More documents emerge on CIA effort to salvage Soviet submarine

Project AZORIANBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
New documents have emerged about a massive effort by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1970s. This blog has written before about Project AZORIAN, a 1974 attempt to recover a Soviet submarine in 5,200 meters of water. The initiative cost the CIA over $800 million, which translates to something like $3 billion in today’s prices. It centered on an effort to salvage K-129, a Soviet Golf II class submarine that had suffered an internal explosion while on a routine patrol mission in the Pacific Ocean, in 1968. The explosion caused the vessel to sink along with the three nuclear ballistic missiles it was carrying and nearly 100 crew members, all of whom died in the incident. The Soviets initiated an immediate frantic effort to recover the vessel but gave up after two months, unable to bring it to the surface. After the Soviets abandoned the site, a number of CIA scientists proposed to undertake an American effort to recover the sunken submarine. This, they suggested, would allow Washington to study the design features of Soviet nuclear warheads, as well as obtain cryptographic hardware that could prove useful in deciphering Soviet naval codes. This prompted the launch of Project AZORIAN, which commenced in 1974, once the Agency secured the necessary funds. As we have indicated before, the recovery team nearly caused a nuclear explosion when the submarine split while being raised, and its body hit the ocean floor. The CIA prepared to enter a new phase of the project in 1975, aimed at launching a second attempt to raise the sunken vessel. But the attempt was cancelled when vague snippets of information about the project were leaked to the press. Nothing more emerged until 2010, when the CIA aired a heavily redacted article about the project, which had originally appeared in the 1980s in Studies in Intelligence, the Agency’s in-house publication. Now, however, intelligence historians are able to rely on 200 pages of mostly fresh information on Project AZORIAN, released under the US Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) program. Read more of this post

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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

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 wants immunity for Pakistanis implicated in attacks that killed 166

2008 Mumbai attacksBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States government has argued in court that current and former officials of Pakistan’s intelligence service should be immune from prosecution in connection with the 2008 Mumbai attacks. At least 166 people, including 6 Americans, were killed and scores more were injured when members of Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba stormed downtown Mumbai, India, taking the city hostage between November 26 and 29, 2008. The Indian government has openly accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) of complicity in the attack, which has been described as the most sophisticated international terrorist strike anywhere in the world during the last decade. Using evidence collected by the Indian government, several Americans who survived the bloody attacks sued the ISI in New York earlier this year for allegedly directing Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Mumbai strikes. But Stuart Delery, Principal Deputy Attorney General for the US Department of State, has told the court that the ISI and its senior officials are immune from prosecution on US soil under the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. According to the 12-page ‘Statement of Interest’ delivered to the court by Delery, no foreign nationals can be prosecuted in a US court for criminal actions they allegedly carried out while working in official capacities for a foreign government. The affidavit goes on to suggest that any attempt by a US court to assert American jurisdiction over current or former Pakistani government officials would be a blatant “intrusion on [Pakistan’s] sovereignty, in violation of international law”. It appears that nobody has notified the US Department of State that the US routinely “intrudes on Pakistan’s sovereignty” several times a week by using unmanned Predator drones to bomb suspected Taliban militants operating on Pakistani soil. Washington also “intruded on Pakistan’s sovereignty” on May 2, 2011, when it clandestinely sent troops to the town of Abbottabad to kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Read more of this post

Blackwater/Academi settles weapons-smuggling charges

Blackwater/Academi headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
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 #619 (WikiLeaks edition)

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

►►US suspends diplomat for linking blog to WikiLeaks. The State Department has suspended Peter Van Buren (pictured), a 23-year veteran foreign service officer, for writing a book critical of US policy in Iraq and blog posts that included a link to a WikiLeaks cable. Van Buren, who worked in human relations, said he was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning for two days while officials there decide what to do next with him. They had stripped him of his top secret security clearance a few days earlier, he said.
►►Solomon Islands minister was CIA source. Classified US diplomatic cables from 2006, recently published by WikiLeaks, have revealed that the Solomon Islands’ former Foreign Affairs Minister and businessman Laurie Chan has acted as a reliable source of US and Australian intelligence in the Pacific island country.
►►Diplomatic cable sheds light on suicides of Bulgarian spies. A diplomatic following cable, sent by John Beyrle, US Ambassador to Bulgaria before going to Moscow, dated January 25, 2007, has been released by WikiLeaks. The cable sheds light on reshuffles in the leadership of the country’s intelligence services and the suicides of two high-ranking intelligence employees.

