Malaysia is helping Iran evade US economic sanctions, intelligence sources claim

Petronas MalaysiaCiting “Western intelligence officials”, Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Thursday that a deepening alliance between Malaysia and Iran is expected to enable Tehran evade some of the economic sanctions imposed on it by the United States. In the past, every time Washington has imposed economic sanctions on Iran, it has issued renewable waivers for a number of countries whose economies have historically depended on substantial Iranian energy imports. This is done in order to prevent these economies from entering a recession due to lack of access to sufficient energy supplies. This week, however, US President Donald Trump said that Washington would not renew waivers for these countries, which include Italy, India, Turkey, South Korea and China. These waivers are now expected to run out on May 2, 2019, after which date the US has threatened to impose economic sanction on all countries that have substantial financial dealings with Tehran.

Many observers believe that these new sanctions will have a deep and immediate impact on the Iranian economy. But, according to Haaretz, the American sanctions are bringing Iran closer to Malaysia. Throughout the past month, says the Israeli newspaper, “atypical numbers” of oil tankers have been sailing between the two countries —a sign of trying to move as much oil as possible out of Iran before the US sanctions hit. Citing “Western intelligence officials”, Haaretz claims that Iran plans to continue to funnel funds from oil and natural gas sales through Malaysian banks. Much of that assistance, which sources claim will grow in the next month, is facilitated through Petronas, Malaysia’s state-owned oil company. As one of the world’s largest companies and the most powerful corporate entity in Malaysia, Petronas has immense political power. Much of the country’s political elite connected with Petronas —including the country’s current Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who was a senior advisor to the company in the early 2000s. In 2017, Petronas signed a cooperation agreement with an Iranian refinery facility and announced its intention to develop an emerging oilfield in the Middle Eastern country. Then in late 2018, Petronas officials traveled to Iran to sign a memorandum of understanding on mutual cooperation between the Malaysian company and Iran’s state-owned energy producer and distributor, the National Iranian Oil Company.

Haaretz notes that cultural and political ties between Malaysia and Iran run deep. The Southeast Asian country is one of a handful of nations that allow Iranians to visit without first having to obtain a visa. If fails to note, however, that in recent times there have been tensions between the two countries, due to concerns in Kuala Lumpur that Iran is trying to spread a militant version of Shia Islam in Malaysia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2019 | Permalink

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British spy agency calls Trump’s espionage claim ‘utterly ridiculous’

GCHQThe Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s primary signals-intelligence agency, has called claims by United States President Donald Trump that it spied on his election campaign “utterly ridiculous”. President Trump’s allegations are not new. They apparently rest on claims made in March 2017 by a Fox News commentator, that the GCHQ spied on Trump on orders of then-US President Barack Obama. The claim was repeated on March 17 at the White House by Sean Spicer, Trump’s then-press secretary, who said that Obama had used the GCHQ to spy on Trump so as to evade American privacy laws. At the time, Spicer’s claim prompted an angry response from the British government in London and from the British spy agency itself. In a rare public comment, GCHQ called the allegations “utterly ridiculous”.

This past Wednesday, the US president appeared to repeat his claim that GCHQ had spied on his election campaign, via a post on the popular social networking platform Twitter. Responding to a reiteration of the claim on the conservative cable television channel One America News Network, Trump tweeted “WOW! It is now just a question of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it will be a beauty!”. The president’s tweet appeared just hours after the British government confirmed that Trump had been invited for a four-day state visit to the United Kingdom in June. The visit is believed to include a meeting with British Prime Minster Theresa May and dinner with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Following Trump’s tweet, the US newsmagazine Newsweek contacted GCHQ with a request for a response to the US president’s allegation. A GCHQ spokesperson referred the newsmagazine to the agency’s 2017 statement, and repeated: “The allegations that GCHQ was asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored”. It is extremely rare for GCHQ —one of Britain’s most secretive and publicity-shy agencies— to respond publicly to stories in the media. Late on Wednesday, British Foreign Affairs Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the invitation to President Trump to visit London would not be rescinded, and insisted that Britain’s “special relationship” with the US remained “intact”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 April 2019 | Permalink

German spies dismiss US warnings about Huawei threat to 5G network

Huawei 2German intelligence officials appear to be dismissing Washington’s warning that it will limit security cooperation with Berlin if China’s Huawei Telecommunications is allowed to build Germany’s 5G network. The company, Huawei Technologies, is a private Chinese venture and one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it 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 an international campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with Britain, Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies.

