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”.

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Did US agencies fail to heed warnings of 2008 Mumbai attacks?

David Coleman Headley

David Headley

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
We have written before that the CIA alerted Indian authorities prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including six American citizens. The incident, which was perpetrated by Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, is routinely described as the most sophisticated and spectacular terrorist strike since 9/11.  But there are numerous questions about the complex relationship between the United States, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, which is widely believed to be protecting the terrorist group. Many of these questions center on David Coleman Headley, an American citizen, born in Washington, DC, who is currently in US custody, having confessed to helping plan the Mumbai attacks. According to Headley’s own court testimony, he worked for the ISI; moreover, despite early denials, the US government eventually admitted that Headley was a paid informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration. There is, however, intense speculation in India and Pakistan that Headley, who is of Pakistani background, is in fact a CIA agent-gone-rogue, who used his CIA connections to pursue his militant plans undisturbed (something with the CIA flatly denies). Such rumors are reinforced by the US authorities’ puzzling refusal to allow Indian government investigators of the Mumbai attacks access to Headley. The curious relationship between US intelligence agencies and David Headley has been probed by several media outlets, including The New York Times, which in March of 2010 pointed out that Headley “moved effortlessly between the United States, Pakistan and India for nearly seven years, training at a militant camp in Pakistan on five occasions”. Now a new documentary by investigative group ProPublica, which aired on Tuesday as part of PBS’ Frontline television series, has unearthed new information that shows US government agencies failed to heed “repeated warnings over seven years”, which might have helped prevent the Mumbai attacks. Read more of this post

Ex-CIA officer points to al-Qaeda banners appearing in Libya

Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Amidst the excitement in the West over the toppling of the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, few have been paying attention at the frequent appearances of the al-Qaeda banner in locations around Libya. The characteristic black flag bears the Arabic inscription of the shahada, the Islamic creed, which states that “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger [prophet]”. Within hours following the official pronouncement of the lynching of Colonel Gaddafi, al-Qaeda banners were flying over the de facto headquarters of Libya’s US-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi, as well as in numerous other locations around the North African country. There have even been reports of threats leveled against reporters who were observed trying to photograph or film the unmistakable banners. Former CIA covert operations officer Charles Faddis, who spent several years working in the Middle East, has penned a new article urging Western policy makers to stop viewing the NTC as a force promoting some sort of Western-type democratic administration in Libya. Undoubtedly, he says, some NTC members do “wish for a Libya with a Western style democratic government”. But the NTC is an umbrella group bringing together “individuals from many walks of life in the opposition”, he says, including fighters motivated primarily by tribal and regional loyalties, as well as Islamist activists guided by distinctly conservative interpretations of the Qur’an. One such activist is Mustafa Abdul Jalil, leader of the NTC, who in his historic celebratory speech following the formal end of the civil war, told ecstatic supporters that, from now on, Libya would be “an Islamic state”, and that all legal provisions that conflicted with the Sharia —Qur’anic law— would be invalidated. Since that day, there have been reports of beauty salons closing and of women being forced to wear the hijab, says Faddis. Read more of this post

Analysis: Ex-CIA WMD director warns of ‘morphed’ Islamist groups

Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In recent months, the heads of the United States Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have opined that the United States may be close to “strategically defeating al-Qaeda”. These were the words used by former CIA Director and current Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta in July, to describe the current state of Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’. Shortly afterwards, General David Petraeus, who replaced Panetta at the helm of the CIA, echoed his predecessor, arguing that the situation following the death of Osama bin Laden “hold[s] the prospect of a strategic defeat […], a strategic dismantling, of al-Qaeda”. But do such optimistic projections correspond to reality on the ground? In a new column for Homeland Security Today, former CIA operations officer Charles S. Faddis, who retired from the Agency in 2008 as the chief of its weapons of mass destruction counterterrorism unit, agrees that al-Qaeda has been “severely battered” in the ten years since 9/11. But he warns that, while America insists of engaging in “large-scale conventional military operations” in Afghanistan, and essentially “a strategic bombing campaign” in Pakistan, a new generation of terrorist groups appears to have “shifted, morphed and evolved”. In light of this reality, the recent comments by Panetta and Petreaus may suggest “the possibility of a loss of focus” in American counterterrorist operations, says Faddis. The former CIA covert operations officer, who has written several books since his retirement, goes on to discuss the rapid rise of several ethnic or regional militant Islamist groups, including Nigeria’s Boko Haram. The organization made macabre headlines earlier this month, when it launched a massive suicide attack against a United Nations office complex in the Nigerian city of Abuja, killing and injuring over 100 people. He also mentions the Islamic State of Iraq, a notorious outfit whose most recent strikes display an operational sophistication that often surpasses that of Boko Haram’s. Read more of this post

Exclusive: Interview with ex-CIA officer Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Yesterday I reviewed Charles S. Faddis’ new book, Codename Aphrodite (Orion, 2011), a gripping novel about a former CIA case officer’s freelance operation in Athens, Greece, in pursuit of November 17, one of Europe’s most notorious urban guerrilla groups. Today intelNews hosts an exclusive interview with Faddis, a straight-talking ex-CIA clandestine operations officer, who admits that his novel “is based on some very personal experiences” and that many of the book’s characters “are drawn much more from memory than they are from imagination”. Most regular readers of this blog probably know Charles “Sam” Faddis as the former head of the US National Terrorism Center‘s WMD Unit. His 20-year career as a CIA operations officer, with posts in South Asia, Near East and Europe, arguably culminated in 2002, when he led a CIA team into Iraq to help prepare the ground for the US invasion. He documented this in his 2010 book (co-authored with Mike Tucker) Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq. Following his 2008 retirement, Faddis, who was CIA Chief of Station in his last overseas tour, frequently comments on intelligence matters, most notably in his 2009 exposé Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. Faddis’ answers to intelNews‘ questions are below. Read more of this post

IntelNews book review: Codename Aphrodite, by Charles S. Faddis

Codename Aphrodite

Codename Aphrodite

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Most intelNews regulars know Charles S. Faddis as the former head of the US National Terrorism Center‘s WMD Unit. His 20-year career as a CIA operations officer, with posts in South Asia, Near East and Europe, arguably culminated in 2002, when he led a CIA team into Iraq to help prepare the ground for the US invasion. He documented this in his 2010 book (co-authored with Mike Tucker) Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq. Following his 2008 retirement, Faddis, who was CIA Chief of Station in his last overseas tour, frequently comments on intelligence matters. He took a stance against the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program (but objected to a government investigation), and has penned hard-hitting critiques of American intelligence culture and practices, most notably in his 2009 exposé Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. His latest creation, Codename Aphrodite (Orion, 2011), is a gritty novel set in the backstreets of Athens, Greece, where a former CIA clandestine operations officer goes after November 17, one of the world’s most active Marxist terrorist groups. Bill Boyle and his wife, Sarah, are both clandestine officers in the CIA’s European Division. Sarah, who is pregnant with their child, is brutally killed by November 17, after a CIA operation in pursuit of the group goes horribly wrong. Haunted by his wife’s murder, which he witnessed, Boyle quits the Agency and soon ends up as a permanent fixture in a depressing Mexican beach bar. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when political winds change in Greece. Petros Salamis, an ascending Athenian politician and aspiring Prime Minister, contacts Boyle with an irresistible offer: a hefty monetary reward and the satisfaction of revenge for his wife’s death in exchange for returning to Greece and eradicating November 17. Read more of this book review