Al-Qaeda still a more serious threat than ISIS, says ex-CIA official

Al-Qaeda in YemenAl-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose the most serious unconventional threat to American security, despite the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, according to a former senior official in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Michael Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA, and served twice as the Agency’s acting director, did not deny that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, poses a significant threat to the security of the US. However, the militant group “is not the most significant threat to the homeland today”, he said. Morell made the comment while speaking on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, while promoting his new book, The Great War of Our Time: An Insider’s Account of the CIA’s Fight Against Al Qa’ida.

The former CIA official told his audience that the most serious unconventional threat to the US continues to come from three al-Qaeda groups, all of which remain far cogent and willing to engage the US on its home soil. According to Morell, the three groups consist of the so-called ‘al-Qaeda Central’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as its Syrian branch, known as the Khorasan Group, and its Yemen affiliate, which goes by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He added that the last three serious efforts to strike the US with the intent of causing mass casualties all came from AQAP. Morell was referring to the 2009 so-called ‘underwear bomber’ and the 2010 ‘ink-cartridge bomb plot’, as well as the ‘plastic suicide vest bomb pot’ in 2012, all of which were unsuccessful. The former CIA official said that, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has “the ability to bring down an airliner in the US tomorrow”. Most importantly, he added, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has shown willingness to confront America on its home soil.

Morell’s argument echoed similar comments expressed in September 2014 by the then-Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen. Olsen, who held the US’ most senior counterterrorism post until his retirement last year, opined at a forum in Washington that ISIS did not currently pose a direct threat to America or Western Europe. He added that the risk of a “spectacular, al-Qaeda-style attack” on American or European targets by ISIS was negligible, saying that ISIS was “significantly more limited than al-Qaeda”, especially in the run-up to 9/11.

German spies helped US find bin Laden, claims German newspaper

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence gave the United States a tip of “fundamental importance” about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, which helped the Americans locate him in Pakistan, according to a German media report. Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper, Bild am Sontag, said in its Sunday edition that the tip allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to corroborate separate intelligence tips pointing to the possibility that the wanted Saudi terrorist may have been hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Citing an unnamed “American intelligence official”, Bild said the tip was given to the CIA by its German equivalent, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, known in Germany as BND. It said the critical information originated from an agent handled by the BND inside Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). The agent was an officer of the ISI but had secretly worked as an agent of the BND “for years”, said the German newspaper.

The tip was eventually communicated by the Germans to the CIA, and was used by the American agency to corroborate information from a number of other sources, which eventually led to the decision to send a Special Forces team to kill the al-Qaeda leader. According to the German paper, the CIA was already leaning toward the view that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. However, the BND tip was “of fundamental importance” in enabling the CIA to make up its mind as to bin Laden’s whereabouts, said Bild. Moreover, the BND’s Pakistani agent allegedly told the German agency that the ISI leadership was protecting bin Laden while holding him under house arrest. If true, the Bild information would seem to confirm allegations made by American reporter Seymour Hersh and security expert R.J. Hillhouse that Pakistani leaders had secretly imprisoned the al-Qaeda founder in Abbottabad. The Bild article goes on to claim that German intelligence used its Bad Aibling Station listening posts to monitor the Pakistani government’s communications so as to help ensure that the planned American attack on bin Laden’s compound was not being anticipated by Islamabad.

However, in reporting on Bild’s allegations, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel questions the validity of the tabloid newspaper’s argument. Why, it asks, would the BND’s Pakistani agent approach his German handlers with the information about bin Laden’s whereabouts, instead of going directly to the Americans? Had the agent followed the latter course of action, he or she could have been able to claim the lucrative reward offered by the US Department of State in exchange for information that would help locate the al-Qaeda founder.

