Analysis: The war between Israel and international arms smugglers

Sinai PeninsulaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The interception earlier this week of a civilian cargo vessel in the southern Red Sea by Israeli commandos has brought to light the ongoing war between weapons smugglers and the Israeli state. The vessel, named Klos-C, was seized by Israeli forces in international waters, over 1,000 miles away from Israel’s coast. Few observers were surprised by the location of the seizure, which took place in the waters between Eritrea and Sudan. Israeli security planners consider the East African country as a major link in the complex smuggling network that supplies goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Tel Aviv has long asserted that the smuggled weapons, which usually originate from Iran or Syria, are secretly carried from Port Sudan into Egypt before eventually ending up across the border into the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by militant group Hamas.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the October 2012 Israeli air attack on the outskirts of Sudanese capital Khartoum, which destroyed an alleged illicit weapons warehouse. In May of 2012, a missile attack in Port Sudan, which was also linked to Israel, killed Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, an eminent member of the Red Sea’s Ababda Bedouin tribe, whose members have a long history of smuggling weapons and goods to and from Sudan.

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News you may have missed #865

Emad ShahinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Renowned Egyptian scholar charged with espionage. Emad Shahin, a scholar of political Islam who has taught at Harvard, Notre Dame and the American University in Cairo and edited the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, has been charged along with several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood with conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security. He is listed as ‘Defendant 33’ in a lengthy criminal complaint that also names former President Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in last summer’s military takeover.
►►Al-Qaeda training Western Islamists in Syria to set up cells abroad. British newspaper The Telegraph reports that, according to security sources, Westerners fighting for the Islamist opposition in Syria are being trained and then encouraged to return to the UK to launch attacks on home soil. The paper quotes an “al-Qaeda defector” from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who says that “recruits from Britain, Europe and the US were being indoctrinated in extremist anti-Western ideology, trained in how to make and detonate car bombs and suicide vests and sent home to start new terror cells”.
►►Snowden has “no plans” to return to the United States. Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden has said he has “no chance” of a fair trial in the US and has no plans to return there. “There’s no no way I can come home and make my case to a jury”, he told the Free Snowden website. “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which, through a failure in law, did not cover national security contractors like myself”, he said.

News you may have missed #858

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►The FBI facilitates NSA’s domestic surveillance. Shane Harris writes in Foreign Policy: “When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on US soil. It’s the FBI, a domestic US law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA’s PRISM system. It was the FBI that petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States’ biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA”.
►►Egypt expels Turkish ambassador. Egypt says it has ordered the Turkish ambassador to be expelled, following comments by Turkey’s prime minister. Saturday’s decision comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders earlier in the week. Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors in August following Turkey’s sharp criticism of Egypt’s leaders and Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Turkey’s ambassador returned to Egypt a few weeks later, but Egypt has declined to return its ambassador to Turkey. Turkey’s government had forged a close alliance with Morsi since he won Egypt’s first free presidential election in June of 2012.
►►The internet mystery that has the world baffled. For the past two years, a mysterious online organization has been setting the world’s finest code-breakers a series of seemingly unsolvable problems. It is a scavenger hunt that has led thousands of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the “darknet”. Only one thing is certain: as it stands, no one is entirely sure what the challenge —known as Cicada 3301— is all about or who is behind it. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a mysterious secret society, a statement by a new political think tank, or an arcane recruitment drive by some quasi-military body. Which means, of course, everyone thinks it’s the CIA.

CIA declassifies 1978 Camp David Accord files

Sadat, Carter and BeginBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States Central Intelligence Agency has declassified 1,400 pages of intelligence files relating to the Camp David Accords, the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which was signed in 1978. The treaty, the first between Israel and an Arab country, was signed on September 17, following thirteen days of high-level negotiations between Egypt and Isarel at the Camp David presidential retreat in the US state of Maryland. The two signatories were Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The high-level summit was hosted by US President Jimmy Carter. All three heads of state were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year, which they shared for helping bring about the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and Israel. The 250 previously classified documents on the Accords, which were released by the CIA earlier this week, date from January 1977 to March 1979. They include comprehensive political assessments and personality profiles of President Sadat, Prime Minister Begin, and other key personalities participating at the summit, which were given to President Carter to read before the meeting. One of the documents refers to a meeting between Carter and CIA analysts at the Agency’s headquarters in August 1978, during which the American President was coached about how to negotiate with the two Middle Eastern leaders. Or, as the document puts it, Carter was “steeped in the personalities of Begin and Sadat”. The papers also include declassified transcripts of meetings of the US National Security Council, in which the Accords were discussed. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer seeks Italian pardon for role in abduction operation

