November 29, 2019
by Joseph Fitsanakis
An intense fight between the United States and Russia over the extradition of a Russian cryptocurrency tycoon being held in Greece, is raising questions about the possible use of cryptocurrencies by spies. The tycoon in question is Aleksandr Vinnik, 39, who in 2011 co-founded BTC-e, an international cryptocurrency-trading platform. BTC-e allowed users to buy or sell several popular cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and litecoin, using Russian rubles, United States dollars, or European Union euro currencies. Although headquartered in Russia, BTC-eâ€™s servers were located in Bulgaria, while its operations were conducted through its offshore components in Cyprus and the Seychelles.
By 2015, BTC-e was reportedly facilitating just over 3 percent of the worldwide daily volume of cryptocurrency trading. But, according to some sources, the company was also facilitating up to 70 percent of worldwide criminal activity involving cryptocurrencies. Washington alleges that the company was built on a model that relied heavily on the activities of criminal entities, as the latter sought the ability to conduct online monetary transactions without being tracked by governments.
In 2017, American authorities seized BTC-eâ€™s website â€”a move that terminated the companyâ€™s operations. Washington also prompted authorities in Greece to arrest Vinnik, while he was vacationing at a Greek resort with his family. The Russian co-founder of BTC-e is today in a Greek prison, awaiting a decision by the Greek authorities to extradite him to the United States. If this happens, he will be tried on 21 counts of international money laundering and a host of other criminal charges.
Interestingly, however, shortly after Vinnikâ€™s arrest, the Russian government filed a court order to have Greece extradite him to Russia, where he is reportedly wanted for relatively minor fraud-related charges. What is more, the Greek government was directly lobbied by no other than the Russian President Vladimir Putin â€”an unusually high-level approach, when one considers Vinnikâ€™s trivial charges in Russia. France has also sought to have Vinnik extradited there, instead of the United States.
What lies behind these moves? There are many who believe that American authorities moved against BTC-e after realizing that Russian spies used the company to hide their traces while trying to meddle with the 2016 presidential elections in the United States. A recent report by the State Departmentâ€™s RFE/RL news website claims that a number of London-based observers from groups such as Global Witness and Elliptic Enterprises believe there are strong links between Russian spy agencies and BTC-e. American authorities have managed to access information about the inner workings of BTC-eâ€™s website. They are probably viewing Vinnik as an intelligence asset, who can potentially shed light on the companyâ€™s alleged role as a money laundering mechanism for Russian spies â€”and probably others as well.
â–º Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 November 2019 | Permalink
Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats for espionage, Russia vows to respond in kind
September 24, 2020 by Joseph Fitsanakis Bulgaria, a once close Soviet ally, which is now a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has expelled two Russian diplomats whom it accuses of conducting military espionage. This raises to five the number of Russian diplomats who have been expelled from Bulgaria for…
September 24, 2020
by Joseph Fitsanakis
Bulgaria, a once close Soviet ally, which is now a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has expelled two Russian diplomats whom it accuses of conducting military espionage. This raises to five the number of Russian diplomats who have been expelled from Bulgaria for espionage in the past year.
In a hastily announced press conference on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters in the Bulgarian capital Sofia that the ministry had “declared two Russian diplomats personae non grate”, a Latin term meaning unwanted persons. He added that the Bulgarian government had notified the Russian embassy of its decision with an official diplomatic note. The two Russian diplomats, who have not been named, were given 72 hours to leave the country, said the spokesman.
In addition to the expulsion of the two diplomats, it was later reported that the Bulgarian government had denied an earlier request by Moscow to provide diplomatic accreditation to Russia’s new military attaché to the country, who was expected to assume his post in Sofia this coming December. It is believed that this action by the Bulgarian government is connected to the alleged espionage case involving the two Russian diplomats.
Bulgarian government prosecutors allege that the two Russians have engaged in espionage activities in Bulgaria since 2016. Their goal, according to the Bulgarians, was to obtain classified information about the technological modernization of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, which is ongoing. They had allegedly already made contacts with Bulgarian officials who were privy to such information, and in some cases had already provided them with money in exchange for secrets. The two diplomats are believed to be working for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, which is commonly referred to as GRU.
