New study documents views of defectors from Islamic State

Islamic State convoy in SyriaA new study by a British-based organization details for the first time the views of dozens of former Islamic State fighters who have defected from the group in the past year. The study shows that most defectors were disillusioned after witnessing high levels of corruption among Islamic State members, or in response to the extreme violence perpetrated by the group against other Sunni Muslims. The research was carried out by the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR), which said it gathered the publicly expressed views of nearly 60 Islamic State members who left the organization between August 2014 and August 2015.

According to ICSR Director Peter Neumann, who authored the report (.pdf), just over 30 percent of the defectors from the Islamic State are Syrian citizens, while one in four were born in other Middle Eastern countries. Neumann told a press conference held in London on Monday that many of the defectors saw life under the rule of the Islamic State as too austere. They also believed that the group was too unforgiving against fellow Sunni Muslims who did not agree with its stern doctrine. Some of the defectors complained that Islamic State commanders were more interested in launching attacks against other Sunni rebel groups than against the government of Syria, which is ostensibly the Islamic State’s foremost rival. Additionally, some defectors said that Islamic State commanders were obsessed and paranoid about alleged traitors and spies within the group’s ranks, and that they often ordered the execution of Islamic State fighters based on little or no evidence.

A smaller number of defectors said they had experienced racism from other Islamic State members, while others said that combat duties under Islamic State command was neither action-filled nor heroic. Moreover, luxury goods looted from civilians were rarely handed down to regular Islamic State troops by their commanders. Some defectors also stated that non-Arab fighters were used “as cannon fodder” by the Islamic State in battles that took place in Syria and Iraq. Neumann told reporters on Monday that the ICSR study challenged the portrayal of harmony and dedication that the Islamic State had carefully cultivated on social media.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2015 | Permalink

Russia jails ex-military intelligence employee for contacting Swedish company

Tselina satelliteA court in Moscow has sentenced a former employee of Russia’s military intelligence agency to a lengthy prison term for seeking to work for a Swedish engineering firm. Gennady Krantsov worked for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, from 1990 to 2005. As a radio engineer, he is believed to have worked on a number of projects relating to satellite technology. The terms of his government contract reportedly forbade him from travelling outside Russia. He was also forbidden from participating in intelligence-related engineering projects for foreign governments or the private sector for a minimum of five years after leaving the GRU.

But he was arrested last year by Russia’s Federal Counterintelligence Service, known as FSK, allegedly for sending a letter to a Swedish engineering company seeking work. In 2013, when the FSK first questioned Kravtsov, it was told by the former GRU engineer that his letter to the Swedish firm contained no state secrets. Additionally, Kravtsov was not found to have received any funds from the Swedes. But the counterintelligence agency returned to arrest Kravtsov in 2014, claiming that a polygraph test he had taken showed that he had shared classified material with foreign agents. According to Russian government prosecutors, Kravtsov gave the Swedes information about Tselina-2, a military radio surveillance system designed to detect the location and activity of radio-emitting objects from space.

Kravtsov was convicted of state treason and stripped of his GRU rank of lieutenant colonel. He was sentenced on Monday to 14 years in a maximum-security penal colony. The judge said that he had violated his promise not to reveal information about his GRU-related work to foreign government officials. His lawyers, however, complained that the case had been held completely behind closed doors and that they had not been permitted to call witnesses or examine material that was central to the case.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 September 2015 | Permalink

MI6 spy found dead in 2010 may have used female disguise, says expert

Gareth WilliamsA British intelligence officer, who was found dead in his London apartment in 2010, was not a transvestite, as some media reports have speculated, but probably worked undercover dressed as a woman, according to a leading forensic investigator. Gareth Williams, a mathematician in the employment of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, had been seconded to MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, to help automate intelligence collection. He had also worked with several United States agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. But his career came to an abrupt end in August 2010, when he was found dead in a padlocked sports bag at his home in Pimlico, London.

The discovery of £15,000 ($20,000) worth of women’s clothing in Williams’ apartment caused some in the British media to speculate that sexual jealousy may have behind the spy’s death. British tabloid The Sun suggested at the time that Williams was “a secret transvestite who may have been killed by a gay lover”. There were also reports that police investigators themselves suspected that Williams’ death may have been the result of “a sex game gone wrong”. This appeared to be substantiated by the discovery that Williams had visited gay bars and drag nightclubs in London in the weeks before his death. Subsequent reports, however, suggested that law enforcement investigators described Williams’ death as “a neat job”, a term used to refer to professional killings. There have also been official denials by police that Williams’ murder was sex-related.

