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

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Analysis: Did Russian spy services secretly bug Polish officials?

Radosław SikorskiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org
Poland’s relations with the United States were strained this week after Poland’s foreign minister allegedly described Warsaw’s alliance with Washington as “worthless” and “complete bullshit” in a private conversation. Radosław Sikorski has not denied the authenticity of a bugged conversation, in which he appears to argue that Poland is wrong to anger Germany and Russia by always siding with America on foreign policy issues. Using highly undiplomatic language, Sikorski denounced Poland’s foreign policy planners as “complete losers” and accused them of having a “slave mentality” in their dealings with American diplomats. He also described British Prime Minister David Cameron as an “incompetent” politician who “believes in his stupid propaganda” about the European Union. Transcripts of the conversation, which allegedly took place between Sikorski and Poland’s former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, were published last week in several increments by Polish newsmagazine Wprost.

How did the bugging occur? It appears that Sikorski was among a number of Polish politicians surreptitiously recorded for over a year while dining with colleagues at elite restaurants in Polish capital Warsaw. Polish authorities reportedly believe that managers and waiters at the restaurants placed concealed recording devices near the guests’ tables. Some believe the culprits’ goal was to blackmail the politicians in return for cash payments; others believe that powerful business interests or opposition politicians were behind the recordings. A few observers have even suggested that Rostowski, who is heard talking with Sikorski in the bugged conversation, may have been the source of the leak to Wprost. The magazine’s editors said they received an encrypted email from a business executive, going by the name “Patriot”, with links to four recorded conversations between senior Polish government officials. But it insisted that it was not aware of the identity of the leaker. Read more of this post

Analysis: Should government spies target foreign firms?

CyberespionageBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Last month, the government of the United States indicted five officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, economic espionage, and theft of trade secrets, among other charges. In indicting the five PLA officers, the US Department of Justice went to great pains to ensure that it did not accuse the suspects of engaging in cyberespionage in defense of China’s national security. What sparked the indictments was that the accused hackers allegedly employed intelligence resources belonging to the Chinese state in order to give a competitive advantage to Chinese companies vying for international contracts against American firms. In the words of US Attorney General Eric Holder, the operational difference between American and Chinese cyberespionage, as revealed in the case against the five PLA officers, is that “we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to US companies, or US commercial sectors”, whereas China engages in the practice “for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China”. I recently authored a working paper that was published by the Cyberdefense and Cybersecurity Chair of France’s Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, in which I argued that the American distinction between public and private spheres of economic activity is not shared by PLA. The Chinese see both state and corporate cyberespionage targets as fair game and as an essential means of competing globally with the United States and other adversaries. In the paper, I argue that Beijing sees the demarcation between state and private economic activity as a conceptual model deliberately devised by the US to disadvantage China’s intelligence-collection ability. Read more of this post

Comment: The significance of the spat between Congress and the CIA

John Brennan and Dianne FeinsteinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had gone out of her way in recent days to avoid commenting on the ongoing quarrel between her Committee and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). That ended yesterday, when she gave a press conference accusing the CIA of illegally spying on her Committee’s Congressional staffers. Her stunning announcement came shortly after her tense meeting with the Director of the CIA, a bad-tempered John Brennan. She told the media that at the meeting she requested from Brennan an apology and acknowledgement that the alleged CIA spying was “inappropriate”. By her own account, she failed to get either, so she decided to go public. In an interview I gave yesterday to Michigan’s WILS 1230 AM’s Capital City Recap, I argued that the quarrel between the two government bodies is not in itself important. What is important, I told radio host Mike Cohen, is that the dispute has entered the public arena. A routine ‘push and shove’ mêlée has turned into an all-out fistfight in full view of the media. One Republican Senator, Lindsay Graham, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the time had come for “the legislative branch [to] declare war on the CIA”. In response to the Committee’s accusations, the CIA has apparently instructed the Department of Justice to investigate the alleged removal by Congressional staffers of classified documents that were “protected by executive privilege [and were] beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation”.

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Comment: Is Ukraine’s Military Splitting in Two?

