In March 2019, Mr. Alay traveled to Moscow, just weeks after leaders of the Catalan independence movement went on trial. Three months later, Mr. Alay went again.

In Russia, according to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met with several active foreign intelligence officers, as well as Oleg V. Syromolotov, the former chief of counterintelligence for the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, who now oversees counterterrorism as a deputy minister at the Russian foreign ministry.

Mr. Alay denied meeting Mr. Syromolotov and the officers but acknowledged meeting Yevgeny Primakov, the grandson of a famous K.G.B. spymaster, in order to secure an interview with Mr. Puigdemont on an international affairs program he hosted on Kremlin television. Last year, Mr. Primakov was appointed by Mr. Putin to run a Russian cultural agency that, according to European security officials, often serves as a front for intelligence operations.

“Good news from Moscow,” Mr. Alay later texted to Mr. Puigdemont, informing him of Mr. Primakov’s appointment. In another exchange, Mr. Dmitrenko told Mr. Alay that Mr. Primakov’s elevation “puts him in a very good position to activate things between us.”

Mr. Alay also confirmed meeting Andrei Bezrukov, a decorated former officer with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. For more than a decade, Mr. Bezrukov and his wife, Yelena Vavilova, were deep cover operatives living in the United States using the code names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley.

It was their story of espionage, arrest and eventual return to Russia in a spy swap that served as a basis for the television series “The Americans.” Mr. Alay appears to have become close with the couple. Working with Mr. Dmitrenko, he spent about three months in the fall of 2020 on a Catalan translation of Ms. Vavilova’s autobiographical novel “The Woman Who Can Keep Secrets,” according to his encrypted correspondence.

Mr. Alay, who is also a college professor and author, said he was invited by Mr. Bezrukov, who now teaches at a Moscow university, to deliver two lectures.

Mr. Alay was accompanied on each of his trips by Mr. Dmitrenko, 33, a Russian businessman who is married to a Catalan woman. Mr. Dmitrenko did not respond to requests for comment. But Spanish authorities have monitored him and in 2019 rejected a citizenship application from him because of his Russian contacts, according to a Spanish Ministry of Justice decision reviewed by The Times.

The decision said Mr. Dmitrenko “receives missions” from Russian intelligence and also “does different jobs” for leaders of Russian organized crime.

A few months after Mr. Alay’s trips to Moscow, Catalonia erupted in protests.

A group calling itself Tsunami Democratic occupied the offices of one of Spain’s largest banks, closed a main highway between France and Spain for two days and orchestrated the takeover of the Barcelona airport, forcing the cancellation of more than a hundred flights.

The group’s origins have remained unclear, but one of the confidential police files stated that Mr. Alay attended a meeting in Geneva, where he and other independence activists finalized plans for Tsunami Democratic’s unveiling.

Three days after Tsunami Democratic occupied the Barcelona airport, two Russians flew from Moscow to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, according to flight records obtained by The Times.

One was Sergei Sumin, whom the intelligence report describes as a colonel in Russia’s Federal Protective Service, which oversees security for Mr. Putin and is not known for activities abroad.

The other was Artyom Lukoyanov, the adopted son of a top adviser to Mr. Putin, one who was deeply involved in Russia’s efforts to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

According to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met the two men in Barcelona for a strategy session to discuss the independence movement, though the report offered no other details.

Mr. Alay denied any connection to Tsunami Democratic. He confirmed that he had met with Mr. Sumin and Mr. Lukoyanov at the request of Mr. Dmitrenko, but only to “greet them politely.”

Even as the protests faded, Mr. Puigdemont’s associates remained busy. His lawyer, Mr. Boye, flew to Moscow in February 2020 to meet Vasily Khristoforov, whom Western law enforcement agencies describe as a senior Russian organized crime figure. The goal, according to the report, was to enlist Mr. Khristoforov to help set up a secret funding channel for the independence movement.

In an interview, Mr. Boye acknowledged meeting in Moscow with Mr. Khristoforov, who is wanted in several countries including Spain on suspicion of financial crimes, but said they only discussed matters relating to Mr. Khristoforov’s legal cases.

By late 2020, Mr. Alay’s texts reveal an eagerness to keep his Russian contacts happy. In exchanges with Mr. Puigdemont and Mr. Boye, he said they should avoid any public statements that might anger Moscow, especially about the democracy protests that Russia was helping to disperse violently in Belarus.

Mr. Puigdemont did not always heed the advice, appearing in Brussels with the Belarusian opposition and tweeting his support for the protesters, prompting Mr. Boye to text Mr. Alay that “we will have to tell the Russians that this was just to mislead.”

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Biden and Putin to Meet in Mid-June, in a Summit Fraught With Tensions

President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have agreed to meet on June 16 in Geneva for a face-to-face encounter that comes at a time of fast-deteriorating relations over Ukraine, cyberattacks and a raft of new nuclear weapons Mr. Putin is deploying. The summit is the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Mr. Biden became president.

The one-day meeting is expected to focus on ways to restore predictability and stability to a relationship that carries a risk of nuclear accident, miscalculation and escalation. Geneva was also the site of the 1985 summit between Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, and Ronald Reagan that was focused on the nuclear arms race.

The meeting comes at the worst point in Russian-American relations since the fall of the Soviet Union about 30 years ago. To say that the two leaders have a tense relationship is an understatement: Mr. Biden called Mr. Putin a “killer” in a television interview in March, leading Mr. Putin to dryly return the accusation and wish the new president “good health.”

