Swedish spy agency investigates drone sightings at three nuclear power plants

Ringhals Nuclear Power PlantSWEDEN’S DOMESTIC SECURITY AGENCY said it had taken over from the police an investigation into sightings of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, at three nuclear power plants. On Monday, the Swedish Security Service, known by its Swedish acronym, SAPO, confirmed earlier reports that a large-size drone had been spotted on Friday by security guards over the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant. The facility is located just short of 95 miles north of Sweden’s capital, Stockholm. It is known as the country’s largest producer of electricity, generating one sixth of its electricity supply.

Later, however, reports emerged about sightings of what appeared to be surveillance drones over Sweden’s two other nuclear power plants—namely the Oskarshamn Nuclear Power Plant, located on Sweden’s southeastern Baltic Sea coast, and the Ringhals Nuclear Power Plant, which is situated on the Värö Peninsula, on Sweden’s western coast. According to reports, the drones appeared to be large enough to withstand the gale force winds that were blowing over much of Sweden at the time. The drones disappeared without trace, and Swedish authorities say they have no suspects so far.

On Monday, SAPO said that it had assumed control of the probe into the drone sightings, “in order to be able to investigate the incidents in more detail”. In a report last weekend, the Reuters news agency pointed out that the drone sightings occurred a day after the Swedish military began patrolling the city of Visby, on the island of Gotland. According to Reuters, the patrols were sparked by “increased tensions” between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Like its neighboring Finland, Sweden is not a member of NATO, but there have been frequent calls in recent months for it go join, in light of renewed tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2022 | Permalink

Sweden becomes the latest Western country to create an anti-disinformation agency

Swedish Psychological Defence AgencyA FEW MONTHS AFTER France’s establishment of an agency to combat foreign disinformation, Sweden has announced the creation of a new government authority, whose mission is to defend against disinformation by foreign actors. Based in Karlstad, a city 200 miles west of Stockholm, the Swedish Psychological Defense Agency (PDA) was formally established on January 1. Its stated mission is to “safeguard [Sweden’s] open and democratic society, the free information of opinion and Sweden’s freedom and independence”.

The agency says it plans to carry out its mission by working “both preventively and operationally and [by pursing] its tasks in peacetime and in war”. In addition to “identifying, analysing and responding to inappropriate influences and other misleading information directed at Sweden or Swedish interests”, the PDA vows to target disinformation by foreign actors that  aim to weaken “the country’s resilience and the population’s will to defend itself”. Moreover, the new authority aims to provide support against disinformation by foreign actors to various national agencies, local authorities, media organizations, voluntary groups and the population at large. Its ultimate goal is to “develop and strengthen society’s overall capacity of psychological defence”.

The establishment of this new government authority comes several months ahead of the Sweden’s general election, which has been scheduled for September 11 of this year. According to the Swedish government, there is no evidence that foreign actors carried out systematic psychological operations against the Swedish state and its population in the run-up to the most recent general election, which was held in 2018. However, according to the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), “foreign powers [plan to exert] influence on Sweden in the long term”.

Sweden’s announcement of the establishment of the PDA comes six months after the creation of a similarly tasked government agency in France. Established in June of last year, France’s Secretariat-General for National Defense and Security (SGDSN) aims to combat foreign disinformation campaigns that attempt to “undermine the state”. The SGDSN is reported to employ 60 officers at the present time. Other countries, such as the United States and Britain, have set up units within agencies whose mission is to combat foreign disinformation. But France and Sweden appear to be the only Western countries so far that have created independent agencies tasked with such a mission.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 January 2022 | Permalink

European report claims Russia has retained Soviet-era assassination capabilities

Gävle Sweden

A REPORT FROM A European intelligence agency claims that the Russian state has retained the same capacity for worldwide extrajudicial executions that it had during the Soviet era. The report was disclosed by a Swedish broadcaster in association with the attempted murder of Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a blogger from the Russian province of Chechnya, who is a vocal critic of the Russian government and the Kremlin-backed governor of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Originally from the Chechen capital Grozny, Abdurakhmanov, 34, lives in Sweden, from where he regularly posts videos on YouTube criticizing Kadyrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin. His YouTube channel has over 250,000 followers. In 2020, a man who traveled to Sweden from Moscow, entered Abdurakhmanov’s apartment in Gävle, Sweden, and tried to kill him with a hammer. It appears that the man was let into Abdurakhmanov’s apartment by a woman with whom Abdurakhmanov had a relationship at the time, and is now believed to have been an accomplice of the would-be-assassin.

