MI6 spy chief outlines ‘fourth generation espionage’ in rare public speech

Alex YoungerThe director of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service —known as MI6— has outlined the parameters of a new, “fourth generation of espionage”, which he said is needed to combat the “threats of the hybrid age”. Alex Younger, 55, is a career intelligence officer who joined MI6 in 1991, after serving in the British Army. He served as chief of global operations —considered the number two position at MI6— before being appointed director of the spy agency in October 2014. He previously served in the Middle East, Europe, and Afghanistan, where he represented MI6 as its most senior officer in the country following the US-led military invasion of 2001. Until this week, Younger had given a single public address since becoming director of MI6. But on Monday he spoke again, this time at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, from where he graduated with a degree in economics.

After cautioning his audience that MI6’s methods, operations and people —some of whom “have paid the ultimate price”— must remain secret, Younger said that technological progress has “profoundly changed [MI6’s] operating environment”. Technological change, as well as the degree of interconnectedness, he said, has made the world “dramatically more complicated”. He went on to add that the resulting ambiguity is referred to by MI6 as a constant stream of “hybrid threats”, namely challenges posed by nation-states operating “in the gray spaces of the hybrid era”. They do so in order to probe the West’s “institutions and defenses in ways that fall short of traditional warfare”, said Younger. The British spy chief added that MI6, as “one of the few truly global intelligence agencies” is well positioned to respond to hybrid threats, mostly by augmenting its human intelligence role —using human spies to collect information.

Human intelligence, which is MI6’s core task, “will never change fundamentally”, said Younger, adding that “in fact it will become even more important in a more complex world”. However, it will need to evolve to meet the challenges of the hybrid age. Younger said that MI6 was pioneering a “fourth generation of espionage”, which is the product of the fusion of traditional human skills with “accelerated [technological] innovation”. This new generation of espionage said Younger, relies not on individual work but on operations that are carried out by dynamic teams within and across state agencies. Additionally, the ultimate task of these operations is not simply to know the actions of one’s adversaries, but “to change their behavior”, said the British spy chief. Furthermore, in order to successfully develop fourth generation espionage capabilities, MI6 will have to “ensure that technology is on our side, not that of our opponents”, noted Younger. The spy chief gave an example by referring to the case of the near-fatal poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the Russian former double spy who was allegedly attacked by two Russian military intelligence officers in Salisbury, England, last March. It was “bulk data combined with modern analytics” that exposed the culprits of the operation, he said. But the same methods, which make the modern world more transparent, can posed “a serious challenge if used against us”, warned the MI6 chief.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 December 2018 | Permalink

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Nerve agent used in Skripal attack ‘could have killed thousands’ say experts

GRUThe amount of poison smuggled into Britain for a near-fatal attack on Russian former spy Sergei Skripal was powerful enough to kill “thousands of people”, according those leading the investigation into the incident. Skripal, a former military intelligence officer, was resettled in the English town of Salisbury in 2010, after spending several years in a Russian prison for spying for Britain. But he and his daughter Yulia almost died in March of this year, after being poisoned by a powerful nerve agent that nearly killed them. The attack has been widely blamed on the Russian government, though the Kremlin denies that it had a role in it.

Investigators from Britain and other Western countries have identified the poison used in the attack on the Skripals as novichok. The term (meaning ‘newbie’ in Russian) was given by Western scientists to a series of rarely used nerve agents that were developed the Soviet Union and Russia between 1971 and the early 1990s. It is believed that the poison was smuggled into the United Kingdom hidden inside an imitation perfume bottle, which had been fitted with a custom-made pump used to apply the poison. British authorities have determined that the assailants sprayed the poison on the doorway —including the handle— of the Skripals’ house in Salisbury. They then discarded the perfume bottle, containing the leftover novichok, in a garbage can before leaving the country in a hurry. The bottle was eventually recovered by Salisbury resident Charlie Rowley. His partner, Dawn Sturgess, died of poisoning after she applied some of the contents of the bottle on her wrists. British government scientists have since been examining the contents of the perfume bottle found inside Sturgess’ home.

