South Korean lawmakers accuse North of helping Islamic State

Syria North KoreaA powerful South Korean parliamentary committee has accused the North Korean government of ties to the Islamic State, an allegation that is vehemently denied by Pyongyang. On November 18, members of the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly of Korea stated in a press conference that they believed North Korea had “possible ties to ISIS”. They were referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which calls itself Islamic State. On Monday, North Korea’s state-run media blasted the South Korean allegations as “slander and fabrications”, and said they threatened to derail collaboration efforts between Seoul and Pyongyang.

The North Korean website Uriminzokkiri, which provides content from the Korean Central News Agency, accused Seoul of “carelessly tossing around claims of connections to terrorist groups”, in order to bring the two neighboring countries “closer to war”. Tensions remain high in the Korean Peninsula, despite an agreement that was struck in August between the two sides. In the preceding months, Pyongyang had threatened to carry out all-out invasion of South Korea, accusing Seoul of harboring aggressive intentions against it. A report in Uriminzokkiri warned that the August agreement “would be undone” if the South persisted in alleging that North Korea provided assistance to ISIS.

It should be noted that the Intelligence Committee of South Korea’s National Assembly has not given evidence of its claims that Pyongyang is supporting ISIS. Additionally, the North Korean regime is believed to be a strong international ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a primary adversary of ISIS. The two countries have longstanding military and commercial ties. It is believed that North Korean technicians aided in the construction of Syria’s al-Kibar nuclear facility, which was bombed by Israeli jets in Operation ORCHARD in 2007. Today, North Korea is among a small number of countries that maintain fully staffed embassies in Syrian capital Damascus. In September of this year, the government of Syria dedicated a park in the capital to Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s late leader.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 November 2015 | Permalink

How are Ukrainian weapons ending up in the hands of ISIS?

Antiaircraft missileSignificant amounts of Ukrainian-manufactured weapons are ending up in the hands of the Islamic State, prompting accusations that Kiev may be arming the militant group in an effort to impair its regional foe Russia. Persisting rumors that Ukraine may be secretly arming the Islamic State —also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS— resurfaced last week, when authorities in Kuwait arrested six men suspected of working for the militant group. Among them was Osama Mohammed Saeed Khaiyat, a Syrian citizen of Lebanese background, who is believed to have traveled to Europe and the Middle East in search of weapons to be purchased by the Islamic State. Khaiyat, 45, allegedly told his captors that he has made several trips to Ukraine in the past, where he has purchased weapons and ammunition on behalf of the group. The weapons are purchased with cash, said Khaiyat, and are then delivered to Islamic State fighters in Syria through smuggling routes in the Black Sea and in Turkey.

As can be expected, Khaiyat’s revelations rekindled rumors that the government of Ukraine may be secretly funding the Islamic State, or may be turning a blind eye to secret dealings between weapons merchants and Islamic State arms procurers. The theory goes that Kiev is hoping that a well-armed Islamic State may be able to bog down Russian armed forces in Syria and thus distract Moscow from its military operations in eastern Ukraine. However, there is no proof that Ukraine’s state-owned Ukroboronprom weapons conglomerate, which oversees the country’s military–industrial complex, is the source of the weapons. It is worth noting that millions of weapons have been stolen from Ukrainian government depots since the start of the war in Donbass, and that weapons-smuggling has increased dramatically as a result. Moreover, Khaiyat told his Kuwaiti captors that FN-6 portable antiaircraft surface-to-air missiles were among the weapons he bought in Ukraine. The FN-6 is a Chinese-manufactured weapon, which has never been sold to the Ukrainian military. On the other hand, the Ukrainians could have purchased that weapon from the Chinese through a front-company, before supplying it to the black market.

Speaking to Russian news agency TASS, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military said on Friday that authorities in the former Soviet republic had no idea how the weapons were reaching the Islamic State. Vladislav Seleznyov, who speaks on behalf of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ General Staff, told TASS that Kiev had “not produced or purchased Chinese-designed antiaircraft missile systems”, nor had it “provided transit for their transportation” to Syria. He added that reporters “should turn to law enforcement agencies on this issue”, as the Ukrainian military had “nothing to report on this topic”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 November 2015 | Permalink

US to release Israeli spy after 30 years in prison

Jonathan PollardA United States Navy intelligence analyst, who has served 30 years of a life sentence for spying on America for Israel, is set to be freed on Friday. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, as one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, have pressured the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. There is intense speculation in Washington that Pollard is being released in order to quieten Israeli criticism of a recently struck international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

The Wall Street Journal published an article in July of this year, suggesting that the Obama administration was “preparing to release” Pollard. Citing unnamed US officials, the paper claimed Washington hoped that the move would “smooth [America’s] relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal”. The latter was signed last summer between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 nations, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The New York Times added to the speculation soon afterwards with a detailed front-page article, which confirmed that “some in Washington appeared to be highlighting” Pollard’s upcoming 30-year parole hearing in November. It added that the White House had been contemplating using Pollard’s release to appease, not only Tel Aviv, but also pro-Israel supporters in Congress, many of whom have campaigned for years in favor of Pollard’s release.