White House reinstalls visas for 2009 Honduran coup plotters

Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On June 26, 2009, a clandestine meeting of the Honduran Supreme Court issued a secret warrant for the arrest of the country’s democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya. Less than 48 hours later, in the early hours of June 28, uniformed officers of the Honduran Army stormed the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa and arrested Zelaya. Shortly afterwards, the deposed President was placed on a plane and sent into enforced exile. It was the first coup d’état in the Central American country since 1978, and the first in Latin America in several years. The US administration of President Barack Obama almost immediately condemned the coup and halted American military aid to Honduras; but it failed to officially designate Zelaya’s ouster as a ‘military coup’, which would have required Washington to outlaw and terminate nearly all forms of government —and some private— aid to Honduras. In August, after several weeks of heavy criticism from Latin American governments, the Obama White House proceeded to “temporarily suspend” non-immigrant visas for over 1,000 Honduran military and civilian leaders, who had endorsed President Zelaya’s unconstitutional ouster. Many of whom had participated in the first post-coup government of former Speaker of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti. But a news report by the Associated Press suggests that Washington may now be quietly reinstating visas to Micheletti government officials, and that some of them are already travelling to and from the United States. The article quotes a “US embassy spokesperson”, who “spoke on condition of anonymity”, as saying that “the Department of State has determined that some of the Hondurans whose eligibility for visas was restricted following the June 2009 coup d’etat are again eligible to be considered for visas”. Read more of this post

US summons Syrian ambassador for spying on protesters

Imad Moustapha

Imad Moustapha

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
American government officials acknowledged late last week that they warned Syria’s ambassador to Washington to stop his diplomats from spying on anti-government activists operating in the United States. The State Department said that Eric Boswell, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, summoned the ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic, Imad Moustapha, and conveyed “a number of [...] concerns with [...] reported actions of certain Syrian embassy staff in the United States”. The concerns center on what appear to be confirmed sightings of Syrian diplomats conducting technical surveillance against Syrian and American citizens participating in demonstrations and other legal political activities in several US cities. There are also reports that intelligence gathered by Syrian diplomats in the United States is used by the Syrian security services in Syria to intimidate family members of Syrian and Syrian-American dissidents who are active in the United States. According to The Washington Times, the State Department was first alerted to the alleged political surveillance by the activists themselves, who began noticing in June the presence of suspected Syrian government informants in their Washington gatherings. Read more of this post

Taiwanese spy operation led to Chinese official’s dismissal, claims leaked cable

Jin Renqing

Jin Renqing

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The puzzling resignation of China’s minister of finance was caused by his sexual involvement with a Taiwanese spy, who extracted classified information from him, according to a leaked American diplomatic cable. At the time of his 2007 resignation, Jin Renqing, a Communist Party bureaucrat with over 40 years of financial affairs experience, was regarded as Asia’s preeminent finance technocrat. His rise to China’s most powerful financial post, in the early years of our century, coincided with the country’s meteoric economic rise. When he quietly stepped down, a brief press statement by the Chinese government said Jin had resigned for “personal reasons”. But according to a diplomatic cable authored in September 2007 by a US State Department diplomat, Jin’s resignation was in fact a summary dismissal, caused by his sexual involvement with a much younger woman, who is now believed to have worked for Taiwanese intelligence. The cable, which has been leaked by whistleblower website WikiLeaks, describes the alleged Taiwanese spy as a “promiscuous socialite” and a “social butterfly”, who had successive affairs with a host of senior Chinese officials. The list included the country’s former Minister for Agriculture, Du Qinglin and Chen Tonghai, Director of China’s powerful Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, also known as Sinopec. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #518

  • Pakistan to intensify intel collaboration with China. Pakistan has assured China of full co-operation in providing intelligence about the activities of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which aims to separate Xinjiang, an autonomous region, from China.
  • US spy community launches ‘Analytical Olympics’. This new competition for analysts to see who makes the best predictions, was outlined in a recent report by the US National Research Council, which suggests practical ways to apply insights from the behavioral and social sciences to the intelligence community.
  • UAE mercenaries say they have no Blackwater contacts. Michael Roumi, president of Reflex Responses, a company training foreign mercenary troops for the United Arab Emirates, has told the US State Department and members of Congress that Erik Prince, the former head of the security firm Blackwater Worldwide, plays no role in operating the business.

