United States reaches agreement with ex-NSA staff who helped Emirates hack targets

US Department of JusticeThree former employees of American spy agencies, who helped the United Arab Emirates hack targets around the world, including United States citizens, have agreed to cooperate with the investigation into their activities. The US Department of Justice said on Tuesday that it had reached a “deferred prosecution agreement” with the three Americans, Ryan Adams, Marc Baier and Daniel Gericke. At least two of them are believed to have worked for the US National Security Agency before transferring their skills to the private sector.

According to US government prosecutors, the three men initially worked for a US-owned private cyber firm, before being hired by another firm that is registered to the UAE, which offered them “significant increases in their salaries”. According to the book This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends, by New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth, the UAE firm was behind Project RAVEN, a highly intrusive cyber-espionage campaign against domestic and international critics of the UAE monarchy.

As intelNews reported earlier this year, the existence of Project RAVEN was revealed by the Reuters news agency in 2019. Its extensive list of targets included foreign governments, officials of international bodies, as well as lawyers, human rights activists and suspected terrorists. Several of those targets were reportedly American citizens. Perlroth claims in her book that among Project RAVEN’s targets was former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The information released this week by the US Department of Justice details an agreement between the three defendants and the US government, according to which they are required to cooperate fully with the investigation into their activities. They are also required to pay a combined total of nearly $1.7 million to the US government as a form of restitution for violating military export-control standards. Moreover, they are banned from holding security clearances in the future, and are subject to a number of employment restrictions.

Several US news outlets described the agreement between the US government and the three defendants as the first of its kind. Meanwhile, a number of US government officials, including Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, warned other former US government employees to not violate “export-controlled information for the benefit of a foreign government or a foreign commercial company”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 September 2021 | Permalink

CIA sees early signs of al-Qaeda regrouping in Afghanistan, says US official

David CohenAMERICAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES ARE noticing early signs that al-Qaeda may be regrouping in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, according to the deputy director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The presence of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was the primary reason behind the invasion of the country by the United States in 2001. In subsequent years, the militant group, which was behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, suffered heavy losses, and saw its members disperse across the region. Many others were captured or killed.

Now, however, with the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, there are concerns that al-Qaeda may make a comeback in the war-torn country. Under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda worked closely with the upper echelons of the Taliban in the 1990s and early 2000s. Contacts between the two groups continue to exist, and could potentially deepen following the exit of the United States and its Western allies from Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, David Cohen, who serves as deputy director of the CIA, said that American intelligence agencies are closely monitoring the situation. Speaking at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, DC, Cohen acknowledged that the shuttering of the United States embassy in Kabul, as well as the closure of a network of CIA stations across Afghanistan, had “diminished” the ability of American intelligence agencies to assess conditions on the ground. He added, however, that current intelligence reports indicate “some potential motion of al-Qaeda [returning] to Afghanistan”.

Cohen added that much of the intelligence that has been collected in recent weeks comes from “over-the-horizon platforms”, meaning that the collection is taking place from countries that border Afghanistan. However, the CIA in particular is already working to develop “methods to work within the horizon”, he said. At the moment, the United States intelligence community estimates that it could take al-Qaeda between one and two years to amass its former strike capability, so as to directly threaten American interests.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2021 | Permalink

Chinese-linked hacker group breached Indonesian spy agency’s networks

Indonesian State Intelligence Agency

A GROUP OF COMPUTER hackers with links to the Chinese state is likely behind a major breach of networks belonging to at least ten Indonesian government ministries and agencies, including the country’s primary intelligence service. The breach was first reported on September 10 by cybersecurity firm Insikt Group, whose researchers say they have been monitoring the hacks since April of this year.

Insikt Group said experts in its threat research division noticed that a number of PlugX malware command and control servers were regularly communicating with hosts inside the networks of the Indonesian government. After forensically examining the communication patterns, the researchers concluded that the initial contact between the command and control servers and the Indonesian government networks was made in March of this year, if not earlier. The technical details of the intrusion are still being determined, according to Insikt Group.

The firm said that the breach was perpetrated by Mustang Panda, a mysterious advanced persistent threat actor, which is also known as BRONZE PRESIDENT, HoneyMyte, and Red Lich. In the past, Mustang Panda has been particularly active in Southeast Asia, targeting servers in Mongolia, Malaysia and Vietnam. The targets of this latest breach included the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency, known as BIN. According to Insikt Group, BIN was “the most sensitive target compromised in the campaign”.

