Analysis: Why were Western diplomats evacuated from Yemen?

YemenBy J. FITSANAKIS and I. ALLEN | intelNews.org |
American and British embassies in Yemeni capital Sana’a were evacuated on Tuesday, soon after the United States closed 19 of its diplomatic representations in the Middle East and North Africa due to fears of a pending terrorist attack. But why exactly did the evacuations of diplomatic personnel take place in Sana’a? The Yemeni government announced on Wednesday that it had foiled a large-scale attack by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which allegedly aimed to cripple the country’s frail economy. According to Yemeni government spokesperson Rajeh Badi, the attack was planned to take place in the country’s central Hadramout governorate, which includes the port cities of al-Mukkala and Ghail Ba Wazir. The Yemeni government said the AQAP forces planned to blow up several oil pipelines before proceeding to occupy the two port cities, from which the majority of Yemen’s oil exports are shipped. Badi added that AQAP planned to take several foreign oil workers hostage as part of the military operations.

However, as Foreign Policy magazine’s Dana Stuster points out, Mohammed Albasha, spokesman of the Yemeni embassy in Washington, DC, seems to dispute his own government’s claims. Early on Wednesday, Albasha tweeted that, in his view, “AQAP doesn’t have the man power nor the capabilities to capture a city the size of Mukkala in Hadramout”, let alone Ghail Ba Wazir. Read more of this post

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Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. Read more of this post

Saudi diplomat shot dead in Yemen by gunmen disguised as soldiers

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An official at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Yemen has been shot dead along with this Yemeni bodyguard by a group of gunmen disguised as government security forces. According to television station al-Arabiya, which is owned by the Saudi government, the diplomat and his bodyguard were killed on Wednesday when their car was “raked with gunfire” in the heart of Yemeni capital Sana’a. Later in the day, the incident was confirmed by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which identified the assassinated diplomat as Sergeant Khaled Shobeikan al-Anzi. IntelNews understands that al-Anzi worked as an aide to the Military Attaché at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Sana’a. There are rumors, however, that his diplomatic credentials may have been a cover for his intelligence work for Al-Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, Saudi Arabia’s military intelligence agency. Sources in Yemen report that the attack took place in Haddah, one of Sana’a’s more exclusive districts, which houses the majority of foreign embassies and diplomatic compounds in the capital. It is also worth noting that the assailants were reportedly “dressed in the uniforms of [Yemen’s] Central Security Organization”, a 50,000-strong National Guard-type force that operates under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior. Wednesday’s assassination of the Saudi diplomat is the latest incident in a series of attacks against diplomatic targets in Sana’a, which have included employees in the British and American embassies there. In late March of this year, Islamist militants kidnapped Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Consul in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, who remains in captivity. Read more of this post

Danish Muslim convert claims he was CIA’s mole inside al-Qaeda

Morten StormBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Danish citizen who converted to Islam in the early 2000s claims he was a spy for the United States Central Intelligence Agency and helped track down an American-born Islamist cleric who was killed by a drone strike in 2010. The man, who goes by the name Morten Storm, told Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that he converted to Islam while living in the United Kingdom. But he quickly grew disillusioned, he said, and in 2006 he was recruited by the Danish Police Intelligence Service (PET). In subsequent years, he traveled several times to Yemen on PET missions, and gradually managed to gain the trust of members of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Eventually, he said, he grew close to one of AQAP’s central figures, the American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. At that point, claims Storm, the PET turned him over to the CIA, who allegedly used him to gather information on al-Awlaki. The Danish Muslim convert claims that his role as a CIA informant was so important that US President Barack Obama knows his name. He also told the paper that it was his information that eventually helped the CIA track and assassinate the charismatic cleric. According to Storm, the CIA supplied him with a memory stick that contained a stealth Global Positioning System tracking device. He sent the memory stick to al-Awlaki, who used it on his computer, thus allowing the CIA to track him down. In April 2010, President Obama ordered that al-Awlaki’s name be included on a list of individuals that the CIA was officially authorized to kill. Little less than a year later, on September 30, 2011, the cleric and three other suspected members of AQAP were killed when their car was hit by two Hellfire missiles in Yemen’s northern al-Jawf province. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #795

