London accused of hiding report about Russian meddling in Brexit referendum

BrexitThe British government has been accused by opposition parties, and by pro-remain conservative figures, of trying to conceal a report documenting Russian meddling in British politics. The report documents the results of an investigation into Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the outcome of the 2017 general election in the United Kingdom, as well as the result of the 2016 European Union referendum, which ended in victory for the pro-Brexit campaign.

The investigation was carried out by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee and is largely based on closed-door testimony by senior officials from Britain’s intelligence community. It reportedly contains evidence from Russia experts in agencies such as the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

According to media reports the probe was completed in March of this year and underwent a redaction process to safeguard intelligence methods and sources. On October 15 it was submitted to Downing Street and on October 17 it reportedly landed on the desk of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. British opposition politicians allege that even sensitive reports are usually made public no later than 10 days after they are submitted to Downing Street, which means that the document should have been released prior to October 28.

Some fear that, with Parliament about to suspend operations on Tuesday, in anticipation for December’s general election, the report will effectively remain hidden from public view until the spring of 2020. On Friday, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn publicly urged the government to release the report and claimed that the prime minster may have “something to hide”. But cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom argued that it is not unusual for parliamentary committee reports to remain in the government’s hands until they are properly evaluated. “The government has to respond properly, it cannot respond in haste”, said Leadsom.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 November 2019 | Permalink

British spy agency speeds up hiring process to compete with private firms

GCHQThe Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), one of Britain’s most powerful intelligence agencies, says it plans to accelerate its vetting process because it is losing top recruits to the private sector. Founded in 1919 and headquartered in Cheltenham, England, the GCHQ is tasked with communications interception. It also provides information assurance to both civilian and military components of the British state. It primarily hires people with technical expertise in communications hardware and software. But in the past fiscal year, the agency fell notably short of its recruitment target, according to a new government report published this week.

The information is included in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament. According to the document, GCHQ’s recruitment shortfall during the past fiscal year exceeded 22 percent, as the agency hired 500 new staff, 140 short of its initial goal of 640. Because of its mission, the agency must have the “ability to recruit and retain cyber specialists”, says the report. However, GCHQ officials told the parliamentary committee that they “struggle to attract and retain a suitable and sufficient cadre of in-house technical specialists”. The latter are lured away by large hi-tech companies, for two reasons: first, because the salaries are higher; and second, because the hiring process is faster. Due to its security requirements, GCHQ has a lengthy vetting process for all potential employees, which sometimes takes more than a year. In recent times, the process has suffered backlogs, a phenomenon that has negatively impacted on the agency’s ability to recruit top talent.

In response to its recruitment shortfall, GCHQ told the parliamentary committee that it plans to speed up its vetting process by addressing its “lack of security vetting capacity”. In July of 2016, the agency had 51 vetting officers in its ranks. It hopes to raise this number to 110 by the summer of 2018, according to the parliamentary report. This will allow it to clear hiring backlogs by December of next year and thus be able to bettercompete with hi-tech firms in the private sector. Other British intelligence agencies have faced recruitment challenges in recent years. In 2010, the then Director-General of MI5, Jonathan Evans, told the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that “some [MI5] staff perhaps aren’t quite the ones that we will want for the future”. He added that the lack of even basic computer skills among MI5’s aging officer ranks have sparked the introduction of a program of “both voluntary and compulsory redundancies”. And in 2016, MI6 said that it would increase its staff size by 40 percent by 2020, reflecting a renewed emphasis in foreign intelligence collection using human sources, which is the primary task of the agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2017 | Permalink

News you may have missed #889

Malcolm RifkindBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US agency warns of domestic right-wing terror threat. A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the US Department of Homeland Security this month, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing so-called “sovereign citizen” extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism. Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to —and in some cases greater than—the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.​
►►Chair of UK parliament’s spy watchdog resigns over corruption scandal. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a British parliamentarian who chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee, has announced that he will stand down, after a video emerged showing him discussing with what he thought were representatives of a Chinese company, who asked him to help them buy influence in the British parliament. Rifkind offered to get them access to British officials in exchange for money. The people he was talking to, however, turned out to be journalists for The Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 News who recorded the conversations.
►►The case of the sleepy CIA spy. Although a federal judge ruled in favor of the CIA last week in a discrimination suit brought by an employee who claimed he was harassed out of his job because of his narcolepsy and race, the African-American man is back in court with another complaint. On December 4, “Jacob Abilt”, the pseudonym for the CIA technical operations officer who sued the CIA, filed a second, until now unreported suit, complaining that he was unjustly denied a temporary duty assignment to a war zone due to a combination of his race and narcolepsy.

