Western companies provide Syrian regime with monitoring systems

Syria

Syria

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Italian communications company is working with the Syrian government to provide it with a sophisticated email surveillance system, using equipment created by American, French and German firms. The Syrian regime has come under sustained pressure by Western governments in recent months. The latter urge Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, to stop using lethal violence against protesters, citing independent reports that over 3,000 civilians have been killed by government forces since March. But Bloomberg News Agency cites an unnamed insider who claims Area SpA, a telecommunications surveillance company based in Milan, Italy, has technicians in several Syrian cities working feverishly to provide the  Syrian authorities with a state-of-the-art email surveillance system. According to the unnamed source, when completed, the surveillance system will be able to “intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country”. The project, which has been codenamed ASFADOR, is directed by senior Syrial intelligence officials, who are supervising the work of several Italian technicians working in Damascus and elsewhere. Bloomberg reports that numerous Area SpA technicians have been traveling to Syria “in shifts”, as the company is anxiously trying to accommodate pressures by Syrian officials, who say “they urgently need to track people”. The Italian company, known for providing Italian law enforcement with telephone surveillance hardware and software, is apparently using equipment by European and American firms, including France’s Qosmos SA, Germany’s Ultimaco Safeware AG, and America’s NetApp Inc. Bloomberg, which claims it has seen blueprints of the surveillance system, contacted Area SpA’s chief executive officer, Andrea Formenti, who refused to comment on the case, except to say that his company “follows all laws and export regulations”. Wondering where you’ve heard all this before? Read more of this post

Turkish spy agency in secret Oslo talks with Kurdish PKK

PKK banner

PKK banner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which culminated in the early 1990s, has flared up again, ever since the creation of the US-protected Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Currently, the Turkish military is technically at war with the PKK, a leftist secessionist movement that aspires to create a Kurdish homeland comprising mostly of territories in Turkey’s Anatolia region. But a leaked audio recording posted on the Internet last week shows that senior Turkish intelligence officials have been participating in secret talks with the leadership of the PKK, since at least 2010. Several Kurdish news agencies published the recording of one such secret meeting, involving the leadership of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The recording features a frank discussion between, on the one side, the head of MİT, Hakan Fidan, and its deputy director, Afet Güneş; the two are heard deliberating with Sabit Ok, Zübeyr Aydar and Mustafa Karasu, all of whom are senior PKK officials and wanted dead or alive by the Turkish state. A voice of an apparent mediator —marked by a distinct Scandinavian accent— can be heard speaking at the beginning. The mediator mentions that the meeting is the fifth installment of a series of encounters called “The Oslo Talks”. According to Turkish daily Hürriyet, the mediator appears to be a government official from Norway, which probably hosted the secret meeting(s) somewhere in its capital city. Shortly following the mediator’s introduction, Fidan is heard saying that he is acting as a “special envoy of […] prime minister” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The leaked recording disappeared from Kurdish websites soon after it was posted, and some Kurdish media sources said that it had been aired by “anonymous hackers”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #592

Nguyen Van Tau

Nguyen Van Tau

►►Tripoli Internet spy room packed with Western technology. Excellent technical analysis of how several Western –and some Chinese– Internet software and hardware suppliers provided the Gaddafi regime with the tools to exercise mass online surveillance against the country’s citizens. Where have we seen this before?
►►Interview with Vietnamese ex-master spy. Interesting interview with Nguyen Van Tau, who led the Vietnamese H63 clandestine intelligence group during the war with the United States. H63 maintained extensive spy cells in South Vietnam, playing a major role in the 1968 Tet Offensive.
►►MI5 seeks ‘telephone spies’ for London 2012 security. MI5 is recruiting ‘telephone spies’ to listen in on plots against the 2012 Olympics. The Security Service hopes to find candidates able to eavesdrop on potential terrorists by getting foreign language speakers to play an interactive “game” online. By logging on to the official MI5 website, wannabe spooks can tune into an audio tape of a conversation in a foreign language and are later quizzed about it.

