Syria denies Air Force intelligence chief assassinated

Jamil HassanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Syrian state-owned television channel has denied reports that the head of Syria’s Air Force Intelligence has been assassinated by one of his aides. The government-controlled al-Dynya TV called reports about the assassination of Lieutenant Jamil Hassan “absolutely false”. However, unlike Syria’s Vice-President, Farouq al-Sharaa, who appeared on television yesterday to dispel rumors he had defected to Jordan, Hassan made no such appearance. Earlier on Sunday, sources affiliated with the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television network that Lieutenant Hassan had been killed in his office in Syrian capital Damascus. Born into a prominent military family in the western city of Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and site of some of the worst violence in the ongoing Syrian uprising, Hassan belongs to the country’s Alawite community. It is the same Syrian-based branch of Shiite Islam that counts the country’s President, Bashar al-Assad, as its member. Hassan is believed to be a key member of the Syrian military and a close advisor of the President. Opposition forces consider Hassan a hardline supporter of the Assad regime and charge him with leading the ‘iron fist’ caucus inside the Syrian government. A Syrian opposition source once quoted Hassan as telling Assad: “let me kill a million protesters to end the revolution and I will go to [the International Criminal Court in] The Hague in your place”. Although this quote remains anecdotal, there is little doubt that Hassan’s vocal support for the Assad regime has repeatedly attracted the attention of the opposition FSA, which sees him as one of the most vicious and criminal elements inside the Syrian state. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #781

Bahri ShaqirinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Syria denies Vice-President has defected. Syria denied reports over weekend that President Bashar al-Assad’s deputy had defected. Vice-President Farouq al-Shara “never thought for a moment about leaving the country”, said a statement from his office, broadcast on state television and issued in response to reports that the veteran Ba’ath Party loyalist had tried to defect to Jordan. Al-Sharaa’s office said the vice-president “supports get[ting] united support from the [United Nations] Security Council to carry out his mission without obstacles”.
►►What is inside the CIA’s Polish prison? A major political scandal erupted in Poland this year, over an alleged secret CIA ‘black site’ used to house high-ranking terrorism suspects. But exactly was in this prison? In this interview, aired yesterday on Washington DC-based National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition program, host Linda Wertheimer speaks to journalist and author Roy Gutman about his recent trip to Poland, to cover an investigation into the CIA interrogation facilities.
►►US ‘surprised’ after Albania replaces spy chief. Little more than a month after taking office, Albanian President Bujar Nishani has discharged the Director of the country’s State Security Agency, SHISH, Bahri Shaqirin. The move follows a request by Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who first proposed that Shaqirin should be removed. His replacement is Visho Ajazi Lika, currently Deputy Minister for Technology and Information. Some analysts note that Shaqirin enjoyed the support of the US Embassy in Tirana. One of its spokespersons said that “the US had not been informed about Shaqiri’s discharge and [Washington was] surprised by this fast and unexpected decision”.

Germany, UK, share intelligence with Free Syrian Army [updated]

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two newspapers alleged over the weekend that German and British spy services routinely share critical intelligence on Syrian government troops with rebel forces in the country. In a leading article, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag claimed yesterday that Germany’s intelligence activities in Syria were far broader than officially acknowledged. The paper quoted an unnamed official from Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND), who said that the country “can be proud of the significant contribution we are making to the fall of the Assad regime”. Also quoted in the article was an unidentified American intelligence official, who claimed that “no Western intelligence service has such good sources inside Syria as Germany’s BND”. According to Bild, the BND collects most of its intelligence on Syria through a number of ships, equipped with signals intelligence platforms, stationed in international waters off the Syrian coast. These ships can collect data on Syrian troop movements as far inland as 600 kilometers, or 400 miles. The collected data is then forwarded to BND officers stationed at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization base in Adana, Turkey, who are also tasked with intercepting radio messages and telephone exchanges between members of the Syrian government and/or military. The information is then passed on to members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the primary armed force engaged in a fierce civil war against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Also on Sunday, the London-based Times newspaper quoted an unnamed FSA official as saying that the rebel forces are routinely given intelligence by British spy agencies. The official told the paper that “the British are giving the information to the Turks and the Americans and we are getting it from the Turks”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #780

