US spy agencies probed job seekers with links to al-Qaeda

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One in five applicants for jobs in American intelligence agencies, who were rejected due to questionable backgrounds, were found to have connections with foreign intelligence or militant groups, including al-Qaeda.  This is revealed in an internal document provided to The Washington Post by American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently living in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. Last week, he gave The Post a top-secret document containing the 2012 budget summary for the US National Intelligence Program. Among other things, the document reveals that individuals with links to what the United States Intelligence Community terms “hostile intelligence”, or foreign terrorist organizations, have sought to obtain intelligence-related jobs in the US. According to the paper, roughly one out of every five job seekers at the CIA,  whose applications were rejected by the Agency due to suspicious backgrounds, had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections”. Such connections allegedly included links with Lebanese Hezbollah, Islamic Hamas, as well as various al-Qaeda affiliates, all of which are on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The Post subsequently spoke to a CIA source who argued that the number of applicants found to have ties with militant groups was relatively small. The leaked document also mentions that the NSA has launched a major counterintelligence scheme aimed at uncovering “potentially suspicious or abnormal [...] activity” among its employees. Read more of this post

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Hamas ‘found tracking devices’ inside weapons bound for Gaza

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

News you may have missed #817 (assassinations edition)

Patrick FinucaneBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►British PM apologizes in killing of IRA lawyer. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, has apologized after a government report found that British intelligence officials had colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in the 1989 killing of lawyer Patrick Finucane in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Finucane, who had represented members of the Irish Republic Army in court, was shot dead by two gunmen from a Protestant paramilitary group while having a Sunday dinner at his home with his wife and three children.
►►Behind the plot to kill Afghanistan’s spy chief. On December 11, we reported that the Afghan government accused Pakistani intelligence of having played a role in the assassination of Assadullah Khaled, who heads Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security. But how was the attempt on Khaled’s life carried out, and how did the aspiring assassins get so close to the controversial intelligence chief? Time magazine reports that it was Khaled’s self-confidence “bordering on recklessness” that almost got him killed. Sources say that, even after taking over the NDS, Khalid frequently drove around without bodyguards.
►►How Mossad bid to kill Hamas leader ended in fiasco. Khaled Mashal’s recent presence in the Gaza Strip will have rudely reminded Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, of one of the greatest fiascos in the history of special operations, writes The Daily Telegraph‘s David Blair. Fifteen years ago, Netanyahu authorized a risky attempt to assassinate Mashal in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Everything went wrong. The Jordanian security forces responded to this brazen daylight attack, arresting two of the Israeli operatives and forcing three to hide in their country’s embassy, which was promptly surrounded by troops.

Comment: Did Israel assassinate senior Hamas official in Syria?

Kamel RanajaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The leadership of Hamas has accused Israel of assassinating one of its senior officials in Syria last Wednesday. The Palestinian militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip, announced late last week that the charred body of Kamel Ranaja had been found in his half-burned apartment in Syrian capital Damascus. Ranaja, known informally as Nizar Abu Mujhad, was said to have replaced the post of the late Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Al-Mabhouh was killed in 2010 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, most likely by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Citing French news agency Agence France Presse, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that “a group of people entered [Ranaja’s] home [...] and killed him”, adding that “according to the information that we have gathered, the Mossad is behind the attack”. Reports from Reuters published in the British press suggest that Ranaja’s charred body “bore signs of torture” and that it had been dismembered. There are also suggestions that the group that attacked the Hamas official’s apartment took with them an unspecified volume of documents and computer files before setting the place on fire.

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Car explosion in Port Sudan linked to Israel

Blast site in Port SudanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A powerful car explosion, which rocked Sudan’s main port on Tuesday, killing one person, has been linked to Israel by Sudanese government officials. The car was blown up by what appears to have been a missile attack, in Port Sudan, a city of over half a million people on the Red Sea. A local reporter told Reuters news agency that the blast site featured “two small but deep holes” and “another hole beneath” what was left of the gutted car. Many observers consider Port Sudan, an ancient city that has traditionally connected Sudan with Egypt in the north and Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea, as a major link in the complex smuggling network that supplies goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Israel has long asserted that the smuggled items are secretly carried from Port Sudan into Egypt, before eventually ending up in the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by militant group Hamas. The government of Sudan vehemently denies these charges. But a “local security source” in Port Sudan told Reuters that the car’s driver, Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, who was killed in the blast, was an eminent member of the Red Sea’s Ababda Bedouin tribe, whose members have a long history of smuggling weapons and goods to and from Sudan. Speaking on Tuesday, Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Ahmed Karti, stopped just short of directly fingering Israel as the culprit of the attack. Karti, who is Sudan’s most senior government official to have so far commented on the blast, told local news media that “the style of the car explosion was similar to Israel’s attack on [Sudan’s] Red Sea State [province] last year”. He was referring to a similar incident that took place in April of last year in the very same province where Port Sudan is located. At that time, Khartoum directly blamed Israel for the strike. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #660

