Soviets used civilian airliners to gather intelligence, documents show

Soviet Aeroflot airlinerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Soviet spy agencies routinely used civilian airplanes to collect aerial intelligence over Western military installations, according to newly declassified documents. The revelation is contained in British government files from 1982 that were declassified on Friday, following the expiration of the United Kingdom’s 30-year classification rule. According to Bloomberg’s Robet Hutton and Thomas Penny, who accessed the files, they include a detailed memorandum addressed to Conservative Party politician Margaret Thatcher, who was serving as Britain’s Prime Minister at the time. The memorandum, which was authored by then Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, informed Mrs. Thatcher that the airborne behavior of airliners belonging to Aeroflot, the Soviet Union’s state-owned civilian air carrier, appeared suspicious. Secretary Nott wrote in the memo that Britain’s Royal Air Force had “established that some [Soviet] aircraft deviated from their flight-plan routes” when flying over Western military bases. He goes on to describe an “incident of particular interest”, in which an Aeroflot Ilyushin IL62 airplane descended without authorization from 35,000 feet to 10,000 feet right above the village of Boulmer. Located in Northumberland, England, Boulmer is adjacent to a Royal Air Force base, which at the time featured a newly modernized radar system. The same Aeroflot airplane behaved in similar fashion while flying over a United States Navy base in Groton, Connecticut, which at the time hosted the first US submarine equipped with Trident Ballistic Missiles. The memorandum states that the circumstances surrounding the flight patterns of Aeroflot airliners had led the Royal Air Force to assume that the Soviet airplanes “were gathering intelligence” on Western military targets. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #755

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►MI5 chief says al-Qaeda threatens UK from Arab Spring nations. Brittan’s domestic intelligence agency chief, Jonathan Evans, has stated that al-Qaeda is continuing to gather a foothold in nations that experienced the Arab Spring. In his speech, Evans, who directs the UK’s MI5, warned that al-Qaeda is attempting to reestablish itself in countries that had revolted, and that “a small number of British would-be jihadis [sic] are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen. Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here”. With a suspected 100-200 British born Islamist militants operating in the Middle East and Africa, the MI5 Director General warned that the coming summer Olympics in London made for an attractive target.
►►Russia to conduct airborne surveillance of Canada’s infrastructure. Canada’s National Post newspaper reports that Russian surveillance aircraft will conduct a flyover of Canada’s military and industrial infrastructure in what appears to be an annual Russian air reconnaissance mission. For the past ten years and under the Open Skies treaty, Russia is allowed to conduct flyovers of key Canadian sites. This will be the first flyover since the arrest last January of Jeffrey Paul Delisle (pictured), a Royal Canadian Navy officer, for allegedly spying on Canada on behalf of the Russians.
►►Japanese official who leaked DRPK missile info found dead. A Japanese Foreign Ministry official, who was largely thought to the source of leaked information regarding a Chinese missile technology transfer to North Korea in April, has been found dead. The official, previously under investigation for publicly disclosing national security information, was found hanged in his Chiba prefecture home on June 20. Additional details, including the individual’s name, were not made available, but Japanese government officials did indicate that the death did not appear to be suspicious.

