Spy charges for journalists who claimed Turkey arms Syrian Islamists

Can Dündar Erdem GülTwo leading Turkish journalists, who claimed in a series of articles that Ankara has been arming militant Islamists in Syria, are facing espionage charges for “airing Turkish state secrets”. The two, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, work for Cumhuriyet, (The Republic), Turkey’s oldest newspaper, which typically voices staunchly secularist views representing the center-left of the political spectrum. Last year Dündar, who is the paper’s editor, and Gül, who serves as the paper’s bureau chief in Ankara, published a series of articles claiming that the Turkish government was secretly supporting Salafi Jihadist groups in Syria.

In the articles, Dündar and Gül alleged that a convoy of trucks had been intercepted on its way from Turkey to Syria. According to the two reporters, the trucks were transporting large quantities of weapons and ammunition to Syrian rebels as part of a secret operation conducted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkey’s main spy agency. But the MİT had not shared details of the operation with Turkish police, which promptly stopped the vehicles, searched them and found them to be “loaded with weapons” and ammunition, according to Cumhuriyet. The paper also published video footage showing the alleged MİT trucks.

When the story was published, it caused major ripples in Turkish political life and prompted the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to issue official denials directed against the paper’s accusations. Government spokespeople claimed that the captured trucks contained humanitarian assistance, and not weapons. Later, however, Turkish officials admitted that the trucks were indeed carrying weapons, but that they were destined for Turkmen guerrillas operating in Syrian territory. President Erdoğan, however, was furious with Cumhuriyet and warned the paper’s investigative reporters that they would “pay a heavy price” for revealing state secrets.

The two reporters were arrested in November of last year and have since been held in detention. On Wednesday, state prosecutors charged Dündar and Gül with espionage, attempting to topple the Turkish government by force, and supporting terrorism. Interestingly, the main plaintiffs in the case are President Erdogan and Hakan Fidan, the director of MİT. If found guilty, the two Cumhuriyet journalists will face up to life in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 January 2016 | Permalink

German spy agency tapped Finnish phone lines in early 2000s

FinlandGerman intelligence, possibly with the collaboration of the United States, monitored communications lines connecting Finland with at least five countries in the early 2000s, according to leaked documents. The documents, aired this week by Yle Uutiset, the main news program of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), is based on information contained in “leaked German intelligence documents” that were first made public in May 2015. As intelNews reported at the time, the intelligence collection was described as a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the initial allegations, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Pilz said at the time that many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies. Belgium and Switzerland have already launched investigations into EIKONAL.

Now new information provided by Yle seems to show that the secret BND-NSA collaboration targeted Finnish communications as well, focusing on at least six separate communications transit lines. The lines are believed to carry telephone call and possibly Internet traffic from Finnish capital Helsinki to a number of cities in France, Belgium, Hungary, Luxemburg, and China, said Yle Uutiset. Although the targeted lines are known to carry telephone and Internet traffic, it is unknown at this time whether EIKONAL targeted both kinds. But Yle said the interception lasted for most of the first part of the 2000s and involved large amounts of communications data.

The station contacted Tuomas Portaankorva, Inspector General of SUPO, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service. He told Yle that, speaking broadly, he was not surprised to be told that Finnish telecommunications lines had been monitored by foreign intelligence agencies, Western or otherwise. He went on to caution that, even though Finnish lines had been targeted, it was not possible to conclude that Finland was indeed the target of the surveillance operation. Yle also spoke to Vesa Häkkinen, spokesman for the from Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told the station that SUPO, and not the ministry, was the proper official body to be consulted about EIKONAL. “If there is reason to suspect that these actions were directed at the Finnish state”, said Häkkinen, “we would undertake appropriate action”.

Author: Ian Allen| Date: 20 January 2016 | Permalink | News tip: Matthew Aid

America’s most senior intelligence official has his phone, email hacked

James ClapperA member of a hacker group that took responsibility for breaking into the personal email account of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency last year has now hacked the email of the most senior intelligence official in the United States. In October 2015, the hacker group referred to by its members as “Crackas With Attitude” —CWA for short— claimed it was behind the hacking of an AOL personal email account belonging to John Brennan, who heads the CIA. Less than a month later, the CWA assumed responsibility for breaking into an online portal used by US law enforcement to read arrest records and share sensitive information about crimes involving shootings. Shortly after the second CWA hack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an alert to all government employees advising them to change their passwords and be cautious about suspicious emails and other phishing attempts.

