The CIA will not spy on UAE despite its actions against US interests, say sources

US embassy EmiratesThe United States Central Intelligence Agency will not collect human intelligence on the United Arab Emirates, even though the oil kingdom’s actions often run directly counter to American interests, according to sources. The CIA’s policy, which some sources described as “highly unusual”, fails to recognize the growing distance between American interests and the UAE’s foreign policies, according to Reuters. The news agency cited “three former CIA officials familiar with the matter” who claimed that the CIA’s policy is out of touch and may be endangering US national security.

The CIA collects human intelligence on every nation whose actions or decision affect American interests. Such nations include close American allies like Israel, Germany and Saudi Arabia. The nations that are excluded from the CIA’s target list is very short, and includes its so-called “Five Eyes” partners, namely the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Bizarrely, however, this exclusive list includes the UAE, according to an allegation made by Reuters on Monday. The CIA is believed to have “a liaison relationship” with the UAE’s Intelligence Community when it comes to collecting intelligence on common adversaries, such as Iran, or non-state threats like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. But it does not collect intelligence on the UAE, despite the fact that the tiny but powerful oil kingdom “operates as a rogue state” in the Middle East and beyond, according to some former CIA officials. The UAE leadership was instrumental in propping up, and eventually abandoning, Sudan’s autocratic leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The small oil kingdom is now heavily involved in the political strife in Sudan, while also funding militias in Yemen, Libya and Somalia, said Reuters. It now has military bases in several parts of Africa, such as Eritrea and Somaliland, and its leaders are forging increasingly close links with China and Russia.

One anonymous CIA official told Reuters that the CIA’s failure to adapt its intelligence-collection policy to the UAE’s growing military and political power is nothing short of “a dereliction of duty”. The news agency said it contacted the CIA, the National Security Agency and the White House with questions about American intelligence activities in the UAE, but received no response. The government of the UAE and the UAE embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to requests for comments.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 August 2019 | Permalink

Russian deep-cover spy speaks to Western media for first time

Elena Vavilova Andrei BezrukovOne of the ten Russian deep-cover spies who were arrested in the United States in 2010, and swapped with American- and British-handled spies held by Moscow, has spoken to Western media for the first time. Elena Vavilova was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June of 2010 along with her husband, Andrei Bezrukov. In its two decades of operating under deep cover in the US, the married couple used the stolen identities of two dead Canadian citizens, Tracy Foley and Donald Heathfield. Vavilova claimed to be of French-Canadian origin and worked as a real estate agent. The couple never spoke Russian at home and their two sons, Alex and Tim Foley, were unaware of their parents’ secret identities.

Last week, Vavilova, who now works as a private consultant in Moscow, spoke to Shaun Walker, Russia correspondent for British newspaper The Guardian. It was the first face-to-face encounter between a Western news outlet and one of the 10 outed Russian ‘illegals’. The reason for the interview was Vavilova’s upcoming book, A Woman Who Can Keep Secrets (in Russian), which presents a fictionalized account of her career and marriage to Bezrukov. It offers rare insights into the longstanding Russian ‘illegals’ program, which dates back to Soviet times. The book’s two protagonists meet as students in Siberia, where they are eventually recruited by the KGB, and spend several years training in languages and tradecraft. Part of their training includes living in a KGB house modeled after suburban American homes, so that they can get used to domestic life in the West. This account is believed to include true elements of the lives and careers of Vavilova and Bezrukov. The two married in Russia but moved to Canada separately, using fake Canadian identities. They pretended to meet for the first time in Canada, where they ‘dated’ and eventually ‘married’ before moving to the US to begin their espionage work.

