US created fake social network firm to foster dissent in Cuba

Cell phone user in CubaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A United States government agency secretly created a bogus social networking platform in order to foment political unrest in Cuba, according to a report by the Associated Press. Over 40,000 subscribers regularly used the ZunZuneo social networking service that began operating in the communist Caribbean island in 2009. The service, dubbed “Cuba’s Twitter” was based on SMS messages sent via mobile telephone subscribers. Its rapid success was attributed to the strict controls over Internet usage that are in place in Cuba, as well as the population’s relative lack of access to networked computers. But The Associated Press revealed on Thursday that ZunZuneo was in fact a secret program devised by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is a federal body operating under the Department of State. The news agency reported that the US government was able to conceal its role in building and sustaining the network by operating through a complex system of front companies set up in the Cayman Islands and in Spain. The latter were used to register ZunZuneo’s parent company and to pay the company’s bills, as well as to route millions of subscribers’ text messages without the involvement of servers based on US soil. The report stated that ZunZuneo’s corporate website even carried “bogus advertisements” strategically placed to give the site a realistic corporate look. It is worth noting that the social networking service suddenly stopped working in 2012, without providing a warning or an explanation to its tens of thousands of subscribers. But the Associated Press said the reason the service was terminated was that the US taxpayer’s money used to sustain the program simply run out. The news agency argued in its report that the program was covert in nature and should have been subjected to Presidential authorization and Congressional scrutiny. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #871

Rene GonzalezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Britain denies visa for Cuban spy freed by US. Rene Gonzalez, one of the so-called “Cuban Five” intelligence agents convicted by the US of spying, has been denied a British visa to attend a London symposium. Gonzalez, who served 13 years in US prison before his release in 2011, had been invited to a two-day conference put on by “Voice for the Five”, an organization that campaigns in support of the convicted Cuban spies. The Cuban state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde said Gonzales, 55, was denied a visa because British law prohibits entry of a person sentenced to more than four years in prison.
►►Canada fires intelligence analyst over contacts with Russians. Irina Koulatchenko, a 36-year-old who came to Canada as a Russian refugee via Cuba, has been fired by Canada’s financial-intelligence agency, known as FINTRAC. A Canadian Security Intelligence Service probe recommended she not be trusted to do that job, allegedly because “she had had several social encounters with Russian diplomats”. The latter included one she met “at a Cirque du Soleil show, another who was friends with her ex-fiancé and another she bumped into all the time at various social events”.
►►CIA suspected of spying on Congress members. The United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Senate aides removing documents from CIA headquarters that they reportedly “weren’t authorized to have”. It turns out, however, that the CIA found this out because they were secretly spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and their staff who were working on a high-profile report on CIA torture of detainees. What is more, Democratic Senator Mark Udall has claimed US President Barack Obama knew of the CIA’s secret monitoring of the Committee.

News you may have missed #846

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Cuba confirms it hid weapons on seized N. Korean ship. Cuba has admitted being behind a stash of weapons found on board a North Korean ship seized in the Panama Canal. The ship was seized by Panama last week after “undeclared military cargo” was found hidden in a shipment of sugar. United Nations sanctions prohibit the supply of arms to North Korea in the continuing dispute over its nuclear program. But the Cuban foreign ministry said the ship was carrying “obsolete arms” from Cuba “for repair” in North Korea.
►►British undercover officers stole identities of dead children. Britain’s Metropolitan Police Service, which is responsible for policing most of the city of London, has admitted that its undercover police officers expropriated the identities of at least 43 dead children. But police officials refused to inform the children’s families at the time, saying the practice was considered “essential to protect covert officers who were working inside dangerous extremist groups”.
►►Snowden has ‘thousands’ of damaging NSA documents. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who first reported on the disclosures of former CIA employee Edward Snowden, has said that the self-styled whistleblower has “literally thousands of documents” in his possession, which are essentially an “instruction manual for how the NSA is built”. The information could allow someone to evade or mimic NSA surveillance tactics, the journalist said.

Second US government official indicted in Cuba espionage case

Ana Belen MontesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States has publicly unsealed for the first time the indictment of an American government official accused of spying for Cuba, in connection with former senior US military intelligence analyst Ana Belen Montes, who was jailed in 2002 for spying for Havana. Marta Rita Velazquez, a Puerto Rican-born American citizen, was originally indicted in 2004 for conspiracy to commit espionage as an unregistered agent of a foreign power. A graduate of Princeton University and Georgetown University Law School, Velazquez first met Montes while they were both studying at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. In 2002, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended Montes’ 17-year espionage career on behalf of Cuba, it was told that Velazquez helped the Cuban Intelligence Directorate recruit Montes. The military analyst told her FBI interrogators that Velazquez introduced her to a Cuban intelligence officer in New York; she then traveled with her to Cuba, where Montes received “operational training”, before helping her obtain a job with the US Defense Intelligence Agency. At the time, Velazquez was already working with for the US Department of State as a legal officer attached to the US Agency for International Development. In that position, which she held for over a decade, Velazquez had a top-secret security clearance; she also completed tours at the US embassies in Guatemala and Nicaragua. In 2004, a grand jury in Washington, DC, indicted Velazquez for espionage, accusing her of exchanging encrypted information with Cuban intelligence officers and traveling abroad to receive operational training while secretly in the service of Cuba. Read more of this post

