E is for espionage /4

Written by  //  February 3, 2023  //  Geopolitics  //  1 Comment

E is for espionage /3

Why would China use a spy balloon when it has satellites?
(BBC) News of an alleged Chinese spy balloon floating over the US has left many wondering why Beijing would want to use a relatively unsophisticated tool for its surveillance of the US mainland.
Balloons are one of the oldest forms of surveillance technology. The Japanese military used them to launch incendiary bombs in the US during World War Two. They were also widely used by the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
More recently, the US has reportedly been considering adding high-altitude inflatables into the Pentagon’s surveillance network. Modern balloons typically hover between 24km-37km above the earth’s surface (80,000ft-120,000ft).
“Beijing is probably trying to signal to Washington: ‘While we want to improve ties, we are also ever ready for sustained competition, using any means necessary,’ without severely inflaming tensions,” independent air-power analyst He Yuan Ming told the BBC.
“And what better tool for this than a seemingly innocuous balloon?”
The balloon’s anticipated flight path near certain missile bases suggests it is unlikely it has drifted off course, He Yuan Ming said.
U.S. rejects China’s spy balloon denials, reports a 2nd balloon flying over Latin America
(CBC) A huge, high-altitude Chinese balloon sailing across the U.S. and reports of a second flying over Latin America on Friday drew severe accusations from the Pentagon that China was spying on sensitive military sites despite Beijing’s firm denials.
It was spotted earlier over Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, defence officials said.
Later Friday, the Pentagon acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America.
“We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” U.S. Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement, declining to offer further information such as where the second balloon had been spotted.

24 January
The Autocrat in Your iPhone -How Mercenary Spyware Threatens Democracy
By Ronald J. Deibert
(Foreign Affairs) The advent of advanced spyware has transformed the world of espionage and surveillance. Bringing together a largely unregulated industry with an invasive-by-design digital ecosystem in which smartphones and other personal devices contain the most intimate details of people’s lives, the new technology can track almost anyone, anywhere in the world.
Providing the ability to clandestinely infiltrate even the most up-to-date smartphones—the latest “zero click” version of the spyware can penetrate a device without any action by the user—Pegasus has become the digital surveillance tool of choice for repressive regimes around the world. It has been used against government critics in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and pro-democracy protesters in Thailand. It has been deployed by Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia and Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
But the use of spyware is hardly limited to the world’s authoritarians. As researchers have revealed, over the past decade many democracies, including Spain and Mexico, have begun using spyware, as well, in ways that violate well-established norms of human rights and public accountability. U.S. government documents disclosed by The New York Times in November 2022 show that the FBI not only acquired spyware services from NSO, possibly for counterintelligence purposes, but also contemplated deploying them, including on U.S. targets.

19 January
Former Swedish intelligence officer jailed for life for spying for Russia
Judge says Peyman Kia abused trust placed in him, and also sentences younger brother to 10 years
(The Guardian) Peyman Kia, 42, served in the Swedish security and counter-intelligence service, Säpo, and in armed forces intelligence agencies, including the foreign intelligence agency (Must) and KSI, a top-secret unit dealing with Swedish spies abroad.
He was found guilty of aggravated espionage and unauthorised handling of classified documents. The judge, Måns Wigén, said Kia had abused the trust placed in him in order to aid Russia, the country posing “the biggest threat to Sweden”.
His brother Payam, 35, was convicted of aggravated espionage for planning the crime and managing contacts with Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, passing on 45 of the 90 documents Peyman was found to have gathered.
The court said they had “jointly and in concertation, without authorisation and to assist Russia and the GRU, acquired, forwarded and shared information whose disclosure to a foreign power could be detrimental to Sweden’s security”.
The Iranian-born brothers, both of whom hold Swedish citizenship, have denied the charges and are expected to appeal against them.