Syrian rebel video of downed dronesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israeli Prime Minister rebukes President’s Iran comments. Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging rebuke to the country’s president, Shimon Peres, after he said that Israel should not act alone in launching military action against Iran’s nuclear program. In an interview on Israeli television, Peres said: “It is clear to us we cannot do it on our own. We can only delay [Iran’s progress]. Thus it’s clear to us that we need to go together with America”. Officials from Netanyahu’s office were quoted in the Israeli media as saying: “Shimon Peres forgets what the role of the president of Israel is”. The row is a stark example of the sharp differences at the heart of Israel’s political, military and intelligence establishment over the merits and dangers of an early unilateral military strike on Iran.
►►Russian embassy in UK alleges attack by Syrian activists. Russia’s embassy in London accused British police on Friday of taking no action to prevent an attack on its building by a group of activists protesting Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It made the accusation as about 40 protesters clad in balaclavas demonstrated outside the embassy, located in an upscale part of London, against the verdict in a trial of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. An embassy spokesman said a group of protesters chanting anti-Assad slogans attacked the building overnight, throwing stones and smashing windows.
►►Syrian rebels put captured Iranian drones on YouTube. The opposition to Bashar al-Assad says it’s captured spy drones made by Assad’s patron, Iran. And it’s put the evidence on YouTube. In the video, Syrian rebels show off three smallish, unarmed surveillance drones they say they downed. The two larger drones appear to be variants of Iran’s homemade Ababil, or Swallow, surveillance aircraft. All three show signs of damage, with the tiny drone’s nose cone looking to have taken the worst, and alongside the drones are pamphlets displaying the face of the dead Iranian ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It’s yet more evidence that Iran considers Syria’s civil war to be a proxy contest with much at stake for their influence in the region.

Obama authorizes CIA to conduct ‘non-lethal covert action’ in Syria

İncirlik Air Base, TurkeyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
United States President Barack Obama has officially authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to assist anti-government rebels in Syria, according to a new report by the Reuters news agency. That the US Intelligence Community is operating on the side of the Syrian rebels has been known for quite some time. British media reported in as early as June of this year that American and other Western spy agencies were sharing intelligence with the Syrian Free Army. Later in the same month, The New York Times revealed that “a growing team” of CIA operatives was participating in a multinational effort to smuggle Turkish- and Saudi-supplied weapons into Syria for use by anti-government militias. And in July we explained that, according to American media reports, the CIA’s chronic shortage of reliable agents inside Syria had led the Agency to lend its weight to several existing operations led by Turkish, Jordanian, Israeli, and other intelligence organizations in Syria. Now a new report by Reuters claims that the CIA’s activities in support of the Syrian Free Army are part of an executive order handed to the Agency by the US President earlier this year. The order, formalized through what is commonly known as a ‘Presidential Finding’, effectively authorized the CIA —America’s only government agency allowed to engage in covert action— to prioritize and concentrate its resources on the ongoing Syrian uprising. Several other US government agencies are openly backing the Syrian rebels, mostly through financial support in the form of “humanitarian assistance”. But Obama’s Presidential Finding is the first indication that the US government is engaged in covert action in Syria. The Reuters report confirms earlier indications that the ‘nerve center’ of the CIA’s operations in and around Syria is located in the southern Turkish city of Adana, home of the US-run İncirlik NATO Air Base. Read more of this post

