Iran Executes Translator Convicted Of Spying For CIA, Israel

A handout picture provided by the Iranian Presidency on July 18, 2020, shows President Hassan Rouhani walking past a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian Presidency / AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian Presidency on July 18, 2020, shows President Hassan Rouhani walking past a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian Presidency / AFP

 

Iran on Monday executed a former translator convicted of spying for the US and Israel, including helping to locate a top Iranian general killed later by the Americans, the judiciary said.

The killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January brought decades-old arch-enemies Iran and the United States to the brink of conflict.

The judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Mahmoud Mousavi Majd’s death “sentence was carried out on Monday morning over the charge of espionage so that the case of his betrayal to his country will be closed forever”.

Its spokesman said earlier this month that Majd had been sentenced to death for spying on “various security fields, especially the armed forces and the Quds Force and the whereabouts and movements of martyr General Qasem Soleimani”.

Majd had been found guilty of receiving large sums of money from both the US Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s Mossad, said the spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.

Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran retaliated for his death by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but US President Donald Trump opted against responding militarily.

A US strike killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military force at Baghdad’s airport early on January 3, 2020, the Hashed announced.
IRIB TV / AFP

 

While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad left no US soldiers dead, dozens of them suffered brain trauma.

Majd was arrested some two years ago and was not directly involved in the killing of Soleimani in Baghdad, according to a statement the judiciary issued in June.

Majd had migrated to Syria in the 1970s with his family and worked as an English and Arabic language translator at a company, Mizan said.

When war broke out, he chose to stay in the country while his family left.

“His knowledge of Arabic and familiarity with Syria’s geography made him close to Iranian military advisers and he took responsibilities in groups stationed from Idlib to Latakia,” the site added.

‘American dollars’

Majd was not a member of the Revolutionary Guards “but infiltrated many sensitive areas under the cover of being a translator”.

He was found to have been paid “American dollars to reveal information on adviser convoys, military equipment and communication systems, commanders and their movements, important geographical areas, codes and passwords” until he came under scrutiny and his access was downgraded.

He was arrested in October 2018, Mizan said.

Iran said last week it had executed another man convicted of spying for the CIA by selling information about Iran’s missile programme.

Reza Asgari had worked at the defence ministry’s aerospace division for years but retired four years ago, after which he sold “information he had regarding our missiles” to the CIA in exchange for large sums of money.

Iran in February handed down a similar sentence for Amir Rahimpour, another man convicted of spying for the US and conspiring to sell information on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Tehran announced in December it had arrested eight people “linked to the CIA” and involved in nationwide street protests that erupted the previous month over a surprise petrol price hike.

It also said in July 2019 that it had dismantled a CIA spy ring, arrested 17 suspects between March 2018 and March 2019 and sentenced some of them to death.

Trump at the time dismissed the claim as “totally false”.

 

 

AFP

Germany Investigates Three Over ‘Spying For China’

 

German prosecutors on Wednesday said they were investigating three people who allegedly spied for China, with media reporting that a German former EU diplomat was among the suspects.

“We can confirm an investigation into suspected espionage” for Chinese state security bodies, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office told AFP.

Der Spiegel weekly said one of the suspects was a German diplomat who worked at the European Commission in Brussels before serving several stints as ambassador for the European Union in foreign countries.

The other two are reportedly lobbyists employed by a “well-known Germany lobby firm”.

Prosecutors refused to provide details about the suspects and said no arrests have been made.

But they confirmed Spiegel’s information that police were on Wednesday raiding homes and offices linked to the trio in Berlin, Brussels and the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

According to Spiegel, prosecutors accuse the former diplomat and one of the lobbyists of “sharing private and commercial information with the Chinese ministry for state security”.

The third suspect apparently only indicated “a willingness to do so”.

The diplomat at the centre of the probe reportedly ended his EU career in 2017 and switched to working for a lobbying firm, where he then recruited the two other suspects.

The spying is alleged to have started that same year.