Abdurakhmanov survived the attack. The attacker, Ruslan Mamaev, is now serving a 12-year prison sentence, while the woman, Elmira Chapiaeva, is serving an 18-month sentence. Swedish authorities say they are looking for third person, who is believed to have been the would-be-assassins’ logistical link to the Chechen government, and remains at large. According to the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO, the operation to kill Abdurakhmanov was organized in Moscow in 2019.

In association with Abdurakhmanov’s attempted assassination, the Swedish broadcaster SVT published yesterday excerpts from an intelligence report, which offers a broad assessment of the Kremlin’s capabilities for extrajudicial killings around the world. According to the SVT, the report was produced by an unnamed “European intelligence agency”. It claims that many of the “instigators, planners, coordinators and operatives of [Russian-organized] extrajudicial killings are usually found in the special units [spetsnaz] of the National Guard of the Russian Federation”. This is primarily the case with spetsnaz units based in Chechnya, according to the report.

The conclusion of the report is that Russia “today has the same capacity as the Soviet Union once had to conduct assassination operations sanctioned by the state” around the world. The Kremlin has used this capability to carry out numerous assassinations and attempted assassinations of dissident expatriates, defectors, and other critics of the Russian government in Europe and beyond, the report concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 December 2021 | Permalink

Sweden arrests second suspect in high-stakes espionage case involving Iran

Säpo sweden

AUTHORITIES IN SWEDEN HAVE arrested a second suspect in an espionage case that appears to implicate Iranian agents operating inside some of the most secretive units of Swedish civilian and military intelligence. The most recent arrest was announced on Tuesday with statement by the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO), which said that an individual had been arrested in “central Sweden”.

The statement gave no further information about the suspect’s identity, but said that the suspect had been charged with “aggravated espionage”. It added that the arrest was connected with “a similar case” that led to an arrest of an intelligence officer in September, also connected to espionage. The “similar case” mentioned in the statement refers to the arrest of Peyman Kia, a senior civil servant and former intelligence officer, who was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on September 20 of this year.

Kia is believed to have been an officer in SÄPO, as well as in the Office for Special Information Gathering (KSI) of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST). The KSI is reportedly among the most sensitive branches of the MUST. According to a number of reports in the Swedish media, Kia is of Iranian origin and is accused of having provided Iran with intelligence information. Specifically, he is “suspected of having committed serious crimes against the security of the Swedish state during the period 2011–2015”, according to reports.

The most recent arrest is reportedly directly connected with that of Kia. Swedish counterintelligence officials have described these cases as “complex”, adding that they have been “working on them for a long time”. If the charges hold in court, it will make this the first espionage affair affecting an employee of SÄPO since 1979.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 November 2021 | Research credit: A. | Permalink

Sweden charges consultant with spying for Russia, expels Russian diplomat

ScaniaA SWEDISH MAN HAS been charged with spying for Russia, after he was apprehended while meeting with a Russian diplomat stationed at the Russian embassy in Stockholm. Neither the Swedish man nor the Russian diplomat —who is believed to have been expelled from Sweden— have been named. Swedish government officials reportedly expelled the Russian diplomat following the incident, accusing him of working as an intelligence officer under diplomatic cover.

Government prosecutors said the Swedish man is 47 years old and worked as a consultant for numerous Swedish manufacturers. His employers included the car manufacturer Volvo, as well as Scania, a company that builds commercial vehicles, such as buses and trucks. According to Sweden’s public broadcaster, SVT, the man was arrested two years ago, in February 2019, while he was meeting in Stockholm with an accredited Russian diplomat. According to news reports, during the meeting the Swedish man gave the Russian a bag containing commercial secrets. In return, he received an envelope containing 27,800 Swedish kronor (US$3,350). These were confiscated by Swedish counterintelligence.

