Leaked document confirms Israel was behind Syrian official’s killing

Tartus, SyriaA leaked document from an American intelligence agency appears to confirm that Israeli commandos were behind the assassination of a top Syrian government official, who was shot dead outside his luxury villa on the Syrian coast in 2008. Muhammad Suleiman had been a close aide of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even before the latter rose to power in 2000. Once al-Assad became ruler of Syria, Suleiman was appointed special presidential advisor in the areas of arms procurement and strategic weapons. He handled intelligence affairs for the Assad regime and he was involved in weapons transfers from Iran to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, while also helping train Hezbollah operatives. He was also rumored to have a senior administrative role in the Syrian nuclear weapons program.

On August 1, 2008, Suleiman was shot dead with bullet wounds to the head and neck fired from a silenced rifle. He was shot as he was hosting a party on the beach behind his luxury villa at the Rimal al Zahabiya (Golden Sands) resort area, located to the north of the Mediterranean port city of Taurus. The assassins are believed to have fired the shots from a yacht, which was seen rapidly sailing away from Rimal al Zahabiya moments after the shooting. Most observers put the blame squarely on Israel. In 2009, an investigative report by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said Israel had killed Suleiman due to his leading role in Syria’s nuclear program. However, a cable released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks in 2011 revealed that French intelligence analysts believed Suleiman had been killed as a result of a bloody power struggle within the Assad regime. These have been the two leading theories behind Suleiman’s mysterious killing.

On Wednesday, however, a document authored by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) was leaked, which shows that American intelligence analysts are certain that Israeli commandos were behind Suleiman’s assassination. The document was leaded by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia in 2013. It comes from Intellipedia, the US Intelligence community’s classified version of Wikipedia, which was formally launched in 2006. It describes Suleiman’s killing as an operation carried out by “Israeli naval commandos” and calls it “the first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate [foreign] government official”. According to The Intercept, which published the leak, the Intellipedia document is labeled “SI”, which means that the information contained in it was not voluntarily shared with the US by Israel, but was rather acquired through the interception of electronic signals.

If the leaked document is accurate, it would mark the first confirmation by a government agency that Israel was indeed behind Suleiman’s assassination. The Intercept contacted the NSA and the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel. However, neither party responded to several requests for comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/16/01-1736/

Calls in France to offer asylum, citizenship, to Snowden and Assange

Assange and SnowdenLeaders from all sides of the French political spectrum urged the French government on Thursday to offer political asylum, and even French citizenship, to the American defector Edward Snowden and to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The calls were made in response to news earlier this week that the United States National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of three French presidents from the 1990s to at least 2012. The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what the website described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. As intelNews predicted on Wednesday, the French government’s response to the revelations has been relatively muted. But many French politicians, including one minister in the government of French President Francois Hollande, called for Paris to extend offers of political asylum, and even French citizenship, to Assange and Snowden.

The initial call was issued by Laurent Joffrin, the influential managing editor of Libération, the Paris-based newspaper that partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA documents earlier this week. In a leading editorial published in the paper on Thursday, Joffrin said that French protests against NSA spying “have no more effect than scolding a rude toddler”, and added that by offering asylum to Snowden, France would “stand up [to America] and send a clear and effective message to Washington”.

Shortly after Joffrin’s editorial, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in the French Parliament, said that France should have given Snowden political asylum back in 2013, when he originally requested it. Lagarde was quoted in the French press as saying that “the French nation has already been dishonored by refusing to accept Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum when he asked for it in 2013”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist member of the European Parliament, agreed with Lagarde, adding that Assange and Snowden must not only receive political asylum in France, but also be given “the French nationality”.

On Thursday afternoon, Jean-Pierre Mignard, a close friend and longtime political advisor to President Hollande, said that “given the service they have rendered to the cause of human freedom, France could accommodate a request for asylum from Assange and Snowden, should they request it”. Mignard added that “French law allows the Republic to grant asylum to any foreign subject who faces persecution for taking action in favor of human freedom”.

When asked by BFM TV, France’s most popular news channel, whether political asylum could be extended to Snowden and Assange, France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said that she was “absolutely shocked by the idea”, because such a course of action would drive a powerful wedge between France and the US, two countries with deep historical ties. But she added that such a move would constitute a strong “symbolic gesture” against espionage, and thus remained on the table as a possible policy maneuver to be adopted by the government of France.

