The government of Albania has ejected Iranian agents alleged to have plotted terrorist attacks in the country, including targeting Israelis.
“I commend PM Edi Rama’s expulsion of two Iranian agents who plotted terrorist attacks in Albania,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted. “European nations have thwarted three Iranian plots this year alone. The world must stand together to sanction Iran’s regime until it changes its destructive behavior.”
The foiled plot is related to Iranians, who planned to attack a World Cup soccer match between Albania and Israel in 2016.
One of the two Iranian agents expelled was the Islamic Republic’s ambassador to Albania.
“Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania just expelled the Iranian ambassador, signaling to Iran’s leaders that their support for terrorism will not be tolerated,” National Security Advisor John Bolton wrote on his Twitter feed. “We stand with PM Rama and the Albanian people as they stand up to Iran’s reckless behavior in Europe and across the globe.”
The expulsion of the two Iranian agents on Wednesday follows the arrest of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat in the Vienna embassy who is believed to have launched a plot to blow up a meeting of Iranian dissidents in Paris in June. The German government arrested Assadi in Bavaria.
In October, France’s government said Iran’s ministry of intelligence was behind the plot to bomb the rally of Iranian opposition groups in Paris.
The rally in Paris was attended by US President Donald Trump’s attorney and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Former US House speaker Newt Gingrich was also present.
In November, Denmark accused Iran’s intelligence agency of planning to murder an exiled leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), groups fighting for a separate territory in Iran. “We are dealing with an Iranian intelligence agency planning an attack on Danish soil. Obviously, we can’t and won’t accept that,” said Finn Borch Andersen, the head of Danish intelligence.
Sweden extradited a Norwegian national of Iranian background to Denmark in connection with the foiled plot against the ASMLA leader.
The Danes pulled their ambassador out of Iran but he returned in November.
The Danish government pushed the EU for sanctions against Iran, but the EU has refused to take action.
The Netherlands expelled two Iranian diplomats, according to a Reuters report in July. “We can confirm that the Netherlands has expelled two persons accredited to the Iranian embassy,” a spokesperson for Dutch intelligence said. “We will not provide any further information.”
(A journalist being killed and dismembered… We thought this was another Mexico story….)
(ISTANBUL) — Turkish media close to the president published images Wednesday of what it described as a 15-member “assassination squad” allegedly sent to target Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and of a black van later traveling from the Saudi consulate, where he went missing, to the consul’s home.
The release of the photographs and video raises pressure on Saudi Arabia a week after Khashoggi disappeared during a visit to the consulate. Turkish officials fear that the team killed the writer, who was critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom has called the allegations “baseless,” but has not provided any evidence that Khashoggi left the consulate and did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
News channel 24 aired the video, suggesting that Khashoggi was inside of the black Mercedes Vito, which resembled one parked outside of the consulate when the writer walked in on Oct. 2. The channel said the van then drove some 1.2 miles to the consul’s home, where it parked inside a garage.
The Sabah newspaper, which is similarly close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published images of what it referred to as the “assassination squad” apparently taken at passport control. It said they checked into two hotels in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and left later that day.
Khashoggi had written a series of columns for the Washington Post that were critical of Saudi Arabia’s assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has led a widely publicized drive to reform the Sunni monarchy but has also presided over the arrests of activists and businessmen.
On Wednesday, the Post published a column by Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. She acknowledged the writer first visited the consulate on Sept. 28 “despite being somewhat concerned that he could be in danger.” He later returned Oct. 2 after being promised needed paperwork so the two could be married.
A surveillance video image surfaced Tuesday showing Khashoggi walking into the consulate in Istanbul’s upscale 4th Levent neighborhood. No evidence of him leaving the consulate has been made public, but Turkish officials also have yet to provide evidence he was kidnapped or killed.
“At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance,” Cengiz wrote. “I also urge Saudi Arabia, especially King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to show the same level of sensitivity and release CCTV footage from the consulate.”
She added: “Although this incident could potentially fuel a political crisis between the two nations, let us not lose sight of the human aspect of what happened.”
Khashoggi had sought to become a U.S. citizen after living in self-imposed exile since last year, fearing repercussions for his criticism of the prince, Cengiz wrote.
Trump, who took his first overseas trip as U.S. president to the kingdom and whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has close ties to Prince Mohammed, said Tuesday he had not yet talked to the Saudis about Khashoggi, “but I will be at some point,” without elaborating.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Tuesday that Saudi authorities have notified Ankara that they were “open to cooperation” and would allow the consulate building to be searched. It’s unclear when such a search would take place.
Embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil and must be protected by host nations. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to reassure its Western allies and the international community.
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The U.S. has officially blamed Iran for recent attacks near Washington’s diplomatic presence in Iraq, where the two powers have competed for influence in the latest venue of a decades-long feud sparked by an embassy hostage crisis.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that “Iran is the origin of the current threat to Americans in Iraq” and was “to blame for the attacks against our mission in Basra and our embassy in Baghdad,” adding that his department’s “intelligence in this regard is solid.” Iran has the support of a number of semi-official Shiite Muslim militias across Iraq, and Pompeo cited “repeated incidents of indirect fire from elements of those militias” against the two U.S. sites in a Friday statement announcing the closure of the consulate general in the southern city of Basra.
