US threatens to end intelligence sharing if Australian state joins Chinese venture

Belt and Road InitiativeThe United States has warned that it might be forced to stop sharing intelligence with Australia if the country’s second most populous state enters into a much-heralded investment agreement with China. The Australian state of Victoria has said it intends to join Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a worldwide investment venture that was announced with much fanfare by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

The initial goal of the venture was to encourage economic cooperation between China and countries of the Eurasian region. Eventually, the project’s scope expanded to include agreements with countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, mostly through the Chinese-led construction of telecommunications and transportation networks, which trace the trading routes of the Silk Road of ancient times.

Although Australia is not a participant in the Belt and Road Initiative, the Australian state of Victoria announced its decision to join the project in late 2019. The decision has been criticized by senior Australian federal officials, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. These officials argue that any interference by China in the Australian national telecommunications network could compromise the national security of the country as a whole.

On Sunday, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Australia that Washington would look “incredibly closely” at aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative affecting telecommunications. Pompeo, who was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency before his current post, told Sky News that some aspects of the project were designed to “build up the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to do harm” around the world.

In his interview, Pompeo referred to the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance (also known as “UKUSA”), which is a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He added that the US government was concerned that the Victoria state government’s decision to participate in the Chinese venture project could “have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defense and intelligence communities”.

If that were to happen, said Pompeo, then the US would “not take any risks to our telecommunications infrastructure, [or] any risk to the national security elements of what we need to do with our Five Eyes partners”. In the US government determined that these risks were real, “we simply disconnect, we will simply separate”, Pompeo concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2020 | Permalink

Chinese influence in New Zealand threatens intelligence-sharing, says Canadian report

CSIS canadaChina’s influence in New Zealand is so extensive that it threatens the traditionally close intelligence contacts between New Zealand and its Western allies, according to a report written by the Canadian spy agency. Since World War II, New Zealand has been a member of what is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement. Known also as the UKUSA Agreement or the Five Eyes alliance, the pact, which was strengthened in 1955, provides a multilateral framework for intelligence cooperation between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But a new report produced by Canadian intelligence warns that Chinese political and economic influence in New Zealand is making it difficult for the Pacific Ocean island country to continue to operate within the framework of the agreement.

The report, entitled China and the Age of Strategic Rivalry, was authored by experts at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). It contains a summary of views expressed by participants at an academic outreach workshop that was organized in Canada by the CSIS. In a section focusing on Chinese “interference in democratic systems”, the report suggests that, despite its small size, New Zealand is “valuable to China […] as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence”. In recent years, claims the report, Beijing has adopted “an aggressive strategy” that has sought to co-opt political and economic elites in New Zealand as a means of influencing political decision making in the country. As part of that process, China seeks to gain advantages in trade and business negotiations, suppress negative views of China, facilitate espionage and control the views of the Chinese expatriate community in New Zealand, according to the report. Ultimately, Beijing seeks to “extricate New Zealand from […] its traditional [military and intelligence] partners]” as a means of asserting its regional and —eventually— global influence, the report concludes.

In a separate but connected development, it emerged this week that China expert Peter Mattis told an American Congressional committee last month that New Zealand’s position in the Five Eyes alliance was tenuous due to China’s influence. Mattis, a former China analyst for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, was speaking before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a group of experts that advise the US Congress. He told the Commission that the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in New Zealand is so deep that it raises questions about whether the Pacific Ocean country can continue to share intelligence with the other members of the Five Eyes alliance.

On Wednesday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emphatically dismissed questions about her country’s role in the Five Eyes alliance. She told reporters in Wellington that the issue of New Zealand’s Five Eyes membership had “never been raised” with her “or anyone else” by Five Eyes partners. Ardern added that her government received its information “from official channels, not opinions expressed at a workshop”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 May 2018 | Permalink

Britain looking to resettle poisoned Russian spy to the United States, says source

Sergei SkripalThe British government may relocate Sergei Skripal, the Russian double spy who appears to have survived an assassination attempt in England, to the United States, in an effort to protect him from further attacks. The BBC reported last week that Skripal, who had been in a critical condition for nearly a month, was “improving rapidly”. Skripal, 66, who spied for Britain in the early 2000s, and has been living in England since 2010, was poisoned with what London claims was a military-grade nerve agent. Nearly every European country, as well as Canada, Australia and the United States, expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack on the Russian former spy. His daughter, Yulia, who is 33, also came down with nerve-agent poisoning on the same day as her father, but appears to have survived.

