More documents emerge on CIA effort to salvage Soviet submarine

Project AZORIANBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
New documents have emerged about a massive effort by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1970s. This blog has written before about Project AZORIAN, a 1974 attempt to recover a Soviet submarine in 5,200 meters of water. The initiative cost the CIA over $800 million, which translates to something like $3 billion in today’s prices. It centered on an effort to salvage K-129, a Soviet Golf II class submarine that had suffered an internal explosion while on a routine patrol mission in the Pacific Ocean, in 1968. The explosion caused the vessel to sink along with the three nuclear ballistic missiles it was carrying and nearly 100 crew members, all of whom died in the incident. The Soviets initiated an immediate frantic effort to recover the vessel but gave up after two months, unable to bring it to the surface. After the Soviets abandoned the site, a number of CIA scientists proposed to undertake an American effort to recover the sunken submarine. This, they suggested, would allow Washington to study the design features of Soviet nuclear warheads, as well as obtain cryptographic hardware that could prove useful in deciphering Soviet naval codes. This prompted the launch of Project AZORIAN, which commenced in 1974, once the Agency secured the necessary funds. As we have indicated before, the recovery team nearly caused a nuclear explosion when the submarine split while being raised, and its body hit the ocean floor. The CIA prepared to enter a new phase of the project in 1975, aimed at launching a second attempt to raise the sunken vessel. But the attempt was cancelled when vague snippets of information about the project were leaked to the press. Nothing more emerged until 2010, when the CIA aired a heavily redacted article about the project, which had originally appeared in the 1980s in Studies in Intelligence, the Agency’s in-house publication. Now, however, intelligence historians are able to rely on 200 pages of mostly fresh information on Project AZORIAN, released under the US Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) program. Read more of this post

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Spy equipment discovered near Russian military base in Syria

One of the fake rocks on Al-Nami islandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Sophisticated intelligence-collection devices hidden inside faux boulders have been discovered on an island situated across from a Russian naval base in Syria. The devices were found on Al-Naml, an uninhabited islet of only 150 square meters, which overlooks the Syrian port of Tartus, site of a major Russian naval military facility. According to Al-Manar, a satellite television station affiliated with the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, the fake boulders were carefully placed on Al-Naml by Israeli commandos during a nighttime operation. Television images showed a system of satellite dishes and cameras, which appear to be connected to custom-made batteries via a series of cables. The imitation boulders, which conceal the electronic surveillance devices, seem to have been carefully designed in order to blend in with the surrounding rocks and brushes on Al-Nami. Al-Manar said on its website that at least three such devices were “discovered by local fishermen”. It added that the camouflaged contraptions appear to be aimed at tracking the movements of Russian vessels sailing to and from Tartus. Moreover, the devices appear to be capable of transmitting pictures of vessels to Israel in real time, via satellite. The naval base at Tartus was first leased to the Soviet Navy by the Syrian government in 1971. In response, the Kremlin forgave a multi-billion dollar debt owed by Damascus. Today, Tartus constitutes Russia’s sole military facility situated outside the regions of the former Soviet Union. It is also Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean, and many strategic analysts consider it as the primary geopolitical justification behind Moscow’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Read more of this post

Taiwan arrests eight military officers for spying for China

China and TaiwanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Taiwan have announced the arrest at least eight current and former military officers on suspicion of conducting espionage on behalf of China. The eight are accused of leaking Taiwanese military secrets to Beijing, in a case that some Taiwanese legislators described yesterday as one of the most serious instances of espionage in the island’s history. According to official statements issued yesterday, the person in charge of the alleged spy ring appears to be Lieutenant Colonel Chang Chin-hsin, who until his retirement earlier this year was charge of political warfare at the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) Office. Based outside of Taipei, METOC is in charge of producing mapping data for use by Taiwan’s naval forces, including cartographic manuals used by Taiwanese warships and submarines guarding the Taiwanese coastline. Taiwanese authorities allege that Chang “initiated contacts” with Chinese mainland officials while still serving in the Taiwanese Navy. Following his recruitment, Chang gradually enlisted several other members of the Taiwanese military by offering hefty monetary bribes in exchange for military secrets. Taipei authorities claim that they found out about Chang’s espionage activities in March of this year, and that Taiwan’s Military Prosecutors Office gathered evidence against him before he was able to seriously compromise national security. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #760