Shakil AfridiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US ‘cannot verify authenticity’ of Afridi interview. The US says it cannot verify an alleged interview by Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani medical doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden. In May, a Pakistani court sentenced Afridi to 33 years in jail after he was arrested following the killing by US troops of bin Laden in May 2011 at his compound in the town of Abbottabad. US television channel Fox News said Tuesday it had obtained an exclusive phone interview with Afridi from behind bars, in which he detailed months of torture by Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence.
►►Evidence suggests US covered up Soviet massacre in Poland. New evidence appears to back the idea that the US administration of President F.D. Roosevelt helped cover up Soviet guilt for the 1940 Katyn massacre, in which more than 22,000 Poles were killed by the Soviets on Stalin’s orders. Historians said documents, released by the US National Archives, supported the suspicion that the US did not want to anger its wartime ally, Joseph Stalin. The documents show that American prisoners of war sent coded messages to Washington in 1943 saying that the killings must have been carried out by the Soviets, rather than the Nazis. Information about the massacre was suppressed at the highest levels in Washington, say historians.
►►Yemen President sacks intel agency heads. Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has sacked the heads of the National Security Agency and  Military Intelligence, just a few hours after two suicide car bombs targeted the country’s Defense Minister in the capital Sana’a killing at least 12 people. The National Security Agency’s Ali Mohammed al-Anisi has been replaced with Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi, while the head of Military Intelligence, Mujahid Ali Ghuthaim, has been replaced with Ahmed Muhsin al-Yafiee. Hadi took office in February this year after year-long street protests forced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as part of an UN-backed power transfer deal in return for immunity from prosecution.

News you may have missed #794

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Racism charge against GCHQ settled out of court. The British government’s SIGINT agency, GCHQ has been spared having its inner workings broadcast in public after a potentially embarrassing racism case was settled out of court at the last minute. The racial harassment and constructive dismissal lawsuit had been filed by Alfred Bacchus, a 42-year-old former employee. There are unconfirmed reports that, as part of the settlement, the plaintiff has signed a non-disclosure agreement banning him from revealing any more details about his complaints.
►►US spy agencies renew call for electronic surveillance rights. US intelligence officials had made a public plea on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks, for quick Congressional action to extend a sweeping but controversial US electronic surveillance law. If the law, which expires at the end of 2012, is not extended, US spy agencies say they would lose access to what they describe as a “very, very important source of valuable intelligence information”. But at least one congressional critic of the surveillance law, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, says he is willing to use legislative tactics to stall the bill, which has been passed by the House, unless the administration and other legislators agree to include stronger provisions to protect Americans’ civil liberties.
►►Yemen claims arrest of ‘Mossad agent’. Al-Nas, a Yemeni weekly associated with the Islamist Yemeni Reform Party, reported last weekend that an Israeli citizen, identified only by his initials and year of birth, 1982, was arrested in the southwestern city of Taizz. He reportedly admitted to smuggling children out of Yemen to neighboring countries and from there to Israel “through Zionist organizations”. Bizarrely, the man reportedly told his Yemeni interrogators that he “spent three years in a Greek prison for researching the biographies of well-known computer hackers”.

News you may have missed #787

Alexander Makowski By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►An interview with a senior Yemeni spy. Here’s something you don’t read every day: an interview with Ahmed Bin Mo’aili, 66 (pictured here), who worked as a spy for Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO) for more than 30 years. He says that, due to his “different duties in different countries”, which required him to travel in several Arab countries, he acquired “tens of wives” over the years. He is now upset with the PSO because the Organization has “separted him from his 31 children who live all around the Arab countries he has worked in and who are awaiting his return”.
►►Cyprus wants answers from UK over Syria spy claims. Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, has asked British authorities for “a full explanation” into media reports that UK military installations in Cyprus are providing intelligence to Syrian rebels. Earlier this month, The London Times claimed that two British military bases on Cyprus, located in Dhekelia and Akrotiri, were being used to collect signals intelligence on Syria. The data collected at the listening posts, operated by the General Communications Headquarters, Britain’s foremost signals intelligence agency, was passed on to the Free Syrian Army through Turkish intelligence operatives, said The Times. But the Cypriot Foreign Minister said that it was crucial that the bases were not being used for purposes not enshrined in the island’s Treaty of Establishment, which mandates the British Bases to be used for defensive purposes only.
►►CIA ‘turned down offer’ to kill bin Laden in 1999. In late 1999, two years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, a group of Afghan agents loyal to an anti-Taliban guerrilla leader proposed assassinating Osama bin Laden. In returne, they asked for the $5 million reward the Bill Clinton administration had offered for bin Laden’s capture. But the CIA rejected the plan, saying: “we do not have a license to kill”. This is according to the book Ferreting Out Bin Laden (not yet available in English), by Polish former spy Alexander Makowski (pictured), who claims he was the Afghans’ go-between on the plot. Makowski’s credentials are many: the son of a spy, he attended primary school in Great Britain, high school in the United States, and received a postgraduate law degree from Harvard. He graduated from the Polish military intelligence academy at Stare Kiejkuty before spending 20 years in Polish intelligence.

