Why is the US federal tax agency using phone interception devices?

Internal Revenue ServiceDocuments acquired by a newspaper show that the Internal Revenue Service, which is the United States government’s agency responsible for collecting taxes, has purchased devices used to intercept cell phone messages. Founded in 1862, the IRS is the revenue service of the US state, and operates as a bureau of the Department of the Treasury. But it also maintains a number investigative components, including the Criminal Investigation Division. The latter consists of between 3,000 and 4,000 personnel and is tasked with investigating and helping build cases for the prosecution relating to tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes.

Historically, the Criminal Investigation Division’s scope and tactics have been limited and rarely relied on telecommunications interceptions. But according to British newspaper The Guardian, the IRS purchased a number of Stingray devices in 2009 and 2012. Known also as IMSI catchers, Stingrays are portable communications-interception devices, which mimic the operation of cell phone towers. They gather data, including the phone numbers dialed, duration of phone calls and location of users, from cell phones that communicate with them. Some Stingray models are said to be able to intercept the content of telephone calls made by unsuspecting cell phone users.

According to The Guardian, the IRS made an initial order to purchase Stingray equipment in 2009 and repeated the request in 2012. At least 12 US federal agencies and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies use Stingrays for communications-interception purposes. But the London-based paper says this is the first time that the IRS has been found to be using the devices. It is unclear, however, what the IRS uses the Stingrays for. The Guardian said it contacted an IRS spokesman who refused to respond to questions on the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 October 2015 | Permalink

Russian subs looking for undersea Internet cables, say US officials

Undersea cableAn increased presence of Russian submarines near American territorial waters appears to correspond to the location of undersea Internet cables used for commercial and military communications, according to officials. Citing “more than half a dozen” American and European officials, including naval commanders and intelligence professionals, The New York Times said on Sunday that the United States Department of Defense was paying close attention to what it described as “significantly increased Russian activity” along known routes of the cables. The paper was referring to Russian underwater vessels, which Washington believes are equipped with technology designed to tap into the cables, or even to sabotage them, by severing them.

According to The Times, officials at the Pentagon believe that Moscow is less interested in tapping into the cables and more interested in mapping their location so that it can attack them during a hypothetical clash with the US. Superficially, the paper said that, according to US officials, the Russian Navy appeared to be seeking to locate the precise coordinates of the fiber-optic cables. The ultimate goal was to sever them “at some of their hardest-to-access locations” if Russia ever needed to disrupt the flow of communication to and from the US. The Russian submarines seem to be seeking some of the deeper locations of the undersea cable networks, which would make it harder for repair crews to locate and repair severed fiber-optic cables.

The New York Times said that, alongside commercial Internet cable networks, Russian submarines were looking for military networks, whose location is usually classified. The paper quoted a European diplomat, who said anonymously that Russian submarine patrols in American territorial waters had increased by nearly 50% since 2014. The level of activity of Russian submarines was now “comparable to what we saw in the Cold War”, said the diplomat.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 26 October 2015 | Permalink

Iraq now using Russian intelligence in war against Islamic State

Baghdad IraqThe Iraqi government is now using intelligence supplied by the Russian military in its war against the Islamic State, according to officials in Baghdad. As intelNews reported in September, the Iraqi Joint Forces Command announced it had entered a formal intelligence-sharing agreement with the governments of Russia, Syria and Iran. The purpose of the collaboration was to defeat the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that currently controls a third of Iraq’s territory and much of neighboring Syria. Many were surprised by last month’s announcement, as it was the first time that Iraq, an American ally, had entered an alliance with Washington’s Cold-War adversary Russia, as well as with Iran and Syria, two countries with which the United States has no diplomatic relations.

According to US media reports, the headquarters of the intelligence-sharing center is located in Baghdad’s so-called Green Zone, where US forces were stationed until 2012. Each of the member states has six officers at center, who are given intelligence by their respective countries’ militaries with the intent of sharing it with the other three participating militaries. In addition to these officers, there are two Russian one-star generals stationed at the center, according to The Washington Times, which cited “an Iraqi official who asked not to be identified”.

