New documents show US spied ‘on every major French company’

NSANew information published by international whistleblower website WikiLeaks seems to suggest that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) collected information on export contracts by French companies and sought inside information on France’s position in international trade negotiations. According to the website, which published the new material on Monday, the documents appear to suggest concerted efforts by Washington to obtain secret information about the economic policies of the French government and the country’s financial sector.

The WikiLeaks release contains a list of “Information Needs” (IN), which signifies collection requirements on France that are part of the US National Signals Intelligence Requirements List. The latter is updated regularly to reflect wide-ranging intelligence requirements put to the NSA by its customers, who include US policy makers and other members of the US Intelligence Community. The IN list is labeled “2002-204”, which means it was created in 2002 and has been updated ever since. The documents also include an “Essential Elements of Information” (EEI) list, which points to more narrow areas of interest that the NSA’s collection teams are instructed to focus on. The EEI list released by WikiLeaks includes France’s economic relations with the US and other Western countries and France’s dealings with international financial agencies and institutions. It also includes France’s international economic and trade policies, as well as its policy maneuvers in the G-8 and G-20 group of nations.

At one point, the EEI list appears to instruct NSA collection units to target every French-registered company involved in negotiations for international projects or other sales contracts valued at over $200 million. According to WikiLeaks, the target list would inevitably include every major French company, including car makers Peugeot and Renault, banking conglomerate BNP Paribas, as well as Credit Agricole, one of Europe’s leading agricultural credit unions.

Representatives of the US Intelligence Community do not deny spying on foreign companies. But they insist that Washington does not use information collected from such operations to benefit American companies competing for international contracts. However, the latest WikiLeaks revelations are bound to fuel speculation in Europe that US intelligence-collection priorities may include an economic component. Last week, US President Barack Obama had to personally assure his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, that he was not being spied on by the NSA, after WikiLeaks released documents showing that the American spy agency had targeted the communications of three successive French presidents.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/30/01-1725/

Global finance fears grow as Greece faces economic meltdown

GreeceSeveral Western countries issued travel warnings for Greece on Sunday, as the Greek government shut down all banks and imposed capital controls following the breakdown of talks between Athens and the European Union. British and American citizens traveling or living in Greece were advised to have enough cash on hand, as ATMs were quickly running out of currency. In a late-night televised address to the nation, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said banks would remain closed until July 6 –the day after Greeks vote in a nationwide referendum on whether to accept the bailout terms proposed to Greece by its creditors. Police tightened security around ATM machines, as lines were reportedly formed in petrol stations in the capital.

The decision to shut down the banks was taken after finance ministers in the eurozone –the a monetary union of 19 European Union (EU) member states that have adopted the euro as their common currency– rejected Athens’ request to prolong a financial-assistance program. The decision could prompt Greece to default on a €1.5 billion payment to the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s main creditors. Additionally, the European Central Bank, which oversees Greece’s banking system, refused on Sunday to infuse cash to the Greek banks, in order to accommodate the mass withdrawal of cash by panicked citizens. On Saturday, Greece’s Minister of Finance, Yannis Varoufakis, was not allowed to attend a eurozone meeting in Brussels –a historic first that could mean Greece is close to being kicked out of the eurozone and maybe even the EU as a whole.

Finance ministers of the 18 countries that attended Saturday’s meeting issued a joint statement pledging “to do whatever it takes to stabilize the common currency area” and shield it from possible domino effects caused by the Greek financial meltdown. However, it is difficult to predict what will happen to the financial markets if Greece declares a default, as some of the world’s largest banking institutions share ownership of the country’s mammoth €300 billion debt. Financial analysts warned that the euro will become “increasingly vulnerable” to ripple effects from the Greek crisis, while the London-based Financial Times crisis meeeting the developments in Greece were “expected to trigger a sharp reaction” in the world’s markets this week. The big question, said The Times, is whether the economic fallout from the latest dramatic developments would be limited to Greece or become “a global event”. There was no question, said the paper, that the markets were “at a critical juncture” and that investors were “taking the possibility of contagion very seriously”.

