Is brother of China’s ex-chief of staff seeking to defect to the US?

Ling WanchengA well-connected Chinese businessman, described by officials as potentially one of the most damaging defectors in the history of modern China, is reputed to have requested political asylum in the United States. Ling Wancheng, 54, is the multimillionaire brother of Ling Jihua, a close aide of China’s former premier, Hu Jintao, who rose through the ranks of the Communist Party of China to eventually lead its Central Committee’s General Office. With the help of his brother’s connections and political influence, Ling Wancheng transformed himself from a journalist to an entrepreneur in the early 2000s. Soon after receiving his graduate degree in business administration, he founded an investment firm and joined China’s nouveau riche elite. His wealth, which is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, coupled with his older brother’s senior position within the Communist Party, made him one of China’s most politically connected entrepreneurs.

However, the Ling family’s fortunes turned dramatically for the worse in March of 2012, when Ling Jihua’s 23-year-old son was killed in a Beijing street while driving a Ferrari after a night of wild partying. Two half-naked women, who were also riding in the car, were seriously injured; one later died of her wounds. The circumstances of the crash, as well as Ling Jihua’s failed efforts to cover it up, were seen as symbolic of a spoiled generation of government officials, whose corrupt practices have isolated the Communist Party from the Chinese populace. Soon afterwards, the new administration of President Xi Jinping initiated a massive anti-corruption campaign as a means of restoring the reputation of the Communist Party. Ling was immediately demoted, cut off from the top echelons of the Chinese government, and in 2014 there were rumors that he would soon be facing a corruption investigation. In July of this year, it was officially announced that Ling had been expelled from the Communist Party and that he would be facing trial on charges of accepting bribes.

The announcement of Ling’s trial stated that he was accused of “accepting certain bribes for himself and on behalf of his family”. But no charges were filed against Ling Wancheng, and there were rumors that he was being pressured by Communist Party officials to testify against his brother. But it appears that the multimillionaire businessman, who owns several properties in the US, was able to flee China and is now in an undisclosed location on US soil. The New York Times, who tried to locate Ling earlier this week, spoke to unnamed American officials, who confirmed that he had indeed fled China and was in the US. The officials refused to confirm that Ling had applied for asylum. But they said that, if he did defect to America, Ling “could become one of the most damaging defectors in the history of the People’s Republic”, due to his political connections.

The Times added that Beijing had contacted the White House requesting that Ling be extradited to China. But the administration of US President Barack Obama appears unwilling to satisfy the Chinese government’s request, given that Chinese hackers are believed to be responsible for the recent theft of up to 24 million American government workers’ personal data.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2015 | Permalink

Senior Iranian aide defects during nuclear talks in Lausanne

Amir Hossein MotaghiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A media advisor to the Iranian president, who was in Switzerland to cover the ongoing international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, has defected. Amir Hossein Motaghi is credited with having helped secure the impressive ascent of Hassan Rouhani to Iran’s presidency in 2013. Rouhani, who swept to power with over 50 percent of the vote, over 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, owes much of his victory to his popularity among the youth. Motaghi led the media team that promoted Rouhani’s image among younger voters by cleverly employing online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Following Rouhani’s victory, however, Motaghi repeatedly voiced impatience with the slow pace of social and political reforms in Iran. Recently he spoke in favor of the release of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been denounced as a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government. There have been rumors in the Iranian media that Motaghi had been ordered to report once a week to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence; some say he had been privately warned that he faced arrest upon his return to Iran.

Motaghi had reportedly been sent to the Swiss city of Lausanne by the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). His task was to cover the ongoing talks that aim to bring an end to the dispute between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. However, according to Iranian opposition sources, the media aide resigned from his ISCA post before filing an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Soon afterwards, Motaghi gave an interview to Irane Farda, a pro-reform Iranian television station based in London, in which he explained the reasons for his defection. He accused the Iranian government of controlling Iranian media reports about the talks, by staffing its reporter entourage in Lausanne with undercover intelligence officers. He also said he could no longer pursue his profession conscientiously because he was only allowed to report approved news items. Furthermore, he accused the American delegation to the talks as “mainly speak[ing] on Iran’s behalf with […] the 5+1 countries [so as to] convince them to consent to an agreement”.

Late on Sunday, ISCA, the press agency believed to have sent Motaghi to Switzerland, released a statement claiming it did not employ the journalist and that his job had been terminated prior to the nuclear talks in Lausanne.

Did US threaten to stop sharing intel if Germany protected Snowden?

Angela Merkel and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The vice chancellor of Germany has allegedly told an American journalist that the United States warned Berlin it would stop sharing intelligence if it offered protection to American defector Edward Snowden. The claim was made by Glenn Greenwald, a former reporter for British newspaper The Guardian, who became widely known by publishing Snowden’s revelations. The American former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency is currently living in Russia, where he was offered political asylum in 2013. Some of the most extraordinary disclosures made by Snowden since his defection center on allegations of extensive American intelligence operations against Germany. These led to an unprecedented cooling in relations between Washington and Berlin, which worsened in July of last year, after Germany expelled the CIA station chief —essentially the top American spy in the country— from its territory.

Many German politicians, who are appreciative of Snowden’s disclosures about American intelligence operations against their country, have pressed the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer Snowden political asylum, thus shielding him from the possibility of arrest and imprisonment by American authorities. In 2013, however, when Snowden applied for political asylum in Germany, the government rejected his application after a notably short evaluation period.

