CIA airplane sent to capture Edward Snowden in 2013, documents show

Edward SnowdenDocuments acquired through Denmark’s freedom of information act appear to show that the United States deployed an airplane, which had previously been used to rendition terrorism detainees, in an attempt to capture the American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a computer expert for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he defected in June 2013, after initially fleeing to Hong Kong with millions of stolen US government documents in his possession. A few weeks ago, Danish news website Denfri.dk published a set of documents that confirm the deployment over Danish airspace of an American airplane in June 2013. The plane had previously been used by the CIA to carry out extraordinary renditions of terrorism detainees during the Administration of US President George W. Bush.

The documents, which were acquired by Denfri.dk after it filed a lawsuit under Denmark’s Access to Public Administration Files Act, are heavily redacted. But they do show the deployment of the Gulfstream V aircraft with registration number N977GA, which landed at an airport in Danish capital Copenhagen, after flying over the British Isles. The flight occurred at the same time that Snowden was trying to acquire political asylum in Russia, according to Denfri. The website said that the documents it received from the Danish government included a “heavily redacted” email exchange between high-level officials in the country’s Justice and Foreign Affairs Ministries, as well police and military personnel. Among them was Anders Herping Nielsen, a Danish government official specializing in the extradition of detainees who are wanted for crimes abroad.

Denfri said it contacted the Danish government to ask why the documents had been so heavily redacted before being released. It was allegedly told by the Ministry of Justice that the redacting occurred in order to avoid complications in Danish-American relations. “Denmark’s relationship with the US would be damaged if the information [contained in the redacted portion of the documents] becomes public knowledge”, said an email from the Ministry.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 February 2016 | Permalink

Portugal court rules to extradite ex-CIA officer wanted in Italy for kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA court in Portugal has ruled to extradite a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Italy, where she faces charges of kidnapping a man as part of a secret operation. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. The Reuters news agency said on Friday that De Sousa would “be surrendered to Italian authorities” so that she could be informed of the Italian court’s decision to convict her in 2009. The news agency was reportedly told by a Portuguese court official that De Sousa would have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she would have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa planned to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2016 | Permalink

Dutch technical experts helped US bug foreign embassies in Cold War

Great Seal bugA tightly knit group of Dutch technical experts helped American spies bug foreign embassies at the height of the Cold War, new research has shown. The research, carried out by Dutch intelligence expert Cees Wiebes and journalist Maurits Martijn, has brought to light a previously unknown operation, codenamed EASY CHAIR. Initiated in secret in 1952, the operation was a collaboration between the United States Central Intelligence Agency and a small Dutch technology company called the Nederlands Radar Proefstation (Dutch Radar Research Station).

According to Dutch website De Correspondent, which published a summary of the research, the secret collaboration was initiated by the CIA. The American intelligence agency reached out to the Dutch technical experts after interception countermeasures specialists discovered a Soviet-made bug inside the US embassy in Moscow. The bug, known as ‘the Thing’, had been hidden inside a carved wooden ornament in the shape of the Great Seal of the United States. It had been presented as a gift to US Ambassador W. Averell Harriman by the Young Pioneer organization of the Soviet Union in 1945, in recognition of the US-Soviet alliance against Nazi Germany in World War II. But in 1952, the ornament, which had been hanging in the ambassador’s office in Moscow for seven years, was found to contain a cleverly designed listening device. The bug had gone undetected for years because it contained no battery and no electronic components. Instead it used what are known as ‘passive techniques’ to emit audio signals using electromagnetic energy fed from an outside source to activate its mechanism.

Wiebes and Martijn say the CIA reached out to the Dutch in 1952, soon after the discovery of ‘the Thing’, in fear that “the Soviets were streets ahead of the Americans when it came to eavesdropping technology”. According to the authors, the approach was facilitated by the BVD, the Cold War predecessor of the AIVD, Holland’s present-day intelligence agency. In the following years, technical specialists in the Netherlands produced the West’s answer to ‘the Thing’ —a device which, like its Soviet equivalent, used ‘passive techniques’ to emit audio signals. Moreover, the Americans are believed to have used the Dutch-made device to but at least two foreign embassies in The Hague, the Soviet Union’s and China’s, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The work by Wiebes and Martijn was initially published in Dutch by De Correspondent in September of last year. An English-language version of the article, which was published in December, can be read here.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 January 2016 | Permalink

We had no asset in Saddam’s inner circle, says ex-CIA deputy director

Morell - IA senior Central Intelligence Agency official, who led the agency as its acting director before retiring in 2013, has said that not having sources in the Iraqi government’s upper echelons led to the intelligence failure of 2003. Michael Morell retired as deputy director of the CIA, after having served twice as its acting director, in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. A Georgetown University graduate, Morell joined the agency in 1980 and rose through the ranks to lead the Asia, Pacific and Latin America divisions. In May 2015, Morell published his book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight against Terrorism from al Qa’ida to ISIS, which he has been promoting while working as a consultant in the private sector.

Morell spoke at the Aspen Institute earlier this month, and once again offered a public apology to former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell for the CIA’s erroneous estimates on Iraq. He was referring to the Agency’s claims prior to the 2003 US invasion that Iraq maintained an active weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program. The claims formed the basis of Powell’s February 2003 speech during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, in which he claimed that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had “biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce […] many more.” There was no question, said Morell, that Powell’s reputation “was tarnished” as a result of the speech, and that a public apology was in order. The same apology, said Morell, applied “to every single American.”