Meanwhile, several European countries announced they will be holding emergency meetings on Monday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited German party leaders to a crisis meeting, while the office of French President Francois Hollande said he would be holding a “restricted emergency cabinet meeting” to discuss the developments in Greece. The British government said its ministers were “taking steps” to protect the country from possible economic turbulence in the eurozone –of which the United Kingdom is not a member. British newspaper The Observer said in a lengthy editorial published on Sunday that the Greek crisis, coupled with rising tensions over immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, heightened terrorism fears, as well as the impending British EU referendum, were causing a “perfect storm [of] tension and division at Europe’s core”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/29/01-1724/

Calls in France to offer asylum, citizenship, to Snowden and Assange

Assange and SnowdenLeaders from all sides of the French political spectrum urged the French government on Thursday to offer political asylum, and even French citizenship, to the American defector Edward Snowden and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The calls were made in response to news earlier this week that the United States National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of three French presidents from the 1990s to at least 2012. The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what the website described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. As intelNews predicted on Wednesday, the French government’s response to the revelations has been relatively muted. But many French politicians, including one minister in the government of French President Francois Hollande, called for Paris to extend offers of political asylum, and even French citizenship, to Assange and Snowden.

The initial call was issued by Laurent Joffrin, the influential managing editor of Libération, the Paris-based newspaper that partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA documents earlier this week. In a leading editorial published in the paper on Thursday, Joffrin said that French protests against NSA spying “have no more effect than scolding a rude toddler”, and added that by offering asylum to Snowden, France would “stand up [to America] and send a clear and effective message to Washington”.

Shortly after Joffrin’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in the French Parliament, said that France should have given Snowden political asylum back in 2013, when he originally requested it. Lagarde was quoted in the French press as saying that “the French nation has already been dishonored by refusing to accept Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum when he asked for it in 2013”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist member of the European Parliament, agreed with Lagarde, adding that Assange and Snowden must not only receive political asylum in France, but also be given “the French nationality”.

On Thursday afternoon, Jean-Pierre Mignard, a close friend and longtime political advisor to President Hollande, said that “given the service they have rendered to the cause of human freedom, France could accommodate a request for asylum from Assange and Snowden, should they request it”. Mignard added that “French law allows the Republic to grant asylum to any foreign subject who faces persecution for taking action in favor of human freedom”.

When asked by BFM TV, France’s most popular news channel, whether political asylum could be extended to Snowden and Assange, France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said that she was “absolutely shocked by the idea”, because such a course of action would drive a powerful wedge between France and the US, two countries with deep historical ties. But she added that such a move would constitute a strong “symbolic gesture” against espionage, and thus remained on the table as a possible policy maneuver to be adopted by the government of France.

Late on Thursday, however, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls indicated that any discussion of an offer of asylum to Assange and Snowden by the government of France was premature. Speaking at a hastily organized press conference to discuss the NSA espionage revelations during an official visit to Colombia, Valls told reporters that the question of offering asylum to the two men “did not arise” during internal government talks. “And in any case”, said Valls, such an initiative “would not address the issue at hand”, namely American espionage against the French presidency. France’s goal is to extract guarantees from Washington that all espionage against French officials would stop, noted the French prime minister. If France offered asylum to Assange and Snowden, American espionage against French targets would likely reach unprecedented levels, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/26/01-1723/

French president calls crisis meeting to discuss US spy revelations

France Hollande ObamaThe president of France has convened an emergency meeting of the country’s highest national security forum in response to revelations that the United States spied on three French presidents. The Conseil de la Défense is to convene in Paris on Wednesday to discuss the emergence of documents that appear to implicate the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, who ruled France from 1995 to 2012. The documents further indicate that the NSA may have also targeted the personal communications of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what WikiLeaks described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. WikiLeaks would not indicate whether it acquired the documents from American defector Edward Snowden, who is currently living in Russia. But it said that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”.

The material –termed “Espionnage Élysée” by WikiLeaks– features a list of “selectors”, which includes French government telephone numbers targeted for interception. One of the numbers is identified as belonging to the president of France. The document collection also includes a handful of intelligence briefs, which are presumably based on intercepted communications from the telephone lines listed among the “selectors”. They detail the thoughts and diplomatic maneuvers by French presidents and other senior officials on subjects such as the Greek economic crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the United Nations.

French newspaper Liberation, which partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA material, said on Tuesday that the revelation should not surprise anyone in the post-Snowden era, but that it was still likely to cause a significant rift in French-American relations. In 2014, Germany expelled the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency in Berlin –essentially the highest-ranking American intelligence officer in the country– over revelations that the US spied on the personal communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Liberation contacted the NSA but was told by its spokesman, Ned Price, that the Agency was “not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations”. A spokesman from the Élysée Palace told the paper that an official statement would be issued following the Conseil de la Défense meeting on Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/24/01-1721/

Panel to present findings on mysterious death of UN secretary general

Dag HammarskjöldA panel of experts commissioned by the United Nations is about to unveil fresh evidence on the mysterious death in 1961 of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld, who some claim was murdered for supporting African decolonization. The evidence could spark a new official probe into the incident, which has been called “one of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century”.

