Trump says US will not use spies on North Korea, then appears to retract statement

Trump CIA - JFUnited States President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he would not allow American intelligence agencies to use spies against North Korea, raising eyebrows in Washington, before appearing to backtrack a day later. The American president was speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, when he was asked about a report that appeared in The Wall Street Journal that day. According to the report, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with officers of the US Central Intelligence Agency before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia in February 2017. The Wall Street Journal’s claim was echoed by a book written by Washington Post correspondent Anna Fifield, which also came out on Tuesday. In the book, entitled The Great Successor, Fifield claims that Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA handler when he was killed.

On Tuesday, President Trump said he had seen “the information about the CIA, with respect to [North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s] half-brother. And I would tell [Kim] that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure”, said the US president, before repeating, “I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices”. Reporters interpreted Trump’s comments to mean that he would not use human assets or any other kinds of informants to collect intelligence on the regime of the North Korean leader. As can be expected, the US president’s remarks raised eyebrows among lawmakers and national security experts in Washington. It was suggested that Trump appeared to voluntarily eliminate a potentially invaluable tool of intelligence collection from America’s arsenal. The president’s comments were even more peculiar given the hermetically sealed nature of the North Korean regime, which Western spy agencies would argue necessitates the use of human assets for intelligence collection. Moreover, President Trump’s comments appeared to once again place him at odds with his own Intelligence Community, as previously in the cases of Iran’s nuclear program, the current status of the Islamic State, or Russia’s meddling in American political life.

On Wednesday, however, the US president appeared to backtrack on his comments. When asked at a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda about his earlier remarks, Trump denied that he had implied the US would not use spies to collect information on North Korea. “No, it’s not what I meant”, the president responded to the reporter who asked him the question. “It’s what I said and I think it’s different, maybe, than your interpretation”, said President Trump, but refused to elaborate on what he actually meant with his statement on Tuesday. The Reuters news agency contacted the CIA seeking an official statement on the US president’s remarks, but the agency said it had no immediate comment on the issue.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 June 2019 | Permalink

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British spy agency calls Trump’s espionage claim ‘utterly ridiculous’

GCHQThe Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s primary signals-intelligence agency, has called claims by United States President Donald Trump that it spied on his election campaign “utterly ridiculous”. President Trump’s allegations are not new. They apparently rest on claims made in March 2017 by a Fox News commentator, that the GCHQ spied on Trump on orders of then-US President Barack Obama. The claim was repeated on March 17 at the White House by Sean Spicer, Trump’s then-press secretary, who said that Obama had used the GCHQ to spy on Trump so as to evade American privacy laws. At the time, Spicer’s claim prompted an angry response from the British government in London and from the British spy agency itself. In a rare public comment, GCHQ called the allegations “utterly ridiculous”.

This past Wednesday, the US president appeared to repeat his claim that GCHQ had spied on his election campaign, via a post on the popular social networking platform Twitter. Responding to a reiteration of the claim on the conservative cable television channel One America News Network, Trump tweeted “WOW! It is now just a question of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it will be a beauty!”. The president’s tweet appeared just hours after the British government confirmed that Trump had been invited for a four-day state visit to the United Kingdom in June. The visit is believed to include a meeting with British Prime Minster Theresa May and dinner with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Following Trump’s tweet, the US newsmagazine Newsweek contacted GCHQ with a request for a response to the US president’s allegation. A GCHQ spokesperson referred the newsmagazine to the agency’s 2017 statement, and repeated: “The allegations that GCHQ was asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored”. It is extremely rare for GCHQ —one of Britain’s most secretive and publicity-shy agencies— to respond publicly to stories in the media. Late on Wednesday, British Foreign Affairs Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the invitation to President Trump to visit London would not be rescinded, and insisted that Britain’s “special relationship” with the US remained “intact”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 April 2019 | Permalink

US Secret Service arrests Chinese woman for entering Trump’s vacation property

Donald TrumpA Chinese woman who entered President Donald Tump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, was found to be in possession of two passports, four mobile phones and a flash drive containing “malicious software”, according to the United States Secret Service. Secret Service agents told a US District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday that the woman, identified as Yujing Zhang, entered the private club –which serves as President Trump’s vacation home– on Saturday afternoon. She allegedly approached Secret Service personnel and sought entrance to the property. When asked to identify herself, she reportedly took out of her bag two Chinese passports and said she intended to use the Mar-a-Lago swimming pool.

