Senior Islamic State fighters are relocating to Libya, says official

ISIS LibyaSenior members of the Islamic State are moving from Syria and Iraq to Libya, according to a Libyan intelligence official who spoke to the BBC. Since 2014 and the outbreak of the Second Libyan Civil War, the North African country has been engulfed in a multipolar struggle for dominance between rival armed groups and alliances. Among them is Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of former al-Qaeda-linked militants, ethnic Berbers, members of the pro-Egypt Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the al-Shorooq Force, an Islamist militia from Libya’s northwestern coastal city of Misrata. Libya Dawn troops have been engaged in ground-combat against Islamic State forces, which currently control Libya’s north-central coastal region.

The area ruled by the Islamic State includes the cities of Bin Jawad and Sirte —the latter being the birthplace of Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi. Some believe that loyalists of Gaddafi’s regime in Sirte, including members of his extended family, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and are actively supporting the militant group. Meanwhile, the armed factions that surround the territory controlled by the Islamic State, which include the Tobruk-headquartered Libyan National Army, are at war with each other as much as with the Islamic State itself.

On Wednesday, Ismail Shukri, head of intelligence for Libya Dawn in Misrata, spoke on BBC television’s flagship current-affairs program Newsnight about the current status of Islamic State forces in northern Libya. He told the program that his informants in Islamic State-controlled territory were reporting “an influx of foreign fighters” from Iraq and Syria. The majority of the settlers had arrived “in recent months”, said Shukri, and were located in Sirte. They appeared to be senior Islamic State military and civilian officials, who had “long-term importance to the Islamic State”. When asked why these Islamic State members were pouring into Libya, Shukri said they viewed the North African country “as a safe haven” and were relocating there in order to escape the military offensive by international forces in Iraq and Syria. Shukri told the BBC that nearly three out of four foreign Islamic State members in Sirte were from Tunisia, with remaining numbers consisting of Egyptian, Algerian and Sudanese citizens. There were also several Syrians and members of Iraq’s Baathist armed forces during the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said.

Rumors have circulated for several months that Libya Dawn forces are preparing a major ground offensive against the Islamic State. There are also reports that Western countries are engaged in negotiations with groups fighting the Islamic State in Libya, over the possibility of providing intelligence support and air cover for a ground assault. However, Shukri refused to speculate about future military campaigns.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 February 2016 | Permalink

Joint British-American operation hacked Israeli drones, documents show

RAF base CyprusBritish and American intelligence services worked together to hack Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles in order to acquire information on the Jewish state’s military intentions in the Middle East, according to documents leaked last week. Online publication The Intercept, said the operation was code-named ANARCHIST and was a joint project of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). The publication said it acquired documents about the operation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia in 2013 and was offered political asylum by Moscow.

In an article published on Thursday, The Intercept said the joint GCHQ-NSA operation was headquartered in a Royal Air Force military facility high on the Troodos Mountains in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The documents provided by Snowden suggest that British and American spies were able to collect footage captured by the Israeli drone for at least two years, namely in 2009 and 2010. It is not clear whether that period included the first three weeks of January 2009, when the Gaza War was fought between Israel and Hamas. During that time, there were persistent rumors that Tel Aviv was seriously considering launching air strikes against Iran.

According to The Intercept, the main goal of operation ANARCHIST was to collect information about Israeli “military operations in Gaza” and watch “for a potential strike against Iran”. Additionally, the UK-US spy program “kept tabs on the drone technology Israel exports around the world”, said the article. According to one GCHQ document cited by The Intercept, the access to Israeli drone data gained through ANARCHIST was “indispensable for maintaining an understanding of Israeli military training and operations”.

Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio on Friday, Israel’s Minister for National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Yuval Steinitz, said he was not surprised by the revelations. “We know that the Americans are spying on the whole world, including their friends”, said Steinitz. But it was “disappointing”, he said, given that Israel had “not spied” on the US “for decades”. Israeli intelligence agencies had “not collected intelligence or attempted to crack the encryption of the United States”, said the Minister, implying that recent revelations of US spying on Israel may cause a change of strategy in Israeli intelligence policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2016 | Permalink

Canada stops sharing intelligence with Five Eyes partners over data breach

CSE CanadaCanada says it will stop sharing certain types of intelligence with some of its closest international allies until it ensures that Canadian citizens’ information is not included in the data given to foreign spy agencies. The announcement follows an official admission, made earlier this week, that a Canadian intelligence agency failed to remove Canadian citizens’ data from information it shared with member-agencies of the so-called Five Eyes Agreement. The pact, which is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement, has been in existence since World War II. It provides a multilateral framework for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

On Thursday, the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, published a report on the activities of the CSE —the country’s primary SIGINT agency. The document, which is published annually by the Commissioner, states that the majority of the CSE’s SIGINT collection activities took place in accordance with Canadian law. However, the report found that some of the data shared by CSE with its Five Eyes partners contained data that could potentially be used to identify the identities of Canadian citizens. According to Canadian law, the CSE is not allowed to specifically target the communications of —or information about— Canadian citizens or Canadian companies. Moreover, information pertaining to those, which may be indirectly collected in the course of legitimate targeting of foreign citizens, is supposed to be immediately purged by CSE collection staff.

