Obama authorizes Special Forces, CIA, to conduct assassinations in Syria

Islamic State convoy in SyriaThe United States Central Intelligence Agency is collaborating with the country’s Special Forces in a targeted killing program aimed against senior members of the Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria. The program, which has been directly authorized by US President Barack Obama, is limited in scope and has so far involved fewer than a dozen strikes against suspected militants. But it is believed to reflect increasing frustration in Washington about the lack of progress shown by the military campaign against the Islamic State. Recent reports by American intelligence agencies confirm that the militant group is “fundamentally no weaker” today than it was a year ago, despite an intense US-led bombing campaign involving thousands of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

The Washington Post, which revealed the existence of the program on Tuesday, said it brought together the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CTC is believed to be primarily responsible for identifying and locating senior Islamic State figures in Syria, while the JSOC is in charge of killing them, mostly through the use of unmanned drones, according the paper. The two agencies continue to operate separate drone centers, said The Post, in Virginia and North Carolina respectively; but they have exchanged several of advisors who have constant access to each other’s drone video feeds.

The goal of the targeted killing program is to assassinate what the CIA refers to as “high-value targets”, which includes Islamic State leaders and those members of the organization whose job is to build a membership base outside the territorial boundaries or the Islamic State’s self-described caliphate. The Post said that the list of Islamic State members killed by the CIA-JSOC program includes Junaid Hussain, a British citizen who was instrumental in building and maintaining the Islamic State’s outreach campaign on social media. The paper noted that the CIA-JSOC targeted killing campaign is not part of the wider American military offensive against the Islamic State.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 01 September 2015 | Permalink

Maltese far-right party had links to CIA, British documents suggest

Josie MuscatA Maltese ultra-nationalist group believed to be behind a string of bombings in the 1980s was believed by British intelligence to have links to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to recently declassified documents. The Front Freedom Fighters (FFF) was a staunchly anticommunist group whose members violently objected to what they saw as Malta’s overly close contacts with the Communist Bloc. During the 16-year rule of the Maltese Labour Party, which began in 1971, the Mediterranean island maintained close relations with countries during such as Libya and North Korea. The Maltese Nationalist Party, which formed the main opposition to Labour, was highly critical of these contacts, but failed to win three consecutive electoral contests and was thus unable to influence the country’s foreign policy in any significant way.

The FFF emerged in the early 1980s from within the ranks of the Nationalist Party. It consisted of younger activists who favored a violent response to the rule of the Labour Party. The group was led by Josie Muscat, a dynamic anticommunist campaigner and longtime Nationalist Party Member of Parliament, who gathered around him some of the more extreme rightwing elements in the Nationalist Party. A string of bombings and threats directed at Labour Party facilities on the island was attributed to the FFF by the popular press, though Muscat himself consistently denied such accusations. Many believed that the FFF was actively preparing to launch an armed coup d’etat.

Eventually, the leadership of the Nationalist Party, which saw itself as falling within the mainstream of the European conservative tradition, began distancing itself from the FFF’s rhetoric and actions. In July of 1983, the party expelled FFF leaders from its ranks and forbade its members from associating with FFF-linked groups. Few Nationalist Party members followed Muscat, and his movement eventually suffered what some observers described “a natural death”.

However, new documents released this month by the National Archives in Britain show that the British Foreign Office believed that the FFF was being funded by the CIA. A Foreign Office Report from the early 1980s states that the group was probably behind several bomb explosions targeting Labour Party activists, as well as moderate Nationalist Party members. The report describes the FFF as “neo-Fascist in character” that prioritized crude violence as its main tactic. It goes on to say that the group consisted of about 500 determined members, but that its violent core was much smaller. The Foreign Office report also suggests that Muscat may have traveled abroad to meet CIA officers, as well as to network with other anticommunist organizations throughout Europe.

Asked to give his reaction to the British government documents, Muscat told The Times of Malta that he “hadn’t had such a good laugh in years”. The now retired politician denied having any links to the CIA and said that the FFF’s activities had been “mostly limited to political debating and had never even come close to any form of violence”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2015 | Permalink

German government charges CIA spy with treason

BND GermanyA German intelligence officer, who is accused of spying for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, has been officially charged with treason by authorities in Berlin. The 32-year-old man, identified in court papers only as “Markus R.”, worked as a clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was arrested in July 2014 on suspicion of having spied for the CIA for approximately two years. German prosecutors say they have evidence that shows Markus R. supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000.

