US fired Moscow embassy employee who may have spied for Russia

US embassy in RussiaA female Russian national who worked for the United States Secret Service in Moscow was quietly dismissed in 2017, amidst concerns that she was spying for Russia. British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the story last week, did not name the Russian woman. But it said that she had worked at the US Embassy in Moscow “for more than a decade”, most recently for the Secret Service –a federal law enforcement agency that operates within the Department of Homeland Security. The Secret Service has several missions, the most important of which is to ensure the physical safety of America’s senior political leadership.

Throughout her Secret Service career, the Russian woman is thought to have had access to the agency’s email system and intranet network, said The Guardian, citing “an intelligence source”. She could also potentially have had access to “highly confidential material”, said the paper, including the daily schedules of America’s past and current presidents and vice presidents, as well as their family members’ schedules.

The unnamed Russian national first came under suspicion in 2016, said The Guardian, during a routine security review conducted by two counterintelligence staff members at one of the Department of State’s Regional Security Offices (RSO). These reviews usually take place every five years and scan the background and activities of employees at American embassies abroad. The review showed that the unnamed Russian national was holding regular meetings with officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic intelligence service. In January of 2017, the Department of State reportedly shared its findings with the Secret Service. But the latter waited until several months later to fire the Russian woman, having decided to do so quietly, said The Guardian.

According to the paper, instead of launching a major investigation into the State Department’s findings, the Secret Service simply dismissed the woman by revoking her security clearance. The paper said that the Russian national’s dismissal took place shortly before the US embassy in Moscow was forced to remove or fire over 750 employees as part of Russia’s retaliation against economic sanctions imposed on it by Washington. That coincidence helped the Secret Service “contain any potential embarrassment” arising from claims of espionage, said The Guardian. The paper contacted the Secret Service and was told that “all Foreign Service nationals” working for the agency “are managed accordingly to ensure that […US] government interests are protected at all times”. Their duties, therefore, are “limited to translation, interpretation, cultural guidance, liaison and administrative support. This is of particular emphasis in Russia”, said a Secret Service spokesman, who refused to discuss specific cases.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2018 | Research credit: S.F. | Permalink

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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

Video footage shows alleged CIA spy tackled outside US Moscow embassy

US embassy scuffleA Russian television station has aired footage allegedly showing a Russian guard stationed outside the United States embassy in Moscow trying to stop an American diplomat from entering the embassy. The Kremlin claims that the alleged US diplomat was in fact a Central Intelligence Agency officer who was returning to the embassy in disguise following a spy operation. As intelNews reported on July 1, the incident took place in the early hours of Monday, June 6. The American diplomat was making his way to the front entrance of the US embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in downtown Moscow.

According to American sources, the diplomat was approached by an employee of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, which regularly stations security personnel around the sizeable US embassy complex. The FSB claims that the guards are there to protect US diplomats, though it is common knowledge that the Russian agency, which is responsible for counterespionage, is primarily there to monitor activities in and around the US embassy. American sources claim that the diplomat presented the Russian guard with proof of identification when asked to do so. But he was then physically attacked and struck repeatedly by the FSB officer, which left him with several injuries, including a broken shoulder. The diplomat managed to enter the embassy grounds and had to be flown out of the country for urgent medical treatment. He has not returned to Russia.

On Thursday, Russian television channel NTV aired video footage purporting to show the altercation between the US diplomat and the FSB guard. The video aired on NTV shows a man exiting a taxi in a hurry and heading to what appears to be the US embassy’s front-perimeter entrance. However, as the man makes heads for the entrance, a uniformed individual jumps out of a guard station located nearby and tackles the man, throwing him on the ground. A scuffle ensues, during which the alleged diplomat is seen desperately trying to reach the entrance of the US embassy, which is American soil. He eventually manages to enter the embassy grounds, despite the effort of the uniformed guard to prevent him from entering. The same NTV report identified the American diplomat as Daniel Van Dyken and showed the photograph of a man said to be him. The report states that Van Dyken serves as third secretary of the US embassy’s Political Department.

Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that the diplomat in question was an intelligence officer. “It is well known”, said Zakharova, “that this very diplomat was in fact an agent of the CIA and was returning [to the US embassy], in disguise, after conducting an intelligence operation the previous night”. She also said that the Russian government employee involved in the altercation was a “police officer” who was attacked by the alleged spy when he asked to be shown proof of identification. Instead of supplying identification documents, the American diplomat “struck the guard in the face with his elbow before disappearing into the embassy”, said Zakharova. The US State Department and the CIA have refused to comment on Zakharova’s allegations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 July 2016 | Permalink

Diplomat involved in fight with US embassy guard is CIA spy, says Russia

FSB - IAThe Russian government says that an American diplomat, who was allegedly beaten up by a Russian security guard outside the United States embassy compound in Moscow, is an undercover spy. The man, who has not been named, was stationed in the Russian capital by the State Department as an accredited diplomat with immunity from prosecution in Russia. However, The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the American diplomat was severely beaten by a Russian government employee while attempting to enter the US embassy compound.

The alleged incident is reported to have taken place in the early hours of Monday, June 6. The American diplomat was making his way to the front entrance of the US embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in downtown Moscow. According to American sources, the diplomat was approached by an employee of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, which regularly stations security personnel around the sizeable US embassy complex. The FSB claims that the guards are there to protect US diplomats, though it is common knowledge that the Russian agency, which is responsible for counterespionage, is primarily there to monitor activities in and around the US embassy. American sources claim that the diplomat presented the Russian guard with proof of identification when asked to do so. But he was then physically attacked and struck repeatedly by the FSB officer, which left him with several injuries, including a broken shoulder. According to The Washington Post, the diplomat managed to enter the embassy grounds and had to be flown out of the country for urgent medical treatment. He has not returned to Russia.

The US government believes the attack was intentional. But what caused it? One theory entertained by The Washington Post is that the diplomat was in fact an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency working in Moscow under official cover, pretending to be a State Department employee. According to this theory, the FSB was chasing the American diplomat through the streets of Moscow after a spy operation that went awry. The Russians then tried unsuccessfully to prevent him from entering the US embassy, which constitutes American soil.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that the diplomat in question was an intelligence officer. “It is well known”, said Zakharova, “that this very diplomat was in fact an agent of the CIA and was returning [to the US embassy], in disguise, after conducting an intelligence operation the previous night”. She also said that the Russian government employee involved in the altercation was a “police officer” who was attacked by the alleged spy when he asked to be shown proof of identification. Instead of supplying identification documents, the American diplomat “struck the guard in the face with his elbow before disappearing into the embassy”, said Zakharova. The US State Department and the CIA refused to comment on Zakharova’s allegations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 01 July 2016 | Permalink

Harassment of diplomats is part of escalating US-Russian ‘gray war’

US embassy in RussiaA notable increase in incidents of harassment of American diplomats stationed in Europe by Russian intelligence personnel appears to be part of what some officials describe as an escalating “gray war” between the US and Russia. For over a year now, American State Department personnel stationed in Europe have been complaining of a systematic campaign of “harassment and intimidation” against them and their families by Russian intelligence operatives. The campaign is allegedly being waged in Moscow and other European capitals, and has prompted one US diplomat to say that he and his colleagues were “feeling embattled out there in the embassy”. The Washington Post, which published the story on Monday, said that the diplomats’ concerns about the Russian campaign of intimidation were raised again at a recent meeting in Washington of US ambassadors serving in Europe and Russia.

According to The Post, some of the harassment can be characterized as routine, and involves Russian intelligence personnel conducting surveillance of American diplomats, taunting them at social events, or bribing local journalists to report negatively on their activities. But these pranks have allegedly become uglier and even criminal after 2014. The Post said that it had read “a series of secret memos” sent to the State Department by US embassies and consulates in Russia and Europe, which suggest that the increasing harassment of American diplomats is connected to the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia after its military intervention in Ukraine. In some instances, Russian intelligence operatives broke into the homes of American diplomats at night and rearranged the furniture, or turned on all the lights and electronic equipment before leaving. In another case, a US diplomat’s children were followed to school, while another’s car tires were slashed repeatedly, said the paper.

The State Department’s press secretary John Kirby told The Post that incidents of overt harassment of US diplomatic personnel by Russian government employees had indeed increased. Norm Eisen, America’s former ambassador to the Czech Republic, told the paper that the intimidation was part of “the gray war” between Washington and Moscow, which has escalated following Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine.

