Pilot program gives Syrian rebels advanced Western weaponry

Syrian rebelsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A pilot program operated by American and Saudi intelligence services has allegedly supplied Syrian rebel groups with sophisticated Western weaponry for the first time. Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal cited “people briefed on the effort” as stating that “a small number” of advanced American antitank missiles have been offered to Syrian rebel groups. The move is reportedly part of a new clandestine program, which, if successful, could open the door to “larger flows” of sophisticated Western-made weaponry in the hands of Syrian rebels. The paper said that Washington made the decision to give the weapons to the rebels following the collapse of the Western-backed peace talks early this year, coupled by the apparent military victories of Syrian government forces on the ground in the embattled Middle Eastern country. The effort is apparently part of a “small, tailored program”, which The Journal says is coordinated by American and Saudi intelligence services, aimed at “testing the waters” in Syria. Specifically, Washington and Riyadh are trying to discern whether these advanced weapons will fall into the hands of some of Islamist-inspired rebel groups on the ground, some of which have strong links with al-Qaeda. According to the paper, American and Saudi intelligence operatives have funneled “about a dozen” BCM-71 TOW armor piercing antitank systems to at least one rebel group on the ground. The group, Harakat Hazm, emerged earlier this year through the union of several small secular rebel groups in northern Syria. One weapons expert told The Journal that the antitank systems are equipped with a “complex, fingerprint-keyed security device” that should hopefully help limit the number of individuals that can fire the weapons. The article adds that US and Saudi intelligence services have entered a period of closer collaboration aimed at increasing material support for the Syrian rebels. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #863

Carmi GillonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Al-Qaeda controls more Arab territory than ever before. Al-Qaeda currently controls territory that stretches more than 400 miles across the heart of the Middle East. Indeed, the group appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history. Its affiliates now control much of northern and northwestern Syria as well as some parts of eastern Syria, as well as much of Anbar province, which is around a third of Iraqi territory.
►►German diplomats survive shooting in Saudi Arabia. Two German diplomats survived a shooting attack on their car while on a visit to eastern Saudi Arabia on Monday, the state news agency SPA reported, but their vehicle was burned. In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that there was an incident during a drive out in the country. The car was shot at and it caught fire. There were no injuries. The embassy in Riyadh has launched an investigation”.
►►Israel’s ex-security chief flees Denmark to avoid arrest. Carmi Gillon, former director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, who is also Israel’s former ambassador to Denmark, has left the Scandinavian country following a formal complaint accusing him of committing crimes of torture and brutality against Palestinian detainees. Gillon is reported to have left the country hastily to avoid being detained.

Saudi ex-spy director urges Gulf states to join Iran nuclear talks

Turki Al FaisalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The influential former director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency has urged Arab oil states to participate directly in the ongoing international negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. Nearly a decade of diplomatic deadlock on this contentious issue appeared to come to an end on November 24, when a preliminary deal was struck between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1. The group represents the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council —the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France— plus Germany. Under the deal, Tehran has provisionally agreed to limit the scope of its nuclear energy program in exchange for the P5+1 group of nations taking initiative to have certain economic sanctions on Iran lifted. Several Middle Eastern nations, including Israel and Iran’s primary energy rival, Saudi Arabia, initially dismissed the agreement, causing British foreign secretary William Hague to warn that critics of the deal should “confine their criticism to rhetoric”. On Sunday, however, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, said the kingdom should be among several Arab oil states that must have a seat at the table during the negotiations with Iran. Prince Turki, who is the youngest son of the late King Faisal, directed the kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Al Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, from 1979 until 2001, following which he briefly became ambassador to Britain and the United States. Speaking at the Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital on Sunday, the Prince urged that the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program should “not be limited to the P5+1”. Instead, he said, the Gulf Cooperation Council should be involved. He was referring to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (commonly referred to as GCC), a political and economic union of Arab oil states bordering the Persian Gulf, which is led by Saudi Arabia. Read more of this post

