US diplomats in Russia to be guarded by firm with ties to senior ex-KGB official

US embassy in RussiaSeveral American diplomatic facilities in Russia, including the United States embassy in Moscow, as well as consulates in other major Russian cities, will be guarded by a firm with ties to a former senior KGB official. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the company, Elite Security Holdings, is headquartered in Moscow but has offices throughout Europe and the former Soviet republics. The firm has its roots in an earlier venture co-founded by former KGB official Viktor G. Budanov. The 82-year-old Budanov served as director of the KGB’s K Directorate, also known as Second Chief Directorate, which was responsible for counterintelligence. Budanov no longer owns any part of Elite Security Holdings. But his son, Dimitri Budanov, is believed to be in charge of the firm’s headquarters in the Russian capital. The family is known to be politically close to Vladimir Putin, who served together in the KGB with Viktor Budanov in East Germany in the 1980s.

Elite Security Holdings was awarded a no-bid contract by the US Department of State’s Office of Acquisitions —meaning that no other company was solicited by the US government for the contract. The agreement was struck once US diplomatic facilities in Russia were forced by Moscow to cut their staff by 755 employees. That resulted in the firing of many staff members, most of them local Russians, whose job was to guard the perimeters of US diplomatic facilities, screen visitors, and patrol the embassy grounds. To make up for the loss of personnel, the Department of State hired Elite Security Holdings, which is authorized to operate in Russia as a private local company; its staff members are therefore not considered to be employees of Washington. But the private firm retains close links to Budanov, who spent 25 years outthinking the CIA as head of the KGB’s counterintelligence directorate.

The Times spoke to an anonymous US State Department official, who said that Elite Security Holdings personnel would not have access to the embassy’s secure areas. The official also told the paper that all Elite Security Holdings employees had been carefully screened by “relevant national and local agencies” and posed no threat to the security of US diplomatic facilities. The latter would still be primarily protected by US Marines, who are detailed to the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. According to The Times, Elite Security Holdings personnel will work at the US embassy in Moscow, and the consulates in Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 November 2017 | Permalink

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Researcher seeks access to classified US document about Gandhi killing

Mahatma GandhiA researcher is seeking access to a potentially revealing classified telegram sent by a United States diplomat who witnessed the assassination of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Gandhi, the leader of the Indian movement for independence, and a towering civil rights figure of the 20th century, was assassinated on January 30, 1948, as he was about to hold a prayer meeting in downtown New Delhi. His assassin, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, was a member of a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group, who blamed Gandhi for the bloody partition of India. He and a co-conspirator, Narayan Apte, were arrested for Gandhi’s murder and put to death in 1949.

But there are many who claim that Gandhi’s assassination resulted from a far larger conspiracy, involving many more people and groups, but was covered up. One such proponent is Mumbai-based researcher Dr Pankaj Phadnis, who has been pushing for a new official investigation into Gandhi’s assassination since 1996. Last week, Dr Phadnis petitioned India’s Supreme Court, arguing that an American intelligence officer was present during Gandhi’s assassination and filed a report that may point to a broader conspiracy to kill the Indian civil rights leader. Dr Phadnis also argues that American intelligence agencies may have been involved in a secret effort to protect Gandhi from physical danger.

The Mumbai-based researcher told the Indian Supreme Court that he was able to obtain access to American diplomatic documents during one of his recent visits to the US National Archives and Research Administration in Washington, DC. Among them were telegrams sent to the Department of State by the US embassy in New Delhi before and after Gandhi’s assassination. The two most telling telegrams, said Dr. Phadnis, were written shortly after the assassination by a longtime American diplomat, Herbert Tom Reiner. According to many eyewitness accounts, including Reiner’s own, Reiner was present during Gandhi’s assassination, and was standing no more than five feet from the Indian leader when he was shot by Godse. The American diplomat helped apprehend the assassin before he and others surrendered him to the authorities.

Reiner submitted two telegrams to Washington as soon as he returned to the US embassy following Gandhi’s assassination, which Dr Phadnis was able to access. But a third one, sent at 8:00 p.m. that same evening, remains classified and out of the reach of researchers. Dr Phadris said he filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US government and is expecting an answer. Now he is trying to get the Indian courts to agree that the existence of new evidence, including Reiner’s telegrams, justify the reopening of the probe into Gandhi’s assassination.

Reiner left India in the summer of 1949 and served briefly as assistant attaché in Budapest, Hungary, before being transferred again, this time to Seoul, South Korea. He then held posts in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Canberra. He died in 1999 in the US state of Massachusetts.

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

FBI accuses US State Department official of contacts with Chinese spies

US Department of StateAn employee of the United States Department of State has been charged with lying to authorities about her contacts with Chinese intelligence operatives, who gave her money and gifts in return for information. Candace Claiborne, 60, joined the Department of State in 1999 as an office management specialist. She lives in Washington, DC, but has served overseas in American diplomatic facilities in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and China, where she was stationed in Beijing and Shanghai. According to information provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Claiborne had a top security clearance, which required her to report contacts with foreign nationals.

