More on senior North Korean diplomat who defected in London

Thae Yong-HoA high-ranking North Korean diplomat, who defected with his wife and children in London, and is now in South Korea, is from a privileged family with a long revolutionary pedigree in North Korean politics. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification confirmed on Wednesday that Thae Yong-Ho, the second-in-command at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom, had defected with his wife and children and had been given political asylum in South Korea. As intelNews reported earlier this week, Thae, a senior career diplomat believed to be one of North Korea’s foremost experts on Western Europe, had disappeared with his family and was presumed to have defected “to a third country”.

New information has since emerged on Thae and his family, confirming that both he and his wife are members of North Korea’s privileged elite, with decades-old connections to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. According to the Seoul-based JoongAng Daily, Thae’s wife, O Hye-Son, is a niece of the late O Peak-Ryong, a decorated communist guerrilla who fought Korea’s Japanese colonialists in the 1930s. O, who died in the 1980s, joined the Korean anti-Japanese struggle alongside Kim Il-Sung, founder of the Workers’ Party of Korea and first leader of North Korea. This means that O Hye-Son is also the cousin of O Peak-Ryong’s son, General O Kum-Chol, who is currently vice chairman of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army. Thae himself is the son of Thae Pyong-Ryol, a four-star general who also fought against the Japanese in the 1930s, alongside Kim Il-Sung. In the postwar period, General Thae became a senior member of the Workers’ Party of Korea and was appointed to the Party’s powerful Central Committee. He died in 1997.

JoongAng Daily quoted an unnamed “source familiar with the matter” of Thae’s defection, who said that the diplomat’s loyalty to the North Korean leadership had been unquestioned prior to his surprise defection. Most North Korean diplomats are posted at an embassy abroad for a maximum of three years before being moved elsewhere in the world. The fact that Thae had been allowed to remain in the United Kingdom for 10 years shows his privileged status within the Workers’ Party of Korea, said the source. Additionally, the children or most North Korean diplomats are required to return to their native country after completing high school. But this did not seem to apply to Thae, whose three children were living with him in Britain even after graduating from university. This and many other clues reflect Thae’s “impeccable credentials”, said the source, which made him one of the most trusted government officials in the regime’s bureaucratic arsenal.

It is believed that Thae defected because he had been told that his tenure in London was coming to an end after a decade, and he would have to relocate to a less desirable location, or possibly recalled back to Pyongyang. Defections among North Korea’s privileged elite are rare, but have been happening increasingly frequently in the past few years. This makes some observers believe that disillusionment among Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un’ inner circle is growing and that the North Korean regime is becoming weaker.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 August 2016 | Permalink

Senior North Korean diplomat reportedly defects in London (updated)

DPRK Embassy in LondonA senior member of North Korea’s diplomatic representation in the United Kingdom, who is considered one of his country’s leading specialists in Western European affairs, has reportedly defected “to a third country” with his family. The alleged defection was first reported on Tuesday by South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo. Citing “a source with in-depth knowledge of North Korea”, the Seoul-based paper said that the diplomat had disappeared several weeks ago, and that staff at the embassy of North Korea in London had failed in attempts to find him. Later on the same day, the British state-owned broadcaster BBC identified the missing diplomat as Thae Yong-Ho.

In a brief report, the BBC said that the diplomat had lived with his wife and children in London for a decade, and that the family —especially its younger members— were very integrated in British culture and way of life. Further updates in South Korean media said Thae was serving as deputy consul at the embassy, essentially as second-in-command after Ambassador Hak Bong Hyon. It is also believed that Thae was tasked with promoting a positive image of North Korea to British audiences, and was also in charge of cultivating the embassy’s relations with the UK Korean Friendship Association, an organized group of North Korean ideological sympathizers in Britain. But some reports indicate that the alleged defector also performed intelligence tasks, such as monitoring the activities of North Korean defectors living in London.

Thae is believed to be a senior member of North Korea’s diplomatic community. He grew up in China and is fluent in Chinese and English, in addition to his native Korean. He joined North Korea’s diplomatic ranks soon after graduating from university and is said to be one of the country’s foremost experts on Western Europe. If confirmed, his defection will deliver a serious blow to North Korea’s prestige and arguably hurt its intelligence capabilities in the West. This development will also have a major impact on the operations of the Asian country’s embassy in London, which is run by only five diplomats, including the ambassador. No comments have been made on this story by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the embassy of North Korea in London, or the government of South Korea. According to JoongAng Ilbo, Thae is currently “going through procedures to seek asylum in a third country” with his family.