Saudi Arabia closer than Iran to acquiring nukes, BBC reports

Saudi ArabiaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Saudi Arabia is able to obtain atomic bombs “at will” through a secret pact with Pakistan, and can acquire nuclear weapons far quicker than Iran, according to the BBC. On Wednesday, the British broadcaster’s flagship Newsnight television program cited “a senior decision maker” at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in claiming that Pakistan had already built nuclear weapons ordered by Saudi Arabia. The weapons, which include “finished warheads” that can be affixed on long-range missiles, “are now sitting ready for delivery” as soon as Riyadh asks for them, according to the BBC. The program’s producers spoke to an unnamed “senior Pakistani official” who allegedly confirmed in general terms the secret agreement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The pact is said to require the Pakistanis to build and maintain a nuclear arsenal for use by the oil kingdom. Another Pakistani source, identified by Newsnight as “a one-time intelligence officer”, told the program that Pakistan maintained “a certain number of warheads” and that “if the Saudis were to ask for them at any given time they would immediately be transferred”. Newsnight’s diplomatic and defense editor, Mark Urban, wrote on the BBC website that Pakistan may already have transferred several Shaheen ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, in preparation for delivering nuclear warheads later on. This is not the first time such allegations have surfaced in public, though it is rare for Pakistani intelligence insiders to be quoted in such reports. Claims of a Saudi-Pakistani nuclear pact have been circulating in diplomatic circles since the mid-1990s, with some sources suggesting that the Saudis funded the Pakistani nuclear weapons program in exchange for access to nuclear warheads. Read more of this post

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of running 18-member spy ring

Saudi ArabiaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of Saudi Arabia has publicly accused Iran of setting up an espionage ring consisting of 18 members, in order to spy on “vital sites and installations in the Kingdom”. On March 19, Saudi authorities announced the arrest of 18 men on suspicion of operating an extensive “spy network working for a foreign entity”. The men were reportedly arrested in coordinated raids in four different regions of the country, which included locations in Mecca, Medina, and Saudi capital Riyadh. Sixteen of the arrestees are Saudi citizens, while one is Lebanese and one is Iranian. At the time of the initial announcement, Saudi officials refused to name the “foreign entity” behind the alleged espionage ring. But intelNews noted that most of the arrests took place in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which is home to much of the country’s Shiite Muslim minority. This, in association with the two foreign detainees, led us to speculate that there could possibly be an Iranian connection to the alleged spy affair. On Tuesday, Major General Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman for the Kingdom’s Ministry of the Interior, said that there was “a direct link between members of this cell and Iran’s intelligence apparatus”. Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Al-Turki claimed that the government of Iran had provided members of the ring “regularly [with] sums of money in return for information and documents on important installations during the spy operation in the interest of [Iranian] agencies”. He added that the alleged link with Iran had been established during “preliminary investigations, physical evidence which has been collected, and statements from the accused in the case”. Read more of this post

Saudi Arabia arrests 18 on espionage charges

Saudi ArabiaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Saudi Arabia announced the arrest yesterday of 18 people accused of conducting “espionage activities for the benefit of a foreign country”. Speaking on Saudi state television, Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said the men were arrested on suspicion of being members of an extensive “spy network working for a foreign entity”, which he refused to name. He added that the arrestees had been “gathering information about installations and vital areas” in Saudi Arabia, and were “providing intelligence agencies of that state with it”. He told reporters that the arrests were made five days ago, after Saudi security agencies received information of a foreign-instigated spy ring operating in the oil-rich kingdom. The alleged members of the ring were reportedly arrested during several coordinated raids in four different regions of the country, which included locations in Mecca, Medina, and capital Riyadh. Sixteen of those arrested are said to be Saudi citizens, while one is reportedly Lebanese and one is Iranian. It is worth noting that many of the suspected spy ring members were arrested in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which is home to much of the country’s Shiite Muslim minority. In association with the two foreign detainees, this detail may point to a possible Iranian connection to the alleged spy affair. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been essentially non-existent ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the Shiite-dominated Iranian government accused the Saudis of being puppets of the United States and called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family. Read more of this post

