Trump plans to axe defense secretary, FBI, CIA directors, if re-elected, say sources

Donald TrumpIF RE-ELECTED IN NOVEMBER, United States President Donald Trump has laid out plans to replace the secretary of defense, as well as the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to a new report. The website Axios, which published the report on Sunday, said the US president and his senior advisors have drafted a much longer list of names of senior military and intelligence officials who will be axed in November. However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel top the list, said Axios.

The website cited two sources who have allegedly discussed with President Trump himself the fate of these and other officials. The sources told Axios that CIA Director Haspel is “despised and distrusted almost universally” within the president’s inner circle, whose members view her motives with “a lot of suspicion”. Another source familiar with “conversations at the CIA” told Axios that Haspel intends to step down —and possibly retire— “regardless of who wins the election” in November.

Trump is also “incensed” with FBI Director Wray, because he told Congress last month that the Bureau had not detected significant election-related fraud with either online activity or mail-in ballots, according to Axios. Additionally, the president reportedly lost trust in Defense Secretary Esper after he objected to the White House’s plan to deploy active-duty military personnel in major American cities, in response to popular protests sparked by allegations of abusive practices by law enforcement.

Axios added that, despite President Trump’s critical comments about his Attorney General, William Barr, in recent weeks, he has no “formal plans” to replace him at the present time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 October 2020 | Permalink

Palestinians announce end of intelligence cooperation with US and Israel

Palestinian National Security ForcesThe Palestinian Authority has announced an immediate cessation to all intelligence and security ties with Israel and the United States. The announcement, made on Thursday by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, marks the strongest response so far by the Fatah-dominated administration to the Israeli government’s plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, runs two intelligence agencies, the Palestinian Preventive Security (also known as the Preventive Security Service) and the General Intelligence Service. Both agencies are largely trained and funded by the United States and Israel. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has long assisted the two agencies, and has often benefited by intelligence-sharing aimed at a common adversary, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. In the past decade, American and Israeli intelligence agencies have worked closely with their Palestinian Authority counterparts to neutralize Hamas’ support in the West Bank.

But the Palestinian Authority has been threatening to terminate that longstanding security and intelligence cooperation, in response to an American-backed plan by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to annex large parts of the occupied territories in the West Bank. The annexed land contains illegal Israeli settlements, which the United States has condemned in the past. But the administration of President Donald Trump has reversed course and in May of 2018 even transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognizing the divided city as the capital of Israel. That move prompted the Palestinian Authority to cut all relations with Washington.

However, despite the political rift between the two sides, President Abbas had instructed the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence and security services to continue their cooperation with their Israeli and American counterparts. That ended on Thursday, as President Abbas announced that his administration would cease all intelligence and security cooperation with Israeli and American government agencies, effective immediately. Following Abbas’ announcement, the veteran Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat told reporters that direct cooperation with Israeli and American intelligence agencies had “stopped at the end of the president’s speech”. Erekat, who serves as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and is the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator with Israel, did not explain the extent of the cessation in cooperation. When asked, he responded that “the whole system is about to shut down […] in its entirety”.

In February it was reported that CIA director Gina Haspel had secretly visited Majed Faraj, director of the Preventive Security Organization, with the aim of convincing him not to terminate ties with her agency and other American intelligence bodies. The meeting reportedly took place in Ramallah, which is considered the seat of the Palestinian government in the West Bank. It appears, however, that Haspel’s efforts did not bear fruit, as all intelligence contacts between the two former partners have now been severed.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2020 | Permalink

Saudi king hosts CIA director a day after US charges two Saudis with espionage

Gina HaspelA day after the United States Department of Justice charged two Saudi citizens with engaging in espionage on American soil, Saudi officials hosted the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in Riyadh, reportedly to discuss “the longstanding Saudi-US partnership”.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, two Saudi men, both employees of the US-based company Twitter, were instructed by a member of the Saudi royal family to surrender the personal information of at least 6,000 Twitter users who posted criticism of the Saudi government on social media. As intelNews reported on Thursday, one of the men is under arrest, while the other managed to evade US authorities and is thought to be sheltered by the Saudi government.

It is believed that the member of the Saudi royal family who instructed the two men to carry out espionage was no other than Mohammed bin Salman, the oil kingdom’s crown prince. Wednesday’s developments marked the first time that US authorities have publicly filed espionage charges against Saudi nationals in America.

