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.

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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.

US Senate hearing accidentally reveals Mossad director’s secret visit

Tamir PardoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The chairwoman of a public hearing at the United States Senate, which was televised live across America, accidentally revealed that the Director of Israeli intelligence service Mossad secretly visited the US for talks last week. The revelation took place on Tuesday at a high-profile hearing conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with the participation of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus. While addressing the latter, Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein mentioned in passing that “the vice chairman [of the Committee] and I have just met this past week with the director of Mossad”, and that the meeting was classified. She was referring to Tamir Pardo, the newly installed head of Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency. Without blinking an eye, Petraeus responded saying: “Like you, obviously, I met with the head of Mossad when he was here”. Subsequent discussion during the hearing appeared to establish that Pardo visited the United States specifically to discuss the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran’s known nuclear installations. In responding to Senator Feinstein’s comment, the CIA Director said that Pardo’s secret visit was “part of an ongoing dialogue that has also included conversations that I’ve had with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and with [Defense] Minister [Ehud] Barak”. No further information was shard on the Mossad official’s visit, and US government representatives refused to elaborate, when asked about it later. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #621

Pakistan

Pakistan

►►Pakistan denies spying on German forces in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have rejected a German newspaper report that the country’s secret service spied on German security forces in Afghanistan. Without citing its sources, mass-selling weekly Bild am Sonntag reported on Sunday that Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency warned its interior ministry that Pakistan had spied on 180 German police officers deployed in Afghanistan to train locals.
►►CIA expert says US government lacks security operating system. Industry is not providing the US government with the basic tools it needs to build a secure information infrastructure, according to Robert Bigman, chief of the CIA’s Information Assurance Group. “What we need is a secure operating system”, he said during a panel discussion at the Security Innovation Network showcase in Washington last month. “We gave up some time ago on the battle to build a secure operating system, and we don’t have one”.
►►US increased spy spending in 2011. The US Congress appropriated $54.6 billion for intelligence programs in the 2011 fiscal year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed last week. The amount, which does not include what was spent on military intelligence, is a slight increase from the year before but could be the end of the upward trend, says CNN’s Security Clearance blog.

News you may have missed #614

James Clapper

James Clapper

►►US spy chief proposes double-digit budget cuts. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Monday said he has proposed double-digit budget cuts in intelligence programs to the White House because “we’re all going to have to give at the office”. Clapper, in a speech at the GEOINT conference in Texas, said his office had “handed in our homework assignment” to the Office of Management and Budget, “and it calls for cuts in the double-digit range, with a B (for billion), over 10 years”.
►►French spy chief charged with snooping on reporter. France’s opposition on Tuesday called for the resignation of Bernard Squarcini, head of the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the DCRI, after he was charged over spying on a journalist with the daily Le Monde.
►►Researcher forecasts new virus similar to Stuxnet. The discovery of an espionage computer virus in Europe similar to the virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear plants last year suggests that a new, similar cyberattack is about to launch, computer virus researcher Mikko Hypponen says. The new virus, Duqu, was first reported by security company Symantec on its blog Tuesday. Its code is very similar to that of Stuxnet, the virus detected last year that was designed to sabotage equipment at Iranian nuclear plants.

