Spy collection program using fake mobile phone apps linked to Pakistani military

Cellular telephoneThe Pakistani military is suspected of having orchestrated a lucrative intelligence collection campaign using mobile phones, which targeted diplomats from India, Israel and Australia, as well as from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries such as the United States and Britain. Others targeted in the operation include officials from Iraq, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. News of the alleged spy operation was published earlier this month by Lookout Mobile Security, a security software company based in the United States.

The company said that the perpetrators of the operation managed to hack into a number of diplomats’ phones by creating a number of fake applications for Android and iOS mobile phone systems. The applications, called Tangelo (for iOS) and Stealth Mango (for Android), took control of mobile phone devices once their owners downloaded them through fake third-party app stores advertising online. According to Lookout, the two apps were designed by a consortium of freelance software developers who have close links with the Pakistani military establishment. The technical report published by Lookout points to the use of IP addresses that lead to a server housed in Pakistan’s Ministry of Education in the country’s capital, Islamabad. Lookout also said that it managed to trace the identity of the person who was the main developer of the two fake mobile phone applications. He is reportedly a full-time government employee who “moonlights as a mobile app developer”. The group that built the fake apps is known for creating legitimate apps, said Lookout, but also works for hire creating surveillanceware for mobile phone systems. In the past, the same group has been found to target military and civilian government officials in India, according to Lookout.

In its technical report, the Lookout security team describes how the Pakistani hackers collected a variety of data from their victims, by having it stealthily transmitted from compromised mobile phones to servers in Islamabad. The data included photos and videos, lists of contacts, logs of phone calls and texts, as well as detailed calendar entries. German and Australian diplomats had their travel plans stolen, and a letter from the United States Central Command to Afghanistan’s assistant minister of defense for intelligence was also acquired by the hackers. The latter also gained access to the contents of an entire database of pictures of traveler passports —many of them diplomatic— from the Kandahar International Airport in southern Afghanistan. The report said it was impossible to know for certain when Tangelo and Stealth Mango were first developed and utilized. However, the most recent version of the apps was released in April of this year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2018 | Permalink

Advertisements

Pakistan denies it plans to release doctor who helped CIA find bin Laden

Dr Shakil AfridiAuthorities in Pakistan have dismissed rumors that a medical doctor who helped the United States Central Intelligence Agency find and kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in 2011 is to be released from prison. Dr. Shakil Afridi was arrested in 2011, soon after bin Laden was killed in a CIA operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. In the weeks following the CIA raid, it emerged that a team of local doctors and nurses had helped the American spy agency confirm bin Laden’s presence in the compound. The team of nearly 20 healthcare workers participated in a fake vaccination scheme carried out in Abbottabad, whose true purpose was to collect DNA samples from the residents of the compound where the CIA believed bin Laden was hiding.

Pakistani authorities fired 17 healthcare workers who participated in the CIA scheme and arrested its head, Dr. Afridi. Bizarrely, Dr. Afridi was arrested for having alleged links with an Islamist group that operates in the region, known as Lashkar-e-Islam. He then faced charges for alleged medical malpractice, which, according to the prosecution, resulted in the death of one of his patients. He is currently serving a 33-year prison sentence in Pakistan’s northwestern border city of Peshawar. Ever since his arrest, the US has pressured Pakistan to release Dr. Afridi, and Pakistani media often publish sensational reports about alleged covert attempts by the CIA to free the imprisoned medical doctor. Last week, Dr. Afridi was transported by helicopter from Peshawar to a jail near the village of Adiala, located near Pakistan’s border with the Indian region of Kashmir. Dr. Afridi’s move, which took place amid heavy security, sparked rumors in the media that the alleged CIA agent was about to be released and transported to America.

But on Thursday, Muhammad Faisal, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dismissed intense media speculation that Dr. Afridi was about to be released. He also denied that Islamabad was attempting to swap Afridi with Pakistani nationals living in the US, including Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison term in the US for killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Additionally, Faisal described as “nonsense” media reports of an alleged failed CIA attempt to organize a jailbreak in Peshawar, in order to free Dr. Afridi.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 4 May 2018 | Permalink

Another US diplomat detained in Pakistan over traffic accident that injured two

US embassy Islamabad PakistanAnother American diplomat was detained in Pakistan last week, following the second serious traffic accident involving United States diplomatic personnel in Islamabad in less than a month. The incidents are said to be contributing to ongoing diplomatic tensions between the United States and Pakistan. Many in the South Asian country remain angry about a controversial episode in 2011, when a Central Intelligence Agency officer serving at the US consulate in Lahore killed two men by shooting them in the head with a Glock pistol. The CIA officer, Raymond A. Davis, told Pakistani police that the two men had tried to rob him. He was eventually released from detention due to his diplomatic immunity, but only after the personal intervention of the then Secretary of State John Kerry, and after Washington offered monetary compensation to the two dead men’s families.