As intelNews reported back in July, Newsweek’s veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein responded to the news of Pollard’s release by posing an interesting question: when Pollard is released, will he have access to close to $1 million in spy wages that his Israeli handlers are reputed to have deposited for him in a Swiss bank account? In his article, Stein wondered whether Israel had continued to deposit $30,000 a year in Pollard’s reputed Swiss bank account, which is a standard practice for intelligence agencies. If the answer is yes, then the amount available today would be in the neighborhood of $1 million. If Pollard moves to Israel following his release on Friday, as many believe he will, will he then have access to the money he earned by spying on the US government as an unregistered agent of a foreign power? And if so, how should this be expected to affect the already rocky relations between Washington and Tel Aviv?

Stein quoted Pollard’s New York lawyer, Eliot Lauer, who called the rumors of a secret Swiss bank account “poppycock” and added that Pollard had “secured employment and housing […] in the New York area”. Additionally, there are some who speculate that Pollard may not be allowed to leave the US as part of the conditions of his parole. At this stage, however, nobody knows for sure.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 November 2015 | Permalink

In change of policy, Russia and US begin sharing intelligence with France

Hollande and PutinThe United States and Russia, which have traditionally been cautious about sharing Middle East-related intelligence with France, have both announced that they will begin giving classified information to Paris. On Wednesday, France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a press conference that intelligence shared by the US had been instrumental in enabling the French Air Force to intensify its air campaign against the Islamic State. Asked to respond to Drian’s comments, US Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook said that the US Armed Forces had indeed “increased intelligence-sharing with France”.

French officials described that development as a “change in the US position”. IntelNews readers will recall that the United States and France limited their intelligence cooperation last summer, after it emerged that the US had spied on the communications of three French presidents, from 1995 to 2012. Paris scaled back drastically its intelligence cooperation with Washington following subsequent revelations that the National Security Agency had targeted the personal cell phone of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

Also on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian Armed Forces stationed in Syria to treat their French counterparts “as allies”. Putin reportedly told the leadership of the Russian military in Syria that they “must establish direct contact with the French and work with them as with allies”. This is a significant development, given that Russia is one of the few countries that continues to maintain an active intelligence-collection program on the ground in Syria. Unlike the US, France, and most other Western states, Russia has not closed its embassy in Damascus and is thus able to run networks of human sources throughout the country. The news of increased Russian intelligence-sharing with France came as Moscow announced//announced// on Wednesday that it was stepping up intelligence-gathering throughout the Middle East, according to Andrei Kartapolov, a senior official in the Russian Army’s General Staff.

Meanwhile, an unnamed Moroccan security official told Reuters on Wednesday that intelligence shared by the Moroccan intelligence services with their French counterparts led to a raid in an apartment in Paris in connection with the November 13 attacks there. Two people were shot dead or committed suicide and seven others were arrested during Wednesday’s dramatic raid in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 November 2015 | Permalink

US defense contractors allegedly hired Russian computer programmers

PentagonTwo American firms contracted by the Department of Defense have settled a lawsuit accusing them of having hired Russian programmers based in Moscow to write computer code for classified systems. The hires allegedly occurred as part of a $613 million contract, which was awarded by the US Pentagon to Massachusetts-based Netcracker Technology Corporation and Virginia-based Computer Systems Corporation (CSC). The two companies were hired to write software for the US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), a Pentagon outfit that provides the US armed forces with secure real-time combat communications. But in 2011, contractor John C. Kingsley, who had a supervisory role in the project, notified the US government that the two companies had farmed out part of the contract’s coding duties to programmers in Moscow and other Russian cities.

If true, Kingsley’s allegations would mean that Netcracker and CSC were in violation of federal regulations, which specify that only American citizens with the appropriate security clearances should be employed to work on classified communications systems. A subsequent government investigation, which lasted four years, gave rise to a lawsuit against the two companies. The court was told that the code written by the Russian programmers had allowed the installation of “numerous viruses” on the communications systems of the Pentagon “on at least one occasion”. Witnesses also accused Netcracker and CSC of being guided mainly by greed, since it was able to save over 60% of wage costs by employing the Russian programmers.

