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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia concerned about Chinese firm’s involvement in undersea cable project

Sogavare and TurnbullAustralia has expressed concern about a plan by a Chinese telecommunications company to provide high-speed Internet to the Solomon Islands, a small Pacific island nation with which Australia shares Internet resources. The company, Huawei Technologies, a private Chinese venture, is one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China.

One of Huawei’s most recent large-scale projects involves the Solomon Islands, a former British overseas territory that became independent in 1978 and is today a sovereign nation. The Pacific country consist of a complex of nearly 1,000 islands of different sizes, scattered over a distance of 11,000 square miles. It lies northeast of Australia and directly east of Papua New Guinea. In 2014, the government of the Solomon Islands began an ambitious project to connect its Internet servers to those of Australia via a 2,700-mile undersea fiber optic cable. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide Solomon Islands inhabitants with reliable high-speed Internet. The project was approved by Canberra (Australian government) and Sydney (Australian private sector) and given the green light by the Asian Development Bank, which promised to fund it. But in 2016 the Solomon Islands government suddenly named Huawei Marine as the project’s main contractor. Huawei Marine, a subsidiary of Huawei Technologies, is a joint venture between the Chinese firm and Global Marine Systems, a British-headquartered company that installs undersea telecommunications cables.

The news was greeted with concern in Canberra. The Australian intelligence community has previously warned that Huawei operates as an arm of the Chinese spy services. Intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom and the United States have issued similar warnings. In 2011, a report by a research unit of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Huawei Technologies relied on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security. But a subsequent 18-month review commissioned by the White House found no evidence that Huawei spied for the Chinese government.

Canberra is concerned that, by constructing the Solomon Islands undersea cable, Huawei would be “plugging into Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure backbone”, something that, according to some intelligence officials, “presents a fundamental security issue”. To further-complicate things, opposition officials in the Solomon Islands allege that the country’s government contracted the services of Huawei after the Chinese company promised to make a multi-million dollar donation to the ruling political party. Last June, the director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Nick Warner, visited the Solomon Islands and tried to convince the country’s Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to drop Huawei from the project. The topic was also discussed in a meeting between Mr. Sogavare and his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, in Canberra last week. Following the meeting, the Solomon Islands leader said that his government would “continue to have discussions with the Australian government to see how we can solve that […] security issue”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 August 2017 | Permalink

German spy agency tapped Finnish phone lines in early 2000s

FinlandGerman intelligence, possibly with the collaboration of the United States, monitored communications lines connecting Finland with at least five countries in the early 2000s, according to leaked documents. The documents, aired this week by Yle Uutiset, the main news program of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), is based on information contained in “leaked German intelligence documents” that were first made public in May 2015. As intelNews reported at the time, the intelligence collection was described as a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the initial allegations, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Pilz said at the time that many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies. Belgium and Switzerland have already launched investigations into EIKONAL.

Now new information provided by Yle seems to show that the secret BND-NSA collaboration targeted Finnish communications as well, focusing on at least six separate communications transit lines. The lines are believed to carry telephone call and possibly Internet traffic from Finnish capital Helsinki to a number of cities in France, Belgium, Hungary, Luxemburg, and China, said Yle Uutiset. Although the targeted lines are known to carry telephone and Internet traffic, it is unknown at this time whether EIKONAL targeted both kinds. But Yle said the interception lasted for most of the first part of the 2000s and involved large amounts of communications data.

The station contacted Tuomas Portaankorva, Inspector General of SUPO, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service. He told Yle that, speaking broadly, he was not surprised to be told that Finnish telecommunications lines had been monitored by foreign intelligence agencies, Western or otherwise. He went on to caution that, even though Finnish lines had been targeted, it was not possible to conclude that Finland was indeed the target of the surveillance operation. Yle also spoke to Vesa Häkkinen, spokesman for the from Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told the station that SUPO, and not the ministry, was the proper official body to be consulted about EIKONAL. “If there is reason to suspect that these actions were directed at the Finnish state”, said Häkkinen, “we would undertake appropriate action”.

Author: Ian Allen| Date: 20 January 2016 | Permalink | News tip: Matthew Aid

Belgium launches official probe into alleged German-US espionage

BelgacomThe Belgian government has announced the start of an official investigation into allegations that the country’s tele- communications networks were spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. A press release issued Friday by the Belgian Ministry of Justice said the minister, Koen Geens, had authorized an examination of claims of espionage by the United States National Security Agency and Germany’s Bundesnach-richtendienst (BND). The statement was referring to EIKONAL, an alleged collaboration between the NSA and the BND, which was revealed last month by Austrian politician Peter Pilz. Pilz told a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, that EIKONAL had targeted European telecommunications carriers for at least four years, from 2005 to 2008. The governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands have already launched their own investigations into EIKONAL.

