Year in review: The biggest spy-related stories of 2017, part III

Year in ReviewSince 2008, when we launched intelNews, it has been our end-of-year tradition to take a look back and highlight what we see as the most important intelligence-related stories of the past 12 months. In anticipation of what 2018 may bring in this highly volatile field, we give you our selection of the top spy stories of 2017. They are listed below in reverse order of significance. This is the last part in a three-part series. Part one is available here. Part two is available here.

Mohammed bin Salman04. Unprecedented security changes are taking place in Saudi Arabia. Analysts agree that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undergoing its most important political changes in generations. On November 4, 2017, nearly 50 senior Saudi officials, including at least 11 princes, some of them among the world’s wealthiest people, were suddenly fired or arrested. A royal decree issued on that same evening said that the arrests were carried out by a new “anti-corruption committee” led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s 32-year-old son, who is first in line to the throne. The king and his son appear to be in the process of removing their last remaining critics from the ranks of the Kingdom’s security services, which they now control almost completely. Earlier in the year, the BBC alleged that Saudi security services were secretly abducting Saudi dissidents from abroad and jailing them in Saudi Arabia. Also in November, Saudi Arabia was seen to be behind a failed attempt by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri —a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen— to resign while on a trip to Saudi Arabia. There were allegations that Hariri was under arrest by the Saudis, who objected to the presence of Hezbollah members in his cabinet. But Hariri later returned to Lebanon and rescinded his resignation.

03. Extraordinary transformation of the intelligence landscape in South Korea. Developments in North Korea have been at the forefront of security reporting in recent months. But reports from the Korean Peninsula have largely ignored the dramatic changes Moon Jae-intaking place in the intelligence infrastructure of South Korea, which are arguably as important as developments north of the 38th parallel. In June, the new center-left government of President Moon Jae-in banned the powerful National Intelligence Service (NIS) from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering. The move came after a lengthy investigation concluded that the NIS interfered in the 2012 presidential elections and tried to alter the outcome in favor of the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, using 30 dedicated teams of officers for that purpose. In November, three former NIS directors were charged with secretly diverting funds from the agency’s clandestine budget to aid Park, who has since been impeached and is now facing a lengthy prison sentence.

02. Turkey’s fallout with the West is affecting spy relations. Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952. However, rising tensions in the country’s domestic political scene are negatively affecting Ankara’s relations with its Western allies, particularly with Germany and the United States. Last month, Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Graham Fuller, an 80-year-old former analyst in the CIA, who Ankara says helped orchestrate the failed July 2016 military coup against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Washington flatly denies these allegations. In May, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu accused “the secret services of [Western] countries” of “using journalists and also bloggers [as spies] in Turkey”. Earlier in the year, a German report claimed that the Turkish state had asked its diplomats stationed all over Europe to spy on Turkish expatriate communities there, in order t to identify those opposed to the government of President Erdoğan. In some cases, Turkish spies have asked their Western European counterparts to help them monitor the activities Turkish expatriates, but such requests have been turned down. Nevertheless, there is increasing unease in Western Europe as Turkey intensifies its unilateral intelligence activities aimed at monitoring political dissent among Turkish communities abroad.

01. With America divided, Russian spies make dramatic post-Cold War comeback. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a traumatic experience for the once all-powerful Russian spy agencies. But, if CIA and FBI assessments are correct, the bitterly divisive state of American politics gave Russian spooks a chance for a dramatic comeback. Using a mixture of human and online intelligence operations, Russian spies helped drive a wedge between the White House and the US Intelligence Community. American intelligence agencies are tasked with providing information to Putin and Trumpassist policy-makers, including the president. So when the CIA and the FBI conclude that the Russian government launched an extensive and sophisticated campaign to undermine the 2016 US presidential election, one expects the president to take that advisement under serious consideration. However, the US leader has openly dismissed the conclusions of his own Intelligence Community and has publicly stated that he believes President Vladimir Putin’s assurances that his country did not meddle in the US election.

What we have here, therefore, is a US president who sees the Kremlin as more trustworthy than his own Intelligence Community. This is a remarkable, unprecedented state of affairs in Washington, so much so that some CIA officials have reportedly questioned whether it is safe for them to share information about Russia to President Trump. Throughout that time, the FBI has been conducting an extensive counterintelligence investigation into alleged ties between the president’s campaign team and the Kremlin. As intelNews has noted before, the FBI probe adds yet another layer of complexity in an already intricate affair, from which the country’s institutions will find it difficult to recover for years to come, regardless of the outcome of the investigation. The state of Russian politics may be uncertain, and the country’s economy in bad shape. But Russian spooks can look back to 2017 as the year in which they made an unexpected comeback, scoring a dramatic victory against their decades-old rival.

