British SIGINT agency criticized for ‘vanity project’ that went 83% over budget

GCHQBRITAIN’S SIGNALS INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has been severely criticized in a report for undertaking a pointless “vanity project” that exceeded its allocated funds by 83 percent and needlessly cut into its operational budget. The agency, known as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is responsible for collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT) and protecting the information systems of the British government and Armed Forces.

In 2015, the country’s Conservative government announced the establishment of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), under the GCHQ, whose mission would be to protect Britain from cyber-espionage, cyber-terrorism and cyber-sabotage, among other cyber-security goals. Soon after the announcement was made, the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, appointed a planning committee whose chief priority was to decide where to house the NCSC. The decision was made to house it in London, rather than the GCHQ’s Cheltenham base in southwestern England, so as to place it in close proximity to government and business centers.

But the planning committee rejected an initial plan to house the NCSC in Canary Wharf, one of London’s primary business districts, located on the Isle of Dogs. The reasons were that Canary Wharf is not close to the Palace of Westminster —Britain’s seat of government— and that Canary Wharf would be “very unpopular” with NCSC personnel. Instead, the committee chose Nova South, a luxury building situated near London’s Victoria station, which is one of the world’s most expensive urban areas. The government’s National Security Adviser, Mark Lyall Grant, rejected the Nova South option, arguing it would be too costly without adding any real benefits to the NCSC’s operations. But in May of 2016 Osborne overruled Grant’s decision and unilaterally decided to house the NCSC at Nova South.

Now a report (.pdf) from the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has described Osborne’s role in the decision-making process as “highly unsatisfactory”, and his choice to house the NCSC at Nova South as “unacceptable”. According to the report, Osborne viewed the NCSC’s location as “a pet project” that prioritized image over cost and operational effectiveness. The result was that the NCSC housing project “considerably over-shot the funds originally allocated”, by over 80 percent. What is worse, according to the report, the money shortfall has been affecting the GCHQ’s operational budget by nearly £3 million ($4 million) a year since 2016.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 November 2020 | Permalink

UK spy agency to launch offensive cyber operation against anti-vaccine propaganda

GCHQ

BRITAIN’S SIGNALS INTELLIGENCE AGENCY is preparing to launch a major offensive cyber operation against state-sponsored propaganda aimed at undermining research on the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the London-based Times newspaper, which published the information about the purported cyber operation, it will be aimed mostly against disinformation campaigns coming out of Russia.

The alleged disinformation campaigns appear to be targeting research taking place at Oxford University, which seeks to create an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus. A main theme in these campaigns promotes the claim that the vaccine will turn those who take it in to chimpanzees. Dozens of memes around this theme are said to have flooded Russian social media websites, with English-language translations making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Times reports that the British government considers shutting down the alleged Russian disinformation campaign a strategic priority, which grows in significance the closer British scientists get to their goal of creating a successful vaccine against the pandemic. London has therefore ordered the British Army’s 77th Brigade, which specializes in information operations, to launch an online campaign that will counter deceptive narratives about a potential vaccine against the coronavirus.

Whitehall has also mobilized the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency, which focuses on cyber-security, to launch offensive operations against the sources of the disinformation, says The Times. The paper cites a government source as saying that the spy agency will be using tools originally developed to monitor and incapacitate websites and other online platforms used by the Islamic State for recruitment.

According to the paper, the operational mandate of the 77th Brigade and GCHQ prevents them from tackling disinformation and misinformation originating from ordinary social media users, rather than state agencies. Additionally, the offensive cyber campaign cannot target websites that are based in Britain’s so-called Five Eyes allies, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Instead, British spies are required to notify their Five Eyes counterparts, so they can take action instead.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2020 | Permalink

MI5 undercover officer named as key witness in biggest IRA trial since 1980s

Provisional IRA

A man who spent years as an undercover officer for Britain’s Security Service (MI5) has been named as a key witness in a long-awaited trial, described by experts as the largest against violent Irish republicans in 25 years. The accused include leading figures in dissident Irish republicanism, who are members of a group calling itself the New Irish Republican Army (New IRA).

