Friday, December 6, 2019

Russia, Lithuania and Norway exchange prisoners in rare three-way spy-swap

Frode Berg

A rare three-way spy-swap has reportedly taken place between Russia and two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, Lithuania and Norway. Rumors of a possible exchange of imprisoned spies between the three countries first emerged in mid-October. However, all three governments had either denied the rumors or refused to comment at the time. It now turns out that the spy-swap, which international news agencies described as “carefully coordinated” was the result of painstaking negotiations between the three countries, which lasted several months.
A major part of the process that led to last week’s spy swap was the decision of the Lithuanian parliament to approve altering the country’s criminal code. The new code allows the president of Lithuania to pardon foreign nationals who have been convicted of espionage, if doing so promotes Lithuania’s national interest. The new amendment also outlines the process by which the government can swap pardoned foreign spies with its own spies —or alleged spies— who may have been convicted of espionage abroad. On Friday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda announced he had pardoned two Russian nationals who had been convicted of espionage against Lithuania, in accordance with the new criminal code. The president’s move was approved by the country’s multi-agency State Defense Council during a secret meeting.
Shortly after President Nausėda’s announcement, Sergei Naryshkin, Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) said that Moscow would immediately proceed with “reciprocal steps”. The Kremlin soon released from prison two Lithuanian nationals, Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamosaitis. Tamosaitis was serving a 12-year prison sentence, allegedly for carrying out espionage for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry in 2015. Mataitis, a dual Lithuanian-Russian citizen, was serving 13 years in prison, allegedly for supplying Lithuanian intelligence with classified documents belonging to the Russian government.
The two Lithuanians were exchanged for two Russians, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergei Moisejenko. Filipchenko is believed to be an officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who was arrested by Lithuanian counterintelligence agents in 2015. He had been given a 10-year prison sentence for trying to recruit double agents inside Lithuania, allegedly in order to install listening bugs inside the office of the then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. Moisejenko was serving a 10½ year sentence for conducting espionage and for illegally possessing firearms. Lithuania alleges that Moisejenko had been tasked by Moscow with spying on the armed forces of Lithuania and NATO. Along with the two Lithuanians, Russia freed Frode Berg (pictured), a Norwegian citizen who was serving a prison sentence in Russia, allegedly for acting as a courier for the Norwegian Intelligence Service.
On Saturday, Darius Jauniškis, Director of Lithuania’s State Security Department, told reporters in Vilnius that the spy swap had taken place in a remote part of the Russian-Lithuanian border. He gave no further information about the details exchange, or about who was present at the site during the spy-swap.

Elite Russian spy unit used French Alps region as logistical base

Chamonix France

An elite group Russian military intelligence officers, who have participated in assassinations across Europe, have been using resorts in the French Alps as logistical and supply bases, according to a new report. The report concerns Unit 29155 of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commonly known as GRU. According to The New York Times, which revealed its existence of 29155 in October, the unit has been operating for at least 10 years. However, Western intelligence agencies only began to focus on it in 2016, after it was alleged that an elite group of Russian spies tried to stage a coup in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro.
Unit 29155 is believed to consist of a tightly knit group of intelligence officers led by Major General Andrei V. Averyanov, a hardened veteran of Russia’s Chechen wars. The existence of the unit is reportedly so secret that even other GRU operatives are unlikely to have heard of it. Members of the unit frequently travel to Europe to carry out sabotage and disinformation campaigns, kill targets, or conduct other forms of what some experts describe as the Kremlin’s hybrid war. They are believed to be responsible for the attempt on the life of Sergei Skripal, a former GRU intelligence officer who defected to Britain. He almost died in March 2018, when two Russian members of Unit 29155 poisoned him in the English town of Salisbury.
On Wednesday, a new report in the French newspaper Le Monde claimed that Unit 29155 used the French Alps as a “rear base” to carry out operations throughout Europe. According to the paper, the information about the unit’s activities in France emerged following forensic investigations of the activities of its members by British, Swiss, French and American intelligence agencies. In the same article, Le Monde published the names of 15 members of Unit 29155, which allegedly stayed in various French alpine towns and cities between 2014 and 2018. The paper said that they traveled to France from various countries in Europe, such as Spain, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or directly for Russia.
The alleged Russian spies stayed in France’s Haute-Savoie, which borders Switzerland, and is among Europe’s most popular wintertime tourist destinations. The area includes the world-famous Mont Blanc mountain range and the picturesque alpine towns of Annemasse, Evian and Chamonix. Several members of the unit visited the region repeatedly, said Le Monde, while others entered France once or twice, in connection with specific spy missions. It is believed that the reasoning behind their trips to the French Alps was to blend in with the large numbers of international tourists that travel to the region throughout the year. However, the unit also utilized several other areas in Eastern Europe as rear bases, including cities and towns in Moldova, Montenegro and Bulgaria, said Le Monde.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

