Are Russian engineers working at an ISIS-controlled gas facility?

Tuweinan SyriaSyrian and American media are reporting that Russian engineers, employed by a Moscow-based contractor with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, are working at a Syrian gas plant under the control of the Islamic State. The facility in question is the so-called Tuweinan gas plant, which is located in central Syria, approximately 60 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of the city of Raqqa. The Islamic State declared Raqqa its capital shortly after occupying it, in June 2013, and the city has since served as the militant group’s administrative headquarters. The nearby Tuweinan gas plant is believed to be the largest of its kind in Syria. In 2013, it was occupied by an alliance of factions operating under the banner of the Al-Nusra Front, the primary al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. But in early 2014, Islamic State forces took control of the plant following a military offensive against Al-Nusra.

The plant was built by Russian construction company Stroytransgaz, which was awarded the contract in 2007 by the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It is important to note that Stroytransgaz is owned by Gennady Timchenko, a Russian oligarch who is believed to have close ties to President Putin. Following Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on the construction company, accusing it of having “direct links” with the inner circle of the Russian government. Since that time, a subcontractor of Stroytransgaz, known as Hesco, which is owned by George Haswani, a Russian national of Syrian descent, has been employed by the parent company to help in the completion of the Tuweinan plant. Haswani, who holds dual Russian and Syrian nationality, was recently singled out by the US Tresury for allegedly “brokering the transfer of oil” between the Assad regime in Damascus and the Islamic State.

In October 2014, the anti-Islamic State website Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently reported that a group of Russian engineers employed by Stroytransgaz subcontractor Hesco had been given permission by the Islamic State to continue working at the plant. On Tuesday, US-based review Foreign Policy said it had spoken to “Turkish officials and Syrian rebels”, who claimed that the Russian engineers were still at the Tuweinan plant. The sources told Foreign Policy that the Russian engineers had been tasked with completing the construction of the facility, as promised in 2007, but this time with the permission of the Islamic State. The latter needs the plant to remain operational. Both Stroytransgaz and Hesco have denied the allegations. The Russian government has not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 February 2016 | Permalink

Continuity IRA claims killing by armed assailants disguised as police

CIRAA leading dissident republican group in Ireland has claimed responsibility for a bloody attack in Dublin, which was carried out last week by a group of masked assailants disguised as police and carrying AK-47 assault rifles. Police said that the carefully planned attack involved at least six people wearing SWAT-style police uniforms, at least one of whom was disguised as a woman. The assailants stormed a boxing match weigh-in and opened fire, killing Dubliner David Byrne, 33, and injuring at least two others. The boxing match for the European lightweight category, which was scheduled to take between the Portuguese champion Antonio Joao Bento and Dubliner Jamie Kavanagh, was cancelled by the World Boxing Organization.

Initially, the attack was said to have been carried out by an organized illicit smuggling gang. However, police were skeptical about such a claim, given that the use of disguises and AK-47 assault rifles is reminiscent of the tactics used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army prior to the group’s decommissioning in 2005. On Monday, a man who gave the BBC a prearranged code-word associated with the Continuity IRA (CIRA), a republican splinter group, said the attack had been carried out by the militant organization. He said the senior leadership of the CIRA had ordered Byrne’s killing in retaliation for his involvement in the murder of a well-known republican militant in Dublin, nearly five years ago. Alan Ryan, who was believed to be a member of the Real IRA (RIRA), another republican splinter group, was gunned down in Dublin in September 2012, in what the police described as a “planned, targeted killing”. It was believed at the time that Ryan had been killed by a criminal gang with which the RIRA had quarreled.

The alleged CIRA representative told the BBC that Byrne’s killing “will not be an isolated incident”, adding that the group had plans to carry out more attacks aimed against “drug dealers and criminals” in Ireland. Early on Tuesday, meanwhile, another man, Eddie Hutch, was shot dead in northcentral Dublin, in what police said was a reprisal for last week’s CIRA attack in the Irish capital.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 February 2016 | Permalink

CIA airplane sent to capture Edward Snowden in 2013, documents show

Edward SnowdenDocuments acquired through Denmark’s freedom of information act appear to show that the United States deployed an airplane, which had previously been used to rendition terrorism detainees, in an attempt to capture the American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a computer expert for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he defected in June 2013, after initially fleeing to Hong Kong with millions of stolen US government documents in his possession. A few weeks ago, Danish news website Denfri.dk published a set of documents that confirm the deployment over Danish airspace of an American airplane in June 2013. The plane had previously been used by the CIA to carry out extraordinary renditions of terrorism detainees during the Administration of US President George W. Bush.

