Yemen’s Shiite rebels are not Iran proxies: US intelligence officials

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American intelligence officials have cautioned against the popular narrative that Yemen’s Shiite rebels are proxies or Iran, noting that Tehran actually counseled them against conquering Yemeni capital Sana’a last year. Known as Houthis, the group formally calls itself Ansar Allah (Supporters of God) and consists almost exclusively of Zaidi tribesmen, who follow an obscure form of Shia Islam. Their denomination, which distinguishes them from Yemen’s Sunni majority, shapes their ethnic identity and has helped fuel their 20-year insurgency against the Yemeni state. In September of last year, Houthi rebels, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the spillover of the Arab Spring into Yemen, marched into Sana’a, which had been virtually abandoned by the government’s security forces, and took it over.

The surprising move caused many in the Middle East to accuse Iran, whose Shiite government maintains strong religious and ideological connections with Yemen’s Zaidi community, of using the Houthis as a proxy army in order to destabilize Saudi Arabia’s southern regions. The latter are also populated by Shiite tribes, who are ethnically affiliated with the Houthis and view Iran as a kind of spiritual homeland. In Washington, the alleged Iranian link to the Houthi insurgency has been pointed to repeatedly by lawmakers opposed to the recent agreement between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The lawmakers argue that, while nominally agreeing to end its nuclear program, Tehran has been secretly conspiring to destabilize the entire Arabian Peninsula.

However, a report in online news agency The Huffington Post said on Monday that American intelligence officials are far from convinced that Iran is actually directing the Houthi insurgency. Citing “American officials familiar with intelligence” operations in Yemen, the New York-based news agency said Iran actively opposed the Houthis’ advance on the Yemeni capital in September of last year, and tried to prevent it. The Houthis, however, simply ignored Tehran’s advice and took over Sana’a. The Huffington Post quotes one unnamed American intelligence official who says that “it is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force of Iran”. The article also quotes Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the United States National Security Council, who says that “it remains [the NSC’s] assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen”.

If it is accurate, the US intelligence assessment would mean that Tehran is far more interested in promoting its agreement with the P5+1 than commandeering a proxy war in Yemen. Additionally, those who suggest that Yemen’s Houthis are guided by Iran appear to ignore the fact that the Zaidis follow a branch of Shiite Islam that differs markedly from Iran’s. Knowledgeable observers have pointed out that the Houthi insurgency is far more concerned with combatting local government corruption and having a say in the country’s internal power struggles than promoting Shiite Islam in Yemen and beyond.

ISIS leader al-Baghdadi mortally wounded in airstrike, say sources

Abu Bakr al-BaghdadiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The spiritual leader of the Islamic State is wounded so severely that he is no longer able to command the group’s daily activities, according to sources in Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a Sunni Islamic cleric who grew up in Samarra, Iraq, was appointed leader of the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in May of 2010. Since that time he has served as the public face of the group, which has conquered territory in Iraq and Syria that is equal to that of Great Britain.

For over a month now, reports have emerged in various Arab media suggesting that al-Baghdadi is seriously hurt and fighting for his life. But there has been no confirmation of his whereabouts or fate. On Tuesday, however, British newspaper The Guardian said it had concrete information that the ISIS leader is wounded so gravely that he is unable to supervise the day-to-day operations of the group.

Citing sources in Iraq, including an Iraqi adviser and a Western diplomat posted there, the British broadsheet said al-Baghdadi was seriously wounded on March 18 during an airstrike on an ISIS convoy. The attack allegedly took place in al-Baaj, a Sunni-dominated tribal region of Nineveh Province, in northwestern Iraq. The area is located near the Syrian border, 200 miles west of the city of Mosul, a Sunni stronghold that is currently ruled by ISIS forces. According to the The Guardian’s sources, the ISIS convoy was attacked by jet fighters for routine tactical reasons. Neither the pilots, nor the commanders of the operation, were aware that al-Baghdadi was among the convoy’s passengers. The ISIS leader sustained life-threatening injuries and was unconscious when he was taken at a nearby hospital. Since then he has been recovering, but his life is still under threat.

