Russian-trained Serb separatists are forming paramilitary group in Bosnia

Serbian Honor militiaA group of hardline Bosnian Serbs, some of whom have been trained in military tactics by Russian instructors, are secretly creating a paramilitary group to undermine the territorial integrity of Bosnia, according to reports. Information about the alleged paramilitary group was published on the Friday edition of Žurnal, a nonpartisan investigative newsmagazine. The allegations exposed by Žurnal were later repeated by Dragan Mektić, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Minister for Security, who is himself a Bosnian Serb. Žurnal’s revelations came just days after hardline Serb separatists, dressed in dark-colored combat gear, staged a military-style rally in Banja Luka. The city of 200,000 is the administrative center of the Republika Srpska, the semi-autonomous Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The entity was established under the terms of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, which ended the Bosnian War that began in 1992.

The rally was held despite an earlier decision by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which ruled that military-style marches by separatist organizations were unconstitutional. According to Žurnal, the rally was organized by Srbska čast (Serbian Honor), a militia made up of hardline Serb separatists. The group strongly supports Milorad Dodik, a Serb nationalist who has served as president of Republika Srpska since 2010. The investigative news site said that several members of Srbska čast’s were trained by Russian paramilitary instructors in the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center, a Russian-funded disaster relief center based in southern Serbia, which Western officials claim is really an intelligence base. Žurnal also said that one of Srbska čast’s leading figures, Bojan Stojković, a former commando, was trained in military schools in Russia and has been decorated by the Russian military.

Friday’s report by the investigative news outlet quoted extensively from a leaked report by Bosnia and Herzegovnia’s intelligence agency. The report allegedly states that Srbska čast leaders, including Stojković, met secretly with Dodik and discussed the formation of a new, heavily armed paramilitary unit, which will operate as an extrajudicial force in support of Dodik’s administration in Republika Srpska. One quote from the document said that the paramilitary force would engage in “possible intervention if the opposition [i.e. those opposed to Dodik] seeks to obstruct the functioning of the authorities” in the Republika Srpska. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 2006. The country has gone through a series of stages in negotiations with NATO and ratified a membership action plan in 2010. Bosnia’s application is heavily supported by Turkey, NATO’s only predominantly Muslim member state, but is fiercely opposed by Russia and by the Balkan country’s Serb minority.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 January 2018 | Permalink

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Russian hackers behind US election attacks also targeted hundreds of journalists

Fancy BearThe Russian hacker group that targeted the United States presidential election in 2016 also attacked hundreds of reporters around the world, most of them Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows. The group is often referred to in cyber security circles as Fancy Bear, but is also known as Pawn Storm, Sednit, APT28, Sofacy, and STRONTIUM. It has been linked to a long-lasting series or coordinated attacks against at least 150 senior figures in the US Democratic Party. The attacks occurred in the run-up to last year’s presidential elections in the US, which resulted in a victory for Donald Trump. The hacker group’s targets included Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta. But its hackers also went after senior US diplomatic and intelligence officials, as well as foreign officials in countries like Canada and the Ukraine.

Now a new investigation by the Associated Press news agency, based on data collected over a period of two years by the cyber security firm Secureworks, appears to show that Fancy Bear also attacked journalists. In a leading article published last week, the Associated Press said that journalists appeared to be the third largest professional group targeted by Fancy Bear, after politicians and diplomats. The investigation shows that nearly half of all journalists that were systematically targeted by the hacker group worked for a single newspaper, The New York Times. At least fifty Times reporters feature on the hacker group’s target list. The latter includes another 50 reporters working for Russian outlets that known to be critical of the Kremlin, and dozens of Eastern European reporters based in the Baltics, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine.

The Associated Press said that prominent names on the Fancy Bear target list include The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, The Daily Beast’s intelligence correspondent Shane Harris, CNN’s security correspondent Michael Weiss, and Ellen Barry, the former Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times. The report also said that some American journalists were not only targeted online, but also physically. One of them, The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen, claims that she was routinely followed by Russian-speaking men in the period leading up to the 2016 presidential election. In April of this year, a study by the Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm Trend Micro showed that Fancy Bear was behind systematic efforts to subvert recent national elections in France and Germany. And a few weeks ago, Russian media reported that Konstantin Kozlovsky, a member of the prolific Russian hacker group Lurk, alleged that he had been hired by the Kremlin to help target the US Democratic Party.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 December 2017 | Permalink

Ukraine arrests prime minister’s interpreter, accuses him of spying for Russia

Stanislav YezhovUkraine’s counterintelligence agency has arrested the principal translator of the country’s prime minister, accusing him of spying for Russia. The translator has been identified as Stanislav Yezhov, who has served as a translator for two consecutive Ukrainian prime ministers. As part of his job, Yezhov has been present at nearly all high-level meetings between Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, and foreign leaders since 2016, when Groysman assumed his executive post. In the last year alone, Yezhov accompanied the Ukrainian prime minister during official trips to Washington, London and Berlin. Before translating for Groysman, Yezhov is thought to have served as an interpreter for Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s former President. Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician, occupied that office from 2010 until his ousting from power in 2014, as a result of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

