Speculation grows that Israel may be behind spate of mystery blasts in Iran

Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facilityThere is growing speculation that Israel’s intelligence services may be behind a spate of blasts that have damaged military and civilian industrial sites in Iran in recent days. Citing a “Middle Eastern intelligence official”, The New York Times reported on Sunday that Israel was behind at least one of the blasts, which struck an Iranian nuclear complex.

The earliest known attack took place on May 9, when one of Iran’s busiest shipping hubs, the Shahid Rajaee Port, experienced a major cyber-attack that brought the port terminal “to an abrupt and inexplicable halt” and caused “massive backups on waterways and roads leading to the facility”. On June 26, a massive  blast destroyed a liquid fuel production facility for ballistic missiles in Khojir, a military complex located 20 miles southeast of Tehran. Four days later, on June 30, there was another explosion at a medical clinic in the Iranian capital, which killed 19 people.

On July 2, a major blast and subsequent fire were reported at the site of the Natanz nuclear facility, which is situated 150 miles south of Tehran. The attack is believed to have targeted a laboratory facility housing advanced centrifuge systems for enriching uranium. The BBC reported on Monday that a previously unknown group calling itself “The Homeland Cheetahs” claimed responsibility for the attack. The group sent BBC reporters information about the Natanz blast, including a video of the incident, before it was reported by Iranian media. In its statement, the group claimed to represent dissidents in the Iranian military, but some speculated that it could be a front for a foreign intelligence agency. On Sunday, The New York Times said the Natanz blast was orchestrated by the Israeli Mossad.

On July 3, a large fire broke out in Shiraz, Iran’s fifth largest city, while on the next day a fire engulfed the Zargan power plant in Ahwaz, following a large blast that was reportedly audible several miles away. Also on July 4, a large leak of chlorine gas occurred at the Karoun petrochemical plant in Bandar-e Mahshahr, in Iran’s Khuzestan Province. The leak caused 70 workers at the plant to be hospitalized.

In recent days, Iranian officials have claimed that the above incidents have been part of a sabotage campaign orchestrated by the Mossad, and have warned Israel of an impending retaliation. At a press conference in Jerusalem last Thursday, reporters asked the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether the country’s spy agencies were behind the attacks in Iran. Mr. Netanyahu responded by saying: “I don’t address such topics”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 July 2020 | Permalink

Russia sent spies to Ireland to check undersea fiber-optic cables: report

Undersea cableThe Russian government sent a team of spies to Ireland to monitor undersea fiber-optic cables, which enable communications traffic between North America and Western Europe, according to a new report. The spies were allegedly sent to Ireland by the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, which is known in Russia as GU, and formerly as GRU.

Due to its geographical proximity to both North America and Europe, Ireland constitutes a major hub for several of the more than 300 undersea cables that currently cross the world’s oceans. Totaling over 500,000 miles, these cables deliver Internet and telephone traffic across every continent. Nearly all transcontinental communications traffic is facilitated through these cables.

According to the London-based Sunday Times newspaper, the Irish security services believe that the GU spies were sent to Ireland to check the cables for weak points, in case Moscow decides to sabotage them in the future. Others claim that the Russian spies sought physical access to the cables in order to install wiretaps. The Times article also claims that Russian spies were detected by Irish security personnel monitoring the Dublin Port, which is Ireland’s primary seaport. This, said The Times, prompted a security alert in government facilities along the Irish coastline.

The same report claimed that the GU has been using Ireland as a base for operations in northwestern Europe, from where Russian spies can gather intelligence on European targets such as Belgium, the United Kingdom, Holland and France.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 February 2020 | Permalink

Emirates authorities confirm four ships targeted by ‘sabotage operations’

Fujairah UAE EmiratesAuthorities in the United Arab Emirates said on Sunday that four commercial ships were targeted by “sabotage operations”, but did not point to possible culprits. The announcement came hours after false reports circulated in Iranian and Lebanese media stating that explosions had been witnessed at the port of Fujairah, a major Emirati commercial shipping facility that borders the Sultanate of Oman and is visible from the coast of Iran. The alleged explosions were first reported by Al-Mayadeen, a Shiite-Lebanese satellite television station, and were then picked up by a host of Iranian news outlets.