In the past several months the United States has repeatedly warned Germany that intelligence sharing between the two countries will be threatened if the Chinese telecommunications giant is awarded a 5G contract by the German government. In March, Washington informed German officials that intelligence cooperation between the two allies would be severely impacted if Chinese telecommunications manufacturers were given the green light to build Germany’s 5G infrastructure. The warning was allegedly included in a letter to Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, written by Ambassador Richard Grenell, America’s top diplomat in Germany. The letter urged the German government to consider rival bids by companies belonging to American allies, such as the Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corporation, or the South Korean Samsung Corporation.

But a report by Bloomberg on Wednesday said that German authorities were not convinced by Grenell’s argument. Citing “four people with knowledge on the matter”, the news agency said that Germany’s intelligence community see Washington’s warnings as “political grandstanding”. The US and Germany “need each other’s resources to tackle global conflicts” and “rely on each other too much to risk jeopardizing crucial data sharing”, said the report. The anonymous officials told Bloomberg that Germany does benefit from America’s “vast array” of intelligence. However, German spy agencies also provide their American counterparts with crucial intelligence from several regions of the world, they said. The US Department of State did not comment on the Bloomberg report. The Chinese government has repeatedly dismissed allegations that Huawei poses an espionage threat to Western nations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 April 2019 | Permalink

Venezuelan ex-spy chief with ‘treasure trove of intel’ on Maduro arrested in Spain

Hugo CarvajalThe former director of Venezuela’s military spy agency, who is wanted in the United States for facilitating international drug trafficking, has been arrested in Spain and may be extradited to Washington. Hugo Carvajal is a retired general and former diplomat, who was a member of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s inner circle. From 2004 to 2011, under Chávez’s tutelage, Carvajal headed the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM). But in 2008, the US named Carvajal as a major facilitator of international drugs trafficking and imposed financial sanctions on his assets around the world. Washington accused Carvajal of assisting the paramilitary group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) transport drugs from Latin America to Mexico and from there to the US.

In 2014, the US government officially charged Carvajal with orchestrating a shipment of 1,200lbs of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico. Washington also charged Carvajal with supplying FARC drug traffickers with Venezuelan passports bearing fake names, which they used to travel internationally to avoid detection. In 2014, Carvajal was arrested by authorities in Aruba, a Dutch overseas territory in Latin America, where he was serving as Venezuela’s consul general. But, to Washington’s dismay, he was released after the Dutch government ruled that his diplomatic immunity gave him immunity from prosecution. Following his release, Carvajal returned to Venezuela, where he was given a hero’s welcome by Chávez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro. It came as a shock, therefore, when in February of this year Carvajal posted a video on social media in which he denounced Maduro and sided with his arch-nemesis, Juan Guaido, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Carvajal’s issued his video a few weeks after Guaido declared himself president of Venezuela, citing powers afforded to him by the country’s constitution. He has since been openly supported by the United States and dozens of other Western countries. In his video, Carvajal urged the Venezuelan armed forces to stop siding with Maduro and support Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president.

The BBC reported that, shortly after Carvajal’s arrest in Spain, the US Department of Justice filed a formal request for the former spy chief’s extradition to the US. But the Reuters news agency cited an unnamed US government official who said that Carvajal was in possession of a “treasure trove” of intelligence about Maduro’s administration. The US official hinted that Carvajal may have willingly given himself up to Spanish police to express his desire to cooperate with the US. He is scheduled to appear before Spain’s High Court on Saturday. The court has 24 hours following Carvajal’s arrest to rule whether he will be extradited or freed from detention.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2019 | Permalink

US prosecutors to use secret surveillance evidence in Huawei lawsuit

Huawei 2Prosecutors in the United States have informed lawyers representing the Chinese telecom- munications firm Huawei that they intend to use evidence obtained through secret surveillance in a lawsuit against the company. The case involves the arrest of Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities in December of last year. Meng, 47, is Huawei’s deputy chair and chief financial officer, and is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who founded the telecommunications giant in 1988. She was detained on December 1 in Vancouver at the request of the US, which claims it has evidence that she “tried to evade the American embargo against Iran”. On March 1, the Canadian Department of Justice formally commenced Meng’s extradition process to the US, which Huawei’s lawyers are currently seeking to prevent.

In a lawsuit brought by US government prosecu- tors against Huawei, the Chinese telecom- munications firm is accused of having conspired to defraud several multinational banks by misrepresenting its relationship with a company called Skykom Tech. Washington says that the company is in fact a front used to conceal illicit activities conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. American government prosecutors claim that Huawei worked with Skykom Tech to evade US-imposed economic sanctions on Iran. At a Thursday morning hearing in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York, Assistant US Attorney Alex Solomon said that US authorities had used “secret surveillance” to collect evidence against Huawei. He also said that the evidence had been obtained under a US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which is issued by a secret court and usually pertains to counterintelligence investigations —i.e. when a target is suspected of spying against the US.

