Security and mass murder after 9/11: Lessons from Las Vegas

Las Vegas shootingThere’s a reason why America has not experienced another 9/11, and it’s not because militants are not trying. Through a series of sweeping reforms prompted by the tragic events of that day, United States intelligence and security agencies have become extremely efficient at preventing large-scale terrorist and criminal violence. Using increasingly sophisticated methods of intelligence collection, analysis and even prediction, counter-terrorism and security experts have neutralized countless attempts to replicate —or even surpass— the horror of 9/11.

But aspiring terrorists and mass murderers are learning fast. Despite their relatively young age, many are now disciplined enough to resist the temptations of the networked culture that surrounds them, and abstain from social media. They isolate themselves physically and emotionally from family and friends, creating a virtual wall that prevents even those close to them from noticing unusual signs of behavior. They effectively replicate the isolation of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber, but without the hermit beard and the log cabin in the backwoods of Montana. Most important of all, they work alone, which makes it immensely difficult to sense their murderous intentions. Counter-terrorism and security experts are trained to detect possible attacks by penetrating the communications between members of a conspiracy. When the operative is a lone wolf, and does not communicate his or her plans, the points of possible penetration diminish, as does the possibility of detection.

The case of Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retired accountant who perpetrated the Las Vegas shooting earlier this month, is indicative of the above trends. So secretive and emotionally isolated was he, that there exists no discernible evidence of his motive for killing 58 and injuring 546 people at an outdoor concert on the Las Vegas Strip. Moreover, Paddock had access to an expensive, sophisticated and extremely lethal arsenal. As is common with post-9/11 mass murderers, he avoided resorting to using bomb material, because he knew that these types of purchases are being carefully monitored by authorities after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Read more of this post

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Kim Jong-un lacks confidence, will not start war, says senior N. Korean defector

https://intelligencenews.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/first-post-h6.jpg?w=630North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has consolidated his position by killing hundreds of domestic critics in recent years, but he lacks confidence and will not go to war against outside powers, according to a senior North Korean defector. Ri Jong-ho was a senior official in North Korea under its previous leader, the late Kim Jong-il. He rose through the ranks of the Workers’ Party of Korea and was directly mentored by Kim, who personally appointed him to a post in Bureau 39. The powerful body is in charge of securing much-needed foreign currency for Pyongyang —often through illegal activities— and partly funds the personal accounts of the ruling Kim dynasty.

But Ri’s mentor, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011. Distrustful of his son and successor, Kim Jong-un, Ri defected with his family to South Korea in October 2014; fifteen months later, in March 2016, he arrived in the United States. Speaking at an event hosted by the Asia Society in New York earlier this week, Ri said he decided to defect after Kim Jong-un issued orders for the execution of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was vice chairman of the National Defense Commission of North Korea. Along with Jang, said Ri, hundreds of military officers who were faithful to him were also executed. In many cases, their families were also killed or sent to concentration camps. It was through these purges, said Ri, that Kim consolidated his power in North Korea after 2013.

Commenting on the heightened rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington, Ri insisted that North Korea’s decision to develop a nuclear arsenal was not a direct threat, but rather a clear sign of Pyongyang’s weakness. North Korea has always felt directly threatened by South Korea and its Western ally, the United States, said Ri, and resorts to “tough rhetoric” in order to compensate for its social and economic weakness. Pyongyang’s rhetoric, therefore, “does not guarantee escalation”, said Ri, adding that Kim Jong-un lacks confidence. The high-profile defector added that the North Korean regime has grown increasingly isolated, even for China, which adds to its vulnerability. Kim Jong-un does not trust China, said Ri, and often refers to the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, as “a dog”. Ri concluded his remarks in New York by stating that the heightened rhetoric from North Korea was a distraction aimed at concealing the regime’s crumbling economy and fear of the economic might of its southern neighbor.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 October 2017 | Permalink

Australian spy agency says it is facing ‘unprecedented’ espionage threat

ASIO AustraliaThe primary intelligence agency of Australia says its resources are overextended as the country faces “espionage and foreign interference [of an] unprecedented” scale. In its annual report to the Australian houses of parliament, which was produced on Tuesday, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) says it lacks resources to counter “harmful espionage” and “malicious activity” against the country. The unclassified report is published every year as a summary of a much longer classified report, which is shared with senior government officials and senior civil servants. It is endorsed by ASIO Director Duncan Lewis, who serves as Australia’s Director-General of Security.