Back in September, when the four-partite agreement was announced, the US said it respected Iraq’s freedom to enter into security pacts with regional governments, but warned that Syria was a major violator of human rights and should not be part of the intelligence-sharing treaty. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he could see no reason why Baghdad would want to enter into an intelligence-sharing agreement with Moscow, given that the US-led coalition had been sharing intelligence with Iraq for over a year. The coalition’s intelligence collaboration with Baghdad had “worked effectively with the Iraqis to make progress against [the Islamic State] inside of Iraq”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 October 2015 | Permalink

Argentina says fugitive ex-spy official hiding in the United States

SIDE ArgentinaAn Argentine former senior intelligence official, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a federal prosecutor in Buenos Aires, is hiding in the United States, according to the President of Argentina, who says Washington should extradite him. Antonio Horacio Stiuso, better known as Jaime Stiuso, rose through the ranks of Argentina’s Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) to become its director of counterintelligence. In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appointed Stiuso to chief operating officer of SIDE, working directly under the agency’s director. However, Stiuso was fired in a massive agency shake-up in February of this year, when the government suddenly dissolved SIDE and replaced it with a new agency, called Agencia Federal de Inteligencia.

The radical reorganization was prompted by the death of federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose body was discovered in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 19. Nisman had caused international headlines in the week before his death, after launching a criminal complaint against President Kirchner and several other notable personalities of Argentine political life. Nisman accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina community center in the Argentine capital was bombed.

But President Kirchner accused SIDE of feeding Nisman fabricated information implicating her and her government minsters in a fictional collusion with the Islamic Republic, and then killing him in order to destabilize her rule. She proceeded to dissolve SIDE and charge its leadership with involvement in Nisman’s killing. According to the Argentine government, Stiuso fled Buenos Aires for Brazil, from where he flew to Miami, Florida, on February 19, using an Italian passport. According to Reuters, President Kirchner said Washington had failed to answer “repeated enquiries” about Stiuso’s whereabouts, and suggested that the former spy official may have been working for American intelligence agencies all along.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2015 | News tip: R.W. | Permalink

Pinochet considered killing own spy chief to hide role in US bombing

Orlando LetelierThe president of Chile in the 1970s considered killing his own spy chief in order to conceal his government’s involvement in a terrorist attack in Washington DC, which killed two people, according to declassified memos from the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The target of the attack was Orlando Letelier, a Chilean economist who in the early 1970s served as a senior cabinet minister in the leftwing government of Salvador Allende. But he sought refuge in the US after Allende’s government was deposed in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973, in which Allende was murdered. He taught in several American universities and became a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington. At the same time, he publicly pressured the US to break off diplomatic and military ties with the Chilean dictatorship.

On September 21, 1976, Letelier died along with American IPS campaigner Ronni Moffitt, when the car they were in suddenly exploded in front of the embassy of Ireland in downtown Washington DC. It is believed that DINA, the Chilean secret police, carried out the bombing. In a private memorandum in 1987, the then-US Secretary of State George Schultz described the bombing as “the only clear case of state-supported terrorism that has occurred in Washington DC”. But the Chilean government, which at the time had friendly relations with the White House, refused to cooperate with the US investigation into the incident.

But declassified US government documents now show that the CIA had concluded that the Chilean government was indeed behind Letelier’s murder. Additionally, the bombing had been directly authorized by the country’s dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who had led the coup against Allende in 1973. Copies of the documents were personally delivered to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet last week by US Secretary of State John Kerry, as Santiago is seeking to reopen the investigation into the murders. They reveal that Manuel Contreras, head of DINA at the time of the bombing, told an American source that he had supervised the operation to murder Letelier’s under direct orders by General Pinochet. Additionally, according to the CIA documents, the Chilean dictator tried to sabotage the US investigation in to the bombing, and even contemplated killing Contreras in order to hide his personal involvement.

As intelNews has reported before, the US investigation led to the arrest of Michael Townley, an American professional assassin who had previously worked for the CIA. Townley was hired by DINA to help assassinate Letelier’s. He was extradited to the US by the Chilean government in 1978 after strong US pressure. He served just 62 months in prison, in return for agreeing to collaborate with US government investigators. Townley is currently said to be living under the US Witness Protection Program.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 October 2015 | Permalink

Third person charged in probe into alleged US Pentagon ‘rogue operation’

PentagonA third person has been charged in a complex criminal investigation into the procurement of weapon silencers by the United States Department of Defense, which one American newspaper has described as a possible “rogue operation”. The case concerns the Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration, an obscure civilian-led Pentagon office, whose stated mission is to provide logistical support and procurement for intelligence operations conducted by the US Navy and Marine Corps.

