South African spy agency can’t account for over $100 million in expenses

National Treasury of South AfricaSouth Africa’s National Treasury threatened to terminate all funding for covert operations last year, after the country’s spy agency refused to account for tens of millions of dollars in expenses, saying the money had been put to “secret use”. An investigation by two leading South African news outlets, the Afrikaans-language weekly newspaper Rapport and the English-language online news portal News24, has revealed the existence of a major bureaucratic spat between the National Treasury and the State Security Agency (SSA), the country’s primary civilian intelligence organization.

The investigation cited “seven independent sources” with direct involvement and knowledge of the National Treasury and the South African intelligence services. According to the report, National Treasury officials contacted the SSA last year, demanding to know how it used 1.5 billion rand (approximately US $114 million) that it took from government coffers between 2012 and 2016. But the spy agency refused to provide a detailed answer, and said instead that most of the money had been used to fund unspecified “secret operations”, and that its use was therefore classified.

However, the SSA did not realize that National Treasury officials have the same level of security clearance as senior SSA officials, said sources. Consequently, a Treasury probe was launched by Treasury investigators with access to SSA’s activities. The probe uncovered several instances of irregular expenditures and serious mismanagement, said the report. There were repeated instances when funds assigned to non-covert operations were “inexplicably moved to the covert fund” and SSA officials were unable to explain why. There were also numerous cases of abuse of procurement procedures. One source told the News24/Rapport team that “Treasury officials kept asking [SSA officials] how they tender for goods and services, and they kept saying that they can’t tell us, because it is classified information”. At that point, the National Treasury threatened to terminate all funding for intelligence operations unless answers were provided by the SSA leadership. After a series of frantic and tense negotiations, the SSA agreed to change its procurement practices and “at least submit [to National Treasury] a list of suppliers so that there could be a degree of oversight”.

The SSA’s reputation has not emerged unscathed from the broader crisis that has been plaguing South African politics in recent years. In 2014, the Johannesburg-based newspaper City Press alleged that the SSA maintained a secret unit used to target domestic political opponents of South African President Jacob Zuma. The paper also said that senior SSA official Thulani Dhlomo, a close ally of President Zuma, had been placed at the head of the secret unit in 2012. Another leading Johannesburg-based newspaper, The Mail & Guardian, repeated these claims earlier this month.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 September 2017 | Permalink

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South Korean former spy chief sent to prison for meddling in elections

Won Sei-hoonThe former director of South Korea’s main intelligence agency has been sent to prison for organizing a large-scale illegal campaign to influence the result of the country’s 2012 presidential election. Won Sei-hoon headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. During the 2012 presidential election, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. One of those candidates, Moon Jae-in, of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea, is now the country’s president. Mr. Moon succeeded his main right-wing rival, Park Geun-hye, who resigned in March of this year following a series of financial scandals. She is now facing charges of bribery, abuse of power, leaking government secrets, and corruption.

In February 2015, the Seoul High Court upheld an earlier sentence of 2.5 years in prison, which had been imposed on Won by a lower court. But his conviction was overturned on appeal. Earlier this August, an internal inquiry conducted by the NIS found that many its officers were tasked by Won to manipulate the outcome of the 2012 presidential election with 30 dedicated teams of officers —some of whom were hired specifically for that purpose. A number of teams were in charge of creating fake social media accounts and using them to post negative views of Mr. Moon and positive views of his conservative rival, Mrs. Park. Other teams were tasked with creating the false impression that South Korea’s rival, North Korea, was supportive of Mr. Moon’s candidacy. The probe also found that the NIS launched similar —though on smaller scale— efforts to influence the outcome of parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012.

On Wednesday, based on new evidence provided by the government, including the results of the NIS’ internal investigation, the Seoul High Court sentenced Won to four years in prison for political meddling. Two other former senior officials in the NIS were sentenced to 30 months in prison each. In delivering his sentence, the judge said Won assembled a team of NIS operatives “with the specific intention to sway public opinion”. Throughout the operation, said the judge, Won was “regularly briefed” and exercised precise control over it. Won was transferred directly from the court to prison, where he will serve his sentence.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 August 2017 | Permalink

South Korea spy agency admits secret plan to influence 2012 election result

Moon Jae-in and Suh Hoon in South KoreaAn internal investigation has found that the intelligence agency of South Korea tried to steer the result of the 2012 presidential election in favor of the conservative candidate, and placed liberal politicians under surveillance in the run-up to the election. South Korea’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) has fallen into disrepute in recent years, after it was found to have secretly sided with conservative political candidates for public office.

