India disbands spy unit that conducted covert operations abroad

VK SinghBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A controversial military intelligence unit that conducted at least eight covert operations in foreign countries between 2008 and 2012 has been disbanded by the government of India. The country’s Ministry of Defense authorized the establishment of the unit in late 2008, following the Mumbai attacks, which killed over 150 and injured nearly 600 people. The attacks, which lasted for almost four days, involved a dozen coordinated bombing attacks and shooting incidents in India’s largest urban center, carried out by Pakistani nationalists. The covert-action unit was named Technical Services Division (TSD) and led by retired General VK Singh, who served as the Indian Army’s Chief of Staff from 2010 to 2012. According to Indian news media, the TSD was approved by a host of senior Indian government officials, including Lieutenant General RK Loomba, Director General of India’s Military Intelligence. The new agency was tasked with “planning and executing special operations inside depth areas of countries of interest” to India. It was also tasked with “countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Most of its “special operations” on foreign soil are said to have been conducted inside Pakistan, in an effort to combat what the Indian government views as “state-sponsored terrorism” by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Its main tactical mission centered on targeting Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, said to have been behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But the TSD has now been disbanded following revelations that it used its mandate to spy on Indian politicians in New Delhi and the Indian province of Kashmir, whose political views on India’s relations with Pakistan were seen as too conciliatory. Read more of this post

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Will former US government informant face terror charges in India?

David HeadleyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former United States government informant, who helped an Islamist militant group plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. David Coleman Headley, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration informant, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2009 for helping to plot an attack by Islamist radicals on a Danish newspaper. It eventually became apparent that Headley had been a member of Pakistani militant group Lashkar e-Taiba and had also helped plan the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorist plot involved at least a dozen attacks on tourist and other civilian targets in India’s largest city, conducted by small cells of highly trained LeT members who had arrived from Pakistan by boat. The coordinated attacks, which began on November 26 and ended three days later, killed 164 and wounded over 300 people. According to the FBI, Headley, who was born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, took advantage of his Western manners and physique to travel to Mumbai posing as an American tourist, in order to help map out the LeT operation. On Thursday, a court in Chicago sentenced Headley to 35 years in prison. Prior to his sentencing, Headley had pleaded guilty to all 12 counts brought against him by US prosecutors and is said to be cooperating with authorities —which is reportedly why he was spared the death penalty. However, the question in the minds of many terrorism observers is, will Headley be extradited to India to face charges there for what is often referred to as ‘India’s 9/11’? The answer is not so simple. Read more of this post

US wants immunity for Pakistanis implicated in attacks that killed 166

2008 Mumbai attacksBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States government has argued in court that current and former officials of Pakistan’s intelligence service should be immune from prosecution in connection with the 2008 Mumbai attacks. At least 166 people, including 6 Americans, were killed and scores more were injured when members of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba stormed downtown Mumbai, India, taking the city hostage between November 26 and 29, 2008. The Indian government has openly accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) of complicity in the attack, which has been described as the most sophisticated international terrorist strike anywhere in the world during the last decade. Using evidence collected by the Indian government, several Americans who survived the bloody attacks sued the ISI in New York earlier this year for allegedly directing Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Mumbai strikes. But Stuart Delery, Principal Deputy Attorney General for the US Department of State, has told the court that the ISI and its senior officials are immune from prosecution on US soil under the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. According to the 12-page ‘Statement of Interest’ delivered to the court by Delery, no foreign nationals can be prosecuted in a US court for criminal actions they allegedly carried out while working in official capacities for a foreign government. The affidavit goes on to suggest that any attempt by a US court to assert American jurisdiction over current or former Pakistani government officials would be a blatant “intrusion on [Pakistan’s] sovereignty, in violation of international law”. It appears that nobody has notified the US Department of State that the US routinely “intrudes on Pakistan’s sovereignty” several times a week by using unmanned Predator drones to bomb suspected Taliban militants operating on Pakistani soil. Washington also “intruded on Pakistan’s sovereignty” on May 2, 2011, when it clandestinely sent troops to the town of Abbottabad to kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Read more of this post

