US spied on 143-member Iran delegation to 2007 UN summit

Manouchehr Mottaki and Mahmoud AhmadinejadThe United States National Security Agency spied on the Iranian president, foreign minister, and over 140 Iranian dignitaries who visited New York in 2007 to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. The allegation was aired on Wednesday by American television station NBC, which cited former intelligence officials and a top-secret report on the espionage operation. The original report was included in an October 2007 issue of SID Daily, an internal NSA newsletter published by the spy agency’s Signal Intelligence Division. The report, which is entitled “Tips for a Successful Quick Reaction Capability”, commends the espionage operation against the Iranian UN delegation as an exemplary illustration of a collaborative effort between managers, technical experts, and analysts.

The operation appears to have been directly initiated in early 2007 by the George W. Bush White House, which asked the NSA to spy on Iran’s UN delegation. The blanket permission included espionage conducted against the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki, who were scheduled to be in New York in September of that year to attend the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly. In response to the White House authorization, the NSA deployed a small army of technical experts and analysts to spy on the entire 143-member Iranian delegation for 19 hours a day during the summit.

The NSA teams were allegedly able to record, transcribe and analyze 2,000 conversations of various lengths per day. According to NBC, the NSA was able to intercept the personal conversations of President Ahmadinejad, a number of video conferences involving members of the Iranian delegation, as well as calls made using Skype. The latter were intercepted using a secret technology codenamed BLARNEY by NSA, while the agency also relied on bugs installed in hotel and conference rooms used by the Iranians, said NBC. The intercepted communications were subsequently examined by the NSA’s Social Network Analysis Office in an effort to map the “social networks” of the Iranian government’s senior echelons.

The Iranian government did not respond to NBC’s requests for comment. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to arrive in New York today to attend the 70th UN General Assembly debate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 September 2015 | Permalink

Obama delegation switches hotels allegedly due to espionage fears

Waldorf AstoriaThe president of the United States and his delegation will be housed at a different hotel during a United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month, allegedly due to concerns over Chinese espionage activity. Since the late 1940s, the American president and his diplomatic entourage have resided at the Waldorf Astoria for several days in September, while attending the annual UN General Assembly in New York. The luxury hotel, which is located on Park Avenue on the island of Manhattan, has also served since 1947 as the residence of the US ambassador to the UN. That is also why the American delegation is usually hosted there, courtesy of the ambassador. This year, however, President Barack Obama and his sizeable delegation will be staying at the New York Palace Hotel, located at the corner of Manhattan’s 50th Street and Madison Avenue. The announcement was made last week by the White House and the US Department of State.

According to The Associated Press and The New York Times, the decision to relocate the American high-level delegation is primarily due to security concerns. The reports cited well-placed sources in the US government as stating that the relocation was prompted by the sale last year of the Waldorf Astoria to the Chinese firm Anbang Insurance Group. The McLean, VA-headquartered Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., which sold the hotel to the Chinese firm, pocketed nearly $2 billion from the transaction. Based on the terms of the agreement, the American company will continue to operate the Waldorf Astoria until 2114. But Anbang announced last spring that the hotel would be undergoing a massive renovation program, which, according to media reports, has alarmed American counterintelligence officials. The latter are concerned that Chinese intelligence technicians may use the renovation to install eavesdropping equipment in Waldorf Astoria’s rooms and compromise the hotel’s Internet network.

The US diplomatic exit from the Waldorf Astoria was first reported back in mid-June, but was not confirmed by the White House or the Department of State. Since that time, no American cabinet official, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, has stayed at the Waldorf. But President Obama’s upcoming trip renewed the media’s interest in the change of hotels, and US government officials finally confirmed that the Chinese-owned hotel had been dropped based “on several considerations, including space, costs and security”. A State Department official told reporters last week that the change took “into account changing circumstances”. The Times also reported that the US government is examining whether its ambassador to the UN will continue to be headquartered at the Waldorf.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 September 2015 | Permalink

Panel to present findings on mysterious death of UN secretary general

Dag HammarskjöldA panel of experts commissioned by the United Nations is about to unveil fresh evidence on the mysterious death in 1961 of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld, who some claim was murdered for supporting African decolonization. The evidence could spark a new official probe into the incident, which has been called “one of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century”.

On September 17, 1961, a Douglas DC-6 transport aircraft carrying United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in the British-administered territory of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The crash killed everyone onboard. Three successive investigations into the crash, conducted by the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation, viewed “pilot error” as the most likely cause of the tragedy. However, the latter probe, which was closed in 1962, opined that deliberate sabotage could not be ruled out as a likely cause of the tragedy.

Since that time, numerous scholars and independent investigators, such as Swedish development expert Göran Björkdahl and British academic Susan Williams, have raised the possibility that the plane carrying Secretary General Hammarskjöld may have been “shot down by an unidentified second plane”. Several commentators have also pointed to what seemed like eagerness by British colonial administrators in Northern Rhodesia to obscure the details of the incident. One argument is that Hammarskjöld, described as the most independent-minded secretary general in the history of the UN, had angered many world powers due to this fierce support for anti-colonial movements that were sweeping the African continent. Indeed, at the time of his death, Hammarskjöld was flying to the Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga region to meet European-supported chieftains who in 1960 had seceded from the Marxist government of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Ironically, Lumumba had been assassinated in a Western-backed coup exactly eight months before Hammarskjöld’s own death.