Macau authorities deny CIA tried to assassinate Snowden

PLA Macao GarrisonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the Chinese region of Macau have denied news reports that Chinese Special Forces averted an attempt by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to kill or capture American defector Edward Snowden. The reports were initially published on March 8 on the website of China News Service, China’s second-largest state-owned news agency after Xinhua. The news agency, which serves China’s Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, said that a secretive unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army held a private function to celebrate its success against an alleged attempt by the CIA to kill Snowden. The American former computer expert worked for the CIA and the National Security Agency before defecting to Russia in the summer of 2013. Prior to arriving in Russia, however, Snowden first sought refuge in Hong Kong, where he stayed until June 23.

According to Chinese media reports, the US sent a CIA assassination squad to Hong Kong in mid-June 2013, in an effort to either abduct or kill Snowden. However, the defector’s life was allegedly saved by men from the so-called “Sharp Swords” Special Forces unit of the PLA’s Macao Quick Reaction Platoon. The latter, which is part of the PLA’s Macau Garrison, had reportedly been urgently dispatched to Hong Kong by the Chinese government, in order to guard the high-profile American defector. Some reports suggest that a fierce firefight took place between the Chinese Special Forces troops and the CIA hit squad, which eventually left four CIA officers dead, including “a senior member of the CIA’s network in Hong Kong”. When Snowden transferred to Russia, the PLA unit returned to its base in Macau, where it remains today. Chinese news media alleged that a special “special event” was held in honor of the PLA unit, during which several of its members received “first-class merit awards” for protecting Snowden and neutralizing the alleged CIA operatives.

On Monday, however, the First Secretary of the Security Office of Macau, Wong Sin Chat, told local media that the reports of a PLA award ceremony were “nothing more than rumors”. He added that there had been no attempt by anyone to assassinate Snowden, and noted that, on behalf of Macau’s state authorities, he could “absolutely confirm” that the news reports had been inaccurate. Washington has yet to comment on the allegations.

Turkish general claims CIA ‘may have had role’ in 2003 coup plot

Bilgin BalanliBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A Turkish former four-star general, who was jailed for his role in an alleged coup plot by secularists in the Turkish military, has alleged in an interview that the United States may have advised the coup plotters. Bilgin Balanli was the only active-duty four-star general to be charged in connection with the so-called Balyoz Harekâti (Operation SLEDGEHAMMER) coup-plot case. The alleged plot became widely known in early 2010, when Taraf, a liberal Turkish daily, published documents from 2003 that outlined the plotters’ plans for a military takeover of government. According to Taraf, the conspirators were secularists within the ranks of Turkey’s military and intelligence agencies, who were opposed to the rule of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The documents outlined plans to bomb two mosques in Istanbul and bring down a Turkish fighter jet over the Aegean Sea, which would be blamed on Greece. The plotters hoped that the ensuing crisis would permit the military to assume power in the country. The AKP-led government reacted swiftly: on February 21, 2010, police operations took place in nearly a dozen Turkish provinces, leading to the arrests of over 40 leading coup plotters. Another 325 were charged in the following days. The alleged plotters argued that Operation SLEDGEHAMMER was simply an exercise that had been conceived as a scenario-based simulation for a military seminar. But the courts rejected their argument and sentenced nearly 300 of the accused to prison terms ranging from a few months to several years. More recently, however, most of those sentenced were released pending retrials. Many were acquitted last month on grounds that their civil rights had been violated during their initial trial.

Among those acquitted was General Balanli, who was about to be promoted to Chief of Staff for the Turkish Air Force when he was arrested in connection to SLEDGEHAMMER in 2010. His conviction meant that he had to resign from his post and relinquish his state pension. In his first lengthy interview since his acquittal, Balanli said he believes many of the coup planning documents had been authored by a non-Turkish intelligence agency, probably the US Central Intelligence Agency. Balanli was referring to allegations, made by many of the accused during the SLEDGEHAMMER trials, that an American senator had provided some of the coup planning documents, with the help of a retired Turkish military officer based in Istanbul. According to Balanli, much of the terminology and phraseology found in the plot documents was clearly not written by Turkish-language speakers. For example, said Balanli, the Turkish-language documents used the term “ocean” to refer to the Aegean Sea. “We do not use the word ‘ocean’ to refer to our seas”, said the Turkish general. “The term ‘ocean’ is only used by the US to refer to the sea”, he argued. “I believe that these documents were translated from the English, from the original American plan”, said Balanli.

