Analysis: Having taken Ramadi and Palmyra, ISIS is now unstoppable

ISIS forces in RamadiThe capture by Islamic State forces of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, on May 17, has given the organization a fortified urban base less than an hour’s drive from Baghdad. Its near-simultaneous takeover of the central Syrian city of Palmyra, points to the organization’s permanence and demonstrates its widening operational span, which now ranges from Western Libya to the Iranian border. Without an all-out war effort by outside forces, such as Iran, or the United States, it is difficult to see how the Islamic State could be stopped from permanently establishing itself as a major actor in the region. However, such an eventuality is extremely improbable, as no outside force appears willing to confront ISIS in a symmetrical way.

On Tuesday, Iraqi government forces launched a major offensive to recapture Ramadi from the Islamic State —which is widely referred to in the West as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Such an effort, however, will be extremely difficult and costly, both in terms of lives and material requirements. Ramadi is a sizable city of over 900,000 people —although several thousand civilians have left— and presents an attacker with an urban-warfare setting that can be extremely arduous to operate in. Moreover, Ramadi is a solidly Sunni city, with strong ties to the pre-2003 Iraqi military establishment that date back to the early days of Saddam Hussein’s rule. Even if they do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with ISIS, Ramadi’s Sunni inhabitants are bound to fight doggedly against the Iraqi army, which is currently dominated by Shiites. Thus, if ISIS decides to hold on to Ramadi for reasons of strategy, or to defend its prestige, it will be very surprising if the Iraqi army manages to recapture it. Even if ISIS is driven out of the city, most likely with significant Iranian and American assistance, there is no guarantee that the local population will be Q Quotepacified. Iraqi government forces will almost certainly face a protracted armed campaign by a mixture of heavily armed groups in the city. Some of these groups are led by ISIS, some are inspired by al-Qaeda, while others are motivated by a broader anti-Shiite sentiment, which is currently the predominant political ideology in Anbar Province.

On May 20, ISIS forces also captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The choice of target was neither spontaneous nor unexpected. Located right in the center of Syria, Palmyra forms one of two major land routes used by the government of Iran to transport military materiel to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah, which, like Iran, supports the Syrian government in Damascus, also acquires Iranian weapons through that route. The second main route, which passes through Deir el-Zor, and Raqqah, is already controlled by ISIS. Therefore, the Syrian regime, which depends largely on Iranian support for its survival, simply has to retake Palmyra if it wants to win its war against ISIS. The Islamists know this, however, and they will persistently resist any attempt by the Syrian troops to regain control of the city. As is typical in these situations, time will be crucial here. The more time ISIS has on its hands, the better it will be able to fortify and defend Palmyra. The Syrian military will most likely resort to bombing the city from the air, but this is not as easy as it used to be, because ISIS now has formidable antiaircraft capabilities. Moreover, at some point land forces will have to be used, and that is precisely where ISIS has the upper hand in Syria.

On Sunday, United States Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told CNN that, in his view, Ramadi fell to ISIS because “the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight”. Carter was right, except when he used the term “Iraqi forces”, he really meant Iraqi Shiites. There are currently almost no Sunnis left in the Iraqi Armed Forces. Most are unwilling to offer allegiance to a state that is dominated by Iran, which they see as not representing them, or indeed threatening their very existence. For that same reason, many Sunnis are now actively fighting in support of ISIS, or for Sunni tribes that Q Quoteare aligned to it. Iraqi Sunnis believe that if they lose the fight against the Iraqi military they will be extinct as a people, which explains why they are fighting with more zeal and determination than their Shiite compatriots.

Meanwhile the international anti-ISIS alliance is plagued by too many disagreements and political bad blood to be effective. The United States wants ISIS to lose, but no American president would consider sending large numbers of US troops back in the Middle East, after the fiasco in Iraq. Additionally, Washington does not want to be seen to cooperate with what is perhaps ISIS’ most formidable adversary, namely Iran. Saudi Arabia is nominally against ISIS, but it also knows that if ISIS loses in their war against the Iranians, the latter will simply dominate the region, and nobody in Riyadh wants this. Like Saudi Arabia, Turkey is ostensibly against ISIS, but it is also against the Kurds, who are currently being assisted by Iran to fight ISIS. It is therefore not assisting the war effort as much as it could.