According to Greenwald, the rejection of Snowden’s application came after direct warnings by the US that all intelligence cooperation between the two countries would seize if Berlin approved Snowden’s bid for political asylum. The American reporter says he was informed about the US warning by none other than German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, following a speech he made in the southern German city of Homburg last week. During his speech, says Greenwald, the vice chancellor, who is also head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, argued that Snowden should not have been forced to seek protection from “Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia” and criticized the unwillingness of Western countries to offer him asylum instead. In response to a comment from a member of the audience, who asked Gabriel why Germany had rejected the American defector’s application for asylum, the vice chancellor said Germany would have been “legally obligated to extradite Snowden to the US if he were on German soil”.

Following Gabriel’s speech, Greenwald asked him to clarify why Germany was so quick to reject Snowden’s asylum application. The German politician allegedly responded that Washington had warned Berlin that it would be “cut off’ from all intelligence sharing in a variety of pressing matters. “They told us they would stop notifying us of [terrorist] plots and other intelligence matters”, Gabriel allegedly told Greenwald. As intelNews reported last month, Britain has also threatened to end intelligence cooperation with Germany if Berlin launches —as it has threatened to do— a parliamentary investigation of British intelligence operations in Germany, which were also disclosed by Snowden.

Colombia’s fugitive ex-spy chief wanted by Interpol surrenders

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s security service, who is accused of spying on senior political figures, has turned herself over to the authorities after five years on the run. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared.

Her whereabouts remained unknown until last Friday, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in. Colombian authorities immediately flew her to Bogota on a specially chartered plane. Upon her arrival at the Colombian capital, a judge ordered her arrest and she was taken to prison. She is currently awaiting trial inside a high-security ward at the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Bogota. Authorities say Hurtado is under heavy police protection, as there are fears that some of her former colleagues in the now defunct DAS may try to assassinate her.

Panama tries to block extradition of Colombia’s former spy chief

Ana BelfonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior government officials in Panama continue to shelter one of Colombia’s notorious former spy chiefs, who is wanted in Colombia for spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a chief subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Finally, after years of diplomatic pressure by Uribe’s successor, Panama’s supreme court ruled last week that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. It consequently ordered that her residence permit, which was granted to her under the personal authorization of Panama’s heavy-handed President, Ricardo Martinelli, would become invalid after three working days. The three working-day deadline was set to expire at 5:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday. However, shortly before the cut-off time, Panama’s Attorney General, Ana Belfon (pictured), stepped in and effectively extended Hurtado’s residence permit deadline. In a dramatic move, Belfon filed an appeal on behalf of the government, asking the Supreme Court to clarify the conditions of the former spy chief’s deportation back to Colombia. In accordance with Panamanian legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel Hurtado’s residence permit is now suspended and the Colombian former spymaster will continue to enjoy the Panamanian government’s protection until the Supreme Court responds to the Attorney General’s appeal. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #843 (analysis on Snowden leak)

James ClapperBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Countries approached by Snowden for asylum and their responses. According to a statement from WikiLeaks, former CIA/NSA employee Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in a total of 21 countries, but with little success so far. Here is a list of the countries he approached and their responses –or lack thereof– so far. Bolivia and Venezuela appear somewhat positive, but Ecuador and Russia have denied any possibility of giving Snowden political asylum. Other countries, including Cuba and China, have yet to issue a response to Snowden’s request.
►►US ODNI admits giving ‘erroneous’ answer during Senate testimony. James Clapper, America’s most senior intelligence official, who heads the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has told a Senate oversight panel that he “simply didn’t think” of the National Security Agency’s efforts to collect the phone records of millions of Americans when he testified in March that it did “not wittingly” snoop on their communications. He had told during his testimony that NSA did “not wittingly” collect “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”. But that was before Snowden spilled the beans….
►►Are the Europeans being hypocrites over spying? If you buy the latest reporting out of Europe, France is outraged, simply outraged, at news that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on the European Union through its mission in New York and embassy in Washington. All of which is pretty hilarious, given France’s penchant for stealing American defense technology, bugging American business executives and generally annoying US counterintelligence officials. And it’s not just France, either.

News you may have missed #842 (world reaction to Snowden leak)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Chinese media focus on Snowden leaks. The front pages of Chinese state media were covered Thursday with the allegations of ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, who says the US government has been hacking computers in China for years. Speaking to media in Hong Kong, where he is currently staying, Snowden said the US has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. He said targets include public officials, businesses and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Those claims by Snowden were the top story on most of China’s major news portals on Thursday
►►Switzerland furious about Snowden’s charge that CIA spies on Swiss banks. One of the many lurid details in The Guardian’s remarkable interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was his account of what initially prompted him to leak: namely a CIA tour in Switzerland, where CIA officers recruited Swiss banking officials. The Snowden disclosure could not come at a worse time for the Swiss government, which is trying to convince parliament to back its emergency plan that would allow Swiss banks to turn over data on tax evaders to the US government.
►►Is Russia considering giving asylum to Snowden? Asked if the 29-year-old could claim asylum from Russia, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin told the newspaper Kommersant: “If such a request is received, it will be considered”. Any attempt by the Kremlin to give refuge to Mr Snowden, amid calls for his prosecution under the US Espionage Act, is likely to infuriate the White House and provoke a major diplomatic standoff.

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