In 2015, the NIS’ former director, Won Sei-hoon, was jailed for directing his staff to use social media to spread negative views of liberal politicians. He is now facing a second trial, after his conviction was overturned on appeal. Mr. Won headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. During the 2012 presidential elections, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. One of those candidates, Moon Jae-in, of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea, is now the country’s president. Mr. Moon succeeded his main right-wing rival, Park Geun-hye, who resigned in March of this year following a series of financial scandals. She is now facing charges of bribery, abuse of power, leaking government secrets, and corruption.

An internal inquiry has now found that the NIS tried to manipulate the outcome of the 2012 presidential election with 30 dedicated teams of officers —some of whom were hired specifically for that purpose. A number of teams were in charge of creating fake social media accounts and using them to post negative views of Mr. Moon and positive views of his conservative rival, Mrs. Park. Other teams were tasked with creating the false impression that South Korea’s rival, North Korea, was supportive of Mr. Moon’s candidacy. The probe also found that the NIS launched similar —though on smaller scale— efforts to influence the outcome of parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012. Additionally, the NIS placed a number of opposition politicians under surveillance.

Since his ascendance to power last spring, Mr. Moon has pledged that the NIS will be reformed and that it will stay out of domestic politics. In June of this year, Mr. Moon announced that the domestic intelligence wing of the NIS would be dissolved.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 August 2017 | Permalink

Miami police arrest Panama’s ex-president on charges of wiretapping

Ricardo MartinelliPolice in the United States have arrested Panama’s former president Ricardo Martinelli, who is wanted in the Central American country on charges of using state resources to spy on his political opponents and business rivals. The center-right US-educated businessman won the 2009 presidential election in the country with a landslide, receiving over 60 percent of the national vote. His election prompted positive comments from Washington, because it marked a rare ascent to power of a conservative Latin American leader in a sea of socialist heads of state. But the euphoria did not last long. In 2014, Martinelli was succeeded in the presidency by his Vice President, Juan Carlos Varela. Varela promptly launched nearly 200 criminal investigations against his former political partner on issues ranging from embezzlement of state funds to political espionage.

Martinelli is now accused of embezzling $45 million in funds that should have been allocated to a government-run school lunch program for children of disadvantaged families. According to Panamanian prosecutors, Martinelli diverted $13 million of these funds to launch a secret wiretapping program that targeted some of his main political opponents and business rivals. Some of the individuals allegedly targeted in the secret surveillance program were senior members of Martinelli’s own Party of Democratic Change, Supreme Court judges, lawyers, journalists and union activists. The government of Panama also claims that Martinelli wiretapped the telephones of his business rivals, as well as their family members and mistresses.

It appears that Martinelli’s allies within the Panamanian government notified him early on that corruption investigations would be launched against him. This would explain why the former political strongman was able to flee the country days before these investigations were officially launched. Since January 2015, Martinelli has lived in Florida. In 2016, the government of Panama issued an arrest warrant against Martinelli. It also notified the international police agency, Interpol. Last month, Interpol circulated a ‘red notice’, an official alert notifying its counterparts around the world of a wanted individual. On Tuesday, US Marshals arrested Martinelli at his home in the city of Coral Gables in Florida, in response to the red notice issued by Interpol.

Speaking to reporters in Miami on Tuesday, Martinelli’s legal team questioned the timing of the Panamanian government’s arrest warrant, claiming that it came soon after the former president announced he would be running again for office. But the office of Adam S. Fels, the assistant US attorney who ordered Martinelli’s arrest, said that the US intended to fulfill its treaty obligations with the government of Panama. Martinelli is currently in prison in Miami and is expected to remain there until his preliminary court date on June 20.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 June 2017 | Permalink

New South Korean president bans spy agency’s domestic operations

Moon Jae-in and Suh Hoon in South KoreaThe new president of South Korea has officially banned the country’s spy agency from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering, in a move that some say signals an era of sweeping security reforms in the country. South Korea’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) fell into disrepute in recent years, after many of its officers were found to have secretly sided with conservative political candidates for public office. In 2015, the NIS’ former director, Won Sei-hoon, was jailed for directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians.

Won headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. During the 2012 presidential elections, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. One of those candidates, Moon Jae-in, of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea, is now the country’s president. Moon succeeded his main right-wing rival, Park Geun-hye, who resigned in March of this year following a series of financial scandals. In the months prior to his assumption of the presidency, Moon promised his supporters that he would reform the NIS and prevent it from meddling again into South Korea’s domestic political affairs.