On Wednesday, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the country’s main counterintelligence agency, released a statement announcing that “an official” in the Ukrainian state had been arrested in the capital Kiev on Saturday, December 16. The SBU statement said that the official had “access to sensitive government information” and that he had operated in the service “of an adversary state for a long period”. The statement then identified the “adversary state” as Russia. Yezhov’s name and profession were not included in the SBU statement. But Ukrainian government officials later revealed it. According to subsequent local media reports, Yezhov was recruited by Russian intelligence in 2014, when he was posted at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, DC. Prior to that post, Yezhov is believed to have served at the Ukrainian embassy in Slovenia.

The Russians allegedly trained him and provided him with specially designed collection technology, which he then used to gather intelligence and communicate it to his Russian handlers. Speaking on Ukrainian television, Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to Arsen Avakov, the country’s Minister of Internal Affairs, said that Yezhov had worked for Russian intelligence “for at least two years, possibly longer”. Yezhov is now reportedly facing charges of treason. The government of Russia has not issued any statements about Yezhov’s arrest.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 December 2017 | Permalink

Russia announces detention of Norwegian citizen on espionage charges

Frode BergAuthorities in Russia have announced the arrest of a Norwegian citizen, whom they accuse of receiving classified information relating to Russia’s Armed Forces. The detainee has been named as Frode Berg, 62, from Kirkenes, a small town in Norway’s far north, located 100 miles from the Russian city of Murmansk. According to articles in the Russian press, Berg is a 24-year veteran of the Office of the Norwegian Border Commissioner, an obscure government agency that operates under Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Among other tasks, the Office of the Norwegian Border Commissioner is responsible for enforcing and monitoring bilateral compliance with the Soviet (now Russian)-Norwegian Border Agreement of 1949. Berg, who worked closely with Norway’s National Police Directorate as part of his job, retired from the Office in 2014.

According to reports in the Russian media, Berg was arrested two weeks ago by officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the agency responsible for domestic security and counterintelligence. He is now in detention and is accused of receiving classified information relating to the Russian Navy. It is believed that Berg received the classified documents from an unnamed Russian national, who was arrested by the FSB in early December and now faces charges of high treason. No further information has been made public about Berg’s arrest. Relations between Norway and Russia have been tense in recent years, partly due to attempts by the two nations to assert control over undersea territories in the arctic region, which are becoming accessible due to global warming. In 2015, Norway’s state broadcaster accused the FSB of pressuring a Norwegian newspaper, The Barents Observer, to fire one of its journalists who covered fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic Ocean. But the Russian government denied that it has played any role in the journalist’s firing.

Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that it had established contact with a Norwegian national who was behind bars in Russia, but did not give the person’s name or further details. Berg’s family in Norway said the last time they had news from him was two weeks ago, when he was holidaying in Moscow. The Russian state prosecutor’s office said that Berg’s lawyers had filed an appeal against his detention, but that the Norwegian would remain in jail until his appeal is heard in court.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 December 2017 | Permalink

Finnish reporter destroys computer with hammer to protect spy source

Helsingin SanomatAn investigative journalist in Finland, who recently co-authored an exposé of a Finnish intelligence program targeting Russia, destroyed her computer with a hammer, prompting police to enter her house on Sunday. The journalist, Laura Halminen, co-wrote the exposé with her colleague, Tuomo Pietiläinen. Titled “The Secret Behind the Cliff”, the article appeared in the Saturday edition of the Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s highest-circulation newspaper. It reveals the existence of a sophisticated electronic interception station in the northern suburbs of Jyväskylä, a city of about 140,000 people that is located in central Finland. Based on classified documents dating as far back as 1999, the article claims that the Finnish intelligence services have operated the top-secret program in Jyväskylä for years. It focuses on monitoring the maneuvers of Russian military units stationed around the St. Petersburg area, allegedly by tracking electromagnetic radiation emissions.

Over the weekend, the Finnish government reacted angrily to the Helsingin Sanomat report, accusing the newspaper of “revealing the content of highly classified documents” that are “critical to the [country’s] security and may cause grave damage to it”. The government, however, argues that the newspaper revealed without proper authorization the contents of classified military documents that were marked TOP SECRET, which is a crime under Finnish law. But the newspaper’s editors argue that the public has a right to know about the surveillance project. The dispute between the newspaper and the government reached new heights on Sunday evening, when a team of police officers arrived at the home of Helsingin Sanomat journalist Laura Halminen. The newspaper claims that the police raided Halminen’s house in connection with the Jyväskylä revelations. According to the Helsingin Sanomat the reporter said she destroyed her computer in order to safeguard information relating to future articles. However, there are some who believe that she destroyed the computer in order to safeguard the identity of the source of the information that led to Saturday’s exposé. However, argues that they intervened only after Halminen destroyed her home computer with a hammer, creating a fire and prompting an emergency response by the fire brigade. Police officers who arrived with the fire brigade called for reinforcements after they began to suspect that Halminen may have been trying to destroy evidence connected with a criminal investigation.

