US busts Russian spy ring, charges three with espionage

Russian mission to the UNBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Authorities in the United States have charged three Russian citizens, two of them diplomats, with operating a New York-based spy ring on orders from Moscow. Early on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation named the diplomats as Igor Sporyshev, 40, and Victor Podobnyy, 27. It said the two were employees of the trade office of the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York. But the FBI had apparently been monitoring the two accredited diplomats since March of 2012. Its agents eventually uncovered that Sporyshev and Podobnyy were in fact employees of the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, one of the direct institutional descendants of the Soviet-era KGB. According to their indictment, the two were employed by the SVR’s ‘ER’ Directorate, which focuses on economics and finance. The two SVR employees, operating under diplomatic guises, regularly met with a third member of the alleged spy ring, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, also an SVR officer. However, unlike Sporyshev and Podobnyy, Buryakov was operating under non-official cover, posing as an employee in the Manhattan office of a major Russian bank. Non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community, are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for conducting espionage. US government prosecutors suggested on Monday that the three alleged SVR operatives were also in regular contact with individuals “associated with a leading Russian state-owned news organization”, presumably in the US. They also tried to recruit American citizens to spy for Moscow, including employees of “major companies” and “several young women with ties to a major university in New York”, according to the indictment. It is believed that the three Russians were primarily interested in information relating to potential US government sanctions against Russian financial institutions, as well as Washington’s efforts to promote the development of alternative resources of energy. The FBI said Sporyshev and Podobnyy, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, “no longer reside in the US”. Presumably they were expelled. Buryakov, however, appeared in a Manhattan court on Monday.

German who spied for CIA stole list of 3,500 German spies’ names

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A German intelligence officer, who was arrested last summer for spying for the United States, may have given his American handlers information on the real identities, as well as operational aliases, of nearly 3,500 German intelligence operatives. In July, Germany expelled the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Berlin, following the arrest of Marcus R., a 31-year-old, low-level clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. He was believed at the time to have spied for the CIA for approximately two years, and to have supplied the American spy agency with around 200 classified German government documents in exchange for around €25,000 —approximately $30,000. It is thought that Markus R. contacted the CIA by sending an email over an encrypted connection to the American embassy in Berlin. From then on, his communication with his American handlers appears to have taken place mostly via the Internet. Sources suggest that he conferred with them via a secure link that was included in a specially-designed weather application that he had been instructed install on his computer. Now German authorities, who have been investigating the 31-year-old double spy’s computers ever since his arrest, say they found in one of them a stolen digital document containing a list of the real and cover identities of thousands of BND employees stationed abroad. According to German publications Bild and Spiegel, which reported the alleged discovery, the employees whose names are contained in the document are members of the BND’s Foreign Relations department, also known as Foreign Theater Operations department. The department is tasked with stationing intelligence operatives abroad in German embassies and consulates, as well as with embedding them with German military missions in places such as Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Mali. German investigators say they are not yet certain whether Markus R. passed the names of the BND operatives on to his CIA handlers.

Mystery surrounds CIA spy ‘of Cuban origin’ released last week

Rolando Sarraff TrujilloBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Almost nothing is known about a Cuban intelligence officer who spied for the United States and is now believed to be on American soil following his release from a Cuban prison last week. His release was part of a wider exchange between Washington and Havana of persons held in each other’s prisons on espionage charges. It included the release of Alan Gross, a contractor for the US Agency for International Development, who was imprisoned in the Caribbean island in 2009 on charges of political subversion. The deal also involved the release of the remaining three members of the so-called “Cuban Five”, a ring of Cuban intelligence officers operating on American soil, who were convicted in 1998 of spying on anti-Castro exile groups on behalf of Havana. But the ample media coverage has shied away from another prisoner who was exchanged as part of the deal, a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency who was described by US President Barack Obama as one of the most important intelligence assets that America has ever had in Cuba. The initial piece of information came from Cuban President Raul Castro himself, who on December 17 announced that an American spy “of Cuban origin” was to be released. Castro did not identify the spy. But later on that same day, Newsweek’s Jeff Stein said his name was “Rolando ‘Roly’ Sarraff Trujillo”, a former cryptographer in the Cuban Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of Intelligence. Trujillo was allegedly recruited by the CIA in the 1980s and spied for Washington until 1995, when he was arrested by Cuban counterintelligence, charged with espionage and sentenced to 25 years in prison. One source told Stein that the damage that Trujillo had caused Havana was so great that “the only thing that saved him from execution was the fact that both his parents were retired senior intelligence officers”. In a report published last Thursday, The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman said Trujillo’s release had been “a major priority for the [US] Intelligence Community” and would have been part of any spy swap with the Cuban government. Both Stein and Goldman claim that Trujillo was instrumental in the capture by the FBI of the Cuban Five, as well as in the 2009 arrest of State Department analysts Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, who spied on America for Cuba for 30 years. He is also said to have had a role in the capture of Ana Belen Montes, the top Cuba analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency, who was convicted in 2002 of spying for Cuba. All this is speculative, however, as no official confirmation has been issued on Trujillo from either Washington or Havana. One former senior CIA official told The Post that the Agency had another spy in Cuba, alongside Trujillo, codenamed TOUCHDOWN. But, unlike Trujillo, he managed to defect to the US in the late 1980s, before getting captured by the Cubans.

