Analysis: Well-trained spy agency adds to strength of Islamic State

ISIS parade in SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The militants of the Islamic State, who now control large parts of Syria and Iraq, boast a well-trained and agile intelligence apparatus that is partly responsible for the group’s continuing expansion and strength. Sources on the ground in Iraq report that many of the intelligence officers that staff the Islamic State’s spy agency are former employees of the Syrian and Iraqi governments. They were trained by either Russian or American spies during their government service, and are now lending their advanced intelligence skills to the Islamic State. Al-Monitor’s Ali Mamouri, who is based in Iraq, writes that the Islamic State’s intelligence agency is similar to other government intelligence apparatuses around the world in both structure and operational tactics. Principal among its tasks is political protection of the militant regime’s senior commanders, several of whom have already been killed in Mosul and other cities of northwestern Iraq. Islamic State intelligence officers have tightened security precautions in recent weeks, advising Islamic State leaders to limit their public appearances and arresting individuals suspected of acting as informants for Kurdish or other opposition groups linked to the Iraqi or Syrian governments. Another task of the Islamic State’s intelligence apparatus, Mamouri reports, is counterintelligence —i.e. detecting and preventing attempts by Iraqi and Syrian government spies to infiltrate Islamic State governing structures or military outfits. The intelligence agency also works closely with armed groups reminiscent of the German Nazi Party’s Sturmtruppen (Stormtroopers), namely uniformed street thugs whose task is to identify, monitor and physically eliminate opponents of the regime. The list of undesirables includes Shiites, moderate Sunnis, as well as leaders of tribes who cooperated with the Syrian or Iraqi governments in the recent past.

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Opinion: Iraq is like South Vietnam in 1963 – the US should walk away

Diem and LodgeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
As I watch the dramatic collapse of the Federal government of Iraq, I keep telling myself that I cannot possibly be the only person noticing the remarkable political resemblance between the Iraq of 2014 and the South Vietnam of 1963. Just like government of Iraq today, the Republic of South Vietnam, which had been set up with direct American support flowing France’s exit from Indochina in 1954, faced increasing domestic opposition that was both political and religious. In Iraq today it is the Sunni Muslims who have taken up arms against the Shiite-controlled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, a westernized Vietnamese Catholic, whose family had been proselytized to Christianity in the 17th century, was shunned by South Vietnam’s Buddhist majority. The latter became increasingly agitated in opposition to the American supported government in Saigon, which they saw as alien and fundamentally anti-Vietnamese. Diem’s response was to intensify internal repression in South Vietnam. He unleashed the country’s secret police, controlled by his shadowy brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, against the Buddhist community. In the summer of 1963, Buddhist monks began resorting to self-immolation in a desperate attempt to draw public attention to their repression by Diem’s paramilitaries. Nhu’s wife, the fashionable Madame Nhu, shocked public opinion by dismissing the incidents as just some “drugged monks barbecuing themselves”. Washington immediately distanced itself from her comments, and increasingly from Diem.

In the summer of 1963, President John F. Kennedy, a personal friend of Diem, publicly accused the government in Saigon of having “lost touch” with the Vietnamese people and condemned the harsh repression of the Buddhist community. In private, Kennedy had gone a step further, instructing the Central Intelligence Agency and his Ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, to begin consulting with the South Vietnamese military about the possibility of deposing Diem. By that time, the Diem regime had become immensely unpopular in South Vietnam. Read more of this post