Update 17 Aug. 2016, 5:00 p.m. GMT: The BBC now reports that Thae has defected to South Korea and that he and his family are “under the [South Korean] government’s protection”, according to officials in Seoul. He is believed to be the most senior North Korean official to have ever defected in the history of the communist state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2016 | Permalink

Ukraine gives Britain intel about Russian ‘hybrid war’ tactics in Crimea

UkraineUkrainian intelligence and defense officials are sharing intelligence with Britain about cutting-edge Russian military tactics in the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. Since the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, observers have noted the sophisticated tactics used by Moscow. The Russian forces seem to be combining their advanced conventional arsenal with electronic warfare and information operations. The latter include the use of deception, spreading propaganda through social media, and computer hacking. Some experts have described Russia’s tactics in the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbass region of Ukraine as a form of “hybrid warfare”, which has its roots in Soviet times. The difference in the contemporary operational landscape is the prominence of electronic resources, which the Russians are simultaneously employing as disinformation channels and tools of sabotage. Following the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, the former Soviet republic is today seen as being at the forefront of Russia’s experimentation with “hybrid warfare”.

According to British newspaper The Times, a delegation of Ukrainian military officials, with considerable experience in studying Russia’s war tactics in Donbass and Crimea, secretly visited the United Kingdom in July for consultations. The paper quoted an anonymous British military source saying that the visit was part of a series of meetings between Ukrainian and British officials. The goal of the meetings, it said, is to understand Russia’s military tactics in the 21st century. The agenda of the secret meetings includes discussion on topics such as the use of radio-electric weapons that disrupt GPS and drone signals, the deployment of sabotage and covert action, or the use of social media to spread disinformation. Russian tactics that have been discussed include the use of acoustics to locate snipers in an urban battlefield, tactical coordination of drones in fleets, and the widespread use of cellular telephone messages to target civilian populations.

A representative of the UK’s Ministry of Defense, who was contacted by The Times, admitted that “a small delegation from Ukraine was hosted” in Britain “as part of a think-tank sponsored visit”, but refused to provide further details. The paper said the meetings will probably continue and may even widen in scope to include staff from North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 August 2016 | Permalink

Fake URL shortening service was part of British online spy operation

Iran protestsAn internet website that offered free URL shortening services appears to have been a front created by British intelligence in order to spread messages and monitor activists involved in protests in Iran and the Arab world. The website was used heavily during the Iranian presidential election protests of 2009, which became known as the Iranian Green Movement. After a brief hiatus, the website was used again in 2011, as the Arab Spring revolts in North Africa and the Middle East were intensifying. The information pointing to the use of the website comes from documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the American former intelligence employee who has been granted political asylum in Russia.

According to the leaked documents, the website, lurl.me, was devised by a specialist until of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s intelligence agency that collects signals intelligence. The unit, called Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), devised the website as part of an operation codenamed DEADPOOL. The leaked documents state that the purpose of the website was to operate as a “shaping and honeypot” tool, by helping disseminate messages in support of the protests while at the same time allowing the GCHQ to monitor the protesters’ online activities. Lurl.me first appeared in June 2009 as a self-described “free URL shortening service”, using the slogan: “we help you get links to your friends and family fast”. It was used repeatedly on Twitter and other social media platforms to spread messages against the government of Iran. But the vast majority of social media accounts that made use of the website, like @2009iranfree, were operational only for a short period of time, had few followers, and ceased all activity at the end of the Iranian Green Movement. By that time, hardly anyone was using lurl.me. But the website made its appearance again on social media in April of 2011, with messages against the government of Syria. According to Vice’s Motherboard website, Tweets using the lurl.me service appeared to be active only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. UK time, and only on weekdays.

Both in 2009 and 2011-2013, lurl.me was used to instruct anti-government activists on how to avoid being monitored by the authorities. Some links contained instructions on how to access the Internet via satellite. Others provided directions on using proxies to access websites that were blocked by the authorities. At the same time, however, the documents leaked by Snowden show that the GCHQ also used the service to track the activities of anti-government activists who clicked on the lurl.me links, and even to ‘deanonymize’ (=to establish the real identity) of these users.