Saudi diplomat shot dead in Yemen by gunmen disguised as soldiers

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An official at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Yemen has been shot dead along with this Yemeni bodyguard by a group of gunmen disguised as government security forces. According to television station al-Arabiya, which is owned by the Saudi government, the diplomat and his bodyguard were killed on Wednesday when their car was “raked with gunfire” in the heart of Yemeni capital Sana’a. Later in the day, the incident was confirmed by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which identified the assassinated diplomat as Sergeant Khaled Shobeikan al-Anzi. IntelNews understands that al-Anzi worked as an aide to the Military Attaché at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Sana’a. There are rumors, however, that his diplomatic credentials may have been a cover for his intelligence work for Al-Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, Saudi Arabia’s military intelligence agency. Sources in Yemen report that the attack took place in Haddah, one of Sana’a’s more exclusive districts, which houses the majority of foreign embassies and diplomatic compounds in the capital. It is also worth noting that the assailants were reportedly “dressed in the uniforms of [Yemen’s] Central Security Organization”, a 50,000-strong National Guard-type force that operates under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior. Wednesday’s assassination of the Saudi diplomat is the latest incident in a series of attacks against diplomatic targets in Sana’a, which have included employees in the British and American embassies there. In late March of this year, Islamist militants kidnapped Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Consul in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, who remains in captivity. Read more of this post

Analysis: Bandar’s return affirms hawkish turn in Saudi foreign policy

Prince Bandar bin SultanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For over two decades, America’s relations with its most important Arab ally were primarily mediated by just one man: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005. But on June 26, 2005, Bandar, a personal friend of the Bush family, submitted his diplomatic resignation, after being recalled to Riyadh by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Almost immediately, Bandar, known for years in Washington’s diplomatic circles as a flamboyant socialite, disappeared from public view. It is said that he faced serious health problems, going in and out of hospitals. Others claim that he fell out of favor with Saudi Arabia’s autocratic ruling elite, and in 2009 there were even unconfirmed reports that he was under house arrest after allegedly trying to organize a military coup against King Abdullah. Last week, however, Bandar returned to the limelight in spectacular fashion: in a plainly worded statement, Saudi authorities announced that the Prince had been appointed Director General of the Mukhabarat Al A’amah, the Kingdom’s main intelligence agency.

To those who remember Bandar from his Washington days, which were filled with drinking and partying, it may seem incredible that the “peasant prince”, whose mother was one of Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s countless underage concubines, is now heading Saudi intelligence, in what is perhaps the most challenging period in the Kingdom’s history. Read more of this post

CIA helping Turkey, Saudi Arabia, smuggle weapons into Syria: sources

Turkish-Syrian borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A growing team of United States Central Intelligence Agency personnel is currently in Turkey overseeing a multinational effort to secretly deliver weapons to Syrian anti-government rebels, according to The New York Times. Quoting “American officials and Arab intelligence officers”, the paper said last week that the weapons are being smuggled into Syria primarily through the Turkish border. The financial cost of smuggling into Syria such weapons as antitank explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic rifles, has so far been covered by the governments of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to the article. The funds are partly required to bribe members of what The Times describes as “a shadowy network of intermediaries”, which reportedly includes forces loyal to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The latter is a Sunni group that is widely viewed as the most dominant of the anti-government factions that make up the rebel side in the ongoing Syrian uprising. The paper quotes an “Arab intelligence official”, who says the CIA contingent in Turkey “is trying to make new sources and recruit people” along the porous Turkish-Syrian border. But its presence in the volatile region, which has been constant for “several weeks”, according to The Times, is also aimed at keeping the smuggled weapons out of the reach of Syrian anti-government forces that are allied with militant Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. The article notes that American support for the Syrian rebels has been minimal, when compared with that in Libya in 2011, mostly because of staunch Russian support for the government forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Read more of this post

