News you may have missed #874

Hamid AboutalebiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Intel involvement in flight MH370 sparks terrorism speculation. Malaysian authorities have revealed secret services from the UK, the US and China have been involved in the investigations into the disappearance of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, adding to speculation that the plane’s disappearance could be down to terrorism.
►►Iran picks former US Embassy hostage-taker as UN envoy. The Iranian government has applied for a US visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy. Aboutalebi was a member of a group calling itself “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line”, a group of radical students controlled by Ayatollah Khomeini, who seized the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could prompt the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN.
►►Analysis: Ukrainian Navy devastated by Russian move into Crimea. Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control. Almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defense units. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service.

About these ads

NSA ‘high-target’ list includes names of 122 world leaders

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A list of high-priority intelligence targets published over the weekend includes the names of over a hundred current and former heads of state, who were systematically targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The list appears to be part of a wider “Target Knowledge Base” assembled by the NSA in order to help produce “complete profiles” of what the NSA calls “high-priority intelligence targets”. The list is contained in a classified top-secret briefing created by the NSA in 2009. It was published by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it acquired it from American intelligence defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he has been offered political asylum. The leaked briefing explains the function of an extensive NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program codenamed NYMROD. The computer-based program is allegedly able to sift through millions of SIGINT reports and collate information on individual targets from the transcripts of intercepted telephone calls, faxes, as well as computer data. The list provided to Der Spiegel by Snowden contains 122 names of international political figures, said the newsmagazine, adding that all of them were “heads of foreign governments”. It includes the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Colombia’s former President, Alvaro Uribe, and Malaysia’s Prime Minster from 2003 to 2009, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, also figure on the list. Interestingly, the leaders of Malaysia, Somalia, the Palestinian Authority and Peru top the NSA’s list of high-value executive targets. Read more of this post

US denies it offered to release American who spied for Israel

Jonathan PollardBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
United States officials have denied reports in the Israeli media that Washington has offered to release an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. The Israel Army Radio, which is operated by the Israel Defense Forces, said on Wednesday that the administration of US President Barack Obama had offered to release Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former US Navy analyst who has so far served 28 years of a life sentence in a US prison, for spying on the US for Israel. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many conservative Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, are actively pressuring the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. According to Israel Army Radio, the offer was placed on the negotiation table last week during Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Washington. Allegedly, the offer to release Pollard is part of an attempt by President Obama to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which have stalled in recent months. The original US-brokered talks between the two sides included an agreement by Israel to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in four separate groups. The first three groups were released in 2013; but Israel is currently refusing to release the fourth and final group, originally scheduled to be freed this month, arguing that the prisoners in that group are all Israeli citizens and have no connection to the Palestinian National Authority. According to Israel Army Radio, Washington has offered to release Pollard in return for Israel’s release of the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, providing that the Palestinian National Authority will then return to the negotiation table. Late on Wednesday, however, US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Washington had “no plans to release Jonathan Pollard”. Read more of this post

Leader of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists killed by security forces

Oleksandr MuzychkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A senior official of Ukraine’s largest far-right group, which played a central role in anti-government protests earlier this year, has been shot dead by security forces, according to reports. The official, Oleksandr Muzychko, was the chief coordinator in western Ukraine of the Right Sector, known locally as Pravyi Sektor. The organization, which was founded in November of 2013, operates as an alliance of far-right Ukrainian nationalist groupings, whose ideological leanings range from ultra-conservative to openly neo-Nazi. The group’s active membership is estimated at below 10,000. However, its well-organized paramilitary wing was instrumental in helping demonstrators fight against government forces in the streets of Ukraine during the Euromaidan civil unrest that toppled the government earlier this year. Despite his vocal stance in favor of the anti-government demonstrators, Muzychko, who had in the past expressed strong anti-Russian and anti-Semitic views, was viewed as an embarrassment by Ukraine’s pro-Western authorities. The latter routinely referred to him as “a criminal” and “extortionist” —referring to his sting in prison following his conviction for extortion in 1999. Earlier this month, Russian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Muzychko, whom they accuse of having been part of a group of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that fought alongside Muslim Chechen rebels against Russian forces in the Russian Caucasus. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior, Muzychko, known locally as ‘Sashko Bily’, died during a shoot-out with Ukrainian security forces in a restaurant in the northwestern Ukrainian city of Rivne, which is considered a stronghold of the Right Sector. In a press conference on Tuesday, Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister, Vladimir Yevdokimov, said security forces had gone to the restaurant to arrest Muzychko and “three other gang members”. According to Yevdokimov, the high-profile Right Sector official was gunned down after he opened fire at the security forces, injuring one, and then tried to escape. But Ukrainian parliamentarian Oles Doniy told journalists that Muzychko had been killed under custody, after he was kidnapped by unknown assailants. Doniy said Muzychko’s body was later found “dumped with his hands tied behind his back and two bullet wounds in his heart”. Authorities in Kiev said the three “gang members” arrested at the site of the shootout had been taken in for questioning. Meanwhile, members of the Right Sector have threatened revenge for Muzychko’s killing.

