News you may have missed #908

Sergei NaryshkinRussian spy chief in rare interview with the BBC. In an exclusive interview, Sergei Naryshkin (pictured), the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) has told the BBC that America has been trying to “rule the world” and this could lead to “disaster”. Russia’s spy chief, who was talking to the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, also said that Russia doesn’t trust what the British government says about the Salisbury poisonings.

India and Pakistan embassies to cut staff by half over spy row. India is expelling close to half of the staff at Pakistan’s embassy in New Delhi over espionage claims. Islamabad has reciprocated with the same orders for the Indian High Commission. Notably, both commissions do not have a permanent ambassador in place. Tensions have remained high since India scrapped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status last year.

Israel moves to redeploy spy agency to track surging virus cases. Israel’s parliament gave initial approval Wednesday to a controversial bill enabling the government to use its domestic security agency to track cases of coronavirus, which are rising again. Cabinet mandated Shin Bet to use cell phone surveillance as an emergency measure to combat the virus in mid-March as mounting numbers of Israelis tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The specifics were kept secret, but security officials said the agency had tracked virus carriers’ movements through their phones. The measure was discontinued on June 10 as infection rates dropped. But following two weeks that have seen growing numbers of Israelis infected with the virus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to table the bill.

Russian spy agency reveals identities of undercover officers in rare move

Sergei NaryshkinIn an extremely rare move, the head of Russia’s spy agency has disclosed the identities of several undercover officers during an event marking the centenary of the KGB and its modern-day successor, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR.

The identities of the officers —most of whom are now retired or dead— were disclosed on Tuesday by Sergei Naryshkin, head of the SVR. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Naryshkin revealed the names and read the brief biographical notes of seven non-official-cover officers, referred to in Russian as “pазведчики-нелегалы”, or ‘illegals’. The term refers to undercover intelligence officers who are secretly posted abroad without diplomatic cover. Accordingly, they have no official connection to a Russian diplomatic facility, while some even pose as citizens of third countries.

Since 1922, illegals have operated out of the KGB’s and (after 1991) the SVR’s “S” Directorate, whose formal title is First Main Directorate or First Chief Directorate. It is customary to keep the identities of illegals secret following their retirement and even after death. However, in December of last year Naryshkin surprised many by announcing that he would soon disclose the identities of a number of former members of what he described as the “special reserve staff”, at an event to mark the centenary of the KGB and SVR.

He did so on Tuesday, when he disclosed the names of seven individuals and described their work in broad terms. The names disclosed by Naryshkin were: Yury Anatolievich Shevchenko (born 1939), Yevgeny Ivanovich Kim (1932-1998), Mikhail Anatolyevich Vasenkov (born 1942), Vitaly Viacheslavovich Netyksa (1946-2011) and his spouse Tamara Ivanovna Netyksa (born 1949), Vladimir Iosifovich Lokhov (1924-2002) and Vitaly Alekseyevich Nuykin (1939-1998).

The accompanying biographies released by the SVR disclose no specifics about the countries in which these illegals operated, the type of work they carried out, and the specific dates in which they were active. Most of them operated between the late 1960s and the early 1990s.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 January 2020 | Permalink

Russian security services honor members of the Cambridge spy ring with plaque

Guy BurgessThe intelligence service of Russia has openly honored two British members of the so-called Cambridge Five spy ring, who caused great controversy during the Cold War by defecting to Moscow. The intelligence services of the Soviet Union recruited five Enlishmen, H.A.R. ‘Kim’ Philby, John Cairncross, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, as well as an unnamed fifth person, to spy for them in the 1930s. All five were recruited while they were promising young students at Britain’s elite Cambridge University, and entered the diplomatic and security services in order to supply Moscow with classified information about Britain and its allies.

In 1951, shortly before they were detained by British authorities on suspicion of espionage, Burgess and Maclean defected to the Soviet Union. They both lived there under new identities and, according to official histories, as staunch supporters of Soviet communism. Some biographers, however, have suggested that the two Englishmen grew disillusioned with communism while living in the Soviet Union, and were never truly trusted by the authorities Moscow. When they died, however, in 1963 (Burgess) and 1983 (Maclean), the Soviet intelligence services celebrated them as heroes.