On Thursday, BBC Television’s Panorama investigative program aired an episode entitled “Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack: The Inside Story”. Among those interviewed was Dean Haydon, a British Deputy Assistant Commissioner who is leading the ongoing investigation into the Salisbury attack. He told Panorama that “a significant amount” of novichuk was left behind by the assailants inside the discarded perfume bottle. The amount of poison in the discarded bottle could have been used to kill “thousands”, he said, adding that the way it was applied to the Skripals’ home was “completely reckless”. The BBC program’s producers also spoke to a British government chemical weapons scientist, identified only as “Tim”, who is credited with having identified the substance used on the Skripals. He told the program that less than 100g of novichuk was used against the Skripals, leaving the vast majority of the nerve agent inside the bottle. Given that novichuk is “one of the deadliest substances known”, which has a “unique ability to poison individuals at very low concentrations”, the scientist said he was shocked by the amount of poison that was smuggled into Britain by the assailants.

The assailants have been identified by British intelligence as Dr. Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin (cover name “Alexander Petrov”) and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga (cover name “Ruslan Boshirov”). Both men are said to be employees of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, commonly referred to as the GRU. Moscow denies that it had any role in the attack on the Skripals.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 November 2018 | Permalink

Moscow names intersection after Kim Philby, British spy for the USSR

Kim PhilbyIn a sign of worsening relations between the United Kingdom and Russia, a busy intersection in Moscow has been named after Kim Philby, the British senior intelligence officer who secretly spied for the Soviet Union. While working as a senior member of British intelligence, Harold Adrian Russell Philby, known as ‘Kim’ to his friends, spied on behalf of the Soviet NKVD and KGB. His espionage activities lasted from about 1933 until 1963, when he secretly defected to the USSR from his home in Beirut, Lebanon. Philby’s defection sent ripples of shock across Western intelligence and is often seen as one of the most dramatic incidents of the Cold War. He was part of a wider ring of upper-class British spies, known collectively as ‘the Cambridge spies’ because they were recruited by Soviet intelligence during their student days at the University of Cambridge in England.

Following his sensational defection, Philby lived in the Soviet capital until his death in 1988 at the age of 76. On Tuesday, a statement published on the website of the Moscow City Council announced that a busy intersection in the city’s southeast would be renamed to ‘Kim Philby Square’ in honor of the British defector. The statement said that the name change had been agreed upon by the city council and decreed by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sbyanin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Interestingly, Philby lived nowhere near the intersection named after him. His apartment —provided to him by the Soviet state in exchange for services rendered during his 30 years of spying— was located in a residential area of central Moscow. However, the intersection in question is situated near the headquarters of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, which is the primary successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. In September of last year, SVR Director Sergei Naryshkin attended an exhibition in Moscow entitled “Kim Philby: His Intelligence Work and Personal Life”, organized by the Russian Historical Society. While there, Naryshkin was told by veterans of the KGB that Philby liked to take long walks through the streets of Moscow and that a street should be named after him in his honor.

French news agency Agence France Presse reported that it contacted the Moscow City Council but a spokeswoman said she was not in a position to comment on the Kim Philby Square renaming. The move comes a few months after a small pedestrian thoroughfare located across from the front entrance of the Russian embassy in Washington DC was symbolically named ‘Boris Nemtsov’, after a Russian opposition leader who was gunned down in downtown Moscow in February of 2015.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2018 | Permalink

Britain sees Russian government hackers behind Islamic State cyber group

Cyber CaliphateA new report by the British government alleges that the so-called ‘Cyber Caliphate’, the online hacker wing of the Islamic State, is one of several supposedly non-state groups that are in fact operated by the Russian state. The group calling itself Cyber Caliphate first appeared in early 2014, purporting to operate as the online wing of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which was later renamed Islamic State. Today the Cyber Caliphate boasts a virtual army of hackers from dozens of countries, who are ostensibly operating as the online arm of the Islamic State. Their known activities include a strong and often concentrated social media presence, as well as computer hacking, primarily in the form of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage.

But an increasing number of reports, primarily by Western government agencies, have claimed in recent years that the Cyber Caliphate is in fact part of a Russian state-sponsored operation, ingeniously conceived to permit Moscow to hack Western targets without retaliation. On Wednesday, a new report by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) described the Cyber Caliphate and other similar hacker groups as “flags of convenience” for the Kremlin. The report was authored by the NCSC in association with several British and European intelligence agencies. American spy agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also helped compile the report, according to the NCSC. The report names several hacker groups that have been implicated in high-profile attacks in recent years, including Sofacy, Pawnstorm, Sednit, Cyber Berkut, Voodoo Bear, BlackEnergy Actors, Strontium, Tsar Team, and Sandworm. Each of these, claims the NCSC report, is “an alias of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces”, more commonly known as the GRU. The report concludes that Cyber Caliphate is the same hacker group as APT 28, Fancy Bear, and Pawn Storm, three cyber espionage outfits that are believed to be online arms of the GRU.

