Friday, January 30, 2009

Espionage Scandal: US Father and Son Charged With Spying for Russia

The following is an abridged version of an original article from KVAL news station in Eugene, Oregon. Matthew Olsen, acting assistant attorney general for national security, summarizes it best when he said that "These charges underscore the continuing threat posed by foreign intelligence services and should send a clear message to others who would consider selling out their country for money."

EUGENE, Ore. -- A 24-year-old Eugene man faces federal charges he traveled the globe to get money from Russian spies and disperse the money to family members at the direction of his father, a former CIA spy and Chief of Station in Bucharest, Romania, imprisoned in Oregon since 1997 for espionage.

Nathaniel James Nicholson, 24, of Eugene, Ore., and his father, Harold James Nicholson, 58, who is incarcerated at a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., face arraignment Thursday on two counts of conspiracy, one count of acting as agents of a foreign government and four counts of money laundering, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The federal charges announced Thursday allege the son met with the father in prison on several occasion to obtain information with the intent to then meet with representatives of the Russian Federation.

The indictment alleges the son then brought the money, paid by the Russian Federation for the father's past espionage activities, back to Oregon to disperse to family members at his father's direction.

The two were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Portland at 1:30 p.m.

The indictment says Harold Nicholson, who pleaded guilty in 1997 after being paid $300,000 to pass secrets to the Russians, wanted to receive additional payments for his work, and used his son as a go-between.

Officials charged that Nathaniel Nicholson collected another $35,593 in a series of recent trips to meet Russians in San Francisco, Mexico City, Lima, and even a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Cyprus in December.

On each return trip to the United States, the messenger son would declare less than $10,000 in cash to avoid federal law requiring him to disclose the source of the money, authorities said.

Harold Nicholson is currently serving a 23-year prison term in Sheridan after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit espionage. As a trainer of CIA personnel, authorities say he gave the Russians the identities of the young CIA recruits he was training, and the identities of other high-level CIA officers.

According to the new indictment, the Russians still thought Harold Nicholson might be able to give them valuable information — specifically, how he had been discovered and how much the investigators had learned about Russian spying.

The father told his son he was due a "pension" for his past work for the Russians, and even dropped hints that he would like to live in Russia when he was freed. To that end, investigators say, he once relayed his age, height, weight, and other relevant personal data that would be required for a Russian visa.

Georgian PM Mgaloblishvili Resigns; Saakashvili Nominates Nika Gilauri

Grigol Mgaloblishvili has resigned his post as prime minister citing deterioration of his health condition. At a special press conference, he said that he must continue intensive treatment for two more months. Mgaloblishvili had been in Germany for most of January undergoing medical examination for kidney problems.

The former prime minister said that "Today, Georgia can not afford itself a prime minister, who can not be in usual working mode for three months. The country needs the cabinet and the Prime Minister capable of working round-the-clock." Mgaloblishvili reiterated his desire to serve the country on any position after his treatment. "In any capacity, I will stay in [the] Georgian state and people's service. We will do everything, with the president and our friends, to accomplish the plans we have aimed together," he said. Mgaloblishvili was Mikheil Saakashvili's fourth PM in his five-year term.

Saakashvili has followed Mgaloblishvili's nomination of deputy premier and finance minister Nika Gilauri as new prime minister. The Georgian president said that there would be no more changes to the cabinet, which will face a confidence vote in Georgian Parliament.

Unlike Mgaloblishvili, who had little political experience except his post as Ambassador to Turkey, Gilauri is the longest-standing government member, serving as both an energy and later a finance minister since February 2004. Saakashvili has expressed his confidence in the prime minister-designate, relaying that he will first have to tackle the country's medical insurance system.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Russian Military Suicides Still Remain High

Russia Today (RT) was very quick to make an article entitled "US army suicide highest in 3 decades" the first viewed after its main story. From an unnamed source at the Department of Defense, RT reported that at least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008 alone (13 more than in 2007). The English language news-service from Russia ended the piece by suggesting that:

"American troops are under unprecedented stress because of repeated and lengthy tours of duty due to simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

This is in stark contrast to figures coming out of Russia's armed forces, where a total of 341 military personnel committed suicide in 2007, the equivalent of an entire battalion of Russian soldiers. Fortunately, that high figure is a reduction from 15% the previous year. Analysts credit the number with the process of dedovshchina - literally, rule of the elders, in which young soldiers are often violently bullied into killing themselves.

With morale low, corruption among senior staff high, and violent prostitution all common themes, the hopelessness of military life in Russia is reason enough for many families to pay bribes to keep their children away from conscription. RT should not pretend that the US Army has an extensive problem when they themselves have been struggling for over a decade to improve their excuse for a modern military.

Cyber Assault Cripples Web in Kyrgyzstan

It's almost like I'm watching Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, only it's actually Russia repeating their cyber attacks on post-Soviet countries. Read this piece from DefenseNews by William Matthews.

Kyrgyzstan, a former member of the Soviet Union, is the latest victim of a cyber assault that appears to originate in Russia.

