Tuesday, October 9, 2018

France freezes assets of Iranian spies in response to foiled terror attack in Paris





France has seized the financial assets of two Iranian spies and frozen all assets belonging to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, in response to a foiled bomb attack in Paris, which the French government has blamed on Tehran. The alleged bomb attack was uncovered on June 30 of this year, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group arrested a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent in Brussels. The couple were found to be carrying explosives and a detonator. On the following day, German police arrested an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria, while another Iranian man was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection with the three other arrests.
All four individuals were charged with a foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place on June 30 in Paris. The NCRI is led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group with roots in radical Islam and Marxism. The MEK was designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States until 2009 and 2012 respectively. But it has since been reinstated in both Brussels and Washington, reportedly because it provides the West with a vehicle to subvert the Iranian government. France, Germany and Belgium allege that the aborted bombing plot was an attempt by Iran to disrupt the close relations between the MEK and Western governments.
On Tuesday, Paris announced the seizure of assets of two of the men who were arrested in June and July. One is an accredited Iranian diplomat identified as Assadollah Asadi, who is believed to be an official-cover intelligence officer. The other man is Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, who was arrested by French authorities. He is believed to be an Iranian sleeper agent. All assets belonging to the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Intelligence were also been frozen, effective immediately, it was announced. In a joint statement, the French ministers of foreign affairs, economics and the interior said that the move reflected the France’s “commitment to fight terrorism, in all its manifestations […], especially on its territory”. The statement added that “the extremely heinous act envisaged on our territory could not go without a response”.
The Iranian government has denied all connection to the alleged plot in Paris and has dismissed the incident a “false flag” operation staged by MEK in cooperation with Tehran’s “enemies at home and abroad”.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis 

Britain sees Russian government hackers behind Islamic State cyber group

Cyber Caliphate


A new report by the British government alleges that the so-called ‘Cyber Caliphate’, the online hacker wing of the Islamic State, is one of several supposedly non-state groups that are in fact operated by the Russian state. The group calling itself Cyber Caliphate first appeared in early 2014, purporting to operate as the online wing of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which was later renamed Islamic State. Today the Cyber Caliphate boasts a virtual army of hackers from dozens of countries, who are ostensibly operating as the online arm of the Islamic State. Their known activities include a strong and often concentrated social media presence, as well as computer hacking, primarily in the form of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage.
But an increasing number of reports, primarily by Western government agencies, have claimed in recent years that the Cyber Caliphate is in fact part of a Russian state-sponsored operation, ingeniously conceived to permit Moscow to hack Western targets without retaliation. On Wednesday, a new report by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) described the Cyber Caliphate and other similar hacker groups as “flags of convenience” for the Kremlin. The report was authored by the NCSC in association with several British and European intelligence agencies. American spy agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also helped compile the report, according to the NCSC. The report names several hacker groups that have been implicated in high-profile attacks in recent years, including Sofacy, Pawnstorm, Sednit, Cyber Berkut, Voodoo Bear, BlackEnergy Actors, Strontium, Tsar Team, and Sandworm. Each of these, claims the NCSC report, is “an alias of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces”, more commonly known as the GRU. The report concludes that Cyber Caliphate is the same hacker group as APT 28Fancy Bear, and Pawn Storm, three cyber espionage outfits that are believed to be online arms of the GRU.
The NCSC report echoes the conclusion of a German government report that was leaked to the media in June of 2016, which argued that the Cyber Caliphate was a fictitious front group created by Russia. In 2015, a security report by the US State Department concluded that despite the Cyber Caliphate’s proclamations of connections to the Islamic State, there were “no indications —technical or otherwise— that the groups are tied”. In a statement issued alongside the NCSC report on Wednesday, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, described the GRU as Moscow’s “chosen clandestine weapon in pursuing its geopolitical goals”. The Russian government has denied these allegations.
► Author: Ian Allen |

Missing Saudi journalist 'murdered and dismembered' inside his country's consulate in Istanbul while fiancée waited outside, claims friend

'Murdered': Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi


Turkish officials have claimed a missing Saudi journalist was killed inside his own country's consulate in Istanbul last week.
Jamal Khashoggi was  said to have been killed in what Turkish police claimed was the deliberate targeting of a prominent critic of the Gulf kingdom's rulers.
Mr Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents for his forthcoming marriage, according to reports.
Saudi officials say he left shortly afterwards but his fiancee, who was waiting outside, said he never came out.
A friend of a Mr Khasoggi today said officials told him to "make your funeral preparations".