This fragmentation within the anti-ISIS front will continue. It seems that everyone in the region is waiting for a new administration to emerge in Washington after the 2016 national elections, in the hope that the US will engage more directly in the war effort. However, unless ISIS directly attacks the US in a 9/11-type attack, it is difficult to see Washington taking a more active stance in this chaotic and unpredictable war. It is difficult to see this amidst the bloody suffering of the local people, but this war is in essence a multifaceted chess game, in which there are no genuine alliances. Every actor involved appears to be trying to promote their own narrowly defined national interests.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/05/27/01-1704/

Judge orders release of key testimony from Rosenberg spy case

Julius and Ethel RosenbergA United States district judge has ordered the release of the last major piece of sealed evidence in one of the most important espionage cases of the Cold War. The case led to the execution in 1953 of an American couple, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiring to spy for the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were arrested in 1950 for being members of a larger Soviet-handled spy ring, which included Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass. Greenglass later told a US court that he firmly believed the USSR should have access to nuclear technology and actively tried to give Moscow information on the Manhattan Project. Greenglass agreed to testify for the US government in order to save his life, as well as the life of his wife, Ruth, who was also involved in the spy ring. He subsequently fingered Julius Rosenberg as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, and Ethel as the person who retyped the content of classified documents before they were surrendered to their handlers. This piece of testimony from Greenglass was used as the primary evidence to convict and execute the Rosenbergs.

However, although historians are confident that Julius Rosenberg was indeed an active member of the Soviet spy ring, there are doubts about Ethel. Many suggest that her involvement with her husband’s espionage activities was fragmentary at best, and that she refused to cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an ill-judged attempt to protect her husband. The argument goes that Ethel was put to death as a warning to Moscow, as well as to intimidate other American spies, rather than on the basis of actual evidence of her involvement in espionage. Many years after the Rosenbergs’ execution, Greenglass claimed he had lied about Ethel’s role in the spy affair in order to protect his wife, who was the actual typist of the espionage ring.

The debate over Ethel Rosenberg’s fate will undoubtedly by rekindled by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s decision last week to unseal Greenglass’ testimony. The documents could not be made public while Greenglass was alive, because he objected to their release. But he died last year in a nursing home in New York, so his testimony can now legally be made available to the public. In making his decision known, Judge Hellerstein said Greenglass’ testimony was a “critical piece of an important moment in our nation’s history”. The United States government is legally permitted to block the release of the documents should it decide to do so. But when a White House spokesperson was asked about the subject by the Associated Press, she decline to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/05/26/01-1703/

Defectors provide rare glimpses of North Korean spy operations

Kim Dong-sikTwo high-profile North Korean defectors, who used to work for the country’s spy agencies, have spoken publicly about the use of espionage by one of the world’s most impenetrable intelligence communities. Kim Dong-sik and Kang Myong-do told American television network CNN last Friday that human intelligence officers —the technical term for spy recruiters— are highly sought after in North Korea. Kim said he was selected for special-operations training while he was still in high school, and in 1981 he was admitted to an elite intelligence academy in Pyongyang. While there, he was trained in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as in martial arts and underwater diving, among other skills. CNN did not elaborate on the identity of the North Korean agency that trained Kim, but it was almost certainly the Special Operation Force of the Korean People’s Army, which is believed to be among the largest such outfits in the world.

It was only after years of training, said Kim, that he was told he was going to be a spy. Most likely, that meant he was detailed to the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a military-intelligence agency that resembles the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. He told CNN that he was not permitted to be captured alive by adversary agencies, and that his loyalty to the North Korean regime would be questioned if he failed to commit suicide at the conclusion of an aborted mission. Kim said his first mission abroad took him to South Korea, where he helped exfiltrate a North Korean intelligence officer named Lee Sun-sil, who had been working in the South as a non-official-cover operative for over a decade. His second mission involved trying to recruit South Koreans who were believed to be sympathetic toward Pyongyang. In 1995, however, he was captured alive during his third mission to South Korea, after failing to commit suicide as per his operational instructions. For that, he said, his entire family was executed back in North Korea, though his claim is admittedly difficult to verify.

