Analysis: The significance of Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf release

Osama bin LadenThe release this week of material from Osama bin Laden’s personal stack of books and documents, which were confiscated from his Abbottabad compound, is timely as it is important. The decision by the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to declassify the documents was almost certainly in response to recent claims that bin Laden was being kept under house arrest by the Pakistani intelligence services at the time of his assassination. American journalist Seymour Hersh, who made the allegations in the London Review of Books earlier this month, said that the Pakistanis were forced to give Washington permission to kill bin Laden once the CIA was able to confirm his presence in Pakistan.

By releasing the documents, the ODNI hopes to show that the al-Qaeda founder could not possibly have been under house arrest and still have been able to communicate with his al-Qaeda lieutenants. But there is a counterargument too, which rests on the view that al-Qaeda has been integrated into the command structure of the Pakistani intelligence services ever since the days of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s. According to this view, it would not have been especially difficult for bin Laden’s captors to permit him to maintain carefully supervised communications with his organization. This would have given the Pakistanis the benefit of monitoring the operational thinking of al-Qaeda, while at the same time dispelling any speculation about his rumored death, which was widespread in the decade prior to his actual demise. Additionally, the feeling one gets from reading Hersh’s article is that the Pakistanis’ arrangement with bin Laden was a cross between internment and protection, with the emphasis shifting from one to the other depending on the changing needs of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

The documents themselves are also revealing. They show that, almost to the end of his life, bin Laden continued to regard the United States as the foremost target of militant Islam. To that extent, it is interesting that the ODNI’s release includes almost no documents about Israel, Russia, India, or China. This points to a tactical prioritization of America as a target, and perhaps also a sense of vendetta that bin Laden himself held against his former allies in the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s. Moreover, the documents show that bin Laden continued to favor attacks designed to cause mass casualties, in the style of 9/11. Knowing that, and considering that no such attack took place against the United States after 9/11, one might logically conclude that al-Qaeda has been willing but unable to carry one out. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #843 (analysis on Snowden leak)

James ClapperBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Countries approached by Snowden for asylum and their responses. According to a statement from WikiLeaks, former CIA/NSA employee Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in a total of 21 countries, but with little success so far. Here is a list of the countries he approached and their responses –or lack thereof– so far. Bolivia and Venezuela appear somewhat positive, but Ecuador and Russia have denied any possibility of giving Snowden political asylum. Other countries, including Cuba and China, have yet to issue a response to Snowden’s request.
►►US ODNI admits giving ‘erroneous’ answer during Senate testimony. James Clapper, America’s most senior intelligence official, who heads the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has told a Senate oversight panel that he “simply didn’t think” of the National Security Agency’s efforts to collect the phone records of millions of Americans when he testified in March that it did “not wittingly” snoop on their communications. He had told during his testimony that NSA did “not wittingly” collect “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”. But that was before Snowden spilled the beans….
►►Are the Europeans being hypocrites over spying? If you buy the latest reporting out of Europe, France is outraged, simply outraged, at news that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on the European Union through its mission in New York and embassy in Washington. All of which is pretty hilarious, given France’s penchant for stealing American defense technology, bugging American business executives and generally annoying US counterintelligence officials. And it’s not just France, either.

Is US-Mexico anti-drug intelligence cooperation about to end?

Enrique Peña NietoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Some senior American officials believe that the anti-drug intelligence cooperation between the United States and Mexico is in its closing stages, following tens of thousands of deaths in the past decade. Intelligence cooperation between the two countries reached unprecedented levels in the post-9/11 era, following the establishment of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). In the past decade, cooperation between Mexico’s Center for Research and National Security (CISEN) and ODNI, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, resulted in what some observers call “unprecedented bilateral action” directed against Latin American narcotics cartels. This arrangement culminated under the administration of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, when the CIA —and to a lesser extent the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Security Agency— were given unprecedented access to Mexican territory and civilian communications networks. However, in an extensive article published Sunday, The Washington Post says the close operational connection between Mexican and US intelligence agencies is quickly winding down. Citing interviews with over “four dozen current and former US and Mexican diplomats, law enforcement agents, military offices and intelligence officials”, the paper suggests that Mexico City is wary about Washington’s involvement in the so-called ‘war on drugs’. The major change on the Mexican side, says The Post, occurred last December with the inauguration of Mexico’s new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has returned to power after 13 years in opposition. Under Nieto’s administration, the Mexican security establishment, worn out by over 60,000 deaths and as many as 25,000 forced disappearances in the past few years, is intent on shifting its priorities. Instead of focusing on so-called ‘beheading operations’ —arresting or otherwise neutralizing the leadership of drug cartels— it has decided to stabilize the situation by containing —rather than eliminating— the operations of drug networks. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #784