Margaret ThatcherBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Taiwan President accused of spying on political opponents. Taiwan’s opposition challenger for the presidency, Tsai Ing-wen, has accused intelligence services under the control of incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou of tracking her campaign events for political advantage. The allegations – unproven and denied by Ma – conjure up memories of Taiwan’s one-party past when Ma’s party, the Nationalists, used their total control of the state apparatus to persecute opponents.
►►Analysis: Has Israeli-Australian spy relationship been restored? Intelligence sharing between Israel and Australia was halted this time last year, when a Mossad hit squad with forged Australian passports assassinated senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in in Dubai. But Australian newspaper The Age reports that “the flow of top secret intelligence between the two countries has now been restored”, in a move apparently initiated by the Australian side.
►►Thatcher threatened to ban BBC program on MI5 and MI6. The Conservative government of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threatened to “veto” a BBC investigative program about British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, because it would reveal details about how they operated and question their public accountability. In a letter marked “top secret and personal”, cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong, recommended that Margaret Thatcher consider invoking the rarely used power, saying that “the government has the power to ban any program”. Thatcher wrote on the note: “I would be prepared to use the veto”.

News you may have missed #643 (Israel edition)

Mosab Hassan Yousef

Yousef/Joseph

►►Hezbollah uncovers more Israeli spy devices. Lebanese media reported on Friday that two people were wounded in a blast that occurred in the south of the country, between the towns of Srifa and Deir Kifa. According to some of the reports, the blast targeted espionage devices which were destroyed by Israel after being exposed by Hezbollah. This is not the first time such devices have been discovered in Lebanon: see here and here for previous such incidents.
►►PLO subpoenas Palestinian who spied for Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization served Mosab Hassan Yousef, who says he is a former spy for Israeli domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, with a subpoena in the United States last month. The Palestinian group says it wants his notes and details of his spy work for the Israeli government.
►►Analysis: The complex relationship between the Mossad and Israeli media. “Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s crusade this week against an Israeli strike on Iran took on a new dimension with his several media interviews. His campaign also reflects the Mossad’s attitude toward journalists, something along the lines of respect them, suspect them and use them. The degree shifts from one Mossad head to the next”. An enlightening analysis by veteran Israeli intelligence correspondent Yossi Melman.

German spy helped facilitate Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange

BND seal

BND seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Amidst the ongoing media frenzy over the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, few noticed that Germany was expressly thanked by the Israelis for its role in the deal. Speaking to journalists right after Shalit’s release, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was “grateful [to] German negotiators for helping facilitate the exchange. Commenting on Netanyahu’s statement, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, said simply that he was pleased because the German government was “able to contribute to Shalit’s release”. But what exactly was Germany’s role in arranging the deal? The answer was given on Tuesday by Ernst Uhrlau, director of Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). Uhrlau hinted that BND officers had assisted Israel and Hamas in securing the unlikely agreement. Now Germany’s Suedeutsche Zeitung newspaper claims that it knows the identity of the BND officer who acted as the foremost mediator between Israel and Hamas. According to the paper, the officer’s name is Gerhard Konrad; he is 50 years old, six feet tall, and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Germany’s prestigious Heidelberg University. He speaks fluently French, English and Arabic, which he perfected while working in the Middle East “for several years”. He began his career with BND by representing the agency in German embassies in countries such as Syria and Lebanon. It was there, says Suedeutsche Zeitung, that Konrad cultivated relationships of trust with Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization-affiliated groups, such as Fatah. He also developed a strong reputation for negotiating with militant groups in adversary conditions. Read more of this post

Why Are Armed Groups Storming Foreign Embassies in Tripoli?

The new Libyan flag

New Libyan flag

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It is perhaps understandable that fighters of the National Transitional Council, Libya’s rebel umbrella group, have stormed locations in Tripoli that are associated with the regime of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Strategic sites such as  Bab al-Aziziya, Gaddafi’s compound, government ministries, or even houses belonging to Gaddafi’s large and powerful family, may be deemed legitimate targets. But why are the rebels also selectively attacking foreign embassies in the Libyan capital? According to Yonhap, South Korea’s state-run news agency, the South Korean embassy in Tripoli was “attacked [...] by an armed gang” of about 30 people late on Tuesday. The report, which could not be immediately confirmed by the Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cited anonymous sources, who said that embassy staff were “threatened at gunpoint”. At roughly the same period, another group of “armed persons” stormed the building of the Bulgarian embassy, according to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that it had yet to clarify “the circumstances around the incident”. On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that armed groups had “assaulted and totally looted” the Venezuelan embassy. A few hours later, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Libya, Afif Tajeldine, clarified that the attack took place at his official residence, which is located about 9 miles from the Venezuelan embassy. He told El Universal that armed groups broke into the ambassadorial residence and “searched the house asking for me”. They then “ransacked the house completely” and “left nothing in the house”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #527

  • Has Microsoft broken Skype’s encryption? The US Congress has finally discovered Skype. But the timing may be bad, since there are rumors that Microsoft has found a way to break the encryption behind Skype communications, rendering all Skype calls potentially open to surveillance by governments. The company (Microsoft) has even filed a related patent application. Communications interception experts have been trying for some time to achieve this.
  • Ex-CIA agent loses legal battle over ‘unauthorized’ book. A former CIA deep-cover operative, who goes by the pseudonym ‘Ishmael Jones’, may have to financially compensate the Agency for publishing a book without the CIA’s approval, after a US judge ruled against him. Jones maintains that the CIA is bullying him because of his public criticism of its practices.
  • Family of accused Australian spy seeks support. The family of Australian-Jordanian citizen Eyad Abuarga, who has been charged with being a technical spy for Hamas, have called on the Australian government to do more to help him, with less than a month before he is due to face trial in Israel.

