Colombian ex-spy head sent to prison over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In reporting on Hurtado’s sentencing, the Reuters news agency noted on Thursday that approximately “two-thirds of Uribe’s closest political allies during his presidency […] have been convicted, sanctioned or investigated for crimes”. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that several senior Colombian justice officials have called for a wider investigation of Uribe himself and several of his top aides, for their role in the DAS wiretapping program.

Colombian ex-spy head convicted over wiretapping scandal

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s intelligence service, who recently surrendered after being on the run for five years, has been convicted for organizing an illegal wiretapping campaign against politicians, judges and other high-profile personalities. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her in November 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government, Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared. Her whereabouts remained unknown until September 30 of this year, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in.

In delivering its unanimous guilty verdict, Colombia’s Supreme Court said on Friday that Hurtado had “abused her authority” through a series of “wrongful and arbitrary acts”, which included the systematic “unlawful violation of communications”. Commenting on the court’s decision, a lawyer for one of Hurtado’s victims, former senator Piedad Cordoba, said the court should also consider the question of “who drove [Hurtado] to commit the offenses” against Uribe’s critics. Many of the victims in the court case against Hurtado have publicly accused former President Uribe of ordering the wiretaps. He denies the accusations. Hurtado could face up to 18 years in prison. She is expected to be sentenced today.

Al Jazeera reporters not linked to mystery drones seen over Paris

Eiffel TowerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Three Al Jazeera journalists, who were arrested yesterday for flying a drone over a Paris park, are not linked to the earlier mysterious sightings of drones flying over famous landmarks and security installations in the French capital, according to media reports. The bizarre sightings began last October, when security officials from France’s state-owned power company EDF filed a police complaint after noticing several mini-drones flying over at least seven nuclear power plants. Another 20 sightings of drones were documented in November, all of them seen flying over nuclear installations in various parts of France.

On January 20, another drone was seen hovering over the Elysee Palace in Paris, which is the official residence French President Francois Hollande. Less than a week later, several drones were observed flying over a maximum-security French naval base in Brittany, which houses nuclear submarines. At least ten more sightings were reported on Monday and Tuesday night this week, this time flying over important buildings and landmarks in Paris. Among the apparent surveillance targets of the mysterious drones were the embassy of the United States, the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides national military museum, the Place de la Concorde at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées, and the Bastille monument. Security forces also reported drone sightings near major public thoroughfares leading in and out of the French capital. French authorities said on Tuesday that they were investigating the incidents under the assumption that they were linked.

On Wednesday, French police announced that three journalists working for Qatar-based television station Al Jazeera had been detained for piloting a drone that was seen flying over a park in Bois de Boulogne, an area located at the edge of the French capital. But initial reports in the media that the three Al Jazeera reporters were somehow linked to the mysterious drone sightings of earlier weeks appear to be dismissed by the authorities. The latter said on Wednesday that there was “no suggestion” of any connection between the journalists and the string of drone incidents over the French capital. As for explaining the drone sightings, French authorities say they have no idea whether it is the work of tourists, practical jokers, criminals or prospective terrorists. Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told reporters on Wednesday that “people should not be worried, but vigilant”, as the incidents were “taken very seriously”.

Colombia’s fugitive ex-spy chief wanted by Interpol surrenders

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of Colombia’s security service, who is accused of spying on senior political figures, has turned herself over to the authorities after five years on the run. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a prime subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. She later surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice.

Hurtado is among 18 senior officials facing charges for criminal activities during the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. His critics accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted former presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Last summer, after consistent diplomatic pressure from the Colombian government Panama’s Supreme Court to ruled that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. Eventually, Hurtado’s asylum was revoked; but by that time the fugitive former spy director had once again disappeared.

Her whereabouts remained unknown until last Friday, when Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for her capture. That same evening, Hurtado appeared at the Colombian embassy in Panama and promptly identified herself, stating that she was turning herself in. Colombian authorities immediately flew her to Bogota on a specially chartered plane. Upon her arrival at the Colombian capital, a judge ordered her arrest and she was taken to prison. She is currently awaiting trial inside a high-security ward at the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Bogota. Authorities say Hurtado is under heavy police protection, as there are fears that some of her former colleagues in the now defunct DAS may try to assassinate her.