One source told The Guardian that at one point last month, senior ISIS commanders called for an urgent meeting to appoint a new Emir (leader) for the group, because they were convinced that al-Baghdadi was on the verge of death. They eventually decided, however, to wait until after al-Baghdadi’s demise before appointing a new Emir. Since the ISIS leader’s wounding, the group’s Shura (consultative) councils have taken on an increasingly prominent decision-making role, says the paper.

Germany helped Israel build atom bomb, says leading nuclear expert

Ben-Gurion and Adenauer in 1960By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of West Germany secretly funded the Israeli nuclear weapons program during the Cold War, according to a leading German nuclear expert. Today, Israeli authorities continue to deny the existence of the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. However, it is generally accepted that the country’s atom program began as early as 1952, with the establishment of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. By the mid-1960s, Israeli scientists had built at least one nuclear bomb; and by the time the Six-Day War broke out in 1967, the Jewish state had at least two nuclear warheads in its possession.

But how could a small, developing country fund one of the most expensive weapons programs in existence? According to Hans Rühle, one of Germany’s leading nuclear experts, the Israeli nuclear weapons program was primarily funded by the Federal Republic of Germany. Rühle was head of planning for Germany’s Ministry of Defense in the 1980s, and subsequently held various management positions in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In an article published last week in German newspaper Die Welt, Rühle says that Germany was “almost certainly” the financial powerhouse behind the ambitious Israeli nuclear weapons program.

The German expert states that the initial bilateral agreement was struck in 1960 in New York, during a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The program, codenamed “Aktion Geschäftsfreund” (“Operation Business Partner”) was solidified during a subsequent meeting between the two men in French capital Paris, in 1961. It stipulated that Germany would lend Israel 2 billion deutschmarks (approximately $500 million) for 10 years, under the pretext of developing the Negev desert into land suitable for agricultural production. The project had been zealously promoted by Ben-Gurion ever since he had become leader of his newly founded country.

The deal, says Rühle, was administered through Germany’s government-owned Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau development bank, which specialized in providing grants to emerging economies. It bore all the hallmarks of a typical capital assistance program aimed at strengthening West Germany’s economic and political ties with developing countries. However, with the full support of the German government, the funds were secretly channeled to building several nuclear facilities in Israel, including the Negev Nuclear Research Center. The latter’s existence was publicly revealed in 1986 by Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli engineer who had worked in the top-secret Negev facility from 1976 to 1985. The Israeli Mossad eventually abducted Vanunu from Italy and renditioned him to Israel, where he was jailed.

Captured files reveal new information about structure, history of ISIS

ISIS parade in SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A folder of secret documents, drafted by a senior commander of the Islamic State, reveals previously unknown information about the origins, meticulous planning and intelligence structure of the organization. Among other things, the documents show that the organization, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had plans to capture territory in both countries as early as 2010 —several years before its existence was even known. The folder belonged to Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a military general and political ally of Iraq’s late leader, Saddam Hussein. Better known as Haji Bakr, the former Baathist general became a founding member of ISIS and helped shape the organization until his death in a firefight in 2014. Following his demise, an unnamed informant stole the documents and secretly smuggled them into Turkey. It was there that German investigative newsmagazine Der Spiegel accessed them. On Saturday, following months of research, the newsmagazine published its findings based on the stolen documents. They reveal important information about the history and structure of the mysterious organization known as ISIS.

Der Spiegel notes in its analysis that Bakr himself is characteristic of the complexity of ISIS, which today controls territory equal to approximately that of Great Britain in both Iraq and Syria. Before the United States invasion, the former Iraqi general was a typical Baathist, who, like the regime he served, expressed strong secular views. But he became violently bitter in 2003, when he found himself unemployed and stripped of his status after the invading US forces dissolved the Iraqi military. He eventually joined a number of other unemployed former Baathist military and intelligence officers and decided to launch a counteroffensive against the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government. In 2010, this group of conspirators decided to inculcate their group with a Sunni religious identity, for reasons of political expediency. It was then that they appointed a highly educated and charismatic Sunni cleric, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the ideological face of the organization. In late 2012, the group began to actively exploit the chaos caused by the Syrian Civil War as an opportunity to capture territory in Syria, and then use it as a base to invade Iraq. The plan worked.

