Malaysia immigration probe reveals growing insider threat to passport security

Datuk Seri Sakib KusmiAs many as 100 Malaysian immigration officers are implicated in a widening investigation involving the deliberate sabotage of the country’s electronic passport control system. The investigation, which began over three months ago, focuses on a criminal ring of immigration personnel at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), one of Southeast Asia’s major travel hubs. Reports suggest that 15 members of the alleged ring are in prison awaiting trial. Another 14 immigration officers have been suspended without pay, while 20 more staff members are under investigation by the intelligence subdivision of the Immigration Department of Malysia (IDM). On Wednesday, IDM Director-General Datuk Seri Sakib Kusmi said that the scope of the investigation had widened, and that 63 immigration officers would be transferred from the IDM’s headquarters in Putrajaya to KLIA, to replace members or suspected members of the criminal ring.

The officers implicated in the investigation are accused of deliberately sabotaging the automated passport control system used at KLIA. Known as myIMMs, the system allows passport control officers to validate the authenticity of international travelers’ passports, and to confirm that the latter have not been reported lost or stolen. It is believed that the myIMMs system was deliberately made to crash at least once a day, in order to allow human traffickers and other organized criminals to smuggle individuals in and out of Malaysia. With the system going offline, KLIA passport control officers were forced to screen passengers manually, which is now believed to have permitted countless individuals using forged and stolen passports to go through security undetected. The deliberate sabotage of myIMMs is believed to have been going on since 2010, and investigators are at a loss in trying to estimate the numbers of people who have been able to bypass computerized passport checks.

One investigator said Australia’s ABC news network that the criminal ring’s handlers were located overseas and would send immigration officers instructions via coded messages. The primary ring members had recruited IDM administrative staff, technology staff, and even software vendors, who were involved in sabotaging the system. The practice of organized criminal and terrorist groups using forged passports is both long and documented. But news of a criminal group that is able to set up an extensive ring of immigration officers, who then sabotage an electronic passport verification system at a major international transport hub, is rare and extremely alarming. It reveals a new form of insider threat, namely compromised immigration and passport control officers, who are bribed to facilitate the work of criminal groups and terrorist organizations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2016 | Permalink

ISIS now has the ability to issue official-looking Syrian passports

Syrian passportThe Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now able to produce authentic-looking Syrian passports using machines that are typically available only to governments, according to an American intelligence report. The report was accessed by the New York-based station ABC News, which said it was issued by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative wing of the United States Department of Homeland Security. According to ABC News, the 17-page report was issued in early December to law enforcement departments across the US. It warns that ISIS is most likely able to print government-quality travel documents using Syrian passport templates.

According HSI, the militant group was first able to access passport-issuing technology when it conquered Raqqa, the Syrian city that today serves as the capital of the so-called Islamic State. The city has a passport office with at least one passport-issuing machine, said the report. A few months later, ISIS came in possession of a second passport-issuing machine when it captured the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. The HSI report states that the city’s passport office, which contained “boxes of blank passports” and at least one passport-printing machine, came into the hands of ISIS militants undamaged. Currently, the whereabouts of the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor passport machines “remain fluid”, says the report, pointing out that both machines are believed to be portable.

The intelligence report goes on to state “with moderate confidence” that ISIS has issued authentic-looking Syrian passports to individuals, and that some of them may have traveled to Europe and the US. Further on, the report says that Syria is virtually awash with fake documents; it cites an unnamed source who says that high-quality fake Syrian passports can be purchased in the black market in Syria for less than $400, and that some government employees will backdate passport stamps in exchange for a fee. IntelNews readers will recall that two of the suicide bombers who attacked Paris in November were carrying fake Syrian passports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 December 2015 | Permalink

Argentina says fugitive ex-spy official hiding in the United States

SIDE ArgentinaAn Argentine former senior intelligence official, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a federal prosecutor in Buenos Aires, is hiding in the United States, according to the President of Argentina, who says Washington should extradite him. Antonio Horacio Stiuso, better known as Jaime Stiuso, rose through the ranks of Argentina’s Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) to become its director of counterintelligence. In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appointed Stiuso to chief operating officer of SIDE, working directly under the agency’s director. However, Stiuso was fired in a massive agency shake-up in February of this year, when the government suddenly dissolved SIDE and replaced it with a new agency, called Agencia Federal de Inteligencia.

The radical reorganization was prompted by the death of federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose body was discovered in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 19. Nisman had caused international headlines in the week before his death, after launching a criminal complaint against President Kirchner and several other notable personalities of Argentine political life. Nisman accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to obstruct an investigation into the bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina community center in the Argentine capital was bombed.

