Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Israel charges former cabinet minister with spying for Iran

Gonen SegevIsrael has charged Gonen Segev, who served as the Jewish state’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, with spying for its archenemy, Iran. Segev, 62, was reportedly detained last month during a trip to Equatorial Guinea following a request by Israeli officials. He was then extradited to Israel and arrested as soon as he arrived in Tel Aviv last month, according to a statement by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. On Monday it emerged that Israeli authorities had imposed a gag order on the case, forbidding Israeli media from reporting any information about it. The order appears to have now been lifted.
In 1992, when he was 35, Segev was elected as one of the Knesset’s youngest members, representing the conservative Tzomet party. Initially an opposition Knesset member, Segev eventually left Tzomet and joined a governing coalition with the Labor Party, in which he served as Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. After exiting politics, Segev, who is a medical doctor by training, became a businessman and traveled frequently abroad. But in 2004 he was arrested on a flight from Holland, while reportedly trying to smuggle several thousand ecstasy pills into Israel. He was jailed for five years but was released from prison in 2007, after a commendation for good conduct. Shortly after his release, Segev moved to the Nigerian city of Abuja, where he practiced medicine. It was there, the Shin Bet claims, that he was recruited by Iranian intelligence.
In a statement released on Monday, the Shin Bet said that Segev had admitted being in regular contact with Iranian intelligence agents in Nigeria and other countries around the world. He is reported to have said that he was given a fake passport by his handlers, which he used to visit Iran on two separate occasions in order to hold secret meetings with Iranian intelligence officers. He also traveled to several other countries in order to meet with his Iranian handlers and hand them information about Israel’s energy sector and the location of energy-related security sites in the country. The Shin Bet statement added that Segev introduced his Iranian handlers —who posed as foreign businessmen— to Israeli security officials on several occasions.
It is believed that Segev appeared before a court in Jerusalem on Friday. He was charged with “assisting an enemy in wartime” and with “carrying out espionage against the State of Israel”. The judge also charged him with numerous instances of transmitting classified information to a foreign power.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis |

Germany arrests Tunisian man for producing biological weapon in his apartment

Ricin investigation Germany

German authorities have charged a Tunisian citizen with building a biological weapon, after finding significant quantities of the highly toxic substance ricin in his apartment. The 29-year-old man is referred to in public reports only as “Sief Allah H.”, in compliance with German law that forbids the naming of suspects until they are found guilty in court. German officials said last Thursday that the man remains in custody and has been charged with violating Germany’s War Weapons Control Act (known as Kriegswaffenkontrollgesetz) and “preparing a serious act of violence against the state”.
According to reports, German intelligence services received a tip-off last month that the man had made online purchases of a coffee grinder and 1,000 castor seeds. Processing castor seeds creates a ricin byproduct, which can then be weaponized in the form of a powder, a fine mist, or solid pellets of various sizes. The end product is more powerful than many other toxic substances, such as cyanide. Upon entering the human body, ricin can cause multiple organ failure in less than two days. It has no known antidote.
After receiving the tip-off, German authorities began monitoring the suspect’s movements in the western German city of Cologne, near the Belgian and Dutch borders. By June, German police discovered that he had produced enough ricin to dispense as many as 1,000 lethal doses.
German media reported that “Sief Allah H.” is a sympathizer of the Islamic State. However, investigators have found no direct link between him and any militant organizations in Germany or abroad. Additionally, no evidence has yet been presented that he had planned an actual attack —in Germany or elsewhere— at a specific time. However, officials from Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said it was “very likely” that the arrest of “Sief Allah H.” had averted a terrorist attack. Late last week, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said that the suspect had made ricin by following instructions posted online by the Islamic State.
Throughout the weekend, several other apartments in Cologne were searched by German authorities. Search parties consisted of members of the local police, intelligence officers and scientists from the Robert Koch Institute, the German government agency tasked with monitoring hazards to public health.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis |

Belgium to probe alleged Spanish espionage against separatist Catalan leader

Carles Puigdemont

Belgium will investigate whether Spanish intelligence spied on Carles Puigdemont, the separatist Catalan leader who escaped to Brussels after launching an unsuccessful independence bid last year. Puigdemont, 56, served as president of the Spanish region of Catalonia from January 2016 until October 2017. He was forcibly removed from office by the Spanish government, after he led the government of Catalonia in a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain. As soon as the Catalan Parliament declared that the region was independent, Madrid dissolved it, imposed direct rule on the country’s easternmost province, and declared fresh elections.
Amidst the chaos that ensued, Puigdemont, along with several other leading Catalan separatists, fled to Belgium where he requested political asylum. When it emerged that Puigdemont had fled abroad, Spanish authorities issued a European Arrest Warrant against him, on charges of sedition, rebellion against the state and misusing public funds. Fearing that the Belgian authorities might extradite him to Madrid, Puigdemont soon left for Germany, where he was detained by local police on March 25, 2018. He currently remains in Germany, while German authorities are deciding whether to grant Madrid’s request for his extradition.
Now authorities in Belgium are preparing to launch an investigation into whether Spain’s intelligence services carried out espionage against Puigdemont while he remained on Belgian soil. The investigation will most likely be carried out by the country’s Standing Intelligence Agencies Review Committee. Known broadly as Comité permanent R, the committee is an independent body that oversees the activities of Belgium’s security and intelligence apparatus. The investigation is to be launched as a result of an official parliamentary request submitted by the New Flemish Alliance, Belgium’s largest separatist party, which represents the country’s Dutch-speaking minority. The party has come out in support of Catalan independence and of Puigdemont in particular, and has urged Brussels to grant political asylum to the Catalan separatist leader.
Peter Buysrogge, a leading member of the New Flemish Alliance, said that his party wanted to know whether Spanish intelligence operated in Belgium with or without the knowledge of the Belgian government and intelligence services. He added that his party was especially interested in investigating allegations made in Catalan media that Spanish intelligence operatives followed Puigdemont and even installed a Global Positioning System (GPS) device under his car.
Author: Joseph Fitsanakis |

US imposes sanctions on companies for helping Russian spy agencies


The United States has for the first time imposed economic sanctions on a number of Russian companies, which it says helped the Kremlin spy on targets in North America and Western Europe. On Monday, the US Department of the Treasury said it would apply severe economic restrictions on a number of Russian firms that work closely with the Kremlin. One of the companies was identified as Digital Security, which Washington says has been helping Russian intelligence agencies develop their offensive cyber capabilities. Two of Digital Security’s subsidiaries, Embedi and ERPScan, were also placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list. Monday’s statement by the Treasury Department named another Russian firm, the Kvant Scientific Research Institute, which it described as a front company operated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
But the Russian firm that features most prominently in Monday’s announcement is Divetechnoservices, an underwater equipment manufacturer. The US alleges that the FSB paid the company $15 million in 2011 to design equipment for use in tapping underwater communications cables. According to Washington, equipment designed by Divetechnoservices is today used by a fleet of Russian ships that sail on the world’s oceans searching for underwater communications cables to tap. One such ship, according to reports, is the Yantar (pictured), ostensibly an oceanic research vessel, which Washington says is used to detect and tap into underwater communications cables.
In addition to Divetechnoservices, the US Treasury has named three individuals who will face economic sanctions due to what Washington says is their personal involvement with the underwater hardware manufacturer. They are: Vladimir Yakovlevich Kaganskiy, the company’s owner and former director; Aleksandr Lvovich Tribun, who serves as Divetechnoservices’ general director; and Oleg Sergeyevich Chirikov, identified as the manager of Divetechnoservices’ underwater surveillance program. These men —all Russian citizens— will not be able to enter into business relationships with American companies or citizens. On Tuesday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the latest round of US sanctions as an act of desperation. The White House would fail in its effort to “force the Russian Federation to change its independent course of action in the international arena”, said the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Author: Ian Allen |