Aleksei DressenBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►Turkey breaks up major military espionage ring. Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported on July 9 that 51 active-duty soldiers from over twelve cities have been implicated in a major espionage ring involving Turkey’s military. Following a series of raids on July 7, at least 40 people were detained and four others were taken into custody. The raids were in response to an investigation launched in 2009, regarding warcraft radar locations in Turkey, illegal surveillance, as well as wiretapping of military officers.
►►Taiwan navy misplaces classified naval charts. During the decommissioning last June of Taiwan’s Hai Ou missile boats, classified naval charts were discovered to have gone missing during a final inventory check. The Taipei Times reports that the individual officer tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding the charts in question claimed to have burned one by accident, but was unable to account for the second chart. The classified charts contained information on Taiwanese naval activity including deployments in the Taiwan Strait.
►►Estonia security official and wife jailed for treason. Aleksei Dressen, a former security official at Estonia’s Interior Ministry, and his wife, Viktoria, were both convicted of treason, receiving 16 years and 6 years respectively. During a closed trial the proceedings did not provide direct evidence as to whom Dressen and his wife were working for. However, reports indicate that Dressen’s handlers were most likely representatives of Russia’s FSB.  The prosecution alleged that Dressen brought classified state secrets from the Estonian Interior Ministry to the airport in an envelope and then passed them along to his wife, who acted as a courier to Russian handlers. Heili Sepp, the Estonian prosecutor, indicated that the sentencing of the Dressens was part of a plea bargain effort, noting: “To our knowledge, this is the harshest punishment meted out in plea bargain proceedings in Estonia”.

New Gaza flotilla organizers accuse Mossad of sabotaging ships

Gaza Freedom Flotilla raid

2010 Flotilla raid

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
International organizers of a new fleet of ships that is preparing to sail for the Gaza strip, in a bid to challenge the Israeli embargo, have accused Israeli intelligence services of secretly sabotaging two of the vessels. The first announcement emerged on Tuesday from the crew of the Juliano, a Swedish/Norwegian ship harbored in Piraeus, Greece. The organizers, who said that their technicians had documented the results of the sabotage on video, claimed in a statement that “hostile divers had destroyed the [ship’s] propeller house and cut the propeller shaft”. A day later, Irish organizers onboard the MV Saoirse, which is currently docked in Turkey, told Reuters that the vessel experienced major technical damage as it was sailing for refueling to the harbor town of Göcek. The ship was eventually inspected by a marine engineer, who confirmed that it had been sabotaged. Speaking to Irish media, former Irish rugby international Paul Trevor Hogan, who is one of the activists onboard the MV Saoirse, said the damage was “identical [to that of] the Swedish boat and you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out who is behind this”. Another member of the ship’s crew, Irish Member of the European Parliament Paul Murphy, called on the government in Dublin to expel the Israeli ambassador to the country. Read more of this post

Location of massive Israeli eavesdropping site uncovered

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An author and investigative journalist from New Zealand has uncovered one of the world’s biggest government-sponsored eavesdropping sites in a desert in Israel. Writing in French monthly review Le Monde Diplomatique, Nicky Hager reveals that the site acts as a base for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, also known as Unit 8200, which is responsible for collecting and decrypting signals intelligence. In his article, written in French, Hager describes the base as one of the world’s largest, and says it is located near the Urim kibbutz, about 30 kilometers west of Beersheba, in Israel’s Negev desert region. Read more of this post

Analysis: The limits of Israeli espionage

Ronen Bergman

Ronen Bergman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman (The Secret War with Iran) has written an editorial in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he argues that Israel’s espionage successes in recent years have failed to bring about significant changes on the strategic level. Bergman briefly recounts the significant post-9/11 reforms in Israeli intelligence, most notably the appointment of Meir Dagan as the director of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. Dagan has “created a new Mossad”, argues Bergman, one that is more narrowly focused in its operations, and more collaborative with foreign intelligence agencies –notably American, Jordanian, Turkish and Indian. This shift in focus and tactics has undeniably helped Israel score some significant espionage victories, including the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah in Beirut, Lebanon; the seizure of several ships carrying Iranian and Syrian weapons to Hezbollah; as well as the more recent assassination of Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0289

  • UK spies worry about human rights lawsuits. Intelligence officers at Britain’s MI5 and MI6 are allegedly being diverted from counter-terrorism work to sift through thousands of documents relating to former terrorism detainees, who are suing the security services for breaching their human rights. The article makes it look like it is the torture victims’ fault for pursuing their rights. But in reality, MI5 and MI6 should have known better than to allow and participate in extralegal torture.
  • Bangladesh arrests alleged Burmese spies. Bangladesh coast guards have arrested eight citizens of Myanmar on suspicion of spying. Photographs of Bangladesh Navy warships and security installations were found in their possession, according to the country’s police chief.

CIA declassifies controversial submarine recovery project

Glomar Explorer

Glomar Explorer

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
I have written before about the CIA’s controversial 1974 project to recover a Soviet submarine that had sunk in 1968, in 17,000 feet of water, about 750 miles northwest of Hawaii. The project involved the infamous ship Hughes Glomar Explorer and was led by CIA agent Christopher Fitzgerald, who died last year. But the CIA recovery team nearly caused a nuclear explosion when the submarine split while being raised, and its body hit the ocean floor. Now the CIA has for the first time declassified a substantial document relating to the project, codenamed AZORIAN. The document is a lengthy article first published in 1985 in the mostly classified CIA research journal Studies in Intelligence, written by an unnamed CIA team member who participated in the recovery effort. Read more of this post

