13 December 2019

Czech Security Information Service published 2018’s report. Two states were nominated

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Czech Security Information Service has recently published the annual activity report which is, according to Service’s chief, Michal Koudelka, a “communication method giving the impartial image of the Intelligence Service”. But it is not offering secrete information, as the material is unclassified. However, Koudelka thinks that as the world wants to know how money is spent, the report can be a trustiness tool the intelligence service cannot work without, given nowadays security environment. According to this report, intelligence’s activities 2018’s main objectives targeted developments conducted by Russia and China’s structures, which are threatening Czech Republic’s key interests and security. Nothing new so far. In past year’s report, the Czech Intelligence Service was mentioning the same uppermost goal: the Russian or Chinese activities affecting the Czech national security. But, then, what’s new in this report?

Image source: Mediafax

Este influenţat procesul decizional din Cehia de puterile străine?

Mai întâi, este relevant faptul că raportul cu privire la activitatea de informaţii pe anul 2018 scoate în evidenţă ca ameninţare semnificativă pentru securitatea Republicii Cehe, activităţile ostile ale puterilor străine, acele activităţi prin care actori statali şi non statali, străini şi interni, utilizând o gamă largă de metode, au încercat să slăbească instituţiile statului ceh, să influenţeze poziţiile oficiale ale statului.

Potrivit acestui raport, folosind pârghii economice, politice, militare şi informaţionale, puterile străine influenţează procesul decizional din Cehia în beneficiul lor strategic, exploatează imperfecţiuni aparente ale instituţiilor statului şi ale proceselor democratice (procesul legislativ, dezbaterile Parlamentului, procedurile administrative etc.) generând, astfel, aşa-numitele ameninţări hibride.

În tabloul general al ameninţărilor, importanţa cyberspaţiului a continuat să crească, iar Republica Cehă şi instituţiile sale au devenit ţinte ale mai multor campanii de cyberspionaj dirijate sau susţinute de o putere de stat străină.

Cine sunt acele puteri străine? Raportul precizează că principalele obiective ale activităţii de informaţii în 2018 au fost activităţile structurilor ruse şi chineze, BIS neidentificând activităţi ostile grave ale serviciilor de informaţii ale altor state, cu excepţia unor acţiuni ale serviciilor de informaţii iraniene.

În cazul Rusiei, principala ameninţare nu este constituită nici de elementele de intelligence, nici de activităţile de para-intelligence (sic!), ci de caracterul neconvenţional (hibrid) al operaţiunilor ruseşti îndreptate către cei pe care Moscova îi consideră, în principal, ca afectându-i securitatea: NATO şi statele sale membre.

Entităţile de informaţii şi non-informaţii pot schimba roluri şi funcţii şi, astfel, orice autoritate (sau agenţia sa subordonată) poate fi utilizată pentru operaţiuni de informaţii sau pentru acoperirea lor, având drept scop principal manipularea proceselor de luare a deciziilor şi a persoanelor responsabile pentru adoptarea acestora.

În conformitate cu strategia hibridă, ofiţerii de informaţii ruşi – membri şi colaboratori de la toate serviciile de informaţii ruse (informaţii externe - SVR, informaţii militare externe - GRU şi informaţii interne - FSB) - s-au străduit să stabilească legături şi să cultive o bază de influenţă prin apropierea de politicieni.

Numărul excesiv de personal al misiunii diplomatice ruse în Republica Cehă – care este menţionat şi în raportul anterior - rămâne o problemă de securitate pe termen lung şi creşte ameninţarea pentru cetăţenii cehi de a se confrunta, de a avea contact, cu un serviciu de informaţii străin.

Această prezenţă crescută a diplomaţilor ruşi a fost abordată şi de către mass media din Cehia (Deník N, Respekt). Potrivit warsawinstitute.org, Ambasada Rusiei la Praga a devenit un centru regional important pentru activităţile de informaţii ruse, instituţia diplomatică angajând de două ori mai multe persoane decât ar fi necesare într-o ţară precum Republica Cehă.

