White House ‘investigating’ inadvertent naming of CIA station chief

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
United States government officials are said to be investigating the apparently inadvertent disclosure of the name of America’s senior spy in Afghanistan last weekend. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the name of the person in charge of all Central Intelligence Agency operations in Afghanistan had been mistakenly included in a press release issued to a host of news organizations by the White House. The release included the names of all individuals that had been scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama, during the latter’s unannounced trip to Afghanistan. The US President visited American soldiers stationed in the Asian country during part of the Memorial Day weekend, a federally sanctioned commemoration in the United States, which is designated to honor those who have died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The press release, which was directly issued to over 6,000 journalists, included the name of the CIA official, followed by the designation “Chief of Station, Kabul”. A CIA Chief of Station is the highest-ranking Agency official in a particular country or region, tasked with overseeing CIA operations within his or her geographical area and maintaining a functional institutional relationship with the host nation’s intelligence agencies. Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Tony Blinken, said the White House was “trying to figure out what happened [and] why it happened”, adding that US officials wanted to “make sure it won’t happen again”. He added that the White House Counsel, Neil Eggleston, had been tasked by White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, to “look into the matter”. CNN reporters asked Blinken whether the inadvertent identification of the CIA’s Station Chief in the Afghan capital had endangered the life of the officer and his family. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #841 (Snowden leak analysis)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US officials defend spy programs as safeguards against terror. Intelligence officials sought to convince US House lawmakers in an unusual briefing that the government’s years-long collection of phone records and Internet usage is necessary for protecting Americans —and does not trample on their privacy rights. The parade of FBI and intelligence officials who briefed the entire House on Tuesday was the latest attempt to soothe outrage over NSA programs which collect billions of Americans’ phone and Internet records.
►►Some in US intelligence see Chinese behind Snowden leak. Former CIA officer Bob Baer told CNN that some US intelligence officials “are seriously looking at [the revelations made by Edward Snowden] as a potential Chinese covert action. Hong Kong is controlled by Chinese intelligence”, Baer told CNN Sunday evening. “It’s not an independent part of China at all. I’ve talked to a bunch of people in Washington today, in official positions, and they are looking at this as a potential Chinese espionage case”.
►►Leak highlights risk of outsourcing US spy work. The explosive leak uncovering America’s vast surveillance program highlights the risks Washington takes by entrusting so much of its defense and spy work to private firms, experts say. Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old man whose leak uncovered how spy agencies sift through phone records and Internet traffic, is among a legion of private contractors who make up nearly 30 percent of the workforce in intelligence agencies. From analyzing intelligence to training new spies, jobs that were once performed by government employees are now carried out by paid contractors, in a dramatic shift that began in the 1990s amid budget pressures.

Decision to evacuate eastern Libya divides US Intelligence Community

US consulate in Benghazi, LibyaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On September 12, just hours after heavily armed militia groups stormed the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Washington made the decision to pull out its diplomats and intelligence officers from Eastern Libya. As US government envoys, spies and contractors started arriving at the Benina International Airport in Benghazi, many Libyans noted the “surprisingly large number” of Americans that came out of the woodwork. According to reports, at least a dozen of the American evacuees were in fact Central Intelligence Agency personnel. Their evacuation, which has essentially ended the presence of the CIA in eastern Libya’s most important city, is dividing the US Intelligence Community. On the one hand, some US intelligence insiders argue that the attack on the US consulate, which killed four US personnel, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, necessitated the decision to evacuate. A number of former US government officials told The Los Angeles Times this week that the evacuation was “justified, given the dangers in Benghazi” for US personnel. Another current official told The New York Times that the evacuation of the CIA station in Benghazi does not necessarily mean that the US has lost its intelligence collection capabilities in eastern Libya. Washington can still intercept telephone calls and emails and conduct satellite reconnaissance in the North African region, said the official. Others, however, leveled sharp criticism against the decision of the White House to evacuate its diplomats and spies from Benghazi, arguing that the move marked “a major setback in [US] intelligence-gathering efforts” in the country. Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with decades of experience in the Middle East, called the move “disastrous for US intelligence-gathering capabilities”. Writing in Time magazine, Baer said that shutting down the CIA station in Benghazi would make it “almost impossible to collect good human intelligence” in the region, and described the move as a sign of “America’s declining position” there. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer urges Bulgaria to probe alleged Hezbollah attack alone

