Top Syrian chemical weapons scientist spied for CIA for 14 years, new book claims

Syrian Scientific Studies and Research CenterTHE TOP SCIENTIST IN Syria’s chemical weapons program, reputed to be among the world’s deadliest, spied for the United States Central Intelligence Agency for 14 years, according to a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Toby Warrick. The claim is included in Warrick’s latest book, Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America’s Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World, which has been published this week by Doubleday.

The scientist, whose name Warrick is withholding from publication, was partly educated in the United States in the 1980s, after receiving an academic scholarship. Upon returning to Syria, he became a senior researcher in Institute 3000, a secret chemical weapons program that was hidden within the Damascus-based Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC). Known mostly by its French name, Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS), the center coordinated scientific research throughout the country. Camouflaged as a CERS engineering outfit, Institute 3000 maintained over 40 research and storage facilities that manufactured and housed Damascus’ stockpiles of military grade sarin, mustard gas, VX, and other nerve agents.

Citing interviews with “three former US intelligence officials familiar with the case”, and with a Syrian defector who knew the scientist, Warrick claims that the scientist was in his 30s when he reached out to the CIA. It allegedly happened in the mid-1990s, when the scientist was attending a conference in Europe. A number of months later, the scientist, who is simply referred to as “Ayman” in Warrick’s book, was approached in Damascus by a CIA case officer. He soon began sharing classified information with the CIA, which included samples of nerve agents that the Syrians were working on. In return he received regular payments from the US spy agency “in the form of cash transfers to a foreign bank account”, according to Warrick.

But the scientist’s service to the CIA ended abruptly in late 2001, says Warrick, when officers from Syria’s Mukhabarat intelligence agency appeared at his Damascus office and took him away for questioning. It turns out they were there to investigate reports that he had been asking foreign suppliers to CERS for payoffs, in return for recommending them for contracts with the research agency. But the scientist thought his work for the CIA had been betrayed, so he confessed to everything, without realizing that the Mukhabarat had no idea about his espionage. He was executed by firing squad on April 7, 2002 in the Adra Prison, on the northeast outskirts of Damascus, says Warrick.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 February 2021 | Permalink

CIA tells retired personnel to refrain from working for foreign governments

CIATHE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY has told its retired personnel to refrain from working for foreign governments, “either directly or indirectly”. This was communicated in a note that, according to The New York Times, was drafted several months ago, but was sent out this week by Sheetal Patel, who serves as assistant director for counterintelligence at the CIA.

In the note, Patel reportedly writes that the agency has been noticing a “detrimental trend” of former CIA employees being hired by “foreign governments”, whose goal is to “build up their spying capabilities”. She adds that former CIA personnel who are employed by foreign governments “either directly or indirectly” may effectively undermine the mission of the CIA and “benefit […] foreign adversaries”.

In her note, Patel also urges retired CIA personnel to limit their participation in the media, including television broadcasts, conference panels, podcasts and activity on social media platforms. Media activity by former CIA personnel embodies “[t]he risk of unintended disclosure of classified information or confirmation of classified information by our adversaries”, writes Patel. This risk “increases with each exposure outside of established US government channels”, she concludes.

The paper said it contacted CIA spokeswoman Nicole de Haay, who rejected the claim that Patel’s note was unusual in any way. The CIA “routinely reiterate[s] counterintelligence guidance to current and former CIA officers alike”, said de Haay, adding that “reading more into [Patel’s note] than that is a mistake”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 January 2021 | Permalink

CIA chief ‘threatened to resign’ to prevent her replacement by Trump loyalist

Gina HaspelTHE DIRECTOR OF THE United States Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, reportedly threatened to resign on the spot in order to prevent a plan by the White House to replace her with a loyal ally of President Donald Trump. This was reported on Saturday by the American news website Axios, which cited three anonymous “senior administration officials” with direct knowledge of the matter.

President Trump reportedly planned to fire the heads of several federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including CIA, if he was re-elected in November. Following his electoral defeat, he discussed with his closest aides the possibility of proceeding with his plan to fire senior security and intelligence officials, as a form of retaliation against a part of the federal government that he views as disloyal to him. In particular, the president appears to believe that the CIA is in possession of secret documents that, if declassified, would harm the reputation of his domestic political enemies.

