Swiss intelligence employee stole ‘millions’ of classified pages

NDB offices in Bern, Switzerland

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Swiss authorities have warned Western intelligence agencies that their secrets may have been compromised by a disgruntled intelligence employee who stole “thousands or even millions of pages of classified material”. Citing “European national security sources”, Reuters said the employee at the center of the case worked for the NDB, Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service. He had been employed by NDB for eight years as a network technician with “full administrator rights” and had unrestricted access to the NDB’s computers, as well as to those of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Defense, under which the NDB operates. About a year ago, however, the unnamed technician apparently became disgruntled after his views on how to structure the NDB’s databases were allegedly sidelined or ignored. He eventually decided to use several portable hard drives to download countless classified documents from Swiss government servers and managed to carry them out of the office building where he worked, using a backpack. According to Swiss authorities, he intended to sell the classified information to foreign governments or black-market operatives. He was apprehended, however, after he tried to set up a numbered bank account with Swiss-based UBS bank, using what bank security officials described as “suspicious identification documentation”. Read more of this post

Nuclear smugglers to get reduced prison sentences ‘for helping CIA’

Urs TInnerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Three Swiss engineers imprisoned for participating in an international nuclear smuggling ring are about to have their prison sentences significantly reduced, allegedly for having acted as agents for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested in 2004 in connection with a multinational investigation into the nuclear smuggling network of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, who is widely known as A.Q. Khan, had for years subcontracted his nuclear services to North Korea, Iran and Libya, until 2004, when he was placed under house arrest by the Pakistani government, following pressure from Washington. Since then, the Tinners have been under “investigative custody”, a peculiar state of pre-trial detention prescribed by Swiss law. In 2009, Urs Tinner gave an interview to Swiss television, in which he claimed than he, along with his brother and father, had for years informed the CIA on Khan’s activities and assisted the US intelligence agency terminate the Libyan nuclear weapons program. It later emerged that the Swiss government had “inadvertently” shredded some crucial documents required in the prosecution case against the three engineers. Late last year there was apparently concern at Langley that some CIA secrets could surface in court, after Swiss government prosecutors announced that a trial for the Tinners would go ahead. However, new prosecution documents released on Tuesday show that a plea bargain agreement has been struck between the Swiss government and the three defendants in this highly sensitive case. Read more of this post

France opens murder inquiry into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
French prosecutors have opened an official murder inquiry into the 2004 death of Palestinian statesman Yasser Arafat, following allegations that he may have been poisoned. The decision, announced Tuesday, comes less than two months after the results of a lengthy forensic toxicological investigation raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with polonium-210. The nine-month study was commissioned by Qatari news channel Al Jazeera and was conducted by the Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland. According to the results, announced in early July, significant traces of the radioactive substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days while in hospital in Paris, France. According to the IRA, some of the Fatah founder’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. Shortly following the IRA study, Arafat’s wife and daughter filed an official complaint with French judicial authorities, who in turn decided to open an official murder investigation. The decision was taken despite the fact that many in the medical profession appear cautious about the claims of the IRA study. But one British observer told the BBC that the French government was obliged to take the request by the two women “very seriously because of its diplomatic aspect”. Last week, IRA officials in Switzerland said they had received permission from Arafat’s family and the Palestinian National Authority to travel to Ramallah, West Bank, and examine Arafat’s exhumed remains for traces of polonium-210. Read more of this post

Medical tests suggest Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A nine-month forensic toxicological investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat has raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with a radioactive substance. The Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland, has announced the discovery of significant traces of polonium-210 on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days. Speaking at a press conference in Switzerland on Monday, IRA Director Dr. Francois Bochud said that the Institute could “confirm that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids”. According to the IRA, some of the Fatah founder’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. The findings of the investigation, which was sponsored by the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera, may eventually shed light into the cause of Arafat’s death, which remains a medical mystery. Doctors in the West Bank and France have confirmed that the Palestinian leader was in sound health until he suddenly fell ill in mid-October 2004, and that his body showed no symptoms of any known disease. Polonium-210 made news headlines in a major way in November 2006, when it was identified as the poison used to kill Alexander Litvinenko. Read more of this post

Trial announced for Swiss nuclear smugglers said to be CIA agents

Urs Tinner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Switzerland has officially charged three Swiss citizens with assisting the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, who gave nuclear information to North Korea, Libya and Iran. But the scope of the trial will be severely limited under a peculiar plea bargain struck with the three defendants, which will prevent the court from examining their claims of having worked as agents of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested by German and Italian authorities in 2004 and extradited to Switzerland. Soon afterwards, Swiss authorities came under political pressure from the US Department of State, which appeared displeased with the prospect of a trial for the Tinners. Swiss government investigators quickly realized that the Tinners were considered valuable assets by the CIA, something which Urs Tinner himself admitted in a January 2009 interview. So convinced were Swiss authorities of Urs Tinners’ CIA connection claims, that they turned down repeated requests by the Tinners’ lawyers to release their clients on bail, fearing the three suspects would escape to the United States. In 2007, there was further uproar in Swiss public opinion, when it emerged that the Swiss Federal Department of Defense had secretly shredded 30,000 pages of vital evidence in the Tinners’ case, ostensibly to prevent their falling into the hands of foreign governments or terrorists. Several pundits accused Swiss authorities of destroying the documents under heavy political pressure from Washington. These suspicions were rekindled this week, after Switzerland’s attorney general announced that the Tinners would be tried for “aiding the illegal nuclear weapons program of an unknown state”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #635