In the latest incident, Pakistani authorities detained an American diplomat on Sunday, after his Toyota SUV ran over two men riding on a motorcycle in Islamabad. The diplomat, identified in Pakistani media as the US embassy’s Second Secretary Chad Rex Ausburn, was accused by police of having been involved in a hit-and-run incident in the Pakistani capital. According to local reports, Ausburn refused to emerge from his vehicle immediately following the accident, but eventually stepped out and identified himself to police officers. They then took him into custody and impounded his vehicle, which is believed to belong to the US embassy. Ausburn was released once the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed his diplomatic status, which grants him immunity from prosecution. The two men injured in the accident are said to be in stable condition at a nearby hospital. Police have reportedly charged the driver of the motorcycle with reckless driving.

However, Pakistani authorities have also charged Taimur Iqbal Pirzada, a security adviser for the US embassy in Islamabad, with seeking to obstruct the police investigation into Sunday’s incident. Pirzada stands accused of trying to stop police officers from detaining Ausburn and impounding his vehicle. He was released on bail on Monday and is currently awaiting trial. US State Department spokesman Nolen Johnson told The New York Times on Monday that the issue involving Ausburn had been “resolved” and that the US government had been “in close contact with Government of Pakistan officials on this matter”. This past April, Pakistani authorities barred another American diplomat from leaving the country, after the car he was driving was involved in an accident in Islamabad, which left a motorcyclist dead. The US embassy’s military attaché, Colonel Joseph E. Hall, remains in Pakistan. Authorities there have demanded that the US Department of State rescinds his diplomatic immunity, so he can face a criminal trial. But the US government has so far refused to grant Islamabad’s request.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2018 | Permalink | Research credit: C.F.

India arrests commando instructor who fell for Pakistani honey trap on Facebook

Garud Commando ForceIndian authorities have arrested an Indian Air Force officer for allegedly giving classified documents to two Pakistani spies on Facebook, who posed as women interested in him. The officer has been named as Arun Marwaha, a wing commander stationed at the Indian Air Force headquarters in Delhi. Marwaha, 51, is a para-jumping instructor who trains members of India’s Garud Commando Force —the Special Forces unit of the Indian Air Force. He was reportedly due to retire in 2019.

According to Indian government investigators, several months ago Marwaha was befriended by two Facebook users who claimed to be Indian women. He began chatting regularly with them on Facebook and eventually on the popular cell phone messenger service WhatsApp. Within weeks, Marwaha’s WhatsApp exchanges with the women had become intimate in nature. Before long, the Indian Air Force instructor was providing the women with classified documents in return for intimate photos of themselves. Media reports state that the classified documents related to special operations, some involving cyberwarfare, and space reconnaissance. Government investigators claim that Marwaha’s Facebook contacts were in fact male officers of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who targeted Marwaha in a carefully planned honey trap operation.

According to reports, the breach caused by Marwaha was discovered last month, at which time the internal security branch of the Indian Air Force launched an investigation. Marwaha was questioned for over a week before turning over his case to Delhi Police, who arrested him on Thursday. He has reportedly been charged under India’s Official Secrets Act and is facing a jail sentence of up to 14 years. Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force is investigating whether other officers have fallen victims to similar honey trap operations by Pakistan’s ISI on Facebook.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 January 2018 | Permalink

Pakistan halts intelligence cooperation with US, but US embassy denies knowledge

Khurram Dastgir KhanPakistan said on Tuesday that it had suspended military and intelligence cooperation with the United States in the wake of Washington’s decision to stop security assistance to Pakistan. On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Minister of Defense, Khurram Dastgir Khan, said that his country had terminated all cooperation with the US in the areas of defense and intelligence. He said that the move was a response to the announcement by US President Donald Trump last week that Washington would stop providing security assistance to Pakistan. American officials stated that the change in policy took place because Pakistan had allegedly deceived America in the global war on terrorism. On Thursday last week, the President Trump accused the Pakistani government of having given the US “nothing but lies and deceit”. Trump’s accusation was followed by an official statement by the Pentagon, which said that Pakistan should cease to provide “sanctuaries in its territory for Taliban and Haqqani network leaders and operatives”.

On Tuesday, while speaking at a conference in Islamabad, Defense Minister Khan said that Pakistan had suspended “a wide field of intelligence cooperation and defense cooperation”. He was speaking during a conference hosted by the Institute of Strategic Studies, which is a government-sponsored think-tank based in the Pakistani capital. Khan accused the US of treating Pakistan as a “scapegoat” for its military and political failures in neighboring Afghanistan. He also warned Washington that Pakistan would not allow America’s war in Afghanistan to be fought on Pakistan’s territory. He ended his talk, entitled “Contours of Security Environment of Pakistan”, with what he described as “a reminder”, saying that Washington needs Pakistan’s support in its efforts against the Taliban and the Islamic State in Afghanistan: “Logistics trumps strategy”, he said.

