Ion Pacepa, Cold War’s highest-ranking Soviet Bloc defector, dies of COVID-19

Ion Mihai PacepaION MIHAI PACEPA, WHO defected to the West as acting head of the Romanian intelligence service, making him the Cold War’s highest-ranking defector from the Soviet Bloc , has reportedly died in the United States of COVID-19. There has been no official announcement of Pacepa’s passing. However, a number of American and Romanian news outlets have reported his death in the past week, noting that he passed away on February 14. He reportedly died in hospital at “an undisclosed location”, having lived under protection from the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Resettlement Operations Center since his defection in 1978. He was 92.

Pacepa was born in Bucharest in 1928. He joined the Securitate, Romania’s secret police and intelligence service, in 1951, having earlier graduated with a degree in engineering from the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute. From his initial post in the Securitate’s Counter-Sabotage Directorate —a domestic assignment— Pacepa was moved to its Foreign Intelligence Directorate in 1955. He gradually reached the rank of station chief, serving in Frankfurt, West Germany. By the early 1970s Pacepa had reached the equivalent rank of a two-star general, and served as advisor to the Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu on matters of industrial and technological innovation. In 1978 he was appointed assistant secretary of the Ministry of the Interior and acting director of the Securitate.

But in July of that year, Pacepa defected to the United States while on assignment in Bonn, West Germany. He simply presented himself to the United States embassy there and was soon granted political asylum by Washington. Since that time, he lived under an assumed identity in a series of undisclosed locations in the United States. He reportedly had to change his living arrangements and assume new identities at least twice after his defection, in order to escape Romanian assassination squads who had been tasked with killing him. Among Pacepa’s aspiring assassins was Carlos the Jackal, who had allegedly been promised $1 million by Ceauşescu in return for killing the high-ranking defector.

Pacepa authored several books since his defection, with this first one, Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, being the most notable. Translated from the original English into Romanian, the book was used by the prosecutors that argued in favor of the death penalty for Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena. Both were executed by firing squad in December 1989.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 February 2021 | Permalink

Isaac Shoshan, Israeli undercover operative and case officer, dead at 96

MossadIsaac Shoshan, an Israeli undercover operative, who was involved in some of Israel’s most daring and controversial intelligence operations for over 40 years, has died. In 1990, Shoshan co-authored the book Men of Secrets, Men of Mystery with another Israeli former intelligence officer, Rafi Sutton. In 2019, his career was featured in the book Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, written by the Israeli-Canadian journalist Matti Friedman.

In 1942, Shoshan, a Syrian Jew, traveled for the first time from his native Aleppo to Palestine, which was then under a British mandate. The 18-year-old was soon recruited by the Palmach, the intelligence wing of the Haganah, an armed underground Zionist organization. He carried out undercover work under the Palmach’s so-called ‘Arab Section’, or ‘Arab Platoon’, which consisted of Zionist paramilitaries and intelligence collectors who had grown up speaking Arabic.

After undergoing Islamic religious and cultural training, Shoshan participated in a Palmach operation to kill Sheikh Nimr al-Khatib, in early 1948. Al-Khatib was a Palestinian warlord that the Haganah feared would lead an Arab insurrection against Israel after the impending British withdrawal from Palestine. Although the assassination operation failed, al-Khatib was seriously injured and effectively incapacitated for the rest of his life.

Shoshan was then tasked with carrying out operations in several Arab countries, posing as an Arab. His base was Beirut, where he operated a taxi and worked at a kiosk as a cover. His activities included an elaborate assassination operation against Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Riad al-Suhl, which was aborted at the last minute by the Israeli leadership.

In the mid-1950s, Israeli intelligence disbanded its Arab units, following several failed operations, such as the so-called ‘Lavon affair’, which led to the arrests and executions of some of its undercover operatives. At that time, Shoshan was recalled to Israel, where he began to work as a case officer, with occasional undercover trips abroad, during which he posed as an Arab. He retired in 1982, but continued to carry out contracting work for the Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies until the late 1980s.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 January 2021 | Permalink

George Blake, arguably the most prolific Soviet spy of the Cold War, dies at 98

George BlakeGEORGE BLAKE, A DUTCH-born British intelligence officer, whose espionage for the Soviet Union gained him notoriety in the West and hero status in Moscow, has died aged 98. His death was announced on Saturday by the state-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti. It was later corroborated by a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), who said Blake “had a genuine love for our country”.

