News you may have missed #874

Hamid AboutalebiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►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.

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

Al-Shabaab militants in SomaliaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
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 | intelNews.org |
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 | intelNews.org |
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

Western spy agencies ‘sharing intelligence’ with Syrian rebels

Robert MoodBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A British newspaper has cited defense sources claiming that British and American intelligence agencies are passing vital information to Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the country’s government. British tabloid The Daily Star quoted “a British defense source” who said that most of the raw intelligence on Syria is picked up by sophisticated British and American satellites monitoring Syrian communications. Once gathered and assessed by intelligence analysts in Washington and London, the information is passed on to operatives of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6, who are allegedly operating on the ground in Syria. They in turn communicate actionable intelligence to rebel leaders in Syria, who are fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the British tabloid, information passed on to rebel leaders includes detailed satellite imagery of Syrian pro-government troop movements around the country, as well as the contents of intercepted communications between senior Syrian military commanders and their subordinates in the field. The Star quotes one unnamed British government source who claims that the satellites are so sophisticated that they allow British and American eavesdroppers to identify the individuals whose voices are heard in the intercepted communications, with the aid of advanced voice recognition systems. The intelligence has reportedly enabled rebel commanders to evacuate locations targeted by government forces, and may also have allowed the rebels to organize successful counterstrikes in response to offensives conducted by troops loyal to Damascus. Washington-based publication The Hill contacted the CIA and the White House but their spokespersons refused to comment on what they called “an ongoing intelligence operation” in Syria. A spokesman from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office would only tell The Star that “all actions remain on the table”.   Read more of this post

News you may have missed #744

Navi PillayBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Source says Mikhailov ‘will not be exchanged’ with US. There are rumors going around that the US might consider exchanging Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a New York prison, for one or more CIA spies currently being held in Russian prisons. Russian news agency RIA Novosti has cited a “high ranking official in the Russian security services”, who suggests that Bout “might be exchanged”, but not with Valery Mikhailov, a Russian former counterintelligence officer, who was sentenced this week to 18 years in prison for allegedly spying for the CIA.
►►CIA preparing to pull back from Iraq. The US Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to cut its presence in Iraq to less than half of wartime levels, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “US officials familiar with the planning”. Under the plans being considered, says the paper, the CIA’s presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel. Interestingly, the plan would also reduce the US intelligence presence in the region as neighboring Syria appears to be verging on civil war.
►►Senior UN official blasts US drone strikes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said US drone attacks in Pakistan “raise serious questions about compliance with international law, in particular the principle of distinction and proportionality”. She also voiced concerns that the strikes were being conducted “beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control”. IntelNews provided this opinion on the matter, in 2009.

News you may have missed #687

Hans BlixBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: Is Obama abusing the US Espionage Act? Prosecutors may still attempt to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, though their case will likely depend on exactly how he received his information. But, WikiLeaks aside, the Obama administration has made increasing use of the act to clamp down on whistleblowers.
►►Ex-head admits IAEA does work with spies (shock, horror). The International Atomic Energy Agency, which acts as the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations has been closely cooperating with the world’s spy agencies, including on Iran and Syria, for years, according to its former director. Hans Blix told RT that the IAEA’s cooperation with the world’s intelligences started following the Iraqi crisis of the 1990s. “Of course, intelligence can always try to fool everybody”, he said. “Half of the information may be true, half of it may be disinformation, and therefore they have to examine it critically”.
►►Afghanistan arrests diplomat on spying charges. Afghanistan’s State Intelligence Agency (KHAD) on Monday said that a senior foreign ministry diplomat and three other government officials had been arrested over charges of spying for Iran and Pakistan. The men were detained “on charges of spying for neighboring regions” and “the arrests were made with concrete evidence”, KHAD’s spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, said. An unnamed source in the same agency also claimed that the deputy head of KHAD’s Asia desk and two government employees had been arrested in a similar incident in the eastern Afghan province Nangarhar a month before.

