German spy officials dismiss calls to create European intelligence agency

European UnionGermany’s two most senior intelligence officials have dismissed suggestions by European officials and leaders, including the president of France, to create a Europe-wide intelligence agency. The numerous deadly attacks carried out by Islamic State supporters across Europe in recent years have given rise to calls from various quarters for the establishment of a new intelligence service that would combine resources from every member-state of the European Union. Last month, the European Union’s Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that the time had come for Europe to be “ambitious and bold, to overcome the security taboos of the past and finally work in order to build a European intelligence system”. He went on to say that, had there been sufficient “cooperation, information sharing and exchanging” between the various European intelligence services, “maybe some of these tragic events could have been predicted and prevented”. Avramopoulos’ remarks were echoed last week by France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron. Speaking at Sorbonne University in Paris, France’s head of state said that the creation of a European Intelligence Agency would “strengthen links between our countries” and prevent emerging security threats.

But these calls were rebuffed this week in Berlin, where Germany’s two most senior intelligence officials rejected any and all calls for the creation of a European intelligence service. The officials are Bruno Kahl, director of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, and Hans-Georg Maaßen, who heads the country’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, known as the BfV. The two men spoke before a special session of the Intelligence Oversight Committee of the German Federal Parliament, known as the Bundestag. The BND’s Kahl said Europe already had an intelligence-based early-warning center, known as the European Union Intelligence and Situation Center (EU INTCEN). He argued that there was “no need for a European intelligence agency or any other supplemental Europe-wide intelligence organization” and added that “intelligence is better organized on the national level”. He was backed by BfV’s Maaßen, who warned that the creation of a European intelligence service would “create additional bureaucratic structures, both on the European and domestic levels”, which would “profoundly lower our efficiency”.

The two German intelligence officials said that cooperation between European Union member-states had improved substantially in the past few years, and that the current model of bilateral exchange was “the most efficient […] and quickest way to share information”. The current system of inter-agency coordination would be weakened if a European intelligence service was created, according to the two men.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 October | Permalink

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German parliament report on NSA spying contains little consensus

Angela MerkelA lengthy parliamentary report on American intelligence activities in Germany was presented last week in Berlin, but was condemned by opposition parties as insufficient and incomplete, prompting calls for a new investigation. The parliamentary probe was initiated in 2013, following a series of revelations by Edward Snowden, a former employee of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency who defected to Russia. Snowden alleged that both agencies spied on Germany, with the NSA going so far as to eavesdrop on the personal telephone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The allegations shocked German public opinion, and resulted in the unprecedented expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin —the most senior US intelligence official in the country. However, the parliamentary probe soon broadened its scope to include subsequent allegations that German intelligence agencies collaborated with the NSA in spying against other Western countries.

Last Wednesday, after three years of work, the parliamentary committee, known officially as the “German Parliamentary Committee Investigating the NSA Spying Scandal”, presented its findings to the Bundestag. They consist of thousands of pages of technical details concerning interception methods and capabilities. However, the final report fails to draw concrete conclusions, and its concluding section does not reflect a consensus among the committee’s members. The section begins by noting that, “unfortunately, despite an initial shared conviction by all parliamentary groups about the need for the investigation, substantial disagreements emerged between the governing and opposition groups, concerning the methodology and goals of the committee’s work”. Read more of this post

German intelligence agency spied on thousands of targets in the United States

BND GermanyThe foreign intelligence service of Germany spied on at least 4,000 targets in the United States from 1998 until 2006, according to a leaked document published yesterday by leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. The German investigative weekly said that the surveillance was carried out by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND. The Hamburg-based magazine claimed to have in its possession a list of approximately 4,000 “selector keywords”, unique distinguishing terms, addresses or numbers that identify individual targets for surveillance. The list allegedly includes names, telephone or fax numbers, and email addresses of people that the BND had identified as worthy of individual attention between 1998 and 2006.

