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Entries in Spy (25)

Tuesday
May292012

Israel Behind Largest Cyber Spy Weapon Ever?

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A top Israeli official hinted Tuesday that his country could be behind the most sophisticated cyber espionage program ever developed, known as Flame, which infiltrated and spied on computer systems throughout the Middle East, including those in Iran, for the past two years.

"Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a serious threat would be likely to take different steps, including these, in order to hurt them," Israel's vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel's Army Radio on Tuesday, referring to the cyber attack. "Israel is blessed to be a nation possessing superior technology. These achievements of ours open up all kinds of possibilities for us."

Flame, also known as sKyWIper, is a veritable "toolkit" of cyber spying programs that is capable of remotely taking screenshots while the computer user works, recording audio conversations through the computer's own microphone, intercepting keyboard inputs and wiping data, among other sophisticated capabilities, according to cyber security experts. The code has been active for two years and has infected dozens of computers throughout the Middle East, mostly in Iran.

Three cyber security firms, both in the U.S. and abroad, that have begun to analyze Flame said the code is unprecedented in complexity and, due to its sheer sophistication, was most likely developed by a hacking team working under the direction of a nation-state.

"We can't pinpoint who is actually behind it, but we can narrow the list of potential actors," Vikram Thakur, a manager at Symantec, told ABC News Monday. "It's a project that's been out for years, and flown under the radar. It is extremely well funded."

One of the cyber security companies that has analyzed Flame, the Russia-based Kaspersky Labs, said that the malware was discovered only after sensitive information began suddenly disappearing from computer networks in the Middle East. The wiping program turned out to be just one arm of Flame.

Iran's government cyber security response team acknowledged the breech in an online posting Monday, which described the malware's capabilities and said that its methods and functionality made Iranian experts believe it had a "close relation" to Stuxnet, another highly sophisticated cyber weapon discovered in 2010 that appeared to target and damage an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility. Israel was suspected of being behind that attack and the Israeli government has repeatedly declined to comment on those allegations.

Analysis from Kaspersky and the Hungary-based cryptology lab Crysys shows that the code used in Flame is so much bigger and so different from that used in Stuxnet that it is unlikely the two were developed by the same group of hackers, but their reports did not discount the possibility that the same nation could have funded and directed both attacks, considering the common target.

So far, researchers in the U.S. and abroad have said Flame appears to only be used for spying purposes, rather than being used to cause physical damage to systems, like Stuxnet. Still, Kaspersky Labs said in a blog post, "such highly flexible malware can be used to deploy specific attack modules" that could target a country's critical infrastructure and there could also be variations of the code that have yet to be discovered.

Further analysis of the complex Flame code by several cyber security firms is ongoing.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May152012

Iran Hangs ‘Israeli Spy’ for Nuclear Scientist Assassination: Reports

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The man convicted of assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist on behalf of the Israeli spy agency Mossad has been executed by hanging in an Iranian prison, Iranian state media reported Tuesday.

The Iranian government claims Majid Jamali Fashi, 24, was recruited and trained by Mossad to be a spy and was paid $120,000 to kill Iranian nuclear physicist Massoud Ali-Mohammadi in January 2010. Mohammadi died after a motorcycle packed with explosives was detonated by remote control as he walked past. Fashi also confessed to receiving forged travel documents in Azerbaijan to travel to Israel, Iran’s Press TV reported.

In January 2011, Iranian media broadcast Fashi’s confession in which he said he “received different training courses, including chasing, running, counter-chasing and techniques for planting bombs in a car” while in Tel Aviv, according to Iran’s Fars News.

The Iranian government has in the past claimed that Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. intelligence agencies are to blame for the recent assassinations of as many as five Iranian scientists involved in the country’s controversial nuclear or missile programs since 2007. American and British officials have strongly denied the accusations — a White House spokesperson called them “absurd” in the wake of Mohammadi’s death. Also, the Israeli government has offered no official public comment.

Iranian media previously reported the government had arrested a number of individuals in connection with the deaths of the nuclear scientists.

In November 2011, the Iranian government accused the head of the United Nation’s nuclear regulatory agency of endangering Iranian nuclear scientists by publishing their names in open reports.

“The release of the names of the Iranian scientists by the agency has made them targets for assassination by terrorist groups as well as the Israeli regime and the U.S. intelligence services,” said Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh in a letter to Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Following the deaths of the Iranian scientists, Israeli officials suspected Iran to be behind a series of bombings and attempted bombings on Israeli targets from the nation of Georgia to Thailand. In the case of an explosion that wounded five people in Bangkok, Thailand, three Iranians were arrested.