The company said it notified the Indonesian government twice about these intrusions, in June and July. Although no response was forthcoming from the Indonesian government, changes in its computer networks since that time may be taken as evidence that the authorities took steps to “identify and clean the infected systems”, according to Insikt Group’s report.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 September 2021 | Permalink

Mystery arrest of Russian mercenaries in Belarus ‘was US-Ukrainian sting operation’

Belarus KGB

THE BIZARRE CASE OF the arrest of three dozen Russian mercenaries in Belarus in 2020, allegedly for trying to destabilize the country, was in reality a joint Ukrainian-American sting operation that went awry, according to a new report. IntelNews readers will remember the puzzling July 2020 announcement by Belarusian authorities of the arrest of 33 Russians, who were said to be employees of Wagner Group, a Kremlin-backed private military firm.

The 33 Russians were charged with terrorism against the government of Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who was then seeking a sixth term in office. Soon afterwards, the Belarussian State Security Committee (KGB) said the Russians had entered the country as part of a 200-strong group of mercenaries working for Wagner, in order to “destabilize the situation during the election campaign” of Lukashenko. That, however, made little sense, given that Lukashenko is one of Moscow’s strongest international allies. To add to the mystery, the Russians were quietly released from custody just a few days later.

What was behind that mysterious case? According to the American news network CNN, the bizarre incident was part of an international sting operation set up by the Ukrainian intelligence services with the support of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Citing three former high-ranking Ukrainian military intelligence officials, CNN claims that the sting operation aimed to lure, and eventually arrest, Russian mercenaries who have participated in the Kremlin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine since 2014.

The news network claims that the Ukrainian intelligence services set up a fake Russian private military company and used it to advertise $5,000-a-month contracts to provide security for Venezuelan oil facilities. Hundreds of Russian would-be contractors sent in applications. When quizzed by the fake company about their bona-fides, the applicants freely provided evidence of their participation in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War.

The ultimate goal of the sting operation was to sign up the Russian contractors and offer to transport them to Turkey, from where they would supposedly fly to Caracas and begin working. In reality, however, the Russians would be transported to Ukraine, where they would face arrest and potential imprisonment for war crimes. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented their transportation via air. Instead, the sting organizers chose to transport them by bus to neighboring Belarus, from where they planned to transport them to Ukraine. However, the presence of 33 burly Russians in a hotel sanatorium outside of Minsk raised suspicions, and led to their eventual arrest by the Belarussian security forces.

The report by CNN claims that the CIA provided the Ukrainian intelligence services with “cash, technical assistance and advice”. But the news network also says that United States officials “deny having a direct role” in the sting operation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 September 2021 | Permalink

Russia denies rumors that its chief security official met with CIA director in India

Russian embassy India

A RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN has denied reports Moscow’s Security Council Secretary met secretly this week with the director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the India. The United States, however, has not commented on the reports.

As intelNews and others reported yesterday, General Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, arrived in Delhi on September 7, “for high-level consultations on Afghanistan”, according India’s Ministry of External Affairs. General Patrushev, who is Russia’s highest-ranked security official, traveled to India at the invitation of his counterpart there, National Security Adviser Ajit K. Doval.

Interestingly, The Hindu, one of India’s two newspapers of record, reported on Tuesday that “an American delegation of intelligence and security officials” were visiting Delhi, and had already “held consultations” with officials. According to the newspaper, the American delegation was led by no other than CIA Director William Burns, who is said to be touring the region, and is also expected to visit Islamabad in the coming days.

Like General Patrushev, Burns met with National Security Adviser Doval about “issues arising from the Afghanistan evacuation effort and Taliban government formation”, said The Hindu. But unlike the Russian delegation’s visit, which was announced by the Indian government, the alleged American delegation’s visit remains speculative, and has not been officially confirmed by either Delhi or Washington.

It was not long before Indian media began to report that the American and Russian teams had met in secret, allegedly in order to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, however, a spokesman for the Russian Security Council flatly refuted the rumors of a meeting between Burns and Patrushev. The Russian-government owned TASS news agency quoted Russian Security Council spokesman Yevgeny Anoshin as saying that “Patrushev did not plan to, and did not meet, with the CIA head in Delhi”.