Giorgio Napolitano By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has been convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in an abduction operation, has contacted the Italian president seeking a formal pardon. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Earlier this week, Lady wrote a letter to the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, saying he had never intended to “disrespect Italy’s sovereignty” and asking for the President’s “personal forgiveness and pardon”. In his letter, Lady argues that he operated “under orders from senior American officials” with the aim of protecting lives, adding that US intelligence activities had been able to “stop numerous plans and targets of terrorists operating in Milan and elsewhere in Italy”. The former CIA officer also claims that the 2003 kidnapping of Nasr had taken place “in liaison with senior members of the Italian government”. He concludes by expressing his “regret” for his “participation in any activities which could be viewed as contrary to the laws of Italy”. Read more of this post

Former CIA station chief arrested in Panama ‘has been released’

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, who was detained in Panama last week for his alleged role in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy, returned to the United States on Friday. The US Department of State said Robert Seldon Lady had been released by Panamanian authorities 24 hours after he was detained near Panama’s border with Costa Rica. Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Lady was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica at a remote jungle border crossing early on Thursday, when, according to Costa Rican authorities, “a check on his passport triggered an INTERPOL alert”. Following negotiations between Costa Rican and Panamanian authorities, Lady was detained by Panamanian border guards, who alerted INTERPOL and Italy. Late on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to offer details on the case, but confirmed that Lady was “either en route or back in the United States”. A Panamanian foreign ministry source told Reuters that Lady was released because “Panama does not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”. Read more of this post

Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A retired 21-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by INTERPOL for participating in the abduction of a Muslim cleric in Italy, has been detained by police in Panama. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA officers, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, known also as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. On February 17, 2003, Nasr was seized in dramatic fashion by a group of CIA operatives in broad daylight in Milan. He was stuffed into an unmarked white van and eventually ended up in Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Nasr’s case helped raise awareness of the US government’s extraordinary rendition program. Under the controversial program, suspected terrorist operatives were secretly taken to third-party countries where they were subjected to aggressive interrogation techniques. Italian authorities were irritated by Nasr’s kidnapping, which they claimed took place without the consent of the Italian government. There are also reports that the Italian intelligence services were monitoring Nasr at the time and were trying to recruit him as a source, which might explain why they were incensed when the Egyptian was snatched by the CIA without their authorization. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #845

Lianne PollakBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Mideast envoy Blair’s adviser is former Israeli intel officer. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is an official Middle East envoy for the Quartet, the group that represents the US, Russia, the United Nations and Europe. In his role as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, he is supposed to be politically neutral. But it turns out that one of his principal advisors, Lianne Polak, is an Israeli former army intelligence officer who has led intelligence teams in the Israel Defense Forces.
►►Who is the New Egyptian Intelligence Minister? Last week, a presidential order saw the appointment of General Muhammad Farid as the new head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service. A profile of this unknown person reveals the close ties he had with those at the top of the Mubarak administration. His previous role was as the chairman of the Administrative Control Authority, which deals with investigating corruption in governmental agencies and public funds, as well as fighting organized crime. Farid was appointed to this role in 2004 by Hosni Mubarak.
►►Five unanswered questions about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Although the US government has disclosed some additional details about the programs in response to the leaks, important questions remain about the nature and scope of the surveillance programs. They include: 1. What other data is being collected under the USA PATRIOT Act? 2. How broad are the programs? 3. What’s the legal rationale? 4. Is the NSA still collecting email records? 5. Are there other programs that we don’t know about?

Hamas ‘found tracking devices’ inside weapons bound for Gaza

Rafah Border CrossingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Palestinian militant group Hamas said on Sunday it refused to take possession of a shipment of missiles after its weapons experts discovered they contained a number of carefully hidden tracking devices. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea, which reported the story, said it spoke to a source “closely affiliated with weapons smugglers” in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who confirmed Hamas’ claim. According to Al-Youm, the weapons shipment consisted of 28 long-range missiles stolen from the arsenal of the Libyan armed forces during the uprising that led to the overthrow of Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The shipment made its way across the border with Egypt and from there to the Sinai desert, before ending up at the Rafah Border Crossing, located between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It was there that the missiles were inspected by a team from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The paper reported that one of the Hamas inspectors, a senior member of the al-Qassam Brigades, discovered a number of miniature tracking devices carefully concealed inside the missiles, which appeared to be active. Following the discovery, the Hamas team backed out of the purchase deal and abandoned the inspection site. Al-Youm also said that the Palestinian group has decided to terminate its contacts with a significant number of weapons smugglers operating in the Sinai, because of concerns that they may have been penetrated by Israeli and Egyptian intelligence. Read more of this post

