News you may have missed #891

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Sophisticated malware found in 10 countries ‘came from Lebanon’. An Israeli-based computer security firm has discovered a computer spying campaign that it said “likely” originated with a government agency or political group in Lebanon, underscoring how far the capability for sophisticated computer espionage is spreading beyond the world’s top powers. Researchers ruled out any financial motive for the effort that targeted telecommunications and networking companies, military contractors, media organizations and other institutions in Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and seven other countries. The campaign dates back at least three years and allegedly deploys hand-crafted software with some of the hallmarks of state-sponsored computer espionage.
►►Canada’s spy watchdog struggles to keep tabs on agencies. The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which monitors Canada’s intelligence agencies, said continued vacancies on its board, the inability to investigate spy operations with other agencies, and delays in intelligence agencies providing required information are “key risks” to its mandate. As a result, SIRC said it can review only a “small number” of intelligence operations each year.
►►Analysis: After Snowden NSA faces recruitment challenge. This year, the NSA needs to find 1,600 recruits. Hundreds of them must come from highly specialized fields like computer science and mathematics. So far the agency has been successful. But with its popularity down, and pay from wealthy Silicon Valley companies way up, Agency officials concede that recruitment is a worry.

Opinion: Paris attackers bring Mideast urban warfare to Europe

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
Until Wednesday morning, the last time the offices of Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known satirical weekly, were attacked was on November 2, 2011. On that day, unknown assailants had thrown Molotov cocktails into the premises, setting them on fire. Since that attack, France has seen its share of Islamist-inspired terrorist incidents. In March of 2012, French citizen Mohammed Merah shot dead three French soldiers before attacking a Jewish school in Toulouse, where he killed three students and a teacher. Last May, authorities in Marseille arrested another Frenchman, Mehdi Nemmouche, for opening fire at a Jewish museum in Belgian capital Brussels earlier that month, killing a French national and two Israeli citizens. And the French public has been shocked in recent months by a number of seemingly random attacks on pedestrians by vehicles driven by Muslim Frenchmen, who appear to be politically motivated.

The common thread running through these incidents is that they were all haphazardly planned and executed by ‘lone-wolf’ attackers, who were markedly limited in both resources and skill. But the men implicated in Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead, were different. The two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who are said to be the main perpetrators of the assault, are believed to have “returned to France from Syria in the last year”, according to MSNBC. Undoubtedly, the two siblings saw action in the Syrian armed conflict, which is primarily fought in urban settings, and were systematically trained in urban warfare by men with considerable experience in it.

This explains their proficient delivery on Wednesday, as shown in the footage of the bloody attack, which has emerged since. The assailants arrived at their target carrying Kalashnikov rifles and magazines, neither of which can be easily acquired in France. Once inside the building, they remained there for a good 12 minutes, carefully executing their victims, some of whom they methodically sought out by name. They exited just as they entered, calm and collected. Even when they encountered a police vehicle, they stopped, aimed and shot at its passengers with considerable discipline, firing single or —in a handful of cases— double shots, instead of opting for bursts of rapid fire, which is the hallmark of inexperienced users of automatic rifles in moments of panic. After executing the police officers, they calmly walked back into their getaway vehicle and slowly drove away. It has been reported that at no point did they break the speed limit during their escape. Read more of this post

Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2014, part II

Angela Merkel and Barack ObamaBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org
Since 2008, when we launched this website, we have monitored daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence and espionage, striving to provide an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. As 2014 is about to conclude, we take a look back at what we think are the ten most important intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will surely agree that we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories this year. Some of them made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media. In anticipation of what 2015 may bring, we present you with our selection of stories below, which are listed in reverse order of importance. This is part two in the series. Part one is here.

5. China stops using US-made communications hardware, fearing espionage. Authorities in China removed for the first time this year Apple products from a government procurement list, because of fears that they are susceptible to electronic espionage by the United States. The products that have been removed from the list include the iPad and iPad Mini, as well as MacBook Air and MacBook Pro products –though interestingly the inventory of removed items does not include Apple smartphone products. There are unconfirmed reports that Russia is about to act likewise, as some Russian lawmakers in the State Duma want deputies with access to classified government information to be banned from using iPhones and iPads, among other Apple products. Do they know something we don’t?

4. Western spy agencies secretly collaborating with Assad regime. Back in 2013, the United States and other NATO allies were preparing to go to war with Syria, in order to help topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS, has prompted a remarkable U-turn in Western policy on Syria. Last January, the BBC confirmed that secret meetings were being held between Western intelligence officials and senior members of the Syrian government, aimed at “combating radical Islamist groups” in Syria. There are even compelling rumors that American spy agencies are sharing intelligence, and even weapons, with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is now seen by Washington as a force that can help neutralize ISIS. What a difference a year can make!

3. US, Cuba, exchange alleged spies as part of rapprochement. Public spy-swaps between adversary governments are extremely rare occurrences. What makes the recent exchange of spies and alleged spies between Washington and Havana even more remarkable is that it appears to be part of a wider warm-up in relations between the two neighboring nations, which have remained virtually frozen since 1960, when the Eisenhower administration broke off all official diplomatic contacts with the Caribbean island. Still, there is one aspect of this very public exchange that remains a mystery: Washington is refusing to provide information about Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban intelligence officer who spied for the United States until his arrest by the Cubans in 1995. He was part of the exchange and is now believed to be on American soil.

2. NSA spy leaks continue to cause diplomatic headaches for Washington. The NSA has seen itself feature in news headlines more times than ever before this year. For an Agency that relies on secrecy and a low public profile, this is clearly a regrettable state of affairs. We now know about the existence of the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, described as “something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked”. And we know that the NSA targets allies of the US with the same intensity that it targets its traditional adversaries. This, along with leaks about an alleged CIA operation against Germany, caused Berlin to break all intelligence collaboration with Washington and even expel the CIA station chief in the German capital. Turkey came close to doing the same, according to some sources.

1. Western spy agencies refocus on Russia. It is too early to proclaim a Cold War 2.0, but there is no question that Western intelligence agencies have actively began to refocus on Russia more intensely than at any time since the collapse of communism in 1991. This is especially noticeable in the United Kingdom, where military intelligence agencies are reportedly scrambling to rehire retired Russian-language analysts, due to the crisis in Crimea. Meanwhile, this past November Britain’s civilian spy agencies launched a new drive to recruit Russian-language speakers. According to some, the Cold War never ended. IntelNews regulars will recall that, in March of 2013, Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the UK in the 1980s, alleged in an interview that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War.

[Second of two parts. Part one is here]

Year in Review: The 10 Biggest Spy-Related Stories of 2014, part I

Happy New YearBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org
Since 2008, when we launched this website, we have monitored daily developments in the highly secretive world of intelligence and espionage, striving to provide an expert viewpoint removed from sensationalism and conspiratorial undertones. As 2014 is about to conclude, we take a look back at what we think are the ten most important intelligence-related developments of the past 12 months. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will surely agree that we witnessed our fair share of significant intelligence-related stories this year. Some of them made mainstream headlines, while others failed inexplicably to attract the attention of the news media. In anticipation of what 2015 may bring, we present you with our selection of stories below, which are listed in reverse order of importance. The stories are presented in two parts; part two will be published tomorrow. This is part one in the series. Part two is here.

10. South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for bribery and political interference. Much of the world’s media has focused on the seemingly endless stream of lunatic antics by the corrupt government of North Korea. But corruption is also prevalent south of the 38th parallel. The year 2014 saw the disgraceful imprisonment of Won Sei-hoon, who headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013. Last September, a court in Seoul heard that Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing South Korean liberal election candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. A few months earlier, Won had been sentenced to prison for accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts.

9. Australia spied on US law firm representing Indonesia in trade talks. Spying for direct commercial gain is viewed as a taboo by Western intelligence agencies, who claim to focus their efforts solely on matters directly relating to national security. But according to documents leaked in February, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) targeted Mayer Brown, one of the world’s largest law firms, because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state in commercial negotiations with Canberra. To make things worse, the documents also show that that the Australian agency offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency (NSA). After Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Australia, the two countries signed a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other.