Afghan officials see foreign spy agency behind bloody hotel attack

AfghanistanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Afghanistan’s intelligence community believes a foreign spy agency was behind last week’s bloody attack on a luxury hotel that left nine people dead. Last Thursday evening, a group of young men entered the five-star Serena Hotel, located a few blocks away from the Presidential Palace and key government ministry buildings in Afghan capital Kabul. Three hours later, the men, who had hidden handguns in their shoes, entered the hotel restaurant and shot indiscriminately at patrons. They were eventually shot dead by Afghan Special Forces, but not before they had managed to shoot over a dozen people at point blank range, killing nine, including two Canadians, an American and a Paraguayan. Four children and a senior reporter with Agence France Presse were among the dead, while the wounded included an Afghan member of parliament. Many blamed the attack on the Taliban or the Haqqani network, an Islamist militant group responsible for countless high-profile attacks in Kabul and other Afghan cities. Soon afterwards, the Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, which they said was aimed at demonstrating the ease with which Afghan government security measures could be evaded. On Monday, however, a press release issued by the Office of the Afghan President said a “foreign intelligence service”, rather than an indigenous militant group, was behind the attack. The press release, which bore the signature of Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, said intelligence officials from the National Directorate for Security had briefed Afghanistan’s National Security Council about the findings of an investigation on the attack. In the statement, which was issued in both Pashto and English, the President’s Office said that neither the Taliban nor the Haqqani network “were even aware” that the attack at the Serena Hotel was going to take place. Instead, the operation “was a direct attack by an intelligence service outside the country”, said the statement. A subsequent announcement released by the Afghan government placed blame on Pakistani intelligence services, saying they were directly involved in the attack. It also stated that an unnamed “Pakistani diplomat” had been seen filming inside the Serena Hotel “a while ago”. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Kabul’s allegations, saying it was “highly disturbing that attempts are being made to somehow implicate Pakistan in this terrorist incident”.

 

Korean spy charged with forging Chinese files attempts suicide

NIS headquarters in Seoul, South KoreaBy I. ALLEN and J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A South Korean intelligence officer, who was charged earlier this month with deliberately forging Chinese government documents, tried to kill himself inside a car on Sunday, according to local media. The officer, identified in reports only by his last name, Kwon, was fingered last week by South Korean media as the source of a set of documents used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. Government prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South while working for the Seoul city government. The prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that Yoo had entered North Korea repeatedly from China, ostensibly in order to transport information to his handlers in Pyongyang. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the case against Yoo collapsed in August of 2013; this was followed by allegations that some of the documents presented to the court by the prosecutors had been forged. It now appears that the forged documents, which were travel records allegedly issued by the Chinese government, had been given to the prosecution by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). Court documents surfaced last week identifying Kwon (named initially as ‘Kim’) as one of the sources of the forged documents. Kwon fervently denied the accusations, claiming that he too had been duped by a Chinese asset who gave him the forms. He also argued that that the asset was probably working for Chinese intelligence. On Sunday, however, Kwon apparently tried to kill himself at his home in a suburb of Seoul. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

South Korean spy charged with forging Chinese government records

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Authorities in South Korea have charged an intelligence officer with forging Chinese government documents that were used in a court case against a man accused of spying for North Korea. IntelNews readers will remember the case of Yoo Woo-sung, a prominent North Korean defector living in the South, was arrested last year on charges of espionage. In May of that year, court documents revealed that Yoo had been arrested following testimony from his own sister, also a North Korean defector. She had apparently been sent to the South by the North Korean intelligence services, and tasked with collecting information on North Korean defectors living across the border. Prosecutors accused Yoo of collecting information on at least 200 North Korean defectors living in the South, while he worked for the Seoul city government. Yoo maintained his innocence throughout his trial. However, his protestations appeared untenable once the South Korean prosecution produced a number of Chinese transit documents showing that he had entered North Korea repeatedly from China, ostensibly in order to transport information to his handlers in Pyongyang. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the case against Yoo collapsed in August of 2013 amidst allegations that some of the documents presented to the court by the prosecutors had been forged. It now appears that the forged documents, which were travel records allegedly issued by the Chinese government, had been given to the prosecution by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). Read more of this post

