News you may have missed #886 (CIA torture edition)

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►What the Vietcong learned about torture that the CIA didn’t. The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques”, as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents.
►►Half of all Americans think CIA torture was justified. Americans who believe the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention program was justified significantly outnumber those who don’t think it was warranted, according to a poll released Monday. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found 51% of Americans think the CIA practices were warranted, compared with 29% who said the techniques were not, and 20% who didn’t express an opinion. A majority of those polled, 56%, believed the interrogation methods provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks.
►►Author of interrogation memo says CIA maybe went too far. As former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Sunday that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects did not amount to torture, the man who provided the legal rationale for the program said that in some cases it had perhaps gone too far. Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo said the sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and other harsh treatment outlined in a US Senate report last week could violate anti-torture laws.

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Yemeni troops kill al-Qaeda suspects disguised as women

Yemeni women in Ta'izzBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Troops in Yemen shot dead five men, believed to be members of al-Qaeda, who tried to pass through a security checkpoint disguised as women. The incident reportedly happened on Saturday at an emergency roadside checkpoint set up by Yemeni troops in Harad, a dusty desert town located 10 miles south of Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. According to official reports, a minivan drove up to the checkpoint carrying what appeared to be six women, which was heading toward the Saudi border. All passengers were dressed in black robes and wore the niqab, a black cloth used to hide the face and worn along with the hijab, which typically covers a woman’s hair. The niqab is worn in several Arab countries, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain. Yemeni soldiers conferred briefly with the male driver of the vehicle before one of them climbed onboard the minivan for a routine inspection. At that moment, one of the minivan passengers opened fire at the soldier, wounding him. The rest of the members of the inspection unit then opened fire on the passengers, killing five of them. Following the incident, the Yemeni soldiers discovered that the minivan’s passengers were all men and had been armed. An official speaking at a press conference later that day reported that at least two of those killed were Saudi citizens. He added that one of the passengers, who was also disguised as a woman, survived, as did the male driver of the minivan. All are believed to be members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an armed Islamist movement that is widely seen as the most formidable branch of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world. Following the 2011 uprising in Yemen, which was part of the Arab Spring, AQAP took advantage of the collapse of the Yemeni state and took over large swathes of territory in Sunni-dominated eastern and southern Yemen. These areas are still considered AQAP strongholds today. Security forces in Yemen often conduct roadside inspections, but they rarely enter vehicles carrying women, in an attempt to respect tribal customs in what is a very conservative part of the Arab world. Authorities in Harad said on Saturday that, following the shootout, a suicide belt and several weapons were discovered onboard the minivan. The surviving passenger is being questioned, along with the driver of the vehicle.

Israeli ex-spy chief says Netanyahu policies ‘will destroy Israel’

Carmi GillonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Israel’s internal security service has warned that the policies of the Israeli government could lead to the complete destruction of the country. Carmi Gillon, Israel’s former ambassador to Denmark, led the Shin Bet, also known as Israel’s Internal General Security Service, from 1994 to 1996. In a scathing attack against Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Gillon accused him of being “an egomaniac” heading “a bunch of pyromaniacs” in government, who are leading the state of Israel “to its final destruction”. Gillon, 64, was speaking on Saturday evening at the “Peace Now” rally, organized outside the official residence of the Prime Minister in Jerusalem. Participants in the rally were protesting against the so-called Jewish State Law, a bill currently being discussed in the Israeli Knesset, which seeks to officially define Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people”. The effort enjoys broad support from the Israeli right, including from Prime Minister Netanyahu. But it has been condemned by the country’s left, as well as by non-Jewish citizens of Israel, as a deliberate attempt to marginalize approximately a quarter of Israel’s population, which is non-Jewish. Some critics claim that Netanyahu and his supporters are attempting to prevent Israel from ever becoming a binational state, consisting largely of Jewish and Arab citizens, thus forever eliminating the so-called ‘one-state solution’ to the Jewish-Palestinian problem. The bill had been scheduled to be voted on in the Knesset on Wednesday, but its supporters in the Israeli parliament postponed the vote, following a wave of popular anger against the bill that has erupted throughout Israel in recent days. Speaking on Saturday at the rally in Jerusalem, Gillon said the Jewish State Law would “enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state” and would “eat the body of the entire nation like a cancer”. He added that he was speaking “with full professional authority” and urged opponents of the bill to “fight this fascism” that was propagated by “Bibi Netanyahu and the extreme right”. Later on Saturday, Israel’s former President, Shimon Peres, also spoke out against the proposed bill, which he described as “an attempt to undermine [Israel’s] Declaration of Independence for political interests”. He added that, if enacted, the bill would “damage the country both at home and abroad” and would “erode the democratic principles of the State of Israel”.

