New book details ‘special relationship’ between CIA and Polish intelligence

CIA

A NEW BOOK BY longtime Washington Post foreign correspondent John Pomfret details what the author describes as “a hugely important intelligence relationship” between the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence community of Poland. In From Warsaw With Love: Polish Spies, the CIA, and the Forging of an Unlikely Alliance (Henry Holt and Co., October 2021), Pomfret claims that Polish intelligence has “functioned for decades almost as an adjunct to the [CIA]”.

According to Pomfret, the “special relationship” between the CIA and Polish intelligence began in the spring of 1990, when the first meeting between the two sides was arranged following a CIA official’s impromptu visit to Poland’s embassy in Portugal. Later that year, a team of Polish intelligence officers managed to exfiltrate half a dozen American government workers who had been left behind in Baghdad, as the US was preparing to launch a military operation in Kuwait, aimed at ejecting thousands of Iraqi troops from the tiny oil kingdom.

By the mid-1990s, the relationship between the CIA and Polish intelligence could be described as “special”, says Pomfret. Accordingly, the CIA station in Warsaw hosted “a flood of new joint operations” as its case officers were “working with Polish spies across the globe”. This formed a “blood bond” between the two services, claims Pomfret, with the Poles even allowing American intelligence officers to “roam through the headquarters of the Polish spy agency unescorted”.

Additionally, Polish intelligence handled assets in “some of the world’s most dangerous places”, as well as access to countries where the United States had no intelligence presence —for instance North Korea and Cuba. In the 2000s, CIA commended several Polish intelligence officers for the Legion of Merit, which is the US military’s highest award offered to citizens of foreign countries. Among the Legion of Merit recipients was a team of Polish intelligence officers who successfully collected air samples near nuclear facilities in Iran, according to Pomfret.

The relationship between American and Polish spies was not always smooth. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Poland hosted what was arguably the most important of the CIA’s global network of “black sites”, where terrorism detainees were interrogated, often violently. The CIA kept Polish officials away from the black site, while at the same time promising to keep under wraps the former communist country’s role in the controversial scheme. That promise was not kept, however, as Poland was eventually outed as being among a long list of hosts of CIA black sites, says Pomfret.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 October 2021 | Permalink

Senior American, Japanese and S. Korean spy officials to meet behind closed doors

Avril HainesTHE INTELLIGENCE CHIEFS OF the United States, Japan and South Korea are to meet behind closed doors this week. The meeting will take place nearly two years after a major diplomatic spat between Japan and South Korea threatened to significantly harm intelligence cooperation between them. In November of 2019, the South Korean government threatened to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). The agreement was initiated in 2016 under American tutelage, with the aim of facilitating the sharing of intelligence between South Korea and Japan about North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

As intelNews explained at the time, the agreement fell victim to an escalating tit-for-tat row between the two Asian countries, which was rooted in the use of forced Korean labor by Japanese troops during World War II. The South Korean government demanded financial compensation for the use of slave labor, including sex slaves, by Japanese occupation troops during the annexation of Korea by Japan, which lasted from 1910 until 1945.

Tokyo responded to a mass boycott of Japanese goods in South Korea by limiting the export of electronics for use in South Korea’s ship-building industry. It also removed South Korea from the list of countries that can fast-track their exports to Japan. South Korea responded by threatening to not renew GSOMIA prior to it lapsing. With hours to go before GSOMIA’s expiration deadline, Seoul announced it would prolong the treaty. But the dispute continues to stymie intelligence cooperation between the two Asian nations.