CIA ‘stripped of spies’ in embattled Iraq, say sources

US embassy compound, IraqBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Sunni uprising in Iraq, in combination with the Shiite domination of the government in Baghdad, has drastically limited the ability of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to collect dependable intelligence, according to sources. Newsweek’s veteran intelligence correspondent, Jeff Stein, said on Friday that the Agency had been “stripped of its spies” in the embattled country and was struggling to rebuild its network of assets. Stein cited “knowledgeable intelligence sources” as saying that the CIA had lost many of its sources inside the government in Baghdad, which is now firmly in Shiite hands. Since assuming power in 2006, Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, gradually purged most Sunnis from senior government positions, thus shutting down the CIA’s eyes and ears in Baghdad. The intelligence-collection problem for the Agency has worsened since the breakout of the Sunni uprising in the west of the country, which has prompted mass defections of senior tribal leaders to al-Qaeda-inspired rebel groups. Many of these leaders were previously valuable sources of information for the CIA, which has traditionally had far more contacts with Iraqi Sunnis than Shiites. To make things worse, says Stein, CIA operatives in Iraq are unable to travel outside of Baghdad due to the worsening security situation in the country. Instead, they remain “holed up” in the American embassy compound and rely almost exclusively on “technical means” of intelligence collection (and, one presumes, a variety of open sources). Inevitably, the Agency is now much more reliant than usual on information provided by regional intelligence services, such as Turkey’s and Jordan’s, who still have agents on the ground in Iraq. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #878 (ISIS edition)

ISIS parade in SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Backgrounder on Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria. The Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate —a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.
►►ISIS stole $425m and became world’s richest terrorist group. The most stunning revelation to emerge out of the wreckage of Mosul this week is that ISIS just got extremely rich. Several ISIS insurgents stopped at Mosul’s central bank, where an incredible amount of cash was reportedly on hand, and the group made off with 500 billion Iraqi dinars —approximately US$425 million.
►►The Battle for Iraq Is a Saudi War on Iran. Currently on vacation in Morocco, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has so far been silent on the developments in Iraq. But the situation there could well prompt him to cut short his stay and return home. This is because the ISIS advance represents a setback for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which has been the dream of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah for years. He has regarded Maliki as little more than an Iranian stooge, refusing to send an ambassador to Baghdad and instead encouraging his fellow rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council to take a similar standoff-ish approach.
►►Iran deploys Revolutionary Guard forces to fight Iraq militants. The threat of Sunni extremists eclipsing the power of its Shiite-dominated Arab ally presents Iran with the biggest security and strategic challenge it has faced since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. With ISIS, an offshoot of al Qaeda, rapidly gaining territory, Iran deployed Revolutionary Guards units to Iraq, according to Iranian security officials.
►►Jihadist gains in Iraq blindside American spies. United States intelligence agencies were caught by surprise when fighters from ISIS seized two major Iraqi cities this week and sent Iraqi defense forces fleeing, current and former US officials said Thursday. With US troops long gone from the country, Washington didn’t have the spies on the ground or the surveillance gear in the skies necessary to predict when and where the jihadist group would strike.

US ‘quietly expanding’ intelligence presence in war-torn Iraq

ISIL militants in IraqBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States is “quietly expanding” its intelligence operations in Iraq in response to the worsening security situation in the country, according to American government sources. The Reuters news agency reports that US officials have been holding a series of “urgent meetings” in Washington and Iraqi capital Baghdad. The meetings center on finding ways to contain the growing destabilization in the Middle Easter country, which the US occupied from 2003 to 2011. The news agency cited one former and two current US government officials in claiming that a “high-level Pentagon team” is already in Iraq holding successive consultations with Iraqi military and intelligence figures. Many of the conversations in these meetings are believed to center on the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Sunni militant group that has been ideologically aligned with al-Qaeda for most of its existence. Founded in response to the US invasion of Iraq, ISIL became informally known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq” until 2014, when al-Qaeda officially severed all ties to the group, following a bitter power struggle. According to Reuters’ sources, the pressure for the US to respond to the worsening situation in Iraq comes mostly from the Pentagon. But it is unclear whether the White House will continue to intensify American involvement in the country, said the source, adding that Washington’s intelligence presence in Iraq is now “more than before, but not really a lot”. The news agency cited another US government source, who said that a second group of “senior US policy officials”, known as the “Deputies Committee”, has been meeting in Washington to discuss possible responses to the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. Read more of this post

