Analysis: Well-trained spy agency adds to strength of Islamic State

ISIS parade in SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The militants of the Islamic State, who now control large parts of Syria and Iraq, boast a well-trained and agile intelligence apparatus that is partly responsible for the group’s continuing expansion and strength. Sources on the ground in Iraq report that many of the intelligence officers that staff the Islamic State’s spy agency are former employees of the Syrian and Iraqi governments. They were trained by either Russian or American spies during their government service, and are now lending their advanced intelligence skills to the Islamic State. Al-Monitor’s Ali Mamouri, who is based in Iraq, writes that the Islamic State’s intelligence agency is similar to other government intelligence apparatuses around the world in both structure and operational tactics. Principal among its tasks is political protection of the militant regime’s senior commanders, several of whom have already been killed in Mosul and other cities of northwestern Iraq. Islamic State intelligence officers have tightened security precautions in recent weeks, advising Islamic State leaders to limit their public appearances and arresting individuals suspected of acting as informants for Kurdish or other opposition groups linked to the Iraqi or Syrian governments. Another task of the Islamic State’s intelligence apparatus, Mamouri reports, is counterintelligence —i.e. detecting and preventing attempts by Iraqi and Syrian government spies to infiltrate Islamic State governing structures or military outfits. The intelligence agency also works closely with armed groups reminiscent of the German Nazi Party’s Sturmtruppen (Stormtroopers), namely uniformed street thugs whose task is to identify, monitor and physically eliminate opponents of the regime. The list of undesirables includes Shiites, moderate Sunnis, as well as leaders of tribes who cooperated with the Syrian or Iraqi governments in the recent past.

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India uncovers plot to assassinate Bangladeshi prime minister

India and BangladeshBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Indian authorities claim to have uncovered a plot by an outlaw militant group to assassinate the prime minister of Bangladesh and launch a coup d’état in the South Asian country. The Reuters news agency quoted three “senior Indian officials” on Tuesday, who claimed that the plot was primarily aimed against Sheikh Hasina, leader of the nationalist Bangladesh Awami League, who was elected to the office of the prime minister in 2009 for the second time, after having led the country of 156 million people from 1996 to 2001. The National Investigation Agency of India (NIA) said the plot was to be carried out by members of the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a militant Islamist organization whose aim is to overthrow the government of Bangladesh and replace it with an Islamic theocracy based on Sharia law. The group, which maintains close ideological links with the Pakistani Taliban, is believed to have over 100,000 members throughout the country. It was officially banned by the government of Bangladesh in early 2005. But later that year the JMB conducted a massive terrorist operation that included over 500 explosive devices detonated in 300 locations around the country. Four leaders of the organization were later executed by the authorities for their role in the bombings and for organizing the assassination of two judges. Indian security officers reportedly discovered the coup plot earlier this month, when two members of JMB were killed in an explosion while building homemade bombs. The explosion took place in a house in India’s eastern state of West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh. NIA officials said the plotters were all Bangladeshis and were using West Bengal as an operations base from which to launch their attacks across the border into Bangladesh. According to one report, the plotters also planned to kill members of the Bangladeshi cabinet, as well as senior opposition leaders in the country. Read more of this post

Czechs say number of Russian spies in Prague “extremely high”

PragueBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The number of active Russian intelligence operatives in the Czech Republic increased notably in the past year, according to an official report by the country’s counterintelligence service. In its annual report released on Monday, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) said the number of Russian intelligence personnel stationed in the central European country had risen dramatically since the start of the crisis in Ukraine. The crisis, which brought Russian troops in Ukraine and resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia, has prompted the most serious crisis in the West’s relations with Russia since the end of the Cold War. The BIS report did not reveal the precise number of alleged Russian intelligence personnel on Czech soil, but it noted that the majority of them posed as diplomats in Russia’s embassy in Czech capital Prague. It stated that “when it comes to Russia’s diplomatic mission, in 2013 the number of intelligence officers working undercover as diplomats was extremely high”. It added that significant numbers of Russian intelligence operatives were in the Czech Republic in a non-official-cover (NOC) capacity, meaning there were not officially connected with the Russian embassy there and had no diplomatic immunity. These officers “travel to the Czech Republic as individuals, posing as tourists, experts, academics and entrepreneurs”, said the report, “or settled down in the country through purchasing property”. Nearly 50,000 Russian citizens live in the Czech Republic as long-term legal residents. Relations between Moscow and Prague have been frosty in the post-communist era, and have deteriorated significantly following the Czech Republic’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the summer of 2010, three Czech generals, including the head of the president’s military office and the country’s representative to NATO, resigned following revelations that one of their senior staffers had a romantic relationship with a Russian spy. Read more of this post

