Harassment of diplomats is part of escalating US-Russian ‘gray war’

US embassy in RussiaA notable increase in incidents of harassment of American diplomats stationed in Europe by Russian intelligence personnel appears to be part of what some officials describe as an escalating “gray war” between the US and Russia. For over a year now, American State Department personnel stationed in Europe have been complaining of a systematic campaign of “harassment and intimidation” against them and their families by Russian intelligence operatives. The campaign is allegedly being waged in Moscow and other European capitals, and has prompted one US diplomat to say that he and his colleagues were “feeling embattled out there in the embassy”. The Washington Post, which published the story on Monday, said that the diplomats’ concerns about the Russian campaign of intimidation were raised again at a recent meeting in Washington of US ambassadors serving in Europe and Russia.

According to The Post, some of the harassment can be characterized as routine, and involves Russian intelligence personnel conducting surveillance of American diplomats, taunting them at social events, or bribing local journalists to report negatively on their activities. But these pranks have allegedly become uglier and even criminal after 2014. The Post said that it had read “a series of secret memos” sent to the State Department by US embassies and consulates in Russia and Europe, which suggest that the increasing harassment of American diplomats is connected to the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia after its military intervention in Ukraine. In some instances, Russian intelligence operatives broke into the homes of American diplomats at night and rearranged the furniture, or turned on all the lights and electronic equipment before leaving. In another case, a US diplomat’s children were followed to school, while another’s car tires were slashed repeatedly, said the paper.

The State Department’s press secretary John Kirby told The Post that incidents of overt harassment of US diplomatic personnel by Russian government employees had indeed increased. Norm Eisen, America’s former ambassador to the Czech Republic, told the paper that the intimidation was part of “the gray war” between Washington and Moscow, which has escalated following Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine.

A statement from the Russian embassy in Washington denied that the Russian government was behind the alleged incidents. But it went on to state: “In diplomatic practice there is always the principle of reciprocity and, indeed, for the last couple of years our diplomatic staff in the United States has been facing certain problems”. This statement can be seen to imply that Russia is responding to instances of intimidation of its diplomats by US authorities. The statement added: “The deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations […] was not caused by us, but rather by the current [US] administration’s policy of sanctions and attempts to isolate Russia”. The Post said that US Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issued directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow in March, but that the harassment has continued. US President Barack Obama is apparently aware of the situation, but has ordered US intelligence agencies “not to respond with similar measures against Russian diplomats”, said the paper.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 1 June 2016 | Permalink

US charges 49 Russian diplomats with fraud, says some were spies

Russian consulate in NYBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has filed charges against dozens of current and former Russian diplomats, accusing them of defrauding American taxpayers of over a million dollars. Meanwhile, sources have told CNN that some of the accused also engaged in espionage against the US. Last week, the US Department of Justice charged 49 Russian citizens with participating in a nine-year fraud scheme, through which they pocketed approximately $1.5 million from Medicaid. Created in 1965, Medicaid is a US government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care. Twenty-five of those accused of fraud are current and former Russian diplomats, while 24 are spouses of diplomats. Eleven of them are currently in the US, ten of whom work at the Russian consular mission in New York. The remaining diplomat is stationed at the embassy of Russia in Washington, DC. The members of the fraud ring are accused of falsifying applications for Medicaid benefits by systematically under-reporting or completely concealing their incomes. While receiving thousands of dollars in benefits from the American government, the diplomats and their spouses lived a frivolous lifestyle, purchasing luxury goods in some of America’s most expensive department stores, like Tiffany’s and Bloomingdale’s. On Monday, however, CNN’s Security Clearance blog reported that some of the 49 Russian diplomats involved in the fraud scheme are also believed to have engaged in espionage against the United States. The spies were in fact investigated “for quite some time” by Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence agents in Washington and New York, said CNN. At the end, however, federal prosecutors decided they had insufficient evidence to file espionage charges, and passed the case on to the Department of Justice, which brought fraud charges against the Russians. Read more of this post

CIA report sees Russia behind bombing of US embassy in Georgia

GRU emblem

GRU emblem

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A classified US intelligence report indicates that Russian intelligence is behind an ongoing string of bombings in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which have included an attack on the US embassy in Georgian capital Tbilisi. The attack, which took place on September 22, 2010, damaged the embassy’s exterior wall. A subsequent investigation by the Georgian Ministry of the Interior concluded that the bombing was coordinated by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces, also known as GRU. The investigation identified one GRU officer, Major Yevgeny Borisov, as the primary instigator of the attacks. Borisov, who is believed to be operating in Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, was tried and convicted in absentia for his alleged role in the bombings. Now an article in The Washington Times says that a US intelligence report compiled last December by the CIA, with input from several US spy agencies, echoes the conclusions of the Georgian investigation into the bombings. The Times quotes “two US officials who have read” the report as saying that “it confirms the Georgian account” and fingers Major Borisov as the one of the main culprits behind the bombings. It also quotes “two Obama administration officials” who say that the US Department of State has taken up the issue with “the most senior levels of Russia’s Foreign Ministry”. Read more of this post

DC surveillance house still outside Russian embassy

Secret camera

Secret camera

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Almost exactly a year ago, MSNBC’s Jim Popkin showed how easy it was to detect an FBI surveillance post at a house outside the Russian embassy in Washington, DC. The post operated out of what initially appeared to be a residential property located directly across from the Russian embassy building. Watching closely late in the afternoon, however, three video cameras could be seen operating from inside the three opaque skylights in the roof of the house. It took minimal background research for Popkin to confirm the FBI connection to the property. One of the Bureau’s counterintelligence agents associated with the operation, and listed as a resident of the property, had even identified himself as “clerk [but] really a spy” in a publicly available database. Now Cryptome has published recent photographs of the house, which confirm the earlier MSNBC story and show that the opaque skylights are still in place in the roof of the residential property. One of the photographs shows an empty lot by the side of the property, which readers with background in surveillance and will undoubtedly find intriguing.