US troops in Syria battle anti-Assad rebels once funded by the CIA

US troops in SyriaAmerican troops deployed in Syria have exchanged fire with rebels that were until recently supported by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. In 2013, soon after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the then-US President Barack Obama instructed the Central Intelligence Agency to provide covert support to fighters in Syria. Acting on the president’s directive, the CIA promptly joined forces with spy agencies from Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to assist fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. At that time, Washington saw the Free Syrian Army and forces affiliated with it as ideologically moderate. It also agreed with the group’s main aim, which was to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Under the project, which was codenamed TIMBER SYCAMORE, CIA personnel trained Free Syrian Army fighters in irregular warfare, while also providing them with light weaponry including machine guns, sniper rifles and off-road vehicles. But on July 19 of this year, US President Donald Trump abruptly ended the CIA program, which he called “dangerous and wasteful”. It soon became apparent that many Free Syrian Army soldiers approached Turkey, seeking financial income and protection. By early August, there were reports from Syria that large groups of former Free Syrian Army troops were conducting raids in northern Syria in coordination with the Turkish military.

Early on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Combined Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters that US troops in Syria had come under fire by Turkish-commanded former Free Syrian Army units. The spokesman told reporters in Kuwait City that the rebels shot at US troops in the outskirts of Manbij, a northern Syrian city of about 70,000, located a few miles from the Turkish border. The American soldiers reportedly returned fire before seeking shelter from the assault. According to the US Pentagon, the Turkish government was promptly contacted by Inherent Resolve commanders, who described the incident as “not acceptable”. Washington alleges that its troops have come under fire “multiple times” in the past month. Some of the culprits are believed to be Turkish-controlled Syrian insurgents, including former members of the Free Syrian Army.

Turkey and the US are member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the two countries do not follow a common policy on Syria. The US Pentagon supports Kurdish insurgents in Syria, which Turkey claims are connected with Kurdish separatists inside Turkey. Washington’s official position on Kurdish separatists is that they engage in terrorism against the Turkish state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 August 2017 | Permalink

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Cold War files show CIA support for guerrilla warfare inside USSR (Part II)

Latvia Forest BrothersThe role of the CIA in funding and helping to organize anti-Soviet groups inside the USSR has been known for decades. But, as intelNews explained in part I of this article, a batch of recently released documents, unearthed by Russian-language service of Latvian state television, sheds light into the CIA’s early understanding of the identity, strength and operations of these groups. They also contain new information about the background and structure of underground anti-Soviet groups like the Forest Brothers in Latvia.

Judging that Latvia’s anti-Soviet underground movement could be “of considerable operational value”, the CIA initiated project ZRLYNCH in the summer of 1950. Operated out of the CIA’s Munich station in Germany, ZRLYNCH was intended as a long-term project supervised by the Office of Policy Coordination, an early Cold War covert operations outfit that in 1952 was absorbed into the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. The Latvia operation was part of a wider effort by the CIA, which was aimed at subverting Soviet power in Eastern Europe.

For the first year of ZRLYNCH, the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination asked for —and received— a budget of $30,000. The top-secret document unearthed recently by Latvian state television states that the budget was to be used primarily for intelligence collection inside Soviet territory, as well as for covert operations by the Forest Brothers (for information about the group, see part I of this post). The latter were to conduct sabotage activities as part of organized guerrilla warfare. These activities are not specified in the CIA documents. By the end of the first year, it appears that the CIA had recruited three Latvian agents in Europe (one in Sweden and two in Germany), who were acting as mediators between the CIA and the Forest Brothers inside the USSR. Less than three years later, the ZRLYNCH budget had risen to $134,000, with $52,000 going toward covert —mostly psychological— operations and the rest being used to fund intelligence collection efforts. The CIA was also funding the travel expenses of leading Latvian émigré figures in the US, and was diverting tens of thousands of dollars toward Latvian émigré conferences in America, which aimed to unite the various political factions of the fragmented Latvian community in the States.