Newly released British files shed light on 20th-century espionage

Eric HobsbawmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Files released last week by Britain’s National Archives have brought to the fore interesting new clues on the history of intelligence operations in the 20th century. One of the files relates to Migel Piernavieja del Pozo, a Spanish journalist in his mid-20s, who arrived in the United Kingdom in 1940, ostensibly to cover British public attitudes to the war in the continent. Britain’s counterintelligence agency, the Security Service, also known as MI5, placed Pozo under surveillance, after the debonair Spaniard proclaimed in public meetings that he was grateful for German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s support to Spain’s royalist forces and said he hoped Germany would emerge victorious from the war in Europe. The agency was right to do so, as Pozo eventually approached an agent of the Abwehr —Nazi Germany’s military intelligence agency— in the UK, and told him that he too was working secretly for Berlin. But the Abwehr agent, codenamed GW in MI5 documents, was in fact a double spy for the Crown and managed to pass deceptive information to the Spaniard. Eventually, Pozo gave GW a tin of talcum powder containing over £3,500 in banknotes, which is approximately $150,000 in today’s money. Professor Christopher Andrew, official historian of MI5, told The Daily Telegraph that the money supplied by Pozo was “probably the largest sum yet handed to a British agent” by a rival spy. Eventually, Pozo’s inability to acquire useful intelligence in the UK prompted his recall back to Spain.

Another set of files, also released last week by the National Archives, appears to show that C.A.N. Nambiar, a friend of India’s first prime minister and deputy to one of the country’s most fervent pro-independence activists, was a Soviet spy. Nambiar was known as an old comrade of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first elected leader of post-colonial India, who dominated Indian affairs for much of the last century. He was also a close associate of Subhas Chandra Bose, a pro-independence activist considered a hero by Indian nationalists, whose hatred for India’s British occupiers led him to side with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the early 1940s. After India’s independence in 1947, Nambiar worked as a diplomat in Berne, Switzerland, before becoming India’s ambassador to Sweden and later to West Germany. But according to MI5 documents released last week, an Eastern Bloc defector fingered Nambiar in 1959 as an agent of Soviet military intelligence, known as GRU. The source said Nambiar had been recruited while visiting the USSR as a guest of the Soviet state in 1929. Read more of this post

Historian names wartime British spy who fooled Nazi sympathizers

Eric RobertsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A British counterintelligence agent, who managed to neutralize an extensive wartime network of Nazi sympathizers in the United Kingdom by pretending to represent the German government, has been named. Regular intelNews readers might remember our post about a wartime agent identified only as “Jack King” in files released by the British National Archives in February. “Jack King” was the operational codename given to the agent by his handlers in the British Security Service, commonly known as MI5, which is tasked with counterintelligence duties. Senior officials at the agency described “King” as “a genius” at luring Nazi sympathizers in the UK. The files show that “King’s” work helped MI5 identify hundreds of residents in Britain —most of them British citizens— as committed Nazis who were prepared to pass national secrets to Berlin. “King” reportedly utilized his pro-German contacts in the southeast of England and was able to infiltrate pro-Nazi circles operating in and around London. He did so by posing as an agent of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police. He quickly gained the trust of some of the most fervent pro-German activists operating in the British Isles. These included Edgar Whitehead, Hilda Leech, and Marita Perigoe, a Swedish resident of the UK who was so fervently pro-Nazi that she once dismissed Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists as “insufficiently extreme”. When the “Jack King” files were declassified, some intelligence historians suggested that the operational codename referred to John Bingham, a legendary MI5 office and fluent German speaker who is said to have inspired John le Carré’s fictional character George Smiley. But Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew, who in 2009 authored In Defense of the Realm, an officially-commissioned history of MI5, has revealed the name of “Jack King” as Eric Roberts. Professor Andrew told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that Roberts was an unassuming suburban bank clerk who lived in a small market town called Epsom in Surrey. Roberts was born in nearby Sussex, in southeastern England, in 1907, married at a young age and had three children —two sons and a daughter. His MI5 files document that, by the time World War II started, he was “thoroughly familiar” with networks of Nazi sympathizers in the south of England, though just how he had managed to do that remains a mystery. Roberts eventually attracted the attention of Maxwell Knight, a legendary MI5 spymaster who headed the organization’s Section B5(b), tasked with infiltrating subversive political groups in Britain. Read more of this post

