Discovery of spy parts leaves French-UAE satellite deal in doubt

Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin ZayedBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The planned acquisition of two French-built spy satellites by the United Arab Emirates appeared to be in doubt last night, after news that technicians discovered “security-compromising components” in the satellites’ software. The agreed purchase, which is to be completed in 2018, concerns two Falcon Eye military observation satellites worth nearly €700 million (US $930 million). The deal, signed last July by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, includes the provision of a ground station, as well as the training of up to 20 UAE engineers who will staff it. Two companies, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, were contracted for the project. The French bid was chosen from an original shortlist of 11 bidders, along with a similar one from the United States. Ultimately, the American bid was rejected by Abu Dhabi, due to the operational restrictions placed by the American makers of the proposed satellites. At the time, the French-UAE deal raised eyebrows in defense circles worldwide, as it was the first time that France had agreed to sell military-grade high-resolution satellites to a foreign buyer. But an article in US-based defense industry publication Defense News, said software engineers in the UAE had discovered a number of components in the satellites that seem designed to “provide a back door to the highly secure data transmitted to the ground station”. Interestingly, the back-door components appeared to have come from US suppliers. Read more of this post

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Syrian President’s mother said to have ‘defected’

Anisah Makhlouf with Hafez al-Assad in 1994By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Arab media reports appeared to confirm yesterday an allegation made last week by a senior American diplomat that the mother of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had abandoned the country. Speaking to CNN last week, Ambassador Robert Ford, who served as the United States’ envoy to Syria until he was recalled by Washington in 2011, said Anisah Makhlouf al-Assad had escaped to the United Arab Emirates. The 78-year-old widow of late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1970 until his death in 2000, is a revered figure among government supporters. As the current President’s mother, she is said to exercise significant influence on the Syrian regime’s core decision makers, despite her advanced age. According several reports in Arab media, Anisah has now joined her daughter Bushra al-Assad in the Emirates. Bushra, who is the Syrian President’s oldest sister, escaped with her five children to the Gulf oil state in July 2012, after her husband, Assef Shawkat, Syria’s deputy Minister of Defense, was assassinated by the opposition in Damascus along with two other senior Syrian government officials. In his CNN interview, Ambassador Ford argued that Anisah’s defection showed that, “little by little, the inner core [of the Syrian regime] is weakening” as its members are “flaking off. They themselves know they are losing”, he added. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #743 (espionage edition)

Vladimir LazarBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Denmark professor jailed for spying. Timo Kivimäki a Finnish professor of international politics in Copenhagen, Denmark, has been sentenced to five months in prison for spying, following a trial held behind closed doors, from which even the verdict was not released. Several Russian diplomats left Denmark after the start of the spy case and, according to Danish media, Kivimäki’s lawyer, Anders Nemeth, had attempted to have them return to act as witnesses.
►►Retired Russian colonel convicted of spying for US. A Russian court has ruled that retired Colonel Vladimir Lazar spied for the US, and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. Lazar will be sent to a high-security prison and stripped of his military rank, the Federal Security Service said in a statement. Prosecutors said Lazar purchased several computer disks with more than 7,000 images of classified maps of Russia from a collector in 2008 and smuggled them to neighboring Belarus, where he gave them to an alleged American intelligence agent.
►►India arrests military intel staffer for spying. The soldier, identified only as Shivdasan, worked for the Indian Army’s Technical Support Division, which is a newly founded unit within Indian Military Intelligence. He was reportedly trapped by the Indian Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in an elaborate operation that involved a “double agent” and a relative of the soldier in Dubai.

News you may have missed #660

Margaret ThatcherBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Taiwan President accused of spying on political opponents. Taiwan’s opposition challenger for the presidency, Tsai Ing-wen, has accused intelligence services under the control of incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou of tracking her campaign events for political advantage. The allegations – unproven and denied by Ma – conjure up memories of Taiwan’s one-party past when Ma’s party, the Nationalists, used their total control of the state apparatus to persecute opponents.
►►Analysis: Has Israeli-Australian spy relationship been restored? Intelligence sharing between Israel and Australia was halted this time last year, when a Mossad hit squad with forged Australian passports assassinated senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in in Dubai. But Australian newspaper The Age reports that “the flow of top secret intelligence between the two countries has now been restored”, in a move apparently initiated by the Australian side.
►►Thatcher threatened to ban BBC program on MI5 and MI6. The Conservative government of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threatened to “veto” a BBC investigative program about British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, because it would reveal details about how they operated and question their public accountability. In a letter marked “top secret and personal”, cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong, recommended that Margaret Thatcher consider invoking the rarely used power, saying that “the government has the power to ban any program”. Thatcher wrote on the note: “I would be prepared to use the veto”.

