Documents offer rare day-to-day insight into al-Qaeda’s finances

Al-Qaeda propaganda videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A remarkable set of documents found in western Africa offers a fascinating insight into the day-to-day running of al-Qaeda. The papers, obtained by the Associated Press (AP) earlier this year, reveal a highly bureaucratic organization that meticulously documents even the minutest expenses incurred by its members. The documents were produced and left behind by fighters belonging to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) when they took over the city of Timbuktu, situated on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in the West African nation of Mali. The AP had the documents, which include over 100 receipts written in Arabic, authenticated by experts, before posting them online, here. Analysts who spoke to the news agency said the papers show that al-Qaeda is the furthest thing from “a fly-by-night, fragmented terror organization” that conducts its financial affairs “on the back of envelopes”. Rather, they reveal a group that operates “like a multinational corporation”, with a “rigid bureaucracy” consisting of chief executives, directors’ boards, as well as clearly demarcated departments that include human resources and public relations. According to the AP, the AQIM documents found in Timbuktu include “corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division”. Perhaps most impressively, while occupying Timbuktu, the AQIM militants appear to have gone out of their way to purchase, rather than expropriate, goods from local shopkeepers and merchants. Additionally, they went to great pains to record their cash flow, meticulously noting down purchases as small as a light bulb, a cake, or a bar of soap. The AP analysis suggests that the documents found in Timbuktu confirm what counterterrorism researchers have found in al-Qaeda’s other operational domains, in places such as Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #832 (foiled Canada terror plot)

Toronto, CanadaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Two arrested in Canada terror plot. Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, who live in Montreal and Toronto, were planning to derail a Via Rail passenger train in Toronto  with support from “al-Qaeda elements located in Iran”, Canadian police said Monday. “This is the first known al-Qaeda planned attack that we’ve experienced in Canada”, Superintendent Doug Best told a news conference. Police said the men did not receive financial support from al-Qaeda, but declined to provide more details. There was no apparent reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored.
►►Canada foils ‘al-Qaeda inspired’ terror attack on train. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said the surveillance operation leading to the arrests of the two suspects was “a result of extensive collaborative efforts”. Chief Spt Jennifer Strachan said the two men had sought to target “a specific route, but not necessarily a specific train”. At the same time, the RCMP said they believed the plot was in the planning stage and “there was no imminent threat to the general public”.
►►Tip from Muslim community ‘helped foil’ al-Qaeda plot. Canadian lawyer Hussein Hamdani told CTV News Channel that a tip from the Muslim community helped investigators foil the alleged al-Qaeda plot. “This goes to show the partnership between the Muslim community in Canada and the RCMP and all the police services,” said Hamdani. It might not be well known but collaboration between Muslims and government agencies —like the RCMP, CSIS, Canadian Border Services Agency and the Department of Justice— is quite common, according to Hamdani.

Mossad ‘helped arrest’ alleged Hezbollah operative in Cyprus

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Lebanon By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence was directly involved in the recent arrest of an alleged member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, who is said to have been planning a series of attacks against Israeli targets on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Cypriot media quoted police spokesman Andreas Angelides, who confirmed that the 24-year-old man was arrested on July 7 during a raid on his hotel in the tourist resort of Limassol. He also said that the man, whose name has not been released, was arrested “on possible charges pertaining to terrorism laws” soon after entering Cyprus using a Swedish passport. According to local media, Cypriot authorities were tipped off as to the man’s alleged Hezbollah connections and plans by an unnamed “foreign intelligence agency”. However, several news reports suggested over the weekend that officers of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad have already been dispatched to Cyprus to aid local counterterrorist officials involved in the investigation. Several sources allege that the Swedish-passport holder has been collaborating with his interrogators, telling them that he traveled to Cyprus with the intent of launching an armed attack at the embassy of Israel in Cypriot capital Nicosia. He allegedly changed his mind after observing the heavy security measures in place at the embassy, and opted instead for a plan to blow up a commercial airplane belonging to El Al Airlines, Israel’s national air carrier. He also allegedly considered attacking a number of buses belonging to Israeli tour companies operating in Israel. Cypriot police said that a thorough search of the man’s hotel room netted information on Israeli bus tour companies on the island, detailed flight schedules of Israeli airline operators, as well as digital photographs of popular destinations among Israeli tourists holidaying in Cyprus. Read more of this post

