Philippines summons US ambassador to protest negative intelligence report

Sung KimThe United States ambassador to the Philippines has been summoned by Manila in response to the publication of an American intelligence report that described President Rodrigo Duterte as a threat to democracy. The report, published on February 13, represents a joint assessment of worldwide challenges to the interests of the United States. It is compiled annually by all 16 member agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. This year’s report focused on the administration of President Duterte, who has led a self-styled “war on drugs, corruption and crime” in the Philippines since he assumed office in June 2016.

By the government’s own account, Duterte’s war has left more than 4,000 people dead in the past 18 months. But some human rights groups estimate the number of deaths at 11,000 or even higher. The US intelligence report notes that Duterte declared martial law in the Philippines’ southern region of Mindanao, which is expected to remain in place for most of 2018. It expresses concerns about rumors that the government may continue to impose martial law indefinitely and that it may extend it nationwide. It also expresses concern about Duterte’s prior statements that he intends to turn his government into a “revolutionary regime”.

At a press conference in Manila, President Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said that the US ambassador to the Philippines capital, Sung Kim, met with Salvador Medialdea on Tuesday. Medialdea is the president’s executive secretary, who is the highest-ranking official in Duterte’s office. According to Roque, Medialdea told the US ambassador that the Philippine embassy in Washington was prepared to “give US intelligence accurate information about the reality” of the political situation in the Philippines. He also informed Ambassador Kim that the Philippines president had respect for the rule of law. A statement issued by the US embassy in Manila said that Ambassador Kim informed Medialdea about “the nature of the […] report, which is based on widely available information”.

The meeting ended with the two officials reaffirming “the strength of the broad and deep bilateral relationship” between Washington and Manila. They also said that the US would continue to cooperate with the Philippines on political, economic and security issues. However, tensions between the two countries have been high all week. On Thursday, President Duterte accused the Central Intelligence Agency of funding Rappler.com, a very popular news and information website based in the Philippines and Indonesia, which he said was engaged in a systematic effort to undermine his administration.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 February 2018 | Permalink

Advertisements

US intelligence assessment describes Philippines leader as threat to democracy

Trump and DuterteA wide-ranging assessment by the United States Intelligence Community views the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, as a major threat to democracy and human rights in Southeast Asia. The report, published on February 13, represents a joint assessment of worldwide challenges to the interests of the United States. It is compiled annually by all 16 member agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. This year’s report warns that democratic governance and human rights would continue to be “fragile” in 2018, because of the autocratic governing style of several national administrations. Many Southeast Asian governments were also corrupt and displayed nepotistic tendencies, says the report. It singles out the government of Myanmar, which has been widely criticized for its inhuman treatment of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. It also mentions the autocratic government of Thailand, which recently changed the country’s constitution, giving increased legislative powers to the country’s armed forces.

But much of the criticism in the report focuses on the administration of President Duterte, who has led a self-styled “war on drugs, corruption and crime” in the Philippines since he assumed office in June 2016. His critics in the Philippines and abroad have voiced strong objections to his aggressive tactics, which, by the government’s own account, have left more than 4,000 people dead in the past 18 months. Some human rights groups estimate the number of deaths at 11,000 or even higher. The US intelligence report notes that Duterte declared martial law in the Philippines’ southern region of Mindanao, which is expected to remain in place for most of 2018. It expresses concerns about rumors that the government may continue to impose martial law indefinitely and that it may extend it nationwide. It also expresses concern about Duterte’s prior statements that he intends to turn his government into a “revolutionary regime”.

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers in the Philippines expressed concern about the US intelligence report and advised the Duterte administration to take its contents into consideration. But government representatives in Manila dismissed the US assessment as “myopic” and “speculative at best”. They insisted that the Philippines president “adheres to the rule of law” and would “remain loyal to the constitution” of the country. In November of last year, US President Donald Trump met Duterte during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam. Earlier in the year, the two men spoke on the phone. During that conversation, the American leader reportedly praised his Philippine counterpart for doing an “unbelievable job” in combating the drug trade in his country. Duterte is expected to visit the White House later this year.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 February 2018 | Permalink

Trump trying to assert control over intelligence agencies, say sources

Dan CoatsRelentless bureaucratic skirmishes between the White House and the United States Intelligence Community are occurring daily, with administration officials attempting to “seize the reins” of agencies, according to sources. The Associated Press reports that senior officials around US President Donald Trump continue to “deep[ly] distrust” the Intelligence Community”. This tendency is reportedly more prevalent among those of Mr. Trump’s senior political advisers who are “government newcomers” and have never before been privy to classified information or intelligence programs.