Late on Thursday, however, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls indicated that any discussion of an offer of asylum to Assange and Snowden by the government of France was premature. Speaking at a hastily organized press conference to discuss the NSA espionage revelations during an official visit to Colombia, Valls told reporters that the question of offering asylum to the two men “did not arise” during internal government talks. “And in any case”, said Valls, such an initiative “would not address the issue at hand”, namely American espionage against the French presidency. France’s goal is to extract guarantees from Washington that all espionage against French officials would stop, noted the French prime minister. If France offered asylum to Assange and Snowden, American espionage against French targets would likely reach unprecedented levels, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/26/01-1723/

Analysis: French are upset, but not surprised, by news of US spying

Before Edward Snowden, the revelation that the United States National Security Agency spied on three successive French presidents would have shocked many. But in the post-Snowden era, the news came and went without much tumult. The French President, Francois Hollande, called two emergency meetings of senior government officials at the Élysée Palace; the American ambassador to France was summoned for an official protest; but nothing more came of it. It was reported that US President Barack Obama spoke directly with his French counterpart on Wednesday, and assured him in no uncertain terms “that the US is no longer spying on France”.

The French leader, who is one of three French presidents mentioned in the WikiLeaks documents as a target of the NSA, is genuinely upset. And there will be some in his government who will push for a harder response than simply summoning the American envoy in Paris to file an official protest. But nobody in Paris or Washington thinks that Mr. Hollande, or indeed any other senior French official, was shocked or even surprised by the revelations of American espionage against France. Nor will the revelation cause any drastic disruption in the intelligence cooperation between France and the US. The two countries depend on each other to address a number of international issues that affect both, such the worrying situatioQ Quoten in Syria and Iraq, the continuing crises in Ukraine and in Libya, as well as the financial meltdown in Greece. So there is a recognition that their intelligence agencies must continue to work together on several pressing issues.

However, the French response may become a lot more direct if WikiLeaks publish further revelations about US espionage against French officials. The whistleblower website noted on Tuesday that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”. Unlike Edward Snowden, who is known to release progressively more damning documents in stages, WikiLeaks does not have a history of aiming for a crescendo through progressive releases of classified information. But there is speculation that Edward Snowden may in fact be the source of this latest WikiLeaks disclosure. If that is the case, we should not exclude further releases of relevant documents, and thus a more robust French response.

And what about America’s retort? Washington has suffered considerable diplomatic blowback from revelations in 2013 and 2014 that it spied on the leaders of Germany, Brazil and Argentina. Is the NSA still spying on America’s allied leaders? I am of the opinion that the NSA is not currently targeting the personal communications of allied government leaders as a matter of Q Quoteroutine practice. However, I do believe that this regimen can easily be changed to address particular needs, through what is called a “presidential finding”, basically a direct order issued by the president of the United States to target an individual foreign leader.

In the past two years, we have witnessed the diplomatic fallout that can result from publicly revealing these practices. However, for an intelligence agency like the NSA, having access to the personal communications of a foreign head of state is a temptation that is simply too difficult to resist. Moreover, it should not be assumed that political leaders are always completely in the know about the practices of their country’s intelligence agencies. American intelligence history amply demonstrates this truism. Finally, I would point to the well known maxim that intelligence agencies do not typically distinguish between adversaries and allies. All targets are considered fair game. This will admittedly do little to appease the French, but it will at least give them an accurate impression of what to expect in the brave new world of wholesale communications interception.

* This editorial is based on an interview given by the author to the Spanish newspaper La Razón.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/25/01-1722/

French president calls crisis meeting to discuss US spy revelations

France Hollande ObamaThe president of France has convened an emergency meeting of the country’s highest national security forum in response to revelations that the United States spied on three French presidents. The Conseil de la Défense is to convene in Paris on Wednesday to discuss the emergence of documents that appear to implicate the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, who ruled France from 1995 to 2012. The documents further indicate that the NSA may have also targeted the personal communications of Francois Hollande, France’s current head of state.

The files were published on Tuesday by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They consist of what WikiLeaks described as “top secret intelligence reports and technical documents”, which detail NSA spying operations against the French presidency, as well as espionage directed at several French government ministers and at France’s ambassador to the US. WikiLeaks would not indicate whether it acquired the documents from American defector Edward Snowden, who is currently living in Russia. But it said that “French readers can expect more timely and important revelations in the near future”.

The material –termed “Espionnage Élysée” by WikiLeaks– features a list of “selectors”, which includes French government telephone numbers targeted for interception. One of the numbers is identified as belonging to the president of France. The document collection also includes a handful of intelligence briefs, which are presumably based on intercepted communications from the telephone lines listed among the “selectors”. They detail the thoughts and diplomatic maneuvers by French presidents and other senior officials on subjects such as the Greek economic crisis, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the United Nations.