Distributed denial-of-service attacks that began Jan. 18 have crippled Internet service in the mountainous Central Asian nation of 5.2 million on China's western border.

The attacks have been traced to Russian Internet addresses, according to Internet monitoring organizations and network security firm SecureWorks, based in Atlanta.

Denial-of-service attacks use a multitude of computers to contact Web sites simultaneously, overwhelming them and blocking legitimate traffic. The attacks have shut down most Internet service in Kyrgyzstan, according to the Information Warfare Monitor, a joint project of Cambridge University and the University of Toronto.

"The motivation appears to be political," the Information Warfare Monitor's Web page said.

The attacks may be intended to silence opponents of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who are active on the Internet. They may also be intended to pressure Kyrgyzstan to close an air base that is used by the United States for the war in Afghanistan, an arrangement Russia opposes.

The attacks on Kyrgyzstan are similar to attacks launched from Russia against Web sites in Georgia, before Russian troops invaded last August to drive Georgian troops out of two breakaway provinces sympathetic to Russia.

Those attacks shut down Web sites of the Georgia Ministry of Defense and other government agencies and defaced sites of Georgia's national bank and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. News sites also were attacked.

Although the cyber attacks did little real damage, the fact that they were coordinated with military operations appeared ominous.

In 2007, more extensive cyber attacks on Estonia disrupted banking and shut down Web sites of the Estonian parliament, government ministries, banks, newspapers, broadcasters and others.

Those attacks, too, were traced to Russia and came amid a violent Russian reaction to an Estonian decision to move a memorial to Soviet soldiers out of the central square in Estonia's capital, Tallinn.

With a third denial-of-service attack traced to Russia, "my guess is that the Russians, having gotten away with it twice, and generally enjoying it, have made it part of their operations," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It's also possible," he said, "that others are copying them or even hiring Russian hackers" to carry out the attacks. "If there is no risk and no penalty, countries will do it."

So far, the attacks have not been traced directly to the Russian government.

But Martin Libicki, a military and cyber expert at Rand Corp., cautioned against concluding that the cyber attacks are serious enough to be "a harbinger of 21st-century warfare."

Rather, "they are, perhaps, something to be concerned about," he said.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ukrainian Security Service To Make Secret Soviet Documents Public

Finally, a post-Soviet country that has the sense to do what the Germans did following the dissolution of the Berlin Wall: publicize all classified documents to be readily available to the public. I wholeheartedly laud Ukraine's SBU (Служба безпеки України) for this decision, something that will undoubtedly add mountains of information to the history of the injustices of the Soviet Union. One can only hope that other post-Soviet countries will follow suit. The following article appeared today in RFE/RL.

KYIV -- Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has said it will hold a lustration process this year with previously classified documents, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

SBU spokesman Valentin Nalivaychenko has said that all secret files from the Soviet period in Ukraine between 1917 and 1991 will be made available to the public.

He said beginning on January 21, "Ukraine does not keep the secrets of the Soviet Union's repressive system."

Nalivaychenko added that there are currently more than 800,000 cases of files sealed as "secret" or "top secret."

The SBU said it will eventually set up a website that will contain all lustrated documents.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Saakashvili Holds His Own Call-In Show

Irrespective of the views of the opposition to Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, this Moscow Times article proves to be very perceptive. Saakashvili held his first marathon call-in for citizens of Georgia to ask the leader questions concerning a variety of issues. While this may seem like an effective and creative way to reach out to the people, it borders on pure imitation of his former counterpart and current prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

Putin's presidency was marked by the banal use of annual phone-in events with the public on Russian television. Addressed reverently as "Vladimir Vladimirovich," citizens continue to ask very insightful questions to the current prime minister. Such excerpts include Putin's thoughts on Christmas trees, the whereabouts of his former pet tiger, and the best method for hanging Saakashvili's genitals.

Why, then, is Saakashvili mimicking Putin's media ruse? The opposition to the Georgian leader rightly criticize him for this stunt. Saakashvili should know better than to repeat the actions of his contiguous arch-rival, especially one with a KGB-idolizing monopolistic government under his control.

26 January 2009 TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili rejected opposition calls to resign during a marathon call-in show Friday that took a page from the political playbook of the man he has mocked as his enemy -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The four-hour televised show was broadcast on all three Georgian TV channels and featured Saakashvili sitting at a semicircular table with a handpicked audience seated behind him. Images of Georgian flags and photographs of monuments appeared on a backdrop.

A mixture of prerecorded and live studio questions were dominated by social issues, concerns about the economy and the plight of Georgian villagers displaced by fighting between Russia and Georgia in August.

But there was little scrutiny of Saakashvili's decision to launch an assault on breakaway South Ossetia on Aug 7. Russia's devastating counterstrike drove the Georgian army from the region.

"It was a great personal tragedy for me," Saakashvili said. "I received the strongest blow in August, and they were the most difficult moments of my life.

"This evil force invaded my country and killed my children," he said, adding, "I am a refugee together with you, and I am a father of killed children along with you."

Saakashvili also lashed out at Russia, accusing it of destabilizing Georgia during the August war and calling Putin "an uncompromising enemy of Georgia."

