Television program about the Mossad prompts controversy, strong denials in Israel

Tamir PardoIsraeli officials have denied reports that the head of the country’s internal security service was asked by the prime minister to spy on the director of the Mossad intelligence agency and the head of the military. The denials were prompted by allegations that will be made in full on Thursday, when the latest installment of the investigative news program Uvda (Fact) will be aired on Israel’s Channel 12 television channel. According to the program, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that the personal phones of senior Israeli security officials, including those of the heads of the Mossad and the military, be wiretapped for security reasons.

The investigative news program reported on May 31 that the “unprecedented” request has its roots in a “major secret program” that was launched by the Israeli government in 2012. The program required a major transformation of the country’s intelligence budget, staffing and resources. Although numerous individuals from nearly every facet of the Israeli intelligence community had been briefed on the project, the Israeli prime minister was concerned about leaks to the media. He therefore kept his cabinet in the dark about the program, and did not consult with the Knesset, or even the members of the Knesset’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Secret Services, which is required by law to be kept fully informed about Israeli intelligence operations.

Uvda further alleges that in 2013 Netanyahu convened an extraordinary meeting of senior officials, which included the participation of the attorney general, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security service) and others. It was during that meeting, according to Uvda, when Netanyahu allegedly approached Yora Cohen, the then-director of the Shin Bet, and asked him to “monitor the partners of the secret project”. When asked what he meant, Netanyahu allegedly said that the directors of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Mossad should have their telephones monitored for possible unauthorized leaks to the media. Two names mentioned during that meeting, according to Uvda: Tamir Pardo, head of the Mossad, and Benny Gantz, the IDF’s chief of staff. Both men were new at their posts. Eventually, however, when Cohen took Netanyahu’s request to senior officials at the Ministry of Defense, “they were shocked and rejected it”, Uvda reports.

On Sunday, Cohen took the unusual step of issuing a denial of Uvda’s allegations, calling “reports in the media” about the prime minister having instructed him to “specifically wiretap Gantz and Pardo […] untrue”. The Office of the Prime Minister also denied the Uvda report, describing it in a statement as “utterly baseless”. The statement went on to say that Uvda’s allegations represented “a total distortion of systemic efforts that are made from time to time to safeguard sensitive information related to Israel’s security”. Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu directly criticized comments made by Pardo on the same program, which the Israeli leader saw as damaging to the reputation of the Mossad. Pardo told Uvda that “the fun part” about working for the Mossad was that the agency is “basically a crime syndicate with a license”. Netanyahu took exception to those comments on Sunday, saying that “the Mossad is not a criminal organization. It is a superb organization that does sacred work in the fight against terrorism and other threats to the state of Israel. We all salute it”.

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

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Pristine Cold War-era wiretapping rooms uncovered in Slovenian hotel

Hotel JamaFour hidden communications-surveillance compartments which are believed to date back to the Cold War, have been found in one of the most prestigious hotels of the former Yugoslavia. The discovery was made during an extensive renovation project that was recently completed in the Hotel Jama. The hotel is located in the southeastern Slovenian city of Postojnska, near the Italian border. For over a century, Postojnska has been famous for its network of limestone caves, which are among the largest in the world. Eager to cater to Italian, Austrian and other Western tourists, the government of Yugoslavia began construction on Hotel Jama in 1969. The hotel opened its doors in 1971, amidst much publicity and fanfare. It eventually became known as one of the most luxurious hotels in the communist world.

As the hotel’s reputation soared, the government of Yugoslavia began hosting foreign dignitaries there. Though socialist, the government of Yugoslavia never became an integral member of the communist bloc, preferring a policy of nonalignment. Because of that, it was courted by both East and West, with many Western leaders and other officials visiting the country regularly. On many occasions, they would use Hotel Jama as a retreat. Numerous world leaders stayed there with their entourage, escorted by Yugoslavia’s longtime communist leader Josip Broz, known commonly as Tito.

Today the hotel is situated on the territory of Slovenia, a small mountainous state of two million people, which declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The regional instability caused by the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s nearly demolished Slovenia’s tourism industry, and Hotel Jama was forced to declare bankruptcy. In 2010, under new ownership, the hotel underwent major renovations. These were completed in 2016, when the hotel opened its doors to the public once again. It was during these renovations that construction crews discovered the surveillance rooms. The four compartmented rooms were found behind a large door made of steel at the back of the hotel, and are adjacent to a network of limestone caves, for which the area is famous.

News reports said the four rooms feature 1970s-era wiretapping equipment, most of which appears to be in pristine condition. There is a thick layer of dust over all the surfaces, which indicates that the rooms have not been used in several decades. The construction crews also found sets of cables that run from the surveillance compartments to several guest rooms in the hotel’s original wing that dates to the early 1970s.

Experts suggest that the rooms were built in the early stages of the hotel’s construction in the late 1960s. The equipment was probably operated by the State Security Service (SDB), Yugoslavia’s internal security police. It is believed that the surveillance facilities were used to facilitate the systematic wiretapping of foreign dignitaries and delegations that frequented the hotel during the Cold War. Hotel Jama’s administration said on Wednesday that there are plans to turn the surveillance rooms into part of an exhibit on the Cold War history of the establishment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 April 2017 | Permalink

Macedonian ex-spy chief is among officers indicted for wiretap scandal

Zoran ZaevSeveral former and current intelligence officers, including a former director of the national spy service, have appeared in court in Macedonia, accused of illegally wiretapping thousands of people on orders of the government. The wiretap scandal has sparked the deepest political crisis in the impoverished Balkan country, which has existed since declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The scandal was revealed last year by Zoran Zaev leader of the leftwing Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which is the main political opposition in the country of 2 million people. According to information that has since surfaced in the national media, the wiretapping scheme targeted nearly 6,000 telephone numbers between 2008 and 2015. The wiretaps allegedly resulted in the recording of private conversations of 20,000 people, including members of the media, the judiciary, law enforcement, politicians, and church officials. Zaev claims that the wiretaps were orchestrated by the country’s prime minister at the time, Nikola Gruevski, and his cousin, Saso Mijalkov, who led the country’s main spy agency, the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence (UBK), from 2006 until 2015. Zaev’s revelations led to the resignation of Prime Minister Gruevski, which resulted in early elections that have been scheduled for December of this year.

