Syrian spy chief placed under house arrest by Assad, say sources

Bashar al-Assad (center) and Ali Mamlouk to his leftBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Citing sources inside Syria’s presidential palace, a leading British newspaper has alleged that the director of Syria’s national intelligence agency has fallen out with the regime and is now under house arrest. Lieutenant General Ali Mamlouk, who heads Syria’s National Security Bureau, is known as a hardline supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He personally leads every major domestic-security operation in the country and is believed to be among the Syrian president’s most trusted advisers. In recent weeks, however, Mamlouk, who is one of the regime’s most publicity-prone figures, has not surfaced in the news or in any public venues. His absence has prompted intense speculation that he might be sick, under arrest, or even dead. Several news outlets in the Middle East hypothesized that the general, who is 69, is undergoing chemotherapy to combat a rapidly progressing cancer. Then, amidst growing rumors about Mamlouk’s health, the general was shown on state television (see photo) sitting by Assad’s side during a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation. But the footage only served to inflame speculation that the Syrian official was actually under house arrest, and that he was only brought out of his detention for the meeting with the Iranians, so as to help quieten rumors about an alleged growing rift within the regime’s inner circle.

On Monday, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph cited “sources inside the presidential palace” in Damascus, in claiming that Mamlouk was removed from his post in the National Security Bureau and is currently under house arrest in the Syrian capital. The paper said that the General had fallen out with the country’s president and had been organizing a military coup against him, prompted by his fierce opposition to Iran’s growing influence in Damascus. It is widely believed that Tehran’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War on the side of Assad is largely responsible for the regime’s military and economic survival. According to The Telegraph, most of the president’s economic and military advisers at the presidential palace are now Iranian.

But Syria’s alignment with Iran is creating a backlash among Assad’s inner circle, which consists of secular nationalists, liberal Alawites or Christians. As a result, says the paper, Assad is “struggling to keep together [his] inner circle”, as senior administration officials are “increasingly turning on each other”. Mamlouk was one such insider, who was disturbed by Iran’s rising influence in Syria. Prior to his arrest, says The Telegraph, the general was secretly communicating with Turkish intelligence through an intermediary.

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”.

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

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.

Senior army defector says Syrian military near collapse

Mustafa al-SheikhBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The most senior defector from the ranks of the Syrian military has said in his first full-length media interview that the Syrian armed forces are too weak and demoralized to continue fighting after the end of this month. General Mustafa al-Sheikh served in the Syrian military for 37 years, before he made the decision last November to join several other senior Syrian defectors, who have crossed into Turkey, where they have been given refuge. General al-Sheikh told British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph that, if not handled properly, the imminent collapse of the regime of Bashar al-Assad will “explode across the whole region, like a nuclear reaction”. Commenting on the current condition of the Syrian military, he said that today it relies on only about 40 percent of its hardware and 32 percent of its human personnel. The remaining two thirds of its troops consist of mostly Sunni officers, who have either been arrested, have defected to the so-called Free Syrian Army, or not permitted to participate in combat, due to mistrust by the government. This situation has forced the Assad regime to rely primarily on members of its own Alawite minority for its military operations. Because of their small numbers and untrained members, the Alawites tend to operate more as a militia than an army, according General al-Sheikh. The dramatic reduction in the size of the Syrian army is preventing the Syrian government from asserting control over several towns in the country, and there are allegedly even suburbs of Damascus now being effectively controlled by anti-government forces. The Telegraph correctly notes, however, that, his detailed knowledge of the Syrian military aside, General al-Sheikh is far from a neutral observer. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #674

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA officers blast Kiriakou. Two former CIA intelligence officials, who spoke to The Washington Times, have rejected the image of John Kiriakou as a high-minded whistleblower who sought to expose official wrongdoing or a botched intelligence operation. Bruce Klingner, who worked as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, called Mr. Kiriakou’s alleged actions “a betrayal of the trust the US government placed in him”. Bart Bechtel, a former CIA clandestine officer, said he considered Kiriakou’s actions “egregious”.
►►US air strikes in Yemen go largely unreported. Last Tuesday’s attacks in southern Yemen were among the biggest carried out by the United States in Yemen since airstrikes began there in November 2002. These strikes underline how the Americans are escalating covert operations against two Islamist groups in the region –al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
►►West explores prospects for Assad’s exile. The United States, European governments and Arab states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Bashar al-Assad despite skepticism the defiant Syrian president is ready to consider such an offer, Western officials said on Wednesday. While talks have not progressed far and there is no real sense that Assad’s fall is imminent, one official said as many as three countries were willing to take him as a way to bring an end to Syria’s bloody 10-month-old crisis.