H First PostBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Much has been made about the presence of Russian troops —including what appear to be special forces units— in southern Ukraine. But peace and stability in the region are not threatened only by the actions of foreign troops; they are also threatened by the attitude of the armed forces of Ukraine, whose stance is likely to determine the outcome of the current crisis. The government of Ukraine has called all military reservists in the country to mobilize in order to “ensure the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. But what guarantee is there that the Ukrainian armed forces will remain united while the country is splitting in two —or three, counting the Tatars? At least 20 percent of Ukraine’s citizens consider themselves ethnically Russian, and there is little reason to believe that the ranks of the Ukrainian military, which reflect the ethnic makeup of the country’s divided population, will prove immune to rapidly intensifying sectarian tensions. Already Russian news outlets report that “the majority” of Ukrainian armed forces personnel stationed in Crimea have “switched to the side of local authorities” of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The secessionist government’s Deputy Prime Minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, said on Sunday that the Ukrainian armed forces in the breakaway region “have all but surrendered” and that many “are expected to take military oath soon”, declaring their allegiance to the Crimean Republic. Presumably these are ethnic Russians who are abandoning the Ukrainian military and joining that of the secessionist movement in Crimea out of nationalist allegiance.

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Comment: Nuland’s leaked phone call is ‘populist intelligence’

Victoria NulandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
My phone started ringing off the hook on Thursday evening, when a video appeared on YouTube containing a frank conversation between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt. Nuland, Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of State, and Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, were discussing US diplomatic moves on the political standoff in Ukraine. In the conversation, which was clearly meant to be private, Nuland expresses frustration with efforts by the European Union, which she deems weak and inadequate. In a shocking display of candor, Nuland tells Pyatt that the US should “help glue this thing and [...] have the UN help glue it and, you know, f**k the EU”.

On Thursday night I spoke at the main news program of BBC television, where I agreed with most observers —some of the US government officials— that Russia was the obvious culprit behind the leaked conversation. The geopolitical interests of Washington and Brussels coincide almost completely when it comes to Ukraine, as both wish to detach the former Soviet republic from the Russian sphere of influence. So driving a wedge between the two allied sides is clearly to the benefit of Moscow. I added that the two American officials should have known better than to speak so frankly on the phone, given the constant monitoring of diplomatic communications by both adversary and friendly intelligence services, which is common knowledge in diplomatic circles. Read more of this post

Analysis: Is US diplomat arrested in Russia a CIA case officer?

Ryan Christopher FogleBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged an official complaint yesterday with the United States Ambassador to Russia over the alleged espionage activities of Ryan Christopher Fogle. The Third Secretary in the Political Section of the US embassy was arrested with great media fanfare on Monday night, allegedly as he was trying to recruit a Russian intelligence officer. As can be expected, the Russian media had a field day with Fogle’s arrest; after all, it has been nearly a decade since the last time an American intelligence operative was publicly uncovered on Russian soil. Many Western observers, however, have questioned if Fogle could really be an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, and whether the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) simply framed an unsuspecting junior American diplomat. Much of the skepticism expressed by Western commentators focuses on the articles that were allegedly found by the FSB in Fogle’s backpack. They included several pairs of sunglasses, recording devices, as well as two wigs. Would a CIA officer be foolish enough to be carrying with him surreptitious recording devices in downtown Moscow? And do modern case officers still employ wigs when walking the streets of foreign capitals recruiting spies? The answer is, of course, yes. Read more of this post

Analysis: Five dangerous myths about the Boston Marathon bombings

Investigating the Boston bombingsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The endless opinion pieces about the Boston bombings that have flooded the media-sphere since Monday have one thing in common: they are highly speculative and, for the most part, unreliable. At this early stage, nobody outside the security or intelligence establishments has any idea about the identity or motives behind the attacks —and if they say they do, they are lying. Even those on the inside routinely refer to the ongoing investigation as one of the most complex in the country’s post-9/11 history. As the probe continues, and the nation deals with the meaning of the Boston bombings, it is critical that some of the dangerously misinformed and premature notions about the attacks are dispelled.