Blake was nearly 18 when German troops entered his native Holland, prompting him to join the local anti-Nazi resistance forces. A British subject thanks to his Egyptian Jewish father, who had acquired British citizenship by fighting in British uniform during World War I, Blake eventually made his way to London via neutral Spain and Gibraltar. Within two years, he had been recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and by war’s end he was working in its Dutch Section.

Named after King George by his fiercely pro-British and royalist father, Blake drew no suspicion by his MI6 colleagues. He was hard-working and came across as a strict Calvinist, with strong religious leanings. But his view of the Soviet Union began to change at Cambridge University, where he had been sent by MI6 to learn Russian language and history. In 1950, while he was serving under official cover at the British embassy in Seoul, Korea, he was captured and detained for three years by North Korean forces. His ideological defection to communism appears to have taken place during his capture, during which he was given access to English-language Marxist literature and had long discussions with Soviet political instructors.

By 1953, when he was released by his captors and returned to a hero’s welcome in London, Blake was a committed communist. Less than a month following his release, he made contact with Nikolai Rodin (codename SERGEI) who was the KGB’s station chief in London. He began to spy for the Soviet Union, and did so for eight years, including during his stint as an MI6 case officer in Berlin. During that time, he is believed to have betrayed information that led to the detection of over 500 Western intelligence officers and assets operating behind the Iron Curtain, with as many as 44 of those losing their lives as a result. His career as a double spy ended in 1960, when he was betrayed by Polish defector Michael Goleniewski. Goleniewski’s debriefing by the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped Britain identify two Soviet moles inside its intelligence establishment, one of whom was Blake.

In 1960, after pleading guilty to espionage, Blake began serving a 42-year prison sentence in Britain’s Wormwood Scrubs maximum security prison complex. But in 1966 he was able to escape with the help of a group of Irish republican prisoners, and made contact with Soviet intelligence. He was eventually smuggled into East Germany and from there to Russia. Once there, he joined the KGB and served as a consultant and instructor until his retirement in the early 1990s. He learned to speak Russian fluently, married a Russian wife (his British wife having divorced him once he was convicted of espionage) and had a son.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on Sunday, praising Blake’s espionage “in the cause of peace”, while the SVR described him as a model intelligence officer. A report published by RIA Novosti on Sunday said that the Moscow city council was considering a proposal to rename a street in the Russian capital after Blake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean O’Callaghan, Provisional IRA defector-in-place, dies at 63

Sean O’CallaghanSean O’Callaghan, one of the most contentious figures in the history of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, has died in Jamaica. He was born in County Kerry, Republic of Ireland, in a strongly republican family, which sided with opponents of the Ango-Irish treaty and fought against the official Irish government in the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. In 1971, aged just 17, O’Callaghan joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which fought to unite British-controlled Northern Ireland with the independent Republic of Ireland. Not long after, O’Callaghan was arrested by the Garda Síochána (Irish police) in his home county of Kerry, when a small quantity of explosives he was hiding in his parents’ house accidentally detonated.

After serving his prison sentence in Ireland, O’Callaghan returned to active duty as a Provisional IRA volunteer, and even pulled the trigger in the killing of Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan, a Catholic officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police body of Northern Ireland, who was assassinated by the Provisional IRA in 1974. Gradually, however, O’Callaghan became disillusioned with armed militancy and distanced himself from the Provisional IRA, eventually moving to London. By 1979, when the Provisional IRA contacted him and asked him to return to active service, O’Callaghan had become an ideological opponent of militant Irish republicanism. He contacted the Irish government and offered to become an agent-in-place for the Special Branch of Garda Síochána.