Now a leading forensic investigator has said that Williams was not a transvestite and that he probably dressed in women’s clothing for his job with MI6. Peter Faulding, who specializes in deaths within confined spaces, and has advised British and American law enforcement agencies, has previously spoken publicly against the theory that Williams locked himself in the bag. He said he tried without success to lock himself in the same type of bag 300 times before discounting the self-lock theory. Faulding spoke again to The Sun last week, this time to suggest that there is no evidence that the late MI6 spy was a transvestite. “The key question never asked was: were these clothes used for his job?” he said, referring to the feminine attire found in Williams’ apartment. He told The Sun that the clothes were “used for work, rather than pleasure”. “I am certain he made a very convincing female”, said Faulding. “He was slim, with feminine features, and as a cyclist he shaved his legs”.

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

‘End of an era’ as feared Algerian spy chief is removed from office

Mohamed MedièneIn an unprecedented development described by local media as the “end of an era”, the longtime director of Algeria’s main intelligence agency, and one of the country’s most powerful figures, has been removed from office. Until last Sunday, General Mohamed Mediène was described as the world’s longest-serving intelligence chief, having led Algeria’s Department of Intelligence and Security since 1990. Known by its initials, DRS, the organization grew rapidly in size and power during the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s. After an electoral victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was quashed in a military-led coup, General Mediène took advantage of the country’s fragile security situation to strengthen the DRS and his own political influence. He became a staunch ally of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and created what some have called “a state within a state”.

The general cultivated an aura of mystique, going to great pains to avoid publicity. His name did not appear in print until 2014, while a photograph of him was published for the first time in an Algerian paper on Sunday. According to The New York Times, Mediène’s many critics claim that he was able to hang on to power for so long by systematically “blackmailing politicians and other public figures” throughout his tenure. But the General’s removal from DRS was announced unexpectedly on Sunday, ostensibly in fulfilment of President Bouteflika’s stated goal of imposing more civilian control of the Algerian military. Mediène’s sudden removal follows the arrest in August of a number of other senior intelligence figures, including General Abdelkader Ait-Ouarabi, who served as DRS’s senior counterterrorism official for two decades under Mediène.

Many believe that the removal of DRS’ senior leadership was sparked by a widening rift between Bouteflika and Mediène. Last year, when Bouteflika announced that he would run for a fourth term, Mediène let it be known that he did not approve of the president’s decision. The ailing leader, who is 78, suffered a severe stroke in 2013, and has avoided public appearances since that time, giving rise to constant rumors about possible successors, or even machinations for coups by members of the armed forces. The Reuters news agency reported on Sunday that General Mediène has been replaced by General Athmane Tartag, who has served as President Bouteflika’s security advisor for several years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2015 | Permalink

Pakistani spies fear up to 100 million citizen records may have been stolen

NADRAA report by Pakistan’s main intelligence agency warns that the personal records of up to 100 million Pakistanis may have been stolen by foreign intelligence agencies due to the alleged links of a software vendor with Israel. The Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s premier spy agency, said that the software used by the National Data base and Registration Authority (NADRA), which issues national identity cards on behalf of the government of Pakistan, is not secure and should be replaced by an “indigenous” software product.

Established in 1998 as the National Database Organization, NADRA operates under Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior. Its main mission is to register and fingerprint every Pakistani citizen and supply every adult in the country with a secure Computerized National Identity Card. This has proven to be a Herculean task in a country of 182 million, of whom just over half are over the age of 18. Consequently, the NADRA electronic database contains files on over 96 million Pakistanis, making it one of the world’s largest centralized databases.

But the ISI warned in a recently authored report that the NADRA database may have been compromised through the software that the agency uses to digitize and store fingerprints. According to the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune, which published a summary of the ISI report on Monday, “the thumb-digitiser system [used by NADRA] was purchased from a French company of Israeli origin”. The report refers to the Automatic Finger Print Identification System, known as AFIS, which NADRA has been using since 2004. The software was purchased for close to $10 million from Segem (now called Morpho), a leading global vendor of identity software. The company is based in France, but the ISI report states that has connections with Israel, a country that Pakistan does not officially recognize and has no diplomatic relations with. Because of that, says the ISI report, the entire content of NADRA’s database may have been accessed by the Israeli Mossad, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, India’s Research and Analysis Wing, and other spy agencies seen as “hostile” by Islamabad.