The folder acquired by Der Spiegel contains handwritten fragments from 31 different pages bearing organizational charts, lists of ISIS officials, as well as programmatic schedules. It reveals a hierarchical organizational structure with direct and indirect chains of command, which reach all the way down to local cells. According to the documents, these cells were initially set up in disguised form, so as to resemble Islamic schools or missionary facilities. Today these have expanded to include detention facilities, weapons depots, as well as a complex structure of Sharia-compliant educators, judges and enforcers. The organization also has an elaborate intelligence structure, which appears to undertake daily surveillance and security tasks. The latter depend on an army of officers, agents and informants, many of whom are as young as 16.

The documents detail several ISIS espionage operations in Syria and Iraq, which include meticulous studies of power structures of the local tribes. These were done in an effort to detect what Der Spiegel describes as “age-old faults within the deep layers of [tribal] society]”, and were then used by ISIS to divide and eventually subjugate dissident elements within the territory under their control. In other cases, informants were instructed to detect the personal weaknesses and faults of local leaders, which were subsequently used to blackmail them. Priority was given to recruiting members of powerful families, so as to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge”, Spiegel notes.

Snowden documents reveal New Zealand spy program in Bangladesh

Dhaka, BangladeshBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
New documents released by American defector Edward Snowden reveal an extensive intelligence-collection operation in Bangladesh, operated by New Zealand with American and Indian collaboration. The documents were analyzed by The New Zealand Herald in association with The Intercept, which received them from Snowden, a former technical expert with the US National Security Agency, who now lives in Russia.

The principal file, entitled “National Security Agency Relationship with New Zealand”, marked “Top Secret”, is dated April 2013. It states that New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), has been actively intercepting mobile telephone communications in Bangladesh since at least 2004. The document, which was authored by the NSA, describes the GCSB as the leading agency involved in collecting counterterrorist-related signals intelligence in Bangladesh.

Another file, also released by Snowden, and dated 2009, explains that the interception is carried out by a special GCSB unit named Signals Intelligence Development Team and codenamed OCR. It also mentions that the operation is headquartered in a “special collection site” in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, which is equipped with interception systems. The Herald notes that New Zealand does not have an embassy or any other official buildings in Bangladesh in which to operate listening facilities. It thus speculates that the interception systems must be located in an American-controlled building.

The NSA documents describe the Bangladesh operation as “a success story” for New Zealand’s intelligence community, adding that it has provided “unique intelligence leads”, whcih have “enabled successful counterterrorist operations” by a host of agencies. The latter include Bangladesh’s own State Intelligence Service, the US Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence agencies from nearby India.

Ally of Ukraine’s pro-Russian ex-president found dead in Kiev

Viktor YanukovychBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An ally of Ukraine’s deposed pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych has been found dead with gunshot wounds, in what is the eighth death in mysterious circumstances of a member of his family or close associate this year. Oleg Kalashnikov was a former parliamentarian representing the pro-Moscow Party of Regions, which was led by Yanukovych. He was among Ukraine’s most vocal pro-Russian politicians during the violent protests that led to the toppling of Yanukovych and the establishment of a pro-Western government in Kiev. Reports from the Ukrainian capital said on Wednesday that Kalashnikov’s body was found outside his apartment there. Other sources said he was found dead inside his apartment. It was not immediately clear whether he had been murdered or whether he had committed suicide. Ukrainian police say they have launched an investigation in to the former parliamentarian’s death.

Kalashnikov’s death marks the eighth such macabre ending of a family member or close associate of Yanukovych this year. Last March, intelNews reported the death of Yanukovych’s 33-year-old second son, also called Viktor, who drowned in a lake in the Russian region of Siberia. He had been living in Russia with his wife and child since February of last year, when street protests by pro-Western Ukrainians toppled his father’s government.

Prior to Yanukovych’s son’s death, the former president’s close political ally, Oleksandr Peklushenko, once a regional governor with the Party of Regions, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the neck, in what Ukrainian authorities said was a suicide. Authorities say they have been unable to establish a common motive linking the numerous deaths of former Yanukovych allies and relatives. Most cases have been ruled suicides and no arrests have been made.

