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

The US Department of DefenseBy IAN ALLEN |
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

US hesitant to share Boko Haram intel with Nigerian government

Boko Haram militantsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
United States military officials said on Tuesday that the Pentagon is not “at this point” sharing intelligence on the Boko Haram militant group with the Nigerian government. Last month, members of the armed group, which campaigns for an Islamist state in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria, abducted at least 200 teenage girls from a boarding school in Chibok, a primarily Christian village located in the northeast of the country. Since then, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has threatened to kill or sell the girls as slaves unless the government of Nigeria releases Boko Haram prisoners. In the past week, the US has become directly involved in the search for the missing girls. On Monday, the US Department of Defense deployed fixed-wing aircraft on a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions concentrating on Boko Haram strongholds in the northeast of the country, near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. Meanwhile, 30 American advisers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Department of State, are already in Nigerian capital Abuja, assisting in the search for the kidnap victims. American media has reported that the US Department of State is now sharing commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerian government in the context of the search. However, the Pentagon said that it is not “at this point […] sharing raw intelligence data” on Boko Haram with the Nigerian government. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US Department of Defense, refused to discuss the precise reasons why the Pentagon is withholding intelligence data from the Nigerian military. There is speculation, however, that the decision may be related to fears in Washington that the notoriously corrupt Nigerian military may have been infiltrated by Boko Haram members and sympathizers. Read more of this post

US court dismisses lawsuit against CIA over scientist’s death

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A United States federal court has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the Central Intelligence Agency over an alleged murder of an American Department of Defense scientist, which occurred in 1953. The lawsuit concerned the case of Dr. Frank Olson, a specialist in biological warfare working for the US Pentagon at Fort Detrick, Maryland. It appears that Olson, who studied the effects of toxic substances on the brain, participated —knowingly or unknowingly— in Project MKNAOMI/ MKULTRA. The project was 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. On November 28, 1953, Dr. Olson fell to his death from the window of his room on the 13th floor of New York City’s Statler Hotel. In an internal report that was declassified in 1975, the US government admitted that Dr. Olson had been assigned the task of military-scientific liaison with the CIA’s Technical Services Staff —the unit in charge of MKULTRA. Moreover, the report disclosed that the late scientist had been administered LSD by his CIA colleagues without his knowledge nine days prior to his sudden death. Ever since the report was aired, Dr. Olson’s family has maintained that the scientist did not voluntarily plunge from his hotel window on November 28, 1953. Rather, they claim, he was pushed to his death by CIA personnel, after he raised strong objections against the testing of chemical and biological substances on non-consenting human subjects by the Agency’s Technical Services Staff. But US District Judge James Boasberg ruled that, although the CIA had yet to come clean on the controversial history of MKULTRA, the lawsuit by Dr. Olson’s family had been “filed too late”; he added in his ruling that an earlier settlement between the dead scientist’s family and the US government effectively barred the possibility of a new lawsuit. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #838 (analysis edition)

Predator droneBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Delisle spy case barely caused ripples between Canada and Russia. The arrest of Jeffrey Delisle, a Canadian naval officer spying for Russia, did little to discourage Canada from welcoming that country’s defense chief to a Newfoundland meeting of Arctic nations last year. The visit underscored the puzzling lengths to which the Canadian government went to carry on a business-as-usual relationship with the one-time Cold War adversary. Most other planned military contacts between the two nations last year —including participation in the anti-terrorism exercise Operation Vigilant Eagle— also remained curiously normal.
►►Don’t believe the hype on Chinese cyberespionage. Within a day of each other, The Washington Post published a shocking list of US defense programs whose designs have reportedly been stolen by Chinese cyberattacks, and ABC news said the plans for Australia’s spy headquarters were also stolen by Chinese hackers. It makes China sound like a secret-sucking cyber espionage machine, but is that really the case? The knee-jerk interpretation to this disclosure (and others) is that China is a powerhouse of cyber espionage capable of stealing whatever secrets they want and that the US is powerless to stop them. This seems very unlikely.
►►US Predator drone program quietly shifted from CIA to DoD. The White House has quietly shifted lead responsibility for its controversial armed drone program from the CIA to the Defense Department. In a landmark speech last week at National Defense University in Washington, US President Barack Obama offered some clues into the status of the program, opaquely signaling it will now primarily be conducted by the United States military.