Presa a mai semnalat încă un aspect: Federaţia Rusă a administrat sute de apartamente din Praga deţinute de statul ceh, ca urmare a unei serii de tratate anterioare revoluţiei de catifea. Acestea sunt disponibile pentru utilizare de către diplomaţii ruşi, doar că – în conformitate cu ancheta jurnalistică de la începutul anului, a cotidianului ceh Deník N - mai multe dintre ele sunt, de fapt, închiriate către terţi, iar altele sunt listate pe site-uri turistice, cum ar fi bookings.com.

Cel responsabil de realizarea schemei ar fi Alexander Terentiev, un angajat al ambasadei, iar, pentru chirie, sunt preferaţi cetăţeni kazahi şi uzbeci.

Misiunea diplomatică rusă este interesată de comunitatea rusă din Cehia. Prin colectarea informaţiilor şi construirea reţelelor de influenţă, structurile de stat ruse au încercat să mărească ascendentul asupra acelor entităţi constituite din compatrioţi care simpatizează cu actuala reprezentare politică rusă, marginalizându-i pe cei anti Kremlin.

Un element nou în raportul din noiembrie este referirea la Ucraina. Timp de mai mulţi ani, Rusia a făcut eforturi să creeze şi să alimenteze, în ţările-ţintă, tensiuni sociale legate de anumite subiecte care, în final, afectează întregul echilibru de putere. Utilizarea acestei practici s-a intensificat după anexarea Crimeei în 2014. În 2018, Republica Cehă a fost una dintre scenele de derulare a activităţilor subversive ale structurilor statului rus îndreptate împotriva suveranităţii politice a Ucrainei şi a integrităţii sale teritoriale. Aceste activităţi au prezentat semne de măsuri active.

Activişti cehi care simpatizează cu politicile guvern rus. Doar atât?

Operaţiunile de influenţă ale Rusiei şi susţinerea intereselor ruseşti în detrimentul intereselor cehe au fost sprijinite de activişti pro-ruşi, implicaţi în răspândirea dezinformării, ceea ce a reprezentat cea mai gravă ameninţare la constituţionalitatea Republicii Cehe în 2018. Termenul de activişti pro-ruşi nu se referă la toţi indivizii cu atitudini pro-ruse, ci la persoane care, prin activităţile lor, în mod voit sau involuntar, ajută direct o putere străină. În ultimii ani, activişti pro-ruşi s-au opus ordinii politice a Republicii Cehe şi apartenenţei sale la UE şi NATO mai intens, mai conceptual şi mai sistematic.

 În activităţile lor, aceşti activişti participă la promovarea subiectelor care sunt fabricate sau susţinute de o putere străină, servesc interesele unei puteri străine şi pot pune presiune asupra reprezentanţilor politici, a sistemelor sau proceselor decizionale.

Activiştii pro-ruşi – care se pot regăsi în diferite asociaţii, unele partide politice, indiferent de ideologie, mass media etc. - sunt motivaţi de afinitatea ideologică, de admiraţia faţă de regimul preşedintelui Putin sau de adoraţia la adresa Rusiei, iar unii dintre ei  au legături directe cu structurile statului rus sau sunt direcţionaţi de serviciile de informaţii ruse.

Potrivit jurnalistului Ondřej Kundra (publicaţia Respekt), activiştii pro-ruşi, care simpatizează cu politicile actualului guvern rus, sunt adesea bărbaţi mai în vârstă, care au crescut în timpul comunismului şi au o afinitate naturală faţă de Rusia.

Kundra consideră că raportul BIS conţine informaţii noi şi anume referirea, pentru prima dată, la acele persoane care cooperează de bună voie cu serviciile secrete străine, nefiind doar … idioţi utili.