The London-based newspaper The Sunday Times said yesterday that British government officials are exploring the possibility of resettling Skripal and his daughter in an allied country. The paper claimed that the countries being considered for possible relocation belong to the so-called “Five Eyes” agreement (also known as UKUSA), a decades-old pact between intelligence agencies from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States. The Times quoted “an intelligence source” familiar with the negotiations allegedly taking place between the British government and its UKUSA partners. The source reportedly told the paper that the Skripals “will be offered new identities”, but did not elaborate on how they would avoid attention after their images were published by every major media outlet in the world following last month’s incident in England.

The anonymous source told The Times that “the obvious place to resettle [the two Russians] is America because they are less likely to be killed there and it is easier to protect them there under a new identity”. The paper also reported that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, is holding discussions with its American counterpart, the Central Intelligence Agency, about resettling the Skripals on American soil. But an article published on Sunday in another British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, said that senior government officials in the United States are now worried that Russian defectors and former spies living there may not be safe. The paper quoted an unnamed “senior US administration official” as saying that Washington has “massive concerns” that US-based Russians who have spied for America, or have publicly criticized the Kremlin, could be targeted just like Skripal. The Times said it contacted the British Foreign Office seeking to confirm whether the Skripals would be relocated abroad, but did not get a response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 9 April 2018 | Permalink

Canada stops sharing intelligence with Five Eyes partners over data breach

CSE CanadaCanada says it will stop sharing certain types of intelligence with some of its closest international allies until it ensures that Canadian citizens’ information is not included in the data given to foreign spy agencies. The announcement follows an official admission, made earlier this week, that a Canadian intelligence agency failed to remove Canadian citizens’ data from information it shared with member-agencies of the so-called Five Eyes Agreement. The pact, which is sometimes referred to as the UK-USA Security Agreement, has been in existence since World War II. It provides a multilateral framework for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

On Thursday, the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, published a report on the activities of the CSE —the country’s primary SIGINT agency. The document, which is published annually by the Commissioner, states that the majority of the CSE’s SIGINT collection activities took place in accordance with Canadian law. However, the report found that some of the data shared by CSE with its Five Eyes partners contained data that could potentially be used to identify the identities of Canadian citizens. According to Canadian law, the CSE is not allowed to specifically target the communications of —or information about— Canadian citizens or Canadian companies. Moreover, information pertaining to those, which may be indirectly collected in the course of legitimate targeting of foreign citizens, is supposed to be immediately purged by CSE collection staff.

However, the Commissioner’s report found that some metadata —namely information pertaining to communications other than their content— that could be used to identify Canadian citizens had been shared by the CSE with Five Eyes spy agencies. Later on Thursday, Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of Defense, announced that SIGINT intelligence-sharing would be suspended until the metadata breach identified in the Commissioner’s report could be adequately addressed and corrected. Minister Sajjan said the roots of the breach had to do with “technical deficiencies” at the CSE, but added that it was crucial that the privacy of Canadians was protected. Therefore, he said, the spy agency would “not resume sharing this information with our partners” until he was “fully satisfied” that the proper control systems were in place.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 January 2016 | Permalink

Excessive secrecy hurts intel agencies, says head of NZ spy review

Sir Michael CullenA former deputy prime minister of New Zealand, who is heading a major review of intelligence practices in the country, has said in an interview that spy agencies hurt their mission by practicing excessive secrecy. Sir Michael Cullen served as finance minister, education minister and attorney-General before serving as deputy prime minister of New Zealand, from 2002 to 2008. He was recently appointed by the government to co-chair a broad review of state intelligence agencies, with particular focus on updating the applicable legislative framework and evaluating the oversight exercised by lawmakers and the executive. The review is expected to affect the work of New Zealand’s two most visible intelligence agencies, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau.