On November 9, the president summarily fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Chris Miller, who until then was serving as director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He also installed Kash Patel as Miller’s chief of staff. Patel is an attorney whose rise within the ranks of the Trump administration has been nothing short of meteoric. In 2019, after serving as Principal Deputy to the Director of National Intelligence for a number of months, Patel became senior director of the Counterterrorism Directorate at the National Security Council. He was also a former aide to Representative Devin Nunes (R-Ca), and is believed to have been the main author of a memorandum issues by Nunes, which accuses the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of participating in a conspiracy to destroy Trump.

This memorandum, claims Axios, convinced Trump that Patel would make a good acting CIA director. He therefore planned to replace the CIA’s current deputy director, Vaughn Bishop, with Patel. He then planned to fire Haspel, which would elevate Patel to acting CIA director, according to Axios. The website claims that the president instructed the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to begin the process of replacing Bishop with Patel in early December. However, once Haspel was notified of the plan, she threatened to resign before Patel was installed at the CIA. Her resignation would mean that Trump would have to also fire Haspel’s replacement, Bishop, in order to place Patel at the helm of the agency.

By December 11, Trump had reportedly been convinced to keep Haspel as CIA director. A relatively amicable meeting between him and Haspel, followed by the counsel of his senior aides, allegedly contributed to his decisoin. Among those who spoke in Haspel’s favor was Vice President Mike Pence and Pat Chipollone, who serves as White House Counsel. At that time, said Axios, Meadows contacted Haspel to inform her that the president had reversed his decision, and canceled the paperwork for installing Patel at the CIA.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2021 | Permalink

US Pentagon signals it will stop supporting CIA’s counterterrorism mission

PentagonTHE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Defense has reportedly notified the Central Intelligence Agency that it plans to terminate most of the military support it provides for the spy agency’s counterterrorism operations. Some of these changes may occur as early as January, according to reports published on Thursday in several US news outlets.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the CIA incorporated an increasingly expansive counterterrorist mission into its list of activities. But it has relied on Pentagon resources to support many of these activities, for things like transportation, physical security, logistics, and even execution. The Pentagon’s role in these activities tends to be crucial, given that they usually take place in active combat zones or other dangerous locations around the world. They therefore require heavy military protection.

However, President Trump has been implementing his plan to withdraw American military forces from warzones such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. These troops provide logistical and material support to CIA missions in some of the world’s most dangerous regions. Additionally, the Department of Defense has been signaling for quite some time its intention to focus less on counterterrorism and more on what experts refer to as “near-peer competitors” —namely China and Russia.

According to reports, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller sent a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel, in which he informs her of the Pentagon’s decision to make drastic changes to its support for the spy agency’s counterterrorism operations. It is believed that some of these changes will take place as early as January 5, 2021. It has also been reported that this decision marks the culmination of a so-called “pet project” of Acting Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Trump political appointee, who was placed in his current position by the president following November’s election.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2020 | Permalink

A CIA paramilitary officer was killed in Somalia, reports claim

CIA memorial wallA PARAMILITARY OPERATIONS OFFICER serving in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has reportedly been killed in Somalia. This is a rare occurrence for the clandestine agency, which has lost about 140 officers in its 73-year history. The New York Times, which first reported the news on Wednesday, said the officer had joined the CIA after serving in the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, which is commonly known as SEAL Team Six. Upon joining the CIA, the late officer served in the Special Activities Center (formerly Special Activities Division), which is the Agency’s paramilitary section.

The identity of the officer has not been released, and it is unlikely that it will become known in the future. It is believed that the officer’s family has been notified. Citing “current and former US officials”, The Times said it was not known whether the officer had been killed while participating in a counterterrorism raid, or whether he had been targeted by al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate that is active in the Horn of Africa. Neither al-Qaeda nor al-Shabaab, have said anything about the alleged incident.

The US has been participating in a low-intensity war against Islamist militants in the region for over a decade. There are currently over 700 American military personnel in Somalia, most of whom provide training for the Somalian Armed Forces. But the CIA, as well as US Special Operations Forces personnel, are also known to carry out raids throughout the country. Additionally, the CIA, in association with the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has carried out dozens of drone strikes in Somalia in recent years.

