Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2012
January 2, 2013 8 Comments
By J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Ever since we launched this website in 2008, we have been monitoring daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence and espionage, striving to provide an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. In the past year, we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories, some of which made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media industry. In anticipation of what 2013 may bring, we decided to take a look back to the year that just ended by compiling a list of what we think are the ten most important security- and intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. The stories below are listed in reverse order of importance. Do you agree with our choices? Have we missed something important? Share your thoughts.
10. South African spy officials faked threats to increase budget. The historical tendency of spy agencies to overstate security threats in order to secure governmental funds is hardly novel. But officials in the South African Secret Service appear to have gone a step further: they allegedly paid some of their informants to make bogus threats against the government, in order to prompt an increase in counterterrorist funding. The bogus threats were allegedly aimed at creating “a false impression of imminent, unprecedented attacks on black people and African National Congress (ANC) members”. Incredibly, or perhaps predictably, nobody from the Secret Service has been fired in connection with this scandal.
09. Was there a plot to kill the Greek Prime Minister? The assassination of a senior cabinet official inside the European Union is an almost unfathomable thought. In Greece, however, government prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into an alleged plot to kill the Prime Minister in 2008, which was reportedly uncovered by Russian intelligence. According to the Russians, the plot, codenamed PYTHIA, was hatched by the intelligence agency of “a country allied to Greece”, and was targeted at conservative Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, who governed Greece from 2004 to 2009. Could this be true? Lips in Athens remain sealed while the investigation is ongoing.
08. Spies increasingly using Facebook, Twitter, to gather data. The frequency with which spy agencies of various countries are turning to social networking media as sources of tactical intelligence is increasing. It is clear that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a host of other social networking platforms, are increasingly viewed by intelligence agencies as invaluable channels of information acquisition. In fact, recent case studies point to social networking as the new cutting edge in open-source tactical intelligence collection.
07. Western spy agencies still in the dark about Syria. The ongoing civil war has turned the impoverished and volatile country of Syria into a major source of wider geopolitical instability. One of the few certainties of this bloody conflict is that Western intelligence agencies are still struggling to make sense of it. In December, Washington formally designated the Al-Nusra Front, a group within the Western-supported Syrian anti-government coalition, a foreign terrorist organization. Senior US officials admit that Western intelligence-gathering in Syria is “fragmentary [and] out of focus”. Evidently.
06. CIA Director Petraeus bites the dust over love affair. An affair between the (now former) Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, caused more damage to the morale of the CIA than any rival spy agency could have hoped to. And yet there are indications that many of those close to Petraeus either knew or strongly suspected he had a mistress on the side. What is it about the womanizing culture in the CIA that refuses to die?
05. Canadian spy for Russia caused “massive” intelligence leak. In January of 2012, Royal Canadian Navy Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Paul Delisle became the first person to be charged under Canada’s post-9/11 Security of Information Act, for allegedly passing protected government information to an unspecified foreign body believed to be Russia. Because of Canada’s intelligence alliance with the US, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Delisle’s spying caused what Canadian media described as a “massive leak” of classified information.
04. UK admits businessman murdered in China was MI6 operative. Almost from the moment when British businessman Neil Heywood was found dead in Chongqing, China, intelNews publicly supported the view that he had dealings with MI6. British Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed that Heywood, who was a fluent Chinese speaker and had lived in China for a decade prior to his death, “was not an employee of the British government in any capacity”. But on November 7, 2012, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, which was based on several interviews with unnamed “current and former British officials”, concluded that the murdered businessman was an active informant for MI6 at the time of his death. The case is important because of its political ramifications inside China, as it led to the dramatic demise of Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai, a husband-and-wife team of political celebrities who were found guilty of killing Heywood. Some argue that the case altered for ever the political map of the Communist Party of China.
03. Did Yasser Arafat die of poisoning? In July, a nine-month forensic toxicological investigation by the Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Switzerland into the death of Yasser Arafat, raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with a radioactive substance. Some remain skeptical about this claim, but the French government has opened a murder inquiry into Arafat’s death, which occurred in a hospital in Paris, while Russian authorities have offered to join the international investigation. Could this case rewrite the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
02. Massive expansion of US covert operations in Africa. Middle East? What Middle East? There is evidence that the fastest growing geopolitical target of Washington’s covert-action program is Africa. According to well-informed sources, the administration of US President Barack Obama is implementing a near-unprecedented expansion of covert operations by American military forces throughout Africa, aimed at a host of armed groups deemed extremist.
01. Split in US-Israel relations over Iran. That the hawks in the Israeli government do not see eye-to-eye on Iran with American officials in the Obama administration is not exactly a secret. But if we are to believe the account of US Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), the Iranian nuclear program has succeeded in dividing American and Israeli views on Middle East policy almost to the point of no return. The Republican politician said that a meeting he attended at the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office was supposed to be a “discussion on intelligence and technical issues”. But it quickly “spun out of control”, he said, when the Israeli leader allegedly criticized the US Ambassador to the country, Dan Shapiro, over the US government’s perceived unwillingness to go beyond imposing diplomatic sanctions on Iran. Shapiro was livid and let Netanyahu know. Rogers said he had never witnessed “such a high-level confrontation” between a representative of the American government and a foreign official.