FBI kept tabs on Mandela’s first-ever visit to the US, files show

Nelson MandelaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has released for the first time some of its internal files on the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Among other things, the documents reveal that the Bureau closely monitored Mandela’s first ever visit to the United States in 1990. The legendary black campaigner arrived in the United States in June of that year, just four months following his release from prison after 27 years of captivity. The FBI documents include a redacted memorandum from the Bureau’s field office in Atlanta, Georgia, addressed to William Sessions, who was the FBI’s Director at the time. The memorandum notes that the Bureau had been able to recruit an informant inside, or closely affiliated with, Mandela’s inner circle. The source had provided his FBI handlers with a detailed itinerary of Mandela’s 11-day US tour. The memorandum stresses that the “confidential source” was “newly opened” and thus his or her “reliability [was] not yet established”. But Mandela’s travel itinerary, which had apparently been planned by a member of staff in the office of Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, was carefully dissected by the FBI. The documents show that the Bureau’s principal concern was safeguarding the life of the South African political leader, who had received countless death threats in the days prior to his arrival. According to the declassified files, the threats originated from various racist skinhead and neo-Nazi groups, the Ku Klux Klan, as well as a host of white supremacist organizations. But alongside its concern about “terrorist activity being directed” at the civil rights campaigner, the Bureau was obligated to monitor his activities on US soil because at that time Washington still designated the African National Congress, which Mandela led, as a “foreign terrorist organization”. The designation was finally lifted in 2008. Read more of this post

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Report reveals secret US-India Cold War collaboration

U-2 surveillance aircraftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
During much of the Cold War, India enjoyed a close diplomatic and military relationship with the Soviet Union. But a newly declassified document reveals that the South Asian country allowed the United States to spy on the Soviets using its airspace. The revelation is contained in a 400-page history of the American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft program authored on behalf of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The formerly classified document, written in 1992 by CIA historians Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach, is titled: The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974. It was declassified last week in response to a 2005 Freedom of Information Act request filed by Jeffrey T. Richelson, Senior Fellow at George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The Central Intelligence Agency had been involved in U-2 reconnaissance missions since 1954, when the spy program began. Known officially as Project HOMERUN, the U-2 program was a joint effort by the CIA and the National Security Agency that surreptitiously gathered signals and photographic intelligence on Soviet military sites. The program, which has been described by some historians as one of the most successful intelligence projects in US history, relied on the U-2’s ability to fly beyond 70,000 feet over the Soviet Union, thus avoiding detection or attack by Soviet forces. That assumption, however, proved to have been false. In reality, Soviet radars had been able to detect nearly every U-2 flight over Soviet territory. Eventually, on May 1, 1960, Soviet forces managed to shoot down one of the U-2 flights using a surface-to-air missile. This led to the so-called ‘U-2 incident’, during which India sided firmly with the Soviet Union, criticizing the US for violating Soviet airspace. But New Delhi’s attitude to the U-2 program appears to have changed drastically following the Sino-Indian conflict on October 1962, when Chinese forces launched a series of armed incursions into Indian territory, killing over 1,000 soldiers. Read more of this post

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

Is mismanagement driving away some of the CIA’s best talent?

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Poor management practices and a culture that tolerates blunders by senior officials are generating cynicism and disillusionment among employees at the United States Central Intelligence Agency, according to an internal study. Completed in 2010 by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, the study was released in heavily redacted form last week, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Los Angeles Times, which filed the request in 2011, said the report identifies mismanagement and unaccountability among senior leadership as major factors contributing to the CIA’s “retention challenges”. It cites a 2009 Agency-wide anonymous survey, which found that around 12% of the CIA’s workforce was considering resigning. Over half of those said they wanted to leave because of “poor management and a lack of accountability for poor management” among senior-level staff. This feeling is stronger among younger recruits, “who have exhibited high resignation rates in current years”, according to the report. Operations officers at the National Clandestine Service —the CIA’s covert-action arm— are also more disturbed than other Agency employees by perceived mismanagement. The report also notes that the CIA has failed to introduce mechanisms for encouraging accountability, in response to growing concerns by lower-level staff. The Times said it spoke to “more than 20 former [CIA] officers”, who said the 2010 report echoed “longstanding concerns about the CIA’s culture”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #836