In September of this year, Yahoo News reported that the CIA had lost four paramilitary operations officers in 2008. The four men allegedly died during a secret maritime operation off the coast of the Philippines, and their bodies were never recovered. According to the report, the four men were members of the CIA’s Maritime Branch, one of the three branches of the Special Operations Group, which works under the Special Activities Center. The agency never spoke publicly about the officers’ deaths, but allegedly notified their families, who were also invited to Langley for a private ceremony attended by the CIA’s leadership.

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

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-nephew is in CIA custody, report claims

Kim Jong-nam murderTHE HALF-NEPHEW OF North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who disappeared in 2017 and has not been seen since, is in the custody of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to a new report. The missing man’s name is Kim Han-sol. He is the son of the late Kim Jong-nam (pictured), the eldest son of Kim Jong-il and grandson of Kim Il-Sung, who founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948. A critic of North Korea’s rulers, Kim lived in self-exile in the Chinese territory of Macau, and split his time between China, Singapore and Malaysia.

In February of 2017, Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in audacious attack at a busy airport in Malaysia by two women who used a poisonous substance to murder him in broad daylight. Suspicions fell immediately on the North Korean government, and many assumed that his two children and wife would be next. The family, who lived in Macau at the time, frantically made plans to leave for the West and seek political asylum there. To make it more difficult for potential assassins to find them, Kim Jong-nam’s family members made the decision to separate and take different routes to Europe.

As intelNews has reported before, Kim Jong-nam’s eldest son, Kim Han-sol, sought and received protection from an obscure North Korean dissident group, which calls itself Cheollima Civil Defense and is also known as Free Joseon. Cheollima Civil Defense, whose members support on principle anyone who challenges the regime in Pyongyang, helped Kim’s family relocate to the West, allegedly with assistance from China, the United States and Holland.

However, unlike Kim Jong-nam’s wife and youngest son, Kim Han-sol never made it to Europe, and his whereabouts remain unknown. Now a new report in The New Yorker magazine claims that Kim Han-sol flew from Macau to Taiwan, escorted by Cheollima Civil Defense members. From there, he was scheduled to take a flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where Cheollima Civil Defense members and Dutch activists were waiting for him. But he never emerged from the arrivals gate. According to The New Yorker, that was because a team of CIA officers intercepted Kim Han-sol in Taiwan and took him under US custody.

The magazine claims Kim Han-sol remains under US custody to this day, but does not clarify whether that is a voluntary arrangement on the part of the North Korean exile. It is also not clear if Kim Han-sol’s mother and brother are with him, or if they are aware of his whereabouts. It is believed that Kim Jong-nam’s income came from a North Korean government slush fund that he was managing in Macau, and that much of the fund came from illicit sources. It is possible that Kim Han-sol was also involved in running that fund, which would explain the CIA’s interest in him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 November 2020 | Permalink

Senior US Republicans split on whether CIA director Gina Haspel should be fired

Gina Haspel

SENIOR FIGURES IN THE United States Republican Party appear to be split on whether President Donald Trump should fire Gina Haspel, the first female director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who has been serving in that capacity since 2018. According to The New York Times, Haspel is on a list of senior intelligence and national security officials that the embattled American president plans to fire in the coming days. He already fired key defense officials this week, including the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, as well as the Pentagon’s head of policy and director of intelligence.

Trump administration insiders, who want to see Haspel gone, are aware that Trump will not be president for much longer, and are thus pushing for her immediate termination, said The Times. They blame Haspel for not stopping the CIA whistleblower who filed a complaint about the president’s July 2019 telephone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky. The complaint led to Trump’s impeachment in the House of Representatives. Haspel had no role in that incident, but senior Trump loyalists believe she could have stopped the complaint before it reached the office of the US Intelligence Community’s Inspector General.

Haspel is also accused by Trump loyalists of not following the directives of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, under John Ratcliffe, a Trump appointee who serves as the most senior intelligence officer in the US government. The CIA and the ODNI have not seen eye-to-eye since the latter’s founding in 2005. Additionally, unlike Haspel, who rose through the ranks of the Intelligence Community, Ratcliffe had no intelligence experience before this year, when he was appointed by Trump to lead the ODNI. It is believed that his status as an outsider has made it difficult for him to exercise leadership in the close-knit Intelligence Community.