Germany’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Thursday that Markus R. made contact with the CIA in 2008 and offered his services to the American spy agency. He began working for the United States as a double agent soon afterwards. His arrest last year added to the already tense relations between Berlin and Washington. The latter had been damaged a year earlier, when it was revealed that the US National Security Agency, America’s signals intelligence organization, had bugged the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The revelation, which was made public by Edward Snowden, an American defector to Russia who had previously worked for the NSA, showed that Chancellor Merkel had been targeted as part of a wider US spy operation against Germany.

The revelations sparked the establishment in Germany of a nine-member parliamentary committee that was tasked with evaluating Snowden’s revelations and proposing Germany’s response. It appears that Markus R. tried to spy on the activities of the committee on behalf of his American handlers. Soon after Markus R.’s arrest was made public, the German government ordered the immediate removal from Germany of the CIA chief of station –who was essentially the top American intelligence official in the country. Berlin also instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice.

It is worth noting that, before his arrest last year, Markus R. is also said to have approached Russian intelligence with an offer to work for them. He is thus believed to have supplied Moscow with classified German government documents as well.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 August 2015 | Permalink

CIA’s internal watchdog post remains vacant despite mounting calls to fill it

CIAThe administration of United States President Barack Obama has yet to nominate a replacement for the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general despite calls by Congress to quickly fill the sensitive post. The position has remained vacant since the end of January of this year, when David Buckley resigned after four years on the job. The position was created in 1989 in the aftermath of the so-called Iran-Contra affair, as part of a broader effort to institute independent oversight of the CIA. The Agency’s inspector general is tasked with, among other things, probing allegations of institutional illegality or personnel misconduct, and evaluating concerns raised by whistleblowers.

According to Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent of Yahoo News, there are “mounting concerns on Capitol Hill” about the failure of the White House to nominate a replacement for Buckley, more than six months following his departure. Isikoff wrote that Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca), who chairs the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to President Obama in June urging him to nominate a new CIA inspector general “as soon as possible”. In her letter, Feinstein expressed alarm over the delay, which could adversely affect a growing list of sensitive internal probes at the Agency. But the White House has yet to respond to Feinstein, let alone nominate a candidate for the position, said Isikoff.

Several government watchdogs and observers told Yahoo News that the situation at the CIA inspector general’s office is “hardly unique” and noted that the process for appointing inspector generals for US government agencies usually “takes too long”. Moreover, the Agency’s office of the inspector general is not headless; it is led by interim inspector general Christopher R. Sharpley, a government lawyer who worked under Buckley. However, many wonder whether the delay stems from the President’s inability to find an individual with a reputation for impartiality and the determination to handle one of the US Intelligence Community’s most challenging posts.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 August 2015 | Permalink

No signs of ISIS decline despite Western efforts, say US spy agencies

ISIS forces in RamadiInternal reports by American intelligence agencies say that the Islamic State remains strong in Iraq and Syria, and that the group has been able to effortlessly replace its 10,000 fighters who have been killed in the past year. Despite the over $1 billion spent in the war against it by the Syrian and Iraqi governments, as well as by the West, the militant group is “fundamentally no weaker” than it was a year ago, when the United States began a bombing campaign targeting Islamic State strongholds, according to the reports. The Associated Press, which published a summary of the assessment, said that it represents the views of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other members of the US Intelligence Community. Citing anonymous US officials, the news agency said that the overall assessment of the situation could be described as a “strategic stalemate”.

If the leaked assessment is accurate, it would directly contradict the views expressed recently by retired US Marine Corps General John Allen, who is serving as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. Speaking last week at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, General Allen argued that the Islamic State (known also as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) was “losing”. He added that “we have seen some significant progress” in the war against the group and said he believed that its “momentum has been checked strategically, operationally and, by and large, tactically”.

 But according to the Associated Press, US defense officials have seen “no meaningful degradation” in the numbers of ISIS fighters. They put the group’s current strength at between 20,000 and 30,000 uniformed troops, a number that is practically identical to that of August 2014, when the administration of US President Barack Obama initiated an air bombing campaign against ISIS targets. The intelligence assessments suggest that, not only is ISIS able to replenish its fighter ranks with new recruits from around the world, but that the group’s finances have not been significantly affected by the US air campaign. American fighter jets have repeatedly attacked ISIS-controlled oil installations in recent months; but the group has been able to rebuild its oil-drilling and -refining capacities, and continues to earn over $40 million a month from the sale of oil.

