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Entries in Spies (14)

Monday
Apr302012

Mystery Deepens Into British Spy’s Death

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Post mortem examinations of the British spy found dead in his bathtub two years ago have failed to determine how he died. Three pathologists have told the official inquest into his death that asphyxiation or poisoning were the most likely possible causes, but the decomposition of his body prevented them from reaching any firm conclusions.

The naked body of Gareth Williams was found curled up inside a zipped and locked duffle bag in the empty bathtub of his London apartment in 2010. Scotland Yard has been unable to solve the case after a nearly two-year investigation. At the time of his death Williams was working in London as a code breaker for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6.

Tests are still being carried out on DNA fragments found by forensic scientists in the apartment, and which are believed to be from at least two other unknown people.

Pathologist Dr. Benjamin Swift has told the court that the post mortem was hampered by decomposition of the body, made worse by heating from radiators inside the apartment, which inexplicably were switched on in the middle of summer. Although no trace of poison was found in the body of Gareth Williams, Swift said it could have disappeared from his system in the ten days it took for his corpse to be discovered and then examined.

Another pathologist who gave evidence at the inquest said he believed Williams was probably alive when he entered the sports bag, which was fastened with an outside padlock. No signs of struggle were detected on the body of the intelligence officer. The court was told by two experts last week that it was highly unlikely that the spy would have been able to lock himself into the bag.

Williams was working in London after being seconded to the British spy agency by GCHQ, Britain’s secret electronic surveillance agency, where he had previously been employed. His former boss at GCHQ has told the inquest that he was a “world class intelligence officer.” “He was considered something of a prodigy,” Stephen Gale told the court.

His manager at MI6 has called him “a fully deployable, highly talented officer” who had passed exams to do some of MI6′s toughest covert work six months before he was found dead in August 2010.

Police are still treating his death as suspicious and unexplained. The inquest has been told by police that there was no indication of a break-in at the apartment, and nothing to suggest evidence at the scene was destroyed.

Police say thousands of dollars worth of women’s designer clothes were discovered at his apartment, as well as wigs and make-up. Two friends of the dead man have testified that, to their knowledge, Williams was not gay and had no interest in cross-dressing. The inquest has heard that a police examination of the spy’s computer and phone has shown that he made occasional visits to bondage websites and websites about claustrophilia, or the love of enclosure. No classified information was found at his apartment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr272012

Mystery Deepens in Bizarre British Spy Death Case

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Of the myriad of questions surrounding the case of the British code breaker who was found naked and stuffed into a duffle bag in 2010, expert witnesses on Friday gave at least one answer: he most likely didn't put himself in there.

Gareth Williams, who worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, was discovered nude inside a padlocked duffle bag that had been placed in the bathtub of his London apartment in 2010. After a nearly two-year investigation, Scotland Yard has been unable to solve the case.

A new courthouse inquest is readdressing the case and Friday video footage was shown of two experts attempting -- and failing -- to lock themselves into a bag identical to the one in which Gareth Williams was found.

Peter Faulding, an expert in rescue from confined spaces, said Friday he failed to lock himself into the bag after 300 attempts.

"I couldn't say it's impossible, but I think even Houdini would have struggled with this one," he said. "My conclusion is that Mr. Williams was either placed in the bag unconscious, or he was dead before he was in the bag."

A second expert, yoga specialist William MacKay, also failed in the task, but refused to completely rule out the possibility that the spy had locked himself in the bag unaided.

Police said they have found evidence on a phone belonging to Williams of very occasional visits to bondage websites. Examination of his computer also showed he had visited websites about claustrophilia or the love of enclosure, the inquest has heard. No classified information was found at his apartment. A fellow spy told the hearing that an internal review had concluded that Williams' death was not connected to his work.

Police said thousands of dollars worth of women's designer clothes were discovered at his apartment, as well as wigs and makeup. Two friends of the dead man have testified that, to their knowledge, Williams had no interest in cross-dressing.

The inquest has been told by police that there was no indication of a break-in at the apartment, and nothing to suggest evidence at the scene was destroyed. Williams' body showed no signs of struggle, drugs, or poison. Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire said police had been working under the assumption that the spy would have been unable to enter and lock the bag by himself, and that a third party must have been involved. She revealed on Tuesday that "two minor components of another contributor's DNA" were found on the zip toggle and padlock. Williams' family has said they believe another person must have been involved in his death.

