French prosecutors urge end to Yasser Arafat poisoning inquiry

Arafat funeralA government prosecutor in France has urged that a probe looking into whether the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned with a radioactive substance should be dropped, because evidence shows he died of natural causes. Arafat was the founder of Palestinian nationalist group Fatah and led the Palestine Liberation Organization for over three decades before becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority. He died in November 2004 at the Percy military hospital in Paris, France, weeks after being transferred there from his headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank. His official records indicate that he died from a stroke, which he suffered as a result of a blood disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation.

However, a year-long investigation by a team of forensic pathologists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, suggested in 2013 that the late Palestinian leader was likely poisoned with radioactive polonium. According to the results of the study, which included tests on Arafat’s bones and on soil samples from around his corpse, there was “unexpected high activity” of polonium-210. Traces of the same substance were discovered on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days in Paris. The Swiss lab followed its probe with a second set of tests, which confirmed the initial results and were eventually published in the British peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

The Swiss investigation prompted Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, to file a civil suit at a court in Nanterre, which launched a murder inquiry in August 2012. Further tests were carried out on Arafat’s belongings and his body was exhumed from its burial place in Ramallah. Tests were also carried out by the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency, which concluded that the late Palestinian statesman had died “not from the effects of radiation, but of natural causes”. The French inquiry was concluded in April of this year, and the results communicated to the French government prosecutor in Nanterre, Catherine Denis.

On Tuesday, Denis said she had studied the results of the medical investigation and had concluded that the polonium-210 isotopes found in Arafat’s remains and at his gravesite, were without question “of an environmental nature”. Consequently, the case should be dismissed, she said, adding that her view represented the opinion of the prosecution in the case of Arafat’s alleged poisoning. The court must now determine whether to accept the prosecutor’s advice or continue with the case, as is the wish of Arafat’s family.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/22/01-1740/

French-US spy cooperation continues despite WikiLeaks revelations

 Ashton B. Carter and  Jean-Yves Le DrianA fortnight ago, I gave an interview to Spanish newspaper La Razón, in which I argued that last month’s WikiLeaks revelations about American espionage against France would not cause any drastic disruption in the intelligence cooperation between the two countries. I added that “the two countries depend on each other to address a number of international issues that affect both, such the worrying situation in Syria and Iraq, the continuing crises in Ukraine and in Libya, as well as the financial meltdown in Greece. So there is a recognition that their intelligence agencies must continue to work together on several pressing issues”.

This was confirmed on Monday morning, as the American and French defense secretaries met in the US. French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian paid his first visit to the Pentagon since Ashton B. Carter was appointed Secretary of Defense, in February of this year. After an extensive meeting behind closed doors, the two men told reporters gathered at the Pentagon that America’s security cooperation with France “has never been stronger”. Secretary Carter pointed to France’s leading military involvement in several African nations, including Mali, Chad, and Niger, and said that French forces deployed there could expect “more intelligence-sharing with the United States”. He added that actions had been taken during that morning’s meeting to “increase that [intelligence-sharing] yet further”.

The French Defense Minister agreed with his American counterpart and added that the “multiplication of international crises” were bringing the defense and intelligence establishments of France and the US closer. Both men pointed to examples of ongoing French-American security collaboration in Mali and Chad, where the Pentagon is providing French military forces with aerial cargo delivery and refueling facilities. They also mentioned the FS Charles de Gaulle, France’s flagship aircraft carrier, which has been deployed to the Arabian Gulf since March of this year. Secretary Carter told reporters that the Charles de Gaulle had “integrated seamlessly” with American forces in the region, and was helping the Pentagon launch airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq.

The two men declined comment on last month’s claims by WikiLeaks that the US National Security Agency wiretapped three successive French presidents, including the country’s current head of state, Francois Hollande.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/08/01-1731/

Calls in France to offer asylum, citizenship, to Snowden and Assange

Assange and SnowdenLeaders from all sides of the French political spectrum urged the French government on Thursday to offer political asylum, and even French citizenship, to the American defector Edward Snowden and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The calls were made in response to news earlier this week that the United States National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of three French presidents from the 1990s to at least 2012. The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what the website described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. As intelNews predicted on Wednesday, the French government’s response to the revelations has been relatively muted. But many French politicians, including one minister in the government of French President Francois Hollande, called for Paris to extend offers of political asylum, and even French citizenship, to Assange and Snowden.

The initial call was issued by Laurent Joffrin, the influential managing editor of Libération, the Paris-based newspaper that partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA documents earlier this week. In a leading editorial published in the paper on Thursday, Joffrin said that French protests against NSA spying “have no more effect than scolding a rude toddler”, and added that by offering asylum to Snowden, France would “stand up [to America] and send a clear and effective message to Washington”.