On Friday, the Soviet state recognized the two defectors in an official ceremony in the Siberian city of Samara, where they lived for a number of years, until the authorities relocated them to Moscow. Kuibyshev, as the city was known during Soviet times, was technically a vast classified facility where much of the research for the country’s space program took place. While in Kuibyshev, Burgess and Maclean stayed at a Soviet intelligence ‘safe house’, where they were debriefed and frequently interrogated, until their handlers were convinced that they were indeed genuine defectors.

At Friday’s ceremony, officials unveiled a memorial plaque at the entrance to the building where Burgess and Maclean lived. According to the Reuters news agency, the plaque reads: “In this building, from 1952-1955, lived Soviet intelligence officers, members of the ‘Cambridge Five’, Guy Francis Burgess and Donald Maclean”. On the same day, a letter written by Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB, appeared online. In the letter, Naryshkin said that Burgess and Maclean had made “a significant contribution to the victory over fascism [during World War II], the protection of [the USSR’s] strategic interests, and ensuring the safety” of the Soviet Union and Russia.

Last year, Russian officials named a busy intersection in Moscow after Harold Adrian Russell Philby. Known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, Philby was a leading member of the Cambridge spies. He followed Burgess and Maclean to the USSR in 1963, where he defected after a long career with the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 December 2019 | Permalink

Son of Russian spies posing as Canadians gets to keep Canadian citizenship

Vavilov FoleyThe son of a Russian couple, who fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for espionage in the United States, has won the right to keep his Canadian citizenship, which was effectively annulled when his parents were found to be Russian spies.

Tim and Alexander Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES —a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Following their arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

Since their parents’ arrest on espionage charges, the two brothers, who were born in Canada, have been involved in a prolonged legal battle to have their Canadian citizenship reinstated. The latter was rescinded when it became clear that their parents’ Canadian passports were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers have argued that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, their lawyers have argued, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes.

In June of 2017, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alexander Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. But the Canadian government appealed the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, which sent the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. The government claimed that the Vavilov brothers should be denied Canadian citizenship because their parents were, effectively, secret employees of a foreign government. The two Russian spies may not have been accredited by the Canadian state as foreign employees, it says, but they were in reality “dedicated to serving their home country, except in their case, the employment was carried out clandestinely”.

On Thursday, however, Canada’s Supreme Court sided with Alexander Vavilov’s lawyers and ordered that he can keep his Canadian citizenship. This decision, which has effectively upheld the earlier decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, almost certainly means that Alexander’s brother, Tim, will also have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 December 2019 | Permalink

Russia, Lithuania and Norway exchange prisoners in rare three-way spy-swap

Frode BergA rare three-way spy-swap has reportedly taken place between Russia and two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, Lithuania and Norway. Rumors of a possible exchange of imprisoned spies between the three countries first emerged in mid-October. However, all three governments had either denied the rumors or refused to comment at the time. It now turns out that the spy-swap, which international news agencies described as “carefully coordinated” was the result of painstaking negotiations between the three countries, which lasted several months.

A major part of the process that led to last week’s spy swap was the decision of the Lithuanian parliament to approve altering the country’s criminal code. The new code allows the president of Lithuania to pardon foreign nationals who have been convicted of espionage, if doing so promotes Lithuania’s national interest. The new amendment also outlines the process by which the government can swap pardoned foreign spies with its own spies —or alleged spies— who may have been convicted of espionage abroad. On Friday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda announced he had pardoned two Russian nationals who had been convicted of espionage against Lithuania, in accordance with the new criminal code. The president’s move was approved by the country’s multi-agency State Defense Council during a secret meeting.

Shortly after President Nausėda’s announcement, Sergei Naryshkin, Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) said that Moscow would immediately proceed with “reciprocal steps”. The Kremlin soon released from prison two Lithuanian nationals, Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis. Tamosaitis was serving a 12-year prison sentence, allegedly for carrying out espionage for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry in 2015. Mataitis, a dual Lithuanian-Russian citizen, was serving 13 years in prison, allegedly for supplying Lithuanian intelligence with classified documents belonging to the Russian government.