IntelNews first reported on JTRIG in February 2014, when its existence was first revealed by Snowden. The specialist unit has been associated with targeting self-described ‘hacktivist’ groups like Anonymous or LulzSec, using malware, social engineering, and other techniques. JTRIG also appears to have conducted online intelligence operations against the government of Argentina.

Motherboard reports that lurl.me was last used in November 2013, shortly after Snowden began leaking files from his secret hiding place in Russia. Motherboard said it contacted GCHQ for a reaction to the lurl.me allegations, but the agency said it would “not comment on intelligence matters”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 August 2016 | Permalink

Two men held in Ireland over 2006 murder of Provisional IRA spy

Denis DonaldsonPolice in Ireland say they have arrested two individuals in connection with the 2006 killing of a senior member of the Irish Republican Army, who had previously been outed as a spy for the British state. Denis Donaldson joined the Provisional IRA as a volunteer in mid-1960s, before the outbreak of the Troubles, which rocked Northern Ireland from the late 1960s until 1998. He was trained in paramilitary operations in Lebanon and participated in many IRA actions. He served time at the Long Kesh Detention Centre along with IRA volunteer and Member of Parliament Bobby Sands, who died in the famed 1981 Irish hunger strike. After Sands’ death, Donaldson stood as a general election candidate in Belfast East for Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing. In the process, he became a close associate of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. In 2000, shortly after the end of the IRA’s 30-year military campaign, Sinn Féin appointed Donaldson as the administrator of its parliamentary group in Stormont, the devolved Northern Irish parliament.

But on December 16, 2005, Adams stunned reporters during a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, by announcing that Donaldson had been a spy for the British government inside Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA. There were rumors at the time that Donaldson was deliberately outed to Adams by the British government. Soon after Adams’ revelation, Donaldson read a prepared statement on Ireland’s state-owned RTÉ television station, admitting that he had been recruited as a spy by the British Security Service (MI5) and the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (known today as the Police Service of Northern Ireland). Following his public admission, Donaldson was nowhere to be found. However, on March 19, 2006, a reported for a British tabloid newspaper found Donaldson living in a remote farmhouse outside the village of Glenties, in Northern Ireland’s County Donegal. Weeks later, Donaldson was shot dead in his cottage by persons unknown. Most saw the Provisional IRA behind Donaldson’s murder. In 2009, however, the Real IRA, a Provisional IRA splinter group that disagreed with the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent cessation of hostilities, took responsibility for Donaldson’s killing.

On Tuesday, the Garda Síochána, the police force of the Republic of Ireland, said it had arrested two men in connection with Donaldson’s murder. The two men, who are reportedly in their 40s and 70s, have not been named. They are being held under Ireland’s Offences Against the State Act, the Gardaí said. The precise connection —if any— between Tuesday’s arrests and the official inquest into Donaldson’s death, which continues after having been postponed or delayed 20 times, is unknown at this time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 July 2016 | Permalink

IRA source in high-profile counterfeit money case claims his life is in danger

SupernoteA former senior member of the Official Irish Republican Army in the United Kingdom claims that he was abandoned by British and American spy agencies after he testified in a high-profile counterfeiting case. The case involves members of the Official IRA, including its alleged former chief of staff, who is wanted in the United States in connection with the so-called supernote counterfeit money investigation. The supernote, also known as superdollar or superbill, is a fake 100-dollar bill believed to be one of the highest-quality counterfeit banknotes ever detected. The US government believes that a nation-state is behind the production of the supernote, with North Korea being the primary suspect.