ISIS is expanding around globe despite Baghdadi death – carrying out ‘on average 10 terror attacks EVERY DAY’

ISIS is expanding around the globe despite elusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death - carrying out an average 10 terror attacks EVERY DAY, an expert warns.
While US President Donald Trump says that the shadowy group is "100 per cent" defeated, politicians and experts urge people to remain vigilant as ISIS "still has fighters".

 'We must remain extremely vigilant to mitigate the risk ISIS poses' say politicians and experts
General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander Joint Forces command – who led the UK Armed Forces until his retirement three years ago – told LBC that his death was a “significant moment in the campaign against ISIS".
He added that Baghdadi, “was their most iconic leader, and his death is a major blow to that organisation."
But, the expert added, we “should absolutely in no way think that this is the end of ISIS.
“It’s already a very distributed organisation, that claims something like 10 attacks around the world every day.
"So the death of Baghdadi in Syria is not going to affect what may now happen in the Philippines, or Nigeria, or elsewhere in Syria and Iraq.
“It still remains a powerful and very violent organisation that wishes us all here in the UK serious harm.”
And Republican Mike Rogers, who is on the House Homeland Security Committee, warned: "About 10,000 ISIS fighters remain in the region and will continue to carry out guerrilla attacks and seek new territory."

Russia Launches New Battle Ship to ‘Defend National Interests’ in the Arctic

Russia has unveiled a new combat icebreaker vessel in St. Petersburg on Friday which it says will help defend its national interests in the Arctic, the state-run TASS news agency reported.
The launch of the Ivan Papanin comes amid Russia’s rapid military and economic development in its strategic Arctic region. Earlier this month, over 12,000 troops took part in nuclear war drills across Russia’s Arctic. Russia has also said it obtained new data that supports its territorial claims in the Arctic.
According to Viktor Cherkov, an admiral at the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation responsible for the ship’s construction, the Ivan Papanin is “unique” for its versatility and will able to perform the tasks of a tugboat and patrol ship in addition to its role as an icebreaker.
“We wanted to create a ship that can give security to our fleet in the Arctic. At the same time it will be able to assist in scientific research. Overall the fleet will defend our national interests in the Arctic.”
The ship will be supplied with a portable anti-aircraft missile system and artillery installation and will act as a permanent base for a military helicopter.

German Role in Developing Soviet Nuclear Program Revealed in Newly Declassified Documents

Russia’s state nuclear firm Rosatom has declassified the personal files of German scientists involved in the Soviet nuclear program after World War II.
The Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb ahead of schedule in 1949, an achievement largely attributed to German experts and Soviet espionage on the U.S. Manhattan Project. Stalin had awarded prestigious state prizes to German specialists in the late 1940s and early 1950s for their contribution to the Soviet atomic bomb project.
Rosatom’s newly declassified trove features special-purpose questionnaires filled out by six German scientists, one of which was completed by Nobel Prize winner Gustav Hertz
The trove also includes a declassified order by NKVD intelligence service chief Lavrenty Beria to move German special equipment to a Soviet lab dated May 15, 1945, less than a week after Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender.
Pavel Oleynikov, a group leader at one of two centers for Russia’s nuclear program, detailed the role of German scientists in the Soviet nuclear program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California.
“While the Soviets did not need the Germans’ help to build an atomic weapon, their contributions certainly accelerated the Soviets’ push to become a nuclear weapon state,” Oleynikov wrote in 2000. 
Rosatom has published a series of previously classified documents in the past week to commemorate next year’s 75th anniversary of the Russian nuclear industry.

