News you may have missed #873 (controversy edition)

Alvaro UribeBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►German parliament confirms NSA inquiry to start in April. Germany’s four major parties have unanimously approved a parliamentary inquiry into surveillance by the NSA and its allied counterparts, like the GCHQ in the UK. Another key question for the committee will likely be whether the German intelligence agencies were either aware of, or complicit in, the gathering of people’s data. A German newspaper reported that whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently in Russia, may testify via Skype.
►►Former Colombia spy chief sentenced over illegal wiretapping. Carlos Arzayus, former director of Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency DAS was sentenced to nearly ten years in prison on Thursday for his role in the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court justices and government critics during the Alvaro Uribe administrations during the years 2002 to 2010. Additionally, Arzayus was ordered to pay damages to the victims of the wiretapping.
►►French spies allegedly spy on Orange customer data. The French intelligence agency in charge of military and electronic spying is massively collecting data and monitoring networks of telecoms giant Orange, Le Monde newspaper reported in its Friday edition. “The DGSE can read, like an open book, the origin and destination of all communications of Orange customers”, the paper said.

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Discovery of spy parts leaves French-UAE satellite deal in doubt

Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin ZayedBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The planned acquisition of two French-built spy satellites by the United Arab Emirates appeared to be in doubt last night, after news that technicians discovered “security-compromising components” in the satellites’ software. The agreed purchase, which is to be completed in 2018, concerns two Falcon Eye military observation satellites worth nearly €700 million (US $930 million). The deal, signed last July by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, includes the provision of a ground station, as well as the training of up to 20 UAE engineers who will staff it. Two companies, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, were contracted for the project. The French bid was chosen from an original shortlist of 11 bidders, along with a similar one from the United States. Ultimately, the American bid was rejected by Abu Dhabi, due to the operational restrictions placed by the American makers of the proposed satellites. At the time, the French-UAE deal raised eyebrows in defense circles worldwide, as it was the first time that France had agreed to sell military-grade high-resolution satellites to a foreign buyer. But an article in US-based defense industry publication Defense News, said software engineers in the UAE had discovered a number of components in the satellites that seem designed to “provide a back door to the highly secure data transmitted to the ground station”. Interestingly, the back-door components appeared to have come from US suppliers. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #862

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Covert CIA program helped Colombia kill rebel leaders. A covert CIA program has helped Colombia’s government kill at least two dozen leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel insurgency also known as FARC, The Washington Post reported Saturday. The National Security Agency has also provided “substantial eavesdropping help” to the Colombian government, according to The Post.
►►Israel asks US not to spy on it. Israeli officials broke their silence over the US surveillance scandal Sunday, angrily demanding an end to Washington’s spying on Israel. Last week more documents leaked by former NSA technical expert Edward Snowden uncovered a partnership between the NSA and British intelligence agency GCHQ from 2008 to 2011 to monitor office email addresses from the then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
►►Germany reacts coolly to French request on Central Africa. Germany reacted coolly last week to a French request that European countries step up support for its military mission in Central African Republic, playing down the likelihood of any financial assistance on the eve of an EU summit. France has deployed 1,600 troops there to prevent worsening violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who ousted ex-President Francois Bozize.

France smashes ‘exceptionally large’ arms smuggling network

AK-47sBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An arms smuggling network described by authorities as “exceptionally large” has been smashed in a series of raids across France. Over 45 suspects were arrested and “hundreds of weapons, including machine guns” were seized by French gendarmes early on Monday. French police officials said most of the detainees are suspected traffickers from Eastern Europe, while confiscated evidence includes “weapons of war [meaning fully automatic assault rifles], ammunition and spare parts”. French investigators said the smuggling network had trafficked hundreds of weapons from Balkan countries and Slovakia into France in the past five years. The raids are said to have involved over 300 gendarmes in several simultaneous operations in Paris, in the Rhone, Provence, as well as in Corsica and in several French overseas territories. The police raids marked the culmination of a nationwide investigation that began in early 2012. It focused on a group of 45 ‘gun collectors’, who were found to be using their collector status as a façade in order to illegally acquire assault weapons. The weapons would then be funneled into criminal gangs across France. A near-unprecedented influx of military-grade weapons, especially Kalashnikov assault rifles, has been noted across Europe in recent years. Much of it has been blamed on the rise in demand and availability for such weaponry caused by revolutions in Libya, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. In early November, the Greek Coast Guard seized a cargo ship carrying over 20,000 AK-47s, allegedly bound for Syria or Libya. The ship, named Nour-M, and flagged under Sierra Leone, had set sail from Ukraine and was believed to be en route to Turkey. Read more of this post

