Pro-Russian oligarch arrested —first sign of US sanctions on Russia?

Dmytro FirtashBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A well-connected Ukrainian oligarch, who is considered one of Russia’s most trusted energy sales intermediaries, has been arrested in Austria at the request of the United States. Some speculate that this may be a first direct sign of America’s response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. In an article published last week, The Washington Post suggested that the arrest of Dmytro Firtash, a citizen of Ukraine, may be “the beginning of a US effort to inflict financial pain on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian crisis”. Firtash’s lucrative business activities are inextricably tied to Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas and one of the most powerful corporations in existence. The company, whose activities typically account for around 10 percent of Russia’s annual gross domestic product, is one of Moscow’s primary exporters of energy and among its most important sources of foreign revenue. Throughout the last decade, Firtash’s company, RosUkrEnergo, acted as the primary mediator between Gazprom and Naftohaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company. The latter would import Russian natural gas from Gazprom through RosUkrEnergo, which would purchase it from the Russian company and sell it to the Ukrainians at a noticeably steeper price. Eventually, in 2009, the government of pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko managed to remove RosUkrEnergo as a broker from the energy deals between Kiev and Moscow. But Tymoshenko, who became herself embroiled in a financial corruption scandal, was soon imprisoned. And in 2013, Gazprom approached the pro-Russian government of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and offered to sell natural gas to Ukraine at a 33 percent discount, providing that RosUkrEnergo was permitted to return as Moscow’s natural gas distributor to Ukraine. Last Wednesday, a statement from the Ukrainian government in Kiev confirmed that the man identified only as “Dmytro F., 48” in a laconic Austrian police report was indeed Dmytro Firtash. Read more of this post

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Leftist group behind 1971 burglary of FBI office comes forward

FBI field office in Media, PaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Members of an American leftwing group, who in 1971 burgled a regional branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), stealing documents that revealed illegal government activities, have come forward. The mysterious group, which called itself The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, is credited by historians as having unearthed the initial revelations that eventually led to the exposure of COINTELPRO. The acronym stood for COunter INTELligence PROgram; it incorporated a host of questionable and often illegal activities by the FBI, which were aimed at discrediting domestic political organizations considered ‘radical’ by longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The program targeted mostly nonviolent antiwar groups and black civil rights organizations and leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was regarded by Hoover as a communist agent. In association with the Watergate scandal, the COINTELPRO revelations led to the creation of the Church and Pike committees in Congress, which radically restructured the oversight of the United States Intelligence Community. The burglary took place on the evening of March 8, 1971, in the town of Media, Pennsylvania. It resulted in the theft of over 1,000 documents, which were then reproduced and mailed anonymously to several national newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nearly half of the stolen documents concerned surveillance and disruption operations —mainly blackmail, intimidation and sabotage— against liberal groups. They also included a controversial directive by Director Hoover to place “an FBI agent behind every mailbox” in America. A furious Hoover placed as many as 200 agents on the burglary case; but the investigation got nowhere, and the Bureau was forced to close the case in March 1976, having failed to conclusively identify the burglars. But now a new book written by Betty Medsger, who at the time of the burglary was working for The Washington Post, has revealed for the first time the identities of four of the eight-member team that carried out the burglary. Read more of this post

German magazine reveals more information on elite NSA spy unit

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Last June, we reported on the existence of an elite cyberatack unit within the United States National Security Agency (NSA), which operates under the Agency’s Office of Tailored Access Operations. Veteran NSA watcher Matthew M. Aid, who made the initial revelation, said at the time that the Office, known at NSA simply as TAO, maintains a substantial “hacker army” that works in close cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Now German newsmagazine Der Spiegel says it viewed internal documents that confirm the existence of TAO as the NSA’s elite operational unit. The publication describes TAO as “something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked”. It adds that TAO operatives are routinely detailed to a host of American intelligence agencies to help conduct intelligence operations ranging from traditional espionage to counterterrorism and cyberwarfare. Furthermore, TAO’s personnel, which are allegedly far younger than the average NSA officer, are experts in exploiting the technical deficiencies of the information-technology industry. They have therefore been able to compromise communications hardware and software produced by some of the world’s biggest IT companies and service providers, including Huawei, Cisco and Microsoft. The Spiegel article claims that TAO was established in 1997, several years before the Internet became a prominent engine of economic and cultural activity around the world. Its personnel, which initially consisted of a few select technical experts, was housed at the NSA headquarters in Fort George Meade, Maryland, but “in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency”. Notably, Der Spiegel cites a paper produced by a former TAO unit head, which states that the program has produced “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen” and urges for its continued growth. Read more of this post

New generation of FBI counterintelligence agents enters the field

FBIBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, America’s foremost counterintelligence agency, is preparing to field its first generation of operatives who acquired the bulk of their professional experiences after 9/11. In an enlightening analysis published in Newsweek, veteran intelligence corresponded Jeff Stein says the FBI’s is now being staffed by a new breed of field agents. This new cohort, which is gradually replacing the older generation of counterterrorism and counterintelligence agents, is far more skilled in the geopolitics of Islam, something that distinguishes them from their older colleagues. Tim Murphy, who recently retired as Deputy Director at the Bureau, told Stein that now “everyone in [FBI] counterterrorism knows the difference [between Sunnis and Shiites]”, which was not the case for many years after 9/11. The new FBI agents, said Murphy, also know “know the difference between factions in al Qaeda [and] the political and religious differences” that feed political Islam. The retired official added that over half of the agents on duty now at the FBI entered the Bureau after 9/11. Their interest in counterterrorism and counterintelligence has been furthered by the FBI’s decision to open up a host of new career branches for agents with specializations in intelligence. The latter have now started to enter the Bureau with degrees in international relations, intelligence studies, or computer science, whereas some years ago backgrounds in law and accounting topped the lists of new recruits. But new counterintelligence and counterterrorism agents are far more into “the world of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, Chinese hackers and Russian spies”, says Stein. Read more of this post

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.

Analysis: FBI monitors foreign diplomats far more than NSA

FBIBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Over the past several months, the Edward Snowden affair has turned the typically reclusive National Security Agency into a news media sensation. The signals intelligence agency, which is tasked by the United States government with communications interception, is said to have spied on a host of foreign government officials and diplomats. But in an article published this week in Foreign Policy, the American military historian and author Matthew Aid reminds us that American intelligence operations against foreign diplomats do not usually involve the NSA. They are typically carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been in the business of monitoring the activities of foreign diplomats on US soil long before the NSA even existed. The author of Intel Wars and The Secret Sentry states in his article that the FBI’s cryptologic operations targeting foreign envoys are today far more sensitive and the NSA’s. The vast majority of these operations take place on US soil. There are currently over 600 foreign embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions in the US, maintained by 176 countries. They include over 200 consulates located in cities ranging from Miami to Los Angeles and from San Francisco to Boston. New York alone hosts over 100 permanent diplomatic missions at the United Nations headquarters. Aid points out that “every one of these embassies and consulates is watched by the FBI’s legion of counterintelligence officers” in varying degrees. Additionally, the Bureau relies on the close cooperation of large American telecommunications providers in its effort to intercept the landline and cellular communications “of virtually every embassy and consulate in the United States”. FBI communications technicians also intercept the personal telephone calls and emails of foreign diplomats on a regular basis, adds Aid. Sometimes the Bureau employs specially trained teams of agents who physically break into embassies and consulates, in what is known in intelligence lingo as ‘black bag jobs’. Read more of this post

FBI investigates Russian cultural center for alleged intelligence links

Russian Cultural CentreBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the United States are probing a cultural exchange program run by the Russian government, on suspicion that it clandestinely recruited Americans as intelligence assets. Last week, Mother Jones magazine reported that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been interviewing American citizens who participated in the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program. The program, which is operated by the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Washington, DC, has sent approximately 130 Americans to Russia since 2001. Headquartered in northwest Washington, the Centre facilitates cultural programs and Russian-language lessons for a nominal cost. Many of the Americans who joined the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program over the years were invited to travel to Russia in groups of 20 to 25. Most were graduate students, private-sector executives, political campaign staff, or workers in nonprofit organizations. They had their travel expenses, including transportation, lodging and meals, paid by the Russian government. During their trips to Russia, which customarily lasted for around 10 days, they stayed in expensive resorts and regularly met with officials from the Russian government. The American newsmagazine said that the FBI seems to be especially interested in Yury Zaytsev, a Russian government official who runs the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program and is also Director of the Russian Centre for Science and Culture. The Washington Post reported that Zaytsev appears to be listed as a diplomat with the US Department of State. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #853

NSA's Utah Data CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Meltdowns hobble NSA data center. Electrical surges at the National Security Agency’s massive data center in Utah have delayed the opening of the facility for a year as well as destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kit, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ten “meltdowns” in the past 13 months have repeatedly delayed the Herculean effort to get the spy agency’s colossal snooping facility up and running, according to project documents reviewed by the newspaper.
►►Uganda expels Sudan diplomat accused of spying. Sudanese diplomat Jad-el-Seed Mohammed Elhag has been expelled from Uganda on suspicion of espionage, Ugandan foreign ministry officials said Tuesday. “The reasons why he was expelled was that the activities he was involved in were beyond the norms and requirements of his tenure”, Uganda Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Tayebwa Katureebe said. “These are issues of diplomacy and of two countries, which are not addressed normally in the press, but basically the main reason was espionage”, he said, declining to go into detail.
►►FBI accused of using no-fly list to recruit informants. A lawsuit in New York alleges that the FBI is violating the law by putting Muslim-Americans on the no-fly list not because of a “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist associations, but as a form of blackmail to coerce them into becoming informants at mosques and in their communities. Is this the beginning of the end for the US federal government’s no-fly list? According to the complaint, New York resident Muhammad Tanvir landed on the no-fly list after refusing an FBI request to work as an informant in his predominantly Muslim community.

News you may have missed #850 (Syria edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►FBI sharpens scrutiny of Syrians in US. The FBI has increased its surveillance of Syrians inside the United States in response to concerns that a military strike against the government of President Bashar al-Assad could lead to terrorist attacks inside the US or against American allies and interests abroad. The US government has also taken the unusual step of warning federal agencies and private companies that American military action in Syria could spur cyberattacks, the officials said. There were no such alerts before previous military operations, like the one against Libya in 2011.
►►French spies provide details Syrian chemical weapons program. As Congress debates whether to authorize a military strike on Syria, the French government has released its declassified intelligence report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the eastern Damascus suburbs. While the American report focuses solely on the most recent attack, the French provide a comprehensive look at the nature of the Syrian chemical weapons program. Also, while US officials have conceded that they don’t know if Assad himself ordered the use of chemical weapons, the French assessment rebuts claims that the August 21 attack could have been the work of a rogue officer.
►►Ex-CIA WMD Counterterrorism Unit chief on Syria: “We cannot afford [...] miscalculations in regard to Syria. We will launch our missiles and drop our bombs. Then we will announce the end of active operations. That will not signal the end of the war. It will signal its beginning [...]. Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah friends will begin to respond. They will do so on their timetable and only where they perceive the odds to be in their favor. Embassies will be struck. Hostages will be taken. American and Western tourists will be slaughtered. If the opportunity presents itself, we may even feel the impact here in the United States with attacks on prominent landmarks and public places”.

CIA kept file on American academic Noam Chomsky, say experts

Noam Chomsky in 1970By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 1970 communiqué between two United States government agencies appears to show that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) kept a file on the iconic American linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky. Widely seen as a pioneer of modern linguistics, Chomsky adopted an uncompromisingly critical stance against the US’ involvement in the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. The US Intelligence Community’s systematic surveillance of antiwar and civil rights activists at the time prompted legal scholars and historians to deduce that Chomsky’s activities must have been routinely spied on by the American government. But a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in recent years turned up blank, with the CIA stating that it could “not locate any records” responsive to the requests. Scholars insisted, however, and a recent FOIA request unearthed what appears to be proof that the CIA did in fact compile a file on the dissident academic. The request was submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by attorney Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, a group specializing in “lawfully acquiring from the government material related to national security matters and distributing it to the public”. According to Foreign Policy magazine blog The Cable, McClanahan’s FOIA request revealed a memorandum sent from the CIA to the FBI on June 8, 1970. In it, the Agency seeks information about an upcoming trip by American antiwar activists to North Vietnam, which, according to the CIA, had received the “endorsement of Noam Chomsky”. The memo also asks the FBI for information on the trip’s participants, including Professor Chomsky. The Cable spoke to Marquette University Professor Athan Theoharis, domestic surveillance expert and author of Spying on Americans, who opined that the CIA request for information on Chomsky amounts to an outright confirmation that the Agency kept a file on the dissident academic. Read more of this post

Spy agencies failed to share intelligence on Omagh bombing: report

Real IRA paradeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A new report on the 1998 bombing of downtown Omagh by an Irish republican splinter group claims that the tragedy could have been avoided had British, Irish and American intelligence agencies shared information with British police. The car bomb attack was carried out on August 15, 1998, by the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). The militant organization consisted of former Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteers who rejected the Good Friday Agreement, part of the Northern Ireland peace process. It devastated the small Northern Irish town of Omagh, killing 29 and injuring over 200 people, including six children, several teenagers and a woman who was pregnant with twins. There have been no criminal convictions in connection with the bombing, despite the fact that it was the single worst instance of violence in the so-called Northern Ireland Troubles, which began in the 1960s and ended in 1998, largely because of the Omagh bombing. But now a new report commissioned by the families of the victims of the bombing claims that intelligence services from three countries failed to share information with British police, which could have prevented the disaster in Omagh. The report, authored by a group of retired security experts on behalf of London-based law firm SBP, says the RIRA had been infiltrated by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Britain’s Security Service (MI5) and the Irish Garda’s Crime and Security Branch. These agencies, claims the report, had at least two informants inside the RIRA: a smalltime Irish criminal named Paddy Dixon, who frequently smuggled stolen cars from Ireland into Britain for use by the RIRA, and David Rupert, an American of Irish descent. Read more of this post