Solomon said that the evidence against Huawei was “obtained […] from electronic surveillance and physical search”. He did not elaborate, but added that US government’s legal team had notified Huawei that it planned to use the FISA evidence in court. Last month Huawei rejected all charges filed against it. The company has not yet commented on the FISA evidence. The next date in the court case has been scheduled for June 19, 2019.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 April 2019 | Permalink

US Homeland Security Department accused of disbanding homegrown terrorism unit

Department of Homeland Security DHSSome employees of the United States Department of Homeland Security claim that a unit specializing on homegrown and domestic terrorism was inexplicably disbanded, leaving America vulnerable to attack. The allegations were published on Tuesday on the website of The Daily Beast, an investigative news and opinion website. In a leading article published on the site, reporter Betsy Woodruff cites “current and former DHS officials” with knowledge about the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), which is the intelligence wing of the DHS.

Woodruff claims that, until recently, I&A employoed a team of analysts that worked on potential threats from domestic terrorism activity and homegrown violent extremist individuals or groups. They then shared their reports with law enforcement on the state and local level, which is DHS’s mission. But in August of 2017, when David Glawe assumed the post of Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis, I&A experienced a major reorganization. The article alleges that Glawe —who was appointed by President Donald Trump— did away with the I&A unit that monitors domestic militancy, including far-right radicalization. Ever since that move, I&A have “significantly reduced their production [of analysis] on homegrown violent extremism and domestic terrorism”, according to a DHS official quoted in The Daily Beast piece. The I&A’s reduction in output has “generated significant concern at headquarters given the growth in right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism we are seeing in the US and abroad”, said another DHS official.

But in a written response to the website’s allegations, Glawe dismissed the claims as “patently false and the exact opposite of what we have done”. He went on to state that I&A has “significantly increased tactical intelligence reporting on domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists since 2016”. Referring to The Daily Beast’s claims, Glawe said that “those pushing such a narrative either do not understand intelligence collection efforts or don’t care about the truth”.

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

Moscow confirms arrival of Russian troops in Venezuela

Russian planes CaracasRussian media reports have confirmed that an airplane carrying 100 Russian troops arrived in Caracas on Saturday, causing tensions to rise between Washington and Moscow over the deepening crisis in Venezuela. The arrival of the Russian troops in the Venezuelan capital was first reported on Saturday morning by Venezuelan reporter Javier Mayorca, who said on Twitter that two Russian military airplanes had landed in Caracas. The reporter said that an Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo plane belonging to the Russian Air Force could be seen on the tarmac of the Simón Bolívar International Airport in the Venezuelan capital. Another, smaller aircraft, also bearing the Russian flag on its fuselage, landed shortly afterwards, said Mayorca.

Within hours, several Venezuelan media reports appeared to confirm Mayorca’s claims, some even posting photographs of the two Russian planes surrounded by what appeared to be uniformed Russian soldiers. The BBC reported that the Russian cargo plane had delivered 100 Russian troops and 35 tons of military equipment. The force was led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, commander of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, according to the BBC. Later on Saturday, the Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik confirmed that Russian troops had arrived in Caracas. Citing anonymous “diplomatic sources”, Sputnik said the Russian troops had been sent to Caracas in order “to fulfil technical military contracts” and “to take part in consultations […] on defense industry cooperation” with Venezuelan officials. It added that there was “nothing mysterious” about the visit and that it was “related to [military] contracts that had been signed by the two countries years ago”.

Russia has supported Venezuela militarily, economically and diplomatically ever since 1999, when Hugo Chávez became president. The recent political crisis in the Latin American country, which has prompted a direct diplomatic intervention by Washington, has brought Caracas and Moscow closer together, as Russia has strongly opposed efforts by the United States to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro. Earlier this year, Russia sent two Tu-160 long-range bomber aircraft to take part in a military exercise organized by the Venezuelan government.

On Monday, Washington said that the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov. Pompeo told his Russian counterpart that Moscow should “cease its unconstructive behavior” and warned him that the United States would “not stand idly by as Russia exacerbated tensions” in Venezuela. Late on Monday, Sputnik quoted a “diplomatic source” as saying that that the “visit of Russian military personnel to Venezuela [was] in no way connected to the statements of the United States on potential intervention in Venezuela”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 March 2019 | Permalink