Russian spy agency reveals identities of undercover officers in rare move

Sergei NaryshkinIn an extremely rare move, the head of Russia’s spy agency has disclosed the identities of several undercover officers during an event marking the centenary of the KGB and its modern-day successor, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR.

The identities of the officers —most of whom are now retired or dead— were disclosed on Tuesday by Sergei Naryshkin, head of the SVR. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Naryshkin revealed the names and read the brief biographical notes of seven non-official-cover officers, referred to in Russian as “pазведчики-нелегалы”, or ‘illegals’. The term refers to undercover intelligence officers who are secretly posted abroad without diplomatic cover. Accordingly, they have no official connection to a Russian diplomatic facility, while some even pose as citizens of third countries.

Since 1922, illegals have operated out of the KGB’s and (after 1991) the SVR’s “S” Directorate, whose formal title is First Main Directorate or First Chief Directorate. It is customary to keep the identities of illegals secret following their retirement and even after death. However, in December of last year Naryshkin surprised many by announcing that he would soon disclose the identities of a number of former members of what he described as the “special reserve staff”, at an event to mark the centenary of the KGB and SVR.

He did so on Tuesday, when he disclosed the names of seven individuals and described their work in broad terms. The names disclosed by Naryshkin were: Yury Anatolievich Shevchenko (born 1939), Yevgeny Ivanovich Kim (1932-1998), Mikhail Anatolyevich Vasenkov (born 1942), Vitaly Viacheslavovich Netyksa (1946-2011) and his spouse Tamara Ivanovna Netyksa (born 1949), Vladimir Iosifovich Lokhov (1924-2002) and Vitaly Alekseyevich Nuykin (1939-1998).

The accompanying biographies released by the SVR disclose no specifics about the countries in which these illegals operated, the type of work they carried out, and the specific dates in which they were active. Most of them operated between the late 1960s and the early 1990s.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 January 2020 | Permalink

Russia expelled Japanese reporter accusing him of espionage, say sources

VladivostokRussian authorities detained a Japanese journalist last month, and eventually expelled him after accusing him of espionage, according to sources. Even though it occurred last month, the incident was reported only on Monday by Russia’s RIA Novosty news agency.

According to the news agency the Japanese journalist was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) on December 25, 2019. At the time of his detention, the journalist was working in Vladivostok for Kyodo, Japan’s largest news agency. Vladivostok, a city of 600,000, features the largest Russian port on the Pacific coast and hosts the main base of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told RIA Novosty that the Japanese journalist was detained because he was “trying to acquire secret materials about Russia’s military capabilities in the Far East”. He was eventually released following an interrogation session that lasted for over five hours. Upon his release he was given 72 hours to leave the country. Later that day, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned an official from the embassy of Japan in Moscow to file an “official diplomatic protest” about the incident, according to RIA Novosty.

The Reuters news agency said on Monday that officials from Japan’s Kyodo News confirmed that one of their reporters —which it did not name— had been detained in Russia. The Japanese news agency also confirmed that the reporter had been expelled from Russia, but denied that he had been involved in espionage, saying instead that he was “engaged in standard reporting activities”. Kyodo News officials added that the reporter had left Russia as instructed, “for safety reasons”.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Reuters that it “could not comment” on the matter.

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

Son of Russian spies posing as Canadians gets to keep Canadian citizenship

Vavilov FoleyThe son of a Russian couple, who fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for espionage in the United States, has won the right to keep his Canadian citizenship, which was effectively annulled when his parents were found to be Russian spies.

Tim and Alexander Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES —a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Following their arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

Since their parents’ arrest on espionage charges, the two brothers, who were born in Canada, have been involved in a prolonged legal battle to have their Canadian citizenship reinstated. The latter was rescinded when it became clear that their parents’ Canadian passports were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers have argued that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, their lawyers have argued, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes.

In June of 2017, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alexander Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. But the Canadian government appealed the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, which sent the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. The government claimed that the Vavilov brothers should be denied Canadian citizenship because their parents were, effectively, secret employees of a foreign government. The two Russian spies may not have been accredited by the Canadian state as foreign employees, it says, but they were in reality “dedicated to serving their home country, except in their case, the employment was carried out clandestinely”.

On Thursday, however, Canada’s Supreme Court sided with Alexander Vavilov’s lawyers and ordered that he can keep his Canadian citizenship. This decision, which has effectively upheld the earlier decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, almost certainly means that Alexander’s brother, Tim, will also have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 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

Israeli officials announce arrest of alleged deep-cover spy for Iran

Thaer Sha'afutIsraeli authorities announced on Thursday the arrest of a deep-cover intelligence operative who allegedly attempted to establish a base for Iranian intelligence in Israel and the West Bank, according to news reports from Israel. Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security and counterintelligence agency, said it arrested Thaer Sha’afut (pictured), a Jordanian national, on espionage charges. The arrest reportedly occurred in April, but was only announced this week. According to Shin Bet officials, Sha’afut was an accredited deep-cover intelligence operative for the Iranian spy services. He was allegedly was commissioned “to carry out missions that were meant to establish a network in Israel and the West Bank, which would be used for covert operations by the Iranians”.