Opposition fighters leave Syrian Free Army to fight for al-Qaeda

Syria's Deir ez-Zor governorateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Few outside Syria’s pro-government Alawite and Christian communities share the regime’s claim that it is fighting a war against Islamist terrorists. Clearly, the core membership of the Free Syrian Army consists of rebels whose grievances against the brutal rule of Bashar al-Assad are primarily ethnic and political, not religious. At the same time, it would be equally naïve to disregard the documented existence of several armed Islamist groups currently operating all over Syria. A case in point is the Deir al-Zour governorate, one of Syria’s largest provinces, which borders Iraq. Al-Qaeda-linked groups have operated in that region for at least a decade, far from the reach of the government in Damascus or the United States military stationed across the border in Iraq. The Syrian uprising has breathed new life to the al-Qaeda-linked groups in Eastern Syria. One of the most active such groups is  Jabhat al-Nusra, which translates into English as “Front for the Protection of the People of the Levant”. Al-Nusra, known informally as “Solidarity Front”, is widely considered al-Qaeda’s main branch in Syria. It has hundreds of members in Deir al-Zour’s towns and cities, including in Mohassan, where Solidarity Front vehicles can currently be observed patrolling the streets while bearing the black banners of al-Qaeda. British newspaper The Guardian, whose editorial position is unreservedly in support of the Syrian uprising, has managed to place one of its special correspondents, Iraqi-born Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, inside Deir al-Zour. While there, the journalist met a senior Jabhat al-Nusra commander who goes by the name Abu Khuder. A former Syrian army officer, Abu Khuder was one of the first Syrians in Deir ez-Zor province to join the Free Syrian Army. He soon quit, however, accusing the Free Syrian Army of operational ineptness and amateurism. He soon joined Jabhat al-Nusra, whose core leadership consists of hardened veterans of the Iraqi insurgency against the US military. According to Abdul-Ahad’s report, Abu Khuder now leads a Jabhat al-Nusra battalion calling itself “the strangers”, after a well-known Islamist madih (poetic eulogy) that celebrates al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden’s operations in the mountain ranges of Afghanistan. He told The Guardian that his “clear instructions” from the al-Nusra leadership are to actively assist the regional command of the Free Syrian Army, whose members he meets “almost every day”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #769 (analysis edition)

John McLaughlinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is S. Korea’s spy agency losing its capabilities? The National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s primary external intelligence agency, is presumed to spend around US $1 billion a year, most of which it uses to spy on its northern neighbor. But when asked about the identity of the young woman who frequently accompanies new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his public appearances, the state intelligence agency offers no clear answer. Although it was seven months ago, at the time of Kim Jong-il’s funeral, that the woman was first spotted, the agency still does not know who she is. In the past 20 years, NIS has undergone a process of transformation to rid it of political functions. But the lingering question is: have the changes compromised the overall capabilities of the giant organization?
►►How 10 years of war has changed US spies. John McLaughlin, who was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as Deputy Director and Acting Director from 2000-2004, says he is often asked how American intelligence has changed in the 11 years since 9/11. His answer is that the changes are profound and have been transformative. Perhaps the most important thing to realize about American intelligence officers in 2012, he says, is that this is the first generation since Vietnam to have been “socialized” –that is hired, trained, and initiated– in wartime. And to a greater degree than even the Vietnam generation, their experience approximates that of their World War II forbears in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) –the organization to which most American intelligence officers trace their professional roots.
►►Assessing the Social Media Battlefield in Syria. While the numerous insurgent factions and the Syrian security forces engage each other in combat in towns and cities to secure tangible battlefield gains, the warring parties are also waging a contentious information war in cyberspace, specifically within the virtual arena of online social media. The various strands of the opposition in Syria —political and violent— have taken to social media since the earliest stages of the uprising to advance their agendas. Analogous to their role in facilitating communication and information exchange during the wave of revolts that have been sweeping the Arab world since 2011, new media platforms such as the array of social media websites and related technologies that are available to the public at virtually little or no cost have become crucial to shaping how the crisis in Syria is portrayed and perceived.

Analysis: Bandar’s return affirms hawkish turn in Saudi foreign policy

Prince Bandar bin SultanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
For over two decades, America’s relations with its most important Arab ally were primarily mediated by just one man: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005. But on June 26, 2005, Bandar, a personal friend of the Bush family, submitted his diplomatic resignation, after being recalled to Riyadh by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Almost immediately, Bandar, known for years in Washington’s diplomatic circles as a flamboyant socialite, disappeared from public view. It is said that he faced serious health problems, going in and out of hospitals. Others claim that he fell out of favor with Saudi Arabia’s autocratic ruling elite, and in 2009 there were even unconfirmed reports that he was under house arrest after allegedly trying to organize a military coup against King Abdullah. Last week, however, Bandar returned to the limelight in spectacular fashion: in a plainly worded statement, Saudi authorities announced that the Prince had been appointed Director General of the Mukhabarat Al A’amah, the Kingdom’s main intelligence agency.

