US to release Israeli spy after 30 years in prison

Jonathan PollardA United States Navy intelligence analyst, who has served 30 years of a life sentence for spying on America for Israel, is set to be freed on Friday. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, as one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, have pressured the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. There is intense speculation in Washington that Pollard is being released in order to quieten Israeli criticism of a recently struck international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

The Wall Street Journal published an article in July of this year, suggesting that the Obama administration was “preparing to release” Pollard. Citing unnamed US officials, the paper claimed Washington hoped that the move would “smooth [America’s] relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal”. The latter was signed last summer between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The New York Times added to the speculation soon afterwards with a detailed front-page article, which confirmed that “some in Washington appeared to be highlighting” Pollard’s upcoming 30-year parole hearing in November. It added that the White House had been contemplating using Pollard’s release to appease, not only Tel Aviv, but also pro-Israel supporters in Congress, many of whom have campaigned for years in favor of Pollard’s release.

As intelNews reported back in July, Newsweek’s veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein responded to the news of Pollard’s release by posing an interesting question: when Pollard is released, will he have access to close to $1 million in spy wages that his Israeli handlers are reputed to have deposited for him in a Swiss bank account? In his article, Stein wondered whether Israel had continued to deposit $30,000 a year in Pollard’s reputed Swiss bank account, which is a standard practice for intelligence agencies. If the answer is yes, then the amount available today would be in the neighborhood of $1 million. If Pollard moves to Israel following his release on Friday, as many believe he will, will he then have access to the money he earned by spying on the US government as an unregistered agent of a foreign power? And if so, how should this be expected to affect the already rocky relations between Washington and Tel Aviv?

Stein quoted Pollard’s New York lawyer, Eliot Lauer, who called the rumors of a secret Swiss bank account “poppycock” and added that Pollard had “secured employment and housing […] in the New York area”. Additionally, there are some who speculate that Pollard may not be allowed to leave the US as part of the conditions of his parole. At this stage, however, nobody knows for sure.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 November 2015 | Permalink

Analysis: The West should weigh carefully its response to the Paris carnage

Paris FranceParis is still reeling from Friday’s unprecedented carnage, which left at least 130 people dead and over 350 wounded. The six separate incidents included the first known suicide bombings in the country’s history and marked the deadliest coordinated attacks on French soil since World War II. The magnitude of the attacks prompted the French government to close the country’s borders and declare a nationwide state of emergency —the first since 1961. The shock from the mass killings is today reverberating throughout Europe, a continent that had not seen such a deadly incident since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, when a group of al-Qaeda-inspired militants killed 191 people in the Spanish capital. A response from France and its Western allies is to be expected. However, the West should pause and think very carefully before deepening its engagement in a chaotic and unpredictable war that is like nothing it has ever experienced. Specifically, Western leaders should consider the following:

I. The adversaries know and understand the West, its culture and way of life, far better than the West understands them. Ever since 9/11 and the London bombings of 2005, a number of Western observers have cautioned against the so-called “Islamization of Europe”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the events of 9/11 caused a widening gulf between an increasingly Islamophobic West and Muslims; the latter are viewed by European critics of Islam as foreign bodies. What is far more prevalent and important is the Europeanization of Islam, which means that adherents of radical Islam are studying and interacting with European culture, norms and values, more intensely than ever before. Consequently, armed attacks carried out by Islamist militants against Western targets reflect a deep understanding of Western culture that far exceeds the West’s understanding of them. The November 13 attacks in Paris typify this: they were not “indiscriminate”, as some have suggested. They were carefully selected to achieve core political objectives, while at the same time sending a symbolic message against the Western way of recreation, which Islamists view as decadent. That was highlighted in a statement about the Paris attacks issued by the Islamic State, in which the group singled out the Bataclan Theater as Q Quotea venue where “a party of perversity” was taking place. Europe’s response to this phenomenon is dismissal and indifference. Most Westerners are still at a loss trying to understand the basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, let alone the ideological and spiritual underpinnings of groups like the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and others. The idea that radical Islam can be defeated before it is understood is naïve and dangerous.