The former general’s claim, though unsubstantiated, is bound to be refuted by Washington. It will, however, reinforce Turkish President Erdoğan’s claim that his pro-Islamist government has been the subject of plots and machinations from the West, and especially from Washington.

CIA funds given to Afghan officials ended up in al-Qaeda coffers

Atiyah Abd al-RahmanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Millions of dollars given by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Afghanistan following the 2001 American invasion ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda, according to documents found in the personal archive of the organization’s founder, Osama bin Laden. The documents were confiscated by US Special Forces from bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed in 2011. They were declassified this week for use as evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer, a Pakistani citizen accused of planning a series of suicide bombings in Britain and the US. The New York Times, which cited “interviews with Afghan and Western officials”, said the documents show that Washington “has sometimes inadvertently financed the very militants it is fighting”. The paper attributed this to poor oversight of the billions of dollars in cash payments that the CIA supplied to the corrupt Afghan government of Hamid Karzai for over a decade.

The letters used in Naseer’s trial concern $5 million paid as ransom to al-Qaeda by the Afghan government in 2010, in exchange for the release of Abdul Khaliq Farahi, Afghanistan’s consul general in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Farahi had had been abducted by militants two years earlier and delivered to the hands of al-Qaeda, who promptly contacted Kabul demanding payment. In the spring of 2010, the Afghan government agreed to pay a $5 million ransom for the kidnapped diplomat’s release. According to The Times, at least $1 million in ransom money came from the several millions of dollars in cash that the CIA would deliver each month to the presidential palace in Kabul. The other $4 million came from Iran as well as from a number of Arab oil kingdoms, says the paper.

In June 2010, almost as soon as the funds were delivered to al-Qaeda’s hands, the organization’s accounts manager, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, wrote to bin Laden: “Allah blessed us with a good amount of money this month”. The al-Qaeda founder responded by expressing surprise that the US would have allowed a ransom to be paid to the militant group, and cautioned al-Rahman to check the cash for signs of poison or radiation that may have been planted there by the Americans. It appears, however, that no trap had been set up by the CIA, and al-Qaeda was able to use the funds for weaponry and routine operational expenses. The Times said it asked the CIA whether officials at Langley were aware of the ransom paid to al-Qaeda by the Afghan government, but the Agency declined comment.

News you may have missed #889

Malcolm RifkindBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US agency warns of domestic right-wing terror threat. A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the US Department of Homeland Security this month, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing so-called “sovereign citizen” extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism. Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to —and in some cases greater than—the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.​
►►Chair of UK parliament’s spy watchdog resigns over corruption scandal. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a British parliamentarian who chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee, has announced that he will stand down, after a video emerged showing him discussing with what he thought were representatives of a Chinese company, who asked him to help them buy influence in the British parliament. Rifkind offered to get them access to British officials in exchange for money. The people he was talking to, however, turned out to be journalists for The Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 News who recorded the conversations.
►►The case of the sleepy CIA spy. Although a federal judge ruled in favor of the CIA last week in a discrimination suit brought by an employee who claimed he was harassed out of his job because of his narcolepsy and race, the African-American man is back in court with another complaint. On December 4, “Jacob Abilt”, the pseudonym for the CIA technical operations officer who sued the CIA, filed a second, until now unreported suit, complaining that he was unjustly denied a temporary duty assignment to a war zone due to a combination of his race and narcolepsy.

Israelis dispute CIA was behind Hezbollah strongman’s killing

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Sources in Israel are disputing reports from January that the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination of one of Hezbollah’s most senior officials. On January 31 of this year, two US-based publications, The Washington Post and Newsweek, claimed that it was the CIA, not Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as previously thought, who led the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah. Mughniyah, who was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon, was killed when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret.