Robert BaerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 22-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who spent over a decade in the Middle East, has urged Bulgaria to probe a recent suicide attack against Israeli tourists on its soil without relying on American or Israeli assistance. Robert Baer, who is considered a foremost intelligence expert on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group accused of orchestrating the attack, said that Bulgarian authorities should keep the investigation free of the “intelligence games” currently taking place between the US, Israel and Iran. He was speaking Sunday on Bulgaria’s bTV, in reference to the July 18 blast that hit a bus stationed outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. The suicide bomber, whose identity remains unknown, killed himself, the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israeli tourists. Soon after the attack, Israel announced that it had gathered “unquestionable intelligence” showing that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind the suicide bombing. But according to Baer, who spent several years in Lebanon in the 1980s, Israeli and American intelligence investigators are too politicized to be able to provide objective evidence as to the culprits of the attack. The former CIA case officer told bTV that both Tel Aviv and Washington “want to lead a war in Iran” and that they will be tempted to point at Tehran as the main instigator of the suicide blast in Burgas. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #650

Robert BaerBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US ex-DoD official says drone captured by Iran ‘seems fake’. Newspaper USA Today quotes an anonymous US former Pentagon official, who said that, according to video footage of the drone on display in Iran, not only is it the drone the wrong color, but also the welds along the wing joints do not appear to conform to the stealth design that helps it avoid radar detection.
►►Ex-CIA officer says collapse of CIA operations benefits Iran. The collapse of CIA operations in Lebanon, following Hezbollah’s unmasking of several CIA spies and the recent naming of the agency’s station chief, is a serious blow to the US’ ability to gather intelligence, says Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who operated in Lebanon in the 1980s.
►►Iran indicts 15 in alleged US-Israeli spy ring. An Iranian prosecutor announced on Tuesday that his government has indicted 15 people who allegedly spied on the Islamic Republic for the US and Israel. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi did not name the alleged spies, who are suspected of having ties to the American CIA and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. IntelNews readers may remember that, in May, Iran’s intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, announced the alleged discovery of a CIA-directed spy network in Iran of more than 30 people.

Analysis: How serious a blow did the CIA suffer in Lebanon?

Lebanon

Lebanon

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Late last month, the Central Intelligence Agency admitted that a number of its agents in Lebanon had been captured by Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large parts of the country. The group announced the arrests in the summer, but in was only on November 21 that the Associated Press confirmed the accuracy of Hezbollah’s claims from a US intelligence source. Neither Hezbollah nor the CIA have offered details of the arrests, but it is generally assumed that the captured agents were not officers of the CIA, but rather Lebanese or Iranian citizens who had been recruited as assets by CIA case officers. Regardless, the incident has undoubtedly directly impacted the Agency’s operations in Lebanon, and maybe Iran. The question is, how much? Former CIA operations officer Robert Baer, who spent several years in Lebanon in the 1980s, has penned an analysis article in Time magazine, in which he says that his sources tell him the arrests of the CIA agents represent “a serious compromise”, and that the Agency is “still trying to get to the bottom of [it]”. Baer also provides some new information about the method used by Hezbollah counterintelligence to capture the CIA agents. Last week, ABC News reported that the arrests were caused by careless spy tradecraft on behalf of the CIA. Specifically, according to ABC, “Hezbollah operatives figured out that CIA informants, who had infiltrated the Iranian proxy group, were meeting with their agency handlers at a Beirut Pizza Hut. How could Hezbollah deduce that location? The CIA used the codeword ‘PIZZA’ when discussing where to meet with the agents”. But Baer says that the arrests were not necessarily caused by CIA errors; rather it may have been advanced counterintelligence analysis by Hezbollah that compromised the agents. He claims that Hezbollah is using telephone link analysis, a type of signals intelligence testing that utilizes advanced software “capable of combing through trillions of gigabytes of phone-call data”. The aim of telephone link analysis is to search for unusual communications patterns —such as too many brief calls, or heavy reliance on prepaid cell phones that seem to become disused after only a few calls. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer says US may be ‘dangerously wrong’ on alleged Iran plot

Robert Baer

Robert Baer

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Robert Baer, who spent over two decades working for the CIA in the Middle East, has warned that the FBI may be “dangerously wrong” in its assessment that Iran is behind an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The Obama administration said yesterday that two Iranian agents had been arrested for planning to kill Saudi diplomat Adel al-Jubeir in Washington, DC, with help by members of a Mexican drug cartel. The FBI said that the two Iranians, Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, were operating on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, a unit inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) specifically tasked with exporting the Iranian Revolution abroad. The arrests prompted a strong reaction from the United States, which said it will impose new punitive measures against the regime in Tehran —a move that is certain to further-ignite tensions between the two countries. But speaking on Australian national radio, Baer said that the alleged assassination plan does not appear to be connected with the IRGC or any other part of Iran’s state apparatus. The operation, as outlined by the FBI, does not fit the “modus operandi” of the Iranian security services, said Baer. The latter are “much better than this [...]. They wouldn’t be sending money through an American bank; they wouldn’t be going to the cartels in Mexico to do this. It’s just not the way they work. I’ve followed them for 30 years and they’re much more careful. They always use a proxy between them and the operation, and in this case they didn’t”. Baer also spoke to the BBC World Service and to The Washington Post, where he is quoted as saying that there is “sloppiness about the case that defies belief”. The former CIA case officer urged the Obama administration to step back, re-examine its case, and avoid “retaliatory attacks [such as bombing] a Quds Force base in Tehran [...], which would lead to a huge escalation”. Instead, he urged Washington to open “direct diplomatic channel with the Iranian regime or risk igniting an uncontrollable war”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #545

