News you may have missed #653: India edition

Research and Analysis WingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►India’s external intel agency gets wiretapping powers. India’s government has given the country’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the right to intercept domestic phone calls, emails and voice and data communications. This is the first time that RAW has been authorized to intercept communications inside the country. Should Indian citizens be bracing for more political policing?
►►India uncovers alleged Pakistan honey trap operation. A lieutenant colonel in the Indian Army was reportedly caught in a ‘honey trap’ by Pakistani intelligence agencies, as a result of which he was forced to spy for them against Indian interests, according to Indian media. The officer was allegedly in Bangladesh this past summer to attend a course at a military academy, when he was trapped by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), sources said. What is it with Indian government employees and honey trap operations?
►►Indian arrested for spying for Pakistan. Indian police in Rajasthan said it arrested Pawan Kumar Sharma, a clerk working at the regional Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s office in Suratgarh town, on charges of spying for Pakistan. Authorities said Sharma is suspected of spying for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate for the past year-and-a-half, using a prepaid cell phone provided by the ISI.

News you may have missed #652

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Kremlin accused of covert tactics against opposition. The Kremlin says it will allow opposition groups to hold rallies, but cases of alleged preemptive arrests and phone-tapping show that it may be still seeking to defeat the protest movement. For previous intelNews coverage of civil liberties in Russia see here.
►►Iran releases two Kuwaitis accused of spying. Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency says that two Kuwaitis detained In Iran for spying last month have been cleared of their charges and released. The report quoted Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait, Ruhollah Qahremani, as saying the men had illegally worked as journalists in Iran while traveling on tourist visas, but initial speculation that they were spies “had been wrong”.
►►US sources deny spy charges for American detained in Iran. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati (pictured), from Arizona, who has been captured in Iran allegedly on a CIA mission, has not received any intelligence training from the US military, according to Pentagon sources. Also, one of Hekmati’s colleagues claims the Iranian-American helped develop an electronic translator for US troops but “wouldn’t have been involved in espionage”.

Analysis: India’s spies keep tabs on political opponents, not terrorism

IB seal

IB seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
She is America’s rising ally in South Asia and is widely regarded as the world’s largest democracy. But India’s political system is highly chaotic and often repressive. This is aptly reflected in the operations of the Intelligence Bureau, India’s foremost domestic intelligence agency. One would think that the IB has its hands full with India’s countless domestic security concerns, which include increasingly popular and active Maoist insurgents, as well as mounting religious and political tensions in the predominantly Muslim states of Jammu and Kashmir, located in the country’s north. But one of India’s most respected English-language newspapers, The Hindu, cites “highly placed intelligence sources” who allege that most of the IB’s intelligence collection activities are targeted against the Indian government’s political opponents, not terrorism. According to the unnamed sources, “less than a third of the IB’s estimated 25,000-strong manpower [sic] is dedicated to what might be described as national security tasks”. Conversely, over two-thirds of the organization’s staff is reportedly tasked with “providing the government raw information and assessments on its increasingly bleak political prospects”, claims the paper. Examples of political policing by the IB include monitoring public meetings led by Rahul Gandhi, parliamentarian and leader of the National Congress, which is India’s main political opposition group. Another target of the IB’s alleged political policing campaign is anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, who has become internationally known for spearheading popular protests against government sleaze in New Delhi and elsewhere. According to The Hindu, intelligence on political figures is collected by the IB’s state-of-the-art communications interception systems, which were purchased from Western hardware manufacturers following the sophisticated 2009 Mumbai Attacks by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #631

Tommy Douglas

Tommy Douglas

►►Some spy files on Canadian prominent politician released. Newly declassified records from the early 1960s show that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police spied on Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas (pictured), suspecting him of communist sympathies. Douglas, a popular leftwing politician, led the first social democratic government in North America.
►►Aussie diplomats urged to welcome defectors in 1980s. The Australian government urged its spies and diplomats to encourage foreign officials to defect to Australia and welcome intelligence they might bring with them, according to internal documents from the 1980s, released this week. The directives noted that applications from defectors were not expected to be numerous “but failure on our part to handle them deftly could result in the loss of intelligence relevant to Australia’s security and other interests”. One observer notes that the 1980s policy towards defectors still applies today in Australia’s diplomatic community.
►►Iran arrests two Kuwaitis on suspicion of espionage. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency says Iranian security has detained two Kuwaiti citizens in southwestern Iran for suspected espionage activities. Fars quoted Bahram Ilkhaszadeh, governor of Abadan, a town close to Kuwait, as saying that Iran’s security agents detained the two on possession of “spying equipment”. Kuwait has denied the charges.

