News you may have missed #897

Coronavirus not slowing Russian, Chinese space activities, US general says. Lt. Gen. David Thompson (pictured), the US Space Force vice commander, said this week that Russia and China continue to launch military rockets and test space weapons amid the coronavirus pandemic. Russia tested a satellite-killing missile last month, drawing scorn from US military leaders. Meanwhile in April, a Chinese rocket carrying an Indonesian satellite failed to reach orbit, according to sources.
US security clearances become more lucrative amid pandemic. Security clearances will almost certainly become an even more valuable credential as the US economy transforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While well over 30 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March, those employed in jobs that require a security clearance remain largely insulated from the economic volatility caused by the pandemic. The ever-increasing desirability of a security clearance has raised the stakes for those looking to gain or maintain a clearance in these economically uncertain times.
Michigan cancels legislative session to avoid armed protests. Michigan closed down its capitol in Lansing on Thursday and canceled its legislative session rather than face the possibility of an armed protest and death threats against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The gathering, meant to advocate opening the state for business despite the coronavirus pandemic, followed one April 30 that resulted in pictures of protesters clad in military-style gear and carrying long guns crowding the statehouse. They confronted police and taunted lawmakers. The debate grew more tense in recent days as some lawmakers read about threats to the governor’s life on social media, which were published in the Detroit Metro Times.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 May 2020 | Permalink

Czech media name alleged Russian spy behind poison plot against Prague officials

Andrei KonchakovNews media in the Czech Republic have named a Russian diplomat who allegedly transported poison to Prague last month, in what officials claim was a foiled plot to kill as many as three high-profile Czech politicians. Late last April, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been foiled by authorities in the capital Prague.

Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib, as well as Pavel Novotny and Ondřej Kolář, two of Prague’s three district mayors. All three men are known as fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

This past Sunday, Czech state television’s flagship investigative program 168 Hodin (168 Hours) claimed that the Russian diplomat who tried to smuggle poison into the country is Andrei Konchakov (pictured). Konchakov, 34, directs the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague, which is an extension of the Russian Embassy there. Citing “intelligence sources” 168 Hodin said Czech counterintelligence officials believe Konchakov is a actually an non-official-cover intelligence officer for Russian intelligence. Konchakov is alleged to have arrived at Prague’s Vaclav Havel International Airport on in April, where he was picked up by a Russian Embassy car and driven to the compound of the Russian diplomatic representation in the Czech capital.

Soon after the allegations against him emerged, Konchakov spoke to the Czech news website Seznam Zprávy. He strongly denied the accusations against him and told the website that the suitcase he was carrying with him during upon his arrival in Prague contained “disinfectant and candies”. He added that he would not, for the time being, respond to further questions, as he would first have to be granted permission to do so from the Russian government. Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in Prague released a statement claiming that it had asked Czech authorities to provide police protection for Konchakov, because of “credible threats” he had received following the allegations against him by 168 Hodin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 May 2020 | Permalink

INTERPOL issues red notice for alleged ex-CIA officer wanted in Britain

Harry DunnA so-called ‘red notice’ has been issued by INTERPOL for Anne Sacoolas, an alleged former employee of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is accused of causing an accident that killed a man in the United Kingdom last year. The accident victim is Harry Dunn, 19, who died on August 27, 2019, after a collision with a automobile that was being driven by Sacoolas. British police have said that Sacoolas’ car was being driven on the wrong side of the street at the time of the accident.

The accident took place a few yards from the entrance to the Royal Air Force base in Croughton, where Sacoolas’ husband was stationed at the time. He is thought to have been working at the US Air Force listening station, which is located inside the base. The American family had been in the United Kingdom for less than a month when the accident happened. British police charged Sacoolas with dangerous driving that led to the death of Dunn. However, the Sacoolas family left the country two weeks later, allegedly with the consent of the British Foreign Office. The Foreign Office reportedly agreed with the US government’s argument that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity due to her husband’s work, and could not be tried for the accident.

Later, however, the diplomatic immunity claim was strongly disputed by Dunn’s family. Eventually British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab requested Sacoolas’ extradition to the United Kingdom. But the White House refused to grant the request and suggested instead that financial compensation be paid to the family. The White House also proposed a meeting between US President Donald Trump and the parents of Harry Dunn, which they refused to participate in. In the meantime there were allegations in British and American media that Sacoolas used to work for the CIA and that her husband is an intelligence officer.

