Excessive secrecy hurts intel agencies, says head of NZ spy review

Sir Michael CullenA former deputy prime minister of New Zealand, who is heading a major review of intelligence practices in the country, has said in an interview that spy agencies hurt their mission by practicing excessive secrecy. Sir Michael Cullen served as finance minister, education minister and attorney-General before serving as deputy prime minister of New Zealand, from 2002 to 2008. He was recently appointed by the government to co-chair a broad review of state intelligence agencies, with particular focus on updating the applicable legislative framework and evaluating the oversight exercised by lawmakers and the executive. The review is expected to affect the work of New Zealand’s two most visible intelligence agencies, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau.

Last Saturday, Sir Michael spoke to TVNZ, New Zealand’s national television broadcaster, about the progress of the review, and shared some of his preliminary thoughts on the subject of intelligence practice and reform. He said in the interview that much of the documentation about intelligence processes and operations was being kept secret without apparent reason. “I’ve seen documents [from] briefings, which it would be hard to justify in my view those briefings not being made public”, he said. He added that there was “a need for the agencies to be much more open about what they do”, noting that sources and methods could be adequately protected through a careful process of redacting. The former deputy prime minister said that, ironically, the intelligence agencies are “their worst enemy by being so secretive about almost everything that they do”. Their attitude, he told TVNZ, negatively affected the level trust between them and the citizens they protect; the latter, he added, “would get a better idea of the need for the [intelligence] agencies if some of these documents were made public”.

Sir Michael also commented on New Zealand’s membership in the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’ alliance, which is part of the UKUSA intelligence-sharing treaty between it and the nations of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He told TVNZ that New Zealand had to share intelligence with allied nations, because it needed access to offshore information affecting its national security, which it cannot collect by itself. Some New Zealand politicians and pundits suggested that the country should exit the treaty after it was revealed last year that the US had been making use of New Zealand embassies around the world to collect electronic signals. In April of this year, The New Zealand Herald said that the country’s embassy in Bangladesh had been made available to British and American intelligence agencies to operate out of. Wellington’s relations with Dhaka have been strained as a result.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/21/01-1739/

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/

Belgium launches official probe into alleged German-US espionage

BelgacomThe Belgian government has announced the start of an official investigation into allegations that the country’s tele- communications networks were spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. A press release issued Friday by the Belgian Ministry of Justice said the minister, Koen Geens, had authorized an examination of claims of espionage by the United States National Security Agency and Germany’s Bundesnach-richtendienst (BND). The statement was referring to EIKONAL, an alleged collaboration between the NSA and the BND, which was revealed last month by Austrian politician Peter Pilz. Pilz told a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, that EIKONAL had targeted European telecommunications carriers for at least four years, from 2005 to 2008. The governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands have already launched their own investigations into EIKONAL.

After speaking with Pilz, Belgian politician Stefaan Van Hecke told Belgian media last month that the BND-NSA consortium had penetrated the network of Proximus, the mobile subsidiary of Belgacom, Belgium’s national telecommunications carrier. Speaking anonymously about the investigation, a Belgian official told the country’s largest French-language newspaper, Sud Presse, that if the alleged espionage is confirmed, it would have “not only legal implications, but will also affect relations between Belgium, Germany and the US”. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that if the allegations of espionage were confirmed “the government would take appropriate action”, but she refused to elaborate.

IntelNews regulars will remember the last time Belgacom surfaced in the news: in 2013, we reported that the company’s technicians had detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. The virus specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East. Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office said at the time that the malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “pointed towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 8 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/08/01-1710/

Switzerland to probe claims it was spied on by US, German agencies

SwisscomThe office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor has launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider was spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. The spy project was reportedly a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the allegations on Wednesday, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Speaking during a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, Pilz said many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies.

Among EIKONAL’s targets, said Pilz, was Swisscom AG, Switzerland’s largest telecommunications provider and one of the successor companies to the country’s national carrier, the PTT (short for Post, Telegraph, Telephone). The government of Switzerland still retains a majority of Swisscom shares, which makes the Bern-based company the closest thing Switzerland has to a national telecommunications carrier. Under the EIKONAL agreement, the BND accessed Swisscom traffic through an interception center based in Frankfurt, Germany. From there, said Pilz, the intercepted data was transferred to a BND facility in Bad Aibling to be entered into NSA’s systems. Pilz shared numerous documents at the press conference, among them a list of key transmission lines that included nine Swisscom lines originating from Zurich and Geneva.

Switzerland’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation was already underway into Peter Pilz’s claims, and that the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service was in contact with Swisscom and other actors targeted by EIKONAL. Meanwhile, Pilz refused to answer questions about where he got the documents about the alleged spy operation. He said, however, that he did not think Swisscom was aware of the BND-NSA actions against it. The company issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had “no agreements with the NSA, the BND, or any other foreign intelligence agency that permit eavesdropping” on company lines.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 May 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/05/28/01-1705/

German spies helped US find bin Laden, claims German newspaper

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence gave the United States a tip of “fundamental importance” about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, which helped the Americans locate him in Pakistan, according to a German media report. Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper, Bild am Sontag, said in its Sunday edition that the tip allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to corroborate separate intelligence tips pointing to the possibility that the wanted Saudi terrorist may have been hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Citing an unnamed “American intelligence official”, Bild said the tip was given to the CIA by its German equivalent, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, known in Germany as BND. It said the critical information originated from an agent handled by the BND inside Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). The agent was an officer of the ISI but had secretly worked as an agent of the BND “for years”, said the German newspaper.