The case represents the culmination of Operation ARBACIA, which was launched nearly a decade ago against dissident Irish republicans by MI5 in collaboration with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The case centers on the evidence provided by Dennis McFadden, who has just been identified as a key witness for the prosecution. It has been reported that McFadden, born in Scotland, was a police officer before he joined MI5. He spent two decades as an MI5 officer, much of that undercover.

At first, McFadden joined Sinn Féin, which is widely considered to have operated as the political wing of the Provisional IRA (PIRA). From the late 1960s until 2005, the PIRA waged an armed campaign for the reunification of British-ruled Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Following the dissolution of the Provisional IRA, McFadden kept contact with dissident Irish republicans, a term used to identify those who disagreed with the Provisional IRA’s decision to end its armed campaign. McFadden joined the New IRA as soon as it was founded in 2012.

Gradually, McFadden rose through the ranks of the New IRA until he joined the group’s high command. This gave him access to the New IRA’s network of safe houses in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Many of these locations were eventually bugged by MI5, and the information acquired from these bugs is expected to be used as evidence in the trial of the New IRA’s leaders next year. Ten people —almost all in their 40s and early 50s— have been arrested as part of Operation ARBACIA. They include a 62-year-old Palestinian doctor who lives in the United Kingdom, who is accused of having participated in the preparation of terrorist acts. Some observers have also stated that the court will be hearing evidence connecting the New IRA with Arab militant groups in the Middle East.

The MI5 moved McFadden out of Northern Ireland last summer, just as the Real IRA suspects were arrested by authorities in a series of coordinated raids. He is believed to be living in a secret location under police protection. Meanwhile, the 10 suspects are being held in Maghaberry prison, a high-security complex in Lisburn, a city located a few miles southwest of Belfast.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2020 | Permalink

British former MI6 employee denies having passed secrets to Chinese operatives

Brussels BelgiumA former employee of British intelligence has strongly denied accusations, which surfaced last week in the European press, that he gave secrets to two Chinese operatives in exchange for money. Some news outlets have suggested that he is currently under investigation by at least one European government.

The individual in question is Fraser Cameron, a British businessman who worked in an intelligence capacity from 1976 to 1991. During those years, Mr. Cameron was reportedly employed by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s version of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. He then worked for the British Foreign Office and the European Commission, before relocating to Belgium, where he is believed to have lived for much of the past 20 years. According to the news website Politico, Mr. Cameron has been “a visiting professor at several universities in Asia” and currently directs the Belgium-based EU-Asia Centre.

Politico and a number of other news outlets said last week that Belgian security agencies are investigating Mr. Cameron’s alleged contacts with “two Chinese journalists accredited in Brussels”, who are believed to work as intelligence officers. Politico cited “a person close to the case”, who claimed that an investigation was launched by Belgium’s office of the federal prosecutor after the two Chinese journalists were found to be secretly working for China’s Ministry of State Security. The news website said that, according to sources in Belgium, Mr. Cameron’s alleged activities “could constitute a risk for European officials”. The BBC cited “a senior [British] official”, who claimed that the Belgian probe was the result of a “long-running joint inquiry between British and Belgian intelligence” into the case, which had achieved “a breakthrough in recent months.

But Mr. Cameron strongly denied these allegations, which he termed “absurd” in his messages to various media outlets. He described the claims as “without foundation” and added: “I retired 15 years ago from official employment and have zero access to any sensitive information”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2020 | Permalink

Grandfather of new MI6 boss was IRA fighter who won medals in war with Britain

Richard MooreThe grandfather of the incoming director of Britain’s main external intelligence agency was a member of the Irish Republican Army and was awarded a medal by Irish separatists for fighting against British rule in Ireland. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced last week that Richard Moore would take over as director of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s equivalent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Moore, 57, will be replacing Sir Alex Younger, who has served as MI6 chief since 2014. British media reported that Moore served as an undercover MI6 officer for years before being appointed ambassador in 2014. Moore was born in Libya to British parents and studied at the Universities of Oxford and Harvard. He then joined MI6 and served under official cover in Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey, where his cover was as the British embassy’s press attaché, from 1990 to 1992. He then held a number of posts in Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including his current position, Director General for Political Affairs. Before that he served as British Ambassador to Turkey, where he lived from 2014 to 2017.