The two Lithuanians were exchanged for two Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko. Filipchenko is believed to be an officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who was arrested by Lithuanian counterintelligence agents in 2015. He had been given a 10-year prison sentence for trying to recruit double agents inside Lithuania, allegedly in order to install listening bugs inside the office of the then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. Moisejenko was serving a 10½ year sentence for conducting espionage and for illegally possessing firearms. Lithuania alleges that Moisejenko had been tasked by Moscow with spying on the armed forces of Lithuania and NATO. Along with the two Lithuanians, Russia freed Frode Berg (pictured), a Norwegian citizen who was serving a prison sentence in Russia, allegedly for acting as a courier for the Norwegian Intelligence Service.

On Saturday, Darius Jauniškis, Director of Lithuania’s State Security Department, told reporters in Vilnius that the spy swap had taken place in a remote part of the Russian-Lithuanian border. He gave no further information about the details exchange, or about who was present at the site during the spy-swap.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 November 2019 | Research credit: E.G. | Permalink

Moscow names intersection after Kim Philby, British spy for the USSR

Kim PhilbyIn a sign of worsening relations between the United Kingdom and Russia, a busy intersection in Moscow has been named after Kim Philby, the British senior intelligence officer who secretly spied for the Soviet Union. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB. His espionage activities lasted from about 1933 until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War. He was part of a wider ring of upper-class British spies, known collectively as ‘the Cambridge spies’ because they were recruited by Soviet intelligence during their student days at the University of Cambridge in England.

Following his sensational defection, Philby lived in the Soviet capital until his death in 1988 at the age of 76. On Tuesday, a statement published on the website of the Moscow City Council announced that a busy intersection in the city’s southeast would be renamed to ‘Kim Philby Square’ in honor of the British defector. The statement said that the name change had been agreed upon by the city council and decreed by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sbyanin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Interestingly, Philby lived nowhere near the intersection named after him. His apartment —provided to him by the Soviet state in exchange for services rendered during his 30 years of spying— was located in a residential area of central Moscow. However, the intersection in question is situated near the headquarters of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, which is the primary successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. In September of last year, SVR Director Sergei Naryshkin attended an exhibition in Moscow entitled “Kim Philby: His Intelligence Work and Personal Life”, organized by the Russian Historical Society. While there, Naryshkin was told by veterans of the KGB that Philby liked to take long walks through the streets of Moscow and that a street should be named after him in his honor.

French news agency Agence France Presse reported that it contacted the Moscow City Council but a spokeswoman said she was not in a position to comment on the Kim Philby Square renaming. The move comes a few months after a small pedestrian thoroughfare located across from the front entrance of the Russian embassy in Washington DC was symbolically named ‘Boris Nemtsov’, after a Russian opposition leader who was gunned down in downtown Moscow in February of 2015.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2018 | Permalink

Canada seeks to take away passports from children of Russian spies

Vavilov FoleyTwo Canadian brothers, whose Russian-born parents fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for spying on the United States for Moscow, are not entitled to Canadian citizenship, according to the government of Canada. Tim and Alex Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES, a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following the couple’s arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

But the two brothers, who had never been to Russia prior to their parents’ arrest in 2010, are currently involved in a prolonged legal battle to keep their Canadian citizenship, after the government of Canada refused to recognize their Canadian passports. The latter were annulled when it became clear that the Canadian passports of the brothers’ parents were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers argue that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, they say, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes, and insist that Canada is the only home they know.

Last year, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alex Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. According to the Appeals Court, the Vavilov could not be considered as having been born to employees of a foreign government, since his parents were not accredited diplomats, nor did they enjoy diplomatic privileges while living in Canada. Since that time, the two brothers have had their Canadian passports renewed and say they hope to be able to settle and work in Canada. But the Canadian government was given until September 20 of this year to decide whether to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision, and take the case to the Supreme Court.

Now the Canadian government has filed a new court submission, effectively challenging the Federal Court of Appeals’ decision. It its submission, the government claims that the Vavilov brothers should be denied Canadian citizenship because their parents were, effectively, secret employees of a foreign government. The two Russian spies may not have been accredited by the Canadian state as foreign employees, it says, but they were in reality “dedicated to serving their home country, except in their case, the employment was carried out clandestinely”. Canada’s Supreme Court has said that it plans to hear the case before the end of the year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 August 2018 | Permalink

Spy chiefs from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan hold high-level meeting

Sergei NaryshkinIntelligence directors from Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan met on Tuesday to discuss regional cooperation with particular reference to combating the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Information about the high-level meeting was revealed yesterday by Sergei Ivanov, media spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Ivanov told Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency that the meeting was held in Pakistan and included the participation of SVR director Sergei Naryshkin. TASS reported that the meeting was held under the auspices of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and was attended by “senior intelligence officials” from Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China.

