Peru crisis deepens as prime minister is ousted over spy scandal

Ollanta Humala and Ana JaraBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
For the first time in 50 years, the Peruvian Congress has voted to depose the nation’s prime minister, following allegations of espionage against opposition figures by the country’s intelligence agency. Prime Minister Ana Jara assumed office less than a year ago, after being asked to form a government by Peru’s embattled President, Ollanta Humala. Although her government faced sustained criticism from opposition forces almost from the very beginning, critics began calling for her immediate resignation on March 19, when allegations of politically motivated espionage surfaced in the national press. Peru’s leading weekly, Correo Semanal, said it had uncovered systematic spying by Peru’s National Intelligence Directorate (DINI) against law-abiding citizens who had voiced disagreements with the government. The paper alleged that DINI had for years gathered information on dozens of opposition politicians, military leaders and their families, business executives, as well as journalists known to be critical of government policies.

The revelations prompted a swift reorganization of DINI’s upper echelons on orders of the prime minister. But members of Congress said the restructuring of the intelligence agency had been an attempt by Prime Minister Jara to pacify her critics and called for her ouster. In a barrage of editorials in the Peruvian press, opposition figures accused the prime minister of failing to control the country’s unruly and corrupt intelligence community, whose controversial history is marred by excesses during and after the Cold War.

Late on Monday evening, the Peruvian Congress voted by 72 to 42 and two abstentions to unseat the prime minister. She will now have to tend her resignation to the president within 72 hours of losing Monday’s confidence vote. Presidnet Humala will then seek to form a government under a new prime minister, the eighth in his four years in power. The outgoing prime minster, meanwhile, accused Congress of treating her as a scapegoat and blasted the opposition for politicizing the issue of domestic espionage. In a message posted on her personal Twitter account, Jara said it was “an honor” for her to have been censured “by this Congress”.

Peru recalls ambassador from Chile as espionage probe widens

Ollanta HumalaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Peru has officially recalled its ambassador from Chile as it investigates three Peruvian naval officers who are said to have passed military secrets to Chilean intelligence. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced on Saturday that the decision had been taken to recall the country’s ambassador from Santiago following an emergency meeting of the cabinet. The espionage allegations against the three officers appeared in the Peruvian media last Thursday. Several leading newspapers, among them the Lima-based El Comercio, said the three junior Peruvian officers were suspected of having spied for Chile from 2005 to 2012.

On the following day, Peru’s Minister of National Defense, Pedro Cateriano, officially confirmed the reports and said two of the officers had been arrested and would be tried in a military court. A third one was being investigated for possible connections with the Chilean spy ring, said Cateriano. According to the Peruvian government, the naval officers stole classified military documents and passed them on to their Chilean handlers in exchange for money. They are alleged to have traveled abroad on several instances between 2005 and 2012, in order to conduct secret meetings with Chilean diplomats and intelligence officers, in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and even Argentina itself. It was there, according to reports from Peru, that the three alleged spies passed on classified information to their handlers. Defense Minister Cateriano implied on Friday that the officers came under suspicion when their superiors, who knew the level of their government pay, deduced that they did not have sufficient funds to pay for international travel, and concluded that someone else must be funding their frequent trips abroad.

Following an emergency session on Friday, the Peruvian Congress issued a statement urging Chile to provide “firm guarantees” that such “aggressive actions” against Peruvian sovereignty would not be repeated. The Chilean government said late on Friday that it did not condone or promote espionage. But Peruvian President Humala told reporters on Saturday that a more precise and direct answer was in order. The two naval officers are not expected to stand trial until the summer. Meanwhile, authorities in Peru say they are investigating possible involvement by high-ranking military officers in the alleged spy ring.

Fujimori-era spy scandal returns to haunt Peruvian politics

Ollanta HumalaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Faithful readers of this blog will be familiar with the case of Vladimiro Montesinos, the former director of Peru’s intelligence service, Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional (SIN). Montesinos, a CIA agent, is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for setting up a sophisticated network of illegal activities during his SIN tenure. The crimes he committed included drug trafficking, bribing, extortion, as well as embezzlement. Many of these activities were conducted under the direction of Peru’s disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori. He too is now in prison for having handed Montesinos $15 million from government coffers. In the past decade, civil society in Peru has tried to move on from these scandals, and has sought to establish a more stable political culture. In the 2011 elections, the country voted for Ollanta Humala, who was sworn into office on July 28 of that year. The son of a labor lawyer, Humala became a career military officer at an early age. In 2000, he became known across Peru when he led a local mutiny against the government of Alberto Fujimori, complaining against corruption in the central government. The mutiny, joined by a just few dozens of soldiers in southern Peru, was quickly quashed by the government, and Humala soon found himself in prison. However, he was pardoned by the Peruvian Congress after the fall of the Fujimori regime. Moreover, Humala was seen by many as a national hero for his defiant stance in 2000. However, Humala’s stardom has begun to fade in recent weeks, after media reports drew the country’s attention to Óscar López Meneses. Over a decade ago, López was taken to court along with Fujimori and Montesinos, and was given a suspended sentence for having helped the sinister spy kingpin run his criminal network around the country. López has kept a low profile in recent years, but Peruvian media reported last month that he has remained in close operational contact with the Peruvian police. The revelation led to the eventual resignation of Peru’s minister of the interior, Wilfredo Pedraza, while his interim successor quickly fired seven senior police officials for having contacts with López. Read more of this post