South African intel officials faked threats to increase spy budget

ANC centenary celebrationsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The tendency of some spy agencies to overstate security threats in order to secure governmental funds is hardly novel. But officials in the South African Secret Service appear to have gone a step further: they allegedly paid some of their informants to make bogus threats against the government, in order to prompt an increase in counterterrorist funding. According to Pretoria News, which is owned by The Independent, South Africa’s largest newspaper consortium, the bogus threats were aimed at creating “a false impression of imminent, unprecedented attacks on black people and African National Congress (ANC) members”. The ultimate goal of the perpetrators, says the paper, was to benefit personally from an increase in counterterrorist funding, which is said to run at around R600 million (US$72 million) per year. The plan was carefully designed to coincide with the run-up to the ANC’s centennial celebrations, which took place in January of this year. In one case, an informant was paid by Secret Service officials to record a video message threatening an uprising by whites against the country’s black-majority government, unless the latter put an end to the occupation of white-owned farmland by landless peasants. One video, which made “chilling threats” against black Africans and members of the ANC, was made publicly available on YouTube, causing widespread concern and prompting the government to beef up security measures around ANC facilities in several areas of the country. The threats also led to an extensive government investigation. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #728 (foiled AQAP bomb plot edition)

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►UK had central role in foiled bomb operation. The Reuters news agency has quoted unnamed “counterterrorism sources” as saying that the undercover informant in the plot linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was a British citizen, possibly of Saudi origin. The informant was allegedly working in cooperation with Britain’s two principal spy agencies, MI5 and MI6. The information appears to have leaked even though “British authorities put heavy pressure on theUS government not to discloseBritain’s role in the investigation”, said Reuters.
►►MI5 fears al-Qaeda to expose double agent’s identity. MI5 fears that militant Islamists will attempt to exact revenge on the British spy who penetrated al-Qaeda in theArabian Peninsula, by publishing his photograph on the internet –a move designed to incite extremists to hunt him down. The agent, a British passport holder of Saudi heritage, volunteered to take part in a suicide mission but instead escaped with an underwear bomb designed to blow up aUS airliner. Sources have described the British spy as “gold dust”, adding that he was one of just a handful of agents in the last ten years to have successfully penetrated one of the groups aligned to al-Qaeda’s concept of global Jihad.
►►Analysis: Foiled al-Qaeda plot reveals new world of US spying. There are lots of takes on the meaning of the foiled AQAP plot. This CNN analysis claims that the successful operation shows that “efforts to bolster human intelligence capability and work much more closely with foreign intelligence counterparts are paying off” in several ways. It also suggests that the operation “operation was the “poster child” for the influence of a greatly enhanced analytic community”.

‘Treasure trove’ of al-Qaeda documents uncovered in Germany

Al-Qaeda propaganda videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
German police have uncovered what appears to be the most significant collection of al-Qaeda planning documents to be acquired by Western intelligence since last year’s assassination of Osama bin Laden. It has been reported that the United States Navy Seals, who raided the late bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan nearly a year ago, obtained thousands of al-Qaeda documents. But the latest acquisition, which reportedly consists of over 100 digital documents, is described by Western intelligence sources as “pure gold”. The documents were in possession of Maqsood Lodin, a 22-year-old Austrian, who was detained by German police last year as he was returning to Europe from a trip to Pakistan, via the Hungarian capital Budapest. During his detention, German authorities found hidden in his underwear a number of digital storage devices. One of them contained a pornographic video called “Kick Ass”, which, upon further investigation, was found to contain encrypted documents, in .pdf format, that had been disguised to look like video files. According to German newspaper Die Zeit, which first reported on the finding in March, many of the documents were training manuals written in several different languages, including Arabic, German, and English. But intelligence experts are mostly interested in a collection of documents entitled “Future Works”. These contain notes from what seem like al-Qaeda brainstorming sessions on plans for possible terrorist plots in Europe. Among them is a suggestion to “seize passenger ships and use them to put pressure on the public”, according to Die Zeit. A subsequent section in the document discusses the idea of ordering passengers in the hijacked ship or ships to dress in orange-color jumpsuits, similar to those used by the United States in the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba. That section is somewhat obscure, but Die Zeit interprets it as a plan to stage public executions of passengers as a way of pressuring Western governments to release al-Qaeda-affiliated detainees. Read more of this post