Western companies provide Syrian regime with monitoring systems

Syria

Syria

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Italian communications company is working with the Syrian government to provide it with a sophisticated email surveillance system, using equipment created by American, French and German firms. The Syrian regime has come under sustained pressure by Western governments in recent months. The latter urge Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, to stop using lethal violence against protesters, citing independent reports that over 3,000 civilians have been killed by government forces since March. But Bloomberg News Agency cites an unnamed insider who claims Area SpA, a telecommunications surveillance company based in Milan, Italy, has technicians in several Syrian cities working feverishly to provide the  Syrian authorities with a state-of-the-art email surveillance system. According to the unnamed source, when completed, the surveillance system will be able to “intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country”. The project, which has been codenamed ASFADOR, is directed by senior Syrial intelligence officials, who are supervising the work of several Italian technicians working in Damascus and elsewhere. Bloomberg reports that numerous Area SpA technicians have been traveling to Syria “in shifts”, as the company is anxiously trying to accommodate pressures by Syrian officials, who say “they urgently need to track people”. The Italian company, known for providing Italian law enforcement with telephone surveillance hardware and software, is apparently using equipment by European and American firms, including France’s Qosmos SA, Germany’s Ultimaco Safeware AG, and America’s NetApp Inc. Bloomberg, which claims it has seen blueprints of the surveillance system, contacted Area SpA’s chief executive officer, Andrea Formenti, who refused to comment on the case, except to say that his company “follows all laws and export regulations”. Wondering where you’ve heard all this before? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #618

Abdullah al-Senoussi

Al-Senussi

►►US Congressman urges expulsion of ‘Iranian spies’ at the UN. New York Congressman Peter King says the US should kick out Iranian officials at the UN in New York and in Washington because many of them are spies. Speaking at a hearing Wednesday, the Democrat said such a move would send a clear signal after the recent alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
►►Colombia’s intelligence chief denies knowledge of illegal wiretapping. Felipe Muñoz, the director of Colombia’s intelligence agency DAS has denied knowledge of illegal interception of unionists’ emails and phone calls by DAS employees, following the announcement that the Inspector General’s Office will be investigating these allegations. According to the allegations, Muñoz and other leading DAS officials were aware of the illegal interception.
►►Gaddafi intelligence chief now in Niger. Moammar Gadhafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi (pictured), who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, has slipped into the desert nation of Niger and is hiding in the expanse of dunes at the Niger-Algeria border, a Niger presidential adviser said last week. Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s former spy chief, Moussa Koussa, has denied claims made in a BBC documentary that he tortured prisoners.

News you may have missed #605

Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai

►►French intelligence ‘spied on Socialist politician’. Hand-picked” French intelligence agents allegedly spied on the private life of François Hollande, the Socialist whom polls predict is best-placed to beat Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections. They are also said to have spied on Hollande’s partner, Valérie Trierweiler –-potentially France’s future first lady.
►►US to release Cuban spy under supervision. Rene Gonzalez, the first of five Cubans imprisoned in the United States as spies since 1998 will regain his freedom Friday but won’t be able to go home for three more years because of a court order requiring he remain under US supervision.
►►Afghan intelligence says it stopped plot to kill Karzai. A plot to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been foiled by Afghan intelligence agents in Kabul who arrested six men with links to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. The discovery of the plot comes just two days before the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 attacks in the US and, had it been successful, would have plunged the country further into chaos.