On September 17, 1961, a Douglas DC-6 transport aircraft carrying United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in the British-administered territory of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The crash killed everyone onboard. Three successive investigations into the crash, conducted by the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation, viewed “pilot error” as the most likely cause of the tragedy. However, the latter probe, which was closed in 1962, opined that deliberate sabotage could not be ruled out as a likely cause of the tragedy.

Since that time, numerous scholars and independent investigators, such as Swedish development expert Göran Björkdahl and British academic Susan Williams, have raised the possibility that the plane carrying Secretary General Hammarskjöld may have been “shot down by an unidentified second plane”. Several commentators have also pointed to what seemed like eagerness by British colonial administrators in Northern Rhodesia to obscure the details of the incident. One argument is that Hammarskjöld, described as the most independent-minded secretary general in the history of the UN, had angered many world powers due to this fierce support for anti-colonial movements that were sweeping the African continent. Indeed, at the time of his death, Hammarskjöld was flying to the Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga region to meet European-supported chieftains who in 1960 had seceded from the Marxist government of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Ironically, Lumumba had been assassinated in a Western-backed coup exactly eight months before Hammarskjöld’s own death.

In 2012, the independently funded Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust appointed an international team of jurists to study all available evidence on the plane crash. The team, called the Hammarskjöld Commission, was composed of a diplomat and three judges from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Sweden. The Commission reported in 2013 that “significant new evidence” had emerged, which suggested that American intelligence agencies, notably the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, held “crucial evidence” that could help clarify the causes of the crash.

The report by the Hammarskjöld Commission prompted the UN’s current Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to appoint a UN-sponsored panel of experts to examine the new evidence and present it before the UN General Assembly. The three-member panel traveled to several countries, including Zambia, the US, Britain and Belgium, to access government, as well as private archives. Its report is expected to be delivered to the UN General Assembly this week. It is said to include written testimony by a Belgian pilot who says he shot down the plane carrying Hammarskjöld by error, while trying to divert it on orders by a government entity. Another witness, a former intelligence officer with the US National Security Agency, is believed to have told the UN experts that he listened to a recording of a pilot who said he shot down the UN Secretary General’s plane.

Once this new evidence is presented, the UN General Assembly will have to vote on whether the UN should hold an official probe into the plane crash. It would mark the first such inquiry since 1962.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/21/01-1719/

German parliament may sue government to access British spy files

Angela Merkel and David CameronA German parliamentary committee investigating spying operations may take the German government to court in order to force it to give up secret documents on Berlin’s intelligence cooperation with Britain. The Committee of Inquiry into Intelligence Operations was set up in 2014, after files leaked by American defector Edward Snowden revealed 1 that the United States had been spying on the telephone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the scope of the committee expanded earlier this year, when it emerged that, while being spied upon by the US and Britain, Germany also collaborated 2 with American and British intelligence agencies in order to spy on France and other European countries.

Last week, the German Office of the Federal Prosecutor concluded 3 its criminal investigation into alleged espionage operations by the US National Security Agency against Chancellor Merkel. German officials said they had to drop the probe because of the unwillingness of US government officials to share information on the subject. But the parliamentary committee continues the inquiry on the related subject of Germany’s intelligence cooperation with the Britain and the US. The committee’s chairman, Dr. Patrick Sensburg, said on Thursday that his team of investigators would consider “going to court” in order to force the German government to release all relevant documents. Speaking 4 to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Dr. Sensburg said that the parliamentary inquiry had a right to investigate intelligence cooperation between Berlin and London.

