Wednesday, November 29, 2017

MI5 releases new information about Soviet ‘Portland Spy Ring’


Files released on Monday by the British government reveal new evidence about one of the most prolific Soviet spy rings that operated in the West after World War II, which became known as the Portland Spy Ring. Some of the members of the Portland Spy Ring were Soviet operatives who, at the time of their arrest, posed as citizens of third countries. All were non-official-cover intelligence officers, or NOCs, as they are known in Western intelligence parlance. Their Soviet —and nowadays Russian— equivalents are known as illegals. NOCs are high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the authorities of the country that employs them. During much of the Cold War, NOCs posed as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for engaging in espionage.
The existence of the Portland Spy Ring has been known since 1961, when British authorities arrested five people throughout England. Two of them were British citizens, Harry Houghton, a clerk at the Royal Navy’s Underwater Detection Establishment facility in Dorset, England, and his mistress, Ethel Gee. Their Soviet handler was Konon Molody, a Soviet intelligence officer who was posing as a Canadian, under the name Gordon Lonsdale. Also arrested was a married couple from New Zealand, Peter and Helen Kroger. But in reality they were Americans, whose real names were Morris and Lona Cohen, and had worked for Soviet intelligence since the late 1930s. Collectively, the five were referred in media reports as members of the Portland Spy Ring.
The newly declassified files about the spy ring were released by the Security Service, known commonly as MI5, Britain’s primary counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. They reveal how British authorities managed to bust the Portland Spy Ring. According to the files, the initial tip-off came from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The American agency had managed to recruit Michael Goleniewski, codename SNIPER, a Polish military counterintelligence officer, who led the technical office of Poland’s military intelligence. In the spring of 1960, Goleniewski told the CIA that Polish intelligence were running a British agent who was recruited while serving in the office of the naval attaché at the British embassy in Warsaw. The CIA shared the information with British intelligence, who soon identified the agent as Harry Houghton in Dorset. MI5 agents followed Houghton and his girlfriend, Ethel Gee, as they met with a successful Canadian businessman in London, Gordon Lonsdale (real name Konon Molody). Molody had grown up with a family member in California in the 1930s, and spoke fluent English. He had joined Soviet intelligence during World War II and sent to Britain posing as a Canadian. When he arrived there, in 1954, he established the KGB’s first known illegal residency in the British Isles.
In turn, Molody led MI5 to Peter and Helen Kroger from New Zealand (real names Morris and Lona Cohen), who were posing as antique book dealers. The couple acted as couriers, radio operators and technical support officers for Molody. They were born in the United States and had been recruited by Soviet intelligence in the 1930s. It is now known that they had contacts with several other Soviet illegals in America, including Rudolf Abel (real name William Fisher) who was captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1957. The couple had left the United States on orders of the KGB in 1952 and reappeared in the United Kingdom using New Zealand passports and new names.
The newly declassified documents show that MI5 decided to move against the five members of the Portland Spy Ring after Goleniewski became an open defector and was exfiltrated to the United States by officers in the CIA’s Berlin station. British authorities feared that Goleniewski’s open defection would prompt the Soviets to pull out Houghton, whose identity was known to Goleniewski. Houghton and Gee were sentenced to 15 years in prison. They were released in 1970, married the following year, and died in the 1980s. Molody was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 1964 and exchanged for Greville Wynne, a British spy captured in the USSR. The Cohens received 20 year sentences, but were released in 1969 and exchanged with Gerald Brooke, a British teacher who was arrested in the USSR for smuggling anti-communist literature and trying to organize dissidents inside the country.