The documents, which were acquired by Denfri.dk after it filed a lawsuit under Denmark’s Access to Public Administration Files Act, are heavily redacted. But they do show the deployment of the Gulfstream V aircraft with registration number N977GA, which landed at an airport in Danish capital Copenhagen, after flying over the British Isles. The flight occurred at the same time that Snowden was trying to acquire political asylum in Russia, according to Denfri. The website said that the documents it received from the Danish government included a “heavily redacted” email exchange between high-level officials in the country’s Justice and Foreign Affairs Ministries, as well police and military personnel. Among them was Anders Herping Nielsen, a Danish government official specializing in the extradition of detainees who are wanted for crimes abroad.

Denfri said it contacted the Danish government to ask why the documents had been so heavily redacted before being released. It was allegedly told by the Ministry of Justice that the redacting occurred in order to avoid complications in Danish-American relations. “Denmark’s relationship with the US would be damaged if the information [contained in the redacted portion of the documents] becomes public knowledge”, said an email from the Ministry.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 February 2016 | Permalink

Senior Islamic State fighters are relocating to Libya, says official

ISIS LibyaSenior members of the Islamic State are moving from Syria and Iraq to Libya, according to a Libyan intelligence official who spoke to the BBC. Since 2014 and the outbreak of the Second Libyan Civil War, the North African country has been engulfed in a multipolar struggle for dominance between rival armed groups and alliances. Among them is Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of former al-Qaeda-linked militants, ethnic Berbers, members of the pro-Egypt Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the al-Shorooq Force, an Islamist militia from Libya’s northwestern coastal city of Misrata. Libya Dawn troops have been engaged in ground-combat against Islamic State forces, which currently control Libya’s north-central coastal region.

The area ruled by the Islamic State includes the cities of Bin Jawad and Sirte —the latter being the birthplace of Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi. Some believe that loyalists of Gaddafi’s regime in Sirte, including members of his extended family, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and are actively supporting the militant group. Meanwhile, the armed factions that surround the territory controlled by the Islamic State, which include the Tobruk-headquartered Libyan National Army, are at war with each other as much as with the Islamic State itself.

On Wednesday, Ismail Shukri, head of intelligence for Libya Dawn in Misrata, spoke on BBC television’s flagship current-affairs program Newsnight about the current status of Islamic State forces in northern Libya. He told the program that his informants in Islamic State-controlled territory were reporting “an influx of foreign fighters” from Iraq and Syria. The majority of the settlers had arrived “in recent months”, said Shukri, and were located in Sirte. They appeared to be senior Islamic State military and civilian officials, who had “long-term importance to the Islamic State”. When asked why these Islamic State members were pouring into Libya, Shukri said they viewed the North African country “as a safe haven” and were relocating there in order to escape the military offensive by international forces in Iraq and Syria. Shukri told the BBC that nearly three out of four foreign Islamic State members in Sirte were from Tunisia, with remaining numbers consisting of Egyptian, Algerian and Sudanese citizens. There were also several Syrians and members of Iraq’s Baathist armed forces during the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said.

Rumors have circulated for several months that Libya Dawn forces are preparing a major ground offensive against the Islamic State. There are also reports that Western countries are engaged in negotiations with groups fighting the Islamic State in Libya, over the possibility of providing intelligence support and air cover for a ground assault. However, Shukri refused to speculate about future military campaigns.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 February 2016 | Permalink

S. Korea police says professor was secret handler of N. Korea spies

Chongryon A Korean resident of Japan, who was arrested in South Korea for credit card fraud, was allegedly a handler of North Korean sleeper agents operating in South Korea, Japan and China, according to police in Seoul. Pak Chae Hun, 49, was arrested on Tuesday at his home in Seoul by officers of the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department. A statement issued by South Korean police said Pak was until recently an associate professor at Korea University, a higher-education institution based in the Japanese capital Tokyo. The University is funded directly by the government of North Korea through Chongryon, a pro-Pyongyang organization otherwise known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The group represents tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are ideologically affiliated with Pyongyang.