US court upholds NSA’s refusal to admit or deny wiretap data

Glomar Challenger

The Glomar

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A US federal appeals court has concluded that the National Security Agency can refuse to admit or deny it possesses information about the US government spying on lawyers representing Guantánamo prison detainees. The decision by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York relates to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request under a civil liberties lawsuit challenging post-9/11 warrantless surveillance operations by US agencies. The latter typically respond to most FOIA requests by confirming or denying possession of information relating to particular requests, and then by proceeding to either deny release, or release selected segments of the requested data. It is rare for an agency to refuse even to acknowledge the existence of information sought through FOIA. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0177

  • TV footage shows Afghan insurgents with US ammo. Television footage broadcast Tuesday in Kabul showed Afghan insurgents handling what appears to be US ammunition, in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan that American forces left last month following a deadly firefight that killed eight US troops.
  • US formally accuses Iran of weapons sales to Hezbollah. The US has accused Iran of illicit arms deliveries to Lebanese Hezbollah during a session of the UN Security Council, endorsing charges by Israel following its seizure of a German ship in the Mediterranean last week.
  • Finnish union spokesman was Stasi informant, says paper. Riitta Juntunen, spokeswoman at the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), worked for the Stasi, the former East German ministry of state security, Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet reported on Monday.

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US prevented Israel from bombing arms ship, says paper

The Francop

The Francop

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Israel wanted to bomb a German cargo ship, which allegedly carried tons of weapons from Syria and Iran to Lebanon, but the plan was “rejected” by US intelligence, according to a London-based Arabic-language newspaper. An article in last Friday’s Asharq Alawsat appears to confirm earlier speculation that the ship, which was seized by Israeli commandos in a predawn raid on Wednesday off the coast of Cyprus, was first brought to the Israelis’ attention by US intelligence agencies on October 18. The newspaper alleges that the raid by Israeli commandos took place only after the US rejected an Israeli suggestion to bomb the ship while it was sailing through the Red Sea. An air attack on the cargo ship, named Francop, would have undoubtedly caused a multinational diplomatic episode. The vessel is reportedly German, leased by Greek-Cypriot charter company UFS Shipping International, and was sailing under the flag of Antigua & Barbuda, with an Egyptian crew and a Polish captain. Read more of this post

Israeli commandos seize ship allegedly carrying tons of weapons

Israeli commandos

Israeli commandos

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A ship apprehended off the coast of Cyprus by Israeli commandos in a predawn raid on Wednesday was carrying hundreds of tons of weapons, according to the Israeli Navy. Israeli military officials told a press conference in Tel Aviv that the ship was loaded with “40 containers filled with 300 tons of weapons each”, hidden under several rows of civilian goods. Israel insisted that the weapons, which include missiles and rockets, originated from Iran and Syria and were bound for Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamic political and paramilitary organization that controls large parts of Lebanon. But the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, called the Israeli commandos “pirates” and said the seized ship was heading from Syria to Iran, carrying only civilian goods. Israel has yet to release evidence of the ship’s contents, or even name. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0140

  • CIA Intellipedia gurus get Homeland Security Medal. Don Burke and Sean Dennehy, the CIA agents behind Intellipedia, have been awarded a medal for “promoting and expanding information-sharing in the Intelligence Community”. As intelNews noted last August, Intellipedia, the intelligence community’s version of Wikipedia, has grown markedly since its formal launch in 2006. It now averages more than 15,000 edits per day and is home to 900,000 pages and 100,000 user accounts.
  • Cuban Five resentencing delayed. A US federal judge has accepted requests from the lawyers of Antonio Guerrero, a member of the Cuban Five spy ring, to delay their resentencing, after the US government refused to turn over any national security damage assessments in the case. Washington accuses the Five of spying on the US for Cuba. But an appeals court ruled earlier this year that the sentences they received (ranging from 19 years to life) were too long. It appears that Guerrero’s sentence will be reduced from life to 20 years behind bars.
  • Was Christopher Columbus a spy? An independent researcher is raising eyebrows by suggesting that Columbus was a Portuguese spy who knew exactly what he was doing when he supposedly “got lost” in the Atlantic in 1492.

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News you may have missed #0110

  • So, was it pirates or Israeli spies that intercepted a ship carrying Russian missiles? Several observers are beginning to think that Israeli intelligence intercepted or was otherwise involved in the interception of the Arctic Sea, a Russian ship that reportedly carried Russian missiles destined for either Iran or Hezbollah.
  • Trial of accused Palestinian spy begins in Israel. Rawi Sultani is accused of having informed Hezbollah of his membership in the same fitness club as the head of Israel’s military forces, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, in the town of Kfar Saba, as well methods of access into the club. Sultani says that the whole case is nonsense and that he doesn’t even know what Ashkenazi looks like.
  • Czech spies see Russians behind antiwar group’s actions. The Czech Security Information Service (BIS) is monitoring a billboard agency, which has given free advertising space to an antiwar group opposing the country’s participation in US missile defense shield plans. The US announced on Thursday that it plans to abandon the plans. Newspaper Aktuálně reported that BIS suspects Russian involvement. People in the Czech Republic are incapable of opposing US missile shield plans without Russian prompting, it appears.

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