South Korean lawmakers accuse North of helping Islamic State

Syria North KoreaA powerful South Korean parliamentary committee has accused the North Korean government of ties to the Islamic State, an allegation that is vehemently denied by Pyongyang. On November 18, members of the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly of Korea stated in a press conference that they believed North Korea had “possible ties to ISIS”. They were referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which calls itself Islamic State. On Monday, North Korea’s state-run media blasted the South Korean allegations as “slander and fabrications”, and said they threatened to derail collaboration efforts between Seoul and Pyongyang.

The North Korean website Uriminzokkiri, which provides content from the Korean Central News Agency, accused Seoul of “carelessly tossing around claims of connections to terrorist groups”, in order to bring the two neighboring countries “closer to war”. Tensions remain high in the Korean Peninsula, despite an agreement that was struck in August between the two sides. In the preceding months, Pyongyang had threatened to carry out all-out invasion of South Korea, accusing Seoul of harboring aggressive intentions against it. A report in Uriminzokkiri warned that the August agreement “would be undone” if the South persisted in alleging that North Korea provided assistance to ISIS.

It should be noted that the Intelligence Committee of South Korea’s National Assembly has not given evidence of its claims that Pyongyang is supporting ISIS. Additionally, the North Korean regime is believed to be a strong international ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a primary adversary of ISIS. The two countries have longstanding military and commercial ties. It is believed that North Korean technicians aided in the construction of Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear facility, which was bombed by Israeli jets in Operation ORCHARD in 2007. Today, North Korea is among a small number of countries that maintain fully staffed embassies in Syrian capital Damascus. In September of this year, the government of Syria dedicated a park in the capital to Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s late leader.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 November 2015 | Permalink

Russian-Iranian alliance over Syria is not as strong as some believe

Rouhani PutinThe governments of Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are arguably the two most important allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the Russian-Iranian alliance over Syria is not as solid —and may not be as durable— as some believe. On Monday, Iranian news agency ISNA reported that Iran’s minister for intelligence condemned Russia’s increased military involvement in Syria and said it would weaken Iran’s security. The minister, Mahmoud Alavi, opined at a press conference in Tehran that the intensification of Russia’s military operations in Syria would backfire against Iran, because it would prompt the Islamic State to “redouble its efforts to destabilize Iran’s security”.

Alavi’s comments came two weeks after Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said that Iran cared about the stability of al-Assad’s regime in Syria more than Russia did. Jafari was responding to earlier comments made by Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said that Moscow would not insist in keeping al-Assad in power in Damascus as a matter of principle. When asked to comment on Zakharova’s comments, Jafari said Iran had to accept that Russia “may not care if al-Assad stays in power as we do”. The difference between Tehran and Moscow, said Jafari, was that “we don’t know any better person to replace him”.

So does that spell changes in the dynamics of the Russian-Iranian alliance over Syria? Such an eventuality should not be discounted, says Sergey Aleksashenko, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He explains that, although both the Russians and the Iranians have aided al-Assad, their reasons for doing so are very different. Russia’s interests in Syria center on maintaining access to its naval base in Tartus, and on retaining a geopolitical presence in the Middle East. Iran’s support for Assad aims to prevent Tehran’s traditional foes, namely Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, from turning Syria into their protectorate. Additionally, says Aleksashenko, Iran appears much more willing to deploy ground troops in the fight against ISIS than Russia. The Islamic Republic is also much more willing to go against the wishes of other regional powers, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which Moscow tends to court.

Ultimately, says Aleksashenko, “although Russia has strategic interests in Syria, it has no intention to keep a military presence in the Middle East forever”. The Iranians, however, have no choice but to dwell in one of the world’s most unstable regions. Al-Assad’s removal would add significantly to that instability, and that is not something that Tehran is willing to permit.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 November 2015 | Permalink

Boko Haram spy network is better than Nigerian state’s, says ex-Army chief

Boko Haram NigeriaA former Chief of Staff for the Nigerian Army has said that the intelligence capabilities of Islamist group Boko Haram are “100 percent better” than those of the Nigerian military and security agencies. The comments were made on Tuesday by Theophilus Danjuma, a retired lieutenant general in the Nigerian Army, who served as the Army’s chief of staff from 1975 to 1979. Danjuma was also minister of defense from 1999 to 2003, under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Speaking in the city of Sokoto, located in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northwest region, Danjuma claimed that Boko Haram insurgents relied on surveillance and intelligence-collection capabilities that were “far superior” to those of Nigeria’s state agencies.

