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.

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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.

Read more of this post

The mysterious Chinese unit behind the cyberespionage charges

Shanghai, ChinaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
On Monday, the United States government leveled for the first time charges against a group of identified Chinese military officers, allegedly for stealing American trade secrets through cyberespionage. The individuals named in the indictment are all members of a mysterious unit within the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) command structure, known as Unit 61398. It is estimated that the unit has targeted at least 1,000 private or public companies and organizations in the past 12 years. Western cybersecurity experts often refer to the group as “APT1”, which stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat 1”, or “Byzantine Candor”. It is believed to operate under the Second Bureau of the PLA’s General Staff Department, which is responsible for collecting foreign military intelligence. Many China military observers argue that Unit 61398 is staffed by several thousand operatives, who can be broadly categorized into two groups: one consisting of computer programmers and network operations experts, and the other consisting of English-language specialists, with the most talented members of the Unit combining both skills. Computer forensics experts have traced the Unit’s online activities to several large computer networks operating out of Shanghai’s Pudong New Area district, a heavily built neighborhood in China’s largest city, which serves as a symbol of the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization. Among other things, Unit 61398 is generally accused of being behind Operation SHADY RAT, one of history’s most extensive known cyberespionage campaigns, which targeted nearly 100 companies, governments and international organizations, between 2006 and 2011. The operation is believed to be just one of numerous schemes devised by Unit 61398 in its effort to acquire trade secrets from nearly every country in the world during the past decade, say its detractors. American sources claim that the PLA Unit spends most of its time attacking private, rather than government-run, networks and servers. As the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, told reporters on Monday, Unit 61398 conducts hacking “for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of businesses here in the United States”. But The Washington Post points out that the recent revelations by US intelligence defector Edward Snowden arguably make it “easier for China to dismiss” Washington’s charges, since they point to Read more of this post

Pattern of leaks suggests Snowden ‘may have been a Russian spy’

Edward SnowdenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
It has been nearly a year since British newspaper The Guardian unveiled the identity of American defector Edward Snowden, whom Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg has called the source of the most significant leak in the history of the United States. The case of Snowden, a former computer technician for the United States Intelligence Community, who is currently under Russian protection, continues to divide Americans. His defenders see him as a heroic whistleblower who sacrificed his comfortable life and promising career in order to expose the government’s encroachment into the private lives of American citizens. His detractors want him to account for stealing nearly 2 million classified documents and sharing American secrets with Moscow. Last January, American lawmakers with senior positions in Congressional intelligence committees expressed strong views that Snowden was working with Russian intelligence prior to his defection. Last Friday, American investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein appeared to side with Snowden’s detractors. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Epstein opined that the narrative of Snowden acting alone to bravely expose “the evils of government surveillance” was likely created by Snowden himself. But this popular whistleblowing narrative, said Epstein, is “at best incomplete [and] at worst fodder for the naïve”. The veteran journalist argued that Snowden’s heroic image seems to suffer when one considers his sleuthing actions prior to his defection. Specifically, the American defector left for Hong Cong, and eventually Russia, after having broken into at least 24 carefully compartmentalized areas of electronically stored classified intelligence inside the NSA. To do so, the computer expert had to consciously borrow, steal or forge multiple entry passwords. Once he had gained access to the compartmentalized systems, he planted “spiders”, stealthy intelligence-collection programs that looked for specifically targeted data to steal. This, says Epstein, is how Snowden managed to acquire 1.7 million documents from the Kunia Regional SIGINT Operations Center on the island of Hawaii, where he was stationed. What is interesting, argues Epstein, is that only “a minute fraction” of the documents stolen by Snowden were related to domestic surveillance by American government agencies. The journalist quotes General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said last March that the vast majority of the documents sought out by Snowden were related to America’s military capabilities. Read more of this post