US revokes Peruvian ex-defense minister’s visa over alleged spy links

Vicky Peláez and  Mikhail VasenkovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The United States has allegedly revoked an entry visa previously issued to the former Deputy Minister of Defense of Peru, over suspicions that he is connected to a major Russian espionage ring found operating in the United States. Fabián Novak had his visa revoked after he was allegedly included on a list drawn by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, containing names of individuals connected to a Russian illegals program caught operating in the US in 2010. According to El Comercio, Peru’s oldest newspaper, Novak, who served as the country’s Deputy Defense Minster between 2006 and 2008, met repeatedly with two members of the 11-member Russian spy ring, which was busted in a series of coordinated raids across several US states in July of 2010. The Lima-based daily quotes an anonymous “high-level [US] government source” who claims that Novak directly contacted two of the 11 Russian spies, who entered the United States from Peru, using Uruguayan and Peruvian travel documentation. The two, Vicky Peláez, who posed as a journalist, and her husband Mikhail Anatolyevich Vasenkov (alias Juan Lazaro), an adjunct professor, were among nearly a dozen Russian illegals swapped less than two weeks after their arrests by the FBI with several CIA spies held in Russian prisons. The El Comercio source claimed that, according to the FBI, Novak met with two officials from the Russian embassy in Lima at least twice, in 2001 and 2006, to discuss the activities of Peláez and Vasenkov in the US. Read more of this post

German commandos arrest couple ‘spying for Russia’

Russian and German flags

Russia & Germany

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Members of an elite German commando unit have arrested a man and a woman, on suspicion of having spied for Russia for over two decades. A statement issued by the German prosecutor’s office does not name the couple, nor does it explicitly identify them as Russian spies. It says simply that they are “suspected of having worked in Germany over a long period of time for a foreign intelligence agency”. But an article in Germany’s leading newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, identifies the couple as “Andreas A.” and “Heidrun A.”, and claims that the two have spied for Russian intelligence since at least 1988. The newsmagazine reports that the suspected spies were caught separately in the towns of Balingen and Marburg, located in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Hesse respectively. It also suggests that the two were apprehended by members of Germany’s GSG-9, the elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police, and that the woman was actually caught in the act of listening to a coded radio message. Both were found to be in possession of forged Austrian passports, as well as —apparently fake— birth certificates stating that they were born in Argentina (Andreas) and Peru (Heidrun). Following the Spiegel article, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor confirmed that two people had indeed been arrested on suspicion of espionage activities on behalf of a foreign country. If a Russian connection is established, it will be the first international espionage case linking Russia and Germany since the latter’s reunification in 1990. If they are followed by convictions, the arrests could constitute a much needed success story for the German intelligence community, whose reputation has lately been damaged by several unsavory media stories. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #449

  • Damning report on CIA attack on missionary plane. US Central Intelligence Agency officers involved with a secret counternarcotics mission in the Peruvian jungle routinely violated agency procedures, tried to cover up their mistakes, and misled Congress immediately after a missionary plane was accidentally shot down in 2001, according to a blistering CIA internal report released on Monday.
  • Israeli legislators call on US to release Jewish spy. Members of the Israeli Knesset are calling on US President Barack Obama to pardon American-born spy Jonathan Pollard, having been jailed in a maximum-security facility since 1985. George Bush refused to pardon Pollard in the last days of his presidency.
  • Analysis: Britain’s MI6 operates a bit differently than CIA. “Like the CIA, MI6 has a website, but while the U.S. agency site is only in English, MI6’s is also in Arabic, Russian, French, Spanish and Chinese. Another sign of British sophistication: while the CIA site has games and quizzes for kids, the MI6 site gives short tests to allow potential recruits to assess their analytical and administrative skills”. Interesting comparative assessment by Walter Pincus.

Swapped spy says he is not Russian, wants to move to Peru

Mikhail Vasenkov

Mikhail Vasenkov

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
One of the 11 Russian spies arrested in the US in June, and later swapped with CIA assets held in Russian prisons, claims he is not Russian, speaks no Russian, and wants to move to Peru, where he lived in the 1970s. Juan Lazaro was arrested by the FBI on June 27, along with 9 other (and later one more) Russian deep-cover operatives, who had lived in the United States under false identities for up to three decades. Lazaro, who lived in Yonkers, New York, had a doctorate in Political Science, worked as an adjunct professor, and was married to Peruvian-born journalist Vicky Pelaez. But FBI investigators unmasked Lazaro’s real name, which is Mikhail Vasenkov, before deporting him and his wife, who is also accused of working for the Russian secret services, to Moscow. According to FBI records, Vasenkov assumed the Juan Lazaro identity and ‘legend’ (biographical narrative and supporting documentation for intelligence purposes) while living in Latin America in the 1970s, using the papers of the real Juan Lazaro, an Uruguayan child who died at age 3. But now Vasenkov’s American lawyer, Genesis Peduto, claims her client is not from Russia, speaks no Russian, but is in fact the real Juan Lazaro, and wishes to leave Russia for Peru. Read more of this post