CIA places Iran operations division chief on administrative leave

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The chief of Iran operations at the United States Central Intelligence Agency has been placed on paid administrative leave, allegedly for creating a hostile work environment that ended up impeding the Agency’s output. According to The Los Angeles Times, many members of the CIA’s Iran operations division had launched an “open rebellion” against their 46-year-old chief, which the paper identified by name. In an article published on Saturday, The Times stated that the veteran intelligence officer, who has now been removed from the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, had previously served at CIA stations in Iraq, Russia and the Balkans. The paper added that, in 2010, the CIA had to pull out the officer from Pakistan, after he was publicly named as the Agency’s station chief in Islamabad. Some American officials have identified Pakistan’s intelligence services as the source of the leak that led to the officer’s public exposure, which was allegedly intended as retribution to a series of previous drone attacks by the CIA on Pakistani soil. The Times quoted “three former officials” who accused the chief of the Iran division of exercising a divisive and abusive management style, which led many of the division’s senior employees to request to be transferred elsewhere in the CIA. One unnamed source told the paper that, as a result of the division chief’s treatment and the open rebellion by his staff, the Iran office “was not functioning”. The veteran officer was “sent home” two weeks ago, after an internal investigation by the Office of the CIA Inspector General found that he had essentially lost the trust and respect of the division’s staff. Read more of this post

Pro-Russian oligarch arrested —first sign of US sanctions on Russia?

Dmytro FirtashBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A well-connected Ukrainian oligarch, who is considered one of Russia’s most trusted energy sales intermediaries, has been arrested in Austria at the request of the United States. Some speculate that this may be a first direct sign of America’s response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. In an article published last week, The Washington Post suggested that the arrest of Dmytro Firtash, a citizen of Ukraine, may be “the beginning of a US effort to inflict financial pain on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian crisis”. Firtash’s lucrative business activities are inextricably tied to Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas and one of the most powerful corporations in existence. The company, whose activities typically account for around 10 percent of Russia’s annual gross domestic product, is one of Moscow’s primary exporters of energy and among its most important sources of foreign revenue. Throughout the last decade, Firtash’s company, RosUkrEnergo, acted as the primary mediator between Gazprom and Naftohaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company. The latter would import Russian natural gas from Gazprom through RosUkrEnergo, which would purchase it from the Russian company and sell it to the Ukrainians at a noticeably steeper price. Eventually, in 2009, the government of pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko managed to remove RosUkrEnergo as a broker from the energy deals between Kiev and Moscow. But Tymoshenko, who became herself embroiled in a financial corruption scandal, was soon imprisoned. And in 2013, Gazprom approached the pro-Russian government of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and offered to sell natural gas to Ukraine at a 33 percent discount, providing that RosUkrEnergo was permitted to return as Moscow’s natural gas distributor to Ukraine. Last Wednesday, a statement from the Ukrainian government in Kiev confirmed that the man identified only as “Dmytro F., 48” in a laconic Austrian police report was indeed Dmytro Firtash. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #872

Capture from al-Qaeda's Resurgence videoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Analysis: US military treads lightly in Africa. America’s aim seems to be to tackle Islamist militants in the Sahel region while keeping its military presence in Africa light. Military experts say direct US military action in Africa is limited to short raids on “high-value” targets in places such as Somalia and Libya, while French troops take on longer, bigger operations.
►►Al Qaeda announces new English-language magazine. Al-Qaeda is starting an English-language magazine as part of a fresh effort to recruit and inspire Western Islamists to launch attacks in their own countries, according to security analysts. A video posted on (and later removed from) YouTube uses the words of Malcolm X to justify violent struggle, before announcing the name of the magazine, Resurgence. It appears to be modeled on Inspire, an online publication produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. However, the new magazine appears to be the first English language magazine from the group’s core leadership and is advertised with a slick video from as-Sahab, its media production house.
►►Edward Snowden’s testimony to the European Parliament (.pdf). American intelligence defector Edward Snowden has sent a 12-page document to the European Parliament, in which he answers questions posed to him by several members. In the document he maintains that he has “no relationship” with China and Russia. In response to a question on whether he was approached by the Russian intelligence services, he responds “of course”, and continues: “Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had had the chance: that’s their job. But I didn’t take any documents with me from Hong Kong, and while I’m sure they were disappointed, it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck”.

Obama comments on Senate-CIA dispute, fails to mention Feinstein

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Yesterday in a radio interview I opined that I would not be surprised if the White House stepped in to mediate the ongoing dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Today, President Barack Obama broke his silence “with respect to the issues that are going back and forth between the Senate committee and the CIA”, as he said. But he refused to take sides —or did he? On Wednesday afternoon, the President responded to a question on the matter by a White House pool correspondent. The question related to the increasingly heated public spat between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. The latter is tasked, along with its sister body in the House of Representatives, with exercising legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. Many members of the Committee, which is currently investigating the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation against terrorism detainees, believe that, not only was the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods illegal, but that it also failed to generate useful intelligence. The CIA, however, denies this, and has been quite possessive of documents relating to the issue, which the Committee believes has a right to access. The Agency has now asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into whether Congressional staffers illegally removed classified documents from the CIA’s archives that were beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation. The Committee has in turn asked the Bureau to investigate whether the CIA illegally searched the computers used by staffers to carry out their research into CIA files.