News you may have missed #766 (Arab world edition)

David SheddBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Yemen busts alleged Iranian spy ring. Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi called on Tehran to stay out of Yemen’s internal affairs last week, after security officials in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, announced they had uncovered an Iranian spy ring there. Yemen’s government-run SABA news agency said the spy cell, which was allegedly led by a former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps, had operated in Yemen as well as in the Horn of Africa,  and that it had kept an operations center in Sana’a. An interior ministry official said all those detained were Yemenis.
►►CIA sued for killing US citizens in Yemen. Survivors of three Americans killed by targeted drone attacks in Yemen last year have sued top-ranking members of the United States government, alleging they illegally killed the three, including a 16 year-old boy, in violation of international human rights law and the US Constitution. The suit (.pdf), the first of its kind, alleges the United States was not engaged in an armed conflict with or within Yemen, prohibiting the use of lethal force unless “at the time it is applied, lethal force is a last resort to protect against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death or serious physical injury”. The case directly challenges the government’s decision to kill Americans without judicial scrutiny.
►►US intel official acknowledges missed Arab Spring signs. David Shedd, deputy director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, said analysts failed to note signs of the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that exploded into the Arab Spring. Shedd’s comments were posted Thursday by the American Forces Press Service, a Pentagon information wire. They constitute a rare public acknowledgment of the US intelligence failure regarding the turmoil that has redrawn the Middle East’s political landscape, toppling autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and now engulfing Syria.

Would be al-Qaeda bomber was Saudi double agent

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The man tasked by al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch to blow up an airliner bound for the United States last month, was a mole who had been recruited by Saudi intelligence. IntelNews understands that the double agent is a Saudi citizen who volunteered to act as an informant for Saudi authorities. The latter eventually tasked him with traveling to Yemen, joining al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and convincing its leaders that he was willing to carry out a suicide mission against Western targets. It is not known at this point whether the Saudis kept the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the loop from the moment the mole was sent to Yemen to join AQAP. What is known is that the man did indeed manage to penetrate AQAP and was eventually entrusted with attacking a civilian airliner with a custom-built bomb designed to fit seamlessly around his scrotum. However, instead of carrying out the suicide mission as agreed, the man left Yemen for Saudi Arabia and delivered both himself and the bomb to Saudi intelligence. The Saudis eventually notified the CIA of the foiled plot, before forwarding the deactivated explosive device to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is now studying it. Thus, initial media reports claiming that the CIA had foiled the attack appear somewhat stretched at this point, in light of the critical role of the Saudi mole inside AQAP. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #725 (al-Qaeda edition)

Fahd al-QusoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Al-Qaeda airline bomb plot thwarted by CIA. US intelligence services foiled a plot hatched by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate) to blow up a plane bound for America using a more sophisticated version of the underwear bomb deployed unsuccessfully in 2009, according to the White House and the FBI. The Associated Press quoted unnamed US officials as saying that the would-be bomber, based in Yemen, had been given the bomb by al-Qaida, which had left the choice of plane and the timing to him. The CIA intervened to seize the bomb. The fate of the alleged bomber is still unknown.
►►CIA kills al-Qaeda man wanted for attack on USS Cole. Fahd al-Quso, who was on the FBI’s most-wanted list for his part in the bombing of the warship USS Cole in 2000, was hit by a missile fired from the unmanned CIA aircraft on Sunday as he and another al-Qaeda operative stepped out of a vehicle in the southern province of Shabwa, Yemen. Al-Quso (photo) had served more than five years in a Yemeni prison for his role in the USS Cole attack and was released in 2007.
►►Al-Qaeda attacks Yemeni base hours after CIA strike. Al-Qaeda militants staged a surprise attack Monday on a Yemeni army base in the south, killing 20 soldiers and capturing 25 just hours after a US drone strike killed Fahd al-Quso, one of its senior figures, who had participated in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The militants managed to reach the base both from the sea and by land, gunning down troops and making away with weapons and other military hardware after the blitz attack.

News you may have missed #717

Lieutenant General Michael FlynnBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►CIA wants more drone strikes in Yemen. The CIA is seeking permission to launch more airborne drone strikes in Yemen, even when there is a risk the victims might not always be terrorists, The Washington Post reports. The paper quotes an unnamed Obama administration official saying that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States”. But critics of the drone program say killings of innocent victims could become more common if the strikes are expanded. The CIA proposal for the “signature strikes” is awaiting a decision by the National Security Council, The Post quotes unnamed US officials as saying.
►►US military intelligence critic to lead spy agency. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who once blasted the work of US military spies in Afghanistan as “only marginally relevant”, has been nominated to take over the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the US Pentagon’s intelligence organization. Flynn was a scathing public critic of military intelligence in Afghanistan, where he served as a top intelligence officer in 2010, saying it failed to provide decision makers with a clear picture of conditions on the ground. Flynn is credited with playing an influential role during his tenure at Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive headquarters that oversees elite commandos like the team that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
►►Taiwanese man detained for spying for China. A Taiwanese businessman, identified by his surname Cheng, has been detained for allegedly spying for China. He was allegedly recruited by China when he moved to the southeastern coastal province of Fujian to do business a few years ago, prosecutors said. Cheng is accused of trying to lure a former classmate, who is now a military officer, to meet with Chinese officials abroad for money; but the officer turned him in to Taiwanese authorities.