O’Callaghan operated as a spy for the Irish government within the Provisional IRA from 1979 until 1988. During that time, he continued to participate in Provisional IRA operations, including an attempt (which he claimed to have foiled) to murder the Prince of Wales and his then wife, Princess Diana. He also remained a member of Sinn Féin, a republican political party that was widely viewed as the political wing of the Provisional IRA. In 1985, he was elected county councilor representing Sinn Féin. Three years later, fearing for his life, O’Callaghan turned himself in to British authorities. He was prosecuted, convicted, and served a prison sentence, during which he wrote his best-selling memoir, published under the title The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man’s War on Terrorism. In it, he details his ideological change from a socialist republican to a pro-unionist, who occasionally advised the Ulster Unionist Party, a pro-British conservative political party in Northern Ireland.

After he revealed his pro-unionist sympathies, O’Callaghan was disowned by most of his family and did not even attend his father’s funeral in 1997. He lived openly in England, refusing police protection and rejecting pleas from his supporters to change his name and hide his whereabouts. He died last week from a suspected heart attack while visiting his daughter in Jamaica. He was 63.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 August 2017 | Permalink

Yuri Drozdov, handler of Soviet undercover spies during Cold War, dies at 91

Yuri DrozdovGeneral Yuri Ivanovich Drozdov, who held senior positions in the Soviet KGB for 35 years, and handled a global network of Soviet undercover officers from 1979 until 1991, has died at the age of 91. Drozdov was born in Minsk, Soviet Belarus, in 1925. His father, Ivan Dmitrievich Drozdov, was an officer in the tsarist army who sided with the communists in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. After serving in World War II, Yuri Drozdov joined the KGB in 1956. Following his training, he was appointed liaison officer between the KGB and East Germany’s Ministry of State Security, commonly known as the Stasi.

His knowledge of East German intelligence affairs prompted his involvement in the famous 1962 spy-swap between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets surrendered the American pilot Francis Gary Powers, who had been captured in May 1960, when the U-2 spy plane he was piloting was shot down over Soviet airspace. In return, they received Rudolf Abel (real name Vilyam Fisher) a Soviet undercover spy who was captured in New York in 1957, posing as an American citizen. From 1964 until 1968, Drozdov was stationed in Beijing, China, where he served as the KGB rezident, effectively the agency’s chief of station. He returned to Moscow and in 1975 was posted under diplomatic cover in the United States, where he commanded the KGB’s station in New York until 1979.

Upon his return to the USSR, Drozdov was promoted to chief of the KGB’s Directorate S, which handled the agency’s worldwide network of so-called illegals —intelligence officers serving abroad without official cover or formal connection to the Soviet Union. Shortly after his return to Moscow, Drozdov also headed Operation STORM-333, a daring attack on the presidential palace in Afghanistan, during which Soviet special forces killed Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and essentially fired the opening shots of the decade-long Soviet-Afghan war. The experience prompted Drozdov to recommend to his superiors the establishment of a new KGB special-forces unit. It was created in 1981 under the name Vympel (Pennant) and headed by Drozdov himself. He commanded several Vympel missions in and out of the USSR before resigning from the KGB in 1991.

Little is known about the specifics of Drozdov’s death. It is believed that he died on June 21, surrounded by his family. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), a successor agency of the KGB, issued a brief statement commemorating Drozdov’s service. It was followed by a statement issued by the office of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, which praised Drozdov as “a legendary spy, outstanding professional […], incredible person and true patriot”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2017 | Permalink

Werner Stiller, one of the Cold War’s most notable defectors, dies

Werner StillerWerner Stiller, also known as Klaus-Peter Fischer, whose spectacular defection to the West in 1979 inflicted one of the Cold War’s most serious blows to the intelligence agency of East Germany, has died in Hungary. Stiller, 69, is believed to have died on December 20 of last year, but his death was not reported in the German media until last week. Born in 1947 in the German Democratic Republic, Stiller excelled in the sciences from an early age and eventually studied physics at the University of Leipzig, which was known at the time as Karl Marx Universitat. Shortly after graduating, he joined the GDR’s Ministry of State Security, commonly known as the Stasi. Within a few years, he was working as a case officer for the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, the Stasi’s foreign intelligence division, where he was in charge of scientific espionage in the West. By the late 1970s, Stiller was handling nearly 30 spies —most of them abroad— who were regularly providing him with intelligence relating to nuclear research, weapons technologies, and biomedical research.

