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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United States allegedly not sharing Russia intelligence with Ukraine

Russian troops in UkraineBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States is not sharing with the Ukrainian government detailed intelligence or Russia’s military buildup, according to American lawmakers. Moscow is reportedly deploying large numbers of troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, while US intelligence agencies have allegedly detected the presence of Russian military supply lines that would be required for a land invasion of Ukraine. The US administration of President Barack Obama has publicly expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian government and has warned the Kremlin that any military incursions into eastern Ukraine would constitute a grave “historical error” that would bear serious consequences for the Russian leadership. But according to American news reporting website The Daily Beast, Washington has instructed the American military and intelligence community to refrain from sharing detailed intelligence on Russia’s military buildup with Ukrainian authorities. Details being kept from Ukrainian eyes include “imagery, intercepts and analysis” that pinpoint the exact location of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border. They also include intelligence predictions of how Russian units would deploy during a possible invasion of Ukraine. The Daily Beast, which is owned by Newsweek, cited “US officials and members of Congress” who were briefed by intelligence personnel earlier this week on the situation in Ukraine. They told the news website that senior American military officials have been instructed “to refrain from briefing their Ukrainian counterparts in detail” about information on Russian troop movements held by American intelligence agencies. The Daily Beast quotes Republican Representative Michael Turner, chair of a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee that oversees America’s tactical air and land force strength. Turner told the website that he is “not confident” that Washington is “sharing any of that kind of [detailed military] information” with Kiev. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #875 (CIA edition)

Boris PasternakBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Ex-CIA head criticizes Pollard release rumors. General Michael Hayden, the former Director of the CIA, said Sunday that he doesn’t think releasing Jonathan Pollard to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is a good idea. Hayden, a Bush administration appointee, told Fox News Sunday that “it’s almost a sign of desperation that you would throw this into the pot in order to keep the Israelis talking with the Palestinians”.
►►CIA official dies in apparent suicide. An unnamed senior CIA official has died in an apparent suicide this week from injuries sustained after jumping off a building in northern Virginia. A source close to the agency said the man who died was a middle manager and the incident occurred after the man jumped from the fifth floor a building in Fairfax County. CIA spokesman Christopher White confirmed the death and said the incident did not take place at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va.
►►How the CIA turned Doctor Zhivago into a Cold War weapon. Newly disclosed documents indicate that the operation to publish Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago in several Eastern European languages was run by the CIA’s Soviet Russia Division, monitored by CIA director Allen Dulles and sanctioned by President Dwight Eisenhower’s Operations Coordinating Board, which reported to the National Security Council at the White House. The board, which oversaw covert activities, gave the CIA exclusive control over the novel’s “exploitation”. The “hand of the United States government” was “not to be shown in any manner”, according to CIA records. IntelNews has reported previously on allegations that the CIA may have influenced teh Swedish Academy’s decision to award the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature to Pasternak.

US created fake social network firm to foster dissent in Cuba

Cell phone user in CubaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A United States government agency secretly created a bogus social networking platform in order to foment political unrest in Cuba, according to a report by the Associated Press. Over 40,000 subscribers regularly used the ZunZuneo social networking service that began operating in the communist Caribbean island in 2009. The service, dubbed “Cuba’s Twitter” was based on SMS messages sent via mobile telephone subscribers. Its rapid success was attributed to the strict controls over Internet usage that are in place in Cuba, as well as the population’s relative lack of access to networked computers. But The Associated Press revealed on Thursday that ZunZuneo was in fact a secret program devised by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is a federal body operating under the Department of State. The news agency reported that the US government was able to conceal its role in building and sustaining the network by operating through a complex system of front companies set up in the Cayman Islands and in Spain. The latter were used to register ZunZuneo’s parent company and to pay the company’s bills, as well as to route millions of subscribers’ text messages without the involvement of servers based on US soil. The report stated that ZunZuneo’s corporate website even carried “bogus advertisements” strategically placed to give the site a realistic corporate look. It is worth noting that the social networking service suddenly stopped working in 2012, without providing a warning or an explanation to its tens of thousands of subscribers. But the Associated Press said the reason the service was terminated was that the US taxpayer’s money used to sustain the program simply run out. The news agency argued in its report that the program was covert in nature and should have been subjected to Presidential authorization and Congressional scrutiny. Read more of this post