Organizaţii guvernamentale şi de securitate în vizorul spionajului cibernetic

În cooperare cu o organizaţie parteneră, BIS a intrat în posesia unor date potrivit cărora FSB construia în Cehia, sub acoperire, o infrastructură de comunicaţie şi sisteme de tehnologie a informaţiei.

Această infrastructură, parte a unui sistem mai extins, destinat să acopere operaţiunile FSB la nivel global, a fost distrusă, şi FSB a fost împiedicat să-şi ducă la îndeplinire acţiunile împotriva Republicii Cehe şi a intereselor aliaţilor.

În urmă cu un an, preşedintele ceh, Miloš Zeman, a criticat Serviciul de Informaţii pentru faptul că nu a dezvăluit niciun singur spion rus sau chinez în şase ani, contraintelligence-ul ceh fiind caracterizat drept incompetent.

Is Czech Republic’s decision-making process influenced by foreign state powers?

Firstly, 2018’s activity report mentions as significant threat for Czech Republic’s security the foreign powers’ hostile activities, those activities by which state, non-state, foreign and internal actors, have tried, by all means, to weaken Czech state’s institutions, influence state’s official stances.

According to this report, by using economic, political, military and informational tools are influencing Czech Republic’s decision-making process in their strategic favor, exploiting the supposed imperfections of state’s institutions and the democratic processes (legislative process, Parliament’s debates, administrative procedures etc.), therefore, generating the so-called hybrid threats.

When mentioning threats, cyberspace’s importance continued to grow, and Czech Republic and its institutions became targets of several cyberespionage campaigns directed or supported by a foreign state power. Who are those foreign powers? The report mentions that 2018’s intelligence activity’s goals were the Russian and Chinese structures’ activities, as BIS did not identify serious activities of other states’ intelligence services, except for some Iranian intelligence services actions.

As for Russia, the main threat is not related to intelligence elements or para-intelligence activities, but Russian unconventional operations (hybrid), targeting states Moscow thinks are affecting its security: NATO and its member states.

In Russia’s case, intelligence and non-intelligence entities can exchange roles and functions, and so any authority (or its subordinate agency) can be used for intelligence operations or for their cover, aiming at manipulating the decision-making processes and the people responsible for adopting them.

According to the hybrid strategy, Russian intelligence officers- members or cooperators from all Russian intelligence services (foreign intelligence services – SVR, external military intelligence agency and internal security and intelligence service- FSB)- strived to establish links and to cultivate an influence basis close to politicians.

The great number of personnel of Russian diplomatic mission in Czech Republic- which is mentioned in previous report as well- stays a long-term security problem and increases the threat on Czech citizens in confronting or having contact with a foreign intelligence service.

Russian diplomats’ increased presence was addressed by Czech mass-media (Denik N, Respekt). According to warsawinstitute.org Russia’s embassy to Prague has become an important regional center for Russian intelligence activities, as the diplomatic institution has hired twice more people than necessary for a country like Czech Republic.

Media has also warned on another aspect: The Russian Federation has managed hundreds of apartments in Prague, owned by the Czech state, after some agreements signed before the velvet revolution. These are to be used by Russian diplomats, but- according to a media investigation made in the beginning of the year, by Czech newspaper Denik N- many of them are, in fact, rented by third parties, and others appear on touristic sites, like booking.com.

Responsible for all of this would be Alexander Terenties, one of embassy’s employee, and, for the rental situation, they would prefer Kazakhstani and Uzbekistani citizens.

The Russian diplomatic mission is interested in the Russian community in Czech Republic. By getting information and establishing influence networks, the Russian state structures tried to increase the influence of those compatriot entities that sympathize with the current Russian political regime, marginalizing the anti-Kremlin ones.

Something new in the November report is the reference to Ukraine. For many years, Russia did everything possible to create and increase, in target-states, social tensions related to topics which are, finally, affecting the entire power balance. This practice increased after taking Crimea in 2014. In 2018, Czech Republic was one of the scenes wherein the Russian states developed its subversive activities against Ukraine’s political sovereignty and its territorial integrity. These activities were active measures.