According to Der Spiegel, the list of targets in the United States includes officials in the White House, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State. Their work and private phone numbers, and often emails, are listed in the BND document. The latter also focuses on the American military sector, paying particular attention to the US Air Force and the Marine Coprs. Other targets include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Pentagon’s intelligence organization. In addition to US government targets, the BND exercised surveillance on American companies with ties to the state, such as Lockheed Martin, as well as state-owned universities. The leaked list also includes targets in international organizations that have an institutional presence in the US, such as the International Monetary Fund and the Arab League, which has an office in Washington. Hundreds of foreign embassies and consulates in the US were also targeted, said Der Spiegel.

German-American relations suffered a major setback in 2013, when it was revealed that Washington had spied on the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In response to the revelations, Germany expelled the Central Intelligence Agency’s station chief in Berlin —the most senior American intelligence officer in the country. It remains to be seen whether Thursday’s revelations will affect the current relations between the two transatlantic allies. Neither the BND nor the US embassy in Berlin responded to questions about Der Spiegel‘s report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 June 2017 | Permalink

Israel revises intel-sharing rules with US, after alleged disclosure to Russians

Donald Trump and Benjamin NetanyahuAuthorities in Israel have revised their intelligence-sharing protocols with the American government after it became known that United States President Donald Trump inadvertently exposed Israeli secrets to Russia. The alleged exposure of Israeli secrets came earlier this month, during a meeting between Mr. Trump and a delegation of Russian government officials, which included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s Ambassador to Washington.

During the meeting, the US President allegedly gave the two Russians details about plans by the Islamic State to smuggle explosives onboard airplanes, by hiding them inside laptop computers. However, according to reports in the American press, the information shared by Mr. Trump originated from Israel, which had voluntarily shared it with US intelligence. What is more, Tel Aviv had not authorized Washington to share the precise details behind this intelligence with other countries. Some reports in the US media suggest that Mr. Trump shared the Israeli-derived intelligence with the Russians in such a way as to expose ‘sources and methods’ —that is, the most sensitive aspects of the intelligence business, which intelligence agencies typically never disclose to adversaries. Additionally, even though the US president claims he never disclosed the source of the information, American media reports suggest that the Russians could easily determine that it came from Israel.

Israeli sources allegedly complained strongly to Washington, claiming that the intelligence shared by the US president “had put an [Israeli] agent’s life in peril”. Tel Aviv’s reaction appears to have been swift. On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in an interview that Tel Aviv promptly “did our checks” and “clarified [things] with our friends in the United States”. Speaking to Israel Army Radio, the official radio station of the Israel Defense Forces, Mr. Liberman said that Israel had done “a spot repair”, prompting the Voice of America to claim that the Jewish state had altered its intelligence-sharing methods with the US. Liberman was asked by the Israel Army Radio to clarify, but refused to specify what changes had been made in the Israel-US intelligence-sharing arrangements. He only added that “there is [now] unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 May 2017 | Permalink

British tip helped French police foil ‘imminent’ terrorist attack

DGSEA tip from British intelligence helped French counterterrorist officials arrest two men who are thought to have been in the final stages of planning a large-scale terrorist attack, according to French media. Government sources in Paris say officers from the country’s domestic intelligence agency, DGSE, arrested two men on Monday. Both men are reportedly French citizens from France’s northern regions. They were residing in the southern port city of Marseilles, where they were arrested by the DGSE. They were later named as Merabet Mahiedine, 29, and Clement Baur, 23. It is alleged that Mahiedine has North African roots, but that Baur is a Caucasian convert to Islam. Both were allegedly known to French police for having repeatedly stated views in support of radical Islamist policies.

According to France’s Minister of the Interior, Matthias Fekl, the two men were planning to carry out a large-scale armed attack in Marseilles this week, which is the last before the long-awaited presidential election in the country. Some sources in the French intelligence community claim that the two men planned to kill one of the major candidates in the election. A number of reports suggest that their target was François Fillon, a conservative presidential candidate who served as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2012 under President Nicolas Sarkozy. It is not known why Fillon may have been targeted, though some observers speculate that radical Islamists seek to promote the aspirations of Fillon’s main rival, the far-right candidate Marine LePen, whom they see as someone whose policies would further-radicalize Muslims in France and North Africa.