After speaking with Pilz, Belgian politician Stefaan Van Hecke told Belgian media last month that the BND-NSA consortium had penetrated the network of Proximus, the mobile subsidiary of Belgacom, Belgium’s national telecommunications carrier. Speaking anonymously about the investigation, a Belgian official told the country’s largest French-language newspaper, Sud Presse, that if the alleged espionage is confirmed, it would have “not only legal implications, but will also affect relations between Belgium, Germany and the US”. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that if the allegations of espionage were confirmed “the government would take appropriate action”, but she refused to elaborate.

IntelNews regulars will remember the last time Belgacom surfaced in the news: in 2013, we reported that the company’s technicians had detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. The virus specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East. Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office said at the time that the malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “pointed towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 8 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/08/01-1710/

Switzerland to probe claims it was spied on by US, German agencies

SwisscomThe office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor has launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider was spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. The spy project was reportedly a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the allegations on Wednesday, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Speaking during a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, Pilz said many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies.

Among EIKONAL’s targets, said Pilz, was Swisscom AG, Switzerland’s largest telecommunications provider and one of the successor companies to the country’s national carrier, the PTT (short for Post, Telegraph, Telephone). The government of Switzerland still retains a majority of Swisscom shares, which makes the Bern-based company the closest thing Switzerland has to a national telecommunications carrier. Under the EIKONAL agreement, the BND accessed Swisscom traffic through an interception center based in Frankfurt, Germany. From there, said Pilz, the intercepted data was transferred to a BND facility in Bad Aibling to be entered into NSA’s systems. Pilz shared numerous documents at the press conference, among them a list of key transmission lines that included nine Swisscom lines originating from Zurich and Geneva.

Switzerland’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation was already underway into Peter Pilz’s claims, and that the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service was in contact with Swisscom and other actors targeted by EIKONAL. Meanwhile, Pilz refused to answer questions about where he got the documents about the alleged spy operation. He said, however, that he did not think Swisscom was aware of the BND-NSA actions against it. The company issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had “no agreements with the NSA, the BND, or any other foreign intelligence agency that permit eavesdropping” on company lines.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 May 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/05/28/01-1705/

Germany plans to limit NSA’s access to European communications

Philipp Rösler and Angela MerkelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Germany plans to implement a series of measures designed to limit America’s access to the communications of European citizens and institutions, according to senior German cabinet officials. The move is part of a broader German response to news in July that the United States spies on the communications of Germany and other European Union countries with the same intensity it spies on China or Iraq. The information was leaked by American defector Edward Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), who is now living in Russia. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economics and Technology, Philipp Rösler, said Germany will take action to limit NSA’s ability to spy on European Union communications traffic. The first step in the process will be to build “a strong European information technology industry which can offer alternatives” to American-owned firms that collaborate with the NSA, said Rösler. Further steps will include augmenting the security of European cloud computing processes and structures, and strengthening contacts between established information technology companies and start-up enterprises. At the same time, Germany will enter negotiations with the European Commission (the European Union’s executive arm) aimed at strengthening European data protection legislation and legally forcing the US to stop its indiscriminate surveillance of European communications networks. Read more of this post

White House review ‘found no evidence’ of Huawei spying for China

Huawei TechnologiesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A review commissioned by the government of the United States has reportedly found no evidence that Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei Technologies spied for the Chinese government. The 18-month-long review, which was ordered directly by the White House, examined the question of security vulnerabilities posed by telecommunications hardware suppliers, which could theoretically harm US service providers and pose a danger to US national security. The report, which was allegedly aided by several US intelligence agencies and other federal government departments, was based on detailed interviews with nearly 1,000 telecommunications equipment consumers across the United States. It was concluded at the start of 2012, but remains largely classified. However, Reuters news agency cites “two people familiar with the probe”, who claim that the probe contains “no clear evidence” that Huawei spied for the government of China. At the same time, however, the probe concluded that Huawei telecommunications hardware contains numerous structural vulnerabilities which could help hackers exploit telecommunications networks supported by the Chinese company. According to one source quoted by Reuters, the White House report found that the telecommunications hardware sold by Huawei was “riddled with holes”. Read more of this post

Situation Report: China’s Huawei Going Mobile? (Exclusive)

