Category Archives: Spy Games

ALBANIA EXPELS IRANIAN AMBASSADOR FOR PLOTTING TERRORIST ATTACKS AGAINST ISRAELIS


The foiled plot is related to the same Iranians who planned to attack a World Cup soccer match between Albania and Israel in 2016.

Diplomatic Security Sit-Rep 12/20/2018

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.

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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.”

Trackback:

https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Albania-expels-Iranian-agents-for-plotting-terrorist-attacks-against-Israelis-574892

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New Photos Show Saudi “Hit Squad” Suspected in Killing a Journalist in the Saudi Consulate and his Dismembered the Body for Tidy Disposal.

Diplomatic Security Situation Report

Diplomatic Security Sit-Rep 10/12/2018

(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.

 

 

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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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Iranian diplomat suspected of plotting attack in France

Diplomatic Security Sit-Rep 13 July 2018

BERLIN — An Iranian diplomat is suspected of involvement in a bomb plot against an Iranian opposition rally in France. Assadollah Assadi was charged in Germany on Wednesday with activity as a foreign agent and conspiracy to commit murder.

France Iran
Activists of the National Council of Resistance of Iran hold placards reading “Deliver the Iranian ‘diplomat’-terrorist to Belgium” during a demonstration calling for the extradition of Assadollah Assadi, an alleged Iranian intelligence officer, to Belgium in front of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin on July 11, 2018.
 
 TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Assadi, a Vienna-based diplomat, is suspected of contracting a couple in Belgium to attack an annual meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in Villepinte, near Paris, German federal prosecutors said.

He allegedly gave the Antwerp-based couple a device containing 500 grams of the explosive TATP during a meeting in Luxembourg in late June, prosecutors said in a written statement.

Assadi was detained earlier this month near the German city of Aschaffenburg on a European warrant after the couple with Iranian roots was stopped in Belgium and authorities reported finding powerful explosives in their car.

In their statement, German prosecutors allege that Assadi, who has been registered as a diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna since 2014, was a member of the Iranian intelligence service “Ministry of Intelligence and Security,” whose tasks “primarily include the intensive observation and combatting of opposition groups inside and outside of Iran.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of using its embassies to plot extremist attacks in Europe and warned Tehran that its actions have “a real high cost” after it threatened to disrupt Mideast oil supplies.

“Just this past week there were Iranians arrested in Europe who were preparing to conduct a terror plot in Paris, France. We have seen this malign behavior in Europe,” Pompeo said Tuesday in an interview with Sky News Arabia during a short trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has called the allegations of a foiled extremist plot a ploy.

Belgian authorities also accuse Assadi of being part of the alleged plot reportedly aimed at setting off explosives at a huge annual rally of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq group, or MEK, in neighboring France, and want him extradited.

German prosecutors said their investigation wouldn’t hinder Belgium’s extradition request for the suspect.

Meanwhile, an Iranian who resides in Belgium and was detained in France agreed on Wednesday to be turned over to Belgian authorities, who had issued a European arrest warrant, a French judicial official told the Associated Press.

The suspect, identified as Mehrdad Arefani, 54, will be handed over within 10 days, and go before an investigating magistrate there, according to the official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly in an ongoing case and asked not to be identified.

The MEK is an exiled Iranian opposition group based near Paris with some members, in particular, in Albania. The formerly armed group was removed from European Union and U.S. terrorism lists several years ago after denouncing violence and getting western politicians to lobby on its behalf.

Trackback:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/iranian-diplomat-assadollah-assadi-suspected-of-plotting-attack-in-france/

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Sounding the alarm on ‘directed energy’ attacks Could an ‘energised device’ have been the smoking gun injuring US diplomats in China and Cuba?

It’s time for Western policymakers to develop a playbook for countermeasures against potential ‘directed energy’ attacks, Robert Bunker writes.

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.

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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.

 

Trackback:

https://www.policyforum.net/sounding-alarm-directed-energy-attacks/

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Is China Really Targeting US Diplomats With a ‘Sonic Attack’?

Diplomatic Security Situation Report 05/26/2018

On May 23, the U.S. embassy in China released a health alert, claiming that a U.S. government employee in China “recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.”

Diplomatic Security Situation Report

Although the statement clarified that the United States did not know “what caused the reported symptoms” nor was aware of “any similar situations in China, either inside or outside of the diplomatic community,” the U.S. government sent a warning message to all its citizens in China in the health alert:

[I]f you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, do not attempt to locate their source. Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present.

An embassy spokeswoman also told CNN that this U.S. employee was diagnosed with a “mild traumatic brain injury.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later claimed that this incident in China was “very similar” to and “entirely consistent” with those experienced by American diplomats posted in Havana, Cuba. Last year U.S. State Department sent most of its diplomats in Cuba home after accusing the Cuban government of conducting “sonic attacks” on employees of the American embassy.

Unsurprisingly, after Pompeo’s remarks the U.S. media then widely referred to this incident as a Chinese “sonic attack.”

However, many researchers believe that the symptoms these U.S. diplomats suffered are unlikely to be caused by “sonic attacks.”

Jürgen Altmann, a physics professor at Technischen Universität Dortmund in Berlin, told CNN, “I know of no acoustic effect that would produce concussion-like symptoms; according to my research, strong effects on humans require loudness levels that would be perceived as very loud noise while exposed.”

In line with Altmann, Wang Ning, chief physician of the Department of Neurosurgery in Beijing Xuanwu Hospital, who has specialized in the field of neurosurgery for many years, also told Chinese media that “To cause a ‘traumatic brain injury,’ the intensity of sound waves should be as strong as an explosive level.”

As for the earlier Cuba incident, many U.S. experts also ruled out the possibility of  “sonic attacks.” For example, after examining the 21 embassy workers in Havana, a team of doctors at the University of Pennsylvania published a report on February 15 in the journal JAMA, suggesting that none of the proposed causes for these mass brain symptoms (including sonic weapons) really make sense, according to Live Science.