The United States government has yet to comment on these reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 September 2021 | Permalink

High-level American, Russian intelligence delegations visit India on the same day

Nikolai PatrushevHIGH LEVEL DELEGATIONS OF intelligence officials from the United States and Russia visited India on the same day this week, for talks with Indian officials about the situation in Afghanistan, according to news reports. This development highlights the frantic pace with which Moscow and Washington are maneuvering around the region, following the dramatic takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban last month.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs announced on Tuesday that General Nikolai Patrushev (pictured), Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, would be in Delhi “for high-level consultations on Afghanistan” between September 7 and 8. General Patrushev —Russia’s highest-ranking security official— is traveling to India at the invitation of his Indian counterpart, National Security Adviser Ajit K. Doval, according to the announcement. He was scheduled to meet with, aside from Doval, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishanka.

Late yesterday, however, the Chennai-based English-language newspaper The Hindu reported that “an American delegation of intelligence and security officials” had visited Delhi on Tuesday, and had “held consultations” with officials there. According to the newspaper, the American delegation was led by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns, who is touring the region and is also expected to visit Islamabad in the coming days. The report also said that Burns spoke at length with Doval about “issues arising from the Afghanistan evacuation effort and Taliban government formation”.

It is worth noting that India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the embassy of the United States in Delhi declined to confirm or deny the news about the CIA director’s visit to the country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Turkey and Qatar emerge as Taliban government’s main envoys to the West

Turkish embassy in Afghanistan

TURKEY AND QATAR, TWO countries with a growing diplomatic and intelligence network inside Afghanistan, are emerging as significant envoys to the Western world for the new government of the Taliban. Their newfound role in the Central Asian country puts them in direct competition with China and Russia, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open throughout the dramatic events of the past month. Three other countries with historically close ties to the Taliban, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also important players amidst the new reality in the war-torn country.

As a recent article by the BBC points out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s, when the group last held the reins of power in Kabul. But they quickly cut diplomatic ties with it following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their contacts with some of the older Taliban leaders remain strong, however.

In contrast to the older generation, some of the younger leaders of the Taliban see Qatar and Turkey as important mediators and conduits of communication with the outside world, and especially with the West. It is no accident that the Taliban entrusted the restoration of the —undoubtedly soon to be renamed— Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to technicians from Turkey and Qatar, who were hurriedly flown to the Afghan capital last week for that purpose.

In establishing relations of trust with the Taliban, Qatar is relying on a lengthy record of facilitating diplomatic connections between the militant group and Western powers. It should be recalled that it was in Doha that American and Taliban representatives negotiated the terms of Washington’s exit over several meetings spanning several administrations in the White House. In the past month, the Qataris used their links to the Taliban to assist numerous Western nations, including the United States, in evacuating their citizens from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Pakistan’s spy chief visits Kabul in an effort to unify rival Taliban factions

Inter-Services Public Relations PakistanTHE DIRECTOR OF PAKISTAN’S powerful intelligence agency paid a surprise visit to the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday, reportedly in an effort to mediate between rival factions of the Taliban. Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, was accidentally spotted by a British television crew in a Kabul hotel on Saturday. When asked about the purpose of his visit, Hameed said he planned to hold a meeting with Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan. He did not respond to questions about whether he would also meet with the leadership of the Taliban, with whom the ISI has traditionally had close relations.

On Sunday, however, it emerged that Hameed had met with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Pakistan-supported Pashtun leader and founder of Afghanistan’s Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin party. There are rumors that Hekmatyar, who served twice as Afghanistan’s prime minister in the 1990s, will be asked by the Taliban to join a coalition government. There are rumors that Islamabad is pressuring the Taliban to include non-Taliban figures in their cabinet, and thus form a governing partnership with non-Taliban elements.

Additionally, numerous reports claim that serious differences have emerged between the two strongest factions of the Taliban, which concern the appointment of cabinet officials. One faction is led by the group’s co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and the other by the Taliban deputy leader, Anas Haqqani. The latter is the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the powerful Haqqani Network —a militant group that works closely with the Taliban but has retained its operational independence. There were even reports that Haqqani militia members exchanged gunfire with Taliban units in Kabul last Friday, though these were dismissed as untrue by the Taliban.