CNN spoke to another high-profile North Korean defector, Kang Myong-do, son-in-law of the country’s former Prime Minister, Kang Song-san, who died in 2007. Kang, who was once described by The New York Times as “the most damaging defector ever to escape from North Korea”, used to work for the United Front Department, a civilian intelligence outfit that is subordinate to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. He told CNN that there are probably “hundreds” of North Korean intelligence officers operating in the United States at any given point, and that their main goal is to “recruit Korean-Americans who lean towards supporting North Korea”. He added that Pyongyang sees intelligence officers as crucial assets in its confrontation with its adversaries, and that it treats them exceedingly well when they are loyal. In North Korea, “spies are treated on the same level as generals”, he said.

Analysis: The significance of Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf release

Osama bin LadenThe release this week of material from Osama bin Laden’s personal stack of books and documents, which were confiscated from his Abbottabad compound, is timely as it is important. The decision by the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to declassify the documents was almost certainly in response to recent claims that bin Laden was being kept under house arrest by the Pakistani intelligence services at the time of his assassination. American journalist Seymour Hersh, who made the allegations in the London Review of Books earlier this month, said that the Pakistanis were forced to give Washington permission to kill bin Laden once the CIA was able to confirm his presence in Pakistan.

By releasing the documents, the ODNI hopes to show that the al-Qaeda founder could not possibly have been under house arrest and still have been able to communicate with his al-Qaeda lieutenants. But there is a counterargument too, which rests on the view that al-Qaeda has been integrated into the command structure of the Pakistani intelligence services ever since the days of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s. According to this view, it would not have been especially difficult for bin Laden’s captors to permit him to maintain carefully supervised communications with his organization. This would have given the Pakistanis the benefit of monitoring the operational thinking of al-Qaeda, while at the same time dispelling any speculation about his rumored death, which was widespread in the decade prior to his actual demise. Additionally, the feeling one gets from reading Hersh’s article is that the Pakistanis’ arrangement with bin Laden was a cross between internment and protection, with the emphasis shifting from one to the other depending on the changing needs of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

The documents themselves are also revealing. They show that, almost to the end of his life, bin Laden continued to regard the United States as the foremost target of militant Islam. To that extent, it is interesting that the ODNI’s release includes almost no documents about Israel, Russia, India, or China. This points to a tactical prioritization of America as a target, and perhaps also a sense of vendetta that bin Laden himself held against his former allies in the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s. Moreover, the documents show that bin Laden continued to favor attacks designed to cause mass casualties, in the style of 9/11. Knowing that, and considering that no such attack took place against the United States after 9/11, one might logically conclude that al-Qaeda has been willing but unable to carry one out. Read more of this post

Russian whistleblower who died in 2012 may have been poisoned

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA Russian businessman, who died in London while assisting a Swiss probe into a massive money-laundering scheme, may have been poisoned with a substance derived from a highly toxic plant, an inquest has heard. Aleksandr Perepilichny was an influential Moscow investment banker until he fled Russia in 2009, saying that his life had been threatened after a disagreement with his business partners. A few months later, having moved to an exclusive district in Surrey, south of London, Perepilichny began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multi-million dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. The scheme, uncovered by a hedge fund firm called Hermitage Capital Management (CMP), and described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million. The case made international headlines in 2009, when one of its key figures, a CMP lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, died in mysterious circumstances while being held in a Russian prison. After Magnitsky’s death, Perepilichny said he too had been warned in no uncertain terms that his name featured on a Russian mafia hit list.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home after a three-day trip to France, Perepilichny went out to jog. He was found dead later that evening, having collapsed in the middle of a side street near his house. He was 44. A postmortem examination by police concluded that he had died of natural causes and pointed to the strong possibility of a heart attack. However, lawyers representing the late businessman’s family told a pre-inquest hearing on Monday that, according to new medical evidence, Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of a poisonous plant. The shrub-like plant, known as gelsemium, is extremely rare and mostly grows in remote parts of China. One of the lawyers, Bob Moxon-Browne, claimed at the hearing that gelsemium is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”. The Perepilichny family’s legal team said that further forensic tests are to be carried out, so that the claim of poisoning can be examined in more detail.