In fact, even the FBI made it clear that “there has been no evidence to support the theory of sonic waves being used to harm Americans in Havana.”

Instead, a group of scientists published an academic article, arguing that the Cuba incident was more likely the “accidental side effect of attempted eavesdropping.”

Kevin Fu, a researcher at the University of Michigan, together with Wenyuan Xu, a professor at Zhejiang University, in Hangzhou, China, and her Ph.D. student Chen Yan, published a report, titled “On Cuba, Diplomats, Ultrasound, and Intermodulation Distortion,” giving a more plausible explanation.

Through experiments, this team showed that ultrasonic signals from eavesdropping devices can “combine to produce audible and potentially dangerous tones similar to the undulating, high-pitched chirping that the diplomats described,” as Michigan News put it.

“We’ve demonstrated a scenario in which the harm might have been unintentional, a byproduct of a poorly engineered ultrasonic transmitter that was meant to be covert,” Fu told Michigan News. “A malfunctioning device that was supposed to inaudibly steal information or eavesdrop on conversation with ultrasonic transmission seems more plausible than a sonic weapon.”

IEEE Spectrum, a magazine edited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, believes that Fu’s report is “finally a likely explanation.” While Fu was quick to point out this is still just a theory, he suggested the harmful sound could be the unintentional result of an ultrasonic transmitter — an eavesdropping device — reacting with an ultrasonic jammer meant to safeguard against such bugs.

“Each device might have been placed there by a different party, completely unaware of the other,” Fu said.

Notably, this report was published in March, before the latest China incident.

So far, China’s attitude toward this incident has been quite calm.

On May 24, China’s Foreign Ministry responded:

China has always protected the safety of foreign diplomatic missions in China, including that of the U.S. diplomatic staff, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Regarding what was said in those reports, China has carried out an investigation seriously and given an initial feedback to the U.S. By far, we have found no reason or clue for what was reported by the U.S.  

In Fu’s mind, “bad engineering just seems much more likely than a sonic weapon.” If the China incident was “entirely consistent” with the Cuba “sonic attacks,” then it may be that a “poorly engineered ultrasonic transmitter” — or jammer, or both — was being used in both cases.

Trackback:

https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/is-china-really-targeting-us-diplomats-with-a-sonic-attack/

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Israel Arrests French Consulate Driver for Gun Trafficking

A French employee of France’s Consulate in Jerusalem is under arrest for allegedly smuggling dozens of weapons from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, Israel’s domestic security agency said Monday.

CORRECTION-ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT-CRIME-FRANCE

The Shin Bet said the man, identified as Romain Franck, 23, was part of a broader Palestinian smuggling ring. It said he used his consular vehicle, which is subjected to more lenient security checks, to transport the weapons through Israel’s tightly secured border with the Gaza Strip. It said he took part in the ring for financial gain and that his employer was unaware of his actions.

The French Embassy in Israel issued a statement confirming that a consulate employee had been arrested, saying it was treating the incident with “great importance,” but wouldn’t discuss the case itself. The embassy said it was in contact with Israeli authorities and the suspect’s family, and was opening an internal investigation into the matter.

The Shin Bet said Franck, who was arrested in February, confessed to the charges. A previous gag order on the case was lifted Monday, when Israel charged Franck with conspiracy to commit a crime and multiple weapons offenses, among other counts.

“This is a very serious incident in which the privileges and immunity granted to foreign missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that could be used in terror attacks,” the Shin Bet statement said.

The Shin Bet said Franck transferred a total of 70 handguns and two assault rifles on five occasions over recent months. It said he received the arms from a Gaza man employed at the French cultural center in Gaza and brought them to someone in the West Bank, where they were then sold to arms dealers.

The French Foreign Ministry said the arrested employee, a member of the consulate’s “technical staff,” was detained by Israeli authorities “under serious charges related to alleged trafficking in arms.”

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The ongoing internal investigation is aimed at “drawing all the conclusions to allow our Consulate General’s members to pursue in the best conditions their important mission in a difficult context,” ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von Der Muhll said.

The French ambassador and other embassy officials have visited the consular employee and “we’re making sure that all the rights of our compatriot are well respected,” she said.

According to the indictment, Franck was a driver for the consulate and would ferry diplomatic staff between Gaza and Jerusalem. He would transport the arms in packages or suitcases in the trunk of the consular car and lie to Israeli security guards at the Gaza border crossing when asked if he was carrying any weapons. The indictment said Franck earned thousands of dollars for moving the guns.

Israeli officials believe that consular immunity would not apply in this case.

The Shin Bet sent reporters a picture of what it said was the consular vehicle, a silver SUV. It was not clear from the photo whether the vehicle carried the white license plates of the consular corps.

Nine people, including Franck, were arrested, the Shin Bet said. Among the suspects is a Palestinian security guard at the French Consulate in Jerusalem.

The Shin Bet said French authorities were kept aware of developments on the case during the investigation.

Israel has previously accused Palestinians employed by the U.N. or non-governmental organizations of participating in hostile activities, including collaborating with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. But allegations against international staffers are rare.


Trackback:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/israel-arrests-french-consulate-employee-gaza-smuggling-53845080

A French national working for his country’s consulate in Jerusalem appeared in an Israeli court on Monday on charges that he smuggled weapons from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in a diplomatic vehicle.

The consulate employee, identified by Israeli authorities as Romain Franck, is accused of smuggling the weapons out of Gaza on at least five occasions and transferring them to a criminal Palestinian ring. The gang is alleged to have sold the weapons for thousands of dollars to arms dealers in the occupied West Bank.

Franck, who French media said is 23 or 24 years old, is suspected of having transferred about 70 pistols and two assault rifles in return for roughly $7,500.