II. The West does not have the intelligence and security infrastructure that is necessary to take on the Islamic State. It should not be forgotten that last Friday’s attacks took place despite the state of heightened alert that France has been under after the Charlie Hebdo shootings of January 2015. Since that time, French authorities have reportedly managed to stop at least six advanced plots against civilian targets, while alert passengers were able to prevent a mass shooting aboard a French train in August of this year. However, if France deepens its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, these attacks will continue with a scale and complexity that is bound to stretch —and possibly overwhelm— the country’s security infrastructure. Nine months after the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the presence of thousands of police officers and even troops in the streets of Paris has become common. But that did nothing to stop Friday’s attacks in a city of 2.2 million people, which features 35,000 cafés, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels. The sheer number of these “soft targets” makes Paris a city that is virtually impossible to defend against determined suicide assailants. The French are also used to traveling with ease within their country and across Europe, as the borders between France and its neighbors, such as Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, have become practically meaningless. Moreover, French authorities estimate that at least 13,000 radicalized Muslims live in France —a fraction of the country’s nearly 6 million Muslim citizens, but large enough to overwhelm the French security services. Read more of this post

Dutch crime investigator charged with spying for organized criminals

AIVD HollandA 28-year-old criminal investigator of the Dutch National Crime Squad was arrested by Dutch police on September 29 over allegations of corruption, neglect of duty, and money laundering. The man, named as Mark M., applied for a job at the Dutch police in 2009. According to an online résumé, M. dropped out of professional college in journalism after several years of being self-employed as a freelance reporter covering crime issues.

According to Dutch media, M. did not pass the security screening carried out by the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) as part of the job application. But he was hired nonetheless as trainee in a less sensitive position that is not subject to security screening by the AIVD. The reported reason for M.’s failure to pass the screening process is that he is married to a Ukrainian woman. The AIVD has no intelligence-sharing relationship with its Ukrainian counterpart agency concerning security screenings.

M. is reported to have access to the files “of all large national criminal investigations”, and allegedly sold information on a large scale to drug organizations and criminal biker gangs. He is reported to have close ties with leaders of the biker gangs Satudarah and No Surrender.

Newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which first reported about M., states that the screening involved an investigation into M.’s social environment and personal finances. Television news service RTL Nieuws, which was the first to publicly name the man, reports that M. stood out for his luxurious lifestyle: driving a Porsche Cayenne, frequenting Curaçao and the Dominican Republic for holidays, and wearing expensive watches. During a search of his residence, the police found €235.000 ($266,266), as well as confidential police information that M. allegedly intended to sell.

The police is investigating the extent of the damage caused by M., as well as the precise investigations that he may have compromised. The question of why M. was hired despite not having passed the security screening is part of the investigation. It is, so far, believed that M. acted alone.

Addendum, Nov. 4, 2015: Pending a security clearance from the AIVD, M. was granted access to BlueView, a confidential police data search engine. When the AIVD refused to issue a security clearance, M. was transferred to the traffic department, but superiors failed to revoke his access to BlueView. In 2007, BlueView contained 55 million documents containing data about suspects, transcripts of interrogations and police reports. M.’s authorization level included access to information from the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIE), that works with informants. M. was able to access BlueView for close to four years.

Author: Matthijs Koot | Date: 20 October 2015 | Permalink

CIA using Macau casinos to recruit Chinese officials, says report

Sands casino in Macau ChinaOfficials in China think that United States spy agencies are using casinos in Macau to entrap Chinese government employees, according to a report produced on behalf of an American-owned casino chain in the former Portuguese colony. The report was produced by a private investigator and was commissioned by Sands China, the Macau branch of a casino venture owned by American gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. Its goal was to investigate why the Chinese-appointed authorities in Macau were hostile to the gambling industry in general and Sands China in particular.

The report is dated June 25, 2010, and includes a warning that it should not be shared with Chinese officials in Macau or in mainland China. It cites several unnamed officials in China’s Liaison Office, which governs Macau and Hong Kong, as well as sources in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chinese businessmen with close ties to the government in Beijing. It suggests that Beijing is weary of the damage caused to its public image by thousands of its employees gambling away an estimated $2 billion each year in Macau. Additionally, says the report, the central government in Beijing is hostile to the foreign-owned gambling industry in Macau because it believes that it collaborates with Western intelligence agencies. Sands China establishments in Macau, in particular, are believed by the Chinese government to be recruiting grounds for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, says the 2010 report.

