Israel extends intelligence document classification period to 90 years

MossadThe government of Israel has increased to 90 years the period during which documents belonging to intelligence and security agencies can remain secret, extending it by 20 years. Until last month, government documents produced by Israeli spy agencies, such as its external spy organization, the Mossad, or its domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, could remain hidden from public view for up to 70 years. Last year, however, the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commissioned a study into the possibility of extending the classification period for such documents. Israel’s Supreme Council of Archives, a body within the Israel State Archives that advises the Office of the Prime Minister on matters of classification, recommended against extending the classification period by more than five years.

Last month, however, Netanyahu rejected the recommendation of the Supreme Council of Archives and managed to pass an amendment to the classification regulations that will keep documents secret for 90 years from now on. The existence of the amendment was revealed publicly for the first time on Monday of this week. In addition to agencies such as the Mossad and the Shin Bet, the extended regulation will also apply to several cyber-oriented military units, as well as to government-run research institutes and commissions, including the Israel Institute for Biological Research and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which published news of the amended regulation on Tuesday, said that documents from 1949, the year that the Shin Bet and the Mossad were founded, would normally have been published this year. But now they will remain hidden from public view until 2039. Documents relating to more recent cases, such as the death of Ben Zygier, Mossad’s so-called ‘prisoner X’, or the assassination of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, which took place in 2010, will not be released until 2100.

The office of President Netanyahu said on Monday that the goal of the amendment was to protect Israel’s assets and informants who remain alive, or their descendants in foreign countries. It added that many documents produced by Israel’s spy agencies described operational methods that were “still in use today” and could therefore “harm national security”. Last but not least, said the Prime Minister’s Office, some of the information in classified documents “could harm Israel’s foreign relations”. The statement did not elaborate on these claims.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 February 2019 | Permalink

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Dead Russian oligarch’s links to UK spy agencies must stay secret, judge rules

Aleksandr PerepilichnyA judge has ruled that the British government has the right to withhold information relating to alleged links between British spy agencies and a Russian millionaire who died in mysterious circumstances in England. Aleksandr Perepilichny was a wealthy and influential investment banker living in Moscow. In 2009, however, he fled Russia saying that his life had been threatened following a business disagreement. He resettled in Surrey, south of London, and began cooperating with Swiss authorities who were investigating a multimillion dollar money-laundering scheme involving senior Russian government officials. Described by some as the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, the scheme is said to have defrauded the Russian Treasury of at least $240 million.

On November 10, 2012, having just returned to his luxury Surrey home from a three-day trip to France, Perepilichny went out to jog. He was found dead later that evening, having collapsed in the middle of a side street near his house. He was 44. A postmortem examination concluded that Perepilichny had died of natural causes and pointed to the strong possibility of a heart attack. However, lawyers representing the late businessman’s family told a pre-inquest hearing that Perepilichny stomach was found to have traces of gelsemium, a shrub-like plant that is a “known weapon of assassination [used] by Chinese and Russian contract killers”.

The case is now being revisited following the failed attempt last March, allegedly by the Kremlin, to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a Russian former spy who defected to England in 2010. For the past several months, submissions have been filed for an inquest into Perepilichny’s mysterious death. But the British government said that it would not reveal any information relating to possible contacts between the late Russian businessman and British intelligence. The question was raised in June by lawyers representing Legal and General, Perepilichny’s life insurance company. They argued that if Perepilichny had close dealings with British intelligence, it would have raised significantly the threat that his life was under. But British Home Secretary Sajid Javid argued that releasing documents implicating the intelligence services with the late Russian businessman would endanger national security.

On Monday the judge leading the inquest into Perepilichny’s death ruled in favor of the British government’s position. The judge, Nicholas Hilliard QC, has security clearance and was therefore able to review the relevant evidence behind closed doors, during a secret session. He then ruled that “publicly releasing intelligence information [relating to Perepilichny] would pose a real risk of serious harm to national security”. Critics argue that the Skripal case has heightened public interest in Russian covert activities on British soil and that the public has the right to know whether the death of Perepilichny was in any way connected to the intelligence realm. The inquest continues this week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2018 | Permalink

Excessive secrecy hurts intel agencies, says head of NZ spy review

Sir Michael CullenA former deputy prime minister of New Zealand, who is heading a major review of intelligence practices in the country, has said in an interview that spy agencies hurt their mission by practicing excessive secrecy. Sir Michael Cullen served as finance minister, education minister and attorney-General before serving as deputy prime minister of New Zealand, from 2002 to 2008. He was recently appointed by the government to co-chair a broad review of state intelligence agencies, with particular focus on updating the applicable legislative framework and evaluating the oversight exercised by lawmakers and the executive. The review is expected to affect the work of New Zealand’s two most visible intelligence agencies, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau.