Russia, despite its aggressive language toward the West, has shown optimism about the talks. For Mr. Putin, a high-profile presidential summit can help deliver what he has long sought: respect for Russia on the world stage. And he is sure to repeat his message that the United States must respect Russian interests — especially inside Russia, where the Kremlin claims Washington is trying to undermine Mr. Putin’s rule, and in Eastern Europe.

new round of financial sanctions against the country.

That list includes the prosecution and jailing of Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader Mr. Putin’s intelligence services tried to kill with a nerve agent. And Mr. Biden plans to spend considerable time on cybersecurity in hopes of limiting the rising tide of cyberattacks directed at the United States.

Such attacks have dogged Mr. Biden since December, with the disclosure of SolarWinds, a sophisticated hack into network management software used by most of the United States’ largest companies and by a range of government agencies and defense contractors.

Mr. Biden vowed a full investigation and a proportionate response, though it is unclear whether those moves — which his aides said would be “seen and unseen” — are sufficient to deter the low-cost attacks.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Biden said he would raise with Mr. Putin the more recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which shut down nearly half of the supply of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to the East Coast. That attack was the work of a criminal group, the Biden administration said, but Mr. Biden accused Russia of harboring the ransomware criminals.

The summit will come at the end of Mr. Biden’s first international trip as president, to Europe, where he will meet with the Group of 7 allies — a group the Russians had been part of for several years when integration with the West seemed possible — and NATO allies.

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Belarus Is Isolated as Other Countries Move to Ban Flights

MOSCOW — The tray tables were being raised and the seat backs returned to their upright positions as passengers on Ryanair Flight 4978 prepared for the scheduled landing in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Then the plane made an abrupt U-turn.

For many passengers, it initially seemed like one of those unexpected delays in airline travel. But after the pilot announced the plane had been diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, one passenger — Roman Protasevich, a prominent Belarusian opposition journalist who had been living in exile since 2019 — grew terrified, certain that he faced arrest.

“He panicked because we were about to land in Minsk,” Marius Rutkauskas, who was sitting one row ahead of Mr. Protasevich, told the Lithuanian broadcaster LRT upon arrival in Vilnius.

Sunday’s ordeal — described by many European officials as an extraordinary, state-sponsored hijacking by Belarus to seize Mr. Protasevich — quickly led to one of the most severe East-West flare-ups in recent years.

report rejecting the idea there were K.G.B. agents on the plane, instead showing three people who said on camera that they had decided to stay in Minsk by their own choosing. They included a Greek man who said he had been traveling to Vilnius on his way to visit his wife in Minsk.

In Lithuania, the police launched an investigation on suspicion of hijacking and kidnapping, and interviewed passengers and crew. They were told that the fighter jet dispatched by Mr. Lukashenko to escort the flight had not forced the Ryanair plane to land, according to people with knowledge of the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Instead, these people said, the pilot had decided to land the plane in Minsk after Belarusian air traffic control had requested that he do so because of a bomb threat on board.

other confessional videos that critics of Mr. Lukashenko have been forced to record while in jail.

an urgent meeting for Thursday to discuss it.

In recent years, Mr. Lukashenko had profited by playing the interests of Russia and the West off against one another. But amid last summer’s popular uprising against him over his disputed re-election, Mr. Lukashenko threw in his lot with Mr. Putin — and has relied on his support ever since.

Last year, the European Union sanctioned Belarus officials — including Mr. Lukashenko — over human rights abuses, to little apparent effect. The flight bans could have a greater impact, at least on regular people; the summer 2021 timetable of Belavia, Belarus’s national carrier, includes flights to 20 E.U. cities.

And some analysts said the restrictions could require costly rerouting for European airlines, which are already avoiding parts of Ukraine, Belarus’s southern neighbor, because of conflict with Russia.

The flight bans could cause new problems for Mr. Lukashenko inside his country, where the ease of travel to the neighboring European Union had long softened the strictures of living inside an authoritarian state. Ukraine, which is not a member of the E.U., also said it would ban flights to and from Belarus. The growing isolation means that Belarusians will increasingly need to travel east to Russia in order to get out of the country.

Yevgeny Lipkovich, a popular Minsk-based blogger and commentator critical of Mr. Lukashenko, said that his own travels abroad had allowed him to “remain an optimist, despite the regime’s best efforts to force me into depression.”

“If they close down the air loophole, there’s no question that the pressure inside the country will increase,” Mr. Lipkovich said. “And it’s disgusting to live in a pariah state.”

Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko from Moscow; Tomas Dapkus from Vilnius, Lithuania; Stanley Reed from London; and Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Secret Sharers: The Hidden Ties Between Private Spies and Journalists

Mr. Simpson loved holding court with reporters, regaling them with war stories and presenting himself as a journalistic wise man. At a conference of investigative journalists in 2016, he said he and Mr. Fritsch had started Fusion to continue their work as reporters who righted wrongs.

“I like to call it journalism for rent,” he said.

Fusion GPS, like its competitors, belonged to a wider web of enablers — lawyers, public relations executives and “crisis management” consultants — who serve the wealthy, the powerful and the controversial. For their part, private intelligence firms take on jobs that others don’t know how to do or don’t want to get caught doing.

