WANTED: SPIES. CIA turns to online streaming for new recruits

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. defense and spy agencies played a major role in creating the internet, and now the CIA is turning for the first time to online streaming services to recruit spies between the ages of 18 and 35.

“It only takes one new piece … of foreign intelligence … and everything can change in an instant,” a CIA officer tells a classroom full of apparent recruits in the opening sequence of a new advert released by the agency on Monday.

“Start a career at the CIA and do more for your country than you ever dreamed possible,” the officer concludes the pitch reminiscent of Hollywood films.

The online recruitment campaign was conceived before social distancing measures were needed during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Central Intelligence Agency spokeswoman Nicole de Haay said. The agency has typically sought out future spies by targeting college students through “traditional” methods such as job fairs, she said.

The agency said in a statement it had cut 90, 60 and 15-second versions to run nationwide on entertainment, news and lifestyle streaming services.

More than 70% of U.S. households subscribe to at least one of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime, according to Leichtman Research Group.

“To get the top talent we can’t just rely on traditional recruiting methods,” said de Haay.

In a speech at Auburn University last year CIA director Gina Haspel said it had the best recruiting year in a decade and wanted to make the agency “an employer of choice for all Americans.”

While the target audience for the streamed video spots is 18-35, all potential recruits would be considered, de Haay said.

Some of the CIA’s most famous foreign allies, including British spy agencies MI5 and MI6, have historically recruited officers through social connections, although more recently they have also turned to online recruitment pitches.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; editing by Michelle Price and Grant McCool)

U.S. envoy meets families of Japanese abducted by North Korea

A family member of a Japanese national abducted by North Korean agents greets U.S. ambassador to Japan William Hagerty after their meeting in Tokyo, Japan, April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Japan on Tuesday met the families of people abducted by North Korea decades ago to train its spies, just a week before Japan’s prime minister is expected to raise the emotive topic at a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The issue is a top domestic priority for premier Shinzo Abe, whose support has been undermined by scandals over suspected cronyism and cover-ups.

But Japan worries it could take a back seat to nuclear and missile issues in a series of summits planned with North Korea.

North Korea admitted in 2002 it had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train as spies, and five of them returned to Japan. Abe has said he will not rest until all 13 have come home, making the issue a keystone of his political career.

Sakie Yokota (R), mother of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korea agents at age 13 in 1977, meets U.S. ambassador to Japan William Hagerty in Tokyo, Japan, April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Sakie Yokota (R), mother of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korea agents at age 13 in 1977, meets U.S. ambassador to Japan William Hagerty in Tokyo, Japan, April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

In an apparent nod to Japan’s concerns, U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty and his wife met abductees’ family members, such as Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was snatched from a beach as a teenager 40 years ago.

Trump, who met Yokota among other relatives of abductees when he visited Japan in November, has incorporated the story of Megumi into his attacks on Pyongyang.

“Even today, as we speak, we don’t know where they are, what life they are pursuing,” Yokota said. “We haven’t even seen one single photograph of them.

“The only thing we are asking for is to help our children who were kidnapped … captured on their way back from school, and forced upon ships and taken away to a land they did not know.”

Hagerty told them their plight had not been forgotten, pledging to convey their stories to Trump ahead of the summit.

“We’re deeply saddened by the misery these family members have endured,” he said after a meeting of roughly an hour at his residence in central Tokyo.

“I know that this issue is high on the list of priorities for both President Trump and Prime Minister Abe,” he told reporters.

Trump was the third president met by Yokota and the others. In the past, they have expressed frustration at how long their struggle has lasted, and appealed for action.

“That there has not been a result is very tough for us, who have suffered by not having any chance to meet our loved ones for such a long time,” said Shigeo Iizuka, whose sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was taken in 1978, leaving behind two infants in a creche.

“We ask for your personal contribution to tell President Trump that he must demand that North Korea give back the Japanese victims.”

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Russia to expel UK diplomats as crisis over nerve toxin attack deepens

A coat of arms is seen on a gate outside of the Russian embassy in London, Britain, March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melv

By Olzhas Auyezov and Guy Faulconbridge

ASTANA/LONDON (Reuters) – Russia is set to expel British diplomats in retaliation for Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to kick out 23 Russians as relations with London crashed to a post-Cold War low over an attack with military-grade nerve agent on English soil.