A statement from the Russian embassy in Washington denied that the Russian government was behind the alleged incidents. But it went on to state: “In diplomatic practice there is always the principle of reciprocity and, indeed, for the last couple of years our diplomatic staff in the United States has been facing certain problems”. This statement can be seen to imply that Russia is responding to instances of intimidation of its diplomats by US authorities. The statement added: “The deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations […] was not caused by us, but rather by the current [US] administration’s policy of sanctions and attempts to isolate Russia”. The Post said that US Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issued directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow in March, but that the harassment has continued. US President Barack Obama is apparently aware of the situation, but has ordered US intelligence agencies “not to respond with similar measures against Russian diplomats”, said the paper.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 1 June 2016 | Permalink

Dutch technical experts helped US bug foreign embassies in Cold War

Great Seal bugA tightly knit group of Dutch technical experts helped American spies bug foreign embassies at the height of the Cold War, new research has shown. The research, carried out by Dutch intelligence expert Cees Wiebes and journalist Maurits Martijn, has brought to light a previously unknown operation, codenamed EASY CHAIR. Initiated in secret in 1952, the operation was a collaboration between the United States Central Intelligence Agency and a small Dutch technology company called the Nederlands Radar Proefstation (Dutch Radar Research Station).

According to Dutch website De Correspondent, which published a summary of the research, the secret collaboration was initiated by the CIA. The American intelligence agency reached out to the Dutch technical experts after interception countermeasures specialists discovered a Soviet-made bug inside the US embassy in Moscow. The bug, known as ‘the Thing’, had been hidden inside a carved wooden ornament in the shape of the Great Seal of the United States. It had been presented as a gift to US Ambassador W. Averell Harriman by the Young Pioneer organization of the Soviet Union in 1945, in recognition of the US-Soviet alliance against Nazi Germany in World War II. But in 1952, the ornament, which had been hanging in the ambassador’s office in Moscow for seven years, was found to contain a cleverly designed listening device. The bug had gone undetected for years because it contained no battery and no electronic components. Instead it used what are known as ‘passive techniques’ to emit audio signals using electromagnetic energy fed from an outside source to activate its mechanism.

Wiebes and Martijn say the CIA reached out to the Dutch in 1952, soon after the discovery of ‘the Thing’, in fear that “the Soviets were streets ahead of the Americans when it came to eavesdropping technology”. According to the authors, the approach was facilitated by the BVD, the Cold War predecessor of the AIVD, Holland’s present-day intelligence agency. In the following years, technical specialists in the Netherlands produced the West’s answer to ‘the Thing’ —a device which, like its Soviet equivalent, used ‘passive techniques’ to emit audio signals. Moreover, the Americans are believed to have used the Dutch-made device to but at least two foreign embassies in The Hague, the Soviet Union’s and China’s, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The work by Wiebes and Martijn was initially published in Dutch by De Correspondent in September of last year. An English-language version of the article, which was published in December, can be read here.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 January 2016 | Permalink

Russia expelled ex-US embassy official who rebuffed spy advances

US embassy in MoscowBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Russian authorities expelled a former American diplomat living in Moscow earlier in May, less than two months after he allegedly rebuffed an offer to spy on the United States for Russia. The former official, Thomas Firestone, served two tours of duty as a Resident Legal Adviser at the American embassy in Moscow. He later joined the Moscow office of Baker & McKenzie, a US-based law firm with offices worldwide. Firestone had frequent and direct dealings with the Russian government in his capacity as a specialist in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This US law permits the prosecution of bribery cases in American courts. According to The New York Times, Firestone was approached in March of this year by operatives of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, one of the main successor agencies of the Soviet KGB. Citing “people familiar with the case”, The Times claims that the American lawyer turned down an offer to spy for Moscow on behalf of the FSB. On May 5, however, while returning to Moscow from a trip abroad, Firestone was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport, 18 miles outside of the Russian capital. After a 16-hour detention, the former Justice Department official was told that he had been declared persona non grata (undesirable) and was to be denied entrance into Russia; he was promptly placed on a flight to the US, which departed shortly afterwards. The Times says that it remains unclear at this point whether Firestone’s expulsion was directly connected to his alleged refusal to give in to the FSB’s espionage advances. However, the paper claims that the matter has been raised with the Russian government by the administration of US President Barack Obama. Read more of this post