Officials from NADRA refused to respond to the Express Tribune’s allegations, or to acknowledge that the ISI had indeed contacted the agency with concerns about the AFIS database. But a NADRA senior technical expert, who spoke anonymously to the paper, claimed that the ISI’s concerns were unfounded, since NADRA’s servers were not connected to the World Wide Web and were therefore impossible to access from the outside. Another NADRA official told the Express Tribune that Segem was the only international vendor of fingerprint recognition systems in 2004, when NADRA purchased the software product. Additionally, the Ministry of the Interior successfully sought ISI’s approval prior to purchasing the software. Last but not least, NADRA officials pointed out that the Pakistani Armed Forces are also using Segem software products.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 September 2015 | Permalink

Obama delegation switches hotels allegedly due to espionage fears

Waldorf AstoriaThe president of the United States and his delegation will be housed at a different hotel during a United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month, allegedly due to concerns over Chinese espionage activity. Since the late 1940s, the American president and his diplomatic entourage have resided at the Waldorf Astoria for several days in September, while attending the annual UN General Assembly in New York. The luxury hotel, which is located on Park Avenue on the island of Manhattan, has also served since 1947 as the residence of the US ambassador to the UN. That is also why the American delegation is usually hosted there, courtesy of the ambassador. This year, however, President Barack Obama and his sizeable delegation will be staying at the New York Palace Hotel, located at the corner of Manhattan’s 50th Street and Madison Avenue. The announcement was made last week by the White House and the US Department of State.

According to The Associated Press and The New York Times, the decision to relocate the American high-level delegation is primarily due to security concerns. The reports cited well-placed sources in the US government as stating that the relocation was prompted by the sale last year of the Waldorf Astoria to the Chinese firm Anbang Insurance Group. The McLean, VA-headquartered Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., which sold the hotel to the Chinese firm, pocketed nearly $2 billion from the transaction. Based on the terms of the agreement, the American company will continue to operate the Waldorf Astoria until 2114. But Anbang announced last spring that the hotel would be undergoing a massive renovation program, which, according to media reports, has alarmed American counterintelligence officials. The latter are concerned that Chinese intelligence technicians may use the renovation to install eavesdropping equipment in Waldorf Astoria’s rooms and compromise the hotel’s Internet network.

The US diplomatic exit from the Waldorf Astoria was first reported back in mid-June, but was not confirmed by the White House or the Department of State. Since that time, no American cabinet official, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, has stayed at the Waldorf. But President Obama’s upcoming trip renewed the media’s interest in the change of hotels, and US government officials finally confirmed that the Chinese-owned hotel had been dropped based “on several considerations, including space, costs and security”. A State Department official told reporters last week that the change took “into account changing circumstances”. The Times also reported that the US government is examining whether its ambassador to the UN will continue to be headquartered at the Waldorf.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 September 2015 | Permalink

Pentagon continues to probe ISIS reports after US intel analysts “revolt”

ISIS - JFThe United States Department of Defense is still probing claims that some of its officials doctored intelligence reports to give a falsely optimistic account of the campaign against the Islamic State. IntelNews has followed this story since late August, after initial reports surfaced in The New York Times. The reports suggested that at least one analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency, had complained that reports about ISIS were being deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of the reports related to al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Syria, but most were about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the militant Sunni organization that controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

According to The Daily Beast, more than 50 intelligence analysts from the DIA have now come forward to complain to the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General that their reports on the Islamic State were altered by CENTCOM officials, in order to give a falsely positive projection of US policy in relation to the organization. The website said that some of the analysts have been complaining for months about what they describe as the deliberate politicization of their reports by CENTCOM. But their complaints are now part of an official investigation into the matter by the Inspector General. The latter is required to produce a report with the intelligence oversight committees of the US Congress.

The Daily Beast said that its reporting was based on nearly a dozen individuals who were “knowledgeable about the details of the report”. But it said that it would not name its sources due to the sensitivity of the case. It did, however, quote one source, who described case as “a revolt” by intelligence analysts. Another source described the altering of the analysts’ intelligence reports as a “cancer […] within the senior level of the intelligence command”. A source identified only as “a defense official”, told the website that the analysts’ “revolt” was prompted by the experience of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. At that time, “poorly written intelligence reports suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, when it did not, formed the basis of the George W. Bush administration’s case for war”, said the official. And continued: the analysts “were frustrated because they didn’t do the right thing then and speak up about their doubts on Iraq’s weapons program”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 September 2015 | Permalink


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