Nazi letter to one of history’s greatest double spies found in Tokyo

Richard SorgeA congratulatory letter sent by a senior Nazi official to Richard Sorge, a German who spied for the USSR, and is sometimes credited with helping Moscow win World War II, has been found in Japan. The letter was sent by Joachim von Ribbentrop, a senior German Nazi Party member and Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is directly addressed to Sorge, who was himself a member of the Nazi Party, but spied for the USSR throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

Born in Soviet Azerbaijan to a German father and a Russian mother, Sorge fought as a German soldier in World War I and received commendations for his bravery. But he became a communist in the interwar years and secretly went to Moscow to be trained as a spy by the Fourth Directorate of the Soviet Red Army, which was later renamed GRU —Soviet military intelligence. He then traveled back to Germany as a non-official-cover principal agent for the USSR, joined the Nazi Party and became a journalist for Die Frankfurter Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading newspapers at the time. When the paper sent him to Tokyo to be its Japan correspondent, Sorge struck a friendship with German Ambassador to Tokyo Eugen Ott, who eventually hired him as his trusted press secretary and advisor. It was from him that Sorge found out that Hitler was preparing to violate his non-aggression pact with the USSR, and promptly notified Moscow. His warnings, however, were dismissed as fantastical by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, whose government was caught by complete surprise by the eventual German onslaught. Several months later, when Sorge told Moscow that German ally Japan was not planning to invade Russia from the east, Stalin took the tip seriously. The information provided by Sorge partly allowed Stalin to move hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from the Far East to the German front, which in turn helped beat back the Nazi advance and win the war.

The letter was found by Yoshio Okudaira, a document expert working for Japanese antique book dealer Tamura Shoten in Tokyo. It was among a stack of World War II-era documents brought to the antique dealer by a resident of the Japanese capital. The documents belonged to a deceased relative of the man, who was reportedly unaware of their contents or significance. According to the Deutsche Welle news agency, the letter was addressed to Sorge on the occasion of his 43rd birthday, and is dated 1938. It was written by von Ribbentrop’s personal secretary and includes a signed black-and-white photograph of Hitler’s foreign-affairs minister. The accompanying note commends the double spy on his “exceptional contribution” to the Third Reich as press secretary of the German embassy in Tokyo.

Okudaira, the document expert who realized the significance of the letter, said it is of historical interest because it confirms the high level of trust that the Nazi Party had in Sorge, who was never suspected by Berlin or by his German colleagues in Tokyo of having any connection with the Soviet government. However, Sorge’s espionage was eventually uncovered by Japanese counterintelligence, who promptly arrested and tortured him severely, before executing him in November of 1941. In 1961, the Soviet government awarded him posthumously the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which was the country’s highest distinction during the communist era.

Al-Qaeda still a more serious threat than ISIS, says ex-CIA official

Al-Qaeda in YemenAl-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose the most serious unconventional threat to American security, despite the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, according to a former senior official in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Michael Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA, and served twice as the Agency’s acting director, did not deny that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, poses a significant threat to the security of the US. However, the militant group “is not the most significant threat to the homeland today”, he said. Morell made the comment while speaking on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, while promoting his new book, The Great War of Our Time: An Insider’s Account of the CIA’s Fight Against Al Qa’ida.

The former CIA official told his audience that the most serious unconventional threat to the US continues to come from three al-Qaeda groups, all of which remain far cogent and willing to engage the US on its home soil. According to Morell, the three groups consist of the so-called ‘al-Qaeda Central’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as its Syrian branch, known as the Khorasan Group, and its Yemen affiliate, which goes by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He added that the last three serious efforts to strike the US with the intent of causing mass casualties all came from AQAP. Morell was referring to the 2009 so-called ‘underwear bomber’ and the 2010 ‘ink-cartridge bomb plot’, as well as the ‘plastic suicide vest bomb pot’ in 2012, all of which were unsuccessful. The former CIA official said that, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has “the ability to bring down an airliner in the US tomorrow”. Most importantly, he added, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has shown willingness to confront America on its home soil.

