Chinese state-linked operatives funded Trump campaign to gain access, says report

Trump and Xi JinpingA report in The Wall Street Journal claims that individuals and groups with ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army donated substantial funds to the re-election campaign of United States President Donald Trump, in return for access to the White House.

The paper claims that nearly half a million dollars were donated to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign on behalf of Chinese-linked interests soon after he was sworn in as president in January of 2017. Some of these donations were allegedly among the biggest made to the campaign. The list of donors is headed by four men, according to The Journal, some of whom are naturalized Americans of Chinese background, and at least one is a Chinese citizen and American permanent resident, which means he does not get to vote in the United States. He is believed to have donated $150,000 to the Trump re-election campaign.

Many of these donations are gathered through an organization that was created in the United States in 2017 to help the president get re-elected in 2020, says the paper. Funds raised by the group are funneled to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. However, according to The Journal, the people behind the organization have ties to Chinese diplomats in the United States, as well as to the Chinese state.

The paper claims that the money given to the Trump re-election campaign earned some of these donors physical access to the White House and the president in at least one occasion, in May of 2017. Among those who were invited to visit the White House was a personal adviser to Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Others have ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, said the paper. It added that some of these donors have also attended Trump re-election campaign strategy meetings and meetings of the Republican National Committee.

The Wall Street Journal allegations came just days after Mr. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, claimed in a new book that the president solicited his Chinese counterpart for help in securing his re-election. In his new book, The Room Where it Happened, Mr. Bolton claims that the American president asked Mr. Xi to have China purchase billions of dollars of American soybeans, so that farming communities in the Midwest would continue to support the Trump ticket come 2020.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 June 2020 | Permalink

NSA director claims Bolton’s book would cause ‘irreparable damage’ to US secrets

Paul NakasoneThe director of America’s largest spy agency claims in a signed affidavit that a forthcoming book by John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, would critically compromise intelligence secrets if published. Bolton served in that capacity from April 2018 until September 2019. His memoir of his time as President Trump’s national security advisor, titled The Room Where It Happened, is scheduled for publication on Tuesday.

But the White House has sued Bolton, claiming that he did not follow the requirements of his pre-publication screening process by government officials. President Trump’s legal team also claims that, if published, the book would damage critical areas of United States national security.

On Wednesday, the White House’s stance on the book was affirmed by the director of the National Security Agency, General Paul M. Nakasone. In a signed affidavit filed in US District Court in Washington, Gen. Nakasone said he had been asked by the legal adviser of the National Security Council to review “a limited portion” of the draft manuscript of Bolton’s book. He added that he had identified “classified information” in that portion of the manuscript, some of which was classified at the Top Secret/Sensitive and Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) level.

According to Gen. Nakasone’s affidavit, “compromise of this information could result in the permanent loss of a valuable SIGINT source and cause irreparable damage to the US SIGINT system”. SIGINT refers to the gathering of intelligence by intercepting communications signals in the form of information exchanged orally between people or mediated via electronic means.

Gen. Nakasone goes on to state that the unauthorized disclosure of the information contained in Bolton’s book could “reasonably […] be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage” to US national security. This includes causing “considerable difficulties in US and allied relations with specific nations”. The NSA director does not detail the precise damage that Bolton’s revelations could cause to US national security, stating only that the information would compromise an intelligence-collection “capability” that “significant manpower and monetary investments have been and continue to be made to enable and maintain”.

Alongside Gen. Nakasone’s affidavit, the Department of Justice submitted an emergency filing on Wednesday, seeking to block the publication of Bolton’s book on national security grounds. Another affidavit was filed on Wednesday by John Ratcliffe, President Trump’s newly appointed Director of National Intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 June 2020 | Permalink

Pentagon study warned about global crisis caused by ‘novel respiratory disease’

DoD Pandemic reportA United States Department of Defense report warned about the danger of a global crisis caused by a “novel respiratory disease”. The existence of the 2017 study adds to the mounting skepticism about President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that the coronavirus pandemic “blind- sided the world” and “came out of nowhere”.

The 103-page report is titled USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560: Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response, and was presented to the leadership of the US Northern Command headquarters in January 2017. It discusses the possible causes of a “clinically severe pandemic” and outlines the complications that it is likely to cause around the world. It also proposes an array of possible responses to such a crisis by the US military. A draft of the report was published online by The Nation earlier this month. The American newsmagazine said that it obtained the report from “a Pentagon official who requested anonymity to avoid professional reprisal”.

