News you may have missed #828

Abdullah ÖcalanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Chinese researcher charged with stealing US drug. Chinese cancer researcher Huajun Zhao, 42, who has been working in the United States since 2006, has been charged with stealing data and an experimental compound from the Medical College of Wisconsin. The federal complaint accuses Zhao of stealing the compound, C-25, which could potentially assist in killing cancer cells without damaging normal cells. An FBI investigation turned up evidence that Zhao hoped to claim credit in China for discovering C-25. He had already claimed on a research website that he had discovered an unnamed compound he hoped to take to China.
Turkish intelligence to ‘oversee PKK retreat’. Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, MİT, will oversee the withdrawal of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, according to Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç. Last month, Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the armed Kurdish group that has battled Turkey for 30 years, proclaimed an immediate ceasefire in PKK’s conflict with the Turkish state, which has claimed about 35,000 lives. Speaking on Turkey’s state-run broadcaster, TRT, Arınç said no legislation would be introduced to facilitate the withdrawal, but “certainly MİT will oversee it; security forces will take part in it, too”, he added.
Analysis: Controversial Bush programs continue under Obama. During the George W. Bush years, two of the most controversial elements of what was then called the Global War on Terrorism were the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program and the creation of the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay and the RDI program are both back in the news now, each for their own unsavory reasons. The Pentagon is requesting nearly $200 million for Guantanamo Bay infrastructure upgrades, including $49 million for a new unit for ‘special’ prisoners. Meanwhile, participation in the CIA’s controversial RDI program has resulted —for at least one person— not in prosecution or professional sanctions, but rather in a promotion.

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Secret report warns US spy mission distorted by ‘war on terror’

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
America’s concentration on the ‘war on terrorism’ has distorted the mission and scope of its Intelligence Community, according to a secret report commissioned by the White House. The classified report was compiled by the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which counsels Barack Obama on intelligence matters. It cautions the President that the intelligence output of organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency has been disabled by tunnel vision and operational fatigue in the pursuit of al-Qaeda. The study also states that the overwhelming focus on Islamic militancy has distracted US intelligence from focusing on state actors such as China, and has hampered the success American intelligence operations outside Muslim regions of the world. The Washington Post, which disclosed the existence of the report on Thursday, said the team of 14 advisers that produced the report was led by “influential figures” on Capitol Hill, such as Chuck Hagel, Obama’s new Secretary of Defense. The paper added that, based on comments made by senior Obama Administration officials in recent months, it appears that the classified study, which was authored last year, has been adopted by the Obama White House as a major policy directive. The Post suggested that the report prompted comments earlier this year by John O. Brennan, the CIA’s new Director, that he planned to reevaluate the Agency’s “allocation of mission” as a matter of priority. However, countering the operational fatigue caused by the nearly 15-year long ‘war on terrorism’ will take time, and it remains unclear whether agencies like the CIA can ever shed the paramilitary role they acquired under the Administration of US President George W. Bush. Read more of this post

Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #691

Thomas DrakeBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►NSA whistleblower says Obama worse than Bush. Thomas Drake, the whistleblower whom the administration of US President Barack Obama tried and failed to prosecute for leaking information about waste, fraud and abuse at the National Security Agency, now works at an Apple store in Maryland. In an interview with Salon, Drake says the Obama administration is “expanding the secrecy regime far beyond what Bush ever intended”.
►►Australian spies reportedly buying computer bugs. The Australian government is buying computer security weaknesses found by hackers before they are sold on the black market, as part of its defense strategy, according to an Australian security consultant who wishes to remain anonymous. He says while the government won’t admit it, buying vulnerabilities is an obvious part of “gathering intelligence”.
►►Refugees in Finland face spying threats. Foreign governments and groups are carrying out more spying on refugees and dissidents living in Finland, according to SUPO, the country’s security intelligence service. SUPO issued a report last week contending that while the Scandinavian country isn’t seeing an increased threat of terrorist acts on its soil, it still faces several terror-related challenges. One of them is “regular” surveillance activity by foreign intelligence services operating within Finland, whose aim is spy on their home countries’ dissidents and develop links with other refugees and expatriates.