According to media reports, more than three years ago the Directorate ordered 349 weapon suppressors, known commonly as silencers. By general admission, silencers are not the type of military hardware used in conventional combat. More importantly, the procurement cost of the silencers should have been no more than around $10,000. However, purchase records show that the Directorate paid the supplier of the silencers over $1.6 million. The supplier then turned out to be the brother of the Directorate’s officer in charge of intelligence, David W. Landersman. Last week it was revealed that Landersman became the third person to face charges of theft and conspiracy as part of the investigation.

Initially, Pentagon officials suggested that the silencers had been purchased for a top-secret operation codenamed UPSTAIRS. The operation was allegedly a “special-access program” aimed at arming foreign paramilitary forces while avoiding the risk of the weapons being traced back to the US. Though limited details were provided, one government witness told the court that military hardware acquired through UPSTAIRS was intended for the US Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Team 6, commonly known as US Navy SEAL Team 6. The special-forces team became famous in 2010, when it carried out the Central Intelligence Agency’s operation NEPTUNE SPEAR, which killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Later during the course of the investigation, however, SEAL Team 6 representatives told court officials that their unit “had not ordered the silencers” and knew nothing about them. Following that development, government prosecutors objected to further discussion of the case in open court due to the alleged “sensitive nature” of the case. Since then, much of the court documentation on the case has been filed under seal on grounds of national security.

But the discrepancies in the case led The Washington Post to speculate last year that the procurement of the weapons silencers may have been part of a “rogue operation”, that is, a military activity not authorized by the Pentagon leadership. The Post spoke to an unnamed “former senior Navy official familiar with the investigation”, who said the Pentagon’s Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration was “building its own mini law enforcement and intelligence agency” without oversight from higher-ups. Another unnamed source, a former Pentagon official familiar with the Directorate, told the paper that “deeper issues might be in play” in the case.

Last week, a Pentagon spokesman said Landersman was “no longer performing duties in any way associated with intelligence” for the US government, though he appeared to still be employed by the US Navy in a clerical capacity, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 October 2015 | Permalink

CIA pulled officers from Beijing embassy following OPM database hack

Office of Personnel ManagementThe Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pulled a number of officers from the United States embassy in Chinese capital Beijing, after a massive cyber hacking incident compromised an American federal database containing millions of personnel records. Up to 21 million individual files were stolen in June of this year, when hackers broke into the computer system of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which handles applications for security clearances for agencies of the federal government. The breach gave the unidentified hackers access to the names and sensitive personal records of millions of Americans who have filed applications for security clearances —including intelligence officers.

According to sources in the US government, the records of CIA employees were not included in the compromised OPM database. However, that is precisely the problem, according to The Washington Post. The paper said on Wednesday that the compromised OPM records contain the background checks of employees in the US State Department, including those stationed at US embassies or consulates around the world. It follows that US diplomatic personnel stationed abroad whose names do not appear on the compromised OPM list “could be CIA officers”, according to The Post. The majority of CIA officers stationed abroad work under diplomatic cover; they are attached to an embassy or consulate and enjoy diplomatic protection, which is typically invoked if their official cover is blown. However, they still have to present their credentials and be authorized by their host country before they assume their diplomatic post. The CIA hopes that foreign counterintelligence agencies will not be able to distinguish intelligence personnel from actual diplomats.

Although the US has not officially pointed the finger at a particular country or group as being behind the OPM hack, anonymous sources in Washington have identified China as the culprit. If true, The Post’s claim that the CIA pulled several of its officers from the US embassy in Beijing would add more weight to the view that the Chinese intelligence services were behind the cyber theft. The paper quoted anonymous US officials who said that the CIA’s decision to remove its officers from Beijing was directly related to the OPM hack, and it was meant to safeguard their personal security, as well as to protect CIA programs currently underway in China.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 1 October 2015 | Permalink


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