News you may have missed #618

Abdullah al-Senoussi

Al-Senussi

►►US Congressman urges expulsion of ‘Iranian spies’ at the UN. New York Congressman Peter King says the US should kick out Iranian officials at the UN in New York and in Washington because many of them are spies. Speaking at a hearing Wednesday, the Democrat said such a move would send a clear signal after the recent alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
►►Colombia’s intelligence chief denies knowledge of illegal wiretapping. Felipe Muñoz, the director of Colombia’s intelligence agency DAS has denied knowledge of illegal interception of unionists’ emails and phone calls by DAS employees, following the announcement that the Inspector General’s Office will be investigating these allegations. According to the allegations, Muñoz and other leading DAS officials were aware of the illegal interception.
►►Gaddafi intelligence chief now in Niger. Moammar Gadhafi’s intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi (pictured), who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, has slipped into the desert nation of Niger and is hiding in the expanse of dunes at the Niger-Algeria border, a Niger presidential adviser said last week. Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s former spy chief, Moussa Koussa, has denied claims made in a BBC documentary that he tortured prisoners.

News you may have missed #608 (analysis edition)

Anwar al-Aulaki

Anwar al-Aulaqi

►►Spying on the United Nations. “Here is one of the well-known but seldom spoken truths about the United Nations: The international organization, which was founded in the name of peace and security, is also a hotbed of spying and clandestine operations, where someone might very well be listening to your conversations and monitoring your emails —-or perhaps reading your speeches in advance [...]. The CIA is prohibited from domestic intelligence-gathering but, since the United Nations is considered foreign soil, it is authorized to run covert actions there”.
►►Secret panel can put Americans on ‘kill list’. American militants like Anwar al-Aulaqi, who was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month, are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior US government officials, which then informs the President of its decisions, according to officials. There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council.
►►Blowback from CIA’s bin Laden vaccination ruse gets worse. If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: the fake vaccination program that the CIA set up before the Osama bin Laden raid really went awry. Not only did this plan not work –no bin Laden family DNA was obtained– but it also hobbled polio immunization drives and forced Save the Children to evacuate staffers from Pakistan out of fear of a backlash.

Was plane carrying UN Secretary General shot down in 1961?

Dag Hammarskjöld

 Hammarskjöld

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
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, except one passenger, who died hours later. 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. Göran Björkdahl, a Swedish aid worker with Sweden’s International Development Cooperation Agency, who is stationed in Burkina Faso, has spent three years researching Hammarskjöld’s death. He has produced a report with his findings, in which he cites interviews with several witnesses of the crash, who are still living. He says that, according to the evidence he has amassed, he has “no doubt” Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane was “shot down by an unidentified second plane”. In an article published in British quality broadsheet The Guardian, Björkdahl also claims that the only survivor of the downed DC-6, American sergeant Harold Julian, who was a member of the UN Secretary General’s security detail, was abandoned to die of his injuries at a makeshift hospital in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia. Björkdahl’s claim is based on his interview with colonial medical practitioner Mark Lowenthal, who tried to treat Julian in the hours following the airplane’s crash. Moreover, Björkdahl alleges that British colonial authorities in Northern Rhodesia were eager to cover up the details of the incident, and went out of their way to intimidate local villagers who witnessed the crash, and to downplay witness testimony suggesting that the Douglas DC-6 may have been shot down. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #561

Francis Gary Powers

Francis G. Powers

►►US to phase out U-2 spy plane after 50 years. After more than 50 years gathering intelligence 13 miles above the ground, the United States’ U-2 spy planes will be phased out and replaced by unmanned drones by 2015, according to reports this past week. The classified U-2 program came to light in 1960, when a Soviet surface-to-air missile brought down a U-2 flown by CIA pilot Gary Powers, who parachuted to safety but was soon captured.
►►Security company unearths ‘massive’ cyberespionage operation. A widespread cyberespionage campaign stole government secrets, sensitive corporate documents, and other intellectual property for five years from more than 70 public and private organizations in 14 countries. This is according to Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at the cyber-security firm McAfee, who uncovered the alleged plot. The operation, dubbed SHADY RAT, targeted the United Nations and the United States, among other national and international entities.
►►South Korea expands spy ring investigation. South Korean authorities have expanded the controversial investigation into the alleged Wangjaesan spy ring, to include Read more of this post