However, the Stasi vehemently disapproved of Stiller’s promiscuous lifestyle —he was married five times in his life and was reputed to have had many more affairs— which was one of the reasons why he decided to seek a new life in the West. In January of 1979, with the help of a waitress he was having an affair with, Stiller defected to West Germany along with a packet of microfiche containing hundreds of classified Stasi documents. He later helped the waitress escape to the West with her young son and an estimated 20,000 more pages of classified documents. The West German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) eventually shared the information from Stiller’s defection with the United States Central Intelligence Agency. It led to the dramatic arrests of 17 Stasi agents and officers in Europe and the US, while at least 15 others escaped arrest at the last minute, after being urgently recalled back to East Germany. The Stasi is believed to have recalled an additional 40 operatives from several Western countries as a precaution in response to Stiller’s defection. The information that Stiller gave to the BND also helped visually identify the longtime director of the Stasi’s Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, Markus Wolf. Previously, Western intelligence services had no photographs of Wolf, who was known as ‘the man without a face’, due to the many decades he spent as an undercover officer.

In 1981, Stiller moved to the US, where the CIA provided him with a new identity, using the fake name Klaus-Peter Fischer, a Hungarian émigré. He studied economics at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, before working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs in the US and eventually an exchange broker for Lehman Brothers in Germany. It is believed that the Stasi kept looking for Stiller until the dissolution of the GDR in 1990, with the intent of abducting him or killing him. In 1999, Stiller moved to Hungary, where he stayed until the end of his life. He is survived by a son and a daughter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 April 2017 | Permalink

Controversial ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan dies in Tel Aviv

Meir DaganMeir Dagan, who directed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for a decade and emerged as a vocal critic of the Israeli government after his retirement, has died. A statement from his family said he died of liver cancer, a disease that prompted him to undergo a complex liver transplant operation in Belarus in 2012. But he suffered constant complications following his return to Israel, which led to his death on Thursday in Tel Aviv. Dagan was born Meir Hubermann in 1945 in Soviet Ukraine, and arrived with his family to Israeli in 1950. At age 18, he enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and saw action in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. In 2002, a few years after his retirement from the military with the rank of major general, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed him to direct the Mossad, Israel’s primary intelligence agency.

During Dagan’s tenure, which spanned the rule of three Israeli prime ministers, the Mossad focused intensely on combating the Iranian nuclear program, using a variety of means ranging from alleged assassinations of Iranian scientists to cyber sabotage of Iranian nuclear facilities. However, like many other senior Israeli intelligence commanders, Dagan was strongly opposed to plans by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to launch military strikes on Iran. Shortly after his retirement in 2011, Dagan spoke publicly against Netanyahu and senior members of his cabinet, including Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who openly advocated the use of military force against Iran. In May 2011, Dagan condemned a possible Israeli attack on Iran as an act that would be “patently illegal under international law” and “the stupidest thing [he had] ever heard”. In June, hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively stripped Dagan of his diplomatic passport, after the longtime Mossad Director called Israel’s leaders “reckless and irresponsible” people, who will not hesitate to engage in military adventurism in Iran to ensure their political primacy at home.

But Dagan continued to openly criticize the Israeli government, refusing to describe the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel and calling instead for the establishment of a peace treaty with the Palestinians. He said in an interview in 2012 that, when he directed the Mossad, he could “block any perilous adventurism” in the Middle East; but after his retirement from the senior ranks of the agency, he feared that there was “no one to stop Barak and Bibi”, referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu by his nickname.

Dagan was 71. His burial took place on Sunday with full military honors in the town of Rosh Pina, in Israel’s northern district.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 March 2016 | Permalink

Frank Terpil, CIA operative who defected to Cuba, dies

Frank TerpilFrank Terpil, a former operative of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who defected to Cuba in 1981 to avoid charges of criminal conspiracy, has died. He was 76. Terpil resigned from the CIA in 1970, allegedly after he was caught running a pyramid scheme in India, where he had been posted by the CIA. Soon after his forced resignation from the Agency, US federal prosecutors leveled criminal charges on Terpil and his business partner. The former CIA operative was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, after it was found that he had helped facilitate the illegal transfer of over 20 tons of plastic explosives to the government of Libya.

