Soviets used civilian airliners to gather intelligence, documents show

Soviet Aeroflot airlinerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Soviet spy agencies routinely used civilian airplanes to collect aerial intelligence over Western military installations, according to newly declassified documents. The revelation is contained in British government files from 1982 that were declassified on Friday, following the expiration of the United Kingdom’s 30-year classification rule. According to Bloomberg’s Robet Hutton and Thomas Penny, who accessed the files, they include a detailed memorandum addressed to Conservative Party politician Margaret Thatcher, who was serving as Britain’s Prime Minister at the time. The memorandum, which was authored by then Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, informed Mrs. Thatcher that the airborne behavior of airliners belonging to Aeroflot, the Soviet Union’s state-owned civilian air carrier, appeared suspicious. Secretary Nott wrote in the memo that Britain’s Royal Air Force had “established that some [Soviet] aircraft deviated from their flight-plan routes” when flying over Western military bases. He goes on to describe an “incident of particular interest”, in which an Aeroflot Ilyushin IL62 airplane descended without authorization from 35,000 feet to 10,000 feet right above the village of Boulmer. Located in Northumberland, England, Boulmer is adjacent to a Royal Air Force base, which at the time featured a newly modernized radar system. The same Aeroflot airplane behaved in similar fashion while flying over a United States Navy base in Groton, Connecticut, which at the time hosted the first US submarine equipped with Trident Ballistic Missiles. The memorandum states that the circumstances surrounding the flight patterns of Aeroflot airliners had led the Royal Air Force to assume that the Soviet airplanes “were gathering intelligence” on Western military targets. Read more of this post

Who wiretapped Turkish Prime Minister’s office, home?

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
During a televised interview on December 21, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan revealed that four unauthorized wiretapping devices had been detected in his parliamentary office and government car. A subsequent report from the Office of the Prime Minister on December 25 said that one more device had been found in Mr. Erdoğan’s home-office at this residence in Turkish capital Ankara. Who is behind the operation? In his December 21 interview, the Prime Minister told a nationwide audience that the bugs had been planted by “elements of a deeper state” within Turkey. “A deeper state exists in nearly every country”, he said, adding: “we try a lot but unfortunately it is impossible to [completely] eradicate the deeper state”. The term ‘deep’ or ‘deeper state’, which is used frequently in Turkey, is meant to signify a covert collaboration of convenience between organized crime and members of the country’s intelligence services.

One example of the Turkish ‘deep state’ that comes to mind is Ergenekon, a clandestine ultra-nationalist organization with secularist and anti-Western objectives. Its membership, which is reportedly drawn primarily from Turkey’s military and security establishments, is involved in both criminal and political activities aiming to preserve the political power of Turkey’s armed forces, while subverting the rise of Islamism and keeping Turkey out of the European Union. The existence of this mysterious organization was revealed in 2001 by Tuncay Güney, an operative of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), who was arrested for petty fraud. In 2009, an investigation into Ergenekon uncovered a clandestine network of safe houses in Ankara, as well as in the Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, for the sole purpose of wiretapping the communications of targeted individuals and organizations. The safe houses were reportedly equipped with wiretapping systems purchased in Israel, some of which were portable and were thus moved to various cities and towns in Turkey, in accordance with Ergenekon’s mission directives. But are Ergenekon’s tentacles powerful enough to reach into the Turkish Prime Minister’s residence? Read more of this post

Revealed: The CIA bodyguard unit that protects officers and spies

Raymond Allen DavisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The popular view of Central Intelligence Agency operations officers as gun-brandishing martial arts experts who can kill an adversary using their bare hands could not be further from the truth. Typically, CIA operatives are trained to avoid attracting attention while establishing useful, long-lasting relationships with foreign assets. Broadly speaking, guns are rarely used in day-to-day intelligence work. Increasingly, however, CIA case officers operating on counterterrorism assignments in the post-9/11 environment find themselves in warzones with a level of physical risk rarely encountered during the Cold War. CIA operations planners believe that case officers cannot properly run foreign assets while constantly having to worry about their personal safety, as well as the safety of their recruits. To address this problem, the CIA put together a new unit shortly after 9/11, which goes by the name Global Response Staff (GRS). An article published yesterday in The Washington Post provides the most detailed public examination of this new unit to date. The Post’s Greg Miller and Julie Tate, who authored the article, suggest that the GRS currently has around 250 members, about half of whom are detailed to CIA stations around the world at any given time. Most are contracted by the Agency as retired Special Forces officers, and only work three to four months a year for around $140,000. Recruitment is done largely by word of mouth. The Post quotes an unidentified former US intelligence official, who says that GRS recruits are not required to operate within the typical CIA operational framework: unlike their CIA colleagues, “they don’t learn languages, they’re not meeting foreign nationals and they’re not writing up intelligence reports”. Instead, they are expected to conduct “area familiarization” work, that is, mapping escape routes from places where CIA case officers meet their assets. Read more of this post