Mossad spy network allegedly busted in Mauritania

Fares al-BannaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in the northwestern African country of Mauritania have allegedly busted an Israeli spy network linked to the 2010 assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. One of Mauridania’s leading daily newspapers, Al-Huriyeh, says that the spy ring, which allegedly consisted “businessmen and activists [from] several Arab nationalities”, was uncovered following the arrest of one of its members, identified as Fares al-Banna. A Jordanian citizen of Palestinian extraction, al-Banna was arrested for larceny, which eventually lead to a warrant issued for searching his premises. Upon searching his house, authorities reportedly found a handwritten letter, addressed to the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, in which al-Banna claimed had been recruited by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. In the letter, al-Banna also claimed that he had participated in the January 2010 assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. The letter also alleges that al-Banna helped Mossad carry out a bombing of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET409, which blew up in mid-air on January 24, 2010, five minutes after taking off from Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri International Airport, en route to Addis Ababa. Al-Huriyeh reports that al-Banna’s letter suggests the Mossad blew up the plane in order to kill one or more Hezbollah targets who were on board. The Mauritanian daily says that police officers who searched al-Banna’s home, as well as his office at a travel agents called “United Travel Services”, found several different passports containing his picture, “dozens of credit cards”, as well as a sophisticated device believed to be a transmitter of some kind. Read more of this post

United States urges Iran to release alleged CIA spy

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has called on Iran to release an American citizen of Iranian descent, who appeared on Iranian state TV last Sunday and acknowledged that he was an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the pre-recorded interview, a man identifying himself as Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, from Arizona, said he was arrested by Iranian counterintelligence while on a CIA mission. Speaking calmly in Farsi and English and —as Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper put it— appearing to be “not under duress”, Hekmati said the joined the US Army in 2001 and served in Iraq. He also said that he was trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army, and eventually worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the US Pentagon’s research and development wing. In 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he said he was recruited by the CIA and was specifically prepared for what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran.  The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information, in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations. Read more of this post

Ex-Bush official advised Gaddafi until early August, documents show

Libya

Libya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Intelligence documents found at the headquarters of Libya’s abandoned spy agency appear to show that the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi enjoyed the support of an American diplomat who served in the Bush administration. Al Jazeera reports that David Welch, who was Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the US Department of State between 2005 and 2008, met on August 2 with Gaddafi officials in the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo, Egypt. According to a Libyan intelligence memo from the meeting, Welch, who now works for Bechtel Corporation, gave the Gaddafi officials tips on how “to win the propaganda war” against the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC). He also instructed them to undermine Libya’s rebel movement by relying on several “confidence-building measures”, including controlled intelligence leaks aimed at manipulating the news output of Arab and Western media. The documents also reveal that Gaddafi maintained spies at the highest echelons of the rebel council, and that at least one of these spies offered to assassinate rebel leaders by “poisoning their food and water”. However, despite maintaining an ample amount of informants inside the NTC, the Gaddafi regime found it difficult to collect reliable and actionable intelligence during the civil war. Characteristically, many of the names of NTC’s central figures are misspelled in intelligence field reports, and one intelligence analyst complained recently that “the majority of those currently working for the intelligence administration are ill-prepared to carry out intelligence duties”. Despite these shortcomings, however, Gaddafi’s spies inside the NTC appear to have managed to intercept a large number of telephone messages and confidential emails between the NTC and foreign diplomats. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #534

MI6 HQ

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
According to extracts from the diary of Alastair Campbell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s communications director from 2000 to 2003, officials from the MI6 intelligence agency told Blair that France and Germany aimed to “exploit his feud” with then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. Gotta love European unity. In Kuwait, meanwhile, the oil state’s Al-Shahed daily quotes “knowledgeable sources”, who claim that “a lot of spy networks exploit the Kuwaiti environment” and use the country as a transit point to spy on neighboring countries. Hopefully the Kuwaitis will not emulate authorities in Dubai, which in March of last year called on all foreign spies “to leave the region within a week. If not”, they warned, “we will cross that bridge when we come to it”. In the nearby state of Israel, public opinion is still divided about former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s criticism of the Netanyahu government. As Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg notes, Dagan has “called into question the wisdom –and, privately, even the sanity– of any Israeli leader who contemplates a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities”. But why is he doing it, and could it backfire?