After the first known offensive use of such a weapon in Europe since World War Two, May blamed Moscow and gave 23 Russians who she said were spies working under diplomatic cover at the London embassy a week to leave.

Russia has denied any involvement, cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by Brexit, and even suggested London fabricated the attack in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.

Asked by a Reuters reporter in the Kazakh capital if Russia planned to expel British diplomats from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiled and said: “We will, of course.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia could announce its response at any minute.

Britain, the United States, Germany and France jointly called on Russia on Thursday to explain the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump said it looked as though the Russians were behind it.

A German government spokesman called the attack “an immense, appalling event”. Chancellor Angela Merkel said an EU summit next week would discuss the issue, in the first instance to seek clarity, and that any boycott of the soccer World Cup, which Russia is hosting in June and July, was not an immediate priority.


Russia has refused Britain’s demands to explain how Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military, was used to strike down Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, in the southern English city of Salisbury.

Britain has written to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, which monitors compliance with the global convention outlawing the use of such weapons, to obtain independent verification of the substance used.

Skripal, a former colonel in the GRU who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence, and his daughter have been critically ill since March 4, when they were found unconscious on a bench.

A British policeman was also poisoned when he went to help them is, and is in a serious but stable condition.

British investigators are working on the theory that an item of clothing or cosmetics or a gift in the luggage of Skripal’s daughter was impregnated with the toxin, and then opened in Skripal’s house in Salisbury, the Daily Telegraph said.

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy who is poised to win a fourth term in an election on Sunday, has so far only said publicly that Britain should get to the bottom of what has happened.

In a sign of just how tense the relationship has become, British and Russian ministers used openly insulting language while the Russian ambassador said London was trying to divert attention from the difficulties it was having managing Britain’s exit from the European Union.


British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Britain had no quarrel with the Russian people but that it was overwhelmingly likely that Putin himself took the decision to deploy the nerve toxin in England.

“We have nothing against the Russians themselves. There is to be no Russophobia as a result of what is happening,” he said.

“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision – and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision – to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK.”

The Kremlin’s Peskov called the allegation that Putin was involved “a shocking and unforgivable breach of the diplomatic rules of decent behavior”, TASS news agency reported.

British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson sparked particular outrage in Moscow with his blunt comment on Thursday that “Russia should go away, it should shut up.”

Russia’s Defence Ministry said he was an “intellectual impotent” and Lavrov said he probably lacked education. Williamson studied social science at the University of Bradford.

“Well he’s a nice man, I’m told, maybe he wants to claim a place in history by making some bold statements,” Lavrov said. “Maybe he lacks education, I don’t know.”

In London, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn struck a starkly different tone to that of the British government by warning against rushing into a new Cold War before full evidence of Moscow’s culpability was proven.

Corbyn said Labour did not support Putin and that Russia should be held to account if it was behind the attack.

“That does not mean we should resign ourselves to a ‘new cold war’ of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent,” he said.

(Additional reporting by William James, David Milliken and Kate Holton in London, and Maria Tsvetkova, Jack Stubbs and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

UK says it will respond robustly to nerve agent attack on Russian ex-spy

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin stands with a gun at a shooting gallery of the new GRU military intelligence headquarters building as he visits it in Moscow November 8, 2006.

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will methodically work out who carried out a nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter, then take robust action, interior minister Amber Rudd said on Thursday.

Former double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital since they were found unconscious on Sunday on a bench outside a shopping center in the southern English city of Salisbury.

“Both remain unconscious, and in a critical but stable condition,” Home Secretary Rudd told parliament.

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants' cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia. Kommersant/Yuri Senatorov via REUTER

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants’ cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia. Kommersant/Yuri Senatorov via REUTERS

British media and some politicians have speculated that the Russian state could be behind the attack – suggestions dismissed by Moscow as knee-jerk, anti-Russian propaganda.

“The use of a nerve agent on UK soil is a brazen and reckless act. This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way,” Rudd said.

“But if we are to be rigorous in this investigation, we must avoid speculation and allow the police to carry on their investigation.”

Despite her call, several lawmakers pointed the finger at Russia during their questions to Rudd, with some calling for investigations to be re-opened into the deaths of Russian exiles in Britain in recent years.