Now INTERPOL, the International Police Organization, has issued a red notice for Sacoolas, which theoretically means she could be arrested if she were to leave American territory. Speaking on Monday, Radd Seiger, a lawyer for Dunn’s parents, argued the INTERPOL move means that Sacoolas did not have diplomatic immunity at the time of the accident, since red notices “are not served on valid diplomats”, he said. He also called for the British parliament to launch an inquiry into the accident and into Sacoolas’ subsequent departure from the United Kingdom.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 May 2020 | Permalink

COVID-struck Iraq sees ‘biggest ISIS resurgence’ since group’s defeat in 2017

ISIS IraqIraq is currently witnessing the largest resurgence of the Islamic State since December of 2017, when the Iraqi government declared it had defeated the group, according to local and international observers. The Sunni militant group, which became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is exploiting a moment of opportunity, as Iraqi security forces, Shia militias and American troops are essentially sheltering in place to avoid the effects of COVID-19.

Iraq has been on involuntary lockdown since March 22 in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s security forces are busy providing humanitarian relief to communities under lockdown. Additionally, large numbers of soldiers and police officers are either sick or sheltering in place with their families and are not turning up for work. Furthermore, United States forces have significantly scaled back their presence in the country following the assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in January of this year, in an effort to avoid armed confrontations with Iraq’s pro-Iranian militias.

These conditions are allowing Islamic State fighters to emerge from hiding and conduct operations in nearly every province of Iraq. Last week the militant group launched a series of coordinated attacks in nearly 30 different locations across Iraq, which left dozens of Iraqi security forces and Shia militia members dead. Additionally, Islamic State saboteurs destroyed several power lines across northeastern Iraq, disrupting electricity supply to tens of thousands of homes in the region.

On Tuesday, Iraqi security forces teamed up with the Popular Mobilization Forces —a mostly Shia paramilitary group— to launch several operations against the Islamic State. The operations aimed to neutralize known Islamic State enclaves in mostly Sunni regions of northern and western Iraq. They also aimed to capture Islamic State regional commanders, most of whom operate along Iraq’s borders with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria.

But nobody knows how this campaign will end up in light of the coronavirus. The pandemic is causing major disruption on the Iraqi economy, while the historic drop in oil prices is dramatically reducing the nation’s primary source of income. The Islamic State thrives in conditions of instability, which is precisely what many fear, as the effects of the pandemic are continuing to manifest in the Middle East.

► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 May 2020 | Permalink

Seeking to expand, French spy agency is frustrated with poor quality of job applicants

dgse franceFrance’s primary external intelligence agency has expressed frustration with the overall poor quality of job applicants, as it tries to expand its staff by 20 percent in the coming years. The Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, known as DGSE, is France’s equivalent to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. It is tasked with procuring secret political, military and economic information from foreign targets.

During the past decade, the DGSE has nearly doubled the size of its personnel. In 2008, it employed fewer than 4,500 people. By 2019, its staff size had grown to over 7,000, including many thousands of operations officers serving secretly abroad. Last year, the agency announced that it planned to grow its personnel size to 8,500 by 2022. To do so, it launched an unprecedented recruitment campaign, which French security experts described as nothing short of revolutionary. The staunchly reclusive DGSE sent recruiters to job fairs across France —mostly at universities— and began advertising its job vacancies online, primarily on YouTube and LinkedIn.

As a result of its efforts, the agency said that it received 400 applications for 14 positions that were advertised in January. Of those 14 positions, 10 required advanced knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs and geopolitical developments, while two sought candidates with logistical and administrative expertise. The remaining two positions equired fluency in Arabic.

But, according to the British newspaper The Times, the French spy agency struggled to fill the positions. On Thursday the paper cited a DGSE report, which said that the performance of candidates during the selection process “revealed critical shortcomings”. Candidates appeared for interviews severely under-prepared and their level of knowledge, as demonstrated in interviews, was “unacceptable for someone wishing to join the ranks of the DGSE”, said the report. It added that job candidates showed “markedly limited grasp” of global geopolitics, while their knowledge of intelligence work was even more limited. Even minimum requirements, like a résumé free of spelling mistakes were rarely met, it said.