South African spy chiefs fired as political turmoil deepens

Moe Shaik

Moe Shaik

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The heads of South Africa’s three major intelligence departments have become the latest casualties in a major political battle waging within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which threatens to engulf the entire country. Several South African news outlets report that Siyabonga Cwele, the country’s Minister for State Security, summarily fired the three senior intelligence officials late last week, after a major row over providing government protection for his wife, who has been convicted of drugs smuggling. The three officials, who have stepped down, are Jeff Maqetuka, Director of the State Security Agency (SSA), and Gibson Njenje and Moe Shaik, respective heads of the SSA’s domestic and external intelligence services. According to press reports, the three officials unanimously objected to Cwele’s order to provide his wife Sheryl with secret service protection during her May 2011 trial for drugs smuggling, in which she was sentenced to 12 years in prison. But there are signs that Sheryl Cwele’s case was simply the last drop, which came on top a series of turf wars and bureaucratic conflicts between various factions of the ANC. Specifically, there is speculation in South African intelligence circles that Gibson Njenje resigned partly in protest against so-called “unauthorized operations”, namely telecommunications and physical surveillance of ANC cabinet ministers. The surveillance operations are reportedly being conducted in preparation for a showdown between rival ANC factions in December of 2013. At that time, ANC President Jacob Zuma is expected to face off the party’s Youth League leader, Julius Malema. The latter, favored by an increasingly disaffected segment of the ANC’s working class supporters, is seen as representing the radical populist wing of the party. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #553 (Canada edition)

Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye

►►Analysis: Are Chinese spies getting an easy ride in Canada? Carl Meyer, of Embassy magazine, asks why Canada’s counterintelligence agencies are unwilling or unable to bring Chinese spies to court in recent years. Readers of this blog may recall controversial comments made last year by the director of CSIS, Richard Fadden, who claimed that some Canadian politicians work for foreign powers.
►►Canadian agency ‘illegally spying on Canadians’. Canada’s ultra-secret Communications Security Establishment, which engages in electronic communications interception, is prohibited from spying on Canadian citizens. But a new Canadian government report appears to instruct it to engage in mining ‘metadata’ from digital communications of Canadians. Readers of this blog may remember that, in 2009, a court permitted for the first time the CSE and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to eavesdrop on Canadian nationals traveling overseas.
►►RCMP spied on Canadian academic Northrop Frye. Speaking on spying on Canadians… Read more of this post

US summons Syrian ambassador for spying on protesters

Imad Moustapha

Imad Moustapha

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
American government officials acknowledged late last week that they warned Syria’s ambassador to Washington to stop his diplomats from spying on anti-government activists operating in the United States. The State Department said that Eric Boswell, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, summoned the ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic, Imad Moustapha, and conveyed “a number of […] concerns with […] reported actions of certain Syrian embassy staff in the United States”. The concerns center on what appear to be confirmed sightings of Syrian diplomats conducting technical surveillance against Syrian and American citizens participating in demonstrations and other legal political activities in several US cities. There are also reports that intelligence gathered by Syrian diplomats in the United States is used by the Syrian security services in Syria to intimidate family members of Syrian and Syrian-American dissidents who are active in the United States. According to The Washington Times, the State Department was first alerted to the alleged political surveillance by the activists themselves, who began noticing in June the presence of suspected Syrian government informants in their Washington gatherings. Read more of this post

Security minister, ex-spy directors arrested in Hungary

Gyorgy Szilvasy

Gyorgy Szilvasy

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One former government minister and two former directors of Hungary’s domestic intelligence service have been arrested on suspicion on espionage, according to reports. On June 28, Hungarian police arrested Lajos Galambos, who was Director of Hungary’s National Security Office (NBH) from 2004 to 2007. Three days later, on July 1, police forces arrested Sandor Laborc, who succeeded Galambos as NBH director, and Gyorgy Szilvasy (pictured), who was minister in charge of overseeing the civilian security services from 2007 to 2009. All three served in key government positions during the socialist government of former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Despite repeated media request, government prosecutors have refused to disclose the precise nature of the charges against the three officials, except to say that they are suspected of having committed “crimes against the state”. One Hungarian daily, Tabloid Blikk, suggested that the arrests are linked to the Egymasert Public Foundation, headed by wanted fugitive Robert Jakubinyi.  Egymasert was found last year to have been used to facilitate money laundering and the illegal sale of shares. But other reports interpret the high-level arrests as a form of political payback for the so-called ‘UD Zrt affair’, also known as ‘the Hungarian Watergate’, which rocked Hungarian public opinion in 2008. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #523