Panama tries to block extradition of Colombia’s former spy chief

Ana BelfonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior government officials in Panama continue to shelter one of Colombia’s notorious former spy chiefs, who is wanted in Colombia for spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2009. But on October 31, 2010, she left Colombia, apparently unobstructed, despite being a chief subject in a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted to her on November 19, 2010, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Finally, after years of diplomatic pressure by Uribe’s successor, Panama’s supreme court ruled last week that Hurtado’s asylum had been granted to her in violation of the Panamanian constitution. It consequently ordered that her residence permit, which was granted to her under the personal authorization of Panama’s heavy-handed President, Ricardo Martinelli, would become invalid after three working days. The three working-day deadline was set to expire at 5:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday. However, shortly before the cut-off time, Panama’s Attorney General, Ana Belfon (pictured), stepped in and effectively extended Hurtado’s residence permit deadline. In a dramatic move, Belfon filed an appeal on behalf of the government, asking the Supreme Court to clarify the conditions of the former spy chief’s deportation back to Colombia. In accordance with Panamanian legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision to cancel Hurtado’s residence permit is now suspended and the Colombian former spymaster will continue to enjoy the Panamanian government’s protection until the Supreme Court responds to the Attorney General’s appeal. Read more of this post

New documents reveal massive NSA surveillance capabilities

General Keith AlexanderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Documents provided by American former intelligence technician Edward Snowden show that the United States National Security Agency has unprecedented surveillance capabilities, which allow it to monitor nearly every online activity of targeted Internet users. Snowden, a self-styled whistleblower, who is currently in Russia, provided British newspaper The Guardian with an NSA training presentation. The visually based presentation explains the inner workings of an intelligence collection program called XKeyscore, which the NSA describes as its “widest-reaching” digital collection program. The system allows NSA data collectors to sift through massive online databases containing millions of individual users’ browsing histories, emails and chats —what the NSA calls digital network intelligence (DNI). According to the training presentation, authorized NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by entering their name, email address, IP address or telephone number. The presentation states that, upon entering the identifying information, an NSA analyst can tap into “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet”, including the content and metadata of emails, website browsing and search terms used. Snowden told The Guardian that an NSA analyst only needs to know a user’s personal email address in order to “wiretap anyone [while] sitting at [his] desk, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President”. What is more, it appears that NSA analysts are able to target individual Internet users by simply “filling in an […] on-screen form”, and by giving only a very broad justification for the probe. Additionally, individual digital collection operations are not approved by a court or senior NSA officers. According to Snowden, all an NSA analyst has to do is suspect that the targeted online user is in contact with “a foreign target”. Meanwhile, NSA Director Keith Alexander was jeered by participants during his keynote speech at the Black Hat Technical Security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Read more of this post

Germany probes UK spy program revealed by CIA whistleblower

Sabine Leutheusser-SchnarrenbergerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Germany wants to know whether its citizens were spied on under a British government surveillance program revealed by American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The program, codenamed Project TEMPORA, was disclosed earlier this week by Snowden, a former technical assistant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Snowden remains holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, as Russian authorities have rejected repeated requests by Washington to extradite him to the US. According to British newspaper The Guardian, which first wrote about Project TEMPORA on June 21, Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been able to “plug into the cables that carry internet traffic into and out” of the United Kingdom. The agency, which is tasked with communications interception, has therefore collected and stored massive quantities of foreign telephone call data and email messages, and has shared much of it with its US counterpart, the National Security Agency. On June 25, Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, wrote a letter to her British counterpart, Chris Grayling, asking for immediate clarification on the precise legal basis for Project TEMPORA. In her letter, which was copied to the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, the German cabinet minister also inquires whether TEMPORA has been authorized by the appropriate judicial authorities. She argues that “European institutions should shed light on this [issue] immediately” and warns her British colleagues that she plans to raise the subject during the July 2013 meeting of European  Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers, which will be held in Brussels, Belgium. Read more of this post

Analysis: PRISM revelations harm US political, financial interests

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Ever since June 6, when Edward Snowden, a former United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) technician, exposed a vast communications spying system called PRISM, observers have focused on the ramifications of this controversy inside America. But in an excellent analysis written for ComputerWorld magazine’s New Zealand edition, Taylor Armerding points out that Snowden’s revelation could result in extensive international blowback for the United States, in both the political and economic realms. Armerding quotes Toronto University political science professor Ron Deibert, who argues that this latest revelation of massive communications interception activity by the National Security Agency (NSA) carries with it “unintended consequences […] that will undermine US foreign policy interests”. Deibert points out that the spy scandal has the potential to undercut America’s role and influence in global Internet governance. In the words of renowned security expert Bruce Schneier, many around the world are beginning to view the US as “simply too untrustworthy to manage the Internet”. Even policymakers and ordinary users friendly to Washington are worried about what they perceive as the “huge disadvantages” of their dependence on US-managed Internet networks that host the content of social media sites, cloud computing databases, or telecommunications exchanges, says Deibert. But the biggest potential damage to US interests, argues Armerding, is not political, but economic. “It is not just personal information that is being swept into the NSA’s massive databases”, he notes; “it is corporate data as well”. Indeed, the vast foreign and domestic spying represented by PRISM poses a direct threat to the global competitiveness of the American technology sector. Read more of this post

