Analysis: FBI monitors foreign diplomats far more than NSA

Over the past several months, the Edward Snowden affair has turned the typically reclusive National Security Agency into a news media sensation. The signals intelligence agency, which is tasked by the United States government with communications interception, is said to have spied on a host of foreign government officials and diplomats. But in an article published this week in Foreign Policy, the American military historian and author Matthew Aid reminds us that American intelligence operations against foreign diplomats do not usually involve the NSA. They are typically carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been in the business of monitoring the activities of foreign diplomats on US soil long before the NSA even existed. The author of Intel Wars and The Secret Sentry states in his article that the FBI’s cryptologic operations targeting foreign envoys are today far more sensitive and the NSA’s. The vast majority of these operations take place on US soil. There are currently over 600 foreign embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions in the US, maintained by 176 countries. They include over 200 consulates located in cities ranging from Miami to Los Angeles and from San Francisco to Boston. New York alone hosts over 100 permanent diplomatic missions at the United Nations headquarters. Aid points out that “every one of these embassies and consulates is watched by the FBI’s legion of counterintelligence officers” in varying degrees. Additionally, the Bureau relies on the close cooperation of large American telecommunications providers in its effort to intercept the landline and cellular communications “of virtually every embassy and consulate in the United States”. FBI communications technicians also intercept the personal telephone calls and emails of foreign diplomats on a regular basis, adds Aid. Sometimes the Bureau employs specially trained teams of agents who physically break into embassies and consulates, in what is known in intelligence lingo as ‘black bag jobs’. Read more of this post

Magazine publishes CIA-trained burglar’s fascinating story

A captivating article about a break-in specialist for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who turned against the Agency in the 1990s, appears in the October issue of The Smithsonian magazine. Written by David Wise (The Invisible Government, The Spy Who Got Away), the article contains some new information about “The Shop”, a secretive unit under the CIA’s Special Operations Division, which conducts what the agency describes as “surreptitious entries”. Based on “more than 80 interviews with 25 people”, including over a dozen former CIA officers, Wise says the unit features highly specialized teams of lock pickers, safecrackers, photographers, experts in disabling alarm systems, and others. Their mission, he says, is to break into foreign embassies around the world in order to steal classified documents and —most of all— codebooks used by foreign diplomats to communicate securely with their colleagues back home. Unlike most CIA personnel stationed abroad, the Agency’s non-destructive entry specialists do not enjoy the protection of diplomatic cover, says Wise, which means they cannot claim diplomatic immunity if caught red-handed. The author’s main source for the article appears to be Douglas Groat, a former US Special Forces captain, underwater explosives expert and Mandarin-Chinese speaker, who joined the CIA in 1980. Wise claims that Groat, who started working for The Shop in 1982, eventually became the Agency’s “top burglar and premier lock picker”. He designed or participated in approximately 60 different CIA- or National Security Agency-sponsored operations in dozens of countries in the Middle East, Africa, South America and Europe, which earned him several commendations, medals and awards from the NSA and the CIA. The article describes one joint CIA/NSA operation that took place in 1989 at the embassy of the German Democratic Republic in Katmandu, Nepal, which Groat’s team burgled in order to steal a code machine. The operation failed, as did another a few years later in “a Middle Eastern capital”, due to sloppy preparation on behalf of the CIA, says Groat. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0095

  • New revelations about Bulgarian domestic spying case. It appears that Operation GALLERY (a.k.a. Operation GALERIA), by the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security (DANS), was primarily aimed at the Bulgarian tabloid newspaper Weekend and journalist Dimitar Zlatkov. Journalist Ognyan Stefanov, who was nearly beaten to death after authoring an article implicating DANS officials in illicit trafficking activities (see previous intelNews coverage), appears to have been simply collateral damage.
  • Taliban use CIA-supplied mines against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Evidence from the US Defense Department, Canadian forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban itself suggest that the increased damage to NATO tanks by Taliban forces has come from anti-tank mines provided by the US to the jihadi movement in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
  • Massive domestic spying revealed in Russia. From January to June this year, Russian intelligence agents surreptitiously opened 115,000 letters, listened in on 64,000 personal phone conversations, and broke into 11,000 private homes according to information from Russia’s Supreme Court.

Bookmark and Share

US State Department accused on spying on interfaith group

The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) is a faith-based organization, established in 1919, with offices in over 50 countries. Current or past members of IFOR include several Nobel Laureates, among them Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. In a statement released on December 17, IFOR has accused the US State Department of routinely intercepting “for two full years” the electronic communications of the organization’s US branch. Specifically targeted were communications concerning FOR’s Latin America program, generated both in the US and Colombia, the statement said. It also alleged that the spying on FOR appears to be part of a wider operation targeting “more than 150 e-mail accounts of human rights organizations, journalists, academics, and labor organizations”. Read more of this post

Analysis: Editor cautions against lionizing Deep Throat

Greg Mitchell, the author and editor of Editor & Publisher, has authored a column cautioning against the uncritical lionization of former FBI official W. Mark Felt, who died yesterday at the age of 95. In 2005, Felt voluntarily revealed he was the mysterious whistleblower nicknamed Deep Throat, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal, which lead to the eventual resignation of US President Richard Nixon. Mitchell urges “[j]ournalists and many others lionizing the former FBI official [to] not overlook the fact that Felt was one of the architects of the bureau’s notorious COINTELPRO domestic spying-and-burglary campaign”. Felt was in fact found guilty of authorizing several illegal black bag operations in the state of New Jersey under COINTELPRO, an illegal domestic surveillance and sabotage project directed by the FBI with the participation of the CIA and NSA. Black bag operations refer to covert, surreptitious entries into structures in the course of human intelligence missions. Mitchell correctly points out that “[o]nly a pardon, courtesy of Ronald Reagan, kept him out of jail for a long term”. [JF]

Tallinn government surveillance cameras reveal black bag operation

A surveillance camera monitoring the City Government building in Estonian capital Tallinn has recorded nighttime images of what appears to be a black bag operation by either Kaitsepolitseiamet (KPol), the country’s  Security Police, or by Russian intelligence. Black bag operations refer to covert, surreptitious entries into structures in the course of human intelligence missions. Responding to allegations by Tallinn mayor, Edgar Savisaar, the country’s public prosecutor disclosed that KPol officers had surreptitiously entered the building to “remove secret microphones” from the office of Ivo Parbus, an adviser to the city’s deputy mayor, who has been arrested in connection with a bribing scandal. However, Tallinn’s mayor says that he does not believe the break-in to have been authorized by KPol, and that “he has information that one [of the] person[s seen] entering the building is a former spy of the Russian army”. Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: