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.

German intelligence spied on American, Turkish officials

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence agencies have spied on two successive American secretaries of state and are actively engaged in espionage in Turkey, even though both countries are allied members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported last week that German spies intercepted at least one telephone call made by American politician Hillary Clinton, while she was serving as secretary of state. The Munich-based newspaper said the intercepted telephone call was made over an unencrypted line while Clinton was travelling on an airplane belonging to the United States government. On Sunday, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel added that the interception of Clinton’s telephone call occurred in 2012, when the American secretary of state telephoned the former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to discuss his mediation efforts over the Syrian civil war. Der Spiegel said that Clinton had not been a direct target of a German intelligence operation and that her telephone conversation with Anan had been intercepted “by accident”, after it “quasi-randomly entered the listening network” of the BND, Germany’s federal intelligence agency. Spiegel added that the BND officers who conducted the interception passed the recording on to their superiors. The newsmagazine said that Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, also had a telephone conversation intercepted by the BND in 2013, again by accident. This time, however, the German intelligence officers immediately deleted the intercepted conversation, according to Spiegel. The article goes on to add that German intelligence circles insist the wiretapped conversations of the two US secretaries of state were accidentally recorded within the context of other intelligence-collection operations, and that the American politicians were not in and of themselves targets of the BND. The Spiegel article goes on to state, however, that the BND has been actively conducting espionage operations in NATO member-state Turkey since at least 2009. Read more of this post

Turkey in turmoil as 70 are arrested for spying on PM, spy chief

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkey’s political system appeared to be sinking deeper into crisis on Tuesday, as nearly 70 police officers, some of them senior, were arrested for illegally wiretapping the telephones of senior government figures, including the Prime Minster and the intelligence chief. At least 67 members of the country’s police force were arrested in raids that took place on Tuesday all over Turkey, while warrants have reportedly been issued for over 100 people. Many of the arrestees were seen being taken away in handcuffs by security personnel, including two former heads of Istanbul police’s counterterrorism unit. Hadi Salihoglu, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, said in a written statement issued on Tuesday that the suspects were part of a criminal conspiracy that had wiretapped phones belonging to Turkeys’ Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as Hakan Fidan, director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. Thousands of other phone lines had also been wiretapped, he added, belonging to journalists and government administrators, including judges and military officials. Salihoglu said the 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 Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government noted that one of the police officers arrested on Tuesday is 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 the Erdoğan cabinet. The investigation led to the exposure of corrupt practices by several cabinet members and their families, and resulted in several ministerial resignations. A few 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. Read more of this post