Western companies provide Syrian regime with monitoring systems

Syria

Syria

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Italian communications company is working with the Syrian government to provide it with a sophisticated email surveillance system, using equipment created by American, French and German firms. The Syrian regime has come under sustained pressure by Western governments in recent months. The latter urge Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, to stop using lethal violence against protesters, citing independent reports that over 3,000 civilians have been killed by government forces since March. But Bloomberg News Agency cites an unnamed insider who claims Area SpA, a telecommunications surveillance company based in Milan, Italy, has technicians in several Syrian cities working feverishly to provide the  Syrian authorities with a state-of-the-art email surveillance system. According to the unnamed source, when completed, the surveillance system will be able to “intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country”. The project, which has been codenamed ASFADOR, is directed by senior Syrial intelligence officials, who are supervising the work of several Italian technicians working in Damascus and elsewhere. Bloomberg reports that numerous Area SpA technicians have been traveling to Syria “in shifts”, as the company is anxiously trying to accommodate pressures by Syrian officials, who say “they urgently need to track people”. The Italian company, known for providing Italian law enforcement with telephone surveillance hardware and software, is apparently using equipment by European and American firms, including France’s Qosmos SA, Germany’s Ultimaco Safeware AG, and America’s NetApp Inc. Bloomberg, which claims it has seen blueprints of the surveillance system, contacted Area SpA’s chief executive officer, Andrea Formenti, who refused to comment on the case, except to say that his company “follows all laws and export regulations”. Wondering where you’ve heard all this before? Read more of this post

News you may have missed #461

  • London expels Russian diplomat for spying. Britain’s troubled relations with Moscow suffered another blow on Tuesday, when London announced the expulsion of an unnamed Russian diplomat in London following “clear evidence” of spying. The request was communicated to the Kremlin on December 10, and was reportedly countered by Russia with a tit-for-tat expulsion of a British diplomat from the country.
  • Syria saw Israel behind aide’s assassination, leaked cables show. Syria suspected Israel of carrying out the murder of Brigadier General Mohammed Sleiman, a top security aide of President Bashar al-Assad, who was assassinated by a sniper in August of 2008, according to US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks. The killing empowered hardliners in Syria and put an end to moves by President al-Assad for rapprochement between Damascus and Tel Aviv, according to the cables.
  • Israel to publicly press for release of spy held in US. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to officially and publicly appeal to US President Barack Obama in the coming days for the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American serving a life term in a US jail for spying on the US for Israel.

News you may have missed #389

  • Secrecy over attack on Syrian nuclear plant unjustified, says ex-CIA chief. The secrecy surrounding the Israeli attack on the nuclear plant in eastern Syria in September 2007 was justified only for the period immediately after the operation, according to the CIA head at the time, Gen. Michael Hayden. That secrecy had been meant to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from embarrassment that could have provoked him to retaliate, argues Hayden in an authorized scholarly journal article.
  • No proof yet of Colombian spying, says Ecuador. Ecuadorean Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said Thursday that allegations that Colombian security agency DAS spied on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and other officials is “so far just a newspaper story”. Late last month, the Ecuadorean government threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Colombia over the media revelations.
  • GCHQ releases Stalin-era Soviet intercepts. A series of newly released telegrams and telephone conversations, intercepted by the UK’s General Communications Headquarters, paint a picture of Joseph Stalin’s regime in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

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Analysis: The limits of Israeli espionage

Ronen Bergman

Ronen Bergman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman (The Secret War with Iran) has written an editorial in Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he argues that Israel’s espionage successes in recent years have failed to bring about significant changes on the strategic level. Bergman briefly recounts the significant post-9/11 reforms in Israeli intelligence, most notably the appointment of Meir Dagan as the director of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. Dagan has “created a new Mossad”, argues Bergman, one that is more narrowly focused in its operations, and more collaborative with foreign intelligence agencies –notably American, Jordanian, Turkish and Indian. This shift in focus and tactics has undeniably helped Israel score some significant espionage victories, including the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah in Beirut, Lebanon; the seizure of several ships carrying Iranian and Syrian weapons to Hezbollah; as well as the more recent assassination of Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0132

  • Emirates to deport Syrian ex-spy and witness in Hariri assassination probe. A Syrian former spy was on Monday sentenced to six months in jail and deportation for entering the United Arab Emirates on a forged Czech passport. Interestingly, Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, was a prosecution witness in the inquiry into the assassination of Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. In 2005, Siddiq claimed that Lebanon’s former pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, gave the order to kill anti-Syrian Hariri. It is not clear to which country Siddiq will be deported.
  • US national security advisor insists Iran cannot currently build the bomb. US National Security Advisor General James Jones has rejected claims by The New York Times that Iraq has enough information to design and build a functional nuclear bomb. Jones also stood by the conclusions of the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate, which said Iran’s nuclear arms program is inactive.
  • Book claims CIA-linked network killed anti-drugs campaigner. A new book by Australian researcher John Jiggens claims that a CIA-linked drug smuggling network was responsible for the 1977 murder of Australian anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay.

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