South Korean cabinet approves closer intelligence cooperation with Japan

South KoreaIn a move that highlights the thaw in relations between South Korea and Japan, the two nations appear to be closer than ever to entering an intelligence agreement with each other. In 2014, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo signed a trilateral intelligence-sharing agreement on regional security issues, with the United States acting as an intermediary. But a proposed new agreement between South Korea and Japan would remove the US from the equation and would facilitate direct intelligence-sharing between the two East Asian nations for the first time in history.

The proposed treaty is known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Its centerpiece is a proposal to streamline the rapid exchange of intelligence between South Korean and Japanese spy agencies, especially in times of regional crisis involving North Korea. Last week, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense publicly gave GSOMIA its blessing by stating that Seoul’s security would benefit from access to intelligence from Japanese satellite reconnaissance as well as from submarine activity in the South Sea. On Monday, South Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Yoo Il-ho, announced after a cabinet meeting that GSOMIA had been officially approved by the government.

The agreement is surprising, given the extremely tense history of Korean-Japanese relations. Japan conquered the Korean Peninsula for most of the first half of the 20th century, facing stiff resistance from local guerrilla groups. After the end of World War II and Japan’s capitulation, South Korea has sought reparations from Tokyo. In 2014, after many decades of pressure, Japan struck a formal agreement with South Korea over the plight of the so-called “comfort women”, thousands of South Korean women and girls who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese imperial forces during World War II. Relations between the two regional rivals have improved steadily since that time.

The GSOMIA agreement will now be forwarded to officials in the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. The country’s defense minister is expected to sign it during a meeting with the Japanese ambassador to South Korea in Seoul on Wednesday, local news media reported.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 November 2016 | Permalink

NSA chief preempts move to fire him by entering talks with Trump

Michael S. RogersThe director of the United States National Security Agency has taken the unprecedented step of entering talks with president-elect Donald Trump, amidst reports that President Barack Obama may fire him. Admiral Michael S. Rogers, 57, a US Navy cryptologist with a military career that spans over three decades, has been at the helm of the NSA since April of 2014. Last weekend, however, The Washington Post alleged that senior US military and intelligence officials urged President Obama to fire him. Citing “several US officials familiar with the matter”, The Post said on Saturday that a recommendation to fire Admiral Rogers was delivered to the President in October by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.

Secretary Carter is allegedly displeased with the NSA director’s performance, following what The Post said were “persistent complaints from NSA personnel” that Admiral Rogers is “aloof, frequently absent” from his duties, and tends to disregard input from his advisors at NSA. DNI Clapper added to Rogers’ list of concerns, while also proposing that the NSA should be led by a civilian administrator. The paper alleged that the president agreed with the recommendations and had planned to replace Admiral Rogers with an acting NSA director shortly before the election of November 8. That would reportedly allow the incoming president to appoint a new director of their preference in the new year. However, the move was delayed due to ongoing discussions about balancing the NSA’s military and civilian roles.

In the meantime, it appears that the NSA director preempted his impending firing by entering negotiations with president-elect Donald Trump about joining the new administration. According to The Post, Trump is considering appointing Admiral Rogers to the post of DNI, to replace Clapper. The paper described the Admiral’s move to meet with Trump without notifying his superiors —including the president— as “unprecedented for a military officer”. The NSA director’s move has allegedly displeased the Obama administration, but it is unclear how the president will respond. During a press conference in Lima, Peru, on Sunday, President Obama declined to answer questions about Admiral Rogers’ rumored replacement. He described the NSA director as “a terrific patriot”, but added that it was not his practice to comment on matters relating to personnel appointments. The Department of Defense, Office of the DNI, and the NSA have all declined to comment on the matter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 November 2016 | Permalink

Iran arrests 12 nuclear negotiators on espionage charges

Iran nuclear negotiationsIranian authorities have reportedly arrested at least 12 members of the country’s team of nuclear negotiators on charges of espionage. The 12 are believed to have represented Iran in international talks about its nuclear program between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

The arrests were revealed by Iranian opposition parliamentarian Hussein Ali Haji Degana, who told reporters on Thursday that those detained held significant posts in the Iranian team that negotiated with representatives of the P5+1 group. Mr. Degana added that some of the 12 held dual citizenships, but did not specify the names of those arrested or their countries of citizenship. Iranian media, which is heavily controlled by the government in Tehran, did not report Degana’s comments. But they were widely publicized by Arab media, including Saudi and Iraqi news agencies.