French newspaper Liberation, which partnered with WikiLeaks to release the NSA material, said on Tuesday that the revelation should not surprise anyone in the post-Snowden era, but that it was still likely to cause a significant rift in French-American relations. In 2014, Germany expelled the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency in Berlin –essentially the highest-ranking American intelligence officer in the country– over revelations that the US spied on the personal communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Liberation contacted the NSA but was told by its spokesman, Ned Price, that the Agency was “not going to comment on specific intelligence allegations”. A spokesman from the Élysée Palace told the paper that an official statement would be issued following the Conseil de la Défense meeting on Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/24/01-1721/

Belgium launches official probe into alleged German-US espionage

BelgacomThe Belgian government has announced the start of an official investigation into allegations that the country’s tele- communications networks were spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. A press release issued Friday by the Belgian Ministry of Justice said the minister, Koen Geens, had authorized an examination of claims of espionage by the United States National Security Agency and Germany’s Bundesnach-richtendienst (BND). The statement was referring to EIKONAL, an alleged collaboration between the NSA and the BND, which was revealed last month by Austrian politician Peter Pilz. Pilz told a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, that EIKONAL had targeted European telecommunications carriers for at least four years, from 2005 to 2008. The governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands have already launched their own investigations into EIKONAL.

After speaking with Pilz, Belgian politician Stefaan Van Hecke told Belgian media last month that the BND-NSA consortium had penetrated the network of Proximus, the mobile subsidiary of Belgacom, Belgium’s national telecommunications carrier. Speaking anonymously about the investigation, a Belgian official told the country’s largest French-language newspaper, Sud Presse, that if the alleged espionage is confirmed, it would have “not only legal implications, but will also affect relations between Belgium, Germany and the US”. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that if the allegations of espionage were confirmed “the government would take appropriate action”, but she refused to elaborate.

IntelNews regulars will remember the last time Belgacom surfaced in the news: in 2013, we reported that the company’s technicians had detected an “unidentified virus” that had infected several dozen mainframe computers. The virus specifically targeted telecommunications traffic carried by Belgacom’s international subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East. Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office said at the time that the malware’s complexity, coupled with its grand scale, “pointed towards international state-sponsored cyber espionage”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 8 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/08/01-1710/

Switzerland to probe claims it was spied on by US, German agencies

SwisscomThe office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor has launched an investigation into claims that the country’s largest telecommunications provider was spied on by a consortium of German and American intelligence agencies. The spy project was reportedly a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the allegations on Wednesday, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Speaking during a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, Pilz said many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies.

Among EIKONAL’s targets, said Pilz, was Swisscom AG, Switzerland’s largest telecommunications provider and one of the successor companies to the country’s national carrier, the PTT (short for Post, Telegraph, Telephone). The government of Switzerland still retains a majority of Swisscom shares, which makes the Bern-based company the closest thing Switzerland has to a national telecommunications carrier. Under the EIKONAL agreement, the BND accessed Swisscom traffic through an interception center based in Frankfurt, Germany. From there, said Pilz, the intercepted data was transferred to a BND facility in Bad Aibling to be entered into NSA’s systems. Pilz shared numerous documents at the press conference, among them a list of key transmission lines that included nine Swisscom lines originating from Zurich and Geneva.

Switzerland’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation was already underway into Peter Pilz’s claims, and that the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service was in contact with Swisscom and other actors targeted by EIKONAL. Meanwhile, Pilz refused to answer questions about where he got the documents about the alleged spy operation. He said, however, that he did not think Swisscom was aware of the BND-NSA actions against it. The company issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had “no agreements with the NSA, the BND, or any other foreign intelligence agency that permit eavesdropping” on company lines.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 28 May 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/05/28/01-1705/

Airbus to sue Germany for helping US spy on its operations

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgBND headquarters in Berlin
European conglomerate Airbus has announced it will file a criminal complaint over allegations that German intelligence services collaborated with their American counterparts to spy on the aerospace firm. The impending lawsuit stems from allegations made last week in the German media that Berlin colluded with Washington to carry out industrial espionage in several European countries. The alleged collaboration involved Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst, known as BND, and the United States’ National Security Agency. According to German media reports, the two agencies joined forces at the request of the NSA, in order to determine whether European companies were breaking international trade embargoes. For that purpose, the two agencies launched a joint communications interception project that targeted telephone, email and other online exchanges involving a host of governmental and corporate targets in Europe. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said last week that the BND used its Bad Aibling listening station to spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as Airbus, which is headquartered in Toulouse.

A statement by Airbus, which was quoted by the Reuters news agency, said that the company was well aware that large firms competing for international contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros “are often targets of espionage”. However, said the company, the recent case involving the alleged BND-NSA collaboration caused it considerable alarm, “because there are firm reasons for suspicion”. The company added that it did not wish to speculate further and noted that it had communicated with German federal authorities requesting further information on the allegations of corporate espionage. Meanwhile, Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere, who supervises the BND, denied rumors that Berlin had tried to cover up the collaboration between the BND and the NSA, and called for the espionage allegations to be investigated by parliament.

The news comes amidst a rocky period in the bilateral relationship between Germany and the United States. In July of last year, Germany expelled the CIA station chief —essentially the top American spy in the country— from its territory. The unprecedented move was prompted by a series of extraordinary disclosures made by US defector Edward Snowden, concerning extensive American intelligence operations against Germany.

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