More information emerges on Poles who ‘spied for Russia’

Zbigniew J.By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
More information has emerged on two Polish citizens who were arrested earlier this month in Warsaw on charges of spying for a foreign intelligence agency. Polish media reported last week that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for operating as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. According to Polish media reports, the two men had been recruited by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. The organization is believed to have over a dozen officers stationed at the Russian embassy in the Polish capital, posing as diplomats, as well as an unknown number of non-official-cover operatives, who are not officially connected to the Russian diplomatic mission. One of the two arrestees has been identified simply as Zbigniew J., and is said to be a lieutenant colonel serving in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense. Polish newsmagazine Wprost said last weekend that Z.J. worked in the Ministry’s “enlightenment and morale” department, a post that required him to visit military units around the country as part of a team of experts. He would then impart the information gained from his travels to his GRU handler, an officer serving under diplomatic cover in Russia’s Warsaw embassy, during biweekly meetings. Wprost said Z.J. would receive small amounts for cash in exchange for his services, which are believed to have amounted to approximately $30,000 over the course of several years. The newsmagazine suggested that Z.J.’s motivations were primarily financial and were related to unspecified “personal troubles”. The second alleged spy arrested last week has been named as Stanisław Szypowski. He is a lawyer-turned-political-lobbyist who worked for Stopczyk & Mikulski, a prestigious law firm involved in a government-funded project to build facilities able to import liquefied natural gas into Poland. Read more of this post

Iran announces arrest of alleged spies at Bushehr nuclear plant

Bushehr nuclear power plantBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior Iranian government officials have announced the arrest of a group of alleged spies in Iran’s southwestern province of Bushehr, home to the country’s only nuclear energy plant. Iranian Intelligence Minister Seyed Mahmoud Alawi told the semi-official Fars News Agency on Tuesday that the spies had been “identified and sent to justice”. Located along Iran’s coastal Persian Gulf region, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has a long history. Its construction initially began in the mid-1970s by German engineers. But work on the plant was halted in 1979, immediately following the Islamic Revolution. Iraqi forces repeatedly bombarded the site during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But the government began to rebuild it in the 1990s with the help of Russian technicians. In September of 2011, the Bushehr nuclear power plant was inaugurated in a widely publicized ceremony that was attended by several Russian officials, including Minister of Energy Sergei Shmatko. The completion of the facility made it the first civilian nuclear power plant anywhere in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Intelligence Minister Alawi said the arrested spies were engaged in physical surveillance and intelligence-gathering at the plant, in the service of a foreign intelligence agency. But he refused to specify how many alleged spies were arrested. News of the arrests comes less than two weeks following a mystery explosion at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The Islamic Republic News Agency reported on October 7 that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit”, and that two people had died. Several countries, including Israel and the United States, accuse Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Read more of this post

Sweden closes Stockholm airspace in search for mystery submarine

Swedish search operationBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Swedish authorities shut down airspace above Stockholm on Monday, as they continued searching for a mystery foreign vessel that was sighted repeatedly off the coast of the Swedish capital last week. Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported on Saturday that the search began last Thursday, after Swedish intelligence detected a number of Russian-language emergency radio signals, which were sent from the vicinity of the port of Stockholm to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. On Sunday, the Swedish Ministry of Defense confirmed the search for the vessel, though it refused to speculate on the national origin of its crew and refrained from calling it a submarine. But a grainy surveillance photograph issued by the Ministry appears to show a submarine of considerable size —said to be Russian— peeking out of the waters of the Baltic Sea, at a location believed to be 30 nautical miles from Stockholm. One English-language Swedish newspaper quoted Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences, who suggested three possible reasons for foreign submarine activity in Sweden’s territorial waters near Stockholm. Wiktorin speculated that the vessel could be “mapping the waters” around the Swedish capital, or it could be installing underwater surveillance equipment aimed at collecting a variety of maritime intelligence in the area. Alternatively, the mystery vessel could be testing Sweden’s maritime defense systems, said Wiktorin. On Monday, however, intense speculation appeared in local media about a fourth potential reason for the mystery submarine activity in Swedish territorial waters. A photograph emerged showing a man dressed in black frogman gear on the Swedish island of Korso. The image was purportedly taken by a local man at around the time when the submarine was sighted in the area. Read more of this post