8. Hezbollah leader’s senior bodyguard was a Mossad agent. It turns out that the man who directed the personal security detail of the secretary-general of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was an agent of Israeli intelligence. According to multiple sources in Lebanon and Israel, Mohammed Shawraba, 42, who was arrested earlier this year by Hezbollah’s counter-intelligence force, and is now undergoing trial, was able to penetrate the highest levels of the Shiite militant group and leaked sensitive information to Israel for several years prior to his capture. In 2008, Shawraba was promoted to director of the group’s Unit for Foreign Operations, also known as Unit 910, which collects information on Israeli activities abroad.

7. Public fight breaks out between Congress and the CIA. The intensity of the media’s focus on the recently published summary of the Congressional report on CIA interrogation practices is understandable. Having said that, we have known about the CIA’s use of waterboarding for years, and the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation’ goes back to the 1960s, so nobody can claim to have been shocked. What is perhaps more revelatory is the incredibly public spat between the Agency and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The CIA’s own inspector general found that Agency officers spied on Congressional staff investigating the CIA’s use of torture in interrogations. CIA Director John Brennan apologized for the incident, but many are wondering how this will affect intelligence oversight in years to come.

6. Turkey in turmoil as dozens arrested for spying on PM, spy chief. Turkey’s political system appeared to be sinking deeper into crisis this year, as over 100 police officers, some of them senior, were arrested for illegally wiretapping the telephones of high-level government figures, including the Prime Minster and the intelligence chief. They included two former heads of Istanbul police’s counterterrorism unit. Another 13 were later indicted for systematic “political and military spying” against senior government figures. However, critics of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government noted that one of the police officers arrested is the former deputy chief of the Istanbul police department’s financial crimes unit, which earlier this year led an investigation into alleged corrupt practices by senior members of the Erdoğan cabinet.

[First of two parts. Part two is here]

Comment: CIA ‘enhanced interrogations’ have long history

Yuri NosenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The public controversy surrounding the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary-report on detentions and interrogations continues to feed media headlines. But, as veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein notes in his Newsweek column, there is one crucial aspect missing from the debate: historical precedent. Stein observes what many commentators have missed, namely a reference in the 500-page document to KUBARK. KUBARK is in fact a coded reference used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s and 1960s to refer to itself. The KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual was produced by the Agency to train civilian and military intelligence officers in what the CIA called “coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources”. The document actively promoted the use of aggressive interrogation techniques and went so far as to make references to the use of electric shocks. The manual is believed to have been used by the CIA on several occasions, including in the interrogation of Yuri Nosenko. A colonel in the Soviet KGB, Nosenko first made contact with the CIA in Vienna in 1962, while he was accompanying a Soviet diplomatic mission to the Austrian capital. In 1964, he asked to be exfiltrated to the United States, at which point he was placed in a ‘grinder’, a CIA safe house, where he was interrogated at length. After failing two polygraph tests administered to him by his CIA handlers, some in the Agency began to believe that he might be a ‘dangle’, a double agent sent deliberately by the Soviets to spread confusion in the CIA’s Soviet desk. He was aggressively interrogated and detained until 1969, when the CIA formally classified him as a genuine defector and released him under the witness protection program. An updated version of the KUBARK manual resurfaced during the war in Vietnam, when the CIA operated an extensive complex of interrogation centers in South Vietnam. As Stein notes, the detention centers were “chiefly designed to extract information from captured communist guerrillas”. The Agency blamed several known instances of torture of prisoners of war on the US Army or on overzealous South Vietnamese interrogators. In the closing stages of the Cold War, the CIA was also implicated in having authored the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train interrogators in a host of US-supported Latin American military regimes, including most controversially Honduras. One could go back even further, to Project MKNAOMI/MKULTRA, a joint effort by the CIA and the US military to study the effects of substances such as heroin and LSD on the human brain, for the purposes of —among other things— interrogation. The program was marred by repeated instances of forced medication of prisoners, mental patients, prostitutes, and others. It resulted in the 1953 death of Dr. Frank Olson, a specialist in biological warfare working for the US Pentagon, who studied the effects of toxic substances on the brain. All that is to say that the public discussion on torture techniques and the CIA has long historical roots and appears to be going in circles —something which does not appear about to change.

