In surprise move, US Congress may slash funding for CIA ops in Syria

CIAAmerican Congressional lawmakers have voted to cut funding for the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret operations in Syria, in a surprise move that indicates growing concern on Capitol Hill with Washington’s strategy on the Syrian Civil War. The CIA’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War began in 2012, when US President Barack Obama issued 1 a classified presidential finding that authorized Langley to arm and train opposition militias. The clandestine program was initially based in training camps in Jordan, before eventually expanding to at least one location in Qatar. Currently, the CIA’s secret involvement in the Syrian conflict is said 2 to be among the Agency’s most extensive covert operations in the world, and comes at an annual cost that is nearing $1 billion.

But this amount may be cut by as much as 20 percent if the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the US House of Representatives has its way. According to The Washington Post 3, the Committee recently voted to reduce the Agency’s classified funds for the Syria operation as a way of expressing its “concern with [US] strategy in Syria”. It is perhaps indicative of the displeasure on Capitol Hill with Washington’s current policy on Syria that the Committee voted unanimously to slash the CIA’s funding. The Post even quoted the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Adam B. Schiff (CA), who said there was “growing pessimism” among Committee members, who felt that the US would not be in a position to “help shape the aftermath” of the conflict in Syria.

The surprise move by the Congressional intelligence panel will need to be ratified by the House, which will vote on a preliminary intelligence-spending bill this week. The Post said that the measure “provoked concern” in the White House, while CIA officials warned that slashing the CIA’s funding for its Syria operations could seriously hurt rebel groups that are being backed by the US. One unnamed US intelligence official told the paper that Russia and China would continue to fund the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as Congress decided to defund the CIA’s operations in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. The White House declined to respond to questions about the vote.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 June 2015 | Permalink:

  1. J. Fitsanakis “Obama authorizes CIA to conduct ‘non-lethal covert action’ in SyriaintelNews [03aug2012] 
  2. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015] 
  3. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015] 

News you may have missed #879

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN |
►►Israeli spy budget close to $2 billion. According to reports in the Israeli media, the 2014 budget for Israel’s secret services is 6.88 billion shekels, which amounts to US$1.97 billion). This figure represents an approximate increase of 4 percent compared to last year. The funds cover the operations of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, and the Mossad, which is the country’s external covert-action agency.
►►Australia and France sign intelligence accord. Australia has struck a second intelligence-sharing agreement in less than a week, this time with France, as fears rise about the Syrian civil war becoming a hub for home-grown terrorism. The two countries have agreed, among other things, to share intelligence on their respective citizens who have gone to Syria to fight in that country’s civil war. A week earlier, Canberra had signed a similar intelligence-sharing agreement with the government of Indonesia.
►►Nazi spy could have changed course of D-Day. Days before the Normandy landings, the Lisbon-based Nazi spy Paul Fidrmuc got wind of the final details of Operation Overlord and sent an urgent message to Berlin. The Allies were not planning to land in Calais, as the Nazis thought and where they had massed 200,000 soldiers. Instead, he wrote, “the preferred plan is around La Manche”. But his dispatch was ignored by his Berlin handlers.

Snowden exposes ‘unprecedented’ US intelligence budget details

Report coverBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
In what experts call an unprecedented move, The Washington Post has published excerpts from the classified United States intelligence budget, obtained from American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. He gave The Washington Post a top-secret document containing the 2012 budget summary for the US National Intelligence Program. A new version of this document is produced each year by the United States Intelligence Community (IC). It provides Congressional intelligence committees with a detailed justification for the funds requested by the IC, while highlighting the objectives, priorities, successes and failures of American intelligence agencies. The Post published several charts and tables from the document, which show that the US intelligence complex is currently sustained at a financial level that exceeds that reached at any point during the Cold War. Moreover, funding for the IC appears to have doubled since 2001 and is up by a quarter since 2006. Perhaps the most unexpected feature in the leaked document centers on the revelation that funding for the CIA is 50 percent higher than that of the NSA, which had long been seen by outsiders as the best-funded American intelligence agency. It appears, however, that the NSA, which specializes in communications interception, and is by far the largest American intelligence agency, received just over $10 billion last year, way below the $15 billion given to the CIA. The latter’s budget also exceeded that of the National Reconnaissance Office, a highly technical and very expensive government agency that maintains America’s spy satellites. In the words of The Post, the CIA’s requested budget “vastly exceeds outside estimates” and represents in excess of a quarter of the entire US intelligence budget. Another interesting revelation is that the US IC places Israel alongside Cuba, China, Russia and Iran, as a “priority target” when it comes to counterintelligence —meaning efforts to prevent these countries from spying on the US. Read more of this post