Reports in the French media state that DGSE officers confiscated several guns and significant quantities of bomb-making material that were found in an apartment belonging to one of the two men. Meanwhile, an aide to Mr. Fillon told the Paris-based newspaper Le Figaro that the primary tip that led to the arrest of the two men in Marseilles came from British intelligence. The subsequent capture of the two men prevented an attack that would have almost certainly taken place “in the next couple of days”, according to sources in Paris.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2017 | Permalink

UK may stop intelligence sharing with the US if Trump brings back torture

Theresa May Donald TrumpThe British government may limit or end intelligence cooperation with the United States, if Washington revives its post-9/11 torture program, according to reports. On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said he had asked “people at the highest level of intelligence […], does torture work?” and had received the answer “yes, absolutely”. He added that he was considering reviving some of the torture techniques that were used in the “war on terrorism”, including waterboarding and, in his words, “a hell of a lot worse”.

But on Thursday, the British Prime Minister Theresa May warned that her government might be forced to reexamine its intelligence-sharing relationship with Washington, if the US reinstituted torture as a method of interrogation. Speaking to journalists during a flight to the US to meet President Trump, the British prime minister stressed that the United Kingdom “absolutely condemn[ed] the use of torture” and that she would deliver that message to her American counterpart. According to British law, government officials and intelligence personnel are forbidden from sharing intelligence with countries that are known to employ torture against detainees. They are also not allowed to use intelligence gathered by other countries through the use of torture.

Thursday’s comments by Theresa May point to a potentially serious rift between American and British, as well as European intelligence agencies, whose attitudes toward so-called ‘enhanced interrogation’ differ widely from those of President Trump. British newspaper The Daily Mail quoted Matt Tait, a former information security specialist for Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, who warned of a potential split between British and American spy agencies. If Trump reinstituted torture as a form of interrogation, it would mean that the United States Intelligence Community would “intentionally engage in war crimes”, said Tait. That would “make it impossible” for the UK to cooperate with the US “across a range of intelligence programs”, he added.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 January 2017 | Permalink

Israeli officials were advised not to share intelligence with Trump’s White House

Donald TrumpAmerican intelligence officials allegedly warned their Israeli counterparts not to share intelligence with Washington once Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. The reason was that, according to the US officials, there was no guarantee that the intelligence would not be leaked to Russia. There was also the danger, they claimed, that the compromised intelligence would end up in the hands of Russia’s ally Iran, a regional adversary of Israel. The claim was made on Thursday by Ronen Bergman, senior political and military analyst for Israel’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

According to Bergman, the American intelligence officials spoke in depth with their Israeli counterparts during a recent meeting between the two sides. He did not give details about the time and location of the meeting, so as “to protect the sources of the report”, he said. During the meeting, the US officials allegedly “voiced despair” over Trump’s electoral victory and his apparently poor relationship with the US Intelligence Community. They also suggested that Israeli intelligence officials should “be careful” when sharing intelligence with the White House or the US National Security Council, which is chaired by the president. The reason was that the intelligence —including sources and methods— might end up in the hands of the Kremlin, they said, and from there to Israel’s regional adversaries, such as Iran —and presumably Syria, though Bergman does not mention that.

The American officials further recommended that the Israelis wait until a clearer picture emerges of the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. It was also implied during the meeting that Trump may be subject to blackmail by Moscow and forced to reveal sensitive information relating to America and its allies, including Israel. According to Bergman, the Israelis are concerned about the Trump-Russia controversy and there are even some in Tel Aviv who raise fears of exposure of information given to the US by the Israeli intelligence community “over the past 15 years”. There has been no comment on the subject from Israel or Trump’s transition team.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 January 2017 | Permalink