US considered covert mission to recover drone captured by Iran

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
What a difference two days can make! On Monday we speculated that Iran may have captured intact a United States Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone. At that time, most American officials questioned or flatly denied Iran’s capture claims. It now appears almost certain that Iran is indeed in possession of the aircraft; what is more, it seems increasingly likely that the captured drone was conducting a Central Intelligence Agency reconnaissance mission when it crashed in the desert along the country’s 1,000 km-long border with Afghanistan. The significance of the drone’s capture by Iranian authorities can be discerned from the fact that US officials are said to have considered last weekend several options for retrieving it from Iranian territory. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Defense, in association with the CIA, discussed at least three separate plans for recovering or destroying the aircraft wreckage. One of the options discussed involved sending an airborne team of US covert operatives into northeast Iran to locate the crashed drone, disassemble it, and carry its top-secret mechanical and electronic components back to a US base in Afghanistan. The US also considered deploying Special Forces stationed in Afghanistan, or tasking US intelligence assets inside Iran, with locating and blowing up the crashed drone. A third option involved destroying the downed aircraft with a remote airstrike from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Analysis: CIA retains special operations role in post-9/11 era

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Despite its ‘shoot ’em-up’ image in popular culture, the Central Intelligence Agency is predominantly responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence for the benefit of US policymakers. The Agency’s paramilitary tasks —also known as ‘special operations’— form a somewhat smaller part of its overall mission. The CIA is America’s only government agency that can legally authorized by the President to perform special operations. The question is, should it? One of the 9/11 Commission Report’s chief recommendations was that the CIA should be stripped of its special operations function, and that the latter should be surrendered to the Department of Defense, in the form of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Clearly, JSOC has played an important role in post-9/11 counterterrorist operations. Yet it is equally clear that, not only has the CIA not been stripped of its paramilitary tasks, but the latter have actually been drastically augmented by the Obama administration —not least through the continuing unmanned drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A well-written analysis by Politico’s Josh Gerstein correctly notes that recommendations to eliminate the CIA’s paramilitary role and transfer it to the Pentagon “remain unpopular in the highest echelons”. The article quotes Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, who is one of the few intelligence planners that favor transferring special operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense. He says that military functions “ought to be performed by trained military organizations […]. Do you want the CIA operating a combatant command responsible for fighting our twilight wars, especially in a world when twilight wars are the wars we mainly fight?”. The argument seems to be that, as special operations become increasingly central in America’s ‘war on terrorism’, they should be commanded by a military, rather than a civilian, agency. An unnamed former CIA official puts forward the Agency’s view in the article: what do you do “if you have a [host] country that wants to deny a program”? In other words, how do you exercise plausible deniability through the Department of Defense? “[T]he CIA is going to [have to] move to the front of the queue”, he answers. Read more of this post

White House considering covert operations against Iran

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the major strategic objections to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the near-certain prospect that removing the Sunni-dominated Ba’ath Party from power would increase Iranian-Shiite influence in the country. As the US military exit strategy gradually unfolds in Iraq, the administration of US President Barack Obama is faced with precisely this prospect. While US troops are leaving Iraq, Iran is doing what any logical regional power would do: namely strengthening its clandestine footprint inside Iraq and preparing Tehran-allied Iraqi groups for the impending showdown with Sunni power centers. An article that appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal notes that “growing concern [about regional] influence from Iran” has prompted the Obama administration to explore covert ways of countering it. According to the article, US intelligence agencies have detected “increased arms smuggling [by Iran] to its allies” in Iraq, Bahrain and Syria (and, one would suppose, Lebanon, though this is not mentioned in the piece). The administration has therefore “pushed the military and intelligence communities to develop proposals to counter Tehran”, says the Journal. The push has prompted American intelligence and military planners to request “greater authority to conduct covert operations to thwart Iranian influence in neighboring Iraq”. This essentially implies an appeal for a Presidential “finding”, a secret executive authorization that —under the National Security Act— would provide the required legal basis for covert operations conducted abroad. Read more of this post