US resumes controversial weapons sale to Bahrain

Gulf Cooperation Council countriesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has announced that it will resume a controversial weapons deal with the Kingdom of Bahrain, despite its government’s substandard human rights record, which has been internationally criticized in the context of the Arab Spring. The administration of President Barack Obama halted all weapons sales to the oil-rich Gulf state in September of 2011, nearly a year following the eruption of widespread popular protests in the Kingdom. On May 11, however, Washington announced that the weapons sale would go ahead after all, with the exception of some items that could be used against human rights protesters. According to The Christian Science Monitor, one of a handful of American news outlets that covered the story, US officials said that the decision to resume weapons sales to Bahrain was taken “in light of US national security interests”. The paper quotes an unnamed US government official who told reporters that Washington had given the go-ahead to the weapons sale in order to “help Bahrain maintain its external defense capabilities” against Iran. The regime in Bahrain has accused human rights activists of operating under the control of the Iranian government. The Monitor says that the resumption of US military aid to Bahrain has dealt a significant blow to the pro-democracy movement, and appears to have “incensed opposition activists”, who see it “as a signal that that the US supports Bahrain’s repression of opposition protests”. The article quotes one such activist, Mohammed al-Maskati, who describes the weapons deal as a “direct message [from the US] that we support the authorities and we don’t support democracy in Bahrain, we don’t support protesters in Bahrain”. Meanwhile, all eyes are in Saudi Arabia this week, as Arab Gulf leaders are meeting to discuss plans for forming a pan-Arab Gulf union. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #728 (foiled AQAP bomb plot edition)

YemenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►UK had central role in foiled bomb operation. The Reuters news agency has quoted unnamed “counterterrorism sources” as saying that the undercover informant in the plot linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was a British citizen, possibly of Saudi origin. The informant was allegedly working in cooperation with Britain’s two principal spy agencies, MI5 and MI6. The information appears to have leaked even though “British authorities put heavy pressure on theUS government not to discloseBritain’s role in the investigation”, said Reuters.
►►MI5 fears al-Qaeda to expose double agent’s identity. MI5 fears that militant Islamists will attempt to exact revenge on the British spy who penetrated al-Qaeda in theArabian Peninsula, by publishing his photograph on the internet –a move designed to incite extremists to hunt him down. The agent, a British passport holder of Saudi heritage, volunteered to take part in a suicide mission but instead escaped with an underwear bomb designed to blow up aUS airliner. Sources have described the British spy as “gold dust”, adding that he was one of just a handful of agents in the last ten years to have successfully penetrated one of the groups aligned to al-Qaeda’s concept of global Jihad.
►►Analysis: Foiled al-Qaeda plot reveals new world of US spying. There are lots of takes on the meaning of the foiled AQAP plot. This CNN analysis claims that the successful operation shows that “efforts to bolster human intelligence capability and work much more closely with foreign intelligence counterparts are paying off” in several ways. It also suggests that the operation “operation was the “poster child” for the influence of a greatly enhanced analytic community”.

Would be al-Qaeda bomber was Saudi double agent

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The man tasked by al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch to blow up an airliner bound for the United States last month, was a mole who had been recruited by Saudi intelligence. IntelNews understands that the double agent is a Saudi citizen who volunteered to act as an informant for Saudi authorities. The latter eventually tasked him with traveling to Yemen, joining al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and convincing its leaders that he was willing to carry out a suicide mission against Western targets. It is not known at this point whether the Saudis kept the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the loop from the moment the mole was sent to Yemen to join AQAP. What is known is that the man did indeed manage to penetrate AQAP and was eventually entrusted with attacking a civilian airliner with a custom-built bomb designed to fit seamlessly around his scrotum. However, instead of carrying out the suicide mission as agreed, the man left Yemen for Saudi Arabia and delivered both himself and the bomb to Saudi intelligence. The Saudis eventually notified the CIA of the foiled plot, before forwarding the deactivated explosive device to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is now studying it. Thus, initial media reports claiming that the CIA had foiled the attack appear somewhat stretched at this point, in light of the critical role of the Saudi mole inside AQAP. Read more of this post