Iran allegedly busts ‘Israel-backed’ sabotage ring

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of Iran has announced the arrests of a “terrorist network” that was allegedly planning sabotage and assassination operations inside the Islamic Republic. The announcement was released by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry and aired by a host of state-controlled media on Tuesday. The reports were vague, but claimed that the sabotage ring was supported by Israel, and that its members were “plotting fresh attacks” against Iranian government targets. The Intelligence Ministry said that Iranian counterterrorist teams decided to move against the “large and sophisticated” network after preparing the ground during “months of operations”. An unidentified Iranian government official was quoted as saying that the arrests of the group members involved the “recovery of large bombs, automatic weapons, handguns, [as well as] telecommunications equipment” from houses and apartments belonging to alleged sabotage group members. One report stated that some of the arrests were concluded following “firefights” between the suspects and Iranian government forces. Reports also claimed that the network led officials to the discovery of a separate “regional command center in a third country”, which was not named, but which is widely suspected to be Azerbaijan. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that American intelligence agencies had ramped up intelligence and sabotage missions directed against Iran’s nuclear program. Read more of this post

CIA joins hunt for white British woman who joined Somali militants

Samantha LewthwaiteBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
American intelligence officials are said to be actively cooperating with Kenyan authorities in the hunt for a white British woman believed to have joined a Somali group that is part of al-Qaeda in East Africa. The woman, Samantha Lewthwaite, 28, was married to Jermaine Lindsay, a British suicide bomber who blew up a train at London’s King’s Cross station on July 7, 2005. Lewthwaite, who by that time had two children by Lindsay, disappeared soon after the so-called 7/7 bombings, and allegedly reappeared in England in 2009, to give birth to her third child, which she reportedly had with a Moroccan man. Today she is considered an important organizer of al-Shabaab, (The Party of Youth), which used to be the youth wing of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The Sunni-Muslim ICU ruled most of Somalia until the 2006 US-supported invasion of the country by Ethiopia. Ever since that time, al-Shabaab has become one of Africa’s most highly organized militant groups, relying on hundreds of Westerners who have flocked to Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and elsewhere, to join a peculiar form of jihad (holy war) inspired largely by al-Qaeda. According to reports from the UK, Lewthwaite is one of at least three British planners involved in setting up al-Shabaab’s operations in Kenya, Somalia, and elsewhere. She first entered Kenya several years ago, using a forged passport belonging to a South African identity theft victim called Natalie Faye Webb. In February of 2011, she is believed to have entered Kenya again, on foot, via Tanzania. Her travels are thought to be connected with her fundraising and other organizing activities on behalf of al-Shabaab, which appear to include —aside from financing— procuring weapons and training recruits. Not long ago, Kenyan police said a white woman matching Lewthwaite’s description managed to escape during a raid at the house of a suspected Islamist militant in Kenyan capital Nairobi. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer says US may be ‘dangerously wrong’ on alleged Iran plot

Robert Baer

Robert Baer

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Robert Baer, who spent over two decades working for the CIA in the Middle East, has warned that the FBI may be “dangerously wrong” in its assessment that Iran is behind an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The Obama administration said yesterday that two Iranian agents had been arrested for planning to kill Saudi diplomat Adel al-Jubeir in Washington, DC, with help by members of a Mexican drug cartel. The FBI said that the two Iranians, Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, were operating on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, a unit inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) specifically tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The arrests prompted a strong reaction from the United States, which said it will impose new punitive measures against the regime in Tehran —a move that is certain to further-ignite tensions between the two countries. But speaking on Australian national radio, Baer said that the alleged assassination plan does not appear to be connected with the IRGC or any other part of Iran’s state apparatus. The operation, as outlined by the FBI, does not fit the “modus operandi” of the Iranian security services, said Baer. The latter are “much better than this [...]. They wouldn’t be sending money through an American bank; they wouldn’t be going to the cartels in Mexico to do this. It’s just not the way they work. I’ve followed them for 30 years and they’re much more careful. They always use a proxy between them and the operation, and in this case they didn’t”. Baer also spoke to the BBC World Service and to The Washington Post, where he is quoted as saying that there is “sloppiness about the case that defies belief”. The former CIA case officer urged the Obama administration to step back, re-examine its case, and avoid “retaliatory attacks [such as bombing] a Quds Force base in Tehran [...], which would lead to a huge escalation”. Instead, he urged Washington to open “direct diplomatic channel with the Iranian regime or risk igniting an uncontrollable war”. Read more of this post