However, federal prosecutors said earlier this week that Claiborne interacted on a regular basis with Chinese intelligence personnel without informing her employer. According to court documents, her contacts with the Chinese were extensive and occurred from 2011 until earlier this year. The Chinese gave Claiborne gifts, including computers and smartphones, tuition-free studies in a Chinese technical school, and an all-expenses-paid holiday to Thailand. They also gave her a regular stipend and provided her with a furnished apartment abroad, according to prosecutors. In return, Claiborne allegedly gave the Chinese information relating to American economic policy on China, among other topics.

It appears that the FBI monitored the State Department employee for a while, after securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court warrant. When it confronted Claiborne, she apparently denied the accusations and lied to FBI agents. She is now charged with obstruction of justice and providing false statements to the FBI. Claiborne is currently under house arrest and will remain there until April 18, when she will appear at a preliminary hearing in Washington. She is reportedly facing a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 March 2017 | Permalink

US government to set up ‘anti-propaganda center’ after Obama signs new law

Barack ObamaUnited States President Barack Obama has signed a new law that designates $160 million to set up a government center for “countering foreign propaganda and disinformation”. The law authorizes the US departments of State and Defense to work with other federal agencies in establishing the new body. Its precise tasks are not yet known, nor is the role in it —if any— of intelligence agencies, though the Director of National Intelligence is mentioned in the body of the legislation.

The legislation is entitled “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act”, and it was introduced in both chambers of the US Congress last spring by Republican and Democrat legislators. It was initially entitled “Countering Information Warfare Act”, but was subsequently revised and included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017. It was approved by the House of Representatives on December 2, and by the Senate on December 8. President Obama signed it into law on December 23. Under the new law, the Department of Justice has to take initiative within 180 days, and collaborate with the Department of Defense, before reaching out to “other relevant departments and agencies”. Resulting from this process will be the establishment of a “Center for Information Analysis and Response”. The goal of the Center will be to collect and analyze “foreign government information warfare efforts”, and to “expose and counter foreign information operations” directed against “US national security interests”. The plan will be funded in the amount of $160 million over two years.

Rob Portman, a Republican US Senator from Ohio, who co-sponsored the bill, hailed it as “a critical step towards confronting the extensive, and destabilizing, foreign propaganda and disinformation operations being waged against us by our enemies overseas”. But the Russian government-owned broadcaster RT called the new law “ominous” and “controversial”, and said the US government was “itself pushing propaganda on its own domestic population”. In an article published on Tuesday, the Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post said the new legislation was aimed at China, as well as at Russia. The newspaper cited Chinese experts who warned that Washington and Beijing “could head down the slippery slope toward ideological confrontation” as a result of the new law.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2016 | Permalink

US denies it plans to free top intelligence analyst who spied for Cuba

Ana Belen MontesThe White House has no plans to release an American former military analyst who spied for the government of Cuba, according to an official letter sent to a member of the United States Congress. The denial came weeks after some media reports in Miami and Cuba suggested that Washington was examining a request by Havana to release Ana Belen Montes, an American intelligence analyst and expert on Cuba, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for spying on the United States on behalf of Cuba.

Montes, who is the daughter of an American military doctor, grew up in Kansas. In 1985 she joined the Defense Intelligence Agency, a US Department of Defense body that collects and analyzes military-related information abroad. Montes quickly distinguished herself in the DIA, and by the mid-1990s she was seen as one of the US government’s most knowledgeable and capable Cuba experts. She was the main author of nearly every major assessment on Cuba that was produced by the US Intelligence Community in the 1990s. But on September 21, 2001, Montes was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with having committed espionage for Cuba. During her trial, US government prosecutors argued that Montes had been recruited by Cuban intelligence before she joined the DIA, and that she eventually compromised every US intelligence collection program targeting the Caribbean island. The former DIA analyst was also accused of having given Havana the identities of US intelligence officers who had secretly operated in Cuba. In 2002, Montes was sentenced to 25 years in prison, after pleading guilty to having committed espionage throughout her 16-year career at the DIA.

But in recent months, there has been speculation that Montes could be released and allowed to relocate to Cuba. In return, Havana would reportedly extradite to the US Assata Shakur, a former member of militant black nationalist groups in the United States, who is wanted for the 1973 murder of a state trooper in the state of New Jersey. Shakur, whose birth name is JoAnne Deborah Byron, escaped from an American prison in 1979 and resurfaced in Cuba in 1984. The island’s socialist government gave Shakur political asylum, but the FBI has designated her a terrorist.