News you may have missed #885

Shin BetBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Americans’ cellphones targeted in secret US spy program. The US Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations. The US Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
►►Israel’s usually secretive spy agencies get into public spat. Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Shin Bet, has been trading barbs with the military over whether faulty army intelligence left Israel unprepared for war with the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The spat went high-profile this week when Israel’s Channel 2 aired a report featuring Shin Bet officials –-rendered in pixilated, shadowed form-– claiming the military had brushed aside the agency’s assessment, months before fighting erupted in July, that an armed conflict with Hamas was in the making.
►►Poland mulls military intelligence brigade close to Belarus border. Polish Armed Forces will make emphasis on the unfolding of reconnaissance troops and will set up a separate brigade and military command in the north-east of the country, National Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said on Thursday. The region he visited is located along the border with Belarus and close to the border with Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad region, an exclave on the south-east shore of the Baltic Sea.

Lithuania charges state employee with spying for Belarus, Russia

Belarus and LithuaniaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Prosecutors in Lithuania have charged an employee of a state-owned airline navigation services provider with spying for neighboring Belarus, though it is presumed the compromised information may have also been shared with Russia. Lithuanian government prosecutor Darius Raulusaitis told reporters at a news conference on Monday that the man charged was a Lithuanian national living and working in capital Vilnius. He has been identified only with his initials, which are R.L. The alleged spy is being accused of collecting information relating to Lithuania’s military strength with the intention of sharing it with unregistered agents of Belarus. He has also been charged with passing information on what the Lithuanian prosecutor described as “strategically important companies” in the Baltic republic. His alleged targets are said to include Oro Navigacija, Lithuania’s state-owned aviation company, for which he worked. Court documents accuse R.L. of surreptitiously photographing documents in his office at Oro Navigacija’s headquarters, and then transferring them to facilities belonging to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Raulusaitis told reporters that R.L. had been charged with “spying against the Lithuanian Republic on orders of intelligence services of the Belarus Republic”. He added, however, that Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD) considered it likely that “any information obtained by the Belarus secret service” had been “shared with the Russian [intelligence] services”. At a separate news conference, VSD Director Gediminas Grina said that passing classified information to Belarus “is the same to us as spying for Russia”. Belarus is arguably Russia’s closest European ally; many international observers consider Belarus a supranational part of the post-Soviet Russian Federation. Regular intelNews readers will recall that in 2012 Belarus arrested a military attaché at the Lithuanian embassy in Belorussian capital Minsk, after accusing him of running an espionage ring allegedly incorporating an undisclosed number of Belorussian nationals. Lithuanian authorities said earlier this week that R.L. is one of two Lithuanian citizens arrested in 2013 following a three-year investigation by the VSD. The second suspect, who has not been named, is reportedly under “pre-trial investigation”, which is expected to take “weeks or months’ to complete. The announcement of the charges against R.L. marks the first time Lithuanian authorities have leveled charges of espionage against an individual since 2004, when the former Soviet republic joined the European Union. If found guilty, R.L. faces up to 15 years in jail.