Ivanov said that discussions during the meeting “focused on the dangers arising from a buildup of the Islamic State on the Afghan territory”. The Islamic State announced the formation of its Afghan province (wilayah in Arabic) in January 2015, using the term “Khorasan Province”. By July 2016, two of its most prominent leaders had been killed in coordinated drone strikes by the United States, but the group continues to launch operations to this day. Its core is thought to be made up of nearly 100 fighters from the Islamic State’s former strongholds in Syria and Iraq. According to Russian reports, security officials in China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran are concerned that the Islamic State’s Afghan command is becoming stronger as fighters from the group are leaving the Middle East and moving to Afghanistan.

Tuesday’s high-level meeting in Islamabad follows an announcement last month by the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that it would adopt a more active stance on security issues in Afghanistan. Early in June, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani described the SCO as “an important platform for anti-terrorist cooperation and enhancing regional connectivity” in Central and South Asia. President Ghani made these comments shortly before traveling to China to attend the annual summit of the SCO, of which Afghanistan is an observer country.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 11 July 2018 | Permalink

Cold-War-era Soviet spy George Blake issues rare statement from Moscow

George BlakeOne of the Cold War’s most recognizable spy figures, George Blake, who escaped to the Soviet Union after betraying British intelligence, issued a rare statement last week, praising the successor agency to Soviet-era KGB. Blake was born George Behar in Rotterdam, Holland, to a Dutch mother and a British father. Having fought with the Dutch resistance against the Nazis, he escaped to Britain, where he joined the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, in 1944. He was serving in a British diplomatic post in Korea in 1950, when he was captured by advancing North Korean troops and spent time in a prisoner of war camp. He was eventually freed, but, unbeknownst to MI6, had become a communist and come in contact with the Soviet KGB while in captivity. Blake remained in the service of the KGB as a defector-in-place until 1961, when he was arrested and tried for espionage.

After a mostly closed-door trial, Blake was sentenced to 42 years in prison, which at that time was the longest prison sentence ever imposed in Britain. However, he managed to escape in 1966, with the help of Irish republican prisoners in London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison, where he was serving his sentence. With the help of Soviet intelligence, Blake made his way to France and from there to Germany and East Berlin, hiding inside a wooden box in the back of a delivery van. He eventually resurfaced in Moscow, where he has lived ever since, in a small, government-provided dacha (Russian cottage) located on the outskirts of the Russian capital.

Last Friday, Blake issued a statement on the eve of his 95th birthday. The statement was posted on the SVR’s official website and published by several Russian news agencies. The convicted spy said that he placed his hopes for the peace of mankind on the “men and women” of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service —the main institutional descendant of the Soviet KGB. Blake praised the SVR’s officers as “heroes” who are engaged in “a true battle between good and evil” at a time when “the danger of nuclear war and the resulting self-destruction of humankind” is a real threat. The spy added that the prospect of nuclear annihilation has been “put on the agenda by irresponsible politicians”, in what Russian news agencies interpreted as a comment that was directed against United States President Donald Trump.

The end of Blake’s statement is followed by a second statement, written by the Director of the SVR, Sergei Naryshkin. Naryshkin, who was appointed to his current post by Russian President Vladimir Putin a year ago, congratulates Blake on his 95th birthday and calls him a “reliable old comrade” and “a man of great wisdom”. Blake is “a proficient teacher”, says  Naryshkin, who has been a longtime role model for the officers of the SVR.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 November 2017 | Permalink

Fire at top-secret Moscow facility highlights rapid growth of Russian spy headquarters

SVR MoscowA massive fire that broke out at a top-secret spy facility in Moscow on Wednesday brought to the foreground prior reports about the unprecedented growth of the headquarters of Russia’s foreign spy service. The fire was reported at a government compound in Yasenevo, a leafy district on the southern outskirts of the Russian capital. The compound serves as the headquarters of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known by its initials, SVR. The SVR is one of the successor agencies to the Soviet-era KGB. During Soviet times, the present-day SVR was known as the First Chief Directorate or First Main Directorate of the KGB. Despite its name change, however, its mission remains the same, namely to collect secrets from targets outside the Russian Federation —often through the use of espionage— and to disseminate intelligence to the president.