Saudi officials gather outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (AFP/Getty Images)

Turan Kislakci, a friend of Jamal Khashoggi and the head of the Turkish-Arab Media Association, said officials also told him they "have evidence he was killed in a barbaric way" and dismembered.
Saudi officials have denied the allegations that Mr Khashoggi was killed as "baseless".
One Turkish official said authorities believe Mr Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate, while another said it was a "high possibility".


Police said their initial assessment was that Mr Khashoggi had been murdered (AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish police said: "The initial assessment of the Turkish police is that Mr Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabiain Istanbul.
"We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate."
The President of Turkey said the Saudi Consulate and Istanbul's airports are being closely monitored for clues.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today that he is still hopeful that Jamal Khashoggi is alive.
"God willing we will not be faced with the situation we do not desire," he added.
The comment apparently referred to Turkish officials saying they believed that Mr Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate after disappearing on Tuesday.
Mr Erdogan called Mr Khashoggi a "journalist and a friend".
He said he was personally following the case and would announce the results of the investigation at an undisclosed time.
Mr Khashoggi, a former newspaper editor in Saudi Arabia and adviser to its former head of intelligence, left the country last year saying he feared retribution for his growing criticism of Saudi policy in the Yemen war and its crackdown on dissent.

Moscow: Dutch expulsion of Russian spies is a 'misunderstanding'

GRU officers being apprehended by Dutch intelligence officers near the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague

Russia's foreign minister has dismissed the expulsion of four alleged agents from the Netherlands as a "misunderstanding".
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Sergey Lavrov described the visit as a "routine trip".
Dutch authorities said last week they had expelled four GRU military intelligence agents in April for plotting a cyber attack on the world's chemical weapons watchdog at The Hague.
The Russian foreign ministry handed a note to the Netherlands' ambassador on Monday, which said the detention and expulsion of its citizens was a provocation.
The British ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Wilson, has revealed how one of the Russian agents allegedly attempted to disrupt the investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), which was shot down in 2014.
He said the agents were being sent around the world to "conduct brazen close-access cyber operations".
Mr Lavrov said: "There was nothing secret about the trip by our specialists to the Netherlands.
What is Russia's GRU intelligence agency?

What is Russia's GRU intelligence agency?

Russia's military intelligence service has been blamed for several global cyber attacks
"They didn't hide when they checked into the hotel, or when they came to the airport, or when they went to our embassy.
"They were detained without explanation... and asked to leave. It looked like a misunderstanding,"
Mr Lavrov said that there had been no diplomatic protests over the incident.
Sergey Lavrov says the visit was a 'routine' trip
Image:Sergey Lavrov says the visit was a 'routine trip'
A car carrying hacking equipment used by GRU officers, travelling on official Russian passports, parked near the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague
Image:The car contained hacking equipment used by GRU officers
The men had entered the country on Russian diplomatic passports on 10 April and were caught three days later with a car packed with electronic equipment in the Marriott Hotel next to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Their details, including passports and a taxi receipt for a trip to Moscow airport from a street containing a branch of the military intelligence agency, were revealed to the Dutch media.
Mr Lavrov confirmed his office would summon the Dutch ambassador over the issue on Monday.
Russian cyber agents targeted UK Foreign Office