Information gathered by private investigators is often laundered through public relations firms, which then shop the material to journalists. Jules Kroll, who created the modern-day private intelligence industry in the 1970s, broke that mold by leaking information directly to reporters. Mr. Simpson took it a step further. He sold Fusion GPS to clients by emphasizing his connections at major media outlets and assured journalists that he was really still one of them.

“People who have never been a reporter don’t understand the challenges of printing what you know, right, because you can’t just say what you know — you have to say how you know, and you have to prove it,” Mr. Simpson remarked at the 2016 conference. “When you’re a spy, you really don’t have to get into a lot of that stuff.”

Fusion GPS also mined a field that other private intelligence firms avoided — political opposition research. And when Mr. Trump emerged in 2016 as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, lawyers for Hillary Clinton’s campaign hired Fusion to dig into ties between Mr. Trump and Russia.

In the fall of 2016, Fusion GPS invited selected reporters from The Times, The New Yorker and other news organizations to meet Mr. Steele in Washington and receive briefings on what he had uncovered about the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. As is often the case in the world of private intelligence, the meetings came with a catch: If news organizations wrote about the dossier, they had to agree not to disclose that Fusion GPS and the former British agent were the sources of the material.

Mr. Steele was described to journalists as having played a pivotal role in breaking huge cases, including the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former K.G.B. agent, and the F.B.I.’s investigation into bribery at FIFA, soccer’s governing body. And when speaking about Mr. Trump and Russia, he came across as calm, understated and confident, according to reporters who attended the meetings.

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Spy Agencies Seek New Afghan Allies as U.S. Withdraws

KABUL, Afghanistan — Western spy agencies are evaluating and courting regional leaders outside the Afghan government who might be able to provide intelligence about terrorist threats long after U.S. forces withdraw, according to current and former American, European and Afghan officials.

The effort represents a turning point in the war. In place of one of the largest multinational military training missions ever is now a hunt for informants and intelligence assets. Despite the diplomats who say the Afghan government and its security forces will be able stand on their own, the move signals that Western intelligence agencies are preparing for the possible — or evenly likely — collapse of the central government and an inevitable return to civil war.

Courting proxies in Afghanistan calls back to the 1980s and ’90s, when the country was controlled by the Soviets and then devolved into a factional conflict between regional leaders. The West frequently depended on opposing warlords for intelligence — and at times supported them financially through relationships at odds with the Afghan population. Such policies often left the United States, in particular, beholden to power brokers who brazenly committed human rights abuses.

Among the candidates being considered today for intelligence gathering is the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famed Afghan fighter who led fighters against the Soviets in the 1980s and then against the Taliban as head of the Northern Alliance the following decade. The son — Ahmad Massoud, 32 — has spent the last few years trying to revive the work of his father by assembling a coalition of militias to defend Afghanistan’s north.

Afghans, American and European officials say there is no formal cooperation between Mr. Massoud and Western intelligence agencies, though some have held preliminary meetings. While there is broad agreement within the C.I.A. and France’s D.G.S.E. that he could provide intelligence, opinions diverge on whether Mr. Massoud, who is untested as a leader, would be able to command an effective resistance.

The appeal of building ties with Mr. Massoud and other regional power brokers is obvious: Western governments distrust the Taliban’s lukewarm commitments to keep terrorist groups out of the country in the years ahead and fear that the Afghan government might fracture if no peace settlement is reached. The Second Resistance, as Mr. Massoud now calls his armed uprising force, is a network that is opposed to the Taliban, Al Qaeda or any extremist group that rises in their shadow.

Top C.I.A. officials, including William J. Burns, the agency’s director, have acknowledged that they are looking for new ways to collect information in Afghanistan once American forces are withdrawn, and their ability to gather information on terrorist activity is diminished.

But Mr. Massoud’s organization is in its infancy, desperate for support, and legitimacy. It is backed by a dozen or so militia commanders who fought the Taliban and the Soviets in the past, and a few thousand fighters located in the north. Mr. Massoud says his ranks are filled by those slighted by the government and, much like the Taliban, he thinks that Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has overstayed his welcome.

“We are ready, even if it requires my own life,” Mr. Massoud said in an interview.

Even the symbols at Mr. Massoud’s events harken back to the civil war era: old Northern Alliance flags and the old national anthem.

But for all of Mr. Massoud’s bluster at recent rallies and ceremonies, the idea that the Northern Alliance could be rebranded and that its former leaders — some of whom have since become ambassadors, vice presidents and top military commanders in the Afghan government — would follow someone half their age and with little battlefield experience to war seems unrealistic at this point, security analysts have said.

Today, supporting any sort of insurgency or building a resistance movement poses real challenges, said Lisa Maddox, a former C.I.A. analyst who has done extensive work on Afghanistan.

“The concern is, what would the second resistance involve and what would our goals be?” she said. “I fear folks are suggesting a new proxy war in Afghanistan. I think that we’ve learned that we can’t win.”

Even considering an unproven militia leader for possible counterterrorism assurances as international forces leave undermines the last two decades of state-building, security analysts say, and practically turns the idea of an impending civil war into an expected reality by empowering anti-government forces even more. Such divisions are rife for exploitation by the Taliban.

The United States had a fraught relationship with the Northern Alliance, making it difficult to collect intelligence in the country. The French and British both backed the senior Massoud in the 1980s, while the Americans instead focused mostly on groups aligned with Pakistan’s intelligence services. The C.I.A. connections with Mr. Massoud and his group were limited until 1996, when the agency began providing logistical help in exchange for intelligence on Al Qaeda.