News you may have missed #518

  • Pakistan to intensify intel collaboration with China. Pakistan has assured China of full co-operation in providing intelligence about the activities of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which aims to separate Xinjiang, an autonomous region, from China.
  • US spy community launches ‘Analytical Olympics’. This new competition for analysts to see who makes the best predictions, was outlined in a recent report by the US National Research Council, which suggests practical ways to apply insights from the behavioral and social sciences to the intelligence community.
  • UAE mercenaries say they have no Blackwater contacts. Michael Roumi, president of Reflex Responses, a company training foreign mercenary troops for the United Arab Emirates, has told the US State Department and members of Congress that Erik Prince, the former head of the security firm Blackwater Worldwide, plays no role in operating the business.

Iran arrests dozens in connection with alleged CIA spy ring

Iran

Iran

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The Iranian intelligence services have announced the arrest of at least 30 individuals accused of being part of an elaborate CIA “espionage and sabotage network” operating in the country. According to Iran’s Fars News Agency, spy ring members, which include government administrators, were handled from abroad by as many as 42 CIA operatives, whose identities are allegedly known to Iranian counterintelligence investigators. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry claims that spy ring members, who are believed to be Iranian, were recruited by CIA officers operating out of US embassies in several predominantly Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Malaysia. They were then trained and sent into Iran to gather intelligence on energy projects, academic research, as well as telecommunications installations and border control systems. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #509 (Blackwater edition)

News you may have missed #505 (bin Laden edition)

  • Bin Laden assassins confiscated digital devices. According to US officials, members of the US elite forces that raided Osama bin Laden’s residence in Pakistan “carried off five computers, 10 hard drives and more than 100 storage devices, such as DVDs and removable flash drives”.
  • Bin Laden compound was once spy agency safe house. Reports from the United Arab Emirates suggest that the compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was killed was once used as a safe house by the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s premier spy agency.
  • CIA says it will release bin Laden pictures. The White House says that it intends to release images of Osama bin Laden’s assassination, but warns that they are “gruesome” and “could be inflammatory”.

Emirates authorities deny Oman spy ring allegations

Oman

Oman

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of the United Arab Emirates has denied operating an espionage network in the neighboring Sultanate of Oman, saying that spying goes against the country’s values. The official denial was issued in response to a news report by Oman’s state news agency, which said that Omani authorities had uncovered a spy ring targeting the country’s intelligence and military apparatus. According to the report, issued yesterday by the Oman News Agency, the country’s security services “discovered a spy network affiliated to the State Security Service in the United Arab Emirates”, leading to several arrests across the Sultanate. No further information was issued by the news agency, but Reuters quoted an anonymous Omani government source, who said that the alleged spy network was first uncovered two months ago, and that the arrestees include “Omani nationals”. The news of the espionage allegations have perplexed observers, who consider the UAE and Oman to be generally on good terms. Both countries belong to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, an increasingly unified political and economic union that involves the region’s pro-Western oil states, including Saudi Arabia. One notable difference between the UAE and Oman is the latter’s traditionally close relations with Iran, with which it maintains common energy concerns. Read more of this post

New clues in extensive recount of al-Mabhouh assassination

Ronen Bergman

Ronen Bergman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The current issue of US-based magazine GQ contains what must be the most extensive account in English of the 2010 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Written by Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman (author of The Secret War with Iran), the piece contains several new clues about the targeted killing of al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official, in a luxury hotel in Dubai last January. One new element that stands out in Bergman’s account is that, two months prior to his assassination, al-Mabhouh survived a poisoning attempt by the same team of Israeli operatives, again in Dubai. The Hamas official fell ill, but recovered fully. Bergman also claims that the operation to target al-Mabhouh, which must have lasted several months or even years, involved the use of an elaborate Trojan horse virus that was implanted on al-Mabhouh’s computer, and allowed Mossad operatives to monitor his email correspondence. It was through this method that the Israelis became aware of al-Mabhouh’s itinerary during his fatal trip to Dubai. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #464 (Mossad edition)

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