Declassified documents show extent of Libyan support for Provisional IRA

Muammar GaddafiDOCUMENTS RELEASED LAST WEEK by the National Archives of Ireland show the extraordinary support given by the government of Libya to Irish republican separatists in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s. The previously classified documents were released last Tuesday by Ireland’s National Archives, which is the country’s official repository of state records. According to reports, the documents were released to the public in accordance with Ireland’s National Archives Act, which enables the declassification of certain state records 30 years after their production.

The documents contain details about the covert support given by the Libyan government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (pictured) to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). The PIRA was a separatist militant organization that operated in British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for over 30 years, beginning in 1969. According to reports, the information in the documents came directly from the Libyan government in 1992, as part of a broader effort by the Libyans to mend relations with London following the Lockerbie bombing of 1988.

The documents outline the amount of armaments that the Libyans gave to the PIRA in several covert shipments from 1973 until late 1987. Collectively, the shipments consisted of 1,450 Kalashnikov automatic rifles, 66 machine guns, 180 semi-automatic pistols, 26 rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, 10 surface-to-air missiles, 765 grenades, nearly 6,000kg of Semtex explosive, over a thousand detonators, nearly 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, as well as several flame-throwers. The secret arms shipments came to an end in October 1987, when French military intelligence was able to intercept large quantities of weapons and war materiel that had been hidden aboard the ship MV Eksund by its Irish crew.

But the Libyans continued to secretly fund the PIRA, according to the documents released last week. By 1992, when the information contained in the documents was provided to the British by the Libyan government, Tripoli had given the PIRA “over $12.6 million in cash, the equivalent of roughly $45 million in today’s money”. British intelligence quickly shared this information with the Irish government, which is how these documents ended up in the National Archives of Ireland. The documents also include a list of PIRA volunteers who traveled to Libya and were trained in guerrilla warfare and sabotage. However, the names appear to be fake, and were probably used by the PIRA members “to disguise their travel to Libya”, according to reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 January 2022 | Permalink

US, British spy agencies preparing Ukraine to withstand Russian invasion – reports

Ukraine Russia borderBRITISH, AMERICAN AND OTHER Western intelligence agencies are quietly preparing Ukrainian military and security experts to withstand a possible Russian attack, according to a number of media reports. The New York Times reported on Monday that cyberwarfare units from the United States and the United Kingdom have been dispatched to Ukraine. Their mission is believed to be helping the former Soviet republic in confronting possible large-scale cyberattacks from Moscow.

According to The Times, Ukraine has been undergoing a widespread series of cyberattacks from Russia almost without stop during the past several years. The attacks have consisted of multiple sabotage and espionage campaigns, which have targeted nearly every Ukrainian government agency, as well as the country’s energy infrastructure. These attacks have historically been low in number and intensity. This has changed in recent months, however, according to American officials.

Some observers are concerned that a series of large-scale cyberattacks may precede a military invasion by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops that are currently present along the Russian-Ukrainian border. Were they to materialize, these cyberattacks will probably attempt to sabotage core functions of Ukraine’s economy and government, including the banking and air-traffic systems. Moscow’s broader goal, according to The Times, would be to subvert the ability of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government to govern Ukraine. This, in turn, could lead to its fall and replacement by a pro-Russian administration. If a pro-Russian government is threatened by a pro-Western revolt —something that Ukraine has seen in the past— it could potentially request military assistance from Moscow, which would provide a political pretext for an invasion.

Meanwhile, British newspaper The Daily Mirror said on Monday that American intelligence agencies have “secretly agreed to arm and train Ukrainian troops on how to fight a guerrilla war against Russian forces if they invade”. The paper said that meetings to discuss these plans have been taking place between officials from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The goal of such an effort, the report claims, would be to mirror the American help given to Afghan fighters by the CIA during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2021 | Permalink

British foreign secretary admits errors in intelligence assessments of Afghanistan

Dominic RaabTHE CONSENSUS VIEW OF British intelligence in the weeks leading to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban was that the Afghan government would be challenged, but that the rebels were unlikely to take over the country in 2021. This was revealed on Wednesday in the House of Commons by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab. Speaking at an emergency meeting of the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Raab fielded criticism that he had reacted slowly to the crisis in Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary told his critics that his department’s decisions had relied on assessments by the Joint Intelligence Committee, an interagency body that coordinates Britain’s intelligence agencies in issuing reports about pressing security matters. He told Parliament that the assessments he had been given pointed out that the pro-Western government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would be threatened by the Taliban following the withdrawal of Western troops. But they concluded that the government would remain in control of Kabul through 2021, said Raab.