The indictment states that the 47-year-old Swede spied for Russia “for a number of years”, during which he routinely “transferred commercial secrets from his work computer to his home computer”. He would then transfer the files to USB memory sticks and pass them on to his Russian hander. Eventually, when his employer installed security software that monitored employees’ use of USB memory sticks, the consultant resorted to photographing material appearing on his work computer screen. He now faces “a lengthy sentence” if convicted, according to SVT.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 February 2021 | Permalink

Intelligence officer who forged credentials did not betray secrets, says Sweden

Sweden militaryA man who rose through the ranks of the Swedish Armed Forces by using forged credentials, and worked as an intelligence officer in NATO while liaising with the Russian security services, did not betray national secrets, according to Swedish officials.

The man, who has not been named by the Swedish government, served in the Försvars- makten —the Swedish Armed Forces— for 18 years. He used forged certificates to claim that he had a university degree in political science. He also claimed that he had successfully completed the Swedish Army’s officer training program, a claim that he supported with a forged certificate of completion.

During his military career, he participated in Sweden’s international peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, as well as in Afghanistan, where he served with the rank of major. Between 2007 and 2010, and then again in 2013, the unnamed man was an employee of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST), where he worked as a liaison between MUST and Russia’s Federal Security Service.

In 2012 he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was dispatched to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, which is the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Allied Command Operations. Sweden is not a member of NATO but has close ties with the alliance. While in Belgium, the unnamed man joined the Afghanistan Mission Network, an intelligence-sharing platform for nations that participated in military and peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan. He then joined Sweden’s United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali as its chief of staff, with the rank of major.

The forgeries that he used to join the military were reportedly detected in 2019, but the case did not become public until earlier this month, when the Stockholm-based newspaper Dagens Nyheter published an claimed about it. On Thursday, the chief of staff of the Försvarsmakten, General Micael Byden, told the Defense Committee of the Swedish Parliament that the unnamed man did not harm Sweden’s national security. General Byden briefed the committee on the results of an internal investigation into the case by the armed forces. He claimed that the investigation had found “nothing that indicates that classified information had been disseminated” to Russia or any other foreign power by the unnamed man. NATO has not commented on the case.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 January 2020 | Permalink

Russian diplomat involved in espionage leaves Sweden after ‘unusual’ delay

Russian Embassy SwedenRussia has recalled one of its diplomats from Sweden after he was caught receiving classified information from a computer expert at a nightclub in Stockholm. The computer expert was later identified as Kristian Dmitrievski, a 45-year-old naturalized Swede who was born in Russia. The Swedish government accuses him of having been recruited by Russian intelligence in 2017 or earlier. He allegedly met with his Russian handlers on a regular basis since his recruitment, passing them classified information of a technical nature.

Dmitrievski was reportedly arrested on the evening of February 26, while meeting his alleged Russian handler in a downtown area of the Swedish capital. Both Dmitrievski and his alleged handler were detained by officers of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO. Swedish authorities later said that Dmitrievski’s alleged handler was a member of staff of the Russian embassy in Stockholm and had diplomatic immunity. SÄPO added that the Russian diplomat was believed to be a Russian intelligence officer who worked under diplomatic cover. The Russian man’s diplomatic status granted him immunity, so Swedish authorities were unable to file espionage charges against him. However, the Swedish Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to file a protest, while the alleged intelligence officer was told to leave the country.

Surprisingly, however, Moscow did not recall the diplomat, as expected, and no further reports were issued about the incident. Then on March 28, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter named the Russian diplomat as Yevgeny Umerenko. Later that day, the Associated Press news agency said that it had seen “an intelligence report from a European service” that identified Dmitrievski’s Russian handler as Yevgeny Umerenko. The Associated Press described Umerenko as a “Line X officer” —a Soviet-era classification referring to case officers specializing in technological espionage. Western intelligence agencies had apparently been monitoring Umerenko’s activities ever since he had a similar role at the Russian embassy in Berlin, immediately before being transferred to Stockholm.