Western spies, security contractors, won Libyan war for rebels

Libya

Libya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As I write these lines, celebratory gunfire is being heard all across Tripoli and the rebel National Transitional Council is appointing civilians to replace the crumbling administration of longtime Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. But a handful of news outlets discreetly remind us that the rebels’ claim to victory rests on vital covert assistance provided by several Western intelligence services. British daily The Independent notes that the victorious rebels were assisted on all levels by “an army of [British] diplomats, spooks, military advisers and former members of the special forces”, all of whom allowed “London to influence events in Libya beyond the activities of warplanes and naval vessels”. Early indications of Britain’s substantial covert involvement in the Libyan civil war emerged in March, when a secret operation involving a team of 20 Special Air Service (SAS) personnel was disrupted by a group of Libyan rebels, who thought the foreigners were employed by the Libyan government. Eight captured SAS members were soon released by the red-faced rebels, but not before the botched operation had made headlines all over the world. That experience prompted British intelligence planners to rethink their methodology. Eventually, notes The Independent, the British government decided to prompt the rebel National Transitional Council to use British funds to hire teams of former special forces operatives working for private security firms. This, according to the paper, accounts for the “small groups of […] Caucasian males, many with British accents [and] equipped with sunglasses, 4×4 vehicles and locally acquired weaponry, who [were] seen regularly by reporters in the vanguard of the rebels’ haphazard journey […] towards Tripoli”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #510 (bin Laden edition)

  • Europe says US slow in sharing bin Laden intel. European security officials have lots of questions about the intelligence being analyzed from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, but so far they have seen very little of it, they say.
  • Did Pakistani official lead US to bin Laden? There are rumors in Pakistan that the CIA was tipped off about the location of bin Laden’s hideout from a walk-in informant at the US Embassy in Islamabad.
  • CIA interrogates bin Laden’s wives. US intelligence officials have interrogated the three wives of Osama Bin Laden who were left behind in his compound after Navy Seals shot dead the al-Qaeda leader. The women, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, of Yemen, and Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, both of Saudi Arabia, were apparently “hostile” and uncooperative during the interrogations

News you may have missed #508

  • US not to withdraw Pakistan CIA chief. The US has said it will not withdraw the CIA station chief in Pakistan, despite his name being leaked to local media last week. But officials quoted by US media said the name published in Pakistani news outlets was spelled incorrectly.
  • CIA, not Pentagon, ran bin Laden operation. Has anyone noticed that CIA Director Leon Panetta has said a lot more about the Navy commandos’ killing of Osama bin Laden than has the Pentagon chief? The reason Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said exactly nothing about the raid is that the CIA, not the Pentagon, ran the operation.
  • Spy vs. spy in China. Interesting summary of the case of Glenn Shriver, an American who was arrested last year for accepting $70,000 from Chinese spies as he attempted to secure jobs with the CIA and US Foreign Service that would have allowed him to expose US government secrets.

News you may have missed #503

  • Dutch forces’ covert operations in Africa revealed. Dutch forces have for several years been training government soldiers in Mali, Senegal and Chad, without the Dutch parliament being informed, according to Dutch newspaper AD, which cites documents from the US Congress and the Pentagon.
  • Israel destroys spying devices found in Gaza. Hamas sources have told Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram that they discovered several “audio-visual spying devices” in the sand hills south of Gaza City. But, as soon as they started removing the devices, they “received a phone call from Israeli intelligence elements” telling them that the site would be bombed “within three minutes” —which is precisely what happened, according to al-Ahram. Regular readers of this blog will know this incident was not a first.
  • Leaked documents reveal Guantanamo secrets. A batch of leaked US government intelligence documents, not meant to surface for 20 years, shows that intelligence collection at Guantánamo often was much less effective than the George Bush administration has acknowledged. According to the documents, the US military used interrogation and detention practices that they largely made up as they went along.