In its report for 2016-2017, the ASIO said its officers identified “a number of states and other actors” that were “conducting espionage and foreign interference against Australia”. Many of these were “foreign intelligence services”, which used a variety of intelligence-collection methods of seeking “access to privileged and/or classified information on Australia’s alliances and partnerships”. Foreign intelligence services also spied for information on Canberra’s position on various economic, diplomatic and military issues, and sought information on the country’s energy policy and the volume of its energy and mineral resources. Additionally, espionage was detected against Australian scientific and technical research centers, says the report.

The report goes on to describe the ASIO’s counterterrorism investigations and operations as being of “high volume and tempo”, and states that its services were sought “in higher levels” than ever by “many across both government and industry”. Combined with the “unprecedented scale” of espionage and foreign interference against Australia that it is called to combat, these demands meant that ASIO’s resources would “remain overextended” in the new year, according to the report.

In the past year, the agency says it was able to identify “foreign powers” that secretly sought to influence Australian public opinion, and shape the views of Australian media professionals, industry and government officials, and others, on matters that advanced the interests of other countries, says the report. There was also espionage by foreign powers against members of ethnic communities in Australia, as well as harassment and other covert influence operations that sought to minimize criticism of foreign governments by members of those ethic communities.

The unclassified ASIO report does not identify the “foreign powers” that allegedly sponsored espionage operations against Australia, nor does it specify whether any foreign agents were apprehended, jailed or expelled from the country for carrying out espionage.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 October 2017 | Permalink

Maltese reporter who exposed high-level political corruption killed in car bomb

Daphne Caruana GaliziaMalta’s best known investigative journalist, whose reporting about offshore tax evasion prompted a major political crisis in the European Union member-state, has been killed by a powerful bomb near her home. Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died Monday, aged 53, gained international prominence last year, when she used information from various sources, including the leaked “Panama Papers”, to accuse senior members of Malta’s government of implication in tax-evasion schemes. Her reporting led to the resignation and eventual re-election of the country’s Labor government last year.

Caruana Galizia began her career in the late 1980s as a regular columnist for The Sunday Times of Malta, before being appointed associate editor of The Malta Independent. She eventually launched her personal English-language news blog, called Running Commentary, which became one of Malta’s most influential websites. The site’s popularity was only augmented by the fact that it reported scandals affecting both of Malta’s main political parties, the governing Labor Party and the opposition Nationalist Party. In April of 2016, following the release of the so-called Panama Papers, Caruana Galizia accused senior members of the Labor government, as well as the prime minister’s wife, of being involved in large-scale tax-evasion schemes and receiving bribes from oil-rich Azerbaijan’s ruling family. The allegations led to the resignation of the government and national elections, which the Labor Party won.

On Monday, Caruana Galizia died instantly when the rented Peugeot 108 car she was driving exploded near her home in the village of Bidnija, near Mosta, in central Malta. Eyewitnesses said that the explosion was so powerful that it tore apart the vehicle and was heard from several miles away. Subsequent reports in the Maltese media alleged that the investigative journalist had recently filed reports with the police, claiming that she was receiving threats against her life from persons unknown.

The bomb attack shocked Maltese society and immediately threw the European Union member-state’s political life into disarray. The country’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, said in a statement that he was “devastated” by Caruana Galizia’s assassination, adding that he had instructed the island country’s police and intelligence agencies to “take all necessary steps to investigate” the murder and uncover its culprits. The killing was also condemned by nearly every senior European Union official and by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which uncovered the existence of the Panama Papers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: J.A.

French Special Forces were on plane that crashed in Ivory Coast, killing 4

Ivory CoastA plane crash that killed four off Côte d’Ivoire last week had been chartered by the French military as part of its counterinsurgency mission in West Africa, it has been admitted. Ivorian authorities identified the aircraft as a Ukrainian-made Antonov transport airplane. It reportedly took off from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on last Saturday morning. Shortly afterwards, the aircraft crash-landed in the Atlantic Ocean past Abidjan, one of West Africa’s largest cities, on the southern coast of Côte d’Ivoire. Local officials said the airplane broke in half and immediately caught fire. Of the ten people that were on board, four are reportedly dead; six others are seriously hurt. Reports said that the four dead passengers were all Moldovan nationals. Two other Moldovans and four French nationals were injured.

Late on Saturday, France’s Armed Forces Ministry said that it had chartered the Antonov aircraft, as part of Operation BARKHANE. The military operation began in August of 2014, as part of a broader effort by France to combat what it describes as an Islamist insurgency in the African Sahel region. Currently, French Special Forces are believed to be operational in at least five countries there, namely Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. French government sources report that BARKHANE involves 4,000 French troops, commanded from an operational headquarters in N’Djamena, capital of Chad. Close to 1,000 of these troops are believed to be stationed in Burkina, mostly in the capital Ouagadougou. It is also believed that many of the transportation needs of Operation BARKHANE are facilitated by Ukrainian-built Antonovs, flown mostly to and from Abidjan by former Soviet pilots, who sub-contract their services to the French military. That would explain why there were Moldovans implicated in Saturday’s plane crash.