Following the announcement of Moore’s appointment as MI6 director, it emerged in the British press that his grandfather, Jack Buckley, was a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Cork, Ireland. Buckley reportedly joined the separatist IRA in 1916 and served in its ranks until 1922. He was eventually honored by Sinn Fein —the IRA’s political wing— with a medal for his service in the war against the British, which resulted in the independence of most of Ireland and the creation of the Free Irish State. It is today commemorated across Ireland as the Irish War of Independence.

Moore discussed his grandfather’s membership in the IRA during his stint as ambassador to Turkey. He told a Turkish newspaper that he was of Irish origin and that his grandfather had “fought against the British government in the separatist Irish Republican Army”. He was making the point that, over time, national differences between peoples can be smoothed out given the right conditions, and made a comparison between his family’s experience and the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds.

Moore is scheduled to assume his new post in the fall. He is expected to remain as director of MI6 until 2025.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 August 2020 | Permalink

Britain to ‘modernize’ counterespionage laws following criticism from parliament

James BrokenshireSenior United Kingdom officials have said the country will seek to “modernize” its laws on counterespionage, after a long-awaited parliamentary report criticized the government for failing to stop Russian spy operations. Earlier this week saw the release of the report by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. The report [.pdf] focuses on Russia. It concludes that British intelligence agencies remain incapable of combating espionage and psychological operations by Russian spy agencies, of which many aim to influence British politics on a mass scale.

On Wednesday Britain’s Minister of State for Security, James Brokenshire, pushed back against the report’s findings that the government had failed to manage the thread posed by Russian intelligence activities on British soil. Speaking during an extraordinary meeting of parliament to discuss the report, Brokenshire rejected claims that a succession of British conservative administrations went out of their way to avoid investigating Russian spy activities. He claimed that the activities of the Kremlin remained one of Britain’s “top national security priorities”. During the same meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of parliament that “no country in the Western world is more vigilant in countering Russia” than the United Kingdom.

Some government officials said the government now plans to implement a new Espionage Bill, which is currently in the drafting stage, and is expected to provide the authorities with more powers to combat foreign espionage. Additionally, Whitehall is considering initiating a large-scale review of the Official Secrets Act and redrafting it so as to include a foreign agent registration clause. The proposed clause would resemble the Foreign Agent Registration Act in the United States, which requires those working or lobbying on behalf of a foreign government —except accredited diplomats— to register with the authorities.

This would allow British authorities to arrest, deport or imprison those found working on behalf of foreign powers, even if they are never caught committing espionage or transmitting classified information to a foreign entity.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 July 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: British report into Russian meddling leads to uncomfortable conclusions

British parliamentBritain is abuzz today with news of the long-awaited release of the Parliament’s report [.pdf] into Russian meddling in British politics. The report is the work of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Since 2013, the Committee has been appointed to oversee the work of Britain’s intelligence agencies. Almost all of its meetings are conducted behind closed doors, and its reports are vetted by the spy agencies prior to release. By law, the Committee cannot make its reports public without previously submitting them for approval to the Office of the Prime Minister.

In the past it has taken no more than 10 days for the Committee’s reports to be approved by the prime minister. This particular report, however, which concerns —among other things— Russian meddling into British politics, took considerably longer. It was given to the prime minister on October 17. But by November 6, when parliament was dissolved in preparation for the election that brought Boris Johnson to power, it had not been approved. It finally came out yesterday, after numerous and inexplicable delays. Many speculated that the government did not want to deal with the uncomfortable conclusions in the report.