Czech activists supporting Russian government’s policies. It’s that all?

Russia’s influence operations and Russian interests support in the detriment of Czech interests were supported by pro-Russian activists, involved in spreading disinformation, which was the most serious threats on Czech Republic’s constitutionality, in 2018. The pro-Russian activists’ expression is not about all people who have pro-Russian attitudes, but people who by their activities are voluntarily or not helping a foreign power state directly. In recent years, pro-Russian activists opposed the political order of the Czech Republic and its membership in the EU and NATO more intensively, more conceptually and more systematically.

In their activities, activists promote topics made or supported by a foreign power, serving the interests of a foreign state and can pressure political representatives, systems or decisional processes.

Pro-Russian activists- who can be found in different associations, some political parties, regardless of ideology, mass media etc.  – are stimulated by the ideological resemblance, admiration on president Putin’s regime or the sympathy on Russia, and some of them are directly connected with the Russian state structures or are conducted by Russian intelligence services.

According to journalist Ondrej Kundra (Respekt), pro-Russian activists, who like Russian government’s current policy, are often older people, who grew during communism and are admiring Russia.

Kundra thinks that the BIS report has new information, like the reference, for the first time, to people voluntarily cooperating with foreign secrete services who are not just…useful idiots.

Governmental and security organizations targeted by cyber espionage

Cooperating with a partner organization, BIS got some data according to which FSB was undercover building, in Czech Republic, a communication infrastructure and intelligence technology systems. This infrastructure, part of a larger system, dedicated to covering FSB operations globally, was destroyed, and FSB could not develop its actions against Czech Republic and allies’ interests. A year ago, the Czech president, Milos Zeman, criticized the Intelligence Services for not revealing the name of any Russian or Chinese spies in six years and called the Czech counterintelligence incompetent.

State’s chief stance got mass-media and BIS’s reaction, which stated, at that moment, that it stopped the activity of tens of Russian and Chinese intelligence officers, refusing to give any other details.

The weekly magazine Respekt stated that it has the same information as the Intelligence, after making its own long-term investigation in Czech Republic and Russia.

Investigation’s author, journalist Ondrej Kundra, reported about a group that acted undercover in two private IT companies, developing hacking operations in Czech Republic. The group was part of a lager international Russian spies cell (wherefrom some of them had Czech citizenship), which coordinated their attacks. Kundra also states that it has information on how hackers in China and Russia simultaneously managed (however, without cooperating) to enter Foreign Affairs Ministry’s system.

Then, in October 2019, the Czech police and intelligence services announced that they took down the Russian espionage network. Michal Koudelka stated that the group was part of a network created by Russia in many European states, many of the information leading to Russian service FSB.

The BIS report mentions how, in 2018, an inquiry was carried out into the vast compromising of the unclassified network of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Based on the intelligence obtained it is highly likely that it was a Russian cyberespionage campaign. The attackers compromised many computers, tried to use the privilege escalation and lateral movement technique and ensure a permanent access to that system.

Privilege escalation – techniques used to get superior level accesses on a system or network. Privilege escalation is exploiting an error, a project or surveillance error of the configuration in an operation system or a software application to get high access to sources protected by an app or user.

Lateral movement –refers to different techniques the attackers are using to progressively extend through a network, meanwhile looking for assets and key data, and it usually is the second step of a cyberattack. Once the attacker has access to a weak server, it applies this set of techniques to get information from all target network’s systems, to get access and control them.

In 2018, BIS informed its authorized beneficiaries on cases of private emails accounts attack belonging to Czech army and the fact that these accounts were, most likely, compromised by a Russian action, the cyberespionage company APT28/Sofacy. Even if the attackers did not get any classified information, they got access to personal data.

Fancy Bear (known as APT28, Pawn Storm, Sofacy Group, Sednit, Tsar Team and Strontium) is a Russian cyberespionage group, associated with the Russian military intelligence service GRU. The SecureWorks, ThreatConnect and Fireeye’s Mandiant security companies claim it is sponsored by the Russian government.