Poles who ‘spied for Russia’ worked on strategic natural gas project

Polish Ministry of National DefenseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
At least one of the two men arrested in Poland last week for spying for a “foreign entity” was working on a project of strategic significance, aimed at reducing Poland’s dependency on Russian natural gas. Polish media reported last Wednesday that a colonel in the Polish Army had been arrested by security personnel for acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Subsequent media reports said a second man, a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship, had also been arrested. Later in the day, an official statement from the office of the Senior Military Prosecutor said simply that Poland’s Ministry of National Defense had “detained a Polish Army officer on suspicion of being a member of a foreign intelligence service”. But there was no mention of the country for which the detained men allegedly spied for. This past Saturday, Reuters revealed that the two men were suspected of spying for Russia. The news agency cited Marek Biernacki, a Polish parliamentarian, who is also a member of the Polish Parliament’s Committee on Intelligence and had allegedly been briefed by Polish intelligence officials about last week’s arrests. Biernacki told journalists that the actions relating to the two detainees had been “taken in respect of two agents of the Russian state”. In accordance with Polish law, the public prosecutor named the civilian detainee as Stanislaw Sz., using only his first name and the first two letters of his last name. Reuters said the man had been employed at the well-connected law firm of Stopczyk & Mikulski, whose website listed him until recently as an employee. Stanislaw Sz. was allegedly involved in a project to construct a coastal terminal in Swinoujscie, located on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast, for importing liquefied natural gas. The import terminal, which is scheduled to become operational in 2015, will allow Poland to import gas from the Persian Gulf. That will in turn reduce the country’s heavy dependence on imported Russian natural gas at a time when Warsaw’s relations with Moscow continue to deteriorate. Reuters said that the precise nature and timing of Stanislaw Sz.’s involvement with the Swinoujscie terminal is unclear, but it characterized the project as being of strategic importance for both Poland and Russia. Read more of this post

US Pentagon weapon-silencer probe ‘may point to rogue operation’

The US Department of DefenseBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A complex criminal investigation into the procurement of weapon silencers by the United States Department of Defense may point to what one American newspaper described on Thursday as a “rogue operation”. The case concerns the Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration —an obscure Pentagon office staffed by a dozen or so civilian employees. Its stated mission is to provide logistical support and procurement oversight for intelligence operations conducted by the US Navy and the Marine Corps. According to media reports, more than two years ago the Directorate ordered 349 weapon suppressors, known commonly as silencers. By general admission, silencers are not the type of military hardware used in conventional combat. More importantly, the procurement cost of the silencers should have been no more than around $10,000. However, purchase records show that the Directorate paid the supplier of the silencers over $1.6 million. The supplier then turned out to be the brother of the Directorate’s officer-in-charge. Initially, Pentagon officials suggested that the silencers had been purchased for an authorized top-secret operation codenamed UPSTAIRS. The operation was allegedly a “special-access program” aimed at arming foreign paramilitary forces while avoiding the risk of the weapons being traced back to the US. Thought limited details were provided, one government witness told the court that military hardware acquired through UPSTAIRS were intended for the US Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Team 6, commonly known as US Navy SEALs 6. The special-forces team became famous in 2010 when it carried out the Central Intelligence Agency’s operation NEPTUNE SPEAR, which successfully targeted al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Later during the investigation, however, SEAL Team 6 representatives told court officials that their unit “had not ordered the silencers” and knew nothing about them. Soon after that development, government prosecutors objected to further discussion of the case in open court due to the alleged “sensitive nature” of the case. Since then, much of the court documentation on the case has been filed under seal on grounds of national security. But the discrepancies in the case led The Washington Post on Thursday to speculate that the weapons silencers’ procurement may have been part of a “rogue operation”, that is, a military or intelligence activity that was not authorized by the Pentagon leadership. Read more of this post

Senior Polish defense official detained for ‘spying for Russia’