Iran official in secret visit to Egypt to discuss ‘new spy agency’

Qassem SuleimaniBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A senior Iranian intelligence official paid a secret visit to Egypt earlier this month, allegedly to discuss the establishment of a new intelligence service controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Several Egyptian newspapers, including the quality broadsheet Al-Masry Al-Youm, said that the Iranian official was Qassem Suleimani, commander of Quds Force, a unit inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is specifically tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The Quds Force has traditionally constituted the primary channel of communication between the government of Iran and a host of international groups allied to it, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. Suleimani is said to have traveled incognito to Cairo at the personal invitation of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, who is also a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group, which was legalized in Egypt after the 2011 revolution, is the Egyptian branch of a Pan-Islamic political and social movement that assumed control of the government after the ousting two years ago of Egyptian longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. According to reports from Egypt, Suleimani met with “senior officials” in the Egyptian capital, including President Mursi’s chief adviser on foreign affairs, Issam al-Haddad, as well as prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Masry Al-Youm said the Iranian commander discussed plans to develop a new civilian intelligence service in post-Mubarak Egypt, which will be answerable to the government of the country. The apparent plan of the Muslim Brotherhood is to create a brand new spy service that will operate outside the control of Egypt’s military, which currently commands the bulk of the country’s intelligence community. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #797

Mohamed MorsiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egypt names new intelligence chief. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last week issued a decree naming Mohammed Raafat Shehata the country’s new head of intelligence, after the former spy chief was forced into retirement. Shehata had been acting director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services Directorate since August 8, when his predecessor Murad Muwafi was sacked, after after gunmen killed 16 Egyptian border guards in Sinai.
►►Ex-Blackwater firm to teach US spies survival skills. The Defense Intelligence Agency announced on Thursday evening it would award six private security companies a share of a $20 million contract to provide “individual protective measures training courses” for its operatives. Among them is Academi, the 3.0 version of Blackwater, now under new ownership and management. The US military’s intelligence service is hiring the firm, along with five others, to train its operatives to defend themselves as they collect information in dangerous places.
►►Turkey court convicts 326 of coup plotting. A Turkish court on Friday convicted 326 military officers, including the former air force and navy chiefs, of plotting to overthrow the nation’s Islamic-based government in 2003, in a case that has helped curtail the military’s hold on politics. A panel of three judges at the court on Istanbul’s outskirts initially sentenced former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek, and former army commander Cetin Dogan, to life imprisonment but later reduced the sentence to a 20-year jail term because the plot had been unsuccessful. The trial of the high-ranking officers —inconceivable in Turkey a decade ago— has helped significantly to tip the balance of power in the country in favor of civilian authorities.

Mossad allegedly behind assassination of Egyptian militant in Sinai

Sinai PeninsulaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence operatives were allegedly behind the assassination late last month of an Egyptian militant who died when his motorcycle suddenly exploded in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Citing unnamed Egyptian security sources, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency said the target of the assassination was Ibrahim Ouda Bereikat, a member of the militant group Jamaat Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis fi Sinaa. The group had claimed responsibility for a series of cross-border attacks in August of 2011, which killed eight Israeli citizens. Five Egyptian police officers and ten militants were also reportedly killed in the attacks, which sparked a diplomatic episode between Cairo and Tel Aviv. The Ma’an report cited Egyptian sources who said that the Israeli raid was the first known incursion into Sinai ever since Israel and Egypt signed the 1979 Camp David Accords. The news agency said that Bereikat’s assassination was carried out by a team of four officers from the Mossad, Israel’s primary covert-action agency. The four allegedly bribed several Bedouin tribesmen who live in southern Sinai, and had them lead them to Bereikat’s whereabouts, approximately 10 miles (15 kilometers) into Egyptian territory. The report claims that the eight-member team —four Mossad operatives and four Bedouins— first tried to kill Bereikat on August 22, but failed because, ironically, their target had been picked up for questioning by Egyptian security forces. The Mossad officers thus returned late on Saturday, August 25, and planted explosives on Bereikat’s motorcycle. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #786