CIA helped senior Syrian defector escape to Washington, say sources

Jihad MakdissiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
American intelligence operatives helped facilitate the escape of a senior Syrian government official, who is now allegedly assisting the Central Intelligence Agency’s operations in Syria, according to a British newspaper. The sudden disappearance last November of Jihad Makdissi, official spokesperson of Syria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, caused widespread speculation that he might have defected. Makdissi, a career diplomat, had been a close collaborator of senior Syrian cabinet officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Moallem, and Dr. Adnan Hassan Mahmoud, Minister of Information. Initial reports claimed that Makdissi, who is a Christian and is fluent in English and French, had crossed into Lebanon and was hiding in a Christian Beirut neighborhood. But London-based newspaper The Guardian said on Monday that the diplomat had been assisted by “US intelligence officials”, who organized his escape into Lebanon, along with his wife and two children, before secretly transferring them to Washington, DC, “almost one month ago”. If The Guardian’s claim is true, it would mean that US intelligence has secured the cooperation of one of the Syrian regime’s most prominent defectors in recent times. Some argue that Makdissi’s importance as a defector is second only to that of Syria’s former Prime Minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, who escaped with this immediate family to Jordan in August. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #819 (UKUSA edition)

Charles E. AllenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Aussie spies’ exemption from Freedom of Information laws to end? Currently, all Australian intelligence agencies are exempt from the operation of federal Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation that allows the public and journalists to seek access to government records. But now Australian Information Commissioner John McMillan has called for the intelligence agencies to no longer be exempted from FOI laws. Professor McMillan and FOI Commissioner James Popple have made the recommendation in a 97-page submission to the review of FOI laws by former Defence Department secretary and diplomat Allan Hawke.
►►US spy agencies move towards single super-cloud. The US intelligence community is developing a single cloud computing network to allow all its analysts to access and rapidly sift through massive volumes of data. Now in its eighth month, the goal of the effort is to connect the Central Intelligence Agency’s existing cloud to a new cloud run by the National Security Agency. This NSA-run network consists of five other intelligence agencies and the FBI. Both of these clouds can interoperate, but the CIA has its own unique needs because it must work with human intelligence, which necessitates keeping its cloud slightly separate, according to Charles Allen, formerly Undersecretary of Homeland Security for intelligence and analysis.
►►Canadian Army struggles with intelligence-gathering. The Canadian Army is trying to hold on to its intelligence-gathering capability and its ability to disrupt spying in the face of budget strain, according to documents from the Canadian Department of National Defence. The Canadian Press, which obtained the documents, says the Army is “anxious to protect HUMINT network and to better resource its counterintelligence abilities”, but is worried that its shrinking budget in the post-Afghanistan War era will cause “degradation” in those disciplines.

Fascinating profile of the Soviet KGB’s little-known tech wizard

US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., displays the Soviet KGB's Great Seal bug at the United NationsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It is often suggested by intelligence researchers that one major difference between Western and Soviet modes of espionage during the Cold War was their degree of reliance on technology. It is generally accepted that Western espionage was far more dependent on technical innovation than its Soviet equivalent. While this observation may be accurate, it should not be taken to imply that the KGB, GRU, and other Soviet intelligence agencies neglected technical means of intelligence collection. In a recent interview with top-selling Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russian intelligence historian Gennady Sokolov discusses the case of Vadim Fedorovich Goncharov. Colonel Goncharov was the KGB’s equivalent of ‘Q’, head of the fictional research and development division of Britain’s MI6 in the James Bond films. A veteran of the Battle of Stalingrad, Goncharov eventually rose to the post of chief scientific and technical consultant of KGB’s 5th Special Department, later renamed Operations and Technology Directorate. According to Sokolov, Goncharov’s numerous areas of expertise included cryptology, communications interception and optics. While working in the KGB’s research laboratories, Goncharov came up with the idea of employing the principles behind the theremin, an early electronic musical instrument invented by Soviet physicist Léon Theremin in 1928, in wireless audio surveillance. According to Sokolov, the appropriation of the theremin by the KGB under Goncharov’s leadership “changed the world of intelligence”. 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