News you may have missed #752

Charles SchumerBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US companies ‘use military-style planes’ to make maps. Companies such as Apple and Google could push the limits of citizens’ privacy thanks to the use of “military-grade spy planes” when creating their next-generation mapping technologies, according to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer expressed his concerns in a letter to the two companies, arguing that hyper-detailed images of people’s backyards and other objects could pose a threat to both privacy and national security. The Senator also pointed out the potential for criminals and, yes, even terrorists to view detailed maps of “sensitive utilities”.
►►CIA wanted ‘torture cage’ for secret prison. Polish Senator Jozef Pinior claims prosecutors in Krakow have a document that shows a local contractor was asked to build a cage at Stare Kiekuty, a Polish army base used as a CIA prison for al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003. “In a state with rights”, Pinior told the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, “people in prison are not kept in cages”. He said a cage was “non-standard equipment” for a prison, but standard “if torture was used there”. After Poland launched its official investigation of the Stare Kiekuty site, President Bronislaw Komorowski said the probe was needed because “the reputation of Poland is at stake”.
►►US Air Force spy planes facing postwar cut. The US Air Force plans to cut back on the number of Hawker Beechcraft’s MC-12 spy planes it wants to operate after the draw-down from Afghanistan and Iraq, official data indicates. With declining operations, the aircraft began to lose its priority role and recent comments indicated at least some of the aircraft would either be grounded or given to the National Guard or other services. Since the MC-12 was first deployed in Iraq, U. forces have acquired access to more sophisticated surveillance aircraft as well as drones that can perform roles previously assigned to manned aircraft.

News you may have missed #737

Shakil AfridiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Turkey suspects bird of being Israeli spy. News agencies are poking fun at Turkish authorities, who say they believe that they have found a bird used for espionage purposes by Israel. An investigation was reportedly launched in Ankara several days ago, after a farmer discovered a dead Merops Apiaster, commonly known as the European Bee-Eater, in his field. The bird had a ring reading “Israel” on one of its legs. The reports undoubtedly lend a certain degree of irony to the announcement that Israel Aerospace Industries (owned by the Israeli government) is in fact developing insect drones for indoor surveillance.
►►CIA discloses names of 15 killed officers. The CIA has disclosed the names of 15 of its operatives killed in the line of duty over the last 30 years, the result of a new effort to honor fallen officers. Fourteen of the dead already had a star inscribed in their memory on the CIA’s wall of honor in the lobby of the old headquarters building on the agency’s Langley, VA, campus. But their names had been withheld. In a closed agency ceremony Monday their names were added to the Book of Honor, which accompanies the stars. In addition, a new star was added this year for Jeffrey R. Patneau, who died at age 26 in Yemen in 2008 from injuries sustained in a car accident. He was the 103rd CIA officer recognized as having died in the line of duty.
►►Pakistan convicts doctor who helped CIA find bin Laden. A Pakistani court imposed a 33-year sentence Wednesday on Shakil Afridi, a doctor who assisted the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden. Afridi, a government surgeon in the semiautonomous Khyber Agency along the border with Afghanistan, was convicted of treason for using a vaccination drive to try to gather DNA samples at the compound where bin Laden was in hiding. His conviction prompted dismay among US officials, who said that the punishment will lead to cuts in aid. According to a Pakistani prison official, Afridi “has been kept away from other prisoners to avert any danger to his life”.

News you may have missed #729 (intel blunder edition)

Alleged Venezuelan 'spy crossword'By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US drones ‘incidentally’ spy on Americans. A leaked US Air Force document stipulates that a drone that happens to capture surveillance images of Americans may store them for a period of 90 days. The paper appears to justify spying on citizens, as long as it is “incidental”. The document accepts that the Air Force may not record information non-consensually; however it does state: “collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent”. The report, dated April 23 was discovered by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists and has been put online.
►►Indian intel blunder sparks anger in Pakistan. India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence agency sparked outrage in Pakistan and self-deprecatory jokes in India itself last week, after it listed ordinary Pakistani shopkeepers as terrorists on a mission to attack some of India’s landmark institutions. RAW, which is considered India’s premier intelligence agency, issued an advisory to state governments in which it said that five trained militants from Pakistan’s banned Lashkar-e-Taiba group had sneaked into India with fake identities to attack a nuclear facility, oil refinery, seaport and defense academy. Within hours after photographs of the five men were released, a Pakistani television channel reported that two of the three men on the list were shopkeepers and one was a guard, all living in Lahore, and that none of them had ever left Pakistan.
►►Venezuelan spies face criticism over ‘crossword puzzle’ plot. Venezuelan government critics, and even some supporters, are ridiculing a Venezuelan state TV host’s allegation that a newspaper crossword puzzle may have had a hidden call for a plot to kill President Hugo Chavez’s elder brother. Intelligence agents questioned Neptali Segovia, the author of the puzzle, after state TV presenter Miguel Perez Pirela pointed out that Wednesday’s crossword contained the word “ASESINEN”, or kill, intersecting with the name of Chavez’s brother, “ADAN”. He noted they were below the word “RAFAGAS”, meaning either gusts of wind or bursts of gunfire.