The indictment describes in detail the five times that he was allegedly involved in transferring “nylon-wrapped” packages of guns from Gaza to the West Bank cell. It said he was a driver with the French Consulate and took advantage of his access to consular vehicles — which are subject to less stringent security checks — to carry as many as 20 guns at a time through the Erez crossing into Israel and on to Jerusalem.

The indictment says he would then head to the West Bank city of Ramallah, passing through an Israeli checkpoint along the way, to meet members of the Palestinian cell and hand over the weapons.

Franck also allegedly involved another French Consulate employee, who worked as a security guard, in the criminal enterprise. That individual, an Israeli Arab resident of East Jerusalem, was indicted Monday on similar charges.

“The investigation clearly shows that the employee of the French Consulate acted for financial gain, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors,” Israel’s internal security agency said in a statement, referring to Franck.

“This is a very grave incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” said the agency, known as Shin Bet.

A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv said, “We take this case very seriously and are in very close contact with the Israeli authorities on this case.” The spokesman’s name could not be published under ground rules for briefing news media.

Franck has been held by Israeli authorities since Feb. 15, the indictment says. Seven other people, including his colleague from the consulate, also were arrested in relation to the smuggling ring.

The crossing between Israel and Gaza is permanently on high alert, and Gaza has been subject to tight restrictions on movement and trade since the militant Islamist group Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007. Since then, Israel and Hamas — which has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — have fought three wars.

Tensions have increased along the border in recent weeks, with Israel accusing Hamas of sending civilians to protest along its border fence. Gaza residents have held regular protests near the barrier since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Several protesters have been fatally shot by Israeli security forces.

Rocket fire from Gaza also increased in the wake of Trump’s announcement, although it has since died down.

On Sunday, the Israeli military said it destroyed a Hamas tunnel built to enable the group’s fighters to infiltrate Israeli territory. On Thursday, the military said two explosive devices were detonated near troops on a routine patrol. Last month, four Israeli soldiers were injured when a bomb went off next to the border fence.

“We are seeing Hamas instigate riots, calling on its civilians to march toward the fence and engage with our troops,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an army spokesman, said Thursday in a news briefing. “We are seeing a pattern here, and we will not allow it to become standard operating procedure.”

Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly characterized Israel’s Shin Bet security service as alleging that Romain Franck was acting on behalf of Hamas.

Trackback2:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/french-consulate-worker-accused-of-smuggling-weapons-for-hamas/2018/03/19/8418b0ee-2b59-11e8-b0b0-f706877db618_story.html?utm_term=.ed06034bdc95

 

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Pakistani Ex-Diplomat Charged with Plotting Consulate Attacks on US and Israeli Consulates.

Diplomatic Security SitRep:02/23/2018

cropped-diplomatic-security-situation-report.jpgCHENNAI: Former Pakistani diplomat Amir Zubair Siddiqui plotted to attack the US Consulate in Chennai, Israeli Consulate in Bengaluru, Eastern Naval Command HQ in Visakhapatnam and ports across the country, according to a charge-sheet filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the Poonamallee Special Court on Thursday.

The chargesheet named Amir Zubair Siddiqui, who was then visa counsellor at the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo.

Interestingly, Siddiqui was arrested for allegedly conspiring to attack vital establishments in India and was quietly withdrawn even before the NIA’s request under Mutual Assistance Legal Treaty (MLAT) reached Colombo.

The NIA filed supplementary charge-sheet against Amir Zubair Siddiqui and his aides Balasubramanian and Noorudeen under various sections of the Unlawful Activity Act 1967 and IPC for their involvement in conspiracy for waging war against the Government of India, causing explosion in the US Consulate in Chennai and at various places in South India, said the official statement.

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The 4,000-page supplementary charge-sheet filed in the Special Court for Terror Cases at Poonamallee near here said that the terror plot came to light after the NIA police personnel arrested an ISI agent Mohammed Zakir Hussain (37) through the ‘Q’ Branch of the Tamil Nadu police in 2013. The reason was that he was gathering details about vital installations in Tamil Nadu and sent photographs to Siddique.
Hussain used his counterparts Sivabalan and Mohammad Salim to circulate fake currency in the state. During questioning, Hussain also confessed that he had also used Rafeeque (29) to pump in fake Indian currency in the state.

NIA sources said, “Hussain had met Siddiqui in Colombo on a few occasions and was instructed to collect information about defence establishments, movement of arms and ammunition to the Indian Army and arrange fake passports and visa for two Pakistan nationals to enter India” “Siddiqui was not named in the charge-sheet initially because we did not have proper evidences before. Now that we have strong evidence to prove his involvement in the terror plot, a supplementary charge-sheet was filed,” the police said.

Gathering details and photographs
The 4,000-page supplementary charge-sheet filed in the Special Court for Terror Cases at Poonamallee near here said that the terror plot came to light after the NIA police personnel arrested an ISI agent Mohammed Zakir Hussain (37) through the ‘Q’ Branch of the Tamil Nadu police in 2013. The reason was that he was gathering details about vital installations in Tamil Nadu and sent photographs to Siddique.

Trackback:

http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2018/feb/23/pakistani-diplomat-amir-zubair-siddiqui-in-sri-lanka-plotted-to-attack-indian-installations-1777585.html

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British Diplomat raped, strangled and dumped by the side of a motorway.

A female British diplomat has been found dead after being strangled in Beirut and officials are investigating whether she was sexually assaulted before the attack.

Rebecca Dykes, 30, was found dead on Saturday close to the Metn expressway, in Lebanon’s capital, reports Al Jadeed TV.

Police are tonight probing whether Ms Dykes, from London, had been raped before she was found dead.

Ms Dykes, a former public schoolgirl, started working for the government in 2010 and she had been at a bar in the centre of the city on Friday night before she was attacked after midnight.