On Saturday, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency cited “a government source” in reporting that the intelligence chiefs of the United States and Japan would travel to Seoul next week, in order to hold a series of meetings with their South Korean counterpart. Thus, United States Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, and Japan’s Director of Cabinet Intelligence, Hiroaki Takizawa, will meet with Park Jie-won, who heads South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

The three officials will meet behind closed doors to discuss “strengthening their trilateral intelligence cooperation”, according to the report. There is renewed hope in Seoul and Tokyo that relations between the two nations can be mended, following the election of a new government in Japan earlier this month, under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The officials are also expected to discuss efforts to re-initiate negotiations with North Korea on a number of issues. Last month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in offered to begin negotiations with North Korea aimed at drafting a formal declaration to officially end the Korean War of 1950-1953.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 October 2021 | Permalink

Israel has drastically curtailed intelligence-sharing with the US, report claims

Natanz Iran

THE GOVERNMENT OF ISRAEL scaled back significantly intelligence cooperation with the United States in January of this year, following the change of guard in the White House, according to The New York Times. In an article published on Thursday, the paper cited several unnamed Israeli and American sources in claiming that the Israeli administration of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu limited its intelligence relationship with Washington almost as soon as Joe Biden assumed the presidency of the United States.

According to the report, the Israelis decided to scale back intelligence-sharing with Washington in order to keep the Biden administration in the dark about the latest developments in the Iranian nuclear program. Following the demise of much of its intelligence network in Iran in 2019, the United States relies heavily on Israeli intelligence when it comes to following developments inside Iran, said The Times. The hope in Israel is that, by denying the Biden administration information about developments inside Iran, Israel can prevent the White House from making drastic changes to former President Donald Trump’s policy on Iran.

To illustrate its claim, the paper referred to the sabotage attack against Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant in April of this year, which has been widely attributed to Israel. According to the report, the Israelis gave the White House two hours’ notice of the plan, which was allegedly a deliberate attempt to prevent Washington from assessing the operation, and potentially pressuring Israel to cancel it.

American sources told The Times that the move by the Netanyahu administration had its roots in the bad blood between it and the administration of US President Barack Obama, who spearheaded the now-defunct nuclear deal with Iran. Additionally, American officials told the paper that the change of policy on intelligence-sharing by the Israeli government represented a violation of “a longstanding, unwritten agreement to at least advise the United States of covert operations” and giving Washington an opportunity to challenge specific courses of action.

But Israeli officials who spoke to the paper said that the reason why Washington was not given earlier notice about the attack on the Natanz nuclear plant was because of fears that it would be leaked. United States officials have leaked information before about pending Israeli covert operations, according to the Israelis. The report also suggested that the American and Israeli governments have tried to reset their intelligence relationship since the Natanz operation, but relations remain tense.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 August 2021 | Permalink

We knew about the US-Danish spy collaboration. The revelations are still remarkable

DDIS DenmarkTHE FIRST CLAIMS OF an alleged secret collaboration between the signals intelligence agencies of the United States and Denmark surfaced in November of 2020. By January of this year, it was clear that the Danish government would, sooner or later, need to deal with the fallout of its controversial spy deal with Washington, under which Denmark enabled the US to spy on some of its closest European allies. Still, the news last weekend that Denmark helped the US spy on countries such as Germany, France, Sweden and Norway, is nothing short of remarkable, and has a huge symbolic significance that cannot be overlooked.

IntelNews regulars will recall that Lars Findsen, director of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE, or DDIS in English) was unceremoniously “relieved of duty” in August of 2020. This was in response to a damning report by the Danish Oversight Board, known as TET, which is responsible for supervising the work of Denmark’s intelligence agencies. The Danish Ministry of Defense would not discuss the precise nature of the report, which at the time was believed to relate to vaguely described “improper intelligence collection practices”.

Then, in November of 2020 came news of an alleged secret collaboration between the DDIS and its American equivalent, the National Security Agency (NSA). According to Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Danmarks Radio —Denmark’s public-service broadcaster— the agreement dated to 2008, and involved the use by the NSA of a number of fiber optic Internet cables that pass through Danish territory, in return for the DDIS being given access to the content of intercepted traffic. This collaboration resulted in the interception of information belonging to the governments of Germany, France, Sweden, Norway and Holland, among others.