Austria probes gruesome murders with alleged Kazakh spy link

Vadim Koshlyak and Alnur MusaevBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Austrian court is hearing testimony this week on a gruesome murder case, allegedly by former officials in Kazakhstan’s intelligence agency, one of whom was found dead in his Vienna prison cell in February. The case, which resembles a Hollywood film plot, centers on the disappearance of two bank executives: Aybar Khasenov and Zholdas Timraliyev, both employees of JSC Nurbank, one of Kazakhstan’s largest private banking institutions, vanished without trace in 2007. Their bodies were found in May of 2011 in a dumping site in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest urban center. They had been stuffed in large metallic barrels filled with lime. Both had been tortured and one of them had been raped prior to being killed.

The Kazakh government of authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev accused Rakhat Aliyev of the murder of the two executives. Aliyev, who was Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law, had served for years as Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister before being appointed director of the country’s intelligence agency, the National Security Committee, also known as KNB. In 2007, however, Aliyev, who by that time was serving as Kazakhstan’s ambassador in Vienna, divorced the president’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. He then fell out with the presidential family in spectacular fashion. He was almost immediately stripped of his government positions, including the title of ambassador, and issued with an arrest warrant, while the Kazakh authorities demanded that Austria surrender him to Astana.

However, Austrian authorities rejected two consecutive extradition requests by the Kazakhs and decided instead to investigate the case for themselves. They soon arrested Aliyev along with two of his alleged accomplices in the murder of the two Nurbank executives. The two, Vadim Koshlyak, a former bodyguard of Nazarbayev, and Alnur Musaev, who like Aliyev is a former director of the KNB, were also residing in Vienna at the time. All three were taken to prison while the Austrian authorities investigated the murders. The plot thickened in February of this year, however, when Aliyev was found hanged in his Vienna cell. The official verdict was suicide, but Aliyev’s family and lawyers have rejected it and they, along with many other exiled critics of Nazarbayev’s regime, have raised questions about possible complicity of the KNB in the killing. As intelNews reported back in 2009, a Kazakh intelligence operative was arrested by Austrian authorities in 2008, as he was trying to kidnap Musaev.

The trial of the two surviving defendants, Koshlyak and Musaev, opened on Monday in Vienna amidst tight security, involving dozens of judicial guards. Over sixty witnesses are scheduled to testify either in person or via video-link, many of them wearing disguises so as to conceal their identities.

Russia says it uncovered spy satellites disguised as space debris

Space debrisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government says it recently detected a group of satellites that are spying on Russia while orbiting the Earth camouflaged as “space junk”. The finding was announced on Sunday, April 12, on the Moscow-based Zvezda television station, which is wholly owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. For much of the day, Zvezda marked “Space Day”, which has been annually commemorated in Russia ever since 1961, when cosmonaut Yury Gagarin journeyed in outer space.

The station hosted Major General Oleg Maidanovich, of the country’s Aerospace Defense Forces (ADF), in a program entitled “Special Operations in Space”. Maidanovich told the program that specialists in the ADF’s Intelligence Center uncovered “a newly deployed group of space satellites” that were designed to collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from Russian telecommunications and other electronic systems. However, the satellites had been disguised to appear and behave like “space junk”, he said. By “space junk”, Maidanovich was referring to rocket stages, old and defunct communications satellites, and various other fragments of manmade devices that have ended up in outer space since the 1950s and are endlessly orbiting the Earth.

Maidanovich said that it was not unusual for space reconnaissance agencies to camouflage their spy satellites as space debris and deploy them into Earth’s orbit in a dormant state for several years. Then, once the target country’s space reconnaissance counterintelligence forces disregard the device as a piece of space junk, the satellite is suddenly reawakened and begins to collect SIGINT. For that reason, he said, Russia’s ADF monitors at least a fifth of a total of 100,000 objects orbiting planet Earth on any given day, due to concerns that such objects may be used for SIGINT collection by rival spy agencies.

The Russian ADF commander declined a request to identify the country believed to be behind the alleged camouflaged spy satellites, saying it was “not necessary to do so at the present time”. He added that his office typically notifies the Kremlin when it detects disguised spy satellites, and that the decision on whether to shoot them down is made “on a national level”.