But President Kirchner accused SIDE of feeding Nisman fabricated information implicating her and her government minsters in a fictional collusion with the Islamic Republic, and then killing him in order to destabilize her rule. She proceeded to dissolve SIDE and charge its leadership with involvement in Nisman’s killing. According to the Argentine government, Stiuso fled Buenos Aires for Brazil, from where he flew to Miami, Florida, on February 19, using an Italian passport. According to Reuters, President Kirchner said Washington had failed to answer “repeated enquiries” about Stiuso’s whereabouts, and suggested that the former spy official may have been working for American intelligence agencies all along.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2015 | News tip: R.W. | Permalink

News you may have missed #871

Rene GonzalezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Britain denies visa for Cuban spy freed by US. Rene Gonzalez, one of the so-called “Cuban Five” intelligence agents convicted by the US of spying, has been denied a British visa to attend a London symposium. Gonzalez, who served 13 years in US prison before his release in 2011, had been invited to a two-day conference put on by “Voice for the Five”, an organization that campaigns in support of the convicted Cuban spies. The Cuban state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde said Gonzales, 55, was denied a visa because British law prohibits entry of a person sentenced to more than four years in prison.
►►Canada fires intelligence analyst over contacts with Russians. Irina Koulatchenko, a 36-year-old who came to Canada as a Russian refugee via Cuba, has been fired by Canada’s financial-intelligence agency, known as FINTRAC. A Canadian Security Intelligence Service probe recommended she not be trusted to do that job, allegedly because “she had had several social encounters with Russian diplomats”. The latter included one she met “at a Cirque du Soleil show, another who was friends with her ex-fiancé and another she bumped into all the time at various social events”.
►►CIA suspected of spying on Congress members. The United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Senate aides removing documents from CIA headquarters that they reportedly “weren’t authorized to have”. It turns out, however, that the CIA found this out because they were secretly spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and their staff who were working on a high-profile report on CIA torture of detainees. What is more, Democratic Senator Mark Udall has claimed US President Barack Obama knew of the CIA’s secret monitoring of the Committee.

Israeli reports accuse US of denying entry visas to Israeli spies

US Department of StateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed. However, many of them are now having their visa renewal applications rejected, or are made to wait “several weeks” before having their entry permits renewed by American consular staff. The paper quoted a “senior [Israeli] security expert”, who said he had been denied an entry visa to the US this past January, for the first time in his career, despite having visited the US numerous times in the past “without trouble”. He told Maariv that he had “traveled to the US dozens of times in the past for my job and never faced issues getting a visa” on time. Read more of this post

Snowden flees to Russia despite US passport revocation

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An American former intelligence contractor, who leaked classified information about intelligence operations, was able to leave Hong Kong for Russia on Sunday, despite having his United States passport revoked. Earlier this month, Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine electronic surveillance program operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Shortly before leaking information about US intelligence operations to the world’s media, Snowden traveled to Hong Kong, a territory under the control of the People’s Republic of China. Last week, Washington charged Snowden, a self-described whistleblower, under the Espionage Act, and revoked his American passport, in an attempt to prevent him from leaving Hong Kong. But reports emerged on Sunday that Snowden had boarded an Aeroflot flight from Honk Kong to Russian capital Moscow, despite the revocation of his American passport. US authorities claim that Snowden’s transfer to Moscow occurred after Washington revoked his American passport, which raises the question of how the former CIA employee was able to exit Chinese territory. Several reports suggest that Snowden was accompanied by “unidentified diplomats” as he left Hong Kong for Moscow. Previously, the US had applied considerable diplomatic pressure on China, requesting Snowden’s extradition. But Hong Kong allowed the American fugitive to board a plane to Moscow, saying it had been given “no legal basis to restrict Mr. Snowden from leaving”. Read more of this post

Canadian passports still highly coveted by spies and terrorists

Canadian passportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An extensive investigation into a bus bombing that targeted Israeli tourists in Bulgaria points to the continued attraction of forged Canadian passports for terrorist groups and intelligence agencies. Bulgaria’s Minister of the Interior, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said on Tuesday that the July 18, 2012, terrorist attack, was perpetrated by Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the military wing of Hezbollah. The militant Shiite group, which controls large parts of southern Lebanon, has denied involvement in the bombing, which killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists. Tsvetanov said that, during a lengthy police investigation, which was assisted by American and Israeli investigators, the printer used to produce forged driver licenses found on two of the plotters was traced to Lebanon. He also told a press conference in Bulgarian capital Sofia that the suicide bomber, who died in the attack, entered Bulgaria using a forged Canadian passport. Commentator Paul Koring, of Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, correctly suggests that the revelation by the Bulgarian authorities points to the continued status of Canadian passports as the international travel documents of choice for both spies and terrorists. In the 1970s, Hezbollah’s biggest enemy, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, used Canadian passports in Operation WRATH OF GOD (also known as Operation BAYONET). The operation exterminated almost every original member of Black September, the Palestinian group that perpetrated the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich. In 1997, the Israeli spy agency employed Canadian passports once again, during the famously disastrous attempt to kill Khaled Mashal, Chairman of the Political Bureau of Palestinian militant group Hamas, in Jordan. Read more of this post

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