Iran, whose own consulate general in Basra was burned down last month, has rejected these charges. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi said Saturday that “the ridiculous justification [provided by Americans] for the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in Basra, which came after weeks of propaganda and false allegations against Iran and the Iraqi forces, is a suspicious move aimed at evading responsibility and pinning the blame on others responsibility and pinning the blame on others”
As unrest once again grips Iraq, the ripples of a long-standing dispute between the U.S. and Iran has again highlighted a history of both countries targeting one another’s diplomats.
Poisoned relations between the U.S. and Iran began in 1979. Prior to that, Iran was under the rule of the pro-West Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the U.S. stepped in to protect British oil interests when Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh challenged the monarch’s absolute power and tried to nationalize the energy sector. With Mossadegh deposed and imprisoned in a 1953 CIA-sponsored coup, Pahlavi went on to rule for another quarter of a century before he himself was forced to flee the Islamic Revolution, which brought the current revolutionary Shiite Muslim government into power.
Upset over Western meddling in Iranian affairs and demanding that an ill Pahlavi be extradited to face justice at home, supporters of the new clerical administration overran the U.S. Embassy and held 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens hostage. A U.S. Army attempt to rescue the detainees by force ended in failure when a helicopter crashed into a transport aircraft, killing eight soldiers. An Iranian civilian was also killed when U.S. forces bombed the truck he was riding in.
The hostages were ultimately released on the day of President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 following extensive negotiations. Although the U.S. would go on to secretly sell arms to Iran while also supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, relations between Washington and Tehran were effectively squashed. Their relationship further deteriorated with growing Iranian support for foreign Shiite Muslim movements such as the Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of whom have been blamed for the 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut—an attack that killed up to 63 people, including 17 U.S. officials and soldiers.
The U.S. officially embargoed Iranian trade in 1995 and these sanctions expanded as Iran embarked on a nuclear program, which Tehran always maintained was solely for peaceful purposes. Though Iran was a bitter opponent of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, it also backed Shiite Muslim insurgents targeting U.S. troops after the 2003 invasion that toppled him as it expanded ties with the new majority-Shiite Muslim administration in Baghdad. In January 2007, the U.S. raided the Iranian Liaison Office in Erbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region, accusing five staff members of being agents of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and detaining them.
The local Kurdish government, which had ties to both the U.S. and Iran, vouched for the individuals and prevented the U.S. from detaining other individuals at Erbil’s airport. The five liaison office employees were ultimately released two and a half years later in 2009 as part of the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which sought to establish a framework for the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran remained largely frozen until President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began negotiations to lift international sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to considerably restrict its nuclear activities. A multinational accord endorsed by both parties, along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K., was announced in June 2015.
President Donald Trump, however, has accused Iran of using unfrozen funds to further destabilize the region via support for paramilitary movements and the development of ballistic missiles. Capitalizing on conservative outrage toward the nuclear deal, he demanded that the terms be renegotiated, something that Iran has refused to consider. Even as both the U.S. and Iran devoted assets toward battling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), relations again declined rapidly and Trump announced that he would leave the nuclear agreement in May.
The Trump administration has continued to press the international community to isolate Iran, even without the support of European allies and major powers China and Russia. The U.S. has increasingly aligned its position with that of longtime Iranian foes Israel and Saudi Arabia, which itself severed ties with the Islamic Republic after protestors responded to the kingdom’s execution of an influential Shiite Muslim cleric by torching Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran in early 2016.
It’s time for Western policymakers to develop a playbook for countermeasures against potential ‘directed energy’ attacks, Robert Bunker writes.
A recent health alert posted on the US Department of State website related to an incident in Guangzhou, China, in which an employee of the US embassy suffered certain ‘bio-effects’. The event can be viewed in the context of earlier incidents, such as that in which US – as well as one or more Canadian – diplomatic staff members serving in Havana, Cuba were similarly affected.
These traumatic brain and bodily injuries to diplomatic personnel have raised concerns over the possibility that an ongoing series of clandestine directed energy attacks have been taking place, and are increasingly drawing news and social media attention.
Three primary reasons exist why a clandestine state entity may intentionally project directed energy at US and allied embassies.
First, such energies can be utilized for sensing and spying activities in an attempt to obtain restricted and secret information either being discussed or transmitted. For instance, listening devices exist that can bounce energy frequencies off the window glass of an office, thus allowing the hearing of a private conversation inside.
Second, directed energy can be deployed in a jamming and harassment role to degrade embassy and staff functioning. This would be akin to disrupting cell phone reception, local area networks (for example from a computer to a printer), or even other more secure forms of communication.