But other senior Republicans have rallied around Haspel. They are said to include the powerful Senator Mitch McConnell, who on Tuesday met with Haspel in his office on Capitol Hill. The closed-door meeting between McConnell and Haspel alarmed the Trump inner circle, with Donald Trump, Jr., calling the CIA director a “trained liar” and accusing those Republicans who support her of undermining his father. The CIA declined to comment on the story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2020 | Permalink

Trump plans to axe defense secretary, FBI, CIA directors, if re-elected, say sources

Donald TrumpIF RE-ELECTED IN NOVEMBER, United States President Donald Trump has laid out plans to replace the secretary of defense, as well as the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to a new report. The website Axios, which published the report on Sunday, said the US president and his senior advisors have drafted a much longer list of names of senior military and intelligence officials who will be axed in November. However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel top the list, said Axios.

The website cited two sources who have allegedly discussed with President Trump himself the fate of these and other officials. The sources told Axios that CIA Director Haspel is “despised and distrusted almost universally” within the president’s inner circle, whose members view her motives with “a lot of suspicion”. Another source familiar with “conversations at the CIA” told Axios that Haspel intends to step down —and possibly retire— “regardless of who wins the election” in November.

Trump is also “incensed” with FBI Director Wray, because he told Congress last month that the Bureau had not detected significant election-related fraud with either online activity or mail-in ballots, according to Axios. Additionally, the president reportedly lost trust in Defense Secretary Esper after he objected to the White House’s plan to deploy active-duty military personnel in major American cities, in response to popular protests sparked by allegations of abusive practices by law enforcement.

Axios added that, despite President Trump’s critical comments about his Attorney General, William Barr, in recent weeks, he has no “formal plans” to replace him at the present time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 October 2020 | Permalink

CIA lost four paramilitary officers in daring South China Sea operation, say sources

Luzon Island PhilippinesFour highly trained paramilitary officers of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) died during a secret maritime operation off the coast of the Philippines in 2008, according to a new report. Yahoo News, which revealed the alleged incident last week, cited anonymous former intelligence officers in its reporting.

The four men were allegedly paramilitary operations officers (PMOOs) working for the CIA’s Maritime Branch, one of the three branches of the Agency’s Special Operations Group (SOG). The SOG operates under the CIA’s Special Activities Center (formerly Special Activities Division), which plans and supervises paramilitary and psychological operations around the world.

According to Yahoo News, the ill-fated operation took place in the South China Sea, a contested region that forms the epicenter of an ongoing rivalry between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines, among other countries. The four PMOOs had been tasked with planting a sophisticated tracking device, disguised as a rock, which was designed to intercept signals produced by Chinese vessels belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.

The operation involved the use of a 40-foot vessel belonging to the CIA and registered to a front company in the Philippines. Onboard the ship were four PMOOs, according to Yahoo News: Stephen Stanek, Michael Perich, Jamie McCormick and Daniel Meeks. Stanek, the group leader, had served as an ordnance disposal diver in the US Navy before he was hired by the CIA. His co-diver, Perich, had joined the CIA after having recently graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy. McCormick and Meeks had orders to stay onboard the vessel as supporting personnel.

Yahoo News claims the four men departed from Malaysia; they were carrying fake papers stating they had been hired by a Japanese company to transport the 40-foot ship to Japan. As they approached Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island, they decided to proceed with the mission, despite Tropical Storm Higos, which was dangerously approaching their location. The operation’s planners believed the storm would change course and would not affect the Luzon region. They were wrong, however, and the four men were lost at sea. Their bodies have never been found, according to Yahoo News.

Several months after the fatal incident, the CIA approached the families of the four late officers and invited them to Langley for a private ceremony, which was attended by the CIA’s leadership. That was the first time those family members were told that their loved ones had worked for the CIA. Yahoo News said it reached out to the family members, but they did not wish to comment on the story. The CIA also refused commenting on the report.

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

CIA launches new research and development laboratory to compete with Silicon Valley

Dawn MeyerriecksThe United States Central Intelligence Agency has announced the creation of a new advanced research laboratory system that it hopes will allow it to compete with Silicon Valley for attracting top technical talent. The initiative, announced on Monday, is called CIA Labs, and it aims to attract scientists and engineers with an interest in advanced research projects that have applied potential in the area of national security.