North Korean commando cells may have infiltrated US in 1990s

North Korean troops in trainingBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
North Korean commandos, trained to attack large cities and nuclear installations, may have been secretly stationed on American soil in the 1990s, according to a declassified report from the United States Department of Defense’s intelligence wing. The report, dating from September 2004, was compiled by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which is America’s foremost intelligence organization concerned with military secrets. The report states that the North Korean commando cells were set up by the country’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces under the command of its Reconnaissance General Bureau. Known as RGB, the Bureau is believed to have under its command an estimated 60,000 members of North Korea’s Special Forces. It is responsible for countless covert operations in South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere around the world, which include assassinations and kidnappings. Its most notorious action was the so-called Blue House Raid of 1968, in which a group of North Korean commandos infiltrated the South and attacked the official residence of South Korean President Park Chung-hui in an attempt to assassinate him. In 1983, RGB forces were responsible for a bomb attack in Rangoon, aimed at killing South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during his official visit to the Burmese capital. The bomb killed 21 people, but Chun survived. According to the 2004 DIA report, the RGB established five “liaison offices” in the early 1990s, which were tasked exclusively with training a select number of operatives to infiltrate the US and remain in place until called to action by Pyongyang. They would become operational in the event of a war breaking out between America and North Korea, at which point they had been instructed to conduct raids on large US cities, sabotage nuclear power plants, etc. The DIA document states that the North Korean plan was put in place because Pyongyang had no other lethal means of reaching the US at the time. The report is significantly redacted and includes the warning that it contains raw information, meaning that it had not been cross-checked and could not be conclusively verified. Additionally, the document makes no mention of the fate of the RGB’s infiltration program and whether it continues to the present day.

News you may have missed #886 (CIA torture edition)

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►What the Vietcong learned about torture that the CIA didn’t. The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques”, as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents.
►►Half of all Americans think CIA torture was justified. Americans who believe the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention program was justified significantly outnumber those who don’t think it was warranted, according to a poll released Monday. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found 51% of Americans think the CIA practices were warranted, compared with 29% who said the techniques were not, and 20% who didn’t express an opinion. A majority of those polled, 56%, believed the interrogation methods provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks.
►►Author of interrogation memo says CIA maybe went too far. As former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Sunday that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects did not amount to torture, the man who provided the legal rationale for the program said that in some cases it had perhaps gone too far. Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo said the sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and other harsh treatment outlined in a US Senate report last week could violate anti-torture laws.

