Sunday, 26 September 2010

intel: iraq / blackberry / belarus / china / burma / russia


Analysis: Deadly conflict inside Iraqi spy service goes unmentioned

September 23, 2010

Amidst the chaos of post-Ba’athist Iraqi politics, a deadly sectarian conflict is raging within Iraq’s powerful spy agency. Employees inside Iraq’s National Intelligence Service (INIS) are split along religious sectarian lines, with Sunni and Shiite officers battling for control of the organization. The warring factions are directly affiliated with opposing political parties, and represent various political interests. Shiite officers are seen as aligned with Tehran, whereas Sunnis are close to Washington and –ironically– to the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party. The conflict has resulted in the assassination of several INIS officers, mostly by their colleagues in the Service, according to two anonymous Iraqi security officials, who spoke to The National, an English-language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates. One of them, a brigadier-general with recent experience in intelligence work in Baghdad, told the paper that Shiite INIS officers are beeing killed by professionally trained assassins using “plastic explosives, sticky bombs and silenced pistols”. These killings, said the brigadier-general, are conveniently reported as random terrorist attacks against Iraqi government employees. Another intelligence source told The National that the killings are targeted and involve the use of inside information, including pen-register data of cell phones belonging to spies targeted for assassination. He added that the assassins are former members of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat (Iraqi Intelligence Service), who have been rehired and trained by American forces in recent years, in an effort to curtail Shiite influence inside Iraq. Iraqi government representatives refused to discuss the newspaper’s revelations. Meanwhile in Washington, a CIA representative described the allegations about a civil war within the INIS as “absolute rubbish”.


Emirates police says US, Israel, use BlackBerry to spy

September 8, 2010

The alleged use of encrypted BlackBerry communications by adversary intelligence services operating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is prompting local authorities to consider a nationwide ban on the popular phone. This was revealed late last week by Dubai Police chief, Lt. General Dahi Khalfan bin Tamim, who repeated a warning by UAE authorities that BlackBerry services in the country will be curtailed on October 11, unless the government is given access to BlackBerry’s encryption code by the manufacturer. Several other countries in the Middle East and beyond have made similar moves, including Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia, all of which have cited security reasons for the ban. But Lt. General Tamim’s comments provide the first known connection between a threat to ban BlackBerry and its alleged use by rival intelligence agencies. Speaking to journalists, the Dubai Police chief implied that encrypted BlackBerry telephones are used by the intelligence agencies of “America, Israel, Britain and other countries” that operate in the UAE. He also shared the view that “[t]he United States is the primary beneficiary of having no controls over the BlackBerry, as it has an interest to spy on the UAE”. According to local media, UAE government officials are currently engaged in confidential negotiations with Research in Motion Ltd., BlackBerry’s Canada-based manufacturer. There are over 500,000 permanent BlackBerry users in the UAE, a number which does not include the millions of foreign BlackBerry subscribers that visit the country each year.

Mysterious death could have KGB links

Tom Washington
The Moscow News

The death of opposition activist and journalist Oleg Bebenin ( who was found hanged ) has thrown a murky light on both the circumstances of his demise and those who might be behind it. Those close to the dead man claim foul play, and dark rumours are circulating about President Lukashenko’s cash-strapped government.

In the lead up to Belarusian elections speculation is bubbling about rebel undercurrents in the regime and the motivation of potential perpetrators is far from straightforward - with some pointing the finger at Minsk's modern-day KGB.

“Things indicate that at the very least it was premature to make such a conclusion… the police told me very confidently on the same day that it had happened on the same day….and I saw the body, it was not even stiff,” leader of Charter 97 and presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov told The Moscow News.I do not believe in Oleg’s suicide. There is a lot here that is very questionable,” he told Moskovsky Komsomolets. Bebenin was a member of the group.

An unlikely suicide

“What I get from this is the impression that nobody thought that he had any signs of depression. But it would be rather difficult to prove that it was suicide,” Jana Kobzova at the European Council on Foreign Relations told The Moscow News.

There were certainly strange circumstances. “There was not a crumb of food around,” one witness said. “And two bottles of Belovzhskogo Balsam, which he wouldn’t have drunk even at gunpoint, seeing as he was one of the country’s leading whisky experts.”

“And there was some [Balsam] at the wheel [of his car]. He had to go to the cinema and people were waiting for him, but he sent a text message saying not to wait for him at the café but go straight on to the cinema.”

Of his body, “His feet were stood on the ground, not hanging. And there was a scratch on his hand.” There was no note.

KGB implicated

If Bebenin, who leaves behind a wife and two young children, did not take his own life there are lively conspiracy theories.

“It is not in the interests of Lukashenko for this guy to be dead because it sheds the obvious suspicion that the government were behind it,” said Kobzova. “There are rival factions in the regime and the most radical is the security forces.” The more Lukashenko pays his overtures to the EU the more Belarus has to open up and, “the less breathing space for security forces.”

The death of a high profile activist and journalist could derail discussions with Europe and thus undermine Lukashenko’s regime whose western advances the KGB, as they are still called in Belarus, look on with disfavour.