UN official confirms Israel abducted Palestinian engineer from Ukraine

Dirar Abu Sissi

Dirar Abu Sissi

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A UN official has confirmed that a Palestinian engineer, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Ukraine on February 19, is currently in Israeli custody. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior, Dirar Abu Sissi, 42, who was born in Jordan, but has lived in the Gaza strip for over a decade, had gone to Ukraine to apply for citizenship in the Eastern European country. His Ukrainian wife, Veronika, said Sissi disappeared in the early morning hours of February 19, shortly after boarding a train from Kharkiv to capital Kiev, in order to reunite with this brother, a Dutch national, whom he had not seen since 1997. His disappearance has puzzled Ukrainian police investigators. But on Thursday, Maksim Butkevych, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ukraine, told the Associated Press that Sissi was kidnapped by Israeli operatives and is currently in prison in Israel. Butkevych did not openly name the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, but said that the Palestinian engineer was abducted by “Israeli security forces”, possibly with the assistance of Ukrainian intelligence officers. Read more of this post

Cold War KGB agent Judith Coplon dies in Manhattan

Judith Coplon

Judith Coplon

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Judith Coplon, an American Justice Department analyst who spied for the Soviet Union, and whose 1949 espionage trial became an international sensation, died last weekend in New York. When she was arrested by the FBI at age 27, Coplon worked as an analyst for the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Section, and was privy to counterintelligence reports issued daily by the Bureau. A few years prior to her March 1949 arrest, Coplon had begun an affair with Valentin A. Gubitchev, a married Soviet NKGB (forerunner of the KGB) officer stationed at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It is believed that Gubitchev recruited her and acted as her handler, meeting her regularly at various New York locations in order to obtain from her copies of Justice Department documents. In 1948, her role as an NKGB agent code-named ‘Sima’, was revealed through the National Security Agency’s VENONA project, which decoded wartime Soviet diplomatic cables that had been intercepted by US intelligence. Read more of this post

Some underreported WikiLeaks revelations

WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
There is little point in recapping here the bulk of disclosures contained in the ongoing WikiLeaks revelations. The news sphere is jam-packed with them —and perhaps this is the real story in the WikiLeaks revelations, namely the fact that espionage and intelligence issues have near-monopolized the global news cycle for the first time since the post-Watergate Congressional investigations of the 1970s. But it is worth pointing out a handful of news stories on the WikiLeaks revelations that have arguably not received the media coverage that they deserve. Undoubtedly the most underreported disclosure concerns a 2007 meeting between US officials and Meir Dagan, the then Director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. During the meeting, Dagan apparently “presented US with five-step program to perform a coup in Iran“.  But there are other underreported disclosures. Take for instance the revelation that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally authorized US diplomats to engage in all-out and indiscriminate spying on senior United Nations officials. Although there is nothing here that will surprise seasoned intelligence observers, the breadth of intelligence collection that US diplomats are instructed to engage in (which includes collecting credit card numbers and biometric data of UN officials) is astonishing and certainly unprecedented. Moreover, it should be noted that many senior UN officials are in fact American, which leads to the intriguing question of whether US diplomats are routinely required to engage in intelligence collection against American UN officials. Read more of this post

Greek-Cypriot spies behind largest document theft in UN history, report claims

Alexander Downer

Alexander Downer

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Agents of the Greek-Cypriot government were behind the largest document theft in the history of the United Nations, according to reports in the Cypriot and Turkish press. In 2009, Greek-Cypriot newspaper Fileleftheros published extracts of what the paper claimed was a treasure trove of 6,500 UN documents containing sensitive information on the organization’s negotiations with Turkish-Cypriot leaders. The negotiations concerned ongoing talks over a possible reunification of the island, which has been divided for decades between the Greek-majority southern part, and the predominantly Turkish northern part. According to the newspaper’s New York correspondent, the documents were leaked by a source inside the UN. But Cypriot and Turkish media now claim that an internal UN report has concluded that the documents were stolen by Greek-Cypriot intelligence agents, who subsequently leaked some of it to the Greek-Cypriot press. The operation was reportedly headed by a Cyprus Intelligence Service (CIS) agent who befriended Sonja Bachmann, senior aide to Alexander Downer, former Australian Foreign Minister, senior advisor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Mon, and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Cyprus negotiations. Read more of this post

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