Is Ana Montes ‘the most important spy you’ve never heard of’?

Ana Belen MontesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An extensive article published today in The Washington Post Magazine revisits the largely forgotten case of Ana Belen Montes, a senior United States military intelligence analyst who was convicted in 2002 of spying for Cuba. Montes, who was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC, on September 20, 2001, underwent trial and sentencing in the shadow of 9/11, which might help explain the relative obscurity of her case. Still, as The Post article by Jim Popkin states, many intelligence observers view her as one of the most damaging double spies in recent American history. She entered government work as a clerk typist at the Department of Justice, and quickly received top-security clearance. It was from there that she moved to the Defense Intelligence Agency, America’s premier military intelligence organization, in September 1985. She rose meteorically through the ranks of the DIA, eventually becoming the Agency’s top Cuba analyst. Montes’ former colleagues report that she was known as “the Queen of Cuba”, a witty label that rested on her indisputable reputation as one of America’s most capable intelligence analysts on Cuba. She also came from a family with strong conservative credentials and strong connections with the US counterintelligence community. Her brother and sister were both FBI agents, and her former long-term boyfriend was a Cuban intelligence specialist for the Department of Defense. Read more of this post

Canadian diplomats spied for the CIA in Cuba, claims new book

Embassy of Canada in Havana, CubaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Several accredited Canadian diplomats were recruited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to spy on Cuba in the aftermath of the 1962 missile crisis, according to a new book. Authored by Canadian retired diplomat John Graham, the book, entitled Whose Man in Havana? Adventures from the Far Side of Diplomacy, is to be published this week by Penumbra Press. In it, Graham claims that he was among a number of Canadian diplomats stationed in Cuba, who were secretly recruited by the CIA. The US agency had been essentially forced out of the island after Washington and Havana terminated diplomatic relations in 1961, soon after the government of Fidel Castro declared itself a proponent of Marxism. The closure of the US embassy meant that the CIA had no base from which to operate in the Caribbean island. Two years later, in May 1963, US President John F. Kennedy personally asked Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson for assistance in intelligence-gathering efforts in Cuba. The Canadian leader consented and, according to Graham, Canadian diplomatic officials actively assisted the CIA until at least 1970. The author states in his book that he himself operated in Cuba for two years, from 1962 until 1964, under the official cover of Political Officer at the Canadian embassy in Havana. Prior to that, he says, he was provided with rudimentary training by the CIA, which consisted of spending “just a few days” at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, VA. He was then tasked with conducting physical surveillance of Soviet military bases on Cuba and, if possible, identifying weapons and electronic security measures, and noting troop movements. Read more of this post

Cuban Vice President’s daughter defects to the United States

Marino Murillo (left) with Raúl CastroBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The daughter of one of Cuba’s most senior government officials secretly defected to the United States earlier this month and is now living in Tampa, Florida, according to a Spanish-language newspaper. The paper, El Nuevo Herald, published in Florida, said Glenda Murillo Diaz, 24, daughter of Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo Jorge, defected on August 16, 2012. Diaz, a psychology student at the University of Havana, had apparently left Cuba earlier this month to attend an international psychology conference in Mexico. But instead of appearing at the conference, she crossed from Mexico into the US at Laredo, Texas. Her father, Marino Murillo, a prominent Cuban economist, is currently Vice President of Cuba’s State Council and longtime member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Political Bureau. In 2009, soon succeeding his brother Fidel to the post of Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro appointed Murillo Minister of Planning and Economy. Upon assuming this post, Murillo became the leading figure in the implementation of the administration’s ambitious economic reform, which is aimed at revitalizing the island’s finances. Since then, Murillo is often mentioned as one of a number of possible successors to Raúl Castro. He has made headlines recently, after voicing criticism of economic reforms taking place in China and Vietnam, and claiming that Cuba’s economic reforms aim at the establishment of a hybrid planned and market economy, but that “the planned economy will remain dominant”. Read more of this post