US report links telecoms company to Chinese spy services

Sun Yafang

Sun Yafang

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For the first time a United States government agency has openly linked one of China’s main telecommunications companies with the country’s intelligence services. The alleged link is provided in a new report by the US Open Source Center, which acts as the open-source intelligence (OSINT) arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report concludes that the company, Huawei Technologies, relies on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security (MSS), which oversee and administer China’s military and civilian intelligence apparatus. Founded in 1987 to import Western office telephone systems to China, the company has become one of the country’s leading exporters of all kinds of communications hardware equipment, ranging from routers to cell towers and undersea cables. But Huawei’s export growth has been hampered in recent years by widely circulated suspicions that the company maintains close ties to the Chinese military and intelligence establishments. The Open Source Center report adds to these suspicions, by pointing out that Huawei’s current chairperson, Sun Yafang (pictured), was an employee of the MSS Communications Department prior to joining Huawei in 1989. It also says that, prior to joining the company, Sun utilized her personal contacts at MSS to “help Huawei through financial difficulties at critical moments when the company was founded in 1987”. The close contacts between the —ostensibly private— company and the Chinese government have persisted ever since, says the report, and points out that the Chinese state has funded Huawei with nearly a quarter-billion dollars for “research and development” projects in the past three years alone. This is not the first time that Huawei has been accused of maintaining close contacts with Chinese intelligence agencies. In 2009, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) investigated one of Huawei’s Australian-based subsidiaries for links to Chinese intelligence operations. In the following year, the Indian government barred the company from operating in India, citing its allegedly “strong links with the Chinese military”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #563 [updated]

Mike McConnell

Mike McConnell

►►Colombia spy official imprisoned for illegal wiretapping. Gustavo Sierra Prieto, the former analysis chief of Colombia’s soon-to-be-dismantled DAS intelligence agency, has been sentenced to eight years and four months in jail for his role in the illegal wiretapping of government opponents, judges and journalists. But the main culprit in the wiretapping scandal, former DAS Director Maria Pilar Hurtado, is still hiding in Panama.
►►Cold War documents detail CIA interest of Canada. The CIA has declassified some of its Cold-War-era reports on Canada. The documents show that the Agency’s interest in America’s northern neighbor was mostly related to the its satellite R&D, as well as its economic sector, with a particular focus on Canada’s energy and minerals sector. There is also discussion in some documents of how to best utilize Canada’s energy resources in a possible war with the Soviet Union.
►►Ex-intel official says US must engage in cyberspying. Is it just me, or is there a calculated echo chamber developing by former senior US spy officials? Read more of this post

Former US spy chief questions ‘war on terrorism’ logic, tactics

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
America’s former top intelligence official has publicly questioned the logic and methods informing Washington’s “war on terrorism”, and called for the CIA unmanned drone assassination program in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be grounded. Dennis C. Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence (DNI) until May of 2010, was speaking last week at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.  In an hour-long forum conversation with television journalist Leslie Stahl, Blair —a retired Admiral— explained that, in his view, America’s “war on terrorism” is misconceived, strategically counterproductive and ludicrously expensive. Speaking on the CIA’s unmanned drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Admiral Blair agreed that the drone attacks have killed some “mid-level” Taliban or al-Qaeda operatives, but said that the strikes have had a negligible overall impact on American security. As a terrorist outfit, al-Qaeda has shown that it is able to easily “sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign”, said Blair. Additionally, the former DNI said that unilateral air strikes are legally questionable and have proven strategically damaging, by “alienating the countries concerned” and dominating Washington’s relations with key nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (click here to read intelNews’ criticism of American raids in Somalia). In doing so, the drone attacks tend to “threaten the prospects of long-term reform” in those countries, said the retired Admiral. Earlier in the conversation, Blair had questioned the economic basis of America’s “war on terrorism”, telling his audience that the US intelligence and security establishment currently spends around $20 million a year for each member of al-Qaeda scattered around the world. 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

News you may have missed #496

  • US secretly collaborating with Chinese spies on North Korea. Leaked records of highly sensitive US-China defense consultations reveal that the CIA, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Defense Department, have all held secret discussions on North Korea with Chinese military intelligence.
  • Cuba denounces acquittal of ex-CIA agent. Cuba has denounced as a ‘farce’ the acquittal in the United States of Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA agent who Havana says participated in terrorist attacks against the island. Carriles was accused of lying to US immigration officials.
  • Analysis: US spy agencies struggling to adjust to Middle East changes. With popular protests toppling rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and threatening leaders in Yemen and elsewhere, US intelligence agencies are struggling to adjust to a radically changed landscape, US officials, former intelligence officers and experts say.
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