Analysis: Russia’s policy in Ukraine part of wider anti-NATO plan

Marina KaljurandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Russia’s tactical maneuvering in Ukraine is part of a wider strategy of pushing back Western influence from former Soviet territories, according to East European and Western officials. That is the conclusion in a lead article in the latest issue of Time magazine, which quotes several eponymous sources, including John McLaughlin, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Marina Kaljurand, Estonia’s ambassador to Washington. She tells the newsmagazine that Russia’s meddling in Ukraine forms part of a carefully organized and well-funded strategy that involves “overt and covert” operations throughout Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Kaljurand says the operations include “a range of Cold War espionage tools”, such as planted agents, citizen groups funded by the Kremlin, as well as recruitment of intelligence assets. The aim, she argues, is to “restore in one form or another the power of the Russian Federation in the lands where Russian people live”. Western officials quoted in the Time article seem to agree that the strategy has a long-term, wider goal, which is “to undermine and roll back Western power” in former Soviet lands. Currently, Russian push-back operations are not only underway in Ukraine, but also in Latvia, where nearly half of the population consists of ethnic Russians, as well as in Estonia, where one in four citizens is Russian in origin. As in all former Soviet republics, many ethnic Russians in Estonia are members of the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, a group that is coordinated, guided, and often funded, by the Russian embassy in the country. In a recent report, the Estonian Internal Security Service said the Russian embassy in Tallinn is “guiding the Russian-speaking population […] by using influence operations inherited from the KGB”. IntelNews regulars will recall the case of Herman Simm, the high-level official at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, who once headed the country’s National Security Authority. He was arrested in 2008 and later convicted for —among other things— giving classified North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) material to Russia. Two years later, Estonia had been subjected to a sustained cyberattack after its government removed a statue commemorating the Soviet military contribution to World War II from downtown Tallinn. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #876 (analysis edition)

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Why did Obama not bomb Syria? In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya. Last August, after the sarin attack in Syrian capital Damascus, he was ready to launch an allied air strike to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​ But with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was later postponed. Why did Obama relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? Award-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh argues that the answer lies in “a clash between those in the Obama administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous”.
►►What is the role of the FSB in the Ukrainian crisis? On April 4, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a note to Moscow demanding to know why FSB Colonel General Sergei Beseda visited Kiev in February. The very next day Russian news agency InterFax cited a source in Russian intelligence confirming that visit. Beseda heads the FSB Fifth Service’s Operational Information Department, which is responsible for conducting intelligence activities focusing on the former Soviet republics. Agentura.ru intelligence analyst Andrei Soldatov says that the answer as to why Beseda was in Kiev could be key to understanding the role of Russia’s intelligence agencies in the current crisis and to the Kremlin’s entire strategy in Ukraine.
►►What would a US-Russia war look like? The chances that the US and Russia will clash militarily over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are very, very slim. But, says The Week’s Peter Weber, if we learned anything from World War I, it’s that huge, bloody conflicts can start with tiny skirmishes, especially in Eastern Europe. So what would a US-Russia war look like? The US is much wealthier than Russia and spends a lot more on its military. That doesn’t mean a war would be easy for the US to win, though, or even guarantee a victory. As Napoleon and Hitler learned the hard way, Russia will sacrifice a lot to win its wars, especially on its home turf.

Analysis: Time for Western spy agencies to refocus on Russia?

Pro-Russian celebrations in CrimeaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
During the Cold War, Western intelligence agencies relied on legions of Soviet specialists to make sense of the Kremlin’s policy maneuvers. The American Intelligence Community in particular was almost exclusively engaged in collecting information on the USSR. To the extent that American intelligence collectors were active in countries other than the USSR, it was primarily in order to monitor Soviet activity. The implosion of the Soviet Union brought about a relaxation of Western intelligence collection efforts against Russian targets, a process that was further fueled by the 9/11 attacks. The latter turned the attention of Western intelligence collectors on Islamist-inspired militancy in the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim regions. The legions of Western Sovietologists and Russia specialists saw their careers stagnate, as counterterrorism became the predominant buzzword in intelligence circles. But the recent invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia is prompting a reexamination of intelligence collection priorities among Western spy agencies. A recent analysis piece by the Reuters news agency suggests that some Western intelligence planners view the events in Crimea as “demonstrating a dramatic need for renewed focus” on Russia. There is concern among intelligence specialists, says Reuters, that no signals chatter was detected in Russia in the weeks prior to the invasion of Crimea to indicate an imminent Russian takeover of Ukrainian territory. This alleged weakness is coupled by concerns among some foreign-policy planners that the West is potentially entering “a new era of […] confrontation with Moscow”, argues Reuters. If this is true, then Western intelligence agencies will need to replenish their level of expertise on Russia, which, according to some intelligence insiders, “has diminished drastically” in the last decade. Read more of this post

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