One of the reasons the C.I.A. kept Massoud at arm’s length was his track record of unreliability, drug trafficking and wartime atrocities during the early 1990s, when Mr. Massoud’s forces shelled Kabul and massacred civilians, as other warlords did.

Now, various allied governments and officials have different views of Mr. Massoud and the viability of his movement. The French, who were devoted supporters of his father, see his efforts as full of promise to mount a real resistance to Taliban control.

David Martinon, the French ambassador to Kabul, said he has watched Mr. Massoud closely over the last three years, and nominated him for a for a trip to Paris to meet with French leaders, including the president. “He is smart, passionate and a man of integrity who has committed himself to his country,” Mr. Martinon said.

Washington is more divided, and some government analysts do not think Mr. Massoud would be able to build an effective coalition.

Eighteen months ago, Lisa Curtis, then a National Security Council official, met with Mr. Massoud along with Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. diplomat leading peace efforts with the Taliban. She described him as charismatic, and said he spoke convincingly about the importance of democratic values. “He is very clearheaded and talks about how important it is to preserve the progress of the last 20 years,” she said.

In Afghanistan, some are more skeptical of Mr. Massoud’s power to influence a resistance.

“Practical experience has shown that no one could be like his father,” said Lt. Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy minister in the Interior Ministry. “His son lives in a different time and does not have the experience that matured his father.”

Others in the Afghan government see Mr. Massoud as a nuisance, someone who has the potential to create problems in the future for his own self-interests.

Even if there are varying opinions of his organizational prowess, there is broad agreement that Mr. Massoud can help function as the eyes and ears for the West — as his father did 20 years ago.

Mr. Massoud, who was educated at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in Britain, returned to Afghanistan in 2016. He spent the next three years quietly building up support before he emerged more publicly in 2019 by holding rallies and mounting recruiting drives in the country’s north.

In recent months, Mr. Massoud’s rhetoric has grown tougher, lashing out at Mr. Ghani during a recent ceremony in Kabul, and his efforts to secure international support more aggressive. In addition to reaching out to the United States, Britain and France, Mr. Massoud has courted India, Iran and Russia, according to people familiar with his pursuits. Afghan intelligence documents suggest that Mr. Massoud is purchasing weapons — through an intermediary — from Russia.

But Europe and the United States see him less as a bulwark against an ascendant Taliban than as a potentially important monitor of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. A generation ago, Mr. Massoud’s father was outspoken on the burgeoning terrorist threats in the country. And even if the son cannot command the same forces as his father, perhaps he will be able to offer similar warnings.

As a young diplomat, Mr. Martinon remembers hearing about the late Massoud warning to the world during his April 2001 visit to France.

“What he said was beware, beware,” Mr. Martinon recalled. “The Taliban are hosting Al Qaeda and they are preparing something.”

Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington. Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul.

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White House to Investigate Brain Injuries Within C.I.A.

WASHINGTON — Mysterious episodes that caused brain injuries in spies, diplomats, soldiers and other U.S. personnel overseas starting five years ago now number more than 130 people, far more than previously known, according to current and former officials.

The number of cases within the C.I.A., the State Department, the Defense Department and elsewhere spurred broad concern in the Biden administration. The initial publicly confirmed cases were concentrated in China and Cuba and numbered about 60, not including a group of injured C.I.A. officers whose total is not public.

The new total adds cases from Europe and elsewhere in Asia and reflects efforts by the administration to more thoroughly review other incidents amid concern over a spate of them in recent months.

Since December, at least three C.I.A. officers have reported serious health effects from episodes overseas. One occurred within the past two weeks, and all have required the officers to undergo outpatient treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center or other facilities.

a report released in December, the National Academy of Sciences said a microwave weapon probably caused the injuries. Some officials believe a microwave or directed-energy device is the most likely cause.

The severity of the brain injuries has ranged widely. But some victims have chronic, potentially irreversible symptoms and pain, suggesting potentially permanent brain injury. Physicians at Walter Reed have warned government officials that some victims are at risk for suicide.

one in 2020 that affected a National Security Council official near the Ellipse south of the White House and another in 2019 involving a woman walking her dog in Northern Virginia, have no known connection to an earlier overseas event. While many officials expressed skepticism that Russia or another power would conduct an attack in the United States, agencies are investigating.

Congress has demanded more from the C.I.A. In a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, senators accused the C.I.A. of doing too little to investigate the mysterious episodes and until recently showing skepticism about them, according to people briefed on the meeting.

During the Trump administration, some in the agency said there was little intelligence showing a foreign power was responsible and argued that it made little sense analytically for Russia or another foreign intelligence service to make unprovoked attacks on Americans. Others doubted the cause of the brain injuries.

The new C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, has tried to move aggressively to improve the agency’s response, current and former officials said. Mr. Burns has met with victims, visited doctors who have treated injured agency officers and briefed lawmakers.

He has also assigned his deputy, David Cohen, to oversee the investigation and the health care response. Mr. Cohen will meet monthly with victims and will lead regular briefings for Congress. The agency has also doubled the number of medical personnel conducting treatment and managing cases of injured officers.

