News you may have missed #788

U-2 surveillance aircraftBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►US spy planes violated Israeli airspace in 1950s. American U-2 espionage planes repeatedly entered Israeli airspace in the 1950s for a series of secret spy missions, according to new information to be published by the Israel Air Force magazine next week, bringing to an end a decades-long mystery. At the time, Israel’s defense establishment was baffled by the entrance of high-flying crafts. For years, officials in IAF command disagreed on the identity of the mystery crafts, with some claiming that they were British Vickers-Valiants, and others saying they were American Vought F-8 Crusader planes, that had been stationed on a US aircraft carrier. According to documents to be published next week, it was the USSR that aided Israeli officials to expose the identity of the mystery planes, after a US U-2 espionage plane was shot down over Soviet soil.
►►US guard pleads guilty to espionage. A civilian guard at a new US consulate in China pleaded guilty on Thursday to attempting to sell Chinese security officials photographs and access to the compound so they could plant listening devices. According to a court proffer, Bryan Underwood had lost a significant amount of money in the stock market and hoped to make between $3 million and $5 million by supplying classified photos and information to China’s Ministry of State Security. Underwood, 32, appeared in federal court in Washington and pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to communicate national defense information to a foreign government.
►►CIA torture probe ends without any charges. The US Department of Justice has ended its investigation into the CIA’s interrogation program for terror detainees, without bringing charges. Attorney General Eric Holder said there was not enough evidence to “sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt”. Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the investigation’s conclusions were a “nothing short of a scandal”. But CIA officials welcomed the decision. CIA Director David Petraeus thanked his staff for co-operating with the investigation. “As intelligence officers, our inclination is to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past”, he said. No surprises here, surely.

Blackwater/Academi settles weapons-smuggling charges

Blackwater/Academi headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
In the eyes of many, the United States-based security firm formerly known as Blackwater is synonymous with ‘scandal’. Founded in 1997 by self-confessed CIA agent Erik Prince, the company was awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in non-competitive contract bids by the Bush administration, to provide wide-ranging security services in Iraq. But the company’s ‘shoot-first-ask-questions-later’ attitude resulted in numerous bloody incidents in the country, including the 2007 Nisur Square massacre, in which at least 14 Iraqi civilians were killed by trigger-happy Blackwater guards. In 2009, a frustrated US Department of State refused to renew the company’s governmental contracts, after which Blackwater terminated its partnership with the US government (or did it?). What is perhaps less known about the company, now renamed to Academi LLC, is that it has for years been the subject of several investigations by US authorities for a host of criminal offences, ranging from selling secret plans to foreign governments to illicit weapons trafficking. According to court documents unsealed yesterday at the United States District Court in New Bern, North Carolina, Academi has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle some of these charges. Under the agreement, the company has owned up to 17 different criminal violations with which it was charged after a five-year multi-agency federal investigation led by the Department of Justice. The charges include possessing unregistered fully automatic weapons in the US, illegally exporting encrypted satellite-telephone hardware to Sudan, training foreign nationals without a license, giving classified documents to foreign governments, as well as selling weapons to the Kingdom of Jordan without US government authorization and then lying about it to US federal firearms officials. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #727

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►US government-authorized wiretaps increased in 2011. The US Justice Department sought 1,745 secret wiretapping warrants in 2011, an increase of 239 over 2010, according to correspondence sent to Congressional leaders and oversight committees. The secret warrants are governed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and are used in terrorist and espionage investigations by the FBI. The letter, dated April 30, 2012, also notes that the FBI issued 16,511 National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain certain records and information in investigations. It further asserts that the requests were for investigations relating to 7,201 different US persons. The number of NSLs declined dramatically from 2010 when the FBI had sought 24,287.
►►Australia axes spy agency funding. Large budget cuts by the Australian Labour government, which is trying to engineer a federal budget surplus, are expected to affect funding for the country’s intelligence agencies. The six agencies of the Australian intelligence community have been given a collective budget of $81 million over four years, a figure that is $20.4 million lower than previous budgets. The government said that savings will be “redirected to support other national intelligence priorities”.
►►Canada spy case adjourned until June. The case of Jeffrey Delisle, a Halifax naval intelligence officer accused of espionage, has been adjourned until next month because his lawyer has not yet received all of the files in the case. Delisle is charged with communicating information to a foreign entity —probably Russia— that could harm national interests. Until 2010, Delisle worked for both Canada’s Chief of Defence Intelligence and at the Strategic Joint Staff, which oversees virtually every major aspect of the military’s domestic and international plans and operations.

News you may have missed #507

  • Pakistani media reveal name of CIA station chief. Mark Carlton, the purported CIA station chief in Islamabad, was named by a Pakistani newspaper and a private television news network over the weekend, the second holder of that post in less than a year to have his cover blown by the media.
  • How an immigrant from Taiwan came to spy for China. Well-researched article on Tai Shen Kuo, a Taiwanese-born American citizen who is serving time in an Arizona prison for spying on the US for China.
  • Domestic surveillance grew in US in 2010. The level of domestic US intelligence surveillance activity in 2010 increased from the year before, according to a new Justice Department report to Congress. Moreover, the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved all 1,506 government requests to electronically monitor suspected “agents” of a foreign power or terrorists on US soil.

Cold War KGB agent Judith Coplon dies in Manhattan

Judith Coplon

Judith Coplon

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

News you may have missed #403

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News you may have missed #343

  • Taliban leader H. Mehsud reportedly not dead. Last February US and Pakistani officials claimed a CIA airstrike had killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the largest faction of the Pakistani Taliban. But it now appears that Mehsud is alive and well.
  • Analysis: Operation MINCEMEAT and the ethics of spying. The New Yorker‘s Malcolm Gladwell on operation MINCEMEAT, a World War II British deception plan, which helped convince the German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia in 1943, instead of Sicily.
  • US DoJ announces FISA court appointment. Judge Martin L.C. Feldman, of the Eastern District of Louisiana, has been appointed to a seven-year term on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, which reviews (and invariably approves) government applications for counterintelligence surveillance and physical search under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

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