Shortly after Joffrin’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in the French Parliament, said that France should have given Snowden political asylum back in 2013, when he originally requested it. Lagarde was quoted in the French press as saying that “the French nation has already been dishonored by refusing to accept Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum when he asked for it in 2013”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist member of the European Parliament, agreed with Lagarde, adding that Assange and Snowden must not only receive political asylum in France, but also be given “the French nationality”.

On Thursday afternoon, Jean-Pierre Mignard, a close friend and longtime political advisor to President Hollande, said that “given the service they have rendered to the cause of human freedom, France could accommodate a request for asylum from Assange and Snowden, should they request it”. Mignard added that “French law allows the Republic to grant asylum to any foreign subject who faces persecution for taking action in favor of human freedom”.

When asked by BFM TV, France’s most popular news channel, whether political asylum could be extended to Snowden and Assange, France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said that she was “absolutely shocked by the idea”, because such a course of action would drive a powerful wedge between France and the US, two countries with deep historical ties. But she added that such a move would constitute a strong “symbolic gesture” against espionage, and thus remained on the table as a possible policy maneuver to be adopted by the government of France.

Late on Thursday, however, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls indicated that any discussion of an offer of asylum to Assange and Snowden by the government of France was premature. Speaking at a hastily organized press conference to discuss the NSA espionage revelations during an official visit to Colombia, Valls told reporters that the question of offering asylum to the two men “did not arise” during internal government talks. “And in any case”, said Valls, such an initiative “would not address the issue at hand”, namely American espionage against the French presidency. France’s goal is to extract guarantees from Washington that all espionage against French officials would stop, noted the French prime minister. If France offered asylum to Assange and Snowden, American espionage against French targets would likely reach unprecedented levels, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/26/01-1723/

Analysis: French are upset, but not surprised, by news of US spying

Before Edward Snowden, the revelation that the United States National Security Agency spied on three successive French presidents would have shocked many. But in the post-Snowden era, the news came and went without much tumult. The French President, Francois Hollande, called two emergency meetings of senior government officials at the Élysée Palace; the American ambassador to France was summoned for an official protest; but nothing more came of it. It was reported that US President Barack Obama spoke directly with his French counterpart on Wednesday, and assured him in no uncertain terms “that the US is no longer spying on France”.

The French leader, who is one of three French presidents mentioned in the WikiLeaks documents as a target of the NSA, is genuinely upset. And there will be some in his government who will push for a harder response than simply summoning the American envoy in Paris to file an official protest. But nobody in Paris or Washington thinks that Mr. Hollande, or indeed any other senior French official, was shocked or even surprised by the revelations of American espionage against France. Nor will the revelation cause any drastic disruption in the intelligence cooperation between France and the US. The two countries depend on each other to address a number of international issues that affect both, such the worrying situatioQ Quoten in Syria and Iraq, the continuing crises in Ukraine and in Libya, as well as the financial meltdown in Greece. So there is a recognition that their intelligence agencies must continue to work together on several pressing issues.

However, the French response may become a lot more direct if WikiLeaks publish further revelations about US espionage against French officials. The whistleblower website noted on Tuesday that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”. Unlike Edward Snowden, who is known to release progressively more damning documents in stages, WikiLeaks does not have a history of aiming for a crescendo through progressive releases of classified information. But there is speculation that Edward Snowden may in fact be the source of this latest WikiLeaks disclosure. If that is the case, we should not exclude further releases of relevant documents, and thus a more robust French response.

And what about America’s retort? Washington has suffered considerable diplomatic blowback from revelations in 2013 and 2014 that it spied on the leaders of Germany, Brazil and Argentina. Is the NSA still spying on America’s allied leaders? I am of the opinion that the NSA is not currently targeting the personal communications of allied government leaders as a matter of Q Quoteroutine practice. However, I do believe that this regimen can easily be changed to address particular needs, through what is called a “presidential finding”, basically a direct order issued by the president of the United States to target an individual foreign leader.

In the past two years, we have witnessed the diplomatic fallout that can result from publicly revealing these practices. However, for an intelligence agency like the NSA, having access to the personal communications of a foreign head of state is a temptation that is simply too difficult to resist. Moreover, it should not be assumed that political leaders are always completely in the know about the practices of their country’s intelligence agencies. American intelligence history amply demonstrates this truism. Finally, I would point to the well known maxim that intelligence agencies do not typically distinguish between adversaries and allies. All targets are considered fair game. This will admittedly do little to appease the French, but it will at least give them an accurate impression of what to expect in the brave new world of wholesale communications interception.