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It is believed she was abducted minutes after she left the bar.

Her body has reportedly been transferred to the Dahr al-Bashak Hospital for a post-mortem examination.

A security source said she was discovered with a ‘piece of string around her neck’.

Another official involved in the investigation said the crime did not appear to be ‘politically motivated’.

The Lebanese official said her body was found ‘on the side of the Emile Lahoud road’, just north of Beirut.

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A family spokesman said: ‘We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened.

‘We request that the media respect our privacy as we come together as a family at this very difficult time.’

Al Jadeed TV reports Ms Dykes had been raped and an official said investigators are probing whether she was sexually assaulted.

British Ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, said: ‘The whole embassy is deeply shocked and saddened by this news.

 

‘Our thoughts are with Becky’s family, friends and colleagues for their tragic loss.

‘We are providing consular support to Becky’s family and working very closely with the Lebanese local authorities who are conducting the police investigation.’

Friends said she was flying home for Christmas Saturday.

Ms Dykes joined the Department for International Development and had been working as a programme and policy manager based in Lebanon since January.

Before she moved to Beirut she worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the Libya team as a policy manager. She had previously worked as an Iraq Research Analyst with the FCO.

The University of Manchester graduate also had a masters in International Security and Global Governance from Birkbeck, University of London.

She also spent four years teaching teenagers English in Hong Kong.

A spokesman for the Department for International Development where she worked said: ‘Our thoughts are with Becky’s family and friends at this very upsetting time.

‘There is now a police investigation and the FCO (Foreign Office) is providing consular support to Becky’s family and working with the local authorities.’

A Foreign Office spokesman added: ‘Following the death of a British woman in Beirut, we are providing support to the family.

‘We remain in close contact with local authorities. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.’

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THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN CONSULATE IN SAN FRANCISCO.

Overflights, mapping fiber-optic networks, “strange activities.” Moscow’s West Coast spies were busy.

BY ZACH DORFMAN
ILLUSTRATIONS BY MATT ROTA

The first thing you need to understand about the building that, until very recently, housed the Russian Consulate in San Francisco — a city where topography is destiny, where wealth and power concentrate, quite literally, at the top — is its sense of elevation. Brick-fronted, sentinel-like, and six stories high, it sits on a hill in Pacific Heights, within one of the city’s toniest zip codes. This is a neighborhood that radiates a type of wealth, power, and prestige that long predates the current wave of nouveau riche tech millionaires, or the wave before that, or the one before that. It is old and solid and comfortable with its privilege; its denizens know they have a right to rule. Indeed, from Pacific Heights, one can simultaneously gaze out on the city, the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge — and, beyond, the vast, frigid Pacific.

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The second thing you need to understand about the closure of Russia’s San Francisco consulate is that, after the Trump administration summarily announced on Aug. 31 that it would shutter the building 48 hours later, the news coverage that followed almost uniformly focused on two things: the dumbfounding heat (this city, cool and grey, is in California but not of it) and the black smoke wheezing from the consulate’s chimney, as employees rushed to burn up, one assumes, anything confidential or inculpatory.

People were right to look upward, toward the building’s roof, but their focus was misplaced: It was, in reality, the motley array of antennas and satellites and electronic transmittal devices dotting the rooftop — objects viewed with deep suspicion and consternation by U.S. intelligence community officials for decades — that tells the story of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, not the ash drifting listlessly over the neighboring mansions.

 

I rushed to the consulate the day the closure announcement was made and watched the building sit impassively in the heat, while the media crews cooled off in the shade. A suspiciously large number of delivery vans were circling, and there was an unusual concentration of loiterers (in their cars, on computers; in biking gear, across the street) on an otherwise very quiet block. Pedestrians walked by, snapping photos on their iPhones.

San Francisco, it was clear, was now embroiled in the increasingly feverish diplomatic confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers. In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin had announced, in an interview on state-run television, that he was decreasing by 755 the total number of personnel working at U.S. diplomatic facilities in his country. Closing the San Francisco consulate (and two smaller diplomatic annexes) was the Trump administration’s retaliation for this move.

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Putin, for his part, claimed that he was merely responding to the Barack Obama administration’s December 2016 shuttering of two Russian recreational compounds on the East Coast; the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, identified as spies, from the country (this list included four employees of the San Francisco consulate, including the building’s “chef”); and a new round of congressional sanctions. The Obama administration, of course, made these moves in retaliation for the unprecedented Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But why the focus on San Francisco? Why not close one of Russia’s other three consulates, in New York, Seattle, or Houston? And why now?

The answer, I discovered, appears to revolve around an intensive, sustained, and mystifying pattern of espionage emanating from the San Francisco consulate. According to multiple former intelligence officials, while these “strange activities” were not limited to San Francisco or its environs, they originated far more frequently from the San Francisco consulate than any other Russian diplomatic facility in the United States, including the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. As one former intelligence source put it, suspected Russian spies were “doing peculiar things in places they shouldn’t be.” Russian officials in Washington failed to respond to multiple attempts via email and phone for comment.

In the course of reporting this story, I spoke to over half a dozen former high-level U.S. intelligence officials about the closure of the consulate. Some of these individuals, almost all of whom worked on counterintelligence in San Francisco, spoke on the record generally about Russian espionage in Northern California; extensive conversations with other former intelligence officials occurred on background, in order to discuss sensitive matters related to recent Russian activities in the Bay Area and beyond. These sources confirmed that the San Francisco consulate served a unique role in Russian intelligence-gathering operations in the United States, as an important, and perhaps unrivaled, hub for its technical collection efforts here. But, as I discovered, it was what these efforts entailed that is key to understanding why San Francisco — the oldest and most established Russian Consulate in the United States — was singled out for closure.