But the CIA officers behind ZRLYNCH were extremely concerned about operational security. They did not want the Kremlin finding out that the Agency was behind efforts to stir up armed resistance against Soviet power in the Baltic region. One CIA document states that there would be no tolerance for “any breaches of security” that compromised ZRLYNCH. Consequently, any action that uncovered the link between the US government and the Forest Bothers would lead “to an immediate cessation of financial support” for ZRLYNCH, states the memo.

Ultimately, ZRLYNCH failed to seriously challenge Soviet power in Latvia. Most of the members of the Forest Brothers were killed during Red Army counterinsurgency operations, and much of the organization’s structure was penetrated by agents of Soviet intelligence. Eventually, the Forest Brothers became extinct in 1957, when their last members emerged from the forest and surrendered to Latvian and Soviet authorities.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2017 | Permalink

CIA’s withdrawal from Syria could cause pro-US rebels to join Islamists, experts warn

Free Syrian ArmyThe decision by the White House to terminate American support for rebels in war-torn Syria could backfire by causing the suddenly unemployed fighters to join jihadist organizations, according to experts. The United States’ support for the rebels began in secret in early 2013, after the then US President, Barack Obama, instructed the Central Intelligence Agency to provide covert support to fighters in Syria. The CIA then joined forces with spy agencies from Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to assist fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. At that time, Washington saw the Free Syrian Army and forces affiliated with it as ideologically moderate. It also agreed with the group’s main aim, which was to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Codenamed TIMBER SYCAMORE, the CIA program was designed to mirror a similar project run by the US military in support of local troops fighting the Islamic State. On the one hand, the White House wanted to use the CIA’s support for the FSA to weaken militarily the regime in Damascus. On the other hand, Washington hoped that the CIA’s involvement in the region would be able to control the influx of weapons, money and fighters that were streaming in from neighboring countries. Under TIMBER SYCAMORE, for over three years, CIA personnel trained Free Syrian Army fighters in irregular warfare, while also providing them with light weaponry including machine guns, sniper rifles and off-road vehicles.

But on July 19 of this year, US President Donald Trump abruptly ended the CIA program, which he called “dangerous and wasteful”. Some observers argued that the termination of TIMBER SYCAMORE was an attempt by the Trump administration to come to an agreement with Russia on Syria. It is believed that America’s local allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also terminating their clandestine support for the Free Syrian Army, not wishing to go against the White House. This development, therefore, may signal the effective termination of substantial foreign support for the most important anti-Assad rebel group in Syria.

What does that mean for the fate of the Free Syrian Army and its thousands of fighters? Some experts say that their fate is uncertain, and warn that some of them may turn against their former benefactors. Writing in The Christian Science Monitor, Taylor Luck, said earlier this week that the Free Syrian Army reported 50 defections of its fighters in July. Some of these fighters, says Luck, are joining the Pentagon’s program in support of forces fighting the Islamic State, and are currently heading to the eastern and northern battlefronts. But many others are being tempted to join al-Qaeda affiliated groups, who are still fighting President Assad’s forces. Many do so for financial reasons, after seeing their CIA income suddenly disappear. Others, says Luck, are feeling very emotional and bitter against what they see as a betrayal by Washington. “We lost our brothers, our sisters, our children”, says one of these fighters, before vowing to fight Assad until the end. According to Luck’s report, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are trying to come up with ways to continue to pay the Free Syrian Army rebels, in an attempt to stop them from joining rival jihadist groups.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 August 2017 | Permalink

French spy who helped bomb Rainbow Warrior tracked down 32 years later

Christine CabonA French spy who infiltrated the environmentalist group Greenpeace and in 1985 helped bomb the organization’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has spoken to the media for the first time. The British-based activist organization had purchased the trawler from the British government in 1977 and used it to carry out maritime research and other operations. In July 1985, the Rainbow Warrior, captained by the American environmental activist Peter Wilcox, was docked at the port of Auckland, New Zealand. It was being prepared to lead a flotilla of vessels to the French Polynesian atoll of Mororoa, in order to try to stop a planned nuclear test by the French military.