Last Thursday, President Moon replaced all of NIS’ deputy directors, who are tasked with focusing on North Korea and other foreign countries, espionage and terrorism, and cyber security. Later on the same day, Moon announced the appointment of Suh Hoon as director of NIS. Suh is a career intelligence officer who served as one of NIS’ deputy directors until Thursday’s appointment. Within hours of his appointment, Suh had ordered the termination of all NIS domestic intelligence-gathering operations and vowed to reform the spy agency once and for all. He also said that he would proceed to dissolve the NIS’ domestic wing, and that all such tasks would be transferred to South Korea’s National Police Agency. The new NIS director also vowed that, under his leadership, the NIS would become “a completely different entity” and that he would apply “a zero tolerance principle” in cases of contravention by NIS officers.

Also on Thursday, the NIS issued a press release stating that all domestic operations by the agency had been terminated and that no information was being gathered on government entities, media or other organizations in South Korea.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 June 2017 | Permalink

Poland’s intelligence watchdog chief says 52 journalists were spied on

ABW PolandOver 50 journalists and their contacts were systematically spied on by the Polish intelligence services between 2007 and 2015, according to the former director of an anti-corruption watchdog. Until 2009, Mariusz Kamiński led the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, which was set up by the office of the Polish Prime Minister in 2006 to address corruption in the country. The body is also responsible for monitoring the operations of Poland’s intelligence services, including the Internal Security Agency (ABW).

Kamiński made the spying allegation on Wednesday at the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, during a parliamentary hearing held to assess the performance of the previous government. He said that dozens of journalists of all political persuasions had been illegally spied on by the ABW between 2007 and 2015, on direct orders by the previous government. He was referring to the administrations of Donald Tusk and Ewa Kopacz, who held successive prime ministerial posts until last year. The two politicians represented a center-left alliance between the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), which ruled Poland from 2007 to 2015. But Kamiński, who is currently a member of the Sejm elected with the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), claimed that, under Tusk and Kopacz’s watch, the ABW spied on prominent journalists, their families and their contacts, secretly photographing them and tapping their telephones in order to see who they communicated with. He also claimed that the ABW spied on him and his colleagues at the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau in an attempt to intimidate them.

The center-right Law and Justice Party (PiS), which Kamiński represents at the Sejm, rose to power in October of last year after gaining a majority in both houses of the Polish Parliament. It had remained in opposition from 2007 to 2015, while the PO-PSL alliance governed the country. In his presentation, Kamiński claimed that the current center-right administration is “not placing anyone under surveillance due to their political views”, as these types of illegal activities would “directly violate freedom of speech and democracy” in Poland. At the end of his talk, Kamiński presented a list of journalists’ names who were allegedly targeted by the ABW. But opposition politicians dismissed Kamiński’s charges as being politically motivated and said they aimed to discredit the previous administration.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 May 2016 | Permalink

Canada watchdog body to hold secret hearings over illegal spying claims

CSIS canadaA government watchdog in Canada is preparing to hold a series of closed-door hearings to weigh accusations that the country’s intelligence services illegally spied on law-abiding activists opposing the construction of oil pipelines. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) sued the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in February 2014, claiming they spied on Canadian citizens engaging in legal protest. The lawsuit was filed after nearly 150 pages of internal records were accessed by The Vancouver Observer, following an official Access to Information request made by the newspaper.

The BCCLA argues that information contained in the released documents shows that the RCMP and the CSIS gathered data on individuals and groups —including the Sierra Club— who are opposed to the construction of oil pipelines connecting Alberta’s so-called tar-sands to a number of ports in British Columbia. According to the BCCLA’s lawsuit, the documents demonstrate a series of clear violations of the 1985 Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which expressly forbids intelligence-collection activities targeting individuals or groups engaged in “lawful advocacy, protest or dissent”. Additionally, the BCCLA claims that the RCMP and the CSIS communicated the illegally acquired information to members of the Canadian Energy Board, officials in the country’s petroleum industry, and even employees of private security companies.

The hearings will be conducted in Vancouver by the Security and Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), a government body that monitors Canada’s intelligence agencies. Josh Paterson, a lawyer for the BCCLA, told The Vancouver Sun newspaper that the hearings would be so secretive that even the legal teams representing the two sides of the dispute would not be allowed to remain in the room for the entire length of the proceedings.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2015 | Permalink