On Monday, an alleged member of CWA contacted Motherboard, an online media outlet belonging to Vice Media, and alleged that the group had managed to hack into the personal email account of James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clapper’s job is to help synchronize the operations of US intelligence agencies and to mediate between the US Intelligence Community and the Executive. According to CWA, clapper’s personal telephone and Internet service had also been compromised, as had his spouse’s personal email, which is hosted by Yahoo! services. The alleged CWA member told Motherboard that the forwarding settings of Clapper’s home telephone had been changed. As a result, calls made to the DNI were being forwarded to the headquarters of the Free Palestine Movement in California. Shortly afterwards, Free Palestine Movement executives confirmed that they had received a number of phone calls for Clapper. Last year, when they hacked the email of the director of the CIA, the CWA dedicated their action to the Free Palestine Movement.

Motherboard said that a spokesman at the Office of the DNI, Brian Hale, confirmed that Clapper’s personal email and telephone service had indeed been hacked. He told Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai that Office of the DNI was “aware of the matter” and had “reported it to the appropriate authorities”. The FBI was contacted as well but did not respond.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 January 2016 | Permalink

Intelligence agencies doubt North Korea bomb test was hydrogen

PyongyangIntelligence agencies outside North Korea, including those of South Korea and the United States, are skeptical of Pyongyang’s claims that it conducted a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. On the surface, North Korea’s announcement on Wednesday that it tested a hydrogen bomb is consistent with the policies of the Kim Jong-un administration. The North Korean leader, who succeeded his father as the nation’s supreme leader in 2012, has repeatedly said that he intends to strengthen and modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal. In December, North Korea issued several warnings that it would soon test a hydrogen bomb, nearly a decade after the regime announced its first successful test of an atomic weapon. Unlike atom bombs, which rely on nuclear fission to release energy, hydrogen bombs are based on nuclear fusion; they are far more powerful than atom bombs, which they use as a trigger to reach even more massive levels of energy release.

There was initial shock on Wednesday when Pyongyang announced it had successfully detonated a “miniaturized hydrogen bomb”. A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was registered at a site that had been used in the past by North Korea to test nuclear weapons. A few hours later, however, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington that “initial analysis” conducted by US intelligence agencies was “not consistent” with North Korea’s claims. The explosion had been measured “in the single digit kilotons”, he said, whereas a thermonuclear device, which uses the energy from an initial nuclear device to ignite a secondary, much larger nuclear reaction, is typically measured in megatons. South Korean intelligence observers agreed that some kind of test occurred on Wednesday, but it did not display signs of a hydrogen bomb. Some South Korean officials cautioned that it could have been a failed test of a hydrogen device, or that the North Koreans could have tested only the initial trigger of a hydrogen bomb, which would be a much smaller explosion caused by fission. But Earnest insisted on Wednesday that “nothing [had] caused the US government to change our assessment of North Korea’s technical and military capabilities”.

Some media reports indicated that US intelligence agencies had expected a nuclear test by Pyongyang in 2015 or 2016, but had no specific information on a precise timeframe. It is also worth noting that assessments by US and South Korean intelligence agencies indicate that China was not informed by North Korea about an impending nuclear test and that Beijing was caught by surprise by Wednesday’s developments. China issued a statement condemning the alleged nuclear test soon after it was announced by North Korea.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 January 2016 | Permalink

Head of Russian military intelligence dies unexpectedly at 58

Igor SergunThe director of Russia’s powerful military intelligence agency has died unexpectedly at 58, according to the Kremlin, which has yet to release precise information about the circumstances of his death. General Igor Sergun had led the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU, since 2011, when he replaced his predecessor, Colonel General Aleksandr Shlyakhturov, in a Kremlin-instigated reshuffle. The Russian government said at the time that Shlyakhturov, who had spearheaded a major shake-up of the GRU since his appointment in 2009, had “reached retirement age” and gave no other reason for his sudden replacement. General Sergun’s death was announced in a statement posted on the official website of the Kremlin on January 4. It said that the GRU director had “suffered a sudden death” on January 3. It gave no further details as to the exact cause or circumstances surrounding the general’s death.