The fire, which local news agencies described as “huge”, was reported early in the afternoon of Wednesday. Television images showed smoke coming out of one of the multistory towers that make up the SVR building complex. According to SVR spokesman Sergey Ivanov, the fire started in what he called “a technical installation” that houses “a cable gallery” and is located beneath the multistory building. The 21-story tower block is adjacent to a large Y-shaped building and is visible for several miles around. It became operational in the early 1970s, when the KGB’s First Chief Directorate began a decade-long process of moving to the new, state-of-the-art complex in the southern suburbs of the Russian capital. Today the complex houses the entire apparatus of the SVR, including its espionage wing, and is informally known as les (the forest) or kontora (the office). Approximately 15 fire crews arrived at the scene soon afterwards, and were able to coordinate their movements despite the fact that mobile communications are blocked at the site of the compound.

The SVR spokesman added that the fire is believed to have begun at a section of the facility that is undergoing extensive maintenance work. Three members of the crew that were initially missing during the early stage of the fire were later rescued, said Ivanov, and the fire was eventually extinguished without causing fatalities or injuries. But the incident highlighted the reportedly unprecedented growth of the SVR complex that observers have noted in recent years. As intelNews reported in 2016, satellite images show that the top-secret facility has doubled —and possibly tripled— in size in the past decade. The most recent images were compiled by Allen Thomson, an analyst who worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s and 1980s. They were published by Steven Aftergood, who edits the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog. The images clearly show that at least three more large buildings have been erected alongside the landmark skyscraper and the adjoining Y-shaped office block. These additions, said Aftergood in 2016, appear to have increased the SVR headquarters’ floor space “by a factor of two or more”. Moreover, the nearby parking capacity at the complex “appears to have quadrupled”, he added. Observers often describe the compound as a constant construction site, with new buildings and facilities being built at an unprecedented speed.

On Wednesday evening, SVR officials told the Moscow-based TASS news agency that the agency would investigate the cause of the fire. It was “too early to give any comments” about it, they said, but the SVR had already initiated an official probe into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2017 | Permalink

Russian spies arrested by the FBI in 2010 had targeted Hillary Clinton

Hillary ClintonA major reason behind the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s decision to arrest ten Russian spies across the United States in 2010 was their increasing proximity to the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it has been claimed. The spies had been specifically instructed by their handlers in Moscow to target Clinton, who was seen as the most likely successor to US President Barack Obama, according to recently released FBI files. Ten Russian deep-cover spies, who had no official cover and thus no diplomatic immunity, were arrested by the FBI in June 2010, following a ten-year counterintelligence investigation codenamed Operation GHOST STORIES.

The ten had entered the country from various destinations, including Canada, Latin America and Europe. Some were posing as citizens of third countries, while others had fraudulently assumed the names of dead Americans. They had been tasked by the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, with blending into American society and finding their way into senior policy circles in Washington, DC, and other major decision-making hubs of the US government. US Justice Department documents refer to the SVR spy ring as “the illegals program” or “the Russian illegals program”.

On Sunday, the Washington-based newspaper The Hill said that it was able to shed more light into the Russian illegals program, after accessing recently unsealed FBI documents and interviewing US government officials. The paper said that the SVR had specifically instructed some of the illegals to concentrate on penetrating the Department of State. Their primary goal was to uncover information about the Obama administration’s policy on Russia. A key target of the Russian illegals was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was seen by Moscow as the leading voice on Washington’s Russia policy. Read more of this post

Sons of exposed Russian deep-cover spies want their Canadian citizenship back

FoleyThe sons of a Russian couple, who fraudulently acquired Canadian citizenship before being arrested for espionage in the United States, are seeking to reinstate their Canadian citizenship, which was annulled when their parents were found to be Russian spies. Tim and Alex Vavilov are the sons of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, a married couple arrested in 2010 under Operation GHOST STORIES —a counterintelligence program run by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following their arrest, their sons, who allegedly grew up thinking their parents were Canadian, were told that their parents were in fact Russian citizens and that their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. Their English-sounding names and Canadian passports had been forged in the late 1980s by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s primary external intelligence agency.