The reports caused alarm in international energy market circles, as observers feared that the explosions may have resulted from deliberate attacks by Iranian forces. Located less than 100 miles from the Strait of Hormuz, through which over 30 percent of the world’s sea-transported oil is trafficked, the Port of Fujairah is the world’s second largest shipping fueling hub. Even a partial destruction of the port would cause major disruptions in the international energy transportation system. Several hours later, however, the Associated Press dismissed the reports as false, saying it had spoken to “Emirati officials and local witnesses” and had found the earlier reports of explosions at Fujairah to be “unsubstantiated”.

Later on Sunday, state-owned Emirates News Agency published a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that four ships had indeed “suffered acts of sabotage” while sailing off the Emirati coast. The Foreign Ministry’s statement said that the ships were “civilian trading vessels of various nationalities” and that they had been “subjected to […] acts of sabotage”. It added that “subjecting commercial vessels to sabotage operations and threatening the lives of their crew is considered a dangerous development”. However, Emirati officials refused to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage that the ships allegedly suffered, or discuss the possible culprit or culprits of the alleged attacks. On Friday, the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) warned that Iranian military forces could target “US commercial ships, including oil tankers”. There was also an “increased possibility” of “Iran or its regional proxies taking action against US and partner interests”, said MARAD.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 May 2019 | Permalink

FBI warns against alleged Russian campaign to destabilize US elections

Putin and ObamaThe Federal Bureau of Investigation is among several intelligence agencies in the United States that have expressed concerns about an alleged Russian campaign to destabilize November’s presidential elections. The Washington Post, which revealed the FBI’s concerns on Monday, claimed that Moscow recently launched an “active measures” operation aimed at covertly sabotaging the integrity of the US election process. Russia’s goal, said the paper, was to “counter US leadership and influence in international affairs”, thus subverting America’s image, especially in countries of the former Eastern Bloc or former Soviet republics.

According to The Post, the FBI and other US intelligence agencies have “no definitive proof” that Moscow is attempting to promote public distrust in American political institutions. But there are strong indications that have made this topic “a priority” for intelligence officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, said the paper. These indications include the hack of the computer systems at the Democratic National Committee, the official governing body of the US Democratic Party, which was revealed in June. The hack resulted in the disclosure of over 20,000 internal emails and led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the DNC’s Chairwoman. According to The Post, the hack is “not yet officially ascribed by the US government to Russia”, but US intelligence officials are convinced that Moscow was behind it.

The DNC hack prompted the FBI to send a so-called “flash alert” to US election officials in July, urging them to remain vigilant against “attempts to penetrate election systems”, which have been detected in several states, according to the report. The unprecedented FBI alert did not expressly name Russia as a national-security threat, nor did it give details of electoral sabotage. But it urged state election officials to “be on the lookout for intrusions into their election systems”. Citing unnamed intelligence officials, The Post said that the investigation into alleged Russian operations against the US Presidential election is being coordinated by James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2016 | Permalink

Iran silent about deadly blast that ‘lit up sky’ near Tehran

Parchin military complexBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Iran is refusing to comment on a reported blast at a secretive military facility that some sources say “lit up the sky” last week. The blast is said to have taken place on Sunday night at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The semi-official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Monday that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit” east of Tehran, and that two people had died. Interestingly, however, the news agency did not specify the precise location of the blast, nor did it identify the “explosive materials production unit” in question. There was also no mention of the cause of the fire that allegedly resulted in the blast. A few hours later, the Iranian-language news site SahamNews, which is politically linked to the Iranian opposition, claimed that the blast happened at Parchin and that it was a “massive explosion” that “lit up the evening sky” and caused windows to shatter as far as 9 miles away from the complex. It is worth noting that the blast was reported just hours after Israeli officials accused Iran of conducting nuclear implosion tests at a host of nuclear facilities, including Parchin. Israel is among several countries, including the United States, that have accused Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Since then, Iranian authorities have rejected repeated IAEA requests for access to the site. There are suspicions that the latest explosion may be part of what many suspect is a longstanding campaign of sabotage against the Iranian nuclear program, orchestrated by Israel with the possible cooperation of the US and other countries. The campaign is believed to include psychological operations, sabotage, as well as targeted assassinations of senior Iranian nuclear scientists. Read more of this post

Failed Nazi spy mission in UK ‘was sabotaged by German dissidents’