According to the reports, the Mossad alerted the CIA after uncovering Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and suggested a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. The American covert-action agency proceeded to have a bomb designed by technicians from its Science & Technology Directorate, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in North Carolina. It was, according to the Post and Newsweek reports, the very bomb that killed Mughniyah on the evening of February 12 near his home in the Syrian capital.

But Dan Raviv, the Washington-based national correspondent for CBS News, said on Sunday that Israeli intelligence insiders are disputing claims that the CIA was the leading force in the operation. In a report published on Sunday, Raviv cited “Israelis close to their country’s services” as saying that the operation against Mughniyah was “almost all blue-and-white, and just a little bit red-white-and-blue” —a direct reference to the colors in the Israeli and American flags. The CBS correspondent said Israelis had been “miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit” for the strike against Mughniyah, and were actively “speaking with Western officials and diplomats to offer corrections”.

According to Raviv, it was the Mossad and Aman (Israel’s primary military-intelligence agency) that discovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and proceeded to design a bomb after the US declined Israel’s invitation to help organize a joint strike. Eventually, claims Raviv, Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, convinced then-US President George W. Bush to approve a strike against Mughniyah, by showing him videos of the custom-made car bomb being tested in Israel. An impressed President Bush then authorized the CIA to participate in the operation. But by that time, says Raviv, the Israelis were firmly in command of the project and remained so until its final execution. Neither the CIA nor the Mossad have commented on the allegations regarding Mughniyah’s assassination.

News you may have missed #888 (CIA edition)

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►CIA said to have bought Iraqi chemical weapons. The CIA, working with US troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former US officials. The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation AVARICE, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the US military deemed it a nonproliferation success.
►►CIA fears enemy will gain control of the weather. The CIA is worried that a foreign power may develop the ability to manipulate the global climate in a way that cannot be detected, according to Professor Alan Robock, a leading climatologist. Robock claimed that consultants working for the CIA asked him whether it would be possible for a nation to meddle with the climate without being discovered. “At the same time, I thought they were probably also interested in if we could control somebody else’s climate, could they detect it”, he said.
►►CIA scales back presence and operations in Yemen. The closure of the US Embassy in Yemen has forced the CIA to significantly scale back its counterterrorism presence in the country, according to US officials, who said the evacuation represents a major setback in operations against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate. The spy agency has pulled dozens of operatives, analysts and other staffers from Yemen as part of a broader extraction of roughly 200 Americans who had been based at the embassy in Sana’a, officials said. The departures were triggered by mounting concerns over security in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, where Houthi rebels have effectively toppled the government.

CIA had central role in Hezbollah official’s killing, say sources

Imad MughniyahBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States, not Israel, as previously thought, led an assassination operation that targeted a senior member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2008, according to two separate reports that came out last week. Imad Mughniyah was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon. At the time of his assassination, Mughniyah headed the Hezbollah’s security apparatus and some claim he was the organization’s second-in-command. He was killed on the evening of February 12, 2008, when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret. The Shiite group blamed Israel for his killing. But two reports that aired this week, one in The Washington Post and the other in Newsweek, cited unnamed former government officials in the US in claiming that the operation was in fact led by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima said the CIA was assisted in the operation by its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, while Newsweek’s Jeff Stein wrote that the effort was personally approved by then-US President George Bush and was closely supervised by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden.

According to the reports, the Mossad uncovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007 and alerted the CIA, suggesting a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. Soon after President Bush approved the strike, officers in the CIA’s Near East Division planned the logistics of the operation, which involved building a complex bomb, smuggling it into Syria and placing it inside the spare tire of a locally-purchased vehicle. The bomb was allegedly designed by technicians from the CIA’s Directorate of Science & Technology, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in Harvey Point, North Carolina.

The operation was allegedly coordinated from a CIA safe house located near Mughniyah’s apartment in the Syrian capital. On the evening February 12, a team of Mossad and CIA operatives employed facial-recognition technology to identify their target as he was walking out of a local restaurant. When Mughniyah approached the explosives-laden SUV, the bomb was remotely detonated, decapitating him and blasting his torso through a nearby window (note: Goldman and Nakashima claim that the bomb was remotely detonated by Mossad officers located in Tel Aviv; Stein suggests the blast was triggered by a CIA officer who had been placed in charge of the remote-control mechanism).