UK to probe Chinese telecoms firm over security concerns

Huawei TechnologiesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The British government has confirmed that it will review the involvement of a Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer in a cybersecurity testing center in Oxfordshire, England. The facility, called Cyber Security Evaluations Centre, has been operating since 2010 in the town of Banbury, 64 miles northeast of London. Its establishment was part of a 2005 agreement between firm British Telecom and Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei. According to the stipulations of the agreement, British Telecom would purchase switches and other hardware equipment from the Chinese company, if the latter agreed to set up “the Cell”, as it is known, in Banbury, to test the equipment’s security features. However, last month, a report (.pdf)  by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) raised strong concerns about Huawei’s involvement at the Centre. The ISC report called the government’s attention to “the risks of Huawei effectively policing themselves” and stressed that Britain’s national security could potentially be compromised by Huawei’s alleged links to the Chinese military. The report based its concerns on the fact that virtually every member of staff at the Banbury testing facility is an employee of Huawei, barring its Director, who is a former deputy director of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The parliamentary report urged the government to overcome its “fear of jeopardizing trade links with Beijing” and pressure British Telecom to amend its agreement with Huawei. Instead of Huawei technicians, the ISC report suggested that the Banbury Centre should be staffed exclusively with personnel from GCHQ —Britain’s communications intelligence agency. Late last week, the UK Cabinet Office announced it was in agreement with the principal recommendations of the ISC report and said that a review of the Banbury testing facility will take place. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #762

Danni YatomBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Italy postpones court decision on wanted CIA operatives. The Washington Post has published a useful update on Sabrina De Sousa, one of nearly two-dozen CIA operatives who were convicted in Italy in 2007 for the kidnapping four years earlier of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. The Americans kidnapped Nasr, known as Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan without the consent of Italian authorities. The Italians, who were themselves carefully monitoring Nasr, responded by convicting all members of the CIA team in absentia, and notifying INTERPOL. But last Friday, the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome postponed its verdict after a two-day hearing aimed at deciding whether to uphold or overturn the Americans’ convictions.
►►Ex-Mossad chief urges Israel to prepare for military action in Syria. In an interview with British news network Sky News, former Mossad Chief Danni Yatom said last week that Israel must be prepared for the possibility of military attacks on Syria, which may deteriorate into war.  He said his warning stems from the fear that Syria’s hundreds of tons of chemical weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists. “We would have to pre-empt in order to prevent it. We need to be prepared to launch even military attacks […] and military attacks mean maybe a deterioration to war”, said the former Mossad Director.
►►British spy agencies failed to predict Arab Spring. The Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Houses of Parliament has said in its annual report that British spy agencies had been surprised by the spread of unrest during the Arab Spring and failed to predict the dramatic uprisings that swept the region. The report also noted that the Arab Spring had exposed Britain’s decision to scale back intelligence assets in much of the Arab world, in favor of monitoring Iran and al-Qaeda. We at intelNews wrote about this in 2011.

News you may have missed #662: UK edition

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson with Adolf HitlerBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Hacked StratFor info exposes thousands of intel officials. Customer user data obtained from StratFor by Anonymous last month includes the private details of 221 British military officials and 242 NATO staff. Civil servants working at the heart of the UK government —including several in the Cabinet Office as well as advisers to the Joint Intelligence Organisation, which acts as the British Prime Minister’s eyes and ears on sensitive information— have also been exposed.
►►Book claims MI5 tapped phones of King Edward. According to a new biography of Tommy Robertson, who pioneered Britain’s wartime counterintelligence operations, MI5 agents tapped the phones of King Edward VIII and his brother the Duke of York, at the height of the ‘abdication crisis’. Edward VIII was infatuated with –and, in 1936, gave up his throne to marry– American divorcee and socialite Wallis Simpson, who was suspected by many in the British government of having Nazi sympathies.
►►UK spy watchdog wants to stop court disclosure of state secrets. The parliamentary watchdog for Britain’s spies, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), is lobbying the government to introduce sweeping curbs that could prevent UK courts from examining intelligence material. The committee claims that its proposed new powers would ensure that intelligence obtained from foreign agencies, such as the CIA, is never publicly disclosed. This proposal clearly goes back the case of Binyam Mohamed; he was detained in Pakistan, where he was questioned by MI5, and eventually ended up in Guantánamo Bay, where he says he was tortured. In late 2009, British courts clashed with David Miliband, the then foreign secretary, over the publication of a summary of US intelligence material relating to Mohamed.

News you may have missed #636

Lebanon

Lebanon

►►Careless codeword may have cost CIA its Lebanon network. Hezbollah have reportedly just rolled up the CIA’s network of spies in Lebanon. If so, it’s because of one of the stupidest, least secure code words in history. According to ABC News, Hezbollah operatives figured out that CIA informants, who had infiltrated the Iranian proxy group, were meeting with their agency handlers at a Beirut Pizza Hut. How could Hezbollah deduce that location? “The CIA used the codeword ‘PIZZA’ when discussing where to meet with the agents,” ABC reports.
►►UK spy chiefs to be publicly questioned for first time. The heads of British intelligence agencies are set to be questioned for the first time in public, under plans to make spies more accountable. The directors of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will face Parliamentarians on the Intelligence and Security Committee. Although, they have recently begun to make rare public appearances, and deliver speeches, it will be the first time the intelligence agency heads will face public cross-examination over their activities.
►►Documents reveal largest domestic spy operation in Canadian history. Police organizations across Canada co-operated to spy on community organizations and activists in what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called one of the largest domestic intelligence operations in Canadian history, documents reveal. Information about the extensive police surveillance in advance of last year’s G8 and G20 meetings in southern Ontario comes from evidence presented in the case of 17 people accused of orchestrating street turmoil during the summits.