Russian espionage in US increasingly sophisticated and brazen, say sources

Russian embassy in WashingtonRussian espionage in the United States has become increasingly sophisticated and brazen, and American counterintelligence professionals are finding it difficult to contain it “after years’ worth of inattention” according to sources. According to Politico, Washington ignored Russian intelligence operations in the 1990s, believing that Moscow’s numerous domestic problems kept its attention away from America. But under Vladimir Putin, Russia rebuilt its espionage network in the US, to the point that now “Moscow’s espionage ground game [on American soil] is growing stronger and more brazen than ever”.

The news outlet cited “half a dozen current and former US intelligence officials”, who said that America has been “ignoring Russia for the last 15 years”. During that time, Washington focused much of its intelligence-related attention to the Middle East and Central Asia. But Russia used that opportunity to rebuild its espionage network on American soil. Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation —the US agency that is in charge of counterintelligence work— is finding it difficult to keep an eye on Russian espionage operations, partly because of the size of Russian operations. One US intelligence official told Politico that the Russians “have just got so many bodies” and are able to evade FBI surveillance.

It is now commonplace, say sources, for Russian “diplomats” to be found wandering around the US without permission from American authorities. Foreign diplomats are required to notify the US Department of State in advance each time they intend to travel more than 50 miles from their consular base, and the FBI must consent before permission to do so is granted. But the Russians are now routinely breaking this requirement; what is more, “half the time they’re never confronted” by the FBI, allegedly because Washington is does not wish to antagonize Moscow in light of the fragile state of affairs in Syria. One US intelligence official told Politico that the Russian “diplomats” appear to be secretly visiting locations across America “where underground fiber-optic cables tend to run”. They appear to be mapping the US telecommunications infrastructure, “perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it”, said the source.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 June 2017 | Permalink

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Did North Korean leader’s brother meet with a US spy before he was assassinated?

Kim Jong-nam murderThe exiled half-brother of North Korea’s leader, who was assassinated in Malaysia in February, is thought to have met with a man believed to be an American intelligence officer shortly before he was killed, according to reports. Kim Jong-nam the grandson of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, died after two women approached him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and splashed his face with liquid poison on February 13 of this year. Kim was about to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living in self-exile with his family since 2007. His relations with his brother, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and the regime in Pyongyang, were adversarial, and some suggest that he had survived at least one assassination attempt in the past.

According to Malaysian investigators, who have been probing Kim’s murder, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean dictator arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Macau on February 6, a week before he was killed there. Two days later, on February 8, he traveled to Langkawi, a resort island in the Andaman Sea, located 20 miles from Malaysia’s mainland coast, near the Thai border. According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, a day after his arrival at Langkawi, Kim met with a man believed by Malaysian authorities to be in the employment of American intelligence. The man, who has not been named, is reportedly middle-aged, Korean-American with United States citizenship, and lives in Bangkok. The Osaka-based paper said that Malaysian police have accessed footage from the Langkawi hotel’s security cameras, which show Kim and the American man enter a hotel suite and staying there for nearly two hours before departing.

The newspaper further claims that Malaysian counterintelligence has been tracking the American man each time he has entered Malaysia from Thailand for quite some time, believing him to be a case officer. It is also thought that Kim had met the same man in Malaysia “several times in the past”, said Asahi Shimbun. The paper further states that Malaysian investigators believe the meeting between Kim and the American man was the reason behind North Korea’s decision to kill him. The American man reportedly left Malaysia on February 13, the same day Kim was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2017 | Permalink

Israel revises intel-sharing rules with US, after alleged disclosure to Russians

Donald Trump and Benjamin NetanyahuAuthorities in Israel have revised their intelligence-sharing protocols with the American government after it became known that United States President Donald Trump inadvertently exposed Israeli secrets to Russia. The alleged exposure of Israeli secrets came earlier this month, during a meeting between Mr. Trump and a delegation of Russian government officials, which included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s Ambassador to Washington.