Israeli officials said Sha’afut received instructions from his Iranian handlers to enter Israeli territory between July and August of 2018. After entering Israel, his goal was “to form business ties” in the West Bank and in Israel proper. He planned to do that, said the Shin Bet, by hiring Shiite Muslims to staff a new factory in Jordan and then use the new venture “as an anchor for future Iranian activities in Israel and the West Bank”. These activities included the eventual recruitment of “spies who would help collect intelligence for Iranian interests”, according to court documents. The Shin Bet said that Sha’afut’s handlers were two Arabic-speaking Iranian intelligence officers based in Lebanon and Syria, who went by the names Abu Sadek and Abu Jaffar. They allegedly provided Shafut with “an encrypted communication device”, which he used to arrange clandestine meetings with them throughout 2018 and 2019.

Sha’afut’s Iranian handlers allegedly planned to use him as a conduit for transferring funds to spies in the West Bank and Israel. They had told Sha’afut that Iranian intelligence would make an initial investment of $500,000 in his factory venture in Jordan and to an import-export business, in order to sustain his base of operations, with more funds to follow. Once the factory was set up, Sha’afut was expected to travel clandestinely to Iran in order to complete his training as a deep-cover case officer. Israeli daily Haaretz said on Thursday that Sha’afut was indicted earlier this month by military prosecutors in Jerusalem for “contact with an enemy country, contact with a hostile organization, and conspiracy to funnel money from an enemy entity”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 June 2019 | Permalink

FBI releases new information on alleged Iranian deep-cover spies

MEK supporters CaliforniaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has charged two men of Iranian descent, who were arrested in California, of operating as deep-cover spies for Iran. Documents filed in a federal court in Washington, DC, name the men as Majid Ghorbani, 59, and Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, 38. Both have American citizenship and were arrested by the FBI in August, following a year-long counterintelligence investigation. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ghorbani is believed to have immigrated to the US from Iran in 1995. For the past two decades he has worked as a waiter at an upscale Persian restaurant in Santa Ana. Doostdar was born in the southern Californian city of Long Beach, but eventually moved with his family to Canada, and later to Iran, where he grew up. But he kept his US citizenship and made regular trips to America. It is believed that he planned to eventually move with his family to California.

According to the FBI, the two men were tasked by Iranian intelligence with carrying out surveillance on Jewish religious, cultural and political facilities in the US. They were also tasked with conducting surveillance and compiling reports of diplomatic and other facilities connected to the state of Israel. Another part of their mission, said the FBI, was collecting information on the activities and individual members of Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group that has roots in radical Islam and Marxism. The MEK initially supported the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but later withdrew its support, accusing the government of Ayatollah Khomeini of “fascism”. It continued its operations in exile, mainly from Iraq, where its armed members were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab leftist groups. Until 2009, the European Union and the US officially considered the MEK a terrorist organization. But the group’s sworn hatred against the government in Iran brought it close to Washington after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. By 2006, the US military was openly collaborating with MEK forces in Iraq, and in 2012 the group was dropped from the US Department of State’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Today the group enjoys open protection from the EU and the US.

Documents filed in court by the FBI state that the two men were secretly recorded during a year-long counterintelligence operation, as they traveled throughout the US to observe MEK rallies and gather intelligence or Israeli diplomatic facilities. Locations visited by the two men allegedly include Chicago, New York and Washington, as well as several cities in the American West Coast. During those visits, they would compile reports that, according to the FBI, were meant to “enable an intelligence or military unit find [and] neutralize a threat”. The men also traveled back to Iran through third countries, bringing back written operational instructions from their Iranian intelligence handlers, according to the FBI documents. IntelNews wrote about the arrest of the two men in August. However, this is the first concrete information released by the FBI about their identities and activities. They are both accused of acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government —a technical term for deep-cover espionage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 January 2019 | Permalink

Canada seeks to take away passports from children of Russian spies

Vavilov FoleyTwo Canadian brothers, whose Russian-born parents fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for spying on the United States for Moscow, are not entitled to Canadian citizenship, according to the government of Canada. Tim and Alex Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES, a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following the couple’s arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

But the two brothers, who had never been to Russia prior to their parents’ arrest in 2010, are currently involved in a prolonged legal battle to keep their Canadian citizenship, after the government of Canada refused to recognize their Canadian passports. The latter were annulled when it became clear that the Canadian passports of the brothers’ parents were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers argue that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, they say, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes, and insist that Canada is the only home they know.

Last year, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alex Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. According to the Appeals Court, the Vavilov could not be considered as having been born to employees of a foreign government, since his parents were not accredited diplomats, nor did they enjoy diplomatic privileges while living in Canada. Since that time, the two brothers have had their Canadian passports renewed and say they hope to be able to settle and work in Canada. But the Canadian government was given until September 20 of this year to decide whether to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision, and take the case to the Supreme Court.

Now the Canadian government has filed a new court submission, effectively challenging the Federal Court of Appeals’ decision. It its submission, the government claims that the Vavilov brothers should be denied Canadian citizenship because their parents were, effectively, secret employees of a foreign government. The two Russian spies may not have been accredited by the Canadian state as foreign employees, it says, but they were in reality “dedicated to serving their home country, except in their case, the employment was carried out clandestinely”. Canada’s Supreme Court has said that it plans to hear the case before the end of the year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2018 | Permalink