Investigating the Boston bombingsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA guide explains how to access private info on Google. In 2007, the US National Security Agency produced a book to help its spies uncover intelligence hiding on the World Wide Web. The 643-page tome, called Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research (.pdf), has just been released by the NSA following a FOIA request filed in April by MuckRock, a site that charges fees to process public records for activists and others. Although the author’s name is redacted in the version released by the NSA, Muckrock’s FOIA indicates it was written by Robyn Winder and Charlie Speight.
►►Are the EU’s unofficial spy services growing out of control? Since its founding, the European Union has been building its own spy programs, often triggered by specific needs, in an ad-hoc manner, without strategy and without a coherent concept about their structure, methods, and people. Unofficially, the has been building an intelligence apparatus of six services so far, some of them brand new, populated already by 1,300 specialists. But because they are technically not conducting covert operations, they simply deny being intelligence services.
►►Hearing on Boston bombings exposes intelligence failures. The US House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing on the Boston Marathon bombings on Thursday amounted to more than the usual political posturing: it exposed clear deficiencies in communications among intelligence- and law-enforcement agencies. whatever the cause of the intelligence breakdown, the failure to share vital information —and the continued finger-pointing between agencies yesterday— shows the need to improve coordination.

News you may have missed #821 (civil liberties edition)

Bernard SquarciniBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►French domestic spy chief cleared of snooping charges. Back in October of 2011, intelNews reported that Bernard Squarcini, who then headed France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DCRI, had been charged with spying on a journalist with the daily Le Monde. The accusation was part of a wider case of domestic snooping, in which Squarcini was believed to have been trying to detect the source of government leaks to the press, allegedly on orders by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Earlier this month, however, an appeals court in Paris rejected two of three charges against the former DCRI chief. Squarcini could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the remaining charge.
►►FBI documents termed Occupy movement as ‘terrorism’. A number of heavily redacted US government documents, released following a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the FBI organized a nationwide law enforcement investigation and monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement beginning in August of 2011. In some documents, the FBI refers to the Occupy Wall Street protests as a “criminal activity” and “domestic terrorism”.
►►Wiretapping by Russian spy agencies doubled in five years. Wiretapping by Russia’s intelligence agencies has nearly doubled over the past five years, according to The Moscow Times. In Western countries, intelligence agencies were given wider powers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But in Russia, the exponential growth of wiretapping began after 2007, when terrorism by Islamic-inspired separatists was already on the decline. A federal law passed in 2010 expanded the legal grounds for wiretapping Russian citizens. Now, intelligence officers can wiretap someone’s phones or monitor their Internet activity simply because they allegedly received reports that an individual is preparing to commit a crime.

Judge orders CIA to release files on drug kingpin Pablo Escobar

Pablo EscobarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In the late 1980s, it was nearly impossible to sit through a primetime news bulletin without coming across the name ‘Pablo Escobar’. Born in 1949 in the town of Rionegro, Colombia, Escobar rose to become the leader of the Medellín cartel, history’s most notorious narcotics smuggling ring. By 1986, the Medellín cartel controlled over 80 percent of the global cocaine market, shipping daily around 15 tons of the drug (worth an estimated street value of $500,000) to the United States. In 1989, Forbes magazine included Escobar on his list of the world’s richest persons, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. By that time, the Medellín cartel had become powerful enough to directly threaten the very institutional integrity of the Colombian state. At the same time, Escobar carefully cultivated his ‘Robin Hood’ image by regularly building hospitals, schools, and churches in some of Colombia’s most impoverished regions. He was thus able to surround himself with a sea of grateful and devoted supporters, who directly depended on his generosity for their livelihood. They also shielded him from the reach of the Colombian and United States government forces, which repeatedly went after him without success. Eventually, the Colombian government, in association with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency, managed to stop Escobar by creating a rival organization called Los PEPES —a Spanish-language acronym that stands for ‘People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar’. Los PEPES, which consisted of members of rival drug smuggling cartels, as well as trained mercenaries belonging to Colombian rightwing militias, went after Escobar’s closest associates with indescribable ruthlessness. They hunted down and eventually tortured and killed several of his relatives, advisors and bodyguards. Ultimately, in 1993, they helped the Colombian National Police corner Escobar and shoot him dead at a Medellín barrio. The celebrations in Washington and Bogotá didn’t last long; as soon as Los PEPES disbanded, many of its leading members regrouped to found the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group that has since killed thousands of civilians in Colombia’s bitter civil war. The AUC, which funds its operations through kidnappings and drug trafficking, is today a designated terrorist group by most Western governments, including the United States and the European Union. Read more of this post