Syrian government accuses Israel of planting spy devices

Alleged spy device found in SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
News media affiliated with the government of Syria accused Israel on Thursday of planting a number of spy devices disguised as rocks, which were found located near “sensitive sites” in the country. The government-owned Syrian Arab News Agency, which published photographs of the alleged spy devices, said they were discovered “in the past few days” at an unspecified region on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Later on the same day, video footage of the devices was aired on Syrian state television. The video footage and photographs show what appear to be large-sized faux rocks. Nestled in their hollow interior are cameras, microphones, transmission devices, as well as large batteries. Syrian media reports said that the transmission gear enabled the devices to broadcast audio and video signals in real time. The camouflaged contraptions closely resemble a number of “mystery devices” found on mountain ranges around the Lebanese capital Beirut in 2010 and 2011. The electronic devices found in Lebanon were hidden under two fake boulders and consisted of surveillance cameras, electronic transmitters, as well as satellite signal reception systems. One of the devices was even connected to a third fake boulder containing long-lasting batteries, which powered the surveillance system. The devices, which were discovered by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, displayed manufacturing labels bearing writing in Hebrew and in English, which included the name of a company called “Beam Systems Israel Ltd”. Read more of this post

Hamas ‘found tracking devices’ inside weapons bound for Gaza

Rafah Border CrossingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Palestinian militant group Hamas said on Sunday it refused to take possession of a shipment of missiles after its weapons experts discovered they contained a number of carefully hidden tracking devices. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea, which reported the story, said it spoke to a source “closely affiliated with weapons smugglers” in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who confirmed Hamas’ claim. According to Al-Youm, the weapons shipment consisted of 28 long-range missiles stolen from the arsenal of the Libyan armed forces during the uprising that led to the overthrow of Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The shipment made its way across the border with Egypt and from there to the Sinai desert, before ending up at the Rafah Border Crossing, located between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It was there that the missiles were inspected by a team from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The paper reported that one of the Hamas inspectors, a senior member of the al-Qassam Brigades, discovered a number of miniature tracking devices carefully concealed inside the missiles, which appeared to be active. Following the discovery, the Hamas team backed out of the purchase deal and abandoned the inspection site. Al-Youm also said that the Palestinian group has decided to terminate its contacts with a significant number of weapons smugglers operating in the Sinai, because of concerns that they may have been penetrated by Israeli and Egyptian intelligence. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #811

Efraim HalevyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Former Mossad chief pushes for dialogue with Iran. After Meir Dagan, another former chief of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has publicly called for a dialogue between the West and Iran. Speaking to Al-Monitor, an American website covering Middle-East news, Halevy, who directed the Mossad from 1998 to 2002, said that “the Iranians, in their heart of hearts, would like to get out of their conundrum”. IntelNews readers may remember Halevy’s comments in August, when he warned that Israel’s threats of a military attack on Iran were “credible” and “serious”, adding that, if he were an Iranian, he would be “very fearful of the next 12 weeks”.
►►UK says attack on Iran ‘not right course at this time’. The British government has reiterated that it does not believe military action against Iran would be appropriate at the moment, following the disclosure that Britain has rebuffed US requests to use UK military bases to support the buildup of forces in the Gulf. US diplomats have lobbied for the use of British bases in Cyprus, and for permission to fly from US bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, both of which are British territories.
►►German spy agencies disclose spy tools in rare move. Most law enforcement agencies refuse to reveal the surveillance technologies they use, claiming doing so could threaten national security. But authorities in Germany have shown it is possible to be transparent without the sky falling in —by disclosing how they have spent millions on spy tools to help monitor Skype, email, and mobile phones. Earlier this year, German politician Jan Korte submitted a series of written questions to the country’s federal ministry of home affairs regarding surveillance tools. The answers Korte received were published in German in July, but have only this month been translated (.pdf) into English.

Irish police uncover Real IRA surveillance ring

Real IRA paradeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Police in the Republic of Ireland have arrested two men suspected of spying on the operational headquarters of the Garda Siochana (Irish Police) in Dublin. The two men, aged 41 and 32, who have not been named, were arrested after one of them was recognized by police officers as a known member of the Real Irish Republic Army. The Real IRA, or RIRA, is an Irish republican paramilitary organization formed in 1997, following a split in the Provisional IRA — the armed wing of Sin Fein. It seeks to bring about a united Ireland, but is considered a terrorist group by the United Kingdom and the United States, among other countries. Gardai officers discovered that the Real IRA suspect had used a false name to book a room in a hotel directly overlooking the regional headquarters of the Gardai on Harcourt Street. The building houses, among other police units, the Gardai’s Special Branch and the Criminal Assets Bureau, both of which are used to investigate paramilitary activity in the Republic. Upon searching the room, Gardai officers reportedly found “hi-tech surveillance equipment”, including parabolic microphones and digital cameras. Anonymous Gardai sources claim the equipment was used to eavesdrop on conversations held inside the Gardai building across the street, and to record the license tags of private vehicles belonging to Gardai personnel. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #773