To begin with, the Boston Marathon bombings were not necessarily terrorism. They were clearly calculated and indiscriminate, but in order for them to qualify as terrorism, their planners must have a broad political or ideological objective. Terrorism is a tactic used to further a political goal. There is a reason why we don’t refer to school shootings, such as the one that took place on December 14, 2013, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, as terrorism. They are calculated and extremely violent, but they do not contain a political motive. Before we can attach a terrorist label to the Boston bombings, we have to uncover the motive of the perpetrator(s). Barring that, the incident must be treated simply as a criminal act. Read more of this post

Technical analysis offers first clues about Boston Marathon bomber(s)

Site of one of the Boston Marathon blastsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Counterterrorism experts probing Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon are bound to start searching for the culprits by focusing on the technical specifications of the attacks. According to the Boston Police Department, three people were killed and at least 144 were injured —many of them critically— by the blasts, which rocked downtown Boston at 2:45 p.m. local time. The second explosion was carefully timed to coincide with the initial blast, and occurred just ten seconds later, fewer than 100 yards down the road from the site of the first explosion. At least one report stated that law enforcement teams found and dismantled up to five additional devices at the site, which had failed to detonate. But one police official later denied these reports, saying that “closer examinations led [the police] to doubt that [the devices] were bombs”. If additional devices were indeed present at the site of the blast, it is likely that they failed to detonate due to the collapse of the wireless network in Boston, which was knocked down by a sudden spurt in usage following the initial blasts. If, as it appears, these bombs were types of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and if suicide terrorism was not involved, chances are the devices were remotely triggered using the diodes commonly found inside the speakers of inexpensive cell phones. Depending on the constitution of the bombs themselves, they could contain ball bearings, screws, or other metal fragments stuffed inside a container around some type of explosive. Read more of this post

Analysis: The Current State of the China-Taiwan Spy War

China and TaiwanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last week I spoke about the current state of the espionage war between China and Taiwan with Tim Daiss, a Southeast Asia-based American journalist who has been covering the Asia-Pacific region for over a decade. Our discussion formed the basis of a comprehensive piece on the subject, published in British newspaper The Independent, in two parts (part one and part two). I told Daiss that the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary national intelligence agency— is not known for its technological prowess. However, the sheer size of Beijing’s intelligence apparatus is proving a good match for the more advanced automated systems used by its less populous regional rivals, including Taiwan. When it comes to traditional human intelligence, the Chinese have been known to employ time-tested methods such as sexual entrapment or blackmail, as was confirmed most recently in the case of Taiwanese Major-General Lo Hsien-che. Lo, who headed the Taiwanese military’s Office of Communications and Information, was convicted of sharing classified top-secret information with a female Chinese operative in her early 30s, who held an Australian passport. During his trial, which marked the culmination of Taiwan’s biggest spy scandal in over half a century, Lo admitted that the Chinese female spy “cajoled him with sex and money”. In addition to honey-trap techniques, Chinese spies collect intelligence by way of bribery, as do many of their foreign colleagues. In the case of China, however, a notable change in recent years has been the accumulation of unprecedented amounts of foreign currency, which make it easier for Chinese intelligence operatives to entice foreign assets, such as disgruntled or near-bankrupt state employees, to sell classified data. Read more of this post

Interview: Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ linked to 2010 al-Mabhouh killing

Ben ZygierThis morning I spoke to SBS Radio Australia’s Greg Dyett about the mysterious case of Ben Zygier, an Australian-born naturalized citizen of Israel, who is said to have killed himself in 2010 while being held at a maximum-security prison near Tel Aviv. As intelNews reported on Wednesday, Zygier, who is believed to have been recruited by Israel’s covert-action agency Mossad, had been imprisoned incommunicado for several months and was known only as ‘Prisoner X’, even to his prison guards. Is there any connection between Zygier’s incarceration and the January 2010 assassination of Palestinian arms merchant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai? And what could Zygier have done to prompt Israel to incarcerate him? You can listen to me discuss this mysterious case in an eight-minute interview here, or read the transcript, below.

Q: You say that, after conferring with your contacts in Israel, Europe and the United States, you believe that Ben Zygier had some sort of involvement in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010.