Robert Baer

Robert Baer

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Pakistan restores visas to CIA personnel. The government of Pakistan has reissued entry visas to nearly 90 CIA officers, which were withdrawn following the assassination of Osama bin Laden last May. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reports that the visas were approved hours after ISI director Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s visit to the United States last week. It is interesting to note the speed of official authorization of the visas in Pakistan –a country where even basic government services routinely fall victim to endless bureaucratic delays. Does this mean that the ISI and the CIA are back in business? If Pakistani media reports are to be believed, the two agencies were back in business as early as last May. ►►German spy agency accused of playing down stolen blueprints. New reports in the German media say that the stolen blueprints of Germany’s intelligence agency BND may contain even more sensitive security information than previously believed. German newsmagazine Focus alleged earlier this month that the top-secret architectural plans for the BND’s state-of-the-art new building “mysteriously disappeared” a year ago, without anyone in government noticing their absence. Ernst Uhrlau, BND’s Director, responded by claiming that only the building’s car park, cafeteria and energy supply areas had been affected by the theft. But according to Focus and Der Spiegel, Germany’s other major newsmagazine, the stolen documents contain classified plans for the headquarters’ main building. There are now rumors in Berlin that the scandal may force Uhrlau to resign. ►►Ex-CIA operative says he never claimed Israel would attack Iran. Recently we reported on former CIA officer Robert Baer’s warning that Israel was planning an armed attack against Iran. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #543 (CIA edition)

John Rizzo

John Rizzo

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA officer warns of Israeli attack on Iran. Few in the CIA are more knowledgeable about Shiite politics than Robert Baer, a veteran of the Agency’s National Clandestine Service, who spent over 20 years in the Middle East, notably in Lebanon. Last weekend, Baer spoke to Los Angeles radio station KPFK, and said that “[t]here is almost near certainty [in Israel] that Netanyahu is planning an attack [on Iran] and it will probably be in September before the vote on a Palestinian state. And he’s also hoping to draw the United States into the conflict”. Baer is not alone in issuing such warnings in recent months. Former Mossad director Meir Dagan has been echoing Baer’s concerns. ►►Campaigners seek arrest of ex-CIA legal chief. We have written before about John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s former Acting General Counsel, who has been termed “the most influential career lawyer in CIA history”. Some readers may remember that Rizzo retired hurriedly from his post in 2009, amidst fears that he could get in trouble for acting as what some observers termed “a legal enabler” of the CIA torture practices under the George W. Bush administration. Now a group of human rights campaigners in Britain and Pakistan are seeking Rizzo’s arrest for his role in justifying the CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, the legality of which is often questioned by experts. The CIA has refused to comment on the campaign to indict Rizzo. ►►Analysis: The fallout from the CIA’s vaccination ploy in Pakistan. We wrote on Monday that not everyone is amused by news that the CIA tried to collect DNA evidence on Osama bin Laden by running a phony vaccination program in Pakistan. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #524 (analysis edition)

  • US intelligence shift shows change in Afghan war aims. American military intelligence officers were scrambling a year ago to collect and analyze the social, economic and tribal ins and outs of each valley and hamlet in Afghanistan. But the gradual scaling back of US operations (and ambitions) in Afghanistan is driving a shift away from that labor-intensive attention to detail. Now targeting insurgent leaders and their close support networks is seen as an important part of the US exit strategy (some would call this settling old scores before the US leaves the area).
  • Ex-CIA officer questions West’s motives in Syria. The European and American intervention in Syria is designed to harm Iran and to protect Israel and Lebanese Christians, not Syrian people, according to Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with direct experience in the region.
  • Will new CIA director rein in the drone war? When General David Petraeus takes heads to the CIA, he’ll put “relentless pressure” against al-Qaida, he told senators last week. But in a rare public discussion of the CIA’s drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Petraeus suggested it may not be his first counterterrorism option.