It is said among intelligence practitioners that “there is no such thing as a friendly foreign intelligence agency”. There is also no known agreement not to spy on each other between the United States and several core countries of the Western alliance, such as Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, or Spain (it is rumored that a “no-spy clause” exists between Five Eyes participants). Technically speaking, therefore, espionage between European powers, or between them and the US, is not in violation of some sacred agreement. Read more of this post

Diplomat’s comments fuel speculation Japan may join US-led ‘Five Eyes’ spy alliance

Japan United StatesJAPAN’S AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA has said he feels optimistic his country could join the Five Eyes intelligence alliance in “the near future”, adding to growing speculation on the topic. Japanese diplomat Shingo Yamagami, who has held the post of ambassador to Australia since late 2020, told The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday that he would like to see Japan join the intelligence alliance “in the near future”, adding that he was “very much optimistic” about such a prospect.

Ambassador Yamagami was referring to a longstanding United States-led intelligence-sharing agreement, which is also known as UKUSA. It brings together intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It came out of the five nations’ close military and intelligence cooperation during World War II. Under the agreement, the five nations share intelligence products of mutual interest, as well as raw signals intelligence, which they collect in their respective areas of operation. In some cases, Five Eyes nations collaborate with other allies, such as France, Germany, Norway, or Holland, on individual projects.

In the past, the United States, which leads the alliance in terms of resources and strategic direction, has resisted proposals to include more members. Prospective parties must share the Five Eyes nations’ strategic direction, democratic traditions, and societal values. Additionally, they must be able to demonstrate that their intelligence services are effective in preventing penetrations by adversaries. Critics suggest that the spy agencies of Five Eyes nations are themselves far from immune when it comes to counterintelligence threats. Additionally, some Five Eyes members, notably New Zealand, have at various times expressed disagreements about the strategic direction of the alliance.

Supporters of the idea of including Japan into the Five Eyes alliance point to the fact that, after Japan’s defeat in World War II, Japanese intelligence agencies developed under American tutelage. Moreover, Japan today is home to a substantial American military presence, while its intelligence agencies collaborate closely with America’s —especially in carrying out spy operations focusing on China, North Korea and Russia. Japan’s geographical proximity to these countries, coupled with its strong intelligence emphasis on China, arguably strengthen its candidacy for Five Eyes membership, according to supporters of this view.

Last week, Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, visited the White House, becoming the first foreign leader to be officially hosted by President Joseph Biden. Although talks between the two men focused largely on the topic of China, there was no public mention of Five Eyes. The governments of Japan and the United States have made no on-the-record comment about a potential inclusion of Japan into the intelligence agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2021 | Permalink

Mutual distrust of China heightens US-Indian intelligence cooperation to historic levels

India External Affairs MinistryINTELLIGENCE COOPERATION BETWEEN THE United States and India has reached historic levels in the closing months of 2020, and is driven by the two countries’ mutual distrust of China. This development is particularly noteworthy for India, which has traditionally maintained a non-aligned stance in military and intelligence matters for much of its existence. New Delhi’s increasingly close relationship with Washington is described by some experts as “a revolution in the way that India views the world and aligns with partners in Asia”.

The deepening intelligence cooperation between India has its roots in 2002, when the military forces of the two nations formalized intelligence-sharing systems on matters of regional security. In 2016, a new bilateral logistics agreement enabled them to share each other’s facilities in order to repair or resupply vehicles, vessels and aircraft. Two years later, the US gave India access to secure communications equipment that is also used by the US Navy and Air Force.

These military- and intelligence-sharing agreements were reinforced in recent months, after India and China were involved in a bloody border dispute in the Himalayan region. The heated dispute lasted for over a month, resulting in the death of nearly 30 Indian and Chinese military officers. The incidents alarmed observers, as they marked the first violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in several decades. Since that time, India has deliberately deepened its intelligence-sharing relationship with the US, led by its growing rift with China.