When Mar-a-Lago personnel could not find her name on the list of the private club’s members, Zhang told them that she was related to a man with the same last name, who appeared on the membership list. She was allowed onto the property on the assumption that the club member was her father, in what security personnel later described as an error caused by “a language barrier issue”. Once inside Mar-a-Lago, Zhang then reportedly told a receptionist that she was there to attend a meeting of the United Nations Chinese American Association. Some of the club personnel, who knew that no such event had been scheduled to take place at Mar-a-Lago, contacted the Secret Service. Zhang told Secret Service agents that she had been told by “a friend” called “Charles” to travel from Shanghai to Florida in order to attend the United Nations Chinese American Association meeting. But she said she was unable to provide further details.

After detaining her, Secret Service agents found that she was carrying –aside from the two Chinese passports– four cellphones, a laptop computer with an external hard drive attached to it, and a thumb drive. Secret Service agents said that, upon further examination, the thumb drive was found to contain “malware”. Zhang was then arrested for entering a restricted property and making false statements to Secret Service officials. On Tuesday, Zhang’s lawyer said she was “invoking her right to remain silent”. The US Department of Justice said it would not comment on the case. If found guilty, Zhang could spend up to five years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 April 2019 | Permalink

Jailed Russian who spied for CIA writes letter to Trump, asking to be freed

Russian Ministry of Internal AffairsA Russian former police officer, who is serving a prison sentence in Russia for having spied for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, has written an open letter to President Donald Trump, asking to be freed. Yevgeny A. Chistov was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2014 on charges of spying for Washington. During his trial, he admitted having been recruited by the CIA when he worked as an officer in the police, Russia’s federal law-enforcement agency, which operates under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Russian state prosecutors accused him of having established contact with the CIA in 2011. In 2015, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison, which he is currently serving at a labor camp in the Nizhny Novgorod town of Bor, located in central European Russia.

On Saturday, British newspaper The Guardian published a letter that was allegedly written by Chistov. In the letter, the jailed spy admits that he passed Russian state secrets to the CIA for three years, after deciding “to help the US as a friend”. He claims that he did it out of love for his country, and in order to help “overthrow […] the regime” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chistov goes on to accuse “Putin and his cronies” of having plundered Russia and of oppressing its people through “corruption and extortion”. He blames the Kremlin for Russia’s current economic state: “we have a resource-rich country yet our people are poor”, he says. The jailed spy adds that he told the CIA about the “secret plans” of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, that he provided “names of some people from the FSB”, and that he “revealed some objectives of Russia’s Ministry of Defense”. He does not provide details. He then claims that, even though he was paid by the CIA for his services, he did not act out of self-interest.

Chistov says that the conditions of his imprisonment are inhumane and that he and his family “are in great danger in Russia”. He also claims that his wife visited the US embassy in Ukraine in an attempt to secure a travel visa, but that her application was rejected and she was forced to return to Russia. The jailed spy adds that he “wrote two letters to the CIA asking them to help and received no response”. He then pleads with President Trump to help him, in two ways. First, by granting asylum in the US to his wife and mother. Second, by swapping him with someone “who worked for Russia” and is serving time in a US prison. “I want to appeal to the president to conduct the exchange”, he concludes.

The United States has participated in very few spy swaps in the post-Cold War era. In 2010, Washington and Moscow conducted one of history’s largest spy exchanges, as ten deep-cover Russian agents captured in the US earlier that year were swapped for four Russian citizens imprisoned by Moscow for spying for the US and Britain. Four years later, a Cuban intelligence officer who spied for the CIA was released as part of a wider exchange between Washington and Havana of persons held in each other’s prisons on espionage charges. The White House has not commented on Chistov’s letter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 December 2018 | Permalink

Trump’s use of unsecured iPhone worries White House officials

Donald TrumpOfficials in the White House are concerned about President Donald Trump’s insistence on using an unsecured iPhone to communicate with friends and associates, despite warnings that foreign spies may be listening in. Prior to being elected president, Trump used an Android phone, made by Google, which the NSA advised him to abandon due to security concerns. That is when he switched to using iPhones. Since his election to the presidency, Trump has routinely used three iPhone cell phones. He uses one of them to access a limited list of authorized applications, including Twitter. He uses the second iPhone for phone calls, but cannot use it to send texts, take pictures, or download and install applications. Both of these iPhones have been vetted and secured by the National Security Agency (NSA).

