US and Saudi Arabia ‘suffered intelligence blackout’ during Iran drone strikes: sources

Saudi AramcoSaudi Arabia and the United States suffered “a total and embarrassing [intelligence] failure” in the lead-up to the drone strikes that shut down half of the kingdom’s oil production last month, according to Israeli sources. In the early hours of September 14, missiles struck two refineries belonging to the world’s largest crude oil processing facility in eastern Saudi Arabia. The facilities, which belong to Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s government-owned oil conglomerate, were forced to cease operation so that repairs could be carried out. This drastically reduced Saudi Arabia’s oil production by close to 50 percent, which amounted to a 5 percent drop in global oil production. By Monday morning, global oil prices had seen their most significant one-day surge since the 1991 Gulf War.

Soon after the attacks, Saudi and American officials accused Iran of having launched the missile strikes. But according to Breaking Defense, Riyadh and Washington suffered “a total and embarrassing [intelligence] failure” in the hours prior to and following the attacks. The US-based website cited a number of anonymous Israeli sources, who said that officials in Tel Aviv were surprised by the lack of intelligence in the US and Saudi Arabia about the missile strikes. The Israelis told Breaking Defense that Saudi intelligence agencies “had no idea Iran was planning to attack the kingdom’s oil facilities […]. It seems that the Americans were also in the dark [or that possibly] Washington […] did not share the data in time with the Saudis”, they added.

The above information was allegedly discussed at an emergency meeting of the Israeli defense cabinet on October 6, which included a briefing on the attacks by the Mossad, Israel’s main external intelligence agency. According to the Israeli sources, Mossad officials were quickly able state with high confidence that the missiles had been launched from military bases in southeast Iran or by Iranian militias in Iraq. It was only following an examination of missile fragments that Saudi and American intelligence officers were able to point the finger at Iran, according to Aahron Ze’evi Farkash, former director of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate.

Breaking Defense also said that Israeli intelligence analysts were impressed by the precision of the weapons systems used in the Iranian strikes. Additionally, the specific targets of the attacks were selected with the help of “very accurate intelligence”, said the Israeli sources.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2019 | Permalink

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US-Iran tensions may have been sparked by ‘misread intelligence’, claims report

Trump BoltonThe escalating tension between the United States and Iran, and the ensuing military buildup in the Persian Gulf, may have resulted from a misreading of intelligence by both sides, according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal. Reports from the Middle East continue to describe the situation there as tense, while the political rhetoric by both Washington and Tehran remains heightened. Last week, the White House ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to sail to Middle Eastern waters, following intelligence showing that “Iran or its proxies were planning attacks against US forces in Iraq, Syria and at sea”. Washington also evacuated all non-essential personnel from its embassy in Iraq. Meanwhile Iranian officials stated on Thursday that they were “prepared for war”, while the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major Genreal Hossein Salami, described the escalating crisis as “the most decisive moment in the [40-year history] of the Islamic Revolution”.

But a new report in The Wall Street Journal claimed on Thursday that the crisis between the two countries may have been caused by a misinterpretation of intelligence on each other’s moves. The paper said that new intelligence collected by American spy agencies appears to show that Tehran was under the impression that the US was about to launch attacks against it. There is no information about what precisely led the Iranians to draw that conclusion. But it is believed that Iran responded to the perceived threat from Washington by abruptly bolstering its military posture and placing its allies in the region —including Hezbollah in Lebanon and numerous Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, on high alert. Those actions were interpreted by Washington as evidence that Iran was planning to launch an attack against American interests in the region, thus prompting the White House to send the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group to sail to the area, and to partially evacuate its embassy in Iraq. Citing “people familiar with the matter”, the Journal said that new intelligence that has been collected “in recent days” points to the initial actions taken by Tehran as “defensive in nature”.

However, said that paper, there continue to be “sharply differing views” about the situation among officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump. Specifically, some administration officials continue to argue that the available intelligence indicates that Iran “was planning to strike first”, and some even believe that Tehran is still “planning imminent attacks” on the US and its interests in the region. The paper also noted that President Trump is believed to have told senior officials in his administration —including the Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan— that he does not want to see a military confrontation with Iran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2019 | Permalink

Trump’s Twitter feed is ‘gold mine’ for foreign spies, says ex-CIA analyst

Trump 2016With nearly 53 million Twitter followers, United States President Donald Trump could easily be described as the most social-media-friendly American leader in our century. It is clear that Trump uses Twitter to communicate directly with his followers while circumventing mainstream media, which he views as adversarial to his policies. However, according to former Central Intelligence Agency analyst Nada Bakos, foreign intelligence agencies are among those paying close attention to the president’s tweets. Bakos spent 20 years in the CIA, notably as the Chief Targeter of the unit that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later evolved into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In a June 23 editorial in The Washington Post, Bakos argues that President Trump’s “Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency”.

All intelligence agencies, explains Bakos, build psychological profiles of foreign leaders. These profiles typically rely on information collected through intelligence operations that are “methodical, painstaking and often covert”. The final product can be crucial in enabling countries to devise strategies that counter their adversaries, says Bakos. But with Trump, covert intelligence-collection operations are not needed in order to see what is on his mind, since “the president’s unfiltered thoughts are available night and day”, she claims. The former CIA analyst points out that President Trump’s tweets are posted “without much obvious mediation” by his aides and advisors, something that can be seen by the frequency with which he deletes and reposts tweets due to spelling and grammatical errors. These unfiltered thoughts on Twitter offer a “real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind”, says Bakos.