Tamir PardoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Conflicting reports on CIA-ISI meeting. Lieutenant General Zahir ul-Islam, who heads Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, held talks in Washington with his CIA counterpart General David Petraeus, between August 1 and 3. It was the first time in a year that the chief of the ISI made the trip to the US, signaling a possible thaw in relations. Depending on the source, the meeting was either “substantive, professional and productive”, or “made no big strides on the main issues”.
►►Senior Mossad official suspected of financial misconduct. A senior Mossad official is suspected of financial misconduct and has been forced to take a leave of absence until Israeli police complete an investigation into his alleged deeds, Israeli media reported on Sunday. The official, a department head in Israel’s spy organization, has reportedly denied any wrongdoing, but sources said he would likely not be reinstated in light of investigation findings and is effectively being forced to retire. The nature of the official’s alleged misconduct has not been reported, but it is said that the official in question has close ties to Mossad Director Tamir Pardo, who appointed him to his position last year.
►►Ex-NSA official disputes DefCon claims by NSA chief. William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, has accused NSA director General Keith Alexander of deceiving the public during a speech he gave at the DefCon hacker conference last week. In his speech, Alexander asserted that the NSA does not collect files on Americans. But Binney accused Alexander of playing a “word game” and said the NSA was indeed collecting and indexing e-mails, Twitter writings, Internet searches and other data belonging to Americans. “The reason I left the NSA was because they started spying on everybody in the country. That’s the reason I left”, said Binney, who resigned from the agency in late 2001.

News you may have missed #763

RedHack posterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Taiwan ex-colonel nabbed for spying for China. Cheng Lin-feng, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Taiwanese army, and civilian Tsai Teng-han, were taken in by Taiwanese police last week on suspicion of spying for China. Cheng was allegedly recruited by Chinese intelligence when he travelled to the mainland to do business, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement, adding that he had been investigated ever since a tip-off in 2009. A court spokesman said that details of case will be held until the investigation is completed.
Russian law brands foreign-funded NGOs ‘foreign agents’. Russia’s Lower House of Parliament has approved a bill that brands non-governmental organizations receiving funding from abroad as “foreign agents”, a law that activists fear the Kremlin will use to target critics. The bill is almost certain to be approved by the Upper House before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, who last year accused the US State Department of funding protests against him. The bill is seen by many analysts as setting up a legal infrastructure for a crackdown on the opposition. Meanwhile, official statistics show that wiretapping in the Russian Federation has nearly doubled over the past five years. The main driver of the rise, analysts say, involves the myriad of Russia’s rival security services spying on each other.
►►Turkish hackers release names of police informants. Members of Turkey’s Marxist cyberactivist group RedHack have dumped online a 75-megabyte text file with thousands of emails from Turkish police informants. The group said it released the information in retaliation against ultra-nationalist hackers who have been threatening opposition academics and journalists. RedHack, which has been using ‘defacement hacking’ to promote a Marxist political agenda since its founding, in 1997, is included on the Turkish government’s list of terrorist organizations. In March of this year, RedHack stole data from the Turkish police’s network, forcing the police to shut down all its servers.

Situation Report: CIA venture group funds video recorder firm

In-Q-TelBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
On June 27, In-Q-Tel, the venture arm of the Central Intelligence Agency and other members of the United States intelligence community, announced a strategic partnership with Looxcie, makers of the first ever “wear and share” videocam recorders. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. In-Q-Tel, created in 1999, is the foremost strategic investor on behalf of the US Intelligence Community. Originally called “Peleus”, In-Q-Tel was initially associated with the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T).  Interestingly enough, the “Q” in In-Q-Tel’s branding is apparently derived from a fictional character in the James Bond movies referred to as “Q”.  As many movie fans will recall, “Q” was responsible for outfitting Bond and other 00s with the famed and awe-inspiring gadgetry and technical equipment needed for missions. Having evolved from the CIA’s DS&T, whose primary purpose is to “create, adapt, develop and operate technical collection systems and apply enabling technologies to the collection, processing and analysis of information”, In-Q-Tel’s strategic investments in dual-purpose technology firms is hardly surprising. In fact, In-Q-Tel has a notable track record, especially given the fact that it is a government-run venture capital fund. Successful as it may be, In-Q-Tel represents itself quite humbly, formally explaining that it is a “not-for-profit organization […] created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the Intelligence Community and new advances in commercial technology”. Read more of this post

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