* This editorial is based on an interview given by the author to the Spanish newspaper La Razón.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/25/01-1722/

French president calls crisis meeting to discuss US spy revelations

France Hollande ObamaThe president of France has convened an emergency meeting of the country’s highest national security forum in response to revelations that the United States spied on three French presidents. The Conseil de la Défense is to convene in Paris on Wednesday to discuss the emergence of documents that appear to implicate the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, who ruled France from 1995 to 2012. The documents further indicate that the NSA may have also targeted the personal communications of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what WikiLeaks described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. WikiLeaks would not indicate whether it acquired the documents from American defector Edward Snowden, who is currently living in Russia. But it said that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”.

The material –termed “Espionnage Élysée” by WikiLeaks– features a list of “selectors”, which includes French government telephone numbers targeted for interception. One of the numbers is identified as belonging to the president of France. The document collection also includes a handful of intelligence briefs, which are presumably based on intercepted communications from the telephone lines listed among the “selectors”. They detail the thoughts and diplomatic maneuvers by French presidents and other senior officials on subjects such as the Greek economic crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the United Nations.

French newspaper Liberation, which partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA material, said on Tuesday that the revelation should not surprise anyone in the post-Snowden era, but that it was still likely to cause a significant rift in French-American relations. In 2014, Germany expelled the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency in Berlin –essentially the highest-ranking American intelligence officer in the country– over revelations that the US spied on the personal communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Liberation contacted the NSA but was told by its spokesman, Ned Price, that the Agency was “not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations”. A spokesman from the Élysée Palace told the paper that an official statement would be issued following the Conseil de la Défense meeting on Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/24/01-1721/

News you may have missed #892 (legislative update)

Jens MadsenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Canadian lawmakers vote to expand spy powers. Legislation that would dramatically expand the powers of Canada’s spy agency has cleared a key hurdle. The House of Commons on Wednesday approved the Anti-Terror Act, which was spurred by last year’s attack on parliament. The act would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) the ability to operate overseas and make preventative arrests. It also makes it easier for police to arrest and detain individuals without charge. Dominated by the Conservative party, the Senate is expected to approve the act before June.
►►Danish spy chief resigns over Islamist attacks. The head of Denmark’s Police Intelligence Service (PET), Jens Madsen, quit just hours before a report was due to be released into February’s fatal shootings in Copenhagen by an Islamist. Omar El-Hussein killed two people at a free speech debate and a synagogue before being shot dead by police. “It’s no secret that it is a very demanding position,” said Madsen, without giving a reason for his resignation. Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen declined to say whether the move was linked to criticisms of the police response to the attack.
►►OSCE urges France to reconsider controversial spying bill. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged French lawmakers to reconsider provisions of a proposed law that would expand government surveillance, a measure that was backed by French parliamentarians on Tuesday, despite criticism from rights groups. “If enforced, these practices will impact the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources and their overall work”, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said Wednesday. “If confidentiality of sources is not safeguarded within a trusted communications environment, the right of journalists to seek and obtain information of public interest would be seriously endangered”, he added

France approves sweeping spy bill in response to Islamist attacks

Attack on Charlie HebdoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Lawmakers in the French National Assembly have overwhelmingly approved a new bill giving the country’s intelligence services unprecedented domestic spy capabilities. The bill, which is dismissed by critics as France’s version of the United States’ PATRIOT Act, was drafted by the ruling Socialist Party just days after a group of armed Islamists attacked several targets in Paris. The attacks were primarily directed against France’s popular satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (see photo). A dozen members of the magazine’s staff, including several internationally-known cartoonists, were killed at the magazine’s headquarters in the French capital on January 7 of this year.

The newly approved bill provides blanket-approval for the wholesale interception and storage of communications metadata, which include information about the location and size of Internet-based communications exchanges. They also include information on the identities of those sending or receiving electronic messages. The legislation also includes a provision for the establishment of a new supervisory body called the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques. Its mission will be to supervise the use of surveillance powers by France’s six intelligence agencies, as well as to handle complaints relating to communications interception from members of the public.

As the bill progressed through France’s houses of parliament, the French government and its supporters argued that the country needed national legislation that would take into consideration the rapid technical changes in digital telecommunications. But critics, which included most of France’s Internet service providers, claimed that the new law would give intelligence agencies unreasonably broad surveillance powers and would hamper online commerce. These claims, however, failed to convince lawmakers; the bill was thus approved by 438 votes for to 86 against. Most parliamentarians from France’s three main parties —the Socialist Party, the rightwing Union for a Popular Movement, and the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents— voted in favor of the bill. Observers noted with surprise that most lawmakers from the Radical Party of the Left also voted in favor of the bill. In contrast, the communist-led Left Front, as well as the Greens, voted overwhelmingly against the bill.

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