Secretive US cyber unit has been spying on China for 15 years

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A secretive cyberattack unit within the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has been engaged in protracted offensive cyberespionage operations against China for nearly 15 years. The revelation, made this week by veteran NSA watcher Matthew M. Aid, appears to confirm recent allegations made by Chinese government officials that Beijing’s secrets come under regular attack by US government-sponsored hackers. It also agrees with claims made by several intelligence observers, including this blog, that America’s cyber-security posture is not purely defensive. According to Aid’s article, published this past Monday in Foreign Policy, China’s allegations that it has been the target of sustained cyberespionage attacks by the US “are essentially correct”. Citing “a number of highly confidential sources”, Aid alleges that the NSA maintains a substantial “hacker army”. These ‘cyberwarriors’ allegedly operate under the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, known inside NSA simply as TAO. Its personnel is said to have successfully penetrated the Chinese government’s telecommunications networks and servers since the late 1990s, generating “some of the best and most reliable intelligence information” gained by Washington. It does so through computer network exploitation (CNE) techniques, such as surreptitious hacking, password exploitation, and even by compromising Chinese network security technicians. Aid alleges that TAO works closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), through a small “clandestine intelligence gathering unit”. The latter employs CIA and FBI operatives who perform what are known as “off-net operations”, a term that refers to physical break-ins of Chinese and other foreign diplomatic facilities, in order to compromise the security computer hardware. Read more of this post

Canada spy agency refused to notify Mounties about Russian agent

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Canada’s main counterintelligence agency opted to keep secret from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) vital information about a Canadian naval officer who spied for Russia. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the case of Jeffrey Paul Delisle, a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy, who until 2011 was employed at Canada’s ultra-secure TRINITY communications center in Halifax. Delisle was arrested in January 2012 for passing information gathered from radio and radar signal interceptions to a foreign power, most likely Russia. In May of last year, it emerged that it was in fact the United States that alerted the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) about Delisle’s espionage activities. What was supposed to happen next was that the CSIS —which is not a law enforcement agency— should have notified the RCMP of Delisle’s activities and requested his prompt arrest. Remarkably, however, the CSIS chose to keep the Delisle file concealed from the RCMP, ostensibly to prevent the possible exposure of intelligence sources and methods in open-court proceedings. The Canadian Press, which broke the story on Sunday, cited “numerous sources familiar with the Delisle case” in claiming that the CSIS’ refusal to request Delisle’s arrest “frustrated Washington”, which feared that the spy was routinely compromising United States secrets shared by America with its Canadian allies. So frustrated were the Americans, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sketched out a plan to lure Delisle onto US soil and arrest him there. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #831 (Boston Marathon bombings)

Site of one of the Boston Marathon blastsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russia had warned FBI Tsarnaev had radical links. The Russian FSB intelligence security service shared with the FBI in early 2011 information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the brothers suspected in the Boston marathon bombings, was a follower of radical Islam. The Russians allegedly told the FBI that Tsarnaev, 26,  had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the US to join unspecified underground groups.
►►FBI interviewed dead Boston bombing suspect years ago. The FBI admitted Friday they interviewed the now-deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago but failed to find any incriminating information about him. The FBI probe culminated in a sit-down interview where they probably asked him a lot of questions about his life, his contacts, his surroundings. All of this was then written in a report.
►►Ex-CIA/FBI official says Boston bombings were not terrorism. Counterterrorism expert Philip Mudd, with experience in the CIA and the FBI, told Fox News: “What I fear is that people too quickly categorize this as terrorism. This looks more to me like Columbine than it does like al Qaeda. Two kids who radicalized between themselves in a closed circle and go out and commit murder. I would charge these guys as murderers, not terrorists”.
►►Ex-US Attorney General says Boston bombings were terrorism. Michael Mukasey, Attorney General of the United States from 2007 to 2009, says that the Boston attack “was obviously a suicide operation –not in the direct way of a bomber who kills all his victims and himself at the same time by blowing himself up, but in the way of someone who conducts a spree, holding the stage for as long as possible, before he is cut down in a blaze of what he believes is glory. Here, think Mumbai”.

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