainians fight Russian troops, sources say

Kyiv Molotovs UkraineA SECRET TRAINING PROGRAM run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which began shortly after Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, is now helping the Ukrainians beat back Russian military advances. According to Yahoo News, which revealed the existence of the CIA program earlier this week, the CIA began training Ukrainian special operations forces personnel in eastern Ukraine, starting in 2015. That was only months after the Kremlin sparked a separatist war in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, eventually pulling them away from the control of Kyiv.

Yahoo news reports that the CIA carried out the training with the help of personnel from the Special Activities Center (SAC, called Special Activities Division in 2015, when the secret program began). The SAC operates under the Agency’s Directorate of Operations. Within the SAC, paramilitary operations and training are carried out by the Special Operations Group (SOG). A small team from SOG, “in the low single digits”, arrived in eastern Ukraine and began training Ukrainian forces in a variety of military and paramilitary techniques.

The news website claims that the Ukrainians were taught by the CIA how to engage in anti-tank warfare, which included the use of American-supplied FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles. They were also taught sniping techniques, as well as how to operate in insurgency formations without being detected by Russian electronic surveillance tools. The CIA program took place alongside a more extensive, US-based training program for Ukrainian special operations forces, which was run by the United States military. That program also began in 2015, according to Yahoo News.

The training program continued for a number of years, according to Yahoo News. In fact, members of SAC/SOG were on the ground in Ukraine in early February, just days before the Russian invasion began. At that time, the administration of US President Joe Biden, expecting a Russian invasion, ordered that all CIA personnel should leave Ukraine, fearing that they could get captured by Russian forces. Yahoo News’ Zach Dorfman said he spoke to “over half a dozen former officials”, who claimed to have recognized CIA-style training in the tactics being employed on the ground by the Ukrainians.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 March 2022 | Permalink

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