Terpil managed to leave the US and reappeared in Lebanon in 1980, shortly before a court in New York sentenced him in absentia to five decades in prison for conspiring to smuggle 10,000 submachine guns to African warlords, including Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin. As agents of various countries started to zero in on Terpil’s Lebanon hideout, he disappeared again and resurfaced in 1981 in Havana, Cuba. Shortly afterwards, Cuba’s General Intelligence Directorate hired him as an operative under the operational alias CURIEL. Since that time, Terpil has been repeatedly mentioned as having played a part in Cuban intelligence operations around the world, but rarely gave interviews. He appeared again in 2014, however, in a documentary entitled “Mad Dog: Inside the Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi”. The film was made by British company Fresh One Productions on behalf of Showtime, an American premium cable and satellite television network. In the documentary, Terpil admitted that he helped the Libyan dictator “eliminate” his opponents —most of them Libyan exiles living abroad.

British newspaper The Observer, which published news or Terpil’s death, said the former CIA operative’s legal status in Cuba “was never quite clear”. He had allegedly expressed concerns in recent months that the rapprochement between Washington and Havana could threaten his sanctuary in the Caribbean island. His Cuban wife told The Observer that complications from diabetes had caused his legs to be amputated in recent months. She told the paper that Terpil “died peacefully” on March 1, of heart failure.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 March 2016 | Permalink

Head of Russian military intelligence dies unexpectedly at 58

Igor SergunThe director of Russia’s powerful military intelligence agency has died unexpectedly at 58, according to the Kremlin, which has yet to release precise information about the circumstances of his death. General Igor Sergun had led the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU, since 2011, when he replaced his predecessor, Colonel General Aleksandr Shlyakhturov, in a Kremlin-instigated reshuffle. The Russian government said at the time that Shlyakhturov, who had spearheaded a major shake-up of the GRU since his appointment in 2009, had “reached retirement age” and gave no other reason for his sudden replacement. General Sergun’s death was announced in a statement posted on the official website of the Kremlin on January 4. It said that the GRU director had “suffered a sudden death” on January 3. It gave no further details as to the exact cause or circumstances surrounding the general’s death.

General Sergun was a career GRU officer, having joined the service as soon as he graduated from the Military Academy of the Soviet Army in 1984. Under his leadership, the GRU —Russia’s largest intelligence agency, which operates under the supervision of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces— became increasingly important in Moscow’s foreign policy maneuvers. The agency was central during the Russian military campaign in Georgia in 2008, and observers considered its role during the onset of the eastern Ukraine crisis in 2013 as indispensable for Russia. This view was reflected early in 2014, when the European Union and the United States imposed economic sanctions on General Sergun, accusing him of coordinating “the activities of GRU officers in eastern Ukraine”.

The January 4 online statement by the Kremlin quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reportedly contacted the late general’s family to offer his condolences. The Russian leader was quoted as saying that General Sergun had given his “life in its entirety to the service of the homeland and the Armed Forces” of the Russian Federation. The late general was “respected for their professionalism, strength of character, honesty and integrity”, said the statement. Moscow has not yet announced Sergun’s replacement at the helm of the GRU.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 January 2016 | Permalink

Marcus Klingberg, highest-ranking Soviet spy ever caught in Israel, dies

Marcus KlingbergMarcus Klingberg, who is believed to be the highest-ranking Soviet spy ever caught in Israel, and whose arrest in 1983 prompted one of the largest espionage scandals in the Jewish state’s history, has died in Paris. Born Avraham Marek Klingberg in 1918, Klingberg left his native Poland following the joint German-Soviet invasion of 1939. Fearing persecution by the Germans due to his Jewish background, and being a committed communist, he joined the Soviet Red Army and served in the eastern front until 1941, when he was injured. He then received a degree in epidemiology from the Belarusian State University in Minsk, before returning to Poland at the end of World War II, where he met and married Adjia Eisman, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Together they moved to Sweden, from where they emigrated to Israeli in 1948. It is believed that Klingberg was recruited by the Soviet KGB while in Sweden, and that he moved to Israel after being asked to do so by his Soviet handlers –though he himself always denied it.