General Sergun was a career GRU officer, having joined the service as soon as he graduated from the Military Academy of the Soviet Army in 1984. Under his leadership, the GRU —Russia’s largest intelligence agency, which operates under the supervision of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces— became increasingly important in Moscow’s foreign policy maneuvers. The agency was central during the Russian military campaign in Georgia in 2008, and observers considered its role during the onset of the eastern Ukraine crisis in 2013 as indispensable for Russia. This view was reflected early in 2014, when the European Union and the United States imposed economic sanctions on General Sergun, accusing him of coordinating “the activities of GRU officers in eastern Ukraine”.

The January 4 online statement by the Kremlin quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reportedly contacted the late general’s family to offer his condolences. The Russian leader was quoted as saying that General Sergun had given his “life in its entirety to the service of the homeland and the Armed Forces” of the Russian Federation. The late general was “respected for their professionalism, strength of character, honesty and integrity”, said the statement. Moscow has not yet announced Sergun’s replacement at the helm of the GRU.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 January 2016 | Permalink

We had no asset in Saddam’s inner circle, says ex-CIA deputy director

Morell - IA senior Central Intelligence Agency official, who led the agency as its acting director before retiring in 2013, has said that not having sources in the Iraqi government’s upper echelons led to the intelligence failure of 2003. Michael Morell retired as deputy director of the CIA, after having served twice as its acting director, in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. A Georgetown University graduate, Morell joined the agency in 1980 and rose through the ranks to lead the Asia, Pacific and Latin America divisions. In May 2015, Morell published his book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight against Terrorism from al Qa’ida to ISIS, which he has been promoting while working as a consultant in the private sector.

Morell spoke at the Aspen Institute earlier this month, and once again offered a public apology to former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell for the CIA’s erroneous estimates on Iraq. He was referring to the Agency’s claims prior to the 2003 US invasion that Iraq maintained an active weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program. The claims formed the basis of Powell’s February 2003 speech during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, in which he claimed that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had “biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce […] many more.” There was no question, said Morell, that Powell’s reputation “was tarnished” as a result of the speech, and that a public apology was in order. The same apology, said Morell, applied “to every single American.”

The retired intelligence official went on to say that the main cause of the CIA’s erroneous assessment of Iraq’s WMD program was that the Agency had failed to penetrate the highest echelons of the Hussein regime. “We were not able to come up with the right answer [because] we didn’t do our fundamental job of penetrating [Hussein’s] inner circles with a human asset,” said Morell. As a result, there was “no information to give to the [CIA] analyst to say ‘here’s what this guy is up to’,” he added. The author of The Great War of Our Time, went on to suggest that the CIA’s failure to penetrate the inner circle of the Iraqi government prior to 2003 was “quite frankly a national security failure.”

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 December 2015 | Permalink

Many arrested in Bosnia for having links with Islamic State

BosniaAuthorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have announced the arrest of several people on suspicion of having direct links with the Islamic State and other militant groups fighting in Iraq and Syria. At least 11 people were arrested by police in simultaneous raids at a number of locations on Tuesday, including businesses and private homes, across the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. A police spokeswoman said the eleven men had been charged with having links to terrorist groups, financing terrorist groups, or inciting and helping organize criminal acts. A number of them were also charged with recruiting young men and women to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq, she said.

A statement issued by the office of the Bosnian prosecutor on Wednesday morning said the arrests were part of a “major operation […] to track down some 15 people” suspected of having close operational ties with Islamist organizations in the Middle East. The arrests were carried out less than a day after another five people were arrested in Sarajevo for illegally transporting weapons and ammunition from Bosnia to Germany. Large caches of weapons and ammunition were seized during the raids.

Depending on the source, there are estimates that the largely Muslim Balkan country of 3.8 million has supplied between 150 and 330 fighters to the Islamic State, the militant Sunni group that today controls much of Syria and Iraq. Hundreds more have joined from cities and towns in Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania. Of those, several dozen have already been killed while fighting for the Islamic State. Security services in Bosnia are reportedly monitoring a number of unregistered mosques in the country, which are believed to be preaching a version of Salafi Jihadism that promotes the worldview of the Islamic State. Many of these mosques are led or supported by individuals from Africa and the Middle East. These men first went to Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s to fight in the war against Serbia and Croatia, two predominantly Christian regions of the former Yugoslavia. They ended up settling in Bosnia after marrying local women.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 December 2015 | Permalink

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