Undoubtedly, she argues, foreign intelligence agencies are utilizing President Trump’s tweets in numerous ways while building his personality profile. The most obvious ways are by performing content analysis of his tweets, which could then be matched against information collected from other sources about major US policy decisions. Additionally, foreign intelligence agencies could identify media sources that the US president seems to prefer, and then try to feed information to these sources that might sway his views. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia may have done so already, claims Bakos. The US president’s views, as expressed through Twitter, could also be compared and contrasted with the expressed views of his aides or senior cabinet officials, in order to discern who he agrees with the least. It is equally useful to analyze the issues or events that the US president does not tweet about, or tweets about with considerable delay. One could even derive useful information about Trump’s sleeping patterns based on his tweets, says the former CIA analyst.

Bakos does not go as far as to suggest that the US president should abstain from social media. But she clearly thinks that the US leader’s use of social media is too impulsive and potentially dangerous from a national-security perspective. She also laments that, throughout her career in the CIA, she and her team “never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now”, thanks to Trump’s incessant social media presence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 July 2018 | Permalink

US Congressional probe finds DoD intelligence on Islamic State was altered

ISISAn investigation by Republican lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives has reportedly found that military intelligence analysts were pressured into changing reports on the Islamic State by their superiors. The investigation follows allegations made a year ago by analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency. As many as 50 analysts claimed that their reports about the Islamic State were being deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of the reports related to al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Syria, but most were about the Islamic State, the militant Sunni organization that controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The allegations prompted two separate investigations, one by the Department of Defense and one by a task force consisting of Republican members of three committees in the US House of Representatives —namely the Committee on Armed Services, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Defense Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. According to The Daily Beast, the committees have now concluded their five-month investigation and are preparing to release a 10-page report before the end of August. Citing three unnamed US officials, the website claims that the soon-to-be-released report will corroborate claims by DIA analysts that their intelligence reports were deliberately doctored in order to make American efforts against ISIS seem more successful than they have been.

According to the three officials, who are reportedly “familiar with the task force’s findings”, the 10-page document will not corroborate claims that the pressure on the intelligence analysts was exercised by senior sources inside the White House. But they told the website that the Congressional investigation could continue after the release of the report. The Daily Beast said it contacted CENTCOM for a comment on the story, but was told that the Pentagon body has yet to receive the task force report. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s own investigation into the analysts’ allegations continues and expected to release its findings by the end of 2016.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2016 | Permalink

 

US lawmaker claims Pentagon is resisting probe into tweaked ISIS analysis

ISIS forces in RamadiThe leading lawmaker in the United States Congressional intelligence committee has accused the Department of Defense of resisting his efforts to investigate claims that intelligence products on the Islamic State were manipulated. Representative Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), who chairs the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said last week that he and his staffers were experiencing a “lack of cooperation” from the military during the course of an official probe into intelligence products. Nunes was referring to allegations, first published in The New York Times in August of last year, that reports about the Islamic State were being deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Since that time, it has emerged that more than 50 intelligence analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency have come forward to complain to the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General that their reports on the Islamic State were altered by CENTCOM officials, in order to give a falsely positive projection of US policy in relation to the militant Sunni organization. Some of the analysts have sharply criticized what they describe as the deliberate politicization of their reports by CENTCOM. Their complaints are now believed to be part of an official investigation into the matter by the Inspector General. The latter is required to produce a report in cooperation with the intelligence oversight committees of the US Congress.

But Nunes, who represents one such Congressional committee, complained last week that his staffers had been repeatedly forced to cancel fact-finding trips to CENTCOM’s headquarters in Florida. He also said at an intelligence committee hearing last week that he had been “made aware” that CENTCOM officials had systematically destroyed digital and printed files relating to the investigation. Nunes added that his committee expected the DoD to “provide these and other documents” in a timely manner. He added that his committee would “do a lot of interviews” in order to detect “what files were deleted”, since those “are the ones they don’t want you to see”.

Reporters from Foreign Policy magazine contacted CENTCOM spokesman Patrick Ryder, who refused to discuss the specifics of the case. He said, however, that all emails sent by senior CENTCOM officials are “kept in storage for record-keeping purposes”, and therefore “cannot be deleted”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2016 | 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

Pentagon continues to probe ISIS reports after US intel analysts “revolt”

ISIS - JFThe United States Department of Defense is still probing claims that some of its officials doctored intelligence reports to give a falsely optimistic account of the campaign against the Islamic State. IntelNews has followed this story since late August, after initial reports surfaced in The New York Times. The reports suggested that at least one analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency, had complained that reports about ISIS were being deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of the reports related to al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Syria, but most were about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the militant Sunni organization that controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

According to The Daily Beast, more than 50 intelligence analysts from the DIA have now come forward to complain to the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General that their reports on the Islamic State were altered by CENTCOM officials, in order to give a falsely positive projection of US policy in relation to the organization. The website said that some of the analysts have been complaining for months about what they describe as the deliberate politicization of their reports by CENTCOM. But their complaints are now part of an official investigation into the matter by the Inspector General. The latter is required to produce a report with the intelligence oversight committees of the US Congress.

The Daily Beast said that its reporting was based on nearly a dozen individuals who were “knowledgeable about the details of the report”. But it said that it would not name its sources due to the sensitivity of the case. It did, however, quote one source, who described case as “a revolt” by intelligence analysts. Another source described the altering of the analysts’ intelligence reports as a “cancer […] within the senior level of the intelligence command”. A source identified only as “a defense official”, told the website that the analysts’ “revolt” was prompted by the experience of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. At that time, “poorly written intelligence reports suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, when it did not, formed the basis of the George W. Bush administration’s case for war”, said the official. And continued: the analysts “were frustrated because they didn’t do the right thing then and speak up about their doubts on Iraq’s weapons program”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 September 2015 | Permalink