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 #703: US edition

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA pressed to reveal details on Google deal. The Electronic Privacy Information Center is locking horns with the National Security Agency over a secret deal the agency cut with Google following an attack on Gmail by Chinese hackers in 2010. The information center has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA to obtain information about the deal. That request was rejected by a federal court and an appeal process continues.
►►US spy agencies can keep data on Americans longer. Until now, the US National Counterterrorism Center had to immediately destroy information about Americans that was already stored in other government databases when there were no clear ties to terrorism. But it will now be able to store information about Americans with no ties to terrorism for up to five years under new Obama administration guidelines. The new rules replace guidelines issued in 2008 and have privacy advocates concerned about the potential for data-mining information on innocent Americans.
►►Islam convert leads CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, has been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center for the past six years. Colleagues describe Roger as a collection of contradictions. A chain-smoker who spends countless hours on a treadmill. Notoriously surly yet able to win over enough support from subordinates and bosses to hold on to his job. He presides over a campaign that has killed thousands of Islamist militants and angered millions of Muslims, but he is himself a convert to Islam. His defenders don’t even try to make him sound likable. Instead, they emphasize his operational talents, encyclopedic understanding of the enemy and tireless work ethic.

News you may have missed #682

Lieutenant General Ronald BurgessBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is there a Mossad base near Iran? The London-based Sunday Times has published an interview with a man claiming to be an Azerbaijan-based agent of Israeli intelligence agency, who confirmed the existence of such a base. The man, identified in the article as “Shimon,” told the paper that there were dozens of Israeli Mossad agents working out of the base. The meeting between the agent and the London Times‘ reporter took place in Baku, near the Israeli Embassy, the report said.
►►Analysis: CIA report on Soviet bioweapons still secret. It has been three decades since the Reagan administration accused the Soviet Union and Vietnam of using chemical weapons known as yellow rain. We still do not know how the US came to this conclusion, but have good reason to believe that it was based on flawed or distorted intelligence. A classified critique of the intelligence behind those charges, written several years ago for the Central Intelligence Agency, could shed light on what happened. Last year, Matthew Meselson, a Harvard expert on chemical and biological weapons, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the report released. He was turned down.
►►US official says Iran unlikely to strike first. Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, said the Iranian military is unlikely to intentionally provoke a conflict with the West. He said Iran probably has the ability to “temporarily close the Strait of Hormuz with its naval forces”, as some Iranian officials have threatened to do if attacked or in response to sanctions on its oil exports by the US and European Union. But, he added, “Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a preemptive attack”.

US admits African war crimes suspect Charles Taylor was CIA agent

Charles TaylorBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |

Editor’s note: Since publishing this story, The Boston Globe issued a correction, which includes the following: “This story drew unsupported conclusions and significantly overstepped available evidence when it described former Liberian President Charles Taylor as having worked with US spy agencies as a “sought-after source’’ [...]. The Globe had no adequate basis for asserting otherwise and the story should not have run in this form”.

Ever since his 2006 arrest for war crimes, Liberia’s former President, Charles Taylor, has consistently claimed that he was an agent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Now declassified US government documents have officially confirmed that Taylor was indeed an agent of the CIA and the US Defense Intelligence Agency for several decades. The 63-year-old, who ruled his West African homeland from 1997 to 2003, is currently being tried at the United Nations Court in The Hague on multiple counts of civilian murders, rapes, and deploying underage soldiers during a brutal civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. Rumors that Taylor was being protected by Washington started surfacing in 2003, after he left Liberia and was given protection in US-allied Nigeria, despite his indictment by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. In July 2009, intelNews reported Taylor’s claim that his 1985 “escape” from the Plymouth County maximum security Correctional Facility in Massachusetts, which allowed him to return to Liberia and take over the country through a military coup, took place with US government assistance. His persistent claims led The Boston Globe newspaper to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which has resulted in the declassification of nearly 50 separate documents covering “several decades” of Taylor’s work for the CIA and the DIA. The documents confirm that both agencies employed Taylor as an agent beginning in the early 1980s, long before he became Liberia’s ruler. But the FOIA release does not contain details of Taylor’s work for US intelligence, in an alleged effort to “protect intelligence sources and methods” and so as not to “harm national security”, according to The Boston Globe. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #651