Morell’s argument echoed similar comments expressed in September 2014 by the then-Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen. Olsen, who held the US’ most senior counterterrorism post until his retirement last year, opined at a forum in Washington that ISIS did not currently pose a direct threat to America or Western Europe. He added that the risk of a “spectacular, al-Qaeda-style attack” on American or European targets by ISIS was negligible, saying that ISIS was “significantly more limited than al-Qaeda”, especially in the run-up to 9/11.

German spies helped US find bin Laden, claims German newspaper

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence gave the United States a tip of “fundamental importance” about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, which helped the Americans locate him in Pakistan, according to a German media report. Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper, Bild am Sontag, said in its Sunday edition that the tip allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to corroborate separate intelligence tips pointing to the possibility that the wanted Saudi terrorist may have been hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Citing an unnamed “American intelligence official”, Bild said the tip was given to the CIA by its German equivalent, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, known in Germany as BND. It said the critical information originated from an agent handled by the BND inside Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). The agent was an officer of the ISI but had secretly worked as an agent of the BND “for years”, said the German newspaper.

The tip was eventually communicated by the Germans to the CIA, and was used by the American agency to corroborate information from a number of other sources, which eventually led to the decision to send a Special Forces team to kill the al-Qaeda leader. According to the German paper, the CIA was already leaning toward the view that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. However, the BND tip was “of fundamental importance” in enabling the CIA to make up its mind as to bin Laden’s whereabouts, said Bild. Moreover, the BND’s Pakistani agent allegedly told the German agency that the ISI leadership was protecting bin Laden while holding him under house arrest. If true, the Bild information would seem to confirm allegations made by American reporter Seymour Hersh and security expert R.J. Hillhouse that Pakistani leaders had secretly imprisoned the al-Qaeda founder in Abbottabad. The Bild article goes on to claim that German intelligence used its Bad Aibling Station listening posts to monitor the Pakistani government’s communications so as to help ensure that the planned American attack on bin Laden’s compound was not being anticipated by Islamabad.

However, in reporting on Bild’s allegations, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel questions the validity of the tabloid newspaper’s argument. Why, it asks, would the BND’s Pakistani agent approach his German handlers with the information about bin Laden’s whereabouts, instead of going directly to the Americans? Had the agent followed the latter course of action, he or she could have been able to claim the lucrative reward offered by the US Department of State in exchange for information that would help locate the al-Qaeda founder.

Syrian spy chief placed under house arrest by Assad, say sources

Bashar al-Assad (center) and Ali Mamlouk to his leftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Citing sources inside Syria’s presidential palace, a leading British newspaper has alleged that the director of Syria’s national intelligence agency has fallen out with the regime and is now under house arrest. Lieutenant General Ali Mamlouk, who heads Syria’s National Security Bureau, is known as a hardline supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He personally leads every major domestic-security operation in the country and is believed to be among the Syrian president’s most trusted advisers. In recent weeks, however, Mamlouk, who is one of the regime’s most publicity-prone figures, has not surfaced in the news or in any public venues. His absence has prompted intense speculation that he might be sick, under arrest, or even dead. Several news outlets in the Middle East hypothesized that the general, who is 69, is undergoing chemotherapy to combat a rapidly progressing cancer. Then, amidst growing rumors about Mamlouk’s health, the general was shown on state television (see photo) sitting by Assad’s side during a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation. But the footage only served to inflame speculation that the Syrian official was actually under house arrest, and that he was only brought out of his detention for the meeting with the Iranians, so as to help quieten rumors about an alleged growing rift within the regime’s inner circle.

On Monday, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph cited “sources inside the presidential palace” in Damascus, in claiming that Mamlouk was removed from his post in the National Security Bureau and is currently under house arrest in the Syrian capital. The paper said that the General had fallen out with the country’s president and had been organizing a military coup against him, prompted by his fierce opposition to Iran’s growing influence in Damascus. It is widely believed that Tehran’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War on the side of Assad is largely responsible for the regime’s military and economic survival. According to The Telegraph, most of the president’s economic and military advisers at the presidential palace are now Iranian.