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Canada evacuates diplomats’ families from Cuba, citing mysterious brain injuries

 Embassy of Canada in Havana, Cuba

The government of Canada has announced plans to evacuate family members of its diplomats serving in Cuba, because of medical issues caused by an alleged espionage-related technological device. These concerns have persisted among United States and Canadian diplomatic staff since the fall of 2016, when several members of staff at the US embassy in Havana reported suffering from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing. Eventually, their symptoms became so serious that some American diplomats decided “to cancel their tours early and return to the United States”, according to the Associated Press, which published this story in August of 2016.
Since that time, the US Department of State has said that 21 of its diplomatic and support staff have been diagnosed with brain injuries. In response to these concerns, Washington recalled the majority of its diplomats from Havana last September and issued a travel warning advising its citizens to stay away from the island. Now the Canadian embassy has said it will evacuate all family members of its personnel stationed in Havana, according to the BBC. The government of Canada is believed to have made the decision to evacuate its citizens after it confirmed that at least 10 members of diplomatic families living on the island had been found to suffer from “unexplained brain symptoms”, according to Canadian government officials. These include regular spells of dizziness and nausea, as well as difficulty in concentrating on tasks.
Interestingly, Canadian experts have dismissed theories, emanating mostly from the US, that the mysterious brain symptoms come from a mysterious covert weapon that emits sonic waves. But some Canadian experts have said that the symptoms suffered by the diplomats and their families may point to a new illness, whose cause remains unknown. Cuba has dismissed repeated allegations by Washington that it allowed a third party —possibly Russia—to conduct sonic attacks against Western diplomats on the island. Cuban officials have described the allegations as tricks in a game of “political manipulation” that has been concocted by the White House to damage the bilateral relationship between the US and the government of the Caribbean island.