At the time, an Iranian official condemned the Bangkok blast and told Iran’s Press TV that Israeli agents are often behind such attacks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May142012

Parents of American 'Spy' Held by Iran Issue Tearful Plea

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- For the first time, the parents of an American who could face the death penalty in Iran for alleged espionage, have gone before a camera in a stirring video to speak about their young son and the suffering they've endured since the arrest of the "typical American boy."

"Everywhere I go I see him.  His face is in front of me everywhere," Behnaz Hekmati, mother of arrested Amir Hekmati, says as tears stream down her face in the new video posted on FreeAmir.org.  "I miss him so much.  I miss him so much… [But] I keep myself strong because I know my boy needs me.  I need to help him."

Amir Hekmati, an Arizona-born ex-U.S. Marine, was arrested in August 2011 while his family said he was on his first trip ever to Iran to see his grandmother.  Iran accused Amir of being a spy, and in December an Iranian television station broadcast a "confession" from the 28-year-old in which he says he was sent into Iran by the CIA to become a double agent.

A day after the broadcast, Amir's father, Ali, told ABC News in an exclusive interview that the Iranian claims were "lies."

"My son is no spy.  He is innocent.  He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," the elder Hekmati said then.  "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."

The next month, an Iranian court found Amir guilty and sentenced him to death.  However, Iranian media reported in March that the death sentence had been annulled and Amir would be retried.

In the new video, neither Amir's father or mother mention Iran or the allegations against their son, but talk about Amir when he was a charming boy and describe the effect his arrest has had on the family.

"I am in very bad shape.  I am just deteriorating every day.  Every day I get worse and worse," Hekmati's mother says.  "I try to be strong because maybe it's only me and his family... we are his voice.  He doesn't have a voice."

Hekmati's father says he thinks about his son "all the time" and says he sometimes prays to dream about him, if only to see his face.

"Maybe I will share a dream of him," Ali Hekmati says.  "I sure miss him." 

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
May112012

Will Al Qaeda Mole Get Big Payday for Foiling Plot?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) --The British spy who managed to infiltrate an al Qaeda cell and thwart a scheme to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner may be eligible for tens of millions of dollars in reward money, courtesy of the U.S. government.

The U.S. State Department said Friday that under their Rewards for Justice program the mystery double agent -- who officials said was recruited by British intelligence from the U.K.’s Muslim population and posed as a would-be suicide bomber -- could be paid up to $25 million for playing an integral role in preventing a terrorist strike against U.S. interests, if he’s determined eligible. Another $5 million could be paid if information provided by the mole led to a recent air strike that killed Fahd al-Quso, a high-level commander in al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, AQAP.

But one State Department official told ABC News that right now there is not nearly enough information about who the mole is and what he did to know if he is even eligible for the reward.

Established in the mid-1980s, the Rewards for Justice program has paid out over $100 million to more than 70 tipsters, according to the State Department.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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
Apr242012

Mystery Over Death of British Spy Intensifies as Inquest Begins

Comstock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- It's a case worthy of a Sherlock Holmes story. The mystery over the death of a British spy has only deepened as new details emerged this week at the official inquest into how he died.

The naked body of Gareth Williams, 31, was found curled up inside a locked duffle bag in the bathtub of his London apartment on Aug. 16, 2010. Scotland Yard has so far failed to solve the case in an investigation that has lasted nearly two years.

At the time of his death, Williams was working as a codebreaker at Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, or SIS, also known as MI6.

Police investigators told the inquest that there was no indication of a break-in at the apartment, and nothing to suggest that evidence at the scene was destroyed.

Williams' body showed no signs of struggle, nor that Williams had been drugged or poisoned. Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire said police had been working under the assumption that Williams could not have entered and locked the duffle bag by himself, and that a third party must have been involved. Sebire revealed Tuesday that "two minor components of another contributor's DNA" were found on the bag's zip toggle and padlock.

Williams' family said it believed that another person must have been involved in his death.

Also found at the dead man's apartment was a newspaper cutting of an article about the regrets commonly held by terminally ill patients in the last weeks of their lives. Headlined "Top Five Regrets of the Dying," the story was about a book of the same name written by an Australian nurse who'd spent several years working in palliative care and recorded the dying epiphanies of her patients. The regrets included "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me," "I wish I hadn't worked so hard," "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."

Closed-circuit TV images of Williams visiting luxury stores in West London in the days before he died do not suggest he was being followed. Police said thousands of dollars' worth of women's designer clothes were found at Williams' apartment, as well as wigs and makeup. Asked whether Williams was a transvestite, an old friend told the inquest that she did not believe so, and said the items were likely purchased as gifts.

It's not clear why it took a week for detectives to visit the apartment after the codebreaker failed to show up to work at the headquarters of Britain's intelligence service on Aug. 16.