For many decades, U.S. officials have been keenly aware that, because of the consulate’s proximity to Silicon Valley, educational institutions such as Stanford and Berkeley, and the large number of nearby defense contractors and researchers — including two Energy Department-affiliated nuclear weapons laboratories — Russia has used San Francisco as a focal point for espionage activity. The modalities of Russian espionage in the Bay Area have historically been well known to U.S. counterintelligence personnel, who understand (at least generally) what the Russians will target and how they will try to achieve their objectives.

One former senior counterintelligence executive, for example, recalled the “disproportionate number” of science- and technology-focused Russian intelligence officers based in San Francisco, some of whom were experts in encryption and were tasked with identifying new developments in such technologies in Silicon Valley. A second former intelligence official noted the long-standing interest of Russian intelligence operatives in San Francisco in building relationships with local tech experts and venture capital firms. What has evolved, noted multiple former officials, is the intensity of Russian efforts. According to Kathleen Puckett, who spent two decades working on counterintelligence in the Bay Area, “there was more aggressiveness by the Russians in the 2000s than back in the 1980s.”

Starting roughly 10 years ago — and perhaps going even longer back, according to multiple former U.S. intelligence officials — something changed. Suspected Russian intelligence officers, often fully aware they were being surveilled by the FBI, began showcasing inexplicable and bizarre behaviors in remote, forlorn, or just seemingly random places.

It is highly likely, sources told me, that the consulate’s closure was linked to U.S. intelligence officials definitively proving long-held suspicions about the objectives of these Russian activities — or that officials could simply no longer countenance these extraordinarily aggressive intelligence-collection efforts and seized on the opportunity to disrupt them after Putin’s latest diplomatic salvo.

What seems clear is that when it came to Russian spying, San Francisco was at the very forefront of innovation.

Imagine driving up and over Mount Tamalpais, the iconic 2,500-foot peak located just north of San Francisco, then switch-backing precipitously through a redwood-studded ravine until, over the horizon, you spot a giant, shimmering, curvilinear beachfront. This is Stinson Beach, a 45-minute drive from the city. Now imagine that, standing out at the water’s edge, is a man in a suit — a man known to U.S. intelligence as a Russian intelligence officer. He has a small device in his hand. He stares out at the ocean for a few minutes, turns around, walks to his car, and leaves.

This account, confirmed to me by multiple former U.S. counterintelligence officials, is one example of a spate of such odd behaviors. Suspected Russian intelligence operatives — under diplomatic cover as well as travelers visiting the country — were also found idling in wheat fields and in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, among other places. Russia has a “long and successful record of using legal travelers” for intelligence-gathering purposes, Steven Hall, the CIA’s former chief of Russia operations, told me. “This ranges, for example, from someone who gets a visa to do a scholarly presentation to someone who says they want to visit Napa Valley on their vacation,” he said.

Some suspected Russian intelligence officers were found engaging in weird, repetitive behaviors in gas stations in dusky, arid burgs off Interstate 5, California’s main north-south artery. In one remarkably strange case, said one former intelligence official, two suspected Russian spies were surveilled pulling into a gas station. The driver stood next to his car, not purchasing any fuel. The passenger approached a tree, circling it a few times. Then they both got back into the car and drove away. Suspected Russian intelligence operatives would perform the same strange rituals multiple times at the same gas stations.

Multiple theories about these activities emerged. One was that the Russians were trying to confuse and overwhelm their FBI surveillance teams, in order to gauge just how extensive their coverage really was — in other words, to test the capacity of their counterspies. Another theory revolved around a long-standing communications technique among Russian spies, known as “burst transmissions,” wherein intelligence operatives transmit data to one another via short-wave radio communications. But for these, said another former intelligence official, you need a line of sight, and such transmissions are only effective at relatively short distances.

Many of these behaviors, however, didn’t seem to fit a mold. For one, the FBI couldn’t establish that these suspected Russian intelligence operatives — some of whom were spotted with little devices in their hands, others without — were engaging in any communications. But according to multiple sources, one recurrent and worrying feature of these activities was that they often happened to correspond to places where underground nodes connected the country’s fiber-optic cable network. (In a June articlePolitico’s Ali Watkins reported a few instances of these strange behaviors, tracing them back to the summer of 2016, as well as their potential connection to the fiber-optic network.)

Over time, multiple former intelligence officials told me, the FBI concluded that Russia was engaged in a massive, long-running, and continuous data-collection operation: a mission to comprehensively locate all of America’s underground communications nodes, and to map out and catalogue the points in the fiber-optic network where data were being transferred. They were “obviously trying to determine how sophisticated our intelligence network is,” said one former official, and these activities “helped them put the dots together.”

Sometimes, multiple former U.S. intelligence officials told me, Russian operatives appeared to be actively attempting to penetrate communications infrastructure — especially where undersea cables came ashore on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They were “pretty sure” said a former intelligence official that, on at least one occasion on land, a Russian operative successfully broke into a data closet (a telecommunications and hardware storage center) as part of an attempt to penetrate one of these systems.

But what was “really unnerving,” said the former senior counterintelligence executive, was the Russians’ focus on communication nodes near military bases. According to multiple sources, U.S. officials eventually concluded that Moscow’s ultimate goal was to have the capacity to sever communications, paralyzing the U.S. military’s command and control systems, in case of a confrontation between the two powers. “If they can shut down our grid, and we go blind,” noted a former intelligence official, “they are closer to leveling the playing field,” because the United States is widely considered to possess superior command and control capabilities. When I described this purported effort to map out the fiber-optic network to Hall, the former senior CIA official, he seemed unfazed. “In the context of the Russians trying to conduct hybrid warfare in the United States, using cyber-types of tools,” he said, “none of what you described would surprise me.”