17 January
The U.S. has an overclassification problem, says one former special counsel
For months, classified documents have been turning up in places where they’re not supposed to.
(NPR) First, there was the discovery of hundreds of classified documents inappropriately stored at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Then, in recent weeks, the discovery of classified documents at President Biden’s home and private office.
While these cases are different in scope and circumstance, both demonstrate mishandling of sensitive information – and they have renewed the scrutiny on how the government classifies its documents.
… Is the criticism of overclassification fair, in Biden’s case currently and previously with former President Trump?
Well, it’s hard to know exactly what’s happening with the Biden administration because we haven’t seen those documents. And so it’s hard to know if those are documents that really should not have been classified. The fact that they’re mixed in with a lot of documents that were not classified is suggestive that they were just part of a set of files where classified information kind of got snuck in and they inadvertently took the boxes with them when they left. But again, we don’t have a lot of information.
We do have a little bit more information about the materials that were retained by the Trump administration, by President Trump when he left. We have that famous photo of the sort of files on the floor. And you can see if you look at those pictures, that many of those documents were what’s called top secret SCI, which is special compartmented information. That is the most highly classified information the U.S. government has and includes HUMINT, that is human intelligence and special intelligence.
‘Unbelievably ridiculous’: Four-star general seeks to clean up Pentagon’s classification process
Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that he hopes to see “significant improvement” this year on loosening classification standards in the infamously overclassified Pentagon.
Concerns about overclassification in the Pentagon have been long-standing. The department’s internal watchdog on Afghanistan issues considers it a major issue, and the Project on Government Oversight in December released a report warning of a “war on transparency” in the department, in part through what it called the unnecessary marking of documents as classified. (29 January 2020)

Hyten said the process, which has the backing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, will attempt to make it easier to communicate with industry, the public and internally at the Defense Department.
Foreign Affairs January/February 2022
U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump now both face criticism (and possible legal exposure) for mishandling classified documents when they were out of political office. In Biden’s case, classified documents dating back to his tenure as vice president were found by Biden’s lawyers in a think tank office he once used, and at his private residence in Wilmington, Delaware. The FBI discovered several hundred government files marked as classified at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s home in Florida, after Trump resisted repeated efforts by the government to retrieve them. What complicates these stories is that the government tends to overclassify information, marking everything from national security secrets to publicly available data as “classified.”
Keeping the Wrong SecretsHow Washington Misses the Real Security Threat
Oona Hathaway argues that although the protection of sensitive government data is important, Washington devotes excessive resources to protecting mostly useless classified information while doing little to protect the private data of ordinary citizens—leaving information with much greater national security value out for the taking.


31 December
A Spy Among Friends
‘I did not let Kim Philby go. He gave me the slip’: what an MI6 spy told me over lunch
A new TV series [using Ben Macintyre’s book of the same name as its source and inspiration] highlights the part played by the UK intelligence service’s Nicholas Elliott in unmasking the 1960s Cambridge spy ring – events he recalled years later over lunch at his club
A Spy Among Friends review – don’t take your eyes off this star-packed espionage thriller
This is not the kind of drama one can watch with an eye on something else. Heaven forbid you get distracted by a text message; there are a couple of instances where I had to rewind several minutes because I briefly looked away. There are so many layers to peel back. Elliott is looking into Philby’s betrayals, but MI5 are looking into Elliott and Philby and MI6, and everyone involved is hoping the CIA doesn’t find out about it before they get their ducks in a row. That is a lot of spy-on-spy spying.

12 December
Biden faces growing pressure to drop charges against Julian Assange
Biden faces a renewed push, domestically and internationally, to drop charges against Assange, who is languishing in a UK jail
(The Guardian) …the biggest test of Biden’s commitment [to respecting a free and vigorous press] remains imprisoned in a jail cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act, a century-old statute that has never been used before for publishing classified information.

1 December
The EU has a spy problem — here’s why it’s so difficult to catch them
Faced with Russian hostility and Chinese snooping, Belgium has upped its counterintelligence game — but Brussels remains a spies’ playground.
By Barbara Moens
(Politico Eu) To start with, nobody really knows just how many spies are operating in the EU capital. When Belgian security officials are pressed to provide a number they joke that, if anybody can find out, they’d be delighted to know.
The United States and Australia require people working for foreign interests to register, providing at least a glimpse of attempts to influence the political process. Belgium does not.
Then there’s the number of targets — and the potential for cover stories — the city’s international postings provide.
Brussels hosts not just the EU institutions and NATO but also around 100 other international organizations and 300 foreign diplomatic missions. Together, these employ about 26,000 registered diplomats, according to the Belgian foreign affairs ministry — each one a possible spy.
For a spook, a diplomatic passport is the ultimate cover. Not only is rubbing shoulders with top officials and unearthing information part of the job description, but diplomats are also protected from prosecution under the Vienna Convention. Belgian security officials estimate that, in some embassies, between 10 and 20 percent of the diplomats are intelligence officers.
License to kill: How Europe lets Iran and Russia get away with murder
For rogue states, solving a problem by removing it often proves irresistible.
By Matthew Karnitschnig
(Politico Eu) Since 2015, Iran has carried out about a dozen operations in Europe, killing at least three people and abducting several others, security officials say.
“The Europeans have not just been soft on the Islamic Republic, they’ve been cooperating with them, working with them, legitimizing the killers,” Masih Alinejad, the Iranian-American author and women’s rights activist said, highlighting the continuing willingness of European heads of state to meet with Iran’s leaders.

