Outgoing CIA director says scrapping Iran nuclear deal would be ‘disastrous’

John BrennanThe outgoing director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency has warned in an interview that it would be “disastrous” for Washington to abandon a nuclear treaty with Iran, which was agreed in 2015. John Brennan is a career intelligence officer and fluent Arabic speaker, who has served in the CIA for 25 years. He was appointed director of the agency in March of 2013 by President Barack Obama and is scheduled to leave the position in January of 2017, after nearly four years at the helm of the CIA.

Earlier this week, in the first interview given by a serving CIA director to a British media agency, Brennan told the BBC that he hoped the incoming administration in Washington would show “prudence and discipline” in security matters. He was referring to the administration of US president-elect Donald Trump, which is currently taking shape in preparation for January. The business tycoon said during his election campaign that he would scrap the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an international agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and a group of nations known as the P5+1, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. As part of the deal, Iran has agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions.

The man chosen by Trump to replace Brennan at the helm of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, is a member of the so-called Tea Party Movement within the Republican Party and a fierce critic of the Iran deal. But Brennan told the BBC that “it would be the height of folly if the next administration were to tear up that agreement”. The outgoing CIA director said it would be “unprecedented” for an American administration to scrap an international agreement struck by its predecessor. Additionally, said Brennan, if Washington abandons the treaty it will strengthen hardliners in the Islamic Republic and would cause neighboring states to pursue their own nuclear programs in response to Tehran’s. During his interview, Brennan also cautioned the Trump administration to “be wary of Russian promises” and not to trust the advances of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 December 2016 | Permalink

Russian defectors claim US intelligence agencies failed to protect them

Janosh NeumannTwo Russian intelligence officers, who defected to the United States in 2008, claim that they had to fend for themselves after American spy agencies failed to protect them despite promises to the contrary. Janosh Neumann (born Alexey Yurievich Artamonov) and his wife Victorya were employees of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) specializing in investigations of money laundering and corruption. But in 2008 they traveled from Russia to Germany and from there to the Dominican Republic. Once in the Caribbean island, they entered the US embassy and offered to work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The couple claim that they provided “a trove of secrets” to the CIA, including information on FSB officials who engaged in corrupt practices such as bribing, money-laundering and large-scale tax evasion. In return, the CIA transported the Neumanns to America, where they were granted permission to settle temporarily based on humanitarian grounds. The two Russian defectors claim that they were promised green cards and, eventually, American citizenship. For several months following their entry into the US, the Neumanns were kept in a government safe house, where they were debriefed, given polygraph tests, and met regularly with officials from the Departments of Justice and Treasury, as well as with employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the CIA. They say they gave information to the CIA about the methods used by Russian intelligence operatives to infiltrate American corporations. But when the CIA tried to convince them to move back to Russia and work there for the US government as agents-in-place, the Neumanns refused and chose instead to work for the FBI.

The two Russians say the worked for the Bureau for five years, during which time they were paid approximately $1 million. But in 2013 when their employment contracts expired, the FBI did not renew them. Later that year, the Neumanns’ temporary visa to remain in the US expired. Meanwhile, US immigration authorities denied Janosh’s application for a green card because he allegedly hinted that he tortured people for the FSB during his interview with a US immigration official. Eventually, the Russian defectors convinced the FBI to send immigration officials a letter stating that there was no reason to assume that Janosh had tortured or persecuted people in Russia. Earlier this year, the Newmanns, who recently had a baby here in the US, were allowed to stay and have now applied for green cards again. But they say they reserve the right to sue the US government for having previously denied them protection and citizenship.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 November 2016 | Permalink

US Special Forces soldiers killed in Jordan were with the CIA, say officials

JordanThree United States Special Forces soldiers who were killed outside a Jordanian military base earlier this month were working for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to American government officials. The three soldiers were shot dead on November 4 by a Jordanian soldier, who was subsequently wounded in an exchange of fire, according to reports. The US Department of Defense said the three men were members of the 5th Special Forces Group based in Fort Campbell, a US Army installation located in the American state of Kentucky. They were reportedly shot as they were attempting to enter the Prince Faisal Air Base, located in Jordan’s southern desert, 150 miles south of the capital Amman.

It is believed that the three soldiers were members of a 2,000-strong contingent of American troops who are currently stationed in the Arab country as part of Washington’s involvement in the regional war against the Islamic State. Some of these troops are assigned as advisers to Jordanian military units stationed at the border with Syria. But many others are allegedly involved in training so-called moderate Syrian rebel factions who are fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as other rebel groups on the ground. According to The Washington Post, the three American soldiers were among the trainers and were detailed to the CIA while they were in Jordan.

Details of the incident that led to the death of the three Americans are still unclear and are reportedly being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jordanian sources allege that the US troops were returning to the base after a training session when one of their weapons accidentally misfired inside their vehicle. Thinking that they were under attack, Jordanian guards at the entrance to the base opened fire, killing the three Americans. But American officials told The Washington Post that the FBI is investigating whether the Jordanian soldier who opened fire on the US soldiers was an Islamist sympathizer.

If the three American soldiers were indeed detailed to the CIA, their killing will mark the most deadly incident involving CIA personnel since December 2009. Late that month, seven CIA personnel were killed in Khost, Afghanistan by suicide bomber who was masquerading as a CIA intelligence asset and managed to detonate a suicide vest inside a US military base. The Post said it contacted the CIA about the November 4 incident, but the Agency declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 November 2016 | Permalink

FBI arrests two more members of hacker group that targeted CIA director

Computer hackingTwo more members of a computer hacker group that targeted senior United States intelligence officials, including the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, have been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The arrests of Justin Liverman, 24, and Andrew Boggs, 22, took place on Thursday in Morehead City and North Wilkesboro, in the US state of North Carolina. They are accused by the FBI of being members of Crackas With Attitude (CWA) an international group of computer hackers that specialized in targeting American intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Last October, the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks published personal emails and documents belonging to CIA Director John Brennan. The documents included a 47-page application for security clearance that Brennan had submitted to the US government a few years earlier. It was apparently found on his personal America Online (AOL) email account, which had been hacked by the CWA hacker group. Members of the group, who are all in their late teens or early 20s, routinely employed a method known as ‘social engineering’ to gain access to their victims’ information. The method refers to impersonating technicians or other service provider company personnel to gain access to private email or telephone accounts.

CWA members used these techniques to target dozens of senior US government officials from October 2015 until February 2016. Their targets included the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Deputy Director of the FBI, Mark Giuliano. The hackers also gained access to electronic databases belonging to the US Department of Justice, from where they obtained the names, personal telephone numbers and home addresses of nearly 30,000 employees of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. That information was eventually published online by the hacker group.

In February, a 16-year-old hacker known as ‘Cracka’, who is the purported ringleader of CWA, and whose name cannot be released due to his young age, was arrested in the East Midlands region of Britain. It is believed that information on the teenager’s electronic devices eventually led the FBI to the capture of Liverman and Boggs. The two men have been charged with computer crime and are expected to appear in court in the US state of Virginia next week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 September 2016 | Permalink

CIA agent was among Watergate burglars, documents reveal

Watergate One of the men caught burglarizing the offices of the United States Democratic Party in 1972, a ploy that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, was an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to a newly declassified document. The revelation is included in a narrative history of the Watergate scandal, produced over 40 years ago by the CIA to assess its own role in the affair. It recounts the events of the early morning hours of June 17, 1972, when a security guard saw five men dressed in black breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. When the five men were arrested by police, it was discovered that one of them was connected with the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, a fundraising organization set up by US President Richard Nixon. The remaining four burglars had CIA contacts. They included E. Howard Hunt, a retired CIA operations officer who in 1961 had played a leading role in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. It was eventually discovered that the burglary had been authorized by President Nixon himself, as part of a broader program to sabotage his political opponents.

Soon after the Watergate scandal erupted, the CIA produced an internal report entitled “CIA Watergate History – Working Draft”. Much of the 150-page document was authored by CIA officer John C. Richards, who had firsthand knowledge of the Watergate scandal. When Richards died unexpectedly in 1974, the report was completed by a team of officers based on his files. A few years ago, a Freedom of Information Act request was filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal watchdog, which petitioned to have the document released. The release was approved by a judge in early 2016 and was completed in July.

Despite numerous reductions throughout, the document gives the fullest public account of the CIA’s role in the Watergate scandal. Its pages contain the revelation that one of the men arrested in the early hours of June 17, 1972, was an active CIA agent. The man, Eugenio R. Martinez, has been previously identified as an “informant” of the CIA —a term referring to an occasional source. But the newly released document refers to Martinez as an agent —an individual who is actively recruited and trained by a CIA officer acting as a handler. It also states that Martinez was on the payroll of the agency at the time of his arrest, making approximately $600 per month in today’s dollars working for the CIA. Additionally, Martinez, a Cuban who had participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion, retained his contacts with the CIA and kept the agency updated about the burglary, his arrest and the ensuing criminal investigation.

Interestingly, the internal document reveals that the CIA was contacted about Martinez by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, which was set up by the Department of Justice to investigate the scandal. But the CIA’s General Counsel, John S. Warner, told the prosecutors that it was against the CIA’s code of practice to turn over an agent, and that “under no circumstances” would the CIA agree to do so. Senior CIA officials, including its then Director, Richard Helms, continued to refuse to cooperate with investigators, including agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, even after President Nixon’s resignation.

Martinez, who is reportedly in his mid-90s and lives in Miami, Florida, has never spoken publicly about this role in the Watergate scandal or his alleged contacts with the CIA.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 August 2016 | Permalink

Iran executes nuclear scientist who claimed he was kidnapped by CIA

Shahram AmiriAuthorities in Iran have admitted that they executed a former scientist for the country’s nuclear program, who claimed that he was abducted by the United States after disappearing from Iran for a year. Shahram Amiri worked for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the government body that is responsible for operating and regulating the country’s nuclear installations. But in the summer of 2009, while on a religious pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, Amiri disappeared. Iranian authorities alleged at the time that Amiri had been kidnapped and possibly killed by Saudi, Israeli or American intelligence operatives.

Remarkably, the Iranian scientist reappeared almost a year later in Washington, DC. He entered the embassy of Pakistan in the American capital and asked to speak to the official in charge of the embassy’s Iranian interests section (since America and the Islamic Public have no official diplomatic relations, Pakistan’s embassy serves as an intermediary). He told officials at the embassy that he had been abducted by the Central Intelligence Agency after being drugged in Saudi Arabia. He also claimed that he was secretly transported to the US, where he was “subjected to intense psychological pressure” involving psychotropic drugs, interrogated and forced to reveal secrets about Iran’s nuclear program. But US officials denied Amiri’s claims and said the Iranian scientist had defected on his own accord and was free to return to Iran, if he wanted. Unconfirmed reports suggested that Amiri had changed his mind after defecting to the US, because he feared that Iranian authorities would harm his family. Some anonymous sources in Washington also claimed that Amiri had been offered $5 million for the information he gave the CIA, but that he had chosen to return to Iran instead of accepting the money.

On July 15, 2010, just three days after contacting the Pakistani embassy in DC, Amiri returned to a hero’s welcome in Iran, which was televised live. Meanwhile, Iranian officials accused the US and Israel of employing dirty tactics against the Islamic Republic. However, in May 2011 Amiri was suddenly arrested at his family home in Tehran and charged with treason. He underwent a secret trial, was convicted and was never again seen in public. On Saturday, Amiri’s family said they had received his body from the government, and that it appeared that he had died from hanging, judging by rope marks around his neck. On Sunday, Iran’s first deputy chief justice and former intelligence minister, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, told reporters that Amir had indeed been executed by hanging. During his brief announcement, Mohseni-Eje’i said Amiri had endangered the Islamic Republic by giving “vital intelligence about the country to the enemy”, by which he said he meant the United States.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2016 | Permalink

Turkish media accuse US general, CIA, of plotting coup

Yeni Şafak’sAmerican officials have strongly denied accusations in the Turkish press that Washington was behind the failed July 15 coup in Turkey. On July 25, Yeni Şafak, a popular Turkish daily, alleged that the failed coup had been funded and organized by the United States government. The newspaper, which is headquartered in Istanbul, is known for its conservative political stance and close links to the AKP, the party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Its editorials typically reflect the AKP’s position on the political affairs of the day.

In its leading article on Monday, Yeni Şafak cited “senior government officials” in claiming that the CIA had organized the plotters behind the July 25 military putsch. It also fingered retired US Army General John F. Campbell as the principal intermediary between the CIA and the coup plotters in the Turkish military. Born in 1957, General Campbell served as the US Army’s Vice Chief of Staff until 2014, when he assumed the command of all US armed forces in Afghanistan. Upon his retirement, in 2016, he stepped down from that post as the last commander of the International Security Assistance Force in the Central Asian country. Yeni Şafak’s July 25 front-page headline read: “This man led the coup”, next to a photograph of General Campbell. In the corresponding article, the retired American General was accused of having “organized and managed the soldiers” behind the coup, and having handled “at least $2 billion” in CIA funds, which he allegedly distributed to the coup plotters via the Nigeria-based United Bank for Africa (UBA).

But in a statement issued on Tuesday, UBA called Yeni Şafak’s allegations spurious and insisted it had “no involvement with, or connection to” the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, General Campbell also dismissed the allegations against him as “absolutely ridiculous”, adding that they “don’t even warrant a response”. On the same day, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, described the Turkish newspaper’s article as “absurd”. Speaking at a press conference held jointly with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Washington, General Dunford said: “I really don’t know where that report could have come from”. Last week, US President Barack Obama telephoned his Turkish counterpart to assure him that the US had no prior knowledge of, or involvement in, the coup.

Pro-AKP media in Turkey have repeatedly accused Washington of being behind the July 15 coup attempt. But the Yeni Şafak article marked the first time that a foreign individual was named as a leading coup plotter. Ankara claims that the main culprit of the coup is Fethullah Gülen, a charismatic religious figure who leads a large anti-AKP religious movement from his place of exile in the US state of Pennsylvania. Turkey has said that it will issue a formal request for Gülen’s extradition. But the White House says it will consider extraditing Gülen only in light of sufficient evidence from Ankara. Gülen himself denies all charges of involvement in the plot.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 July 2016 | Permalink