Helsingin Sanomat editors claim that police left Halminen’s house after confiscating the remains of her damaged computer, several mobile phones, an iPad, and over a dozen USB flash drives. The newspaper’s editors said that the raid on the reporter’s home was “uniquely exceptional” in the history of journalism in Finland, and claimed that the police did not present Halminen with a search warrant prior to raiding the premises. But Police authorities argue that Finnish law allows them to conduct warrantless searches for national-security-related cases, and that their actions were observed by an appointed lawyer. The lawyer took possession of all evidence removed from Halminen’s house, to ensure compliance with Finnish law. The government has since said that it will launch a criminal probe to find out the source of the leak to the newspaper.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2017 | Permalink
IntelNews thanks AiT, N.H. and A.S. for their help in ensuring the factual accuracy of this report

Poland arrests military intelligence chiefs for ties to Russian spies

PytelAuthorities in Poland have charged three high-level military intelligence officials with acting in the interests of Russia. The three include two former directors of Polish military intelligence and are facing sentences of up to 10 years in prison. The news broke on December 6, when Polish authorities announced the arrest of Piotr Pytel, who was director of Poland’s Military Counterintelligence Service (SKW) from 2014 to 2015. It soon emerged that two more arrests had taken place, that of Pytel’s predecessor, Janusz Nosek, and Krzysztof Dusza, Pytel’s chief of staff during his tenure as SKW director.

According to the newsmagazine Gazeta Polska, which provides extensive coverage of the arrests in its latest issue, the SKW officials are accused of having had unauthorized contacts with Russian intelligence personnel and of “operating on behalf of a foreign intelligence service”. The court indictment reportedly states that the Polish officials “cooperated, without seeking the necessary authorization, with members of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)”. The indictment also notes that “the mission of the FSB conflicts with that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization”, of which Poland is a full member.

According to reports in the Polish media, the three men are accused of having held several undisclosed meetings with FSB officers in Poland. One such meeting allegedly took place in the village of Ułowo, in north-central Poland. The village is located just a few miles from Poland’s border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which lies between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. During the meeting, which included dinner and “heavy consumption of alcohol”, the SKW officials allegedly met with the FSB’s senior representative in Poland, identified in court documents only as “W.J.”, as well as with several other Russian intelligence officers. Following that meeting, Pytel and Dusza allegedly helped falsify the application data of an unnamed representative of the FSB in Poland, who was stationed at Russia’s embassy in Warsaw. This allegedly allowed the Russian intelligence officer to evade diplomatic restrictions on travel and to gain access to information about Poland’s military that he otherwise would not have.

Speaking on Polish state-owned television, Poland’s Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said last week that he was aware of the seriousness of the accusation against the three SKW officials. He told the Telewizja Polska station that the three officials face “very serious allegations” that point to “fully conscious and illegal cooperation with Russian spies”. That, said Macierewicz, was the “worst kind of betrayal that can be committed by a Pole”. The three defendants claim that they were not working in the interests of the FSB and that it was their job to meet regularly with Russian intelligence representatives in Poland.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 December 2017 | Permalink

Russian hacker claims he was hired by Kremlin to target US Democratic Party

Konstantin KozlovskyA member of a prolific Russian hacker group reportedly stated in court that he was hired by the Russian government to break into the computer systems of the Democratic Party in the United States. The hacker, Konstantin Kozlovsky, operated online as a member of Lurk, a notorious hacker group whose members are believed to have stolen in excess of $45 million from hundreds of companies since 2011. Most of the group’s members were apprehended in a wave of 50 arrests that took place throughout Russia in the summer of 2016. The group’s nine most senior members, Kozlovsky being one of them, were put on trial earlier this year.

Last Monday, Russian website The Bell reported that Kozlovsky said during his court testimony in August of this year that he was hired by the Kremlin to hack into the computers of the Democratic Party in the US. The website claimed that he and his fellow Lurk hackers regularly worked for the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. For nearly a decade, said Kozlovsky, he and other hackers “performed different tasks on assignments by FSB officers”. In his testimony of August 15, Kozlovsky reportedly said that some of the tasks performed by Lurk on behalf of the FSB included hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee, which is the governing body for the Democratic Party in the US. He also claimed that he and his fellow hackers stole emails belonging to the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The Bell published Kozlovsky’s claims on its website in both Russian and English. According to to The Times of London, the website also posted minutes from the court hearing, as well as a recording of Kozlovsky’s testimony, on its page on Facebook. Kozlovsky also claimed that the FSB recruited him in 2008, when he was 16 years old, and that he worked under the supervision of Dmitry Dokuchaev, a notorious criminal hacker known as ‘Forb’, who was arrested and subsequently recruited by the FSB. Kozlovsky added that he participated in “very serious military enterprises of the United States and other organizations” under Dokuchaev’s supervision.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 December 2017 | Permalink