In 2012, the independently funded Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust appointed an international team of jurists to study all available evidence on the plane crash. The team, called the Hammarskjöld Commission, was composed of a diplomat and three judges from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Sweden. The Commission reported in 2013 that “significant new evidence” had emerged, which suggested that American intelligence agencies, notably the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, held “crucial evidence” that could help clarify the causes of the crash.

The report by the Hammarskjöld Commission prompted the UN’s current Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to appoint a UN-sponsored panel of experts to examine the new evidence and present it before the UN General Assembly. The three-member panel traveled to several countries, including Zambia, the US, Britain and Belgium, to access government, as well as private archives. Its report is expected to be delivered to the UN General Assembly this week. It is said to include written testimony by a Belgian pilot who says he shot down the plane carrying Hammarskjöld by error, while trying to divert it on orders by a government entity. Another witness, a former intelligence officer with the US National Security Agency, is believed to have told the UN experts that he listened to a recording of a pilot who said he shot down the UN Secretary General’s plane.

Once this new evidence is presented, the UN General Assembly will have to vote on whether the UN should hold an official probe into the plane crash. It would mark the first such inquiry since 1962.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2015 | Permalink:

News you may have missed #874

Hamid AboutalebiBy IAN ALLEN |
►►Intel involvement in flight MH370 sparks terrorism speculation. Malaysian authorities have revealed secret services from the UK, the US and China have been involved in the investigations into the disappearance of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, adding to speculation that the plane’s disappearance could be down to terrorism.
►►Iran picks former US Embassy hostage-taker as UN envoy. The Iranian government has applied for a US visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy. Aboutalebi was a member of a group calling itself “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line”, a group of radical students controlled by Ayatollah Khomeini, who seized the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could prompt the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN.
►►Analysis: Ukrainian Navy devastated by Russian move into Crimea. Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control. Almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defense units. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service.

Somali officials divert arms to al-Qaeda-linked groups, UN says

Al-Shabaab militants in SomaliaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A confidential report by United Nations monitoring experts warns that senior members of Somalia’s federal government are systematically diverting weapons to al-Qaeda-linked groups operating in the country. In 1992, the United Nations Security Council imposed a weapons embargo on Somalia, in an effort to prevent weapons from reaching a multitude of warring tribes that had plunged the country into a bloody civil war. Last March, however, the Council agreed to ease the embargo following persistent appeals by the Federal Government of Somalia. The latter argued that the two decades-long arms embargo prevented it from adequately defending itself and its population from al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked militant group that controls large swathes of the Somali countryside. The easing of the embargo, which was supported by the United States, has allowed the government in Mogadishu to import much-needed military hardware such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic assault rifles. But a recent report from the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group has found that a significant portion of the advanced weaponry imported by Somalia following the relaxation of the embargo rules is ending up in the hands of paramilitary groups, including al-Shabaab. The confidential 14-page report, which has been seen by Reuters, was authored by a team of independent experts who are tasked with evaluating the extent to which the government of Somalia complies with weapons sanctions. The report concludes that the UN should restore the full weapons embargo in order to prevent advanced weaponry from falling into the arms of al-Shabaab. Read more of this post

NSA operates ‘secret collection program’ out of US embassies

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Documents leaked by American intelligence defector Edward Snowden point to the existence of a sizable signals intelligence collection program operating out of dozens of United States embassies and consulates located around the world. The documents, given by Snowden to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, contain details of a monitoring program known as the Special Collection Service (SCS), which appears to operate under the auspices of the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA is America’s largest intelligence agency —it is bigger than the CIA and the FBI combined— and is tasked by the US government with intercepting electronic communications worldwide. Snowden was a technical contractor for the NSA before he defected to Russia this past summer, where he was offered political asylum. Der Spiegel says that Snowden’s documents point to the existence of the SCS, which allegedly operates covert listening posts in over 80 American embassies and consulates worldwide. These listening posts operate clandestinely, without the knowledge or permission of the host countries. The German newsmagazine identifies the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York as being among the SCS’s principal listening targets. In the summer of 2012, says Spiegel, an SCS operation managed to compromise the UN headquarters’ internal video conferencing system, by breaking the encryption used to secure the communications of resident diplomats. One NSA document seen by Spiegel hails the “dramatic improvement of data [collected] from video teleconferencing and the ability to decrypt the traffic”. It goes on to state that intercepted communication exchanges rose from 12 to nearly 500 within three weeks following the SCS penetration. Read more of this post

Who leaked Iranian nuclear document that turned out to be a hoax?

The leaked documentBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
On November 27, the Associated Press published an alleged Iranian document which it said proved Iran was working on a nuclear bomb. The news agency said the disclosure was the latest in a series of similar leaks to the media by “officials from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program”. However, the authenticity of the document, which contained a diagram calculating the explosive force of a nuclear weapon, is now heavily disputed. An analysis of the leaked document in the latest issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concluded that it was either massively erroneous or a hoax designed by amateurs. The Bulletin, a specialist publication founded by physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, said the document was “unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level”. The obvious question is who leaked the disputed document and why? An article in British newspaper The Guardian cites unnamed “Western officials” who claim that the diagram, along with several previous disclosures of a similar nature, was leaked by Israel “in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran”. If this is so, the leak appears to have seriously backfired and may have compromised the credibility of an ongoing investigation into the Iranian nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is because the leaked document was part of an intelligence file on Iran’s nuclear program, compiled by the IAEA, which formed the factual basis for a new set of penalties and sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union in November of 2011. The question that some United Nations officials are now asking is, if the leaked document is indeed a hoax, how could the IAEA guarantee the authenticity of the remaining documents on its file on Iran? Read more of this post


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