In addition, the chief medical officer, who had been criticized by some former officers as too skeptical of the incidents and dismissive of some symptoms, announced his retirement. He was replaced with another doctor seen inside the C.I.A. as more focused on patient care.

another cohort of C.I.A. officers traveling in a variety of countries, including Russia, had said they were the likely victims of attacks and reported similar symptoms.

Lawmakers and the Trump administration’s National Security Council grew increasingly frustrated last year with State Department’s and the C.I.A.’s handling of the incidents.

Robert C. O’Brien, President Donald J. Trump’s last national security adviser, and Matthew Pottinger, his deputy, had already begun working in early 2020 to redouble efforts by their aides to understand the mysterious episodes and to get the Pentagon more involved.

But their staff members ran into frustration getting the C.I.A., the State Department and other agencies to share details about injured personnel, in part because of federal protections on health data. White House officials thought the investigation, in which the C.I.A. had been the lead agency, had run into a dead end.

The frustration culminated in a tense conversation Mr. Pottinger had with Vaughn Bishop, then the deputy C.I.A. director, and other officials in November. Mr. Pottinger urged the intelligence community to do more to cooperate with the Pentagon and other agencies. The next month, the National Security Council convened a deputy-level meeting across agencies to again push for further action and a broader investigation.

Mr. Pottinger declined to comment.

The Biden administration has tried to further improve coordination, including directing agencies to each name a coordinator to work on both identifying the cause of the episodes and improving health care for the injured personnel. Even some Democrats who have been briefed on the incidents called on the administration to be more aggressive.

“I don’t believe that we as a government, in general, have acted quickly enough,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and former Marine who heads the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations. “We really need to fully understand where this is coming from, what the targeting methods are and what we can do to stop them.”

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Mysterious Ailments Are Said to Be More Widespread Among U.S. Personnel

WASHINGTON — Mysterious episodes that caused brain injuries in spies, diplomats, soldiers and other U.S. personnel overseas starting five years ago now number more than 130 people, far more than previously known, according to current and former officials.

The number of cases within the C.I.A., the State Department, the Defense Department and elsewhere spurred broad concern in the Biden administration. The initial publicly confirmed cases were concentrated in China and Cuba and numbered about 60, not including a group of injured C.I.A. officers whose total is not public.

The new total adds cases from Europe and elsewhere in Asia and reflects efforts by the administration to more thoroughly review other incidents amid concern over a spate of them in recent months.

Since December, at least three C.I.A. officers have reported serious health effects from episodes overseas. One occurred within the past two weeks, and all have required the officers to undergo outpatient treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center or other facilities.

a report released in December, the National Academy of Sciences said a microwave weapon probably caused the injuries. Some officials believe a microwave or directed-energy device is the most likely cause.

The severity of the brain injuries has ranged widely. But some victims have chronic, potentially irreversible symptoms and pain, suggesting potentially permanent brain injury. Physicians at Walter Reed have warned government officials that some victims are at risk for suicide.

one in 2020 that affected a National Security Council official near the Ellipse south of the White House and another in 2019 involving a woman walking her dog in Northern Virginia, have no known connection to an earlier overseas event. While many officials expressed skepticism that Russia or another power would conduct an attack in the United States, agencies are investigating.

Congress has demanded more from the C.I.A. In a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, senators accused the C.I.A. of doing too little to investigate the mysterious episodes and until recently showing skepticism about them, according to people briefed on the meeting.

During the Trump administration, some in the agency said there was little intelligence showing a foreign power was responsible and argued that it made little sense analytically for Russia or another foreign intelligence service to make unprovoked attacks on Americans. Others doubted the cause of the brain injuries.

The new C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, has tried to move aggressively to improve the agency’s response, current and former officials said. Mr. Burns has met with victims, visited doctors who have treated injured agency officers and briefed lawmakers.

He has also assigned his deputy, David Cohen, to oversee the investigation and the health care response. Mr. Cohen will meet monthly with victims and will lead regular briefings for Congress. The agency has also doubled the number of medical personnel conducting treatment and managing cases of injured officers.

In addition, the chief medical officer, who had been criticized by some former officers as too skeptical of the incidents and dismissive of some symptoms, announced his retirement. He was replaced with another doctor seen inside the C.I.A. as more focused on patient care.

another cohort of C.I.A. officers traveling in a variety of countries, including Russia, had said they were the likely victims of attacks and reported similar symptoms.

Lawmakers and the Trump administration’s National Security Council grew increasingly frustrated last year with State Department’s and the C.I.A.’s handling of the incidents.

Robert C. O’Brien, President Donald J. Trump’s last national security adviser, and Matthew Pottinger, his deputy, had already begun working in early 2020 to redouble efforts by their aides to understand the mysterious episodes and to get the Pentagon more involved.

But their staff members ran into frustration getting the C.I.A., the State Department and other agencies to share details about injured personnel, in part because of federal protections on health data. White House officials thought the investigation, in which the C.I.A. had been the lead agency, had run into a dead end.

The frustration culminated in a tense conversation Mr. Pottinger had with Vaughn Bishop, then the deputy C.I.A. director, and other officials in November. Mr. Pottinger urged the intelligence community to do more to cooperate with the Pentagon and other agencies. The next month, the National Security Council convened a deputy-level meeting across agencies to again push for further action and a broader investigation.

Mr. Pottinger declined to comment.