Israel accused of spying on Turkish fighter-pilot communications

Turkish Air Force F-16sBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Turkey have reportedly initiated a classified program to encrypt communications between Turkish fighter pilot trainees and their ground command centers, after it emerged that their conversations were being intercepted by Israeli intelligence. The allegations were aired earlier this week by Turkey’s Habertürk newspaper, which said that Israeli military intelligence had managed to “wiretap” (sic) for over a year radio exchanges between the Turkish pilots and their ground instructors. The Ankara-based newspaper claims that the Israelis had specifically targeted the 3rd Main Jet Base Group Command, in Konya, in Turkey’s Central Anatolia region. Konya, the birthplace of Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoğlu, hosts one of the country’s most active naval bases, where hundreds of pilots undergo initial training in flying F-16 fighter jets. Upon completing their training, they are required to undergo intensive combat readiness training, before entering the ranks of the Turkish Air Force (TSK) as full fighter pilots. According to Habertürk, the aim of the Israeli interceptors was to uncover “details about the TSK’s training programs and flight strategies”. The paper claims that the discovery of the Israeli communications interception program prompted Turkish engineers to begin developing software specifically designed to encode communications between fighter jets and ground command facilities. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #659

China and PakistanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►China wants military bases in Pakistan. An Indian intelligence report leaked in the country’s press appears to reveal that China and Pakistan are in secret negotiations to allow Beijing to build military bases on Pakistani soil. The report states that “China’s desire for a military presence in Pakistan has been discussed by the political and military leadership of that country in the recent months. China’s deepening strategic penetration of Pakistan and joint plans to set up [...] oil pipelines/rail/roads as well as naval and military bases are a matter of concern”.
►►Turkey ‘almost shot down’ Israeli spy drone. An Israeli drone flying over Turkey was nearly intercepted by Turkish aerial defense forces, an Istanbul-based media outlet reported on Tuesday. According to the report, “by the time the order [to shoot down the Israeli drone] was given, [it] had already left the area”. A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the Turkish report.
►►Analysis: Global apparatus for drone killing emerges under Obama. “The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential”. Excellent analysis by Greg Miller, who argues that “the rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military”.

News you may have missed #650

Robert BaerBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US ex-DoD official says drone captured by Iran ‘seems fake’. Newspaper USA Today quotes an anonymous US former Pentagon official, who said that, according to video footage of the drone on display in Iran, not only is it the drone the wrong color, but also the welds along the wing joints do not appear to conform to the stealth design that helps it avoid radar detection.
►►Ex-CIA officer says collapse of CIA operations benefits Iran. The collapse of CIA operations in Lebanon, following Hezbollah’s unmasking of several CIA spies and the recent naming of the agency’s station chief, is a serious blow to the US’ ability to gather intelligence, says Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who operated in Lebanon in the 1980s.
►►Iran indicts 15 in alleged US-Israeli spy ring. An Iranian prosecutor announced on Tuesday that his government has indicted 15 people who allegedly spied on the Islamic Republic for the US and Israel. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi did not name the alleged spies, who are suspected of having ties to the American CIA and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. IntelNews readers may remember that, in May, Iran’s intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, announced the alleged discovery of a CIA-directed spy network in Iran of more than 30 people.

Does Iran have access to satellite jamming technology?

