Year in review: The biggest spy-related stories of 2020, part III

End of Year ReviewSince 2008, when intelNews was launched, it has been our end-of-year tradition to take a look back and highlight what we believe were the most important intelligence-related stories of the past 12 months. In anticipation of what 2021 may bring in this highly volatile field, we present you with our selection of the top spy stories of 2020. They are listed below in reverse order of significance, starting from 10 and leading up to 1. This is part three in a three-part series. Part one is available here and part two is here.

01. COVID-19 prompts spy agencies’ mission shift that is ‘reminiscent of the space race’. The worldwide competition to invent a vaccine that can curtail the spread of COVID-19, and to secure sufficient quantities of the vaccine, has prompted a mission shift in major intelligence agencies around the world. This mission shift is taking place with such speed that it is “reminiscent of the space race”, according to The New York Times. In an article published in September, the paper cited “interviews with current and former intelligence officials and others tracking the espionage efforts”, who suggest that the mission shift observed in spy agencies worldwide has been among the fastest in history.

02. Swiss neutrality ‘shattered’ as leading cryptologic firm revealed to be CIA front. Switzerland continues to reel from the shock caused by revelations in February that Crypto AG, the world’s leading manufacturer or cryptologic equipment during the Cold War, whose clients included over 120 governments around the world, was a front company owned by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The revelation, published by The Washington Post and the German public broadcaster ZDF, confirmed rumors that had been circulating since the early 1980s, that Crypto AG had made a secret deal with the US government. According to this year’s revelations, the CIA and West Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) secretly purchased the Swiss company and paid off most of its senior executives in order to buy their silence. The secret deal allegedly allowed the US and West Germany to spy on the classified government communications of several of their adversaries —and even allies, including Italy, Spain and Greece, as well as Austria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

03. Danish spy service helped US collect intelligence on NATO allies. There was surprise among intelligence observers in August, when Lars Findsen, director of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE, or DDIS in English) was “relieved of duty for the time being”. The Danish Ministry of Defense said the decision was taken following “a series of whistleblower revelations”. We now know the reason: apparently a secret arrangement between Danish and American intelligence agencies enabled Washington to collect intelligence on Danish citizens, as well as spy on some of its closest European allies, including Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, and Holland. The revelation prompted a heated political discussion in Denmark, while Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch authorities launched investigations into the alleged spying. Some in Denmark called for the Minister of Defense, Trine Bramsen, to release to the public a four-volume report government produced about the alleged Danish-US spy collaboration. This has not yet happened.

04. US forces are secretly helping the Taliban fight the Islamic State in Afghanistan. The original reason the United States sent troops to Afghanistan was to fight al-Qaeda and its local allies, the Taliban. Now, however, it appears US forces are helping the Taliban defeat the Islamic State in northeastern Afghanistan. The American military’s newfound role in Afghanistan reportedly reflects the view of the White House that the Taliban have no aspirations outside of Afghanistan, while the Islamic State seeks to challenge America’s interests worldwide. According to The Washington Post‘s military affairs reporter Wesley Morgan, US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces in Afghanistan have been instructed to provide air cover to Taliban forces as they fight the Islamic State. The resources used in that capacity consist of weaponry that was initially deployed against the Taliban, but is now being secretly repurposed to assist the Taliban in their fight against the Islamic State. According to Morgan, the JSOC team in Kunar, which provides air cover to the Taliban, jokingly refers to itself as the “Taliban air force”. It is unclear whether al-Qaeda, which is a close ally of the Taliban, is benefiting from that assistance.

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

Author: J. Fitsanakis and I. Allen | Date: 31 December 2020 | Permalink

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

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