During the meeting, the US President allegedly gave the two Russians details about plans by the Islamic State to smuggle explosives onboard airplanes, by hiding them inside laptop computers. However, according to reports in the American press, the information shared by Mr. Trump originated from Israel, which had voluntarily shared it with US intelligence. What is more, Tel Aviv had not authorized Washington to share the precise details behind this intelligence with other countries. Some reports in the US media suggest that Mr. Trump shared the Israeli-derived intelligence with the Russians in such a way as to expose ‘sources and methods’ —that is, the most sensitive aspects of the intelligence business, which intelligence agencies typically never disclose to adversaries. Additionally, even though the US president claims he never disclosed the source of the information, American media reports suggest that the Russians could easily determine that it came from Israel.

Israeli sources allegedly complained strongly to Washington, claiming that the intelligence shared by the US president “had put an [Israeli] agent’s life in peril”. Tel Aviv’s reaction appears to have been swift. On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in an interview that Tel Aviv promptly “did our checks” and “clarified [things] with our friends in the United States”. Speaking to Israel Army Radio, the official radio station of the Israel Defense Forces, Mr. Liberman said that Israel had done “a spot repair”, prompting the Voice of America to claim that the Jewish state had altered its intelligence-sharing methods with the US. Liberman was asked by the Israel Army Radio to clarify, but refused to specify what changes had been made in the Israel-US intelligence-sharing arrangements. He only added that “there is [now] unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2017 | Permalink

China dismantled large CIA spy network in 2010, say sources

CIAA few years ago, China busted an extensive network of secret operatives run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA has yet to recover from the massive blow to its operations, say sources. The CIA has devoted substantial resources to gathering intelligence in China in recent years, and has painstakingly built a network of spies. The latter are Chinese nationals recruited by CIA officers to spy on Beijing on behalf of the United States. But, according to The New York Times, in early 2010 the CIA’s assets began to disappear one by one. By 2012, the Agency’s network of secret operatives in China had been all but wiped out.

According to the Times report, published on Saturday, the CIA lost as many as 20 agents on the ground in China, who were either executed or imprisoned by the authorities in Beijing. The paper cites “ten current and former American officials”, who claim that many of the agents had operated for years deep inside the Chinese state apparatus prior to their capture. At least one of them, say sources, was executed “in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building” in an attempt to dissuade other government employees from spying on the Chinese state. At least 12 of the CIA’s assets in the country were executed between 2010 and 2012, according to The Times.

The damage to the CIA has been incalculable, according to sources, and the Agency is still recovering from the loss of an extensive network of operatives that took years to assemble. Sources described the loss of the network to the Times as “one of the worst in decades” and compared it to the loss of assets caused in the 1980s and 1990s by two notorious American spies for the Soviet Union and Russia, CIA officer Aldrich Ames and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Hanssen. At that time, dozens of agents and over 100 intelligence projects were compromised.

According to the report, the FBI and the CIA set up Project HONEY BADGER, a joint counterintelligence investigation into the China breach. But the results of the investigation reportedly remain inconclusive. Some argue that such a major dismantling of a network of assets could only have originated from a mole inside the US Intelligence Community. Others believe that the arrests of CIA agents resulted from a sophisticated Chinese computer hacking operation that targeted the CIA. A third theory posits that the breach was caused by the infiltration of the intelligence community of Taiwan, an important American ally in Southeast Asia.

Since 2012, the CIA has been trying to rebuild its network in China, but it will take it years to reach the level of sophistication in had achieved in 2010. The New York Times said it reached out to the CIA and FBI for comment but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2017 | Permalink

North Korea accuses US of murder plot as CIA opens new DPRK mission center

North KoreaThe United States Central Intelligence Agency has announced the establishment of a new center focusing on North Korea, shortly after Pyongyang accused Washington of plotting to assassinate its supreme leader. Last week, the regime’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Han Song Ryol, said the CIA tried to kill North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. He was speaking during a meeting with foreign diplomats in the North Korean capital, where he repeated previously stated claims by government officials that American spies had tried to assassinate their country’s leader. According to Pyongyang, the plot involved an attack by a North Korean CIA agent, who had been trained in the use of a biochemical weapon by his handlers. The North Koreans also accuse South Korea of collaborating with the alleged CIA assassination plot, claiming that Seoul either bribed or blackmailed the would-be assassin.