Dozens of opponents demonstrated outside the television studio and accused the president of mimicking Putin, who has held an annual phone-in with the public on Russian television for several years. "What does Saakashvili have left to learn from Putin?" opposition Republican Party senior official David Usupashvili said. "He should stop ruling the country with PR stunts and allow free and fair election."

The 41-year-old president said he had no intention of wasting time and money on early elections. He said he was "in great shape," exercised everyday and started work at 11 a.m.

"I'm not planning to die nor to step down," Saakashvili said, looking tanned and generally relaxed.

"My main task right now is to save the country from economic crisis and to unify it," he said.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Latvian President Snubs Russian Language

Not that the discontinued use of the Russian language in the post-Soviet countries is noteworthy news this day in age, but this article renewed a spark of interest in the degradation of its linguistic legacy. Latvia's president, Valdis Zatlers, has announced that he will refuse to use the Russian language with Russian journalists. Announced today, his decision coincides with an amendment approved by parliament last week that now raises fines for the use of nonofficial languages by employers and employees. Zatlers commented on his decision by declaring that "Latvia has only one state language and it is Latvian."

While the move has irked some human rights groups, it will undoubtedly have more of a diplomatic discommode for Russia. Russia's Foreign Ministry, on Saturday, has called the adoption of the amendments as verging on the "point of absurdity." Russia demands better Latvian treatment of ethnic Russians. One-third of Latvia's 2.2 million population already uses the Russian language. Pockets of ethnic minorities there use the former lingua franca of the Soviet Union, having yet to adapt the Latvian language.

This is part of a perpetual trend for former Soviet countries: abating the Russian language in lieu of national ethnic languages. It has held true for Estonian, Georgian, Polish, Latvian, and many others. When these countries individually reformed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, they de-Russified themselves linguistically and culturally.

Zatlers is not unique in his move, but this action does serve as a reminder of Russia's precedent in the 2008 Russian-Georgian War: that Russia can still use its ethnic language as a tool against neighboring countries. What Zatlers has done may in the long-run ensure that none of his citizens will ever be manipulated as Georgia's ethnic Abkhaz and Ossetian populations have been.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Historic US-Georgian Partnership Charter Signed

Earlier today at the US Department of State, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze signed the first Charter on Strategic Partnership between their two countries.

The document affirms the importance of the relationship between the US and Georgia, emphasizing that this cooperation between the two democracies is based on shared values and common interests, and stresses the mutual desire to strengthen the relationship across the economic, energy, diplomatic, scientific, cultural and security fields.

A Georgian official called the charter an important "stepping stone" for the Caucasus nation into NATO and the "family of Western and civilized nations."

The non-binding document is yet another reminder of the strong commitment between the two countries. This past September, US President Bush pledged $1 billion in aid to Georgia in light of Russia's violation of Georgia's territorial sovereignty.

The full text of the charter may be found at Civil Georgia.

The full video of the signing of the charter can be found below courtesy of The Department of State.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Years Resolution: Russian Space Agency Will Compensate More

The head of the Russian Space Agency, or Roskosmos (RKA), plans to set a world record by launching 39 space launches in 2009. Anatoly Perminov said Monday that the schedule will include the transportation of commercial and civilian satellite launches and six Progress cargo vehicles, four manned space missions, and a host of other aeronautical missions. The Russian Duma has already approved overall space expenditures in Russia totaling about 425 billion rubles ($14.5 billion) for the 2006-2015 period. It would seem that Russia is becoming the world leader of space travel, as RIA Novosti states.

What is evident, however, is that the press agency failed to account for American space endeavors. The US has already allocated a proposed budget for NASA of $20.21 billion (up $2.89 billion from 2008) for 2009 alone. While Russia has been busy with its space tourism industry, collecting millions of dollars from persistent civilians, the US has been focusing outside Earth’s orbit. Under current NASA Administrator, Michael D. Griffin, the US is already watching over the New Horizons mission to Pluto (launched 2006/ETA 2015) and supporting President Bush’s 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, which aims to:

- Complete the International Space Station by 2010;
- Retire the Space Shuttle by 2010 and develop and conduct Orion’s (its future descendent) first human spaceflight mission by 2014;
- Develop Shuttle-Derived Launch Vehicles;
- Explore the Moon with crewed missions by 2020; and
- Explore Mars and other destinations with robotic crewed missions

Russia’s projected military expenditures for 2009 are $50 billion, several hundred billion shy of the US budget of $515.4 billion. In recognition of the dearth of Russian military spending in the post-Cold War, Russia is desperately trying to maintain its image of a superpower. Such obvious signs like the continuation of the Soviet tradition of arms parades in 2008 point to an acerbic and resentful country that relies of compensation to mitigate its citizens’ fears.

Cold War-like information warfare campaigns are becoming ubiquitous since Putin’s ascension to the presidency in late 1999. In the wake of the Columbia disaster, RKA has been reaping in the spoils of space devoid of a major US presence. Propaganda like that of RIA Novosti is commonplace and will only continue even after the US launching of the Orion program.