Last Saturday, Sir Michael spoke to TVNZ, New Zealand’s national television broadcaster, about the progress of the review, and shared some of his preliminary thoughts on the subject of intelligence practice and reform. He said in the interview that much of the documentation about intelligence processes and operations was being kept secret without apparent reason. “I’ve seen documents [from] briefings, which it would be hard to justify in my view those briefings not being made public”, he said. He added that there was “a need for the agencies to be much more open about what they do”, noting that sources and methods could be adequately protected through a careful process of redacting. The former deputy prime minister said that, ironically, the intelligence agencies are “their worst enemy by being so secretive about almost everything that they do”. Their attitude, he told TVNZ, negatively affected the level trust between them and the citizens they protect; the latter, he added, “would get a better idea of the need for the [intelligence] agencies if some of these documents were made public”.

Sir Michael also commented on New Zealand’s membership in the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’ alliance, which is part of the UKUSA intelligence-sharing treaty between it and the nations of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He told TVNZ that New Zealand had to share intelligence with allied nations, because it needed access to offshore information affecting its national security, which it cannot collect by itself. Some New Zealand politicians and pundits suggested that the country should exit the treaty after it was revealed last year that the US had been making use of New Zealand embassies around the world to collect electronic signals. In April of this year, The New Zealand Herald said that the country’s embassy in Bangladesh had been made available to British and American intelligence agencies to operate out of. Wellington’s relations with Dhaka have been strained as a result.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/21/01-1739/

NSA ‘high-target’ list includes names of 122 world leaders

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A list of high-priority intelligence targets published over the weekend includes the names of over a hundred current and former heads of state, who were systematically targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The list appears to be part of a wider “Target Knowledge Base” assembled by the NSA in order to help produce “complete profiles” of what the NSA calls “high-priority intelligence targets”. The list is contained in a classified top-secret briefing created by the NSA in 2009. It was published by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it acquired it from American intelligence defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he has been offered political asylum. The leaked briefing explains the function of an extensive NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program codenamed NYMROD. The computer-based program is allegedly able to sift through millions of SIGINT reports and collate information on individual targets from the transcripts of intercepted telephone calls, faxes, as well as computer data. The list provided to Der Spiegel by Snowden contains 122 names of international political figures, said the newsmagazine, adding that all of them were “heads of foreign governments”. It includes the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Colombia’s former President, Alvaro Uribe, and Malaysia’s Prime Minster from 2003 to 2009, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, also figure on the list. Interestingly, the leaders of Malaysia, Somalia, the Palestinian Authority and Peru top the NSA’s list of high-value executive targets. Read more of this post

Snowden leaks reveal GCHQ’s reliance on NSA money, data

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Information provided by American defector and former intelligence insider Edward Snowden shows that Britain’s signals intelligence agency is very much the junior partner in an uneven relationship with its American counterpart. Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), has been given political asylum in Russia. In June, he revealed a number of enormous intelligence-collection programs, including PRISM and TEMPORA. The latter is administered by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence organization. The program enables the agency to access communications traffic carried through fiber optic cables worldwide. But GCHQ also receives data from PRISM, a massive electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA, which provides access to millions of email and online chat exchanges facilitated by some of the world’s foremost Internet service providers. Because of these arrangements, GCHQ’s access to electronic data increased by 7,000 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to an internal GCHQ document provided to The Guardian newspaper by Snowden. The agency’s immense access to information has propelled it to a leading role within Britain’s intelligence establishment. It currently receives over half of Britain’s £1.9 billion annual intelligence budget, while its employee size is more than twice that of Britain’s domestic (MI5) and external (MI6) intelligence agencies combined. Its headquarters, the so-called “doughnut building” in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was Europe’s largest single construction project when it was being built in the early 2000s.  But the documents provided by Snowden show that, despite its considerable wealth and access to resources, GCHQ’s intelligence planners are deeply concerned about “being left behind by technology” in the fiber optic age. One internal report highlights “the pressure on the agency to deliver” and warns that “the complexity of [GCHQ’s] mission has evolved to the point where existing mission management capability is no longer fit for purpose”. Read more of this post