Soon after arriving to Israel, Klingberg joined the Israel Defense Force, where he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1957, he joined the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), a government outfit that conducted classified research for Israel’s biological and chemical weapons program. Klingberg worked at Ness Ziona, a top-secret government facility that conducted research on some of the most advanced chemical and biological weapons in the world. Eventually, he rose to the position deputy scientific director at IIBR, a post that he held until 1972. Additionally, Klingberg enhanced his international profile as a leading epidemiologist and conducted research in universities in Europe and the United States. Throughout that time, he was regularly passing classified information to the KGB at meetings with his handlers in Europe.

The Soviets had painstakingly trained Klingberg in espionage tradecraft, a set of skills that came in handy in the early 1960s, when the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterintelligence agency, began suspecting him of spying for a foreign intelligence service. The Shin Bet began systematically monitoring Klingberg. After failing to get results, the agency gave Klingberg a lie detector test, which he passed on the first try. Meanwhile, the Soviet government secretly awarded Klingberg the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, in recognition of the quality of the information he had passed on to the KGB. In 1982, a Soviet defector to Israel confirmed that Klingberg was indeed a KGB spy. Shortly afterwards, the Shin Bet approached Klingberg and asked him to accompany a top-secret team of Israeli technical experts to Malaysia, where a chemical plant had exploded. But instead of taking the scientist to the airport en route to Malaysia, the government car that picked him up from his house drove him to a Shin Bet safe house. After being interrogated there for nearly two weeks, Klingberg confessed to being a Soviet spy, saying he had decided to join the KGB for ideological reasons. However, in a 2014 interview with British newspaper The Observer, Klingberg claimed that he felt morally indebted to the USSR “for saving the world from the Nazis”.

Klingberg was tried in secret and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He then disappeared inside Israel’s prison system, having been given a false name and occupation by the Israeli authorities. He spent the first 10 years of his prison sentence in solitary confinement. In 1998, following pressure from human-rights groups, the Israeli government agreed to place Klingberg under house arrest, providing he was able to cover the financial cost of his detention. In 2003, having served his 20-year sentence, Klingberg was allowed to leave Israel and settle in France, where his daughter and son-in-law were living. He spent the last years of his life in Paris, where he died on November 30. He was 97.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 October 2015 | Permalink

Pakistan spy chief who helped US covert activities in Soviet-Afghan war dies

Hamid GulGeneral Hamid Gul, a controversial Pakistani spymaster who helped facilitate America’s covert involvement during the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, has died at the age of 72. General Gul entered military service in 1956, aged 20, and saw action in two of Pakistan’s wars with India. He rose to power within the military through his close association with General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who became Pakistan’s sixth president in 1977. In 1987, shortly before President Zia died in a plane crash, General Gul was promoted to director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, which is known as ISI. In that capacity, he oversaw the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, which had begun nearly a decade later and gradually led to a resounding defeat for the Soviets.

As head of the ISI, General Gul helped the intelligence agencies of several countries, including those of Saudi Arabia and the United States, engage covertly in the war taking place across the Hindu Kush. In particular, he helped facilitate the transfer of foreign funds and weaponry to Sunni mujahedeen forces who were fighting the Soviets. It was from within the ranks of these forces that groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban later emerged.

General Gul was never shy about his close operational links with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. He maintained close contact with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and with the late Mullah Muhammad Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban. However, at the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War, Washington gradually disassociated itself from Sunni fundamentalist groups, including the Taliban. But General Gul maintained his public support for Muslim-inspired militant groups, among them Lashkar-e-Taiba, which operates in Indian-controlled Kashmir. As America began distancing itself from its former Afghan allies, and siding instead with India, General Gul’s relations with Washington worsened dramatically. In 2009, the General gave one of many controversial interviews to the media, in which he condemned the increasing military and political collaboration between the US and India. He noted that “the Americans and Israel [are] hell-bent” on positioning India to the role of overseer of “60 per cent of the world’s trade [which] passes through the Indian Ocean”, including transport routes of “Gulf oil, bound for China and Japan”.