Crucial forensic evidence may have been lost because it took a week for detectives to visit the apartment after the code breaker failed to show up to work at the headquarters of Britain's intelligence service in mid-August 2010. MI6 have blamed a "breakdown in communication" for the delay in raising the alarm.

Williams was working in London after being seconded to the British spy agency by GCHQ, Britain's secret electronic surveillance agency, where he had previously been employed. His former boss at GCHQ, Stephen Gale, told the inquest he was a "world class intelligence officer."

"He was considered something of a prodigy," Gale said.

His manager at MI6 has called him "a fully deployable, highly talented officer" who had passed exams to do some of MI6's toughest covert work six months before he was found dead.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr032012

Russian Fem Spy Spooked US, But It Wasn't Anna Chapman

Secretary Clinton: Spy ring target? State Department photo(WASHINGTON) -- A female Russian agent got "close enough" to a sitting U.S. cabinet member that the FBI felt they had to swoop in and arrest the lot -- but it wasn't the famous femme fatale Anna Chapman, federal officials said Tuesday.

Chapman, the seductive 20-something SoHo spy, was named by a British newspaper Monday as the reason the FBI decided to finally round up the Russian ring, which had long been under surveillance, in 2010. The paper cited an interview conducted by the BBC with the FBI's counter-intelligence head Frank Figliuzzi.

"We were becoming very concerned they were getting close enough to a sitting U.S. cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue," Figliuzzi said.

But Figliuzzi never named the Russian agent in question. And although the BBC ran images of Chapman -- as well as shots of a look-a-like -- during the interview, now the FBI says he wasn't talking about her at all. Instead, officials at the Department of Justice told ABC News Figliuzzi was referring to another of the arrested spies, Cynthia Murphy.

According to court documents relating to the spies' arrest, Murphy had been in contact with a fundraiser and "personal friend" of Hillary Clinton, who took the office of Secretary of State in January 2009. The fundraiser, Alan Patricof, said in a 2010 statement that he had retained Murphy's financial services firm more than two years before, had met with her a few times and spoke with her on the phone frequently. Patricof said they "never" spoke about politics, the government or world affairs.

A spokesperson for Clinton told ABC News in 2010 that at the time there was "no reason to think the Secretary was a target of this spy ring."

Court documents had said the FBI had decided to go ahead with the arrests after an FBI agent went undercover and engaged Chapman, who became alarmed. After their arrest, the spooks were sent back to Moscow in exchange for four high-value Americans that had been in Russian custody, U.S. officials said at the time.

Since her return to the homeland, Anna Chapman has found fame as a television host and, more recently, runway fashion model.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan192012

Brits Use Fake 'Spy Rock' in Moscow Espionage Gambit: Official

This undated image from Russian television shows electronic equipment concealed in a rock, which was claimed to be used by four British embassy staff members to receive intelligence information provided by Russian agents in a park outside Moscow. HO/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- To the untrained eye, it may have just looked like a rock sitting next to a Moscow sidewalk, but to British spies prowling the Russian capital, it was actually an invaluable tool of spycraft, a fake stone with a hidden compartment for electronic equipment, according to a former British official.

It has been five years since the Russian security service, the FSB, claimed it had discovered a British espionage ring on Russian soil using the fake rock, but until now no British officials admitted the blown operation.

In a BBC documentary airing Thursday night, Jonathan Powell, then-chief of staff for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said "the spy rock was embarrassing" for the Brits, according to a BBC report.

"They had us bang to rights," Powell said. "Clearly they had known about it for some time."

In 2006, Russian television showed footage of the alleged spies using the rock to apparently transmit files to and from electronic equipment hidden in the rock. In one instance, a man walked by the rock, slows down as he passes it, and then picks up the pace, according to the BBC. In the next shot, another man walks by and picks up the rock.

Powell told the BBC he believed the Russian government had held off making their discovery public for some time "for a political purpose." At the time, the Russian government had accused British intelligence of secretly funding pro-democracy and human rights non-governmental organizations in Russia.

Around the time the Russian report was shown in 2006, then-President Vladimir Putin introduced a new law that restricted NGOs from receiving funding from foreign governments.

At that time, Britain's ambassador to Russia, Tony Brenton, reportedly said all interactions between the British government and Russian organizations was "above board."

According to the Russian news outlet RT, the FSB denies the "spy rock scandal" was linked to the NGO funding controversy, but chose to leak the story to the press in 2006 only after the spy agency failed to discreetly settle the matter with the British government.

When asked for comment on this report, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Ministry told ABC News the office does not comment on "intelligence matters."