Analysis: Well-trained spy agency adds to strength of Islamic State

ISIS parade in SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The militants of the Islamic State, who now control large parts of Syria and Iraq, boast a well-trained and agile intelligence apparatus that is partly responsible for the group’s continuing expansion and strength. Sources on the ground in Iraq report that many of the intelligence officers that staff the Islamic State’s spy agency are former employees of the Syrian and Iraqi governments. They were trained by either Russian or American spies during their government service, and are now lending their advanced intelligence skills to the Islamic State. Al-Monitor’s Ali Mamouri, who is based in Iraq, writes that the Islamic State’s intelligence agency is similar to other government intelligence apparatuses around the world in both structure and operational tactics. Principal among its tasks is political protection of the militant regime’s senior commanders, several of whom have already been killed in Mosul and other cities of northwestern Iraq. Islamic State intelligence officers have tightened security precautions in recent weeks, advising Islamic State leaders to limit their public appearances and arresting individuals suspected of acting as informants for Kurdish or other opposition groups linked to the Iraqi or Syrian governments. Another task of the Islamic State’s intelligence apparatus, Mamouri reports, is counterintelligence —i.e. detecting and preventing attempts by Iraqi and Syrian government spies to infiltrate Islamic State governing structures or military outfits. The intelligence agency also works closely with armed groups reminiscent of the German Nazi Party’s Sturmtruppen (Stormtroopers), namely uniformed street thugs whose task is to identify, monitor and physically eliminate opponents of the regime. The list of undesirables includes Shiites, moderate Sunnis, as well as leaders of tribes who cooperated with the Syrian or Iraqi governments in the recent past.

Are US spy agencies sharing weapons, intelligence with Hezbollah?

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
In its effort to amass regional support for its war against the Islamic State, the United States is reaching out to militant Shiites in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, according to some sources. In a report for New York-based magazine Newsweek, veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein said on Wednesday that the meteoric rise of Sunni radicalism, in the form of the Islamic State, may have prompted the creation of a “de facto US-Saudi-Lebanese-Hezbollah-Iranian” alliance in the Middle East. Although no partner in this informal coalition is willing to admit its role in the collaborative effort, the common goal of eradicating Sunni extremism has brought about an “unwritten, unacknowledged cease fire” between these former adversaries, says Stein, quoting “authoritative sources”. Washington and Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group that controls large swathes of Lebanese territory, have a common interest in combating the Islamic State and preventing its rule from spreading beyond Syria. So the Americans began reaching out to Hezbollah in 2012, says Stein, and have helped bring about a “regional consensus […] to contain the conflict away from Lebanon and in Syria”. Remarkably, bitter adversaries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran are said to actively subscribe to the Washington-led consensus against the Islamic State. Washington’s decision to reach out to Hezbollah appears to have been prompted by the realization that the militant Shiite group, along with the official Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), were the only actors on the ground capable of fighting and defeating the Islamic State. Last August, says Stein, the US Pentagon unloaded $20 million worth of weapons in Lebanon for use by the LAF. The weapons were reportedly shipped through the Beirut International Airport, which his under the control of Hezbollah. The group promptly transferred the weapons to the LAF, which is traditionally dominated by Christians, but has recently developed an “arm’s length alliance with Hezbollah” due to their mutual concern over the rise of the Islamic State. Stein suggests that the US-Hezbollah relationship may now also include intelligence-sharing. He quotes a number of sources who claim that some Sunni militants have been apprehended thanks to intelligence-sharing between America, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some claim that Iran acts as a mediator between Washington and Hezbollah, and that British diplomats also mediate between the two sides. Read more of this post

