Saudi king hosts CIA director a day after US charges two Saudis with espionage

Gina HaspelA day after the United States Department of Justice charged two Saudi citizens with engaging in espionage on American soil, Saudi officials hosted the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in Riyadh, reportedly to discuss “the longstanding Saudi-US partnership”.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, two Saudi men, both employees of the US-based company Twitter, were instructed by a member of the Saudi royal family to surrender the personal information of at least 6,000 Twitter users who posted criticism of the Saudi government on social media. As intelNews reported on Thursday, one of the men is under arrest, while the other managed to evade US authorities and is thought to be sheltered by the Saudi government.

It is believed that the member of the Saudi royal family who instructed the two men to carry out espionage was no other than Mohammed bin Salman, the oil kingdom’s crown prince. Wednesday’s developments marked the first time that US authorities have publicly filed espionage charges against Saudi nationals in America.

A day after the charges were filed in the US state of California, Gina Haspel, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was reportedly hosted by Saudi Arabia’s king Salman in Riyadh. In addition to Salman and Haspel, the meeting was attended by several senior Saudi officials, including Khalid al-Humaidan, who directs the kingdom’s General Intelligence Directorate. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, was also present at the meeting.

A tweet by the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington said that the meeting between Haspel and the Saudi officials revolved around “the longstanding Saudi-US partnership”. It also said that participants discussed “a number of regional and international developments”, but gave no further information. The state-owned Saudi Press Agency said simply that the meeting focused on “a number of topics of mutual interest”, but did not elaborate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 November 2019 | Permalink

US considering drastic increase in intel-sharing with Saudi Arabia after drone attacks

AramcoUnited States officials are considering increasing substantially America’s intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia following last weekend’s drone attacks that halved the Kingdom’s oil production and shook global markets. The attacks occurred in the early hours of Saturday, September 14, at two refineries located in eastern Saudi Arabia. The refineries are owned by Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s government-owned oil conglomerate, and are part of the world’s largest crude oil processing facility. The massive fires caused by the attacks were contained within hours and no casualties were reported. But the facilities had to cease operation so that repairs could be completed. This cut Saudi Arabia’s oil production by close to 50 percent, which amounted to a 5 percent reduction in global oil production. The impact on the world’s financial markets was immediate: by Monday morning, oil prices had seen their most significant one-day surge since the 1991 Gulf War.

The Houthi movement, a collection of Yemeni Shiite militias supported by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack. A Houthi movement spokesman said on Sunday that the attacks had been carried out with the use of modified commercially available drones. He also warned that Saudi Arabia would experience more attacks of this kind in the future. Iran has rejected accusations by American and some Saudi officials that it was responsible for the attacks.

On Monday the Reuters news agency reported that the US is considering the possibility of drastically increasing the volume and quality of intelligence it shares with Saudi Arabia. The move is allegedly intended as one in a series of measures to be taken by Washington in response to Saturday’s drone attacks. In the past, the US has been selective in how much intelligence it shares with the Saudis, who have been involved in an increasingly bloody civil war in Yemen since 2015. Washington is weary of being seen to have a decisive role in support of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, in light of the criticism that the latter has drawn from numerous international bodies and governments around the world.

The US Congress has also condemned the Saudi campaign in an unusually bipartisan fashion, and has tried to stop President Donald Trump from providing material support to it. In May of this year, the US president defied Congress and signed two dozen arms sales agreements worth over $8 billion with the oil kingdom. The move upset many critics of Saudi Arabia in the Republican Party, who sharply criticized the Saudi government for killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last year. A possible decision by Washington to increase its intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia is bound to prompt a critical response from Congress, especially if it relates to the ongoing war in Yemen.

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

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

South Korea ends intelligence pact with Japan as bilateral relations enter crisis mode

Japan South KoreaSouth Korea has formally terminated an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, as relations between the two countries have reached their lowest point since they formally recognized each other in 1965. Seoul’s decision is the latest move in a tit-for-tad row sparked by the use of forced Korean labor by Japan in World War II. South Korea is demanding financial compensation for the use of slave labor, including sex slaves, by Japanese occupation troops during Korea’s annexation by Japan from 1910 until 1945. Last month, Tokyo responded to a mass boycott of Japanese goods by South Korean consumers by limiting the export of electronics to be used in South Korea’s ship-building industry. A few days ago, Tokyo also removed South Korea from the list of countries with the ability to fast-track their exports to Japan.

Earlier this week, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan met in China in an attempt to bridge the differences between the two countries. But the negotiations failed. This morning South Korea responded to Japan’s latest move by refusing to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). This treaty between Japan and South Korea, which was due to be renewed today, facilitates the sharing of intelligence about North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. But the South Korean government announced it would not renew the agreement, following a decision taken by the country’ National Security Council. The country’s President, Moon Jae-in, has agreed with the decision. A South Korean government spokesman said South Korea had determined that maintaining “an agreement we signed with the aim of exchanging military information which is sensitive to security […] would not serve our national interest”.

Japan called South Korea’s decision to scrap GSOMIA “extremely regrettable” and said that it “completely misreads the security situation” in the region. It added that it would continue to cooperate with South Korea “where cooperation is necessary”. Late last night, Tokyo summoned the South Korean ambassador to Japan to voice its disapproval of Seoul’s decision. Meanwhile there has been no response from the United States government, which was the architect of GSOMIA in 2016. Washington worked closely with the two countries for over 6 years to convince them to agree to exchange intelligence, despite their mutual animosity. American observers have warned that the termination of GSOMIA “threatens real-time information sharing between the United States, Japan and South Korea to monitor North Korean nuclear activity”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 August 2019 | Permalink

US Intelligence Community insiders express frustration with restructuring process

ODNI NCTCA private management consulting firm that was hired to streamline the United States Intelligence Community’s communication and decision-making process has made these practices worse, according to insiders. The news website Politico, which published the story on Tuesday, identified the management consulting firm in question as McKinsey and Co. Established in 1926, the company is one of the world’s industry leaders, with over 100 offices around the globe. It has a long history of working with the US government and is reported to have secured nearly $1 billion in US government sector contracts since 2010 alone. Among those contracts is a $10 million project to improve the communication and decision-making processes of the US Intelligence Community, which began in 2015.

But the effort has not been successful, according to Politico, which cited “nearly a dozen current and former officials” in several different agencies of the US Intelligence Community. These officials “either witnessed the restructuring firsthand or are familiar with the project”, said Politico. They described the results of the restructuring as “a coordination nightmare”, which complicated long-established linear chains of command and ended up “slowing down projects and turnaround time”. They accuse McKinsey of applying formulaic communication models to agency directorates and units with very unique cultures and methods of operation, effectively hindering decision-making processes at agencies such as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In one example, CIA analysts and operations officers, who have traditionally worked without regular face-to-face interaction, were placed side-by-side in so-called mission centers. This move “made missions more muddled” and generated “frustration” on both sides, said Politico. The resulting mayhem has left many intelligence employees “dismayed […], demoralized and less effective”, said the officials. They also warned that bureaucratic changes that delay response times may negatively affect intelligence collection and counterintelligence, and might even cost lives.

Spokespersons and some former officials from several intelligence agencies did not appear to share the criticisms of McKinsey’s work, said Politico. They argued that it was “too early to judge the results” of the restructuring and downplayed the role that the firm played in the process. In most cases, the latter was led by senior officials from within the intelligence agencies, they said. They added that the restructuring is “a work in progress” and that senior administration have in fact observed “a number of positive early returns” resulting from the restructuring process. Politico said it contacted McKinsey, but was told that the company has a policy of not discussing publicly its contractual obligations or performance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 July 2019 | Permalink

Pakistan dismisses head of powerful spy agency after only eight months on the job

Lieutenant General Asim MunirIn a surprising move the Pakistani military has dismissed the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency just eight months after appointing him to that position. The decision was announced on Sunday in a brief statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations, the public-relations wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces. The statement said that Lieutenant General Asim Munir had stepped down from his post as director of ISI and would take over as commander of the Gujranwala Corps in Punjab, Pakistan’s second-largest province. The statement did not explain the reasons for the reshuffle; the latter came as a surprise, as ISI directors typically serve for at least three years in that post. General Munir’s tenure began in October of this year.