The rumors about a possible exchange between Montes and Shakur prompted US Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to voice concern. In a letter to US President Barack Obama, Nunes urged against Montes’ release. The Congressman described the imprisoned former intelligence analyst as “one of the most brazen traitors in US history” and remarked that she “richly deserved her 25-year prison sentence, and must serve every day of it”. According to El Nuevo Herald, Nunes received a written response from the US Department of State, which said that “the United States government has no intention of releasing or exchanging Montes”. According to the Florida-based, Spanish-language newspaper, the State Department letter “assured” Nunes that it was “responding on the president’s behalf”, suggesting that the Obama administration has no plans to release Montes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 August 2016 | Permalink

Brazil’s new acting president was US embassy intelligence source in 2006

Temer RousseffThe new acting president of Brazil briefed American diplomats on sensitive political matters in 2006, according to cables published by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Michel Temer is leader of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as PMDB. Although it is one of Brazil’s largest political parties, the PMDB has been unable to muster enough electoral support to govern the country on its own. As a result, under Temer’s leadership, the PMDB has been a partner of every governing coalition in Brazil since 1995. During the administration of leftwing President Dilma Rousseff, Temer held the post of Vice President.

But in March of this year, the PMDB dropped its support of Rousseff, accusing her of financial irregularities. In April, the speaker of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Brazilian Parliament), Eduardo Cunha, who is himself a PMDB member, spearheaded impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Eventually, these efforts were successful, leading to the suspension of the president, who is currently undergoing an impeachment trial. In the meantime, Temer assumed the role of president, as stipulated by the Brazilian constitution. This has led Rousseff to denounce the proceedings as a coup orchestrated by the PMDB.

Throughout this process, the United States, which has had a tense relationship with President Rousseff, and her predecessor, the leftwinger Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has maintained a discrete silence. But two leaked cables produced by the US embassy in Brazil in 2006, show that Temer, who led the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, was considered an intelligence informant by US diplomats. The cables, which were published on Friday by WikiLeaks, appear to show that Temer briefed US diplomats at length on sensitive matters relating to domestic Brazilian politics on at least two occasions. The cables, dated January 11 and June 21, 2006, are marked “sensitive but unclassified” and “Political Affairs—Intelligence” by their author, Christopher McMullen, who was then US consul general in Brazil. They detail the content of conversations that Temer, who was then a member of Congress, had with McMullen and an unnamed US official in the embassy’s political section.

There is no reason to assume from these cables that Temer was a paid informant, or that he was even a regular source of information for US diplomats. Nor is there any evidence that the US officials who met with Temer worked for US intelligence. However, it is clear in the cables that the Brazilian politician relayed sensitive information about his personal electoral plans, the plans of the PMDB, as well as the domestic politics of his party, which includes an analysis of various factions. Moreover, he appears to discuss matters of political strategy that are not meant for general consumption.

Ironically, the June 21 cable contains McMullen’s unfavorable assessment of Temer and the PMDB, which he describes as a “a group of opportunistic regional leaders” who have “no ideology or policy framework” and thus lack “a coherent national political agenda”. Temer was sworn in as president on May 12 and will remain in the post for no more than 180 days, during which time the outcome of the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff will be determined.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2016 | Permalink

Washington to investigate Chinese-owned radio stations in the US

CRI ChinaAuthorities in Washington are preparing to launch an investigation into a dozen radio stations operating in major cities in the United States, which are allegedly owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government. The investigation appears to have been sparked by a report published by the Reuters news agency on Monday, which claims that the Chinese government is operating a “covert radio network” inside the US, aimed at broadcasting news reports that reflect Chinese views. According to Reuters, the radio stations broadcast in at least a dozen large American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

All stations in question are managed by broadcasting firm G&E Studioa, based in West Covina, California, which is owned by James Su, a Shanghai-born American broadcasting entrepreneur. According to the news agency, G&E Studio controls the vast majority of these stations’ air time, which it fills with entertainment and public-affairs programming produced in its studios in California. However, the Reuters report claimed that G&E Studio is 60% owned by China Radio International (CRI), which is a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster. Founded as Radio Peking in 1941, then renamed to Radio Beijing during the Cold War, CRI is the Chinese equivalent of the Voice of America or the BBC World Service: it is officially affiliated with the Chinese government and reflects its point of view. What is more, said Reuters, some of the programming aired on G&E Studio-managed stations is produced by CRI in Beijing. Consequently, news programming on these stations tends to reflect the Chinese government’s point of view, on subjects such as Taiwan, naval rights in the South China Sea, trade policies and other major topics of the day.

The investigation has been launched by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because American law prohibits representatives of foreign governments, or foreign governments themselves, from owning or managing US broadcast stations. Moreover, individuals or companies seeking to influence American politics or public opinion on behalf of a foreign agency, group or government, must register with the US Department of State. It doesn’t appear that G&E-owned radio stations have done that, said Reuters on Monday. The news agency quoted FCC spokesman Neil Grace, who said that an investigation had been launched into “the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated”. The Department of State, however, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation into G&E Studios was underway.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 November 2015 | Permalink