This is the last part in a three-part series. Part one is available here. Part two is available here.

Authors: Joseph Fitsanakis  and Ian Allen | Date: 03 January 2018 | Permalink

About intelNews
Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

5 Responses to Year in review: The biggest spy-related stories of 2017, part III

  1. Pete says:

    On the biggest spy-related story of 2017. It appears that Trump is unused to working with large Federal intelligence bureaucracies, even if they are working for him. Instead Trump trusts what he knows – his family underlings meeting Putin’s intelligence underlings to nurture politico-financial outcomes favourable to Trump.

    In the past “… individual Russians have invested heavily in Trump properties, and following Trump’s bankruptcies in the 1990s he borrowed money from Russian sources. In 2008 his son Donald Trump Jr. said that Russia was an important source of money for the Trump businesses.”

    Trump sees himself as expertly dealing man-to-man on pressing issues with an equally “admirable self-made man” Putin. Trump recognizes Russia’s commercial value to the US – via a monetary trickle down through Trump’s enterprises that is.

  2. Speaking of FBI investigation – and KGB Willing Accomplices – Blast from the past – Published 1996 – Unlimited Access : FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House – by FBI Agent (Ret.) Gary Aldrich – page 255 – Epilogue – Summary – Recommendation – Normally, no suggestions or conclusions are offered to a reader at the end of a summary background investigation. But in view of the evidence, the following recommendations is made: That the application of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton for security clearances, permanent White House passes, and ACCESS TO THE WHITE HOUSE BE DENIED.

    Bill Clinton’s Soviet Connection by Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid on September 12, 2001 Ivian C. Smith, the former FBI special Agent-in-Charge in Arkansas, voluntarily brought up the issue of Bill Clinton’s tour of the old Soviet Union. “That’s never been satisfactorily explained,” he said. Smith said that while Clinton was never formally branded a security risk by top officials in the bureau, many believed that he had never fully explained his travel to the Soviet Union. As President, Clinton expressed concern during his affair with Monica Lewinsky that a foreign government was tapping his phones
    CLINTON’S CZECH-COMMUNIST CONNECTION Published: 04/30/1999 at 1:00 AM – …after leaving Moscow in January 1970 he stayed with Maria Svermova, who was the original founder of the Czech Communist Party in the 1930s. During his visit, she took a liking to young Bill; they walked and talked. Svermova’s deceased husband was the original editor of Rude Pravo, the Czech Communist Party paper before the War… – Citation: William J. Clinton: “Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring President Václav Havel of the Czech Republic,” September 16, 1998. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. I first saw Prague in the second week of January in 1970. I was a young student of no visible means and fairly poor prospects. I remember that I went to Prague with a pair of rawhide boots and a Navy pea jacket I bought in the Army-Navy surplus store. But I learned something there that is as vivid to me today as it was then.

    Nothing has changed the Cold War was never over.

  3. Pete says:

    Steve Bannon’s acute comments on the Trump inner circle’s meeting with Russians has further highlighted Trump’s ignorance of legitimate behaviour regarding contact with a hostile foreign government.

    CNN, January 3, 2018 reported :

    “(CNN) The explosive comments attributed to [Steve Bannon] the former chief strategist to President Donald Trump — and Trump’s blistering response to them — both capture and continue a level of chaos and infighting that could capsize the administration.

    On Wednesday, the President blasted Steve Bannon, saying, “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” after the Guardian reported on scathing quotes from the Breitbart News chief, detailed in a forthcoming book by Michael Wolff, about a Trump Tower meeting during the campaign.

    But even more important than the headline-grabbing insults and accusations lobbed by the two men is Bannon’s logical, cold-eyed recognition, reflected in his remarks to Wolff, that prosecutors are likely building a powerful legal case based on alleged financial misdeeds of high-level Trump associates.

    Much political commentary will now focus on Bannon’s scornful words about Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kusher, the Trump campaign officials who attended — and then dissembled about — a fateful June 2016 meeting with, among others, Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin.

    “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor — with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers,” Bannon reportedly said scornfully to Wolff. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s—, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.””

  4. TFH says:

    Part i and part ii count down, 10, 9, 8 and 7, 6, 5. This, part iii counts up. The news items should be numbered 4, 3, 2, 1, not 7, 8, 9, 10.

  5. intelNews says:

    @TFH: Thanks for the correction. [IA]

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