To those who remember Bandar from his Washington days, which were filled with drinking and partying, it may seem incredible that the “peasant prince”, whose mother was one of Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s countless underage concubines, is now heading Saudi intelligence, in what is perhaps the most challenging period in the Kingdom’s history. Read more of this post

US spy agencies turn to Israel, Turkey, for help in Syria war

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Just days after a senior United States defense official admitted Pentagon intelligence analysts missed early signs of the Arab Spring, a new report claims that Washington is still “struggling to understand” the Syrian situation, sixteen months into the uprising. Citing “interviews with US and foreign intelligence officials”, The Washington Post says that the US Intelligence Community has yet to develop a clear understanding of the intentions of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Nor have American analysts been able to draw a lucid picture of the fragmented opposition forces in the country. The paper says that, even though US spy agencies have intensified their intelligence-gathering efforts targeting all sides of the civil war, they have been unable to establish a physical presence inside Syria. This, according to The Post, is partly due to Washington’s decision, back in February of this year, to shut down the US embassy in Damascus, which has traditionally served as staging ground for Central Intelligence Agency operations inside Syria. This latest article confirms previous reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, of a small CIA team operating along the Syrian-Turkish border, with the task of overseeing a multinational effort to secretly deliver weapons, communications equipment and medical supplies to Syrian opposition forces. But this is about as close as the CIA has managed to get to Syria; for the most part, like its partner agencies in the US Intelligence Community, the Agency is “still largely confined to monitoring intercepted communications and observing the conflict from a distance”, says The Washington Post. As a result, US intelligence agencies are becoming increasingly dependent on their counterparts in Turkey, Jordan, and —most of all— Israel for reliable ground intelligence from inside Syria. Read more of this post

Comment: Did Israel assassinate senior Hamas official in Syria?

Kamel RanajaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The leadership of Hamas has accused Israel of assassinating one of its senior officials in Syria last Wednesday. The Palestinian militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip, announced late last week that the charred body of Kamel Ranaja had been found in his half-burned apartment in Syrian capital Damascus. Ranaja, known informally as Nizar Abu Mujhad, was said to have replaced the post of the late Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Al-Mabhouh was killed in 2010 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, most likely by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Citing French news agency Agence France Presse, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that “a group of people entered [Ranaja’s] home […] and killed him”, adding that “according to the information that we have gathered, the Mossad is behind the attack”. Reports from Reuters published in the British press suggest that Ranaja’s charred body “bore signs of torture” and that it had been dismembered. There are also suggestions that the group that attacked the Hamas official’s apartment took with them an unspecified volume of documents and computer files before setting the place on fire.

Read more of this post

News you may have missed #756 (analysis edition)

Richard FaddenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Intel analysts taking over leading role in spy game. In a recent speech obtained by the Canadian press under Canada’s access-to-information laws, Richard Fadden, Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said that the role of the undercover operative is starting to take a back seat to the job of the behind-the-scenes intelligence analyst. Speaking at a conference of the Canadian Association of Professional Intelligence Analysts in November 2011, Fadden said that, “suddenly the ability to make sense of information is as valued a skill as collecting it”.
►►US intel doesn’t see Syrian regime cracking. Despite major defections and an increasingly tough and brutal resistance, intelligence officials in the United States say that Syria’s government is unlikely to fall anytime soon. A report from Reuters quotes members of the intelligence community who say that Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle is showing no signs of cracking, and without a wide international consensus to intervene militarily —a consensus that does not exist— the ongoing conflict has no end in sight. Officials also describe the war as a “see-saw” battle with rebel forces gaining strength and improving tactics, only to see the military escalate the size and intensity of it own response, with neither side maintaining a decisive edge.
►►Arrests of Iranians in Kenya spark fears of plot. The recent arrest of two Iranians in Kenya on suspicion of plotting bomb attacks has heightened fears that Tehran is widening its covert war against Israel and the United States, as Washington expands its secret intelligence operations across Africa. Kenya security authorities, aided by US and British agents, arrested the two Iranians June 20 in Nairobi, the West African country’s capital. The men reportedly led authorities to a cache of 33 pounds of military-grade explosive, believed to be RDX.