Islamic State propagandists seek to undermine rival jihadists in Syria

The Islamic State’s so-called province in Damascus released a video on Apr. 11 that is intended to undermine the ideological legitimacy of the group’s rivals, including al Qaeda and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS).
The 18-minute plus production, titled “So Will They Not Repent to Allah,” opens with footage of Bashar al-Assad’s regime dropping explosives and victims’ bodies being pulled from leveled buildings. It quickly moves to a brief and self-serving history of the jihad in Syria, lauding Al Nusrah Front for its early role in the war. At the time, prior to early 2013, Al Nusrah was an arm of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). And Al Nusrah’s leader, Abu Muhammad al Julani, was Baghdadi’s subordinate.
A narrator blasts Al Nusrah for supposedly choosing “a new path” by disobeying Baghdadi and swearing fealty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri (seen below). A masked jihadist claims that Al Nusrah then switched from fighting Assad’s regime and its allies to operating against the “pious,” meaning the Islamic State’s loyalists. This undermined the mujahideen’s efforts to rule according to sharia, he says. In addition, Julani is labeled a “traitor” for his betrayal of Baghdadi.
Although the video has some truth in it, it offers a selective interpretation of history. Significant evidence shows that Baghdadi’s ISI was a part of al Qaeda’s global network, despite management problems and disagreements. The ISI adhered to many of al Qaeda’s directives, including abstaining from attacks inside Iran, and al Qaeda’s senior leaders addressed Baghdadi, as well as his predecessors, as their lieutenants.
In addition, Al Nusrah did not stop targeting the Assad regime after breaking from Baghdadi, as the Islamic State’s propagandists argue. Indeed, Al Nusrah led the Jaysh al Fateh alliance that swept through Idlib province in 2015, clearing out many of Assad’s strongholds in the process. And Al Nusrah’s men continued to fight Assad’s forces thereafter, including after the group was relaunched as HTS in Jan. 2017.
HTS itself regularly accuses the Islamic State of focusing its operations on rival Sunni jihadists and Islamists, rather than the Syrian regime, even comparing Baghdadi to Assad himself. So the Islamic State’s video is an attempt to return the charge. (In reality, both HTS and the Islamic State regularly clash with Assad’s armed forces and their irregular, Iranian-backed allies.)
The Damascus “province” eagerly trumpets HTS’s allegedly heavy “losses” at the hands of the regime, while also advertising its own operations against Assad’s fighters. A number of grisly scenes depict Islamic State snipers and assassins killing Assad’s men. The Islamic State’s propagandists portray the group as the key opponent to the Syrian government, pointing to areas in and around Damascus where other groups have ceded ground. Some of the footage was recorded in the Qadam neighborhood of Damascus, where Baghdadi’s jihadists continued to fight even after others were vanquished.
The video’s narrator and masked witness tick off other problems HTS has encountered, highlighting the group’s decision to detain al Qaeda loyalists such as Sami al-Uraydi, a Jordanian ideologue who has been one of Julani’s staunchest critics. One image, seen above, depicts Uraydi behind bars. Uraydi was released by HTS, but only after veteran jihadis formed a mediation council and interceded. The Islamic State also criticizes Julani’s and HTS’s alliances with “apostate” rebel groups inside Syria and Al Nusrah’s decision to rebrand itself more than once. Baghdadi’s loyalists take aim at other jihadi personalities in Syria, including Sheikh Abdullah Muhammad al Muhaysini, as well.
All of this is intended to convince HTS members to defect to Baghdadi’s cause. The masked Islamic State member calls on HTS jihadists to leave their group, “repent” and “turn to Allah.”
The Damascus province’s video followed an article in the Islamic State’s weekly An Naba magazine that was critical of al Qaeda. In the 126th issue of An Naba, released earlier this month, the Islamic State accused al Qaeda’s leaders of of placing “the safety of their organization over the safety of religion.”
There has been some speculation that the Islamic State may be willing to rejoin al Qaeda now that it has lost most of the territory it once controlled. However, the organization’s recent propaganda efforts demonstrate that it retains its animosity for al Qaeda and HTS. Some Islamic State figures and factions may be tempted by al Qaeda’s reconciliation efforts and rejoin their former brethren. The competition between the Islamic State and al Qaeda may vary from one jihadi theater to the next, and the situation could also evolve over time. But the mother group continues to produce messages that are intended to weaken its jihadist rivals.

Israel's Elite Intelligence Unit Helped Foil ISIS Plane Bombing in Australia, Army Reveals

An illustrative photo of a Mitsubishi passenger airplane, 2015.

Israeli intelligence helped foil an Islamic State passenger-plane bombing against Australia last year, after the 8200 intelligence unit passed on crucial information, the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday after the lifting of a gag order.
According to the IDF, arrests were made at a very advanced stage of planning late last year, possibly reflecting the latest such success by Israeli intelligence in a matter of months.
The Australian Federal Police said at the time that four men had been arrested after law enforcement became "aware of information that suggested some people in Sydney were planning to commit a terrorist act using an improvised device."
AFP added that they believed it was a case of "Islamic-inspired terrorism" and that several properties had been searched across four Sydney suburbs.
Members of the Israel Defense Forces intelligence and cyberwarfare Unit 8200, in 2013.
In May, The Washington Post and The New York Times reportedthat U.S. President Donald Trump had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about an Islamic State plan to slip a laptop rigged with a bomb onto a passenger plane. The foreign press ascribed the intelligence to Israel.
In recent years the high-tech 8200 unit has been studying the Islamic State’s threat to Israel, Jews and Israeli tourists around the world. Now that the group has been defeated in Syria and Iraq, 8200 is keeping an eye on its fighters who have scattered – some to their home counties and some, worryingly for Israel, to the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.
The 8200 unit and the IDF’s telecommunications forces recently thwarted an Iranian hacking attack against private and government Israeli sites after learning of the attempt early in the process.