If the allegations are confirmed, it would be a rare case of Chinese espionage being uncovered.

“Although there is always much talk about large-scale Chinese spying operations in Germany and Europe, investigators are rarely successful against Beijing’s secret services,” Spiegel wrote.

 Huawei tensions 

The probe comes at a time of intense debate in Europe’s top economy about whether or not to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing Germany’s 5G mobile networks.

Critics, led by Washington, say Huawei is too close to Beijing and its equipment could be used as a tool for spying — an allegation Huawei strongly denies.

US President Donald Trump has already ordered American firms to cease doing business with market leader Huawei, and has urged allies to follow suit.

Australia and Japan have also taken steps to bar or tightly restrict the firm’s participation in their 5G networks.

Germany so far has resisted pressure to ban Huawei.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has instead said Berlin would insist on stringent security requirements without barring individual companies.

China is a crucial trading partner for Germany but concerns have mounted in recent years over a spike in Chinese investments in German firms.

The buying spree has fuelled fears of vital German knowhow and technology being sold off to Beijing, prompting the government to tighten restrictions on foreign takeovers.

AFP

Russia Extends Detention Of US Man In Spy Case

 

Bauchi Assembly Crisis: Court Orders Parties To Maintain Status Quo

 

A Russian court on Tuesday extended until late March the pre-trial detention of a US man already held in jail for a year despite Western requests for his release.

Paul Whelan, who also has Irish, Canadian and British citizenship, was arrested on December 28 last year for allegedly receiving state secrets.

On Christmas eve the Moscow City Court extended his detention by another three months, to March 29, a court spokesman told AFP.

He risks up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Whelan, 49, has denounced the case against him and said he is being held “hostage” for a possible prisoner exchange.

On Monday, US charge d’affaires Bart Gorman and diplomats from Canada, Ireland, and Britain visited Whelan in Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo prison, bringing him food and Christmas greetings from family and supporters.

“It’s two days before Christmas. A holiday Paul Whelan will spend alone in Lefortovo,” the US embassy quoted Gorman as saying.

“In the past 12 months, Paul has not heard his parents’ voices. Bring Paul some Christmas cheer and let him call home.”

Whelan, a former US marine, maintains he has been framed and that he took a USB drive from an acquaintance thinking it contained holiday photos.

His lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov has said the acquaintance that handed over the drive is the only witness against Whelan while the rest of his longtime acquaintances in Russia gave witness statements in his defence.

During a previous court hearing in October, Whelan insisted that he was not a spy.

“Russia thought they caught James Bond on a spy mission, in reality they abducted Mr Bean on holiday,” he has said.

Whelan and his supporters claim that the American has been mistreated in jail.

Moscow has rubbished the claims, saying foreign diplomats have regular access to Whelan and calling the complaints a “provocative line of defence”.

“Whelan’s complaints concerning the conditions of detention and actions of investigators have never once been confirmed,” the Russian foreign ministry has said.

AFP

UAE Charges Student With Spying

A handout picture released by the family  Matthew Hedges, a 31-year-old Ph.D. student who was researching the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies after the Arab Spring revolutions, was stopped at Dubai Airport on May 5. Photo: DETAINED IN DUBAI / AFP

 

The United Arab Emirates has charged a British Ph.D. student with spying in the Gulf country, as his wife on Tuesday called on Britain to defend his innocence.  

Matthew Hedges stands accused of “spying for a foreign country, jeopardizing the military, political and economic security of the state”, UAE attorney general Hamad al-Shamsi said late Monday.

The 31-year-old, who was researching the UAE’s foreign and internal security policies after the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions, was detained at Dubai airport on May 5.

Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada said Tuesday he has been “held in an undisclosed location in the UAE in solitary confinement” with limited access to the consulate and his family as well as no access to a lawyer until last week.

She said Hedges had been told last week he “was being charged with gathering information and sharing it with a foreign agency – the UK Government”.