Consequently, and despite the fact that majority of the applicants had graduate degrees, the DGSE struggled to fill the positions, with the process taking much longer than expected. The report said that 12 of the 14 job posts were eventually filled. The remaining two posts —requiring fluency in Arabic— remain unfilled “for want of suitable candidates”, noted The Times.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 May 2020 | Permalink

Venezuelan television airs US ex-soldier’s confession of role in alleged coup

Luke DenmanVenezuelan state television aired on Wednesday an interview with one of two Americans facing charges of having participated in a failed armed plot to overthrow the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuelan media have been referring to the failed plot as “enfrentamiento en El Junquito” (“El Junquito raid”), or “Operación GEDEÓN”.

GEDEÓN refers to a failed coup plot that was carried out on May 3 and 4 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. Alcalá, who is wanted in the United States for drug trafficking, has been living in Colombia since at least 2019. It is also alleged that the coup was launched from Colombia with the support of Silvercorp USA, a private security group led by Jordan Goudreau, a Canadian-born former sergeant in the US Green Berets.

On May 3, several alleged coup plotters sailed on speed boats from Colombia, heading for the coast of La Guaira, 20 miles north of Venezuelan capital Caracas. At least six coup plotters who participated in the first phase of the operation are believed to have been killed by the Venezuelan armed forces. Many more were arrested before being able to reach a number of safe houses that had allegedly been set up their supporters inside Venezuela. At least two of arrestees, Airan Berry and Luke Denman, are believed to be American citizens and former soldiers. Meanwhile, a number of Venezuelan opposition figures in Colombia have since claimed that several cells of coup supporters have been activated inside Venezuela. A nationwide operation to neutralize these cells is currently underway with the participation of tens of thousands of Venezuelan soldiers.

On Wednesday, Venezuelan state television aired excerpts of an interview (video) with Luke Denman, in which he appears to claim that he was part of a group of coup plotters whose mission was to take control of the Simón Bolívar International Airport. Also known as Maiquetía, the airport is located 13 miles north of the center of Caracas. Denman also appears to say in the interview that his instructions were to help transport a captured President Maduro by plane to the US.

On Tuesday, the Venezuelan government claimed that coup had been sponsored by the White House, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Colombian government, and Juan Guaidó, President Maduro’s principal rival, who is seen by the US and most Western European countries as the rightful leader of Venezuela. But Washington and its allies have denied that they had any involvement in the alleged coup plot. On Wednesday, Daniel Hoffman, a former Central Intelligence Agency operations officer, said that the coup plot had very likely been penetrated by pro-Maduro spies during its planning stages.

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

US could withdraw intelligence assets from the UK due to Huawei’s role in 5G

HuaweiThe United States could end all sensitive intelligence operations and withdraw its intelligence assets from the United Kingdom if a leading Chinese company is hired to upgrade the country’s telecommunications network. The British government has come under relentless pressure by Washington to not hire Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers, to build the United Kingdom’s 5th generation cellular communications infrastructure.

Many Western intelligence agencies view Huawei as being uncomfortably close to the Communist Party of China. Washington has been leading a worldwide campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with some if its allies, notably Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies. Last year, Washington warned two of its main European allies, Britain and Germany, that it would stop sharing intelligence with them if they allowed Huawei to compete for 5G contracts.

Now the White House appears to be considering a more drastic step. According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the Trump administration has ordered a review of whether it should curtail its intelligence assets and operations on British soil if the Chinese firm were hired to build the UK’s 5G network. Citing “half a dozen” current and former British and American officials, the paper said that the review is still in the works. It is being conducted under the auspices of the National Security Council, America’s highest decision-making body, which is chaired by the president himself.

The Daily Telegraph reports that, among the topics being looked at in the review is whether US intelligence operations and hardware —both civilian and military— would be compromised by Huawei’s involvement in the telecommunications infrastructure. The hardware includes military installations and surveillance platforms, such as a number of RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, which operate out of the Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Sussex, near England’s southern coast. The paper notes that the report and its recommendations could result in drastic chances for the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 May 2020 | Permalink

Spy agencies target biomedical secrets in worldwide race to find COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 coronavirusSpy agencies from every country are participating in a worldwide competition to develop a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic, by protecting their own biomedical secrets while trying to steal other nations’ research. Much like frantic efforts to secure personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, ongoing research to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 appears to be taking the form of a competition between nations. The country that first develops a successful vaccine to combat the epidemic is likely to emerge as a major power-player in a post-coronavirus world.