In later years, General Gul became a vocal critic of US foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, spoke out against the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and publicly supported the Taliban insurgency against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan. He is survived by a widow and three children.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2015 | Permalink

Swedish double spy who escaped to Moscow in 1987 dies at 77

Stig BerglingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Sweden’s most notorious Cold-War spy, who went on the run for nearly a decade after managing to escape from prison in 1987, has died in Stockholm. Born in the Swedish capital in 1937, Stig Eugén Bergling became a police officer in the late 1950s prior to joining SÄPO, the Swedish Security Service, in 1967. He initially worked in the Service’s surveillance unit, and later joined several counterintelligence operations, mostly against Soviet and East European intelligence services. In 1979, while posted by SÄPO in Tel Aviv, he was arrested by the Israelis for selling classified documents to the GRU, the military intelligence agency of the USSR.

He was promptly extradited to Sweden, where he stood trial for espionage and treason. His trial captivated the headlines, as details about the spy tradecraft he employed while spying for the Soviets, including radio transmitters, invisible ink and microdots, were revealed in court. He said in his testimony that he sold over 15,000 classified Swedish government documents to the Soviets, not due to any ideological allegiance with the Kremlin, but simply in order to make money. Bergling was sentenced to life in prison, while lawyers for the prosecution argued in court that the reorganization of Sweden’s defense and intelligence apparatus, which had been caused by Bergling’s espionage, would cost the taxpayer in excess of $45 million. For the next six years, the convicted spy disappeared from the headlines, after legally changing his name to Eugen Sandberg while serving his sentence.

But in 1987, during a conjugal visit to his wife, he escaped with her using several rented cars, eventually making it to Finland. When they arrived in Helsinki, Bergling contacted the Soviet embassy, which smuggled him and his wife across to the USSR. The couple’s escape caused a major stir in Sweden, and an international manhunt was initiated for their capture. In 1994, the two fugitives suddenly returned to Sweden from Lebanon, where they had been living, claiming they were homesick and missed their families. They said they had lived in Moscow and Budapest under the aliases of Ivar and Elisabeth Straus. Bergling was sent back to prison, while his wife was not sentenced due to ill health. She died of cancer in 1997. Bergling changed his name again, this time to Sydholt, and lived his final years in a nursing home in Stockholm until his recent death. He was 77.

Yitzhak Hofi, controversial head of Israeli Mossad, dead at 87

Yitzhak HofiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Yitzhak Hofi, who led the Israeli covert-action agency Mossad during one of its most important periods, has died at the age of 87. Born in Tel Aviv during the time of the British Mandate of Palestine, Hofi rose through the ranks of the Israeli Defense Forces before assuming directorship of the Mossad in 1974. The young Hofi joined the Palmach, an elite unit of the Haganah, which was the most militant wing of the Zionist community in Palestine. The British occupation forces designated the Haganah a terrorist organization at the time. After Israel was formally established, Hofi was one of many members of the Palmach that formed the founding backbone of the IDF. Having fought in the 1948 Palestine War, Hofi rose through the ranks of the IDF throughout the next three decades, serving in the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Following the end of that conflict, an internal government investigation found that David Elazar, the IDF’s Chief of Staff, was personally responsible for many of Israel’s military failures during the clashes. Elazar was forced to resign in 1974, and Hofi served in his place for a brief period in an interim capacity. But he resigned in protest after Israel’s Defense Minister at the time, Moshe Dayan, appointed his protégé Motta Gur to the post. A few months later, Israel’s newly elected Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, asked Hofi to assume the directorship of the Mossad. Hofi accepted Rabin’s nomination and went on to lead the Israeli intelligence agency until 1982, during one of the Jewish state’s most important periods. Although his allies credit him with exerting a moderate style of leadership, his critics blame him for forging close ties between the Mossad and the rightwing Kataeb Party in Lebanon. In September of 1982, Kataeb’s Phalangist militia members perpetrated the Sabra and Shatila massacres, in which as many as 3,500 civilians, most of them Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, were killed, some say with direct Israeli complicity. At the same time, however, Hofi’s political maneuvering in Morocco laid the groundwork for the secret summit in Rabat between Israel and Egypt. The talks led to the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, and prompted the historic visit by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to the Jewish state. Read more of this post

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