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

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
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 | |
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*| |
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

News you may have missed #800

MI6 headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►British MI6 spy agency feeling shaken not stirred. Analysis on about the current state of MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, featuring comments by intelNews‘ own Joseph Fitsanakis. The article, written by former CNN and BBC correspondent Barry Neild, argues that MI6 is feeling the heat caused by a series of recent allegations which threaten to disrupt its clandestine operations. The agency, he suggests, is thus undergoing one of the most troubling periods of its hundred-year existence.
►►Germany charges couple with spying for Russia. German government prosecutors say the couple, who called themselves Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag, worked in Germany for Russia’s foreign intelligence service for more than 20 years, gathering information on European Union and NATO strategy. The pair entered Germany in 1988 and 1990, claiming to be Austrian citizens of South American origin. They were arrested in October 2011. German media said it is the first such case in Germany since the end of the Cold War.
►►US allegedly widens covert operations in North Africa. The Associated Press quotes “three US counterterror[ism] officials and a former intelligence official” as saying that the United States is in the process of building “a new military task force” in the North African region. But by the time the US consulate in the east Libyan city of Benghazi was attacked last month, the new task force consisted only of “liaison officers who were assigned to establish relationships with local governments and US officials in the region”.

Comment: Why did US Government Take Blackwater to Court?

Blackwater/Academi headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Last week I gave a live television interview to the main news program of RT, about the company formerly known as Blackwater. As intelNews reported on August 8, the private military outfit, which rebranded itself to Academi in late 2011, agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle no fewer than 17 violations of United States federal laws, including several charges of illegal weapons exports. This was hardly the first time that the scandal-prone company made headlines for breaking the law. Last week’s settlement followed a separate $42 million settlement agreed in 2010 with the US Department of State. The latter had charged Blackwater/Academi with violating the US Arms Export Control and International Trafficking in Arms Regulations Acts. Those familiar with the murky world of private military contractors are aware that these companies are often hired by governments precisely because they are willing and able to break the law in pursuit of tactical directives. In fact, the main difference between Blackwater/Academi and other private military contractors is not its disregard for legal boundaries, but the lack of discretion with which it keeps breaking the law. This is precisely the reason why it regularly finds itself charged with a host of different criminal violations. Read more of this post

Comment: Are US Authorities Ignoring Far-Right Terrorism?

Wade Michael PageBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Last month I gave a radio interview on a show syndicated on National Public Radio stations in the United States, in which I warned that American far-right extremism is growing faster than any other time since the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. I specifically pointed the finger at an increasingly dangerous mix of gun culture, neo-Nazi ideology, and white-nationalist interpretations of Christianity, known collectively as Christian Identity. In the post-9/11 world, many in the West tend to be forgetful of incidents like the neo-Nazi-inspired 1995 Oklahoma City bombing —the largest terrorist attack on US soil prior to 9/11. Even recent high-profile cases, such as the 2011 Norway attacks by neo-Nazi Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Oslo and Utøya, have proven unable to challenge that dangerous amnesia. It follows that last Sunday’s mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which left seven people dead and three injured, including a police officer, poses a long-overdue opportunity for reflection.

The attacker has been identified as Wade Michael Page (pictured), 40, a former US Army soldier who had previously lived in Colorado and North Carolina. He appears to have acted alone, armed with a legally purchased 9-millimeter handgun. His record indicates that he had been issued permits in North Carolina to purchase five pistols in 2008, though he did not have permit to carry concealed weapons. It also appears that Page, who served in the US military from 1992 to 1998, was a committed neo-Nazi, who had an active role in white-power music —a bizarre subgenre of hardcore heavy metal. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page led a racist white-power music band known as End Apathy, which he founded in North Carolina, after several years of playing in another band called Definite Hate. Others report that Page, who sported a shaved head in typical neo-Nazi fashion, had several Nazi-themed tattoos all over his body. Read more of this post