US Senate to review allegations CIA tried to smear professor

Juan Cole

Juan Cole

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The Intelligence Committee of the United States Senate will review allegations, made on Friday by a former CIA officer, that the spy agency tried to gather derogatory information about an American university professor who is critical of the ‘war on terrorism’. According to its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Committee may “take further action”, depending on its preliminary findings. The allegations surfaced last Friday in an article by New York Times reporter James Risen. Acting on a tip by an unnamed source, Risen spoke to former CIA officer Glenn L. Carle, who confirmed that the Agency “at least twice” displayed an interest in gathering discrediting information about University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole. Dr Cole, who specializes in Middle Eastern history and speaks fluent Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been consistently critical of US foreign policy in the Middle East through his writings on his influential blog, Informed Comment. Carle, who made the allegations to The New York Times, retired from the CIA in 2007, after a career that spanned two decades in the Agency’s National Clandestine Service. In the last few years of his public service, Carle was a senior counterterrorism official at the US National Intelligence Council, which operates under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Read more of this post

Comment: Some early remarks on bin Laden’s assassination

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
It is tempting to consider the impact of Osama bin Laden’s assassination on al-Qaeda-inspired groups and, more broadly, on America’s “global war on terrorism”. Yet any such endeavor at this point would be inevitably speculative. The truth is, nobody has the slightest idea of the possible strategic spillover of bin Laden’s killing, and this includes the White House, the CIA and NATO. There are, however, some general remarks, mostly of operational nature, that can safely be made on the basis of the limited factual information that has been made available. To begin with, it appears that the assassination of al-Qaeda’s senior figurehead was conducted by ground forces, and not remotely, as has been the case with the vast majority of US assassination operations carried out in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the past several years. This potentially strengthens the argument, made frequently by Western and Pakistani officials, that significant achievements in the field of counterterrorism can only be conducted by surgical-type ground operations, based on accurate and actionable intelligence.

Read more of this post

Analysis: Europe Offers Different Counterterrorism Approach

Counterterrorism

Counterterrorism

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
I have in the past posed the intriguing question of whether US intelligence agencies should learn from the French approach to counterterrorism. This issue has now come up again in an interesting Washington Post essay, which examines the different approaches to Islamic militancy by American and European intelligence organizations. Some of these differences are undoubtedly contextual: there are no First Amendment rights in Europe, and European law enforcement and intelligence organizations enjoy a somewhat wider legal latitude in which to operate domestically. Moreover, the Europeans, especially the French and the British, have a longer experience than the Americans in dealing with armed insurgencies. But there are also critical differences in tactics. Importantly, the European approach to Islamic militancy has not only been more pro-active than the American, but also a lot more discreet and clandestine. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #321 (CIA edition)

  • Uruguay ex-president sent to prison for 1973 coup. Declassified documents show that, at the time of the coup, Juan María Bordaberry told the US ambassador that “Uruguay’s democratic traditions and institutions [...] were themselves the real threat to democracy”.
  • FSB ‘dropped the ball’ in Moscow metro bombings. Two Russian intelligence observers argue that Russia’s new strategy has shifted toward preventing coordinated actions by large groups of militants, which has come at the expense of taking measures to prevent individual suicide attacks, such as those of last Monday in Moscow.
  • Calls for expanded DoJ probe of FBI killing of Detroit imam. The US Justice Department is probing the killing of Detroit-area Islamic cleric Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who was shot dead during an FBI raid shortly after being indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit federal crimes. The FBI said Abdullah was shot after he opened fire, but critics say he may have been targeted for assassination.

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News you may have missed #308

  • CIA boss warns of al-Qaeda changing tactics. CIA director Leon Panetta has said that the Agency’s counterterrorism operations are actively disrupting al-Qaeda’s command and control structures. But the group is now changing its tactics by deploying people inside the US who have no history of terrorist activity or documented connection to the organization, he told a conference.
  • New US TSA boss is a counter-intel specialist. Robert A. Harding, the fifth person in nine years to head the beleaguered US Transportation Security Administration, served 33 years as a counterintelligence specialist in the US Army. TSA has been operating under an acting administrator for months.

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FBI still lacks translators, eight years after 9/11, says report

Report cover

Report cover

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An internal audit by the US Justice Department’s inspector general has found that the FBI faces a critical shortage of foreign-language specialists, eight years after 9/11. The audit report (redacted version available in .pdf here) issued last Monday by inspector general Glenn Fine, reveals that the lack of translators prevented the FBI from accessing 31 per cent of the foreign-language material it collected in counter-terrorism operations from 2006 to 2008. This means the Bureau, which serves as America’s primary counterintelligence and counterterrorism force, has been unable to read tens of thousands of pages and listen to or review 1.2 million hours of audio intercepts in the last two years alone. Remarkably, despite the well-understood need for foreign-language specialists in the post-9/11 security environment, the audit found that the total number of FBI translators dropped from 1,338 in March 2005 to 1,298 in September last year. Read more of this post

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