In March of 2015, Amir Hossein Motaghi, a media advisor to the Iranian president, who covered the international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, defected to the West. Last August, the office of the Iranian prosecutor said that a dual national with Iranian citizenship had been arrested for spying on Tehran for an unspecified foreign intelligence service. The individual was later identified as Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a dual Iranian and Canadian citizen, who was allegedly recruited by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. Esfahani was said to be an accountant with some involvement in the financial aspects of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and foreign powers.

It is not known whether the alleged arrests of 12 more members of the Iranian negotiating team are connected with the espionage charges against Esfahani. Mr. Degana said he hopped that the names of the 12 detainees will be released to the media by the authorities and that their trials will be transparent and open to public scrutiny.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 November 2016 | Permalink

Russian defectors claim US intelligence agencies failed to protect them

Janosh NeumannTwo Russian intelligence officers, who defected to the United States in 2008, claim that they had to fend for themselves after American spy agencies failed to protect them despite promises to the contrary. Janosh Neumann (born Alexey Yurievich Artamonov) and his wife Victorya were employees of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) specializing in investigations of money laundering and corruption. But in 2008 they traveled from Russia to Germany and from there to the Dominican Republic. Once in the Caribbean island, they entered the US embassy and offered to work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The couple claim that they provided “a trove of secrets” to the CIA, including information on FSB officials who engaged in corrupt practices such as bribing, money-laundering and large-scale tax evasion. In return, the CIA transported the Neumanns to America, where they were granted permission to settle temporarily based on humanitarian grounds. The two Russian defectors claim that they were promised green cards and, eventually, American citizenship. For several months following their entry into the US, the Neumanns were kept in a government safe house, where they were debriefed, given polygraph tests, and met regularly with officials from the Departments of Justice and Treasury, as well as with employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the CIA. They say they gave information to the CIA about the methods used by Russian intelligence operatives to infiltrate American corporations. But when the CIA tried to convince them to move back to Russia and work there for the US government as agents-in-place, the Neumanns refused and chose instead to work for the FBI.

The two Russians say the worked for the Bureau for five years, during which time they were paid approximately $1 million. But in 2013 when their employment contracts expired, the FBI did not renew them. Later that year, the Neumanns’ temporary visa to remain in the US expired. Meanwhile, US immigration authorities denied Janosh’s application for a green card because he allegedly hinted that he tortured people for the FSB during his interview with a US immigration official. Eventually, the Russian defectors convinced the FBI to send immigration officials a letter stating that there was no reason to assume that Janosh had tortured or persecuted people in Russia. Earlier this year, the Newmanns, who recently had a baby here in the US, were allowed to stay and have now applied for green cards again. But they say they reserve the right to sue the US government for having previously denied them protection and citizenship.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 November 2016 | Permalink

Poland exhumes late leader’s body in probe of 2010 plane crash in Russia

Lech KaczyńskiAuthorities in Poland have exhumed the body of the country’s late prime minister and his wife as part of an investigation into the 2010 airplane disaster that killed them and nearly 100 others in Russia. The move has reignited persistent rumors that the crash that killed everyone onboard the plane, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, was not an accident. At the time of their death, the couple were leading a delegation of Polish officials and journalists traveling to Russia to participate in commemorations marking 70 years from the so-called ‘Katyn massacre’. The term refers to the extermination of approximately 22,000 Polish soldiers and civilians that was carried out by the Soviet military and secret services in 1940, following the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Investigations of the air disaster have been carried out by Russia and by the previous Polish administration, headed by the centrist Civic Platform party, which governed the country from 2010 until 2015. Both concluded that the crash was an accident. But the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), headed by Jarosław Kaczyński, twin brother of the late president, insists that previous investigations were incomplete and has initiated its own probe into the matter. Almost as soon as it formed a national government last year, the rightwing PiS reopened the investigation into the 2010 air crash. The exhumation of the victims’ bodies, which began on Monday, is the first step of the new probe.