The Biden administration has tried to further improve coordination, including directing agencies to each name a coordinator to work on both identifying the cause of the episodes and improving health care for the injured personnel. Even some Democrats who have been briefed on the incidents called on the administration to be more aggressive.

“I don’t believe that we as a government, in general, have acted quickly enough,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and former Marine who heads the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations. “We really need to fully understand where this is coming from, what the targeting methods are and what we can do to stop them.”

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Village Caught in Czech-Russia Spy Case Just Wants Things to Stop Blowing Up

VLACHOVICE-VRBETICE, Czech Republic — For nearly a century, local residents have wondered at the strange comings and goings at a sealed-off camp ringed by barbed wire and dotted with keep out signs on the edge of their village.

The armies of Czechoslovakia, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Czech Republic all made use over the decades of the 840-acre property, deterring trespassers with guard dogs and armed patrols.

When the professional soldiers pulled out in 2006, the secretive activities became even more shadowy. Dozens of weapons depots hidden among the trees were taken over by arms dealers, a company reprocessing missile fuel and other private businesses.

Then, in October 2014, came the biggest mystery of all.

An enormous explosion ripped through depot No. 16, knocking farmers in nearby fields to the ground and sending dangerous debris raining down on the surrounding area.

Russian and Czech diplomats from Prague and Moscow and pushed relations between the two countries to their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War.

The villagers, more focused on local property values than geopolitics, just want things to stop blowing up.

Holding a chunk of shrapnel that landed in his garden in 2014, Vojtech Simonik said he “felt no relief, only shock and amazement” when he watched the Czech prime minister talk on television about Russia’s role.

The announcement “created a real buzz around here,” said Mr. Simonik, who worked for a time at the camp dismantling artillery shells. “After seven years of silence, all the arguments are starting up again.”

The fenced-off property in which the explosions took place loops around the edge of two small adjacent villages with about 1,500 residents — Vlachovice (pronounced VLAKH-o-vee-tseh), the larger settlement, and Vrbetice (pronounced VR-byet-tee-tseh), just a few houses and a side road leading to the former military camp’s main entrance.

The mayor of Vlachovice, Zdenek Hovezak, said he had long wanted to know what was going on in the camp but got nowhere because everyone working there, including villagers hired to clean and perform other tasks, had to sign agreements swearing them to secrecy.

“I had no idea there was such a massive quantity of explosives so near our village,” said Mr. Hovezak, who had just been elected and was about to take office when the October blast happened.

The Military Technical Institute, a state entity that has managed the site since the Czech army pulled out, says it is now reviewing what to do with the property but insists that it will not be used again to store explosive materials for either the military or private companies.

Rostislav Kassa, a local builder, said he did not really care whether Russia is to blame for blowing up the place — although he firmly believes that it is — but he is angry that the Czech authorities ignored his efforts to sound the alarm years before the explosions.

Disturbed by reports that a rocket fuel company had rented premises in the camp, he started a petition in 2009 warning of a potential environmental disaster. Most residents signed it, he said, but his complaints to the Defense Ministry went unheeded.

“It doesn’t really matter who blew it up,” he said. “The main issue is that our government let this happen.” His own theory is that Russia wanted to disrupt supplies of rocket fuel to NATO forces, not, as is widely believed, to blow up weapons destined for Ukraine.

Ales Lysacek, the chief of the village’s volunteer fire force, recalled being called to the camp that day in October 2014 after a fire broke out there. He was ordered to get back by police officers guarding the entrance, and a few minutes later, after a series of small explosions, a gigantic blast sent a shock wave that knocked him and his men off their feet.

“We had no idea what was in all the depots,” Mr. Lysacek said. Nobody had ever thought to tell local fire fighters of the potential danger. Officials later assured villagers that the explosions had been an accident but, Mr. Lysacek said, “nobody here really believed them.”

After the 2014 blasts, it took six years for pyrotechnical experts to search the camp and village land around it for unexploded munitions and other hazardous debris.

The laborious cleanup operation, during which roads were often closed and villagers repeatedly evacuated from their homes for safety reasons, ended just last October.

Mr. Hovezak, the mayor, was astonished, like most villagers, to hear Prime Minister Andrej Babis say last month in a late night news conference that the huge 2014 blast on their doorstep had been the work of Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U.

“I was in complete shock,” the mayor said. “Nobody here ever imagined that Russian agents could be involved.”

That they were, at least according to a yearslong investigation by the Czech police and security services, has only stoked more questions about what was really going on in the camp and suspicions among locals that they have been told only half the story.

Mr. Simonik, who found the shrapnel chunk in his yard, said that he was not entirely convinced Russia was to blame but that he had never believed the blast was just an accident either. “I definitely think it did not explode on its own,” he said. “It was triggered by somebody.”

Who that might be is a question that has reopened old fissures across the country over the past and current role of Russia, whose troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 to depose its reform-minded communist leadership but is still credited by some Czechs for defeating Nazi Germany.

“The older generation remembers how Russians freed us from Hitler, while others remember 1968 when they invaded us,” said Ladislav Obadal, the deputy mayor of Vlachovice. “But hardly anyone has a good word for the Russians now.”

Except, that is, for President Milos Zeman, a frequent visitor to Moscow, who went on television recently to contradict the government’s account of the blasts. The explosions, he said, could have been an accident — sabotage by Russian spies was just one of two plausible theories.

