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