Like all reports of its kind, this one will be politicized and used by Britain’s major parties against their rivals. But behind the politicking, the report makes for uncomfortable reading indeed. It shows that, not just British, but Western intelligence agencies as a whole, remain incapable of combating online psychological operations from foreign state actors —primarily Russia— aiming to influence Western politics on a mass scale.

This is ironic, because Western spy agencies used to be really good on Russia. In fact, during the Cold War that is all they did. Many years have passed since then, and many leading Western experts on Russia have either retired or died. Additionally, the attacks of September 11, 2001, turned the attention of Western spy agencies to terrorism by groups like al-Qaeda, and away from Russia. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, rebuilt the state and sought to reclaim Russia’s lost international prestige. This plan includes a page from the old KGB playbook: destabilizing Western nations through psychological operations that accentuate existing extremist tendencies from the left or right. Read more of this post

INTERPOL issues red notice for alleged ex-CIA officer wanted in Britain

Harry DunnA so-called ‘red notice’ has been issued by INTERPOL for Anne Sacoolas, an alleged former employee of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is accused of causing an accident that killed a man in the United Kingdom last year. The accident victim is Harry Dunn, 19, who died on August 27, 2019, after a collision with a automobile that was being driven by Sacoolas. British police have said that Sacoolas’ car was being driven on the wrong side of the street at the time of the accident.

The accident took place a few yards from the entrance to the Royal Air Force base in Croughton, where Sacoolas’ husband was stationed at the time. He is thought to have been working at the US Air Force listening station, which is located inside the base. The American family had been in the United Kingdom for less than a month when the accident happened. British police charged Sacoolas with dangerous driving that led to the death of Dunn. However, the Sacoolas family left the country two weeks later, allegedly with the consent of the British Foreign Office. The Foreign Office reportedly agreed with the US government’s argument that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity due to her husband’s work, and could not be tried for the accident.

Later, however, the diplomatic immunity claim was strongly disputed by Dunn’s family. Eventually British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab requested Sacoolas’ extradition to the United Kingdom. But the White House refused to grant the request and suggested instead that financial compensation be paid to the family. The White House also proposed a meeting between US President Donald Trump and the parents of Harry Dunn, which they refused to participate in. In the meantime there were allegations in British and American media that Sacoolas used to work for the CIA and that her husband is an intelligence officer.

Now INTERPOL, the International Police Organization, has issued a red notice for Sacoolas, which theoretically means she could be arrested if she were to leave American territory. Speaking on Monday, Radd Seiger, a lawyer for Dunn’s parents, argued the INTERPOL move means that Sacoolas did not have diplomatic immunity at the time of the accident, since red notices “are not served on valid diplomats”, he said. He also called for the British parliament to launch an inquiry into the accident and into Sacoolas’ subsequent departure from the United Kingdom.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 May 2020 | Permalink

US could withdraw intelligence assets from the UK due to Huawei’s role in 5G

HuaweiThe United States could end all sensitive intelligence operations and withdraw its intelligence assets from the United Kingdom if a leading Chinese company is hired to upgrade the country’s telecommunications network. The British government has come under relentless pressure by Washington to not hire Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers, to build the United Kingdom’s 5th generation cellular communications infrastructure.

Many Western intelligence agencies view Huawei as being uncomfortably close to the Communist Party of China. Washington has been leading a worldwide campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with some if its allies, notably Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies. Last year, Washington warned two of its main European allies, Britain and Germany, that it would stop sharing intelligence with them if they allowed Huawei to compete for 5G contracts.

Now the White House appears to be considering a more drastic step. According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the Trump administration has ordered a review of whether it should curtail its intelligence assets and operations on British soil if the Chinese firm were hired to build the UK’s 5G network. Citing “half a dozen” current and former British and American officials, the paper said that the review is still in the works. It is being conducted under the auspices of the National Security Council, America’s highest decision-making body, which is chaired by the president himself.