  • Archbishop of Canterbury branded ‘subversive’ by MI5. A senior officer of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, labeled Rowan Williams ‘a subversive’ in the 1980s, over his involvement with a group of leftwing campaigners.
  • Pakistan ambassador defends arrest of bin Laden informants. Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani has defended his country’s decision to round up more than 30 people, some of whom may have helped US intelligence track down Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, the US government is still bankrolling the Pakistani intelligence services. No changes there.
  • US weighs harsher penalties in wake of CIA/FBI hacker attacks. Under a new White House proposal, the 10-year maximum sentence for potentially endangering national security would double, and so would the five-year sentence for computer thefts up to $5,000. Also, the one year maximum for accessing a government computer —either to deface it or download an unimportant file— could become a three-year sentence.

US Senate to review allegations CIA tried to smear professor

Juan Cole

Juan Cole

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The Intelligence Committee of the United States Senate will review allegations, made on Friday by a former CIA officer, that the spy agency tried to gather derogatory information about an American university professor who is critical of the ‘war on terrorism’. According to its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Committee may “take further action”, depending on its preliminary findings. The allegations surfaced last Friday in an article by New York Times reporter James Risen. Acting on a tip by an unnamed source, Risen spoke to former CIA officer Glenn L. Carle, who confirmed that the Agency “at least twice” displayed an interest in gathering discrediting information about University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole. Dr Cole, who specializes in Middle Eastern history and speaks fluent Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been consistently critical of US foreign policy in the Middle East through his writings on his influential blog, Informed Comment. Carle, who made the allegations to The New York Times, retired from the CIA in 2007, after a career that spanned two decades in the Agency’s National Clandestine Service. In the last few years of his public service, Carle was a senior counterterrorism official at the US National Intelligence Council, which operates under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Read more of this post

New Israel intelligence unit spies on Western leftwing groups

Israel, Palestine

Israel, Palestine

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israel’s Military Intelligence has set up a new unit tasked with infiltrating and monitoring Western leftwing organizations that criticize Israel’s policies on the Palestinians. The unit, whose name remains unknown, was reportedly established earlier this year by the research division of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). It has been given the sole task of targeting Western groups that routinely criticize Israeli policies, campaign for economic boycott or divestiture from Israel, and try to bring war crime charges against senior Israeli government officials. Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz quotes “senior Israeli officials and [MID] officers” who claim that these worldwide campaigns “delegitimize Israel and question its right to exist”. They also suggest that there are links between organizations lobbying worldwide against Israel’s policies on the Palestinians and “terror groups”. The paper reports that the new unit was set up in the wake of the official Israeli investigation into the bloody events of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in June of 2010, when Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish and one American citizen in international waters. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #481

  • Who brought down the CIA website last Thursday? US Federal officials as of Monday afternoon were still investigating the cause of a Thursday cyber incident that knocked offline the public website of the CIA and its unclassified e-mail system. The interference was isolated to CIA networks. Some cyber experts say the disruption may have been caused by a denial of service attack perpetrated by pranksters to show off their skills, rather than an act committed by a foreign government.
  • Israeli cabinet minister to visit jailed spy in US. Israel’s Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon is to make a visit next week to see Jonathan Pollard, an American serving a life term in a US jail for spying on the US for Israel. Israeli media claim that Kahlon will give Pollard a “verbal message” from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Egypt’s spies dragged from shadows. New evidence of spying and torture by Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS) has piled pressure on the country’s military rulers to abolish the agency. After breaking into the GIS Cairo headquarters and ransacking archives, activists posted videos showing a torture chamber with a bloodstained floor and equipped with chains.