Boko Haram is a Sunni Islamist group that is currently active in northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and northern Cameroon. The separatist group was founded in 2002 and has since launched an armed campaign aimed at establishing an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. In 2015, the group formally declared its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Sunni militant outfit that today controls much of Syria and northern Iraq. In response to the ascendancy of Boko Haram, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in several regions of northern Nigeria, which has since been extended to cover the entirety of the country’s predominantly Muslim regions. Nearly 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state, while over 2 million are estimated to have been internally displaced.

In the summer of 2014, Boko Haram gained control of Borno, Nigeria’s northernmost state, which borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The government of Nigeria responded with a full-scale military assault, with which which managed to regain control of most of Borno. In September of this year, the Nigerian military announced that it had captured or destroyed most of Boko Haram’s military bases in Borno. But Danjuma said on Tuesday that the war against Boko Haram is only now “entering its most critical stage”, as government forces are moving into territory previously controlled by the militant group. Instead of fighting government troops face-to-face, Boko Haram militants are “disappearing into the wider civilian population and “setting up sleeper cells” with the aim of “wreaking havoc on soft targets”, said the former defense minister.

In May of last year, intelNews cited reports claiming that the United States government was “not […] sharing raw intelligence data” on Boko Haram with the Nigerian state. It was believed at the time that the lack of intelligence-sharing between the US and Nigeria was due to concerns in Washington that the Nigerian military had been infiltrated by Boko Haram members and sympathizers. In 2013, the then-president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, admitted that the country’s security services had been compromised by Boko Haram agents.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 November 2015 | Permalink

Why is the US federal tax agency using phone interception devices?

Internal Revenue ServiceDocuments acquired by a newspaper show that the Internal Revenue Service, which is the United States government’s agency responsible for collecting taxes, has purchased devices used to intercept cell phone messages. Founded in 1862, the IRS is the revenue service of the US state, and operates as a bureau of the Department of the Treasury. But it also maintains a number investigative components, including the Criminal Investigation Division. The latter consists of between 3,000 and 4,000 personnel and is tasked with investigating and helping build cases for the prosecution relating to tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes.

Historically, the Criminal Investigation Division’s scope and tactics have been limited and rarely relied on telecommunications interceptions. But according to British newspaper The Guardian, the IRS purchased a number of Stingray devices in 2009 and 2012. Known also as IMSI catchers, Stingrays are portable communications-interception devices, which mimic the operation of cell phone towers. They gather data, including the phone numbers dialed, duration of phone calls and location of users, from cell phones that communicate with them. Some Stingray models are said to be able to intercept the content of telephone calls made by unsuspecting cell phone users.

According to The Guardian, the IRS made an initial order to purchase Stingray equipment in 2009 and repeated the request in 2012. At least 12 US federal agencies and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies use Stingrays for communications-interception purposes. But the London-based paper says this is the first time that the IRS has been found to be using the devices. It is unclear, however, what the IRS uses the Stingrays for. The Guardian said it contacted an IRS spokesman who refused to respond to questions on the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 October 2015 | Permalink

Russian subs looking for undersea Internet cables, say US officials

Undersea cableAn increased presence of Russian submarines near American territorial waters appears to correspond to the location of undersea Internet cables used for commercial and military communications, according to officials. Citing “more than half a dozen” American and European officials, including naval commanders and intelligence professionals, The New York Times said on Sunday that the United States Department of Defense was paying close attention to what it described as “significantly increased Russian activity” along known routes of the cables. The paper was referring to Russian underwater vessels, which Washington believes are equipped with technology designed to tap into the cables, or even to sabotage them, by severing them.

According to The Times, officials at the Pentagon believe that Moscow is less interested in tapping into the cables and more interested in mapping their location so that it can attack them during a hypothetical clash with the US. Superficially, the paper said that, according to US officials, the Russian Navy appeared to be seeking to locate the precise coordinates of the fiber-optic cables. The ultimate goal was to sever them “at some of their hardest-to-access locations” if Russia ever needed to disrupt the flow of communication to and from the US. The Russian submarines seem to be seeking some of the deeper locations of the undersea cable networks, which would make it harder for repair crews to locate and repair severed fiber-optic cables.