Iran displays captured US droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A European intelligence official has said that Iran downed an unmanned American surveillance aircraft earlier this month by remotely sabotaging its satellite navigation system. The official, who has not been named, told The Christian Science Monitor that the Iranians used a state-of-the-art laser system to effectively “blind” the American spy satellite that guided the drone’s global positioning system (GPS). In doing this, Iran’s military was able to remotely skyjack the aircraft and assume control over its navigational system. The paper also published an exclusive interview with an Iranian electronic warfare specialist, who claimed he was part of a team that hacked into the drone’s communication frequency and reprogrammed its GPS data. Eventually, the Iranian specialists managed to cause the unmanned aircraft to switch into autopilot mode, and guided it to land relatively smoothly on Iranian territory, where it was eventually captured intact by Iranian authorities. If this is true, it will mark the first-ever indication that the Iranian state is in possession of sophisticated satellite jamming technology. In an important development, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iran’s government-run IRNA news agency on Saturday that the American drone was brought down by Iranian armed forces, without any foreign assistance. If this is so, then does it mean that the Iranians developed the state-of-the-art jamming system themselves? Read more of this post

Iran shows video footage of captured CIA surveillance drone

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iranian state television has aired pre-recorded footage of a surveillance drone that looks similar to the stealth RQ-170 Sentinel, which the US Central Intelligence Agency admitted it was missing earlier this week. Images of the unmanned surveillance drone, built by US military contractor Lockheed Martin, were broadcast during the main news bulletin on Thursday evening. The captured aircraft was shown in near-immaculate condition, resting on a display platform, with two men in Iranian military fatigues inspecting it. One of them was identified in the news report as Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Brigadier General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Aerospace Forces. He told the news reporters that the drone was brought down last week “in an electronic ambush” conducted jointly by the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian armed forces. He did not specify what he meant by “electronic ambush”, nor the exact location where the drone was physically captured by Iranian authorities. However, one report in the Iranian press alleged that the aircraft was initially detected by Iranian forces while flying over the town of Kashmar, in east Iran, located nearly 250 kilometers (about 150 miles) from the Afghan-Iranian border. If this report is accurate, it would signify that the CIA drone was flying deep within Iranian airspace, thus disputing initial claims to the contrary by the US Department of Defense. Another Iranian news outlet quoted anonymous military sources in Tehran, which said that the Chinese and Russian governments had already requested from the Iranian authorities permission to view the captured aircraft. Another pro-government newspaper said that Tehran was considering sharing the intelligence gathered from the captured drone with its regional allies in the Syrian government and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Read more of this post

US considered covert mission to recover drone captured by Iran

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
What a difference two days can make! On Monday we speculated that Iran may have captured intact a United States Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone. At that time, most American officials questioned or flatly denied Iran’s capture claims. It now appears almost certain that Iran is indeed in possession of the aircraft; what is more, it seems increasingly likely that the captured drone was conducting a Central Intelligence Agency reconnaissance mission when it crashed in the desert along the country’s 1,000 km-long border with Afghanistan. The significance of the drone’s capture by Iranian authorities can be discerned from the fact that US officials are said to have considered last weekend several options for retrieving it from Iranian territory. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Defense, in association with the CIA, discussed at least three separate plans for recovering or destroying the aircraft wreckage. One of the options discussed involved sending an airborne team of US covert operatives into northeast Iran to locate the crashed drone, disassemble it, and carry its top-secret mechanical and electronic components back to a US base in Afghanistan. The US also considered deploying Special Forces stationed in Afghanistan, or tasking US intelligence assets inside Iran, with locating and blowing up the crashed drone. A third option involved destroying the downed aircraft with a remote airstrike from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #561