Mark Stout, a historian for the International Spy Museum and former intelligence analyst in the U.S. government, said such a method of "cover communications" is not uncommon for most major intelligence services.

"All the major services have technical staffs... in a lot of ways analogous to Q in James Bond, who are really good at this sort of thing and always looking for the latest, greatest ways to hide something in a place that no one would've ever imagined in a million years," Stout said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec132011

Iran Indicts 15 in Alleged US-Israeli Spy Ring

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TEHRAN, Iran) -- An Iranian prosecutor announced Tuesday his government has indicted 15 people who allegedly spied on the Islamic republic for the U.S. and Israel.

"The accused in the case were individuals who committed acts of espionage against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said Tuesday, according to several Iranian news reports.

Dolatabadi did not name the alleged spies, who are suspected of having ties to the American CIA and Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. Iran's intelligence minister, Heidar Moleshi, announced in May the alleged discovery of a CIA-directed spy network in Iran of more than 30 people, according to Iran's Fars News Agency. In November, Moleshi said another 12 spies had been uncovered.

The CIA informants had gathered information from Iranian universities and research centers about Iran's nuclear, aerospace and defense industries, according to a statement by the Iranian intelligence ministry.

"Who is to say if this tale from Iran is fiction or not? They make charges with few, if any, details and expect the media to spread them at face value," a U.S. intelligence official told ABC News of the espionage claims. "[This] looks like typical propaganda to me."

American officials admitted last month they had suffered an intelligence blow after a network of spies was uncovered in Iran, as first reported by ABC News.

"Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk," a U.S. official briefed on the spy ring bust said then.

The indictment announcement comes just days after the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah revealed what it said were the names of American CIA officers uncovered during a similar spy ring bust in that country. Hezbollah, considered by the U.S. government to be a terrorist organization, aired a video Saturday through its media arm in which it listed the names of suspected undercover CIA officers along with a detailed description of how the agency allegedly set up a widespread espionage network in Beirut.

Other current and former U.S. officials said the discovery of the two U.S. spy rings occurred separately, but amounted to a setback of significant proportions in efforts to track the activities of the Iranian nuclear program and the intentions of Hezbollah against Israel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Friday
Dec022011

UK Agency’s Website Seeks New Spies

Comstock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- GCHQ, the intelligence service of the government of the United Kingdom, is looking for some web-savvy cyber-sleuths-to-be, and apparently decided a post on Craigslist wouldn’t quite do the trick.

So it put up a website with the enigmatic title “Can you crack it?” and spread the word on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. The site has a matrix of letters of letters and numbers on the homepage -- surely something is hidden in them -- and a place at the bottom inviting you to “Enter Keyword.”

Britain’s GCHQ (short for Government Communications Headquarters; it’s been around since 1918) says it usually recruits bright young people right out of university, but in the digital age, it says, there may be a lot of bright young hackers out there who are worth talking to.

“The target audience for this particular campaign is one that may not typically be attracted to traditional advertising methods and may be unaware that GCHQ is recruiting for these kinds of roles,” said the GCHQ in U.K. media.

“Their skills may be ideally suited to our work and yet they may not understand how they could apply them to a working environment, particularly one where they have the opportunity to contribute so much.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government said last week it is setting up a Joint Cyber Unit to protect against cyber attacks from hacktivists, organized crime, hostile states and would-be terrorists.

GCHQ has tried unusual promotions before; in 2009 the BBC says it placed video content on the Xbox Live network, where it appeared during such video games as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.

The contest can be found at http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk. The contest ends Dec. 12.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov212011

Exclusive: CIA Spies Caught in the Middle East, Fear Execution

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a significant failure for the United States in the Mideast, more than a dozen spies working for the CIA in Iran and Lebanon have been caught and the U.S. government fears they will be or have been executed, according to four current and former U.S. officials with connections to the intelligence community.

The spies were paid informants recruited by the CIA for two distinct espionage rings targeting Iran and the Beirut-based Hezbollah organization, considered by the U.S. to be a terror group backed by Iran.

"Espionage is a risky business," a U.S. official briefed on the developments told ABC News, confirming the loss of the unspecified number of spies over the last six months.

"Many risks lead to wins, but some result in occasional setbacks," the official said.

Robert Baer, a former senior CIA officer who worked against Hezbollah while stationed in Beirut in the 1980s, said Hezbollah typically executes individuals suspected of or caught spying.