Multiple former intelligence officials also told me that U.S. officials were concerned that Russian intelligence operatives would provide these coordinates to deep-cover “illegals” — that is, Russian spies in the country under non-diplomatic cover (think of the Anna Chapman network) — or travelers, who might then carry out a sabotage campaign. There were also concerns that Russia could share these coordinates with other hostile foreign-intelligence services, such as a potential illegal Iranian network operating within the country.

As these strange activities persisted over the last decade, former intelligence officials told me, the FBI began to collate and compare surveillance reports from across the country, overlaying them with Russian flight paths occurring as part of the overt Treaty on Open Skies collection program.

The treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows both the United States and Russia (and 32 other signatories) to conduct a limited number of unarmed surveillance and reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory per year. (According to the State Department, as of 2016 the United States had flown a total of 196 such flights over Russia, while Russia had flown 71 flights over the United States.) The methods of collection — video, photographic, infrared, and radar — are highly regulated and circumscribed, and the country whose territory is being flown over must approve the requested flight path. Flights are monitored in person by representatives of the host government. Afterward, upon request, the collected data must be shared with all treaty signatories. Open Skies was conceived, essentially, as an arms-control agreement: an attempt to decrease, through greater transparency, the uncertainties surrounding each great power’s array of military forces, which could lead to an erroneous nuclear exchange.

But U.S. intelligence officials began to notice a disturbing pattern vis-à-vis these “strange activities” and Open Skies: Suspected Russian operatives were appearing in places that had recently been, or were later, part of Russian flyovers. If these operatives were on the ground prior to the flight, U.S. officials suspected that they were likely helping shape coordinates for subsequent Open Skies missions, multiple former intelligence officials told me. If they appeared afterward, U.S. officials believed that the Russians had identified a potential object of interest (such as a fiber-optic node) and wanted in-person confirmation on what previously been identified during a flyover. There is simply “no substitute for someone literally going to locations and recording GPS coordinates,” said the former senior counterintelligence executive. “From 30,000 feet, you’re not necessarily going to have accuracy if you’re pinpointing a portal.”

Eventually, U.S intelligence officials hit on another series of correlations: Not only were suspected spies visiting the same places that Russian surveillance planes were flying over as part of their Open Skies missions, but they were also appearing directly beneath these planes, in real time, while these flights were ongoing. “The idea was that some kind of communication could have been taking place between the plane and guy on the ground,” one former intelligence official told me. “The hard part was to confirm exactly what they were doing.” (Foreign Policycould not verify whether U.S. officials were able to definitively establish if, or how, such communications indeed occurred.)

One theory, relayed to me by multiple sources, was that the Russians might have been using the flights as a communication platform — airplanes can act as a kind of cell tower, the former officials noted, receiving and transmitting data. If Moscow was concerned that U.S. counterintelligence was able to intercept encrypted data from secure communications facilities based in their diplomatic compounds, the Russians might have been seeking to bypass this possibility by secretly routing data through the passing airplanes. “If a U.S. monitor is watching three functions aboard an Open Skies flight,” worried one former intelligence official, “maybe the fourth function is covert — out of sight and out of mind of observers — and while the monitor is looking at these other functions, the transmission and receipt of data is occurring under their nose.”

If true, these actions by Russia would appear to violate the spirit of the Treaty on Open Skies, if not the letter itself. The treaty has strict restrictions on the types of collection that is permitted, and any covert ground-to-air communication or data transfer occurring between an aircraft and a suspected intelligence officer located below would seem to clearly contravene the agreement. This entire data-collection operation for the western United States, said one former senior counterintelligence executive, was being managed out of the San Francisco consulate.

Russia has aggressively exploited its diplomatic presence in San Francisco for decades, and the United States has historically responded in kind. In 1983, for instance, the State Department issued new guidelines forbidding Soviet diplomats and journalists from visiting Silicon Valley. In the Ronald Reagan era, the consulate figured prominently in a number of sordid cases featuring American turncoats — including those of Allen John Davies, a former Air Force sergeant who offered the Soviets information on a secret U.S. reconnaissance program, and Richard Miller, the first FBI agent ever to be convicted of espionage, who was sleeping with — and passing information to — a Soviet agent being run out of San Francisco. In 1986, 13 San Francisco-based Soviet diplomats, accused of spying, were expelled by the Reagan administration; soon after, the Soviets publicly accused the FBI of operating a sophisticated bugging system in San Francisco via a tunnel it had secretly bored under the consulate. (“Obviously” the building was bugged around this time, said Rick Smith, who worked on Russian counterintelligence for the FBI in San Francisco from 1972 to 1992.)

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviets’ interest in San Francisco “was primarily about economic, and not really political, intelligence,” said Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB major general who served as the deputy (and later acting) chief of the KGB station at the Soviet Embassy in Washington from 1975 to 1980. “The main priority of Russian intelligence at that point was industrial development, technological development, to get equal to the United States,” said Kalugin.

Quietly but unquestionably, San Francisco had become a locus of Russian spying. “In recent years,” states a 1984 UPI article, “there have been frequent reports that 50 or more spies report to the San Francisco consulate general.” In fact, wrote the San Jose Mercuryin 1985, “FBI officials believe Soviet spying on the West Coast is controlled” from this location. “Agents say the Soviets eavesdrop on the Silicon Valley from the roof of the consulate using sophisticated electronics made in the United States.”

The giveaway, even then, was the roof: covered with satellite dishes, antennae, and makeshift shacks, these devices pointed to a robust Russian signals-intelligence presence. (The shacks, which persisted until recently, one former intelligence official told me, were erected to conceal the shape of the transmission devices from U.S. intelligence agencies, which would occasionally conduct reconnaissance overhead.)

During that time, “there was nothing but antennas and signals” on the top of the building, recalled former FBI agent LaRae Quy, who spent nearly two decades working counterintelligence in San Francisco. “It was embarrassing that we would allow that to happen. But I guess that’s what the Russians did for us as well.” Quy, who retired in 2006, also told me that at least 50 percent of all San Francisco consulate personnel in the 1980s were full- or part-time spies.