Citing “well-placed sources” in the Chinese capital, the report suggests that the fear of espionage is “the primary subject” that causes Beijing’s hostility toward Sands China. It notes that “many of the [Chinese] officials we contacted were of the view that US intelligence agencies […] have penetrated and utilized the casinos [in Macau] to support their operations”. It adds that Chinese counterintelligence agencies have “evidence” that CIA operatives “monitor mainland government officials” who visit Macau to gamble, paying particular attention to those losing large amounts of money, or those visiting Macau without the knowledge of their superiors. They then “lure and entrap” them, forcing them “to cooperate with US government interests”.

The report was uncovered by the Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and published on Wednesday in British broadsheet The Guardian. The paper said the report was among a set of documents filed with a court in Las Vegas, where the former head of Sands’ Macau casinos is suing the company for wrongful dismissal. The Guardian contacted the Sands Company, which rejected the contents of the report as “a collection of meaningless speculation”. Its senior vice president for global communications and corporate affairs, Ron Reese, also dismissed the report as “an idea for a movie script”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 July 2015 | Permalink:

Leaked document confirms Israel was behind Syrian official’s killing

Tartus, SyriaA leaked document from an American intelligence agency appears to confirm that Israeli commandos were behind the assassination of a top Syrian government official, who was shot dead outside his luxury villa on the Syrian coast in 2008. Muhammad Suleiman had been a close aide of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even before the latter rose to power in 2000. Once al-Assad became ruler of Syria, Suleiman was appointed special presidential advisor in the areas of arms procurement and strategic weapons. He handled intelligence affairs for the Assad regime and he was involved in weapons transfers from Iran to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, while also helping train Hezbollah operatives. He was also rumored to have a senior administrative role in the Syrian nuclear weapons program.

On August 1, 2008, Suleiman was shot dead with bullet wounds to the head and neck fired from a silenced rifle. He was shot as he was hosting a party on the beach behind his luxury villa at the Rimal al Zahabiya (Golden Sands) resort area, located to the north of the Mediterranean port city of Taurus. The assassins are believed to have fired the shots from a yacht, which was seen rapidly sailing away from Rimal al Zahabiya moments after the shooting. Most observers put the blame squarely on Israel. In 2009, an investigative report by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said Israel had killed Suleiman due to his leading role in Syria’s nuclear program. However, a cable released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks in 2011 revealed that French intelligence analysts believed Suleiman had been killed as a result of a bloody power struggle within the Assad regime. These have been the two leading theories behind Suleiman’s mysterious killing.

On Wednesday, however, a document authored by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) was leaked, which shows that American intelligence analysts are certain that Israeli commandos were behind Suleiman’s assassination. The document was leaded by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia in 2013. It comes from Intellipedia, the US Intelligence community’s classified version of Wikipedia, which was formally launched in 2006. It describes Suleiman’s killing as an operation carried out by “Israeli naval commandos” and calls it “the first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate [foreign] government official”. According to The Intercept, which published the leak, the Intellipedia document is labeled “SI”, which means that the information contained in it was not voluntarily shared with the US by Israel, but was rather acquired through the interception of electronic signals.

If the leaked document is accurate, it would mark the first confirmation by a government agency that Israel was indeed behind Suleiman’s assassination. The Intercept contacted the NSA and the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel. However, neither party responded to several requests for comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 July 2015 | Permalink:

IRA spy’s lawsuit against MI5 to be judged in secret, UK court decides

Martin McGartlandA lawsuit against Britain’s Security Service (MI5) by a former spy, who in the 1980s infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as IRA, is to be judged in secret, a court in London has decided. The spy, Martin McGartland, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was recruited by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the mid-1980s. The information he supplied to the security agencies over several years is widely credited with having saved the lives of at least 50 British police officers and soldiers. His autobiographical experiences formed the basis of the 2008 motion picture 50 Dead Men Walking.