Many observers believe that the differences between the various Taliban factions are real, and that Hameed traveled to Kabul in an effort to help them resolve their differences with the help of Pakistan’s mediation. The Reuters news agency cited an anonymous Pakistani senior official as saying that Hameed’s visit was also aimed to help the new Afghan government organize its military, and to ensure that the airport in the Afghan capital will become operational soon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 6 September 2021 | Permalink

British foreign secretary admits errors in intelligence assessments of Afghanistan

Dominic RaabTHE CONSENSUS VIEW OF British intelligence in the weeks leading to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban was that the Afghan government would be challenged, but that the rebels were unlikely to take over the country in 2021. This was revealed on Wednesday in the House of Commons by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab. Speaking at an emergency meeting of the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Raab fielded criticism that he had reacted slowly to the crisis in Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary told his critics that his department’s decisions had relied on assessments by the Joint Intelligence Committee, an interagency body that coordinates Britain’s intelligence agencies in issuing reports about pressing security matters. He told Parliament that the assessments he had been given pointed out that the pro-Western government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would be threatened by the Taliban following the withdrawal of Western troops. But they concluded that the government would remain in control of Kabul through 2021, said Raab.

The rapid fall of the Afghan capital to the Taliban caught the British intelligence establishment —and, consequently, the government as a whole— by surprise, said Raab, adding that the sheer “scale and speed of the fall of Kabul” was unexpected. The foreign secretary blamed “optimism bias” for the reports, but added that similar optimistic views were “widely shared” across the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. All parties involved would have to learn lessons from Afghanistan about the accuracy of intelligence reports, Raab concluded.

But the foreign secretary was less clear about why his office did not heed the warnings of the principal risk assessment of his own department, which was issued on July 22, approximately a month before the fall of Kabul. The assessment warned starkly that the return of the Taliban to power could be rapid, as “peace talks are stalled and [United States and] NATO withdrawal is resulting in Taliban advances”. This, said the assessment, could lead to the “fall of cities, collapse of security forces, [and] Taliban return to power”. The document also discussed the possibility that the British “embassy may need to close if security deteriorates” in the Afghan capital.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 September 2021 | Permalink

Can the Taliban access biometric data collected by US forces in Afghanistan?

Biometrics technology

CONCERNS ARE BEING RAISED by experts about whether the Taliban may have access to the biometric data of millions of Afghans —including those collected by the United States in its 20-year-long military campaign in Afghanistan. In an attempt to avoid recriminations by the Taliban, Afghans who worked for the United States and other Western powers, have been reportedly destroying evidence of their past association with these foreign powers. Evidence includes identification papers, payment stubs and other such documentation.

But in a recent article that rests on original research data, Pennsylvania State University Professor Margaret Hu warns that biometric data stored on Afghan government servers may provide the Taliban with all the evidence they need to identify former state workers, including those who worked for the United States. The data, says Hu, “could be transformed into death warrants in the hands of the Taliban”. What is more, much of the data has been collected by American troops in the past two decades.

The American military began collecting biometric data on the Afghan population as early as 2001. By 2007, US forces regularly collected biometric data across the country, using laptops and other portable electronic devices equipped with biometric data collection sensors. The resulting databases featured the names of several million Afghans by 2011. Hu says that the goal of the US Department of Defense was to build a massive biometric database that would encompass at least 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population —or approximately 32 million people.

In recent years, the US military’s system of biometrics collection had been adopted by the Afghan government, which used it to prevent election fraud, as well as to screen government employees. Now the Afghan government is no more, and the Taliban are in control of every government department, including the departments of defense, labor and the interior. The question is, do the militants have access to the biometrics databases of former government workers?

Hu says it is too soon to tell for sure. Some reports indicate that the Taliban —most of whom are rural peasants— lack the necessary technological know-how to access, search and ultimately utilize these databases. But other reports, says Hu, suggest that units of heavily armed Taliban fighters have already begun to employ “biometrics machines” to locate the homes of government workers and inspect them in early-morning and late-night raids. Time will tell, says Hu, if biometrics warfare is now a reality in Afghanistan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 September 2021 | Permalink

Afghanistan chaos could revive CIA’s counterterrorism mission, say observers

US embassy in Afghanistan

THE RAPID TAKEOVER OF Afghanistan by the Taliban, and the potential descent of that country into an even deeper chaos, could force the United States Central Intelligence Agency to revive its counterterrorism mission, which it has been trying to put on the back-burner in recent years. This is discussed in an insightful article published last Friday in The New York Times by Julian Barnes, Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti (author of The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth).