Polish Ministry of National DefenseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A high-ranking official in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense has reportedly been arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia. Poland’s Dziennik Gazeta Prawna said early on Wednesday that a man had been detained by Polish security personnel because it was thought he had been acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Another source, Poland’s commercial news Radio Zet, reported that two men had been arrested, a colonel in the Polish Army and a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship. Later in the day, an official statement from the office of the Senior Military Prosecutor said simply that Poland’s “Ministry of National Defense detained a Polish Army officer on suspicion of being a member of a foreign intelligence service”. But it made no mention of the country for which the detained officer allegedly spied for. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Lieut. Col. Janusz Wojcik, said he could not disclose any details at the moment, adding only that the arrests were based on evidence complied by the counterintelligence service of the Polish Army. Another Polish official, Lieut. Col. Paul Durka, said the arrests had been coordinated by Poland’s Military Police and the Polish Army’s Internal Security Agency (ABW). But Polish media alleged that the defense official was apprehended for spying for Russia and suggested that his arrest was carried out in dramatic fashion by ABW forces inside the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense, centrally located on Polish capital Warsaw’s Independence Avenue. This claim, which was later confirmed by ABW spokesman Lieut. Col. Maciej Karczyński, likely signifies that the spy suspect was captured in the act of espionage, following an extensive surveillance operation. Relations between Poland and Russia have been tense since the end of the Cold War, with several intelligence-related incidents making news headlines. In early 2010, the Polish government announced the arrest of a Russian resident of Warsaw, who was accused of working as a non-official-cover operative for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directory (GRU). Later that year, Polish media claimed that Stefan Zielonka, a senior SIGINT officer with Poland’s Military Intelligence Services (SWW), who disappeared without trace in early May of 2009, had defected to Russia. Read more of this post

Atomic spy David Greenglass, who spied for the USSR, dead at 92

David GreenglassBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
David Greenglass, an American spy for the Soviet Union, who played a key role in the most widely publicized case of atomic espionage during the Cold War, has died in New York, aged 92. Born in Manhattan in 1922, Greenglass became an active communist at a young age, and in 1943 joined the ranks of the Young Communist League —the youth wing of the Communist Party USA. Shortly afterwards he joined the United States Army and entered the top-secret Manhattan Project as a machinist. He initially worked for the Project —America’s secret effort to build an atomic bomb— in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, before being transferred to the its headquarters in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He later told a US court that he firmly believed that the USSR should have access to nuclear technology and actively tried to share information on the Manhattan Project with Moscow. He did so through his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, and her husband, Julius, who, like him, were committed communists. After all of them were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges of espionage, Greenglass agreed to testify for the US government. He told the court that he saw his sister transcribe top-secret information from the Manhattan Project on her personal typewriter in her apartment in 1945. His testimony was central in securing convictions for the Rosenbergs. The two refused to cooperate with the FBI and in 1951 were sentenced to death in the electric chair. In 1953, the husband and wife were executed in New York, leaving behind two young children, Michael and Robert. The orphans were soon adopted by close personal friends of the Rosenbergs and took the name Meeropol. Meanwhile, Greenglass served nearly 10 years of a 15-year sentence for conspiring to conduct espionage against the US. Upon his release from prison in 1960, he changed his name and settled in Queens, New York. On Tuesday, The New York Times disclosed that it had accidentally found out that Greenglass had died on July 1, 2014, after calling the nursing home where he had been living in recent years. Read more of this post