Rudd rebuffed them, urging people to keep a cool head and saying the focus should remain on the Salisbury incident.

“We will respond in a robust and appropriate manner once we ascertain who was responsible,” she said. “We are committed to do all we can to bring the perpetrators to justice, whoever they are and wherever they may be.”


Police said on Wednesday that a nerve agent was used against Skripal and Yulia. A British police officer who was also harmed by the substance was now able to talk to people although he remained in a serious condition, Rudd said.

Scientific tests by government experts have identified the specific nerve agent used, which will help identify the source, but authorities have refused to disclose the details.

Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest by Russian authorities in 2004. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006, and in 2010 was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies.

The attack on him has been likened in Britain to the assassination of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who died in London in 2006 after drinking green tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.

A British public inquiry later said Litvinenko’s murder had probably been approved by Putin and carried out by two Russians, Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy, an ex-KGB bodyguard who later became a member of parliament.

Both men denied any responsibility and Russia has refused to extradite them to stand trial.

Rudd was pressed during a BBC radio interview earlier on whether Britain had been too soft on Russia following the Litvinenko murder, sending out a message that such acts could be carried out with impunity.

She denied this and hinted that if Russia turned out to be implicated in the attack on Skripal, action would be taken against it.

“We are absolutely robust about any crimes committed on these streets in the UK. There is nothing soft about the UK’s response to any sort of state activity in this country,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Young, Alistair Smout and Michael Holden; Editing by Stephen Addison)

Rights groups target police, spy chiefs globally under new U.S. law

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro (Dmitry) Firtash arrives at court in Vienna, Austria on February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo

By Michael Kahn and Warren Strobel

PRAGUE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Police and spy chiefs from China to the Middle East, a Ukrainian oligarch and a former president of Panama are among the people a coalition of human rights groups wants targeted for sanctions under an expanded U.S. law aimed at curbing rights abuses and corruption worldwide.

The coalition, in documents to be made public on Wednesday, submitted 15 cases to the U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury, urging them to investigate using the law, called the Global Magnitsky Act.

The law, which then-President Barack Obama signed in December 2016, expands the scope of 2012 legislation that froze the assets of Russian officials and banned them from traveling to the United States because of their links to the 2009 death in prison of a whistleblower, Sergey Magnitsky.

“The cases we have elected to highlight come from every region of the world, and involve horrific stories of torture, enforced disappearance, murder, sexual assault, extortion and bribery,” the coalition of 23 groups said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The groups said their information came from first-hand accounts of victims and their attorneys, investigative journalism and reports by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).


Police chiefs, public prosecutors and heads of security services in Bahrain, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Central Asian countries where prisoners were tortured, executed or died in custody are on the list compiled by the groups, which are coordinated by Washington-based Human Rights First.

Among them are Chinese Deputy Minister of Public Security Fu Zhenghua and Beijing’s Municipal Public Security Bureau deputy head Tao Jing. The groups accuse the two officials of bearing “command responsibility” for actions of forces under their control in the torture and 2014 death of human rights activist Cao Shunli.

Cao’s lawyer has said she was denied medical treatment until she was seriously ill, which the Chinese government denies.

Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch indicted by a U.S. court in 2013 on bribery and other charges, is on the list. He denies wrongdoing and is fighting extradition from Austria.

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Firtash, in a statement said the allegations were false and that any sanctions “cannot be justified,” adding: “The constant repetition of false accusations on the Internet doesn’t make them true.”

Another target is former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, who is jailed in Florida facing extradition to Panama on charges he conducted illegal surveillance and stole state funds while in office. Martinelli has repeatedly denied the charges.


President Donald Trump, a Republican who did not stress global human rights as a foreign policy priority during his presidential campaign or early months in office, told Congress in April that he was committed to “robust and thorough implementation” of the Magnitsky law.

His administration has yet to impose sanctions or travel bans under it, but an official said the process of identifying potential targets “is both internal and external. We have received nominations from multiple sources including the United States Congress and NGOs.”

“Evidence permitting, our objective is to leverage the global reach of this authority and pursue geographically diverse ‘tranches’ of targets on an ongoing basis,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Acting on the recommendations could pose risks for Trump if targeted governments retaliated. Washington needs Beijing’s help in pressuring North Korea to halt its missile and nuclear tests, for example.