The Daily Telegraph reports that, among the topics being looked at in the review is whether US intelligence operations and hardware —both civilian and military— would be compromised by Huawei’s involvement in the telecommunications infrastructure. The hardware includes military installations and surveillance platforms, such as a number of RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, which operate out of the Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Sussex, near England’s southern coast. The paper notes that the report and its recommendations could result in drastic chances for the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 May 2020 | Permalink

Russian spy who tried to kill Bulgarian arms dealer is now a diplomat, report claims

Emilian GebrevA Russian intelligence officer, who was allegedly involved in an attempt to kill a Bulgarian arms dealer in Sofia in 2015, is now a diplomat, according to report published on Tuesday by the investigative website Bellingcat. The website also claimed that there is a possible connection between the intelligence officer and the attempted assassination of Russian intelligence defector Sergei Skripal in England in 2018.

In January, prosecutors in Bulgaria charged three Russian men with attempted murder. The men were identified as Sergei Fedotov, Sergei Pavlov and Georgy Gorshkov, all of them residents of Moscow, according to Bulgarian prosecutors. They were charged with attempting to kill Emilian Gebrev (pictured), a wealthy Bulgarian defense industry entrepreneur and trader. Gebrev was hospitalized for several days for signs of poisoning, along with his son and one of his company’s executives. All of them eventually made a full recovery. Gebrev’s lawyers claim that he suffered from “intoxication with an unidentified organophosphorus substance”.

The case had been shelved for several years, but the Bulgarian state revived it following the attempted assassination of Skripal, which British officials blamed on the Russian state. British authorities charged two men, Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Miskin —both of them allegedly Russian military intelligence officers— with attempting to kill Skripal. In February of 2019, Bulgarian officials claimed that there might have been a link between the attacks on Skripal and Gebrev. Last December, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor announced that his office was investigating the alleged link between the two cases.

Now Bellingcat has said that it has discovered the real name of one of the three Russian men who were allegedly involved in the attempted killing of Gebrev. According to Bellingcat, the man, identified by Bulgarian authorities as Georgy Gorshkov, is in fact Yegor Gordienko, who is currently posted under diplomatic in Switzerland. According to the investigative website, Gordienko, 41, is currently serving as third secretary at the Russian Federation’s mission to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. State prosecutors in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom are investigating reports that Gordienko/Gorshkov was present in those countries when the attacks against Gebrev and Skripal took place, said Bellingcat.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2020 | Permalink

Britain warns its citizens following detention of alleged Russian spies in Switzerland

Davos SwitzerlandA Swiss newspaper has revealed a previously unreported detention of two Russian diplomats in the luxury Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, which is currently hosting the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The development prompted British authorities to warn some British citizens participating in the WEF meeting that they may be in physical danger.

The brief detention of the two Russians allegedly occurred in August of last year in Davos, a mountain resort in the canton of Graubünden, which is located in Switzerland’s eastern Alps region. According to the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, local police detained two Russians during the period between August 8 and 28 of last year. Citing anonymous sources from the police and security services, the paper said that the authorities were alerted about the two Russians by employees at a local resort. The employees reportedly found it strange that the Russians had booked hotel rooms for over three weeks, which is unusually long for Davos’ ultra-luxury resort setting.

When police officers approached the two men and inquired about their background, one of them said he worked as a plumber. However, when asked to provide identification papers, both men reportedly produced Russian diplomatic passports. However, none had received accreditation by the Swiss government, which means they had not been formally registered as diplomats in the Alpine nation. When Swiss police officials contacted the Russian embassy in Bern to inquire about the two men, Russian officials “threatened diplomatic consequences if the men were arrested” said Tages-Anzeiger.

The two Russians were eventually released, as Swiss police “could not ascertain any reason to detain them”, said the paper. However, Swiss officials said that the two Russians “obviously […] had their sights on the WEF” and were probably planning to install surveillance equipment around the Swiss resort town. Soon after the Tages-Anzeiger report was published, British counterterrorism police reportedly warned a number of British citizens attending the WEF meeting that they might be in physical danger.