Vavilova told Walker that the popular view of the 10 Russian illegals as having achieved little of intelligence value during their time in the US is misguided. “Of course I can’t talk about it”, she said, “but I know what we were doing and it doesn’t matter what others say”. She also said that training for illegals involved learning how to handle guns and using martial arts. But she added that these skills were never used in the field and were mostly good for building self-confidence —especially for missions that took place under cover of night in America, where street crime was far more prevalent than in Russia during the Cold War. Walker said that Vavilova’s English remains perfect, as does her husband’s. Like Vavilova, Bezrukov now works as a consultant and also teaches at a university in Moscow. Vavilova refused to discuss current Russian politics in her interview.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 August 2019 | Permalink

Trump says US will not use spies on North Korea, then appears to retract statement

Trump CIA - JFUnited States President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he would not allow American intelligence agencies to use spies against North Korea, raising eyebrows in Washington, before appearing to backtrack a day later. The American president was speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, when he was asked about a report that appeared in The Wall Street Journal that day. According to the report, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, held regular meetings with officers of the US Central Intelligence Agency before he was assassinated with VX nerve gas at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia in February 2017. The Wall Street Journal’s claim was echoed by a book written by Washington Post correspondent Anna Fifield, which also came out on Tuesday. In the book, entitled The Great Successor, Fifield claims that Kim had traveled to Malaysia to meet his CIA handler when he was killed.

On Tuesday, President Trump said he had seen “the information about the CIA, with respect to [North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s] half-brother. And I would tell [Kim] that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure”, said the US president, before repeating, “I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices”. Reporters interpreted Trump’s comments to mean that he would not use human assets or any other kinds of informants to collect intelligence on the regime of the North Korean leader. As can be expected, the US president’s remarks raised eyebrows among lawmakers and national security experts in Washington. It was suggested that Trump appeared to voluntarily eliminate a potentially invaluable tool of intelligence collection from America’s arsenal. The president’s comments were even more peculiar given the hermetically sealed nature of the North Korean regime, which Western spy agencies would argue necessitates the use of human assets for intelligence collection. Moreover, President Trump’s comments appeared to once again place him at odds with his own Intelligence Community, as previously in the cases of Iran’s nuclear program, the current status of the Islamic State, or Russia’s meddling in American political life.

On Wednesday, however, the US president appeared to backtrack on his comments. When asked at a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda about his earlier remarks, Trump denied that he had implied the US would not use spies to collect information on North Korea. “No, it’s not what I meant”, the president responded to the reporter who asked him the question. “It’s what I said and I think it’s different, maybe, than your interpretation”, said President Trump, but refused to elaborate on what he actually meant with his statement on Tuesday. The Reuters news agency contacted the CIA seeking an official statement on the US president’s remarks, but the agency said it had no immediate comment on the issue.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 June 2019 | Permalink

We had no asset in Saddam’s inner circle, says ex-CIA deputy director

Morell - IA senior Central Intelligence Agency official, who led the agency as its acting director before retiring in 2013, has said that not having sources in the Iraqi government’s upper echelons led to the intelligence failure of 2003. Michael Morell retired as deputy director of the CIA, after having served twice as its acting director, in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. A Georgetown University graduate, Morell joined the agency in 1980 and rose through the ranks to lead the Asia, Pacific and Latin America divisions. In May 2015, Morell published his book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight against Terrorism from al Qa’ida to ISIS, which he has been promoting while working as a consultant in the private sector.

Morell spoke at the Aspen Institute earlier this month, and once again offered a public apology to former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell for the CIA’s erroneous estimates on Iraq. He was referring to the Agency’s claims prior to the 2003 US invasion that Iraq maintained an active weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program. The claims formed the basis of Powell’s February 2003 speech during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, in which he claimed that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had “biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce […] many more.” There was no question, said Morell, that Powell’s reputation “was tarnished” as a result of the speech, and that a public apology was in order. The same apology, said Morell, applied “to every single American.”