Read more of this post

Comment: The significance of the spat between Congress and the CIA

John Brennan and Dianne FeinsteinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had gone out of her way in recent days to avoid commenting on the ongoing quarrel between her Committee and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). That ended yesterday, when she gave a press conference accusing the CIA of illegally spying on her Committee’s Congressional staffers. Her stunning announcement came shortly after her tense meeting with the Director of the CIA, a bad-tempered John Brennan. She told the media that at the meeting she requested from Brennan an apology and acknowledgement that the alleged CIA spying was “inappropriate”. By her own account, she failed to get either, so she decided to go public. In an interview I gave yesterday to Michigan’s WILS 1230 AM’s Capital City Recap, I argued that the quarrel between the two government bodies is not in itself important. What is important, I told radio host Mike Cohen, is that the dispute has entered the public arena. A routine ‘push and shove’ mêlée has turned into an all-out fistfight in full view of the media. One Republican Senator, Lindsay Graham, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the time had come for “the legislative branch [to] declare war on the CIA”. In response to the Committee’s accusations, the CIA has apparently instructed the Department of Justice to investigate the alleged removal by Congressional staffers of classified documents that were “protected by executive privilege [and were] beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation”.

Read more of this post

Rift between US Congress and CIA biggest in 40 years, say observers

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The system of checks and balances that defines the relationship between America’s legislative branch and the Intelligence Community has been strained more than any other time in nearly 40 years, according to insiders. The rift is especially wide between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, which was formed in the mid-1970s after the Watergate scandal. Led by Senator Frank Church (D-Id) the congressional investigations into unlawful domestic intelligence activities by American spy agencies shaped the current oversight arrangements between the Senate and the CIA. But the two bodies are now engaged in what Foreign Policy magazine calls “a rare public feud” over the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques. Foreign Policy cites interviews with “ten current and former congressional staff member and US government officials”, all of whom painted a “grim picture” of Senate-CIA relations. The Foreign Policy article quotes former Justice Department lawyer Dan Metcalfe, who opines that the current imbroglio “might well be the most acrimonious public moment between the CIA and a Senate committee [in] nearly 40 years”. Both sides accuse each other of violating longstanding agreements during the investigation into CIA’s use of torture in interrogations of terrorism detainees. Committee members have been claiming that the Agency’s interrogation methods have failed to produce useful information in pursuit of America’s national security. The CIA, on the other hand, accuses Committee staffers of illegally removing documents from an Agency facility, which the Committee was not supposed to see because they fell outside the scope of its inquiry. But some Senators on the Committee claim that the CIA did not want to hand over the documents precisely because they prove that no useful intelligence was extracted under torture. They also claim that the CIA effectively spied on Committee staffers by searching through their activity on computers used to access classified information. Read more of this post

IRA ‘tried to kill Queen’s husband’ during Australia visit

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth in 1973By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Provisional Irish Republican Army tried to assassinate Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, during an official Royal visit to Australia in the early 1970s, according to a new book. The claim is detailed in the book Shadow of a Spy, written by Warner Russell, a veteran Australian reporter and retired military intelligence officer. The alleged assassination attempt was uncovered in Sydney on March 15, 1973, during the Prince’s two-day visit to Australia. While there, the Queen’s husband attended a conservation meeting and led an official opening ceremony of a Royal Australian Air Force war memorial in capital city Canberra. According to Russell, two “crude explosive devices” were discovered in Sydney at locations that had been scheduled to be visited by the British Royal entourage. The first device was detected in a trash can in Dowling Street, in Sydney’s downtown Potts Point neighborhood. The second device was found inside a luggage locker at Sydney’s Central Station, a few miles away from the location of the first bomb. The book claims that the two other “suspicious packages” were found, one in a local government building located across the street from an officer’s club that the Prince was due to visit, and another in a trash can at Taylor Square, less than a mile from Central Station. Eventually, the two “suspicious packages” were determined to be “decoys”, says Russell. But the other two devices contained explosive material and were defused by an Australian Army bomb disposal team before being secretly taken to a forensic laboratory for examination. Russell claims that the bombs were defused just minutes before Prince Philip’s group arrived at the two Sydney locations, and Australian authorities were so nervous that they ordered the Prince’s motorcycle escort and protection team to “take evasive action” as they approached Dowling Street. Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 534 other followers