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

Lax security behind greatest data loss in CIA’s history, internal report concludes

WikiLeaksComplacency and substandard security by the United States Central Intelligence Agency were behind the Vault 7 leak of 2017, which ranks as the greatest data loss in the agency’s history, according to an internal report. The Vault 7 data loss was particularly shocking, given that the CIA should have taken precautions following numerous leaks of classified government information in years prior to 2017, according to the report.

The Vault 7 data leak occurred in the first half of 2017, when the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks began publishing a series of technical documents belonging to the CIA. Once all documents had been uploaded to the WikiLeaks website, they amounted to 34 terabytes of information, which is equivalent to 2.2 billion pages of text. The information contained in the Vault 7 leak is believed to constitute the biggest leak of classified data in the history of the CIA.

The Vault 7 documents reveal the capabilities and operational details of some of the CIA’s cyber espionage arsenal. They detail nearly 100 different software tools that the agency developed and used between 2013 and 2016, in order to compromise targeted computers, computer servers, smartphones, cars, televisions, internet browsers, operating systems, etc. In 2017 the US government accused Joshua Adam Schulte, a former CIA software engineer, of giving the Vault 7 data to WikiLeaks. Schulte’s trial by jury was inconclusive, and a re-trial is believed to be in the works.

Now an internal report into the Vault 7 disclosure has been made public. The report was compiled by the CIA WikiLeaks Task Force, which the agency set up with the two-fold mission of assessing the damage from the leak and recommending security procedures designed to prevent similar leaks from occurring in the future. A heavily redacted copy of the report has been made available [.pdf] by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) who is a member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. An analysis of the report was published on Tuesday by The Washington Post.

The report recognizes that insider threats —a data leak perpetrated on purpose by a conscious and determined employee, or a group of employees— are especially difficult to stop. It adds, however, that the Vault 7 leak was made easier by “a culture of shadow IT” in which the CIA’s various units developed distinct IT security practices and their own widely different systems of safeguarding data. Many cyber units prioritized creative, out-of-the-box thinking, in order to develop cutting-edge cyber-tools. But they spent hardly any time thinking of ways to safeguard the secrecy of their projects, and failed to develop even basic counterintelligence standards —for instance keeping a log of which of their members had access to specific parts of the data— according to the report.

Such standards should have been prioritized, the report adds, given the numerous high-profile leaks that rocked the Intelligence Community in the years prior to the Vault 7 disclosure. It mentions the examples of Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, who defected to Russia, as well as Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for the US Army, who gave government secrets to WikiLeaks. Manning spent time in prison before being pardoned by President Barack Obama. Snowden remains in hiding in Russia.

The CIA has not commented on the release of the internal Vault 7 report. An agency spokesman, Timothy Barrett, told The New York Times that the CIA was committed to incorporating “best-in-class technologies to keep ahead of and defend against ever-evolving threats”. In a letter accompanying the release of the report, Senator Wyden warned that “the lax cybersecurity practices documented in the CIA’s WikiLeaks task force report do not appear limited to just one part of the intelligence community”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 June 2020 | Permalink

Palestinians announce end of intelligence cooperation with US and Israel

Palestinian National Security ForcesThe Palestinian Authority has announced an immediate cessation to all intelligence and security ties with Israel and the United States. The announcement, made on Thursday by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, marks the strongest response so far by the Fatah-dominated administration to the Israeli government’s plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, runs two intelligence agencies, the Palestinian Preventive Security (also known as the Preventive Security Service) and the General Intelligence Service. Both agencies are largely trained and funded by the United States and Israel. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has long assisted the two agencies, and has often benefited by intelligence-sharing aimed at a common adversary, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. In the past decade, American and Israeli intelligence agencies have worked closely with their Palestinian Authority counterparts to neutralize Hamas’ support in the West Bank.

But the Palestinian Authority has been threatening to terminate that longstanding security and intelligence cooperation, in response to an American-backed plan by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to annex large parts of the occupied territories in the West Bank. The annexed land contains illegal Israeli settlements, which the United States has condemned in the past. But the administration of President Donald Trump has reversed course and in May of 2018 even transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognizing the divided city as the capital of Israel. That move prompted the Palestinian Authority to cut all relations with Washington.

However, despite the political rift between the two sides, President Abbas had instructed the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence and security services to continue their cooperation with their Israeli and American counterparts. That ended on Thursday, as President Abbas announced that his administration would cease all intelligence and security cooperation with Israeli and American government agencies, effective immediately. Following Abbas’ announcement, the veteran Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat told reporters that direct cooperation with Israeli and American intelligence agencies had “stopped at the end of the president’s speech”. Erekat, who serves as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and is the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator with Israel, did not explain the extent of the cessation in cooperation. When asked, he responded that “the whole system is about to shut down […] in its entirety”.