Williams was working at SIS after he was transferred to the agency by Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, its secret electronic surveillance agency, where he had previously been employed. In April 2010, he successfully applied to return to GCHQ earlier than planned.

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

Wednesday
Jan112012

Lawyer Hired to Work for American 'Spy' Sentenced to Death in Iran

ABC News(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Amir Mirzaei Hekmati's family has retained Los Angeles attorney Pierre-Richard Prosper to see what he can do to free 28-year-old Hekmati, who was sentenced to death by a court in Iran for allegedly spying for the CIA.

The White House has denied that Hekmati, a former Marine Arabic translator, was secretly spying while visiting his grandmother.  However, the State Department's options are limited since Washington and Tehran have had no formal diplomatic relations since the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979.

Prosper has an extensive background in international affairs, having served as an ambassador at large for war crimes under the Bush administration.  He also acted as prosecutor for the Rwanda war crimes tribunal at the Hague.

But what drew Hekmati's family, who live in Michigan, to Prosper was that he was able to free American businessman Reza Taghavi from an Iranian prison after he was accused of having ties to an Iranian opposition group.

Gaining Hekmati's release could prove more daunting since he has already been charged, convicted and sentenced, becoming the first American to receive the death penalty in the long and contentious relationship between the U.S. and Iran.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan092012

Iran Sentences American 'Spy' to Death

ABC News(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran has sentenced a former U.S. Marine to death on charges of spying for the CIA, Iranian state media reported Monday.

Iran's Revolutionary Court found 28-year-old Amir Hekmati "Corrupt on Earth," according to the Fars news agency, and sentenced him to death "for cooperating with the hostile country...and spying for the CIA." Under Iranian law, Hekmati has 20 days to appeal.  

His trial and death sentence came as Iran announced that it had enriched uranium at an underground facility and as the U.S. imposed harsher economic sanctions on Iran to stop its nuclear program.

Hekmati's mother Behnaz Hekmati released a statement saying that she and her husband Ali were, "shocked and terrified by the news that our son, Amir, has been sentenced to death. We believe that this verdict is a result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair."

"Amir did not engage in any acts of spying, or 'fighting against God,'" as the convicting judge has claimed in his sentence," said the statement.  "Amir is not a criminal.  His life is being exploited for political gain."

The U.S. State Department has asked the Iranian government repeatedly to allow Swiss diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in Iran, to meet with Hekmati.  Iran has refused, according to the State Department. Hekmati's family also said they had been rebuffed in all attempts to speak with the Iranian government.

"A grave error has been committed," said Hekmati's parents on Monday.  "We pray that Iran will show compassion and not murder our son, Amir, a natural born American citizen, who was visiting Iran and his relatives for the first time."

Hekmati, an Arizona-born Iranian-American who served in the U.S. Marines as a rifleman from 2001 to 2005, was arrested while visiting his extended family, including two elderly grandmothers, in Tehran on Aug. 29, 2011, according to the family. The family said they were urged by the Iranian government to keep quiet about his arrest with the promise of later release, but then in December, Hekmati was shown on Iranian television allegedly confessing to being an undercover agent of the Central Intelligence Agency on a mission to infiltrate the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

"It was their [the CIA's] plan to first burn some useful information, give it to them [the Iranians] and let Iran's Intelligence Ministry think that this is good material," Hekmati says calmly in the video.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News shortly after the broadcast, Hekmati's father strongly denied his son was a spy and said the confession was forced.

"My son is no spy.  He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Hekmati said.  "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."

In the Iranian broadcast, Hekmati was described as having been trained in military intelligence for 10 years by the U.S. Army before being sent in country on his secret mission to become a double agent for the CIA.  But military service records provided to ABC News showed Hekmati is a former Marine, was never in the Army and never had any military intelligence training. He spoke Arabic and may have helped translate for his Marine unit, but left service in 2005 as a rifleman.

The elder Hekmati said his son worked for a security contractor after his Marine service, but insisted he never had intelligence training there either.

"We've seen this story before with the Iranian regime falsely accusing people of being spies and then holding the innocent foreigners for political reasons," State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said in December.  In September, the Iranian government released the last two of three American hikers detained there for two years on accusations of espionage.

Hekmati's mother, father, two sisters and brother all live in the U.S.

"Every waking moment, our family is agonizing over Amir's fate," the family's statement says.  "We continue to hope, struggling to reach out to Iran and abroad for Amir's freedom... to the ones who have hearts, and the ones who can hear.  We will not stop hoping and praying for justice, for peaceful dialogue with Iran, and for Amir's safe return home."

A representative at the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, D.C., declined to comment for this report and referred ABC News to his colleagues in New York.  Representatives at the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately return requests for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio