British judge denies request to name alleged new member of Cambridge spy ring

Corpus Christi College CambridgeA document that allegedly contains the name of a man who could be connected to one of the most sensational spy rings of the Cold War is to remain secret after a judge rejected a request to have it released. The man is believed by some to have been associated with the so-called ‘Cambridge spy ring’, a group of upper-class British graduates of Cambridge University, who spied for the USSR from the 1930s until the 1960s. Among them was Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1979, it was revealed that Anthony Blunt, an art history professor who in 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, was also a member of the group. A fifth member, career civil servant and former intelligence officer John Cairncross, was publicly outed as a Soviet in 1990, shortly before his death.

Over the years, more individuals have been suggested by historians as potential members of the group, including intelligence officers Leo Long and Guy Liddell, academics Ludwig Wittgenstein and Andrew Gow, and physicist Wilfrid Mann. But according to British newspaper The Daily Mail, another individual may be identified in a classified document as a possible member of the Cambridge spy ring. The document was allegedly traced by Andrew Lownie, who authored the recently published Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess. Lownie filed a Freedom of Information request to have the document, which is held at the National Archives in London, released. But the request was denied, and a judge has now upheld the decision.

In denying the request, the judge argued that the man named in the document is still alive and that a possible release of the document could “jeopardize […] personal relationships”. He also contended that the case is too old to warrant immediate public interest, and thus there was “no pressing need” to declassify the file. The Mail speculates that the individual named in the document could have cooperated with the British government in the past in return for protection, or that the file in question may contain details that could embarrass the British government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 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

US, UK, had secret plan to bomb Middle East oil facilities if Soviets invaded

Iraq Oil Petroleum CompanyRecently uncovered documents shed further light on an ultra-secret plan, devised by the British and American governments, to destroy oil facilities in the Middle East in the event the region was invaded by Soviet troops. The documents, published on Thursday by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, were found in the British government archives and date from 1951 to 1955. They describe a top-secret United States plan known as NSC 26/2, which was approved by the National Security Council in 1949 and authorized by President Harry Truman. The plan aimed to prevent the use of Middle East oil facilities by Soviet troops if the latter were able to successfully invade the region.

American documents from the 1950s describe NSC 26/2 as a “denial policy”, which called for a secret collaboration between Middle East-based American and British oil companies. The goal was to sabotage or completely destroy oil facilities and equipment that were in British and American hands, before the Soviets could take them over. The most sensitive part of the plan was the need to keep it secret from the governments of Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, even though most of them were allies of the West at the time.

The existence of NSC 26/2 was first revealed in 1996, when the American newspaper Kansas City Star published an extensive article about it, written by Steve Everly. But the recently unearthed British documents shed more light than ever before on the intelligence aspects of the secret plan. Specifically, they reveal the leading role played by the Central Intelligence Agency in implementing the details of the plan in nearly every Middle Eastern country, including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. As part of the plan, the CIA systematically inserted what the National Security Archive describes as “undercover operatives” into posts in American and British oil companies. Their mission was to collect inside information and recruit other oil employees to facilitate the requirements of NSC 26/2. In essence, says the National Security Archive, the CIA created “a paramilitary force ready to execute the denial policy”.

Some of the documents also show that American and British leaders discussed the possibility of bombing —in some cases using nuclear weapons— some oil facilities in countries like Iraq and Iran that were state-owned and thus had no Western connections. In 1953, NSC 26/2 was updated and replaced with NSC 176, which was later renamed NSC 5401. The plan continued to call for the destruction of oil facilities in the Middle East, using “direct action”, if they were close to being seized by Soviet troops.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 June 2016 | Permalink

Revealed: Iran’s Khomeini had secret dealings with US in 1979

KhomeiniNewly declassified files show that Ayatollah Khomeini, who led Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, had a secret channel of communication with the United States, and even sent a personal letter to US President Jimmy Carter. On January 16, 1979, after nearly a year of street clashes and protests against his leadership, the king of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, fled the country for the US. His decision to leave was strongly influenced by his American advisors, who feared that Iran was heading toward a catastrophic civil war. The Shah’s departure did little to calm tensions in the country. Protesters —many of them armed— engaged in daily street battles with members of the police and the military, who remained loyal to Pahlavi. Meanwhile, a national strike had brought the Iranian oil sector to a standstill, thereby threatening to bring about a global energy crisis. Moreover, the country was home to thousands of American military advisors and the Iranian military was almost exclusively funded and supplied by Washington. The Carter administration worried that the weaponry and technical knowledge might fall into the hands of a new, pro-Soviet government in Tehran.

It was in that tense and highly unpredictable context that the White House opened a secret channel of communication with Ayatollah Khomeini. Newly declassified US government documents show that these secret contacts began on January 15, 1979, just days before Khomeini returned to Iran from France, where he had been living in exile. The files have been accessed by the BBC’s Persian service, and allegedly contain “diplomatic cables, policy memos, meeting records” and other documents. They show that the first meeting between US government officials and Khomeini’s team took place in Neauphle-le-Château, a small village located a few miles west of Paris. It was led by Warren Zimmermann, a political secretary at the US embassy in Paris, and Ebrahim Yazdi, an Iranian-American physician who was Khomeini’s chief of staff in France. Through these secret meetings, Washington signaled to Khomeini on January 18 that American advisors in Tehran would not oppose a discussion about changing the Iranian constitution in order to abolish the monarchy and turn the country into a republic.

Khomeini letterNine days later, on January 27, Dr. Yazdi gave Zimmerman a letter written by Khomeini and addressed to President Carter. The letter, which addressed Carter in the first person, was cabled to the Department of State from the US embassy in Paris and, according to the BBC, reached the US president. In the letter, Khomeini promises to protect “America’s interests and citizens in Iran” if Washington pressured the Iranian military to stand aside and allow him and his advisers to return to Iran. Khomeini’s fear was that the royalist Iranian military would not allow a new government to take hold in Tehran. But the exiled cleric was aware of America’s influence in Iranian military circles, which at the time were effectively under the command of General Robert Huyser, Deputy Commander of US Forces in Europe, who had been dispatched to Tehran by President Carter. Before answering Khomeini’s letter, the White House sent a draft response to the embassy in Tehran for input and advice. But Khomeini did not wait for Washington’s response. On February 1, he returned to Iran, where he was greeted by millions of people in the streets and welcomed as the next leader of the country. Meanwhile, Washington had already instructed General Huyser to rule out the so-called “option C”, namely a military coup carried out by the Iranian armed forces.

The documents unearthed by the BBC show that, despite their apparent recalcitrance, the US government and Ayatollah Khomeini were far more engaged with each other than has generally been assumed. The revelations would appear to especially affect the official narrative of the Islamic Republic, which claims that Khomeini managed to take command of the Islamic Revolution despite frantic attempts by Washington to stop him. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tehran has dismissed the BBC’s revelations, calling the documents “fake” and denouncing what it described as “hostility from the British”. The Department of State has refused comment on the BBC’s revelations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 June 2016 | Permalink

Were Pakistani spies behind 2009 attack that killed seven CIA employees?

FOB ChapmanTwo recently declassified United States government documents suggest that Pakistani intelligence officers may have been behind a suicide attack that killed seven employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan. The attack took place at the Forward Operating Base Chapman, a US military outpost in Khost, Afghanistan. It was carried out by Humam al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who posed as a disillusioned member of al-Qaeda and had convinced his CIA handlers that he could lead them to the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s deputy Emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri. During a scheduled visit to FOB Chapman on December 30, 2009, al-Balawi detonated a suicide vest, instantly killing himself and nine other people, including a Jordanian intelligence officer and seven CIA employees. The bloody incident, which marked the most lethal attack against the CIA in nearly three decades, was widely blamed on al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

However, a set of newly released US State Department cables seem to suggest that Pakistani intelligence may have been behind the attack. The documents were released by George Washington University’s National Security Archive through a Freedom of Information Act request. One document, dated January 11, 2010, discusses the FOB Chapman attack in association with the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned Pashtun militant group that operates in Afghanistan but is headquartered in Pakistan. Western security observers have long considered the Haqqani network to be a paramilitary arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. The January 11 State Department cable suggests that senior Haqqani network operatives met with their ISI handlers at least twice in the weeks prior to the FOB Chapman attack. Another cable, dated February 6, 2010, suggests that the ISI gave the Haqqani operatives $200,000 to step up attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan. A specific order was given at the meeting to carry out “the attack on Chapman [and] to enable a suicide mission by an unnamed Jordanian national”, presumably al-Balawi.