Analysis: Bandar’s return affirms hawkish turn in Saudi foreign policy

Prince Bandar bin SultanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
For over two decades, America’s relations with its most important Arab ally were primarily mediated by just one man: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005. But on June 26, 2005, Bandar, a personal friend of the Bush family, submitted his diplomatic resignation, after being recalled to Riyadh by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Almost immediately, Bandar, known for years in Washington’s diplomatic circles as a flamboyant socialite, disappeared from public view. It is said that he faced serious health problems, going in and out of hospitals. Others claim that he fell out of favor with Saudi Arabia’s autocratic ruling elite, and in 2009 there were even unconfirmed reports that he was under house arrest after allegedly trying to organize a military coup against King Abdullah. Last week, however, Bandar returned to the limelight in spectacular fashion: in a plainly worded statement, Saudi authorities announced that the Prince had been appointed Director General of the Mukhabarat Al A’amah, the Kingdom’s main intelligence agency.

To those who remember Bandar from his Washington days, which were filled with drinking and partying, it may seem incredible that the “peasant prince”, whose mother was one of Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s countless underage concubines, is now heading Saudi intelligence, in what is perhaps the most challenging period in the Kingdom’s history. Read more of this post

Analysis: The Danger in Ignoring Non-Muslim Religious Terrorism

Hutaree militia membersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Even though over a decade separates us from the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Americans continue to be heavily preoccupied with terrorism. But what is the face of terrorism in our time? Too often, the term ‘terrorist’ conjures up the stereotypical image of an Arabic-speaking Muslim male from the Middle East —viewed by many Westerners as an abstract geopolitical notion that erroneously includes Afghanistan. There is no doubt that Islamic-inspired terrorism is both very real and very dangerous. However, consciously or subconsciously associating terrorism solely with Islam is not only flawed, but also potentially dangerous for our collective security. In reality, all religious dogmas contain extremist elements. This includes religious doctrines that are widely considered peace-loving, such as Anabaptism, or even Buddhism. A case in point that is often overlooked by Westernern observers is Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese millenarianist cult inspired by Buddhist tenets. In 1995, Aum members used sarin gas in a large-scale terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 13 and injured close to a thousand commuters. In later years it was revealed that, prior to engaging in chemical terrorism, Aum had become history’s first known terrorist group to actively try to acquire nuclear material for tactical purposes. It was only after failing to obtain nuclear material that Aum’s leadership turned to sarin. This past Thursday, July 5, an interview of mine was aired on this very subject, namely the current state of homegrown, religiously-inspired terrorism in the United States. Read more of this post

Comment: US cybersecurity posture is not purely defensive

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
In recent years, news coverage of cyberespionage and cybersecurity has increased several times over; both subjects have escaped the narrow confines of technical literature and have entered the broad expanses of popular news media. This blog is no exception; since 2008, we have covered both cybersecurity and cyberespionage at length. In looking back at our coverage, it takes but a cursory glance to conclude that most of our reports feature the names of two countries: China and –to a far lesser extent– Russia. Moreover, the vast majority of our cybersecurity and cyberespionage coverage portrays the United States as a defensive actor, trying desperately to protect the integrity of its networks from foreign hackers. But is this accurate? How realistic is it to assume that the US, the world’s leading military power, abstains from offensive cyberespionage as a matter of strategy? The most likely answer is: not very. The problem is that much of the reporting on cybersecurity is based on national allegiances. Many American media pundits thus tend to forget that Washington, too, conducts cyberespionage. Read more of this post

