US considers ending intel sharing with countries that criminalize homosexuality

Richard GrenellThe administration of United States President Donald Trump is considering the possibility of limiting or terminating the sharing of intelligence with countries around the world that criminalize homosexuality. The move is being led by Richard Grenell, an American diplomat, civil servant and media consultant, who was appointed by the White House as acting Director of National Intelligence in February. This makes Grenell the most senior intelligence official in the US.

The idea behind this proposed move is to apply pressure to countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality to change their laws. The primary force behind this initiative is Grenell himself, who is believed to be the first openly gay individual to serve in a cabinet-level position in the United States. Before his appointment as acting Director of National Intelligence, Grenell had been tasked by President Trump to lead an effort to use the US foreign policy agenda —including financial aid— as a form of incentive to end the criminalization of homosexuality worldwide.

Almost from the moment of his appointment on February 20, Grenell has vigorously prioritized issues relating to discrimination in the workplace. Earlier this month, he sent a letter (.pdf) to the member agencies of the US Intelligence Community urging them to ensure that their policies to protect their LGBT workforce from harassment and discrimination “are specific and deliberate”.

If the ODNI went ahead with limiting intelligence sharing, it would affect Washington’s intelligence relationship with several partners that are considered critical, including Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt. But in an interview with the The New York Times last week, Grenell argued that “ultimately, the United States is safer when our partners respect basic human rights”. Nondiscrimination against LGBT individuals “is an American value”, said Grenell, and argued that the US Intelligence Community should promoting what is effectively “United States policy”. The Times said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had formed a group “to review the issue [of intelligence sharing] and form ideas”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 April 2020 | Permalink

DR Congo military intelligence chief found dead hours before court appearance

Delphin KahimbiThe head of military intelligence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was found dead on Friday, just hours before he was due to testify before the country’s National Security Council. General Delphin Kahimbi, Deputy Chief of Staff of the DRC Armed Forces, and director of its military intelligence wing, was facing accusations of involvement in an alleged plot to depose the country’s new President, Félix Tshisekedi.

Tshisekedi took over from Joseph Kabila in January of 2019, in what was hailed at the time as the first peaceful transition of power in the DRC since the 1960s. Kabila, who headed the country from 2001 until 2019, has remained a powerful figure in Congolese politics, and participates in a governing coalition with Tshisekedi. But many of Kabila’s supporters want to see Tshisekedi removed from power, and accuse him of assuming the presidency after a fraudulent election. General Kahimbi was among Kabila’s supporters who voiced disagreements against Tshisekedi’s presidency.

Kahimbi rose through the ranks of the military in the 1990s and became a popular military figure after leading a bloody counterinsurgency campaign against secessionist rebels in the eastern DRC. But many accused him of carrying out human rights violations and subverting democratic politics in Africa’s second-largest country. Earlier this year, the European Union placed General Kahimbi in its sanctions list for alleged violations of human rights. Around the same time the United States began pressuring the Tshisekedi government to bring Kahimbi to justice for his role in alleged human rights abuses under the Kabila regime.

On Wednesday, General Kahimbi was briefly arrested by police and was subsequently released on bail. He was summarily suspended from duty and was due to appear before the DRC’s National Security Council on Friday morning. But local reports said he was found dead at his home in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, just hours before he was due to appear before the Council. His wife, Brenda Kahimbi, told the Reuters news agency that he had suffered a heart attack and was pronounced dead in hospital. There are rumors in Kinshasa that he committed suicide, but this is disputed by his family and supporters.

The DRC Armed Forces Council confirmed General Kahimbi’s death, but refused to comment on the cause of his death, or on the precise accusations that he was facing. Late on Friday, the Council released a statement praising General Kahimbi’s contribution to the national security of the DRC. It also announced the launch of an investigation into the general’s death.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 March 2020 | Permalink

Despite imminent US-Taliban deal, CIA plans to keep proxy units in Afghanistan

Armed guerillas Khost AfghanistanThe United States Central Intelligence Agency plans to retain a strong presence on the ground in Afghanistan, despite reports that American troops may soon be leaving the country following a deal with the Taliban. Several news outlets reported this week that Washington has resolved its differences with the Taliban about withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, after receiving assurances by the Taliban that they will not cooperate with other militant Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. An announcement of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban may thus be imminent. But in an article for Foreign Policy, Stefanie Glinski points out that the CIA is not planning to leave the Central Asian country any time soon.