US Senate blocks Pentagon plan to launch new CIA-style agency

The US Department of DefenseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Last week the United States Department of Defense flooded media outlets with press releases announcing the planned establishment of a new military intelligence organization that would rival the Central Intelligence Agency in both size and scope. Not so fast. The US Senate has just blocked the plan citing gross mismanagement of the Pentagon’s existing intelligence operations. The proposed Defense Clandestine Service centers on plans to build an extensive overseas intelligence network, run by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency and based on the CIA model of stations located in large metropolitan centers. The DoD said that the new intelligence organization will help the US armed forces broaden their intelligence collection from the current concentration in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the Senate, which was asked to review and approve the plan’s financial requirements, submitted under the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, has refused to do so. Moreover, it issued a written rationale, drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which it explicitly forbids the Pentagon using US taxpayers’ money to expand its overseas intelligence operations. According to The Washington Post, the reason for the plan’s rejection is two-fold. First, the Senate appears unhappy with the financial management of the DoD’s existing intelligence collection efforts. The Senate report cites serious concerns about the excessive financial cost and management failures associated with the Pentagon’s ongoing intelligence operations. It specifically mentions “poor or non-existent career management” for DoD intelligence operatives who are often transferred back to regular military units after undertaking “unproductive” assignments overseas, despite extensive intelligence training. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report stipulates that, before it asks for more money to build the proposed new agency, the Pentagon must “demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine [human intelligence] before undertaking any further expansion”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #816

Kim Jong-namBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Danish minister vows more control over spy agency. Following the uproar created by the revelations from former Danish secret service (PET) agent Morten Storm, Denmark’s Minister of Justice, Morten Bødskov, is now calling for parliament to have more control over the domestic intelligence agency. In an interview with Berlingske newspaper, Bødskov said that he is seeking increased powers for parliament’s Kontroludvalg, a committee established in 1964 to oversee PET. The move comes in response to the many questions that have arisen about PET’s actions following Storm’s decision to contribute to a series of articles in Jyllands-Posten newspaper that chronicled his time as a PET double-agent.
►►South Korea jails alleged North Korean assassin. A South Korean court has jailed an unidentified North Korean spy reportedly ordered to attack Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-nam, who is believed to have fallen out of favor with Kim Jong-il in 2001, was thought to have been living in Macau, but media reports indicate he may have moved to Singapore. South Korean media said the alleged assassin had spent a decade in China tracking down North Korean defectors before coming to the South, and that he had admitted trying to organize “a hit-and-run accident” targeting Kim Jong-nam.
►►US Pentagon to double the size of its worldwide spy network. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the US Pentagon’s military intelligence unit, is aiming to recruit 1,600 intelligence collectors —up from the several hundred overseas agents it has employed in recent years. The DIA’s new recruits would include military attachés and others who do not work undercover. But US officials say that the growth will be driven a new generation of spies who will take their orders from the Department of Defense. The project is reportedly aimed at transforming the DIA into a spy service more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units.

News you may have missed #786

Richard Masato AokiBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►US Pentagon wants to share intel with Egypt. The US Department of Defense is offering Egypt a package of classified intelligence-sharing capabilities designed to help it identify military threats along its border with Israel. According to an unnamed senior US official, the Pentagon leadership is concerned about “rising militancy” along the Egyptian-Israeli border. The purported intelligence package includes satellite imagery, data collected through unmanned drones, as well as intercepts of cell phone and other communications among militants suspected of planning attacks. The Egyptian intelligence chief was summarily fired earlier this month, after more than a dozen Egyptian soldiers were killed near Israel’s border when gunmen attacked a post and tried to enter Israel.
►►Researcher disputes Aoki was FBI informant. Last week author Seth Rosenfeld alleged that prominent 1960s Black Panther Party member Richard Masato Aoki, who gave the Black Panthers some of their first firearms and weapons training, was an undercover FBI informer. But the claim, which is detailed in Rosenfeld’s new book, Subversives, is disputed by another researcher, Diane C. Fujino. A professor and chair of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara, and author of the recently published Samurai Among Panthers, Fujino argues that Rosenfeld has not met the burden of proof on Aoki, and that he “made definitive conclusions based on inconclusive evidence”.
►►Russian intelligence to monitor blogosphere. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the FSB, says it plans to fund a program that monitors the Internet’s “blogosphere”, with an aim to “shape public views through social networking”. Citing unnamed sources from inside the FSB, Russian newspaper Kommersant said that the project’s research stage will cost around $1 million. The article implies that the online surveillance and opinion-shaping program will target both Russian- and foreign-language online users. This is not the first time that the FSB has displayed interest in online social networking in recent years.


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