In its report, the Associated Press said that Moscow had finally recalled Umerenko from its embassy in Sweden, and that he was back in Russia. The news agency added it spoke to Anna Lundbladh, a spokeswoman for Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who confirmed that Umerenko had left Sweden, but went on to say that the Swedish government would “not discuss this matter in further detail”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 April 2019 | Permalink

Sweden confirms arrest of second person on spying charges

Säpo swedenThe Swedish public prosecutor’s office has confirmed media reports that a second espionage-related arrest took place in Stockholm this week. The latest arrest came just 24 hours after a man was arrested in the Swedish capital on Tuesday, allegedly for spying on behalf of Russia. As intelNews reported yesterday, a man was apprehended on Tuesday while meeting with a foreign diplomat in central Stockholm. The diplomat is allegedly a member of staff at the Russian embassy in Sweden. He is believed to be a Russian intelligence officer operating under official cover. A representative of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO, later said that the man who was meeting with the Russian diplomat had been recruited by Russian intelligence in 2017 or earlier, and had been in regular contact with his Russian handlers. His name has not been revealed to the media, but he is believed to be working for an unnamed technology company in Sweden.

On Thursday, the Stockholm-based newspaper Dagens Nyheter said that it had seen court papers involving the arrest of a second individual on Wednesday, reportedly in connection with espionage for a foreign power. The paper said that the arrest took place in the Swedish capital and the individual in question remained in detention. It added that Hans-Jorgen Hanstrom, of the public prosecutor’s office, had confirmed the arrest and that the main suspect had been charged with spying against Swedish interests for a foreign power. Hanstrom added that the suspect had been found to engage in espionage from April 10 until September 30, 2018. But he did not disclose the person’s name or nationality. SÄPO spokesman Karl Melin also confirmed the espionage-related arrest, but did not comment on whether it was related to Tuesday’s arrest.

Earlier in the week, officials from SÄPO’s counterespionage directorate said that Tuesday’s arrest was the result of a lengthy operation that took “a substantial period of time” and involved “intensive intelligence and investigation work”. The alleged spy was scheduled to be placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday, but his hearing was postponed for Friday. The Russian embassy in Stockholm has not commented on the reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2019 | Permalink

Sweden arrests man for spying for Russia; diplomatic expulsions expected soon

Russian Embassy SwedenAuthorities in Sweden have announced the arrest of a man who is accused of spying for Russia. The man was reportedly apprehended while meeting with a Russian diplomat in central Stockholm. The alleged spy, who has not been identified in media reports, is believed to be working for an unnamed technology company in Sweden. A report by Swedish police said that the man is working “in a field that is known to be of interest to the intelligence services of foreign powers”.

The unnamed man is suspected of having been recruited by intelligence officers of Russia in 2017 or earlier. He is believed to have met with his Russian handlers on a regular basis since his recruitment, and to have passed classified information to the Russian government. He was reportedly arrested on Tuesday evening as he was meeting his alleged Russian handler in a downtown area of the Swedish capital. Both he and his alleged handler were detained by officers of the Swedish Security Service, known as SÄPO. The alleged handler was a member of staff of the Russian embassy in Stockholm and has diplomatic immunity. SÄPO said that the Russian embassy officer is believed to be a Russian intelligence officer who works under diplomatic cover. Swedish media said on Tuesday that the diplomat’s expulsion from the country was imminent.

However, SÄPO declined to provide information on the identity of the alleged spy, who is not believed to have diplomatic immunity and is therefore liable to prosecution. Daniel Stenling, head of SÄPO’s counterespionage directorate, said that Tuesday’s arrest was the result of a prolonged probe that took “a substantial period of time” and involved “intensive intelligence and investigation work”. SÄPO spokesman Gabriel Wernstedt said on Wednesday that the agency did not believe that the alleged spy is a member of a ring involving other suspects. He warned, however, that espionage threats against Sweden “are now more far reaching than [they have] been for many years”.