News you may have missed #687

Hans BlixBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: Is Obama abusing the US Espionage Act? Prosecutors may still attempt to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, though their case will likely depend on exactly how he received his information. But, WikiLeaks aside, the Obama administration has made increasing use of the act to clamp down on whistleblowers.
►►Ex-head admits IAEA does work with spies (shock, horror). The International Atomic Energy Agency, which acts as the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations has been closely cooperating with the world’s spy agencies, including on Iran and Syria, for years, according to its former director. Hans Blix told RT that the IAEA’s cooperation with the world’s intelligences started following the Iraqi crisis of the 1990s. “Of course, intelligence can always try to fool everybody”, he said. “Half of the information may be true, half of it may be disinformation, and therefore they have to examine it critically”.
►►Afghanistan arrests diplomat on spying charges. Afghanistan’s State Intelligence Agency (KHAD) on Monday said that a senior foreign ministry diplomat and three other government officials had been arrested over charges of spying for Iran and Pakistan. The men were detained “on charges of spying for neighboring regions” and “the arrests were made with concrete evidence”, KHAD’s spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, said. An unnamed source in the same agency also claimed that the deputy head of KHAD’s Asia desk and two government employees had been arrested in a similar incident in the eastern Afghan province Nangarhar a month before.

News you may have missed #686

Folkert Arie van KoutrikBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►WikiLeaks to publish 5 million StratFor emails. In its latest high-profile data dump, WikiLeaks is to reveal five million internal and external emails from StratFor today. In a press release late Sunday, Wikileaks said the emails “show StratFor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods”, and reveal “how StratFor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world”.
►►Analysis: Blurred line between espionage and truth under Obama. “There is plenty of authorized leaking going on, but this particular boat leaks from the top. Leaks from the decks below, especially ones that might embarrass the administration, have been dealt with very differently [...]. And it’s worth pointing out that the administration’s emphasis on secrecy comes and goes depending on the news. Reporters were immediately and endlessly briefed on the “secret” operation that successfully found and killed Osama bin Laden. And the drone program in Pakistan and Afghanistan comes to light in a very organized and systematic way every time there is a successful mission”.
►►Nazis had spy in MI5 but failed to use him. Dutchman Folkert Arie van Koutrik was the first German agent to ever infiltrate MI5 when he was employed by them in 1940, just a month before Anthony Blunt, who was later exposed as a Soviet spy. Koutrik had already worked for Abwehr, the German secret service, before the war as a double agent with MI6 in Europe and exposed some of the UK’s top agents. But, incredibly, after he moved to the UK and joined MI5 all contact appears to have broken off.

Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou’s indictment made simple

John KiriakouBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On Monday, the United States Department of Justice charged former Central Intelligence Agency officer John Kiriakou with leaking classified government information to reporters and deceiving a CIA review board. An FBI press release accused Kiriakou of repeatedly providing secrets to journalists between 2007 and 2009, and said the former CIA officer would be tried under the Espionage and the Intelligence Identities Protection Acts. The latter forbids the disclosure of the identities of undercover intelligence personnel, which is precisely what Kiriakou is accused of having done. An American of Greek descent, Kiriakou joined the CIA in 1990 and did tours in Greece, Pakistan, and elsewhere, before retiring in 2004. While in Pakistan he commanded the CIA team that helped capture senior al-Qaeda logistician Abu Zubaydah. In 2010 he published a memoir titled The Reluctant Spy.  Two years earlier, Kiriakou had made international headlines by becoming the first US intelligence official to publicly acknowledge that a terrorism suspect —in this case Zubaydah— had indeed been waterboarded while in CIA custody. Speaking on ABC News, the former CIA officer recognized that waterboarding was torture, but said it was “necessary” in the “war on terrorism”. In subsequent interviews, however, he questioned whether any actionable intelligence had been extracted from waterboarding, and opined that torturing terrorism detainees “caused more damage to [America’s] national prestige than was worth it”. Kiriakou’s skepticism, at a time when the incoming President, Barack Obama, publicly condemned waterboarding as torture, worried the CIA. Eventually, the Obama Administration backed down on its public proclamations about torture, and ruled out criminal prosecutions of CIA personnel. But he Agency didn’t forget Kiriakou’s role. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #659

China and PakistanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►China wants military bases in Pakistan. An Indian intelligence report leaked in the country’s press appears to reveal that China and Pakistan are in secret negotiations to allow Beijing to build military bases on Pakistani soil. The report states that “China’s desire for a military presence in Pakistan has been discussed by the political and military leadership of that country in the recent months. China’s deepening strategic penetration of Pakistan and joint plans to set up [...] oil pipelines/rail/roads as well as naval and military bases are a matter of concern”.
►►Turkey ‘almost shot down’ Israeli spy drone. An Israeli drone flying over Turkey was nearly intercepted by Turkish aerial defense forces, an Istanbul-based media outlet reported on Tuesday. According to the report, “by the time the order [to shoot down the Israeli drone] was given, [it] had already left the area”. A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the Turkish report.
►►Analysis: Global apparatus for drone killing emerges under Obama. “The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential”. Excellent analysis by Greg Miller, who argues that “the rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military”.