However, as intelNews reported 5 in February, the British government is said to have warned Germany that all intelligence cooperation between the two countries will be terminated should classified information about British intelligence operations be shared with an inquiry. Dr. Sensburg was asked by The Telegraph whether reports of the British warnings were true, but he responded that he was unable to comment on the matter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/18/01-1718/


  1. J. FITSANAKIS “US surveillance or Merkel’s phone prompts angry German reaction” intelNews [24oct2013] 
  2. J. FITSANAKIS “Airbus to sue Germany for helping US spy on its operations” intelNews [01may2015] 
  3. T. SCHLEIFER “Germany drops probe into U.S. spying on Merkel” cnn [13jun2015] 
  4. J. HUGGLER “German spy inquiry could demand access to British secrets” The Daily Telegraph [18jun2015] 
  5. J. FITSANAKIS “Britain threatens to stop intelligence cooperation with Germany” intelNews [13feb2015] 

Australian spies use paid informants abroad to stop human smuggling

ASISAustralian law enforcement and intelligence agencies routinely use paid informants in Indonesia and Pakistan as part of a decade-old covert war against human traffickers in the Indian Ocean. This information has been revealed by The Australian newspaper in response to reports 1 last week that Australian authorities paid traffickers to turn around a boat transporting asylum-seekers to the country. After the reports came out, many members of the opposition Australian Labor Party blasted the government for bribing human traffickers, and calling the practice “disgraceful” and “unsustainable”. But new information published on Monday shows that, when the Labor Party was in government, it instructed the country’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies to recruit and pay informants from within the human-trafficking networks abroad.

According 2 to The Australian, the use of paid informants is part of a wider secret war between the Australian intelligence and security agencies and the trafficking networks, which began in 2001. This “covert war”, said the paper, is meant to identify the structure and operations of human-trafficking syndicates and stop the constant flow of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to Australia. According to the paper, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) was the first Australian government agency to begin the practice. It was followed in 2005 by the Australian Federal Police, which also began stationing officers abroad and tasking them with running networks of informants. In 2009, ASIS received $21 million (US$16.5 million) from the Australian government to develop networks of agents in several countries where large human-smuggling cartels are known to operate. The agency used the funds to station officers in several Indonesian cities, as well as in Pakistani capital Islamabad, where it operates in coordination with the Federal Investigations Agency of Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior.

The Australian quoted an unnamed Australian intelligence official who had access to the intelligence reports from the ASIS anti-smuggling operations. He told the paper that the use of informants who are members of smuggling gangs was the only effective way of eventually “collapsing these networks”. Meanwhile, the government of Australia has refused comment on the allegations of bribing human smugglers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/17/01-1716/


  1. B. LAGAN “Australia accused of bribing smugglers to take refugees away” The Times [13jun2015] 
  2. C. STEWART “Spies, police have paid Indonesian informers for years” The Australian [16jun2015] 

Murder suspect to give evidence on death of ex-KGB spy in London

Alexander LitvinenkoA Russian former intelligence officer, who is accused by the British government of having killed a former KGB spy in London, has agreed to testify at a public inquiry to be held in the British capital next month. British government prosecutors believe Russian businessman Dmitri Kovtun, who worked for the KGB during the Cold War, poisoned his former colleague in the KGB, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006. Litvinenko was an officer in the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, until 2000, when he defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as a vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting Kovtun and another former KGB officer, Andrey Lugovoy, at a London restaurant. He was dead less than two weeks later.

In July of 2007, after establishing the cause of Litvinenko’s death, which is attributed to the highly radioactive substance Polonium-210, the British government officially charged 1 Kovtun and Lugovoy with murder and issued international arrest warrants for their arrest. Soon afterwards, Whitehall announced the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from London. The episode, which was the first public expulsion of Russian envoys from Britain since end of the Cold War, is often cited as marking the beginning of the worsening of relations between the West and post-Soviet Russia.

Since 2007, when they were officially charged with murder, Kovtun and Lugovoy deny the British government’s accusations, and claim that Litvinenko poisoned himself by accident while trading in illegal nuclear substances. The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to extradite the two former KGB officers to London, and has denounced the British public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death as “a sham”. However, last March Kovtun unexpectedly wrote to the presiding judge at the inquiry, Sir Robert Owen, offering to testify via a live video link from Moscow. On Monday, Sir Robert issued a statement 2 saying an agreement had been struck between Kovtun and the inquiry, and that the Russian businessman would testify from Moscow, “most likely towards the end of next month”. Kovtun is expected to confirm that he met Litvinenko in London on the day the former KGB spy fell ill, but to insist that he had no role in poisoning him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/16/01-1715/

In surprise move, US Congress may slash funding for CIA ops in Syria

CIAAmerican Congressional lawmakers have voted to cut funding for the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret operations in Syria, in a surprise move that indicates growing concern on Capitol Hill with Washington’s strategy on the Syrian Civil War. The CIA’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War began in 2012, when US President Barack Obama issued 1 a classified presidential finding that authorized Langley to arm and train opposition militias. The clandestine program was initially based in training camps in Jordan, before eventually expanding to at least one location in Qatar. Currently, the CIA’s secret involvement in the Syrian conflict is said 2 to be among the Agency’s most extensive covert operations in the world, and comes at an annual cost that is nearing $1 billion.