ISIS has lost control of most oil fields: German intelligence report

Guard at a northern Iraq oil fieldBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Islamic State has lost control of approximately 95 percent of its oil production capacity following the advancing Iraqi counteroffensive, according to a leaked German intelligence report. Last June, a massive offensive by armed members of the Islamic state, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), conquered much of northern Iraq, including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. As the crumbling Iraqi army kept hastily retreating south, ISIS forces encountered almost no resistance during their onslaught.

In the past two months, however, a large-scale counter-offensive by Iraqi forces and irregular Shiite militias, supported by Iran and the United States, has reclaimed much of the land previously occupied by ISIS. Earlier this month, Iraqi forces recaptured the strategically located city of Tikrit, in a move that is widely viewed as the greatest victory so far for the anti-ISIS forces.

Along with Tikrit, Iraqi forces have managed to recapture a number of oil fields, which provided ISIS with a lucrative source of income for much of the past year. On Thursday, German broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung cited a leaked intelligence report that claimed ISIS had lost control of “a minimum of three oil fields” in northern Iraq. The Munich-based newspaper said it had seen a report on the subject authored by the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. According to the report, the Iraqi counteroffensive had reclaimed all but one of the ISIS-controlled oil fields in the country.

The BND documents state that the ISIS government now only controls the Qayara oil field, located in Iraq’s southeastern Nineveh province. The oil field’s daily output capacity of around 2,000 barrels leaves ISIS with only “five percent of the extraction capacity” it had before the Iraqi counteroffensive, says the paper. Moreover, satellite images taken last March show that retreating ISIS forces set fire to two of the largest oil fields in their possession, the Ajil and Himrin facilities. That, according to the BND, shows that ISIS were themselves pessimistic about being able to reclaim these oil fields from the Iraqi forces.

Hezbollah likely behind malware that attacked Israeli servers

Malware program codeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A report by a major Israeli computer security firm claims that “a Lebanese entity”, possibly Hezbollah, was behind a cyberespionage operation that targeted companies connected to the Israeli military. In late March, Israeli computer security experts announced they had uncovered an extensive cyberespionage operation that targeted computers in Israel, and to a lesser extent in the United States, Britain, Turkey and Canada. The cyberespionage operation, dubbed VOLATILE CEDAR by Israeli computer security experts, was allegedly launched in 2012. It employed a sophisticated malicious software, also known as malware, codenamed EXPLOSIVE. One Israeli security expert, Yaniv Balmas, said the malware was not particularly sophisticated, but it was advanced enough to perform its mission undetected for over three years.

It is worth noting that, during the period of operation, the EXPLOSIVE malware kept surreptitiously updating itself with at least four different versions, which periodically supplemented the original malware code. Additionally, once the discovery of the malware was publicized in the media, security experts recorded several incoming messages sent to the installed malware asking it to self-destruct. These clues point to a level of programming and operational sophistication that exceeds those usually found in criminal cyberattacks.

According to Israeli computer security firm CheckPoint, there is little doubt that the source of the malware was in Lebanon, while a number of programming clues point to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as “a major player” in the operation. In a report published this week, CheckPoint reveals that most of the Israeli targets infected with the malware belong to data-storage and communications firms that provide services to the Israel Defense Forces. According to one expert in the firm, the malware designers took great care to avoid “a frontal attack on the IDF network”, preferring instead to target private entities that are connected to the Israeli military. More specifically, the web shells used to control compromised servers after successful penetration attempts were of Iranian origin. Additionally, the initial command and control servers that handled EXPLOSIVE appear to belong to a Lebanese company.

The head of CheckPoint’s security and vulnerability research unit, Shahar Tal, told Ha’aretz newspaper: “We are not experts on international relations and do not pretend to analyze the geopolitical situation in Lebanon”. But these attacks originated from there, and were specifically designed to infiltrate “systems that are connected to the IDF”, he added.

Revealed: DEA’s massive phone tapping scheme that preceded NSA’s

Drug Enforcement AdministrationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
For nearly a decade before 9/11 and the controversial phone tapping program enacted by the National Security Agency, another American intelligence organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration, operated a mass phone surveillance scheme. The scheme, which is no longer in effect, collected data on billions of phone exchanges involving Americans and became a blueprint for NSA’s post-9/11 monitoring efforts. The DEA surveillance program was first disclosed in a report by the Department of Justice in January of this year. But its history, as well as its full extent, were fully revealed on Tuesday by USA Today.