It is reminded that another airplane that had been chartered by the French military crashed in Malta in October of 2016, killing five French citizens. Paris later revealed that they were all employees of the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), France’s external intelligence agency. The plane was found to have been registered in the United States and operated by a company based in Luxembourg. The French government said on Sunday that it launched an investigation into the cause of Saturday’s crash. There were reports of a storm that hit Abidjan early on the day of the crash, but it is not known whether the storm is in any way connected with the crash.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 October 2017 | Permalink

Revealed: China arrested US diplomat believing him to be CIA officer

US Consulate ChengduAn American diplomat stationed in China was abducted and interrogated for several hours by Chinese authorities, who believed him to be an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency working under official cover. The alleged abduction took place in early 2016 but was revealed this week by the online news outlet Politico. The website said that the diplomat, who has not been named, was stationed at the United States consulate general in Chengdu, a city of 14 million that is the administrative capital of western China’s Sichuan province. Founded in 1985, the US consulate in Chengdu is one of Washington’s seven diplomatic and consular posts in China. It is staffed by 130 people, approximately 30 of whom are Americans and 100 are locally hired Chinese citizens. The facility’s consular district includes several Chinese provinces, including the politically sensitive Tibet Autonomous Region.

On Wednesday, Politico said it spoke with “more than half a dozen current and former national security officials” in the US, who confirmed that an American diplomat stationed at the Chengdu consulate was abducted and detained for several hours. The website said that the abduction took place in January 2016. The diplomat was reportedly “grabbed off the street” in the middle of the day by plainclothes Chinese officers and driven to a detention facility in an unmarked van. He was allegedly kept there for several hours despite his diplomatic status with full immunity, which protects diplomats from being subjected to arrest and detention in the host country. American officials claim that the Chinese authorities did not notify the US consulate of the diplomat’s whereabouts until several hours later. By that time, the diplomat had been aggressively interrogated and his responses had been filmed by his captors, who claimed that he was an officer of the CIA. He was later released but left the country soon afterwards, according to Politico.

American officials told the website that the diplomat’s abduction was “an unusually bold act” that illustrates an ongoing and increasingly tense confrontation between Chinese and American intelligence services. Several American diplomats told Politico that Chinese authorities followed them around and in some cases broke into their apartments and “searched their rooms and belongings”. According to the news website, Washington responded to the American diplomat’s abduction by issuing a formal protest and threatening to expel Chinese intelligence officers operating in the US with diplomatic cover. However, it is not believed that the threat materialized.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2017 | Permalink

Israel reportedly behind discovery of Russian antivirus company’s spy links

Computer hackingIsraeli spy services were reportedly behind the United States government’s recent decision to purge Kaspersky Lab antivirus software from its computers, citing possible collusion with Russian intelligence. Last month, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a directive ordering that all government computers should be free of software products designed by Kaspersky Lab. Formed in the late 1990s by Russian cybersecurity expert Eugene Kaspersky, the multinational antivirus software provider operates out of Moscow but is technically based in the United Kingdom. Its antivirus and cybersecurity products are installed on tens of millions of computers around the world, including computers belonging to government agencies in the US and elsewhere. But last month’s memorandum by the US government’s domestic security arm alarmed the cybersecurity community by alleging direct operational links between the antivirus company and the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the initial piece of intelligence that alerted the US government to the alleged links between Kaspersky Lab and Moscow was provided by Israel. The American paper said that Israeli cyber spies managed to hack into Kaspersky’s systems and confirm the heavy presence of Russian government operatives there. The Times’ report stated that the Israelis documented real-time cyber espionage operations by the Russians, which targeted the government computer systems of foreign governments, including the United States’. The Israeli spies then reportedly approached their American counterparts and told them that Kaspersky Lab software was being used by Russian intelligence services as a backdoor to millions of computers worldwide. The Israelis also concluded that Kaspersky’s antivirus software was used to illegally steal files from these computers, which were essentially infected by spy software operated by the Russian government.

It was following the tip by the Israelis that he Department of Homeland Security issued its memorandum saying that it was “concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky [Lab] officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies”. The memorandum resulted in a decision by the US government —overwhelmingly supported by Congress— to scrap all Kaspersky software from its computer systems. Kaspersky Lab has rejected allegations that it works with Russian intelligence. In a statement issued in May of this year, the company said it had “never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2017 | Pemalink