The rapid fall of the Afghan capital to the Taliban caught the British intelligence establishment —and, consequently, the government as a whole— by surprise, said Raab, adding that the sheer “scale and speed of the fall of Kabul” was unexpected. The foreign secretary blamed “optimism bias” for the reports, but added that similar optimistic views were “widely shared” across the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. All parties involved would have to learn lessons from Afghanistan about the accuracy of intelligence reports, Raab concluded.

But the foreign secretary was less clear about why his office did not heed the warnings of the principal risk assessment of his own department, which was issued on July 22, approximately a month before the fall of Kabul. The assessment warned starkly that the return of the Taliban to power could be rapid, as “peace talks are stalled and [United States and] NATO withdrawal is resulting in Taliban advances”. This, said the assessment, could lead to the “fall of cities, collapse of security forces, [and] Taliban return to power”. The document also discussed the possibility that the British “embassy may need to close if security deteriorates” in the Afghan capital.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 September 2021 | Permalink

UK names Russian intelligence operatives who allegedly poisoned Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT HAS announced sanctions against seven Russian intelligence operatives who, according to London, participated in the poisoning of the Russian blogger and political activist Alexei Navalny. Navalny, 45, remains in prison after being arrested last year by Russian authorities, who accused him of violating his parole. His arrest occurred as soon as he arrived in Russia from Germany. He had gone there to receive emergency treatment after he was allegedly poisoned during a domestic Russian flight that originated from Siberia.

While in Germany, Navalny was in a comatose condition for over three weeks, and then spent a further 32 days recovering in hospital. Medical examiners concluded that he was most likely poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. Many Western biomedical experts believe that Navalny, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was poisoned with a so-called Novichok substance —a technical term that describes a category of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Novichok agents are typically designed to asphyxiate their host by paralyzing the muscles they come in contact with.

On Friday —the day that marked the first anniversary of Navalny’s alleged poisoning— the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced that it would impose sanctions against seven Russian citizens. They were named as: Ivan Osipov, Alexei Sedov, Vladimir Panyaev, Kirill Vasilyev, Vladimir Bogdanov, Alexey Alexandrov and Stanislav Makshakov. All are believed to be employees of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which operates as the country’s primary counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency.

British authorities released a statement to explain their decision to impose the sanctions against the seven Russians. The statement notes that the seven alleged FSB officers were identified using “phone and travel records”. These suggest that they were “involved in the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted assassination of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny during his August 2020 visit to Siberia”, the statement said. In an accompanying statement, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, urged Moscow “to declare its full stock of Novichok nerve agents”. The Russian government has dismissed all allegations that it tried to kill Navalny.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2021 | Permalink

Alleged spy at British embassy in Berlin aroused suspicion by not using bank account

British embassy BerlinAn employee of the British embassy in Berlin, who was arrested last week on suspicion of spying for Russia, drew the attention of the authorities after he stopped using his bank account, according to reports. The man, who was arrested on August 10 by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), has been identified in German media as David Smith, 57. His arrest is believed to have come as a result of a joint investigation by British and German authorities.

Smith is a longtime resident of Potsdam, a city located southeast of Berlin, and was married for 20 years to a woman from Ukraine, who is believed to have Russian heritage. According to some reports, however, his wife has not been living with him for some time. It has also been reported that Smith had been working for the British embassy in Berlin “for three or four years” in the period leading up to his arrest last week. It is also believed that he had previously served in the Royal Air Force and the Germany Guard Service (GGS). The latter is a joint British-German civilian volunteer force with roots in the Cold War, which provides security support to British Forces stationed in Germany.

Last week, several German news outlets said that Smith first aroused suspicions among British and German counterintelligence experts, after they noticed that he had not made use of his debit or credit cards for several months. His sudden lack of withdrawals from his bank accounts caused them to think that may have secured a cash-based source of income —possibly from a foreign intelligence agency. Citing anonymous intelligence officials, German media report that Smith passed on “low-grade information” to his Russian handlers, including lists of names of visitors to the British embassy. He was arrested, however, after British and German authorities allegedly feared that he was preparing to give Moscow more sensitive information in his possession.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 August 2021 | Permalink

Ex-Spanish King’s former mistress claims intelligence service spied on her

Juan Carlos ITHE EX-MISTRESS OF SPAIN’S former king has sued him in a British court, claiming that he deployed agents from Spain’s intelligence service in a “campaign of unlawful covert and over surveillance” against her. Juan Carlos I, 83, was king of Spain from 1975 until his abdication from the throne in 2014. He now lives in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates, having left Spain in August. His departure came amidst a barrage of media reports revealing his involvement in a host of financial scandals, which are still being investigated by Spain’s authorities.

In 2012, it became known that the king had a six-year love affair with German-born Danish business consultant Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, 57, who is based in Britain. Since the end of the affair, in 2009, it is alleged that Carlos has been trying to retrieve nearly £60 million ($84 million), which he reportedly gifted to Wittgenstein when they were lovers. According to some media reports, Wittgenstein claims that the funds were given to her by the then-monarch “as an expression of his love” for her.

Late last year, Wittgenstein filed a lawsuit in Britain, in which she accuses her former lover of a campaign of harassment against her. She also claims that he employed agents of the Spanish National Intelligence Agency (Centro Nacional de Inteligencia , or CNI) to spy on her. The lawsuit, made public on Wednesday, alleges that, starting in 2012, current or former CNI agents were deployed by the ex-king to keep Wittgenstein “under physical surveillance”. Wittgenstein’s lawyers claim that she was followed throughout Europe, and that her personal cellphones and computers were hacked by the CNI, or by private investigators. They also claim that a team of spies broke into her estate in Britain, and installed surveillance equipment through a “perfectly drilled hole” in her bedroom window.

The business consultant is now asking for a large sum —believed to be in the tens of millions of euros— to be paid to her as compensation for alleged damages caused to her reputation. She is also asking for a restraining order against Carlos, the CNI, and anyone working for the ex-king. The former monarch denies the charges.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 July 2021 | Permalink

Two decades after 9/11, West must refocus on threats by state actors, MI5 chief says

MI5 HQ Thames HouseNearly 20 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it is time for Western intelligence agencies to refocus on stopping covert operations by foreign state actors, according to the director of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. General Ken McCallum is a 20-year career officer in the Security Service (MI5), Britain’s counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence agency. He assumed the position of director in April of 2020, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

In a rare public speech on Wednesday, General McCallum said it made sense why, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Western spy services dedicated unprecedented attention and resources to countering terrorist threats. Efforts during these two decades have concentrated on preventing attacks by religious extremists, both domestically and abroad. General McCallum went on to say that, in light of the ongoing instability in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, religious extremism will continue to require both attention and resources by Western spy agencies.

But he added that, even though counter-terrorism remains MI5’s primary task, the agency recognizes the need to “refocus attention” to threats from state actors. The attention given in the past two decades to non-state groups has allowed countries like Russia, China and Iran to develop “a growing assertiveness” in the areas of covert operations, said General McCallum. As a result, their activities in the fields of espionage, sabotage, and even assassinations, have become “increasingly daring” and threatening.

Spies working for foreign countries have killed targets, stolen sensitive technology, and tried to recruit public figures and other key individuals through blackmail. They have also attacked telecommunications infrastructure and have perfected a host of methods for launching cyber-attacks on both the public and private sectors, with potentially catastrophic consequences, he said.

The MI5 chief illustrated his statements by revealing that British counterintelligence officers have “disrupted hostile power activity” on British soil, which could otherwise have resulted in the killing of a targeted individual. He said that this operation took place after the attempted assassination of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in the spring of 2018, but provided no further details.

General McCallum’s statement came as prosecutors in the United States charged four Iranian intelligence officers with participating in a plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American New York-based journalist and human-rights activist, who is known for her critical stance of the government in Tehran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 July 2021 | Permalink

Sensitive UK defense documents found in bus stop by member of the public

UK Ministry of DefenceSensitive documents belonging to the British Ministry of Defense were found by a member of the public behind a bus stop last week, in what the BBC described as “a major embarrassment” for the British government. The documents number 50 pages; most are marked “official sensitive”, which is a low level of classification, but it means they are still subject to security requirements.

The BBC said it was contacted by “a member of the public, who wishes to remain anonymous”, after he or she found the documents dumped behind a bus stop in the southeastern county of Kent, which borders greater London,. The papers were reportedly in a deteriorated state, as they had been exposed to the elements -including rain- for several days.

According to the BBC, the sensitive documents most likely originated in the office of a senior Ministry of Defense official. They include printouts of email exchanges, as well as a number of PowerPoint slides concerning several timely topics. Among them is a presentation about HMS Defender, a Type 45 Destroyer belonging to the Royal Navy. It is followed by a presentation on the tense maritime incident that took place between Britain and Russia off the coast of Crimea last week.

Another document concerns the defense priorities of the administration of United States President Joe Biden, especially as they relate to the Indo-Pacific region and China. Several emails concern the future of the British military presence in Afghanistan, following the pending withdrawal of US forces from there in September. Yet another set of documents addresses British defense contracts that may irk some of the former European Union member state’s European allies.

The British Defense Ministry said last week it was investigating the details of “an incident” in which sensitive papers were “recovered by a member of the public”. It added that one of its employees, who had been entrusted with the documents, had reported them missing in the days prior to their recovery.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 June 2021 | Permalink

British SIGINT agency vows to integrate artificial intelligence into its operations

GCHQBRITAIN’S GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS, one of the world’s most advanced signals intelligence agencies, has published a position paper that vows to embrace artificial intelligence in its operations. For over 100 years, GCHQ, as it is known, has been in charge of spying on global communications on behalf of the British state, while protecting the government’s own communications systems from foreign espionage. In a report published on Thursday, the agency says it intends to use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect and analyze complex threats, and to fend against AI-enabled security challenges posed by Britain’s adversaries.

The report, entitled “Pioneering a New National Security: The Ethics of AI”, includes a foreword by GCHQ Director, Jeremy Fleming. Fleming was a career officer of the Security Service (MI5) until he became head of GCHQ in 2017. In his introductory note he argues that “technology and data” are engrained in the structure of GCHQ, and that AI has “the potential […] to transform [the agency’s] future operations”. The report acknowledges that GCHQ has been using AI for some time for functions including intelligence collection and automated translation. But the ability of AI to distinguish patterns in large sets of data in seconds, which would normally take humans months or years to detect, offers a transformational potential that should not be overlooked, it posits.

Security-related applications of AI are endless, says the report. They include measures against online child exploitation —for instance by detecting the methods used by child sex abusers to conceal their identities across multiple online platforms. Another potentially revolutionary application would be mapping global drug- or human-trafficking networks, by analyzing up-to-the-minute financial transactions and money-laundering activities around the world. Illicit activities that take place in the so-called “dark web” could also be mapped and monitored by AI systems, according to the report.

The report also states that GCHQ will seek ways to promote AI-related research and development in the United Kingdom. Its goal will be to establish bridges with industry by funding start-up ventures in AI, it states. Lastly, GCHQ will seek to formulate an ethical code of practice in AI, which will include best-practice guidelines, and will purposely recruit a diverse personnel of engineers, computer and data scientists. Future reports will tackle emerging technologies such as computational science and synthetic biology, among many others, the GCHQ report concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 February 2021 | Permalink

MI6 starts recruiting naturalized British citizens after change in rules

MI6BRITAIN’S MAIN EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE agency has begun hiring foreign-born British citizens for the first time in decades, reportedly in an effort to augment the skillsets of its personnel and diversify its workforce. For much of its history, the Secret Intelligence Service, known informally as MI6, required potential recruits to have been born in the United Kingdom to British-born parents. This excluded British-born children of immigrants to the United Kingdom.

In 2018, however, MI6 shelved the requirement that both parents of employment candidates had to be British-born. Since then, children of immigrants to the United Kingdom could apply for employment, so long as they had been born on British soil and held a British passport. This rule has now been shelved too. From now on, naturalized British citizens will be considered for work at MI6. The only stipulation is that one of their parents must be (or have been, if deceased) a British citizen, or have “substantial ties” to the United Kingdom.

The spy agency states that dual or multiple citizens who are hired to work at MI6 may be required to formally renounce their non-British citizenship(s), “depending on the type of role that they are offered”. reported to a government source cited in the London-based Times newspaper, the change in recruitment practices is aimed at creating a workforce “with a diversification of thought, not people who all think in similar ways”. The change in recruitment rules comes on the heels of a decision last year to lower the minimum age requirement for employment at MI6 from 21 to 18 years.