Tejada called on the British government to “clarify publically that Matt is innocent of the charges and that there have been many falsehoods said about him”.

“This horrifying situation has been going on for far too long,” she said.

Britain’s foreign office said it was supporting Hedges and his family and had been “in close contact with the local authorities”, a spokesperson said.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told AFP last week he was “very worried” about Hedges’ fate.

“I’ve spoken to the Emirati foreign minister twice now on this matter face to face so they are very aware of our concerns and we are monitoring it very closely,” he said.

The charges against Hedges are based on evidence from investigations carried out by the public prosecution, according to the attorney general.

Hedges had been posing as a researcher to cover his activities, he said, adding that the accusations were backed by “information taken from his electronic devices”.

Tejada, who has visited her husband once and spoken to him on the phone several times, told AFP last week her husband “simply isn’t guilty of anything”.

“He was just doing academic research,” she said, adding that his research involved only open source material.

“He’s not disclosed anything… classified or confidential,” she said, adding that Hedges had lived in the UAE for “several years” before he returned to Britain in 2015.

AFP

Lithuania, Poland To Expel Russian Diplomats Over Spy Attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin 
PHOTO: Alexey NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP

 

The foreign ministers of Lithuania and Poland on Monday said they would expel Russia diplomats in solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury.

“We handed a note to the ambassador that three Russian embassy officials are declared persona non grata for activities incompatible with their diplomatic status,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.

Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz, for his part, told reporters: “The four Russian diplomats have until midnight on April 3 to leave Poland.”

AFP

Trump Orders Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats

Trump Says 'No Collusion' After Russians Indicted For Election Meddling
US President Donald Trump. Photo: SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump has ordered the expulsion of 60 alleged Russian spies from the United States in response to a nerve agent attack on an ex-spy in the English city of Salisbury.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the move, part of globally coordinated retaliation against Moscow, was taken “in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom.”

Officials said that 48 “known intelligence officers” posted to the United States and 12 more at the Russian mission to the United Nations now have seven days to leave the country.

Trump has also ordered the closure of the consulate in Seattle, which officials said was the focus of spying efforts against the nearby Kitsap submarine base and Boeing.

One senior administration official said that there were still more that 40 known Russian intelligence officers operating in the United States, but Moscow’s “collection capabilities” would be “significantly” affected by the move.

On March 4, former spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious, slumped on a bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury.

After initial mixed messages about who was to blame, Washington now agrees with Britain’s assessment Russia was behind the attack.

The message, a second senior administration said, is “when you attack our friends you will face consequences.”

AFP

 

Russia Opens Probe Into ‘Attempted Murder’ Of Ex-Spy, Daughter

Putin Orders Alternative Olympic Games For Banned Athletes
Russian President Vladimir Putin  Photo: Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russian investigators on Friday opened a probe into the “attempted premeditated murder” of Yulia Skripal, who became the victim of a nerve agent attack along with her father in Britain.

The Investigative Committee, which reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, opened a case based “on the fact of the attempted premeditated murder of Russian national Yulia Skripal,” it said in a statement.

More to follow…

Pound Recovers As World Supports Britain In Spy Case

British Prime Minister Theresa May    Photo: Bjorn LARSSON ROSVALL / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

The British pound recovered Friday from weakness prompted by a Russian decision to expel British diplomats, as the world rallied in support for London in a crisis sparked by the poisoning of a double agent, analysts said.

World stocks, meanwhile, rose slightly at the end of a volatile week as fears lingered of a global trade war, tarnishing a positive economic outlook.

“Yesterday morning the pound fell on headlines that Russia was going to retaliate and expel British diplomats,” said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at Forex.

The pound then “started to recover” after the leaders of France, Germany and the United States blamed Russia for a nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal, saying there was “no plausible alternative explanation” for the assault.

“There is nothing like a Russian boogieman to bring EU and UK political adversaries together,” wrote Jasper Lawler, head of research at the London Capital Group.