Senate report: CIA misled US government about torture

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A United States Senate report on the use of torture to extract intelligence from terrorism detainees accuses the Central Intelligence Agency of severely overstating the usefulness of the information gained. Details of the long-awaited report, produced after a four-year investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have been leaked to The Washington Post. The paper reports that the probe is a damning indictment on the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program, implemented during the administration of President George W. Bush. The report contains over 20 different conclusions. But the most critical are that the CIA misled the government and the American public by: (a) understating the severity of the interrogation methods used; and (b) overstating the actionable intelligence extracted through torture. The Post cites unnamed “US officials” who have reviewed the Senate report as stating that the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program “yielded little, if any, significant intelligence”. According to one source, in some cases the Agency proceeded to waterboard terrorism detainees after recognizing that all actionable intelligence had already been extracted from them. In one instance, says the paper, nearly all valuable intelligence gained from al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was extracted by CIA interrogators before he was subjected to waterboarding nearly 100 times. Notably, the Senate report also highlights deep divisions within the CIA, as many units protested the practices employed under the Agency’s interrogation program. But The Post also quotes “current and former officials” who are critical of the Senate report for containing “factual errors” and “misguided conclusions”. One CIA veteran told the paper that the 6,300-page document reflected “Federal Bureau of Investigation biases”, and that CIA officials are critical of the fact that one of the report’s main authors is a former FBI analyst.
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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.

NSA ‘high-target’ list includes names of 122 world leaders

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A list of high-priority intelligence targets published over the weekend includes the names of over a hundred current and former heads of state, who were systematically targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The list appears to be part of a wider “Target Knowledge Base” assembled by the NSA in order to help produce “complete profiles” of what the NSA calls “high-priority intelligence targets”. The list is contained in a classified top-secret briefing created by the NSA in 2009. It was published by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it acquired it from American intelligence defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he has been offered political asylum. The leaked briefing explains the function of an extensive NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program codenamed NYMROD. The computer-based program is allegedly able to sift through millions of SIGINT reports and collate information on individual targets from the transcripts of intercepted telephone calls, faxes, as well as computer data. The list provided to Der Spiegel by Snowden contains 122 names of international political figures, said the newsmagazine, adding that all of them were “heads of foreign governments”. It includes the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Colombia’s former President, Alvaro Uribe, and Malaysia’s Prime Minster from 2003 to 2009, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, also figure on the list. Interestingly, the leaders of Malaysia, Somalia, the Palestinian Authority and Peru top the NSA’s list of high-value executive targets. Read more of this post

US denies it offered to release American who spied for Israel

Jonathan PollardBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
United States officials have denied reports in the Israeli media that Washington has offered to release an American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. The Israel Army Radio, which is operated by the Israel Defense Forces, said on Wednesday that the administration of US President Barack Obama had offered to release Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former US Navy analyst who has so far served 28 years of a life sentence in a US prison, for spying on the US for Israel. Many in US counterintelligence consider Pollard, who acquired Israeli citizenship in 1995, one of the most damaging double spies in American history. But he is widely viewed as a hero in Israel, and many conservative Israelis, as well as pro-Israel Americans, are actively pressuring the US administration of President Barack Obama to release him. According to Israel Army Radio, the offer was placed on the negotiation table last week during Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Washington. Allegedly, the offer to release Pollard is part of an attempt by President Obama to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which have stalled in recent months. The original US-brokered talks between the two sides included an agreement by Israel to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in four separate groups. The first three groups were released in 2013; but Israel is currently refusing to release the fourth and final group, originally scheduled to be freed this month, arguing that the prisoners in that group are all Israeli citizens and have no connection to the Palestinian National Authority. According to Israel Army Radio, Washington has offered to release Pollard in return for Israel’s release of the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, providing that the Palestinian National Authority will then return to the negotiation table. Late on Wednesday, however, US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Washington had “no plans to release Jonathan Pollard”. Read more of this post