Mr. Zeman’s statement prompted protests in Prague among Czechs who have long considered him far too Russia-friendly. It was also met with fury among residents of Vlachovice-Vrbetice who believe that Moscow should compensate the villages for all the physical and psychological damage caused, a demand the mayor said he supported if Russia’s role is proved.

Yaroslav Kassa, 70, the father of the local builder who said his disaster warnings had been ignored, has no doubt the Kremlin is to blame. “Of course the Russians did it,” Mr. Kassa said, noting that the Russian military would have detailed plans of the sprawling facility from the time when the Soviet army used it after the 1968 invasion.

His views have led to arguments with his neighbor, Jozef Svelhak, 74. Mr. Svelhak recalled how he knew and liked a former Soviet commander at the camp and said he had never heard of Russian spies in the area, only Western ones in the 1970s during the Cold War.

Half a century later, that spies are again said to be roaming around is a measure of how the Cold War suspicions rumble on in this remote eastern corner of the Czech Republic.

“It is fun to watch James Bond in films,” said another of Mr. Kassa’s sons, Yaroslav. “But we don’t want him hiding behind our hill.”

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Russian Spy Team Left Traces That Bolstered C.I.A.’s Bounty Judgment

WASHINGTON — In early 2020, members of a Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan detained in raids told interrogators that they had heard that Russians were offering money to reward killings of American and coalition troops.

The claim, that Russia was trying to pay to generate more frequent attacks on Western forces, was stunning, particularly because the United States was trying at the same time to negotiate a deal with the Taliban to end the long-running war in Afghanistan. C.I.A. analysts set out to see whether they could corroborate or debunk the detainees’ accounts.

Ultimately, newly declassified information shows, those analysts discovered a significant reason to believe the claim was accurate: Other members of the same Taliban-linked network had been working closely with operatives from a notorious unit of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, known for assassination operations.

“The involvement of this G.R.U. unit is consistent with Russia encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan given its leading role in such lethal and destabilizing operations abroad,” the National Security Council said in a statement provided to The New York Times.

U.S. sanctions and other punishments against Russia. The White House took diplomatic action — delivering a warning and demanding an explanation for suspicious activities — about the bounty issue, but did not base sanctions on it. The Biden administration did impose sanctions for Russia’s SolarWinds hacking and election interference.

The Times had reported last summer that different intelligence agencies, while agreeing on the assessment itself, disagreed on whether to put medium or lower confidence in it. The evidence available to analysts — both alarming facts and frustrating gaps — essentially remains the same.

The release of the full talking points as a statement is the government’s most detailed public explanation yet about how the C.I.A. came to the judgment that Russia had most likely offered financial incentives to reward attacks on American and allied troops. It also sheds new light on the gaps in the evidence that raised greater concerns among other analysts.

not intercepted any smoking-gun electronic communication about a bounty plot. (The Defense Intelligence Agency shares that view, while the National Counterterrorism Center agrees with the C.I.A.’s “moderate” level, officials have said.)

But the statement reveals that despite that disagreement over how to rate the quality of available information underlying the core assessment, the intelligence community also had “high confidence” — meaning the judgment is based on high-quality information from multiple sources — in the key circumstantial evidence: Strong ties existed between Russian operatives and the Afghan network where the bounty claims arose.

“We have independently verified the ties of several individuals in this network to Russia,” the National Security Council statement said. It added, “Multiple sources have confirmed that elements of this criminal network worked for Russian intelligence for over a decade and traveled to Moscow in April 2019.”

The declassified statement also opened a window into American officials’ understanding of the Russian operatives, known as Unit 29155 of the G.R.U. The government has previously resisted talking openly about group, although a Times investigation in 2019 linked it to various operations, citing Western security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

By contrast, the National Security Council statement identified other “nefarious operations” around the world that the government thought the squad had carried out — to explain why the discovery of its involvement with the Afghan network was seen as bolstering the credibility of the detainees’ claims about Russian bounties.

the 2018 poisoning of a former G.R.U. officer, Sergei V. Skripal, in Salisbury, England, and of “assassinations across Europe.”

Unit 29155 was involved in two explosions at ammunition depots that killed two Czechs in 2014. He said the government would expel nearly 80 Russian diplomats.

Days later, the prosecutor general’s office in Bulgaria announced that it was investigating a possible connection between Unit 29155 and four explosions at ammunition depots over the past decade. At least two happened while members of the unit were frequently traveling in and out of Bulgaria, the office said.

Some of the destroyed arms in both countries, according to officials, belonged to Emilian Gebrev, a Bulgarian arms manufacturer who was poisoned in 2015 along with his son and an executive in his company. Officials have previously accused Unit 29155 in that attempted assassination.

While most previous reports about Unit 29155’s activities have centered in Europe, its leader, Maj. Gen. Andrei V. Averyanov, has experience in Central Asia. He graduated in 1988 from the Tashkent Military Academy in what was then the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, a year before the Soviet pullout from bordering Afghanistan.

The government apparently did not declassify everything. The White House statement described but did not detail certain evidence, keeping its sources and methods of information-gathering secret. It did not specify the G.R.U. unit’s number, but officials have said it was Unit 29155, and the two prior operations the statement mentioned have been attributed to it elsewhere.

as a middleman for the Russian spies, and Habib Muradi. Both escaped capture and are said to have fled to Russia.

And it made no mention of other circumstantial evidence officials have previously described, like the discovery that money was transferred from a G.R.U. account to the Afghan network.