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This focus on signals and technical intelligence persisted until much more recently, multiple former U.S. intelligence officials told me. “It was almost like everyone they had there was a technical guy, as opposed to a human-intelligence guy,” one former official recalled. “The way they protected those people — they were rarely out in the community. It was work, home, work, home. When they’d go out and about, to play hockey or to drink, they’d be in a group. It was hard to penetrate.” The same official also noted that San Francisco was integral to the discovery by U.S. intelligence of a new class of Russian “technical-type” intelligence officer, working for the rough Russian equivalent of the National Security Agency, before this organization was eventually folded by Putin back into the FSB. This group, which was not based at the consulate itself, was identified via its members’ travel patterns — they would visit the Bay Area frequently — and the types of individuals, all in high-tech development, with whom they sought contact. According to this former U.S. official, these Russian intelligence officers were particularly interested in discussing cryptology and the Next Generation Internet program.

But it was the consulate’s location — perched high atop that hill in Pacific Heights, with a direct line of sight out to the ocean — that likely determined the concentration of signals activity. Certain types of highly encrypted communications cannot be transmitted over long distances, and multiple sources told me that U.S. officials believed that Russian intelligence potentially took advantage of the consulate’s location to communicate with submarines, trawlers, or listening posts located in international waters off the Northern California coast. (Russian intelligence officers may also have been remotely transmitting data to spy stations offshore, multiple former intelligence officials told me, explaining the odd behaviors on Stinson Beach.) It is also “very possible,” said one former intelligence official, that the Russians were using the San Francisco consulate to monitor the movements, and perhaps communications, of the dozen or so U.S. nuclear-armed submarines that routinely patrol the Pacific from their base in Washington state.

All in all, said this same official, it was “very likely” that the consulate functioned for Russia as a classified communications hub for the entire western United States — and, perhaps, the entire western part of the hemisphere.

The closure of the San Francisco consulate cannot, of course, be decoupled from the political circumstances surrounding it. Because of the unique, and uniquely unsettling, history and attitude of U.S. President Donald Trump toward Russia — the one country treated with forbearance by a president who blithely aggrieves adversaries and allies alike — the administration’s actions in San Francisco were viewed with perplexity and suspicion by a number of the former intelligence officials with whom I spoke.

First, some note, there is the issue of retaliatory balance: In these kinds of diplomatic conflicts, there is an expectation of parity in terms of the damage you inflict on your antagonist. Putin’s move — to order a 755-person staff decrease among U.S. diplomatic mission employees in Russia — appeared far more aggressive than it actually was. The U.S. government employs hundreds of Russians (knowing full well that some may be spies) to help staff its diplomatic facilities in that country, and almost all the affected individuals under these cuts were Russian nationals, not U.S. diplomats or intelligence officials in Russia under diplomatic cover. The sting of this decision was further lessened by the fact that, as one source told me, U.S. intelligence officials have been pushing the State Department for years to decrease local staff in its diplomatic facilities in Russia because of ubiquitous concerns about espionage. Putin’s decision, then, was not without risks for Russian intelligence-gathering operations themselves. “The downside for the Russians is that [by ordering the staffing decrease] you’re the cutting number of potential informants,” noted Hall, the CIA’s former chief of Russia operations.

The outright shuttering of the San Francisco consulate by the Trump administration, then, seems to be a more severe countermeasure than the Russian actions that immediately precipitated it. The closure announcement, Hall said, was “great news, and long overdue.” Stephanie Douglas, who served as the FBI special agent in charge of the San Francisco Division from 2009 to 2012, characterized the administration’s decision as “incredibly aggressive and pretty stunning, honestly.” It was “a blow to the Russians to have this consulate close, in particular,” the former senior counterintelligence executive said. Another former intelligence official called it “unprecedented.” Compounding the mystery further has been Russia’s relatively muted response; a sign, this last former official speculated, that Putin may still be holding out hope for some kind of grand bargain with the Trump administration. “If they don’t react to closing of the San Francisco consulate,” wondered the former official, “what’s the payback they’re waiting for?”

The incongruities here are unsettling. On the one hand, Trump’s decision to shut down the San Francisco consulate was far more consequential and assertive than most realized at the time; on the other hand, there is no evidence — nor any good reason to believe, given his past proclivities — that Trump himself understood the gravity of his own move. “Based on my other interactions with West Wing officials, and the depth of their understanding on the issues in general, I would be very surprised personally if President Trump had any … comprehension of that at all,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, who served as the National Security Council’s director for Russia until April 2017.

Edmonds suggested the locus of the closure decision was likely the National Security Council’s Principals Committee — particularly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis — and that the move was thereafter delivered to Trump as a fait accompli. “I’ve heard that, generally, when Tillerson and Mattis come to an agreement and present something to the president, he’s usually pretty on board with that,” Edmonds said.

This National Security Council-centered account was the most benign theory I heard. One former intelligence official offered that the consulate’s closure may be a signal from Trump to Robert Mueller, a way for the president to show the special counsel appointed to investigate election-year collusion with Moscow that his administration is not in thrall to Russian interests, financially or personally. A second former official speculated that the closure will be temporary and that after, say, a future terrorist attack in the United States, Moscow might ostentatiously offer to provide intelligence on the perpetrators, and the Trump administration — grateful for Russia’s cooperation and assistance — might then return the building to its erstwhile tenants.

These former U.S. officials were as united in their opinion about Russia’s long-term objectives as they were divided about Trump’s short-term intentions. Every former intelligence officer I spoke with for this story was confident that Russia will continue aggressive human-intelligence-gathering operations in the Bay Area, likely through individuals under non-official cover — say, via engineers or data scientists. “Silicon Valley loves Russian programmers,” remarked one former intelligence official.