Vitaly Shlykov

Vitaly Shlykov

►►UK to support Colombia’s new intelligence agency. The UK has announced that it will provide help and advice on the implementation of Colombia’s new national intelligence agency. Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, along with National Security Adviser, Sergio Jaramillo, met with the director of Britain’s secret service MI6 to exchange experiences in intelligence to implement the new National Intelligence Agency of Colombia (ANIC). ANIC is supposed to replace the DAS, Colombia’s disgraced intelligence agency, which has been stigmatized by colluding with paramilitary groups and spying on union leaders, journalists and opposition politicians.
►►US intelligence to train analysts with videogames. The US intelligence community’s research group, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), has handed over $10.5 million to Raytheon BBN Technologies to start work on the Sirius program. The initiative aims to create a series of so-called “serious games” that would help intelligence analysts improve their objectivity and reasoned judgment when confronted with complex or culturally foreign scenarios.
►►Soviet spy who spent years in Swiss prison dies at 77. Vitaly Shlykov served for 30 years in the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, known as GRU. During his career, he made frequent trips to the West on a false American passport. One of his duties was to maintain contacts with Dieter Felix Gerhardt, a senior officer of the South African Navy who was working as a Soviet spy. In 1983, Shlykov was arrested in Zurich while carrying about $100,000 in cash to hand over to Gerhardt’s wife. Soviet intelligence was unaware that Gerhardt and his wife had been arrested a few weeks earlier and had told interrogators about the meeting in Switzerland.

Controversial Swiss master-spy dies in Ireland

Albert Bachmann

Albert Bachmann

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of Switzerland’s most controversial Cold War figures, who set up a clandestine guerrilla unit to combat a feared Soviet invasion, has died in Cork, Ireland. Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger has said last week that Colonel Albert Bachmann, who headed Switzerland’s military intelligence force, the Untergruppe Nachrichtendienst der Armee (UNA), from 1976 until 1979, died on April 12. Although Bachmann was a communist in his student years, he later headed Projekt-26 (P-26), a clandestine project to set up a ‘left-behind’ force of Swiss guerrillas trained in sharp shooting, bombing and assassination techniques. The guerrilla force was designed to engage the Soviet military if it ever invaded Switzerland. In the late 1970s, Colonel Bachmann also secured government funds to purchase the 200-acre Liss Ard country estate near the Irish town of Skibbereen, in west Cork. The estate was to be used as a base for a Swiss government-in-exile following a feared Soviet invasion of central Europe. Furthermore, the basement of one of the two manors on the estate was designated as a secret depository of Switzerland’s gold reserves, in the event of a Soviet invasion of the Alpine country. Read more of this post

Suspicion mounts as US unlocks Moussa Koussa’s foreign assets

Moussa Koussa

Moussa Koussa

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Eyebrows were raised in intelligence circles on Monday, after the United States lifted its freeze of foreign assets belonging to Libya’s former intelligence chief, who defected to London last week. Libya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moussa Koussa, who headed the country’s intelligence agency from 1994 to 2009, managed to escape to the UK from Tunisia on a Swiss-registered private airplane. He is currently reported to be in an MI6 safe house in England, allegedly being interrogated about his inside knowledge of the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi. But Koussa is also thought to be the mastermind behind the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed nearly 300 people. The 57-year-old defector is also believed to have facilitated Libya’s funding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and to have authorized the assassination of several Libyan dissidents living in Britain. In light of that, the news that Washington lifted its sanctions on Koussa’s sizeable fortune abroad is worth noting. It is also interesting to note that Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is reportedly pressuring European Union member-states to follow the US’ example in also unfreezing Koussa’s foreign assets. Read more of this post

Mubarak delayed exit in order to move secret funds, say intel sources

Hosni Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the reasons why Egypt’s disgraced ex-president kept prolonging his rule amidst ferocious anti-government protests this month, was to transfer billions of dollars-worth of personal assets into bank accounts around the world. British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph quotes a “senior Western intelligence official” who claims that Hosni Mubarak’s fund managers began transferring his extensive fortune to numbered bank accounts during the first days of the popular revolution in Egypt. The intelligence official told The Telegraph that Western intelligence services were “aware of some urgent conversations” within the Mubarak family about how to best protect their fortune from Egyptian and international financial investigators. The Mubaraks may have thus pre-empted the freezing of their accounts in Zurich, which was announced by the Swiss government on Friday. In this, Hosni Mubarak appears to have learned from Tunisia’s former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced to flee with his family to Saudi Arabia last month, without the benefit of his Swiss bank assets. The latter were frozen following an official request by the Tunisian government. In the case of Mubarak, whose vast $70 billion fortune is mostly managed by his son Gamal, it appears that most of his Swiss bank assets were moved to accounts in third countries in the days before his resignation and are thus “gone by now”, according to one US government official who spoke to The Telegraph on condition of anonymity. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #462