The NCSC report echoes the conclusion of a German government report that was leaked to the media in June of 2016, which argued that the Cyber Caliphate was a fictitious front group created by Russia. In 2015, a security report by the US State Department concluded that despite the Cyber Caliphate’s proclamations of connections to the Islamic State, there were “no indications —technical or otherwise— that the groups are tied”. In a statement issued alongside the NCSC report on Wednesday, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, described the GRU as Moscow’s “chosen clandestine weapon in pursuing its geopolitical goals”. The Russian government has denied these allegations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 October 2018 | Permalink

New clues may help locate lost intelligence files from 1938 French-British-Nazi pact

Neville Chamberlain Nearly 2,000 missing British intelligence files relating to the so-called Munich Agreement, a failed attempt by Britain, France and Italy to appease Adolf Hitler in 1938, may not have been destroyed, according to historians. On September 30, 1938, the leaders of France, Britain and Italy signed a peace treaty with the Nazi government of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. The treaty, which became known as the Munich Agreement, gave Hitler de facto control of Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking areas, in return for him promising to resign from territorial claims against other countries, such as Poland and Hungary. Hours after the treaty was formalized, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arrived by airplane at an airport near London, and boldly proclaimed that he had secured “peace for our time” (pictured above). Contrary to Chamberlain’s expectations, however, the German government was emboldened by what it saw as attempts to appease it, and promptly proceeded to invade Poland, thus firing the opening shots of World War II in Europe.

For many decades, British historians researching the Munich Agreement have indicated the absence of approximately 1,750 intelligence reports dating from May to December 1938. The missing files cover the most crucial period immediately prior and immediately after the Munich Agreement. They are believed to contain transcripts of German and other foreign diplomatic communications, which were intercepted by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), Britain’s signals intelligence agency at the time. In 1947, the documents were passed on to the GC&CS’s successor agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). But they subsequently disappeared, giving rise to numerous theories as to how and why. Some historians have theorized that the documents were deliberately destroyed by British officials shortly after the end of World War II. The move allegedly aimed to protect Britain’s international reputation and prevent a possible exploitation by the Soviet Union, which sharply criticized the West’s appeasement of Hitler in the run-up to the war. Another popular theory is that they were destroyed by senior civil servants connected to the Conservative Party —to which Chamberlain belonged— in order to prevent the opposition Labour Party from capitalizing on what many saw as a betrayal of British interests in September 1938 by the Conservative administration in London.

For a long time, the GCHQ’s official historians have strongly contested the view that the documents were deliberately destroyed. Now, according to The Independent newspaper, historians have found that the missing documents were still listed in GCHQ archive indexes in as late as 1968, a full 30 years after the Munich Agreement was signed. At that time it is believed that the files were temporarily transferred to another British government department in order to be used as references in an internal report about the Munich Agreement. It is very likely, some historians now say, that the documents were simply never returned to GCHQ. It is therefore possible that they may be stored in the archives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Ministry of Defence. This new clue, according to The Independent, substantially lessens the possibility that the documents may have been removed or destroyed for political reasons.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 October 2018 | Permalink

Russia planned to smuggle Julian Assange from Ecuador’s embassy in London

Julian AssangeRussia and Ecuador canceled at the last minute a secret plan to smuggle WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London after it was deemed “too risky”, according to a report. The Australian-born founder of the whistleblower website was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador in June of 2012, after Swedish authorities charged him with rape. He claims that the charges are part of a multinational plot to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for having leaked hundreds of thousands of secret government documents. He has thus refused to leave Ecuador’s embassy in the British capital since June 2012.

Last week, the British newspaper The Guardian said that Russian and Ecuadorean officials devised a complex operation to smuggle the WikiLeaks founder out of the Ecuadorean embassy, which is closely monitored by British security agencies. The London-based paper said it spoke to “four separate sources” who confirmed that a small team of Russians and Ecuadoreans met several times to plan the operation. The Ecuadorean side was allegedly represented by Fidel Narváez, a close friend and supporter of Assange, who previously served as Ecuador’s consul in London and continues to live there with his family. The Kremlin was reportedly represented by an unnamed “Russian businessman”, said The Guardian, who served as an intermediary between the Ecuadoreans and Moscow. The plan consisted of several steps, said the paper. The first step was for Assange to receive Ecuadoran citizenship and then be given diplomatic status by the government of Ecuador. That would give the WikiLeaks founder diplomatic immunity and shield him from British laws. A diplomatic vehicle would then secretly transport Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy to an unknown location. From there he would be transported to Ecuador via ship, or to Russia, where he would serve as a member of staff of the Ecuadorean embassy in Moscow. If British security services managed to intercept Assange during the operation, all they could do was expel him from the country. They would not be able to arrest him because of his diplomatic status.