But on the night of July 10, 1985, two large explosions nearly split the ship in two, causing it to sink in less than five minutes. One of the Rainbow Warrior’s passengers, the Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira, drowned after he boarded the sinking ship in order to retrieve his cameras and lenses. Greenpeace blamed the government of France for the attack on the ship, but Paris denied any involvement. It later emerged, however, that the blasts had been caused by two plastic-wrapped explosive devices that had been placed on the exterior of the Rainbow Warrior’s engine room and on its propeller blades. The explosive mechanisms had been placed there by two divers working for the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), France’s external intelligence service. Read more of this post

Pakistani ex-troops speak about secret infiltration of Indian Kashmir

1965 Indo-Pakistani WarFifty years after the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, Pakistani former soldiers have spoken for the first time about their role in a secret effort by Pakistan to infiltrate India and incite a Muslim uprising. The conflict between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir is largely rooted in Britain’s decision to partition its former colonial possession into mainly Hindu India and Pakistan, a mostly Muslim state. As soon as the British withdrew in 1947, the two states fought a bloody war that culminated in a violent exchange of populations and led to the partition of Kashmir. Today India controls much of the region, which, unlike the rest of the country, is overwhelmingly Muslim. Indian rule survived an uprising by some of the local population in August 1965, which led to yet another war between the two countries, known as the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War.

Although Pakistan refuses to confirm that it was behind the opening shots of the war, much historical research has focused on Operation GIBRALTAR, a secret project by the Pakistani military to infiltrate Indian-controlled Kashmir and prompt the local population to start a rebellion against Indian rule. It is believed that the plan was devised and supervised by Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, a hawkish military leader who was close to Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s military dictator who served as the country’s second president, from 1958 to 1969. Operation GIBRALTAR involved the use of between 7,000 and 20,000 men who were trained by the Pakistani Army before being sent to infiltrate Indian Kashmir in the summer of 1965. Moving mostly at night in units of no more than 200 men, the armed infiltrators sabotaged Indian transportation and communication systems in order to prevent Indian Armed Forces units from reaching the region.

Several of these men, who are today in their 60s and 70s, have been speaking to the BBC and to Pakistani newspaper The Dawn about their role in Operation GIBRALTAR. Among them is Qurban Ali, 71, who told the BBC that most of the men in his unit of 180 infiltrators were civilian recruits. Another GIBRALTAR veteran, Mohammad Nazeer, 64, who was only 14 when he was recruited, said that he and his fellow soldiers thought they were practicing maneuvers when they were moved toward the Indian border. Interestingly, the infiltrators were unaware that hundreds of other Pakistani military units were also operating in secret in Indian Kashmir.

Eventually, India was able to deploy over 100,000 soldiers in the contested region, while few among the local Muslim population joined the infiltrators of Operation GIBRALTAR. After several weeks of fighting, the two sides entered negotiations held in Soviet Uzbekistan. The outcome was the Tashkent Agreement, under which both sides agreed to withdraw to the pre-August borders. However, the fate of Operation GIBRALTAR weakened the position of Pakistan’s President Khan. He was deposed in a popular uprising in 1969 and died in 1974, aged 66, allegedly a broken man.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 September 2015 | Permalink

Israeli nuclear whistleblower recalls his 1986 capture by the Mossad

Mordechai VanunuIsraeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for revealing the existence of Israel’s nuclear program, has spoken for the first time about his 1986abduction by the Mossad in Rome. Vanunu was an employee at Israel’s top-secret Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the desert city of Dimona, which was used to develop the country’s nuclear arsenal. But he became a fervent opponent of nuclear proliferation and in 1986 fled to the United Kingdom, where he revealed the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to the The Times of London. His action was in direct violation of the non-disclosure agreement he had signed with the government of Israel; moreover, it went against Israel’s official policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, which means that the country refuses to confirm or deny that it maintains a nuclear weapons program.