In a related development, several British newspapers reported last month that the spy agency had begun to recruit for the first time “part-time consultants” with valuable skills or contacts overseas. In several job advertisements that appeared online or in print publications, MI6 said it is seeking candidates with “diverse skill sets and life experiences for part-time and consulting roles”. The advertisements also note that MI6 is looking for “highly desirable individuals” with “expertise in their chosen field”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February 2021 | Permalink

Britain quietly expelled three Chinese spies posing as journalists, report claims

CGTN ChinaTHREE CHINESE NON-OFFICIAL cover intelligence officers, who were working in London under journalistic cover, were expelled from Britain in the past year, according to a new report. The claim was made on Thursday by The Telegraph newspaper, which cited an anonymous “government source”. The report alleges that the three expelled Chinese journalists were in fact employees of China’s Ministry of State Security.

The paper said that the three Chinese citizens were working as journalists for three different Chinese press agencies and media outlets. However, Britain’s counterintelligence agency, the Security Service (known also as MI5), allegedly uncovered the true identities of the spies, according to The Telegraph. They were then reportedly ordered by the British government to leave the country. The report did not provide details about when precisely the three Chinese citizens were expelled, saying only that the expulsions occurred at different times during the past year.

In a separate development, the British government yesterday rescinded the broadcast license of China’s television station, China Global Television Network (CGTN). The move followed an investigation by the Office of Communications (known as Ofcom), an independent government authority that regulates Britain’s broadcasting, postal and telecommunications industries. The decision marks a major setback for CGTN, which employs hundreds of reporters and considers London as one of its three major worldwide bases.

In a statement explaining its decision, Ofcom said that its investigators had concluded that CGTN was not editorially independent from the Chinese Communist Party. This meant, according to Ofcom, that the Chinese broadcaster was effectively an arm of the Chinese state. British law does not permit media entities that are controlled by governments to hold broadcasting licenses. It is believed that CGTN will now try to receive a license to broadcast by another European country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 February 2021 | Permalink

Iran state media claims Britain and Germany helped US kill Soleimani

Qasem SoleimaniIRANIAN STATE MEDIA CLAIMED last week that several countries, including Britain and Germany, helped the United States assassinate its top paramilitary commander, Qassem Soleimani (pictured). The reports emerged on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Soleimani, who led Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He was killed by a drone strike on January 3, 2020, in Baghdad, Iraq. The same missile strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who commanded the Popular Mobilisation Committee, an umbrella organization composed of about 40 pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

Last week, Iran’s state-owned DEFA Press news agency reported that Tehran’s own investigation into the assassination operation showed that Washington was assisted by several countries, and even by some private security firms. According to the report, the Iranian government’s prosecutor, Ali Alqasimehr, stated that G4S, a security services contractor based in Britain, had “played a role” in Soleimani and al-Muhandis’ killing. He added that the US forces also made use of facilities at the Ramstein Air Base, located in southwestern Germany, to carry out the attack.

In addition to Britain and Germany, Iranian officials said that the governments of Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq assisted in the operation by providing logistical support and intelligence. According to DEFA Press, more countries are likely to be added to the Iranian government’s list of culprits, once Tehran concludes its investigation into the killing. Iranian officials have provided no evidence for such claims. It is also unclear whether Iran is considering launching revenge attacks against countries that allegedly assisted the US in its effort to kill the two paramilitary commanders.

Speaking during a commemoration event on Friday, Soleimani’s successor at the helm of the IRGC, Esmail Ghaani, said that Iran was “ready to avenge” Soleimani’s death. During the event, which was held at the University of Tehran, Ghaani warned that “someone who will retaliate for your crime […] may emerge from inside your own house”. He did not elaborate. Large commemorative gatherings to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassinations took place throughout Iran and Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups hold significant power.

Last January Iran issued a warning against Greece, saying that it would retaliate if the US used its military bases on Greek soil to attack the Islamic Republic. It was the first time that Iran had threatened to launch attacks against a member of the European Union in connection with the ongoing rise in tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2021 | Permalink

George Blake, arguably the most prolific Soviet spy of the Cold War, dies at 98

George BlakeGEORGE BLAKE, A DUTCH-born British intelligence officer, whose espionage for the Soviet Union gained him notoriety in the West and hero status in Moscow, has died aged 98. His death was announced on Saturday by the state-owned Russian news agency RIA Novosti. It was later corroborated by a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), who said Blake “had a genuine love for our country”.