The Russian Embassy in Sofia confirmed late on Wednesday that it had received a telephone call from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informing it of the expulsion order issued for the two diplomats. It added, however, that it had not been given proof of acts of espionage by the two diplomats. In the same statement, the Russian Embassy said the two diplomats would leave Bulgaria as instructed, but warned that Moscow reserved the right “to a response in kind”.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 September 2020 | Permalink
British former MI6 employee denies having passed secrets to Chinese operatives
September 21, 2020 by Joseph Fitsanakis A former employee of British intelligence has strongly denied accusations, which surfaced last week in the European press, that he gave secrets to two Chinese operatives in exchange for money. Some news outlets have suggested that he is currently under investigation by at least one European government. The individual…
September 21, 2020
by Joseph Fitsanakis
A former employee of British intelligence has strongly denied accusations, which surfaced last week in the European press, that he gave secrets to two Chinese operatives in exchange for money. Some news outlets have suggested that he is currently under investigation by at least one European government.
The individual in question is Fraser Cameron, a British businessman who worked in an intelligence capacity from 1976 to 1991. During those years, Mr. Cameron was reportedly employed by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Britain’s version of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. He then worked for the British Foreign Office and the European Commission, before relocating to Belgium, where he is believed to have lived for much of the past 20 years. According to the news website Politico, Mr. Cameron has been “a visiting professor at several universities in Asia” and currently directs the Belgium-based EU-Asia Centre.
Politico and a number of other news outlets said last week that Belgian security agencies are investigating Mr. Cameron’s alleged contacts with “two Chinese journalists accredited in Brussels”, who are believed to work as intelligence officers. Politico cited “a person close to the case”, who claimed that an investigation was launched by Belgium’s office of the federal prosecutor after the two Chinese journalists were found to be secretly working for China’s Ministry of State Security. The news website said that, according to sources in Belgium, Mr. Cameron’s alleged activities “could constitute a risk for European officials”. The BBC cited “a senior [British] official”, who claimed that the Belgian probe was the result of a “long-running joint inquiry between British and Belgian intelligence” into the case, which had achieved “a breakthrough in recent months.
But Mr. Cameron strongly denied these allegations, which he termed “absurd” in his messages to various media outlets. He described the claims as “without foundation” and added: “I retired 15 years ago from official employment and have zero access to any sensitive information”.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 September 2020 | Permalink
Trump’s ex-spy chief warns American democracy may not survive November election
September 18, 2020 by Joseph Fitsanakis The former United States Director of National Intelligence, who served in the administration of President Donald Trump as the highest-ranking intelligence official until 2019, has warned that American democracy may not survive the upcoming presidential election. In a stark editorial published on Thursday in The New York Times, Dan…
September 18, 2020
by Joseph Fitsanakis
The former United States Director of National Intelligence, who served in the administration of President Donald Trump as the highest-ranking intelligence official until 2019, has warned that American democracy may not survive the upcoming presidential election. In a stark editorial published on Thursday in The New York Times, Dan Coats warns that whether “the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history”, will survive after November, remains an open question.
The Trump administration appointed Coats in 2017 to head the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which was set up in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Its mission is to direct the 17-member United States Intelligence Community and to advise the president, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council on matters of national security. In July 2019 Coats resigned, reportedly after disagreeing with President Trump’s policies on North Korea, Russia and the Islamic State.
In his editorial, Coats urges Congress to pass “emergency legislation” that will establish a “supremely high-level bipartisan and non-partisan commission to oversee the [upcoming 2020 Presidential] election”. The proposed commission would supervise the mechanisms that “tabulate, evaluate or certify the results” of the election and assure the American public that “the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed”, argues Coats. Additionally, it would refer “to the proper law enforcement agency” any incident of election “interference, fraud, disinformation or other distortions”.
Coats also calls on American leaders to perform what he describes as the “most urgent task [they] face”, which is “to ensure that the election results are accepted as legitimate”. Doing the opposite would mean succumbing to the pressure of enemies who “want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; [and] that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people”.
The former Director of National Intelligence concludes by warning that if the nation fails “to take every conceivable effort to ensure the integrity of the election”, there will be no winners, but only losers, after November. Consequently, the American voters will not simply be choosing a president, he says, but will be deciding “whether the American democratic experiment […] will survive”.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 September 2020 | Permalink