US spy agency to help human rights groups monitor North Korea

NGAThe National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), one of America’s most secretive spy organizations, will work with a number of human-rights groups to monitor human rights in North Korea, according to a senior NGA official. Formed in 1996 as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the NGA operates under the supervision of the US Department of Defense. It is tasked with supporting US national security by collecting, analyzing and distributing geospatial intelligence. It also performs a combat-support mission for the Pentagon. The agency collects most of its data from satellites, surveillance aircraft and unmanned surveillance drones. Headquartered in a vast 2.3 million square foot building in Washington, the NGA is known for its secretive nature and rarely makes headlines.

Recently, however, NGA data expert Chris Rasmussen told Foreign Policy that the agency is finalizing an innovative agreement to work with human rights groups on North Korea. Rasmussen, a longtime military analyst, said that the NGA would provide the groups with access to raw imagery collected through airborne reconnaissance, and would share with them analyses by its experts. The groups would also be able to use a digital imagery application developed by NGA for use by its analysts. The human rights groups specialize on human rights in North Korea and have in the past used commercial satellite imagery data to help locate mass execution sites and mass graves in the secretive Asian country. They have also been able to locate concentration camps and have evaluated the impact of natural disasters in North Korea. Now the NGA will share its intelligence collection arsenal with these groups, in an attempt to shed further light on the state of human rights in North Korea.

Rasmussen said he could not yet reveal the names of the human rights groups that the NGA is preparing to work with, nor give details about the precise topics that the collaboration would focus on, because the official agreements are still being formalized. However, he said that no US intelligence agency had ever worked so closely with human rights organizations. “This kind of collaboration has never been done before with an intelligence agency”, said Rasmussen. He added that the NGA is hoping to use this collaboration as an incubator to “expand to other areas” with human rights groups and think tanks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 March 2018 | Permalink

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Egypt president removes spy officials following damning human-rights report

Abdel Fatah al-SisiSeventeen senior Egyptian intelligence officials were summarily removed from their posts hours after the government’s human-rights monitoring body issued a damning report of violations by security agencies. The removal of the officers was announced on Sunday in the official journal of the Egyptian government, in an article that bore the signature of Egypt’s President, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. It listed the names of 17 senior officers of Egypt’s feared General Intelligence Directorate (GID). The article said the 17 would go into early retirement “based on their own requests”, but provided no information on the reasons why they allegedly asked to retire as a group, or who will replace them.

The announcement of the intelligence officers’ removal came shortly after the publication of the annual report on the state of human rights in Egypt by the country’s official government monitoring organization. Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights said in its 2016 report, published over the weekend, that the rights of citizens have “not yet become a priority for the state”. It added that the state of human rights in Egypt remains alarmingly poor despite the adoption of the country’s new constitution in 2014. Egyptian and international rights monitoring organizations claim that as many as 60,000 people have been arrested for political reasons since 2013, when the military overthrew the government of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, following months of protests against his administration.

Focusing on the period between April 2015 and March of this year, the report lists over 260 cases of enforced disappearances of individuals, of which 143 remain under what is termed by the authorities “pretrial detention”. The report further notes that “pretrial detention”, which is often indefinite, has become “a punishment in itself”, and points out that the numbers of prisoners currently held pretrial detention centers exceed their capacity three times over. Consequently, pretrial detainees are forced to “take turns sleeping due to lack of space”, says the report. It also criticizes Egypt’s security and intelligence services for failing to curb the use of torture, which remains widespread despite its condemnation by the government and the conviction of several police and security officers who were found to have tortured detainees to death.