European and US stocks rose Friday, after Donald Trump’s appointment this week of Lary Kudlow — a supporter of the president’s “America first” agenda but who has criticised his tariffs move — appeared to limit worries of an imminent trade war, at least on the European front.

In Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, the DAX was up as shares in Siemens’ Healthineers unit surged after the industrial giant raised 4.2 billion euros ($5.1 billion) in an initial public offering.

For the bloc as a whole, the main event was the final eurozone inflation reading for February, which came in at 1.1 percent.

“Clearly whatever the (European Central Bank) ECB is doing to get that (consumer price index) CPI figure creeping higher isn’t working, news that helped send the…DAX and CAC up,” Connor Campbell, analyst at Spreadex traders.

Attention now turns to the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting next week. A rate rise is expected but its statement and new bank boss Jerome Powell’s comments will be pored over for clues about future hikes with speculation it could announce three more this year.

“It’s shaping up to be arguably one of the most critical central bank policy events in some time as Jay Powell gets set to dictate the course of Fed policy for the remainder of 2018 and beyond,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA.

Further uncertainty has been fanned by reports that Trump is planning to sack his National Security Advisor HR McMaster, just days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was ousted and not long since Trump’s chief economic advisor Gary Cohn resigned.

Elsewhere on Friday, bitcoin was stable around $8,470 after heavy losses in recent days.

Key figures around 1400 GMT

New York – Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 24,951.56 points

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,155.60

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 0.3 percent at 12,384.82

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.2 percent at 5,275.00

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.5 percent at 3,431.60

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.6 percent at 21,676.51 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 31,501.97 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2299 from $1.2300 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3938 from $1.3933

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.61 yen from 106.39 yen

Oil – Brent North Sea: FLAT at $65.71 per barrel

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 12 cents at $61.25

AFP

Russia Says CIA Agent Caught Trying To Recruit Spy

Russia said on Tuesday it had caught an American red-handed as he tried to recruit a Russian intelligence officer to work for the CIA, a throwback to the Cold War era that risks upsetting efforts to improve relations.

The announcement came at an awkward time, just days after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, during which Washington and Moscow agreed to try to bring the warring sides in Syria together for an international peace conference.

The Federal Security Service said Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, had been detained overnight carrying “special technical equipment”, a disguise, a large sum of money and instructions for recruiting his target.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul over the case and a Russian television station published photographs which it said showed Fogle being detained, apparently wearing a blond wig.

A successor of the Soviet-era KGB, the FSB said Fogle worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and that he had been handed over to embassy officials at some point after his detention.

Diplomats accused of espionage are usually expelled or withdrawn.

“On the night of May 13-14, a staff employee of the CIA, Ryan Christopher Fogle … was detained by counter-espionage organs of the Russian FSB while attempting to recruit an employee of one of the Russian special services,” the FSB said.

“Recently, American intelligence has made multiple attempts to recruit employees of Russian law enforcement organs and special agencies, which have been detected and monitored by Russian FSB counterintelligence,” it said in a statement.

The embassy declined comment. McFaul, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, was holding a live question-and-answer session on Twitter as news of the detention was announced, but refused to take questions on the matter.

Russia Today television published photographs on its website which it said showed Fogle being detained. In one photograph, a man lies face-down on the ground with his arms held behind his back by another man, and apparently wearing a blond wig.

Another image showed two wigs, apparently found on him, as well as three pairs of glasses, a torch, a mobile phone and a compass. Aldo displayed was a wad of 500-euro ($650) notes and an envelope addressed to a “dear friend”.

The United States and Russia are still involved in espionage, more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, and the FSB said such incidents were not unusual.

The last major espionage scandal occurred in 2010, when 10 Russian agents including Anna Chapman were arrested in the United States and later deported in exchange for four Russians imprisoned on charges of spying for the West.

U.S.-Russian relations turned colder after former KGB spy Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency a year ago.

The United States and Russia are also trying to improve counterterrorism cooperation following the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. FBI chief Robert Mueller visited Moscow for talks last week.