But an unnamed US intelligence official, who read the declassified documents, told the Associated Press news agency that the documents were “information report[s], not finally evaluated intelligence”. The material was thus “raw, unverified and uncorroborated”, said the official, and clashed with the broad consensus in the US Intelligence Community, which was that the attack was planned by al-Qaeda, not by the Haqqani network. The Associated Press contacted the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC, about the National Security Archive revelations, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2016 | Permalink

Declassified files shed light on 1956 disappearance of MI6 agent

Lionel CrabbA set of newly released files from the archives of the British Cabinet Office shed light on the mysterious case of a highly decorated combat swimmer, who vanished while carrying out a secret operation against a Soviet ship. The disappearance happened during a historic Soviet high-level visit to Britain in 1956. In April of that year, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, and Nikolai Bulganin, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, arrived in Britain aboard Russian warship Ordzhonikidze, which docked at Portsmouth harbor. Their eight-day tour of Britain marked the first-ever official visit by Soviet leadership to a Western country. But the tour was marred by a botched undersea operation led by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known commonly as MI6. The operation, which aimed to explore the then state-of-the-art Ordzhonikidze, ended in the disappearance of MI6 diver Lionel “Buster” Crabb. The body of Crabb, one of several MI6 operatives involved in the operation, was never recovered.

Now a set of documents released by the Cabinet Office, a British government department tasked with providing support services to the country’s prime minister and senior Cabinet officials, show that the operation had been mismanaged by MI6 from the start. According to The Daily Telegraph, the documents show that miscommunication between the British Foreign Office and MI6 caused the latter to believe that the operation to target the Ordzhonikidze had been authorized by the government, when in fact no such thing had ever occurred.

Moreover, MI6 had housed Crabb and other operatives in a Portsmouth hotel, where the agency’s handler had provided the front-desk clerk with the real names and addresses of the underwater team members. The documents also reveal that several of Crabb’s relatives and friends had been told by him that he would be diving in Portsmouth on the week leading up to his death. Those who knew included one of Crabb’s business partners, with whom he operated a furniture outlet. The partner apparently told the authorities that he was contemplating “consulting a clairvoyant, Madame Theodosia”, in an effort to discover the fate of his missing business partner.

After Crabb disappeared, British government officials were convinced that he had been abducted or killed by the Soviets and that the KGB was in possession of his body. Should the Soviets decide to disclose the existence of the MI6 operation to the world, there would be “no action that [MI6] could take [that] could stave off disaster”, said one British government memo. As intelNews has reported before, n 2007, Eduard Koltsov, a retired Russian military diver, said he killed a man he thinks was Crabb, as he was “trying to place a mine” on the Soviet ship.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2015 | Permalink

Maltese far-right party had links to CIA, British documents suggest

Josie MuscatA Maltese ultra-nationalist group believed to be behind a string of bombings in the 1980s was believed by British intelligence to have links to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to recently declassified documents. The Front Freedom Fighters (FFF) was a staunchly anticommunist group whose members violently objected to what they saw as Malta’s overly close contacts with the Communist Bloc. During the 16-year rule of the Maltese Labour Party, which began in 1971, the Mediterranean island maintained close relations with countries during such as Libya and North Korea. The Maltese Nationalist Party, which formed the main opposition to Labour, was highly critical of these contacts, but failed to win three consecutive electoral contests and was thus unable to influence the country’s foreign policy in any significant way.

The FFF emerged in the early 1980s from within the ranks of the Nationalist Party. It consisted of younger activists who favored a violent response to the rule of the Labour Party. The group was led by Josie Muscat, a dynamic anticommunist campaigner and longtime Nationalist Party Member of Parliament, who gathered around him some of the more extreme rightwing elements in the Nationalist Party. A string of bombings and threats directed at Labour Party facilities on the island was attributed to the FFF by the popular press, though Muscat himself consistently denied such accusations. Many believed that the FFF was actively preparing to launch an armed coup d’etat.

Eventually, the leadership of the Nationalist Party, which saw itself as falling within the mainstream of the European conservative tradition, began distancing itself from the FFF’s rhetoric and actions. In July of 1983, the party expelled FFF leaders from its ranks and forbade its members from associating with FFF-linked groups. Few Nationalist Party members followed Muscat, and his movement eventually suffered what some observers described “a natural death”.

However, new documents released this month by the National Archives in Britain show that the British Foreign Office believed that the FFF was being funded by the CIA. A Foreign Office Report from the early 1980s states that the group was probably behind several bomb explosions targeting Labour Party activists, as well as moderate Nationalist Party members. The report describes the FFF as “neo-Fascist in character” that prioritized crude violence as its main tactic. It goes on to say that the group consisted of about 500 determined members, but that its violent core was much smaller. The Foreign Office report also suggests that Muscat may have traveled abroad to meet CIA officers, as well as to network with other anticommunist organizations throughout Europe.

Asked to give his reaction to the British government documents, Muscat told The Times of Malta that he “hadn’t had such a good laugh in years”. The now retired politician denied having any links to the CIA and said that the FFF’s activities had been “mostly limited to political debating and had never even come close to any form of violence”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2015 | Permalink