The alleged spy is scheduled to be placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday or Friday at the latest. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which reported Tuesday’s arrest, said it reached out to the Russian embassy in Stockholm but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 February 2019 | Permalink

Sweden grants citizenship to man accused by Iran of being a Mossad spy

Ahmadreza DjalaliThe government of Sweden has granted citizenship to an academic who is on death row in Iran for allegedly helping Israel kill Iranian nuclear scientists. Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed on Saturday that Ahmadreza Djalali, who lives in Sweden and has lectured at Stockholm’s renowned Karolinska Institute, is now a Swedish citizen. IntelNews has covered extensively the case of Dr. Djalali, 45, a professor of disaster medicine who has also taught at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in the Belgian capital, as well as in the VUB’s European Master’s program in Disaster Medicine in Italy.

It is believed that Djalali was arrested in Iran in 2016, during a visit from Sweden, where he has been living for several years. He was sentenced to death last year for allegedly helping Israel assassinate nuclear scientists and sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program. Four Iranian physicists, who were employed in Iran’s nuclear program, are known to have been assassinated between 2010 and 2012. Most were killed by magnetic bombs that were placed on their vehicles by unknown assailants, who were then able to escape on motorcycles. Tehran believes that the assassinations were carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, with the help of agents recruited by the Israelis from within Iran’s nuclear program.

The office of Tehran’s public prosecutor claims that Djalali admitted holding “several meetings with the Mossad”, during which he allegedly “provided [the Mossad] with sensitive information about Iran’s military and nuclear installations”. The Iranians further claim that Djalali gave Israel the names and addresses of at least 30 senior members of the country’s nuclear program. The list included nuclear physicists, engineers, as well as intelligence and military officials with nuclear specializations. In return for supplying inside information, the Israelis allegedly helped Djalali secure permanent residency in Sweden and financed his move there. Iran claims that the information given to the Mossad by Djalali resulted in the assassination of at least one Iranian scientist. But in a letter written from prison in Iran, the jailed academic claims that he was sentenced to death after he refused to carry out espionage operations on behalf of the Iranian state.

A spokeswoman for Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday that the Swedish government was aware that Djalali had been granted citizenship by the country’s Migration Board. Consequently, the Ministry was in touch with Iranian authorities and had requested access to the jailed scientist, she said. She added that the Swedish government’s demand was that “the death penalty is not carried out” in the case of Djalali.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 February 2018 | Permalink

Swedish intelligence says it identified foreign spies searching for secrets

Sweden militaryThe military intelligence service of Sweden warned last week that there were increasing incidents of espionage perpetrated against Sweden by operatives identified “beyond doubt” as agents of foreign powers. In its annual report for 2016, the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) said large numbers of spies were detected around “sensitive installations” mostly of a military nature. Headed by an Army general, MUST is responsible for military intelligence and counterintelligence in Sweden. Every year it produces a report of its activities for the Swedish government and defense establishment, and also publishes a declassified version. Its latest report warns about growing attempts by foreign countries to “gather intelligence about Sweden’s defense assets and capabilities”.

On Friday, Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet published an interview with senior MUST official Jan Kinnander. He told the paper that MUST was able to identify beyond doubt that certain individuals were “connected to the intelligence services of foreign states”. These persons traveled to Sweden “under false pretenses”, according to the official. A few of them were diplomats, said Kinnander, while most attempted to travel around the Scandinavian country using “conspiratorial methods”. Many were detected prowling around government installations that are linked to Sweden’s national defense while having “no reasonable cause” to be there, said Kinnander.

When asked to identify the countries that engage in espionage against Sweden, Kinnander said he could not elaborate, except to say that MUST linked the alleged spies with “several countries, including Russia”. In December of last year, MUST Director Gunnar Karlsson told Swedish media that Russia was a leading perpetrator of intelligence operations against Sweden. These operations included active measures involving propaganda, deception and other psychological activities, he said. In recent years, the Swedish authorities have arrested Polish, Lithuanian and other Eastern European nationals, allegedly because they were seen photographing Swedish military installations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 February 2017 | Permalink

Soviet memoirs suggest KGB abducted and murdered Swedish diplomat

Raoul WallenbergThe recently discovered memoirs of a former director of the Soviet KGB suggest that a senior Swedish diplomat, who disappeared mysteriously in the closing stages of World War II, was killed on the orders of Joseph Stalin. The fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg is one of the 20th century’s unsolved espionage mysteries. In 1944 and 1945, the 33-year-old Wallenberg was Sweden’s ambassador to Budapest, the capital of German-allied Hungary. During his time there, Wallenberg is said to have saved over 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi concentration camps, by supplying them with Swedish travel documents, or smuggling them out of the country through a network of safe houses. He also reportedly dissuaded German military commanders from launching an all-out armed attack on Budapest’s Jewish ghetto.