The reports go on to state that, based on current trends, it could take more than a decade before ISIS became weak enough to justify expectations that it could retreat from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 August 2015 | Permalink

CIA using Macau casinos to recruit Chinese officials, says report

Sands casino in Macau ChinaOfficials in China think that United States spy agencies are using casinos in Macau to entrap Chinese government employees, according to a report produced on behalf of an American-owned casino chain in the former Portuguese colony. The report was produced by a private investigator and was commissioned by Sands China, the Macau branch of a casino venture owned by American gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. Its goal was to investigate why the Chinese-appointed authorities in Macau were hostile to the gambling industry in general and Sands China in particular.

The report is dated June 25, 2010, and includes a warning that it should not be shared with Chinese officials in Macau or in mainland China. It cites several unnamed officials in China’s Liaison Office, which governs Macau and Hong Kong, as well as sources in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chinese businessmen with close ties to the government in Beijing. It suggests that Beijing is weary of the damage caused to its public image by thousands of its employees gambling away an estimated $2 billion each year in Macau. Additionally, says the report, the central government in Beijing is hostile to the foreign-owned gambling industry in Macau because it believes that it collaborates with Western intelligence agencies. Sands China establishments in Macau, in particular, are believed by the Chinese government to be recruiting grounds for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, says the 2010 report.

Citing “well-placed sources” in the Chinese capital, the report suggests that the fear of espionage is “the primary subject” that causes Beijing’s hostility toward Sands China. It notes that “many of the [Chinese] officials we contacted were of the view that US intelligence agencies […] have penetrated and utilized the casinos [in Macau] to support their operations”. It adds that Chinese counterintelligence agencies have “evidence” that CIA operatives “monitor mainland government officials” who visit Macau to gamble, paying particular attention to those losing large amounts of money, or those visiting Macau without the knowledge of their superiors. They then “lure and entrap” them, forcing them “to cooperate with US government interests”.

The report was uncovered by the Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and published on Wednesday in British broadsheet The Guardian. The paper said the report was among a set of documents filed with a court in Las Vegas, where the former head of Sands’ Macau casinos is suing the company for wrongful dismissal. The Guardian contacted the Sands Company, which rejected the contents of the report as “a collection of meaningless speculation”. Its senior vice president for global communications and corporate affairs, Ron Reese, also dismissed the report as “an idea for a movie script”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/23/01-1741/

Cold War files show secret war between CIA and KGB in Canada

Natalie (Natalka) BundzaA set of declassified intelligence documents from the 1950s and 1960s offer a glimpse into the secret war fought in Canada between American and Soviet spy agencies at the height of the Cold War. The documents were authored by the United States Central Intelligence Agency and declassified following a Freedom of Information Act request filed on behalf of the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star. According to the paper, they show that Toronto was a major hub of a prolonged espionage conflict fought between the CIA and the Soviet KGB.

Much of the espionage activity by the two spy agencies concentrated on Toronto’s sizable Eastern European expatriate community, especially on immigrants with Ukrainian and Polish roots. In one document dating from 1959, a CIA officer details the profiles of 18 Canadian citizens, most of them Toronto residents, who were suspected by Langley to be working for the KGB. Most of them were believed to be non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community. The term typically refers to high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that employs them. The declassified document explains that the suspected NOCs had secretly traveled to the USSR after being recruited by the KGB. They were then trained as spies before returning to Canada years later under new identities.

Others, like a naturalized Canadian identified in the documents as Ivan Kolaska, were believed by the CIA to have immigrated to Toronto as part of a broader KGB effort to infiltrate the ranks of the anti-communist Eastern European expatriate community in Canada. Some of these infiltrators were able to settle in Canada, marry locals, get jobs and have families, while living a double life. The Star spoke to one Ukrainian immigrant to Canada whose name features in the declassified CIA files. Natalie Bundza, now 78, worked as a travel agent in 1950s’ Toronto and regularly led tourist groups to communist countries. She was a Ukrainian nationalist and anticommunist, but the CIA believed she was pretending to have these beliefs in order to infiltrate the Ukrainian expatriate community in Toronto. The American agency kept tabs on her and was able to compile a sizable file with information about Bundza’s friends and associates, her travel itineraries, and even the contents of her suitcases she took with her on international trips.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 3 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/03/01-1728/

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