Hitler was regular crystal meth user, intelligence files show

Adolf HitlerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A recently discovered set of documents compiled by American intelligence during World War II show that German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was a regular consumer of crystal methamphetamines, which are today considered a Class A drug. The previously secret file, which consists of nearly 50 pages of evidence, was produced by the United States Military Intelligence Corps, the intelligence branch of the US Army. It was located by American wartime memorabilia collector Bill Panagopoulos. He told Britain’s Channel 4 television, which later this week will be broadcasting a documentary on Hitler’s numerous drug addictions, that the Nazi leader became reliant on drugs in 1936. He was first prescribed a regime of strong painkillers by Dr. Theodor Gilbert Morell, a German physician who was notorious for his unconventional medical treatments. Morell, who became Hitler’s personal doctor, gave the German dictator Mutaflor, a pain reliever that helped him with his frequent stomach cramps. Soon, however, Hitler went back to Morell for more, and the Berlin-based doctor, who Panagopoulos describes as “a quack, a fraud and a snake oil salesman”, began prescribing the Nazi leader increasingly dangerous cocktails of drugs. Among them were barbiturates, such as Brom-Nervacit, stimulants, including Cardiazol and Coramine, sedatives, primarily the morphine-based Eukodal, and even bulls’ semen to boost his testosterone levels. According to the US intelligence dossier, by late 1943 Hitler could not complete even simple daily tasks without the help of a mix of prescription stimulants and sedatives that included over 74 different medications. Chief among them was Pervitin, described by Morell as an “alertness pill”, but which was in fact a highly addictive concoction of crystal methamphetamines. Pervitin was known among addicts as a drug that induced a powerful feeling of euphoria. Its long-term effects, however, included the extreme hypochondria and rapid deterioration of mental functions. Predictably, Hitler was displaying both symptoms by the summer of 1943, when, according to the dossier, he took Pervitin right before his final meeting with Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Read more of this post

American spies use NZ embassies to collect intelligence

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Embassies belonging to the government of New Zealand are secretly being used by the United States as part of a worldwide network of intelligence-collection facilities, according to documents leaked over the weekend. The documents were released by Edwards Snowden, an American former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), who is currently living in Russia and is responsible for countless leaks of classified information in recent years. The latest disclosure concerns Project STATEROOM, a highly secretive signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program targeting international Internet, radio and telecommunications traffic. The existence of the program was disclosed in the summer of 2013 by Snowden, who told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that it consisted of SIGINT collection facilities in nearly 100 US embassies and consulates in almost as many countries. According to the Snowden, STATEROOM operations are handled by a unit called Special Collection Service (SCS), which is jointly operated by the CIA and the NSA. In October of 2013, Professor Des Ball, an intelligence expert, claimed that Australian embassies served as collection sites for Project STATEROOM, by helping the SCS monitor the Asia Pacific region. Dr. Ball said the Australian Signals Directorate was sharing information with the NSA as part of the UKUSA agreement (also known as Five Eyes), an intelligence cooperation network comprising agencies from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States. Now new documents made available by Snowden appear to show that New Zealand’s embassies and consulates around the world are also being used as part of Project STATEROOM. The documents date from 2003, and contain a synopsis of a number of NSA intelligence-collection programs, along with their operational titles and status. The list, which is marked “Top Secret” is titled “Exceptionally Controlled Information”, and contains several entries under the heading “STATEROOM”. Underneath the heading appears the description: “SIGINT from diplomatic missions abroad”. The document then states that “this activity is conducted by USA, AUS, CAN, GBR and NZL”. Although the existence of STATEROOM has been known for over a year, this is the first time that New Zealand diplomatic missions are specifically identified in documents as collection sites for the program. Read more of this post

Secret Russian spy base in Syria seized by Western-backed rebels

Screenshot from FSA videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Rebel forces aligned to Syria’s Western-backed opposition have announced the seizure of a joint Syrian-Russian spy base, which observers say reveals the extent of Russia’s intelligence cooperation with Syria. The base is located at the base of the Tel Al-Hara Mountain, in southern Syria’s Golan Heights region, just south of the border crossing with Israel in the now largely destroyed Syrian city of Quneitra. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it took over the spy base on Sunday, following several weeks of fighting against rival groups, including Syrian government soldiers and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The FSA said the base, referred to as “Center C” by Russian intelligence, had been under Russian command until it was abandoned at a time and for reasons that remain unknown. In a three-minute video released by the Western-backed rebel group on YouTube, an FSA officer appears to be guiding the cameraman around part of the seized base. He points to several diagrams and captions on the walls, which are both in Arabic and in Russian. At some point in the video, the seal of Syrian intelligence is clearly visible, placed next to the seal of the GRU’s 6th Directorate, the branch of Russian military intelligence that is tasked with collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). At another point in the video, a series of photographs can be seen that depict Syrian and Russian intelligence officers working together in gathering and analyzing intelligence. Interestingly, one of the walls in the base features a map of northern Israel, an area that is adjacent to the Golan Heights, and appears to show the location of Israeli SIGINT stations and military encampments. It is unclear when exactly the spy base was abandoned by the Russian and Syrian intelligence officers that staffed it, Read more of this post

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