The Department of Defense study bases its analysis on data acquired from recent pandemics, such as the 2012 Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS coronavirus) and others. It discusses “coronavirus infections” and warns that “[t]he most likely and significant [pandemic] threat is a novel respiratory disease, particularly a novel influenza disease”. The report then goes on to describe the medical supply shortages that would be caused by a coronavirus pandemic. It does so with a stunning degree of accuracy that mirrors the situation that the US is currently experiencing due to COVID-19. For instance it states that global “[c]ompetition for, and scarcity of, resources will include […] non-pharmaceutical Medical Countermeasures”, namely medical masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment needed by healthcare workers.

It also warns that dire shortages in medical equipment will be hampered by inadequate logistical support and will have “a significant impact on the global workforce”. Furthermore, the Pentagon study appears to anticipate a “worldwide competition” for ventilators and other hi-tech medical devices associated with intensive care units, as well as a scarcity of hospital beds. It ominously states that “even the most industrialized countries will have insufficient hospital beds” to accommodate the numbers of those who will need to be hospitalized due to having been infected by the virus.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that, starting in January of this year, the US Intelligence Community repeatedly warned the White House about “a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic” requiring “swift action to contain it”. The paper cited “a US official who had access to intelligence reporting” about the coronavirus, who said that “the system was blinking red” in January.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 April 2020 | Permalink

US intelligence warned White House about COVID-19 threat in January, report claims

Coronavirus Task ForceThe United States Intelligence Community issued “ominous classified warnings” in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus, but the White House failed to take timely action, according to an investigative report published on Friday in The Washington Post. The paper said that, in their totality, the Intelligence Community’s reports warned about “a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic” requiring the US government to take “swift action to contain it”.

The paper cited “a US official who had access to intelligence reporting” about the virus, who said that “the system was blinking red” in January. The “ominous” reports were disseminated to members of Congress and to senior officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump. Sources told The Washington Post that the reports did not attempt to forecast when the virus might begin to spread in the US, or what public health measures should be taken to prevent a possible outbreak. Such policy-related decisions are usually “outside the purview of the [intelligence] agencies”, said the US official.

However, the warnings were frequent and began to increase in volume by the last week of January, according to the article. By early February, the majority of the intelligence reports that were disseminated to the White House concerned COVID-19, sources said. Among other warnings, the reports cautioned President Trump that Chinese government officials were deliberately minimizing the extent and seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Washington Post cites “two senior administration officials” who claim that the president’s advisers found it difficult to draw his attention to the intelligence reports about COVID-19. It was only on January 18, less than a week before China began to place millions of its citizens on lockdown, that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar was able to secure access to the Oval Office and speak directly with President Trump about the virus. Soon afterwards, Dr. Robert Kadlec, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a classified meeting. The Post cites four anonymous US officials, who said that Dr. Kadlec gave his presentation jointly with members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They discussed the global health implications of COVID-19 and warned it was a “serious” threat that would require Americans “to take actions that could disrupt their daily lives”.

But the president was “dismissive”, said administration officials, allegedly refusing to believe that the virus posed a major threat to the country. On February 24, when, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 53 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US, President Trump tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA”. In the weeks that followed, said the administration officials, the White House “failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen”. Currently there are in excess of 20,000 COVID-19 cases in the US, a number that appears to double every 48 hours. Read more of this post

Trump thought Erdoğan was “bluffing” about invading Syria, sources claim

Turkey SyriaSenior White House officials close to United States President Donald Trump believed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was bluffing when he threatened to invade northern Syria, according to sources. For over two years, most of northern Syria has been controlled by American-supported Kurdish militias, who were instrumental in helping Washington defeat the Islamic State. But the growing strength of the Kurdish forces alarmed Turkey, which views Kurdish nationalism as a bigger threat than the Islamic State.

Since 2016, Ankara repeatedly threatened to invade northern Syria and disarm the Kurdish groups, which it sees as terrorist. It had refrained from doing so due to the presence of American troops in the area. However, according to news website Axios, key officials in the Trump White House were convinced that Turkish President Erdoğan would not have his troops invade northern Syria even if the American forces pulled out. In making this claim, the website cites six unnamed sources “with direct knowledge of the situation”, some of whom were allegedly “in the room with the two leaders and had access to their phone calls going back several years.