According to Dawn Meyerriecks (pictured), who heads the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, the purpose behind this new initiative is to allow the agency to attract and retain scientists and engineers, who are highly sought after by some of America’s top technology firms, like Google and Oracle. MIT’s Technology Review, which wrote about this initiative, referred to it as a “skunkworks”. The term refers to a select team of experts within an organization, who are given the flexibility to operate with independence and without restrictions by bureaucratic red tape, in order to produce something new and innovative.

According to Meyerriecks, CIA Labs will give the agency’s top technical talent the ability to file patents in the public domain. That was impossible in the past, given that virtually all of the research that takes place in the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology is classified. However, there may be civilian applications of some of these inventions that do not impinge on classified research. In such cases, CIA scientists who file patents will be able to profit from them, by making up to 15 percent of the income of a patent, while the Agency will keep the remaining 85 percent. The additional salary cap that an inventor is limited to is $150,000, which would more than double the yearly income of most CIA scientists.

Meyerriecks said on Monday that, ideally, CIA Labs will end up generating more funds for the agency than it costs to set up. She added that some of the areas of research that the new CIA venture is interested in include biotechnology, advanced materials science, as well as artificial intelligence, data analytics and high-performance quantum computing. The latter three are needed to help the CIA manage the immense volume of data it gathers on a daily basis, said Meyerriecks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2020 | Permalink

Researchers find lost interview of MI6 officer who helped plan 1953 coup in Iran

Mohammad MossadeghBritish researchers have found a lost interview by a senior British intelligence officer who led the joint Anglo-American coup in Iran in 1953. The coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled the shah (king) of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a close Western ally. London was alarmed by Dr. Mossadegh’s decision to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later renamed to British Petroleum, or BP), which would deny Britain its lucrative stake in the Middle Eastern energy market. The British also viewed Dr. Mossadegh as being too close to the Soviet Union.

In 1952, when Iran severed diplomatic relations with Britain, London intensified its efforts to convince the United States that overthrowing the Iranian government was imperative to keep communism out of the region. Until then, British plans for a coup had been led by Norman Darbyshire, who headed the Persia station of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6. With American help, Darbyshire continued his plotting from Cyprus, where he had relocated after having been expelled from Tehran by the Iranian government. He died in 1993. But in 1985 he gave an interview to Granada, a British production company, for a television documentary titled “End of Empire: Iran”. Because Darbyshire refused to speak in front of the camera, the producers of the documentary ended up not using his interview.

Recently, however, a team of researchers found the interview and the associated transcript while researching archival material for a new documentary on the overthrow of Mossadegh. The documentary, titled “Coup 53”, is scheduled for release this coming Wednesday, which marks the 67th anniversary of the coup. On Monday, the Security Archive at George Washington University released the typewritten transcript of Darbyshire’s interview. It describes how British intelligence worked systematically over several years to convince the United States to support the coup plans, and that British spies also found it difficult to secure the support of a reluctant Shah Pahlavi.

According to Darbyshire, MI6 and the CIA tried to bribe Iranian parliamentarians, offering them money in exchange for defecting from Dr. Mossadegh’s party, thus eliminating its parliamentary majority. When that effort failed, the spies approached the Iranian military and proposed plans for a coup. In his interview, the late MI6 spy claims that the coup cost the British government £700,000. “I know because I spent it”, he says. He also claims that much of that money was smuggled into Iran in cash, concealed inside “biscuit tins”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 August 2020 | Permalink

Turkish spy agency hid Islamist views of candidates for CIA-funded Syrian rebel group

Free Syrian ArmyTurkey’s spy agency systematically downplayed the Islamist views of men seeking to join a Syrian rebel group, which was supported by the United States Central Intelligence Agency on account of its moderate leanings. The United States began to fund and train the Free Syrian Army (FSA) soon after it was established in 2011. The group said its mission was to depose the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and institute a Western-style multiparty democracy in Syria.

By 2015, much of the recruitment and vetting for the FSA was taking place in Turkish regions bordering northern Syria, where thousands of opponents of al-Assad’s regime had fled with their families. The CIA relied on its Turkish counterpart, the National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, to recruit and conduct initial vetting of FSA volunteers from Syrian refugee camps. The MİT was desperately short of personnel for such a large-scale operation, and reached out to the Turkish Special Forces Command for assistance. Eventually, Special Forces Command officers were put in charge of reaching out to potential FSA volunteers and vetting them. Successful candidates would then be forwarded to the CIA.