The tip was eventually communicated by the Germans to the CIA, and was used by the American agency to corroborate information from a number of other sources, which eventually led to the decision to send a Special Forces team to kill the al-Qaeda leader. According to the German paper, the CIA was already leaning toward the view that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. However, the BND tip was “of fundamental importance” in enabling the CIA to make up its mind as to bin Laden’s whereabouts, said Bild. Moreover, the BND’s Pakistani agent allegedly told the German agency that the ISI leadership was protecting bin Laden while holding him under house arrest. If true, the Bild information would seem to confirm allegations made by American reporter Seymour Hersh and security expert R.J. Hillhouse that Pakistani leaders had secretly imprisoned the al-Qaeda founder in Abbottabad. The Bild article goes on to claim that German intelligence used its Bad Aibling Station listening posts to monitor the Pakistani government’s communications so as to help ensure that the planned American attack on bin Laden’s compound was not being anticipated by Islamabad.

However, in reporting on Bild’s allegations, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel questions the validity of the tabloid newspaper’s argument. Why, it asks, would the BND’s Pakistani agent approach his German handlers with the information about bin Laden’s whereabouts, instead of going directly to the Americans? Had the agent followed the latter course of action, he or she could have been able to claim the lucrative reward offered by the US Department of State in exchange for information that would help locate the al-Qaeda founder.

Airbus to sue Germany for helping US spy on its operations

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgBND headquarters in Berlin
European conglomerate Airbus has announced it will file a criminal complaint over allegations that German intelligence services collaborated with their American counterparts to spy on the aerospace firm. The impending lawsuit stems from allegations made last week in the German media that Berlin colluded with Washington to carry out industrial espionage in several European countries. The alleged collaboration involved Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst, known as BND, and the United States’ National Security Agency. According to German media reports, the two agencies joined forces at the request of the NSA, in order to determine whether European companies were breaking international trade embargoes. For that purpose, the two agencies launched a joint communications interception project that targeted telephone, email and other online exchanges involving a host of governmental and corporate targets in Europe. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said last week that the BND used its Bad Aibling listening station to spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as Airbus, which is headquartered in Toulouse.

A statement by Airbus, which was quoted by the Reuters news agency, said that the company was well aware that large firms competing for international contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros “are often targets of espionage”. However, said the company, the recent case involving the alleged BND-NSA collaboration caused it considerable alarm, “because there are firm reasons for suspicion”. The company added that it did not wish to speculate further and noted that it had communicated with German federal authorities requesting further information on the allegations of corporate espionage. Meanwhile, Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere, who supervises the BND, denied rumors that Berlin had tried to cover up the collaboration between the BND and the NSA, and called for the espionage allegations to be investigated by parliament.

The news comes amidst a rocky period in the bilateral relationship between Germany and the United States. In July of last year, Germany expelled the CIA station chief —essentially the top American spy in the country— from its territory. The unprecedented move was prompted by a series of extraordinary disclosures made by US defector Edward Snowden, concerning extensive American intelligence operations against Germany.

Snowden documents reveal New Zealand spy program in Bangladesh

Dhaka, BangladeshBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
New documents released by American defector Edward Snowden reveal an extensive intelligence-collection operation in Bangladesh, operated by New Zealand with American and Indian collaboration. The documents were analyzed by The New Zealand Herald in association with The Intercept, which received them from Snowden, a former technical expert with the US National Security Agency, who now lives in Russia.

The principal file, entitled “National Security Agency Relationship with New Zealand”, marked “Top Secret”, is dated April 2013. It states that New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), has been actively intercepting mobile telephone communications in Bangladesh since at least 2004. The document, which was authored by the NSA, describes the GCSB as the leading agency involved in collecting counterterrorist-related signals intelligence in Bangladesh.

Another file, also released by Snowden, and dated 2009, explains that the interception is carried out by a special GCSB unit named Signals Intelligence Development Team and codenamed OCR. It also mentions that the operation is headquartered in a “special collection site” in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, which is equipped with interception systems. The Herald notes that New Zealand does not have an embassy or any other official buildings in Bangladesh in which to operate listening facilities. It thus speculates that the interception systems must be located in an American-controlled building.

The NSA documents describe the Bangladesh operation as “a success story” for New Zealand’s intelligence community, adding that it has provided “unique intelligence leads”, whcih have “enabled successful counterterrorist operations” by a host of agencies. The latter include Bangladesh’s own State Intelligence Service, the US Central Intelligence Agency and intelligence agencies from nearby India.

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