Richard Masato AokiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US Pentagon wants to share intel with Egypt. The US Department of Defense is offering Egypt a package of classified intelligence-sharing capabilities designed to help it identify military threats along its border with Israel. According to an unnamed senior US official, the Pentagon leadership is concerned about “rising militancy” along the Egyptian-Israeli border. The purported intelligence package includes satellite imagery, data collected through unmanned drones, as well as intercepts of cell phone and other communications among militants suspected of planning attacks. The Egyptian intelligence chief was summarily fired earlier this month, after more than a dozen Egyptian soldiers were killed near Israel’s border when gunmen attacked a post and tried to enter Israel.
►►Researcher disputes Aoki was FBI informant. Last week author Seth Rosenfeld alleged that prominent 1960s Black Panther Party member Richard Masato Aoki, who gave the Black Panthers some of their first firearms and weapons training, was an undercover FBI informer. But the claim, which is detailed in Rosenfeld’s new book, Subversives, is disputed by another researcher, Diane C. Fujino. A professor and chair of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara, and author of the recently published Samurai Among Panthers, Fujino argues that Rosenfeld has not met the burden of proof on Aoki, and that he “made definitive conclusions based on inconclusive evidence”.
►►Russian intelligence to monitor blogosphere. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the FSB, says it plans to fund a program that monitors the Internet’s “blogosphere”, with an aim to “shape public views through social networking”. Citing unnamed sources from inside the FSB, Russian newspaper Kommersant said that the project’s research stage will cost around $1 million. The article implies that the online surveillance and opinion-shaping program will target both Russian- and foreign-language online users. This is not the first time that the FSB has displayed interest in online social networking in recent years.

News you may have missed #777

KH-9 HexagonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egypt sacks spy chief after border attacks.  Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi sacked the Director of the General Intelligence Directorate, Murad Muwafi, two generals and the governor of north Sinai region on Wednesday, after gunmen killed 16 border guards there on Sunday before last. Mowafi was the most high-profile official who lost his job, forced into early retirement as Egypt’s intelligence agencies were criticized for missing or ignoring warnings about the attack.
►►Photos reveal CIA deep-sea rescue of a spy satellite. On July 10, 1971, America’s newest photo reconnaissance satellite, the KH-9 Hexagon, dropped a capsule loaded with film toward the Earth. Due to a technical error, the capsule sunk in the Pacific Ocean. Last week, the CIA declassified documents and photographs showing how it went 16,000 feet into the sea to recover the Hexagon capsule.
►►Pre-inquest review into death of ex-KGB officer Litvinenko. A British High Court judge will soon hold a pre-inquest review into the death of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, officials have said. Litvinenko, who was working for MI6 following his defection from Russia, is believed to have been poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London, in November 2006. British prosecutors accuse former KGB operatives Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun for the murder. However, earlier this year Lugovoy reportedly passed a lie detector test on the subject of Litvinenko’s death, which was administered in Moscow by the British Polygraph Association.

News you may have missed #767

Omar SuleimanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Aussie spy chief warns of ‘digital footprints’. For the first time in the 60-year history of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Australia’s main external spy agency, its Director has spoken publicly. Nick Warner used this unprecedented opportunity to reflect on where ASIS has come in the last 60 years, and the challenges it faces into the future. Among them, he said, are “developments in the cyber-realm”, which “are a two-edged sword for an agency like ASIS; they offer new ways of collecting new information, but the digital fingerprints and footprints which we all now leave behind complicate the task of operating covertly”.
►►India arrests alleged Pakistani spy. Indian authorities have announced the arrest of Zubair Khan, 37, of Uttar Pradesh, who was allegedly caught with several Indian Army documents in his possession. He had been reportedly asked to gather information on Air India pilots, military bases in the country, journalists who frequently visit Pakistan, and relatives of officials working in the Indian High Commission in Pakistan. Maps of cantonment boards and details of many battalions have been recovered from him, according to Indian media reports. Investigators are also said to have identified one of Khan’s handlers, a man named “Talib”, who works at Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi.
►►Egypt spies try to repair image as ex-Director dies. Egypt’s top spy agency, the General Intelligence Service —known as the “Mukhabarat” in Arabic— is taking a small but unprecedented step out of the shadows, in an apparent attempt to win the public’s support in the new Egypt. In an unusual move, the agency released a 41-minute-long documentary boasting of its achievements, presenting itself as the defender of the nation and vowing to continue to protect the country. The effort comes as the Mukhabarat’s former Director, the notorious Omar Suleiman, has died in the United States.

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