And the security forces have some unlikely allies here. Charter 97 also believes that the EU should sever relations with Belarus while Lukashenko is still in power, as his concessions to human rights have been perfunctory. “The pre-election season in Berlarus only highlights that this will be a politically sensitive case - both for Minsk and Brussels,” says Kobzova.

“It doesn’t matter who did it,” Sannikov said by telephone. “I don’t care about details, this is the nature of [Lukashenko’s] regime.”


Jeff Stein
September 2, 2010

Li Fengzhi, Chinese spy who defected to U.S., facing deportation

The U.S. government is trying to deport Li Fengzhi, a veteran Chinese intelligence agent who defected here in 2004, back to China, where he could well be executed on charges of treason, he and others said in interviews.

The reasons for the government's six-year-long opposition to Li's application for political asylum, entangled in spy wars and layers of secrecy, are not easily discerned.

Li became an officer in the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) upon graduation from college in 1990, according to his application for political asylum. In 2003, the spy agency sent him to the University of Denver to pursue a PhD in international politics and diplomatic philosophy, during which time he began to voice his criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.

During a trip home, Chinese security agents harshly interrogated him about his views. When he returned to Denver, he decided to apply for political asylum, on the basis that his increasingly outspoken views would subject him to retribution if he were forced to go back.

But he did not reveal his identity as a Chinese intelligence officer at the time, he said. His application was initially denied.

Two years later, petitioning again for asylum, Li volunteered to an immigration official that he had not mentioned that he had been an intelligence officer of China.

Nor had he volunteered that, “because of the difficulties I had and the great danger to my family that I felt in those days, I decided to ask the CIA and FBI for help....”

In fact, Li was extensively debriefed by the FBI and CIA, he and others familiar with his case said.

But neither agency has stepped forward to help keep him from being deported, he and the others said. Although individual FBI agents were supportive of him, one source said, the bureau officially played down his intelligence value.

“Just getting verification that he worked with them has been an enormous task,” said the source.

Neither agency could be reached for comment.

Rumors about Li's exact relationship with the CIA and FBI abound.

One explanation for their allegedly cool treatment of Li now, said a law enforcement source, was that he "oversold" himself -- inflated his rank in the MSS -- when he finally decided to cooperate with the FBI and CIA. Another line of thinking is that he rejected their overtures to work as their mole inside Chinese intelligence, and they feel they owe him no favors.

Whatever the truth, neither agency should get in the way of Li's effort to stay here now, said Michelle Van Cleave, chief of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a policy-setting arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, during the Bush administration.

“I can’t understand why the Obama Administration would oppose Li’s application for asylum,” she said. “Can you imagine the fate that would await him if he were deported? Or what kind of a signal that would send?”

“Whether he came over with the crown jewels of Chinese intelligence or just some crumbs from the table, we should be welcoming him with open arms and encouraging others to follow,” she said.

Li admitted he was ambivalent about asking the CIA and FBI for help. He wants to be known as a dissident, not a turncoat.

“My number one target is the CCP” -- the Chinese Communist Party of China, Li said. “If they can connect me to U.S. intelligence agencies, they will use it against me.”

Other government agencies involved in Li’s case -- the departments of Justice and Homeland Security -- either did not respond to requests for comment or declined comment.

Li was critical of the handling of his case by DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes asylum requests, saying in his halting English, “I have a strong feeling they didn’t know this case very well.”

Later, in court proceedings led by a prosecutor with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he said, “I felt this lady” -- he did not identify the prosecutor -- “couldn’t understand the smallest thing about Chinese security agencies.”

Li made his latest case for political asylum at a hearing before an immigration judge in Denver on Monday. Another hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4, at which time he hopes his long quest to stay here will be over.

“I still hope the immigration system can make the right decision,” Li said in a phone interview.

A Denver law firm, Lichter & Associates, has represented Li for the last four years. The current lead attorney on his case, Mark Robert Barr, said Li “faces severe repercussions” if he is forced to return to China, ranging from a “lengthy prison term to capital punishment, with very little due process.”

“As an intelligence agent," Barr added, "he is at extreme risk.”

Retired FBI official I.C. Smith, one of the bureau’s top China experts, agreed.

In a letter to Denver immigration Judge Donn L. Livingston last March, Smith said “Mr. Li has two fundamental problems: he betrayed the trust of the ubiquitous MSS and far more importantly, he denounced the CCP. These are unforgivable actions on the part of the MSS as well as the CCP.”

“Based on my past experience… I can state, without equivocation,” Smith added, “that if Mr. Li were to be returned to China that his punishment would be severe and devoid of civil liberties.”

The final decision on Li’s fate could rest with the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, said an official who asked not to be identified.