US surveillance or Merkel’s phone prompts angry German reaction

Philipp Rösler and Angela MerkelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
News of an invasive intelligence-gathering operation by the United States, which allegedly targeted the official communications of German chancellor Angela Merkel, has prompted angry responses from the European Union. The news prompted the French government to request that US surveillance of European heads of state be discussed during an upcoming EU summit, while The New York Times warned yesterday that “invasive American intelligence gathering” against Europe could “severely damage [...] decades of hard-won trans-Atlantic trust”. The latest row between Washington and Brussels was sparked by a report aired on ARD, Germany’s state television station. It said that the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s foremost communications interception agency, had monitored the official cellular telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A spokesperson for the German government told journalists yesterday that the German leader had “angrily” called US President Barack Obama and demanded assurances that her communications were “not the target of an American intelligence tap”. The German leader reportedly told Mr. Obama that there should be “no such surveillance of the communications of a head of government” belonging to a “friend and partner of the US”. The Times reported that Washington’s responded by assuring Chancellor Merkel that her communications were “not the target of current surveillance and would not be in the future”. But the White House is said to have refused to enter into a discussion of past interception activities. Mrs. Merkel’s telephone call was the second time in less than two days that Mr. Obama had to provide assurances of privacy to a European head of state. Read more of this post

Revealed: NSA spied on millions of French, Mexican phone calls

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States has been spying on millions of private telephone communications in France and Mexico, and even managed to hack into the Mexican president’s personal email account, according to media reports from France and Germany. French newspaper Le Monde said on Monday that France has been targeted for years by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA, America’s largest intelligence agency, is tasked with intercepting communications messages from around the world. The newspaper alleged that most targets of the NSA’s interception have no links to terrorism; instead, the US target list is primarily focused on “high-profile individuals in the politics and business domains”. Le Monde said it acquired the information on the NSA operations in France from former NSA and Central Intelligence Agency technical expert Edward Snowden. Snowden defected from the US last summer and is currently living in Russia, were he has been offered political asylum. According to the French daily, over 70 million French telephone exchanges were intercepted by the NSA between December 10, 2012, and January 8, 2013, under an NSA collection program codenamed US-985D. The number represents over 2.5 million intercepted telephone calls per day in France. Another report, which appeared in German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, claimed that the NSA targeted the email communications of the Mexican government, and managed to hack personal email accounts belonging to numerous senior Mexican government officials. The article, which appeared on Sunday, said that the American signals intelligence agency had implemented Operation FLATLIQUID, which aimed at exploiting mail servers used by senior government officials in Mexico. Read more of this post

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”.

News you may have missed #843 (analysis on Snowden leak)

James ClapperBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Countries approached by Snowden for asylum and their responses. According to a statement from WikiLeaks, former CIA/NSA employee Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in a total of 21 countries, but with little success so far. Here is a list of the countries he approached and their responses –or lack thereof– so far. Bolivia and Venezuela appear somewhat positive, but Ecuador and Russia have denied any possibility of giving Snowden political asylum. Other countries, including Cuba and China, have yet to issue a response to Snowden’s request.
►►US ODNI admits giving ‘erroneous’ answer during Senate testimony. James Clapper, America’s most senior intelligence official, who heads the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has told a Senate oversight panel that he “simply didn’t think” of the National Security Agency’s efforts to collect the phone records of millions of Americans when he testified in March that it did “not wittingly” snoop on their communications. He had told during his testimony that NSA did “not wittingly” collect “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”. But that was before Snowden spilled the beans….
►►Are the Europeans being hypocrites over spying? If you buy the latest reporting out of Europe, France is outraged, simply outraged, at news that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on the European Union through its mission in New York and embassy in Washington. All of which is pretty hilarious, given France’s penchant for stealing American defense technology, bugging American business executives and generally annoying US counterintelligence officials. And it’s not just France, either.