The government of the United States, whose race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 is reportedly codenamed Operation WARPSPEED, has warned its biomedical experts that foreign intelligence agencies may be trying to spy on their research. This warning was relayed to the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera on April 1 by Bill Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). The NCSC is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the US agency created after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to coordinate the activities of American spy agencies. The mission of the NCSC is to manage the US government’s counterintelligence activities.

Evanina told the BBC that the NCSC has “every expectation that foreign intelligence services, to include the Chinese Communist Party, will attempt to obtain what we are making here”. He added that his organization had contacted “every medical research organization” carrying out COVID-19-related research and warned them that they should be “very, very vigilant”. However, Evanina would not tell the BBC whether scientific data had actually been stolen by foreign intelligence agencies.

According to the BBC, other Western governments, including those of the United Kingdom and Canada, have warned that foreign spies have become active in the field of biomedical intelligence, with attempts to steal scientific data related to COVID-19. In March, Canada’s Centre for Cyber Security warned that research and development data related to the pandemic may be targeted by “sophisticated threat actors” operating online.

The BBC notes, however, that Western intelligence agencies are also likely to be interested in biomedical data from China and other countries. Their interest may be two-fold: on the one hand trying to determine the precise origins of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the precise case load of the virus in these countries, while on the other seeking to steal information about “research on vaccines and treatments”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 May 2020 | Permalink

Mexican drug cartels distribute COVID-19 ‘care packages’ to build community capital

Gulf Cartel MexicoDrug cartels are organizing sophisticated ‘care package’ drives throughout Mexico in an attempt to build political capital and solidify their community support. Nearly every drug cartel in Mexico is organizing its own handout distribution activities, including the Sinaloa Cartel, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), the Gulf Cartel, Los Viagras, and a host of splinter groups that came out of Los Zetas.

One of the most well-organized ‘care package’ drives is being carried out by the Sinaloa Cartel. The criminal group’s leader, Joaquín Guzmán (known as “El Chapo”), was arrested in 2016 and is currently incarcerated in a Super Max Federal Prison in the United States state of Colorado. But his family continues to run his operations, including his fashion/streetwear brand, “El Chapo 701”. The brand’s name refers to a 2009 article in Forbes magazine, which listed Guzmán as the world’s 701st richest person, with an estimated fortune of $1 billion.

The Sinaloa Cartel has published videos showing community drives carried out by young people wearing facemasks bearing a stenciled rendition of Guzmán’s portrait —reminiscent of the silhouetted portrait of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevarra. They are seen handing out cardboard boxes bearing Guzmán’s portrait and information about his company. The boxes reportedly contain hand sanitizer, oil, rice, sugar, salt, toilet paper, and other necessities.

Dante Sorianello, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Antonio, Texas, said these campaigns by the drug cartels are designed to build “community support”, which the cartels then use “as a buffer between them and the entities of law and order”. Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, adds that these community assistance drives by criminal organizations are not new in Latin America. In the past, drug cartels have built hospitals in Peru, soccer fields in Brazil and churches in Colombia. This is simply the latest manifestation of a time-tested practice by criminal organizations.

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

US Intelligence Community says COVID-19 was not man-made or bio-engineered

COVID-19 ChinaIn a rare public statement, the Intelligence Community of the United States has said that the novel coronavirus “was not manmade or genetically modified”. The statement was issued on Thursday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which manages the US National Intelligence Program and whose director serves as the country’s most senior intelligence officer.

The brief statement was posted on the ODNI’s website and represents the view of all 17 government agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. It states that the novel coronavirus “originated in China”, thus agreeing with the vast majority of public health experts about the origins of the disease. It goes on to state that “[t]he Intelligence Community […] concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”.

However, the statement does not rule out the possibility that the virus could have its roots in a scientific facility in China, and that it might have escaped “through contact with infected animals” or as “the result of an accident at a laboratory”. It goes on to state that the Intelligence Community “will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine” if there exists a laboratory connection to the virus.