But this amount may be cut by as much as 20 percent if the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the US House of Representatives has its way. According to The Washington Post 3, the Committee recently voted to reduce the Agency’s classified funds for the Syria operation as a way of expressing its “concern with [US] strategy in Syria”. It is perhaps indicative of the displeasure on Capitol Hill with Washington’s current policy on Syria that the Committee voted unanimously to slash the CIA’s funding. The Post even quoted the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Adam B. Schiff (CA), who said there was “growing pessimism” among Committee members, who felt that the US would not be in a position to “help shape the aftermath” of the conflict in Syria.

The surprise move by the Congressional intelligence panel will need to be ratified by the House, which will vote on a preliminary intelligence-spending bill this week. The Post said that the measure “provoked concern” in the White House, while CIA officials warned that slashing the CIA’s funding for its Syria operations could seriously hurt rebel groups that are being backed by the US. One unnamed US intelligence official told the paper that Russia and China would continue to fund the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as Congress decided to defund the CIA’s operations in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. The White House declined to respond to questions about the vote.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/15/01-1714/


  1. J. Fitsanakis “Obama authorizes CIA to conduct ‘non-lethal covert action’ in SyriaintelNews [03aug2012] 
  2. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015] 
  3. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015] 

Israel denies using computer virus to spy on Iran nuclear deal

Duqu 2.0The Israeli government rejected reports yesterday that its spy agencies were behind a virus found on the computers of three European hotels, which hosted American and other diplomats during secret negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab said on Wednesday that it first discovered the malware, which it dubbed “Duqu 2.0”, in its own systems. The Moscow-based firm said the sophisticated and highly aggressive virus had been designed to spy on its internal research-related processes. Once they detected the malicious software in their own systems, Kaspersky technicians set out to map Duqu’s other targets. They found that the virus had infected computers in several Western countries, in the Middle East, as well as in Asia. According to Kaspersky, the malware was also used in a cyberattack in 2011 that resembled Stuxnet, the elaborate virus that was found to have sabotaged parts of Iran’s nuclear program in 2010.

However, Kaspersky said that among the more recent targets of the virus were “three luxury European hotels”, which appear to have been carefully selected among the thousands of prestigious hotels in Europe. The three appear to have only one thing in common: all had been patronized by diplomats engaged in the ongoing secret negotiations with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Kaspersky was referring to the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, who lead ‘the Geneva pact’. Israel has condemned the negotiations and has repeatedly expressed anger at reports that the Geneva pact is about to strike an agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program.

However, Israel’s deputy foreign minister flatly rejected Kaspersky’s allegations on Wednesday, calling them “pure nonsense”. Speaking on Israel Radio, Eli Ben-Dahan said Israel had “many far more effective ways” of gathering foreign intelligence and that it did not need to resort to computer hacking in order to meet its intelligence quotas. Israeli government spokespeople refused to comment on the allegations when asked late Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/11/01-1713/

CIA chief paid secret visit to Israel ahead of Iran nuclear deal

John BrennanThe director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency visited Israel in secret last week to discuss the Jewish state’s refusal to endorse an emerging deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Citing “two senior Israeli officials”, the Tel Aviv-based Israeli newspaper Haaretz said on Tuesday that CIA Director John Brennan arrived in Israel last Thursday. Although he was officially hosted by Tamir Pardo, director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Brennan used the opportunity to hold secret meetings with several senior Israeli officials, said Haaretz. Among them were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, as well as Major General Hartzl Halevi, who heads Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

According to Haaretz, Brennan’s visit to Israel had been planned “long ahead of time”, and should not be interpreted as a sudden diplomatic move from Washington. However, it came just weeks ahead of a deadline for a far-reaching settlement next month between Iran and six world powers over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. If successful, the much-heralded deal will mark the conclusion of ongoing negotiations between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Israel, however, has strongly criticized the negotiations, referred to as ‘the Geneva pact’. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the pact a “historic mistake” that would enable “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”.