Last Saturday, Sir Michael spoke to TVNZ, New Zealand’s national television broadcaster, about the progress of the review, and shared some of his preliminary thoughts on the subject of intelligence practice and reform. He said in the interview that much of the documentation about intelligence processes and operations was being kept secret without apparent reason. “I’ve seen documents [from] briefings, which it would be hard to justify in my view those briefings not being made public”, he said. He added that there was “a need for the agencies to be much more open about what they do”, noting that sources and methods could be adequately protected through a careful process of redacting. The former deputy prime minister said that, ironically, the intelligence agencies are “their worst enemy by being so secretive about almost everything that they do”. Their attitude, he told TVNZ, negatively affected the level trust between them and the citizens they protect; the latter, he added, “would get a better idea of the need for the [intelligence] agencies if some of these documents were made public”.

Sir Michael also commented on New Zealand’s membership in the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’ alliance, which is part of the UKUSA intelligence-sharing treaty between it and the nations of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He told TVNZ that New Zealand had to share intelligence with allied nations, because it needed access to offshore information affecting its national security, which it cannot collect by itself. Some New Zealand politicians and pundits suggested that the country should exit the treaty after it was revealed last year that the US had been making use of New Zealand embassies around the world to collect electronic signals. In April of this year, The New Zealand Herald said that the country’s embassy in Bangladesh had been made available to British and American intelligence agencies to operate out of. Wellington’s relations with Dhaka have been strained as a result.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/21/01-1739/

IRA spy’s lawsuit against MI5 to be judged in secret, UK court decides

Martin McGartlandA lawsuit against Britain’s Security Service (MI5) by a former spy, who in the 1980s infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as IRA, is to be judged in secret, a court in London has decided. The spy, Martin McGartland, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was recruited by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the mid-1980s. The information he supplied to the security agencies over several years is widely credited with having saved the lives of at least 50 British police officers and soldiers. His autobiographical experiences formed the basis of the 2008 motion picture 50 Dead Men Walking.

However, McGartland’s cover was dramatically blown in 1991, when the IRA began suspecting that he might be an MI5 mole. After several hours of interrogation by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, McGartland managed to escape his captors by throwing himself out of a third-floor window. He survived serious injuries and was taken into hiding by MI5, living in a series of safe houses across Britain for nearly a decade. In 1999 the IRA caught up with him at an MI5 safe house in North Tyneside, in the northeast of England, where he was shot and left for dead by an IRA hit team while walking to his car.

McGartland is now suing MI5 and its institutional patron, the British Home Office, claiming that they failed to support him after he was shot by the IRA. In his lawsuit, McGartland claims that the government funding he was receiving for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was withdrawn after he publicly criticized the British government’s counterterrorism policies. In May of 2013, it emerged that Home Office solicitors had filed a formal request to hold the trial as a Closed Material Procedure (CMP) hearing. This type of practice, which became law in Britain under the 2013 Justice and Security Act, allows the court to decide a case without giving the plaintiff party any details of the information against them.

In many cases, the government resorts to CMP ostensibly to protect ‘sources and methods’. But McGartland’s legal team said that the secret hearing was designed “solely to cover up [MI5’s] own embarrassment and wrongdoing and not, as the Government has been claiming, to protect national security”. Moreover, civil rights groups warned that applying CMP to McGartland’s lawsuit would open the way for the imposition of wider restrictions on the principle of open justice and would normalize secret hearings in the civil courts.

After the judge hearing the case decided to impose CMP on the proceedings, McGartland’s legal team filed an appeal. Now the appeal judges seem to have sided with the Home Office. In a decision published on Tuesday, the judges opined that the imposition of CMP was “a case management decision properly open to the judge and there is no proper basis for this court to interfere with it”. They added that their decision did not represent a blanket approval of secret legal proceedings, but that they expected court judges to scrutinize future CMP applications “with care”.