But the Russian embassy in Switzerland dismissed the Tages-Anzeiger report as “one more attempt to undermine Swiss-Russian relations”. Russian officials at the embassy accused Western countries of trying to “whip out a scandal out of nothing”, adding that Russian authorities had not been officially notified of the incident and that there was “no evidence of espionage” by the two men.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 January 2020 | Permalink

MI5 director plays down US threat to end intelligence sharing over Huawei

Sir Andrew ParkerThe director of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency has dismissed warnings by the United States that intelligence sharing between the two allies will be impeded if London decides to use Chinese-made telecommunications hardware. The British government has come under relentless pressure by Washington to bar Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers, from competing for contracts to build the United Kingdom’s 5th generation cellular communications infrastructure.

In recent years, Huawei has come under scrutiny by some Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China. More recently, Washington has intensified a worldwide campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with some if its allies, notably Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies. Last year, Washington warned two of its main European allies, Britain and Germany, that it would stop sharing intelligence with them if they allowed Huawei to compete for 5G contracts.

But in an interview with The Financial Times, Sir Andrew Parker, head of the Security Service (MI5), said on Sunday that he didn’t believe Britain’s intelligence-sharing relationship with America would be impacted by the decision. When asked whether Washington would stop sharing intelligence with London if the British government allowed a bid by Huawei, Sir Andrew said he had “no reason today to think that”. He added that Britain’s intelligence relations with the US, and with other close allies, such as Canada and Australia, were “the strongest they’ve ever been”. Britain’s intelligence partnership with America “is, of course, of great importance to us”, said Sir Andrew, and went on: “I dare say, to the US too, though that’s for them to say. It is a two-way street”.

Meanwhile was reported over the weekend that a high-level delegation from the National Security Agency —America’s largest intelligence agency— and the US National Economic Council would be in London today, in what appears to be a final effort to persuade London not to cooperate with Huawei. Prior to her resignation last year, British Prime Minister Theresa May had reportedly decided to allow the Chinese firm to compete for 5G contracts. Her successor, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is reputed to be in agreement with that decision. Last April, German intelligence official also dismissed American warnings that intelligence sharing with Berlin would end if Huawei built any part of the German 5G network.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 January 2020 | Permalink

Floor plans of MI6 headquarters in London ‘temporarily lost’ by contractor

MI6The floor plans of the headquarters of MI6, Britain’s foreign-intelligence agency, were temporarily lost by a contractor, an incident that led to a temporary lockdown of the building and the termination of the contract, according to media reports. The alleged incident took place at 85 Albert Embankment, a distinctive-looking building that has served since 1994 as the headquarters of MI6 —known officially as the Secret Intelligence Service, or SIS. The imposing structure is located on the bank of the River Thames alongside Vauxhall Bridge in downtown London.

Up until a few weeks ago, sections of the building were reportedly being refurbished by Balfour Beatty, a multinational construction services company based in London. Balfour Beatty employs over 25,000 workers worldwide and is known as a major British government contractor. According to reports, the company produced several floor plans of the sections of the MI6 headquarters that it had been hired to refurbish. The floor plans were kept in a secure location inside the MI6 building, and were accessible only to cleared Balfour Beatty employees.

A few weeks ago, however, over 100 pages of floor plans went missing, according to the British tabloid The Sun, which first reported the story. The alleged incident prompted a lockdown of the building, said the paper, even though the missing papers were not technically classified. They did, however, contain sensitive information about the layout of the MI6 headquarters, including information about entry and exit points, security features, and other potentially sensitive details.

After a while, “many” of the missing documents were found inside the building, said The Sun. The BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera said later that “[m]ost, but not all, of the documents were recovered” inside the building. It was eventually determined that the papers had gone missing due to “carelessness, rather than any hostile activity”, said The Sun, and the Balfour Beatty workers were allowed to leave the building. However, the company has reportedly been removed from the project as a result of what The Sun described as a “shocking security gaffe”.

