Afghans who spied for CIA say they fear retaliation once US forces withdraw

Antony Blinken

AFGHAN CIVILIANS WHO WERE recruited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency as local assets say they fear retaliation by a resurgent Taliban once American forces withdraw from Afghanistan in September. Last April, US President Joe Biden announced that American troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. The date will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which caused Washington to send troops to Afghanistan in response.

The CIA has been a major component of America’s presence in Afghanistan over the past two decades. When operating in the Central Asian country, CIA officers have routinely relied on local people to collect intelligence, provide translation services, and guard its facilities and personnel. These local assets were typically paid in cash for their services, which were secret in nature and often life-threatening.

Now many of these local assets —possibly thousands— are apprehensive of the pending withdrawal of their American protectors from Afghanistan, and fear retaliation from a resurgent Taliban. According to The Wall Street Journal, these local CIA assets say that “their lives are now at risk”. A large number of them have submitted applications for a US Special Immigrant Visa. This is a State Department program that aims to offer protection to local people who have carried out “sensitive and trusted activities” on behalf of American government personnel abroad.

But the Special Immigrant Visa process is complicated and expensive, and is currently plagued by major delays. The Wall Street Journal reports that, even though the law stipulates Special Immigrant Visa requests must be processed within nine months, applications are currently taking between three to five years to be adjudicated. The Department of State says it is currently working through a backlog of 18,000 applications from around the world. The situation is particularly dire for Afghan CIA assets, says the paper, because many find it difficult to prove they ever worked for the CIA. The spy agency’s record-keeping was minimal throughout its time in Afghanistan, especially in the opening years of the conflict, according to the report. Furthermore, some local assets may not even be named in CIA documentation, so as to protect their identity.

In response to calls for faster processing of Special Immigrant Visa requests, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (pictured) said earlier this month: “We’re determined to make good on our obligation to those who helped us, who put their lives on the line, put their families’ lives on the line working with our military, working with our diplomats”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 June 2021 | Permalink

CIA task force examines ‘Havana Syndrome’ after more officers fall ill

CIA

THE UNITED STATES CENTRAL Intelligence Agency has established a task force to examine recent cases of the so-called “Havana Syndrome”, a mysterious medical condition that continues to puzzle experts. The matter came to light in 2017, soon after Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”.

Subsequent tests showed that the diplomatic personnel suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of 2019 the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. A subsequent study by the National Academies of Sciences reported the collective findings of leading toxicologists, epidemiologists, electrical engineers and neurologists, who examined the symptoms experienced by nearly 40 US government employees.

There are now reports that “more than a dozen” officers of the CIA have returned to the US for medical tests, after reporting symptoms that are associated with the “Havana Syndrome”. Citing “current and former US officials and people familiar with the matter” CBS News said on Thursday that some of the officers required emergency medical evacuation after feeling sick all of a sudden. They returned to the US from three different continents in the early months of 2021, according to CBS.

A White House spokesperson told the news station that the “Havana Syndrome” continued to be an area of “active inquiry”. A spokesperson from the National Security Council added that it was not possible to discuss specifics regarding the CIA personnel. The spokesperson went on to say that a “government-wide effort” was underway to determine those responsible for the phenomenon, and to protect US government personnel serving abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 May 2021 | Permalink

Lawmaker with CIA background urges US spies to monitor foreign far-right groups

Elissa SlotkinA MEMBER OF THE United States Congress, who previously worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, has called for foreign white supremacist groups to be closely monitored, warning that they have ties to American militants. Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, of Michigan, wrote in a letter that the US should apply the label of “terrorist organizations” to a number of foreign white supremacist groups. She argued that the move would allow US authorities to take more aggressive measures against supporters of such groups inside the US.

Prior to being elected in Congress, Slotkin was an intelligence analyst for the CIA analyst. While at the CIA, she made use of her language fluencies in Arabic and Swahili, while also serving three tours in Iraq. Throughout her tenure in Congress, which began in 2018, Slotkin has shown considerable interest in national and international security affairs.

Last Friday, Slotkin reportedly sent letters to the Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, and to the new Director of the CIA, William Burns. In her letters, Slotkin urges for a significant increase in the intensity and sophistication of intelligence collection against foreign white supremacist organizations. She argues that the CIA and the FBI must “prioritize resources” so as to collect more, and better, information on these organizations. According to Slotkin, American far-right militants could rely on their existing connections with foreign white supremacist organizations, so as to receive training and resources. These could enable them to carry out attacks in the homeland.

Earlier in April, Slotkin had sent a similar letter to the leadership of the Department of State, urging for more emphasis to be paid to efforts to designate white supremacist groups operating abroad “foreign terrorist organizations”. This would equip the US government with more powers to collect evidence on, and prosecute, Americans who have links with such foreign groups. However, to officially label a foreign organization “terrorist”, the Department of State must first be in possession of significant evidence from intelligence channels.

Thus, Slotkin’s letter to the FBI and the CIA aims to provide the Department of State with intelligence that will allow it to label such groups “terrorist”. In April of last year, the US government designated the Russian Imperial Movement a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT) organization. The move marked the first time in history that the US Department of State formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 May 2021 | Permalink

US political operative convicted for illegal lobbying has CIA links, newspaper claims

Imaad Zuberi

A HIGH-FLYING AMERICAN political operative, who was convicted earlier this year for operating as an unregistered foreign agent, violating campaign-finance laws and large-scale tax-evasion, may have been an informant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, according to a new report. In February of this year, a court in the US state of Virginia sentenced Imaad Zuberi, a 50-year-old Pakistani-born entrepreneur, to 12 years in prison, for —among other things— lobbying US politicians on behalf of foreign governments, giving illegal financial donations to both American political parties, hiding sources of income from the Internal Revenue Service, and obstructing justice. In addition to his long prison sentence, he is required to pay the US government nearly $18 million in back taxes and fines.

Prior to his conviction, Zuberi was mostly known as a high-level political fundraiser and donor, who had contributed millions to the election campaigns of both Democratic and Republican politicians, including those of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. After he was arrested and criminally charged in October of 2019, Zuberi quickly confessed to working as a foreign agent and hiding his lobbying activities from the US government. Among his clients were, according to the Associated Press, the governments of Sri Lanka and Turkey, as well as eastern European oligarchs with alleged ties to the Kremlin. According to government prosecutors, Zuberi would receive money from foreign government officials and tycoons in order to introduce them to influential American political figures.

In March of this year, Zuberi’s links to the CIA were discussed in a detailed account of his case by SpyTalk‘s veteran intelligence editor Jeff Stein. After reviewing “confidential case information” and speaking to intelligence insiders, Stein concluded there were “strong suggestions” that Zuberi “may indeed have carried out extremely sensitive operations against major U.S. adversaries for the CIA over the past 15 years”. Stein alleges that, among other things, “Zuberi paid off foreign politicians on the CIA’s behalf” in order to sabotage a foreign oil project by “a major US adversary”.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Zuberi’s legal team is now preparing to challenge his prison sentence in an appeal that will rest primarily on his alleged work for the CIA, detailed by Stein. The Journal claims to have seen Zuberi’s legal filing, which suggests that he has cooperated with the CIA for over a decade. Based on court documents, and sources that the paper described as being “familiar with the businessman’s defense”, it appears that Zuberi’s began cooperating with the CIA as an informant. Eventually, however, his role “grew to involve more formal tasks and missions”, according to the article. The paper did not elaborate on the nature of Zuberi’s alleged work for the spy agency.

The article claims, however, that Zuberi’s alleged links with the CIA were discussed at length during a closed-door hearing in court, under a law that is used in rare instances to protect government-sanctioned intelligence sources and methods. Since that time, Zuberi’s legal team has allegedly secured the assistance of two former CIA officials, who are willing to testify as witnesses in his appeal. The Wall Street Journal said it contacted the CIA for comment, but was told to reach out to the Department of Justice. When contacted by the paper, the Department of Justice said it had no comment to make on Zuberi’s case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2021 | Permalink

CIA base in northern Niger expands, as Islamism spreads in the Sahel

Dirkou NigerA REMOTE BASE THAT houses an outpost of the United States Central Intelligence Agency in northeast Niger appears to have expanded in recent months, as Islamist groups continue to make their presence felt in Africa’s Sahel region. The base was built quietly in 2018 in Dirkou, a small oasis town and commune located 800 miles northeast of Niamey, Niger’s capital. The area where the CIA base is located is sparsely populated and arid, making it one of the world’s most inhospitable regions.

Northeast Niger, where Dirkou is located, is part of the Sahara. The region is largely inhabited by nomads, who journey in caravans between networks of oases that include Dirkou. In recent years, however, the territories of north-central Niger, northern Mali, southern Algeria, northern Chad and southern Libya, have witnessed an alarming growth of extremist groups, many of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. Increasing numbers of young men are joining these groups, whose leaders also exploit local grievances stemming from poverty, ethnic divisions and the dramatic effects of climate change.

Since 2014, France, the region’s former colonial power, has spearheaded a counterinsurgency campaign led by a 5,000-strong military force stationed in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. But the effort has seen few successes, and its commanders have been forced to downgrade their objectives: instead of their original goal of neutralizing the Islamist insurgency, they now hope to contain it in the Sahara, and not let it spread to the region’s urban areas. It is within this context that the CIA outpost in Dirkou was set up in 2018.

The New York Times, which first reported the existence of the CIA outpost three years ago, said last week that it has seen no evidence to suggest that the outpost has been used for anything more than to carry out airborne surveillance using drones. However, the outpost now has a paved runway, which appears to be twice the length of the original landing strip of 2018. There are also a new buildings at the outpost, as well as a fixed perimeter, which indicates increased security, according to The Times. This, says the paper, shows that the CIA would now “be ready to carry out armed drone strikes” in the region, if authorized to do so by the White House.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 March 2021 | Permalink

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