Earlier this month, US Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the media that “the weight of evidence” seemed to indicate that COVID-19’s origins were “natural”. However, according to reports, American and other Western spy agencies are “still weighing the possibility” that the virus may have escaped from a government laboratory in Wuhan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Experts warn ISIS may be using COVID-19 crisis to stage global resurgence

ISIS IraqTerrorism experts have issued warnings that the Islamic State may be exploiting the global instability caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic to stage a worldwide resurgence. Indeed, there are signs that Islamic State activity has been intensifying in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and even Europe, in recent days.

On April 28, the Islamic State said it was responsible for a suicide attack in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which injured four people. The attack targeted the Information Protection Agency, which is the de-facto intelligence agency of the local Kurdish-led government in northern Iraq. It is estimated that the Islamic State commands at least 20,000 armed fighters in Iraq and Syria. Between April 15 and 21 alone, the Islamic State carried out at over 30 operations across Iraq, according to reports.

On the same day, April 28, a motorist who appears to have deliberately rammed his vehicle into two police motorcyclists in Paris said he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Earlier this month, police in the German city of Frankfurt arrested three alleged members of the Islamic State, who were in the process of planning a bomb attack aimed to kill large numbers of civilians. These attacks follow a reported “uptick in propaganda] by the Islamic State, aimed at a European audience.

On April 17, an Islamic State-linked group in the Philippines ambushed a military convoy and executed 11 soldiers after capturing them. The soldiers were attempting to arrest or kill a senior commander of the militant group. And on April 24, the government of Mozambique announced that the Islamic State is present and active there, after a group or armed militants killed 52 civilians in a village in Cabo Delgado, which is Mozambique’s oil-rich region.

Meanwhile, Islamic State publications and media messages describe the novel coronavirus as a divine form of retribution against atheist China, as well as against “polytheist” Iran, and the “crusaders” of Europe. Some Islamic State outlets have urged the group’s followers to refrain from venturing into heavily infected regions. But more recent messages have asked for an “insurrection” to coincide with the Ramadan, which will last for most of May.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 April 2020 | Permalink

Russia denies accusations it planned to assassinate two Czech politicians

Zdenek HribThe Russian government has strongly denied accusations in the Czech media that it dispatched an assassin to Prague to kill two leading Czech politicians. The denial was issued by the Kremlin a day after Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib said he had been placed under 24/7 police protection because of fears his life could be in danger.

On Sunday, the Czech weekly investigative magazine Respekt reported that a Russian assassination plot had been underway earlier in April. Citing “sources in Czech intelligence”, Respekt said a Russian citizen carrying a diplomatic passport had arrived in Prague in early April. The man allegedly had with him a suitcase with a concealed quantity of ricin —a deadly toxin. His alleged mission was to assassinate at least two high-profile Czech mayors, Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib and Ondřej Kolář, who is the mayor of a large municipality in the Czech capital.

The two men are known for being fervently anti-Russian. Earlier this year, Hřib led a nationwide effort to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague after Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition activist who was gunned down in Moscow in 2015. Kolář has been advocating for years for the removal of Soviet-era statues from Prague’s public spaces.

According to Respekt Hřib filed a police complaint during the first week of April, alleging that someone had been following him near his residence. He was then placed under police protection, after —according to him— the police determined that his complaint was grounded in reality. He has since refused to state the precise reasons for the police protection —which means that the allegations in Respekt remain unconfirmed.

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the Respekt allegations as “fake”. He added that the Russian government “doesn’t know anything at all about this [police] investigation” in Prague. However, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that “there would be consequences” if the two men were harmed in the coming weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 April 2020 | Permalink

US considers ending intel sharing with countries that criminalize homosexuality

Richard GrenellThe administration of United States President Donald Trump is considering the possibility of limiting or terminating the sharing of intelligence with countries around the world that criminalize homosexuality. The move is being led by Richard Grenell, an American diplomat, civil servant and media consultant, who was appointed by the White House as acting Director of National Intelligence in February. This makes Grenell the most senior intelligence official in the US.

The idea behind this proposed move is to apply pressure to countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality to change their laws. The primary force behind this initiative is Grenell himself, who is believed to be the first openly gay individual to serve in a cabinet-level position in the United States. Before his appointment as acting Director of National Intelligence, Grenell had been tasked by President Trump to lead an effort to use the US foreign policy agenda —including financial aid— as a form of incentive to end the criminalization of homosexuality worldwide.