The New York Times said that, alongside commercial Internet cable networks, Russian submarines were looking for military networks, whose location is usually classified. The paper quoted a European diplomat, who said anonymously that Russian submarine patrols in American territorial waters had increased by nearly 50% since 2014. The level of activity of Russian submarines was now “comparable to what we saw in the Cold War”, said the diplomat.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 October 2015 | Permalink

Australian spy agency reviews gun policy after ‘drunken episode’ in Afghanistan

Australian Special Air Service RegimentThe use of firearms by Australian intelligence and security personnel stationed abroad is being reviewed following an incident in which an intoxicated special forces soldier pulled a gun on a spy in Afghanistan. According to reports in the Australian media, the review was conducted by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, a government-appointed office that monitors the conduct of Australian intelligence and security agencies.

It is believed that the Inspector General’s office began the investigation in 2014, shortly after it was made aware of the alleged incident in Afghanistan. According to unconfirmed reports, the incident involved two members of a “defence support team” who were stationed in Kabul. Defence support teams are highly secretive outfits that operate abroad and bring together members of Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) with officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) —the country’s primary external intelligence agency. Some reports suggest that a group of SAS soldiers had been drinking heavily at the embassy of Australia in the Afghan capital, and that one of them, who was heavily intoxicated, pointed a loaded handgun at a female ASIS officer, while verbally threatening her.

Cooler heads prevailed and the incident ended quickly. But it allegedly shook everybody who witnessed it, and it was quickly reported to the Inspector General. The watchdog promptly carried out an audit “to make sure guns were only being issued to foreign posts that really needed them”. Its written recommendations were circulated within ASIS earlier this week. However, the agency says it will not reveal the precise content of the Inspector General’s recommendations, because it could “prejudice [Australia’s] security relations with other counties” and place spies at risk.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 October 2015 | Permalink

Pinochet considered killing own spy chief to hide role in US bombing

Orlando LetelierThe president of Chile in the 1970s considered killing his own spy chief in order to conceal his government’s involvement in a terrorist attack in Washington DC, which killed two people, according to declassified memos from the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The target of the attack was Orlando Letelier, a Chilean economist who in the early 1970s served as a senior cabinet minister in the leftwing government of Salvador Allende. But he sought refuge in the US after Allende’s government was deposed in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973, in which Allende was murdered. He taught in several American universities and became a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington. At the same time, he publicly pressured the US to break off diplomatic and military ties with the Chilean dictatorship.

On September 21, 1976, Letelier died along with American IPS campaigner Ronni Moffitt, when the car they were in suddenly exploded in front of the embassy of Ireland in downtown Washington DC. It is believed that DINA, the Chilean secret police, carried out the bombing. In a private memorandum in 1987, the then-US Secretary of State George Schultz described the bombing as “the only clear case of state-supported terrorism that has occurred in Washington DC”. But the Chilean government, which at the time had friendly relations with the White House, refused to cooperate with the US investigation into the incident.

But declassified US government documents now show that the CIA had concluded that the Chilean government was indeed behind Letelier’s murder. Additionally, the bombing had been directly authorized by the country’s dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who had led the coup against Allende in 1973. Copies of the documents were personally delivered to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet last week by US Secretary of State John Kerry, as Santiago is seeking to reopen the investigation into the murders. They reveal that Manuel Contreras, head of DINA at the time of the bombing, told an American source that he had supervised the operation to murder Letelier’s under direct orders by General Pinochet. Additionally, according to the CIA documents, the Chilean dictator tried to sabotage the US investigation in to the bombing, and even contemplated killing Contreras in order to hide his personal involvement.

As intelNews has reported before, the US investigation led to the arrest of Michael Townley, an American professional assassin who had previously worked for the CIA. Townley was hired by DINA to help assassinate Letelier’s. He was extradited to the US by the Chilean government in 1978 after strong US pressure. He served just 62 months in prison, in return for agreeing to collaborate with US government investigators. Townley is currently said to be living under the US Witness Protection Program.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 October 2015 | Permalink


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