Pak was initially investigated for purchasing computer hardware in Japan using a credit card he had obtained from a Korean company using a false identity and date of birth. But when South Korean police authorities raided his home, they found encrypted messages written on scraps of paper. Further investigations detected encrypted email messages sent to Pak from Japan. According to government sources in Seoul, the messages turned out to contain instructions from Office 225 of the North Korean Workers’ Party Korea, which is tasked with overseeing the activities of sleeper agents operating in South Korea. South Korean authorities now claim Pak was regularly receiving encrypted instructions from Pyongyang, which he relayed to North Korean agents in China and South Korea.

South Korean sources said Pak also provided North Korean agents with telephone devices, as well as cash and ATM cards, which they used to withdraw cash from banks in South Asia. Police sources in Seoul say Pak was recruited by North Korean spies over 15 years ago and regularly traveled to China to meet North Korean agents there. The former professor is now facing fraud charges, while South Korean authorities are considering the possibility of charging him with espionage, even though he was not caught in the act of spying against South Korea.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 February 2016 | Permalink

Joint British-American operation hacked Israeli drones, documents show

RAF base CyprusBritish and American intelligence services worked together to hack Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles in order to acquire information on the Jewish state’s military intentions in the Middle East, according to documents leaked last week. Online publication The Intercept, said the operation was code-named ANARCHIST and was a joint project of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). The publication said it acquired documents about the operation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia in 2013 and was offered political asylum by Moscow.

In an article published on Thursday, The Intercept said the joint GCHQ-NSA operation was headquartered in a Royal Air Force military facility high on the Troodos Mountains in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The documents provided by Snowden suggest that British and American spies were able to collect footage captured by the Israeli drone for at least two years, namely in 2009 and 2010. It is not clear whether that period included the first three weeks of January 2009, when the Gaza War was fought between Israel and Hamas. During that time, there were persistent rumors that Tel Aviv was seriously considering launching air strikes against Iran.

According to The Intercept, the main goal of operation ANARCHIST was to collect information about Israeli “military operations in Gaza” and watch “for a potential strike against Iran”. Additionally, the UK-US spy program “kept tabs on the drone technology Israel exports around the world”, said the article. According to one GCHQ document cited by The Intercept, the access to Israeli drone data gained through ANARCHIST was “indispensable for maintaining an understanding of Israeli military training and operations”.

Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio on Friday, Israel’s Minister for National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Yuval Steinitz, said he was not surprised by the revelations. “We know that the Americans are spying on the whole world, including their friends”, said Steinitz. But it was “disappointing”, he said, given that Israel had “not spied” on the US “for decades”. Israeli intelligence agencies had “not collected intelligence or attempted to crack the encryption of the United States”, said the Minister, implying that recent revelations of US spying on Israel may cause a change of strategy in Israeli intelligence policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2016 | Permalink

Canada stops sharing intelligence with Five Eyes partners over data breach

CSE CanadaCanada says it will stop sharing certain types of intelligence with some of its closest international allies until it ensures that Canadian citizens’ information is not included in the data given to foreign spy agencies. The announcement follows an official admission, made earlier this week, that a Canadian intelligence agency failed to remove Canadian citizens’ data from information it shared with member-agencies of the so-called Five Eyes Agreement. The pact, which is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement, has been in existence since World War II. It provides a multilateral framework for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

On Thursday, the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, published a report on the activities of the CSE —the country’s primary SIGINT agency. The document, which is published annually by the Commissioner, states that the majority of the CSE’s SIGINT collection activities took place in accordance with Canadian law. However, the report found that some of the data shared by CSE with its Five Eyes partners contained data that could potentially be used to identify the identities of Canadian citizens. According to Canadian law, the CSE is not allowed to specifically target the communications of —or information about— Canadian citizens or Canadian companies. Moreover, information pertaining to those, which may be indirectly collected in the course of legitimate targeting of foreign citizens, is supposed to be immediately purged by CSE collection staff.

However, the Commissioner’s report found that some metadata —namely information pertaining to communications other than their content— that could be used to identify Canadian citizens had been shared by the CSE with Five Eyes spy agencies. Later on Thursday, Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of Defense, announced that SIGINT intelligence-sharing would be suspended until the metadata breach identified in the Commissioner’s report could be adequately addressed and corrected. Minister Sajjan said the roots of the breach had to do with “technical deficiencies” at the CSE, but added that it was crucial that the privacy of Canadians was protected. Therefore, he said, the spy agency would “not resume sharing this information with our partners” until he was “fully satisfied” that the proper control systems were in place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 January 2016 | Permalink

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