In one of these phone calls, which took place in 2017, President Erdoğan allegedly informed the US leader of his government’s intention to “move in to take care of the Kurdish threat” in northern Syria. But President Trump cautioned him about making such a daring move. He reminded the Turkish leader that, by invading northern Syria, Turkey would become responsible for the tens of thousands of Islamic State supporters and their families who are kept in detention camps. Ankara would also face mass international condemnation and possible sanctions from the United States and Europe. Moreover, the US-trained and -supplied Kurdish forces would arguably create a military quagmire for Turkish troops in the region. At that point Turkey “would own” the problem and would not be able to “come to [the US] for help”, according to Trump.

The Axios report claims that, until last week, the White House thought that “Erdoğan would never actually go through with his long-threatened Syria invasion”, because doing so would be detrimental to Turkish interests in the region. Based on that conviction, President Trump finally decided to call Erdoğan’s bluff by pulling American Special Forces troops out of northern Syria, in the belief that Tukey’s response would amount to nothing further than a few airstrikes and small-scale cross-border incursions. That belief was behind the White House’s surprise decision to suddenly pull its troops from northern Syria, according to Axios’ sources.

The report did not mention whether the US Intelligence Community’s reports to the White House concurred with the US President’s conviction that Turkey would not invade northern Syria even in the absence of US troops. The question is, in other words, did Trump made up his mind about Erdoğan’s intentions to invade northern Syria because, or despite the conclusions of his own Intelligence Community?

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 October 2019 | Permalink

White House whistleblower is a CIA officer, report claims

Donald TrumpThe individual who filed a report claiming that United States President Donald Trump sought help from a foreign country to win the 2020 election is believed to be a male employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. The man, who is legally classified as a whistleblower, filed the report on August 12. It was released for publication on Thursday and is now available [.pdf] online. It claims that Trump tried to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 US presidential election. The basis of this claim refers to a telephone exchange between the US president and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, which took place on July 25.

The whistleblower’s report states that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine. The implication of the whistleblower’s allegation is that Trump sought to subvert the election effort of one of his main rivals for the US presidency. The whistleblower report, along with transcripts and memoranda that describe the July 25 telephone conversation between the two heads of state, form the basis of an impeachment inquiry that has been launched by Trump’s political rivals in Congress.

On Thursday, The New York Times cited what it said were three people who knew the identity of the whistleblower. The paper said that the whistleblower is a male employee of the CIA. In the past, the man had been assigned to work in the White House, said The Times. The secondment of CIA personnel to the White House is a regular occurrence. CIA personnel are temporarily assigned to perform duties relating to National Security Council meetings, or manage the White House Situation Room. They also monitor and help manage the White House secure communications system. The paper said that the CIA officer’s White House secondment had ended and that he had returned to the CIA headquarters by the time the July 25 telephone call between Trump and Zelensky took place. In his report [.pdf], the whistleblower states that he was “not a direct witness to most of the events described”. However, he cites accounts of these events by “multiple officials” who shared the information with him “in the course of official interagency business”.

Some have criticized The Times for leaking information about the whistleblower’s place of employment and past assignments. They argue that the information could allow the White House to identify the source of the complaint. By law, whistleblowers in the US have the right to remain anonymous, and thus be protected from possible retaliation from those whom they accuse of abusing their power. But the paper claims that the American public has a right to information about the whistleblower’s “place in government”, so as to assess his credibility and evaluate the significance of his allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 September 2019 | Permalink

CIA denies Trump’s mishandling led to alleged exfiltration of senior Russian asset

Trump CIA - JFThe United States Central Intelligence Agency has questioned the accuracy of a media report, which claimed that “repeated mishandling” of intelligence by President Donald Trump resulted in the exfiltration of a high-level source from Russia. According to the American news network CNN, the CIA carried out the exfiltration operation in 2017. Despite the success of the operation, the removal of the asset has left the US without this high-level source at a time when it is most needed, said CNN. The network cited “a person directly involved in the discussions” to exfiltrate the asset, but said it was withholding key details about the case in order to “reduce the risk of the person’s identification”.