Comment: CIA ‘enhanced interrogations’ have long history

Yuri NosenkoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The public controversy surrounding the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary-report on detentions and interrogations continues to feed media headlines. But, as veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein notes in his Newsweek column, there is one crucial aspect missing from the debate: historical precedent. Stein observes what many commentators have missed, namely a reference in the 500-page document to KUBARK. KUBARK is in fact a coded reference used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s and 1960s to refer to itself. The KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual was produced by the Agency to train civilian and military intelligence officers in what the CIA called “coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources”. The document actively promoted the use of aggressive interrogation techniques and went so far as to make references to the use of electric shocks. The manual is believed to have been used by the CIA on several occasions, including in the interrogation of Yuri Nosenko. A colonel in the Soviet KGB, Nosenko first made contact with the CIA in Vienna in 1962, while he was accompanying a Soviet diplomatic mission to the Austrian capital. In 1964, he asked to be exfiltrated to the United States, at which point he was placed in a ‘grinder’, a CIA safe house, where he was interrogated at length. After failing two polygraph tests administered to him by his CIA handlers, some in the Agency began to believe that he might be a ‘dangle’, a double agent sent deliberately by the Soviets to spread confusion in the CIA’s Soviet desk. He was aggressively interrogated and detained until 1969, when the CIA formally classified him as a genuine defector and released him under the witness protection program. An updated version of the KUBARK manual resurfaced during the war in Vietnam, when the CIA operated an extensive complex of interrogation centers in South Vietnam. As Stein notes, the detention centers were “chiefly designed to extract information from captured communist guerrillas”. The Agency blamed several known instances of torture of prisoners of war on the US Army or on overzealous South Vietnamese interrogators. In the closing stages of the Cold War, the CIA was also implicated in having authored the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train interrogators in a host of US-supported Latin American military regimes, including most controversially Honduras. One could go back even further, to Project MKNAOMI/MKULTRA, a joint effort by the CIA and the US military to study the effects of substances such as heroin and LSD on the human brain, for the purposes of —among other things— interrogation. The program was marred by repeated instances of forced medication of prisoners, mental patients, prostitutes, and others. It resulted in the 1953 death of Dr. Frank Olson, a specialist in biological warfare working for the US Pentagon, who studied the effects of toxic substances on the brain. All that is to say that the public discussion on torture techniques and the CIA has long historical roots and appears to be going in circles —something which does not appear about to change.

Reactions to US Senate’s CIA report fall along party lines

Cover of the Senate reportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Almost immediately following the release of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary-report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program, American public figures began to hurriedly fall in line along predictable partisan positions on the subject. The 500-page document, released on Tuesday, represents the publicly available version of a 6,000-page report that dismisses the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program as an intelligence failure. It also details instances of systematic use of torture by the Agency and accuses it of lying to Congress and the Executive about the effectiveness of its detention methods. But the published report was boycotted by the Senate Committee’s Republican Party members; consequently, it was authored solely by the group’s Democratic Party members, who currently constitute a majority in the Committee. Its Republican members, led by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), released an alternative 160-page minority report that dismisses the majority document as an inaccurate and hastily produced account, which endangers American national security. The Republican-supported minority statement praises the CIA for weakening al-Qaeda in the years after 9/11 and lambasts its critics for “misrepresentations of fact” rooted in “political motivations”. Meanwhile, as senior officials in the administration of US President Barack Obama voiced support for the Senate report, an anonymous group of former senior CIA officials launched a website lambasting it as “the single worst example of Congressional oversight in our many years of government service”. IntelNews understands that the website, entitled “CIA Saved Lives”, is organized by Bill Harlow, the CIA’s public-affairs director from 1997 to 2004, who is close to the Agency’s former Director, George Tenet. Tenet was a trusted advisor of then-US President George W. Bush, and led the CIA during the implementation of the early stages of the post-9/11 interrogation program. The CIA’s own response to the Senate report came in a public press release that acknowledged “serious mistakes” in the interrogation program while defending its alleged effectiveness in weakening of al-Qaeda. Rare examples of public figures that broke party lines were Susan Collins (R-Me), the only Senate Intelligence Committee Republican not to endorse the minority report, and Senator John McCain (R-Az). McCain, who underwent years of torture as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, said the CIA’s use of torture “stained [America’s] national honor” and had done “much harm and little practical good”.