But The New York Times said on Wednesday that, despite the advice of the NSA, the US president continues to use a third iPhone, which is his personal device. The newspaper cited “current and former American officials” who said that the president’s third iPhone has not been secured by the NSA, and is thus “no different from hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world”. Trump uses that third iPhone to call many of his old friends and associates. The president has been repeatedly warned, sources said, to abandon the use of his unsecured third iPhone. Moreover, US intelligence agencies have confirmed that Chinese, Russian, and possibly other spy agencies have been “routinely eavesdropping” on the US president’s calls made on his personal iPhone.

To some extent, Trump has heeded the advice of his intelligence agencies in recent months and has begun to rely on his secure White House landline to make important calls, thus avoiding cell phones altogether. But he refuses to give up use of his iPhones, despite repeated warnings by the NSA, sources told The Times. They added that “they can only hope [Trump] refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them”. The president’s use of unsecured phone devices adds to what sources described as “frustration” with his “casual approach” to communications security. In July of this year, Nada Bakos, a 20-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in an editorial that President Trump’s “Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency”. The CIA veteran described Trump’s use of social media is too impulsive and potentially dangerous from a national-security perspective.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 October 2018 | Permalink

Trump officials ‘discussed secret coup plans’ with Venezuelan army officers

Nicolas MaduroUnited States President Donald Trump authorized American officials to attend secret meetings held by Venezuelan military officers who conspired to launch a military coup against President Nicolás Maduro. The claim was made on Saturday by The New York Times, which cited “interviews with 11 current and former American officials” and information from an unnamed Venezuelan former military commander. The former commander claims to have attended the secret talks, which allegedly were held over several meetings during the past year.

According to The Times, the meetings were sparked by a comment made by President Trump in August of 2017, that he did not rule out a “military option” to “restore calm” in Venezuela. That comment reportedly prompted at least three groups of Venezuelan military officers opposed to the rule of President Maduro to reach out to the White House. One of these groups, said The Times, had one of its representatives contact American diplomats in an unnamed European country. That outreach led to “a series of covert meetings abroad”, according to The Times, the first of which took place in the fall of 2017. The meetings continued until recently, and were held with a number of Venezuelan military officers who claimed to represent the views of several hundred members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. The rebellious officers allegedly told the US government’s representative that they planned to launch a military coup aimed at deposing President Maduro and installing a transitional government that would guarantee peaceful elections. They reportedly asked the White House representative to supply them with secure communications equipment, which they could use to coordinate their operations.

However, the White House eventually decided that backing a military coup in Venezuela would be too risky due to the potential for spiraling bloodshed. It thus distanced itself from the plan. Additionally, some US government officials were alarmed by the composition of the rebel officers: at least one of them was a serious violator of human rights who had previously been accused by the US of involvement of participating in drugs smuggling and having close links with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is on Washington’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations. Eventually the plotters canceled their plans for a coup, having assessed it would be met by fierce resistance by pro-Maduro forces.

The Times reached out to the White House, which rejected the paper’s report, saying it was important to “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy”. But it refused to respond to specific questions about the allegations of a possible coup in Venezueal with Washington’s backing. President Maduro has already blamed the US for two attempts to assassinate him in the past 18 months, with the most recent one involving the use of an exploding drone. In 2002, Maduro’s predecessor, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, was briefly deposed by a military putsch. Chávez was able to beat back the rebels with the help of his civilian and military supporters, and then accused Washington of having had direct involvement with the attempt to remove him from power. The US has strongly denied Chávez’s charges.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 September 2018 | Permalink

US intelligence officials called to resign despite Trump’s Russia retraction

Putin and TrumpSeveral American former intelligence officials have called on their active colleagues to resign despite President Donald Trump’s retraction of his remarks about Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. On Tuesday, the US president issued an unusual retraction and correction of his public statement on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, in which he appeared to side with the Kremlin over his own Intelligence Community’s views. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is the coordinating body of the US Intelligence Community, has said that Russia tried to systematically interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections. According to the ODNI, the Kremlin’s goal was to augment the already heightened discord in American political life and deepen the mistrust between the electorate and state institutions, including Congress and the White House.