The retired intelligence official went on to say that the main cause of the CIA’s erroneous assessment of Iraq’s WMD program was that the Agency had failed to penetrate the highest echelons of the Hussein regime. “We were not able to come up with the right answer [because] we didn’t do our fundamental job of penetrating [Hussein’s] inner circles with a human asset,” said Morell. As a result, there was “no information to give to the [CIA] analyst to say ‘here’s what this guy is up to’,” he added. The author of The Great War of Our Time, went on to suggest that the CIA’s failure to penetrate the inner circle of the Iraqi government prior to 2003 was “quite frankly a national security failure.”

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 December 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #880

Augusto PinochetBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Chinese military establishes cyberintelligence research center. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has announced the creation of a Cyberspace Strategic Intelligence Research Center. Experts say the Center will “provide support in obtaining high-quality intelligence research findings and help China gain advantage in national information security”. Its staff reportedly specialize in such fields as strategic theory research, intelligence studies, and technology management, among others.
►►Chile court says US had role in 1973 killings of Americans. A court ruling released late Monday said the commander of the US Military Mission in Chile at the time of the 1973 military coup gave information to Chilean officials about journalist Charles Horman and student Frank Teruggi that led to their arrest and execution just days after the coup, which brought General Augusto Pinochet to power. The case remained practically ignored in Chile until 2000, when Horman’s widow, Joyce, came and filed a lawsuit against Pinochet.
►►Opinion: Cyber tools are no substitute for human intelligence. A colonel in the Israel Defense Forces critiques “the increasing use of cyber tools as a central and sometimes exclusive role in the work of many intelligence agencies throughout the world”. He argues that “the documents exposed by Edward Snowden show how willing the Americans are to invest in technological systems to collect information and gather as much intelligence as they can using cyber tools”. But he warns that “this almost exclusive reliance on the collection and analysis of intelligence using technology comes at the expense of the human element as a basic component of intelligence-gathering”.

CIA to cut back ‘unsuccessful’ non-official-cover program

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The United States Central Intelligence Agency is scaling down an ambitious human intelligence program that places case officers in non-diplomatic cover jobs, because it has been ineffective, according to media reports. When stationed abroad, the vast majority of CIA case officers pose as American diplomats. This type of cover allows them to mingle with —and attempt to recruit— foreign officials. It also offers them the added benefit of diplomatic immunity, which minimizes the possibility of their long-term imprisonment or even execution in the hands of adversaries. The pressures of the post-9/11 security environment, however, pushed the Agency to deploy case officers that are not associated with American embassies and consulates abroad. The reason is that members of non-state groups like al-Qaeda cannot be recruited on the diplomatic circuit. To penetrate these groups, CIA case officers must hit the streets of cities like Sana’a, Peshawar, Basra or Mogadishu. These case officers, who operate without diplomatic immunity, are known at the CIA as non-official-cover, or NOCs. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. The idea is that working outside of American embassies and consulates, they can be more successful in recruiting members of non-state terrorist entities. In the past decade, the CIA has spent over $3 billion on its NOC program, and has increased the number of active NOCs from several dozen to several hundred. Agency NOCs have been deployed all over the world, using elaborate fake ‘legends’ (identities and supporting information) connected with CIA front companies. Their job is considered one of the most risky at the CIA, because they cannot invoke diplomatic immunity if arrested in a foreign country. However, an article published last weekend in The Los Angeles Times alleges that the CIA’s NOC program, known officially as the Global Deployment Initiative, is now being scaled down. Read more of this post