Australia fears Asia backlash over PRISM surveillance revelations

David IrvineBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Australia is concerned that American whistleblower Edward Snowden may leak classified information that could damage Australia’s relations with its Asian neighbors, including China and Malaysia. Early this month, Snowden, a former technical assistant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine electronic surveillance program operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Information provided by Snowden to British newspaper The Guardian suggests that Washington routinely shares PRISM intelligence with Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia. These four countries, along with the United States, are signatories to the so-called UKUSA agreement, a multilateral accord for cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection, which was established secretly in 1946. Australian media reported on Wednesday that the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security had been briefed by senior intelligence officials on Australia’s role in PRISM. The Sydney Morning Herald said that David Irvine, Director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and Ian McKenzie, who heads Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate, were among those who briefed the parliamentary Committee. Its members were reportedly told that the disclosures about PRISM were likely to damage Canberra’s relations with several Asian countries, in ways that are difficult to predict. One unidentified Australian intelligence official told The Herald that Snowden had “very wide access” to classified information held by the NSA, and that some of it probably includes “much detail of communications intelligence cooperation between the US and Australia”. One source went as far as to say that Snowden’s disclosures have already “damaged […] Australia’s intelligence capabilities”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #802 (Jeffrey Paul Delisle edition)

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New information released on Canadian spy case. Newly released information from Canadian naval officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle‘s bail hearing in January reveals that, facing chronic financial difficulties, Delisle began a four-year espionage career by walking into the Russian Embassy in Ottawa in 2007. Wearing civilian clothes, Delisle displayed his Canadian military identification badge and asked to meet someone from GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. Canadian prosecutors said Delisle regularly downloaded a ”vast amount” of classified information to share with his Russian handlers.
►►Canada spy had escape plan. Canadian naval officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle told a Canadian court that he had an escape plan in place —one he never got a chance to use. If he needed to seek refuge or re-establish contact with the Russians, for whom he spied for over four years, he was told he could walk into a Russian embassy —preferably not the one in Ottawa— and inform them he was “Alex Campbell”. The Russians would then ask him “did I meet you at a junk show in Austria?”, and he was supposed to reply “no, it was in Ottawa”.
►►Canada spy accessed Australia intelligence. This is not exactly news for intelNews readers, since we have covered it before, but it appears that Jeffrey Paul Delisle has openly admitted selling highly classified intelligence gathered by the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to Russian agents. He said he had access to signals intelligence produced by the US National Security Agency, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, Australia’s Defence Signals and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau.

Canadian spy compromised Australian, British intelligence

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Most regular readers of this blog are undoubtedly familiar with the case of Jeffrey Paul Delisle, a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy, who until recently was employed at Canada’s ultra-secure TRINITY communications center in Halifax. Delisle was arrested in January on suspicion of passing information gathered from radio and radar signal interceptions to a foreign power, most likely Russia. Back in May, when it was disclosed that the United States helped Canadian counterintelligence investigators build their case against Delisle, we warned that “a far more important subject concerns the degree in which [Delisle’s] penetration has affected Canada’s intelligence-sharing relationship with its […] partners”. Now a new report in The Sydney Morning Herald reveals that Delisle’s espionage activities compromised Australian secrets that had been shared with Canada under longstanding intelligence cooperation arrangements. Citing “Australian security sources”, the paper said that the Delisle case “has sent shock waves through Western security agencies” due to the volume of compromised information. The Herald claims that the stolen intelligence is “on a scale comparable to the alleged handover to WikiLeaks of US military and diplomatic reports by US Army private Bradley Manning”. An unnamed “Australian security source” told the paper that Delisle’s access to classified information was “apparently very wide” and that Australian intercepts were “inevitably compromised”. Read more of this post

Location of massive Israeli eavesdropping site uncovered

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An author and investigative journalist from New Zealand has uncovered one of the world’s biggest government-sponsored eavesdropping sites in a desert in Israel. Writing in French monthly review Le Monde Diplomatique, Nicky Hager reveals that the site acts as a base for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, also known as Unit 8200, which is responsible for collecting and decrypting signals intelligence. In his article, written in French, Hager describes the base as one of the world’s largest, and says it is located near the Urim kibbutz, about 30 kilometers west of Beersheba, in Israel’s Negev desert region. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #388