The two boys were at the family’s home in suburban Cambridge, MA, on Sunday, June 27, 2010, when FBI agents conducted coordinated raids across New England, arresting their parents and eight more Russian ‘illegals’. The term is used to signify Russian non-official-cover operatives, namely intelligence officers who operate abroad without diplomatic cover and typically without connection to the country they spy for. It is now believed that Bezrukov and Vavilova were recruited as a couple in the 1980s by the KGB’s Department S, which operated the agency’s ‘illegals’ program.

But the two brothers, who were born in Canada, are currently involved in a prolonged legal battle to have their Canadian citizenship reinstated. The latter was rescinded when it became clear that their parents’ Canadian passports were fraudulent. According to the Canadian Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to “employees of a foreign government” are not entitled to Canadian nationality. But the brothers argue that they were 20 and 16 when their parents were arrested and were unaware of their double identities. It follows, they told Canada’s newsmagazine Maclean’s in August, that they cannot be punished for their parents’ crimes.

This past June, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal overturned the decision of a lower court and ordered the government to reinstate Alex Vavilov’s Canadian citizenship. Now the government has until September 20 to decide whether to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court. If it does not, or if it upholds the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, it is thought that Alex’s brother, Tim, will also have his Canadian citizenship reinstated.

But the case may be further-complicated by allegations made by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that Tim was aware of his parents’ espionage activities when they were arrested by the FBI. The CSIS claims that the two Russian spies had groomed Tim to enter the intelligence profession, and that the then-20-year-old had given an oath of allegiance to the SVR —the KGB’s post-Cold-War successor agency. But Tim Vavilov denies he was groomed or “sworn-in” by the Russians, and argues that he has never been presented with evidence of this allegation, even though his parents’ home in Massachusetts was bugged by the FBI for nearly a decade.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2017 | Permalink

Analysis: Is Putin planning to restore the Soviet-era KGB?

SVR hqLast week, following the results of Russia’s parliamentary election, Russian media run a story suggesting that the Kremlin is planning to implement far-reaching changes to the country’s intelligence apparatus. According to the Moscow-based daily Kommersant, the administration of President Vladimir Putin is considering merging Russia’s two major intelligence and counterterrorism agencies into one. Specifically, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, will merge with the FSB, the Federal Security Service, according to Kommersant. The merger will create a new amalgamated intelligence agency that will be named “Ministry of State Security”, or MGB, in Russian. The last time this title was used was from 1946 to 1953, during the last years of the reign of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. It was one of several agencies that were eventually combined to form the Soviet KGB in 1954.

If the Kommersant article is accurate, Russia’s two main intelligence agencies will merge after an institutional separation that has lasted a quarter of a century. They were separated shortly after the official end of the Soviet Union, in 1991, when it was recognized that the KGB was not under the complete control of the state. That became plainly obvious in August of that year, when the spy agency’s Director, Vladimir Kryuchkov, helped lead a military coup aimed at deposing Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The two new agencies were given separate mandates: the SVR inherited the mission of the KGB’s foreign intelligence directorates and focused on collecting intelligence abroad; the FSB, on the other hand, assumed the KGB’s counterintelligence and counterterrorist missions. A host of smaller agencies, including the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information (FAPSI), the Federal Protective Service (FSO) and others, took on tasks such as communications interception, border control, political protection, etc.

Could these agencies merge again after 25 years of separation? Possibly, but it will take time. An entire generation of Russian intelligence officers has matured under separate institutional roofs in the post-Soviet era. Distinct bureaucratic systems and structures have developed and much duplication has ensued during that time. If a merger was to occur, entire directorates and units would have to be restructured or even eliminated. Leadership roles would have to be purged or redefined with considerable delicacy, so as to avoid inflaming bureaucratic turf battles. Russian bureaucracies are not known for their organizational skills, and it would be interesting to see how they deal with the inevitable confusion of a possible merger. It could be argued that, if Putin’s goal is to augment the power of the intelligence services —which is doubtful, given their long history of challenging the power of the Kremlin— he would be better off leaving them as they are today.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 October 2016 | Permalink

Russian foreign intelligence headquarters has doubled in size since 2007

SVR hqRecent satellite images reveal that the headquarters of the Russian Federation’s external intelligence agency has doubled, and possibly tripled, in size in the past nine years. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR, is one of the successor agencies of the Soviet-era KGB. During the Soviet times, the present-day SVR was known as the First Chief Directorate or First Main Directorate of the KGB. Despite its name change, however, its mission remains the same, namely to collect secrets from targets outside the Russian Federation —often through the use of espionage— and to disseminate intelligence to the president. In the Soviet days, along with most of the KGB, the First Chief Directorate was headquartered in the imposing Lubyanka building, which is located in Moscow’s Meshchansky District. But in the early 1970s, the entire First Chief Directorate began a decade-long process of moving to a new, state-of-the-art complex in the southern suburbs of the Russian capital. The complex, which is located in Yasenevo, today houses the entire apparatus of the SVR, including its espionage wing, and is informally known as les (the forest) or kontora (the office).