But Syria’s alignment with Iran is creating a backlash among Assad’s inner circle, which consists of secular nationalists, liberal Alawites or Christians. As a result, says the paper, Assad is “struggling to keep together [his] inner circle”, as senior administration officials are “increasingly turning on each other”. Mamlouk was one such insider, who was disturbed by Iran’s rising influence in Syria. Prior to his arrest, says The Telegraph, the general was secretly communicating with Turkish intelligence through an intermediary.

Burundi president’s whereabouts unknown as coup unfolds

BurundiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Update, May 14, 1924 UTC: The BBC reports that President Nkurunziza has returned to Bujumbura. He claims that troops loyal to him “are in control of key locations” in the capital.

There was chaos last night in Burundi, as armed cells of coup plotters led by the country’s former intelligence chief claimed to have taken over power in the small but important Central African nation. General Godefroid Niyombare, who was ousted from his post as intelligence chief in February of this year, claimed in a public radio address to have led a successful “military uprising against the country’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza. As of last night, 20 people had been reported dead in capital Bujumbura, while over 200 had been injured and many more hundreds had been arrested by the coup plotters —most of them officials in President Nkurunziza’s administration. The headquarters of the country’s state-owned television and radio stations have been taken over by the coup plotters, while all private radio stations in the country appear to have been shut down. Online social media also seem to have been placed behind a firewall by the coup plotters. The Bujumbura international airport is closed, as are all border crossings into the country.

The alleged coup comes after nearly a month of daily protests in the capital and other major cities, against an attempt by President Nkurunziza to seek a third term in power. Such a move would violate the country’s constitution and has been criticized as unlawful by the African Union, the European Union and the United States. General Niyombare, the self-proclaimed leader of the coup, is thought to have been dismissed from his intelligence post in February for publicly opposing President Nkurunziza’s effort to extend his 10-year rule of the country.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the president, who was traveling by air to neighboring Tanzania for a regional summit when the coup broke out, remain unknown. Gunfire and explosions have been reported in Bujumbura, which is interpreted by observers as a sign that troops still loyal to Nkurunziza are defending the presidential palace, the ministry of defense and other strategic buildings in the capital. But the extent to which the plotters and the president have support within the armed forces remains unclear, and it is not known who is currently governing the country.

Burundi is the third largest target by Somali-based Islamist group al-Shabaab, and contributes the second-largest troop force to AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Should the government be deposed, the African Union will likely order all Burundian troops to return to their country.

N. Korean dictator had army chief publicly executed, say intel sources

Hyon Yong CholBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The head of the North Korean Armed Forces was publicly executed by a firing squad using antiaircraft fire, according to a briefing by South Korean intelligence officials. Representatives from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told reporters in Seoul last week that the execution took place on April 30 in the courtyard of a military academy in North Korean capital Pyongyang.

If the report is accurate, it would mean that Hyon Yong Chol, who led the country’s People’s Armed Forces, is no more. Hyon was considered a trusted advisor to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, who appointed him Minister of the People’s Armed Forces in the summer of 2014. Despite his impressive title, Hyon’s power was limited, as the head of the North Korean Armed Forces is largely a figurehead. True military power rests with the all-powerful Central Military Commission of the Korean Workers Party, and with the National Defense Commission, whose chairman, Kim Jong-Un, controls the military. Still, if the report of Hyon’s execution turns out to be accurate, it will point to the continuation of the power-struggle among different factions within the North Korean political and military hierarchy.

According to South Korean intelligence, Hyon was executed because he “dozed off” during a high-level meeting chaired by Kim, an act that was interpreted as proof of “disrespect and disloyalty”. However, there are suspicions that Hyon had directly challenged Kim on several occasions, and that the North Korean dictator suspected him of organizing an insurrection by members of the military. The NIS said during last week’s briefing that the execution was watched by “hundreds of senior North Korean officials” and that the firing squad made use of high-caliber artillery to kill Hyon, in order to make an example of his brutal killing.