But President Trump dismissed those conclusions on Monday, while speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin following the US-Russia summit in the Finish capital. During the joint press conference of the two leaders, the US president was asked to publicly adopt the US Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. But instead of doing so, Trump said his Russian counterpart had strongly denied the American accusations. “My people came to me”, said Trump, referring by name to his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, and “said they think it’s Russia”. However, Trump continued, “President Putin […] just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be”. Following strong criticism of that comment, much of it from his own supporters, the US president retracted it on Tuesday in Washington, saying he misspoke in Helsinki. According to Trump, he said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t”.

The US president’s odd retraction came just hours after DNI Coats –a Trump appointee– issued a rare public statement rejecting Trump’s comments in Helsinki. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”, said Coats, adding that his office’s conclusion had been based on “unvarnished and objective intelligence”. Coats’ predecessor, former ODNI James Clapper, said during an interview with CNN on Tuesday that, if he still led the ODNI and had been “publicly thrown under the bus” by the president in that manner, he “would have stepped down in a heartbeat”. Read more of this post

Judge rules that Trump’s tweet did not disclose top-secret CIA operation in Syria

Free Syrian ArmyA United States federal judge ruled on Monday that a tweet by President Donald Trump did not inadvertently disclose a top-secret program by the Central Intelligence Agency to aid rebel groups in Syria. The lawsuit, brought by The New York Times, centered on news reports published in 2017 by Reuters, The Washington Post, and others, claiming that the US president had terminated an extensive CIA program that provided assistance to rebel forces engaged in the Syrian Civil War. The program was reportedly initiated by US President Barack Obama, who in 2015 instructed the CIA to assist armed groups operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. Aside from training, the CIA assistance reportedly included the provision of light and heavy ammunition, such as antitank missiles, mines and grenades.

But President Trump allegedly terminated $1 billion program soon after he took office. Last July, the president openly disputed an account by The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous, which claimed that Trump had ended the program as a concession to Russia. In a tweet, Trump said: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad”. Shortly afterwards, another newspaper, The New York Times, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, arguing that the president’s tweet had effectively disclosed the existence of the covert CIA program and seeking full details from the government. But the CIA rejected the The New York Times’ rationale, at which point the paper took the case to court.

But on Monday, US District Court Judge Andrew Carter Jr. dismissed the paper’s argument. In a 20-page decision, posted online by the US-based news website Politico, Judge Carter said that President Trump’s tweet had been too vague and ambiguous to be considered as effectively declassifying the secret CIA program. At no point did the US president “make an unequivocal statement, or any statement for that matter, indicating that he was declassifying information”, said the judge. Additionally, Trump’s tweet and other public statements on the matter did not undermine the legal authority of the US government to continue to keep details about the CIA program under wraps. According to Politico, which reported on Judge Carter’s decision, this development will make it difficult for other FOIA filers to use Trump’s tweets as justification for seeking information about secret government programs. Meanwhile, The New York Times said on Monday that it would seek to appeal Judge Carter’s decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 July 2018 | Permalink

Trump’s Twitter feed is ‘gold mine’ for foreign spies, says ex-CIA analyst

Trump 2016With nearly 53 million Twitter followers, United States President Donald Trump could easily be described as the most social-media-friendly American leader in our century. It is clear that Trump uses Twitter to communicate directly with his followers while circumventing mainstream media, which he views as adversarial to his policies. However, according to former Central Intelligence Agency analyst Nada Bakos, foreign intelligence agencies are among those paying close attention to the president’s tweets. Bakos spent 20 years in the CIA, notably as the Chief Targeter of the unit that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later evolved into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In a June 23 editorial in The Washington Post, Bakos argues that President Trump’s “Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency”.

All intelligence agencies, explains Bakos, build psychological profiles of foreign leaders. These profiles typically rely on information collected through intelligence operations that are “methodical, painstaking and often covert”. The final product can be crucial in enabling countries to devise strategies that counter their adversaries, says Bakos. But with Trump, covert intelligence-collection operations are not needed in order to see what is on his mind, since “the president’s unfiltered thoughts are available night and day”, she claims. The former CIA analyst points out that President Trump’s tweets are posted “without much obvious mediation” by his aides and advisors, something that can be seen by the frequency with which he deletes and reposts tweets due to spelling and grammatical errors. These unfiltered thoughts on Twitter offer a “real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind”, says Bakos.