The Sun and the BBC reached out to Balfour Beatty for comment, but were told that the company could not comment on sensitive matters involving government projects. The British Foreign Office also said that it did not comment on matters involving intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 December 2019 | Permalink

Russian security services honor members of the Cambridge spy ring with plaque

Guy BurgessThe intelligence service of Russia has openly honored two British members of the so-called Cambridge Five spy ring, who caused great controversy during the Cold War by defecting to Moscow. The intelligence services of the Soviet Union recruited five Enlishmen, H.A.R. ‘Kim’ Philby, John Cairncross, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, as well as an unnamed fifth person, to spy for them in the 1930s. All five were recruited while they were promising young students at Britain’s elite Cambridge University, and entered the diplomatic and security services in order to supply Moscow with classified information about Britain and its allies.

In 1951, shortly before they were detained by British authorities on suspicion of espionage, Burgess and Maclean defected to the Soviet Union. They both lived there under new identities and, according to official histories, as staunch supporters of Soviet communism. Some biographers, however, have suggested that the two Englishmen grew disillusioned with communism while living in the Soviet Union, and were never truly trusted by the authorities Moscow. When they died, however, in 1963 (Burgess) and 1983 (Maclean), the Soviet intelligence services celebrated them as heroes.

On Friday, the Soviet state recognized the two defectors in an official ceremony in the Siberian city of Samara, where they lived for a number of years, until the authorities relocated them to Moscow. Kuibyshev, as the city was known during Soviet times, was technically a vast classified facility where much of the research for the country’s space program took place. While in Kuibyshev, Burgess and Maclean stayed at a Soviet intelligence ‘safe house’, where they were debriefed and frequently interrogated, until their handlers were convinced that they were indeed genuine defectors.

At Friday’s ceremony, officials unveiled a memorial plaque at the entrance to the building where Burgess and Maclean lived. According to the Reuters news agency, the plaque reads: “In this building, from 1952-1955, lived Soviet intelligence officers, members of the ‘Cambridge Five’, Guy Francis Burgess and Donald Maclean”. On the same day, a letter written by Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB, appeared online. In the letter, Naryshkin said that Burgess and Maclean had made “a significant contribution to the victory over fascism [during World War II], the protection of [the USSR’s] strategic interests, and ensuring the safety” of the Soviet Union and Russia.

Last year, Russian officials named a busy intersection in Moscow after Harold Adrian Russell Philby. Known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, Philby was a leading member of the Cambridge spies. He followed Burgess and Maclean to the USSR in 1963, where he defected after a long career with the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 December 2019 | Permalink

London accused of hiding report about Russian meddling in Brexit referendum

BrexitThe British government has been accused by opposition parties, and by pro-remain conservative figures, of trying to conceal a report documenting Russian meddling in British politics. The report documents the results of an investigation into Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the outcome of the 2017 general election in the United Kingdom, as well as the result of the 2016 European Union referendum, which ended in victory for the pro-Brexit campaign.

The investigation was carried out by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee and is largely based on closed-door testimony by senior officials from Britain’s intelligence community. It reportedly contains evidence from Russia experts in agencies such as the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

According to media reports the probe was completed in March of this year and underwent a redaction process to safeguard intelligence methods and sources. On October 15 it was submitted to Downing Street and on October 17 it reportedly landed on the desk of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. British opposition politicians allege that even sensitive reports are usually made public no later than 10 days after they are submitted to Downing Street, which means that the document should have been released prior to October 28.

Some fear that, with Parliament about to suspend operations on Tuesday, in anticipation for December’s general election, the report will effectively remain hidden from public view until the spring of 2020. On Friday, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn publicly urged the government to release the report and claimed that the prime minster may have “something to hide”. But cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom argued that it is not unusual for parliamentary committee reports to remain in the government’s hands until they are properly evaluated. “The government has to respond properly, it cannot respond in haste”, said Leadsom.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 November 2019 | Permalink