According to CNN, the CIA asset was so highly placed inside the Kremlin that the US had “no equal alternative” inside the Russian government. The asset was in a position to provide “both insight and information” on Russia’s secretive President, Vladimir Putin. But by 2016, the sheer length of the asset’s cooperation with the CIA had caused some intelligence officials at Langley to consider exfiltrating him from Russia. Typically agents-in-place have short careers; they are either captured by their adversaries or are exfiltrated once their handlers start to believe that they are burned out or that their life may be in danger. But exfiltration operations in so-called “denied areas” —regions or countries with formidable counterintelligence resources that make it difficult for the CIA to operate there— are rare.

The CNN report claims that the decision to exfiltrate the high-level source was taken after a May 2017 meeting between Trump and Putin, with the participation of senior American and Russian officials. The latter included Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Ambassador to Washington Sergey Kislyak. Citing an American “former senior intelligence official”, CNN alleges that Trump “repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence” at that meeting, which could have led to the exposure of the CIA’s asset. At that time, the CIA decided that it was time to exfiltrate the asset and proceeded to do so successfully.

But the CIA disputed the accuracy of CNN’s story. The agency’s Director of Public Affairs, Brittany Bramell, dismissed what she called “CNN’s narrative” as “inaccurate”. She added that the agency’s judgements about exfiltrations of agents are “life-or-death decisions” that are based solely on “objective analysis and sound collection”, not on “misguided speculation that the President [mishandled] our nation’s most sensitive intelligence —which he has access to each and every day”. CNN said on Monday that Trump and “a small number of senior officials” were told about the exfiltration in advance. The news network also said that it was not privy to details about the extraction operation or about the current whereabouts of the exfiltrated asset.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 September 2019 | Permalink

Trump’s photo tweet gave away US secrets, say experts

Satellite reconnaissanceA tweet by United States President Donald Trump may have compromised secrets about America’s reconnaissance satellite capabilities, according to experts who analyzed it over the weekend. The American president posted a message about Iran’s space program on his personal Twitter account on Saturday, August 30. The message read: “The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One”.

Trump was referring to an apparent rocket launch failure that happened on Friday, August 29, at the Semnan Space Center in northern Iran. The suspected rocket failure caused significant damage to Semnan’s Site One launching pad, some of which appears to have burned down. It is thought to be the second such incident in Iran and it must be a source of frustration for Tehran, which has been trying to place a new satellite in orbit for almost a year now. Washington and other countries have criticized Tehran’s space program, saying it is a disguised missile program that could potentially be used to launch a nuclear bomb.

Along with his written message, the US president tweeted an aerial photograph showing the damage at the Semnan Space Center. Some have since claimed that the photograph, which Trump appears to have taken from a printed document given to him by a US spy agency, offers “an unprecedented example of US spy satellites at work” and inadvertently reveals some of America’s most closely guarded satellite capabilities. Experts say they have been able to determine that the photograph was taken by a satellite, rather than a surveillance aircraft or unmanned drone. Some say they have even been able to pinpoint the exact satellite that was used to generate the image, by analyzing the angle of the photograph. It is believed that it was taken by USA 224, which is one of America’s top-secret optical reconnaissance satellites.

More importantly, the US president’s tweet may have provided Washington’s adversaries with an example of the precise power of America’s reconnaissance satellites. Their exact surveillance capabilities are a closely held secret that is known by specialists at the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, two of America’s most obscure intelligence agencies. It has long been speculated that the images captured by American spy satellites far surpass the 25 centimeter resolution that is available to commercial satellite services. A number of experts have suggested that the photograph tweeted by Trump displays a resolution that “is amazingly high” and must be “at least 10 centimeters, if not better”. One specialist juxtaposed the image tweeted by the US president next to an image of the same launch site taken with a commercial satellite. The difference is indeed remarkable. One expert told the NBC news network that Trump’s “utterly careless” tweet would “have global repercussions”.