Comment: US helped Canada nab accused spy Jeff Delisle

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Back in January of this year, when the Jeffrey Delisle spy affair made headlines around the world, I spoke with several journalists from The Globe & Mail, The Canadian Press, and other Canadian news outlets. Most of them were –rightly– curious about the role of the United States in the affair, in which Sub-Lieutenant Delisle, who had been employed at Canada’s ultra-secure TRINITY communications center in Halifax, was accused of spying for a foreign power. I told them that, given that Trinity handled –aside from Canadian– NATO communications, Canada was in fact obligated to notify all of its NATO partners about the suspected penetration. That aside, I said that it could be “safely assumed” that US counterintelligence agencies were “fully involved in the Delisle case, and probably ha[d] been for several months”. By the latter phrase, I implied that US counterintelligence agencies had been closely involved in helping their Canadian counterparts build their case against Delisle. Now a new report in The Globe & Mail suggests that US counterintelligence officials “supplied vital information” to their Canadian colleagues during “the early days of the investigation” into the Delisle affair. The article says that the full extent of what the Americans told Canadian authorities remains unclear; but it quotes “a source familiar with the matter”, who claims that the US “helped Canada build its investigation”, not necessarily by providing a single tipoff clue, but through “an accumulation of information”. The paper adds that Washington’s involvement in the investigation from an early stage “adds a key new detail to [the] story”. Not necessarily, I would argue. Read more of this post

Comment: Britain denies murdered businessman was MI6 spy

Britain has officially denied allegations that a British businessman, who was found dead in China last November, was an intelligence operative. Neil Heywood, a financial consultant and fluent Chinese speaker, who had lived in China for over a decade, was found dead on November 14, 2011, in his room at the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel in Chongqing. Widespread speculation that Heywood may have been a spy for MI6, Britain’s external intelligence service, eventually prompted the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee to ask Britain’s Foreign Secretary to clarify whether Haywood was a spy. The Committee wanted to know whether the late businessman had ever supplied intelligence “on a formal or informal basis” to Britain’s embassy in Beijing or its consulate in the city of Chongqing. Responding yesterday to the Committee’s query, British Foreign Secretary William Hague noted that “it is long established government policy neither to confirm nor deny speculation of this sort”. However, he added, the interest in this case made it “exceptionally appropriate” for him to “confirm that Mr Heywood was not an employee of the British government in any capacity”. In response to the second part of the Committee’s question, on whether the British expat shared information with British diplomatic officials, Mr Hague said that Heywood “was only an occasional contact of the embassy, attending some meetings in connection with his business”. He added that Heywood “was not known” to the British consulate-general in Chongqing. In its report on the story, British quality broadsheet The Guardian noted that Mr Hague’s response “did not fully answer the committee’s question”. Read more of this post

Analysis: The How and Why of Modern Assassinations

Bomb blast site in New Delhi, IndiaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Reports on the discovery last week of a synchronized plan to attack Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia, and Thailand, are still unfolding. At least four people —including the wife of an Israeli diplomat— were injured in New Delhi, when a bomb ripped through a van belonging to the Israeli embassy there. Another bomb was defused by Georgian counterterrorist forces after it was found fastened under an Israeli diplomatic vehicle in Tbilisi. And in Bangkok, two Iranian nationals were arrested after a bomb they were manufacturing exploded prematurely in a rented house in the Thai capital. In an interview I gave this past weekend to The Journal, one of Ireland’s most popular newsmagazines, I noted that the use of targeted assassinations as a means of achieving broader political goals is, of course, not new. But there are definite trends that we have been able to see developing during the past decade or so. For starters, even though the methods of assassination vary greatly, there are common trends one can point out, particularly in the organizational infrastructure of state-sponsored assassination operations. There is, to be precise, an increasing complexity in the way these operations are planned prior to their execution by specialized hit teams. I told The Journal’s interviewer, Susan Ryan, that the increasing sophistication of these types of operations can be appreciated by comparing older examples with case studies that are more recent. Take, for instance, the Black September killings, conducted by Israeli intelligence in response to the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #665