British SAS heroes ‘took part in hunt and kill mission that saw ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi blow himself up’

ELITE SAS troops took part in the daring raid to hunt down and kill ISIS boss Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
American special forces descended on the terror chief’s Syrian bolthole on Saturday night, where he was hiding after the fall of the “Caliphate”.
 Al-Baghdadi at a secret location in an ISIS propaganda video earlier this year
Al-Baghdadi at a secret location in an ISIS propaganda video earlier this yearCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Rubble above the site of the tunnel where Baghdadi is believed to have blown himself up, in north-western Syria
Rubble above the site of the tunnel where Baghdadi is believed to have blown himself up, in north-western SyriaCredit: AFP or licensors
Donald Trump said the cowering killer died “crying, whimpering and screaming” along with eight of his henchmen after soldiers blasted their way into his compound in Idlib province.
And super troopers from the elite British unit also took part in the dramatic shootout, The Mirror reports.
A source told the paper: "The UK has an exchange deal which is long standing with the US special ­operations in Iraq, which mounted the mission.
"No doubt lessons were learned from previous operations."
The MoD cannot confirm or deny the presence of SAS soldiers in the raid, as it does not comment on Special Forces operations.
Eight choppers swooped on the terror compound over the weekend, ferrying the commandos to their target.
US aircraft, mostly twin-rotor CH-47 helicopters, had taken off from Al-Asad air base in western Iraq - with villagers noticing the helicopters hovering low on the horizon.
Mr Trump explained: "We flew very, very low and very, very fast. It was a very dangerous part of the mission."
An unidentified resident told the Associated Press: "We went out in the balcony to see and they started shooting, with automatic rifles. So we went inside and hid."
Next came a large explosion that Mr Trump - watching the action unfold in the White House Situation Room - said was the result of soldiers blasting a hole in the side of a building because they feared the entrance might have been booby-trapped.
Hearing the soldiers enter his compound, a startled Baghdadi fled into a network of underground bunkers and tunnels that snaked through the compound.
The stout, bearded militant leader wore a suicide vest and dragged along three children as he ran from the American troops.
He ignited his vest, killing himself and his three kids.
Trump said: "The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him."
No US personnel were killed and 11 children were rescued in the operation.
Baghdadi – who had led the murderous cult since 2010 when it was still an underground al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq – had been the subject of an international manhunt for years and had a £19.4m ($25m) bounty on his head.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Russian Spies Are Recruiting MGIMO Students – Proekt

Russian intelligence services are actively recruiting students from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), the independent Proekt online outlet reported in an investigation Thursday.
MGIMO is considered one of Russia’s elite academic institutions, training future government leaders and diplomats, as well as businesspeople, journalists and thinkers. Its alleged ties to Russia's secret services came into focus last year when Poland’s foreign ministry said it had fired hundreds of MGIMO graduates as part of a large-scale overhaul.
“It’s no secret that they recruit into the security agencies at MGIMO,” Proekt quoted an unnamed graduate, who reportedly attended a recruitment drive in 2010, as saying.
Another student recounted a 2015 meeting with a recruiter who drew attention to his “unique” knowledge of the Montenegrin language and urged him to think about “the future, the motherland and a career.”
Intelligence services around the world regularly recruit graduates from top diplomatic schools, prizing them for their language and analytical skills.
The Proekt investigation came ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Gerasimov State University of Cinematography (VGIK) Thursday, where he called Russian students’ work abroad a “major soft power.” 
Putin also lauded MGIMO alumni’s “patriotism and fidelity to duty while protecting our country’s foreign policy interests” on the 75th anniversary of its founding earlier this week.