Meanwhile, the CIA announced last week that it has established a dedicated center focusing on developments in the Korean peninsula. The purpose of the center, said the CIA, is to “address […] the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea”. There are only 11 such centers in the CIA, which the Agency calls “Mission Centers”. They focus on specific issues or locations around the world, in accordance with the geopolitical priorities of the US policymaker community, led by the White House. The establishment of a dedicated Korean Mission Center is designed to reflect the elevation of the North Korean government’s missile program to a critical foreign-policy issue by the administration of US President Donald Trump.

The new Mission Center will be located at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and will bring together several intelligence analysts and even operations officers from a variety of directorates and units across the Agency. The goal of the new Center, according to the CIA, is to “integrate [these individuals] in one entity” in order to produce regular situation reports and analytical forecasts from the troubled region. Speaking to reporters late last week, CIA spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak said that the new Mission Center would allow Langley to “harness the full resources, capabilities and authorities of the Agency” in dealing with Pyongyang. But she refused to comment on North Korea’s allegations that the CIA tried to assassinate the communist state’s leader.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 May 2017 | Permalink

FBI acting head says he will report attempts to stop Russia probe

Andrew McCabeThe interim director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has told an intelligence panel in the United States Senate that he will not hesitate to report any attempts by the White House to interfere with an official investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. Andrew McCabe assumed the leadership of the FBI on Tuesday, after US President Donald Trump abruptly fired the Bureau’s director, James Comey. A trained lawyer who joined the FBI in 1996, McCabe amassed significant experience in countering organized crime and terrorism before being appointed Deputy Director of the Bureau in 2016.

It is worth noting that Republican Party officials have criticized McCabe for being close to former Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. McCabe’s wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, campaigned for a seat in the Virginia State Senate in 2015, on a Democratic Party ticket.

McCabe spoke on Thursday before the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, along with the directors of five other American intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. During their testimony, the six intelligence officials repeated their agencies’ previously stated claims that Moscow engaged in systematic efforts to assist the election of Donald Trump in last November’s presidential elections. McCabe also responded to specific questions by Democratic senators about alleged attempts by the White House to prevent probes in to Russia’s alleged intervention.

When asked by Democratic Senator Mark Warner whether he would inform the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence of attempts by the Trump administration to stop the probe, McCabe responded saying: “I absolutely do”. There are currently at least three parallel investigations into Russia’s alleged involvement in the US presidential elections, of which the Senate’s is one. The US House of Representatives and the Department of Justice are also conducting separate investigations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 May 2017 | Permalink

CIA director makes unannounced visit to South Korea to discuss tensions

Korean DMZThe director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency made an unannounced visit to South Korea over the weekend, to discuss the rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula with his South Korean counterpart and other senior officials. A spokesperson from the US embassy in Seoul made an official announcement on Monday, in which he revealed the visit by Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who was appointed by US President Donald Trump in January of this year. When asked for details, however, the spokesperson refused to provide them. Consequently, Pompeo’s date of arrival to Seoul remains unknown, as is his date of departure. It is believed that he is now back in the US.

During his visit to the South Korean capital, Pompeo met with South Korean counterpart, Lee Byung-ho, who heads South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. South Korean media reports said Pompeo also met with senior officials in the office of the South Korean president. Additionally, he is said to have held several meetings with American intelligence and military officials stationed in South Korea, including a meeting with General Vincent Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea. Reports in local media outlets said Pompeo’s visit aimed to coordinate American and South Korean intelligence responses to what Washington claims is increasing provocation by North Korea. The United States objects to North Korea’s repeated missile tests in recent weeks. On Saturday, Pyongyang attempted to launch a missile without success. The attempt, the third one in a month, elicited strong criticism from Washington and Seoul.

Pompeo’s trip to Seoul marked the fourth visit to South Korea by a senior US government official in recent weeks. The CIA director’s unannounced visit was preceded by separate official visits to Seoul by US Vice President Mike pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Additionally, last Wednesday the White House organized an “extraordinary national security briefing” about North Korea for members of the United States Senate. The briefing featured presentations by senior American diplomats and military officials.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 May 2017 | Permalink