In February it was reported that CIA director Gina Haspel had secretly visited Majed Faraj, director of the Preventive Security Organization, with the aim of convincing him not to terminate ties with her agency and other American intelligence bodies. The meeting reportedly took place in Ramallah, which is considered the seat of the Palestinian government in the West Bank. It appears, however, that Haspel’s efforts did not bear fruit, as all intelligence contacts between the two former partners have now been severed.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2020 | Permalink

US considers pulling CIA from Afghan front lines to help salvage Taliban peace deal

US embassy in AfghanistanThe White House is considering a plan to pull back Central Intelligence Agency officers from stations across Afghanistan, in a last-ditch effort to boost prospects for a peace deal with the Taliban. Plans for the peace deal were announced in February by representatives of the US and the Pashtun-based Sunni group, which has waged an Islamist insurgency against the US-supported government in Kabul since 2001.

But armed violence between the two sides has since peaked, prompting many to question the viability of planned peace deal. In response to this development, the White House is now reported to be considering a plan to limit the CIA’s presence in the Central Asian country. This was demanded by the Taliban early on in the negotiations, alongside the planned withdrawal of American troops from the country. In return the Taliban had pledged no break all ties with international terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

The US had previously agreed to withdraw its troops from the country, but had ruled out pulling back CIA personnel —which are believed to number in the several hundreds in Afghanistan. A major reason for rejecting the Taliban demand is that the CIA supports, arms and trains several proxy forces throughout the country. These include the Khost Protection Force (KPF), a 6,500-strong unit of elite Afghan soldiers, which has a strong presence in Taliban strongholds like Ghazni, Paktia and Khost. These forces do not operate under the command of the Afghan government, but are instead directly controlled by the CIA.

Reports in August of 2019 claimed that the CIA would retain “a strong presence on the ground in Afghanistan”, even if American troops were to leave the country following a peace deal with the Taliban. But this is now under review, according to US officials who spoke anonymously to The New York Times. The paper said on Sunday that “the deliberations over the CIA presence” were now “part of larger discussions about pulling back international forces” from the country. One possible course of action revolves around a plan to limit the presence of the CIA to the grounds of the US embassy in Kabul, said The Times.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 April 2020 | Permalink

Chinese cybersecurity firm accuses CIA of 11-year cyberespionage campaign

CIA headquartersA leading Chinese cybersecurity firm has accused the United States Central Intelligence Agency of using sophisticated malicious software to hack into computers belonging to the Chinese government and private sector for over a decade.

The accusation against the CIA comes from Qihoo 360, a prominent cybersecurity firm headquartered in Beijing. On Monday, company published a report of its investigation on its website, written in both Chinese and English. The report identifies the hackers as “the CIA Hacking Group (APT-C-39)”, and says that the group has carried out activities against “China’s critical industries” for at least 11 years.

The report claims that APT-C-39 targets included China’s energy and civilian aviation sectors, Internet service providers, scientific research universities and organizations, and various government agencies —which it does not name. The majority of the hacker group’s targets were located in Beijing, and also in China’s Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces.

According to Qihoo 360, APT-C-39 must be a “state-level hacking organization”, judging by the hacking tools that it used. These tools, such malware named by forensics experts as Grasshopper and Fluxwire, are believed to have been designed by the CIA. They were leaked in 2017 by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. American authorities have charged a former CIA programmer, Joshua Schulte, with leaking the malware. Schulte denies the charges.

The Qihoo 360 report also claims that the hours during which APT-C-39 hackers appear to be active correspond to the working hours of the East Coast of the United States. It also suggests that one goal behind the hacking operations against airline industry targets was to access the travel itineraries of senior figures in China’s political and industrial circles.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 March 2020 | Permalink

Swiss government files criminal complaint over Crypto AG scandal involving CIA

Crypto AGSwitzerland’s Federal Department of Finance has filed a criminal complaint “against persons unknown” over media reports that a leading Swiss-based cryptological equipment manufacturer was secretly owned by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The complaint relates to Crypto AG, the world’s leading manufacturer of cryptologic equipment during the Cold War, whose clients included over 120 governments around the world. Last month, The Washington Post and the German public broadcaster ZDF appeared to confirm reports that had been circulating since the early 1980s, that Crypto AG was a front for American intelligence. According to the revelations, the CIA and West Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) secretly purchased the Swiss company in the 1950s and paid off most of its senior executives in order to buy their silence. The secret deal, dubbed Operation RUBICON, allegedly allowed the US and West Germany to spy on the classified government communications of several of their adversaries —and even allies, including Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The revelation about the secret deal has shocked Swiss public opinion and embarrassed the government of a nation that bases its national identity and international reputation on the concept of neutrality. For this reason, the Swiss Federal Department of Finance has filed a criminal complaint about the case. The complaint was announced by the Office of the Swiss Attorney General on Monday, following reports in the Swiss media. It said that it received a criminal complaint by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which is the part of the Finance Department that authorizes exports of sensitive software or hardware. SECO officials argue that they were deceived into authorizing the export of Crypto AG’s products without realizing they had been compromised by the company’s secret agreement with the CIA and the BND. Accordingly, the secret agreement violates Swiss federal law governing the regulation of exports, SECO officials claim.

The Office of the Attorney General said it would review the criminal complaint and decide whether it warrants criminal proceedings. Meanwhile, a probe into the alleged Crypto AG-CIA-BND conspiracy, which was launched by the Swiss government last month, is already underway, and is expected to conclude in June. The Swiss Federal Assembly (the country’s parliament) is also expected to launch its own investigation into the alleged affair.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 March 2020 | Permalink