The removal of the 17 senior GID officers highlights the embattled state and internal divisions that continue to plague the Sisi administration, two years after the military strongman assumed power in the country, following a military coup. His administration has focused largely on a violent crackdown against the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which includes the imposition of death sentences on hundreds of thousands of people who were convicted in mass trials. Sisi’s legitimacy is disputed by the Muslim Brotherhood —arguably Egypt’s most popular social movement— and secularist reformers, who boycotted en masse the election that propelled him to the presidency. Sisi won with 97 percent of the vote in a heavily boycotted ballot that was reminiscent of the staged elections held by longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. At the same time, however, Sisi is facing challenges from within the military and intelligence services, which some believe may be planning another coup. In June 2014, a less than a month after taking office, SIS replaced 14 senior GID officials. He fired another 11 a year later, while 13 more were forced to retire last December.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 July 2016 | Permalink

 

Saudis recall ambassador from Sweden after arms deal is scrapped

Margot WallströmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its ambassador from Sweden after the Scandinavian country annulled a multimillion dollar defense contract with the Arab kingdom. Stockholm scrapped the contract on Monday, a day after the Saudis blocked a scheduled speech by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, at the Arab League conference in Cairo. Wallström said she was “astonished” after Arab delegates backed a last-minute push by the Saudi delegation to the meeting to block her from speaking. The effort to block the Swedish politician’s speech was initiated once it became clear that she intended to criticize the Kingdom’s human-rights record. The Swedish politician had reportedly planned to broach the issue of freedom of expression and religious worship, as well as touch on the subject of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The speech was meant to highlight Wallström’s “feminist foreign policy”, which she has previously said will form “an integral part” of the policy strategy of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under her leadership.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced that a lucrative weapons agreement, which was first signed between Stockholm and Riyadh in 2005, would be scrapped in protest against the Arab Kingdom’s poor human-rights record. The day before the announcement, Wallström had proceeded to post online the text of the speech that she had been scheduled to deliver in Cairo, where she had been invited by the Arab League as a guest of honor. Fewer than 24 hours later, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said it would be recalling its ambassador to Sweden, Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim, in protest against what it said were Sweden’s “offensive” and “harmful” actions against the Kingdom. An official statement by the Saudi government described Wallström’s criticisms as a “blatant interference” in the Kingdom’s internal affairs that had “violated accepted international conventions”.

Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed late on Wednesday that the Saudi ambassador to the country was being recalled, but it refused to speculate on whether it would respond by recalling its ambassador to the Arab Kingdom.

News you may have missed #796

Richard FaddenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Iranian spy scandal sparks outrage in Turkey. After a nearly yearlong investigation into an alleged Iranian spy ring in Turkey, seven people were charged in early September with “providing information related to state security and establishing an [illegal] organization”. The charges against five Turkish citizens and two Iranian nationals followed a raid on the suspects’ residences and workplaces on August 29, in which videos and pictures of border security, documents, correspondence with Iranian intelligence and weapons were found, according to the investigation materials. Tehran denied any connections to those arrested, while officials in Ankara revealed more alleged evidence showing that Iran is providing support to the PKK.
►►British SIGINT agency ‘helps US drone attacks’. Britain’s former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, has said there is “pretty compelling” evidence that the British government’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, is passing information to the United States to help it locate targets for controversial drone attacks in Pakistan. Earlier this year David Anderson, the British state’s independent reviewer of terrorism-related legislation, warned that the British government faced “a raft of civil cases” over possible complicity in the CIA drone attacks.
►►Canada’s top spy dismisses call for human rights scrutiny. In a newly declassified memo, CSIS director Richard Fadden appears to dismiss the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s recommendation that national security agencies do more to ensure they are not taking part in racial profiling or other objectionable practices. “I am confident in the service’s existing human rights policies and procedures, as well as our accountability and review structures”, Fadden says in the January 2012 memo, which is addressed to Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The memo —initially classified secret— was discovered by Mike Larsen, a criminology instructor in British Columbia, who obtained it under the Access to Information Act.