But Wallenberg was also an American intelligence asset, having been recruited by a US spy operating out of the War Refugee Board, an American government outfit with offices throughout Eastern Europe. In January of 1945, as the Soviet Red Army descended on Hungary, Moscow gave orders for Wallenberg’s arrest on charges of spying for Washington. The Swedish diplomat disappeared, never to be seen in public again. Some historians speculate that Joseph Stalin initially intended to exchange Wallenberg for a number of Soviet diplomats and intelligence officers who had defected to Sweden. According to official Soviet government reports, Wallenberg died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947, while being interrogated at the Lubyanka, a KGB-affiliated prison complex in downtown Moscow. Despite the claims of the official Soviet record, historians have cited periodic reports that Wallenberg may have managed to survive in the Soviet concentration camp system until as late as the 1980s.

But the recently discovered memoirs of Ivan Serov, who directed the KGB from 1954 to 1958, appear to support the prevalent theory about Wallenberg’s demise in 1947. Serov led the feared Soviet intelligence agency under the reformer Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Joseph Stalin in the premiership of the USSR. Khrushchev appointed Serov to conduct an official probe into Wallenberg’s fate. Serov’s memoirs were found in 2012 by one of his granddaughters, Vera Serova, inside several suitcases that had been secretly encased inside a wall in the family’s summer home. According to British newspaper The Times, the documents indicate that Wallenberg was indeed held for two years in the Lubyanka, where he was regularly interrogated by the KGB. The latter were certain that the Swedish diplomat was an American spy who had also been close to Nazi Germany’s diplomatic delegation in Hungary. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin considered exchanging him for Soviet assets in the West. But eventually Wallenberg “lost his value [and] Stalin didn’t see any point in sending him home”, according to Serov’s memoirs. The KGB strongman adds that “undoubtedly, Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947”. Further on, he notes that, according to Viktor Abakumov, who headed the MGB —a KGB predecessor agency— in the mid-1940s, the order to kill Wallenberg came from Stalin himself.

In 2011, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, Chief Archivist for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), one of two successor agencies to the old Soviet KGB, gave an interview about Wallenberg, in which he said that most of the Soviet documentation on the Swedish diplomat had been systematically destroyed in the 1950s. But he said that historical reports of Wallenberg’s survival into the 1980s were “a product of […] people’s imagination”, and insisted that he was “one hundred percent certain […] that Wallenberg never was in any prison” other than the Lubyanka. An investigation by the Swedish government into the diplomat’s disappearance and eventual fate is ongoing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2016 | Permalink

Russia jails ex-military intelligence employee for contacting Swedish company

Tselina satelliteA court in Moscow has sentenced a former employee of Russia’s military intelligence agency to a lengthy prison term for seeking to work for a Swedish engineering firm. Gennady Krantsov worked for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, from 1990 to 2005. As a radio engineer, he is believed to have worked on a number of projects relating to satellite technology. The terms of his government contract reportedly forbade him from travelling outside Russia. He was also forbidden from participating in intelligence-related engineering projects for foreign governments or the private sector for a minimum of five years after leaving the GRU.

But he was arrested last year by Russia’s Federal Counterintelligence Service, known as FSK, allegedly for sending a letter to a Swedish engineering company seeking work. In 2013, when the FSK first questioned Kravtsov, it was told by the former GRU engineer that his letter to the Swedish firm contained no state secrets. Additionally, Kravtsov was not found to have received any funds from the Swedes. But the counterintelligence agency returned to arrest Kravtsov in 2014, claiming that a polygraph test he had taken showed that he had shared classified material with foreign agents. According to Russian government prosecutors, Kravtsov gave the Swedes information about Tselina-2, a military radio surveillance system designed to detect the location and activity of radio-emitting objects from space.