Last year Nada Bakos, who spent 20 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote an editorial in The Washington Post in which she warned that foreign intelligence agencies were paying close attention to the US president’s tweets. Bakos argued that President Trump’s “Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency”. She added that, throughout her CIA career, she and her team “never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now”, because of Trump’s social media presence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 September 2019 | Permalink

Trump says US will not use spies on North Korea, then appears to retract statement

Trump CIA - JFUnited States President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he would not allow American intelligence agencies to use spies against North Korea, raising eyebrows in Washington, before appearing to backtrack a day later. The American president was speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, when he was asked about a report that appeared in The Wall Street Journal that day. According to the report, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with officers of the US Central Intelligence Agency before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia in February 2017. The Wall Street Journal’s claim was echoed by a book written by Washington Post correspondent Anna Fifield, which also came out on Tuesday. In the book, entitled The Great Successor, Fifield claims that Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA handler when he was killed.

On Tuesday, President Trump said he had seen “the information about the CIA, with respect to [North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s] half-brother. And I would tell [Kim] that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure”, said the US president, before repeating, “I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices”. Reporters interpreted Trump’s comments to mean that he would not use human assets or any other kinds of informants to collect intelligence on the regime of the North Korean leader. As can be expected, the US president’s remarks raised eyebrows among lawmakers and national security experts in Washington. It was suggested that Trump appeared to voluntarily eliminate a potentially invaluable tool of intelligence collection from America’s arsenal. The president’s comments were even more peculiar given the hermetically sealed nature of the North Korean regime, which Western spy agencies would argue necessitates the use of human assets for intelligence collection. Moreover, President Trump’s comments appeared to once again place him at odds with his own Intelligence Community, as previously in the cases of Iran’s nuclear program, the current status of the Islamic State, or Russia’s meddling in American political life.

On Wednesday, however, the US president appeared to backtrack on his comments. When asked at a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda about his earlier remarks, Trump denied that he had implied the US would not use spies to collect information on North Korea. “No, it’s not what I meant”, the president responded to the reporter who asked him the question. “It’s what I said and I think it’s different, maybe, than your interpretation”, said President Trump, but refused to elaborate on what he actually meant with his statement on Tuesday. The Reuters news agency contacted the CIA seeking an official statement on the US president’s remarks, but the agency said it had no immediate comment on the issue.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 June 2019 | Permalink

British spy agency calls Trump’s espionage claim ‘utterly ridiculous’

GCHQThe Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s primary signals-intelligence agency, has called claims by United States President Donald Trump that it spied on his election campaign “utterly ridiculous”. President Trump’s allegations are not new. They apparently rest on claims made in March 2017 by a Fox News commentator, that the GCHQ spied on Trump on orders of then-US President Barack Obama. The claim was repeated on March 17 at the White House by Sean Spicer, Trump’s then-press secretary, who said that Obama had used the GCHQ to spy on Trump so as to evade American privacy laws. At the time, Spicer’s claim prompted an angry response from the British government in London and from the British spy agency itself. In a rare public comment, GCHQ called the allegations “utterly ridiculous”.

This past Wednesday, the US president appeared to repeat his claim that GCHQ had spied on his election campaign, via a post on the popular social networking platform Twitter. Responding to a reiteration of the claim on the conservative cable television channel One America News Network, Trump tweeted “WOW! It is now just a question of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it will be a beauty!”. The president’s tweet appeared just hours after the British government confirmed that Trump had been invited for a four-day state visit to the United Kingdom in June. The visit is believed to include a meeting with British Prime Minster Theresa May and dinner with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Following Trump’s tweet, the US newsmagazine Newsweek contacted GCHQ with a request for a response to the US president’s allegation. A GCHQ spokesperson referred the newsmagazine to the agency’s 2017 statement, and repeated: “The allegations that GCHQ was asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored”. It is extremely rare for GCHQ —one of Britain’s most secretive and publicity-shy agencies— to respond publicly to stories in the media. Late on Wednesday, British Foreign Affairs Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the invitation to President Trump to visit London would not be rescinded, and insisted that Britain’s “special relationship” with the US remained “intact”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 April 2019 | Permalink

US Secret Service arrests Chinese woman for entering Trump’s vacation property

Donald TrumpA Chinese woman who entered President Donald Tump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, was found to be in possession of two passports, four mobile phones and a flash drive containing “malicious software”, according to the United States Secret Service. Secret Service agents told a US District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday that the woman, identified as Yujing Zhang, entered the private club –which serves as President Trump’s vacation home– on Saturday afternoon. She allegedly approached Secret Service personnel and sought entrance to the property. When asked to identify herself, she reportedly took out of her bag two Chinese passports and said she intended to use the Mar-a-Lago swimming pool.