Many supporters of the new investigation claim that bombs hidden onboard the plane caused it to crash. Others suggest that the Polish government at the time is to blame for the crash, because it neglected to properly service the plane. Some have even suggested that Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister at the time of the crash, who now heads the European Council, should be put on trial for the murder of President Kaczyński. Critics note that no credible evidence has been put forward to support the assassination theory or the deliberate neglect theory, barring some circumstantial discrepancies in the Russian-language documents. The current probe is expected to last several months.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 November 2016 | Permalink

US Special Forces soldiers killed in Jordan were with the CIA, say officials

JordanThree United States Special Forces soldiers who were killed outside a Jordanian military base earlier this month were working for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to American government officials. The three soldiers were shot dead on November 4 by a Jordanian soldier, who was subsequently wounded in an exchange of fire, according to reports. The US Department of Defense said the three men were members of the 5th Special Forces Group based in Fort Campbell, a US Army installation located in the American state of Kentucky. They were reportedly shot as they were attempting to enter the Prince Faisal Air Base, located in Jordan’s southern desert, 150 miles south of the capital Amman.

It is believed that the three soldiers were members of a 2,000-strong contingent of American troops who are currently stationed in the Arab country as part of Washington’s involvement in the regional war against the Islamic State. Some of these troops are assigned as advisers to Jordanian military units stationed at the border with Syria. But many others are allegedly involved in training so-called moderate Syrian rebel factions who are fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as other rebel groups on the ground. According to The Washington Post, the three American soldiers were among the trainers and were detailed to the CIA while they were in Jordan.

Details of the incident that led to the death of the three Americans are still unclear and are reportedly being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jordanian sources allege that the US troops were returning to the base after a training session when one of their weapons accidentally misfired inside their vehicle. Thinking that they were under attack, Jordanian guards at the entrance to the base opened fire, killing the three Americans. But American officials told The Washington Post that the FBI is investigating whether the Jordanian soldier who opened fire on the US soldiers was an Islamist sympathizer.

If the three American soldiers were indeed detailed to the CIA, their killing will mark the most deadly incident involving CIA personnel since December 2009. Late that month, seven CIA personnel were killed in Khost, Afghanistan by suicide bomber who was masquerading as a CIA intelligence asset and managed to detonate a suicide vest inside a US military base. The Post said it contacted the CIA about the November 4 incident, but the Agency declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 November 2016 | Permalink

US intelligence to begin briefing Donald Trump’s transition team

Donald TrumpMembers of the United States Intelligence Community will soon begin sharing top-secret information with the White House transition team of president-elect Donald Trump. According to a report by CBS News, Trump’s team will receive “practically the same briefings” as those given by intelligence personnel to US President Barack Obama. The briefings will be delivered by career intelligence officers who are reportedly ready to brief Trump’s transition team as soon as the latter requests it.

The 70-year-old business tycoon was confirmed as the president-elect in the early hours of Wednesday, after scoring one of the greatest electoral upsets in American political history. He is scheduled to meet President Obama at the White House this week, where he will discuss with him the pending transition of his executive team, as well as pressing matters of national security. According to CBS, the President has already authorized the Intelligence Community to brief Trump and his senior aides on certain topics. Obama will continue to authorize intelligence briefings given to the Trump team until January 20 of next year, when the Republican president-elect will replace President Obama at the White House. As soon as Trump’s transition team members provide the names of his chosen cabinet officials, the Intelligence Community will begin to brief them as well.

Meanwhile US Air Force four-star General Michael Hayden (ret.) raised doubts on Wednesday about Trump’s ability to understand the way intelligence works. General Hayden, who led the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency in under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, told CBS that Trump won Tuesday’s presidential election by “showing anger [and] being accusatory”. These are qualities that are “very alien to the way intelligence works” and do not fit “into the intelligence picture”, he said. General Hayden was one of 50 senior Republican national-security officials who signed an open letter in August, claiming that Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk [America’s] national security and well-being”. The 50 included former directors of the CIA, the NSA, the Office of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, and others.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 November 2016 | Permalink