The American intelligence agency is known to support, arm and train several proxy forces throughout Afghanistan. Langley plans to keep those proxy forces operating in the country for the foreseeable future, regardless of whether US troops pull out, says Glinski. She gives the example of the Khost Protection Force (KPF), a 6,500-strong unit of Afghan soldiers who are “trained, equipped and funded by the CIA”. The KPF is the most active and visible of an extensive network of CIA-sponsored paramilitary groups in Afghanistan. It operates almost exclusively along the Afghan-Pakistani border and has a strong presence in Taliban strongholds like Ghazni, Paktia and Khost. The roots of the KPF go back to the days immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, which prompted the US military invasion of Afghanistan. It therefore precedes the Afghan National Army, Afghanistan’s state-run military apparatus, and does not operate under its command. Instead, it is solely directed by the CIA, which uses it to secure the Afghan-Pakistani border and disrupt the activities of Taliban, al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters in the Afghan borderlands.

Members of the KPF claim that they are “better trained than the Afghan National Army”. They are also paid much better, over $1000.00 per month, which is an enormous sum for Afghanistan. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Glinski reports that most KPF fighters joined the group for the money and the ability to eventually seek permanent resettlement in the United States. But alongside the group’s elite image, KPF members have acquired notoriety and are often seen as trigger-happy and unaccountable. Several reports in Western media have said that the KPF’s tactical accomplishments have come at a high price, with countless reports of civilian deaths and, some claim, even war crimes. These risk “alienating the Afghan population”, said a New York Times report last year. Glinski says it is possible the KPF’s aggressive tactics may be “radicalizing portions of the very population it intends to pacify or frighten into submission”. In April of this year, a United Nations report alleged that more Afghan civilians died as a result of attacks by Afghan government and American military attacks than at the hands of the Taliban and other guerilla groups. The CIA did not respond to several requests for comment from Foreign Policy, says Glinski.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 August 2019 | Permalink

Firm founded by ex-Blackwater boss to operate in China’s Xinjiang province

Erik PrinceA security firm founded by Erik Prince, the former boss of the private military company Blackwater, has announced a deal with the Chinese state to operate a training facility in China’s largely Muslim Xinjiang province. In the months following the United States invasion of Iraq, Blackwater was hired by the Department of State to provide diplomatic security at several locations throughout the Middle Eastern country. By 2010, when the company was abruptly sold to a group of private investors, its tactics in Iraq had prompted international controversy. Prince went on to help found Frontier Services Group (FSG), another private security firm registered in Hong Kong. The company provides security training to personnel working for Chinese companies. Its specialization is training personnel of Chinese firms based abroad, mainly in regions of Africa.

The announcement of the new training center was posted on the FSG’s Chinese-language website. It said that one of FSG’s subsidiaries had struck an agreement to build and operate a “training center” at the Kashgar Caohu industrial park in the city of Kashgar, one of China’s westernmost cities, situated near the country’s border with Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. The city of 1 million people is located in the province of Xinjiang. In recent months, Beijing has been heavily criticized by several Western countries for allegedly carrying out mass detentions of Uighur Muslims, which make up about half of Xinjiang’s population. Uighurs are ethnically related to the peoples of Central Asia and speak a Turkic dialect. Some see the Chinese state as an occupier and advocate secession, often combined with calls to create an Islamic caliphate. China denies the allegations of mass detentions and claims that Uighurs are voluntarily enrolled in “educational and training facilities”, where they are de-radicalized through political and cultural instruction. Up to a million Uighurs are believed to have been enrolled in these facilities in the past year.

It is worth noting that the initial announcement of the Kashgar Caohu training center agreement between FSG and its Chinese client was eventually deleted from the company’s website. Late last week, an FSG spokesperson told several news agencies, including Reuters, that Prince was not involved in what was described in a statement as a “preliminary agreement” for a training center in Xinjiang. The spokesperson added that Prince probably had “no involvement whatsoever” in the agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 5 February 2019 | Permalink

Saudi royal suspected of ordering Khashoggi murder leads spy reform body

King Salman with Crown Prince MohammedThe Saudi royal who is suspected by the international community of having ordered the state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is now leading a committee to reform the Kingdom’s spy services. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who became critical of the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States and began to criticize Saudi Arabia from the pages of The Washington Post. He was killed on October 2 by a 15-member Saudi hit-squad while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After several weeks of vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government eventually admitted that he was killed while inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After conceding that Khashoggi was murdered inside its consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi monarchy pledged to punish those responsible and reform the Kingdom’s intelligence services. But reports in the international press have disclosed that nearly every major Western intelligence agency believes that Khashoggi’s murder was authorized by none other than Muhammad Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and heir-presumptive to the Saudi throne. In late October it was disclosed that Britain’s intelligence services had prior knowledge of a plot to target Khashoggi at the highest echelons of the Saudi government, and allegedly warned Riyadh not to proceed with the plan. And earlier this month it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, bin Salman had exchanged text messages with the head of the 15-member hit-team in the hours prior to and following Khashoggi’s brutal murder in Istanbul.