US judge denies release of CIA report on Bay of Pigs invasion

Court documentsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
c On April 17, 1961, abrigade of 1,300 CIA-funded and -trained anticommunist Cubans mounted a surprise assault on the Caribbeanisland. But prior intelligence collected by  spies working for Havana, and stiff resistance by pro-Castro troops, resulted in the CIA’s biggest known covert action failure. Approximately 1,200 surviving members of the CIA’s army were captured by pro-Castro forces, many of whom were severely interrogated or executed in subsequent years. The intelligence fiasco led to a five-volume CIA report, whose final volume was authored in the early 1980s by CIA resident historian Jack Pfeiffer. It essentially contains the CIA’s counterargument to a previous report, authored by the Agency’s Inspector General, which placed the blame for the failure on the invasion squarely on the shoulders of the CIA. Volume III of the report was voluntarily released by the CIA in 1998, but was not discovered by researchers until 2005, when an academic found it among the Kennedy Assassination Records Collection at the US National Archives. Following an unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act request, George Washington University’s National Security Archive sued the CIA in 2011, eventually forcing the Agency to declassify Volumes I, II and IV last April. This left Volume V, which is the subject of an ongoing dispute between historians and the CIA. But in a decision aired late last week, US District Court judge Gladys Kessler agreed with the Agency that the volume was not subject to US declassificiation rules because it had been “rejected for inclusion in the final publication” of the report. According to judge Kessler, the volume written by Dr. Pfeiffer, the CIA historian, was not a finished product, but rather a draft manuscript, and was therefore exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Read more of this post

US expels Venezuelan diplomat over cyberespionage allegations

Livia Acosta NogueraBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has ordered the immediate expulsion of the head of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, over allegations that she helped coordinate a cyberattack against US government targets in 2008. The diplomat, Livia Acosta Noguera, was declared “persona non grata” (an unwelcome person) by the US Department of State last Friday, and was given 72 hours to leave the country. State Department officials refused to discuss the reasons for Acosta’s expulsion. But the BBC said that the expulsion order was prompted by a letter sent last month to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by four members of the US Congress. The letter’s authors reportedly raised concerns about a documentary aired in December by Univision, a US-based Spanish-language broadcaster, titled “The Iranian Threat”. According to reports, the documentary alleged that Acosta was part of a multinational team of diplomats from Venezuela, Iran and Cuba, who, while stationed in Mexico in 2008, helped orchestrate a cyberespionage operation against US targets. The alleged operation was aimed at computer servers belonging to the US government computer, including some at the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the White House. Computer servers at several nuclear power plants across the US were also reportedly targeted. The documentary exposé, which later appeared in print in US-based Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, included allegations that Acosta is in fact a member of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, Venezuela’s foremost external intelligence agency. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #610

Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

►►Australian agency warns spy cells ‘lie in wait’. In its annual report, Australia’s intelligence service, the ASIO, warns that foreign powers may be recruiting sleeper agents in Australia to carry out sabotage in future conflicts. The report further notes that, despite the rise of cyberespionage, there has not been a marked reduction in the intensity of more traditional forms of espionage.
►►US frees convicted Cuban spy but debate rages on. Few topics illustrate the gulf in perception between the governments of Cuba and the United States like the case of the Cuban Five. The five Cuban agents were arrested in Florida in the 1990s and convicted on espionage charges. US federal prosecutors said the men were trying to spy on military installations. But Cuba’s government has long maintained the men were trying to monitor Miami-based exile groups that were planning attacks on the island nation.
►►Analysis: It’s time for the Pakistanis to pick a side. Former CIA operations officer Charles Faddis (pictured) argues that the US government needs to immediately designate Pakistan’s proxy army, the Haqqani network, as a terrorist organization. It has avoided taking that action for far too long and only because of crass political concerns, says Faddis, but the time has come to change course.

News you may have missed #605

Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai

►►French intelligence ‘spied on Socialist politician’. Hand-picked” French intelligence agents allegedly spied on the private life of François Hollande, the Socialist whom polls predict is best-placed to beat Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections. They are also said to have spied on Hollande’s partner, Valérie Trierweiler –-potentially France’s future first lady.
►►US to release Cuban spy under supervision. Rene Gonzalez, the first of five Cubans imprisoned in the United States as spies since 1998 will regain his freedom Friday but won’t be able to go home for three more years because of a court order requiring he remain under US supervision.
►►Afghan intelligence says it stopped plot to kill Karzai. A plot to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been foiled by Afghan intelligence agents in Kabul who arrested six men with links to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. The discovery of the plot comes just two days before the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 attacks in the US and, had it been successful, would have plunged the country further into chaos.

