News you may have missed #821 (civil liberties edition)

Bernard SquarciniBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►French domestic spy chief cleared of snooping charges. Back in October of 2011, intelNews reported that Bernard Squarcini, who then headed France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DCRI, had been charged with spying on a journalist with the daily Le Monde. The accusation was part of a wider case of domestic snooping, in which Squarcini was believed to have been trying to detect the source of government leaks to the press, allegedly on orders by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. Earlier this month, however, an appeals court in Paris rejected two of three charges against the former DCRI chief. Squarcini could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the remaining charge.
►►FBI documents termed Occupy movement as ‘terrorism’. A number of heavily redacted US government documents, released following a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the FBI organized a nationwide law enforcement investigation and monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement beginning in August of 2011. In some documents, the FBI refers to the Occupy Wall Street protests as a “criminal activity” and “domestic terrorism”.
►►Wiretapping by Russian spy agencies doubled in five years. Wiretapping by Russia’s intelligence agencies has nearly doubled over the past five years, according to The Moscow Times. In Western countries, intelligence agencies were given wider powers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But in Russia, the exponential growth of wiretapping began after 2007, when terrorism by Islamic-inspired separatists was already on the decline. A federal law passed in 2010 expanded the legal grounds for wiretapping Russian citizens. Now, intelligence officers can wiretap someone’s phones or monitor their Internet activity simply because they allegedly received reports that an individual is preparing to commit a crime.

Judge orders CIA to release files on drug kingpin Pablo Escobar

Pablo EscobarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In the late 1980s, it was nearly impossible to sit through a primetime news bulletin without coming across the name ‘Pablo Escobar’. Born in 1949 in the town of Rionegro, Colombia, Escobar rose to become the leader of the Medellín cartel, history’s most notorious narcotics smuggling ring. By 1986, the Medellín cartel controlled over 80 percent of the global cocaine market, shipping daily around 15 tons of the drug (worth an estimated street value of $500,000) to the United States. In 1989, Forbes magazine included Escobar on his list of the world’s richest persons, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion. By that time, the Medellín cartel had become powerful enough to directly threaten the very institutional integrity of the Colombian state. At the same time, Escobar carefully cultivated his ‘Robin Hood’ image by regularly building hospitals, schools, and churches in some of Colombia’s most impoverished regions. He was thus able to surround himself with a sea of grateful and devoted supporters, who directly depended on his generosity for their livelihood. They also shielded him from the reach of the Colombian and United States government forces, which repeatedly went after him without success. Eventually, the Colombian government, in association with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency, managed to stop Escobar by creating a rival organization called Los PEPES —a Spanish-language acronym that stands for ‘People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar’. Los PEPES, which consisted of members of rival drug smuggling cartels, as well as trained mercenaries belonging to Colombian rightwing militias, went after Escobar’s closest associates with indescribable ruthlessness. They hunted down and eventually tortured and killed several of his relatives, advisors and bodyguards. Ultimately, in 1993, they helped the Colombian National Police corner Escobar and shoot him dead at a Medellín barrio. The celebrations in Washington and Bogotá didn’t last long; as soon as Los PEPES disbanded, many of its leading members regrouped to found the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group that has since killed thousands of civilians in Colombia’s bitter civil war. The AUC, which funds its operations through kidnappings and drug trafficking, is today a designated terrorist group by most Western governments, including the United States and the European Union. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #750 (US edition)

NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraftBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►US spy agency launches new satellite. The US National Reconnaissance Office, the agency tasked with overseeing America’s intelligence satellites, successfully placed a new spy satellite into orbit. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite launch, sitting atop an Atlas 5 rocket, was streamed live via Webcast for several minutes before being terminated due to national security restrictions and the classified nature of the mission. Particulars regarding the capabilities or specific purpose of the spy satellite were not provided. However, just a few days before, the US Air Force’s highly classified space plane known as the  AX-37B returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
►►FBI takes on larger domestic intelligence role. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, under a newly devised action plan, will be afforded a greater role in domestic intelligence efforts in the US, according to a recent Washington Post article.  Senior level field agents at the bureau are expected to serve as representatives for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the agency created after 9/11 to oversee activities of all US intelligence efforts. The Post quotes CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood, who —remarkably, considering CIA/ODNI relations in recent years— said that the agency has not opposed the ODNI’s move to elevate FBI agents in the US, and that “the program is working well”.
►►CIA declassifies 9/11 documents. The CIA released this past week hundreds of pages of declassified documents related to the September 11, 2001, attacks, which detail the agency’s budgetary woes leading up to the deadly strikes and its attempts to track al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The National Security Archive at George Washington University says it obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents are heavily redacted and offer little new information about what the US knew about the al-Qaeda plot before 2001.