The names of 10 former and current intelligence officers who were charged last Friday have not been made public. But the office of the special prosecutor said that the individuals include a former director of the UBK. Prosecutors also said they have evidence that proves that some of the wiretaps continued even 2015, when Zaev revealed their existence. The recently resigned Gruevski, who is running again for prime minister with the rightwing VMRO-DPMNE party, has dismissed Zaev’s allegations as lies. He also accuses the special prosecutor of being a secret supporter of the opposition and of helping Zaev implement a constitutional coup against his administration. Next month’s elections have been already postponed twice, which leads some in the media to speculate that they may not take place until 2017.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 November 2016 | Permalink

Colombian ex-spy head sent to prison over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In reporting on Hurtado’s sentencing, the Reuters news agency noted on Thursday that approximately “two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency […] have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes”. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that several senior Colombian justice officials have called for a wider investigation of Uribe himself and several of his top aides, for their role in the DAS wiretapping program.

Revealed: DEA’s massive phone tapping scheme that preceded NSA’s

Drug Enforcement AdministrationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
For nearly a decade before 9/11 and the controversial phone tapping program enacted by the National Security Agency, another American intelligence organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration, operated a mass phone surveillance scheme. The scheme, which is no longer in effect, collected data on billions of phone exchanges involving Americans and became a blueprint for NSA’s post-9/11 monitoring efforts. The DEA surveillance program was first disclosed in a report by the Department of Justice in January of this year. But its history, as well as its full extent, were fully revealed on Tuesday by USA Today.

The paper said the DEA program was initiated in 1992, during the presidency of George Bush, Sr., and was aimed at monitoring call data to and from “designated foreign countries” that were “linked to drug trafficking”. But the program grew to monitor data on every call made to and from the US to as many as 116 nations, said the paper, including every country in the Americas. In all, billions of calls were monitored in the over two decades that the program lasted. Citing interviews with “more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials”, USA Today said the DEA surveillance program did not access the content of intercepted phone calls, but rather the pen-register data, namely which numbers were dialed and when.

The intercepted information enabled the DEA to trace transnational networks of traffickers and money handlers used by large drug cartels. Information acquired through the program was also used for non-narcotics-related investigations, said the paper. However, the two-decade-long program did not utilize court warrants, and was thus very similar to the NSA’s controversial wiretapping scheme revealed by a series of whistleblowers in the years following 9/11. USA Today said the DEA stopped the surveillance program in September of 2013. Shortly after that, said the paper, the database containing the information collected through the program was deliberately purged.

Colombian ex-spy head convicted over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been convicted for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In delivering its unanimous guilty verdict, Colombia’s Supreme Court said on Friday that Hurtado had “abused her authority” through a series of “wrongful and arbitrary acts”, which included the systematic “unlawful violation of communications”. Commenting on the court’s decision, a lawyer for one of Hurtado’s victims, former senator Piedad Cordoba, said the court should also consider the question of “who drove [Hurtado] to commit the offenses” against Uribe’s critics. Many of the victims in the court case against Hurtado have publicly accused former President Uribe of ordering the wiretaps. He denies the accusations. Hurtado could face up to 18 years in prison. She is expected to be sentenced today.

Turkish prosecutor indicts 13 with tapping PM’s phone

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkeys’ chief public prosecutor has indicted 13 suspects with charges of wiretapping the personal telephone of the country’s former prime minister. Authorities believe the suspects are part of a broader criminal conspiracy whose members wiretapped phones belonging to senior political figures, as well journalists and government administrators, including judges and military officials. The indictment was presented on Tuesday before the 7th high criminal court in Turkish capital Ankara. It accuses the 13 suspects of conducting systematic “political and military spying”, and claims they targeted the personal telephone communications of Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time. The charges represent the culmination of a tumultuous period of antagonism between Mr. Erdoğan and his critics in Turkey, who accuse him of absolutism and megalomania. Last July over 100 members of the country’s police force were arrested in raids that took place on all over Turkey. They were accused of illegally wiretapping the telephones of senior government figures including Mr. Erdoğan and Hakan Fidan, director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. Hadi Salihoglu, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, said at the time that the alleged conspirators had concocted a fake police investigation of a made-up terrorist organization called Tevhid-Selam (Al-Quds Army, in English), in order to justify the wiretapping of the officials’ phone lines. However, critics of Mr. Erdoğan noted that one of the police officers arrested in July was the former deputy chief of the Istanbul police department’s financial crimes unit, which earlier this year led an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by senior members of Erdoğan’s former cabinet. The investigation led to the exposure of corrupt practices by several cabinet members and their families, and resulted in several ministerial resignations. Several months ago, a wiretapped conversation emerged in the media, in which Mr. Erdoğan can allegedly be heard discussing with his son how to hide large sums of money. Some observers have expressed the view that the leaked telephone conversation between the two men emerged from the Tevhid-Selam investigation, which may be why Mr. Erdoğan has now decided to shut it down and arrest those behind it. The 13 suspects are expected to stand trial in Ankara once the court approves the indictment by the office of the prosecutor. Mr. Erdoğan is listed as a plaintiff in the indictment.