Huawei TechnologiesBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
The Chinese firm, Huawei Technologies, a provider of information and communications technology, has been constantly under fire in the United States and around for the world for its supposed deep ties to China’s military and intelligence establishment. It is not without some justifiable concern either. Prior to starting Huawei Technologies, the company’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, served for more than 10-years in China’s People’s Liberation Army’s engineering corps. This reality, rightly or wrongly, has added fodder for concerns that Chinese government interests are intertwined with those of Huawei. On September 13, Huawei Technologies and another Chinese firm, ZTE, were the subject of a Congressional hearing titled “Investigation of the Security Threat Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE”. The purpose of the hearing, as explained by the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was to assess the potential danger of “telecommunications equipment manufactured by companies with believed ties to the Chinese government”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #724

Shakil AfridiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Aid group denies link to US intelligence in Pakistan. Aid group Save the Children denied accusations it has ties to US intelligence agencies in Pakistan. The organization’s denial came shortly after Dr. Shakil Afridi, a doctor the CIA recruited to help in the search for Osama bin Laden, told Pakistani interrogators that Save the Children played a role in his becoming involved with the CIA. Following Afridi’s interrogation, the Pakistani government banned some Save the Children members from leaving the country and aid supplies –including medical supplies– have been blocked by customs.
►►Is MI6 double spy’s case linked with Gareth Williams’ death? In 2010, British authorities jailed for a year MI6 employee Daniel Houghton, after he was caught trying to sell classified documents to MI5 spooks posing as foreign agents. According to newspaper The Daily Mirror, British police are now “probing a possible link between the Houghton’s case and the death of MI6 employee Gareth Williams, who was found dead in his London apartment in 2010. According to the paper, police detectives “want assurances from MI6 that Williams’ details [and] identity were not compromised” by Houghton.
►►Fears of spying hinder US license for China Mobile. China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile provider, applied in October for a license from the Federal Communications Commission to provide service between China and the United States and to build facilities on American soil. But officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department’s National Security Division are concerned that the move would give the company access to physical infrastructure and Internet traffic that might allow China to spy more easily on the US government and steal intellectual property from American companies. This is according to The Los Angeles Times, which cites “people familiar with the process who declined to be identified because the deliberations are secret”. US officials and lawmakers have expressed similar concerns about a Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei Technologies, which is alleged to have contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security.

News you may have missed #666 (superstition edition)

Gevork VartanianBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Soviet spying legend Gevork Vartanian dies. Legendary Soviet spy Gevork Vartanian, who helped foil Operation LONG JUMP, a Nazi plot to kill the three main Allied leaders in Tehran during World War II, has died in Moscow, aged 87. Operating in Tehran during World War II, he tracked German commandos, including the infamous Nazi operative Otto Skorzeny, who had arrived to attack a summit attended by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill.
►►Turkey arrests ex-armed forces chief over coup charges. Turkish government prosecutors allege that Ilker Basbug, who retired as Turkey’s chief of staff in 2010, led a terrorist organization and plotted to overthrow the government. Remarkably, most English-language sources, including the Financial Times, managed to report Basbug’s arrest without mentioning Ergenekon, the ultra-nationalist network uncovered by Turkish police in 2007, which has resulted in hundreds of arrests, including that of Basbug.
►►Lebanon claims arrest of ‘longtime’ Israeli spy. The Lebanese army has detained a man on suspicion of collaborating for years with Israel’s Mossad spy agency. The man, identified as Elias Younes, is a retired employee of the state telecommunications company Ogero. Hezbollah-affiliated sources said Younes had been dealing with Israel for “over 35 years”. See here if you are wondering where you have heard before about Lebanese telecommunications employees allegedly spying for Israel.

US report links telecoms company to Chinese spy services

Sun Yafang

Sun Yafang

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For the first time a United States government agency has openly linked one of China’s main telecommunications companies with the country’s intelligence services. The alleged link is provided in a new report by the US Open Source Center, which acts as the open-source intelligence (OSINT) arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report concludes that the company, Huawei Technologies, relies on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security (MSS), which oversee and administer China’s military and civilian intelligence apparatus. Founded in 1987 to import Western office telephone systems to China, the company has become one of the country’s leading exporters of all kinds of communications hardware equipment, ranging from routers to cell towers and undersea cables. But Huawei’s export growth has been hampered in recent years by widely circulated suspicions that the company maintains close ties to the Chinese military and intelligence establishments. The Open Source Center report adds to these suspicions, by pointing out that Huawei’s current chairperson, Sun Yafang (pictured), was an employee of the MSS Communications Department prior to joining Huawei in 1989. It also says that, prior to joining the company, Sun utilized her personal contacts at MSS to “help Huawei through financial difficulties at critical moments when the company was founded in 1987”. The close contacts between the —ostensibly private— company and the Chinese government have persisted ever since, says the report, and points out that the Chinese state has funded Huawei with nearly a quarter-billion dollars for “research and development” projects in the past three years alone. This is not the first time that Huawei has been accused of maintaining close contacts with Chinese intelligence agencies. In 2009, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) investigated one of Huawei’s Australian-based subsidiaries for links to Chinese intelligence operations. In the following year, the Indian government barred the company from operating in India, citing its allegedly “strong links with the Chinese military”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #576 (Europe edition)