US sees Iranian commandos behind deadly Iraq raid

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Mujahideen-e-Khalq
United States officials have concluded that Iranian commandos were behind a deadly attack that took place earlier this year on Iraqi soil, which targeted a compound populated by Iranian anti-government exiles. The attack took place on the evening of September 1, 2013, in Camp Ashraf. The camp is controlled by the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran. In 1979, the MEK, which operates under a peculiar breed of Marxist, feminist and Islamic ideology (see photo), began an armed war against Tehran’s Islamic government. Many in MEK’s armed wing resettled on the Iraqi side of the Iraq-Iran border, where they received funding and diplomatic support from the government of Saddam Hussein. Although Washington officially considers the MEK to be a terrorist organization, it also views it as a source of valuable intelligence on Iran. It has therefore allowed the group to maintain its control of Camp Ashraf, though it has confiscated much of its weaponry. It is estimated that over 50 members of the group were killed in the September 1 attack, while at least seven others are believed to be in Iran, after they were abducted by the attackers. The latter are thought to have comprised of Iranian commandos and Arabic-speaking Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries. American officials have said little about the attack; in early December, US Secretary John Kerry refused to comment on the incident during an open-door, unclassified Congressional hearing. But earlier this week, Foreign Policy magazine said it spoke to a US official who was “briefed on the intelligence community’s assessment of the attack”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #827

Brigadier General Mohammed KhaloufBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: The spies who fooled the world about Iraq. On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, the BBC flagship investigative program Panorama has aired a documentary arguing that, even before the fighting in Iraq started, intelligence from highly placed sources was available in the UK, suggesting that the administration of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.
►►Syrian officer to auction spy files as general defects. Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah reported this past weekend that an intelligence officer that defected is offering to auction the intelligence archives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat. Meanwhile, Syrian Brigadier General Mohammed Khalouf and about 20 soldiers defected from the Syrian army in two separate incidents on Saturday, according to rebel-controlled media.
►►Half a million wiretapped in Turkey in last decade. Some 470,000 people in Turkey have been subject to eavesdropping over the past 11 years, said officials from the Gendarmerie Command’s intelligence unit. In 2012 alone, over 33,000 people were eavesdropped on by the Gendarmerie, according to information given to the Turkish Parliament’s Eavesdropping Examination Commission. Notably Gendarmerie authorities said that they found no information or documents regarding the case of the wire-tapping of the Turkish Prime Minister in their examination of their own records.

Mossad ‘tried to kill’ Saddam Hussein using ‘exploding book’

Saddam HusseinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence tried unsuccessfully to kill Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the 1970s using a bomb disguised as a book. This revelation is included in a new documentary film, which was aired on Monday evening on Israel’s Channel 1 television. The documentary, entitled Sealed Lips, focuses on the life and intelligence exploits of Yitzhak Hofi. Known informally as “Khaka”, Hofi was the fifth Director of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost covert-action intelligence agency, which he led form 1974 to 1982.  Aside from Hofi, who is still living in Israel, aged 85, the film includes interviews with five other former Directors of the Mossad, as well as with some of the agency’s best-known covert-action operatives. One of them is Brigadier General (ret.) Tzuri Sagi, said to have been the mastermind behind the plan to kill Hussein, who had assumed power in Iraq following a coup in 1968. According to the documentary, as soon as the Mossad tasked Sagi with assassinating Hussein, he employed the best-known bomb-maker in the Israeli intelligence and security services, known by his operational name, “Natan”. “Natan” put together a carefully constructed explosive device, which was hidden inside an Arabic-language book. The device was wired to detonate once the front cover of the book was opened. The film suggests that the Mossad did manage to find a way for the book to reach the Iraqi leader. However, Hussein appeared suspicious about the book and had one of his close aides, an unnamed senior Iraqi government official, open it. Read more of this post

CIA declassifies internal review on Iraq ‘intelligence failure’

Report cover pageBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An internal report on the alleged failure of the Central Intelligence Agency to accurately read the intentions of the Iraqi regime in the run-up to the 2003 invasion by the United States, has been declassified. The report, entitled Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspections Created Picture of Deception, was authored in 2006, classified ‘secret’. It was prepared by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence (DI), the part of the Agency that is responsible for collating and assessing gathered intelligence in order to assist the decisions of US policy-makers on key foreign issues. The report describes what it sees as the DI’s intelligence failure to assess the true state of Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction program in the run-up to the US invasion. It says that invalid predispositions and “analytic liabilities” among CIA analysts prevented the Agency from seeing the issue of weapons of mass destruction from the viewpoint of the Iraqi government. Although heavily redacted, the report seems to state that CIA analysts spent little time examining the view, held by many at the time, that the Iraqi regime had in fact terminated its WMD program by 1995. Furthermore, Agency analysts failed to realize in time that, although it had terminated its WMD program, the Iraqi regime maintained a deliberate policy of ambivalence about the purported existence of the program, in order to save face, deter potential adversaries and appear more dangerous than it actually was. Such a policy of deception was well within the character of the Iraqi regime and should have been detected by American intelligence experts, says the report. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #745