Pakistani militant group ‘more dangerous than al-Qaeda': ex-CIA official

Bruce RiedelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former senior official of the United States Central Intelligence Agency has argued that al-Qaeda is no longer the most powerful group in the global Islamist insurgency. Writing in The Daily Beast earlier this month, Bruce Riedel, who served in the CIA for nearly 30 years prior to his retirement in 2006, warned that Lashkar e-Taiba is now “the most dangerous terror group in the world”. In his editorial, the former CIA analyst, who is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that LeT operates freely inside Pakistan and continues to have strong operational connections with the Pakistani armed forces and the country’s intelligence establishment. Since its founding in 1990, LeT’s traditional political aspiration has been to end Indian rule over the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir, and then integrate the latter with Pakistan. But the group’s aims appeared to expand significantly in November of 2008, when it sent ten heavily armed operatives to Mumbai on speedboats. Once they landed in India’s most populous city, the LeT operatives proceeded to strike nearly a dozen tourist-related targets in well-calculated suicide missions. By the end of the four-day terrorist spree, 166 people —including six Americans and many other Western tourists— had been killed. Riedel views the 2008 Mumbai strike as “the most significant and innovative terrorist attack since 9/11”, and says that it marked LeT’s maturation “from a Punjabi-based Pakistani terror group targeting India exclusively” to an outfit with a global outlook, “targeting the enemies of al Qaeda: the Crusader West, Zionist Israel, and Hindu India”. Today, nearly four years after the Mumbai attacks, LeT maintains a global presence, with active cells throughout the Middle East and Asia, and funding operations in North America, Australia and Europe, claims Riedel. Additionally, LeT does not appear to feel threatened by Washington. Read more of this post

French terrorist Merah planned attack on Indian embassy in Paris

Embassy of India in ParisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Mohamed Merah, the French Muslim who killed seven and injured five people in Toulouse last March, had planned to launch a massive attack on the Indian Embassy in Paris, according to new revelations. Merah was shot dead by French Special Forces on March 22, after killing three French Army personnel on March 15, and four civilians, including two children, on March 19. But according to French newspaper Le Monde, Merah had initially planned to attack the Indian embassy in Paris. Quoting sources from France’s Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI) and the Special Forces (RAID), the French daily says that Merah’s handlers in Pakistan had initially tasked him with attacking Indian diplomatic targets in the French capital. “That was the initial target assigned to him by the Taliban, who trained him for holy war […] in Pakistan during the summer of 2011”, a French intelligence source is quoted as saying in Le Monde. By “Taliban”, the source was most likely referring to Lashkar e-Taiba, one of Asia’s largest militant Islamist groups, which is waging a protracted war against the Indian state in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere. Most Lashkar e-Taiba training camps are located in Pakistan, where Merah, who was Algerian-born, traveled in the summer of 2011. However, the paper says that the DCRI, which is said to have employed Merah as an informant, had received prior warning of the plot, and had notified Indian officials, who in turn were able to beef-up security measures at the embassy. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #729 (intel blunder edition)

Alleged Venezuelan 'spy crossword'By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US drones ‘incidentally’ spy on Americans. A leaked US Air Force document stipulates that a drone that happens to capture surveillance images of Americans may store them for a period of 90 days. The paper appears to justify spying on citizens, as long as it is “incidental”. The document accepts that the Air Force may not record information non-consensually; however it does state: “collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent”. The report, dated April 23 was discovered by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists and has been put online.
►►Indian intel blunder sparks anger in Pakistan. India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence agency sparked outrage in Pakistan and self-deprecatory jokes in India itself last week, after it listed ordinary Pakistani shopkeepers as terrorists on a mission to attack some of India’s landmark institutions. RAW, which is considered India’s premier intelligence agency, issued an advisory to state governments in which it said that five trained militants from Pakistan’s banned Lashkar-e-Taiba group had sneaked into India with fake identities to attack a nuclear facility, oil refinery, seaport and defense academy. Within hours after photographs of the five men were released, a Pakistani television channel reported that two of the three men on the list were shopkeepers and one was a guard, all living in Lahore, and that none of them had ever left Pakistan.
►►Venezuelan spies face criticism over ‘crossword puzzle’ plot. Venezuelan government critics, and even some supporters, are ridiculing a Venezuelan state TV host’s allegation that a newspaper crossword puzzle may have had a hidden call for a plot to kill President Hugo Chavez’s elder brother. Intelligence agents questioned Neptali Segovia, the author of the puzzle, after state TV presenter Miguel Perez Pirela pointed out that Wednesday’s crossword contained the word “ASESINEN”, or kill, intersecting with the name of Chavez’s brother, “ADAN”. He noted they were below the word “RAFAGAS”, meaning either gusts of wind or bursts of gunfire.