Senior Chinese Army general accused of corruption found dead

 Zhang Yang

A senior Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military official, who was seen as a close ally of President Xi Jinping, has allegedly committed suicide, according to Chinese state media. Zhang Yang was one of the most high-profile generals in the Chinese PLA. His rise to power after Xi became president of China was meteoric. He was appointed member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China, which exercises political supervision of the Chinese armed forces. In addition to his role in the CMC, Zhang directed the General Political Department of the PLA’s Ground Force, which made him the top political commissar in the army.
However, in August of this year Zhang suddenly stopped making public appearances. An article soon appeared in Sing Tao, a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, alleging that the general had been questioned by anti-corruption investigators as part of President Xi’s nationwide campaign against sleaze. At around the same time, Hong Kong media said that President Xi would soon announce sweeping changes in the makeup of the CMC. It was also announced that General Zhang would step down from his director’s role in the army’s General Political Department. But media in Beijing reported nothing about Zhang, and there was speculation that he may have been imprisoned or even executed. The rumors intensified after September 1, when a front-page article in Sing Tao claimed that he had been dishonorably discharged from the PLA and imprisoned on charges of “serious violations of [Chinese Communist] Party discipline”.
Media in Beijing remained silent until Tuesday of this week, when a report issued by Xinhua News Agency, China’s government-run news agency, said that the former general had been found dead in his home in Beijing. According to the report, Zhang was found dead by a relative on Thursday, November 23. The brief report also mentioned that Zhang had been questioned by authorities in recent months in connection with “bribery and large-scale property crimes”. The Chinese Communist Party has not commented on Zhang’s death.

How a Met police spy's fake identity was rumbled

Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan police HQ

A police spy using the fake identity of a dead boy was confronted by suspicious leftwing activists and then disappeared

An undercover officer can be unmasked at any point in their deployment. It is one of their biggest fears. Even the possibility of being exposed can spell the end of their covert operation.
Police have admitted this is what happened to one of their spies who had been sent to infiltrate leftwing groups.
The spy had adopted the false identity of “Rick Gibson” in 1974 when he started infiltrating the Troops Out Movement, which campaigned for British troops to be withdrawn from Ireland.
He appears to have risen up the ranks of the campaign in quite a short time. This document from the campaign’s archives seems to record his post within the group as “secretariat convenor”. He had access to a list of members of the campaign and their addresses, according to activists.

Document written by Gibson when he was undercover
 A document written by Gibson when he was undercover.

Gibson moved on to infiltrate Big Flame, a revolutionary group of socialists and feminists, but came unstuck.
An account of what happened was recorded in 2002 by Richard Chessum, a leftwing activist whom Gibson had befriended during his undercover deployment.
It appears that activists in Big Flame were puzzled that Gibson had joined the Troops Out Movement even though he had none of the political past that its activists normally had. Nor did he have any of the usual connections to Ireland such as ancestry.
The suspicious activists started to delve into his purported background and discovered that little of it checked out. For instance, the school he claimed to have attended had no record of him.
The most significant discovery, however, came from the official archives of birth and death certificates. They knew the date of birth that Gibson was claiming was his. They found a birth certificate that seemed to bear that out.
But the activists had also uncovered a death certificate that recorded that the individual that Gibson was purporting to be had died as a boy. The activists confronted Gibson and he disappeared soon afterwards.
Gibson apparently claimed he was hiding his true identity because he was on the run from the police. The confrontation was reported by the Guardian journalists Nick Davies and Ian Black in a 1984 series about state surveillance.

The Guardian article from 18 April 1984 reporting the confrontation with Gibson
 The Guardian article from 18 April 1984 reporting the confrontation with Gibson.