The dynamics and methods they employ will necessarily change, these officials said, but San Francisco and Silicon Valley are simply too target-rich, too valuable, and too soft for them to cease activities here. The spy war will endure; the Russians will, over time, rebuild their networks, adjusting their activities to account for their lack of local diplomatic cover. Ultimately, the circumstances surrounding the closure of the San Francisco consulate are just one piece in a much larger, and far more shadowy, antagonism between the two nuclear superpowers. “The great game is upon us again,” one former intelligence official said to me. “San Francisco has always been a focal point for Russian interests. The work won’t stop.”

 

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The Secret History of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco

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State Department denies American in Uzbekistan experienced acoustic attack.

The State Department is denying reports that a worker at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan experienced an acoustic attack similar to those affecting American diplomatic staff in Cuba, The Hill reports.

“We can confirm that there was no incident in Uzbekistan,” a State Department official told The Hill on Tuesday.

“The Department prioritizes the safety and welfare of its personnel and works vigilantly to ensure that members of its staff are protected worldwide,” the official added.

“We can confirm that no personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan have been diagnosed with the conditions that have been observed in Cuba.”

The statement comes after CBS News reported Tuesday that a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officer and his wife reported what may have been a similar acoustic attack in September in Uzbekistan.

Such attacks have hit American personnel in Cuba. Victims from the Cuba attacks have described incidents in which they were targeted by sudden, glaring noise that officials believe led the diplomats to suffer sudden brain injuries including hearing loss and speech problems.

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CBS News cited sources familiar with the Uzbekistan incident, who claimed the couple flew out of Tashkent to be evaluated.

The U.S. government first acknowledged the Havana attacks in August, nine months after the injuries were first reported. The State Department immediately moved to expel two Cuban diplomats from the U.S. over safety concerns of American officials experiencing such symptoms.

Russia has denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

Uzbekistan, once a part of the Soviet Union, has kept a strong alliance with Russia even after it declared its independence in 1991 during the collapse of the USSR.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova in August denied the “absurd” allegations of Russian involvement in the attacks and said the Kremlin is willing to participate in any investigations into the matter.

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US experts prepare to release ‘sonic attack’ findings amid Cuba’s denial

HAVANA – While the U.S. State Department reported there were 24 victims of a “sonic attack” in Cuba and an investigation continues, Cuban officials this week continued to deny the incidents.

After Cuban diplomats complained about not receiving any evidence of such attacks from the U.S. government, they recruited experts to speculate about the possibility of an attack.

The experts didn’t have access to the alleged technology used or the medical history of the 24 victims reported. The Cuban government shared videos on Twitter.

“In my opinion, it’s not possible a cerebral concussion in the affected diplomats because there was no history of trauma in the affected person,” Dr. Nelson Gomez Viera, a Cuban neurologist, said in English.

Several sources told Local 10 News that medical experts from the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania were getting ready to release their findings by way of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Cuban diplomats have said they believe the sonic attacks were a fabrication to push for President Donald Trump’s new policy. Three weeks ago, they released a prime-time special on Cuban TV questioning the validity of the U.S. reports.

During a recent visit to Washington, D.C.,  Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, accused U.S. officials of “deliberately lying” to create a “pretext for damaging bilateral relations and eliminating the progress made.”

When Chris Allen learned that an invisible attack had hurt a U.S. government worker who was staying at Havana’s Hotel Capri, he finally had a culprit for his unexplained illness. It developed after he stayed at that same hotel in April 2014 and bewildered a half-dozen neurologists.

“It really, really frightened me,” said Allen, who works in finance.

U.S. officials said the sonic attacks started in 2016, two years after Allen’s visit to Havana. He also doesn’t remember the agonizing sound that others reportedly heard.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in October that investigators were revising assessments based on medical evaluations of the personnel who were affected.

“To anyone who knows anything about the Cuban government and the past of the Cuban government, it’s hard to imagine that certain things would not be known that they were taking place on that island right there,” Nauert said.

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https://www.local10.com/news/cuba/us-experts-prepare-to-release-sonic-attack-findings-amid-cubas-denial

US releases recording of ‘sonic weapon attack’ used against diplomats in Cuba

 

A recording that reveals the sound of a sonic weapon said to have been used against US embassy staff in Cuba has been released.

The high-pitched frequencies are believed to have injured at least 22 diplomatic staff, who suffered problems with hearing, cognitive function, vision, balance and sleep.

The allegations have caused relations between the two countries to deteriorate significantly, just over a year after former President Barack Obama made a historic trip to the Caribbean island.

Earlier this month, 15 Cuban diplomats were expelled from the communist government’s embassy in Washington, DC.

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At least 22 people have been hurt by the mysterious high pitched sound.

Any sound played at normal levels is not thought to be harmful to humans but the affected staff said they heard it played at high levels – through what device is unknown.

The recordings from Havana have been sent for analysis to the US Navy, which has advanced capabilities for analysing acoustic signals, and to the intelligence services, the Associated Press reported.

A closer examination of one recording revealed it was not just a single sound. Roughly 20 or more different frequencies, or pitches, are embedded in it, according to reports.

To the ear, the multiple frequencies can sound a bit like dissonant keys on a piano being struck all at once. Plotted on a graph, the Havana sound forms a series of “peaks” that jump up from a baseline, like spikes or fingers on a hand.

“There are about 20 peaks, and they seem to be equally spaced. All these peaks correspond to a different frequency,” said Kausik Sarkar, an acoustics expert and engineering professor at the George Washington University, who reviewed the recording with the AP.

But the recordings have not significantly advanced US knowledge about what is harming diplomats in Cuba and the US government has not officially blamed anyone.

The island’s government, led by Raul Castro, has denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks.

But US officials believe more could be done to prevent them.