  • Political policing rising in US, ACLU report warns. A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union chronicles government spying and what it describes as the detention of groups and individuals “for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights”.
  • Mistrust still marks ISI-CIA ties, say US officials. John Tierney, chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee, told a Pakistani delegation that there is mistrust between the CIA and ISI, according to a report by the Pakistan Senate’s Standing Committee on Defence. Regular intelNews readers should not be surprised.
  • Britain releases secret document at heart of UKUSA agreement. Authorities in the UK have released a six-page document dating from 1946, which describes the “British-US Communication Intelligence Agreement”, known as BRUSA, later UKUSA. The deal has tied the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand into a worldwide network of electronic listening posts.

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Clinton’s mysterious comment raises eyebrows in New Zealand

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A comment by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton following a meeting with a senior New Zealand government official has raised questions by intelligence observers in the pacific nation. Speaking last Friday after an official meeting in Washington with her New Zealand counterpart, minister of foreign affairs Murray McCully, Clinton said the US “very much” values its diplomatic partnership with New Zealand. She then proceeded to say “[w]e are resuming our intelligence-sharing cooperation, which we think is very significant”. This latter comment struck many intelligence observers in Wellington as odd, and for a good reason: nobody was under the impression that the US-NZ intelligence cooperation had been disrupted. The mystery deepened when New Zealand prime minister John Key refused to explain Hillary Clinton’s remark when asked, saying simply “I just don’t comment on issues of national security”. Read more of this post

Lost notebook reveals plans for New Zealand spy agency reshuffle

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Plans for a possible radical reshuffling of New Zealand’s intelligence infrastructure were revealed yesterday, with the discovery of a notebook belonging to a government official. The notebook was dropped on a busy Wellington street by an employee of New Zealand’s Treasury Department, who was returning from a classified presentation on the future of the country’s intelligence agencies. It was recovered by Julian Robins, a political correspondent for Radio New Zealand, who proceeded to reveal the notebook’s contents. According to Robins, the government appears to be seriously considering merging the three separate intelligence agencies, which currently operate on different missions, in order to improve synergy and save money. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0025

  • BREAKING NEWS: Several news outlets are reporting this morning that it was former US vice-President Dick Cheney who ordered the CIA to conceal from Congress key information about a covert action intelligence program of an undisclosed nature. See here for more.
  • New book claims Ernest Hemingway was KGB agent. The new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press), co-written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, alleges that the Nobel prize-winning novelist was on the KGB’s list of agents in America from 1941, when he was given the codename “Argo” by the Soviets.
  • Thousands of former Stasi spies still working in German civil service. A report in the German edition of The Financial Times claims that over 17,000 former members of East Germany’s Stasi remain employed as civil servants in reunified Germany. Stasi is the name commonly used for the Ministry for State Security, communist East Germany’s secret police.
  • NSA director’s secret visit to New Zealand revealed. A reporter accidentally spotted Lieutenant-General Keith Alexander, director of the US National Security Agency, entering a Wellington building accompanied by security personnel. The revelation prompted a spokesperson at the US embassy in Wellington to admit that Alexander was indeed in New Zealand “for consultations with government officials”. The close signals intelligence relationship between the US and New Zealand have been known since 1996.
  • Chinese national caught trying to purchase crypto hardware. Chi Tong Kuok was arrested by the FBI at the Atlanta International Airport en route from Paris to Panama, where he allegedly planned to purchase US military radios. The US government claims Kuok has admitted he was “acting at the direction of officials for the People’s Republic of China”.
  • Taliban say cell phone SIM cards guide US drone strikes. A Taliban circular says SIM cards planted by informants in cell phones used by militants are used to signal American drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As IntelNews recently explained, there are suspicions that this and similar discoveries are gradually prompting the Taliban and al-Qaeda to stop using cell phones altogether.

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