CIA helping Turkey, Saudi Arabia, smuggle weapons into Syria: sources

Turkish-Syrian borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A growing team of United States Central Intelligence Agency personnel is currently in Turkey overseeing a multinational effort to secretly deliver weapons to Syrian anti-government rebels, according to The New York Times. Quoting “American officials and Arab intelligence officers”, the paper said last week that the weapons are being smuggled into Syria primarily through the Turkish border. The financial cost of smuggling into Syria such weapons as antitank explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic rifles, has so far been covered by the governments of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to the article. The funds are partly required to bribe members of what The Times describes as “a shadowy network of intermediaries”, which reportedly includes forces loyal to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The latter is a Sunni group that is widely viewed as the most dominant of the anti-government factions that make up the rebel side in the ongoing Syrian uprising. The paper quotes an “Arab intelligence official”, who says the CIA contingent in Turkey “is trying to make new sources and recruit people” along the porous Turkish-Syrian border. But its presence in the volatile region, which has been constant for “several weeks”, according to The Times, is also aimed at keeping the smuggled weapons out of the reach of Syrian anti-government forces that are allied with militant Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. The article notes that American support for the Syrian rebels has been minimal, when compared with that in Libya in 2011, mostly because of staunch Russian support for the government forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Read more of this post

Western spy agencies ‘sharing intelligence’ with Syrian rebels

Robert MoodBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A British newspaper has cited defense sources claiming that British and American intelligence agencies are passing vital information to Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the country’s government. British tabloid The Daily Star quoted “a British defense source” who said that most of the raw intelligence on Syria is picked up by sophisticated British and American satellites monitoring Syrian communications. Once gathered and assessed by intelligence analysts in Washington and London, the information is passed on to operatives of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6, who are allegedly operating on the ground in Syria. They in turn communicate actionable intelligence to rebel leaders in Syria, who are fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the British tabloid, information passed on to rebel leaders includes detailed satellite imagery of Syrian pro-government troop movements around the country, as well as the contents of intercepted communications between senior Syrian military commanders and their subordinates in the field. The Star quotes one unnamed British government source who claims that the satellites are so sophisticated that they allow British and American eavesdroppers to identify the individuals whose voices are heard in the intercepted communications, with the aid of advanced voice recognition systems. The intelligence has reportedly enabled rebel commanders to evacuate locations targeted by government forces, and may also have allowed the rebels to organize successful counterstrikes in response to offensives conducted by troops loyal to Damascus. Washington-based publication The Hill contacted the CIA and the White House but their spokespersons refused to comment on what they called “an ongoing intelligence operation” in Syria. A spokesman from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office would only tell The Star that “all actions remain on the table”.   Read more of this post

News you may have missed #735

Blast site in Deir Ezzor, SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Pakistan imposes new restrictions on CIA operatives. The government of Pakistan has issued a set of new rules and regulations for officials, ambassadors and contractors of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to Pakistani news reports, Pakistan and the US finalized these new rules in the course of 13 meetings between representatives of both countries. Under the new rules, CIA officers deployed in Pakistan “must prove their identity” to Pakistani counterintelligence officials. Some officials, including former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, are already talking of a “new beginning for US-Pakistani relations”.
►►Car bomb strikes near Syrian intelligence agency. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed reports on Saturday of an explosion in the Ghazi Ayyash neighborhood of the eastern Syrian city Deir al-Zour. The site of the blast, which killed at least seven people and injured 100 others, was close to the city branches of the Military Intelligence Directorate and Air Force Intelligence, the London-based activist group reported. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
►►China denies US cyberespionage claims. The Chinese government has hit back at a US Pentagon report that said it is carrying out aggressive cyber-spying as part of a military build-up. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said “China’s justified and normal military development” had been unjustly criticized in the annual report, which was released on Friday. The development of China’s “limited” military force was only geared towards safeguarding its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, said the spokesman.