Chris VanekerBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israel defense minister forbids spy official’s lecture. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak has refused to allow the head of research for Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Itai Baron, to lecture at the annual conference of Israel’s ambassadors unless the lecture is deemed ‘unclassified’. The conference deals with diplomatic and security issues and public affairs, and the lectures are given by senior Israeli government and military officials.
►►CIA agrees to look into OSINT FOIA request. Open Source Works, which is the CIA’s in-house open source analysis component, is devoted to intelligence analysis of unclassified, open source information. Oddly enough, the directive that established Open Source Works is classified. But in an abrupt reversal, the CIA said that it will process a Freedom of Information Act request by intelligence historian Jeffrey Richelson for documents pertaining to Open Source Works.
►►Dutch former pilot convicted of espionage. A court in The Hague has sentenced former F-16 pilot Chris Vaneker to five years in jail after finding him guilty of selling state secrets to a Russian diplomat. Vaneker wanted half-a-million euros for the information he was trying to sell to the military attaché at the Russian embassy in The Hague. The pilot and the Russian diplomat were arrested in March.

News you may have missed #544

Google

Google

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Russia a ‘leading suspect’ in cyberespionage attack on US. I wrote on Monday about the cyberespionage operation that targeted a leading US defense contractor last March, and resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of classified documents. US Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III, who disclosed the operation, said only that it was conducted by “a foreign intelligence service”. According to the last sentence of this NBC report, US officials see Russian intelligence as “one of the leading suspects” in the attack. ►►Al-Qaeda acquires Pakistani spy service manuals. Jamestown Foundation researcher Abdul Hameed Bakier reports that al-Qaeda operatives have managed to get access to espionage training manuals used by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Copies of the documents have apparently been posted on Internet forums that are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and bear the mark of the As-Sahab Foundation, al-Qaeda’s media wing. ►►Google-NSA collaboration documents to remain secret —for now. Even before Google shut down its operations in China, following a massive cyberattack against its servers in early 2010, the company has maintained close contact with American intelligence agencies. But after the 2010 cyberattack, some believe that Google’s relationship with the US intelligence community has become too cozy. In February of 2010, the ACLU said it was concerned about Google’s contacts with the US National Security Agency (NSA). Other groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking access to the inner workings of Google’s relationship with NSA. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #536 (US edition)

James Risen

James Risen

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US federal agencies sitting on decade-old FOIA requests. In the United States, as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are growing, a new study has found that eight government agencies are sitting on requests filed over ten years ago. According to the Knight Open Government Survey, conducted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the single oldest request is now 20 years old. FOIA requires agencies to process and respond to a request within 20 business days. ►►US journalist seeks to avoid testifying at CIA agent’s trial. A sizeable percentage of FOIA requests are filed by journalists, who are also on the receiving ends of most intelligence-related ‘leaks’ in the United States. One of those journalists, James Risen, of The New York Times, has been subpoenaed by the Obama administration to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is a former CIA employee, who has been arrested under the Espionage Act for allegedly revealing details about Operation MERLIN to Risen. MERLIN was a botched US effort to provide Iran with a flawed design for building a nuclear weapon, in order to delay the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program. Times lawyers argue that the First Amendment should shield Risen from having to testify at Sterling’s trial. ►►US intel research agency works on 3-D holographs. Also in the United States, IARPA, the US intelligence community’s technical research wing, has announced that it is working on a system that lets intelligence analysts collaborate with each other using “interactive 3-D holographic displays”. Through this system, IARPA hopes that intelligence personnel could take simultaneous virtual strolls through real-life target locations, help plan raids, etc.

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