The reports describe the operation as “one of the most high-risk covert actions” undertaken by the CIA in recent years, because it targeted a high-profile individual in a country with which the US was not officially at war. Additionally, the method used —a car bomb— is particularly controversial, as it is typically a method of operation preferred by organized criminals and terrorist organizations.

The US has not acknowledged participation in Mughniyah’s assassination, and the CIA declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post on Friday. Mark Regev, spokesman for the office of the Israeli prime minister, said simply that Tel Aviv had “nothing to add at this time”.

German who spied for CIA stole list of 3,500 German spies’ names

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A German intelligence officer, who was arrested last summer for spying for the United States, may have given his American handlers information on the real identities, as well as operational aliases, of nearly 3,500 German intelligence operatives. In July, Germany expelled the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Berlin, following the arrest of Marcus R., a 31-year-old, low-level clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was believed at the time to have spied for the CIA for approximately two years, and to have supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000. It is thought that Markus R. contacted the CIA by sending an email over an encrypted connection to the American embassy in Berlin. From then on, his communication with his American handlers appears to have taken place mostly via the Internet. Sources suggest that he conferred with them via a secure link that was included in a specially-designed weather application that he had been instructed install on his computer. Now German authorities, who have been investigating the 31-year-old double spy’s computers ever since his arrest, say they found in one of them a stolen digital document containing a list of the real and cover identities of thousands of BND employees stationed abroad. According to German publications Bild and Spiegel, which reported the alleged discovery, the employees whose names are contained in the document are members of the BND’s Foreign Relations department, also known as Foreign Theater Operations department. The department is tasked with stationing intelligence operatives abroad in German embassies and consulates, as well as with embedding them with German military missions in places such as Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Mali. German investigators say they are not yet certain whether Markus R. passed the names of the BND operatives on to his CIA handlers.

News you may have missed #886 (CIA torture edition)

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►What the Vietcong learned about torture that the CIA didn’t. The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques”, as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents.
►►Half of all Americans think CIA torture was justified. Americans who believe the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention program was justified significantly outnumber those who don’t think it was warranted, according to a poll released Monday. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found 51% of Americans think the CIA practices were warranted, compared with 29% who said the techniques were not, and 20% who didn’t express an opinion. A majority of those polled, 56%, believed the interrogation methods provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks.
►►Author of interrogation memo says CIA maybe went too far. As former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Sunday that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects did not amount to torture, the man who provided the legal rationale for the program said that in some cases it had perhaps gone too far. Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo said the sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and other harsh treatment outlined in a US Senate report last week could violate anti-torture laws.

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.

Reactions to US Senate’s CIA report fall along party lines

Cover of the Senate reportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Almost immediately following the release of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary-report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program, American public figures began to hurriedly fall in line along predictable partisan positions on the subject. The 500-page document, released on Tuesday, represents the publicly available version of a 6,000-page report that dismisses the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program as an intelligence failure. It also details instances of systematic use of torture by the Agency and accuses it of lying to Congress and the Executive about the effectiveness of its detention methods. But the published report was boycotted by the Senate Committee’s Republican Party members; consequently, it was authored solely by the group’s Democratic Party members, who currently constitute a majority in the Committee. Its Republican members, led by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), released an alternative 160-page minority report that dismisses the majority document as an inaccurate and hastily produced account, which endangers American national security. The Republican-supported minority statement praises the CIA for weakening al-Qaeda in the years after 9/11 and lambasts its critics for “misrepresentations of fact” rooted in “political motivations”. Meanwhile, as senior officials in the administration of US President Barack Obama voiced support for the Senate report, an anonymous group of former senior CIA officials launched a website lambasting it as “the single worst example of Congressional oversight in our many years of government service”. IntelNews understands that the website, entitled “CIA Saved Lives”, is organized by Bill Harlow, the CIA’s public-affairs director from 1997 to 2004, who is close to the Agency’s former Director, George Tenet. Tenet was a trusted advisor of then-US President George W. Bush, and led the CIA during the implementation of the early stages of the post-9/11 interrogation program. The CIA’s own response to the Senate report came in a public press release that acknowledged “serious mistakes” in the interrogation program while defending its alleged effectiveness in weakening of al-Qaeda. Rare examples of public figures that broke party lines were Susan Collins (R-Me), the only Senate Intelligence Committee Republican not to endorse the minority report, and Senator John McCain (R-Az). McCain, who underwent years of torture as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, said the CIA’s use of torture “stained [America’s] national honor” and had done “much harm and little practical good”.