The original Magnitsky legislation strained relations between Moscow and Washington. Magnitsky, a tax accountant and lawyer, was arrested in 2008 shortly after accusing Russian officials of involvement in fraud, and died in prison nearly a year later while awaiting trial.

William Browder, whose Russian hedge fund employed Magnitsky as a lawyer, spearheaded an international campaign to push through the original Magnitsky Act, which now covers 44 Russians. He said travel bans and asset freezes are effective.

“It creates a very devastating consequence because people who thought they could act with absolute impunity no longer have that comfort,” Browder said.

The human rights coalition also hopes that pressure from politicians such as Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the authors of the original legislation and the update, will spur the Trump administration into action.

McCain, in a statement to Reuters, said the role of NGOs is crucial, and envisioned under the new law. “I will continue working to ensure the administration enforces the law and utilizes this powerful tool to advance freedom and justice around the world,” he said.

Rob Berschinski, a former Obama administration official who led the efforts at Human Rights First, said, “Our process is designed to assist the government, but also to remove any excuse around whether it has the ability to levy sanctions. Now the question is simply one of political will.”

The Global Magnitsky Act requires the Trump administration to report to Congress by Dec. 10 on sanctions it has imposed under the law.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn in Prague and Warren Strobel in Washington; Editing by John Walcott, Grant McCool and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. indicts Russian spies, hackers over massive Yahoo hack

Acting AAG for National Security Mary McCord speaks in front of a poster of a suspected Russian hacker during FBI National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California joint news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Wednesday unsealed charges against two Russian spies and two criminal hackers for allegedly pilfering 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014.

The indictments, announced at a news conference in Washington, represent the first time the U.S. government has criminally charged Russian officials for cyber offenses.

The contents of at least 30 million accounts were accessed as part of a spam campaign and at least 18 people who used other internet service providers, such as Google, were also victimized, the government charged.

The officers of the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, which is a successor to the KGB, were identified as Dmitry Dokuchaev and his superior, Igor Sushchin, the government said.

Both men are in Russia, it said.

Alexsey Belan, who is on the list of most-wanted cyber criminals, and Karim Baratov, who was born in Kazakhstan but has Canadian citizenship, were also named in the indictment.

The Justice Department said Baratov was arrested in Canada on Tuesday and his case is pending with Canadian authorities.

Belan was arrested in Europe in June 2013 but escaped to Russia before he could be extradited to the United States, according to the Justice Department.

“The criminal conduct at issue, carried out and otherwise facilitated by officers from an FSB unit that serves as the FBI’s point of contact in Moscow on cyber crime matters, is beyond the pale,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord.

McCord said the hacking campaign was waged by the FSB to collect intelligence but that the two hackers used the collected information as an opportunity to “line their pockets.”

The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, but McCord said she was hopeful Russian authorities would cooperate in bringing criminals to justice. The United States often charges cyber criminals with the intent of deterring future state-sponsored activity.

The administration of former President Barack Obama brought similar charges against Chinese and Iranian hackers who have not been extradited.

The 47-count indictment includes conspiracy, computer fraud and abuse, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identify theft.

The charges are not related to the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Intelligence agencies have said they were carried out by Russia to help the campaign of Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Yahoo said when it announced the then-unprecedented breach last September that it believed the attack was state-sponsored, and on Wednesday the company said the indictment “unequivocally shows” that to be the case.

Yahoo in December also announced a breach that occurred in 2013 affecting one billion accounts, though it has not linked that intrusion to the one in 2014.

The Russian hacking conspiracy, which began as early as 2014, allowed Belan to use his relationship with the Russian spy agency and access to Yahoo’s network to engage in financial crimes, according to the indictment.

The breaches were the latest in a series of setbacks for the Internet pioneer, which has fallen on hard times in recent years after being eclipsed by younger, fast-growing rivals including Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc.

Yahoo’s disclosure of the years-old cyber invasions and its much-criticized slow response forced it to accept a discount of $350 million in what had been a $4.83 billion deal to sell its main assets to Verizon Communications Inc.

Shares of Yahoo were down 0.9 percent.

“We’re committed to keeping our users and our platforms secure and will continue to engage with law enforcement to combat cyber crime,” Chris Madsen, Yahoo’s assistant general counsel, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz and Joseph Menn; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and James Dalgleish)

Met a friendly stranger? Call us, say Lithuania’s spyhunters

Lithuania's State Security Department director Darius Jauniskis poses for a picture in Vilnius, Lithuania,

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) – A single mother takes a kindly man into her confidence. A student is plied with beer by a smiling stranger. Beguiling scenes. But the people of Lithuania are being urged in TV adverts to be wary of the kindness of strangers and call a new ‘spyline’ to check if they aren’t, perhaps, being lured into espionage by foreign agents.

By foreign agents, Lithuania means the Kremlin. Ties have always been tense with former imperial master Moscow. But since the annexation of Crimea, Russia is seen in Vilnius as a threat to Lithuania and the other Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia.

“People don’t even think that information is being squeezed out of them until it’s too late,” Darius Jauniskis, the 48-year-old head of Lithuania’s State Security Department, told Reuters.

“So to prevent this, we are going public and we are explaining all this.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the FSB security service did not immediately respond to written requests for comment.

Each advert, Jauniskis said, is based on a true recruitment story.

As the relationship flourishes, the kindly man dupes the lonely mother into installing an information-sucking virus at her workplace. The student wonders if the stranger’s largesse might just be motivated by the diplomatic career he plans.

NATO and EU member Lithuania is perhaps the most vocal of the Baltics in criticizing Russia and increased Russian military activity in the Nordic region. The government has even published a manual on resisting a Russian invasion.

Russia characterizes such fears as fantasy concocted by a NATO alliance that seeks to intimidate Moscow. NATO also has carried out extensive maneuvers near Russian borders.


But Lithuania was under Soviet rule only 25 years ago. It was the first country to declare independence from Moscow in 1990, and saw off a Soviet army attempt to topple its government in 1991. Twelve civilians were killed.

Jauniskis, then 22, stood guard inside the Lithuanian parliament. Later, he led a Lithuanian commando squad fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan alongside the Americans.

He said a third of Russian embassy staff were intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover. Equipment installed on the embassy roof allowed them to listen in to phone calls.

“You will not recognize a spy,” he said. “Because a professional spy will not stand out in any way. He will not have a good car or great clothes. He will just be same as any of us.”

Moscow is recruiting Lithuanians on shopping trips to Russia, accusing them of smuggling, then offering to drop charges – and facilitate future shopping – if they agree to provide intelligence, Jauniskis’s agency said in its annual report.

Russia was also targeting Lithuanian businessmen and diplomats working in Moscow, often using blackmail.

All these things may appear standard fare for many intelligence agencies, but Lithuania sees a particular threat, living as it does in the shadow of so powerful a neighbor.

“Russia is abusing every weakness of democracy that it is able to,” said Jauniskis. “As a former soldier, I can say that defense alone will not win a war. You need to counterattack.”

An actor reading a "testimonial" about a suspiciously friendly stranger is seen in this screen grab from a TV advert by Lithuanian State Security Department

An actor reading a “testimonial” about a suspiciously friendly stranger is seen in this screen grab from a TV advert by Lithuanian State Security Department taken November 30, 2016. Lithuanian State Security Department via REUTERS

But critics say the spy hotline will only breed paranoia – while perhaps overestimating Russian intelligence capabilities.

Few Russian spies have actually gone to prison. Two Lithuanians were sentenced in 2015 and 2016 and a Russian who Lithuanian prosecutors say is a Russian intelligence officer was detained in 2015. His trial is in progress.

Jauniskis said Russia was trying to undermine citizens’ trust in their own country by repeating falsehoods about it in the media and elsewhere. He proposes legislation to criminalize the “spreading of lies” to destabilize the country.

“I will not get popular by saying this, but times have changed, and we must understand that civil liberties are being curtailed in times of war,” he said.

Jauniskis is not impressed by critics’ accusation that all this constituted a step back to Soviet-style “thought police”.

“I don’t think Russia is even concealing that their main target is not Baltics, but destroying the European Union and NATO,” Jauniskis said.

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; editing by Alistair Scrutton; editing by Ralph Boulton)