Spy chiefs from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan hold high-level meeting

Sergei NaryshkinIntelligence directors from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan met on Tuesday to discuss regional cooperation with particular reference to combating the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Information about the high-level meeting was revealed yesterday by Sergei Ivanov, media spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Ivanov told Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency that the meeting was held in Pakistan and included the participation of SVR director Sergei Naryshkin. TASS reported that the meeting was held under the auspices of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and was attended by “senior intelligence officials” from Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China.

Ivanov said that discussions during the meeting “focused on the dangers arising from a buildup of the Islamic State on the Afghan territory”. The Islamic State announced the formation of its Afghan province (wilayah in Arabic) in January 2015, using the term “Khorasan Province”. By July 2016, two of its most prominent leaders had been killed in coordinated drone strikes by the United States, but the group continues to launch operations to this day. Its core is thought to be made up of nearly 100 fighters from the Islamic State’s former strongholds in Syria and Iraq. According to Russian reports, security officials in China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran are concerned that the Islamic State’s Afghan command is becoming stronger as fighters from the group are leaving the Middle East and moving to Afghanistan.

Tuesday’s high-level meeting in Islamabad follows an announcement last month by the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that it would adopt a more active stance on security issues in Afghanistan. Early in June, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani described the SCO as “an important platform for anti-terrorist cooperation and enhancing regional connectivity” in Central and South Asia. President Ghani made these comments shortly before traveling to China to attend the annual summit of the SCO, of which Afghanistan is an observer country.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 July 2018 | Permalink

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Pakistan bars its former spy chief from leaving the country over controversial book

Asad Durrani

Pakistan has officially barred a former director of its powerful intelligence agency from leaving the country, after he co-authored a controversial book with his Indian counterpart. Asad Durrani is a retired Pakistani Army general who served as director-general of Pakistan’s Directorate for Military Intelligence between 1988 and 1989. From 1990 to 1992, he served as director of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful government institution. Durrani, 77, has been severely criticized in some Pakistani circles for co-authoring a book entitled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with his Indian counterpart, A.S. Daulat. Daulat, 78, headed India’s Research and Analysis Wing from 1999 to 2000.

The book, which was edited by the widely respected Indian journalist Aditya Sinha, has prompted heavy criticism of its two co-authors in nationalist circles in the two rival regional powers. But Durrani’s position became more tenuous on Monday, after the government of Pakistan announced that he had been placed under formal investigation. Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters in Islamabad on Monday morning that the revelations made in Lieutenant General Durrani’s book would be investigated by a formal court of inquiry, headed by a three-star general. He also said that Durrani had been urgently summoned to the Pakistani Army’s headquarters to answer allegations that he violated the Pakistani military’s code of conduct. Additionally, Ghafoor announced that Durrani had been placed on an official government-administered “exit control list”, which means that he is not allowed to leave Pakistan until further notice.

The Pakistani armed forces have not explained the precise reasons why Durrani is under investigation. His book makes several controversial allegations relating to Islamabad’s intelligence operations. A large part of the book contains details about Pakistan’s systematic efforts to foment armed unrest in the heavily Muslim Indian state of Kashmir, for instance by funding and training a host of Islamist paramilitary organizations that operate in the disputed region. The book also claims that the Pakistani government was aware of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and that it cooperated closely with the United States to kill the co-founder of al-Qaeda. Islamabad has consistently denied allegations that it knew of bin Laden’s hideout in the city of Abbottabad, and that it gave permission to US Special Forces troops to raid his compound. If Durrani is charged with having violated the Pakistani military’s code of conduct, he could face a minimum of two years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 May 2018 | Permalink

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

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