News you may have missed #744

Navi PillayBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Source says Mikhailov ‘will not be exchanged’ with US. There are rumors going around that the US might consider exchanging Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a New York prison, for one or more CIA spies currently being held in Russian prisons. Russian news agency RIA Novosti has cited a “high ranking official in the Russian security services”, who suggests that Bout “might be exchanged”, but not with Valery Mikhailov, a Russian former counterintelligence officer, who was sentenced this week to 18 years in prison for allegedly spying for the CIA.
►►CIA preparing to pull back from Iraq. The US Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to cut its presence in Iraq to less than half of wartime levels, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “US officials familiar with the planning”. Under the plans being considered, says the paper, the CIA’s presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel. Interestingly, the plan would also reduce the US intelligence presence in the region as neighboring Syria appears to be verging on civil war.
►►Senior UN official blasts US drone strikes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said US drone attacks in Pakistan “raise serious questions about compliance with international law, in particular the principle of distinction and proportionality”. She also voiced concerns that the strikes were being conducted “beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control”. IntelNews provided this opinion on the matter, in 2009.

US resumes controversial weapons sale to Bahrain

Gulf Cooperation Council countriesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has announced that it will resume a controversial weapons deal with the Kingdom of Bahrain, despite its government’s substandard human rights record, which has been internationally criticized in the context of the Arab Spring. The administration of President Barack Obama halted all weapons sales to the oil-rich Gulf state in September of 2011, nearly a year following the eruption of widespread popular protests in the Kingdom. On May 11, however, Washington announced that the weapons sale would go ahead after all, with the exception of some items that could be used against human rights protesters. According to The Christian Science Monitor, one of a handful of American news outlets that covered the story, US officials said that the decision to resume weapons sales to Bahrain was taken “in light of US national security interests”. The paper quotes an unnamed US government official who told reporters that Washington had given the go-ahead to the weapons sale in order to “help Bahrain maintain its external defense capabilities” against Iran. The regime in Bahrain has accused human rights activists of operating under the control of the Iranian government. The Monitor says that the resumption of US military aid to Bahrain has dealt a significant blow to the pro-democracy movement, and appears to have “incensed opposition activists”, who see it “as a signal that that the US supports Bahrain’s repression of opposition protests”. The article quotes one such activist, Mohammed al-Maskati, who describes the weapons deal as a “direct message [from the US] that we support the authorities and we don’t support democracy in Bahrain, we don’t support protesters in Bahrain”. Meanwhile, all eyes are in Saudi Arabia this week, as Arab Gulf leaders are meeting to discuss plans for forming a pan-Arab Gulf union. Read more of this post

Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

TeliaSonera CEO Lars NybergBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A highly profitable cellular telecommunications company, which is jointly owned by a Swedish-Finnish public-private consortium, is enabling some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes to spy on their own citizens, according to a new report. TeliaSonera AB, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, is currently active in nearly 20 countries around the world. In 2011, it posted a net profit of nearly $3 billion, 25 percent of which came from the company’s operations in countries of the former Soviet Union. They include some of TeliaSonera’s most lucrative franchises, such as Geocell in Georgia, Kcell in Kazakhstan, Ucell in Uzebekistan, Tcell in Tajikistan, and Azercell in Azerbaijan, among others. But a new investigation by Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television AB  (SVT), accuses TeliaSonera of knowingly giving some of the world’s most oppressive governments the means to spy on their own citizens. The report, which is available online in English, effectively states that TeliaSonera is directly complicit in some of the world’s most severe human rights abuses. The accusation is bound to cause embarrassment among senior officials in the Swedish government, which owns nearly 40 percent of TeliaSonera’s stock. The SVT investigation singles out Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, where TeliaSonera operates monopoly cellular networks on behalf of the state, “in exchange for lucrative contracts”. While running the networks, TeliaSonera allegedly grants local intelligence agencies complete and real-time access to the all telephone calls, pen-register data, and content of text messages exchanged by users. This, says the SVT report, has in turn facilitated several arrests of pro-democracy activists and political dissidents in countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan. Read more of this post