News you may have missed #860

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Top US-backed rebel commander flees Syria. General Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army, who was the most senior Western-backed rebel commander in Syria, has fled the country amid growing infighting with Islamist rebels, American officials have said. The rebel military leader fled into Turkey and flew to Doha, Qatar on Sunday, after Islamist rebel groups took over his headquarters and warehouses of US-supplied military gear along the border between Turkey and Syria.
►►NSA co-worker calls Snowden ‘genius among geniuses’. Forbes magazine’s Andy Greenberg says he was contacted by a former co-worker of NSA technical expert Edward Snowden, who described the defector as “a principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors [at NSA] with sheer talent”. The unnamed source continued: “that kid was a genius among geniuses […], I’ve never seen anything like it”.
►►Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy. Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman. The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country. He said the accused was now on trial and had confessed. The nationality of the alleged spy is not yet known. The UK Foreign Office said it did not comment on intelligence matters.

European, American, Russian fighters join both sides of Syrian war

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Nearly three years into the Syrian Civil War, it is becoming increasingly clear that the opposition forces are far more fragmented than the government side. Many of the rebel factions are now largely concerned with fighting each other for control of territory and other key assets, including oil installations and cross-border trade routes. Amidst the chaos, thousands of foreign fighters are flooding into the country, motivated by ideology or money. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 11,000 foreign fighters have entered Syria since the war, causing United States intelligence officials to speak of “a growing presence of foreigners” in the ranks of armed factions. At least 300 British citizens are estimated to have traveled to Syria with the intent of joining the Civil War, according to The Times of London. Most of them are young Islamist radicals who are intent on helping topple the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the paper. Another British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, reported recently that four British citizens —all London residents— died recently in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, while fighting alongside government troops in support of President Assad. They were fighting against the al-Nusra Front, an opposition group with strong links to al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, The New York Times said on Wednesday that “dozens of Americans” have entered or tried to enter Syria to join various rebel factions in their fight against the government. The paper cited unnamed “American intelligence officials” in alleging that the Americans are a “small subset” of a larger group of “roughly 600” Western-born Islamists who have entered Syria from Western Europe, North America and Australia since 2011. The ongoing conflict has also attracted hundreds of Russian fighters, according to reports. Foreign Policy magazine notes the “rising flow” of radical Islamists from the Russian Federation to Syria in recent months. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #850 (Syria edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►FBI sharpens scrutiny of Syrians in US. The FBI has increased its surveillance of Syrians inside the United States in response to concerns that a military strike against the government of President Bashar al-Assad could lead to terrorist attacks inside the US or against American allies and interests abroad. The US government has also taken the unusual step of warning federal agencies and private companies that American military action in Syria could spur cyberattacks, the officials said. There were no such alerts before previous military operations, like the one against Libya in 2011.
►►French spies provide details Syrian chemical weapons program. As Congress debates whether to authorize a military strike on Syria, the French government has released its declassified intelligence report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the eastern Damascus suburbs. While the American report focuses solely on the most recent attack, the French provide a comprehensive look at the nature of the Syrian chemical weapons program. Also, while US officials have conceded that they don’t know if Assad himself ordered the use of chemical weapons, the French assessment rebuts claims that the August 21 attack could have been the work of a rogue officer.
►►Ex-CIA WMD Counterterrorism Unit chief on Syria: “We cannot afford […] miscalculations in regard to Syria. We will launch our missiles and drop our bombs. Then we will announce the end of active operations. That will not signal the end of the war. It will signal its beginning […]. Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah friends will begin to respond. They will do so on their timetable and only where they perceive the odds to be in their favor. Embassies will be struck. Hostages will be taken. American and Western tourists will be slaughtered. If the opportunity presents itself, we may even feel the impact here in the United States with attacks on prominent landmarks and public places”.

Israeli intelligence ‘critical’ in US case for strikes on Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As the United States prepares to make its case in support of military action against the Syrian government, there are reports that Israeli intelligence will be playing “a central role in cementing” Washington’s argument. The White House indicated this week that it is prepared to launch military strikes against Syrian government targets, following reports that chemical weapons were fired at a Damascus suburb. Western intelligence sources suggest that last week’s chemical weapon strikes killed “hundreds of people” and wounded “at least a thousand”, including many civilians. Interestingly, while the US administration of President Barack Obama is collating the evidence of the Syrian government’s complicity in the attacks, reports from Israel have identified even the Syrian Army unit that allegedly fired the chemical rounds. Late last week, Israel’s Channel 2 claimed that the attack was launched by the 155th Brigade of the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, which is known to be commanded by Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. German media reports suggest that the source of the claim was Unit 8200, the electronic interception division of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It is believed that the IDF has in its possession intercepted conversations between senior Syrian military commanders allegedly discussing last week’s chemical attack. Most analysts appear confident that Israel would play no visible part in a possible US-led military strike on Syria. But many senior Israeli cabinet ministers are voicing strong support for direct Western military involvement in the Syrian civil war. On Tuesday, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Economy and Commerce Minister, said the time for intervention had come: “it cannot be that less than 100 kilometers from Israel, children are being gassed to death and we let the world remain silent and ignore it”, he told reporters. Read more of this post

Israel spy agency has presence in Syria, says senior rebel general

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israel is one of several countries that maintain a significant intelligence presence inside Syria, according to the top commander of the Syrian rebel forces. General Salim Idriss, Chief of Staff for the Free Syrian Army, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the Jewish state has “many, many” intelligence officers in various parts of Syria. The Arab country has been rocked since 2011 by a violent civil war, which has cost the lives of at least 60,000 people. Idriss was responding to comments made earlier this week by Brigadier General Itai Brun, senior intelligence analyst for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Brun, who heads the Division for Research and Analysis of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, was speaking at a conference hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel, by the Institute for National Security Studies. He told an audience of intelligence experts that the IDF was “quite certain” that the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad had resorted to the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces on at least one instance. According to Brun, footage obtained by the IDF of rebel casualties from a March 19 attack by Syrian government forces, pointed to the use of sarin nerve gas. He referred to evidence such as the victims’ dilated pupils and “the foam coming out of their mouths” as strong proof of the use of weaponized sarin nerve gas in the battlefield. Responding to Brun’s allegations, General Idriss suggested that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons repeatedly in a variety of locations, including Aleppo, Homs, and the outskirts of capital Damascus. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #827

Brigadier General Mohammed KhaloufBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: The spies who fooled the world about Iraq. On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, the BBC flagship investigative program Panorama has aired a documentary arguing that, even before the fighting in Iraq started, intelligence from highly placed sources was available in the UK, suggesting that the administration of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.
►►Syrian officer to auction spy files as general defects. Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah reported this past weekend that an intelligence officer that defected is offering to auction the intelligence archives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat. Meanwhile, Syrian Brigadier General Mohammed Khalouf and about 20 soldiers defected from the Syrian army in two separate incidents on Saturday, according to rebel-controlled media.
►►Half a million wiretapped in Turkey in last decade. Some 470,000 people in Turkey have been subject to eavesdropping over the past 11 years, said officials from the Gendarmerie Command’s intelligence unit. In 2012 alone, over 33,000 people were eavesdropped on by the Gendarmerie, according to information given to the Turkish Parliament’s Eavesdropping Examination Commission. Notably Gendarmerie authorities said that they found no information or documents regarding the case of the wire-tapping of the Turkish Prime Minister in their examination of their own records.

[Updated] World braces as Israel attacks Syria for first time in 5 years

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, LebanonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Alarm bells were sounding all over the Middle East Wednesday as Syria confirmed it had been attacked by Israeli military jets for the first time since 2007. It remains unclear at this point whether the Israeli airstrikes were meant to disrupt the flow of weapons to neighboring Lebanon, or whether Israel has officially entered the Syrian Civil War. Unnamed United States officials told The New York Times late on Wednesday that the Israel Air Force had entered Syrian airspace and destroyed a single truck transporting a “game-changing” cache of weapons to Lebanon. The cargo, allegedly consisting of Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, is said to have been destined for Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that controls large parts of southern Lebanon. The alleged attack occurred near Zabadani, a small town on the road that connects Syrian capital Damascus to the Lebanese border. Hours later, however, Syrian state television confirmed the Israeli attack, but said the target was a “military research center aimed at raising the level of resistance and self defense” of the Syrian nation, located near Damascus. Some Israeli media suggest that, if the Syrian government’s claims are accurate, the target of the Israeli attack would seem to have been the so-called Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known as CERS. Both The New York Times and Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper report that Israel informed the United States prior to launching the attack, but neither Washington nor Tel Aviv have so far commented on the airstrikes. In the absence of credible corroboration, confusion persists on whether the Israeli action was directed against Hezbollah, or meant to assist the aims of the Syrian opposition –or both. Read more of this post