Pollard’s Mossad handler says he failed to follow agreed escape plan

Jonathan PollardBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A convicted spy who betrayed American secrets to Israel in the 1980s was captured by the FBI because he failed to follow a prearranged escape plan to flee America for Israel, according to his Israeli former handler. Jonathan Jay Pollard is a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy, who has so far served nearly 29 years in prison for selling American government secrets to Israel. Ron Olive, an Assistant Special Agent at US Navy Counterintelligence, who in cracked the Pollard case, leading to the spy’s arrest and conviction, has called Pollard the most damaging spy in American history. “Pollard stole so many documents, so highly classified, more so than any other spy in the history of this country, in such a short period of time”, he said in 2012. On November 21, 1985, while under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pollard panicked and attempted to gain asylum at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. However, he was thrown out by embassy guards and was immediately arrested by FBI agents, who had surrounded the Israeli embassy. Ever since his arrest and conviction, Pollard and his family have repeatedly hinted that his Israeli handlers failed to protect him when he sought their help. But in an interview on Israeli television, Rafi Eitan, Pollard’s handler at the time of his arrest, placed the blame squarely on Pollard himself. Eitan was at the time head of the Scientific Relations Office, an obscure unit inside Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, for which Pollard had agreed to spy in exchange for money. On Monday, he told Israel Channel 2 television’s flagship investigative program Uvda that Pollard had been specifically instructed by the Israelis to stay away from their Washington embassy. Instead, said Eitan, the American spy had agreed to follow “a prearranged escape plan that would get him safely out of the United States”. But instead of following the plan as soon as he was approached by the FBI, Pollard waited for three days before panicking and deciding to go to the Israeli embassy without giving his Mossad handler prior notice. Eitan told his Channel 2 interviewers that he received a telephone call notifying him that Pollard was at the gates of the embassy asking for asylum, while the embassy had been surrounded by FBI personnel. “I immediately said ‘throw him out'”, said Eitan, “and I don’t regret it”, since offering Pollard asylum in the presence of a strong FBI force around the Israeli embassy, would have “created an even greater crisis between the United States and Israel”, said the former Mossad spy handler. Eitan added that he took full responsibility for the decision to abandon Pollard. As for the decisions that led to Pollard’s arrest, he said: “you can’t wage war without making mistakes”.

White House weighs increased CIA involvement in Syrian war

Syrian rebelsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of the United States is considering plans to augment the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine role in Syria, amid fears that similar efforts by the US Department of Defense are failing. The CIA’s involvement in the Syrian civil war began in 2012, when US President Barack Obama issued a classified presidential finding that authorized Langley to arm and train opposition militias. The clandestine program was initially based in training camps in Jordan before eventually expanding to at least one location in Qatar. The CIA currently vets and trains approximately 400 opposition fighters every month with the help of commandos detailed to the Agency from the Pentagon. But the program may be about to escalate considerably, according to The Washington Post. The paper said last week that the option of expanding CIA arming and training operations in Syria was on the agenda at a recent meeting of senior national-security officials in Washington. The paper said that the proposed escalation of CIA operations in the region “reflects concern” about the slow pace of similar programs run by the US Department of Defense, which aim to train and arm anti-government militias. The latter have so far proved unable to counter the dominance of a host of al-Qaeda-inspired groups operating along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Earlier this month, a major CIA-backed armed group, known as Harakat Hazm, abandoned many of its positions in northern Syria, after it came under attack by Jabhat al-Nusra, an official al-Qaeda affiliate. Along with territory, Harakat Hazm left behind significant amounts of war material supplied to it by the US Pentagon. The Post said that other moderate opposition militias are beginning to view al-Qaeda-linked groups as their most viable option in defeating the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, something which is worrying the White House. Spokesmen for the US government refused to comment on the report of a possible increase of CIA operations in Syria, or on whether the White House had reached a decision on the matter.

High-profile US diplomat probed by FBI counterintelligence

Robin L. RaphelBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A highly experienced American diplomat, who is commonly described as “a fixture in Washington foreign policy circles”, is reportedly being investigated by counterintelligence agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Washington Post named the diplomat last week as Robin L. Raphel, who served as United States ambassador to Tunisia before being appointed as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, during the administration of US President Bill Clinton. The New York Times described Ms. Raphel as one of the US Department of State’s highest-ranking female diplomats. She is considered an expert on Pakistan and until recently served as an adviser to the Department of State’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ms. Raphel officially retired from the Foreign Service in 2005 and joined the ranks of Cassidy & Associates, a high-powered government-relations firm based in Washington, DC, which is known to have performed lobbying assignments on behalf of the government of Pakistan. In reporting the alleged investigation of Ms. Raphel by the FBI, The Washington Post said last week that the nature of the probe was “unclear”. But it stated that FBI counterintelligence agents had searched the former diplomat’s house and office. Citing unnamed government sources, The New York Times reported that the FBI was trying to determine why Ms. Raphel had taken classified information to her house, and whether she had shared it, or planned to share it, with a foreign government. There was no mention in the article of the identity of the foreign government that may have been privy to classified information allegedly taken home by Ms. Raphel. Media reports suggested that the former diplomat had been placed on leave and stripped of all her government security clearances as part of the ongoing FBI investigation. Insiders note that it is extremely rare for such a prominent figure in Washington to become the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

