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

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New South Korean president bans spy agency’s domestic operations

Moon Jae-in and Suh Hoon in South KoreaThe new president of South Korea has officially banned the country’s spy agency from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering, in a move that some say signals an era of sweeping security reforms in the country. South Korea’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) fell into disrepute in recent years, after many of its officers were found to have secretly sided with conservative political candidates for public office. In 2015, the NIS’ former director, Won Sei-hoon, was jailed for directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians.

Won headed the NIS from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. During the 2012 presidential elections, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. One of those candidates, Moon Jae-in, of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea, is now the country’s president. Moon succeeded his main right-wing rival, Park Geun-hye, who resigned in March of this year following a series of financial scandals. In the months prior to his assumption of the presidency, Moon promised his supporters that he would reform the NIS and prevent it from meddling again into South Korea’s domestic political affairs.

Last Thursday, President Moon replaced all of NIS’ deputy directors, who are tasked with focusing on North Korea and other foreign countries, espionage and terrorism, and cyber security. Later on the same day, Moon announced the appointment of Suh Hoon as director of NIS. Suh is a career intelligence officer who served as one of NIS’ deputy directors until Thursday’s appointment. Within hours of his appointment, Suh had ordered the termination of all NIS domestic intelligence-gathering operations and vowed to reform the spy agency once and for all. He also said that he would proceed to dissolve the NIS’ domestic wing, and that all such tasks would be transferred to South Korea’s National Police Agency. The new NIS director also vowed that, under his leadership, the NIS would become “a completely different entity” and that he would apply “a zero tolerance principle” in cases of contravention by NIS officers.

Also on Thursday, the NIS issued a press release stating that all domestic operations by the agency had been terminated and that no information was being gathered on government entities, media or other organizations in South Korea.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 June 2017 | Permalink

Senior US intelligence official tells Congress not to ‘micromanage’ spy efforts

James ClapperThe United States’ senior intelligence officer has told Congress that new legislation requiring spy agencies to act against alleged Russian covert operations constitutes “micromanagement” of the American Intelligence Community. The Intelligence Authorization bill, which includes a number of intelligence-related requirements and provisions, is debated and enacted each year by Congress. This year’s legislation has already been approved by the intelligence committees of the Senate and House of Representatives. Last week it was enacted by the House, while the Senate is preparing to debate it this week.

The legislation currently under debate includes instructions to the US Intelligence Community to set up an interagency committee to formulate responses to perceived Russian covert operations around the world. The term ‘covert operations’ refers to actions by intelligence agencies designed to influence foreign political, military or economic affairs or events. The topic received media attention during the 2016 US presidential election, when Washington repeatedly accused Moscow of trying to shape its outcome. This year’s Intelligence Authorization bill requires every US intelligence agency to appoint a representative to serve on a joint panel that will address alleged Russian covert operations in the US, Europe and elsewhere in the world.

But in September of this year, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, America’s most senior intelligence official, authored a letter to Congress arguing that the requirement for an interagency panel to look into Russian covert operations should be scrapped. According to the Reuters news agency, which said last week that it saw a copy of the letter, Clapper argues that his letter echoes the unanimous view of the US Intelligence Community. He goes on to claim that the requirement to set up a special committee with an operational focus exceeds Congress’ role of overseer of the Intelligence Community and enters the realm of prescribing intelligence tasks. That, says Clapper in his letter, amounts to “micromanagement” of the Intelligence Community by Congress. Furthermore, he argues, the Intelligence Community has already taken steps to address Russian covert operations, thus the suggested panel would “duplicate current work” on the issue. Finally, Clapper’s letter suggests that the required panel would “hinder cooperation” with some of America’s overseas allies, though the Reuters report did not explain the precise justification for that claim.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 December 2016 | Permalink

Did domestic snooping by Canadian spy agency increase 26-fold in a year?

CSE Canada - IAThe volume of domestic communications that were intercepted by Canada’s spy agency increased 26 times between 2014 and 2015, according to a recently released report by a government watchdog. The same report states that intercepted information about Canadian citizens, which is given to Canada’s spy agency by the intelligence organizations of other Western countries, has increased so much that it now requires an elaborate mechanism to analyze it. When asked to explain the reasons for these increases, Canadian government officials said they could not do so without divulging secrets of national importance.

Information about these increases is contained in the latest annual report by the Office of the Commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. The body was set up in 1996 to review the operations of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE). Founded in 1946, CSE is Canada’s primary signals intelligence agency. It is responsible for interception foreign communications while at the same time securing the communications of the Canadian government. The Office of the Commissioner monitors CSE’s activities and ensures that they conform with Canadian law. It also investigates complaints against the CSE’s conduct of and its officers.

Canadian law forbids the CSE from intercepting communications in which at least one of the parties participating in the exchange is located in Canada. If that happens, the message exchange is termed “private communication” and CSE is not allowed to intercept it, unless it gets written permission from Canada’s National Defense minister. Such permission is usually given only if the interception is deemed essential to protect Canadian national security or national defense. If a “private communication” is inadvertently intercepted, CSE is required to take “satisfactory measures” to protect the personal privacy of the participant in the exchange that is located inside Canada.