Analysis: India’s spies keep tabs on political opponents, not terrorism

IB seal

IB seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
She is America’s rising ally in South Asia and is widely regarded as the world’s largest democracy. But India’s political system is highly chaotic and often repressive. This is aptly reflected in the operations of the Intelligence Bureau, India’s foremost domestic intelligence agency. One would think that the IB has its hands full with India’s countless domestic security concerns, which include increasingly popular and active Maoist insurgents, as well as mounting religious and political tensions in the predominantly Muslim states of Jammu and Kashmir, located in the country’s north. But one of India’s most respected English-language newspapers, The Hindu, cites “highly placed intelligence sources” who allege that most of the IB’s intelligence collection activities are targeted against the Indian government’s political opponents, not terrorism. According to the unnamed sources, “less than a third of the IB’s estimated 25,000-strong manpower [sic] is dedicated to what might be described as national security tasks”. Conversely, over two-thirds of the organization’s staff is reportedly tasked with “providing the government raw information and assessments on its increasingly bleak political prospects”, claims the paper. Examples of political policing by the IB include monitoring public meetings led by Rahul Gandhi, parliamentarian and leader of the National Congress, which is India’s main political opposition group. Another target of the IB’s alleged political policing campaign is anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, who has become internationally known for spearheading popular protests against government sleaze in New Delhi and elsewhere. According to The Hindu, intelligence on political figures is collected by the IB’s state-of-the-art communications interception systems, which were purchased from Western hardware manufacturers following the sophisticated 2009 Mumbai Attacks by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Read more of this post

Did US agencies fail to heed warnings of 2008 Mumbai attacks?

David Coleman Headley

David Headley

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
We have written before that the CIA alerted Indian authorities prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including six American citizens. The incident, which was perpetrated by Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, is routinely described as the most sophisticated and spectacular terrorist strike since 9/11.  But there are numerous questions about the complex relationship between the United States, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, which is widely believed to be protecting the terrorist group. Many of these questions center on David Coleman Headley, an American citizen, born in Washington, DC, who is currently in US custody, having confessed to helping plan the Mumbai attacks. According to Headley’s own court testimony, he worked for the ISI; moreover, despite early denials, the US government eventually admitted that Headley was a paid informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration. There is, however, intense speculation in India and Pakistan that Headley, who is of Pakistani background, is in fact a CIA agent-gone-rogue, who used his CIA connections to pursue his militant plans undisturbed (something with the CIA flatly denies). Such rumors are reinforced by the US authorities’ puzzling refusal to allow Indian government investigators of the Mumbai attacks access to Headley. The curious relationship between US intelligence agencies and David Headley has been probed by several media outlets, including The New York Times, which in March of 2010 pointed out that Headley “moved effortlessly between the United States, Pakistan and India for nearly seven years, training at a militant camp in Pakistan on five occasions”. Now a new documentary by investigative group ProPublica, which aired on Tuesday as part of PBS’ Frontline television series, has unearthed new information that shows US government agencies failed to heed “repeated warnings over seven years”, which might have helped prevent the Mumbai attacks. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #610

Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

►►Australian agency warns spy cells ‘lie in wait’. In its annual report, Australia’s intelligence service, the ASIO, warns that foreign powers may be recruiting sleeper agents in Australia to carry out sabotage in future conflicts. The report further notes that, despite the rise of cyberespionage, there has not been a marked reduction in the intensity of more traditional forms of espionage.
►►US frees convicted Cuban spy but debate rages on. Few topics illustrate the gulf in perception between the governments of Cuba and the United States like the case of the Cuban Five. The five Cuban agents were arrested in Florida in the 1990s and convicted on espionage charges. US federal prosecutors said the men were trying to spy on military installations. But Cuba’s government has long maintained the men were trying to monitor Miami-based exile groups that were planning attacks on the island nation.
►►Analysis: It’s time for the Pakistanis to pick a side. Former CIA operations officer Charles Faddis (pictured) argues that the US government needs to immediately designate Pakistan’s proxy army, the Haqqani network, as a terrorist organization. It has avoided taking that action for far too long and only because of crass political concerns, says Faddis, but the time has come to change course.