But the Voice of America news service reported on Tuesday that the US embassy in Islamabad had no information about Khan’s announcement concerning Pakistan’s termination of military and intelligence cooperation with Washington. A spokesman at the embassy told the news service that the embassy had “not received any formal communication regarding a suspension” of military and intelligence cooperation by Islamabad. Last week, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis insisted that his department kept open lines of communications with the Pakistani military leadership despite the suspension of security assistance by Washington. Islamabad said that communication lines with North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces remained open, but military cooperation with Washington had been terminated.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 January 2018 | Permalink

Ex-CIA contractor says Pakistan’s leaders helped him escape murder charges

Raymond Allen DavisA former contractor for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who was released from a Pakistani prison in 2011 despite being implicated in a double murder there, says he was freed with the help of senior Pakistani officials. Raymond Allen Davis was a CIA contractor posted in the US consulate in Pakistan’s Punjabi capital, Lahore, which is also the country’s second-largest city. It has been suggested that, for a while, Davis was the CIA’s acting station chief in Lahore, thus technically the most senior American intelligence officer in Punjab.

On January 27, 2011, while driving in downtown Lahore, Davis opened fire against two men riding on a motorcycle, killing them instantly. Soon after the incident, Davis appears to have contacted the US consulate in Lahore, which rapidly dispatched a consular vehicle to remove him from the scene of the shooting. However, the vehicle was unable to reach Davis, who was surrounded by an angry crowd. Unable to pick up Davis, the car then returned to the consulate after running down and killing a motorcyclist who was unconnected with the earlier incident. Eventually Davis was arrested and charged with double murder and illegal possession of a firearm. The Pakistani government dismissed Washington’s assertion that Davis was an accredited diplomat, and was thus not subject to Pakistan’s legal system because of his diplomatic immunity. With public opinion in Pakistan heavily against Davis, the case sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Islamabad. Unexpectedly, however, Davis was released in March of the same year, after the families of the two men he killed appeared in court and said they forgave him and wanted him to be pardoned. It later emerged that the families of the murdered men had been given a total of $2.4 million as compensation for their deaths.

Read more of this post

Crisis looms over Pakistan’s impending execution of alleged Indian spy

Kulbhushan JadhavAnalysts warn that South Asia may witness its worst crisis since the 2008 Mumbai attacks if Pakistan carries out its threat to execute an Indian former naval officer whom it accuses of espionage. Authorities in Islamabad say Kulbhushan Jadhav (pictured) worked for the Indian Navy until 2003, when he was recruited by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), a government intelligence agency that conducts operations abroad. The Pakistanis claim that Jadhav was arrested in southwest Pakistan in 2016, where he was engaged in funding and training secessionist militants from Pakistan’s Baluch minority. The Baluch are an Iranic people, most of whom live in a region known as Baluchistan, which is split between Iran and Pakistan. There are populous Baluch communities in the southern city of Karachi, one of Pakistan’s most populous ports. Some members of the Baluch community have secessionist aspirations and are accused of terrorism by Iranian and Pakistani authorities.

Soon after Jadhav’s arrest in March 2016, the Pakistani military released excerpts of an alleged videotaped confession by the Indian former naval officer. In it, Jadhav can be seen confessing to having worked on instructions by the Indian government to inflame ethnic divisions in Pakistan, from 2013 until his arrest. Last month, a secret military court in Pakistan sentenced Jadhav to death on charges of espionage. India, however, has rejected Pakistan’s allegations, saying that Jadhav’s confession was extracted through torture. The Indians claim that Jadhav was kidnapped by Pakistani operatives in Iran and brought to Pakistan by force. Indian officials dismissed Islamabad’s claim Jadhav was carrying his Indian passport when the Pakistanis captured him, saying that no undercover intelligence officer operating abroad would be carrying an Indian passport. New Delhi has warned of “serious consequences” if Pakistan engages in “premeditated murder” by executing Jadhav.

Some observers have noted that Jadhav was tried by a secret court martial, which signifies a radical break from standard practice. Moreover, the public announcements about his fate were made by the Pakistani military, rather than the civilian government, which is unprecedented. This leads some analysts to the conclusion that the Jadhav case is being handled solely by the military, which is trying to use Jadhav’s case to dissuade the government in Islamabad from reaching out to India with an offer for negotiations. There are also suggestions that the timing of Jadhav’s sentence might indicate that Islamabad hopes to exchange him for one or more of its intelligence officers that are being held by India.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 April 2017 | Permalink