Sir Dominic AsquithBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Algeria sentences man to 20 years for spying. Noureddine Benziane, an Algerian psychologist and expert on anti-terrorism, has been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail on conviction of spying after a stay in Iraq. According to the charge sheet, Benziane went to Iraq on humanitarian missions several times between 2005 and 2007, but he allegedly founded a training camp for potential suicide bombers of several nationalities. Benziane later acknowledged contacting several diplomatic missions in Algiers to give them details of the information he had recovered. However, he neglected to inform the Algerian security services of his findings, according to his prosecutors.
►►Egypt pulls TV ads warning foreigners may be spies. An unnamed Egyptian media official says authorities have pulled a television advertisement that warned against talking to foreigners who may be spies, after criticism that they fueled xenophobia. The official said Sunday that the ads were aired on state TV and private networks for a few days before Minister of Information Ahmed Anis ordered them off the air.
►►British diplomat attacked in Libya. Britain’s ambassador to Libya, Sir Dominic Asquith, was in a convoy of cars that came under attack in the eastern city of Benghazi on Monday, in what British media described as the most serious assault on foreign targets in Libya to date. The attack came amid mounting concern for the welfare of an Australian lawyer and three colleagues working for the International Criminal Court after they were detained in Libya. They were accused of spying when they visited Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

News you may have missed #744

Navi PillayBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Source says Mikhailov ‘will not be exchanged’ with US. There are rumors going around that the US might consider exchanging Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a New York prison, for one or more CIA spies currently being held in Russian prisons. Russian news agency RIA Novosti has cited a “high ranking official in the Russian security services”, who suggests that Bout “might be exchanged”, but not with Valery Mikhailov, a Russian former counterintelligence officer, who was sentenced this week to 18 years in prison for allegedly spying for the CIA.
►►CIA preparing to pull back from Iraq. The US Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to cut its presence in Iraq to less than half of wartime levels, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “US officials familiar with the planning”. Under the plans being considered, says the paper, the CIA’s presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel. Interestingly, the plan would also reduce the US intelligence presence in the region as neighboring Syria appears to be verging on civil war.
►►Senior UN official blasts US drone strikes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said US drone attacks in Pakistan “raise serious questions about compliance with international law, in particular the principle of distinction and proportionality”. She also voiced concerns that the strikes were being conducted “beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control”. IntelNews provided this opinion on the matter, in 2009.

News you may have missed #705

Neil HeywoodBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►UK man found dead in China had links to intel company. It has emerged that Neil Heywood, a British citizen and China expert, who was recently found dead in a hotel room in China, was an adviser to Hakluyt, a corporate intelligence firm founded by former MI6 officers. Hakluyt has confirmed that Heywood prepared periodic reports for it, but said he had not been working for the company at the time of his death.
►►Analysis: Iraq war ghosts haunting CIA in tackling Iran. At America’s top spy agency, the ghosts of Iraq are never far away. One CIA analyst who had helped develop some of the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction had a breakdown, months after the Iraq war began; he had participated in the post-invasion hunt there that found the weapons did not exist. When he eventually was given a new assignment assessing Iran’s nuclear program, he confided a fear to colleagues: that the intelligence community might get it wrong again.
►►Interview with African-American CIA official. Starting in the early 1980s, as a standout undergraduate student at Colgate University, Harvard-trained lawyer and master of several languages, Justin Jackson is now the most senior African-American at the CIA. From 1983 to 2010, he served under five presidents and 10 CIA directors. “My job was to collect foreign intelligence from those human sources who were reporting on the plans and intentions of our adversaries. I also conducted covert action as directed by the administration and I ran counterintelligence operations to detect efforts that foreign countries were making against us”, he says.