It is worth noting that South Korean intelligence briefings on the North are not always accurate. Seoul claims that North Korean authorities have executed at least 15 senior officials in the past 12 months, among them Jang Song Thaek, uncle to the country’s leader, who was thought to be the second most powerful man in the country until his purported death in December 2013.

Ex-Soviet spy living in America comes out 25 years after Cold War

Jack Barsky, real name Albrecht DittrichBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Eastern Bloc spy, who still lives in the United States after arriving there in 1978 on orders of the Soviet KGB, has spoken out for the first time. The spy assumed a forged American identity and remained operational for a decade before abandoning his post and quietly blending into American suburbia, toward the end of Cold War. He spoke last weekend to CBS’ flagship investigative program 60 Minutes. He told the program that he now lives in the US as Jack Barsky, an identity he assumed soon after arriving in New York with a forged Canadian passport.

But his real name is Albrecht Dittrich, and he was born in communist-era East Germany. He was a PhD student in chemistry when, in 1970, he was approached by the Stasi, the East German secret police, and asked whether he would consider training as an intelligence operative. He accepted and trained for three years under the supervision of the Soviet KGB. In 1973, he was taken to East Berlin and detailed to the KGB for training as an operations officer. He was later transferred to Moscow, where he underwent a full year of phonetics training and was taught to speak English with “no trace of a German accent”, he says.

Soon after arriving in the US, in 1978, he acquired a social security card using a birth certificate issued for Jack Philip Barsky, an American child who had died at the age of 10 in the Washington, DC, area. He told everyone that he was born in Orange, New Jersey. He eventually enrolled in a Manhattan college, where he studied computer systems. His first job out of college was as a computer programmer for Metropolitan Life Insurance, commonly known as MetLife. While there, he stole computer code for the KGB, including “a very prominent piece of industrial software still in use today”, which was “helpful to the Soviet Union”, he says. Barsky traveled back to East Germany often, using a series of false passports. During one of those visits, he married his longtime girlfriend and had a son with her. But he also married in the United States, and had two children with his wife, so as to better blend into American society. The two families knew nothing of each other’s existence.

Then, in 1988, the KGB informed Barsky that he was to return home immediately because of fears that the Federal Bureau of Investigation may be closing in on him. But the spy disobeyed orders; he decided to abandon his post and continue living in the US. He lived a comfortable life in rural Pennsylvania, until 1997, when the FBI began monitoring him. His name had been provided to the US government by Vasili Mitrokhin, a retired archivist for the KGB, who in 1992 defected to Britain, taking with him several suitcases of classified KGB material. The FBI purchased a house next to Barsky’s and eventually bugged his home. The former KGB spy was arrested in May 1997, but struck a deal with the FBI and was spared a jail sentence in return for sharing everything he knew about his training, mission and operations with the Bureau. Today he still lives in the US. He is divorced, but says his life is in America, not in Germany.

Hersh: Pakistanis gave CIA permission to kill bin Laden

Osama bin LadenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Journalist Seymour Hersh has cited senior American intelligence officials in claiming that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a joint operation between the United States and Pakistan. In a lengthy article published over the weekend in The London Review of Books, the veteran investigative reporter suggests that Pakistan had kept the al-Qaeda founder in prison for several years in the city of Abbottabad. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate —known commonly as ISI— had planned to turn bin Laden over to the US in its own time, in a quid-pro-quo move. But the Pakistanis’ plan had to be scrapped when bin Laden’s hideout was betrayed to the Central Intelligence Agency by a former ISI officer, says Hersh. His assertion agrees with previous accounts of the US raid against bin Laden, offered by security expert R.J. Hillhouse in 2011, and earlier this year by Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, who led the ISI from 1990 to 1992.

The unnamed sources behind Hersh’s claims are an American “retired senior intelligence official” who was privy to early intelligence concerning bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Hersh also cites “information from inside Pakistan”, as well as two other sources from America, who have been “longtime consultants to the [US] Special Operations Command”.