News you may have missed #501 (United States edition)

  • Ex-double agent Hanssen’s house goes on sale. The five-bedroom home on Talisman Drive in Vienna, Va., offered by Llewellyn Realtors for $725,000 as “perfect for a growing family”, is the former lair of ex-FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen, who is regarded as one of the most damaging spies ever to betray the US government.
  • Ex-CIA officer critical of US activities in Pakistan. Speaking on Pakistan’s TV show Express 24/7, former CIA officer Robert Baer said there were no less than 16 US intelligence agencies working in Pakistan and none of them talked to each other, with even officials from the New York police department at one point in time conducting investigations in Pakistan.
  • US agents descending on Mexico According to Mexican daily El Diario, the country’s Attorney General’s Office estimates that there are currently over 500 US intelligence operatives working in Mexico, up from just 60 in 2005.

CIA active on the ground in Libya ‘for several weeks’

Libyan rebels

Libyan rebels

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Few intelligence observers have been surprised by revelations in The New York Times that several cells of Central Intelligence Agency officers have been active on the ground in Libya for the best part of March. The US newspaper published the disclosure after the Reuters news agency first broke the story early on Wednesday. According to Reuters, US President Barack Obama authorized a secret Presidential finding three weeks ago, in which he instructed the CIA to deploy teams of operatives in the North African country. In reality, as Reuters commented later on, US intelligence officers were active on the ground in Libya before President Obama’s authorization for covert action. But his authorization gave the green light for the intensification of CIA activities throughout Libya’s northern regions. The CIA operatives are not working alone; they are part of what The Times called “a shadow force of Westerners”, which include “dozens of British special forces” and officers of the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6 —the UK’s foremost external intelligence agency. Citing “American officials”, The Times speculates that Western intelligence agents are actively collecting tactical intelligence on the Libyan armed forces, thus helping guide aerial strikes by NATO jets. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #404 (Wikileaks Afghan War Diary edition II)

  • Wikileaks posts mysterious ‘insurance’ file. WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website that recently published hundreds of thousands of classified Afghan War documents, has posted a mysterious encrypted file labeled “insurance”, whose size dwarfs the size of all the other files on the page combined. Cryptome, a separate anti-secrecy site, speculates that the file may be insurance in case something happens to the WikiLeaks website or to its founder, Julian Assange. In either scenario, WikiLeaks volunteers, under a prearranged agreement with Assange, could send out a password to allow anyone who has downloaded the file to open it.
  • Ex-CIA officer Baer comments on Wikileaks files. Robert Baer, the retired CIA field officer whose bestselling memoir, See No Evil, formed the basis of the 2005 motion picture Syriana, has called the quality of intelligence revealed in the Wikileaks Afghan War files “just awful. Basically, we don’t know who the enemy is”, says Baer, adding that “much of the information looks to be the result of walk-in informers –intelligence peddlers looking for a cash payment or some other reward for passing on gossip”.
  • Wikileaks informant suspect had help, says informer. Hacker-turned government informant Adrian Lamo, who is assisting the US government investigate thousands of leaked secret war records to Wikileaks, says Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who is the suspected culprit of the leak, had civilian help.

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News you may have missed #337

  • Another Iranian nuclear researcher reportedly defects. An academic linked with Iran’s nuclear program has defected to Israel, according to Ayoub Kara, Israel’s deputy minister for development in the Negev and Galilee. Kara said it “is too soon to provide further details”, adding that the defector is “now in a friendly country”.
  • Dutch spies to become more active abroad. The Dutch secret service, the AIVD, has announced a shift in strategy, deployed increasingly more officers abroad: “in Yemen, Somalia, and the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
  • Why did the CIA destroy waterboarding evidence? It has been established that Porter J. Goss, the former director of the CIA, in 2005 approved the destruction of dozens of videotapes documenting the brutal interrogation of two terrorism detainees. But why did he do it? Former CIA officer Robert Baer examines the question.

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Analysis: Inside the US-Israeli intelligence relationship

US embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel

US embassy, Israel

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, authors of Friends in Deed: Inside the US-Israel Alliance, have produced a lengthy, well-researched and up-to-date essay on US-Israeli intelligence relations. The essay, which appears in the latest issue of Tablet, carefully examines the highly complex subject of the CIA’s associations with the Mossad and Shin Bet. The fact is that, despite their unquestionable alliance Israel and the US have for years been among each other’s primary intelligence targets. Melman and Raviv correctly remind us that, by as early as 1954, US officials at the US embassy in Tel Aviv had already discovered several microphones in the office of the ambassador. Two years later, US counter-surveillance experts uncovered electronic bugs at the Tel Aviv residence of a US military attaché. Since then, the use of bribes and even women by the Shin Bet to lure US embassy guards has been frequent –and mostly unsuccessful. Read more of this post

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