Sweden set up front company to secretly export arms to Saudi Arabia

Swedish Defense Research AgencyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Long considered as one of the world’s most socially responsible nations, Sweden has stringent laws prohibiting the export of Swedish weapons to countries that fall short of elementary democratic standards. Which is why the Swedish electorate was shocked by news earlier this month that the Swedish government set up a front company to secretly export weapons to one of the world’s most repressive and brutal regimes: Saudi Arabia. According to Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s publicly funded national broadcaster, which first aired the story, the shell company, which is named SSTI, was founded in 2009. It was registered in Saudi Arabia by former employees of Sweden’s Defense Research Agency. Known simply as FOI, the Agency operates as the defense research arm of the Swedish government, and reports directly to Sweden’s Ministry of Defense. The Stockholm based broadcaster said that the former FOI employees were specifically selected by the Swedish government in order to prevent the appearance of links between the front company, SSTI, and the Swedish state. The deal with the Saudi government was to build a weapons factory in the oil-rich kingdom, which would covertly manufacture Swedish weapons for direct sale to the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces. The deal turned complex, however, and was almost derailed, by the requirement to use cash funds in order to set up SSTI. It was at that point, Sveriges Radio says, that the FOI turned to Swedish military intelligence for assistance. According to anonymous sources, FOI officials “borrowed cash” from Sweden’s Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST), which was eventually transported in suitcases to Saudi Arabia “on several occasions”, in order to help set up the front company. MUST, a division of the Swedish Armed Forces Central Command, which employs both military and civilian staff, asked no questions. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #698

Cecilia LooströmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Swedish official sent top-secret intel briefing via Hotmail. A high-ranking official at Sweden’s Ministry of Defense sent notes on highly confidential arms trade negotiations with a Saudi Arabian official through a Hotmail email address. The four-page-long email, which details a secret conversation with a Saudi General, was sent in 2008 from assistant Under-Secretary for Defense Cecilia Looström, according to a Swedish newspaper.
►►Russian diplomat won’t deny espionage activity in Canada. Russia’s ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov, has refused to deny that his country carries out spy activity in Canada. He told a Canadian television reporter that “I am neither denying nor confirming [Russian espionage in Canada]. I would be a fool [...] if I would confirm that we are doing as much”. He said Russia conducts intelligence activities in other countries —although he didn’t specify which— but refused to give any details on what activities, if any, are conducted within Canada.
►►New Taiwan spy case raises concerns. A Taiwanese air force captain surnamed Chiang is believed to have passed intelligence to China. Reportedly, Chiang’s uncle, who operates a business in China, helped pass on the information allegedly obtained by Chiang, which is said to have included classified material on Taiwan’s early-warning radar system as well as E-2T/E-2K Hawkeye surveillance aircraft. The case has rocked the Taiwanese military, as it comes a little more than a year after a high-profile spy for China was caught and is now serving a life sentence.

News you may have missed #695

Nicolas Sarkozy and Muammar GaddafiBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►Spies meet over Syrian crisis. CIA chief David Petraeus met Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday for closed-door talks focusing on the crisis across the border in Syria. Meanwhile, General Murad Muwafi, who heads Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, left Cairo on Tuesday for a visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Also, US General Ronald Burgess, Defense Intelligence Agency Director, has arrived in Egypt and is expected to meet with several Egyptian officials to discuss the situation in Syria.
►►Gaddafi contributed €50m to Sarkozy election fund. Damaging new claims have emerged about the funding of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign and his links with former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The French investigative website Mediapart claims to have seen a confidential note suggesting Gaddafi contributed up to €50 million to Sarkozy’s election fund five years ago.
►►Analysis: US relations on the agenda for Pakistan’s new spy chief. Yusuf Raza Gilani has appointed Lieutenant General Zahir ul-Islam as the new chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the main spy arm of the Pakistani military, ending weeks of speculation he would extend the term of Lieutenant Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, due to retire on March 18. The new spymaster faces a tough task fixing ever-worsening ties with the United States, but analysts say he is unlikely to reform an institution accused of helping militants in Afghanistan.

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