Abwehr clerks in 1939By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A new book authored by a German historian argues that a botched Nazi spy mission in World War II-era Britain was deliberately sabotaged by anti-Nazi intelligence officials within the ranks of the Third Reich. In 1940, Adolf Hitler was actively laying the groundwork for Operation SEA LION, Nazi Germany’s plan to invade the United Kingdom. In preparation for the invasion, the German leadership authorized the Hamburg bureau of the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency, to send into Britain a group of Nazi spies tasked with helping pave the way for the invasion. In September of 1940, a dozen Nazi intelligence operatives entered Britain during nighttime infiltration missions, some by parachute, and some by small inflatable boats. They had ostensibly been selected for the mission based on their ability to assimilate into British society. But Operation LENA, as the Abwehr codenamed the project, ended in abject failure. The near-comical behavior of the Nazi spies led to all of them getting arrested by British authorities within weeks. Some were detained after locals reported that they spoke English with heavy foreign accents. Nearly all of them lacked basic understanding of even the simplest British customs: indicatively, two of the spies were arrested in Scotland when they were found cycling on the wrong side of the road. Others were caught carrying German sausages and other continental consumer items among their personal belongings. The mainstream historical explanation of Operation LENA’s utter failure coincides with a British wartime report, which attributes it on the Nazi spies’ “own stupidity”. But a new book published this summer by German historian Monika Siedentopf, argues that LENA had been compromised from the very beginning by anti-Nazi officials inside Germany’s military intelligence community. The book, published in German by DTV Premium, is titled Unternehmen Seelöwe: Widerstand im deutschen Geheimdienst —in English, Operation Sea Lion: Resistance Inside German Intelligence. It is based on Siedentopf’s six-year study of material in the German National Archives, as well as in the personal wartime archives of senior German intelligence officers. She argues that Operation LENA stands out in its amateurism compared to other wartime infiltration operations by Germany’s Abwehr. And she concludes that LENA’s failure was not due to operational incompetence, but rather resulted from deliberate sabotage by a group of anti-Nazi intelligence officers. Read more of this post

Iran announces spy arrests after Ahmadinejad helicopter ‘accident’

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Iran announced the arrest of an alleged 12-member spy network on Sunday, just hours after a helicopter carrying the country’s President was forced to make an emergency landing due to an unspecified “accident”. Iran’s state controlled media reported late on Sunday that the alleged spy ring had been instructed “to carry out terrorist acts” aimed at disrupting the Iranian presidential election, which is to be held on June 14. In a carefully worded statement, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry said the alleged spy ring operated under the direction of Israel’s covert-action agency, Mossad. The statement added that the ring’s leader had been recruited through “a reactionary Arab country” in the region and his espionage and sabotage activities in Iran were directed from “a headquarters in Britain”. Unconfirmed news reports claimed yesterday that “a remarkable amount of weapons” had been confiscated by Iranian counterintelligence forces as they apprehended the 12 ring members. The government’s statement said the weapons were meant to be used to “conduct terrorist acts” before and during the June 14 election day, and to “create ethnic and religious divisions” inside the country. On June 14, Iran is scheduled to hold its first presidential election since 2009, when the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked mass demonstrations organized by the opposition ‘Green Movement’. Some have called these demonstrations a precursor of the Arab Spring, which led to the toppling of regimes in several Arab countries, including Egypt and Libya. Read more of this post

MI6 archives reveal plans for WWII and Cold War black operations

Sir Stewart MenziesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Recently declassified British archives reveal a host of audacious plans for covert operations aimed at Nazi-occupied Europe during wartime and, after 1948, inside the Soviet Union. The plans, proposed by British intelligence officials, ranged from relatively innocuous psychological operations to assassinations of key political figures. The wartime plans were proposed in 1944 by Charles Peake, a British intelligence officer detailed to the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower. The iconic American military commander was in charge of plans for Operation OVERLORD, the allied troop landings on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. According to documents released last week by the United Kingdom National Archives, Peake’s proposal was entitled “Assassination Priorities for OVERLORD”. It contained an extensive list of senior German and French Axis officials that should be targeted for assassination in preparation for the D-Day landings. The hit list included “certain Germans in key positions in France”, notably Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel. It also incorporated several senior members of France’s Nazi-controlled Vichy administration under Marshal Philippe Pétain. The proposal, however, was quickly shot down by no other than General Stewart Menzies, Director of the Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6), who feared that intrusive covert actions by allied operatives would cause brutal reprisals against allied prisoners of war. Ironically, Menzies, known in government simply as “C”, drafted an ever more ambitious plan for black operations after the end of World War II, this time targeted at the Soviet Union. Read more of this post