The three reporters cite anonymous “current and former officials” who claim that the spiraling instability of Afghanistan “could draw the CIA back into a complex counterterrorism mission for years to come”. This comes as American officials are “reworking plans to counter threats that could emerge from Afghanistan’s chaos”, according to the report. Their ultimate fear is that Afghanistan could emerge as a beehive for militants of all backgrounds and stripes, just as Syria did in the 2010s, and before it Afghanistan in the 1990s. Even if the Taliban want to stop this from happening, the CIA has no faith in their ability to do so, the authors note.

But what can the CIA do in that regard? The spy agency has lost its extensive system of stations and outposts throughout Afghanistan. Its networks of agents inside the war-torn country have crumbled, and it doesn’t even have access to a US or other Western diplomatic facility from which to operate in-country. It will therefore need to negotiate with neighboring countries in order to establish facilities that can allow it to run agents and operations inside Afghanistan. This will not be easy, given the influence of Pakistan, Russia and China in the broader region.

The article cites a number of “senior US officials” who argue that the CIA’s priorities will not necessarily change after what happened in recent weeks in Afghanistan. Yes, there may be more urgency on counterterrorism following the victory of the Taliban, they say. They note, however, that US intelligence agencies are perfectly capable of handling “multiple priorities at once”. But the article also quotes Don Hepburn, who served both in the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who says that focusing on both state and non-state actors with the same intensity is not necessarily as simple as it sounds: “The agency is being drawn in many, many directions”, he cautions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 August 2021 | Permalink

Israel has drastically curtailed intelligence-sharing with the US, report claims

Natanz Iran

THE GOVERNMENT OF ISRAEL scaled back significantly intelligence cooperation with the United States in January of this year, following the change of guard in the White House, according to The New York Times. In an article published on Thursday, the paper cited several unnamed Israeli and American sources in claiming that the Israeli administration of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu limited its intelligence relationship with Washington almost as soon as Joe Biden assumed the presidency of the United States.

According to the report, the Israelis decided to scale back intelligence-sharing with Washington in order to keep the Biden administration in the dark about the latest developments in the Iranian nuclear program. Following the demise of much of its intelligence network in Iran in 2019, the United States relies heavily on Israeli intelligence when it comes to following developments inside Iran, said The Times. The hope in Israel is that, by denying the Biden administration information about developments inside Iran, Israel can prevent the White House from making drastic changes to former President Donald Trump’s policy on Iran.

To illustrate its claim, the paper referred to the sabotage attack against Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant in April of this year, which has been widely attributed to Israel. According to the report, the Israelis gave the White House two hours’ notice of the plan, which was allegedly a deliberate attempt to prevent Washington from assessing the operation, and potentially pressuring Israel to cancel it.

American sources told The Times that the move by the Netanyahu administration had its roots in the bad blood between it and the administration of US President Barack Obama, who spearheaded the now-defunct nuclear deal with Iran. Additionally, American officials told the paper that the change of policy on intelligence-sharing by the Israeli government represented a violation of “a longstanding, unwritten agreement to at least advise the United States of covert operations” and giving Washington an opportunity to challenge specific courses of action.

But Israeli officials who spoke to the paper said that the reason why Washington was not given earlier notice about the attack on the Natanz nuclear plant was because of fears that it would be leaked. United States officials have leaked information before about pending Israeli covert operations, according to the Israelis. The report also suggested that the American and Israeli governments have tried to reset their intelligence relationship since the Natanz operation, but relations remain tense.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 August 2021 | Permalink

Revealed: Unlike other Western nations, France began Afghan evacuations in May

Embassy of France in Afghanistan

UNLIKE OTHER WESTERN NATIONS, which are currently scrambling to evacuate their citizens and Afghan embassy workers amidst the chaotic takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, France began its evacuations back in May. It was then that the French government put in motion a complex operation to evacuate Afghans who had worked for its diplomatic facilities, as well as their families. It is believed that around 600 Afghans were evacuated in May, with several dozen more evacuations following in June and July.

The French government is now being praised from all sides for its “anticipatory planning”. Back in May, however, there was far more criticism than praise. On July 5, in an interview with France’s state-owned international television outlet, France24, Etienne Gille, director of the French aid charity Amité Franco-Afghan, derided the evacuations of Afghans by the French government as “premature”, saying they would hurt the aid work on the ground. In May, a German diplomat, who spoke anonymously to France’s Monde newspaper, criticized France for its decision to evacuate Afghans, and said Germany would not leave Afghanistan, but would instead invest €400 million to fortify civil society there.