Matthew M. AidBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Joseph Fitsanakis interviewed on ABC Radio National. IntelNews‘ own Dr Joseph Fitsanakis was interviewed on Friday by reporter Suzanne Hill, for ABC Radio National’s flagship evening news program ‘PM‘. In the interview, which was about the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, Fitsanakis points the finger at the Mossad, and explains why he doesn’t believe the United States had anything to do with the killing. You can listen to the interview here. The transcript is here.
►►India releases diplomat jailed for spying. Last April, Madhuri Gupta, second secretary at the Indian high commission in Islamabad, Pakistan, was arrested for working for Pakistan’s ISI spy agency. She apparently had a “relationship of personal affection” with an aide of her Pakistani handler. On Tuesday, she was granted bail by an Indian court, after 21 months in prison.
►►Matthew Aid interviewed about his new book. Matthew M. Aid, author of The Secret Sentry, has written a new book, Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror. You can listen to an extensive interview he gave on January 11 on NPR’s Fresh Air, in which Aid outlined his view that “overlapping jurisdictions, bureaucratic policies and a glut of data have crippled the intelligence community in its war against would-be terrorists”.
►►British spies to be cleared on torture allegations. The British government, including Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service, has just finished a four-year inquiry into the country’s security and intelligence services, sparked by allegations by terrorist suspects released from Guantanamo Bay, that they were severely tortured. The results have not yet been announced. But British media report that, according to information from trusted sources, the inquiry has concluded that (…drumroll…) there is no evidence that officers from either MI5 or MI6 were aware of the mistreatment of prisoners.

Comment: Drawing Careful Conclusions from the Iran Assassination

Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's carBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | |
The body of Iranian academic Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was still warm when officials in Tehran began accusing Israel and the United States of having planned his assassination. Leveling such accusations without offering adequate proof is certainly unstatesmanlike; but even hasty conclusions can be logical, and even sworn enemies of the Iranian government would find it difficult to point at other possible culprits. Keeping in mind that, at this early stage, publicly available information about the assassination remains limited, are there conclusions that can be drawn with relative safety by intelligence observers? The answer is yes. Roshan, 32, was a supervisor at Iran’s top-secret Natanz fuel enrichment plant. His scientific specialty was in the technology of gas separation, the primary method used to enrich uranium in Iran’s nuclear energy program. His assassination, which took place in broad daylight amidst Tehran’s insufferable morning traffic, was a faithful reenactment of the attacks that killed two other Iranian nuclear scientists in November of 2010. A motorcycle, practically indistinguishable from the thousands of others that slide maniacally between cars in the busy streets of the Iranian capital, made its way to the car carrying Ahmadi-Roshan. As the driver kept his eyes on the road, the passenger skillfully affixed a magnetic explosive device to the outside surface of the targeted vehicle, next to where Ahmadi-Roshan was sitting. By the time the blast killed the scientist, as well as the car’s driver, and injured a third passenger, the motorcyclists were nowhere to be found. Two-and-a-half hours later, when the report of Ahmadi-Roshan’s assassination was making its way through the newsroom of Iran’s state-owned Fars news agency, the assassins were making their way to Dubai, Oman, Qatar, or various other destinations around the Middle East. Read more of this post

Did Outside Spy Agencies Know About Kim Jong Il’s Death?

Kim Jong Il lies in state in PyongyangBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | |
According to KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, Premier Kim Jong Il died at 8:30 am on Saturday, December 17. However, government media did not announce the startling news until early Monday morning, that is, nearly 50 hours after the “Dear Leader’s” sudden passing. Assuming that North Korean reports of the time and location of Kim’s death are truthful, the inevitable question for intelligence observers is: did anyone outside North Korea receive news of Kim Jong Il’s death during the 50 hours that preceded its public announcement? In times like this, most Westerners tend to look at the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, MI6, DGSE, or any of the other recognizable acronyms that dominate American and European news reports. The reality is, however, that despite their often-mythical status, Western intelligence agencies tend to be limited in their global reach, which is usually heavily concentrated on selected adversaries, like Russia, or China. These agencies therefore tend to rely on their regional allies to get timely and accurate information on smaller nations that are often difficult to penetrate. In the case of North Korea, Western spy agencies depend heavily on actionable intelligence collected by South Korean and Japanese spies. Read more of this post


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