Russian cyber agents targeted UK Foreign Office

The Russian embassy hits back at claims Moscow was behind several global cyber attacks
He said: "Yes, we are inviting the ambassador from the Netherlands to bring his attention to this point of view... We will give more information (later)."
Russia has already discussed the incident with The Hague's envoy in September after Dutch media broke the news over the Russians' expulsion, according to Mr Lavrov.
A car carrying hacking equipment used by GRU officers, travelling on official Russian passports, parked near the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague
Image:The car was packed with electronic equipment in the Marriott Hotel car park
But a further meeting between the Russian ambassador and Dutch authorities on 3 October had failed to produce any "facts," the foreign minister said.
"Once again we are dealing with a sort of loudspeaker diplomacy, a disregard for legal mechanisms," he added.
Responding to the claims made on Thursday, the Russian embassy in London said the allegations were "irresponsible" and that the UK was imparting "crude disinformation".

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Russia planned to smuggle Julian Assange from Ecuador’s embassy in London

Julian Assange

Russia and Ecuador canceled at the last minute a secret plan to smuggle WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London after it was deemed “too risky”, according to a report. The Australian-born founder of the whistleblower website was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador in June of 2012, after Swedish authorities charged him with rape. He claims that the charges are part of a multinational plot to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for having leaked hundreds of thousands of secret government documents. He has thus refused to leave Ecuador’s embassy in the British capital since June 2012.

Last week, the British newspaper The Guardian said that Russian and Ecuadorean officials devised a complex operation to smuggle the WikiLeaks founder out of the Ecuadorean embassy, which is closely monitored by British security agencies. The London-based paper said it spoke to “four separate sources” who confirmed that a small team of Russians and Ecuadoreans met several times to plan the operation. The Ecuadorean side was allegedly represented by Fidel Narváez, a close friend and supporter of Assange, who previously served as Ecuador’s consul in London and continues to live there with his family. The Kremlin was reportedly represented by an unnamed “Russian businessman”, said The Guardian, who served as an intermediary between the Ecuadoreans and Moscow. The plan consisted of several steps, said the paper. The first step was for Assange to receive Ecuadoran citizenship and then be given diplomatic status by the government of Ecuador. That would give the WikiLeaks founder diplomatic immunity and shield him from British laws. A diplomatic vehicle would then secretly transport Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy to an unknown location. From there he would be transported to Ecuador via ship, or to Russia, where he would serve as a member of staff of the Ecuadorean embassy in Moscow. If British security services managed to intercept Assange during the operation, all they could do was expel him from the country. They would not be able to arrest him because of his diplomatic status.

The plan, said The Guardian, was scheduled for December 24, 2017. On December 15, Rommy Vallejo, the head of Ecuador’s national intelligence agency, Secretaría Nacional de Inteligencia (SENAIN), traveled secretly to London to supervise the operation. Two days later, on December 17, Assange was granted Ecuadorian citizenship as part of the plan. But the plan was aborted at the last moment after the British government refused to recognize Assange’s diplomatic status. According to British law, a foreign diplomat does not receive immunity from British law unless the British government officially accepts his or her diplomatic credentials. Although that is typically a formality, the British government reserves the right to refuse a diplomat’s credentials. That was seen by the Russians as a stumbling block and the operation was called off, said the paper.

Narváez spoke with The Guardian and strongly denied that he had any involvement with a joint Russian-Ecuadorean plan to smuggle Assange out of London. The Ecuadorean government did not return messages with questions about the paper’s allegations. The Russian embassy in the British capital tweeted late last week that The Guardian’s claims were “another example of disinformation and fake news from the British media”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis
https://intelnews.org/2018/09/24/01-2403/

New clues may help locate lost intelligence files from 1938 French-British-Nazi pact

Neville Chamberlain


Nearly 2,000 missing British intelligence files relating to the so-called Munich Agreement, a failed attempt by Britain, France and Italy to appease Adolf Hitler in 1938, may not have been destroyed, according to historians. On September 30, 1938, the leaders of France, Britain and Italy signed a peace treaty with the Nazi government of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. The treaty, which became known as the Munich Agreement, gave Hitler de facto control of Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking areas, in return for him promising to resign from territorial claims against other countries, such as Poland and Hungary. Hours after the treaty was formalized, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain arrived by airplane at an airport near London, and boldly proclaimed that he had secured “peace for our time” (pictured above). Contrary to Chamberlain’s expectations, however, the German government was emboldened by what it saw as attempts to appease it, and promptly proceeded to invade Poland, thus firing the opening shots of World War II in Europe.