According to the Associated Press, the US president has been trying various ways to “seize the reins” of the Intelligence Community. The news agency cites unnamed “US officials” who claim that Mr. Trump and his senior advisers have requested that they be given access to raw intelligence. At the same time, they have expressed little interest in being exposed to the analysis of raw intelligence produced by intelligence professionals. Typically, White House officials will rely primarily on the expert opinions of intelligence analysts and will not seek to access the raw data that these opinions rest on. But it appears that Mr. Trump and his team of advisers do not think highly of the analytical assessments of the Intelligence Community, preferring instead to make up their own mind based on their own reading of raw intelligence reports. According to the Associated Press report, that appears to be one of the ways in which the White House has been trying to assert its power over the Intelligence Community.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s advisers are pressing on with a comprehensive review of the structure and operations of the Intelligence Community. The review is now being led by Dan Coats, a Congressman from Indiana and former US Ambassador to Germany, who last month was confirmed to serve as the Director of National Intelligence. According to sources, Coats resisted initial plans by the White House to abolish the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was set up after the 9/11 attacks to coordinate the work of the Intelligence Community. The Trump team still plans to “trim and optimize” the Intelligence Community, but probably will not outright dismantle agencies like the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 April 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: SF

Trump removes DNI, reinstates CIA on the National Security Council

Trump CIAThe White House announced on Monday a revised policy that reinstates the Central Intelligence Agency on the National Security Council. Chaired by the president, the NSC was established 70 years ago as a forum to provide the commander-in-chief with advice from senior civilian and military officials before making key decisions on domestic and foreign affairs. Principal attendees of the NSC include the US vice president, the secretaries of state, defense, and energy, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the director of national intelligence. Last week, the White House removed the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from the Principals Committee —the core participants— of the NSC. A statement from the White House said that they would be invited to join the Principals Committee only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed”.

On Monday, a new statement by the White House revised last week’s memorandum, by listing the director of the CIA as a “regular attendee” in NSC meetings. When asked by journalists about the change, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained that “[t]he president has such respect for [CIA] Director [Mike] Pompeo and the men and women of the CIA, that today the president is announcing that he will amend the memo to add the CIA back into the NSC”.

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA was viewed as the most powerful and influential agency in the US Intelligence Community. It answered directly to the president and its director mediated between the White House and all of the nation’s intelligence agencies. That changed in 2005, when the administration of George W. Bush established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as the central coordinating body of the US Intelligence Community. In the same year, the Bush administration replaced the CIA director’s place in the NSC with the DNI. Since that time, the DNI has acted as the de facto intelligence representative on the NSC. But Monday’s memorandum changes that, by essentially removing the DNI from the NSC and replacing him with the director of the CIA. Some believe that the change is bound to create tension between the DNI and the CIA, two agencies that have had a stormy relationship in the past decade. The CIA and the ODNI have not yet commented on the amended memorandum issued by the White House.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 January 2017 | Permalink

Senior US intelligence official tells Congress not to ‘micromanage’ spy efforts

James ClapperThe United States’ senior intelligence officer has told Congress that new legislation requiring spy agencies to act against alleged Russian covert operations constitutes “micromanagement” of the American Intelligence Community. The Intelligence Authorization bill, which includes a number of intelligence-related requirements and provisions, is debated and enacted each year by Congress. This year’s legislation has already been approved by the intelligence committees of the Senate and House of Representatives. Last week it was enacted by the House, while the Senate is preparing to debate it this week.

The legislation currently under debate includes instructions to the US Intelligence Community to set up an interagency committee to formulate responses to perceived Russian covert operations around the world. The term ‘covert operations’ refers to actions by intelligence agencies designed to influence foreign political, military or economic affairs or events. The topic received media attention during the 2016 US presidential election, when Washington repeatedly accused Moscow of trying to shape its outcome. This year’s Intelligence Authorization bill requires every US intelligence agency to appoint a representative to serve on a joint panel that will address alleged Russian covert operations in the US, Europe and elsewhere in the world.