In an interview published April 30 in a Russian newspaper, Nikolai Patrushev, the chairman of Russia’s Security Council, again said it was false that Russia had covertly offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, adding that there was no evidence that it had done so.

The White House statement also brought into sharper focus two gaps in the available evidence that analysts saw as a reason to be cautious.

Military leaders have repeatedly pointed to one in public: The intelligence community lacks proof tying any specific attack to a bounty payment. “We cannot confirm that the operation resulted in any attacks on U.S. or coalition forces,” the National Security Council said.

The other reason for caution is an absence of information showing that a Kremlin leader authorized Unit 29155 to offer bounties to Afghan militants. “We do not have evidence that the Kremlin directed this operation,” the statement said.

The Biden administration’s briefing to reporters last month reignited a debate over the political implications of the C.I.A.’s assessment — and the Trump White House’s handling of it — that unfolded last year and dwelled in part on confidence levels.

reported last June on the existence of the C.I.A. assessment and that the White House had led an interagency effort to come up with options to respond but then authorized none.

Facing bipartisan criticism, the Trump administration defended its inaction by playing down the assessment as too weak to take seriously, falsely denying that it had been briefed to President Donald J. Trump. In fact, it had been included in his written presidential daily briefing in late February, two officials have said.

In congressional testimony, military leaders based in the United States who regularly interacted with the Trump White House said they would be outraged if it were true, but they had not seen proof that any attack resulted from bounties. But some military officials based in Afghanistan, as well as some other senior Pentagon and State Department officials, thought the C.I.A. was right, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations at the time.

Among those who found the evidence and analysis persuasive was Nathan Sales, the State Department’s politically appointed top counterterrorism official during the Trump administration.

“The reporting that Russia was placing bounties on American soldiers’ heads was so serious that it warranted a robust diplomatic response,” Mr. Sales said this week in an email.

A top Pentagon official and the secretary of state at the time, Mike Pompeo, later delivered warnings over the issue to their Russian counterparts, effectively breaking with the White House.

After the briefing last month, some Trump supporters — as well as some left-wing critics of the C.I.A. and military interventions — argued that the C.I.A.’s bounty assessment had been debunked as evidence-free “fake news,” vindicating Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the issue last year as a “hoax.” Russian propaganda outlets echoed and amplified those assertions.

Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., said another factor had fostered confusion. When analysts assess something with low confidence, he said, that does not mean they think the conclusion is wrong. Rather, they are expressing greater concerns about the sourcing limitations, while still judging that the assessment is the best explanation of the available facts.

“A judgment at any confidence level is a judgment that the analysts believe to be true,” he said. “Even when you have a judgment that is low confidence, the analysts believe that judgment is correct. So in this case, the analysts believe that the Russians were offering bounties.”

Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Michael Schwirtz from New York. Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

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German Intelligence Puts Coronavirus Deniers Under Surveillance

BERLIN — Germany’s domestic intelligence service said on Wednesday that it would surveil members of the increasingly aggressive coronavirus denier movement because they posed a risk of undermining the state.

The movement — fueled in part by wild conspiracy theories — has grown from criticizing coronavirus lockdown measures and hygiene rules to targeting the state itself, its leaders, businesses, the press and globalism, to name a few. Over the past year, demonstrators have attacked police officers, defied civil authorities and in one widely publicized episode scaled the steps of Parliament.

“Our basic democratic order, as well as state institutions such as parliaments and governments, have faced multiple attacks since the beginning of the measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement confirming that parts of the denier movement were under observation. The Interior Ministry oversees the intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

In announcing the decision to keep tabs on conspiracy theorists, intelligence officials noted the movement’s close ties to extremists like the Reichsbürger, who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the modern German state.

QAnon conspiracy theories, and protesters are frequently seen holding signs with anti-Semitic tropes.

The movement, called Querdenken, German for lateral thinking, communicates and recruits over social media and has a large presence on the encrypted chat service Telegram, where its main channel has 65,000 subscribers. Parts of AfD, a German right-wing populist party that is also under surveillance, have allied themselves with protesters.

Still, the Interior Ministry took pains to say that the danger from coronavirus deniers and conspiracy theorists does not fit the mold posed by the usual, politically driven groups, including those on the far left and right, or by Islamic extremists. As a result, the authorities are setting up a new department specifically tasked with handling cases that seek to delegitimize the state.

The news comes days after Germany instituted new virus rules that apply nationwide and allow the federal government to enforce lockdowns. (Such regulation had previously been in the hands of the country’s 16 states.) It also suggests that the authorities believe coronavirus denier groups could continue to flourish and pose a threat after the pandemic ends.

Germany has seen a persistently high number of new daily cases recently, averaging about 19,000, up from about 8,000 two months ago.

Last August, when restrictions were relatively light, the deniers drew 40,000 protesters to Berlin. While most were peaceful, even if eschewing masks and social distancing measures, a small number managed to jump police lines and climb Parliament’s outside stairs, a breach of security that President Frank-Walter Steinmeier characterized as an “attack on the heart of democracy.”

The national intelligence agency’s formal observation of the deniers’ group is the first step in a process that could lead to it being declared unconstitutional and ultimately banned.

Pia Lamberty, a psychologist and expert in the German conspiracy scene, warned of connections between the deniers and far-right extremists. “The danger of Querdenken,” she said, “has long been underestimated.”

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