The group, which targets governmental, military and security organizations, especially from Trans-Caucasian states and NATO allies, is known for hacking emails and trying to influence the 2016 US presidential elections’ result.

Chinese activities aimed at disrupting the Czech Republic-Taiwan relations

According to Czech Security Information Service report, the complexity of Chinese activities was similar to Russians’. However, considering the geographic distance and lack of historical military Chinese commitment in Europe, it is mentioned that the increasing activity of Chinese intelligence agencies is an essential security issue.

These activities- whose intensity and magnitude increased in 2018- sought the identification and contact of cooperators and agents among Czech citizens, in cyberspace, as Czech Republic is the center of interest of actors who have connections with China.

Chinese diplomats continued to use pressures to promote China’s interests.

The Chinese activities targeted the Czech Academy, security structures and state administration groups. BIS identified an increasing number of invitations to Czech citizens for training, seminaries and trips to China.

According to euractiv.com, the BIS report was published a few days after aktuálně.cz revealed China was going to fund a propaganda class at Carol University, in Prague, and a trip to China for some of its best students. After this reveal, the main Czech university decided to close its Czech-Chinese center.

Just like for the Russian activities, report’s new element is the reference to Ukraine, for the Chinese area the report mentions as uppermost element of intelligence activities in Czech Republic Beijing’s continuous efforts to destroy the political and economic Czech Republic-Taiwan relations. In 2018, the Chinese representatives tried hardly to weaken Czech Republic’s contacts with Taiwan.

The paragraph mentioning Taiwan got the attention of Filip Jirous, Sinopsis analyst (a project implemented by the non-profit association AcaMedia z.u., aiming at presenting China’s developments and their impact on other states). The analyst thinks that mentioning it could be related to the now cancelled agreement of Prague-Beijing sister city.

Prague will sign an agreement with Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, on economic, business and culture cooperation, after it ended, in October, the agreement with Beijing due to the conflict on Prague’s recognition of One China policy.

The Beijing-Prague conflict has affected the Czech-Chinese relations which were already weak, as a year ago, the Czech security intelligence office (National Cyber and Information Security Agency) issued a warning on Huawei and ZTE Chinese companies.

According to Filip Jirous, China is increasingly interested on Czech Republic and tries to influence the political structure to eliminate the Chinese dissidence established in China.

Both Russia and China are mentioned in the report also related to mass destruction weapons. Although Czech Republic does not commercialize such weapons and has legal regulation about it, the Czech state is still among the countries wherein there is a high proliferation level, as materials and associated technologies have low prices. Along with other instable and repressive regime states, entities from Russia and China expressed their interest for military materials, weapons, explosives and special elements that can only be founds in Czech Republic.

Internal reactions

After the Czech Intelligence Service published the report, politicians and state officers reacted.

Presidency’s spokesperson, Jin Ovcacek, talked about the pro-Russian activists’ presence among the Czech citizens, mentioned in the report, stating that calling people with different opinions informers is unacceptable in a free society, and BIS should reveal the names of the foreign powers’ agents, but not interfere with the freedom of expression.

However, the TOP 90 political group (Tradice Odpovednost Prosperita), Marketa Pekarova Adamova, thinks the government is not enough active in security matters.

The politicians says that the pro-Russian activists’ chief is at the Castle, meaning Czech president’s house, known for his pro-Russian attitude. In fact, it seems that the Czech president has a personal vendetta on Michal Koudelka, BIS director, who he refused to promote, although its war proposed for the fourth time for general rank (warsawinstitute.org).

What have the incriminated to say?

The Russian Federation, who denied the Czech intelligence services’ statements also in the past, is quite.

But China’s Embassy has stated (the Echo24 news website, visegradgroup.eu) that BIS’ report is only repeating past statements, and the material is based on unilateral speculations, lacking of proofs.

Translated by Andreea Soare