Why was the French response so different from those of other Western nations? Britain’s former ambassador to France, Lord Peter Ricketts, has offered one explanation. He told British newspaper The Telegraph that the main reason behind France’s anticipatory planning was its distance from the United States. Britain, which has “stronger ties to Washington” compared to France, relied largely on the White House’s assessments on the situation in Afghanistan. France, on the other hand, maintains a “relative distance” from the United States, and was thus able to “act quickly on its own conclusions”, Lord Peter said. He added that Paris “just got on with it without feeling the need to coordinate closely with the US”.

Speaking recently about France’s decision to move forward with evacuations in May, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said: “France does not forget those who have worked for us”. The French government is still evacuating some of its diplomats, as well as Afghans, but the bulk of the evacuations have been completed.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 August 2021 | Permalink

Taliban appoint obscure figures in senior intelligence and security positions

Taliban

A NUMBER OF OBSCURE figures, largely unknown to Western observers, have been appointed to senior security and intelligence positions by the Taliban, just days after their return to power in Afghanistan. Some of the names of senior officials have been made public by news agencies in the Middle East. Others were publicized on Tuesday by Pajhwok Afghan News, an independent news agency that publishes reports in Dari, Pashto and English.

Arguably the most notable of those appointed to senior positions by the Taliban is Abdul Qayyum, known as “Zakir”, He is a former senior military commander of the militant group, who has been appointed Afghanistan’s Acting Defense Minister. The American government and intelligence agencies are well acquainted with Zakir, as he was captured by United States forces in Afghanistan in 2001. He was subsequently transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and from there to Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, from where he was released by the Afghan government in 2007, as part of a general amnesty. Upon his release, Zakir rose in the ranks of the Taliban and led its military wing until 2014.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Pajhwok Afghan News reported that Afghanistan’s intelligence agency would be led by a Taliban commander it named as “Najibullah”. No other information about him was provided in the statement. As intelNews reported on Monday, Ahmad Zia Sraj, who headed the National Directorate of Security (NDS) under the government of Ashraf Ghani, was evacuated by Turkish special forces troops earlier this month, and is today believed to be in Ankara. Last week, the Taliban proceeded to dissolve the NDS. It is reported that most of its 30,000-strong force is now dispersed into refugee camps in India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 August 2021 | Permalink

Dozens of senior Afghan officials, including spy chief, smuggled to Turkey

Kabul Airport Afghanistan

APPROXIMATELY 40 SENIOR OFFICIALS in the government of deposed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have been secretly smuggled to Turkey in recent days. They include Afghanistan’s intelligence chief, according to reports in Turkish media. They claim that the Afghan officials were smuggled out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan by Turkish military and intelligence operatives. The latter reportedly hid the officials among crowds of Turkish citizens who were evacuated from Kabul in recent days, as the Taliban were entering the Afghan capital.

Turkish media said the Turkish embassy in Kabul had developed evacuation plans earlier this summer, as the Taliban were conquering large swathes of territory throughout the countryside, including a number of provincial capitals. These plans were put in place for the benefit of Turkish expatriates who lived and worked in Afghanistan. However, according to reports, Turkish embassy officials also reached out to “Afghan officials, who have close ties with Turkey” and informed them of the evacuation plans.

As Taliban forces began to enter Kabul, Turkish embassy officials put the evacuation plans into action, and invited selected Afghan officials to make use of them. Within hours, a Turkish Airlines passenger plane appeared on the tarmac of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Due to a previously agreed-to arrangement between Ankara and Washington, some parts of the airport were being guarded by Turkish troops. These troops reportedly helped guide the evacuees onto the aircraft, while keeping at bay “a large crowd” of people seeking to leave Kabul, who “started to run towards the plane”.

The aircraft eventually left Kabul with 324 passengers on board, including around 40 senior Afghan officials. Among them were Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the country’s Second Vice President, Sarwar Danish, as well as Ahmad Zia Sraj, who headed the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Formed in 2002, the NDS was the national intelligence and security service of Afghanistan until it was dissolved by the Taliban earlier this month. It is reported that most of its 30,000-strong force is now dispersed into refugee camps in India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 August 2021 | Permalink