Undoubtedly, she argues, foreign intelligence agencies are utilizing President Trump’s tweets in numerous ways while building his personality profile. The most obvious ways are by performing content analysis of his tweets, which could then be matched against information collected from other sources about major US policy decisions. Additionally, foreign intelligence agencies could identify media sources that the US president seems to prefer, and then try to feed information to these sources that might sway his views. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia may have done so already, claims Bakos. The US president’s views, as expressed through Twitter, could also be compared and contrasted with the expressed views of his aides or senior cabinet officials, in order to discern who he agrees with the least. It is equally useful to analyze the issues or events that the US president does not tweet about, or tweets about with considerable delay. One could even derive useful information about Trump’s sleeping patterns based on his tweets, says the former CIA analyst.

Bakos does not go as far as to suggest that the US president should abstain from social media. But she clearly thinks that the US leader’s use of social media is too impulsive and potentially dangerous from a national-security perspective. She also laments that, throughout her career in the CIA, her she and her team “never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now”, thanks to Trump’s incessant social media presence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 July 2018 | Permalink

Singapore officials reject rumors of spy devices used at Trump-Kim summit

USB fan espionageSingaporean officials have dismissed reports that a promotional item given away for free during the June 12 summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea contained an espionage device. Over 2500 reporters from nearly every country covered the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Upon arriving in Singapore’s Sentosa Island, where the summit took place, journalists were given a free promotional packet that included novelty items such as pens, notepads, a water bottle, and a USB fan. The USB fan consisted of blades connected to a miniature electric motor, which was in turn connected to a USB cable. The cable allowed the device to be powered by a computer or other electronic device with a built-in USB port.

But rumors soon emerged in the media that the free USB fans, which were made in China, contained malware. As soon as the fans were plugged into an electronic device, the malware penetrated its operating system, allowing hackers to access its contents remotely, said the reports. The allegations were first aired on Radio France Internationale, the French government’s international broadcaster. They were then picked up by the BBC, which said that many reporters covering the historic summit had been warned “not to plug [the USB fans] in to their laptops”. According to the reports, the malware installed on the USB fans was able to steal computer files and turn a laptop’s built-in camera and microphone into remotely-controlled eavesdropping devices.

But the government of Singapore has strongly rejected these reports. In a statement issued in English, Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information said that the USB fans had been a gift of the Sentosa Development Corporation, a Singapore government body tasked with promoting tourism in Sentosa Island, where the Trump-Kim summit took place. The ministry added that the USB fans had been produced long before Trump and Kim decided to meet in Singapore and that they had been originally manufactured as gifts for tourists visiting the island. The statement issued by the ministry also said that reporters appreciated the fans, given the tropical climate on Sentosa Island, where the temperature reached 33C (91F) on the day of the summit.

Author: Ian Allen | Date:  25 June 2018 | Permalink

Analysis: Trump has made record use of US Special Forces since becoming president

special forcesWith reports about the activities of the United States Special Forces continuously surfacing in the media lately, it is important to remember that the White House has drastically increased Special Forces deployments since Donald Trump assumed the presidency. In December last year, it was reported that President Trump had ordered the deployment of Special Forces troops more often than any other president in American history. At that time, US Special Forces troops were deployed in 150 nations, a number that represented 75 percent of all nations on the planet, according to government data. The figures were published by TomDispatch, which said it received them directly from the US Special Operations Command. The website said that American Special Forces troops were participating in wars, counter-insurgency operations and covert-action activities across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and saw action every day.

According to the statistics provided by the US Special Operations Command, it appears more than 10 percent (8,000 troops) of the US Special Operations Command’s 70,000 troops are deployed each day. These deployments take place daily in more than 80 countries. This rate of deployment represents a significant increase from the eight years of the administration of US President Barack Obama, which ended in 2016. That year, US Special Forces troops were deployed in 138 countries, according to media reports. The Trump administration’s use of Special Forces troops also represents a jump of approximately 150 percent from the last Republican administration, that of George W. Bush, which ended in early 2008.

Africa represents an area of consistent rise in the rates of deployment of US Special Forces. Currently, US Special Forces troops are active in no fewer than 33 countries across Africa. Most of these countries are witnessing activity by Islamist groups that are described as terrorist by the region’s governments. But the US Special Operations Command has also deployed contingents in Europe, said TomDispatch. Currently, the US maintains Special Forces troops at every country bordering Russia’s western region, with the exception of Belarus.