Last week, the two companies chose to settle the case, by paying the government a combined fee of nearly $13 million in civil penalties. It is important to note, however, that they both deny the government’s accusations that they violated the terms of their federal contract. In statement issued last week, the companies stated that their decision reflected their belief that it was “in the best interest of all stakeholders to settle the matter”. A spokeswoman for the DISA told The Daily Beast that she could not comment on the case, because doing so would “compromise the Agency’s national security posture”. According to The Daily Beast, last week’s settlement does not prevent the Department of Justice from filing criminal charges against Netcracker and CSC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 November 2015 | Permalink | News tip: C.H.

UK, US see bomb behind downing of Russian airliner in Egypt

KogalymaviaInformation gathered by British and American intelligence agencies raises the possibility that a bomb may have brought down the Russian civilian airliner that crashed in Egypt last week. The Metrojet Airbus 321 left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, heading for St. Petersburg, Russia. But it crashed in the Sinai Peninsula less than 30 minutes after it took off, killing all 224 passengers and crew onboard, the vast majority of whom were Russian citizens.

Earlier this week, Russian airline Kogalymavia, which operated the flight, said its investigation indicated that an “external influence” was responsible for the airplane’s downing. On Wednesday, the British government appeared to confirm the company’s suspicions. Britain’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Philip Hammond, told a press conference in London that the British government’s Crisis Response Committee had concluded that there was “a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft”. He added that Whitehall was suspending effective immediately all flights operated by British carriers to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.

Soon after Hammond’s comments, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed American government official saying that the US had reached the “tentative conclusion” that Islamist militants in Sinai were responsible for planting the bomb on the Kogalymavia airplane. The Americans seem to have reached this conclusion based on intercepted communications messages from the Sinai region.

Egyptian officials have rejected claims that Islamist militants were behind the plane crash, and have criticized London’s decision to suspend all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh as unnecessary and premature. Experts in Russia have also said it is too early to draw formal conclusions about the crash. Meanwhile, the airplane’s flight data recorder has been recovered and will be analyzed by investigators in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2015 | Permalink

Boko Haram spy network is better than Nigerian state’s, says ex-Army chief

Boko Haram NigeriaA former Chief of Staff for the Nigerian Army has said that the intelligence capabilities of Islamist group Boko Haram are “100 percent better” than those of the Nigerian military and security agencies. The comments were made on Tuesday by Theophilus Danjuma, a retired lieutenant general in the Nigerian Army, who served as the Army’s chief of staff from 1975 to 1979. Danjuma was also minister of defense from 1999 to 2003, under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Speaking in the city of Sokoto, located in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northwest region, Danjuma claimed that Boko Haram insurgents relied on surveillance and intelligence-collection capabilities that were “far superior” to those of Nigeria’s state agencies.

Boko Haram is a Sunni Islamist group that is currently active in northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and northern Cameroon. The separatist group was founded in 2002 and has since launched an armed campaign aimed at establishing an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. In 2015, the group formally declared its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Sunni militant outfit that today controls much of Syria and northern Iraq. In response to the ascendancy of Boko Haram, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in several regions of northern Nigeria, which has since been extended to cover the entirety of the country’s predominantly Muslim regions. Nearly 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state, while over 2 million are estimated to have been internally displaced.

In the summer of 2014, Boko Haram gained control of Borno, Nigeria’s northernmost state, which borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The government of Nigeria responded with a full-scale military assault, with which which managed to regain control of most of Borno. In September of this year, the Nigerian military announced that it had captured or destroyed most of Boko Haram’s military bases in Borno. But Danjuma said on Tuesday that the war against Boko Haram is only now “entering its most critical stage”, as government forces are moving into territory previously controlled by the militant group. Instead of fighting government troops face-to-face, Boko Haram militants are “disappearing into the wider civilian population and “setting up sleeper cells” with the aim of “wreaking havoc on soft targets”, said the former defense minister.

In May of last year, intelNews cited reports claiming that the United States government was “not […] sharing raw intelligence data” on Boko Haram with the Nigerian state. It was believed at the time that the lack of intelligence-sharing between the US and Nigeria was due to concerns in Washington that the Nigerian military had been infiltrated by Boko Haram members and sympathizers. In 2013, the then-president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, admitted that the country’s security services had been compromised by Boko Haram agents.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 November 2015 | Permalink


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