News you may have missed #703: US edition

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA pressed to reveal details on Google deal. The Electronic Privacy Information Center is locking horns with the National Security Agency over a secret deal the agency cut with Google following an attack on Gmail by Chinese hackers in 2010. The information center has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA to obtain information about the deal. That request was rejected by a federal court and an appeal process continues.
►►US spy agencies can keep data on Americans longer. Until now, the US National Counterterrorism Center had to immediately destroy information about Americans that was already stored in other government databases when there were no clear ties to terrorism. But it will now be able to store information about Americans with no ties to terrorism for up to five years under new Obama administration guidelines. The new rules replace guidelines issued in 2008 and have privacy advocates concerned about the potential for data-mining information on innocent Americans.
►►Islam convert leads CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, has been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center for the past six years. Colleagues describe Roger as a collection of contradictions. A chain-smoker who spends countless hours on a treadmill. Notoriously surly yet able to win over enough support from subordinates and bosses to hold on to his job. He presides over a campaign that has killed thousands of Islamist militants and angered millions of Muslims, but he is himself a convert to Islam. His defenders don’t even try to make him sound likable. Instead, they emphasize his operational talents, encyclopedic understanding of the enemy and tireless work ethic.

News you may have missed #682

Lieutenant General Ronald BurgessBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is there a Mossad base near Iran? The London-based Sunday Times has published an interview with a man claiming to be an Azerbaijan-based agent of Israeli intelligence agency, who confirmed the existence of such a base. The man, identified in the article as “Shimon,” told the paper that there were dozens of Israeli Mossad agents working out of the base. The meeting between the agent and the London Times‘ reporter took place in Baku, near the Israeli Embassy, the report said.
►►Analysis: CIA report on Soviet bioweapons still secret. It has been three decades since the Reagan administration accused the Soviet Union and Vietnam of using chemical weapons known as yellow rain. We still do not know how the US came to this conclusion, but have good reason to believe that it was based on flawed or distorted intelligence. A classified critique of the intelligence behind those charges, written several years ago for the Central Intelligence Agency, could shed light on what happened. Last year, Matthew Meselson, a Harvard expert on chemical and biological weapons, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the report released. He was turned down.
►►US official says Iran unlikely to strike first. Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, said the Iranian military is unlikely to intentionally provoke a conflict with the West. He said Iran probably has the ability to “temporarily close the Strait of Hormuz with its naval forces”, as some Iranian officials have threatened to do if attacked or in response to sanctions on its oil exports by the US and European Union. But, he added, “Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a preemptive attack”.

US admits African war crimes suspect Charles Taylor was CIA agent

Charles TaylorBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |

Editor’s note: Since publishing this story, The Boston Globe issued a correction, which includes the following: “This story drew unsupported conclusions and significantly overstepped available evidence when it described former Liberian President Charles Taylor as having worked with US spy agencies as a “sought-after source’’ […]. The Globe had no adequate basis for asserting otherwise and the story should not have run in this form”.

Ever since his 2006 arrest for war crimes, Liberia’s former President, Charles Taylor, has consistently claimed that he was an agent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Now declassified US government documents have officially confirmed that Taylor was indeed an agent of the CIA and the US Defense Intelligence Agency for several decades. The 63-year-old, who ruled his West African homeland from 1997 to 2003, is currently being tried at the United Nations Court in The Hague on multiple counts of civilian murders, rapes, and deploying underage soldiers during a brutal civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. Rumors that Taylor was being protected by Washington started surfacing in 2003, after he left Liberia and was given protection in US-allied Nigeria, despite his indictment by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. In July 2009, intelNews reported Taylor’s claim that his 1985 “escape” from the Plymouth County maximum security Correctional Facility in Massachusetts, which allowed him to return to Liberia and take over the country through a military coup, took place with US government assistance. His persistent claims led The Boston Globe newspaper to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which has resulted in the declassification of nearly 50 separate documents covering “several decades” of Taylor’s work for the CIA and the DIA. The documents confirm that both agencies employed Taylor as an agent beginning in the early 1980s, long before he became Liberia’s ruler. But the FOIA release does not contain details of Taylor’s work for US intelligence, in an alleged effort to “protect intelligence sources and methods” and so as not to “harm national security”, according to The Boston Globe. Read more of this post