German agency hired ex-Nazi mass murderer to spy on Cuba

Walther Rauff

Walther Rauff

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A senior member of the German SS, the Nazi party’s Praetorian Guard, who was wanted for the murder of nearly 100,000 people, was hired by West German intelligence to spy on the communist government of Cuba, according to newly released papers. Colonel Walther Rauff, who held several intelligence-related positions in the Nazi state apparatus during the Third Reich, is mostly known for his work for the Main Office of the Criminal Technical Institute of the Reich. While there, he led the working group that designed the so-called gas vans, which used exhaust fumes to exterminate large groups of prisoners trapped inside a tightly sealed vault at the back, while the vans drove to designated burial sites. Nearly 100,000 people were killed in this way in Germany, Poland and the Ukraine, between 1942 and 1945. Soon after the end of World War II, Rauff escaped from an American internment camp in Rimini, Italy, and eventually managed to escape to Chile with the help of the Catholic Church. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, it was in Chile that Rauff was hired by West Germany’s main foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). The organization approached Rauff in 1958, through Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Oebsger-Röder, another former SS member, who was working for the BND under the alias O.G. Roeder. Der Spiegel, which accessed the BND’s folder on Rauff, says the former SS member was asked to use his Latin American contacts to infiltrate the communist government of the island of Cuba. At the same time that the BND was recruiting Rauff, he was under investigation by Germany’s Department of Justice, for complicity to mass murder during World War II. In 1962, the German government, which had no idea Rauff was working for the BND, successfully pressured Chilean authorities to arrest the former Nazi official. But he was soon released from prison, because a 15-year statute of limitation made his arrest illegal under Chilean law. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #591

David Irvine

David Irvine

►►UK Prime Minister criticizes Russia over murdered spy. British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized Russia on Monday over its refusal to hand over Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB agent suspected in the 2006 poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London. He also rejected a call from Russia for the restoration of links between the two countries’ intelligence agencies. But the two sides did “set aside their political differences [...] to sign multi-million dollar business deals”. Oh, well.
►►Aussie spy agency investigating more terror threats than ever. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization has trebled in size over the past decade and now has unprecedented powers. In a rare interview, ASIO Director General David Irvine says he is worried about the potential of an attack similar to the recent shootings and bombings in Norway.
►►‘Cuban Five’ spy member seeks return home after prison. Rene Gonzalez, a former Cuban intelligence officer convicted of spying in the US, wants a federal judge to permit his return to Cuba after his release from prison next month. But US government prosecutors say Gonzalez never showed remorse for his crimes and that there’s no justification for him to go to Cuba.

News you may have missed #578

Syria

Syria

►►CIA agent who helped kill Che wants payout from Cuba. This is from the “news that isn’t” department: Gustavo Villoldo, a Cuban-born CIA operative, who helped track down and kill Che Guevara in Bolivia, has won $2.8 billion in damages from the Cuban government, for confiscating his family property after the 1959 revolution. But he is unlikely to ever collect the money because Cuba does not recognize US court rulings.
►►Cheney wanted Bush to destroy suspected Syrian nuke site. Former US Vice President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2007. But, he wrote, Bush opted for a diplomatic approach expressed misgivings. Eventually Israeli jets bombed the site. Cheney’s account of the discussion appears in his autobiography, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, which is to be published by Simon & Schuster next week.
►►South Korea indicts five for spying for North. Five South Koreans, including a former parliamentary aide, have been indicted for allegedly spying for North Korea, in connection with the Wangjaesan spy ring.

News you may have missed #574

CIA documents

CIA documents

►►CIA told Kennedy Cuba invasion was ‘unachievable’. [Never mind. It turns out that the original article on Foreign Policy has been corrected to state that the meeting was not with Kennedy after all -- see reader's comment below]. More revelations from the newly declassified CIA Official History of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. According to the multi-volume history (pictured), a CIA team told President-Elect John F. Kennedy during a meeting in 1960 that toppling the Cuban government of Fidel Castro would not be feasible, considering the small invasion force that Kennedy insisted upon for the Bay of Pigs operation, in order to maintain plausible deniability.
►►NATO bombs home of Libyan intel chief. A compound in Tripoli destroyed overnight by NATO air strikes was the home of Abdullah Al-Senussi, former head of Libyan intelligence. This information allegedly comes from al-Senussi’s neighbor, oil engineer Omar Masood, who said he has lived across the street for 35 years. Meanwhile, several news outlets report that Abdel Salam Ahmed Jalloud, prime minister of Libya between 1972 and 1977, has defected to Italy.
►►Palestinian attacks took Israeli intel by surprise. The triple attacks, attributed by Israel to a Palestinian splinter group from the Gaza Strip, took Israel’s intelligence and security services by surprise, judging by the ensuing confusion and inaccuracy of initial reports. Between 15 and 20 Arab gunmen, some wearing Egyptian army fatigues, are believed to have taken part in the operation.

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