Soon after Vanunu settled in London, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad began making plans to capture him. The spy agency sent one of its American-born female officers, Cheryl Bentov, to befriend Vanunu. The decision was taken after Mossad psychologists determined that Vanunu was lonely and longed for female companionship. Masquerading as an American tourist by the name of ‘Cindy’, Bentov convinced Vanunu to go with her on Vacation to Rome, Italy. Soon after the couple arrived in the Italian capital, Vanunu was abducted by a Mossad team who injected him with a paralyzing drug before taking him away in a van. Vanunu was then transferred onboard the INS Noga, an Israeli signals-intelligence ship masquerading as a merchant vessel, which transported him to Israel. He was convicted to 18 years in prison and was released in 2004, after having spent 11 years in solitary confinement.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 2 television showed excerpts of Vanunu’s first-ever interview to an Israeli media outlet. The interview, which is to be aired in full on Friday, includes Vanunu’s personal account of his capture by the Mossad. He told the interviewer that ‘Cindy’ first spoke to him as she walked alongside him while the two of them were crossing a London street. But he said that it was he who “initiated the relationship” with the woman posing as an American tourist. That was a critical moment in the whole process, said Vanunu, because “if she initiates you’ll suspect her”. The nuclear whistleblower insisted, however, that he did not “fall in love with her”, as some accounts of the Mossad operation have suggested, though he was “definitely attracted” to her, he said.

Vanunu added that the thought of ‘Cindy’ being a Mossad officer had initially crossed his mind; but he disregarded it and did not realize he was being tricked “until the very last moment”. He told Channel 2 that even after several days after his capture, he still believed that ‘Cindy’ had also been abducted. It was only later that he “reached the conclusion that she was part of the plan”, he said. At another point in the interview, Vanunu said that ‘Cindy’ was not the only Mossad officer who had tried to befriend him while he was in London, but that he was able to detect every other attempt by Israeli intelligence operatives.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 September 2015 | Permalink

In surprise move, US Congress may slash funding for CIA ops in Syria

CIAAmerican Congressional lawmakers have voted to cut funding for the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret operations in Syria, in a surprise move that indicates growing concern on Capitol Hill with Washington’s strategy on the Syrian Civil War. The CIA’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War began in 2012, when US President Barack Obama issued 1 a classified presidential finding that authorized Langley to arm and train opposition militias. The clandestine program was initially based in training camps in Jordan, before eventually expanding to at least one location in Qatar. Currently, the CIA’s secret involvement in the Syrian conflict is said 2 to be among the Agency’s most extensive covert operations in the world, and comes at an annual cost that is nearing $1 billion.

But this amount may be cut by as much as 20 percent if the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the US House of Representatives has its way. According to The Washington Post 3, the Committee recently voted to reduce the Agency’s classified funds for the Syria operation as a way of expressing its “concern with [US] strategy in Syria”. It is perhaps indicative of the displeasure on Capitol Hill with Washington’s current policy on Syria that the Committee voted unanimously to slash the CIA’s funding. The Post even quoted the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Adam B. Schiff (CA), who said there was “growing pessimism” among Committee members, who felt that the US would not be in a position to “help shape the aftermath” of the conflict in Syria.

The surprise move by the Congressional intelligence panel will need to be ratified by the House, which will vote on a preliminary intelligence-spending bill this week. The Post said that the measure “provoked concern” in the White House, while CIA officials warned that slashing the CIA’s funding for its Syria operations could seriously hurt rebel groups that are being backed by the US. One unnamed US intelligence official told the paper that Russia and China would continue to fund the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as Congress decided to defund the CIA’s operations in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. The White House declined to respond to questions about the vote.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/15/01-1714/


  1. J. Fitsanakis “Obama authorizes CIA to conduct ‘non-lethal covert action’ in SyriaintelNews [03aug2012] 
  2. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015] 
  3. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015]