It is not known whether Brennan brought with him a message from US President Barack Obama addressed to the Israeli Prime Minister, said Haaretz. On Monday, just 72 hours after Brennan’s departure, another senior American official landed in Tel Aviv —openly this time. It was General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was hosted by his Israeli counterpart, General Gadi Eisenkot. Like Brennan before him, General Dempsey met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon. Haaretz contacted the CIA about Brennan’s secret visit to Israel, but an Agency spokesperson refused to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/10/01-1712/

Swiss reject contract bid by UK-owned internet firm over spy fears

UPC CablecomThe Swiss federal government has rejected a multi-million dollar contract bid by one of the world’s largest broadband Internet service providers, saying it is foreign-owned and could serve as “a gateway for foreign spies”. The company, UPC Cablecom, is headquartered in Zurich, is subject to Swiss law, and is currently the largest broadband cable operator in Switzerland. However, in 2005 it became a subsidiary of the UPC Broadband division of Liberty Global Europe, an international telecommunications and television company based in London, England. It is therefore technically considered a foreign company according to Swiss law. In 2013, UPC Cablecom submitted a bid for a competitive contract to provide broadband Internet services to Swiss government agencies. But in January 2014, the company was informed by Swiss officials that such a contract could not be awarded to a foreign-owned telecommunications service provider such as UPC Cablecom.

Until last week, it had been generally assumed that the decision to exclude UPC Cablecom’s bid on the basis of the company’s foreign ownership had been taken by the officials in charge of evaluating the contract. However, on Friday of last week, the Swiss daily Berner Zeitung reported that the decision to drop UPC Cablecom’s bid had been taken by no other than the Swiss Federal Council. Consisting of seven members representing various cantons and political parties, the Federal Council serves as Switzerland’s collective head of government and effectively operates as the country’s head of state. It was the Federal Council, said Berner Zeitung, that intervened in the contract evaluation proceedings and instructed the Swiss Federal Department of Finance to exclude bids by foreign-owned companies. The argument was that such companies could serve as “potential gateways for foreign intelligence constituencies”, said the paper. It added that the decision had been taken in light of information revealed by American former intelligence operative Edward Snowden, who is currently living in Russia.

The ruling by the Federal Council meant that Swisscom became the sole bidder for the government contract, which is worth 230 million Swiss francs (US $378 million). Meanwhile, UPC Cablecom has filed a complaint with Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court, claiming that the Federal Council abused its power by intervening in the service contract. The Court’s decision is not expected for several months.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 9 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/09/01-1711/

Israel, Saudi Arabia, acknowledge holding secret talks on Iran

Dore Gold and Anwar Majed EshkiRepresentatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have publicly admitted for the first time that they met secretly to discuss their common foe Iran, even though Saudi Arabia does not officially acknowledge Israel’s existence. The admission was made at a symposium held on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign-policy think tank based in Washington, DC.

According to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, who covered the event, it featured speeches by Saudi General (ret.) Anwar Majed Eshki, and Israeli career diplomat Dore Gold. Eskhi is a former adviser to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Gold is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, and is currently seen as a strong candidate to lead Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lake notes that Eshki gave his speech in Arabic, Gold gave his in English, and that no questions were taken from the audience.

At least five meetings appear to have taken place between senior Israeli and Saudi officials since early 2014, in secret venues located in Italy, India and the Czech Republic. The main purpose of the clandestine meetings was to discuss what Tel Aviv and Riyadh see as Iran’s increasingly powerful role in Middle Eastern affairs, and to explore ways of stopping Tehran from building nuclear weapons.

The admission of the secret meetings between Israeli and Saudi diplomats will not come as a surprise to seasoned Middle East observers. Many have suspected that the two countries, who have historically been bitter enemies, have sought to collaborate behind the scenes against Iran. However, as Lake correctly points out, this week’s acknowledgement is the first time that this collaboration has been openly admitted by the two sides. He quotes one participant at Thursday’s symposium, Israeli General (ret.) Shimon Shapira, who says that Tel Aviv and Riyadh have also discussed “political and economic” means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This admission, however, does not mean that the Saudis are about to recognize Israel, or that the Israelis are any closer to accepting the Saudis’ 2002 Arab-Israeli peace plan, which Tel Aviv has flatly rejected, says Lake. Admittedly, the rising power of Iran can only do so much to bring Israelis and Arabs closer.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/05/01-1709/

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, especially since no outside force appears willing to confront it directly.

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/

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