Aimal FaiziBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US agencies still not sharing intelligence. Nearly half of US federal agencies are not sharing documented incidents of potential terrorist activity with US intelligence centers, according to officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Federal and police officials are supposed to deposit reports of suspicious behavior through a system known as the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSARI). It is a virtualized inventory of tips that can be reached by federal, state or local government authorities. But progress in connecting local agencies to fusion centers through the NSARI appears to be slow-going. Almost exactly a year ago, a similar report by the US Congressional Research Service found that US intelligence agencies were still struggling to strengthen their information-sharing networks.
►►Russian spies ‘top priority’ for Czech intelligence. A new report by the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) says that Russian intelligence services are the most active foreign espionage organizations in the Czech Republic. The report, published last Wednesday, states that Russian spies work under different covers, mainly at Russian diplomatic missions, and in numbers that are utterly unjustified, given the current status of Czech-Russian relations. “Russian intelligence officers were spotted at different public and corporate events, where they tried to resume old contacts and meet new people”, the report said. It is worth noting that the BIS report devoted nine paragraphs to Russian espionage and only one to Chinese. Chinese intelligence officers “do not pose an immediate risk to Czech citizens”, the report said.
►►Afghanistan blames ‘foreign spies’ for insider attacks. Some of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s top advisers said this week that the recent rise in insider attacks on NATO troops is the product of foreign spy agencies infiltrating Afghanistan’s security forces. They said that Afghanistan’s National Security Council has concluded that both Pakistani and Iranian intelligence organizations are recruiting young Afghans to enlist in the army and police with the intention of targeting Western service members. The officials suggested that the ultimate aim of the alleged efforts by foreign agencies is to destabilize Afghanistan’s forces. One of the Afghan government’s spokesmen, Aymal Faizi (pictured), said that the allegations from Kabul rested on classified evidence from “documents, telephone calls, pictures and audio that show direct contact between these individuals and foreign spy agencies”.

News you may have missed #753

James ClapperBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US spy agencies consider new polygraph questions. The US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is considering a proposal to force intelligence agency employees to answer a direct question in their polygraph examinations about whether they have disclosed information to reporters. The Los Angeles Times quotes “officials familiar with the matter”, who say that Clapper is preparing “changes to the counterintelligence polygraph policy”, though “no final decisions have been made”.
►►Ex-“New Republic” editor speaks out against Pollard release. Few American journals can claim to have stood more staunchly by Israel than The New Republic. So we should be paying attention when Martin Peretz, who edited the magazine from 1974 until 2011, comes out against the proposed release of Jonathan Jay Pollard. Pollard is a former US Navy analyst, who is serving a life sentence for spying on the US for Israel. Peretz calls Pollard “a scoundrel spy” and reminds his readers that “before he decided to deliver reams of sensitive [US] intelligence and defense documents to Israel’s security apparatus, [Pollard] was negotiating with Pakistan […] to do similar chores for it”.
►►UK leader considered using special forces to seize Russian ship. British Prime Minister David Cameron considered ordering British special forces to board and impound a Russian ship suspected of carrying arms to Russian ally Syria, it has emerged. The ship, MV Alaed, was sailing in British waters when the US placed pressure on Britain to halt it. But the Russian ship suddenly changed course about 50 miles off the north coast of Scotland and it is showing that its next port of call is Murmansk, in Russia.

News you may have missed #750 (US edition)

NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraftBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►US spy agency launches new satellite. The US National Reconnaissance Office, the agency tasked with overseeing America’s intelligence satellites, successfully placed a new spy satellite into orbit. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite launch, sitting atop an Atlas 5 rocket, was streamed live via Webcast for several minutes before being terminated due to national security restrictions and the classified nature of the mission. Particulars regarding the capabilities or specific purpose of the spy satellite were not provided. However, just a few days before, the US Air Force’s highly classified space plane known as the  AX-37B returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
►►FBI takes on larger domestic intelligence role. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, under a newly devised action plan, will be afforded a greater role in domestic intelligence efforts in the US, according to a recent Washington Post article.  Senior level field agents at the bureau are expected to serve as representatives for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the agency created after 9/11 to oversee activities of all US intelligence efforts. The Post quotes CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood, who —remarkably, considering CIA/ODNI relations in recent years— said that the agency has not opposed the ODNI’s move to elevate FBI agents in the US, and that “the program is working well”.
►►CIA declassifies 9/11 documents. The CIA released this past week hundreds of pages of declassified documents related to the September 11, 2001, attacks, which detail the agency’s budgetary woes leading up to the deadly strikes and its attempts to track al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The National Security Archive at George Washington University says it obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents are heavily redacted and offer little new information about what the US knew about the al-Qaeda plot before 2001.

News you may have missed #700: analysis edition

Tal DekelBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egypt struggles to advance spy satellite program. Since Egyptian technicians lost touch two years ago with an observation satellite they hoped would help carry the country into the “space club”, the country has struggled to make progress in gaining intelligence satellite capabilities, but it remains committed to the program. This is according to Tal Dekel, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security. He said few are aware of the extent of Egypt’s satellite program: “People talk about the Iranians, but no one talks about Egypt’s program, which includes much more than a satellite”.
►►China spying on Taiwan despite thaw. When Taiwanese security personnel detained a suspected spy for China at a top secret military base last month, they may have had a sense of déjà vu. Four suspected spies have been detained in Taiwan during the last fourteen months. The cases show that China is seeking information about systems that are integral to Taiwan’s defenses and built with sensitive US technology. A major breach could make Taiwan more vulnerable to Chinese attack.
►►US intel says water shortages threaten stability. Competition for increasingly scarce water in the next decade will fuel instability in regions such as South Asia and the Middle East that are important to US national security, according to an intelligence report from the US Director of National Intelligence. The report, drafted principally by the Defense Intelligence Agency, reflects a growing emphasis in the US intelligence community on how environmental issues such as water shortages, natural disasters and climate change may affect US security interests.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 950 other followers