The most recent demonstration of the deepening relationship between India and the US is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which was signed by Washington and New Delhi in October of this year. It allows US intelligence agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, to provide India with archival and real-time geospatial data. The latter includes aeronautical, nautical and topographical intelligence, much of which concerns China or the activities of Chinese vessels and aircraft in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. BECA is said to be instrumental in allowing India to advance its understanding of Chinese military targets, as well as detect the pattern of Chinese military activity in the wider region. However, the agreement has raised concerns among officials in India’s regional foe, Pakistan, as well as in Russia, which has historically been one of India’s closest regional allies.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 December 2020 | Permalink

US wants to share sensitive intelligence with Honduras to combat drug traffickers

Tony HernandezA PROPOSED MEMORANDUM OF understanding could enable the sharing of extremely sensitive intelligence between the United States and Honduras, as part of an effort by Washington to stop the impoverished Central American country from becoming a drug-trafficking stronghold. However, some in the US intelligence community are concerned that the sensitive intelligence given to the Honduran government may be passed on to the drug cartels by paid informants.

According to the Reuters news agency, American and Honduran officials are currently finalizing a proposed memorandum of understanding between the two nations’ intelligence communities. The memorandum would allow the US to provide the Honduran government with information about secret flights carrying drugs, which are known to regularly enter the Honduran airspace. The drugs are then trafficked north and subsequently enter the US through Mexico. Reuters said that, although the memorandum of understanding is in the drafting stage, the Honduran government appears to be willing to accommodate its conditions. The latter include provisions allowing for planes that do not identify themselves and are believed to be carrying drugs to be shot down by military aircraft.

There are, however, concerns among some in the US intelligence community that the Honduran government and its institutions cannot be trusted with sensitive intelligence. They argue that the corruption at all levels of the Honduran government and intelligence establishments is so extensive, that the drug traffickers will be able to access the information provided by the US government. It should be noted that last year a court in New York convicted one of Central America’s most notorious cocaine traffickers, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez (pictured), who is the brother of Honduras’ current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez. During the trial, it was repeatedly alleged that President Hernandez provided protection to his brother and other drug traffickers in Honduras.

But Honduran officials, including the country’s ambassador to the US, Luis Fernando Suazo Barahona, point out that those receiving sensitive intelligence form the US would be carefully vetted —and presumably polygraphed— prior to being given access to the information. Reuters reports that the US Department of State says it is “taking steps to resume information-sharing [with the government of Honduras] for aerial interception upon the successful negotiation and conclusion” of the memorandum of understanding that is currently being drafted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 December 2020 | Permalink

More details emerge about alleged killing of al-Qaeda #2 in Iran by Israeli spies

Abu Mohammed al-Masri

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SAYS it has confirmed a claim made last week by The New York Times, according to which an Israeli assassination team killed al-Qaeda’s deputy leader in a daring operation inside Iran in August. The paper said on November 13 that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the operational name Abu Muhammad al-Masri, had been assassinated in Tehran on August 7. He was the deputy leader of al-Qaeda, and was wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for helping plan the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

On Sunday, the Associated Press said it was able to corroborate the The Times’ story with “four current and former US [intelligence] officials”, one of whom had “direct knowledge of the operation” and another, a former CIA officer, had been briefed about it. The news agency said the operation was carried out by Israel, acting on information given to it by the US. The Americans gave the Israelis information about al-Masri’s whereabouts in Iran, as well as the cover he was using to avoid detection.

Al-Masri was killed by a team of Israeli assassins while driving his car in a quiet street in the suburbs of Tehran, according to The Times. The assassins, who were riding on motorcycles, shot him with guns equipped with silencers. Al-Masri’s daughter, Maryam, who was riding with him in the car, was also killed. This was part of the plan, said the Associated Press. Al-Masri’s daughter was also the widow of Hamza bin Laden, the son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Hamza bin Laden was killed in 2019 by the US at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the Associated Press, US intelligence planners believed Maryam was “being groomed for a leadership role in al-Qaeda” and “was [already] involved in operational planning”.