High-profile US diplomat probed by FBI counterintelligence

Robin L. RaphelBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A highly experienced American diplomat, who is commonly described as “a fixture in Washington foreign policy circles”, is reportedly being investigated by counterintelligence agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Washington Post named the diplomat last week as Robin L. Raphel, who served as United States ambassador to Tunisia before being appointed as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, during the administration of US President Bill Clinton. The New York Times described Ms. Raphel as one of the US Department of State’s highest-ranking female diplomats. She is considered an expert on Pakistan and until recently served as an adviser to the Department of State’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ms. Raphel officially retired from the Foreign Service in 2005 and joined the ranks of Cassidy & Associates, a high-powered government-relations firm based in Washington, DC, which is known to have performed lobbying assignments on behalf of the government of Pakistan. In reporting the alleged investigation of Ms. Raphel by the FBI, The Washington Post said last week that the nature of the probe was “unclear”. But it stated that FBI counterintelligence agents had searched the former diplomat’s house and office. Citing unnamed government sources, The New York Times reported that the FBI was trying to determine why Ms. Raphel had taken classified information to her house, and whether she had shared it, or planned to share it, with a foreign government. There was no mention in the article of the identity of the foreign government that may have been privy to classified information allegedly taken home by Ms. Raphel. Media reports suggested that the former diplomat had been placed on leave and stripped of all her government security clearances as part of the ongoing FBI investigation. Insiders note that it is extremely rare for such a prominent figure in Washington to become the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

UK report warns about sexual entrapment by foreign spies

UK Ministry of DefenceBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A leaked report issued by military authorities in the United Kingdom cautions British officials to be aware of attempts by Chinese and Russian intelligence services to compromise them using sexual entrapment. The London-based Sunday Times newspaper said it had acquired a copy of the document, entitled Manual of Security, authored by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence for use by senior officials. The manual warns that foreign intelligence services are known to employ sexual entrapment or romantic attachment as a means of compromising their targets. The document singles out the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Chinese Ministry of State Security as two adversary agencies that are known to employ sexual entrapment on a regular basis. British officials are warned in the document that the FSB could gain classified information by exploiting “knowledge of marital infidelity or sexual activity the target may wish to hide”. The Times spoke to an unidentified “senior military official”, who told the paper he was recently approached by “a very attractive blonde woman in her early 30s” in a hotel in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. The woman began telling him of her fascination with vintage British sports cars, which happened to be the British official’s favorite hobby. He eventually terminated the encounter after he became suspicious of the woman’s motives. But he remains puzzled as to how the woman knew details of his personal hobbies. In 2009, the British Foreign Office had to recall its deputy consul-general in the Russian city of Ekaterinberg, after he appeared in an explicit video on YouTube having a sexual encounter with two Russian prostitutes. Many speculated at the time that the video had been posted online by the FSB in an attempt to embarrass the diplomat and have him removed from Russia. Later that year, London’s former deputy mayor, Ian Clement, admitted he was lured by a female Chinese secret agent, who drugged him and ransacked his Beijing hotel room after having sex with him. Clement said he fell for what he called “the oldest trick in the book” while in Beijing to “build contacts with potential investors” for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Sir Christopher Meyer, a career diplomat with the Foreign Office, who served in several countries during his career, including the Soviet Union, has written about the case of Sir Geoffrey Harrison, Britain’s ambassador to Moscow from 1965 to 1968. The ambassador, said Sir Christopher, “had to leave [the Soviet capital] in a hurry, having fallen for the charms of his Russian maid –trained and targeted, of course, by the KGB”. Read more of this post

Obama in secret negotiations with Iran over ISIS threat

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The president of the United States reportedly sent a secret letter to the supreme leader of Iran, in which he proposes cooperation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in exchange for a nuclear deal. The New York-based Wall Street Journal newspaper reported on Thursday that Barack Obama reached out to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in October. In the letter, Obama allegedly proposes a nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran and emphasizes the common threat the two nations face from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group also known as the Islamic State. The paper said Obama’s letter stresses that any cooperation between America and Iran against the Islamic State is directly contingent on a nuclear agreement between the two governments, which would have to be reached before November 24 of this year. If the Journal’s information is accurate, it would appear that the US president’s move is connected with the latest round in bilateral negotiations between Washington and Tehran, which is scheduled to begin on November 8. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif will be leading their respective teams, as the two delegations meet in Muscat, capital of Oman, to explore ways of normalizing their diplomatic relations. If it is real, Obama’s purported letter would not mark the first instance in which the US president wrote to his Iranian counterpart. There are at least three other letters that Obama is known to have sent to various Iranian leaders since 2009, when he assumed the presidency of the US. However, if the proposal in the letter, as outlined in The Wall Street Journal article, is authentic, the move can be seen to highlight the view of the White House that Iran must inevitably be part of a solution regarding ISIS. Nevertheless, the revelation that America is seeking an alliance with Shiite Iran will undoubtedly frustrate America’s Arab allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and other Sunni oil monarchies, which are participating in the ongoing international military campaign against the Islamic State. The Journal contacted the White House but officials there refused to comment on what they said was Obama’s “private correspondence”. When asked by journalists on the matter, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said only that “the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged”.