"If they were genuine spies, spying against Hezbollah, I don't think we'll ever see them again," he said.  "These guys are very, very vicious and unforgiving."

Other current and former officials said the discovery of the two U.S. spy rings occurred separately, but amounted to a setback of significant proportions in efforts to track the activities of the Iranian nuclear program and the intentions of Hezbollah against Israel.

"Remember, this group was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group before 9/11," said a U.S. official.  The Hezbollah-linked attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 killed more than 300 people, including nearly 260 Americans.

The U.S. official, speaking for the record but without attribution, gave grudging credit to the efforts of Iran and Hezbollah to detect and expose U.S. and Israeli espionage.

"Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk," said the U.S. official briefed on the spy ring bust.

But others inside the American intelligence community say sloppy "tradecraft" -- the method of covert operations -- by the CIA is also to blame for the disruption of the vital spy networks.

In Beirut, two Hezbollah double agents pretended to go to work for the CIA.  Hezbollah then learned of the restaurant where multiple CIA officers were meeting with several agents, according to the four current and former officials briefed on the case.  The CIA used the codeword "PIZZA" when discussing where to meet with the agents, according to U.S. officials.  Two former officials describe the location as a Beirut Pizza Hut.  A current U.S. official denied that CIA officers met their agents at Pizza Hut.

From there, Hezbollah's internal security arm identified at least a dozen informants, and the identities of several CIA case officers.  Hezbollah then began to "roll up" much of the CIA's network against the terror group, the officials said.

One former senior intelligence official told ABC News that CIA officers ignored warnings that the operation could be compromised by using the same location for meetings with multiple assets.

"We were lazy and the CIA is now flying blind against Hezbollah," the former official said.

At about the same time that Hezbollah was identifying the CIA network in Lebanon, Iranian intelligence agents discovered a secret Internet communication method used by CIA-paid assets in Iran.

The CIA has yet to determine precisely how many of its assets were compromised in Iran, but the number could be in the dozens, according to one current and one former U.S. intelligence official.

The exposure of the two spy networks was first announced in widely ignored televised statements by Iranian and Hezbollah leaders.  U.S. officials tell ABC News that much of what was broadcast was, in fact, true.

Hezbollah's leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, announced in June of this year that two high-ranking members of Hezbollah had been exposed as CIA spies, leading U.S. officials to conclude that the entire network inside Hezbollah had been compromised.

In Iran, intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi announced in May that more than 30 U.S. and Israeli spies had been discovered and an Iranian television program, which acts as a front for Iran's government, showed images of internet sites used by the U.S. for secret communication with the spies.

U.S. officials said the Iranian television program showed pictures of people who were not U.S. assets, but the program's video of the websites used by the CIA was accurate.

Some former U.S. intelligence officials say the developments are the result of a lack of professionalism in the U.S. intelligence community.

"We've lost the tradition of espionage," said one former official who still consults for the U.S. intelligence community.  "Officers take short cuts and no one is held accountable," he said.

But at the CIA, officials say such risks come with the territory.

"Hezbollah is an extremely complicated enemy," said a U.S. official.  "It's a determined terrorist group, a powerful political player, a mighty military and an accomplished intelligence operation, formidable and ruthless. No one underestimates its capabilities."

"If you lose an asset, one source, that's normally a setback in espionage," said Robert Baer, who is considered an expert on Hezbollah.  "But when you lose your entire station, either in Tehran or Beirut, that's a catastrophe, that just shouldn't be.  And the only way that ever happens is when you're mishandling sources."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct062011

China Still Spies the Old Fashioned Way, Russia Says

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A day after a top American lawmaker accused China of exercising "an intolerable level" of espionage in the U.S., Russia's spy service announced it has detained a Chinese national for allegedly attempting to steal secrets about a Russian missile system.

While the accusations out of the U.S. primarily refer to cyber intrusions of American corporations, the Russian government is accusing China of an old standby in the tradecraft playbook: outright bribery.

Russia's secretive spy agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), issued a rare statement Wednesday claiming the state had arrested a Chinese citizen who, posing as a translator for official delegations, was working under the direction of the Chinese government in an attempt to buy state secrets from Russians about Russia's S-300 missile system.

The Chinese national, identified as Tong Shenyun, was reportedly detained last year but the arrest was not made public until earlier this week. Russia has already supplied the Chinese with the relatively dated missile system and Beijing has the license to manufacture it, Russian state news said, but the FSB accused Shenyun of trying to obtain "technical and repair documentation" about the system.