Blake was nearly 18 when German troops entered his native Holland, prompting him to join the local anti-Nazi resistance forces. A British subject thanks to his Egyptian Jewish father, who had acquired British citizenship by fighting in British uniform during World War I, Blake eventually made his way to London via neutral Spain and Gibraltar. Within two years, he had been recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, and by war’s end he was working in its Dutch Section.

Named after King George by his fiercely pro-British and royalist father, Blake drew no suspicion by his MI6 colleagues. He was hard-working and came across as a strict Calvinist, with strong religious leanings. But his view of the Soviet Union began to change at Cambridge University, where he had been sent by MI6 to learn Russian language and history. In 1950, while he was serving under official cover at the British embassy in Seoul, Korea, he was captured and detained for three years by North Korean forces. His ideological defection to communism appears to have taken place during his capture, during which he was given access to English-language Marxist literature and had long discussions with Soviet political instructors.

By 1953, when he was released by his captors and returned to a hero’s welcome in London, Blake was a committed communist. Less than a month following his release, he made contact with Nikolai Rodin (codename SERGEI) who was the KGB’s station chief in London. He began to spy for the Soviet Union, and did so for eight years, including during his stint as an MI6 case officer in Berlin. During that time, he is believed to have betrayed information that led to the detection of over 500 Western intelligence officers and assets operating behind the Iron Curtain, with as many as 44 of those losing their lives as a result. His career as a double spy ended in 1960, when he was betrayed by Polish defector Michael Goleniewski. Goleniewski’s debriefing by the United States Central Intelligence Agency helped Britain identify two Soviet moles inside its intelligence establishment, one of whom was Blake.

In 1960, after pleading guilty to espionage, Blake began serving a 42-year prison sentence in Britain’s Wormwood Scrubs maximum security prison complex. But in 1966 he was able to escape with the help of a group of Irish republican prisoners, and made contact with Soviet intelligence. He was eventually smuggled into East Germany and from there to Russia. Once there, he joined the KGB and served as a consultant and instructor until his retirement in the early 1990s. He learned to speak Russian fluently, married a Russian wife (his British wife having divorced him once he was convicted of espionage) and had a son.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on Sunday, praising Blake’s espionage “in the cause of peace”, while the SVR described him as a model intelligence officer. A report published by RIA Novosti on Sunday said that the Moscow city council was considering a proposal to rename a street in the Russian capital after Blake.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2020 | Permalink

British Channel Islands being used as ‘offshore global spy center’ study finds

Cell Phone - IATHE CHANNEL ISLANDS, AN archipelago consisting of dependencies of the British Crown located off the northern coast of France, are being used as an offshore global spy center due to their unregulated telecommunications industry, according to a new study. The archipelago is made up of Jersey and Guernsey, groups of islands that are not technically part of Britain, but are instead considered offshore British territories. They are regularly new study as offshore tax havens.

But now a referred to by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, claims that lax regulation of the Channel Islands’ telecommunications systems is allowing foreign spy agencies and contractors to use them as a base to carry out worldwide surveillance operations. Many of these operations rely on SS7, a decades-old feature of the global cellular telecommunications system, which allows cellular providers to provide service to mobile phone users as they travel internationally.

The SS7 system allows a mobile phone registered in a specific country to be used in a different country, and its user to be billed for the service. But to do so with accuracy, the SS7 system enables the service provider to track the owner of the device being charged for the phone call. This is done through what is known in cellular telecommunications parlance as a Provide Subscriber Location, or PSL, request.

Citing “leaked data, documents and interviews with industry insiders”, the study claims that intelligence agencies exploit the Channel Islands’ lax telecommunications regulation, which allows them to file PSL requests, not for billing purposes, but to detect the physical whereabouts of targets around the world. They do so by renting access from mobile phone operators based in the Channel Islands.

These PSL requests originate from Britain’s +44 country code, which is generally trusted in the global telecommunications industry, and are thus facilitated without raising suspicions. Notably, many of these PSL queries do not seek to acquire bulk data on users, but rather target specific individuals around the world. Additionally, if handled in certain ways, PSL queries can provide spies with access to the content of targeted communications, and thus information relating to unsuspecting users’ personal data, including text messages, bank accounts and passwords.

The study suggests that the British government is aware of this misuse of the system, but is finding it difficult to stop it because it has no direct legal jurisdiction over the Channel Islands.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 December 2020 | Permalink

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

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