Spy satellites detect new nuclear weapons plant in North Korea

Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A brand new nuclear weapons production plant detected by spy satellites in North Korea would enable the recluse Asian country to double its uranium-based nuclear warheads, according to intelligence sources. South Korean daily newspaper JoongAng Ilbo said the plant was detected by spy satellites equipped with infrared cameras, which are able to sense heat emissions released by gas centrifuges. The latter are essential in separating uranium-235 isotopes from the predominant uranium-238 isotope, which constitutes over 99 percent of natural uranium and cannot be weaponized. JoongAng Ilbo quotes an unnamed South Korean intelligence official, who said the data collected by the spy satellites indicate that Pyongyang has activated a new centrifuge facility inside the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Located approximately 60 miles north of the capital Pyongyang, Yongbyon is North Korea’s major nuclear facility, which was used to produce the fissile material for North Korea’s first nuclear weapon test in 2006. Prior to the establishment of the newly detected plant on the site, the facility was believed to contain around 2,000 centrifuges. The new facility is thought to have added significantly to North Korea’s existing capacity to enrich uranium, as it appears from its architecture and size that it contains several hundred operational centrifuges. South Korean and Western officials estimate that North Korea has the capacity to produce up to five nuclear warheads, though many doubt that the country’s nuclear engineers have been able to miniaturize the warheads so as to mount them on a long-rage delivery system. In 2012, a court in Ukraine sentenced two North Korean citizens to eight years in prison on charges of trying to obtain secret technical information about missile engines. News media contacted South Korean’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which oversees surveillance operations against the North’s nuclear program, but received no answer regarding the discovery of the new production facility.

Are militant groups interested in weaponizing Ebola?

Ebola suffererBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Does the Ebola epidemic present militant groups, such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, with the opportunity to weaponize viruses and direct them against Western targets? Earlier this month, United States Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson dismissed in strong terms the possibility that Ebola would be used by Islamic State militants to attack American targets. Speaking to the Association of the United States Army, Johnson acknowledged that the Islamic State is a “very, very dangerous terrorist organization”, but added that his Department had seen “no specific credible evidence that [the Islamic State] is attempting to use any sort of disease or virus to attack” the US. A few days earlier, however, Forbes magazine had quoted Al Shimkus, Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College, as saying that the Ebola outbreak presented Islamist groups with the opportunity to use a low-tech bioterrorist weapon “to attempt to wreak strategic global infection”. Shimkus added that a group like the Islamic State wouldn’t even have to weaponize the virus’ it could “simply use human carriers to intentionally infect themselves in West Africa, then disseminate the deadly virus via the world’s air transportation system”, he said. On Wednesday, a senior Spanish official told a parliamentary committee in Madrid that the government of Spain was “taking seriously” discussions in Internet forums linked to the Islamic State about using biological weapons against the West. Francisco Martínez, who is Spain’s State Secretary for Security, told the Committee of the Interior in the Spanish Congress that online commentators connected to the Islamic State have been discussing the possibility of using Ebola as a weapon against America and its Western allies. He told Committee members that the discussions had been taking place on Internet forums as recently as mid-September. He also cited “a series of tweets” from last July, in which another Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam, with roots in Iraqi Kurdistan, proposed using “deadly chemical products from laboratories” as means of launching attacks against the West. Martínez did not provide further details on the allegations.

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.

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

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

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

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

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