The announcement of Shenyun's arrest came just hours after a top U.S. lawmaker in the House Intelligence Committee issued the strongest yet condemnation of China's alleged widespread cyber campaign against American corporations, which has allegedly reached into "nearly every sector" of U.S. industry.

"I don't believe that there is a precedent in history for such a massive and sustained intelligence effort by a government agency to blatantly steal commercial data and intellectual property," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said in an open committee meeting Tuesday. "Chinese espionage has reached an intolerable level... Beijing is waging a massive trade war on all of us."

Rogers said that cyber intrusions of American and other Western corporations by hackers working behalf of Beijing -- allegedly including attacks on corporate giants like Google and Lockheed Martin -- amounted to "brazen and widespread theft."

In one attack on Google, the company claimed Chinese hackers attempted to breach private emails of senior U.S. government officials, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to say the U.S. government was "very concerned" about the possible connection to China.

In August, a documentary broadcast on Chinese state-run television showed what appeared to be a cyber attack in progress aimed at an I.P. address based at an Alabama university.

The same month the documentary aired, U.S.-based cyber security giant McAfee released a report which it suggested a nation-state was likely behind "relentless" cyber attacks on up to 70 global companies, governments, and non-profit organizations over the last half-decade. Included in the list of victims was a U.S. satellite communication company, several defense contractors, real estate firms, the International Olympic Committee and several Asia-based targets -- but none based in China.

Though China was not named as a suspect in the report, Chinese state-run media blasted its reasoning when responding to suggestions by other experts that China was the most likely culprit.

"McAfee's new report alleges that 'a government' carried out a large-scale Internet espionage hacking action but its analysis of the justification is obviously groundless," China's People's Daily said.

Chinese officials in the U.S. did not return requests for comments on this report, but, like in the case of the McAfee report, officials have repeatedly said the hacking accusations are "groundless."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug312011

Chinese General Spills Spy Secrets

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Chinese leaders are typically tight lipped about all internal matters, especially cases of espionage. However in a video clip recently leaked onto YouTube, a Chinese general is seen talking candidly, revealing that China had covered up a number of spy cases in the past decade, mainly out of embarrassment.

The footage was apparently taken on March 17 when Chinese Major General Jin Yinan gave a lecture at the headquarters of the state-owned China Life Insurance, one of China’s largest insurance companies.

Normally a lecturer at an elite military officer college in Beijing, Jin started going off near the end of his two and half hour talk about the many Communist Party members who have “turned rotten” and sold state secrets to foreign countries.  His captive audience of China Life Insurance employees were apparently there as a part of an internal study session in the run-up to the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party early this summer.

In almost a resigned sigh, Jin talked about the case of Li Bin, the former Chinese ambassador to South Korea. Jin claimed Li passed on sensitive information to the South Koreans and when the authorities finally caught the ambassador, they ended up charging him with corruption instead of espionage because they thought it would be too embarrassing for China.

He also goes on to talk about another senior official who spied -- just as his father had done a generation before -- but the father did not do it for the other side.

Among the other nuggets Jin shared in his presentation: a senior military officer accused of selling intelligence after being passed over for a promotion; a high-level official executed for being a spy for Taiwan; another official who passed sensitive documents to the British during the negotiations over Hong Kong’s return; and a government think-tank scholar who had the audacity to be on the payroll of five foreign intelligence services.

In is unknown why Jin was so open in sharing the information with this particular audience.

Beijing has not commented on the video but it has been removed from most Chinese video-sharing sites.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul112011

German Spy Agency HQ Blueprints Stolen: Report

Creatas/Thinkstock(MUNICH) -- The German government has launched an investigation into the alleged theft of classified blueprints of the German spy agency's new state-of-the-art headquarters, a government spokesperson said Monday.

The announcement came after a German magazine, Focus, published a German-language report which claimed the blueprints -- comprised of building plans, alarm systems, and locking systems among other features -- had disappeared perhaps as long as a year ago but the disappearance had gone unnoticed until recently.

"It has not yet been possible to verify the authenticity of the reports, but an investigation was launched into the matter on Friday," government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said at a press conference Monday, according to media reports. "It's a serious issue and the government is interested in clearing up this case as quickly as possible."

The new headquarters for the German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), is reportedly set to be one of the most technologically sophisticated buildings in the world when it is finished in Berlin in 2014. The BND declined to comment on the plans' disappearance, but one representative told Germany's Die Welt newspaper the documents were likely leaked by a construction contractor.

Representatives for the German government did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this report.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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