The paper said the DEA program was initiated in 1992, during the presidency of George Bush, Sr., and was aimed at monitoring call data to and from “designated foreign countries” that were “linked to drug trafficking”. But the program grew to monitor data on every call made to and from the US to as many as 116 nations, said the paper, including every country in the Americas. In all, billions of calls were monitored in the over two decades that the program lasted. Citing interviews with “more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials”, USA Today said the DEA surveillance program did not access the content of intercepted phone calls, but rather the pen-register data, namely which numbers were dialed and when.

The intercepted information enabled the DEA to trace transnational networks of traffickers and money handlers used by large drug cartels. Information acquired through the program was also used for non-narcotics-related investigations, said the paper. However, the two-decade-long program did not utilize court warrants, and was thus very similar to the NSA’s controversial wiretapping scheme revealed by a series of whistleblowers in the years following 9/11. USA Today said the DEA stopped the surveillance program in September of 2013. Shortly after that, said the paper, the database containing the information collected through the program was deliberately purged.

Turkish general claims CIA ‘may have had role’ in 2003 coup plot

Bilgin BalanliBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A Turkish former four-star general, who was jailed for his role in an alleged coup plot by secularists in the Turkish military, has alleged in an interview that the United States may have advised the coup plotters. Bilgin Balanli was the only active-duty four-star general to be charged in connection with the so-called Balyoz Harekâti (Operation SLEDGEHAMMER) coup-plot case. The alleged plot became widely known in early 2010, when Taraf, a liberal Turkish daily, published documents from 2003 that outlined the plotters’ plans for a military takeover of government. According to Taraf, the conspirators were secularists within the ranks of Turkey’s military and intelligence agencies, who were opposed to the rule of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The documents outlined plans to bomb two mosques in Istanbul and bring down a Turkish fighter jet over the Aegean Sea, which would be blamed on Greece. The plotters hoped that the ensuing crisis would permit the military to assume power in the country. The AKP-led government reacted swiftly: on February 21, 2010, police operations took place in nearly a dozen Turkish provinces, leading to the arrests of over 40 leading coup plotters. Another 325 were charged in the following days. The alleged plotters argued that Operation SLEDGEHAMMER was simply an exercise that had been conceived as a scenario-based simulation for a military seminar. But the courts rejected their argument and sentenced nearly 300 of the accused to prison terms ranging from a few months to several years. More recently, however, most of those sentenced were released pending retrials. Many were acquitted last month on grounds that their civil rights had been violated during their initial trial.

Among those acquitted was General Balanli, who was about to be promoted to Chief of Staff for the Turkish Air Force when he was arrested in connection to SLEDGEHAMMER in 2010. His conviction meant that he had to resign from his post and relinquish his state pension. In his first lengthy interview since his acquittal, Balanli said he believes many of the coup planning documents had been authored by a non-Turkish intelligence agency, probably the US Central Intelligence Agency. Balanli was referring to allegations, made by many of the accused during the SLEDGEHAMMER trials, that an American senator had provided some of the coup planning documents, with the help of a retired Turkish military officer based in Istanbul. According to Balanli, much of the terminology and phraseology found in the plot documents was clearly not written by Turkish-language speakers. For example, said Balanli, the Turkish-language documents used the term “ocean” to refer to the Aegean Sea. “We do not use the word ‘ocean’ to refer to our seas”, said the Turkish general. “The term ‘ocean’ is only used by the US to refer to the sea”, he argued. “I believe that these documents were translated from the English, from the original American plan”, said Balanli.

The former general’s claim, though unsubstantiated, is bound to be refuted by Washington. It will, however, reinforce Turkish President Erdoğan’s claim that his pro-Islamist government has been the subject of plots and machinations from the West, and especially from Washington.