GCHQ

GCHQ

►►Inside Britain’s signals intelligence agency. This account of the work of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters is a bit basic, but it’s not every day that the GCHQ grants access to a journalist to its Cheltenham base.
►►Czech telecoms to share data with intel services. The Czech Interior Ministry has placed a clause in the planned amendment to the electronic communications law, under which operators of communication networks will have to provide data on cell phones and the Internet to the civilian and military counterintelligence.
►►Dutch F-16 pilot suspected of espionage. A Dutch former F-16 pilot suspected of espionage, identified only as Chris V., had more state secrets in his possession than he previously admitted to, according to public prosecutors in The Hague. The pilot was arrested last April and stands accused of leaking state secrets to a colonel from Belarus.

News you may have missed #554

Bat Khurts

Bat Khurts

►►UK and US tried to delay Pakistan nuclear weapons program. We have written before about attempts by the CIA to delay or stop Pakistan’s nuclear program. Now newly declassified documents show that the United States and Great Britain undertook a coordinated secret diplomatic campaign between 1978 and 1981 to prevent Pakistan’s attempted covert purchasing of “gray area” technology for its nuclear weapons program.
►►FBI monitoring new phone technologies. According to an internal FBI document, obtained by the Federation of American Scientists through a FOIA request, the FBI continuously monitors the surveillance challenges posed by new mobile phone technologies. The document highlights the Bureau’s concerns that that 4G will require agencies to “deal with significantly higher data rates than in current wireless network intercepts”.
►►Mongolian ex-spy chief to be extradited to Germany. Britain has decided to extradite Bat Khurts, former director of the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia, to Germany. Read more of this post

Chinese telecoms manufacturer denies spying claims (again)

Huawei HQ

Huawei HQ

By IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
Huawei Technologies is one of China’s fastest-rising corporations. Founded in 1988 to import Western office telephone systems to China, the company today has become one of the country’s leading exporters, producing all kinds of hi-tech communications hardware equipment, ranging from routers to cell towers and undersea cables. But, as intelNews has indicated on several instances, Huawei’s export growth has been hampered in recent years by widely circulated suspicions that the company maintains close ties to the Chinese military and intelligence establishments. In 2009, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) investigated one of Huawei’s Australian-based subsidiaries for links to Chinese intelligence operations. In the following year, the Indian government barred the company from operating in India, citing its allegedly “strong links with the Chinese military”. In August of 2010, several American senators called for an investigation into a proposed collaboration between Huawei and US-based Sprint-Nextel, arguing that the Chinese hardware manufacturer is “effectively controlled by China’s civilian and military intelligence establishment”. Further controversy erupted in the United States in February of this year, when another group of American Congress members accused Huawei of having supplied telecommunications equipment to Iran and the Afghan Taliban. The controversy around Huawei, which currently employs over 110,000 people in China and beyond, centers partly on its founder and chief executive owner, Ren Zhengfei. A former Director of the People’s Liberation Army’s Engineering Corps, Zhengfei founded Huawei a few years after retiring from his government job. His critics claim that he never truly retired from the PLA, and that he maintains routine links with the Communist Party of China, of which he is a member, as well as Chinese military intelligence. Read more of this post

Israel silent on alleged Mossad spy ring uncovered in Egypt [updated]

Mossad seal

Mossad seal

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Israeli government officials have refused comment on charges announced yesterday against an alleged Mossad spy ring in neighboring Egypt. Less than a week after the discovery of what appear to be Israeli surveillance devices hidden in the mountains around Lebanese capital Beirut, two Israelis have been charged with espionage by the Egyptian government and are reportedly on the run. (Update: the names of the two Israelis, as reported on their arrest warrants, are Joseph Daymour and Idid Moushay). A third member of the alleged ring, Egyptian businessman Tareq Abdel Razeq Hussein Hassan, 37, will be facing similar charges in court soon, according to Egypt’s State Prosecutor Hisham Badawi. According to Badawi, Hassan set up an import-export business in Egypt to act as a front company, under instructions by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, after he met with Mossad officers in Thailand in 2007. He then allegedly used his company regional business activities as an alibi in order to travel to Syria and Lebanon and establish close contacts with telecommunications personnel throughout the region, in exchange for money from the Israelis. Read more of this post