The ruling means that McGartland’s legal team will not be allowed to hear testimony by certain MI5 witnesses or view court material designated as “sensitive” by the government. Lawyers for the former IRA informant said on Tuesday that the approval of the imposition of CMP represented “a serious aberration from the tradition of open justice”. But lawyers for the Home Office said that the ability to protect sensitive information was central to the proper function of a national security service.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/15/01-1735/

CIA kept file on American academic Noam Chomsky, say experts

Noam Chomsky in 1970By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A 1970 communiqué between two United States government agencies appears to show that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) kept a file on the iconic American linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky. Widely seen as a pioneer of modern linguistics, Chomsky adopted an uncompromisingly critical stance against the US’ involvement in the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. The US Intelligence Community’s systematic surveillance of antiwar and civil rights activists at the time prompted legal scholars and historians to deduce that Chomsky’s activities must have been routinely spied on by the American government. But a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in recent years turned up blank, with the CIA stating that it could “not locate any records” responsive to the requests. Scholars insisted, however, and a recent FOIA request unearthed what appears to be proof that the CIA did in fact compile a file on the dissident academic. The request was submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by attorney Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, a group specializing in “lawfully acquiring from the government material related to national security matters and distributing it to the public”. According to Foreign Policy magazine blog The Cable, McClanahan’s FOIA request revealed a memorandum sent from the CIA to the FBI on June 8, 1970. In it, the Agency seeks information about an upcoming trip by American antiwar activists to North Vietnam, which, according to the CIA, had received the “endorsement of Noam Chomsky”. The memo also asks the FBI for information on the trip’s participants, including Professor Chomsky. The Cable spoke to Marquette University Professor Athan Theoharis, domestic surveillance expert and author of Spying on Americans, who opined that the CIA request for information on Chomsky amounts to an outright confirmation that the Agency kept a file on the dissident academic. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #840

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►S. Korea prosecutors might seek ex-spy chief’s arrest. Prosecutors said Monday they will decide sometime this week whether to seek an arrest warrant against Won Sei-hoon, who headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) for about four years until early this year. He is suspected of ordering agents to post a slew of politically sensitive comments on the Internet in order to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling party candidate prior to the December 19 national election. Won, who headed the NIS under former President Lee Myung-bak, has been barred from leaving the country pending investigation.
►►CIA self-described whistleblower writes about life in prison. In 2012, former CIA officer John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In January of this year, he was sentenced to 30 months in a low security prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania. In a letter released by his lawyer, Kiriakou describes his day-to-day life behind bars, from his own tiny cell to an almost anthropological study of the lunchroom and the relatively rare prison fights.
►►Comment: End the spy budget secrecy in Israel. Since the establishment of the Israeli state, the security establishment has enjoyed confidentiality with regard to the details of its budget, justified by the need to keep secrets from enemy intelligence services. This lack of transparency has impaired public scrutiny of security expenditure, which represents a large chunk of the Israeli economy. When the watchful eye is distant, the temptation is great to inflate job slots, exaggerate salary increments and hike up pension conditions.

MI5 wants secret court session over IRA informant’s lawsuit

Martin McGartlandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, has requested a secret court hearing to deliberate a lawsuit from a high-profile spy who infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as IRA. The mole, Martin McGartland, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was recruited by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the 1980s. The information he supplied to the security agencies over several years is widely credited with having saved the lives of at least 50 British police officers and soldiers. His autobiographical experiences formed the basis of the 2008 motion picture 50 Dead Men Walking, written and directed by Kari Skogland and starring Jim Sturgess as Martin and Ben Kingsley. McGartland’s cover was dramatically blown in 1991, when the IRA began suspecting that he might be an MI5 mole. After several hours of interrogation by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, McGartland managed to escape his captors and throw himself out of a third-floor window. He survived serious injuries and was taken into hiding by MI5, living in a series of safe houses across Britain for nearly a decade. However, in 1999 the IRA caught up with him at an MI5 safe house in North Tyneside, in the northeast of England, where he was shot by an IRA hit team while walking to his car one morning and left for dead. McGartland is now suing MI5 and its institutional patron, the British Home Office, claiming that they failed to support him after he was shot by the IRA. In his lawsuit, McGartland claims that government funding he was receiving for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was withdrawn after he publicly criticized the British government’s counterterrorism policies. Read more of this post