The plan, said The Guardian, was scheduled for December 24, 2017. On December 15, Rommy Vallejo, the head of Ecuador’s national intelligence agency, Secretaría Nacional de Inteligencia (SENAIN), traveled secretly to London to supervise the operation. Two days later, on December 17, Assange was granted Ecuadorian citizenship as part of the plan. But the plan was aborted at the last moment after the British government refused to recognize Assange’s diplomatic status. According to British law, a foreign diplomat does not receive immunity from British law unless the British government officially accepts his or her diplomatic credentials. Although that is typically a formality, the British government reserves the right to refuse a diplomat’s credentials. That was seen by the Russians as a stumbling block and the operation was called off, said the paper.

Narváez spoke with The Guardian and strongly denied that he had any involvement with a joint Russian-Ecuadorean plan to smuggle Assange out of London. The Ecuadorean government did not return messages with questions about the paper’s allegations. The Russian embassy in the British capital tweeted late last week that The Guardian’s claims were “another example of disinformation and fake news from the British media”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 September 2018 | Permalink

Book alleges 1980s British Labour Party leader was Soviet agent

Michael FootThe leadership of the Labour Party in Britain has reacted with disdain after a new book by a leading author and columnist claimed that Michael Foot, who led the Party in the early 1980s was paid agent of the Soviet KGB. Foot, a staunch and vocal representative of the postwar British left, was a member of parliament for over 40 years, eventually serving as leader of the House of Commons. He rose to the post of deputy leader of the Labour Party and in 1980 succeeded Jim Callahan as head of the Party. But he stepped down in 1983 in the aftermath of Labour’s largest electoral defeat in over half a century.

Two years later, in 1985, Oleg Gordievsky, a colonel in the Soviet KGB, defected to Britain and disclosed that he had been a double spy for the British from 1974 until his defection. In 1995, Gordievsky chronicled his years as a KGB officer and his espionage for Britain in a memoir, entitled Next Stop Execution. The book was abridged and serialized in the London-based Times newspaper. In it, Gordievsky claimed that Foot had been a Soviet “agent of influence” and was codenamed “Agent BOOT” by the KGB. Foot proceeded to sue The Times for libel, after the paper published a leading article headlined “KGB: Michael Foot was our agent”. The Labour Party politician won the lawsuit and was awarded financial restitution from the paper.

This past week, however, the allegations about Foot’s connections with Soviet intelligence resurfaced with the publication of The Spy and the Traitor, a new book chronicling the life and exploits of Gordievsky. In the book, Times columnist and author Ben Macintyre alleges that Gordievsky’s 1995 allegations about Foot were accurate and that Gordievsky passed them on to British intelligence before openly defecting to Britain. According to Macintyre, Gordievsky briefed Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, a senior civil servant and cabinet secretary to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Lord Armstrong, a well-connected veteran of British politics, in turn communicated the information to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the summer of 1982, says Macintyre. The Times columnist alleges that MI6 received specific information from Lord Armstrong, according to which Foot had been in contact with the KGB for years and that he had been paid the equivalent of £37,000 ($49,000) in today’s money for his services. The spy agency eventually determined that Foot may not himself have been conscious that the Soviets were using him as an agent of influence. But MI6 officials viewed Gordievsky’s allegations significant enough to justify a warning given to Queen Elizabeth II, in case the Labour Party won the 1983 general election and Foot became Britain’s prime minister.

The latest allegations prompted a barrage of strong condemnations from current and former officials of the Labour Party. Its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who like Foot also comes from the left of the Party, denounced Macintyre for “smearing a dead man, who successfully defended himself [against the same allegations] when he was alive”. Labour’s deputy leader, John McDonnell, criticized The Times for “debasing [the] standards of journalism in this country. They used to be called the gutter press. Now they inhabit the sewers”, he said. Neil Kinnock, who succeeded Foot in the leadership of the Labour Party in 1983, said Macintyre’s allegations were “filthy” and described Foot as a “passionate and continual critic of the Soviet Union”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2018 | Permalink