White House weighs increased CIA involvement in Syrian war

Syrian rebelsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of the United States is considering plans to augment the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine role in Syria, amid fears that similar efforts by the US Department of Defense are failing. The CIA’s involvement in the Syrian civil war began in 2012, when US President Barack Obama issued a classified presidential finding that authorized Langley to arm and train opposition militias. The clandestine program was initially based in training camps in Jordan before eventually expanding to at least one location in Qatar. The CIA currently vets and trains approximately 400 opposition fighters every month with the help of commandos detailed to the Agency from the Pentagon. But the program may be about to escalate considerably, according to The Washington Post. The paper said last week that the option of expanding CIA arming and training operations in Syria was on the agenda at a recent meeting of senior national-security officials in Washington. The paper said that the proposed escalation of CIA operations in the region “reflects concern” about the slow pace of similar programs run by the US Department of Defense, which aim to train and arm anti-government militias. The latter have so far proved unable to counter the dominance of a host of al-Qaeda-inspired groups operating along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Earlier this month, a major CIA-backed armed group, known as Harakat Hazm, abandoned many of its positions in northern Syria, after it came under attack by Jabhat al-Nusra, an official al-Qaeda affiliate. Along with territory, Harakat Hazm left behind significant amounts of war material supplied to it by the US Pentagon. The Post said that other moderate opposition militias are beginning to view al-Qaeda-linked groups as their most viable option in defeating the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, something which is worrying the White House. Spokesmen for the US government refused to comment on the report of a possible increase of CIA operations in Syria, or on whether the White House had reached a decision on the matter.

CIA issues ‘stand-down’ on spying against Western Europe

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States Central Intelligence Agency has issued a “stand-down order” to its stations in Europe, instructing them to cease all intelligence operations targeting allied countries, media reports claim. According to several Western European news outlets, including British newspaper The Guardian, CIA stations in Europe have been “forbidden from undertaking unilateral operations” involving assets recruited from within government agencies allied to Washington. Last summer, the German government instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials”. Berlin also expelled the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station —essentially the top American official in the country. The moves came after successive revelations by American defector Edward Snowden, suggesting that Washington had spied on Germany and other Western European countries with unprecedented intensity in recent years. In July, Berlin arrested two German intelligence officers who it said were spying on Germany on behalf of the CIA. The Guardian said that the stand-down order came into effect shortly after the arrests of the CIA’s two German assets and Berlin’s subsequent reaction, which diplomatic observers described as “unprecedented”. The order was communicated to CIA stations “by senior CIA officials through secret cables”, said the paper. The decision is reportedly aimed at giving CIA stations in Europe time to evaluate the degree of operational security of their intelligence-collection programs and assess whether their officers were “being careful enough” so as to prevent further embarrassment for Langley. Additionally, CIA stations have been asked to evaluate whether targeting allied nations in espionage operations is “worth running the risk of discovery”, said The Guardian. Since the stand-down order was issued, CIA case officers have reportedly stopped meeting with all of their assets recruited from within allied governments. The London-based newspaper quoted one anonymous former CIA official who said stand-downs of this sort are not uncommon after operations are compromised, but added that he could not remember a stand-down order being “this long or this deep”. Read more of this post

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