Iranian media portrayed the incident as the murder of Habib Daoud, a Lebanese professor of history, who was gunned down in the Iranian capital along with his daughter by unknown suspects. In reality, said the Associate Press, the father and daughter were killed by the Kidon, (“tip of the spear” in Hebrew), an elite assassination unit within Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 November 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #911

HamasAnalysis: The outstanding issue of the Libyan intelligence services. The post of Chief of the Libyan Intelligence Service of Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) is still vacant. Therefore, this is an optimal situation for the Head of Tripoli’s government, who is currently pro tempore Director of the GNA agencies, while the struggle for the next Intelligence Service director is intensifying.

Hamas admits one of its number spied for Israel before defecting. Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk has confirmed Arabic media reports that Hamas commander Mohammad Abu Ajwa collaborated with and subsequently defected to Israel. The defection was first reported by Al-Arabiya, which said that Israel’s Mossad spy agency had recently facilitated the escape of senior commander Mohammad Abu Ajwa. According to Al-Arabiya, Abu Ajwa had previously led Hamas’s naval special forces.

Russia used US intelligence to target dissidents in Europe. Russia routinely exploited a US policy of increased information sharing to target Chechen dissidents, according to three law-enforcement and intelligence officials in Europe. The practice emerged after the Trump administration backed a policy of sharing more secret information with Russia, in hope of strengthening relations.

US threatens to end intelligence sharing if Australian state joins Chinese venture

Belt and Road InitiativeThe United States has warned that it might be forced to stop sharing intelligence with Australia if the country’s second most populous state enters into a much-heralded investment agreement with China. The Australian state of Victoria has said it intends to join Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a worldwide investment venture that was announced with much fanfare by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

The initial goal of the venture was to encourage economic cooperation between China and countries of the Eurasian region. Eventually, the project’s scope expanded to include agreements with countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, mostly through the Chinese-led construction of telecommunications and transportation networks, which trace the trading routes of the Silk Road of ancient times.

Although Australia is not a participant in the Belt and Road Initiative, the Australian state of Victoria announced its decision to join the project in late 2019. The decision has been criticized by senior Australian federal officials, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. These officials argue that any interference by China in the Australian national telecommunications network could compromise the national security of the country as a whole.

On Sunday, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Australia that Washington would look “incredibly closely” at aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative affecting telecommunications. Pompeo, who was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency before his current post, told Sky News that some aspects of the project were designed to “build up the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party to do harm” around the world.

In his interview, Pompeo referred to the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance (also known as “UKUSA”), which is a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He added that the US government was concerned that the Victoria state government’s decision to participate in the Chinese venture project could “have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defense and intelligence communities”.

If that were to happen, said Pompeo, then the US would “not take any risks to our telecommunications infrastructure, [or] any risk to the national security elements of what we need to do with our Five Eyes partners”. In the US government determined that these risks were real, “we simply disconnect, we will simply separate”, Pompeo concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2020 | Permalink

Palestinians announce end of intelligence cooperation with US and Israel

Palestinian National Security ForcesThe Palestinian Authority has announced an immediate cessation to all intelligence and security ties with Israel and the United States. The announcement, made on Thursday by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, marks the strongest response so far by the Fatah-dominated administration to the Israeli government’s plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, runs two intelligence agencies, the Palestinian Preventive Security (also known as the Preventive Security Service) and the General Intelligence Service. Both agencies are largely trained and funded by the United States and Israel. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has long assisted the two agencies, and has often benefited by intelligence-sharing aimed at a common adversary, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. In the past decade, American and Israeli intelligence agencies have worked closely with their Palestinian Authority counterparts to neutralize Hamas’ support in the West Bank.