There had been suspicions about Gibson, but not enough proof to show definitively that he was an infiltrator employed by the state.
Confirmation arrived in August this year in Metropolitan police documents published by the public inquiry that is examining undercover policing since 1968. Police admitted in the documents that Gibson had been an undercover officer whose operation had been cut short after he was rumbled in 1976.
Although they did not know it at the time, the activists had stumbled upon a key technique used by undercover officers to conceal their true identities. For years, the spies stole the identities of dead children and created aliases based on details of the children and their families. The spies were issued with identity records (such as driving licences and passports) in the fake names to make their disguise more credible.
This technique was routinely used by undercover officers who infiltrated political groups for years from the 1970s, according to an official police report.
What happened to Gibson exposes one of the main flaws in this piece of tradecraft. Activists investigating a suspected infiltrator could check their date of birth and find the birth certificate of what appears to be a real person. But the police spy would be in trouble if the activities continued trawling the archives and found a death certificate showing that the suspected infiltrator was supposed to have died as a young child.
It appears that police calculated that the activists would not take that next crucial step, either because they did not think of it, or because the search through the archives was too laborious.
At least 144 undercover officers gathered information on more than 1,000 political groups from 1968 onwards. It is not known how many of them had their operations terminated prematurely because they feared they were about to be exposed. One police document suggests it happened “on a number of occasions”.
If the full truth of Gibson’s covert operation had been exposed in 1976, it is likely that it would have led to a political furore and perhaps even threatened the existence of his undercover unit, the Special Demonstration Squad.
As it happened, the police’s clandestine operation sending undercover officers to spy on political groups remained enveloped in strict secrecy and continued for many more years before unravelling when another of their spies, Mark Kennedy, was unmasked in 2010.


Turkey seeks arrest of 360 more military personnel in post-coup crackdown

A Turkish soldier holding a gun

Turkish prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for 360 suspected supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen in the army, state media reported. Thousands of people have been rounded up in the wake of last year's coup attempt.

Istanbul police launched an operation on Wednesday to capture 333 more soldiers, most of them on active duty, as well as 27 civilians, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
The 360 individuals are suspected of having links to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. Turkey's government has claimed the cleric and his network of followers orchestrated last year's failed coup— allegations Gulen denies.
The state-run news agency reported that the civilian suspects are accused of acting as so-called "secret imams," who allegedly directed Gulen allies within the military.  
Wide-reaching crackdown
More than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial as part of Ankara's massive post-coup purge. An additional 120,000 people have been fired or suspended from the military, police and bureaucracy for suspected ties to the Gulen movement.
The crackdown has drawn criticism from rights groups and Turkey's allies in the West, who fear the 2016 coup is being used to justify a campaign to stifle dissent.
Turkey says its actions are necessary to counter the threat posed by Gulen's network, which it accuses of creating a "parallel state structure" over decades, infiltrating the military, police, judiciary, media and other institutions. Ankara has urged the United States to extradite Gulen so that he can face trial in Turkey.

China to deploy troops to fight alongside Assad in Syria

China's Army ground troops [file photo]

China is planning to send troops to Syria to aid President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, according to the New Khaleej.
According to informed sources, the move comes as China becomes increasingly concerned with the presence of Islamic militants in the East Turkestan region, who have been sighted aiding opposition groups in Syria.
Last week, during a meeting with Syrian Presidential Advisor Bouthaina Shaaban, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised the regime’s efforts at tackling the fighters from the Islamic East Turkistan Movement.
The Syrian regime has also claimed that some 5,000 fighters of Uyghur origin, an ethnic Muslim minority that Chinese authorities regularly accuse of terrorism, have arrived in Syria, illegally passing through Southeast Asia and Turkey.
The sources said that the Chinese Ministry of Defence intends to send two units known as the “Tigers of Siberia” and the “Night Tigers” from the Special Operations Forces to aid Syrian government troops.
This is not the first time Chinese troops have crossed into Syria; in 2015 the Syrian regime permitted some 5,000 soldiers to enter its territory as allied forces and stationed them in the Western region of Latakia. Chinese military advisors were also among the deployment, as well as naval and aerial assets.
China is one of the five veto-wielding powers of the UN Security Council and, along with Russia, has used its power on more than one occasion to protect the interests of the Syrian regime.
Russian support has given the government an upper hand in the six year-long civil war, especially as the battle against Daesh comes to an end.
More than half a million people are believed to have been killed since 2011, the vast majority by the Assad government and allied forces. The regime has also used chemical weapons against civilians and prevented aid from reaching those affected on the ground. UN officials further estimate that some ten million people have been displaced as a result of the fighting.