The retired intelligence official went on to say that the main cause of the CIA’s erroneous assessment of Iraq’s WMD program was that the Agency had failed to penetrate the highest echelons of the Hussein regime. “We were not able to come up with the right answer [because] we didn’t do our fundamental job of penetrating [Hussein’s] inner circles with a human asset,” said Morell. As a result, there was “no information to give to the [CIA] analyst to say ‘here’s what this guy is up to’,” he added. The author of The Great War of Our Time, went on to suggest that the CIA’s failure to penetrate the inner circle of the Iraqi government prior to 2003 was “quite frankly a national security failure.”

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 December 2015 | Permalink

Israeli military warns its soldiers against recruitment attempts by the CIA

Israel IDFIsrael’s military intelligence agency has issued a warning to all soldiers in the Israeli armed forces to resist attempts by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to recruit them. The existence of the highly unusual warning was revealed on Sunday by Chanel 2, one of Israel’s most popular television stations. According to the report, the communique was sent to every member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) by the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). It cautioned Israeli troops to “be alert and report any unusual incidents” involving American intelligence personnel. The warning made specific reference to the CIA, saying it might be trying to recruit Israeli soldiers as informants.

The communique references a real-life case that is believed to have taken place three years ago, involving several Israeli citizens who had served in the MID. According to media reports, the Israelis, who were traveling to the US, were stopped during passport control and questioned at length by American officials. The latter, who were presumed to be CIA personnel, were alleged to have tried to persuade the Israelis to provide information about their military duties and knowledge of Israeli military affairs. But the Israelis reportedly refused to cooperate with the Americans and reported the incidents to their superiors in the Israeli military.

It is not unusual for the MID to issue warnings regarding soldiers’ use of online social media, or on topics such as confidentiality and discretion when using non-encrypted telephone networks. However, such warnings are typically only communicated to MID personnel and never mention foreign intelligence agencies by name, opting for generic language instead. It is highly unusual for such warnings to identify foreign intelligence agencies, and allied ones at that. The recent move has thus prompted intense speculation in Israel that the MID may have reacted to actual attempts by the CIA to recruit IDF personnel.

An Israeli military spokesperson told Channel 2 that the MID had indeed sent soldiers a written warning about possible recruitment attempts by the CIA. But the representative refused to discuss why the CIA was mentioned in the letter, or why the warning was issued last week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 November 2015 | Permalink

Portugal detains ex-CIA operative wanted for 2003 kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by Italian authorities for her alleged role in the abduction and rendition of a suspected Islamist militant in Italy, has been arrested by police in Portugal. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured and raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

According to The Associated Press, Vice News and Newsweek, De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday. She is believed to have spent two nights in jail before being released on Wednesday. However, De Sousa’s passport was seized by Portuguese authorities, who are now trying to decide whether to extradite her to Italy to face charges for helping kidnap Nasr in 2003, and for failing to appear in court in 2009. Shortly after her conviction, De Sousa told American media that the CIA operation against Nasr in Italy “broke the law”, but had been authorized by the leadership of the CIA. The latter, she said, “abandoned and betrayed” those who carried out Nasr’s abduction, leaving them “to fend for themselves”.

In 2013, another convicted CIA operative, Robert Seldon Lady, who is believed to have been the CIA’s station chief in Milan at the time of Nasr’s kidnapping, was detained while attempting to enter Panama from Costa Rica at a remote jungle border-crossing. Costa Rican authorities said later that “a check on his passport [had] triggered an INTERPOL alert”. However, he was released a day later. According to the Panamanian foreign ministry, Lady was released because “Panama did not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink

CIA pulled officers from Beijing embassy following OPM database hack

Office of Personnel ManagementThe Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pulled a number of officers from the United States embassy in Chinese capital Beijing, after a massive cyber hacking incident compromised an American federal database containing millions of personnel records. Up to 21 million individual files were stolen in June of this year, when hackers broke into the computer system of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which handles applications for security clearances for agencies of the federal government. The breach gave the unidentified hackers access to the names and sensitive personal records of millions of Americans who have filed applications for security clearances —including intelligence officers.

According to sources in the US government, the records of CIA employees were not included in the compromised OPM database. However, that is precisely the problem, according to The Washington Post. The paper said on Wednesday that the compromised OPM records contain the background checks of employees in the US State Department, including those stationed at US embassies or consulates around the world. It follows that US diplomatic personnel stationed abroad whose names do not appear on the compromised OPM list “could be CIA officers”, according to The Post. The majority of CIA officers stationed abroad work under diplomatic cover; they are attached to an embassy or consulate and enjoy diplomatic protection, which is typically invoked if their official cover is blown. However, they still have to present their credentials and be authorized by their host country before they assume their diplomatic post. The CIA hopes that foreign counterintelligence agencies will not be able to distinguish intelligence personnel from actual diplomats.

Although the US has not officially pointed the finger at a particular country or group as being behind the OPM hack, anonymous sources in Washington have identified China as the culprit. If true, The Post’s claim that the CIA pulled several of its officers from the US embassy in Beijing would add more weight to the view that the Chinese intelligence services were behind the cyber theft. The paper quoted anonymous US officials who said that the CIA’s decision to remove its officers from Beijing was directly related to the OPM hack, and it was meant to safeguard their personal security, as well as to protect CIA programs currently underway in China.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 1 October 2015 | Permalink

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