Israel ‘conducts espionage incursions into Iran from Kurdish Iraq’

Kurds in the Iran-Iraq border regionBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS & IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence services are routinely using an undisclosed base in Iraqi Kurdistan to launch regular intelligence missions into Iran, according to The Sunday Times. The London-based newspaper cited unnamed “Western intelligence sources” in alleging that Israeli commandos and highly trained special forces members have been conducting cross-border operations from northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan province. But, says the paper, these risky intelligence missions have been intensified to an unprecedented degree in the past few months, as the Israelis are desperately seeking “smoking gun evidence” to convince the United States and the United Nations that Iran is actively constructing a nuclear warhead. The Israelis, according to the Times, deploy twelve-member fully armed teams into Iran on modified Black Hawk helicopters, which are able to fly for approximately 500 miles without needing to refuel. After landing into Iran, the Israeli commandos, who are usually in Iranian military uniforms, are transported to target locations in vehicles made to look like those used by the Iranian military. Their target destinations include Iranian military complexes such as that in Parchin, located 19 miles southeast of Tehran. The Times claims that the Israeli commando teams have also been to Fordow, near Qum, a heavily guarded former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base that houses an underground uranium enrichment facility. The article claims that, once they reach their destination, the Israeli commando teams use “sensitive equipment” to monitor levels of radioactivity and record the magnitude of any explosives tests that might be carried out at those locations. IntelNews has paid particular attention over the years to reports of alleged cooperation between Israeli intelligence agencies and Kurdish groups in Iraq and elsewhere. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #677: Analysis edition

Che Guevara after his arrest in BoliviaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New book ties Johnson administration to Che Guevara’s death. Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith are the co-authors of a new book about the US role in the killing of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. In their book, Who Killed Che?, Ratner and Smith draw on previously unpublished government documents to argue the CIA played a critical role in the killing. “The line of the [US] government was that the Bolivians did it, we couldn’t do anything about it. That’s not true”, Smith said. “This whole operation was organized out of the White House by Walt Whitman Rostow. And the CIA, by this time, had become a paramilitary organization”.
►►CIA digs in as US withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan. The CIA is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional US troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect US interests in the two longtime war zones, US officials said. They added that the CIA’s stations in Kabul and Baghdad will probably remain the agency’s largest overseas outposts for years.
►►Indian Army ‘preparing for limited conflict with China’. Noting that India is increasingly getting concerned about China’s posture on its border, James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, said this week that the Indian Army is strengthening itself for a “limited conflict” with China. “The Indian Army believes a major Sino-Indian conflict is not imminent, but the Indian military is strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border, and is working to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean,” he said.

Israeli Mossad training Iranian exiles in Kurdistan: French newspaper

Predomiantly Kurdish Middle East regionsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A leading French newspaper has claimed that Israeli intelligence agents are recruiting and training Iranian dissidents in clandestine bases located in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Paris-based daily Le Figaro, France’s second-largest national newspaper, cited a “security source in Baghdad”, who alleged that members of Israeli intelligence are currently operating in Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdish region. According to the anonymous source, the Israelis, who are members of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency, are actively recruiting Iranian exiles in Kurdistan. Many of these Iranian assets, who are members of Iran’s Kurdish minority and opposed to the Iranian regime, are allegedly being trained by the Mossad in spy-craft and sabotage. The article in Le Figaro claims that the Iranian assets are being prepared for conducting operations inside the energy-rich country, as part of Israel’s undercover intelligence war against Iran’s nuclear energy program. The Baghdad source told the French daily that part of Israel’s sabotage program against sensitive Iranian nuclear facilities, which includes targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear experts, is directed out of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, “where [Mossad] agents have stepped up their penetration”. For this, “the Israelis are using Kurdish oppositionists to the regime in Iran, who are living are refugees in the Kurdish regions of Iraq”, the source told Le Figaro. Although the article makes no mention of official or unofficial sanction of the Israeli operations by the Iraqi Kurdish authorities, it implies that the alleged Mossad activities are an open secret in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is not the first time that allegations have surfaced in the international press about Israeli intelligence activities in Kurdistan. In 2006, the BBC flagship investigative television program Newsnight obtained strong evidence of Israeli operatives providing military training to Kurdish militia members. Read more of this post

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