Japanese government ‘not aware’ of existence of clandestine spy unit

Japanese Ministry of Defense in TokyoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Japan has denied claims made in the media of a clandestine intelligence collection unit, which has allegedly been operating for decades without the knowledge of senior cabinet officials. On Tuesday, the Tokyo-based Kyodo News Agency cited an unnamed former member of Japan’s territorial army, known as Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), who revealed the existence of a previously secret unit. The unit is allegedly tasked with human intelligence (HUMINT) collection and is said to have been operating since before the end of the Cold War. The unnamed source told Kyodo that the unit’s existence has been kept hidden from senior Japanese government officials, including the prime minister and the minister of defense. He also told the news agency that the unit’s existence has been kept secret even from senior commanders inside GSDF. Its headquarters is allegedly based deep in the basement of Japan’s Ministry of Defense, located in Tokyo’s Ichigaya district, in the eastern portion of Shinjuku. However, the unit operates a complex network of safe houses, located mostly in rented commercial properties throughout Japan and Southeast Asia. The source described part of his intelligence training, which he had to undertake before joining the HUMINT unit. He said classes took place at a nondescript GSDF training facility in the western Tokyo suburb of Kodaira. Those trained came almost exclusively from GSDF, with just a handful of officers from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force and Maritime Self-Defense Force. The Kyodo article said the unit inductees are given a “temporary leave of absence” from their GSDF posts and are “prohibited from contacting outsiders” during their HUMINT missions. Read more of this post

Analysis: The Current State of the China-Taiwan Spy War

China and TaiwanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last week I spoke about the current state of the espionage war between China and Taiwan with Tim Daiss, a Southeast Asia-based American journalist who has been covering the Asia-Pacific region for over a decade. Our discussion formed the basis of a comprehensive piece on the subject, published in British newspaper The Independent, in two parts (part one and part two). I told Daiss that the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary national intelligence agency— is not known for its technological prowess. However, the sheer size of Beijing’s intelligence apparatus is proving a good match for the more advanced automated systems used by its less populous regional rivals, including Taiwan. When it comes to traditional human intelligence, the Chinese have been known to employ time-tested methods such as sexual entrapment or blackmail, as was confirmed most recently in the case of Taiwanese Major-General Lo Hsien-che. Lo, who headed the Taiwanese military’s Office of Communications and Information, was convicted of sharing classified top-secret information with a female Chinese operative in her early 30s, who held an Australian passport. During his trial, which marked the culmination of Taiwan’s biggest spy scandal in over half a century, Lo admitted that the Chinese female spy “cajoled him with sex and money”. In addition to honey-trap techniques, Chinese spies collect intelligence by way of bribery, as do many of their foreign colleagues. In the case of China, however, a notable change in recent years has been the accumulation of unprecedented amounts of foreign currency, which make it easier for Chinese intelligence operatives to entice foreign assets, such as disgruntled or near-bankrupt state employees, to sell classified data. Read more of this post

US SEALs ‘pocket guide’ left behind in bin Laden hideout

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A document provided to members of the US Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden, was left behind in bin Laden’s compound by mistake, and has reportedly been accessed by The London Times. It contains remarkably detailed descriptions of the compound’s occupants and frequent visitors, including their ages and legal names, all the way down to bin Laden’s wives, children and grandchildren. It also details the approximate timing of the arrival of each of the compound’s residents, as well as the precise location of their bedrooms and living quarters. Furthermore, the guidebook discusses the possibility that bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, who also lived in the compound, may have given birth to twins in recent years. Remarkably, the pocket guide, which must have been carried by every member of the SEALs team that attacked the al-Qaeda founder’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, earlier this month, describes even bin Laden’s usual clothing preferences. It states that he “[a]lways wears light-colored shawal kameez with a dark vest” and that he “occasionally wears light-colored prayer cap”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #462

  • CIA secrets could surface in Swiss nuclear case. A seven-year effort by the CIA to hide its relationship with the Tinners, a Swiss family who once acted as moles inside the world’s most successful atomic black market, hit a turning point on Thursday when a Swiss magistrate recommended charging the men with trafficking in technology and information for making nuclear arms.
  • Pakistan spy chief to ignore US summons. The Pakistani government has announced that hat there is “no possibility” that Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, would obey a summons requesting his appearance before a court in the United States relating to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
  • Australia told to prioritize spy recruitment. Carl Ungerer, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has advised the Australian intelligence agencies to “look at ways to improve information gathering from human sources”, as they undergo a period of reform.