Analysis: Europe’s ‘spy capital’ struggles to police espionage, terrorism

Vienna, AustriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Throughout the Cold War, Vienna was Europe’s busiest ‘spy hub’ linking East and West. Little has changed today, as the Austrian capital is still believed to feature “the highest density of [foreign spies] in the world”. A recently published book estimated that there are 7,000 spies among the 17,000 accredited diplomats who live and work in Vienna, a city of fewer than 2 million inhabitants. International spies have taken advantage of Austria’s relatively liberal espionage laws and have operated with near-unparalleled ease in the central European country for over 200 years. But now the country’s Ministry of Interior is seeking to terminate Austria’s liberal espionage regime and has initiated a plan to give local authorities more counterintelligence powers. Supporters of the proposal argue that Austria has “the most permissive spying laws in Europe”, which allow foreign agents to operate on Austrian soil with a high degree of impunity. This is because, under Austrian law, intelligence activities are not considered criminal unless they target the host country. For this reason, American, Russian, German, French, and other intelligence agencies have for years used Vienna as a base for recruiting agents and collecting intelligence. Supporters of the Interior Ministry’s proposal argue that the current legal regime has been used to harm the national interests of Austria and the security of the European Union —a reference to recent claims in the Austrian media that the United States National Security Agency has been spying on the United Nations headquarters in Vienna. Additionally, Austrian authorities say they are now worried about local Muslims who have been radicalized and have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. The government estimates that at least 140 Austrian Muslims have made the trip to the Middle East to join the militant organization. Austria’s counterterrorist agency, the BVT, said in its annual report for 2014 that another 60 radical Muslims had returned to Austria from the Middle East since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits told Bloomberg that Austrian security services are “having a hard time doing their job the way they are expected to do”. Read more of this post

Did South African spy services kill Swedish prime minister in 1986?

Olof PalmeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The usually tranquil waters of Swedish national politics were stirred violently on February 28, 1986, when the country’s Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was shot dead. He was walking home from the cinema with his wife when he was gunned down by a single assassin who shot him from behind in Stockholm’s central street of Sveavägen. Following the 1988 acquittal of Christer Pettersson, who had been initially convicted of the assassination, several theories have been floating around, but the crime remains unsolved to this day. Now the BBC has aired an investigation into the incident, which revisits what some say is the most credible theory behind the killing: that Palme was targeted by the government of apartheid-era South Africa because of his strong support for the African National Congress (ANC). Palme was among the leading figures of the left wing in Sweden’s Social Democratic Party. He had served as Prime Minister from 1969 to 1976, and was reelected in 1982 on a left-wing program of “revolutionary reform” that included expanding the role of the trade unions and increasing progressive taxation rates. He was also a strong international opponent of South Africa’s apartheid system and under his leadership Sweden became the most ardent supporter of the ANC. By the mid-1980s, the country was providing nearly half of the ANC’s political funding. Swedish authorities viewed South African intelligence, especially the apartheid system’s State Security Bureau (BOSS), as the primary suspect in Palme’s assassination. In 2010, Tommy Lindström, former Director of the Swedish Police Service (Rikskriminalpolisen), said he was certain of the South African government’s complicity in Palme’s murder. After the end of apartheid, several South African former security officials said elements within the country’s intelligence services had authorized the assassination of the Swedish leader. But investigations by Swedish authorities remain inconclusive. Now the BBC’s security correspondent, Gordon Correra, has produced an investigation into the claims of South African complicity behind Palme’s murder. The investigation was aired on Monday by Document, an investigative program on BBC’s Radio 4 station. It is based on nearly 30 boxes of documents on the Palme assassination, found in the personal archive of the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Though known today primarily for his Millennium series, Larsson worked for most of his professional life as an investigative journalist specializing on the activities of the Swedish far-right. One of the documents in Larsson’s archive mentions Bertil Wedin, an anti-communist Swedish journalist, as “the middle man in the assassination” of Palme. Correra talks to several sources, including British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, who in 1988 alleged that the British security services had been aware of plots by Pretoria to kill Palme. Read more of this post

Analysis: Crimea crisis brings Russian military spies back in the game

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The recent crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in Russia assuming control of Crimean Peninsula, marks the post-Soviet resurgence of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus and points to “a new playbook” in Moscow’s foreign policy strategy, according to a seasoned Russia analyst. In an article published on Monday in Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, who specializes in Russian security affairs, said Russia’s military intelligence agency is now “back in the global spook game”. He was referring to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, known commonly as GRU, which he said the Kremlin will be employing increasingly in the years to come as a major foreign-policy tool. It is no secret that, despite its significant role in Cold War intelligence operations, the GRU has been in decline in the post-Soviet era. Its substandard performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin that the agency was “unfit” for operations in what Russians call the “near-abroad” —the regions of the former Soviet Republics. In 2003, in addition to facing what Galeotti calls “a savage round of [budget] cuts”, the GRU saw its near-abroad functions taken over by the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. The FSB descends from the domestic component of the Soviet-era KGB, the agency that employed Vladimir Putin before he entered politics (as an aside, the SVR, which is the post-Soviet reincarnation of the KGB’s external intelligence directorates, is legally prevented from operating within the Commonwealth of Independent States). As late as last year there was even a discussion about whether the GRU should be demoted from a main directorate under the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff to a simple directorate, a move that would have fatally diminished its institutional stature. But in the recent Crimea crisis, says Galeotti, the GRU was able to turn the tables on Kiev by deploying its battle-ready Vostok Battalion, whose members cut their teeth in Chechnya. Read more of this post