A day after the charges were filed in the US state of California, Gina Haspel, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was reportedly hosted by Saudi Arabia’s king Salman in Riyadh. In addition to Salman and Haspel, the meeting was attended by several senior Saudi officials, including Khalid al-Humaidan, who directs the kingdom’s General Intelligence Directorate. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, was also present at the meeting.

A tweet by the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington said that the meeting between Haspel and the Saudi officials revolved around “the longstanding Saudi-US partnership”. It also said that participants discussed “a number of regional and international developments”, but gave no further information. The state-owned Saudi Press Agency said simply that the meeting focused on “a number of topics of mutual interest”, but did not elaborate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 November 2019 | Permalink

CIA names first woman to lead Directorate of Operations

CIAIn a surprising departure from established practice, the United States Central Intelligence Agency has publicized the name of its incoming head of operations. Beth Kimber, a 34-year veteran of the Agency, will become the first woman in the CIA’s 70-year history to lead the Directorate of Operations. Officers in the Directorate of Operations, formerly known as the National Clandestine Service, spend their careers recruiting foreign agents to spy for the United States, while also carrying out covert operations around the world. This is also the first time that the CIA has chosen to publicly identify its Deputy Director for Operations —Kimber’s official title, abbreviated as DDO. Previous DDO have been undercover officers whose namse have remained undisclosed. Kimber’s promotion was announced on December 7 by Brittany Bramell, the CIA’s Director of Public Affairs.

Little is known about Kimber, who spent much of her career as a case officer before joining the CIA’s senior intelligence staff. She is a graduate of Hamilton College, a private, liberal arts college situated in upstate New York, and spent much of her early career with the CIA as a case officer in Western Europe. She is also believed to have led the “Russia Group”, a network of intelligence planners in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations that manage a broad spectrum of espionage operations targeting the Russian spy services. She has also served as deputy director of the National Clandestine Service, before it was renamed to Directorate of Operations. Newsweek intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein wrote about Kimber in 2014, but did not name her, as she was still serving in an undercover capacity.

For a few months this year, Kimber served as the CIA’s acting deputy director while Congress considered President Donald Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel’s for the Agency’s director position. Kimber’s most recent prior post in the CIA was head of the Agency’s Europe and Eurasia Mission Center. Kimber is the third woman to assume a central role in the CIA in the past six months. In May of this year, Gina Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the CIA, became the Agency’s first female director. In August, Haspel picked Sonya Holt, a 34-year CIA veteran, to serve as the Agency’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. On Friday, the American news network CBS cited “people familiar with the shift”, who said that the outgoing DDO “will take another role within the agency” and is expected to remain undercover.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2018 | Permalink

CIA to return to traditional espionage against state actors, says new director

Gina HaspelThe United States Central Intelligence Agency will return to traditional espionage against foreign states and focus less on counterterrorism against non-state actors, said its new director in her first public appearance. Gina Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 as a reports officer and completed several undercover tours overseas before serving as chief of station. She rose through the ranks to become deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and was appointed deputy director of the CIA in 2017. In May of this year, she became the Agency’s first female director, despite some controversy that arose from her role as chief of a CIA undercover facility (so-called “black site”) in Thailand. Critics alleged that Agency personnel under her command practiced enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding, on terrorism detainees.

On Monday, Haspel gave a talk at the University of Louisville, from where she graduated in 1978 with a degree in languages and journalism, having transferred there from the University of Kentucky. It was her first public appearance after being sworn in as CIA director. She told the audience that she intends to steer the Agency back to traditional intelligence collection against “current and potential […] nation-state adversaries” and away from counterterrorism operations against non-state actors. The latter took center stage after the events of September 11, 2001. Filling current “intelligence gaps” on countries like Russia and China will be “a strategic priority” for the CIA, said Haspel, adding that the Agency will seek to “sharpen its focus on nation-state adversaries”. She spoke at length about China, stating that Beijing was “working to diminish US influence” and expand its own authority “beyond their own region, in places like Africa, Latin America, the Pacific islands [and] South Asia”.

The CIA’s hiring priorities will reflect the Agency’s strategic shift, said Haspel. The Agency will seek to expand its foreign footprint by “increasing the number of [its] officers stationed overseas”. Priority for these assignments will be given to foreign-language speakers with skills in Chinese, Arabic and Farsi, among other target languages. Interestingly, the CIA director added Turkish, French and Spanish to the list. She also said that the Agency will “invest more heavily on […] counternarcotics efforts abroad”. Last but not least, Haspel spoke about the need for increased transparency, diversity and inclusion at the CIA, which last year marked its 70th anniversary.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 September 2018 | Permalink