For many decades, British historians researching the Munich Agreement have indicated the absence of approximately 1,750 intelligence reports dating from May to December 1938. The missing files cover the most crucial period immediately prior and immediately after the Munich Agreement. They are believed to contain transcripts of German and other foreign diplomatic communications, which were intercepted by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), Britain’s signals intelligence agency at the time. In 1947, the documents were passed on to the GC&CS’s successor agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). But they subsequently disappeared, giving rise to numerous theories as to how and why. Some historians have theorized that the documents were deliberately destroyed by British officials shortly after the end of World War II. The move allegedly aimed to protect Britain’s international reputation and prevent a possible exploitation by the Soviet Union, which sharply criticized the West’s appeasement of Hitler in the run-up to the war. Another popular theory is that they were destroyed by senior civil servants connected to the Conservative Party —to which Chamberlain belonged— in order to prevent the opposition Labour Party from capitalizing on what many saw as a betrayal of British interests in September 1938 by the Conservative administration in London.

For a long time, the GCHQ’s official historians have strongly contested the view that the documents were deliberately destroyed. Now, according to The Independent newspaper, historians have found that the missing documents were still listed in GCHQ archive indexes in as late as 1968, a full 30 years after the Munich Agreement was signed. At that time it is believed that the files were temporarily transferred to another British government department in order to be used as references in an internal report about the Munich Agreement. It is very likely, some historians now say, that the documents were simply never returned to GCHQ. It is therefore possible that they may be stored in the archives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Ministry of Defence. This new clue, according to The Independent, substantially lessens the possibility that the documents may have been removed or destroyed for political reasons.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis
https://intelnews.org/2018/10/01/01-2408/

Saudi state spies on dissidents in Canada using software built by Israeli firm

Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Canada


The government of Saudi Arabia is spying on expatriate dissidents in Canada using commercially available software designed by an Israeli company, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. This is alleged in a new report published on Monday by the Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. The report’s authors say they have “high confidence” that intrusive surveillance software is being deployed to target the electronic communications of Saudi dissidents, including Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who has been living in Canada’s Quebec province for nearly 10 years.

Abdulaziz, 27, arrived in Canada on a student visa in 2009. In 2014, having publicly voiced criticisms of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia’s repressive political system, and having been threatened by Saudi authorities, Abdulaziz successfully applied for political asylum in Canada. In 2017 he was granted permanent residency status. For the past eight years, Abdulaziz has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Saudi government, mostly through his satirical channel on YouTube. The channel, called Yakathah, has over 120,000 subscribers and its content has angered Saudi authorities. The latter have warned Abdulaziz’s parents and last summer arrested two of his brothers, in what he describes as attempts to silence him.

Researchers from Citizen Lab claim that the Saudi government has been targeting expatriate dissidents such as Abdulaziz using various techniques, such as sending them spyware-infested messages that express support for anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. The report also notes that these messages make use of Pegasus, a surveillance software system that has been previously implicated in surveillance activities against political dissidents from Gulf countries. The software was designed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Citizen Lab report comes at a time of heightened tensions in relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. In August, Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry issued sharp criticisms of the Saudi government’s human rights record, while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “gravely concerned” about the suppression of political speech in the Kingdom. She also urged the Saudi government to release a number of jailed political activists and stop censoring Saudi women activists seeking gender equality. But her comments enraged the Saudi royal family, which controls the Kingdom. Within days, the Saudi government expelled Canada’s ambassador from Riyadh and restricted its economic ties with Canada. The Kingdom also recalled several thousand Saudi students who were studying in Canadian universities on Saudi government scholarships.

Author: Ian Allen |
https://intelnews.org/2018/10/02/01-2409/