UK spied on Argentina to prevent second Falklands war, papers show

Port Stanley, FalklandsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The British government carried out an extensive program of intelligence collection and psychological operations in Argentina until 2011, because it was concerned about the security of the Falkland Islands, according to newly leaked documents. In 1982, the two countries went to war over the islands, which are ruled by Britain but are claimed by Argentina. The 74-day conflict, which killed nearly 1,000 soldiers and civilians on both sides, ended in defeat for the Argentinian forces and solidified British authority in the South Atlantic territory. But Argentina continues to dispute Britain’s rule over the Falklands, which it calls Malvinas, and has repeatedly threatened to take them over.

Documents released last week by Argentine online news portal TN.com, reveal that a consortium of British intelligence units implemented a broad program of spying and propaganda operations against Argentina. The program, codenamed Operation QUITO, lasted from 2006 to 2011, and was aimed at hampering perceived efforts by the Argentine government to subvert British rule in the Falklands. The news portal said it received the documents from Edward Snowden, an American former intelligence contractor who currently lives in Russia under political asylum. According to TN.com, the secret program was implemented by the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG, as reported by intelNews in February 2014). It is believed that JTRIG is an office operating under the command of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency. Its focuses on psychological operations —known in Britain as “effects operations”— which are aimed at discrediting their targets through sabotage and misinformation campaigns.

According to the newly released documents, JTRIG launched Operation QUITO as a “long-term, far reaching” program that included the interception of communications of Argentine politicians, the planting of computer viruses on Argentine networks and the spreading of misinformation or pro-British propaganda online. As of Sunday night there had been no official response to the news report from either the Argentine or the British governments.

China’s once all-powerful security chief faces corruption charges

Zhou YongkangBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
One of China’s most powerful government figures has been charged with criminal acts, including abuse of power and disclosure of state secrets, in what observers describe as an unprecedented development. At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang, 73, headed China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees the country’s security institutions, such as the police, as well as intelligence and paramilitary organs of the state. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2012. Prior to that he was one of only 9 members of the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Politburo Standing Committee, which serves as the country’s most senior decision-making body.

A highly decorated and immensely wealthy government bureaucrat, Zhou Yongkang has a built an entire network of allies within the ranks of China’s energy industry, from which he gradually rose to the highest echelons of power. Last December, however, state media suddenly reported Zhou’s arrest for “violations of Party discipline”, while a press release from the Communist Party announced the commencement of an investigation into Zhou and his family. Shortly afterwards, and while he was in custody, he was expelled from the Communist Party. On Thursday, a court in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin charged Zhou with using his political power and influence to turn the state agencies he supervised into tools for advancing narrow personal interests. In the process, said the court, he violated Communist Party discipline by undermining the central authority of the government and the state.

Zhou is the most senior government official to be charged with corruption since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in 1949. Observers note that his fall from power is part of President Xi Jinping’s much heralded crackdown on government corruption, which aims to improve the popular image of the Communist Party. Others suggest that the president is also trying to consolidate his power base within the Party and dissolve networks of powerful bureaucrats that are critical of his reform plans.

Many of Zhou’s former allies and associates in government are also being investigated as part of a series of related anti-corruption probes. Many of his immediate subordinates were sacked shortly after Zhou was first detained back in December of last year.

News you may have missed #891

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Sophisticated malware found in 10 countries ‘came from Lebanon’. An Israeli-based computer security firm has discovered a computer spying campaign that it said “likely” originated with a government agency or political group in Lebanon, underscoring how far the capability for sophisticated computer espionage is spreading beyond the world’s top powers. Researchers ruled out any financial motive for the effort that targeted telecommunications and networking companies, military contractors, media organizations and other institutions in Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and seven other countries. The campaign dates back at least three years and allegedly deploys hand-crafted software with some of the hallmarks of state-sponsored computer espionage.
►►Canada’s spy watchdog struggles to keep tabs on agencies. The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which monitors Canada’s intelligence agencies, said continued vacancies on its board, the inability to investigate spy operations with other agencies, and delays in intelligence agencies providing required information are “key risks” to its mandate. As a result, SIRC said it can review only a “small number” of intelligence operations each year.
►►Analysis: After Snowden NSA faces recruitment challenge. This year, the NSA needs to find 1,600 recruits. Hundreds of them must come from highly specialized fields like computer science and mathematics. So far the agency has been successful. But with its popularity down, and pay from wealthy Silicon Valley companies way up, Agency officials concede that recruitment is a worry.

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