However, McGartland’s cover was dramatically blown in 1991, when the IRA began suspecting that he might be an MI5 mole. After several hours of interrogation by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, McGartland managed to escape his captors by throwing himself out of a third-floor window. He survived serious injuries and was taken into hiding by MI5, living in a series of safe houses across Britain for nearly a decade. In 1999 the IRA caught up with him at an MI5 safe house in North Tyneside, in the northeast of England, where he was shot and left for dead by an IRA hit team while walking to his car.

McGartland is now suing MI5 and its institutional patron, the British Home Office, claiming that they failed to support him after he was shot by the IRA. In his lawsuit, McGartland claims that the government funding he was receiving for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was withdrawn after he publicly criticized the British government’s counterterrorism policies. In May of 2013, it emerged that Home Office solicitors had filed a formal request to hold the trial as a Closed Material Procedure (CMP) hearing. This type of practice, which became law in Britain under the 2013 Justice and Security Act, allows the court to decide a case without giving the plaintiff party any details of the information against them.

In many cases, the government resorts to CMP ostensibly to protect ‘sources and methods’. But McGartland’s legal team said that the secret hearing was designed “solely to cover up [MI5’s] own embarrassment and wrongdoing and not, as the Government has been claiming, to protect national security”. Moreover, civil rights groups warned that applying CMP to McGartland’s lawsuit would open the way for the imposition of wider restrictions on the principle of open justice and would normalize secret hearings in the civil courts.

After the judge hearing the case decided to impose CMP on the proceedings, McGartland’s legal team filed an appeal. Now the appeal judges seem to have sided with the Home Office. In a decision published on Tuesday, the judges opined that the imposition of CMP was “a case management decision properly open to the judge and there is no proper basis for this court to interfere with it”. They added that their decision did not represent a blanket approval of secret legal proceedings, but that they expected court judges to scrutinize future CMP applications “with care”.

The ruling means that McGartland’s legal team will not be allowed to hear testimony by certain MI5 witnesses or view court material designated as “sensitive” by the government. Lawyers for the former IRA informant said on Tuesday that the approval of the imposition of CMP represented “a serious aberration from the tradition of open justice”. But lawyers for the Home Office said that the ability to protect sensitive information was central to the proper function of a national security service.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 July 2015 | Permalink:

Analysis: New Dutch spy bill proposes changes in approval, oversight

AIVD HollandOn July 2, 2015, the Dutch government released for public consultation a long-awaited bill that overhauls the Dutch Intelligence and Security Act of 2002. Known also as Wiv2002, the Act is the legal framework for the operations of the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD). The bill is a complete rewrite of the present law, and includes expansions of power, as well as changes to the approval regime and oversight. The below provides a brief overview focused on the interception and hacking powers.

The services’ special powers, such as interception and hacking, can only be used for a subset of their legal tasks. That subset includes national security,
foreign intelligence and military intelligence. The government annually determines the intelligence needs of itself and other intelligence consumers; the outcome is used to focus and prioritize strategic and operational plans and activities.

The services have and hold a specific interception power, i.e., interception of communication of a specified person, organization and/or technical characteristic (e.g. IMEI, phone number, IP address, email address). This requires approval from the minister in charge. The services also have and hold a non-specific interception power —i.e., ‘bulk’ interception— but the bill expands that power from ether-only to “any form of telecommunications or data transfer”, thus including cable networks. Furthermore, the bill no longer limits the non-specific power to communication that has a foreign source and/or foreign destination, meaning that domestic communication is in scope. Like the specific power, the non-specific power requires approval from the minister in charge. The services can retain raw bulk intercepts not just for one year, as is presently the case, but for three years. Encrypted raw intercepts can be stored indefinitely, as is presently the case; the three year retention period is triggered when bulk-intercepted encrypted data is decrypted.

Certain categories of “providers of communication services” will be required, in consultation with the services, to provide access to their networks, if so requested by the services on the basis of approval from the minister. Those categories will be determined by governmental decree. The term “provider of a communication service” is derived from the term “service provider” in the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime of 2001, and is defined so as to include public telecommunication networks, non-public telecommunications networks, hosting providers and website operators. The services have and hold the right to, under certain conditions and after approval from the Minister, compel “anyone” to decrypt data or hand over keys. The approval request for that must include an indication of the conversations, telecommunications or data transfers that are targeted.

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