Opinion: Iraq is like South Vietnam in 1963 – the US should walk away

Diem and LodgeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
As I watch the dramatic collapse of the Federal government of Iraq, I keep telling myself that I cannot possibly be the only person noticing the remarkable political resemblance between the Iraq of 2014 and the South Vietnam of 1963. Just like government of Iraq today, the Republic of South Vietnam, which had been set up with direct American support flowing France’s exit from Indochina in 1954, faced increasing domestic opposition that was both political and religious. In Iraq today it is the Sunni Muslims who have taken up arms against the Shiite-controlled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, a westernized Vietnamese Catholic, whose family had been proselytized to Christianity in the 17th century, was shunned by South Vietnam’s Buddhist majority. The latter became increasingly agitated in opposition to the American supported government in Saigon, which they saw as alien and fundamentally anti-Vietnamese. Diem’s response was to intensify internal repression in South Vietnam. He unleashed the country’s secret police, controlled by his shadowy brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, against the Buddhist community. In the summer of 1963, Buddhist monks began resorting to self-immolation in a desperate attempt to draw public attention to their repression by Diem’s paramilitaries. Nhu’s wife, the fashionable Madame Nhu, shocked public opinion by dismissing the incidents as just some “drugged monks barbecuing themselves”. Washington immediately distanced itself from her comments, and increasingly from Diem.

In the summer of 1963, President John F. Kennedy, a personal friend of Diem, publicly accused the government in Saigon of having “lost touch” with the Vietnamese people and condemned the harsh repression of the Buddhist community. In private, Kennedy had gone a step further, instructing the Central Intelligence Agency and his Ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, to begin consulting with the South Vietnamese military about the possibility of deposing Diem. By that time, the Diem regime had become immensely unpopular in South Vietnam. Read more of this post

Analysis: Did Russian spy services secretly bug Polish officials?

Radosław SikorskiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
Poland’s relations with the United States were strained this week after Poland’s foreign minister allegedly described Warsaw’s alliance with Washington as “worthless” and “complete bullshit” in a private conversation. Radosław Sikorski has not denied the authenticity of a bugged conversation, in which he appears to argue that Poland is wrong to anger Germany and Russia by always siding with America on foreign policy issues. Using highly undiplomatic language, Sikorski denounced Poland’s foreign policy planners as “complete losers” and accused them of having a “slave mentality” in their dealings with American diplomats. He also described British Prime Minister David Cameron as an “incompetent” politician who “believes in his stupid propaganda” about the European Union. Transcripts of the conversation, which allegedly took place between Sikorski and Poland’s former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, were published last week in several increments by Polish newsmagazine Wprost.

How did the bugging occur? It appears that Sikorski was among a number of Polish politicians surreptitiously recorded for over a year while dining with colleagues at elite restaurants in Polish capital Warsaw. Polish authorities reportedly believe that managers and waiters at the restaurants placed concealed recording devices near the guests’ tables. Some believe the culprits’ goal was to blackmail the politicians in return for cash payments; others believe that powerful business interests or opposition politicians were behind the recordings. A few observers have even suggested that Rostowski, who is heard talking with Sikorski in the bugged conversation, may have been the source of the leak to Wprost. The magazine’s editors said they received an encrypted email from a business executive, going by the name “Patriot”, with links to four recorded conversations between senior Polish government officials. But it insisted that it was not aware of the identity of the leaker. Read more of this post

Analysis: Should government spies target foreign firms?

CyberespionageBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Last month, the government of the United States indicted five officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, economic espionage, and theft of trade secrets, among other charges. In indicting the five PLA officers, the US Department of Justice went to great pains to ensure that it did not accuse the suspects of engaging in cyberespionage in defense of China’s national security. What sparked the indictments was that the accused hackers allegedly employed intelligence resources belonging to the Chinese state in order to give a competitive advantage to Chinese companies vying for international contracts against American firms. In the words of US Attorney General Eric Holder, the operational difference between American and Chinese cyberespionage, as revealed in the case against the five PLA officers, is that “we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to US companies, or US commercial sectors”, whereas China engages in the practice “for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China”. I recently authored a working paper that was published by the Cyberdefense and Cybersecurity Chair of France’s Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, in which I argued that the American distinction between public and private spheres of economic activity is not shared by PLA. The Chinese see both state and corporate cyberespionage targets as fair game and as an essential means of competing globally with the United States and other adversaries. In the paper, I argue that Beijing sees the demarcation between state and private economic activity as a conceptual model deliberately devised by the US to disadvantage China’s intelligence-collection ability. Read more of this post

Is Estonia’s Russian counterintelligence program the world’s best?

EstoniaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Until not so long ago, the former Soviet Republic of Estonia was known as a playground for Russian intelligence. The tiny Baltic state, with a population of just under 1.4 million, a fourth of whom are ethnic Russians, struggled to build its security and intelligence infrastructure following its emergence from communism. Some of the country’s low points during that process include the infamous 2007 cyberattacks, which are believed to have been orchestrated by Moscow, and which kicked the entire country off the World Wide Web for over a week. A year later, authorities in Tallinn announced the arrest of Herman Simm, a senior official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who was apprehended along with his wife for spying on behalf of Russian intelligence for nearly 30 years. Since that time, however, Tallinn has been able to transform its Russian counterintelligence program into something resembling the envy of the world, according to Foreign Affairs columnist Michael Weiss. In an intriguing analysis published on Tuesday, Weiss argues that Estonia’s claim to fame in the counterintelligence world centers on its initiative in hosting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, which was founded in response to the 2007 cyberattacks. But, says Weiss, much more quietly, the tiny Baltic state has become a global leader in “old-fashioned counterintelligence” directed against Russian spy operations on its territory. He quotes one observer as saying that Estonia’s Russian counterintelligence program “is now better by a long way than that of any other country in Europe”. John Schindler, a professor at the United States Naval War College and former analyst at the National Security Agency, tells Weiss that, unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Estonia’s counterintelligence service, Kaitsepolitseiamet, known as KaPo, “intuitively understands Russian intelligence culture”. The agency, says Schindler, used the Simm case as an impetus to upgrade its offensive and defensive counterintelligence posture. This effort led to the well-publicized arrests of Aleksei and Viktoria Dressen, as well as Vladimir Veitman, all Estonian citizens who had been spying for Russia for many years. Read more of this post

Analysis: The Politics Behind the Thailand Coup Explained

Thai troops in the streets of BangkokBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
In the early hours of Thursday, the Thai government of acting caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, which had been appointed on May 7 of this year, was dissolved. Executive rule is now in the hands of the Peace and Order-Maintaining Command (POMC), led by Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha and composed of the commanders-in-chief of the Royal Air Force, Navy and Police. The 2007 Constitution has been suspended and the leaders of all political factions have been arrested. The POMC has taken over all broadcasting facilities in the country and has warned social media hosts that they are not allowed to publish content that is “misleading” to the public, “escalates political conflict” or “opposes the mandate of the POMC”. Thai military officials continue to deny that this is a coup, but the actions of the POMC reflect textbook tactics of juntas, down to the suspension of regular broadcasts and their replacement with patriotic songs and military marches.

None of this is surprising, given Thailand’s turbulent political history. Since 1932, when the country became a constitutional monarchy, there have been nearly 30 military-led mutinies, rebellions, and armed insurrections in the country, including 18 attempted coups, 12 of them successful. The most recent coup prior to last Thursday’s was in 2006, when the armed forces toppled the legally elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of abusing his power and disrespecting the country’s monarchy. In January of this year, political forecaster Jay Ulfelder, who served for a decade as research director of the United States government’s Political Instability Task Force, predicted that Thailand was close to a military coup. He published a mathematical model analyzing the likelihood of a military coup materializing in most of the world’s countries in 2014. Notably, Thailand was the only non-African nation among the ten candidates that topped Ulfelder’s list.

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