These numbers echo the record growth of the US Special Forces community since September 11, 2001, when Washington declared its global war on terrorism. Observers estimate the post-9/11 numerical growth of US Special Forces at 75 percent. However, little is known about the nature of campaigns in which US Special Forces are deployed, and whether they are effective in establishing security, or whether they inflame tensions across different battlefronts. There is also limited information about the resulting casualties. The US government has admitted that US Special Forces troops died in 2017 in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Niger, Mali and Somalia.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 March 2018 | Permalink

Tony Blair denies he warned Donald Trump British spies were after him

Tony BlairA spokesman for Tony Blair has dismissed as “categorically absurd” allegations that the former British Prime Minister warned the White House that President Donald Trump was targeted by British spy agencies. The claims are made in the book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which is due to be published next week. Its author, Michael Wolf, says he based the information in the book on more than 200 interviews that he held with President Trump and members of his inner circle during the past year.

Wolf alleges that Blair, who was Britain’s prime minister from 1997 to 2007, visited the White House in secret in February of 2017. He allegedly did so as a private citizen, as he has held no public position since 2015, when he stepped down from his post as a Middle East envoy for the United Nations. While at the White House, Blair reportedly met with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide. During that meeting, says Wolf, Blair told Kushner that Trump could have been under surveillance by British intelligence during his presidential election campaign. The former British prime minister allegedly said that any surveillance on Trump would have been carried out by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency. Wolf further alleges that the administration of US President Barack Obama never asked London to spy on Trump. Instead, the White House “hinted” that intelligence collection about Trump would be “helpful”, says Wolf. The reason why Blair volunteered this information to Kushner, claims Wolf, was that he was hoping to gain the US president’s trust and be appointed as Washington’s envoy to the Middle East.

Blair’s revelation, which Wolf describes in his book as a “juicy nugget or information”, allegedly “churned and festered” in Trump’s mind. It was the basis for claims made on March 14, 2017, by a Fox News commentator that the GCHQ had spied on Trump on behalf of the White House. The claim was repeated on March 17 at the White House by Sean Spicer, Trump’s then-press secretary, who said that Obama had used the GCHQ to spy on Trump so as to evade American privacy laws. Spicer’s claim prompted an angry response from the British government in London and from the British spy agency itself. In a rare public comment, GCHQ called the allegations “utterly ridiculous”.

Late on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the office of Tony Blair said in an email that Wolf’s claims in Fire and Fury were “a complete fabrication […], have no basis in reality and are simply untrue”. Last year, another spokesman for Blair dismissed claims that the former British prime minister had lobbied to be appointed Trump’s Middle East envoy. This claim was so “completely overblown” and “so far beyond speculation there isn’t a word for it”, said the spokesman. President Trump has not commented on Wolf’s claim about Blair’s alleged visit and subsequent meeting with Kushner.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2018 | Permalink

Trump administration allegedly considering plan to privatize CIA operations

Trump CIAThe United States Central Intelligence Agency and the White House are considering several proposals to hire private companies to carry out covert operations abroad, according to a report. BuzzFeed News said on Thursday that the proposals were communicated to the White House in the summer. The news site, which described the proposed plans as “highly unusual”, quoted “three sources who have been briefed on or have direct knowledge of the proposals”. The sources told BuzzFeed that, if approved, the plans would include the establishment of large intelligence networks in so-called “denied areas” —namely foreign environments deemed hostile. The networks would recruit and handle local agents, carry out psychological operations, capture terrorism suspects and rendition them to the US or third countries. “Islamic extremism” is mentioned as the primary target of the proposals.

According to BuzzFeed, one of the proposals involves Amyntor Group, a private company headquartered in the remote town of Whitefish, in northwestern Montana. The company is staffed by former members of the US Intelligence Community who have security clearances. It specializes in intelligence training and risk assessment. But it also collects and analyzes intelligence and provides counterintelligence services for government agencies in America and what it calls “friendly foreign governments” abroad. The company has reportedly been holding discussions with senior officials in the administration of President Donald Trump in recent weeks, according to two of BuzzFeed’s sources. The same sources say that the move toward privatization of some intelligence operations is being led by a feeling in the Trump administration that the CIA has a negative view of the White House. They claim that the CIA is not prepared to go along with the Trump administration’s efforts to make the agency’s operations more aggressive and, in the words of its new director, Mike Pompeo, “much more vicious”. They therefore see privatization as a way to bypass the resistance and skepticism of the CIA’s upper management.