CIA places Iran operations division chief on administrative leave

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The chief of Iran operations at the United States Central Intelligence Agency has been placed on paid administrative leave, allegedly for creating a hostile work environment that ended up impeding the Agency’s output. According to The Los Angeles Times, many members of the CIA’s Iran operations division had launched an “open rebellion” against their 46-year-old chief, which the paper identified by name. In an article published on Saturday, The Times stated that the veteran intelligence officer, who has now been removed from the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, had previously served at CIA stations in Iraq, Russia and the Balkans. The paper added that, in 2010, the CIA had to pull out the officer from Pakistan, after he was publicly named as the Agency’s station chief in Islamabad. Some American officials have identified Pakistan’s intelligence services as the source of the leak that led to the officer’s public exposure, which was allegedly intended as retribution to a series of previous drone attacks by the CIA on Pakistani soil. The Times quoted “three former officials” who accused the chief of the Iran division of exercising a divisive and abusive management style, which led many of the division’s senior employees to request to be transferred elsewhere in the CIA. One unnamed source told the paper that, as a result of the division chief’s treatment and the open rebellion by his staff, the Iran office “was not functioning”. The veteran officer was “sent home” two weeks ago, after an internal investigation by the Office of the CIA Inspector General found that he had essentially lost the trust and respect of the division’s staff. Read more of this post

Pro-Russian oligarch arrested —first sign of US sanctions on Russia?

Dmytro FirtashBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A well-connected Ukrainian oligarch, who is considered one of Russia’s most trusted energy sales intermediaries, has been arrested in Austria at the request of the United States. Some speculate that this may be a first direct sign of America’s response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. In an article published last week, The Washington Post suggested that the arrest of Dmytro Firtash, a citizen of Ukraine, may be “the beginning of a US effort to inflict financial pain on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian crisis”. Firtash’s lucrative business activities are inextricably tied to Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas and one of the most powerful corporations in existence. The company, whose activities typically account for around 10 percent of Russia’s annual gross domestic product, is one of Moscow’s primary exporters of energy and among its most important sources of foreign revenue. Throughout the last decade, Firtash’s company, RosUkrEnergo, acted as the primary mediator between Gazprom and Naftohaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company. The latter would import Russian natural gas from Gazprom through RosUkrEnergo, which would purchase it from the Russian company and sell it to the Ukrainians at a noticeably steeper price. Eventually, in 2009, the government of pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko managed to remove RosUkrEnergo as a broker from the energy deals between Kiev and Moscow. But Tymoshenko, who became herself embroiled in a financial corruption scandal, was soon imprisoned. And in 2013, Gazprom approached the pro-Russian government of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and offered to sell natural gas to Ukraine at a 33 percent discount, providing that RosUkrEnergo was permitted to return as Moscow’s natural gas distributor to Ukraine. Last Wednesday, a statement from the Ukrainian government in Kiev confirmed that the man identified only as “Dmytro F., 48” in a laconic Austrian police report was indeed Dmytro Firtash. Read more of this post

Comment: The significance of the spat between Congress and the CIA

John Brennan and Dianne FeinsteinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had gone out of her way in recent days to avoid commenting on the ongoing quarrel between her Committee and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). That ended yesterday, when she gave a press conference accusing the CIA of illegally spying on her Committee’s Congressional staffers. Her stunning announcement came shortly after her tense meeting with the Director of the CIA, a bad-tempered John Brennan. She told the media that at the meeting she requested from Brennan an apology and acknowledgement that the alleged CIA spying was “inappropriate”. By her own account, she failed to get either, so she decided to go public. In an interview I gave yesterday to Michigan’s WILS 1230 AM’s Capital City Recap, I argued that the quarrel between the two government bodies is not in itself important. What is important, I told radio host Mike Cohen, is that the dispute has entered the public arena. A routine ‘push and shove’ mêlée has turned into an all-out fistfight in full view of the media. One Republican Senator, Lindsay Graham, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the time had come for “the legislative branch [to] declare war on the CIA”. In response to the Committee’s accusations, the CIA has apparently instructed the Department of Justice to investigate the alleged removal by Congressional staffers of classified documents that were “protected by executive privilege [and were] beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation”.