News you may have missed #674

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA officers blast Kiriakou. Two former CIA intelligence officials, who spoke to The Washington Times, have rejected the image of John Kiriakou as a high-minded whistleblower who sought to expose official wrongdoing or a botched intelligence operation. Bruce Klingner, who worked as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, called Mr. Kiriakou’s alleged actions “a betrayal of the trust the US government placed in him”. Bart Bechtel, a former CIA clandestine officer, said he considered Kiriakou’s actions “egregious”.
►►US air strikes in Yemen go largely unreported. Last Tuesday’s attacks in southern Yemen were among the biggest carried out by the United States in Yemen since airstrikes began there in November 2002. These strikes underline how the Americans are escalating covert operations against two Islamist groups in the region –al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
►►West explores prospects for Assad’s exile. The United States, European governments and Arab states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Bashar al-Assad despite skepticism the defiant Syrian president is ready to consider such an offer, Western officials said on Wednesday. While talks have not progressed far and there is no real sense that Assad’s fall is imminent, one official said as many as three countries were willing to take him as a way to bring an end to Syria’s bloody 10-month-old crisis.

Former US spy chief questions ‘war on terrorism’ logic, tactics

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
America’s former top intelligence official has publicly questioned the logic and methods informing Washington’s “war on terrorism”, and called for the CIA unmanned drone assassination program in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be grounded. Dennis C. Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence (DNI) until May of 2010, was speaking last week at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.  In an hour-long forum conversation with television journalist Leslie Stahl, Blair —a retired Admiral— explained that, in his view, America’s “war on terrorism” is misconceived, strategically counterproductive and ludicrously expensive. Speaking on the CIA’s unmanned drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Admiral Blair agreed that the drone attacks have killed some “mid-level” Taliban or al-Qaeda operatives, but said that the strikes have had a negligible overall impact on American security. As a terrorist outfit, al-Qaeda has shown that it is able to easily “sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign”, said Blair. Additionally, the former DNI said that unilateral air strikes are legally questionable and have proven strategically damaging, by “alienating the countries concerned” and dominating Washington’s relations with key nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (click here to read intelNews’ criticism of American raids in Somalia). In doing so, the drone attacks tend to “threaten the prospects of long-term reform” in those countries, said the retired Admiral. Earlier in the conversation, Blair had questioned the economic basis of America’s “war on terrorism”, telling his audience that the US intelligence and security establishment currently spends around $20 million a year for each member of al-Qaeda scattered around the world. Read more of this post

Analysis: Arab revolutions cause blind spot for US spies

Christopher Dickey

Dickey

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An unusually blunt piece published in Newsweek magazine describes the Arab democratic revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere as serious detriments to US intelligence collection in the Muslim world. Written by Newsweek’s Middle East Regional Editor Christopher Dickey, the lengthy article argues that the ongoing political changes in several Arab countries make US counterterrorism professionals long for the days “when thuggish tyrants, however ugly, were at least predictable”. It even quotes an unnamed senior intelligence officer who denounces the celebration of democracy in the Arab world as “just bullshit”, and sees “disaster […] lurking” in the region. The reason for such vehement reaction is plain: US intelligence professionals are witnessing an elaborate network of informants across the Arab world, which they painstakingly built and cultivated since the late 1960s, crumble before their very eyes. These informants, who had senior government positions in secularist Arab dictatorships, “are either gone or going”, says Christopher Boucek, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #510 (bin Laden edition)

  • Europe says US slow in sharing bin Laden intel. European security officials have lots of questions about the intelligence being analyzed from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, but so far they have seen very little of it, they say.
  • Did Pakistani official lead US to bin Laden? There are rumors in Pakistan that the CIA was tipped off about the location of bin Laden’s hideout from a walk-in informant at the US Embassy in Islamabad.
  • CIA interrogates bin Laden’s wives. US intelligence officials have interrogated the three wives of Osama Bin Laden who were left behind in his compound after Navy Seals shot dead the al-Qaeda leader. The women, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, of Yemen, and Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, both of Saudi Arabia, were apparently “hostile” and uncooperative during the interrogations
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