BuzzFeed said it contacted the CIA about the Amyntor Group proposal, but the agency preferred not to comment. A press officer for the National Security Council, which is chaired by President Trump, said that its members were not aware of the privatization proposals. Amyntor Group commented through one of its lawyers, who told BuzzFeed that any contract signed between the company and the US government would be directed and controlled “by the proper government authority”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 December 2017 | Permalink

Netanyahu allegedly asked Trump to let spy Jonathan Pollard move to Israel

Jonathan PollardIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked the United States President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard, an American who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, to immigrate to Tel Aviv. Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the US Navy, was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving 30 years for selling US government secrets to Israel. Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, claiming that the convicted spy did not harm American interests, but was simply trying to help Israel. But the US Intelligence Community has consistently rejected Israel’s claims, arguing that Pollard’s activities were severely detrimental to American interests. At the end, successive American presidents refused to pardon Pollard. He was released in November of 2015, after serving his entire 30-year sentence.

Pollard, who was given Israeli citizenship in recognition for his services to the Jewish state, has repeatedly stated his desire to renounce his American citizenship and immigrate to Israel. However, the conditions of his release prevent him from doing so. Since his release, he has been forced to wear a GPS monitoring device at all times and is not allowed to leave his New York apartment between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., nor is he allowed to leave the United States for any reason. It is speculated that this restriction is designed to prevent him from accessing close to $1 million in spy wages that his Israeli handlers are reputed to have deposited in a Swiss bank account.

But with a new administration now in Washington, the Israeli government believes that it may be able to press for the relaxation of some of the restrictions imposed on Pollard. According to the Israeli television station Channel 2, Prime Minister Netanyahu has personally lobbied President Trump to allow Pollard to leave America for Israel. According to the report, the Israeli prime minister told Mr. Trump that, if allowed to move to Israel, Pollard would abide by the same restrictions that he currently follows in New York. These reportedly include a strict daily curfew and limitations on foreign travel. Channel 2 said that Israeli is seeking to get custody of Pollard in return for its alleged efforts to re-enter negotiations with Fatah, the Palestinian group that governs the Occupied Territories. The television station said that American officials appear hesitant to allow Pollard to go to Israel. Even if Israel’s request is granted, the American side does not want to link Pollard’s case to the Arab-Israeli peace process, it said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 November 2017 | Permalink

Trump chief of staff’s phone was breached for nearly a year, say sources

John KellyThe personal cell phone of the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (photo) was compromised by persons unknown and may have been bugged for nearly a year, according to United States government officials. General Kelly retired from the US Marine Corps in 2016, after serving as chief of the US Pentagon’s Southern Command, where he supervised American military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Soon afterwards, he was appointed by US President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Homeland Security, which he joined in January of 2017. Six months later, however, he replaced Reince Priebus, who resigned abruptly from the post of White House Chief of Staff, citing differences over management style with the Trump administration.

According to the online news outlet Politico, the breach of Kelly’s personal phone was discovered last summer, after the retired general sought the advice of the White House’s technical support staff. Kelly told the technical experts that his phone’s operating system had been malfunctioning for several months and that software updates seemed to make the problem worse. Once the breach was discovered, White House staff summarized the findings of the probe into Kelly’s phone in a one-page memorandum. Three people who read the document spoke anonymously to Politico. The news outlet said that, according to the White House memorandum, it is unclear how and when Kelly’s phone was breached. There is also no information in the document about how much and what kind of information was compromised throughout the duration of the breach. Politico cited a White House spokesman who claimed that the chief of staff used his personal phone sparsely and never for government business.

However, depending on the level of the breach, hackers could have used the compromised phone to listen in to Kelly’s private conversations —in and out of the White House— even when the phone was not in use but simply turned on. It follows that if the breach of Kelly’s phone was orchestrated by a foreign government, the magnitude of the compromise may be substantial. Politico reports that digital forensics experts are now reviewing Kelly’s travels in the past year, as part of a widening investigation into the breach. Meanwhile, the general has been issued a new phone for his personal use.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2017 | Permalink