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Rift between US Congress and CIA biggest in 40 years, say observers

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The system of checks and balances that defines the relationship between America’s legislative branch and the Intelligence Community has been strained more than any other time in nearly 40 years, according to insiders. The rift is especially wide between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, which was formed in the mid-1970s after the Watergate scandal. Led by Senator Frank Church (D-Id) the congressional investigations into unlawful domestic intelligence activities by American spy agencies shaped the current oversight arrangements between the Senate and the CIA. But the two bodies are now engaged in what Foreign Policy magazine calls “a rare public feud” over the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques. Foreign Policy cites interviews with “ten current and former congressional staff member and US government officials”, all of whom painted a “grim picture” of Senate-CIA relations. The Foreign Policy article quotes former Justice Department lawyer Dan Metcalfe, who opines that the current imbroglio “might well be the most acrimonious public moment between the CIA and a Senate committee [in] nearly 40 years”. Both sides accuse each other of violating longstanding agreements during the investigation into CIA’s use of torture in interrogations of terrorism detainees. Committee members have been claiming that the Agency’s interrogation methods have failed to produce useful information in pursuit of America’s national security. The CIA, on the other hand, accuses Committee staffers of illegally removing documents from an Agency facility, which the Committee was not supposed to see because they fell outside the scope of its inquiry. But some Senators on the Committee claim that the CIA did not want to hand over the documents precisely because they prove that no useful intelligence was extracted under torture. They also claim that the CIA effectively spied on Committee staffers by searching through their activity on computers used to access classified information. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #871

Rene GonzalezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Britain denies visa for Cuban spy freed by US. Rene Gonzalez, one of the so-called “Cuban Five” intelligence agents convicted by the US of spying, has been denied a British visa to attend a London symposium. Gonzalez, who served 13 years in US prison before his release in 2011, had been invited to a two-day conference put on by “Voice for the Five”, an organization that campaigns in support of the convicted Cuban spies. The Cuban state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde said Gonzales, 55, was denied a visa because British law prohibits entry of a person sentenced to more than four years in prison.
►►Canada fires intelligence analyst over contacts with Russians. Irina Koulatchenko, a 36-year-old who came to Canada as a Russian refugee via Cuba, has been fired by Canada’s financial-intelligence agency, known as FINTRAC. A Canadian Security Intelligence Service probe recommended she not be trusted to do that job, allegedly because “she had had several social encounters with Russian diplomats”. The latter included one she met “at a Cirque du Soleil show, another who was friends with her ex-fiancé and another she bumped into all the time at various social events”.
►►CIA suspected of spying on Congress members. The United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Senate aides removing documents from CIA headquarters that they reportedly “weren’t authorized to have”. It turns out, however, that the CIA found this out because they were secretly spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and their staff who were working on a high-profile report on CIA torture of detainees. What is more, Democratic Senator Mark Udall has claimed US President Barack Obama knew of the CIA’s secret monitoring of the Committee.

Israeli reports accuse US of denying entry visas to Israeli spies

US Department of StateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed. However, many of them are now having their visa renewal applications rejected, or are made to wait “several weeks” before having their entry permits renewed by American consular staff. The paper quoted a “senior [Israeli] security expert”, who said he had been denied an entry visa to the US this past January, for the first time in his career, despite having visited the US numerous times in the past “without trouble”. He told Maariv that he had “traveled to the US dozens of times in the past for my job and never faced issues getting a visa” on time. Read more of this post

US intelligence agencies urge ‘cautious approach’ on Ukraine

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
American intelligence agencies see Russia’s control of the Crimean Peninsula as near-complete and urge Washington to take cautious steps on Ukraine, as Moscow appears prepared “to take military action” in defense of its strategic goals. The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that some American intelligence analysts believe Moscow is genuinely convinced that its military action in Ukraine is justified under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. The agreement was signed in 1994 by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation. The three nuclear powers guaranteed that they would refrain from actions that would subvert the territorial integrity and political autonomy of Ukraine. Western officials have accused Moscow of violating the agreement by dispatching Russian troops to southeastern Ukraine without the consent of the Ukrainian government. But some American intelligence analysts believe the Russian Foreign Ministry is convinced that Russian forces are acting within the scope of the 1994 agreement. The latter is interpreted by Russian officials as permitting Moscow to unilaterally dispatch up to 25,000 troops to the Crimea. This may even be the predominant view at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), judging by a briefing given last week by the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, to an unnamed “senior lawmaker”. The Times cited “US officials who declined to be named” as saying that Brennan suggested that Russian officials genuinely believe that the number of Russian troops in Ukraine “remains well below the threshold” specified in the Budapest Memorandum. Brennan added that, although he did not personally agree with Moscow’s interpretation of the Memorandum, it would be wise for Washington to tread cautiously on the subject, given the fact that Russian policy on Crimea remains unpredictable. Read more of this post

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