Until 2007, the SVR’s Yasenevo headquarters consisted of a large Y-shaped office building that adjoins an imposing 21-story skyscraper, which is visible for several miles around. But an open-source collection of recent satellite images shows that the top-secret complex has doubled —and possibly tripled— in size in the past decade. Steven Aftergood, who edits the Federation ofMikhail Fradkov American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog, has published a collection of images that was compiled by Allen Thomson, an analyst who worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency from 1972 to 1985. The images clearly show that at least three more large buildings have been erected alongside the landmark skyscraper and the adjoining Y-shaped office block. These additions, says Aftergood, appear to have increased the SVR headquarters’ floor space “by a factor of two or more”. Moreover, the nearby parking capacity at the complex “appears to have quadrupled”, he adds.

There is no information available about what may have prompted the sudden building expansion at the SVR complex, nor whether it reflects drastic changes in the organizational structure, budget or mission of the agency. Secrecy News quotes Russian intelligence observer Andrei Soldatov, who suggests that there may be a direct connection between the expansion of the SVR facility and the appointment of Mikhail Fradkov as the agency’s director, in 2007. Fradkov is a Soviet-era diplomat, who some suspect was secretly an officer of the KGB. He served as Russia’s prime minister from 2004 to 2007, when he was appointed director of the SVR —a position that he retains to this day. There have been suggestions in the Russian media that Fradkov could succeed Vladimir Putin when the latter retires from his post as president of the Russian Federation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 July 2016 | Permalink

Senior Russian intelligence defector to the US is allegedly dead

Aleksandr PoteyevA Russian former senior intelligence officer, who reportedly defected to the United States after helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrest 10 Russian spies in 2010, is believed to have died. The arrests, which revealed the so-called “Russian illegals program” in the US, were part of a counterintelligence operation codenamed GHOST STORIES by the FBI. The operation culminated in June 2010 with the dramatic arrests of 10 Russian ‘illegals’ in several US states. The Russian illegals, deep-cover intelligence operatives with no official connection to the country that employs them, had been operating in the US for over a decade prior to their arrest, using passports from third countries, including Britain, Canada and Uruguay. They were eventually exchanged with spies for the West that had been imprisoned in Russia.

Moscow blamed the arrests of the illegals on Colonel Aleksandr Poteyev, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, who rose through the ranks of the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR, to become second-in-command in the so-called Department S. The senior leaders of Department S are believed to be appointed directly by the president of Russia, and are tasked with directing the activities of all Russian illegals operating abroad. According to the Russian government, which tried Poteyev in absentia in 2011, he began working for the US Central Intelligence Agency in 1999, shortly before entering the senior echelons of Department S.

A panel of judges was told during Poteyev’s Moscow trial that he left Russia without permission on June 24, 2010, just days before the FBI arrested the 10 Russian illegals in the US. He initially went to Belarus, from where he notified his unsuspecting wife via a text sent from a mobile phone that he was leaving Russia for good. He then traveled to Ukraine and from there to Germany, where he was allegedly picked up by his American CIA handler. It is believed that was provided with a new identity and passport, which he used to enter the US. By the time the Russians sentenced him to 25 years in prison for treason, Poteyev was adjusting to his new life in America.

But on July 7, the Moscow-based Interfax news agency reported that Poteyev, had died in the US, aged 64. The brief report did not specify the cause of Poteyev’s alleged death, nor did it state how Interfax acquired the information. Since the report was issued, no confirmation of Poteyev’s purported death has appeared from any other news source, or from government agencies. Russia’s Sputnik News contacted the SVR last week, but the agency declined to comment. It is believed that Poteyev’s two children were working in the US at the time of his defection, and that they are still living in the country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 July 2016 | Permalink