Obama in secret negotiations with Iran over ISIS threat

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The president of the United States reportedly sent a secret letter to the supreme leader of Iran, in which he proposes cooperation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in exchange for a nuclear deal. The New York-based Wall Street Journal newspaper reported on Thursday that Barack Obama reached out to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in October. In the letter, Obama allegedly proposes a nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran and emphasizes the common threat the two nations face from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group also known as the Islamic State. The paper said Obama’s letter stresses that any cooperation between America and Iran against the Islamic State is directly contingent on a nuclear agreement between the two governments, which would have to be reached before November 24 of this year. If the Journal’s information is accurate, it would appear that the US president’s move is connected with the latest round in bilateral negotiations between Washington and Tehran, which is scheduled to begin on November 8. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif will be leading their respective teams, as the two delegations meet in Muscat, capital of Oman, to explore ways of normalizing their diplomatic relations. If it is real, Obama’s purported letter would not mark the first instance in which the US president wrote to his Iranian counterpart. There are at least three other letters that Obama is known to have sent to various Iranian leaders since 2009, when he assumed the presidency of the US. However, if the proposal in the letter, as outlined in The Wall Street Journal article, is authentic, the move can be seen to highlight the view of the White House that Iran must inevitably be part of a solution regarding ISIS. Nevertheless, the revelation that America is seeking an alliance with Shiite Iran will undoubtedly frustrate America’s Arab allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and other Sunni oil monarchies, which are participating in the ongoing international military campaign against the Islamic State. The Journal contacted the White House but officials there refused to comment on what they said was Obama’s “private correspondence”. When asked by journalists on the matter, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said only that “the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged”.

US Pentagon weapon-silencer probe ‘may point to rogue operation’

The US Department of DefenseBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A complex criminal investigation into the procurement of weapon silencers by the United States Department of Defense may point to what one American newspaper described on Thursday as a “rogue operation”. The case concerns the Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Integration —an obscure Pentagon office staffed by a dozen or so civilian employees. Its stated mission is to provide logistical support and procurement oversight for intelligence operations conducted by the US Navy and the Marine Corps. According to media reports, more than two 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. Initially, Pentagon officials suggested that the silencers had been purchased for an authorized 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. Thought limited details were provided, one government witness told the court that military hardware acquired through UPSTAIRS were intended for the US Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Team 6, commonly known as US Navy SEALs 6. The special-forces team became famous in 2010 when it carried out the Central Intelligence Agency’s operation NEPTUNE SPEAR, which successfully targeted al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Later during the investigation, however, SEAL Team 6 representatives told court officials that their unit “had not ordered the silencers” and knew nothing about them. Soon after 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 on Thursday to speculate that the weapons silencers’ procurement may have been part of a “rogue operation”, that is, a military or intelligence activity that was not authorized by the Pentagon leadership. Read more of this post

Are US spy agencies sharing weapons, intelligence with Hezbollah?