When Mar-a-Lago personnel could not find her name on the list of the private club’s members, Zhang told them that she was related to a man with the same last name, who appeared on the membership list. She was allowed onto the property on the assumption that the club member was her father, in what security personnel later described as an error caused by “a language barrier issue”. Once inside Mar-a-Lago, Zhang then reportedly told a receptionist that she was there to attend a meeting of the United Nations Chinese American Association. Some of the club personnel, who knew that no such event had been scheduled to take place at Mar-a-Lago, contacted the Secret Service. Zhang told Secret Service agents that she had been told by “a friend” called “Charles” to travel from Shanghai to Florida in order to attend the United Nations Chinese American Association meeting. But she said she was unable to provide further details.

After detaining her, Secret Service agents found that she was carrying –aside from the two Chinese passports– four cellphones, a laptop computer with an external hard drive attached to it, and a thumb drive. Secret Service agents said that, upon further examination, the thumb drive was found to contain “malware”. Zhang was then arrested for entering a restricted property and making false statements to Secret Service officials. On Tuesday, Zhang’s lawyer said she was “invoking her right to remain silent”. The US Department of Justice said it would not comment on the case. If found guilty, Zhang could spend up to five years behind bars.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 April 2019 | Permalink

CIA report says Saudi crown prince sent text messages to Khashoggi killer

Saud al-QahtaniSaudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent at least eleven text messages to the man in charge of the 15-member hit team that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month, according to a classified report produced by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA report was leaked to The Wall Street Journal, which said in a leading article on Saturday that the Saudi royal had sent the messages in the hours before and after Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who moved to the US and became a vocal critic of the kingdom’s style of governance. He was killed and later dismembered by a hit team inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone for a scheduled visit in order to be issued written proof of his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia.

Late last month, the CIA and its British equivalent, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), were reported to have concluded that Khashoggi’s murder was directly ordered by Prince Salman. But US President Donald Trump and leading members of his cabinet, including Secretaries of State Mike Pompeo and Defense James Mattis, have disputed these claims, saying there is “no smoking gun” that proves Prince Salman’s involvement. The US president said that Saudi Arabia was “a great ally” of Washington and that Prince Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder was unclear. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t”, he told reporters in Washington on November 20, referring to the prince, whom he considers a personal friend. Instead, the White House has placed blame for the journalist’s murder on Saud al-Qahtani (pictured), a former advisor to Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah, who is believed to have coordinated Khashoggi’s killing.

But new a new CIA assessment of Khashoggi’s murder that was leaked to The Wall Street Journal claims that the US spy agency has concluded with “medium-to-high” confidence that Prince Salman “personally targeted” the journalist and “probably ordered his death”. The leaked report, said The Journal, rests on several findings, including the fact that the prince sent at least 11 messages to al-Qahtani in the hours right before and right after the latter’s hit-team killed Khashoggi in Istanbul. The CIA report states that the Agency does not have access to the contents of the texts. But it states that this pattern of communication, along with other pieces of evidence “seems to foreshadow the Saudi operation launched against Khashoggi”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 December 2018 | Permalink

Trump’s use of unsecured iPhone worries White House officials

Donald TrumpOfficials in the White House are concerned about President Donald Trump’s insistence on using an unsecured iPhone to communicate with friends and associates, despite warnings that foreign spies may be listening in. Prior to being elected president, Trump used an Android phone, made by Google, which the NSA advised him to abandon due to security concerns. That is when he switched to using iPhones. Since his election to the presidency, Trump has routinely used three iPhone cell phones. He uses one of them to access a limited list of authorized applications, including Twitter. He uses the second iPhone for phone calls, but cannot use it to send texts, take pictures, or download and install applications. Both of these iPhones have been vetted and secured by the National Security Agency (NSA).

But The New York Times said on Wednesday that, despite the advice of the NSA, the US president continues to use a third iPhone, which is his personal device. The newspaper cited “current and former American officials” who said that the president’s third iPhone has not been secured by the NSA, and is thus “no different from hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world”. Trump uses that third iPhone to call many of his old friends and associates. The president has been repeatedly warned, sources said, to abandon the use of his unsecured third iPhone. Moreover, US intelligence agencies have confirmed that Chinese, Russian, and possibly other spy agencies have been “routinely eavesdropping” on the US president’s calls made on his personal iPhone.