One such officer was Lt. Murat Aletirik, who vetted dozens of FSA volunteers in 2015 and 2016. However, he was arrested following the failed coup of July 15, 2016, and was tried for alleged participation in armed insurrection against the Turkish government. During his testimony in 2018, which was leaked this week, Lt. Aletirik told the court that he and his fellow officers were issued guidelines by the MİT on how to select fighters for the CIA-funded program.

According to Lt. Aletirik, the MİT guidelines centered on whether FSA candidates were “sympathetic towards the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as] PKK, the [Democratic Union Party, or] PYD, or offshoots of the PKK”. These groups support autonomy for the Kurds, a non-Turkish and non-Arab ethnic group in the Middle East. Turkey, along with the European Union and the United States, classify the Turkish-based PKK as a terrorist organization. Turkey claims that the PYD, which operates in Syria, is also a terrorist group. However, Washington supports and funds the PYD, and even worked with its militias in the war against the Islamic State.

According to Lt. Aletirik, the MİT guidelines had little to say about how to filter out potential FSA volunteers who were found to harbor sympathies for Salafi-Jihadist groups, such as the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, or al-Nusra. In fact, said Lt. Aletirik, he and his fellow officers had instructions to downplay such findings and forward candidates to the CIA, so long as they did not have pro-Kurdish sympathies. It is believed that, eventually, the CIA caught on to this, and began turning down hundreds of FSA candidates that had been vetted by the Turkish military. This slowed down the vetting process tremendously, with only a fraction —possibly fewer than 10 percent— of all candidates joining the CIA-run program.

In 2017, the United States shut down the program, reportedly after a direct order was issued by President Donald Trump. Today the FSA is almost completely supported and funded by the Turkish state. Locals often refer to it tongue-in-cheek as the “Free Syrian Turkish Army”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 July 2020 | Permalink

In major victory over Pentagon, CIA is authorized to expand offensive cyber operations

Trump CIA - JFThe United States Central Intelligence Agency was secretly authorized by the White House in 2018 to drastically expand its offensive cyber operation program —a development that some experts describe as a significant development for the secretive spy agency. However, the move has reportedly not pleased the Department of Defense, which sees itself as the primary conduit of American offensive operations in cyberspace.

The two-year-old authorization was disclosed by Yahoo News, which cited “former US officials with direct knowledge of the matter” in its report. The website said the authorization came in the form of a presidential finding. A presidential finding, also known as a Memorandum of Notification, refers to a directive, which is authored by the president of the US and is given to the intelligence committees of Congress. Its purpose is to explain the reasoning behind a covert operation that is to be carried out abroad. Following that disclosure by the president, government funds can be appropriated for use in that operation or series of operations.

According to Yahoo News, the 2018 presidential finding provides the CIA with “more freedom in both the kinds of operations it conducts and who it targets”, when it comes to covert action carried out online. The goal of the White House was to enable the CIA to unleash a series of offensive measures against “a handful of adversarial countries”, which include North Korea, Iran, China and Russia, according to the report. Such offensive operations differ substantially from those typically carried out by CIA personnel on cyberspace, which focus on clandestine information collection. In contrast, offensive operations aim to disrupt, sabotage or even destroy targeted systems.

In addition to enhancing the scope of the CIA’s cyber operations, the presidential directive is also believed to make it easier for the agency to target non-state actors and agencies, including financial intuitions, charities, news media, or businesses. Such targets may be attacked when they are found to be operating on behalf of adversarial intelligence agencies. Moreover, it makes it easier for the spy agency to leak secret information about targeted adversaries to media organizations, a tactic that Russian spy services are believed to have utilized in the past.

The Yahoo News report notes that the presidential directive is seen as a major victory for the CIA in its long bureaucratic battle with the Department of Defense. The latter has traditionally been entrusted by the US government with carrying out offensive cyber operations. There are also questions about potential operational overlap between the CIA and the Pentagon, as the two actors may at times be attacking the same targets. This brings up the issue of inter-agency coordination between two bodies, which has not always been smooth in the past.