General Munir has been replaced by Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, who until this latest appointment was head of the ISI’s counterintelligence directorate. Last October, when General Munir was promoted to ISI director, Hameed was promoted to the rank of three-star general. In April he was promoted again, this time from major general to lieutenant general, and was appointed Adjutant General at the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Armed Forces. His meteoric rise in the ISI has won him several devotees and he is seen as an influential intelligence planner in the ranks of the powerful spy agency. He rose to prominence outside of the ISI in late 2017, when he personally mediated to broker a deal between the government of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and leaders of the so-called Ahmadiyya community. Followers of the Ahmadiyya movement, a messianic Muslim sect with a substantial following in the Punjab, had taken to the streets to complain of discrimination and harassment by the authorities. According to media reports at the time, Hameed threatened to use the Pakistani Army against the Ahmadiyya protesters if they did not scale down their public protests. Such reports cause some in Pakistan to view Hameed as a military hardliner and a firm believer in the view of the military as the guarantor of political normalcy in Pakistan.

Meanwhile in an unrelated development Indian officials said on Sunday that Islamabad had alerted Delhi of a possible attack by al-Qaeda in a region of Indian-administered Kashmir. Media reports said that Indian officials had been warned by the ISI that al-Qaeda forces planned to carry out “a major terror strike” in the Pulwama region of southern Kashmir. Security observers noted the move as a rare instance of intelligence cooperation between the two rival nuclear-armed nations. As a result, India said it had deployed nearly 500 additional companies of police officers in the southern Kashmir region.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 June 2019 | Permalink

German spy agency concerned about Russian penetration of Austrian government

Sebastian Kurz Vladimir PutinA day after Austria’s political system was thrown into a disarray by a covert video featuring the country’s vice chancellor and a woman posing as a Russian investor, German intelligence sources have raised fears that Russia may have penetrated the Austrian government with informants. Heinz-Christian Strache, who heads Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, stepped down from the post of vice chancellor on Saturday. His resignation came a day after two German media outlets aired a covert video in which Strache appears to be promising to award state contracts in the construction sector to a woman posing as a Russian investor. In return for the state contracts, the unnamed woman said that she would have the firm of her uncle —a Russian oligarch— purchase an Austrian newspaper and use it to support Strache’s political party.

According to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the video was filmed in Spain in 2017, two months before the Freedom Party won a record 26 percent in Austria’s national election. This gave the party 51 seats in the Austrian parliament and propelled Strache to the post of vice chancellor. In his resignation statement, Strache said he was filmed while drunk and was engaged in “macho talk” in an atttempt to “impress the attractive hostess”. He also dismissed the airing of the covertly filmed video as “a targeted political assassination”, but added that he was resigning from the government as a matter of principle. Shortly afterwards, the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Chairman of the rightwing Austrian People’s Party, announced that new national elections would be held “as soon as possible”.

Meanwhile, German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported on Saturday that the director of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), warned that sharing intelligence with Austria was “risky”. The Berlin-based newspaper said that BfV director Thomas Haldenwang was speaking at a closed-door meeting with German parliamentarians. He reportedly told his parliamentary audience that, due to the close relationship between the Freedom Party and Moscow, members of the Austrian government could potentially “misuse” and in some cases “forward to Russia” intelligence that they receive from other European Union member-states. This is not the first time that such warnings have come out of Germany. Last year August Hanning, who served as director of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) openly warned Western officials to stop sharing intelligence with the government of Austria, because of its alleged proximity to the Kremlin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 May 2019 | Permalink