28 November‘Publishing is not a crime’: media groups urge US to drop Julian Assange charges
First outlets to publish WikiLeaks material, including the Guardian, come together to oppose prosecution

14 November
Worker at Canada’s largest electricity producer charged with spying for China, police say
Hydro-Quebec is Canada’s largest electricity producer
Employee accused of trying to steal trade secrets for China
Man will appear in court on Tuesday
Beijing calls on Canada to avoid politicising the case
(Reuters) – An employee at Canada’s largest electricity producer Hydro-Quebec who was involved in researching battery materials has been charged with espionage for allegedly trying to steal trade secrets to benefit China, Canadian police said on Monday.

10 October
Has the C.I.A. Done More Harm Than Good?
In the agency’s seventy-five years of existence, a lack of accountability has sustained dysfunction, ineptitude, and lawlessness.

14 September
Peter Zeihan: This is How Russian Propaganda Works (podcast)
I can and will outline the whys of Russian propaganda. It didn’t come out of the blue. Its very existence is wrapped up in how Moscow has ruled its territories going back to the beginning.

6 September
Material on foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities seized at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago
Some seized documents were so closely held, only the president, a Cabinet-level or near-Cabinet level official could authorize others to know
(WaPo) A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.
Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or a near-Cabinet-level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special-access programs, according to people familiar with the search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details of an ongoing investigation.
Documents about such highly classified operations require special clearances on a need-to-know basis, not just top-secret clearance.
Trump Reportedly Had Information About a Foreign Government’s Nuclear Secrets at Mar-a-Lago, and Yeah, That’s Exactly as Bad as It Sounds
He held on to this information despite a subpoena demanding he turn over every classified document in his possession, and a signed statement from his attorney claiming he’d done so.
Question: Is there any legitimate, not-suspicious reason that a former president of the United States would take information about a foreign country’s nuclear capabilities from the White House with him when he left, stash it in his home, and refuse to give it back despite being asked to do so on numerous occasions?

4 September
Jennifer Rubin: The Mar-a-Lago espionage scandal is a three-alarm national security crisis. We should act like it
The extent of the national security crisis Trump thrust upon us has not yet been fully appreciated. The more detailed inventory released on Friday is jaw-dropping. As the Associated Press reports: “Though the inventory does not describe the content of the documents, it shows the extent to which classified information — including material at the top-secret level — was stashed in boxes at the home and mixed among newspapers, magazines, clothing and other personal items.” The volume of documents is even more troubling.

One Comment on "E is for espionage /4"

  1. Alexander Cor January 26, 2023 at 7:20 am · Reply

    Into all things espionage? Do read Bill Fairclough’s fact based spy thriller, Beyond Enkription, the first stand-alone novel of six in The Burlington Files series. One day he may overtake Bond, Smiley and even Jackson Lamb!

    Intentionally misspelt, Beyond Enkription is a must read for espionage illuminati. It’s a raw noir matter of fact pacy novel. Len Deighton and Mick Herron could be forgiven for thinking they co-wrote it. Coincidentally, a few critics have nicknamed its protagonist “a posh Harry Palmer.”

    It is a true story about a maverick accountant, Bill Fairclough (MI6 codename JJ) aka Edward Burlington in Porter Williams International (in real life Coopers & Lybrand now PwC). In the 1970s in London he infiltrated organised crime gangs, unwittingly working for MI6. After some frenetic attempts on his life he was relocated to the Bahamas where, “eyes wide open” he was recruited by the CIA and headed for shark infested waters off Haiti.

    If you’re an espionage cognoscente you’ll love this monumental book. In real life Bill Fairclough was recruited by MI6’s unorthodox Colonel Alan Brooke Pemberton CVO MBE and thereafter they worked together on and off into the 1990s. You can find out more about Pemberton’s People (who even included Winston Churchill’s bodyguard) in an article dated 31 October 2022 on The Burlington Files website.

    This epic is so real it made us wonder why bother reading espionage fiction when facts are so much more exhilarating. Whether you’re a le Carré connoisseur, a Deighton disciple, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or a Macintyre marauder, odds on once you are immersed in it you’ll read this titanic production twice. For more detailed reviews visit the Reviews page on TheBurlingtonFiles website or see other independent reviews on your local Amazon website and check out Bill Fairclough’s background on the web.

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