News you may have missed #754

Jonathan EvansBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►New German spy HQ to open a year late. The BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, was due to move from its base in Pullach, near Munich, to an enormous newly built center in Berlin, at the end of 2014. But that has now been officially put back by a year. The Berliner Morgenpost newspaper quoted BND president Gerhard Schindler saying he was “regularly losing young new staff”, due to the delay. The uncertainty has meant “they leave our authority and find themselves another employer”, he said.
►►UK spy chief warns of ‘astonishing’ levels of cyberespionage. In a rare public speech, Jonathan Evans, director general of MI5, Britain’s domestic spy service, has said that the West now faces an “astonishing” cyberespionage threat on an “industrial scale” from specific nation states. He said that cyberespionage is now conducted “with industrial-scale processes involving many thousands of people lying behind both state-sponsored cyber espionage and organized cyber crime”. Surely, however, Evans does not mean to imply that the West’s role in cyberespionage is purely defensive?
►►Aussie spy agency lacks resources to vet asylum seekers. An official audit into the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s ability to vet asylum seekers for potential security threats, has found that it is struggling with the “sharp increase” in boat arrivals, rudimentary computer systems and 30 per cent fewer staff than needed. The audit report examined 411 cases as a sample of the almost 180,000 security assessments ASIO completes each year.

News you may have missed #672

Janne KristiansenBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Russian military intelligence to ‘change tactics’. Russian military intelligence is adjusting its work methods in response to the “worsening international situation”, Igor Sergun, the head of GRU —the country’s largest espionage agency— has told President Dmitry Medvedev. Currently, the GRU’s main focus is on “hot spots where terrorist and extremist groups are acting, regions with crisis situations, and also the sources and possible routes of illegal proliferation of nuclear materials and the components of weapons of mass destruction”, Sergun told Medvedev.
►►Norway spy chief quits in secrecy gaffe. Norway’s head of intelligence Janne Kristiansen has handed in her resignation because she said too much during a parliamentary hearing. According to a transcript, Ms Kristiansen, who until now headed the country’s Police Security Service (PST), told the hearing that Norway had agents working in Pakistan. According to reports Pakistan has asked the government of Norway to explain Kristiansen’s remarks.
►►Review of Australia’s spy community released. Public findings of the first independent review of Australia’s intelligence community in eight years were released on January 25. The 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community acknowledges and justifies the Australian spy agencies’ unprecedented growth since September 11, which saw some agencies increasing their funding almost 500 per cent in a decade. Meanwhile, David Irvine, Director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, said in a rare public talk that future Australian spies would be recruited “from within our newly arrived migrant communities”.

News you may have missed #640

Amos Yadlin

Amos Yadlin

►►Chinese defector says Canada right to worry about spying. Li Fengzhi, a former intelligence officer for China’s Ministry of State Security, who defected to Canada in 2003, has told a conference that Canada should be concerned about relationships between senior politicians and journalists from China, saying Beijing is targeting lawmakers everywhere. He was referring to the case of senior Conservative MP Bob Dechert, who was enveloped by controversy in September over amorous e-mails he sent to Shi Rong, a Chinese government journalist based in Toronto. After the Dechert controversy broke, the journalist recalled to Beijing to meet with her superiors and has not returned to her Canadian posting.
►►More intel officials warn against airstrikes on Iran. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israeli spy agency Mossad, is not alone in warning against the possibility of Israeli attacks against Iran’s nuclear program. He has now been joined by Major General Amos Yadlin, who until recently headed Israel’s Military Intelligence directorate. Speaking at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, Yadlin doubted that airstrikes could threaten Iran’s numerous, distant and well-defended nuclear facilities. Another intelligence official, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal, also cautioned last week against any attacks on Iran, saying that “there are other non- military policy alternatives, as yet unexplored, that could have the desired result without the unwanted consequences”.
►►GCHQ challenges code breakers via social networks. Britain’s signals intelligence agency, the General Communications Headquarters, has launched a code cracking competition to help attract new talent. The organization has invited potential applicants to solve a visual code posted at an unbranded standalone website. The challenge will also be ‘seeded’ to social media sites, blogs and forums. A spokesman said the campaign aimed to raise the profile of GCHQ to an audience that would otherwise be difficult to reach.