US denies smuggling spy equipment into Argentina [updated]

Argentina

Argentina

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has denied charges by Argentine officials that it tried to smuggle espionage equipment into the South American country under the pretext of transporting training supplies for Argentine Federal Police. The charges were leveled on Thursday, after Argentine customs officials conducted what the US Department of State called an “unusual and unannounced” inspection of a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane that landed in the country. According to the Argentine government, the inspection turned up communications interception equipment, “powerful GPS” hardware, as well as “technological elements containing codes labeled secret”, among other items. The material, which had apparently not been listed in the plane’s manifest, was confiscated, while the C-17, along with its American passengers, most of whom were members of the US Special Forces, flew back to the US. Authorities in Argentina are now accusing the US Pentagon and the Department of State of trying to smuggle in the equipment without declaring it to customs officials, as is prescribed under international air cargo transportation laws. Read more of this post

Embassy cables show US spied on UK Foreign Office

Ivan Lewis

Ivan Lewis

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The latest release of US embassy cables from whistleblower website WikiLeaks shows that the US Department of State ordered its diplomats to actively report on the personal lives of British Foreign Office officials. On several instances, American diplomats in London appear to have reported on the personal life of Ivan Lewis, a Labour Party politician who served as Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs during the closing days of Gordon Brown’s government. It seems that the reports on Lewis were compiled at the request of the State Department in Washington, which issued calls for specific background information on Lewis’ personal life. In response to the request, a memorandum was sent from the US embassy in London on August 12, 2009, suggesting that Lewis was “possibly prone to depression” and that he was described by one of his colleagues as “a bully”. The cable also indicated that Lewis had apologized “in 2007 to a female in his office who accused him of sexual harassment”, and suggested that the incident had been purposely leaked to the British media by Downing Street a few months later, after Lewis publicly joined the internal Labour Party revolt against Brown. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #470

  • Blackwater still working for US despite denials. Reports that Blackwater is out of the US government’s private-security game appear to have been greatly exaggerated. A consigliore to the company’s new owners has said the firm still holds security contracts with the US State Department, and intends to seek more.
  • CIA gets spooky with new radio commercials. The CIA’s National Clandestine Service is continuing its recruitment drive with new radio commercials, complete with a spooky soundtrack of sawing violins and rising timpani –and something about “no one will ever know what you do”.
  • Iranian shah’s son found dead in Boston. Alireza Pahlavi, the youngest son of the late shah of Iran, has been found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Boston’s South End. In June 2001, Alireza’s sister Leila was found dead in a London hotel room from an overdose of barbiturates. The late siblings’ father was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution. He died in Egypt in 1980.

US denies Ivory Coast coup claim

Emile Guirieoulou

Emile Guirieoulou

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States has emphatically rejected assertions by officials in the Ivory Coast that it is plotting to overthrow the government of the West African country. For weeks now, Washington has been echoing calls by the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union for Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to stand down, after losing in the November 28 national elections. But Gbagbo’s government, which controls most of the military, rejects the alleged election victory of his political rival Alassane Ouattara, and refuses to hand over power. On December 29, the Ivory Coast’s Minister of the Interior, Emile Guirieoulou, told a press conference that the United States had dispatched at least ten German “mercenaries” to its embassy in Abidjan, as part of a multinational Western plot to overthrow Laurent Gbagbo. He told journalists that the German mercenaries were onboard a US-operated flight from Algiers to Bouake, Ivory Coast’s second-largest city. Read more of this post

Scandinavians launch probes into US spying activities

Scandinavia

Scandinavia

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Norway, Sweden and Denmark have launched official investigations into media reports that accuse US embassies in Scandinavian countries of operating illegal intelligence gathering networks. The issue first emerged last Wednesday, when a report by Norway’s TV2 channel alleged that the US embassy in Oslo maintained a network of around 20 local former police and intelligence officers, who were conducting “illegal systematic surveillance of Norwegian citizens”. According to TV2, the surveillance network was tasked with collecting visual and physical intelligence on individuals “thought to pose a threat to American interests”. The US Department of State responded to the allegations by arguing that the US embassy had “fully informed” the Norwegian authorities of the surveillance activities. But Norwegian investigations expressed fears that the intelligence collection, which dates back to 2000, may constitute a violation of Norwegian diplomatic legislation, and have launched an investigation into the affair. Read more of this post

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