However, not only has the Kingdom’s ruler, King Salman, rejected reports about the crown prince’s alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, but he has also appointed the controversial royal as the head of a ministerial committee to “restructure the General Intelligence Presidency”. The term refers to the primary intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia, which is also known as the General Intelligence Directorate (GID). The ministerial committee has reportedly met several times since October 19, when it was established by royal decree “in pursuit of achieving best international practices” in intelligence operations. On Thursday, Saudi media announced that the ministerial committee had drafted a document recommending “short-, medium-, and long-term development solutions” for restructuring the GID. Several measures were presented by the media as “urgent”. They center on creating a “department for strategy and development” whose task will be to ensure that intelligence operations are in line with the GID’s strategy and the Kingdom’s national security strategy. Another proposed measure involves creating a “general department for legal affairs” that will assess the compatibility of proposed intelligence operations with “international laws and charters and with human rights”. The committee also proposed the creation of a “general department for performance evaluation and internal review” to verify that intelligence operations have been carried out in a legal fashion.

Saudi media reports on Thursday made no mention of the controversy surrounding bin Salman’s presidency of the ministerial committee. For the past two months, the Kingdom has dismissed reports of the crown prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder as “fake news” promoted by its rival Qatar. It has also warned that any social media posts that promote “fake news” about the Saudi government’s involvement in the murder will result in up to five years’ imprisonment. Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former director of the GID, rejected calls for an international inquiry into Khashoggi’s murder and said that Saudi Arabia would never agree to an international investigation into the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2018 | Permalink

Britain knew of Saudi plan to target journalist, warned Saudis against it

Jamal KhashoggiBritish intelligence had prior knowledge of a plot by the Saudi government to target Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist who was killed in the hands of Saudi intelligence officers in Istanbul on October 2, and allegedly warned Riyadh not to proceed with the plan, according to a report. Khashoggi was a former Saudi government adviser who became critical of the kingdom’s style of governance. He is believed to have been killed by a 15-member Saudi hit squad while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there for a scheduled appointment in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government admitted last week that the journalist was killed while inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It has pledged to punish those responsible and reform the Kingdom’s intelligence services. But critics accuse Riyadh of ordering the dissident’s murder.

Now a new report claims that Britain’s external intelligence agency, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), was aware of a plot by the Saudi government to kidnap Khashoggi in order to silence him. British newspaper The Sunday Express says it has evidence from “high ranking intelligence sources” that MI6 was in possession of communications intercepts containing conversations about Khashoggi. The conversations were between Saudi government officials and officers of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Kingdom’s primary spy agency. In the intercepts, a member of the Saudi royal family is allegedly heard giving orders for the GID to kidnap Khashoggi from Turkey sometime in early September. He also instructs the GID to secretly transport the dissident journalist to Saudi soil where he could be interrogated. During the conversation, a discussion took place about the possibility that Khashoggi would physically resist his abductors. At that point in the conversation, the high ranking intelligence source told The Express, the royal family member “left the door open for alternative remedies […] should Khashoggi be troublesome”.

The paper reports that MI6 “became aware” of the arrival of a 15-member Saudi hit squad in Istanbul on October 1, a day before Khashoggi went missing. According to the paper’s source “it was pretty clear what their aim was”, so MI6 contacted the GID directly and warned the Saudi spy agency to “cancel the mission”, said the source. However, the source added, “this request was ignored”.  On October 10, The Washington Post, the newspaper that employed Khashoggi, said that American intelligence agencies had evidence that the Saudi royal family tried to lure The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, in order to capture him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 October 2018 | Permalink

US intelligence has evidence Saudis planned to capture missing journalist

Jamal KhashoggiAmerican intelligence agencies have evidence that the Saudi royal family tried to lure The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, in order to capture him, according to sources. Khashoggi, 59, is a Saudi government adviser who in 2015 became a critic of the kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. He also joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies. He has been missing since Tuesday, when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there for a scheduled appointment in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia.