The initial tip about bin Laden’s whereabouts came to the CIA in the form of a ‘walk-in’ —a term used to denote someone who voluntarily contacts an intelligence outpost, usually by simply walking into an embassy or consulate and asking to speak to the intelligence officer on duty. Hersh says the walk-in was a former high official in the ISI, who told the Agency’s Islamabad station that he could lead them to the al-Qaeda founder’s location. The retired official was successfully polygraphed and was eventually able to claim the $25 million reward offered by the US Department of State for bin Laden’s head. He and his family are now living in the Washington, DC, area, says Hersh.

The walk-in told the CIA that the compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was living was “not an armed enclave”, as Langley had initially assumed. Instead it was a prison and was under the complete control of the ISI. The latter had managed to capture bin Laden in the Hindu Kush Mountains in 2006, by paying off some of the local tribesmen who were sheltering him. Hersh also reiterates information previously reported by intelNews, namely that the government of Saudi Arabia had entered into an agreement with Islamabad to finance the construction and maintenance of bin Laden’s prison-compound in Abbottabad.

According to Hersh, the US government eventually informed Pakistan that it had uncovered and was incessantly monitoring bin Laden’s location. Along with threats, Washington offered the ISI commanders, who were in charge of bin Laden’s security, “under-the-table personal incentives” to agree to stand aside during a US raid on the compound. Under the final agreement, struck at the end of January 2011, the Americans promised to send in a small force that would kill bin Laden, thus sparing Islamabad and Riyadh the embarrassment of the al-Qaeda founder speaking out about his previously close relations with both governments. The Pakistanis even provided the CIA with accurate architectural diagrams of the compound. Accordingly, when the US forces went into Abbottabad in May of that year, “they knew where the target was —third floor, second door on the right”, says the retired US intelligence official quoted by Hersh.

The veteran journalist adds that the American planners of the operation knew well that bin Laden had been held in virtual isolation from the outside world for years, and that he was not “running a command center for al-Qaeda operations” from Abbottabad, as the White House later claimed. Consequently, the stories about “garbage bags full of computers and storage devices” that the US Navy SEALs brought back from the compound were false. Some of the SEALs took with them some books and papers found in bin Laden’s bedroom. But most of the material that was eventually acquired by the CIA was voluntarily provided to the Americans by the Pakistanis, who took control of the compound immediately after the SEALs left and eventually razed it.

France approves sweeping spy bill in response to Islamist attacks

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Lawmakers in the French National Assembly have overwhelmingly approved a new bill giving the country’s intelligence services unprecedented domestic spy capabilities. The bill, which is dismissed by critics as France’s version of the United States’ PATRIOT Act, was drafted by the ruling Socialist Party just days after a group of armed Islamists attacked several targets in Paris. The attacks were primarily directed against France’s popular satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (see photo). A dozen members of the magazine’s staff, including several internationally-known cartoonists, were killed at the magazine’s headquarters in the French capital on January 7 of this year.

The newly approved bill provides blanket-approval for the wholesale interception and storage of communications metadata, which include information about the location and size of Internet-based communications exchanges. They also include information on the identities of those sending or receiving electronic messages. The legislation also includes a provision for the establishment of a new supervisory body called the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques. Its mission will be to supervise the use of surveillance powers by France’s six intelligence agencies, as well as to handle complaints relating to communications interception from members of the public.

As the bill progressed through France’s houses of parliament, the French government and its supporters argued that the country needed national legislation that would take into consideration the rapid technical changes in digital telecommunications. But critics, which included most of France’s Internet service providers, claimed that the new law would give intelligence agencies unreasonably broad surveillance powers and would hamper online commerce. These claims, however, failed to convince lawmakers; the bill was thus approved by 438 votes for to 86 against. Most parliamentarians from France’s three main parties —the Socialist Party, the rightwing Union for a Popular Movement, and the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents— voted in favor of the bill. Observers noted with surprise that most lawmakers from the Radical Party of the Left also voted in favor of the bill. In contrast, the communist-led Left Front, as well as the Greens, voted overwhelmingly against the bill.

Colombian ex-spy head sent to prison over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In reporting on Hurtado’s sentencing, the Reuters news agency noted on Thursday that approximately “two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency […] have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes”. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that several senior Colombian justice officials have called for a wider investigation of Uribe himself and several of his top aides, for their role in the DAS wiretapping program.

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