In 2000, in cooperation with the US Secret Service, British intelligence conducted a large-scale undercover operation codenamed MALI. According to the BBC’s investigative news program Panorama, the operation focused on Seán Garland, the former chief of staff of the Official IRA and former president of its political wing, the Workers’ Party of Ireland. The Official IRA and the Provisional IRA were the two main splinter groups of the “old” IRA, which parted ways in 1969 due to ideological and tactical differences. In 1972, the Official IRA declared a unilateral ceasefire and eventually morphed in to a leftwing political party calling itself the Workers’ Party of Ireland. Operation MALI allegedly found that the Workers’ Party former president, Seán Garland, traveled to Russia and visited the embassy of North Korea in Moscow. He is said to have picked up a package containing supernotes, which he then secretly smuggled into Ireland and from there to England, in exchange for money. Garland was arrested in 2005 in Belfast, UK, but managed to flee to Ireland when he was released on medical leave. He was arrested again in 2009 and released on bail. In 2011, his extradition request to the US was rejected by an Irish court on a technicality, but he remains wanted by Washington. Ireland is also considering whether there are legal grounds to prosecute Garland in Dublin. He and his supporters deny the charges against him and claim that they are politically motivated.

Last week, however, the man believed to be behind the tip-off that led to Garland’s arrest, said his life was in danger. The man, who uses the pseudonym “Michael O’Brien”, was a member of the Official IRA in the 1970s. But he says that after 1996 he worked as an undercover informant for Britain’s Security Service (MI5) and the Anti-Terrorist Branch of the British Police. He claims that it was he who first alerted British authorities about the involvement of members of the Workers’ Party of Ireland in the distribution of supernotes from Russia to Europe. He is also believed to have testified behind closed doors at a US court hearing involving Garland and other alleged conspirators in the counterfeit money case. However, O’Brien told The Sunday Times last week that his cover was blown in January of this year. Since then, he has allegedly been the subject of death threats and had to abandon his home in Belfast as a result. He also claims that the US Secret Service and British police have failed to provide him with protection. O’Brien told The Times that he chose to speak to the media in order to protect himself from possible assassination by Irish republicans.

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

Experts warn about Brexit’s effects on European, NATO cooperation

BrexitAfter Thursday’s Brexit vote, European and American security officials have tried to pacify concerns about major disruption of longstanding Western security cooperation arrangements. But experts stress that the international security landscape will be significantly impacted by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU). As early as Thursday night, British defense, military and intelligence officials launched a marathon of phone calls in order to reassure their European and American counterparts that the United Kingdom was not going to retreat from its role in security pacts with Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

On Friday, the office of NATO Director General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement assuring the public that Britain’s decision to leave the EU would not impact on NATO’s security arrangements. On Sunday, however, a new statement by Stoltenberg appeared to revise his earlier comments. It argued that Britain was “the biggest provider of security in Europe” and that its eventual exit from the EU “matters”, adding that the West’s security situation post-Brexit was “more unpredictable […] than before”. Citing security officials from both sides of the Atlantic, including Stoltenberg, The Wall Street Journal opined on Sunday that Brexit “could have a profound effect on global security”, but stressed that its precise impact remains uncertain. Some officials warned that, in the long run, Britain’s exit from the EU would weaken its military, which is Europe’s most powerful. This could happen through a possible breakup of the country, with Scotland and Northern Ireland splitting from the United Kingdom in reaction to Brexit. Alternatively, Britain’s worsening economic situation could prove detrimental to its overall defense spending.

On Saturday, United States Navy Admiral (ret.) and former NATO commander James Stavridis, argued that NATO will benefit from Brexit, because it will allow the United Kingdom to devote “more resources and manpower to support” NATO’s mission. There will also be a “reduction in the […] battlefield competition between NATO and the EU”, said Adm. Stavridis, which “will likely produce a stronger NATO”. Others, however, disagreed. Citing several current and former officials, The Wall Street Journal warned that Britain’s exit from the EU would result in the loss of a quarter of the EU’s combat power. That could prompt Germany, France, and other EU nations to increase their military spending, in order to advance a more unified defense policy among EU nations. That could bring about a unified EU military headquarters, or even a joint European Army, which NATO has traditionally resisted, as it believes it would duplicate resources and undermine transatlantic cooperation. But with Britain leaving the EU, a staunch pro-NATO voice that strongly objected to the creation of a European Army ceases to exist. That could open the door to the creation of a European Army, say experts.

Last but not least, the UK was a strong player lobbying in favor of instituting EU-wide sanctions against Russia in the wake of the war in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. With London now removed from the decision-making center in Brussels, the voices from EU member states like Spain, Italy and Greece, which argue for abandoning the sanctions against Moscow, are likely to grow louder, said The Wall Street Journal.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 June 2016 | Permalink

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