  • CIA secrets could surface in Swiss nuclear case. A seven-year effort by the CIA to hide its relationship with the Tinners, a Swiss family who once acted as moles inside the world’s most successful atomic black market, hit a turning point on Thursday when a Swiss magistrate recommended charging the men with trafficking in technology and information for making nuclear arms.
  • Pakistan spy chief to ignore US summons. The Pakistani government has announced that hat there is “no possibility” that Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, would obey a summons requesting his appearance before a court in the United States relating to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
  • Australia told to prioritize spy recruitment. Carl Ungerer, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has advised the Australian intelligence agencies to “look at ways to improve information gathering from human sources”, as they undergo a period of reform.

News you may have missed #455

  • Israel says it did not kill German politician. Israel has rejected a claim by a Swiss chemistry professor that the 1987 murder of German politician Uwe Barschel had the hallmarks of a Mossad assassination. For more on Barschel see previous intelNews story here.
  • Foreign cyber spies targeted UK defense official. Foreign spies, probably working for the People’s Republic of China, targeted senior British defense official Joanna Hole, in a sophisticated spear phishing operation that aimed to steal military secrets. The plan was foiled last year when Hole became suspicious of an email she received from a contact she had met at a conference.
  • The 10 most interesting CIA-backed startups. America’s only federally funded venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, was created in 1999 during the tech boom. The company invests in startups developing technologies that could prove useful to the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Colombians blast Panama for sheltering ex-spy director

María del Pilar Hurtado

María Hurtado

By IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
Public prosecutors in Colombia have strongly criticized the Panamanian government for granting political asylum to one of Colombia’s former spy directors, who is facing charges of spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2008. But on October 31, she apparently left Colombia unobstructed, despite being among the chief subjects of a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted on November 19, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting (what little is left of) Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Alvaro Uribe, a close ally of the United States and hardline proponent of Washington’s ‘war on drugs’. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Read more of this post

Did Mossad kill German politician involved in Iran-Contra scandal?

Uwe Barschel

Uwe Barschel

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Accusations of Israeli involvement in the suspicious death of a German politician have been revived, following new autopsy evidence revealed by a medical examiner. The case involves the death of Christian Democratic Union politician Uwe Barschel, who on October 11, 1987, was found dead in the bathtub of room 317 of the Beau-Rivage hotel in Geneva, Switzerland. His sudden death occurred less than a month after he was forced to resign from the post of Governor of West Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein state, following his involvement in a dirty-tricks campaign against his rival Björn Engholm, of Germany’s Social Democratic Party. Swiss authorities, based on an initial postmortem that revealed lethal levels of barbiturates in Barschel’s system, ruled the death a suicide. But now Dr Hans Brandenberger, who was one of the toxicological experts that examined Barschel, claims that he is possession of new evidence that points to murder as the cause of the German politician’s death. Read more of this post

Swiss army planned covert operations in Libya

Hannibal Gaddafi

Hannibal Gaddafi

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Swiss intelligence planned three separate covert missions to Libya in 2008 and 2009 in order to free two Swiss businessmen held by Libyan authorities, according to a Swiss newspaper. Citing a confidential document drafted by Switzerland’s ministry of foreign affairs, the Sunday edition of Neue Zürcher Zeitung revealed that one of the three planned missions involved an exploratory visit to Libya by an unnamed Swiss undercover officer. The operative, reportedly an employee of AAD-10, an elite intelligence unit in the Swiss Land Forces, visited Libya in civilian disguise, after legally receiving a visa permit from the government of Libya. According to Neue Zürcher Zeitung, his mission was to prepare an operation to abduct from the hands of Libyan authorities two Swiss citizens, Max Goeldi and Rachid Hamdani. Read more of this post

Mossad operative to avoid jail in extradition deal

Uri Brodsky

"Uri Brodsky"

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An operative of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, who was arrested in Poland on charges of forging a German passport, will avoid prison time for the offense, under a suspected Polish-German-Israeli secret deal. The man, whose travel documents identify him as Uri Brodsky, was arrested upon arriving in Poland on June 4. He is wanted by German prosecutors for procuring a forged German passport for use by a member of a Mossad hit squad, who used it to enter Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in mid-January of this year. The user of the forged passport is thought to have participated in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas weapons procurer, who was found dead in his luxury Dubai hotel room on January 20.  German prosecutors believe that Brodsky, who worked in Germany under the name of Alexander Werin, assisted numerous Mossad operatives acquire forged identity papers of several European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Austria and Switzerland. Read more of this post