Pune attack tests India-Pakistan intelligence collaboration

The German Bakery, Pune, India

The attack target

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
There is intense speculation about a possible breakdown in Indian-Pakistani intelligence relations, following last week’s bomb attack in the Indian city of Pune, which killed at least nine and seriously injured close to 60 people.  The attack, which presents operational similarities with the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia, targeted The German Bakery, a popular restaurant in the town, on a Saturday night. It is perhaps worth noting that the bomb, which was concealed in a backpack under a restaurant table, exploded almost next door to the Osho Meditation Resort, which US authorities say was scouted as a potential Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT) soft target by David Headley. The American-born Headley was arrested by the FBI in October for having links to LeT. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0287

  • India still trying to get access to Headley. Congratulations to The New York Times, for managing to publish a feature-length article about the constant requests by Indian intelligence officials to interrogate David C. Headley, currently held in a US prison, without probing why the US is refusing to facilitate these requests. The American-born Headley was arrested in October for having links to Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. There are rumors in India and Pakistan that Headley is in fact a renegade CIA informant.
  • Spanish double agent sentenced to 12 years. Roberto Flórez García, a former employee of Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI), was arrested in September for giving classified documents to Russian intelligence, via Petr Melnikov, political attaché at the Russian Embassy in Madrid. This was Spain’s first treason conviction since returning to democracy in 1978 after decades of military dictatorship.

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News you may have missed #0269

  • LeT planning paraglide attacks in India? Indian intelligence officials suspect that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is planning another audacious strike on the country, this time from the air, using suicide bombers flying paragliders. The group is thought to have purchased 50 paragliding kits from Europe for this purpose.
  • Trial of double agent begins in Spain. The trial has begun in Spain of Roberto Flórez García, a former employee of Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI), who was arrested in September for giving classified documents to Russian intelligence, via Petr Melnikov, political attaché at the Russian Embassy in Madrid.

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Is Pakistani-American insurgent a rogue CIA agent?

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Earlier this month US authorities said they wouldn’t let an Indian intelligence team question Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, who was arrested by the FBI in October for plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. The Indians said they wanted to talk to Headley, born Daood Gillani, about his reported association with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group responsible for several high-profile attacks inside India. But US officials blamed “bureaucratic” and “procedural” hurdles for denying Indian investigators access to Headley. Considering the close security ties between Washington and New Delhi, intelligence observers were surprised by the US move. Why did the FBI bar Indian intelligence from questioning Headley? Some Indian commentators suggest an intriguing theory: that Headley may be “an undercover agent whom the [US] authorities are shielding from the media and the hapless Indian investigators who were told to take a hike when they came to [Washington to] interview [him]”. Read more of this post

Book claims CIA turned blind eye on Pakistan’s post-9/11 terror links

Jean-Louis Bruguiere

J.L. Bruguiere

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A new book by France’s former leading investigating magistrate on counterterrorism affairs alleges that the CIA allowed the Pakistani army to train members of a notorious Islamist militant group, even after 9/11. In the book, entitled Ce que je n’ai pas pu dire (The Things I Would Not Utter), Jean-Louis Bruguiere says the US spy agency was aware that Pakistani army trainers worked with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group responsible for a series of sophisticated strikes in India, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The former magistrate bases his allegations on official testimony provided by Willy Brigitte, a French citizen from Guadeloupe, who was arrested in Australia in 2003, in connection with Lashkar-e-Taiba activities there. Soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Brigitte traveled to Pakistan aiming to join the Taliban insurgency, but was unable to cross the Pakistani-Afghan border. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0180

  • UK spy tip led to Zazi arrest in New York. British spies tipped off their American counterparts to what has been described as “the most serious terrorist plot foiled in the US since 9/11″, which led to the recent arrest of Najibullah Zazi in New York.
  • US prevents Indian spies’ access to jailed Islamist. US authorities won’t let an Indian intelligence team question American Muslim David Coleman Headley, who was arrested last month for traveling to Denmark in order to plot an attack on a newspaper targeted by Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, because it published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Sources blamed “bureaucratic” and “procedural” hurdles. Hmmm…
  • Largest military deal in Israeli history taking shape. The largest defense deal in Israel’s history, the purchase of 25 F-35 stealth fighters, is advancing, as talks continue between Israel, the Pentagon, and Lockheed Martin.

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