A: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a weapons procurer for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. At this point, there is little doubt that the Mossad was behind this operation. Several members of the team that killed al-Mabhouh were using third-country passports —Irish, British, Australian, and others— to travel to and from Dubai. In the aftermath of the assassination, there were questions about how the Mossad operatives managed to get those passports; and, if you’ll remember, that led to the expulsion of several Israeli diplomats from around the world, including Australia. Read more of this post

Announcement: Calling All Undergraduate Students of Intelligence

The Security and Intelligence Studies JournalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The academic study of security and intelligence used to be considered strictly a graduate-level preoccupation. Today, however, it is routinely encountered in undergraduate curricula and constitutes one of the fastest growing programs in the humanities. There is thus no reason for undergraduate students with a serious interest in security and intelligence to wait until graduate school before publishing their scholarly work. To satisfy the increasing undergraduate interest in this field of study, the Security and Intelligence Studies program at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, is launching The Security and Intelligence Studies Journal. It is the world’s first undergraduate scholarly journal focusing exclusively on themes of intelligence, security, counterterrorism, geopolitics and international relations. The Security and Intelligence Studies Journal is committed to highlighting outstanding undergraduate research that critically examines the current domestic and international security landscape. The theme for the journal’s first issue, which is scheduled for publication in late April 2013, is: “security challenges in the 21st century”. The theme’s elaboration, which can be found on the journal’s website, is as follows: “As our globalized society trudges deeper into the labyrinth of the 21st century, innumerable challenges threaten the security of the world. From collapsing economic markets, to multifaceted geopolitical tensions between Western and developing nations, to the ominous rise of militant ideologies, the intertwined destinies of nations transform local problems into global challenges and local struggles into international conflicts. The Security and Intelligence Studies Journal calls on interested authors to explore a 21st-century security challenge, and propose creative and innovative solutions, within the context of democratic political institutions”. The deadline for submissions of relevant scholarly papers of up to 3,000 words in length has been set for February 28, 2013. We encourage undergraduate students from around the world with a serious scholarly interest in security and intelligence to contact the journal by visiting its website or emailing the editors at KCSIS@king.edu, to express their interest in submitting a paper. Collaborative works are welcome. We also kindly ask academics to forward this call for papers to their undergraduate students.

Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. Read more of this post

Opinion: When Did Obama Know About CIA Director’s Affair?

David Petraeus and Paula BroadwellBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The standard reaction to last week’s resignation of Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus, following the revelation of his extramarital affair, has been stunned silence. Not so much because of the affair itself —what is one more affair in the slippery world of Washington politics?— but because it involved the eminent figure of Petraeus. Former aides to the retired General have been confiding to journalists that “never in a million years” would they have thought that the high-achieving CIA Director would have risked his career and reputation in such a reckless fashion. Many thought that the relationship between him and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, had grown suspiciously close in recent years; but Petraeus had a general way of seeming beyond reproach.

It is worth pointing out that much of this unfolding story is so far based on hearsay, as opposed to concrete, verifiable information. It is suggested that Petraeus’ extramarital tryst was accidentally discovered by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who were looking into a seemingly unrelated case. Some news outlets, mostly in the UK, suggest that a female employee of the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command contacted the FBI after receiving threatening messages from Broadwell, warning her to “stay away from [her] man” —allegedly Petraeus. While investigating the Gmail account from which the threatening messages were allegedly sent, the FBI allegedly discovered “thousands” of messages exchanged between the CIA Director and Broadwell, some of which were sexually explicit. Read more of this post

Comment: The Significance of the Killing of Lebanon’s Security Chief

The bombing that killed Wissam al-HassanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS*| intelNews.org |
Perhaps the only concrete reality reflected in last week’s assassination of Lebanon’s security chief is the confusion that continues to dominate Western reporting about Lebanese politics. On Friday, Lebanese capital Beirut experienced its most powerful bombing in nearly four years, when a car laden with explosives detonated killing at least eight and injured nearly 100 people. Among the dead was Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, head of the intelligence section of Lebanon’s national police force, known as the Internal Security Forces (ISF).  Hassan, a career intelligence officer, was a Sunni Muslim strongly associated with Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri, who was assassinated in Beirut in 2005, was openly anti-Syrian, as was Hassan. This political identification is extremely telling in a country like Lebanon, which has existed under near-complete Syrian political and military domination for the past three-and-a-half decades. Throughout this period, the position of different actors on the Syrian question has been the core defining parameter in Lebanese politics. The same applies to Lebanese institutions. As one such institution, the ISF is widely perceived as strongly anti-Syrian, and is often considered the main rival of the Security Organ of Hezbollah, the Shiite paramilitary group that controls most of southern Lebanon. Read more of this post

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