Almost from the moment of his appointment on February 20, Grenell has vigorously prioritized issues relating to discrimination in the workplace. Earlier this month, he sent a letter (.pdf) to the member agencies of the US Intelligence Community urging them to ensure that their policies to protect their LGBT workforce from harassment and discrimination “are specific and deliberate”.

If the ODNI went ahead with limiting intelligence sharing, it would affect Washington’s intelligence relationship with several partners that are considered critical, including Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt. But in an interview with the The New York Times last week, Grenell argued that “ultimately, the United States is safer when our partners respect basic human rights”. Nondiscrimination against LGBT individuals “is an American value”, said Grenell, and argued that the US Intelligence Community should promoting what is effectively “United States policy”. The Times said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had formed a group “to review the issue [of intelligence sharing] and form ideas”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 April 2020 | Permalink

DHS warns of rise in attacks by violent extremists amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus COVID-19The Department of Homeland Security has warned law enforcement departments across the United States that violent extremists are mobilizing against health restrictions imposed to combat the novel coronavirus. This is the third warning known to have been issued by the DHS in the past month about the potential of violence by domestic violent extremists, as America continues to battle the pandemic.

The latest warning was issued on Thursday, April 23, in the form of a memorandum, which was communicated to law enforcement personnel throughout the US. The memorandum was marked ‘unclassified/law enforcement sensitive’ and was accessed by Politico, which reported on it on Thursday. It comes as a self-styled ‘Liberate’ movement is forming in several American states, which aims to pressure government officials to end lockdowns across the country.

The memorandum states that “recent incidents and arrests nationwide illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic is driving violent actors —both non-ideologically and ideologically motivated— to threaten violence”. It goes on to cite arrests of violent extremists who have issued threats against elected and appointed government officials. There have also been threats made against government facilities, including police stations and federal buildings, by people protesting the lockdowns.

A man, described in the DHS report as an “anti-government extremist”, was arrested earlier this month after he threatened to kill the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Grisham, over her decision to impose ‘stay at home’ orders. Another man was arrested in Florida after he threatened to take action against the COVID-19 lockdown by blowing up the headquarters of the Orlando Police Department. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a plot by a white supremacist and anti-government radical to blow up a medical facility in the Kansas City, Missouri, area. On March 23, the DHS issued another report stating that American white supremacists were exploring ways to weaponize the coronavirus as early as January.

The latest DHS memorandum warns that the danger posed by domestic violent extremists will continue to escalate “until the virus is contained and the normal routine of US societal life resumes”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 April 2020 | Permalink

Belgian spy agencies say radical groups trying to exploit COVID-19 to sow chaos

VSSE GISS BelgiumThe two main intelligence agencies of Belgium have published a declassified report in which they warn that domestic groups on the far left and far right of the political spectrum are using the COVID-19 pandemic to destabilize society. Among other things, these groups are spreading disinformation in order to incite violence and spread disillusionment with the Belgian authorities’ response to the coronavirus, according to the report.

The report (pdf) was published on Wednesday on the website of the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s primary civilian intelligence agency. The agency said it co-authored the report with the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS), which is the main military intelligence service of Belgium. The document warns that political extremists are spreading disinformation —some of it produced and distributed online by foreign intelligence agencies— that propagates unfounded conspiracy theories. The disinformation is designed to turn groups of people against each other, undermine the state and spread hatred against medical experts.

Among the most active distributors of disinformation is the Brussels page of the worldwide anarchist website Indymedia, says the report. Earlier this month, posts on the page urged Belgians to commit acts of violence targeting police officers, and to sabotage infrastructure such as telecommunications, which can disrupt the work of first responders and other emergency workers. Posts on the page also urged readers to act quickly “while law enforcement is busy” with the pandemic.

Groups from the far-right are also active in spreading race-themed disinformation online, according to the VSSE/GISS report. For example, a white nationalist group calling itself the Knights of Flanders has been promoting conspiracy theories that connect COVID-19 with flu vaccines. Other groups have posted information claiming that Muslims have been instructed by religious figures to “cough in the faces of infidels”. Some far-right groups are claiming that personal protective equipment is deliberately being made scarce as part of a secret government plan to intimidate the population and exterminate elderly people.

Finally, a small number of —mostly far-right— groups is spreading messages that criticize Western responses to the coronavirus pandemic and praise the Russian government’s efforts to combat the disease. Among them is a new organization known as “Squadra Europa”, which has branches in several European countries, including Belgium, said the report.

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