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
In its effort to amass regional support for its war against the Islamic State, the United States is reaching out to militant Shiites in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, according to some sources. In a report for New York-based magazine Newsweek, veteran intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein said on Wednesday that the meteoric rise of Sunni radicalism, in the form of the Islamic State, may have prompted the creation of a “de facto US-Saudi-Lebanese-Hezbollah-Iranian” alliance in the Middle East. Although no partner in this informal coalition is willing to admit its role in the collaborative effort, the common goal of eradicating Sunni extremism has brought about an “unwritten, unacknowledged cease fire” between these former adversaries, says Stein, quoting “authoritative sources”. Washington and Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group that controls large swathes of Lebanese territory, have a common interest in combating the Islamic State and preventing its rule from spreading beyond Syria. So the Americans began reaching out to Hezbollah in 2012, says Stein, and have helped bring about a “regional consensus […] to contain the conflict away from Lebanon and in Syria”. Remarkably, bitter adversaries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran are said to actively subscribe to the Washington-led consensus against the Islamic State. Washington’s decision to reach out to Hezbollah appears to have been prompted by the realization that the militant Shiite group, along with the official Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), were the only actors on the ground capable of fighting and defeating the Islamic State. Last August, says Stein, the US Pentagon unloaded $20 million worth of weapons in Lebanon for use by the LAF. The weapons were reportedly shipped through the Beirut International Airport, which his under the control of Hezbollah. The group promptly transferred the weapons to the LAF, which is traditionally dominated by Christians, but has recently developed an “arm’s length alliance with Hezbollah” due to their mutual concern over the rise of the Islamic State. Stein suggests that the US-Hezbollah relationship may now also include intelligence-sharing. He quotes a number of sources who claim that some Sunni militants have been apprehended thanks to intelligence-sharing between America, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some claim that Iran acts as a mediator between Washington and Hezbollah, and that British diplomats also mediate between the two sides. Read more of this post

Austrian reporter alleges NSA spies on Vienna, including UN complex

Roof of the IZD Tower in ViennaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A reporter for Austria’s state broadcaster claims to have uncovered a United States National Security Agency listening post in Austrian capital Vienna, which he claims spies on the United Nations facility, among other targets. In September 2013, Austrian media alleged that a villa in Vienna’s Pötzleinsdorf district belonging to the US embassy there was part of a sophisticated communications interception network operated by Washington. At the time, both the US and Austrian governments denied the claims, with the US embassy claiming that the building served as an open-source center that processed and evaluated information that was openly available in Austrian media outlets and the Internet. Now, however, Austrian reporter Erich Möchel, who works for the country’s state-owned ORF broadcaster, says he believes he has identified another part of an alleged extensive NSA-run listening network in the nation’s capital. The reporter published a series of photographs from the roof of the so-called IZD Tower, a commercial 41-story skyscraper located in Vienna’s 22nd district, which is within walking distance from the UN facility there. Möchel said the photographs show the roof of the building, which is one of the tallest in Vienna, and were leaked to him by an anonymous source. They show what appears to be a grey-colored boxy structure, which resembles a maintenance hut on the roof of the tower. The hut is enclosed by rows of solid steel bars resembling a fence, and surrounded by approximately 10 surveillance cameras. Interestingly, the hut, which overlooks the UN building complex, cannot be seen from the street, or from nearby buildings. Möchel speculates that the hut is made of fiberglass, which would allow it to absorb radio signals and commercial mobile telecommunications messages, with the help of antennas located in its interior. Read more of this post

CIA issues ‘stand-down’ on spying against Western Europe

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States Central Intelligence Agency has issued a “stand-down order” to its stations in Europe, instructing them to cease all intelligence operations targeting allied countries, media reports claim. According to several Western European news outlets, including British newspaper The Guardian, CIA stations in Europe have been “forbidden from undertaking unilateral operations” involving assets recruited from within government agencies allied to Washington. Last summer, the German government instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials”. Berlin also expelled the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief of station —essentially the top American official in the country. The moves came after successive revelations by American defector Edward Snowden, suggesting that Washington had spied on Germany and other Western European countries with unprecedented intensity in recent years. In July, Berlin arrested two German intelligence officers who it said were spying on Germany on behalf of the CIA. The Guardian said that the stand-down order came into effect shortly after the arrests of the CIA’s two German assets and Berlin’s subsequent reaction, which diplomatic observers described as “unprecedented”. The order was communicated to CIA stations “by senior CIA officials through secret cables”, said the paper. The decision is reportedly aimed at giving CIA stations in Europe time to evaluate the degree of operational security of their intelligence-collection programs and assess whether their officers were “being careful enough” so as to prevent further embarrassment for Langley. Additionally, CIA stations have been asked to evaluate whether targeting allied nations in espionage operations is “worth running the risk of discovery”, said The Guardian. Since the stand-down order was issued, CIA case officers have reportedly stopped meeting with all of their assets recruited from within allied governments. The London-based newspaper quoted one anonymous former CIA official who said stand-downs of this sort are not uncommon after operations are compromised, but added that he could not remember a stand-down order being “this long or this deep”. Read more of this post

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