News you may have missed #503

  • Dutch forces’ covert operations in Africa revealed. Dutch forces have for several years been training government soldiers in Mali, Senegal and Chad, without the Dutch parliament being informed, according to Dutch newspaper AD, which cites documents from the US Congress and the Pentagon.
  • Israel destroys spying devices found in Gaza. Hamas sources have told Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram that they discovered several “audio-visual spying devices” in the sand hills south of Gaza City. But, as soon as they started removing the devices, they “received a phone call from Israeli intelligence elements” telling them that the site would be bombed “within three minutes” —which is precisely what happened, according to al-Ahram. Regular readers of this blog will know this incident was not a first.
  • Leaked documents reveal Guantanamo secrets. A batch of leaked US government intelligence documents, not meant to surface for 20 years, shows that intelligence collection at Guantánamo often was much less effective than the George Bush administration has acknowledged. According to the documents, the US military used interrogation and detention practices that they largely made up as they went along.

News you may have missed #502

UN official confirms Israel abducted Palestinian engineer from Ukraine

Dirar Abu Sissi

Dirar Abu Sissi

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A UN official has confirmed that a Palestinian engineer, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Ukraine on February 19, is currently in Israeli custody. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior, Dirar Abu Sissi, 42, who was born in Jordan, but has lived in the Gaza strip for over a decade, had gone to Ukraine to apply for citizenship in the Eastern European country. His Ukrainian wife, Veronika, said Sissi disappeared in the early morning hours of February 19, shortly after boarding a train from Kharkiv to capital Kiev, in order to reunite with this brother, a Dutch national, whom he had not seen since 1997. His disappearance has puzzled Ukrainian police investigators. But on Thursday, Maksim Butkevych, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ukraine, told the Associated Press that Sissi was kidnapped by Israeli operatives and is currently in prison in Israel. Butkevych did not openly name the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, but said that the Palestinian engineer was abducted by “Israeli security forces”, possibly with the assistance of Ukrainian intelligence officers. Read more of this post

Analysis: Spy Agencies Failed to Predict Egypt Uprising

Egypt uprising

Egypt uprising

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
It is becoming increasingly clear that the ongoing popular uprising in Egypt represents the most important geopolitical development in the Middle East since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. In light of this, it is remarkable how unprepared foreign intelligence agencies have proven in forecasting the crisis. Even the Israelis were caught completely unaware: on January 25, the day when massive protests first erupted across Egypt, Major General Aviv Kochavi, newly appointed head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, told a Knesset committee that “there are no doubts about the stability of the regime in Egypt” and that “the Muslim Brotherhood is not organized enough to take over”. Instead, Kochavi focused on political volatility in Lebanon; ironically, the latter now seems like an oasis of tranquility compared to the explosive state of Egyptian politics. If the Israelis, whose very concept of national security is inextricably linked with developments in Cairo, were so unsuspecting of the popular wave of anger against the thirty-year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak, one can only imagine Washington’s surprise at the protests. Click here to read my article in Intelligent-Intelligence.com, a specialist publication edited by Kyle Cunliffe. Continue reading →

Analysis: What is the CIA doing in Egypt?

Egypt

Egypt

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Every time there is a popular uprising anywhere in the Muslim world, the minds of American intelligence planners go immediately to 1979, when the Iranian Revolution tore down almost overnight one of Washington closest allies in the Middle East. By ignoring the immense unpopularity of the Shah’s brutal regime, and by limiting its Iranian contacts among the pro-Shah elites in the country, the CIA was caught completely in the dark as the Islamic revolution unfolded. Could the same be happening now in Egypt? Hopefully not, says The Washington Post’s veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein. As in the case of Iran under the Shah, the US has stood by the 33-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, choosing to abide by the simplistic dogma of ‘either secular repression or anti-American Islamism’. But, unlike 1970s Iran, one would hope that US intelligence agencies have been able to develop useful contacts across the fragmented but dynamic and energized Egyptian opposition community, says Stein, quoting former US Defense Intelligence Agency official Jeffrey White. It is unlikely that the CIA and other agencies have fully embraced persistent calls, such as those by Emile Nakhleh, former head of the CIA’s program on political Islam, to develop trustworthy contacts inside the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood, as well as groups close to it, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Read more of this post

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