CIA shuts down office that declassifies historical materials

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
The division of the United States Central Intelligence Agency that is responsible for weeding through and declassifying historical materials from the Agency’s archives is to close due to the sequester budget cuts. The CIA’s Historical Collections Division has been at the source of some of the most sensational declassification of American intelligence material in recent years, spanning several decades of postwar history. But it has now been disbanded due to budget cuts associated with so-called sequester. The widespread cuts were automatically imposed after the two political parties in Congress failed to compromise last year on the Federal budget. The sequester is an across-the-board budget reduction that affects every single agency or office operating under the US government. It is believed that the CIA dealt with the cuts by terminating an unknown number of agreements with outside contractors, some of whom were responsible for the declassification of historical documents. The Los Angeles Times, which reported on the story, quoted CIA spokesman Edward Price, who told journalists last week that the Historical Collections Division had been “moved into a larger unit” within the Agency in order to “create efficiencies”. He identified that unit as the CIA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, whose Information Management Services handle all Freedom of Information Act requests from the public. Price assured reporters that the CIA remained faithful to declassifying historical material, which it described as part of its “public interest mission”. But The Times quoted several scholars who said that the disbandment of the CIA’s Historical Collections Division will almost certainly result in a reduced number of public disclosures. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #840

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►S. Korea prosecutors might seek ex-spy chief’s arrest. Prosecutors said Monday they will decide sometime this week whether to seek an arrest warrant against Won Sei-hoon, who headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) for about four years until early this year. He is suspected of ordering agents to post a slew of politically sensitive comments on the Internet in order to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling party candidate prior to the December 19 national election. Won, who headed the NIS under former President Lee Myung-bak, has been barred from leaving the country pending investigation.
►►CIA self-described whistleblower writes about life in prison. In 2012, former CIA officer John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In January of this year, he was sentenced to 30 months in a low security prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania. In a letter released by his lawyer, Kiriakou describes his day-to-day life behind bars, from his own tiny cell to an almost anthropological study of the lunchroom and the relatively rare prison fights.
►►Comment: End the spy budget secrecy in Israel. Since the establishment of the Israeli state, the security establishment has enjoyed confidentiality with regard to the details of its budget, justified by the need to keep secrets from enemy intelligence services. This lack of transparency has impaired public scrutiny of security expenditure, which represents a large chunk of the Israeli economy. When the watchful eye is distant, the temptation is great to inflate job slots, exaggerate salary increments and hike up pension conditions.

British spy agency to scrap $140m IT system over security fears

DeloitteBy IAN ALLEN | |
Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, has decided to “accept defeat” and scrap a multimillion digital records management program over fears it could create a dangerous “intelligence vacuum”. The program, which has so far cost the British taxpayer over £90 million ($140 million) in payments to private consultants, was first conceived in the run-up to the London 2012 summer Olympic Games. While evaluating terrorist-related threats posed by the hosting of the Games in the United Kingdom, British security officials decided that the government-wide intelligence-sharing system in place was archaic and in need of serious overhaul. They hired a group of senior IT management consultants from Deloitte, one of the world’s largest professional services firm, headquartered in New York, NY. The pricey corporate experts were tasked with helping MI5 digitally collate intelligence data collected or produced by all departments of the British government. Deloitte’s planning team had projected that the multi-million dollar system would be in place and operational by the summer of 2012, before the Olympic Games were held in London. This, however, proved wildly optimistic; Deloitte barely managed to scrape together a watered-down version of the promised records management program in late 2012. When the program was tested by MI5’s intelligence collection managers, it was found to contain serious errors that, according to British newspaper The Independent, could leave the country’s intelligence agencies “vulnerable and struggling with an intelligence vacuum”. When initially questioned about the Deloitte debacle by British lawmakers, MI5’s (now retired) Director, Sir Jonathan Evans, told the frustrated members of the British House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee not to worry. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #819 (UKUSA edition)

Charles E. AllenBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Aussie spies’ exemption from Freedom of Information laws to end? Currently, all Australian intelligence agencies are exempt from the operation of federal Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation that allows the public and journalists to seek access to government records. But now Australian Information Commissioner John McMillan has called for the intelligence agencies to no longer be exempted from FOI laws. Professor McMillan and FOI Commissioner James Popple have made the recommendation in a 97-page submission to the review of FOI laws by former Defence Department secretary and diplomat Allan Hawke.
►►US spy agencies move towards single super-cloud. The US intelligence community is developing a single cloud computing network to allow all its analysts to access and rapidly sift through massive volumes of data. Now in its eighth month, the goal of the effort is to connect the Central Intelligence Agency’s existing cloud to a new cloud run by the National Security Agency. This NSA-run network consists of five other intelligence agencies and the FBI. Both of these clouds can interoperate, but the CIA has its own unique needs because it must work with human intelligence, which necessitates keeping its cloud slightly separate, according to Charles Allen, formerly Undersecretary of Homeland Security for intelligence and analysis.
►►Canadian Army struggles with intelligence-gathering. The Canadian Army is trying to hold on to its intelligence-gathering capability and its ability to disrupt spying in the face of budget strain, according to documents from the Canadian Department of National Defence. The Canadian Press, which obtained the documents, says the Army is “anxious to protect HUMINT network and to better resource its counterintelligence abilities”, but is worried that its shrinking budget in the post-Afghanistan War era will cause “degradation” in those disciplines.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,055 other followers