White House reinstalls visas for 2009 Honduran coup plotters

Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On June 26, 2009, a clandestine meeting of the Honduran Supreme Court issued a secret warrant for the arrest of the country’s democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya. Less than 48 hours later, in the early hours of June 28, uniformed officers of the Honduran Army stormed the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa and arrested Zelaya. Shortly afterwards, the deposed President was placed on a plane and sent into enforced exile. It was the first coup d’état in the Central American country since 1978, and the first in Latin America in several years. The US administration of President Barack Obama almost immediately condemned the coup and halted American military aid to Honduras; but it failed to officially designate Zelaya’s ouster as a ‘military coup’, which would have required Washington to outlaw and terminate nearly all forms of government —and some private— aid to Honduras. In August, after several weeks of heavy criticism from Latin American governments, the Obama White House proceeded to “temporarily suspend” non-immigrant visas for over 1,000 Honduran military and civilian leaders, who had endorsed President Zelaya’s unconstitutional ouster. Many of whom had participated in the first post-coup government of former Speaker of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti. But a news report by the Associated Press suggests that Washington may now be quietly reinstating visas to Micheletti government officials, and that some of them are already travelling to and from the United States. The article quotes a “US embassy spokesperson”, who “spoke on condition of anonymity”, as saying that “the Department of State has determined that some of the Hondurans whose eligibility for visas was restricted following the June 2009 coup d’etat are again eligible to be considered for visas”. Read more of this post

White House considering covert operations against Iran

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the major strategic objections to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the near-certain prospect that removing the Sunni-dominated Ba’ath Party from power would increase Iranian-Shiite influence in the country. As the US military exit strategy gradually unfolds in Iraq, the administration of US President Barack Obama is faced with precisely this prospect. While US troops are leaving Iraq, Iran is doing what any logical regional power would do: namely strengthening its clandestine footprint inside Iraq and preparing Tehran-allied Iraqi groups for the impending showdown with Sunni power centers. An article that appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal notes that “growing concern [about regional] influence from Iran” has prompted the Obama administration to explore covert ways of countering it. According to the article, US intelligence agencies have detected “increased arms smuggling [by Iran] to its allies” in Iraq, Bahrain and Syria (and, one would suppose, Lebanon, though this is not mentioned in the piece). The administration has therefore “pushed the military and intelligence communities to develop proposals to counter Tehran”, says the Journal. The push has prompted American intelligence and military planners to request “greater authority to conduct covert operations to thwart Iranian influence in neighboring Iraq”. This essentially implies an appeal for a Presidential “finding”, a secret executive authorization that —under the National Security Act— would provide the required legal basis for covert operations conducted abroad. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #460

US considering CIA targeted killings in Yemen

Yemen

Yemen

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The White House is considering an unprecedented expansion of operations by the Central Intelligence Agency in Yemen, following last week’s foiled toner cartridge bomb plot. There are reports that the plot, which appears to have originated in Yemen, and was foiled through a last-minute tip from Saudi intelligence, may tip the balance in Washington in favor of those wishing to enhance the CIA’s activities in Yemen’s Sunni areas. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration is close to authorizing the CIA’s use of unmanned drones to bomb suspected targets in Yemen, something that the Agency has been doing for over a year in Pakistan. But there also appears to be a wider consensus forming in favor of authorizing covert targeted killings inside Yemen by Special Forces operating on the ground under Langley’s command. This consensus appears to be forming in both civilian and military circles in Washington, despite fears that such tactics may backlash, leading to a severance of ties between the United States and the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Journal article mentions that the White House is now considering authorizing the CIA to conduct targeted killings “even without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #423

News you may have missed #369

  • UN official criticizes US over drone attacks. The use of targeted killings by the CIA, with weapons like drone aircraft, poses a growing challenge to the international rule of law, according to Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.
  • Russian spies less active during Obama administration. The Czech Republic’s Military Intelligence Service said in its annual report on Tuesday that Russian agents have reduced their activities in the country since US President Barack Obama abandoned Bush-era plans for missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.
  • Analysis: A look back at US intelligence reform. The 2004 US Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act was supposed to “address institutional obstacles that had complicated the intelligence community’s struggle to adapt to new technologies and a changing national security environment”. But five years later, many of those original obstacles remain in place.

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News you may have missed #361

  • FBI linguist jailed in leak probe. The Obama administration’s crackdown on government whistleblowers continued on Tuesday with the jailing of Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI contract linguist who disclosed classified information to the media.
  • Yemen sentences alleged Iranian spies to death. Two members of an alleged Iranian spy cell operating in Yemen were sentenced to death on Tuesday. The Yemeni government accuses Iran of arming the Shiite so-called Sa’adah insurgency along the Yemeni-Saudi border.
  • New Turkish intel chief has big plans. Among the changes that Hakan Fidan, new chief of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), intends to spearhead is “starting a separate electronic intelligence organization like the American NSA or the British GCHQ”.

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