Analysis: Europe Offers Different Counterterrorism Approach

Counterterrorism

Counterterrorism

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
I have in the past posed the intriguing question of whether US intelligence agencies should learn from the French approach to counterterrorism. This issue has now come up again in an interesting Washington Post essay, which examines the different approaches to Islamic militancy by American and European intelligence organizations. Some of these differences are undoubtedly contextual: there are no First Amendment rights in Europe, and European law enforcement and intelligence organizations enjoy a somewhat wider legal latitude in which to operate domestically. Moreover, the Europeans, especially the French and the British, have a longer experience than the Americans in dealing with armed insurgencies. But there are also critical differences in tactics. Importantly, the European approach to Islamic militancy has not only been more pro-active than the American, but also a lot more discreet and clandestine. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0245 (CIA edition)

  • CIA saw Jordanian double spy as valuable asset. Before detonating a suicide bomb in Afghanistan last week, Jordanian double spy (or was he?) Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was considered by US spy agencies “the most promising informant in years about the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s top leaders”.
  • CIA going through worst spell since 9/11. America’s most recognizable intelligence agency is currently going through its worst time since 9/11, what with Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the loss of at least seven of its agents in Khost, Afghanistan.
  • US intel in Afghanistan is broken, irrelevant, says US insider. A new report (.pdf) by US Major General Michael Flynn, the top intelligence aide to International Security Assistance Force Commander General Stanley McChrystal, says the US intelligence community “is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy” in Afghanistan. The report recommends “[s]weeping changes to the way the intelligence community thinks about itself, from a focus on the enemy to a focus on the people of Afghanistan”.

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Analysis: The Meaning of the Suicide Attack on the CIA

Forward Operating Base Chapman

Chapman FOB

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
The recent deaths of seven and the serious injury of another six CIA personnel in Afghanistan’s Khost province has undoubtedly shocked an Agency not used to mass casualties. But what exactly is the significance of Wednesday’s suicide attack at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman, and how will it affect the US military and intelligence presence at the Afghan-Pakistani border? Given that the CIA team at Chapman FOB could not have consisted of more than 15 to 20 agents, it would be logical to conclude that the attack virtually decimated the CIA presence in Khost. But the impact of this development on US operations in Afghanistan will be minimal, in contrast to operations inside Pakistan, which constituted the primary objective of the CIA team at Chapman FOB. Read article →

News you may have missed #0139

  • Pakistan tells US diplomat to be quiet. Perturbed by the recent remarks of US Deputy Chief of Mission in Islamabad, Gerald Feierstein, that top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are presently hiding in Quetta, Pakistan has summoned the US diplomat and demanded that he stops discussing intelligence issues in media. The move follows a closed-door meeting last week between the director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and CIA director Leon Panetta.
  • Analysis: HUMINT worries al-Qaeda more than drone assassinations. The CIA-operated drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan get all the headlines. But what’s really worrying al Qaeda are the agents in their midst, says Adam Rawnsley of Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog.
  • Chinese spymaster complains about US news leak. It has emerged that Major General Yang Hui, China’s most senior military intelligence official, recently made a secret visit to the US and complained to the Pentagon over the US press leak on the Chinese submarine that secretly shadowed the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in 2006. He said senior Chinese leaders suspect the Pentagon deliberately disclosed the encounter as part of an effort to send a “tough” message to China’s military.

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Former agent reveals aspects of CIA’s bin Laden hunt

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Arthur “Art” Keller, a retired CIA agent who spent several years looking for Osama bin Laden in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas has given a rare interview to The London Times. Until his recent retirement, Keller participated in the 50- to 100-strong covert CIA force in the region, whose primary task since 9/11 has been to capture or kill senior al-Qaeda commanders. He told the paper that the failure to find bin Laden has led the agency to start bringing back retired members of “The Cadre”, a close-knit group of Pashto- and Dari-speaking CIA agents, who spent many years in Afghanistan in the 1980s, during America’s proxy war with the Soviet Union. Read more of this post