To some extent, Trump has heeded the advice of his intelligence agencies in recent months and has begun to rely on his secure White House landline to make important calls, thus avoiding cell phones altogether. But he refuses to give up use of his iPhones, despite repeated warnings by the NSA, sources told The Times. They added that “they can only hope [Trump] refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them”. The president’s use of unsecured phone devices adds to what sources described as “frustration” with his “casual approach” to communications security. In July of this year, Nada Bakos, a 20-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in an editorial that President Trump’s “Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency”. The CIA veteran described Trump’s use of social media is too impulsive and potentially dangerous from a national-security perspective.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 October 2018 | Permalink

US intelligence officials called to resign despite Trump’s Russia retraction

Putin and TrumpSeveral American former intelligence officials have called on their active colleagues to resign despite President Donald Trump’s retraction of his remarks about Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. On Tuesday, the US president issued an unusual retraction and correction of his public statement on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, in which he appeared to side with the Kremlin over his own Intelligence Community’s views. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is the coordinating body of the US Intelligence Community, has said that Russia tried to systematically interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections. According to the ODNI, the Kremlin’s goal was to augment the already heightened discord in American political life and deepen the mistrust between the electorate and state institutions, including Congress and the White House.

But President Trump dismissed those conclusions on Monday, while speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin following the US-Russia summit in the Finish capital. During the joint press conference of the two leaders, the US president was asked to publicly adopt the US Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. But instead of doing so, Trump said his Russian counterpart had strongly denied the American accusations. “My people came to me”, said Trump, referring by name to his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, and “said they think it’s Russia”. However, Trump continued, “President Putin […] just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be”. Following strong criticism of that comment, much of it from his own supporters, the US president retracted it on Tuesday in Washington, saying he misspoke in Helsinki. According to Trump, he said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t”.

The US president’s odd retraction came just hours after DNI Coats –a Trump appointee– issued a rare public statement rejecting Trump’s comments in Helsinki. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”, said Coats, adding that his office’s conclusion had been based on “unvarnished and objective intelligence”. Coats’ predecessor, former ODNI James Clapper, said during an interview with CNN on Tuesday that, if he still led the ODNI and had been “publicly thrown under the bus” by the president in that manner, he “would have stepped down in a heartbeat”. Read more of this post

Judge rules that Trump’s tweet did not disclose top-secret CIA operation in Syria

Free Syrian ArmyA United States federal judge ruled on Monday that a tweet by President Donald Trump did not inadvertently disclose a top-secret program by the Central Intelligence Agency to aid rebel groups in Syria. The lawsuit, brought by The New York Times, centered on news reports published in 2017 by Reuters, The Washington Post, and others, claiming that the US president had terminated an extensive CIA program that provided assistance to rebel forces engaged in the Syrian Civil War. The program was reportedly initiated by US President Barack Obama, who in 2015 instructed the CIA to assist armed groups operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. Aside from training, the CIA assistance reportedly included the provision of light and heavy ammunition, such as antitank missiles, mines and grenades.

But President Trump allegedly terminated $1 billion program soon after he took office. Last July, the president openly disputed an account by The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous, which claimed that Trump had ended the program as a concession to Russia. In a tweet, Trump said: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad”. Shortly afterwards, another newspaper, The New York Times, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, arguing that the president’s tweet had effectively disclosed the existence of the covert CIA program and seeking full details from the government. But the CIA rejected the The New York Times’ rationale, at which point the paper took the case to court.

But on Monday, US District Court Judge Andrew Carter Jr. dismissed the paper’s argument. In a 20-page decision, posted online by the US-based news website Politico, Judge Carter said that President Trump’s tweet had been too vague and ambiguous to be considered as effectively declassifying the secret CIA program. At no point did the US president “make an unequivocal statement, or any statement for that matter, indicating that he was declassifying information”, said the judge. Additionally, Trump’s tweet and other public statements on the matter did not undermine the legal authority of the US government to continue to keep details about the CIA program under wraps. According to Politico, which reported on Judge Carter’s decision, this development will make it difficult for other FOIA filers to use Trump’s tweets as justification for seeking information about secret government programs. Meanwhile, The New York Times said on Monday that it would seek to appeal Judge Carter’s decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 July 2018 | Permalink