Third, certain electromagnetic frequencies may be utilised in order to injure personnel and destroy specific forms of military equipment. As national militaries increasingly weaponise the electromagnetic spectrum, the use of infra- and ultra-sonic devices, high-powered microwaves (HPM), and lasers are becoming more common
Such advanced technologies are well suited for clandestine use because some of them – particularly certain sonic and HPM technologies – can bypass physical walls and structures. They directly injure targeted individuals with virtually none of the conventional forensic evidence a firearm or explosive would leave behind. China is well aware of these advanced weaponry capabilities and is actively pursuing them developmentally and in field-testing.
Various narratives and counter-narratives, however, have been proposed about these incidents in attempts to dismiss them as non-events. They have been portrayed as a figment of employee imagination, the product of mass hysteria, and more recently – given the preponderance of medical evidence that diplomatic personnel have suffered actual physical damage – as the malfunctioning of electronic eavesdropping equipment.
Within the context of these narratives, disinformation campaigns are actively being waged by Chinese, Russian, and allied authoritarian regimes as a component of their foreign policies, which are directly at odds with liberal democratic governance and individual human rights.
Viewing the incidents as some form of ongoing series of attacks, however, appears more plausible and more in line with US governmental perspectives, especially considering the types and circumstances of the injuries suffered, as well as the concurrent audible noises and other sensory events reported.
Recommendations for policymakers concerning the mysterious incidents in Havana and Guangzhou exist at varying levels of action.
On the declaratory level, restraint must be exercised because no ‘smoking gun’ (or, in this instance, ‘energised device’) exists which directly links any of these incidents to a specific entity or national backing.
With this said, an increasing evidential pattern of incidents and anomalies have taken place within Chinese military activities to warrant concern over the likelihood that the embassy attacks may represent a new component of Chinese clandestine operations carried out against the Western liberal democracies. These include the counter-optical lasing of multiple US military aircraft from the new Chinese base in Djibouti and the use of commercial fishing fleets to harass US warships.
While Western nations are attempting to engage with China, the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping – now its leader for life – has essentially seized the South China Sea, militarised it, and slowly begun to build up the capacity to globally project its military power.
Western political leaders – including those in Australia – should now be on guard for Chinese attempts to fracture democratically based defence agreements and coalitions. It can be expected that such a strategy will be supported by ongoing clandestine measures directed against democratic states for disruptive and propaganda purposes.
At the more specific level of protecting embassies and their staff, this pattern of incidents warrants the creation of a directed energy weapons playbook for incident deterrence, detection, mitigation, response, emergency services, investigation and recovery purposes.
Such playbooks – generally utilised within counter-terrorism programs – are created for countermeasure purposes against known and recognised threats such as active shooters, suicide bombers or weaponised drones. They proactively lay out the identified threat, and detail plans and actions to address that threat before, during and after an incident has taken place. Examples of potential countermeasures include detectors to provide early warning of electromagnetic use, the ability to triangulate back to the point of origin of a suspected attack, and energy frequency dampeners (for example projected anti-frequency fields).
While none of these policy recommendations will immediately end what could be additional, albeit likely sporadic, future directed energy attacks on US embassy personnel, they will begin to help in responding to these incidents along the continuum of deterrence through to recovery. They should be viewed as prudent measures to be used alongside those actions now being undertaken by US intelligence and federal investigative agencies, which are attempting to determine the actual perpetrators of these incidents and if any definitive links to China’s clandestine services exist.
The views expressed in this essay are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Street names, apparently, are not immune to the diplomatic tit-for-tat between Moscow and Washington.
Moscow’s city government announced Monday that it will consider a request from a Russian parliament member to change the postal address of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to 1 North American Dead-end.
The name change request seems to be retaliation for Washington’s announcement last month that it would name part of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the Russian Embassy Nemtsov Plaza after slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Nemtsov was shot and killed in 2015 just steps from the Kremlin. He was a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s tight grip on political dissent.
The street renaming comes after months of an intense diplomatic standoff between Russia and the U.S. Putin this summer demanded that the U.S. Mission in Russia reduce its staff from about 1,200 employees across one embassy and three consulates to 445. In the U.S., Russia was ousted from its consulate building in San Francisco, as well as two diplomatic retreat centers in New York in Maryland.
Nemtsov’s assassins were convicted and sentenced for his murder, but the opposition leaders’ supporters blame the Kremlin for not investigating who gave the order for the killing, which they believe came from a higher level.
Moscow complained that Washington’s decision to dedicate a street area to a Putin’s political opponent came at a time when “bilateral relations between the two countries still leave much to be desired, mildly speaking,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last month.
Russian parliament member Mikhail Degtyaryov suggested the name change for the street in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow a day after the Washington city government approved the Nemtsov Plaza request. Degtyaryov represents the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia in Russia’s lower house of parliament, known as the Duma.
Moscow’s city administration said the name change will be discussed in this month’s meeting of an interdepartmental commission dedicated to the city’s street and facilities’ names. The U.S. Embassy’s current postal address is 8 Bolshaya Devyatinsky Lane, a side street leading from Moscow’s central Garden Ring road.