Controversial French former spy chief found dead in Paris

Yves BertrandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The retired director of a now-defunct French intelligence agency, who was involved in several politically charged court cases in recent years, has been found dead in his Paris apartment. From 1992 to 2004, Yves Bertrand, headed the Direction Centrale des Renseignements Généraux (known widely as RG), the domestic intelligence service of the French police. Bertrand, who once described himself as “a minesweeper for the republic”, was a reclusive figure that zealously guarded his privacy and avoided any contact with the French media. In 2007, however, he was thrust into the public spotlight after he was involved in the so-called Clearstream Affair. The controversy centered on a list of names of European government officials who had allegedly received bribes in return for authorizing weapons deals with Taiwan. French investigators searched Bertrand’s Paris apartment and confiscated nearly two dozen volumes of his personal notebooks, in hopes of uncovering inside information linking the Clearstream affair with leading French politicians, including conservative frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2008, numerous excerpts from Bertrand’s confiscated diaries found their way into the French press. They included embarrassing revelations about the lives of many French public figures, including politicians. Read more of this post

Middle East expert to lead France’s external spy agency

Bernard BajoletBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A career diplomat, who spent many years serving in embassies in predominantly Muslim countries, has been nominated to head France’s main external intelligence agency. French President François Hollande announced on Tuesday that Bernard Bajolet has been nominated for the post of Director of France’s Directorate General for External Security (Direction Générale des Services Extérieurs, or DGSE). He will be replacing Erard Corbin de Mangoux, who has headed the 5,000-strong organization since 2008. To some extent, the change of guard at DGSE is seen as a political move, as de Mangoux is a conservative known to be close to France’s former President, Nicolas Sarkozy. However, Bajolet’s nomination is interpreted by some as part of a wider effort to recalibrate the DGSE’s operational agenda to reflect the country’s increased military involvement in predominantly Muslim parts of Africa. The 63-year-old Bajolet served for many years as a career diplomat in countries such as Bosnia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, and is currently France’s Ambassador to Afghanistan. Prior to serving overseas, Bajolet was Deputy Director for Middle Eastern Affairs at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2008 until 2011, when he departed for Afghanistan, he served as the first-ever intelligence advisor to the French executive under President Sarkozy. Working under the direction of the French Ministry of National Defense, the DGSE has had to reinvent itself in the post-Cold-War era, shifting its focus from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc to non-state actors in North Africa and beyond. During that time, many diplomats joined the agency’s personnel, which had historically been staffed primarily by military officials. Read more of this post

French spy agency forced Wikipedia volunteer to delete entry

Wikipedia welcoming screenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A French intelligence agency forced a volunteer for online open-source reference site Wikipedia to delete n entry that allegedly contained classified information about French nuclear defense systems. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes Wikipedia, the entry describes a radio relay system located at Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station in south-central France. Operated by the French Air Force, the station is said to have a central role in transmitting the order to launch France’s nuclear missiles in case of a full-scale thermonuclear war. The French-language Wikipedia webpage —which has since been fully restored— mentions, among other things, that the radio masts at Pierre-sur-Haute are designed to withstand the type of shockwave experienced in a thermonuclear attack. According to the Wikimedia Foundation, it was approached in early March, 2013, by the Direction Central du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI), which is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence. The agency asked the Wikimedia Foundation to delete the entire webpage referring to the Pierre-sur-Haute military radio station, because it said it contravened French national security law. The Wikimedia Foundation, however, refused to comply with the request unless it was accompanied with either a court order or concrete information explaining why the Pierre-sur-Haute revelations were a threat to French national security. The DCRI reportedly backed down, promising to return with a formal justification for its request. However, instead of doing so, it contacted a French-based Wikipedia volunteer, who was summoned to the DCRI’s office under threat of legal action. Read more of this post

Is al-Qaeda holding French intelligence officers captive?

Serge LazarevićBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two French citizens kidnapped last November by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, while on an alleged business trip in Mali, may have connections with French intelligence. One of the two hostages, Philippe Verdon, made headlines on Wednesday, after it was alleged that he may have been executed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The website of the Agence Nouakchott d’Information, a Mauritanian news service that frequently carries AQIM press statements, said that Verdon was killed on March 10 in retaliation for France’s military operations in Mali. Verdon was kidnapped from a hotel in the northeastern Malian city of Hombori along with another French citizen, Serge Lazarević. Their families insist that the two Frenchmen were abducted while “doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory” in Mali. But is this true? Or could Serge Lazarević be the same Slobodan “Serge” Lazarević, who was implicated in a 1999 French intelligence operation aimed at assassinating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević? As intelNews reported in January of 2009, three alleged French-handled intelligence operatives were put on trial in Serb capital Belgrade, allegedly for collaborating with a French commando team tasked with assassinating the Serb leader. The three, Jugoslav Petrušić, Slobodan Orašanin and Milorad Pelemiš, were arrested by Yugoslav authorities in November 1999, reportedly while trying to organize “10 trained commandos to storm the presidential residence”. Although sensational, the charges against the three men are hardly unique in the context of the murky intelligence history of NATO’s 1999-2000 war in Yugoslavia, which has yet to be fully written. What is interesting in this case, however, is that the three accused admitted infiltrating the Yugoslav military and routinely supplying NATO with intelligence data on bombing targets during Operation Allied Force. Read more of this post