Kravtsov was convicted of state treason and stripped of his GRU rank of lieutenant colonel. He was sentenced on Monday to 14 years in a maximum-security penal colony. The judge said that he had violated his promise not to reveal information about his GRU-related work to foreign government officials. His lawyers, however, complained that the case had been held completely behind closed doors and that they had not been permitted to call witnesses or examine material that was central to the case.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 September 2015 | Permalink

Sweden conducts spy flights over Russia amidst heightened tensions

Swedish Air ForceSwedish Air Force spy planes conducted reconnaissance flights over Russia on Wednesday —and there was nothing the Kremlin could do about it. The flights were part of the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies, an international agreement designed to build trust among former Cold War rivals. The treaty was first proposed by the United States in 1990, with the intention of covering all member-states of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. When it was eventually signed, on March 24, 1992, it was ratified by 23 countries, including the US and Russia. An additional 11 states have joined the treaty at various times since, with Sweden joining in 2002. On Wednesday, Swedish reconnaissance airplanes conducted flights over a number of Russian military installations as part of the treaty, as they do every year during predetermined times.

This year, however, the stakes are different, since relations between Stockholm and Moscow have deteriorated dramatically. The Scandinavian country has issued numerous formal complaints against what it says were illegal infiltrations of its airspace by Russian military jets since 2014. Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said earlier this year that some of these alleged airspace infiltrations represented “the most serious aerial incursions by the Russians in almost 10 years”. In October of last year, Swedish authorities shut down airspace over Stockholm while searching for a misery foreign vessel seen off the coast of the Swedish capital, said to be a Russian spy submarine. The mystery vessel was never detected, but some Swedish media sites claimed that its mission had been to either “pick up or drop off a Russian spy” without alerting Swedish authorities. In March of this year, the Swedish Security Service, known as SAPO, said that Russia was Sweden’s greatest short-term threat, adding that nearly a third of all Russian diplomats stationed in Sweden were in fact intelligence officers.

Swedish media quoted Swedish Armed Forces Colonel Carol Paraniak, who said that Russia was and would always remain an intelligence target for Sweden. This is especially true today, as the “security and political situation […] has changed a lot compared to last year. Tensions have increased dramatically”, said Paraniak.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 August 2015 | Permalink

Israel charges Swedish citizen with spying for Hezbollah

HezbollahIsraeli authorities have charged a Swedish citizen with working as an intelligence officer for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It is believed that Hassan Khalil Hizran, 55, was born to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, from where he emigrated to Sweden many years ago. But he was arrested in Tel Aviv on July 21 while disembarking a flight at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and was taken into custody by the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. A spokesman for the agency said Hizran had confessed during interrogation to being an intelligence operative for Hezbollah, a primarily Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon’s territory. He is said to have told his interrogators that he was recruited by the group in the summer of 2009 while visiting Lebanon from Sweden with his wife and children.

Shin Bet said that Hizran had been asked by his Hezbollah handlers to gather intelligence relating to Israeli military installations and that he visited Israel several times in order to fulfil his missions. He would then return to Lebanon after visiting a third country in order to provide his Hezbollah handlers with the information he had collected while in Israel. Sources in Tel Aviv said Hizran visited Lebanon at least twice since his 2009 recruitment, specifically in 2011 and 2013. He returned to Sweden with monetary sums given to him by Hezbollah as payment for his services, which amounted to several thousand dollars, according to Shin Bet. The Israeli security agency said the Swede was helping Hezbollah identify military targets for a future war, which it interpreted as “proof that Hezbollah is preparing for the net war with Israel by compiling a target bank”.

According to the Israelis, Hizran had also been tasked by Hezbollah with recruiting Arabs with ties to Israeli Jews, but that he was either unable or unwilling to do so. However, on Sunday he was charged with three criminal counts including contacting an agent of a foreign government and communicating sensitive information. The Swedish man’s Israeli lawyer, Leah Tsemel, denied that her client was guilty of espionage and claimed that he had “refused repeated requests to inflict harm on the national security of Israel”. The Swedish and Lebanese governments have not commented on Hizran’s arrest.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 August 2015 | Permalink

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