How the CIA bedded down in Burma

September 2, 2010

It is a story that was largely ignored when it surfaced last year: since 1994, US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer Richard A. Horn had been claiming that CIA agents illegally wiretapped his conversations while he was stationed in Burma. It appears that, at the time, the US diplomatic representation in Burma and the CIA station in Rangoon were at loggerheads with the DEA. The latter, represented by special agent Horn, had a policy of publicly commending the Burmese government for its significant efforts to end the vastly lucrative illegal drug trade in the country. But the diplomatic leadership at the US embassy in Rangoon, supported by the CIA, felt that their inroads with the Burmese military junta, which has controlled the country since 1990, were being obstructed by the DEA. Horn claims that, in an effort to sabotage the DEA activities in the country, Franklin Hurdle Jr. (who was then US ambassador to Burma) and CIA officer Arthur Brown (who later headed the CIA’s East Asia division) illegally eavesdropped on his telephone communications with his DEA superiors and others. In July of 2009, a US court ruled that CIA attorneys committed fraud in alleging that US national security would be threatened if details of Richard Horn’s lawsuit were openly discussed, and determined that the CIA had kept the case secret for years simply in order to avoid embarrassment. Soon afterwards, a worried CIA was forced to settle the lawsuit out of court. The CIA, the DEA, and –it seems– the American media, are trying to quickly put behind them the grim details of that bloody turf war in post-Cold-War Burma. But in a brave piece written for the Eurasia Review, Joseph Allchin revisits the DEA-CIA clash, and explains the crucial function of the CIA in the turbulent internal politics of Burma. Most definitely essential reading.



Russian General goes missing in Syria, turns up dead in Turkey

Yuri Ivanov, believed to have masterminded assassination campaign against Chechen leaders abroad, was last seen visiting the building site for a new Russian military base in the Syrian coastal city Tartus.

The former deputy chief of a Russian military intelligence service was found dead on the shore of the Mediterranean by Turkish villagers in the province of Hatay, the Turkish newspaper Vatan reported Wednesday, citing Russian sources.

Experts had identified the body as that of Yuri Ivanov, the former deputy head of the Russian military intelligence service GRU, the report said. The general had last been deployed to review Russian military installations in Syria.

Moscow had confirmed the death of the general last week but only released further details this week, the report said.

Ivanov's body had been swept ashore on August 16 but was not identified immediately.

The Turkish foreign ministry had therefore approached neighbouring countries for further information, and Damascus reported that Ivanov had gone missing in Syria.

The general was last seen visiting the building site for a new Russian military base in the Syrian coastal city Tartus. After his visit he had left for a meeting with Syrian intelligence agents, but went missing.

Ivanov was believed to have masterminded a series of assassination attacks which the Russian secret service carried out against Chechen leaders living abroad, the report said.

The body of one of Russia?s top spies has washed up on the Turkish coast after he disappeared close to a sensitive Russian naval facility in neighbouring Syria.

Gen. Yuri Ivanov, 52, deputy head of GRU, the Russian military's overseas intelligence arm of Russian military, was found dead in mysterious circumstances

Andrew Osborn, Moscow
31 Aug 2010

According to the Kremlin, he was on holiday in Syria and died in a tragic swimming accident.
However, other reports have suggested he was on official business and the location where he is reported to have disappeared was only about fifty miles from a strategically vital Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus which is being expanded and upgraded to service and refuel ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The facility is Russia’s only foothold in the Mediterranean Sea, and Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, is know to be concerned that Moscow will use the upgraded facility as a base for spy ships and electronic espionage directed at the Middle East. The port is also close to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, a terminal for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which is seen as a lifeline for Georgia, against whom Russia fought a short war in 2008.


1 September 2010
Luke Harding in Moscow

The news portal Svobodnaya Pressa also pointed out that Ivanov was the second top GRU agent to die in unexplained circumstances. Another senior agent, Yuri Gusev, was killed in 1992 in a "car accident". His fellow officers later established that he had been murdered, the paper said, adding: "Spies of that rank are well protected. As a rule, they don't die by chance."

After finding the body, Turkey's foreign ministry approached neighbouring countries for further information, with Damascus reporting that Ivanov had gone missing while on assignment in Syria.

The general was last seen visiting the building site for a new Russian military base in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus, which is being expanded as a base for Russia's Black Sea fleet.

After his visit, he left for a meeting with Syrian intelligence agents. He then went missing, the Turkish newspaper Vatan reported today.

GRU is the country's main military intelligence and reconnaissance agency, and reports directly to the general staff of Russia's armed forces. The directorate is much bigger than the KGB – which was broken up after the collapse of communism into two agencies: the foreign intelligence service, the SVR, and its domestic equivalent, the FSB.

Historically, Russia's intelligence agencies have often been fierce rivals.

The Kremlin assigned Ivanov to lead its war against Chechen separatists in 2000, and he allegedly masterminded a series of assassination attacks, which the Russian secret service carried out on Chechens living abroad. In 2004, two GRU agents killed the Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, blowing up his SUV in Qatar.

The Qatar authorities swiftly arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment two Russian GRU spies who were said in court to have been acting under direct orders from the Russian leadership. The pair were extradited back to Russia in 2005 to serve out their sentences on home soil. Both then promptly disappeared.

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