However, the Commissioner’s report found that some metadata —namely information pertaining to communications other than their content— that could be used to identify Canadian citizens had been shared by the CSE with Five Eyes spy agencies. Later on Thursday, Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of Defense, announced that SIGINT intelligence-sharing would be suspended until the metadata breach identified in the Commissioner’s report could be adequately addressed and corrected. Minister Sajjan said the roots of the breach had to do with “technical deficiencies” at the CSE, but added that it was crucial that the privacy of Canadians was protected. Therefore, he said, the spy agency would “not resume sharing this information with our partners” until he was “fully satisfied” that the proper control systems were in place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 January 2016 | Permalink

Spy charges for journalists who claimed Turkey arms Syrian Islamists

Can Dündar Erdem GülTwo leading Turkish journalists, who claimed in a series of articles that Ankara has been arming militant Islamists in Syria, are facing espionage charges for “airing Turkish state secrets”. The two, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, work for Cumhuriyet, (The Republic), Turkey’s oldest newspaper, which typically voices staunchly secularist views representing the center-left of the political spectrum. Last year Dündar, who is the paper’s editor, and Gül, who serves as the paper’s bureau chief in Ankara, published a series of articles claiming that the Turkish government was secretly supporting Salafi Jihadist groups in Syria.

In the articles, Dündar and Gül alleged that a convoy of trucks had been intercepted on its way from Turkey to Syria. According to the two reporters, the trucks were transporting large quantities of weapons and ammunition to Syrian rebels as part of a secret operation conducted by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Turkey’s main spy agency. But the MİT had not shared details of the operation with Turkish police, which promptly stopped the vehicles, searched them and found them to be “loaded with weapons” and ammunition, according to Cumhuriyet. The paper also published video footage showing the alleged MİT trucks.

When the story was published, it caused major ripples in Turkish political life and prompted the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to issue official denials directed against the paper’s accusations. Government spokespeople claimed that the captured trucks contained humanitarian assistance, and not weapons. Later, however, Turkish officials admitted that the trucks were indeed carrying weapons, but that they were destined for Turkmen guerrillas operating in Syrian territory. President Erdoğan, however, was furious with Cumhuriyet and warned the paper’s investigative reporters that they would “pay a heavy price” for revealing state secrets.

The two reporters were arrested in November of last year and have since been held in detention. On Wednesday, state prosecutors charged Dündar and Gül with espionage, attempting to topple the Turkish government by force, and supporting terrorism. Interestingly, the main plaintiffs in the case are President Erdogan and Hakan Fidan, the director of MİT. If found guilty, the two Cumhuriyet journalists will face up to life in prison.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 January 2016 | Permalink

Ex-KGB spy accused of Litvinenko murder says MI6 tried to recruit him

Andrei Lugovoi A Russian former intelligence officer, who is accused by the British government of having killed another Russian former spy in London, said the British intelligence services tried to recruit him in 2006. British government prosecutors have charged Andrei Lugovoi with the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, a former employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor agencies, the FSB. In 2006, Litvinenko died in London, where he had defected with his family in 2000, following exposure to the highly radioactive substance Polonium-210. In July of 2007, the British government charged Lugovoi and another Russian, Dmitri Kovtun, with the murder of Litvinenko, and expelled four Russian diplomats from London. Last week, following the conclusion of an official inquest into the former KGB spy’s death, the British government took the unusual step of summoning the Russian ambassador to London, to file an official complaint about Moscow’s refusal to extradite Lugovoi and Kovtun to the United Kingdom.

But Lugovoi, who is now a member of the Russian Duma, denies any involvement in Litvinenko’s murder and has dismissed as “completely absurd” the inquest’s conclusion that he was behind the killing. Speaking last week on Russian television, Lugovoi reiterated his criticism of the report and claimed British intelligence had tried to recruit him shortly before Litvinenko’s murder. The Duma member was a guest on This Evening, a high-profile talk show on Russia’s Channel 1 television, hosted by Vladimir Sovolyev, a popular television personality and talk show host. Lugovoi told Sovolyev that he found it interesting that the British government “was always happy to grant me visas” to travel to the UK, even though London knew he was a former KGB spy. “Then, in May of 2006”, approximately six months before Litvinenko was killed, “MI6 tried to recruit me”, he added. He was referring to the Secret Intelligence Service, Britain’s primary external intelligence organization.