But the Palestinian Authority has been threatening to terminate that longstanding security and intelligence cooperation, in response to an American-backed plan by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to annex large parts of the occupied territories in the West Bank. The annexed land contains illegal Israeli settlements, which the United States has condemned in the past. But the administration of President Donald Trump has reversed course and in May of 2018 even transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognizing the divided city as the capital of Israel. That move prompted the Palestinian Authority to cut all relations with Washington.

However, despite the political rift between the two sides, President Abbas had instructed the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence and security services to continue their cooperation with their Israeli and American counterparts. That ended on Thursday, as President Abbas announced that his administration would cease all intelligence and security cooperation with Israeli and American government agencies, effective immediately. Following Abbas’ announcement, the veteran Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat told reporters that direct cooperation with Israeli and American intelligence agencies had “stopped at the end of the president’s speech”. Erekat, who serves as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and is the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator with Israel, did not explain the extent of the cessation in cooperation. When asked, he responded that “the whole system is about to shut down […] in its entirety”.

In February it was reported that CIA director Gina Haspel had secretly visited Majed Faraj, director of the Preventive Security Organization, with the aim of convincing him not to terminate ties with her agency and other American intelligence bodies. The meeting reportedly took place in Ramallah, which is considered the seat of the Palestinian government in the West Bank. It appears, however, that Haspel’s efforts did not bear fruit, as all intelligence contacts between the two former partners have now been severed.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2020 | Permalink

US could withdraw intelligence assets from the UK due to Huawei’s role in 5G

HuaweiThe United States could end all sensitive intelligence operations and withdraw its intelligence assets from the United Kingdom if a leading Chinese company is hired to upgrade the country’s telecommunications network. The British government has come under relentless pressure by Washington to not hire Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers, to build the United Kingdom’s 5th generation cellular communications infrastructure.

Many Western intelligence agencies view Huawei as being uncomfortably close to the Communist Party of China. Washington has been leading a worldwide campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with some if its allies, notably Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies. Last year, Washington warned two of its main European allies, Britain and Germany, that it would stop sharing intelligence with them if they allowed Huawei to compete for 5G contracts.

Now the White House appears to be considering a more drastic step. According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the Trump administration has ordered a review of whether it should curtail its intelligence assets and operations on British soil if the Chinese firm were hired to build the UK’s 5G network. Citing “half a dozen” current and former British and American officials, the paper said that the review is still in the works. It is being conducted under the auspices of the National Security Council, America’s highest decision-making body, which is chaired by the president himself.

The Daily Telegraph reports that, among the topics being looked at in the review is whether US intelligence operations and hardware —both civilian and military— would be compromised by Huawei’s involvement in the telecommunications infrastructure. The hardware includes military installations and surveillance platforms, such as a number of RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, which operate out of the Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Sussex, near England’s southern coast. The paper notes that the report and its recommendations could result in drastic chances for the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 May 2020 | Permalink

United States quietly scraps joint anti-terrorist intelligence project with Turkey

Incirlik TurkeyThe United States has indefinitely suspended a longstanding military intelligence-sharing program with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey. The program, which targets a Kurdish separatist group, is believed to have been in place since 2007. According to the Reuters news agency, which published the story on Wednesday, it has never before been reported on by news media.

The joint intelligence-sharing program targets the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant organization that campaigns for a separate homeland for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Washington and Ankara have both designated the group a terrorist organization, and have been working jointly to combat it since at least 1997. According to Reuters, the United States military has been carrying out surveillance on the PKK using unmanned surveillance drones that fly out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base. Much of the surveillance focuses on the regions of Turkey that border with Iraq and Syria, where the PKK has a strong grassroots presence.

But Washington decided to suspend the program indefinitely last October, said Reuters. The decision was allegedly taken after Turkish troops invaded Syria in order to push back Kurdish rebels and establish a Kurdish-free buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. The news agency cited four American officials, who did not wish to identify themselves, “due to the sensitivity of the matter”. It also cited an unnamed Turkish official, who confirmed that the intelligence-collection program had been terminated.