French, US intelligence intensify 23-year hunt for Algerian militant

Mokhtar BelmokhtarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Although many Westerners are aware of the ongoing upsurge in al-Qaeda-linked activity in northwest Africa, few are able to point to the individual leaders behind it. To an important extent, Islamist-inspired groups in the region, notably Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) mirror the decentralized insurgency model developed by Islamist groups in Iraq and elsewhere during the past decade. However, the decentralized nature of the insurgency in northwest Africa does not necessarily entail the complete absence of principal figures in the movement. One case in point is that of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who leads an AQIM-linked brigade known as al-Muaqioon Biddam (Those Who Sign With Blood). Born in 1972, Belmokhtar is an Algerian nomad who has reportedly been tracked by the United States Central Intelligence Agency for over 20 years. In the late 1980s, Belmokhtar traveled to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan, where he was taught the art of insurgency at al-Qaeda-funded training camps. Following the Soviet withdrawal, he left Afghanistan and returned to his homeland, where he joined the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA) and fought in the brutal 10-year civil war that ripped the country apart. In 2003, two years after the end of the war, Belmokhtar and his militia were pushed into northern Mali by the Algerian military. He soon set up camps in the area and used them to stage abduction raids into southern Algeria, targeting foreign oil workers and tourists. The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to the US department of State, in less than a decade, Belmokhtar’s militia managed to raise approximately $50 million through kidnapping foreigners and extorting cocaine smugglers traveling through Mali on their way to Europe. His big break came in 2011, when the collapse of the Libyan regime resulted in the unprecedented availability of illicit weapons previously in the hands of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s army. Belmokhtar’s militia became one of the principal buyers of Libyan weapons available in huge quantities in the black market. Read more of this post

US providing intelligence support to French forces in Mali

Mali and the Independent State of AzawadBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States is providing intelligence support to hundreds of French troops that entered the West African nation of Mali last week, according to American and French officials. On January 11, at least 400 French soldiers entered Mali from French military bases in neighboring Burkina Faso and Chad, in what the French Ministry of National Defense has codenamed Opération SERVAL. The French intervention was sparked by the conflict in northern Mali, which erupted in 2012. In January of that year, Tuareg tribesmen formerly employed by the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi teamed up with a host of local Islamist groups, including the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Guided by members of the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), these groups rapidly seized Mali’s massive northern region (which they call ‘the Independent State of Azawad’), where they are said to have imposed a strict version of Islamic sharia law. Last week’s intervention by the French military came to many as a surprise, though not to intelNews leaders, who have known for a while that Paris had been lobbying Western officials to help it launch a military intervention in the West African country. It now appears that Western countries are indeed helping France’s military operations in Mali. Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Monday that the Pentagon is gathering intelligence for the benefit of French forces. The US, said Panetta, has “a responsibility to go after al-Qaida wherever they are” and ensure that its members do not “establish a base of operations” in West Africa. He added that Washington is considering widening its support to Paris by providing “logistics, surveillance and airlift capability”. Read more of this post

Turkey peace talks halted as Kurdish activists are assassinated in Paris

Sakine Cansiz with Abdullah Öcalan in 1995By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The future of peace talks between the Turkish government and the country’s Kurdish minority appeared uncertain yesterday, after three female Kurdish activists were found murdered execution-style in downtown Paris, France. The murders marked the first-ever killings in Europe of senior members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which operates as the primary political and paramilitary agent of Turkey’s Kurdish population. According to reports from France, a gun fitted with a silencer was used to kill two of the women in the back of the neck and the third one in the stomach.

One of the dead, Leyla Sönmez, was a Kurdish activist responsible for Kurdish diplomatic relations in France. Another, Fidan Doğan, who was also a French citizen, was the Paris representative of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), which operates as Kurdistan’s government-in-exile based in Brussels, Belgium. But the most prominent victim of the triple murder is Sakine Cansiz, co-founder of the PKK, who is described as a “legend” among party activists. Cansiz who was present at PKK’s founding in 1978, was imprisoned by the Turkish government in the 1980s and given political asylum in France in 1998. Read more of this post

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