According to the CSE commissioner’s report for 2015, which was released in July, but was only recently made available to the media, CSE intercepted 342 “private communications” in 2014-2015. The year before, the spy agency had intercepted just 13 such exchanges. The report states that all 342 instances of interception during 2014-2015 were either unintentional or critical for the protection of Canada’s security. It further states that the reason for the huge increase is to be found in “the technical characteristics of a particular communications technology and of the manner in which private communications are counted”.

Canadian newspaper The Ottawa Citizen asked the CSE commissioner, Jean-Pierre Plouffe, to explain what he meant by “technical characteristics of a particular communications technology” in his report. His office responded that the commissioner could not explain the subject in more detail, because doing so would “reveal CSE operational capabilities” and thus hurt Canada’s national security. The newspaper also contacted CSE, but was given a similar answer. Some telecommunications security experts speculate that the increase in intercepted “private communications” may be due to exchanges in social media, whereby each message is counted separately.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2016 | Permalink

German intelligence spied on EU and NATO allies, report finds

Bad Aibling - IAA major parliamentary inquiry into the operations of Germany’s main intelligence agency has concluded that it spied on nearly 3,500 foreign targets in recent years, most of which belonged to allied countries. The inquiry was initiated by the German government in response to a number of recent public controversies involving the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND.

In 2015, the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German investigative magazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its facilities at Germany’s Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, and the France-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities. The extent of the BND-NSA collaboration prompted widespread public criticism in Germany. In response to the criticism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promptly fired the director of the BND in April of this year. Additionally, the German chancellor authorized a parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the BND, which was completed last spring.

The resulting 300-page report has not been made public. But summaries leaked to the German media reveal that the BND spied on 3,300 targets until the end of 2013. Nearly 70 percent of these targets belonged to countries that are members of the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and are thus some of Germany’s closest international allies. The targets allegedly included “hundreds of diplomatic missions” in Europe and elsewhere, as well as heads of state, government ministers, aides to foreign cabinet officials, and heads of foreign militaries. The report summary also states that the BND targeted non-governmental organizations and private corporations that are operate in the areas of aviation, weapons design, transportation, advertising and the media.

Last month, the German cabinet approved draft legislation that aims to reform the BND. The legislation explicitly bans the agency from spying on foreign governments or corporations for the benefit of German companies. It also prevents it from spying on targets within the European Union, unless the operation pertains to “information to recognize and confront threats to internal or external security”. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a new independent oversight body consisting of senior judges and representatives of the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, whose job will be to evaluate and approve the BND’s proposed espionage activities against foreign targets.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 July 2016 | Permalink

Egypt president removes spy officials following damning human-rights report

Abdel Fatah al-SisiSeventeen senior Egyptian intelligence officials were summarily removed from their posts hours after the government’s human-rights monitoring body issued a damning report of violations by security agencies. The removal of the officers was announced on Sunday in the official journal of the Egyptian government, in an article that bore the signature of Egypt’s President, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. It listed the names of 17 senior officers of Egypt’s feared General Intelligence Directorate (GID). The article said the 17 would go into early retirement “based on their own requests”, but provided no information on the reasons why they allegedly asked to retire as a group, or who will replace them.

The announcement of the intelligence officers’ removal came shortly after the publication of the annual report on the state of human rights in Egypt by the country’s official government monitoring organization. Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights said in its 2016 report, published over the weekend, that the rights of citizens have “not yet become a priority for the state”. It added that the state of human rights in Egypt remains alarmingly poor despite the adoption of the country’s new constitution in 2014. Egyptian and international rights monitoring organizations claim that as many as 60,000 people have been arrested for political reasons since 2013, when the military overthrew the government of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, following months of protests against his administration.

Focusing on the period between April 2015 and March of this year, the report lists over 260 cases of enforced disappearances of individuals, of which 143 remain under what is termed by the authorities “pretrial detention”. The report further notes that “pretrial detention”, which is often indefinite, has become “a punishment in itself”, and points out that the numbers of prisoners currently held pretrial detention centers exceed their capacity three times over. Consequently, pretrial detainees are forced to “take turns sleeping due to lack of space”, says the report. It also criticizes Egypt’s security and intelligence services for failing to curb the use of torture, which remains widespread despite its condemnation by the government and the conviction of several police and security officers who were found to have tortured detainees to death.

The removal of the 17 senior GID officers highlights the embattled state and internal divisions that continue to plague the Sisi administration, two years after the military strongman assumed power in the country, following a military coup. His administration has focused largely on a violent crackdown against the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which includes the imposition of death sentences on hundreds of thousands of people who were convicted in mass trials. Sisi’s legitimacy is disputed by the Muslim Brotherhood —arguably Egypt’s most popular social movement— and secularist reformers, who boycotted en masse the election that propelled him to the presidency. Sisi won with 97 percent of the vote in a heavily boycotted ballot that was reminiscent of the staged elections held by longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. At the same time, however, Sisi is facing challenges from within the military and intelligence services, which some believe may be planning another coup. In June 2014, a less than a month after taking office, SIS replaced 14 senior GID officials. He fired another 11 a year later, while 13 more were forced to retire last December.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 July 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