Last Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate during his visit, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle. Saudi Arabia has denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post cited anonymous US officials in claiming that the Saudi royal family had devised an elaborate plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to capture him. The paper said that US intelligence agencies are in possession of communications intercepts of exchanges between Saudi officials, in which the plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia is discussed. The Post also cited “several of Khashoggi’s friends” who said that in recent months he received phone calls from Saudi officials close to the kingdom’s controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The officials reportedly offered Khashoggi political protection from prosecution if he returned to Saudi Arabia. They also offered him high-level government jobs, said The Post. But Khashoggi was skeptical of the offers and rejected them, his friends said.

The paper also cited an anonymous “former US intelligence official” who said that the travel details of the 15-member Saudi diplomatic team that went to Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance “bore the hallmarks of [an extralegal] rendition” —a person’s unauthorized removal from one country and detention and interrogation in another. Turkey has said that the Saudi team arrived in Istanbul in two separate groups using private aircraft, and departed from the country at different times going to different destinations in the hours after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2018 | Permalink

Turkey claims Saudi dissident was killed, dismembered inside Saudi consulate

Jamal KhashoggiTurkish government sources have said that a former trusted aide of the Saudi royal family, who was shunned by Riyadh after criticizing Saudi policies, was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi, 59, is an American-educated former adviser to Saudi royals. He worked for years as an advisor to Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s most recognizable public figures who represented the Kingdom as ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. But in 2015, when Mohammad bin Salman, favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, began to rise through the ranks of the royal family, Khashoggi became sharply critical of changes in the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. Earlier this year, Khashoggi joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies.

In recent months, Khashoggi moved to Istanbul and planned to marry Hatice Cengiz, a local graduate student. Last Tuesday, in preparation for his wedding with Cengiz, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on a prescheduled visit, reportedly to request a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. The document was reportedly required under Turkish marital law. But The Washington Post columnist has not been seen since. On Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi had been brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon. But Turkish officials, speaking anonymously to local media, said that the government had “concrete proof” and that the case would be solved soon through a series of public announcements. However, no accusations have been issued publicly and some doubt that Ankara has evidence to implicate the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Others wonder whether the Turkish government will wish to enter into an escalating diplomatic confrontation with the powerful Saudi royal family. The New York Times said late on Sunday that the Turkish government “was waiting until the investigation was complete” before making a full disclosure regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance. Meanwhile government representatives in the United States, a close ally of the Saudi government, said on Sunday that the Department of State “cannot confirm Mr. Khashoggi’s fate” and that it is “following the case”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 October 2018 | Permalink

Saudi state spies on dissidents in Canada using software built by Israeli firm

Embassy of Saudi Arabia in CanadaThe government of Saudi Arabia is spying on expatriate dissidents in Canada using commercially available software designed by an Israeli company, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. This is alleged in a new report published on Monday by the Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. The report’s authors say they have “high confidence” that intrusive surveillance software is being deployed to target the electronic communications of Saudi dissidents, including Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who has been living in Canada’s Quebec province for nearly 10 years.

Abdulaziz, 27, arrived in Canada on a student visa in 2009. In 2014, having publicly voiced criticisms of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia’s repressive political system, and having been threatened by Saudi authorities, Abdulaziz successfully applied for political asylum in Canada. In 2017 he was granted permanent residency status. For the past eight years, Abdulaziz has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Saudi government, mostly through his satirical channel on YouTube. The channel, called Yakathah, has over 120,000 subscribers and its content has angered Saudi authorities. The latter have warned Abdulaziz’s parents and last summer arrested two of his brothers, in what he describes as attempts to silence him.

Researchers from Citizen Lab claim that the Saudi government has been targeting expatriate dissidents such as Abdulaziz using various techniques, such as sending them spyware-infested messages that express support for anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. The report also notes that these messages make use of Pegasus, a surveillance software system that has been previously implicated in surveillance activities against political dissidents from Gulf countries. The software was designed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Citizen Lab report comes at a time of heightened tensions in relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. In August, Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry issued sharp criticisms of the Saudi government’s human rights record, while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “gravely concerned” about the suppression of political speech in the Kingdom. She also urged the Saudi government to release a number of jailed political activists and stop censoring Saudi women activists seeking gender equality. But her comments enraged the Saudi royal family, which controls the Kingdom. Within days, the Saudi government expelled Canada’s ambassador from Riyadh and restricted its economic ties with Canada. The Kingdom also recalled several thousand Saudi students who were studying in Canadian universities on Saudi government scholarships.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2018 | Permalink

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

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