Yahoo News said it submitted “an extensive list of questions” to the CIA, but the agency declined to comment. The National Security Council, which oversaw the drafting of the alleged presidential finding, did not respond to questions stemming from the news report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 July 2020 | Permalink

NZ spy agency broke into foreign embassies on behalf of CIA and MI6, report claims

NZSIS New ZealandThe spy agency of New Zealand broke into at least three foreign embassies in Wellington at the request of the United States and Britain, according to an investigative report by the country’s public radio broadcaster. Radio New Zealand reported on Tuesday that the highly controversial break-ins targeted the Indian High Commission and the Iranian Embassy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A few years earlier, the New Zealand spy agency had allegedly broken into the Czechoslovakian embassy in Wellington.

Radio New Zealand podcast it confirmed the break-ins after “piecing together information gained after months of engaging with multiple sources in New Zealand, Britain and the United States”. According to the broadcaster, the operations were carried out by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) on behalf of its American and British counterparts, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

The New Zealand agency was also allegedly pressured to carry out the operations by Australia, with which it collaborates as part of the so-called Five-Eyes alliance. For over 75 years, New Zealand has been a member of the partnership, which is also known as the UK-USA Security Agreement. It provides a multilateral framework for intelligence cooperation between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

According to Radio New Zealand, the break-in at the Indian High Commission in Wellington took place in the 1980s. It was codenamed Operation DUNNAGE and was jointly supported by MI6. After entering the building —which technically constitutes Indian soil— NZSIS spies allegedly took “thousands of photographs” of the contents of codebooks used by Indian diplomats to communicate in secret with their government in New Delhi. These were shared with MI6 and were used by the British to decipher the codes used in diplomatic communications between Indian officials. Read more of this post

Analysis: A look at the CIA’s half-century-old ‘disease intelligence’ program

CIAThe general discussion about how and when the White House was alerted by its spy agencies about COVID-19, points to the existence of ‘disease intelligence’ programs in the United States Intelligence Community. Relatively little is known about the history and current state of these programs. Last weekend, however, ABC News’ investigative correspondent Lee Ferran brought to light an article from 48 years ago in a declassified intelligence publication that sheds light on the roots of the Central Intelligence Agency’s disease intelligence effort.

The article was published in the declassified edition of Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s in-house research publication. Written by Warren F. Carey and Myles Maxfield, the article appeared [.pdf] in the spring 1972 issue of the journal, and is titled “Intelligence Implications of Disease”. It discusses the 1966 outbreak of meningitis in China’s Guangdong Province, which prompted the CIA to begin tracking diseases in a systematic way. The outbreak first appeared in the city that is today known as Guangzhou, and within weeks it had resulted in a military takeover of the Chinese healthcare system. The latter collapsed in places, and prompted the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (known today as the Directorate of Science and Technology) to begin collecting data in order to assess the political fallout of the disease.

The article states that the CIA cryptonym for the disease was Project IMPACT. Its scope was limited, but it expanded 1968, when the world health community began to issue alerts about the so-called Hong Kong flu. Known officially as Hong Kong/A2/68, the virus spread around the world in a few months, and is believed to have killed between 1 and 4 million people, including around 100,000 Americans. At that time, according to the article in Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s Project IMPACT “went global”, and was combined with BLACKFLAG, an ongoing effort by the Agency to “computerize disease information and derive trends, cycles and predictions” on a global scale.

Project BLACKFLAG tracked the spread of the disease in the Soviet Union and in North Vietnam, and issued regular analyses of the political ramification of the epidemic. That was not easy, say the authors, given the fact that most nations of the communist bloc tried to conceal information about it. The CIA was also able to issue warnings to its teams of operatives abroad, instructing them to shield themselves from the flu as it spread around East Asia and, eventually, the world.

According the authors, the CIA’s early disease intelligence projects were able to demonstrate that data aggregation was critical in helping monitor and forecast outbreaks. It also showed that these such forecasts could have “an initiating and vital role” in political, military and economic intelligence. Today, says Ferran, the CIA’s disease intelligence program has the same twofold mission it had when it was first conceived: first, to collect intelligence about the actual extent of the spread of diseases abroad —which may differ from the official information provided by foreign governments; and second, to try to forecast the consequences of these trends for American interests in the regions impacted by an ongoing epidemic or pandemic.

► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2020 | Permalink