US spies on Israel (shock, horror)

Shamai Leibowitz

Shamai Leibowitz

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Ever since Monday, when The New York Times exposed the reason behind the May 2010 incarceration of FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz, US and international media have been buzzing with prominent headlines like: “US government spied on Israel’s Washington embassy”. Although these headlines are accurate, they —like the articles themselves— miss the actual story behind the revelations: namely the extent of Israeli covert propaganda operations inside the United States. As intelNews reported in May 2010, Leibowitz, a lawyer with dual American-Israeli citizenship, who worked as a translator for the FBI, was sentenced to right under two years in prison, for leaking classified information. The government disclosed no further information at the time of Leibowitz’s conviction, saying only that he had been jailed for “having unlawfully disclosed classified documents to an unidentified blogger”. Now the “unidentified blogger” has come forward to reveal the details of Leibowitz’s court case, and to defend the former FBI linguist “as an American patriot and a whistle-blower”. Richard Silverstein, a Jewish American scholar, who writes a blog called Tikun Olam, said that Leibowitz gave him about 200 pages containing transcripts of conversations intercepted by the FBI in its monitoring of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. Most of the transcripts contain what appear to be telephone exchanges between staff at the Israeli embassy and outside contacts, though some appear to be the products of eavesdropping of face-to-face conversations conducted inside the Israeli embassy premises. This may be seen as evidence that the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, which is responsible for maintaining interception systems targeting foreign embassies on US soil, conducts extensive monitoring of the goings on at the Israeli embassy. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #531 (US edition)

  • US spy agencies looking into cloud computing. In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the US intelligence community, recently sunk money into a cloud-based storage company called Cleversafe. The CIA has emerged as one of the US government’s strongest advocates of cloud computing, but some US intel insiders are not so hot on the idea.
  • Obama administration drops most CIA torture probes. So, this is how one of the darkest chapters in US counterterrorism ends: with practically every instance of suspected CIA torture dodging criminal scrutiny. Wired’s Danger Room blog calls it “one of the greatest gifts the Justice Department could have given the CIA as David Petraeus takes over the agency”.
  • US report shows increase in authorized wiretaps. US federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications increased 34 percent in 2010, compared to the number reported in 2009.

News you may have missed #425 (US edition)

  • US Pentagon considering pre-emptive cyber-strikes? This is what The Washington Post is reporting, noting that military officials are “still wrestling with how to pursue the strategy legally”. If anyone in the DoD discovers a legal method of launching pre-emptive aggression, we’d sure like to know.
  • More changes in US FISA court. After a recent change of leadership, the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court is considering new compliance rules for handling surveillance requests by US counterspy agencies. The court authorizes requests by agencies for surveillance of foreign suspects operating inside the US.
  • Why do US officials want to deport Chinese defector? Washington wants to deport Li Fengzhi, a Chinese ex-intelligence agent who defected to the US in 2004, back to China, where he could be executed for treason. There are rumors that Li may have “oversold” himself to the FBI and the CIA.

News you may have missed #389

  • Secrecy over attack on Syrian nuclear plant unjustified, says ex-CIA chief. The secrecy surrounding the Israeli attack on the nuclear plant in eastern Syria in September 2007 was justified only for the period immediately after the operation, according to the CIA head at the time, Gen. Michael Hayden. That secrecy had been meant to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from embarrassment that could have provoked him to retaliate, argues Hayden in an authorized scholarly journal article.
  • No proof yet of Colombian spying, says Ecuador. Ecuadorean Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said Thursday that allegations that Colombian security agency DAS spied on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and other officials is “so far just a newspaper story”. Late last month, the Ecuadorean government threatened to break off diplomatic ties with Colombia over the media revelations.
  • GCHQ releases Stalin-era Soviet intercepts. A series of newly released telegrams and telephone conversations, intercepted by the UK’s General Communications Headquarters, paint a picture of Joseph Stalin’s regime in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

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