The American officials told Reuters that the suspension of the program would place strains on the ability of the Turkish military to respond to the challenges of its ongoing guerrilla war against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, as well as within Turkey. It will also make “the anti-PKK campaign more […] costly for Turkey”, one of the officials told the news agency.

Reuters said it contacted the United States Department of Defense, but was told by a spokeswoman that the Pentagon would “not provide details on operational matters”. A spokesperson from the United States Department of State told Reuters that its representatives could “not comment on intelligence matters”. The Turkish Ministry of Defense did not return requests for comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 February 2020 | Permalink

In surprise move, Turkish and Syrian intelligence chiefs meet in Moscow

Turkey SyriaIn a move that surprised observers, the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria —two bitter rivals in the ongoing Syrian civil war— met in Russia on Monday. The meeting was held in Moscow and was acknowledged by officials from both sides, making it the first explicit contact between Turkish and Syrian intelligence in over a decade.

The Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has openly called for the toppling of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish strongman regularly refers to al-Assad as a “terrorist” and blames him for clandestinely supporting Kurdish paramilitaries, who have waged a war of secession against Ankara for several decades.

Regional dynamics shifted radically since early 2017, however, when the United States began withdrawing from the conflict. In the following months, Washington lifted its support for a collection of rebels fighting against the Syrian president. Last year, the US military left northern Syria and allowed Turkish troops to invade the region, with the aim of repelling armed Kurdish units from the Syrian-Turkish border.

Throughout this time, there have been rumors of intelligence coordination between Ankara and Damascus, but no official acknowledgement was ever issued. On Monday, however, Syria’s government-owned news agency, SANA, said that a meeting had taken place in Moscow between the heads of intelligence of Syria and Turkey. Shortly afterwards, a number of anonymous Turkish officials confirmed these reports to the Reuters news agency.

Reuters reported that the two sides discussed the state of the ceasefire in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, and future steps aimed at coordinating against the presence of armed Kurdish separatists in northern Syrian regions. It quoted one Turkish official who said that the two intelligence agencies were exploring “the possibility of working together” against separatist Kurdish groups on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 January 2020 | Permalink

MI5 director plays down US threat to end intelligence sharing over Huawei

Sir Andrew ParkerThe director of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency has dismissed warnings by the United States that intelligence sharing between the two allies will be impeded if London decides to use Chinese-made telecommunications hardware. The British government has come under relentless pressure by Washington to bar Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers, from competing for contracts to build the United Kingdom’s 5th generation cellular communications infrastructure.

In recent years, Huawei has come under scrutiny by some Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China. More recently, Washington has intensified a worldwide campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with some if its allies, notably Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies. Last year, Washington warned two of its main European allies, Britain and Germany, that it would stop sharing intelligence with them if they allowed Huawei to compete for 5G contracts.

But in an interview with The Financial Times, Sir Andrew Parker, head of the Security Service (MI5), said on Sunday that he didn’t believe Britain’s intelligence-sharing relationship with America would be impacted by the decision. When asked whether Washington would stop sharing intelligence with London if the British government allowed a bid by Huawei, Sir Andrew said he had “no reason today to think that”. He added that Britain’s intelligence relations with the US, and with other close allies, such as Canada and Australia, were “the strongest they’ve ever been”. Britain’s intelligence partnership with America “is, of course, of great importance to us”, said Sir Andrew, and went on: “I dare say, to the US too, though that’s for them to say. It is a two-way street”.

Meanwhile was reported over the weekend that a high-level delegation from the National Security Agency —America’s largest intelligence agency— and the US National Economic Council would be in London today, in what appears to be a final effort to persuade London not to cooperate with Huawei. Prior to her resignation last year, British Prime Minister Theresa May had reportedly decided to allow the Chinese firm to compete for 5G contracts. Her successor, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is reputed to be in agreement with that decision. Last April, German intelligence official also dismissed American warnings that intelligence sharing with Berlin would end if Huawei built any part of the German 5G network.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 January 2020 | Permalink

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