But in September of this year, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, America’s most senior intelligence official, authored a letter to Congress arguing that the requirement for an interagency panel to look into Russian covert operations should be scrapped. According to the Reuters news agency, which said last week that it saw a copy of the letter, Clapper argues that his letter echoes the unanimous view of the US Intelligence Community. He goes on to claim that the requirement to set up a special committee with an operational focus exceeds Congress’ role of overseer of the Intelligence Community and enters the realm of prescribing intelligence tasks. That, says Clapper in his letter, amounts to “micromanagement” of the Intelligence Community by Congress. Furthermore, he argues, the Intelligence Community has already taken steps to address Russian covert operations, thus the suggested panel would “duplicate current work” on the issue. Finally, Clapper’s letter suggests that the required panel would “hinder cooperation” with some of America’s overseas allies, though the Reuters report did not explain the precise justification for that claim.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 December 2016 | Permalink

US spy agencies are significantly expanding operations against Russia

CIAAmerican intelligence agencies are diverting counterterrorist resources to Russian accounts, prompting some commentators to describe the move as the greatest expansion of spy operations against Russia since the Cold War. In a leading article published on Wednesday, The Washington Post’s Greg Miller cites unnamed United States officials in describing “a shift in resources across spy services”. The shift allegedly reflects an increasing emphasis on Russia, with many of the resources coming from accounts focusing on terrorism threats and war zones in the Middle East and Central Asia, which were created in the aftermath of 9/11.

In contrast to the Cold War, when US intelligence agencies devoted most of their resources to the Soviet Union and its allies around the world, today the US Intelligence Community designates “at most 10 percent” of its budget on espionage targeting Russia, according to Miller. But this is now beginning to change, he says, as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has now “moved Russia up the list of intelligence priorities for the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse” in 1991. This move, which reflects current national-security priorities in the White House, will have a spiraling effect on the resources devoted to Russia by every American intelligence agency. There will be more human intelligence collection conducted by the CIA against Russian targets, more attention paid by the National Security Agency to Russian communications, and more reconnaissance activity over Russia by satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office, among other changes.

This change in direction comes after a prolonged period of tension between Washington and Moscow, which has been marked by America’s intervention in North Africa during the Arab Spring, which Moscow strongly objected to, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Syrian Civil War, and numerous instances of cyber espionage. As a result, says Miller, “surging tensions now cut across nearly every aspect of the US-Russia relationship”. He adds that some voices in Washington have raised concerns about the slow response by the US Intelligence Community to Russia’s resurgence as a world actor, especially in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He quotes one unnamed senior US intelligence official as saying that American spy agencies are now “playing catch-up big time with Russia”. However, some US officials stress that, given the level of reduction in US intelligence capabilities targeting Russia since 1991, it will take years to rebuild them. Regardless, they say, there is no desire in Washington to return to Cold War levels of intelligence activity any time soon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 September 2016 | Permalink

America’s most senior intelligence official has his phone, email hacked

James ClapperA member of a hacker group that took responsibility for breaking into the personal email account of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency last year has now hacked the email of the most senior intelligence official in the United States. In October 2015, the hacker group referred to by its members as “Crackas With Attitude” —CWA for short— claimed it was behind the hacking of an AOL personal email account belonging to John Brennan, who heads the CIA. Less than a month later, the CWA assumed responsibility for breaking into an online portal used by US law enforcement to read arrest records and share sensitive information about crimes involving shootings. Shortly after the second CWA hack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an alert to all government employees advising them to change their passwords and be cautious about suspicious emails and other phishing attempts.

On Monday, an alleged member of CWA contacted Motherboard, an online media outlet belonging to Vice Media, and alleged that the group had managed to hack into the personal email account of James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Clapper’s job is to help synchronize the operations of US intelligence agencies and to mediate between the US Intelligence Community and the Executive. According to CWA, clapper’s personal telephone and Internet service had also been compromised, as had his spouse’s personal email, which is hosted by Yahoo! services. The alleged CWA member told Motherboard that the forwarding settings of Clapper’s home telephone had been changed. As a result, calls made to the DNI were being forwarded to the headquarters of the Free Palestine Movement in California. Shortly afterwards, Free Palestine Movement executives confirmed that they had received a number of phone calls for Clapper. Last year, when they hacked the email of the director of the CIA, the CWA dedicated their action to the Free Palestine Movement.

Motherboard said that a spokesman at the Office of the DNI, Brian Hale, confirmed that Clapper’s personal email and telephone service had indeed been hacked. He told Motherboard’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai that Office of the DNI was “aware of the matter” and had “reported it to the appropriate authorities”. The FBI was contacted as well but did not respond.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 January 2016 | Permalink