Obama authorizes Special Forces, CIA, to conduct assassinations in Syria

Islamic State convoy in SyriaThe United States Central Intelligence Agency is collaborating with the country’s Special Forces in a targeted killing program aimed against senior members of the Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria. The program, which has been directly authorized by US President Barack Obama, is limited in scope and has so far involved fewer than a dozen strikes against suspected militants. But it is believed to reflect increasing frustration in Washington about the lack of progress shown by the military campaign against the Islamic State. Recent reports by American intelligence agencies confirm that the militant group is “fundamentally no weaker” today than it was a year ago, despite an intense US-led bombing campaign involving thousands of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

The Washington Post, which revealed the existence of the program on Tuesday, said it brought together the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CTC is believed to be primarily responsible for identifying and locating senior Islamic State figures in Syria, while the JSOC is in charge of killing them, mostly through the use of unmanned drones, according the paper. The two agencies continue to operate separate drone centers, said The Post, in Virginia and North Carolina respectively; but they have exchanged several of advisors who have constant access to each other’s drone video feeds.

The goal of the targeted killing program is to assassinate what the CIA refers to as “high-value targets”, which includes Islamic State leaders and those members of the organization whose job is to build a membership base outside the territorial boundaries or the Islamic State’s self-described caliphate. The Post said that the list of Islamic State members killed by the CIA-JSOC program includes Junaid Hussain, a British citizen who was instrumental in building and maintaining the Islamic State’s outreach campaign on social media. The paper noted that the CIA-JSOC targeted killing campaign is not part of the wider American military offensive against the Islamic State.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 01 September 2015 | Permalink

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News you may have missed #731 (Henry Crumpton edition)

Henry 'Hank' CrumptonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA officer says more spies in US than ever before. Henry “Hank” Crumpton, who served as Deputy Director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center, and led the US intelligence response to 9/11, spoke to CBS’ 60 Minutes about his life as a spy. He told the program that “I would hazard to guess there are more foreign intelligence officers inside the US working against US interests now than even at the height of the Cold War”. IntelNews regulars may recall the last time Crumpton spoke on 60 Minutes.
►►Introduction to Crumpton’s The Art of Intelligence. The introduction to Hank Crumpton’s The Art of Intelligence, which came out earlier this week, has been republished by MSNBC, by arrangement with the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group. There are at least 20 pages of the book available on the MSNBC website.
►►Can the FBI understand intelligence? Editorial by Hank Crumpton for Politico, in which he says that “the FBI is still measuring success based on arrests and criminal convictions –not on the value of intelligence collected and disseminated to its customers”. He makes a ten-point argument to claim that the FBI, unlike the CIA, does “not understand intelligence”.

News you may have missed #703: US edition

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA pressed to reveal details on Google deal. The Electronic Privacy Information Center is locking horns with the National Security Agency over a secret deal the agency cut with Google following an attack on Gmail by Chinese hackers in 2010. The information center has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA to obtain information about the deal. That request was rejected by a federal court and an appeal process continues.
►►US spy agencies can keep data on Americans longer. Until now, the US National Counterterrorism Center had to immediately destroy information about Americans that was already stored in other government databases when there were no clear ties to terrorism. But it will now be able to store information about Americans with no ties to terrorism for up to five years under new Obama administration guidelines. The new rules replace guidelines issued in 2008 and have privacy advocates concerned about the potential for data-mining information on innocent Americans.
►►Islam convert leads CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, has been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center for the past six years. Colleagues describe Roger as a collection of contradictions. A chain-smoker who spends countless hours on a treadmill. Notoriously surly yet able to win over enough support from subordinates and bosses to hold on to his job. He presides over a campaign that has killed thousands of Islamist militants and angered millions of Muslims, but he is himself a convert to Islam. His defenders don’t even try to make him sound likable. Instead, they emphasize his operational talents, encyclopedic understanding of the enemy and tireless work ethic.

Ex-CIA counterterrorist chief says al-Qaeda to turn to computer hacking

Cofer Black

Cofer Black

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The strategic retreat currently being experienced by al-Qaeda will force the group to concentrate on inflicting damage on its enemies through the Internet. This is the opinion of Cofer Black, the straight-talking CIA veteran who retired in 2002 as Director of the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center. Black, who is known for his hawkish views on Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’, gave the keynote speech on Wednesday at the Black Hat Technical Security Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. He told an audience of nearly 7,000 conference participants that “the natural thing” would be for al-Qaeda in the post-bin-Laden age to continue to engage in terrorism by “fall[ing] back to things that are small and agile”, with computer hacking being an ideal candidate. Black, who since 2002 has worked for private contractors, including Blackwater/Xe, illustrated his point by referring to Stuxnet, the elaborately programmed computer virus that targeted electronic hardware in Iran’s nuclear energy program in July of 2010. “The Stuxnet attack is the Rubicon of our future”, said the former CIA official, adding that it was the computer virus designed to cause “physical destruction of a national resource”. Black is rightly revered by intelligence observers for having warned US government officials of a large-scale terrorist attack in August of 2001, one month prior to the September 11 hijackings. Having said this, it is not exactly prophetic to state, as he did, that “cyber will be a key component of any future conflict”. Read more of this post

Analysis: Is Afghanistan really important in the “war on terrorism”?

Paul P. Pillar

Paul P. Pillar

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 1997 to 1999, Paul Pillar, has authored an interesting editorial in which he asks “how important are physical havens to terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda?”. The answer: not very. Writing in The Washington Post, Pillar points out that the main unstated assumption behind the US invasion of Afghanistan, namely that the country must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, is incompatible with what we know about how such groups organize. If they are offered a haven, groups such as al-Qaeda will use it for basic training of recruits, says Pillar. But operations planning and training does not require such a base, nor is such a center crucial for successful execution of operations. Read more of this post

Coalition requests disbarment of government lawyers behind CIA torture

John Rizzo

John Rizzo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Yesterday I wrote about John A. Rizzo, the CIA Acting General Counsel who is preparing to step down from his post despite being termed “the most influential career lawyer in CIA history”, according to The Los Angeles Times. The reason behind his sudden early retirement is the discovery earlier this month by several anti-torture critics in Congress that he gave the CIA legal advice in support of the Agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program. But the controversy over Rizzo’s role in the torture scheme is likely to stay with him even after he leaves Langley. Yesterday, the Velvet Revolution, an activist network of over 120 groups, issued formal requests with the New York and DC bar associations to disbar Rizzo and two other government lawyers behind the CIA torture program. Read more of this post

Analysis: Rare film on National Security Agency aired

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Nova documentary series on PBS has aired a rare look at the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s signals intelligence and cryptological organization that rarely releases information to outsiders. The ultra-secret Agency is said to be the world’s largest intelligence institution, employing tens of thousands of technicians, analysts and mathematicians. The PBS film, titled The Spy Factory, features veteran author James Bamford, who has authored books on NSA for nearly 30 years. The primary focus of the documentary is on NSA’s share of the intelligence failure in detecting and preventing the 9/11 attacks. The film also examines NSA’s STELLAR WIND program, a warrantless eavesdropping scheme targeting communications of American citizens, which the Bush Administration authorized shortly after 9/11. Read more of this post