Iran allegedly busts ‘Israel-backed’ sabotage ring

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of Iran has announced the arrests of a “terrorist network” that was allegedly planning sabotage and assassination operations inside the Islamic Republic. The announcement was released by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry and aired by a host of state-controlled media on Tuesday. The reports were vague, but claimed that the sabotage ring was supported by Israel, and that its members were “plotting fresh attacks” against Iranian government targets. The Intelligence Ministry said that Iranian counterterrorist teams decided to move against the “large and sophisticated” network after preparing the ground during “months of operations”. An unidentified Iranian government official was quoted as saying that the arrests of the group members involved the “recovery of large bombs, automatic weapons, handguns, [as well as] telecommunications equipment” from houses and apartments belonging to alleged sabotage group members. One report stated that some of the arrests were concluded following “firefights” between the suspects and Iranian government forces. Reports also claimed that the network led officials to the discovery of a separate “regional command center in a third country”, which was not named, but which is widely suspected to be Azerbaijan. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that American intelligence agencies had ramped up intelligence and sabotage missions directed against Iran’s nuclear program. Read more of this post

Blast reported in Isfahan, site of major Iranian nuclear facility

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iranian media are reporting a blast in the city of Isfahan, in central Iran, which is home to one of Iran’s most active nuclear facilities. News reports, including one from Iran’s state-operated FARS News Agency, say that the blast was heard across the city at 2:40 p.m. on Monday, and that an investigation is currently underway to determine its cause. With a population of nearly two million, Isfahan, capital of the province by the same name, is Iran’s third largest city. It is also home to one of the country’s premier nuclear research facilities, which includes a nuclear plant that produces uranium pellets for use in nuclear reactors. Intriguingly, after an initial period of silence, regional government officials in Isfahan appeared to downplay reports of the explosion. Speaking to Iran’s Mehr news agency, the Deputy Governor of Isfahan, Mohammad-Mehdi Ismaeli, said characteristically that reports of an explosion were “unfounded”, and speculated with a dose of sarcasm that “maybe someone’s water heater blew up”.  But Western reports from Iran, including one by United Press International, interpret the media attention given to the Isfahan blast as an indication of “how the country is being spooked by cover operations against its nuclear program”. Reports of the alleged blast come only weeks after a major explosion at a military base 25 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran killed 17 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, including Major General Hassan Moqqadam. The late General was described by Iran’s state media as the “founder of Iran’s missile program” and a pioneer in the country’s missile development after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Meanwhile, the former Director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Meir Dagan, has reiterated his warnings against plans by Tel Aviv to attack Iran. Speaking on Israeli television on Tuesday, Dagan cautioned Israel Read more of this post

Intel official claims Mossad was behind Iran missile depot blast

Iran blast siteBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Western intelligence official has told Time magazine that an Israeli spy agency was behind a weekend blast at an Iranian missile depot, which killed at least 17 people. The government of Iran claims that the powerful explosion, which wrecked a heavily guarded base belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was an accident, caused during the transport of munitions. But Time quotes an unnamed “Western intelligence source”, as saying that the blast was a deliberate act of sabotage carried out by agents of the Mossad, Israel’s primary covert operations agency. The source urged Time not to “believe the Iranians that it was an accident”, and added that the operation was part of an ongoing covert action effort to impede Iran’s nuclear program, saying characteristically that “there are more bullets in the magazine”. The base, located approximately 25 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran, is reported to house several of Iran’s Shahab-3 long-range missiles, with an alleged reach of up to 2,000 miles. The blast was reported to have been powerful enough as to have been audible across Tehran itself. The victims of the blast included Major General Hassan Moqqadam, described by Iran’s state media as the “founder of Iran’s missile program” and a foremost pioneer in the country’s missile development after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The death of Moqqadam, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, was so important that his funeral was attended by none other than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader. Read more of this post

US government wants to use secret witnesses in CIA leak trial

James Risen

James Risen

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Prosecutors in the case of an ex-CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information to a journalist have asked the court for permission to introduce evidence in secret and to use privacy screens to shield the identities of witnesses. Jeffrey Sterling, who worked for the CIA’s Iran Task Force,  faces 10 felony counts and up to 120 years in prison for sharing information about the CIA’s operations in Iran. Court documents do not name the recipient of Sterling’s information, but it is common knowledge that Sterling spoke to James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times. In chapter 9 of his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Risen details a botched operation by the Iran Task Force, which tried to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. To do this, the CIA apparently recruited a Russian former nuclear scientist, who had defected to the United States. The unnamed scientist was told to travel to Vienna, Austria, in early 2000, and offer to sell the documents to the Iranians. But the documents contained a deliberate technical flaw, which, Risen alleges, the Russian CIA operative thought was so obvious that it could make him look untrustworthy in the eyes of the Iranians, thus endangering the entire mission. The Russian scientist ended up letting the Iranians know about the flaw, reveals Risen. He further alleges that the CIA operation may have actually helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian scientists would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Read more of this post

Soviet KGB may have killed Albert Camus, claims paper

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Albert Camus, one of France’s most revered intellectuals, who died in a mysterious accident in 1960, may have been killed by Soviet intelligence, according to an article in one of Italy’s most reputable newspapers. Camus, a philosopher, novelist and journalist, who won the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature, died on January 4, 1960, during a road trip from Provence to Paris. Camus had initially planned to accompany his wife and children on a train ride to Paris, but changed his mind at the last minute, after his trusted friend and publisher, Michel Gallimard, offered him a ride in his car to the French capital. That evening, as Gallimard and Camus were driving through the small town of Villeblevin, Gallimard’s Facel Vega FV3B rammed into a tree at high speed. Camus was killed instantly, while Gallimard died in hospital several days later. But an article published last week in one of Italy’s oldest newspapers, Corriere della Sera, claims that the two men may have been killed after Soviet intelligence agents sabotaged Gallimard’s car. The allegation is based on Italian literary scholar Giovanni Catelli, who reportedly unearthed a written testimony by Czechoslovakian author and translator Jan Zábrana. The testimony is included in the Czech-language edition of Zábrana’s personal diary, in which he claims that “a man who knew lots of things and had very informed sources” had told him that Camus’ assassination was “ordered personally” by Dmitri Shepilov, who was the Soviet Union’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1956 to 1957. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #550

Sukhoi-27 jets

Sukhoi-27 jets

►►Chinese fighters chased US spy plane into Taiwan. It has been revealed that, late last June, The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense sent two F-16 fighters to intercept a two Chinese Sukhoi-27 jets that crossed into its airspace, while pursuing an American U-2 reconnaissance plane. It was the first time that Chinese jets breached Taiwan’s airspace since 1999. The Pentagon declined to confirm the report, but some in Washington must have had flashbacks of the 2001 Hainan Island incident.
►►Israel arrests four of its soldiers for sabotaging spy gear. This story is interesting on numerous levels: according to a statement by the IDF’s Northern Command, Israeli military authorities plan to prosecute four Israeli female soldiers for repeatedly shutting off unspecified surveillance equipment designed to collect intelligence from neighboring Lebanon. When faced with the accusations, the soldiers apparently told their commanders that “they worked under very difficult conditions and couldn’t bear the pressure”.
►►Turkish national convicted for spying in Ukraine. Ukrainian prosecutors say Read more of this post

News you may have missed #538

Wali Karzai

Wali Karzai

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egyptian diplomat dead in London after bizarre suicide attempt. Police in London are trying to solve the mysterious apparent suicide of Ayman Mohammed Fayed, a 41-year-old employee of the Egyptian embassy, who plunged to his death from one of the embassy’s third-floor windows last week. Embassy officials said he did so after hurriedly signing a brief suicide note to his family. Interestingly, one witness saw him trying to get back into the building from the window, apparently having changed his mind about killing himself. But, says The Daily Mail, he seems to have “lost control and fell”. The death does not seem to be related to the political changes that have taken place in Egypt this year. ►►CIA agent Wali Karzai dead in Afghanistan. Another death, that of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother, has featured all over the news media in the past few days. Ahmed Wali Karzai, Afghan drug lord and influential strongman, was shot dead by his bodyguards last Tuesday. Wali Karzai’s role as a CIA agent is less widely advertised in obituaries (with a few notable exceptions). IntelNews readers will remember that, in October of 2009, The New York Times revealed that Wali Karzai had been financially sustained by the CIA ever since the initial US invasion of Afghanistan, in 2001, and that he was still —as of 2009— receiving “regular payments” from the Agency.  Read more of this post