The former KGB officer then reiterated his longstanding argument that he and Kovtun were also poisoned by the same Polonium given to Litvinenko by the person or persons who killed him. He told Sovolyev that, after meeting Litvinenko in London a few days before his death, he fell violently ill and had to spend several months in a Russian hospital recovering from radiation poisoning. Lugovoi also hinted that the British government may have killed Litvinenko for reasons of its own. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on Lugovoi’s statement, but said in a press release that London’s accusations against the two former spies were “politically motivated” and “non-transparent”. The UK maintains that Lugovoi and Kovtun fell ill because they did not handle the Polonium given to them by their handlers with the appropriate amount of care.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 January 2016 | Permalink

Switzerland made secret deal with PLO in the 1970s, new book alleges

Yasser ArafatSwitzerland secretly agreed in the 1970s to support calls for Palestinian statehood, in return for not being targeted by Palestinian militants, according to a new book. Written by Marcel Gyr, a journalist with the Zurich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the book alleges that the Swiss government took the unprecedented step of contacting Palestinian militants in 1970. According to Gyr, the move followed a series of attacks against Israeli targets in Switzerland by several Palestinian armed groups. In February 1969, Palestinian militants fired on an El Al airliner at Zurich’s Kloten Airport, killing the pilot. A year later, a Swissair Flight 330 from Zurich to Hong Kong with a stopover In Tel Aviv, Israel, exploded in mid-air, killing nearly 50 passengers and crew. The Syrian-backed Palestinian group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) later claimed responsibility for the attack. In September 1970 another Swissair flight, headed to the United States, was hijacked and diverted to Jordan, where its passengers were held hostage.

It was during the latter incident, claims Gyr, that Switzerland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Graber, clandestinely contacted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella group that coordinated the activities of a multitude of Palestinian armed groups. Gyr alleges that Graber reached out to the PLO without informing his colleagues in the cabinet, and that he used a junior Swiss parliamentarian as an envoy and intermediary. Eventually, the PLO, which at the time was led by Yasser Arafat, agreed to release the hostages. He also offered to stop launching armed attacks, hijackings, and other violent operations on Swiss soil. In return, claims Gyr, Switzerland would agree to quietly abandon the investigation into the bombing of Swissair Flight 330, and to push for diplomatic recognition of the PLO as the legal representative of the Palestinian people.

Gyr claims that both sides kept their side of the bargain. The Swiss government gradually abandoned the investigation into the bombing of Swissair Flight 330. The country also led European efforts to offer diplomatic status to the PLO. Meanwhile, although the war between the PLO and Israel continued throughout Europe, no Palestinian attacks ever took place again on Swiss soil. Responding to Gyr’s book, Switzerland’s current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter, said he had no idea about the secret agreement and that he was “very surprised indeed” to know about it. Some Swiss political figures have asked for the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry to investigate Gyr’s allegations. It is unclear whether such a committee would have access to hundreds of thousands of pages about the Palestinian attacks in Switzerland, which today remain classified.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2016 | Permalink

Britain summons Russian envoy to protest killing of ex-KGB spy in London

Sir Robert OwenThe British government has taken the unusual step of summoning the Russian ambassador to London, following the conclusion of an official inquest into the death of a former KGB officer who is believed to have been killed on the orders of Moscow. Alexander Litvinenko, an employee of the Soviet KGB and one of its successor organizations, the FSB, defected with his family to the United Kingdom in 2000. But in 2006, he died of radioactive poisoning after meeting two former KGB/FSB colleagues, Dmitri Kovtun and Andrey Lugovoy, in London. A public inquiry into the death of Litvinenko, ordered by the British state, concluded this week after six months of deliberations involving sworn testimony by over 60 witnesses, including British intelligence officers who worked closely with Litvinenko.

In releasing the inquiry report, the presiding judge, Sir Robert Owen, said it was clear that Kovtun and Lugovoi “were acting on behalf of someone else” when they killed their former colleague in London. He added that members of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the Russian president himself, had “motives for taking action” against Litvinenko, “including killing him”. Moreover, President Putin’s systematic protection of Lugovoi, the primary suspect in the case, whom Russia currently refuses to extradite to the UK, “suggest a level of approval for the killing” at the highest levels of the Russian government, said Sir Robert.

Speaking during a session in the British House of Commons on Thursday, the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May described Litvinenko’s killing as “a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and civilized behavior”. On the same day, David Lidington, a Minister of state at the British Foreign Office, who currently serves as the country’s Minister for Europe, summoned the Russian Ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, to file an official protest against Litvinenko’s murder. Meanwhile, the British state has moved to freeze the assets of the two main suspects in the case, while British Prime Minister David Cameron said further punitive measures against Russia were possible. Speaking to reporters in Davos, Switzerland, where he is participating in the World Economic Forum, Cameron said Britain wanted to have “some sort of relationship” with the Kremlin in light of the situation in Syria. But Whitehall would “look very carefully at the report and all the detail” and would proceed “with clear eyes and a very cold heart”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 January 2016 | Permalink

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