Francis Gary Powers

Francis G. Powers

►►US to phase out U-2 spy plane after 50 years. After more than 50 years gathering intelligence 13 miles above the ground, the United States’ U-2 spy planes will be phased out and replaced by unmanned drones by 2015, according to reports this past week. The classified U-2 program came to light in 1960, when a Soviet surface-to-air missile brought down a U-2 flown by CIA pilot Gary Powers, who parachuted to safety but was soon captured.
►►Security company unearths ‘massive’ cyberespionage operation. A widespread cyberespionage campaign stole government secrets, sensitive corporate documents, and other intellectual property for five years from more than 70 public and private organizations in 14 countries. This is according to Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at the cyber-security firm McAfee, who uncovered the alleged plot. The operation, dubbed SHADY RAT, targeted the United Nations and the United States, among other national and international entities.
►►South Korea expands spy ring investigation. South Korean authorities have expanded the controversial investigation into the alleged Wangjaesan spy ring, to include Read more of this post

News you may have missed #551

Salva Kiir Mayardit

Salva Kiir

►►Analysis: The fallout from the CIA’s vaccination ploy in Pakistan. We wrote earlier this month that not everyone is amused by news that the CIA tried to collect DNA evidence on Osama bin Laden by running a phony vaccination program in Pakistan. In an editorial published in The Washington Post on July 15, two American public health professionals argued that the CIA’s DNA-collection operation “destroyed credibility that wasn’t its to erode” and “burned bridges that took years for health workers to build”. The issue is developing into a very interesting case study in intelligence ethics, as two new articles on the subject were published this week. One is by Jack C. Chow formerly US ambassador on global HIV/AIDS and ex-assistant director-general of the World Health Organization on HIV/AIDS. The other, by Slate magazine columnist Tom Scocca, argues that the the CIA vaccination scheme “reveals the moral bankruptcy of American spooks”.
►►South Sudan dissolves intelligence and security bodies. The president of the newly established Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has issued an order dissolving the country’s national security and intelligence organs. There are at least two intelligence agencies in existence in the new nation, both of which were illegally formed in 2006, before South Sudan’s independence.
►►China warns US to halt spy plane flights. China has demanded that the United States stops spy plane flights near the Chinese coast, saying they have “severely harmed” trust between the two countries, state-run media reported Wednesday. The warning comes a month after two Chinese fighter jets chased an American U-2 reconnaissance plane into Taiwanese airspace.

Latest from Hungary and Turkey on Budapest assassination

Trache murder

Trache murder

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Despite the overwhelming silence in Western media about last week’s suspicious murder in broad daylight of a Syrian man in Hungary, the story continues to make headlines in Israel, the Arab world, Turkey and Hungary. IntelNews reported on Friday that a Bassam Trache, a Syrian man who had lived in Hungary for 20 years, was shot dead in Budapest on Wednesday morning, as he was driving his car. Witnesses reported that the assailant stole a small black briefcase from the 52-year-old victim’s vehicle, before fleeing the scene of the crime on foot. It also emerged that, in the week prior to the mysterious shooting, Hungarian air controllers located two Israeli Gulfstream spy planes hovering over the Hungarian capital, close to the airport, where Wednesday’s shooting occurred. Read more of this post

More information on alleged Mossad hit in Budapest

Crime scene

Crime scene

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
IntelNews reported on Friday that a Syrian man was shot dead in Budapest on Wednesday morning, as he was driving his car. Witnesses reported that the assailant stole a small black briefcase from the 52-year-old victim’s vehicle, before fleeing the scene of the crime on foot. It also emerged that, in the week prior to the mysterious shooting, Hungarian air controllers located two Israeli Gulfstream spy planes hovering over the Hungarian capital, close to the airport, where Wednesday’s shooting occurred. Is this Dubai reloaded? Late on Friday, Reuters news agency reported the dead Syrian-born man’s name as Bassam Trache, 52. Meanwhile, Hungarian officials continue to deny any link between Trache’s murder and the alleged Israeli spy planes. Hungarian government spokesman, Domokos Szollar, said the overflight was “routine” training that was cleared in advance with Hungary’s National Transport Authority by the Israelis. However, Hungarian “defense ministry officials appear not to have been informed” of the alleged training exercise. Read more of this post

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