News you may have missed #592

Nguyen Van Tau

Nguyen Van Tau

►►Tripoli Internet spy room packed with Western technology. Excellent technical analysis of how several Western –and some Chinese– Internet software and hardware suppliers provided the Gaddafi regime with the tools to exercise mass online surveillance against the country’s citizens. Where have we seen this before?
►►Interview with Vietnamese ex-master spy. Interesting interview with Nguyen Van Tau, who led the Vietnamese H63 clandestine intelligence group during the war with the United States. H63 maintained extensive spy cells in South Vietnam, playing a major role in the 1968 Tet Offensive.
►►MI5 seeks ‘telephone spies’ for London 2012 security. MI5 is recruiting ‘telephone spies’ to listen in on plots against the 2012 Olympics. The Security Service hopes to find candidates able to eavesdrop on potential terrorists by getting foreign language speakers to play an interactive “game” online. By logging on to the official MI5 website, wannabe spooks can tune into an audio tape of a conversation in a foreign language and are later quizzed about it.

News you may have missed #570

Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah

Abdullah Nassr

►►Libya internal security chief defects. Egyptian airport officials said Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah, Muammar al-Gaddafi’s interior minister, landed in a private plane in Cairo with nine family members traveling on tourist visas. Nassr was the minister responsible for police, civil defense, domestic intelligence, and some border security units.
►►S. Korea admits 1962 death occurred in spy training camp. A special committee is reviewing whether the family of a South Korean man who died half a century ago while being trained as a spy for elite missions into North Korea is eligible for compensation. South Korea’s military intelligence command admitted in a July 14 letter that “Mr. Jeon Gwang-su died during training on Sept. 30 of 1962 ahead of being dispatched for a mission in the North”.
►►NSA announces ‘hiring blitz’. The National Security Agency, America’s largest cryptologic intelligence agency, has announced its intention to hire as many as 3,000 people over the next two years, many of them cybersecurity experts. In fact, NSA recruiters even took a trip to Las Vegas in the last few weeks to look for potential hires at DefCon, a high-profile hacker conference there.

News you may have missed #567

Thuraya satellite telephone

Thuraya phone

►►Libya bans unauthorized cell phone use. The government of Libya warned Thursday that any of its citizens found using a Thuraya satellite phone without a permit will be treated as spies for NATO, and may face the death penalty. The reason, according to an official statement, is that “spies [of] NATO use the Thuraya telephones to give crusaders the coordinates of some locations to be bombed, which has caused the deaths of a large number of civilians”. Thuraya is a popular satellite phone provider based in the United Arab Emirates, with over a quarter of a million subscribers in the Middle East and Africa.
►►Uzbekistan jails senior mining scientist for spying. A court in Uzbekistan has convicted Said Ashurov, who worked as chief metallurgist for British mining company Oxus Gold, to 12 years in prison on charges of industrial espionage. Ashurov was arrested in March as he tried to cross the border into Tajikistan. A lawyer for the mining company described Ashurov’s case as a fabrication and said that the Uzbek government was using him as a pawn in their battle to take control of the Amantaytau Goldfields project, which is developing “some of the world’s most promising gold fields”.
►►Ex-White House official claims CIA tried to recruit 9/11 hijackers. Richard Clarke, who served in two US administrations as a White House counterterrorism adviser, says he now suspects the CIA hid its knowledge that two of the September 11 hijackers had entered the United States Read more of this post

News you may have missed #482

  • Kissinger wants US spy for Israel freed. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is urging President Barack Obama to release Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying on the US for Israel 24 years ago. He has sent Obama a letter, in which he writes “I believe justice would be served by commuting” Pollard’s life sentence.
  • MI5 short of surveillance officers says minister. A senior British official has revealed MI5 does not have enough spies to allow it to increase its counterintelligence surveillance, as per government plans. Security Minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones said the Security Service needed to recruit and train more surveillance officers.
  • US spy agencies lack fluent bilingual speakers. Many Americans don’t learn a second or a third language from birth, let alone a language that the CIA or US Foreign Service might want. The situation has forced US government agencies to learn how to cultivate the most talented second-language speakers from among college students with little to no other-language expertise.

News you may have missed #470

  • Blackwater still working for US despite denials. Reports that Blackwater is out of the US government’s private-security game appear to have been greatly exaggerated. A consigliore to the company’s new owners has said the firm still holds security contracts with the US State Department, and intends to seek more.
  • CIA gets spooky with new radio commercials. The CIA’s National Clandestine Service is continuing its recruitment drive with new radio commercials, complete with a spooky soundtrack of sawing violins and rising timpani –and something about “no one will ever know what you do”.
  • Iranian shah’s son found dead in Boston. Alireza Pahlavi, the youngest son of the late shah of Iran, has been found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Boston’s South End. In June 2001, Alireza’s sister Leila was found dead in a London hotel room from an overdose of barbiturates. The late siblings’ father was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution. He died in Egypt in 1980.

News you may have missed #446

  • American pleads guilty to spying for China. Glenn D. Shriver acknowledged on Friday that he accepted $70,000 from Chinese spies as he attempted to secure jobs with the CIA and US Foreign Service that would have allowed him to expose US government secrets. He apparently spent two years going through the CIA hiring process and reached the final security screenings. But US intelligence sources say Shriver was discovered very early in the hiring process.
  • Obama widens CIA operations in Pakistan. The US is pushing to expand secret CIA operations in Pakistan. But Islamabad is so far rebuffing US requests to allow additional CIA officers and special operations military trainers to enter the country.
  • US spy balloons blew towards Iran. The latest WikiLeaks revelations show that on two occasions in 2006 American JLens spy balloons broke from their moorings in Iraq and drifted toward the Iranian airspace. No information on the balloons’ fate is reported in the war logs. Did Iran get hold of them?

MI5’s tech skills lacking, admits director-general

Jonathan Evans

Jonathan Evans

The director-general of MI5, Britain’s foremost domestic intelligence agency, has revealed his concern that the organization he heads lacks officers with even basic skills in information technology. Speaking before the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, Jonathan Evans said he thought “some [MI5] staff perhaps aren’t quite the ones that we will want for the future”. He continued by saying that that the lack of even basic computer skills among MI5’s aging officer ranks have sparked the introduction of a program of “both voluntary and compulsory redundancies”. Ironically, the expected layoffs are taking place during MI5’s most rapid expansion in recent memory. The agency’s budget has nearly doubled in less than a decade, and so has its workforce: from just over 2,000 employees in 2001, MI5’s workforce has now reached 3,500, and is expected to surpass 4,000 by 2011. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #307

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News you may have missed #294

  • Tensions mount in Turkey over alleged coup plot. Simmering tensions between Turkey’s government and judicial elite erupted into open confrontation Thursday, over the handling of a probe into the Ergenekon network, an alleged military-intelligence plot to topple the Islamist-rooted government.
  • CIA recruiting Chinese-Americans. The CIA is posting recruitment advertisements in Southern California’s Chinese language media during the Lunar New Year, in an attempt to hire Chinese Americans. This is part of a wider effort by the Agency to increase numbers of ethnic minority employees by 22 to 30 percent by 2012.
  • Two alleged Israeli spies sentenced to death in Lebanon. Retired police officer Mahmoud Qassem Rafeh, who was arrested by Lebanese authorities in 2006, has been given a death conviction for “collaboration and espionage on behalf of the Israeli enemy”. Another defendant, Palestinian Hussein Khattab, has been convicted in absentia for his alleged involvement in the murders of members of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

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News you may have missed #0285

  • Canadian government resists release of Cold-War-era files. Canadian journalists are fighting for the release of Cold-War-era government files on Tommy Douglas, a prominent social democratic politician idolized in Canada for his central role in establishing the country’s public health care system. But the government argues that releasing the files would imperil national security and compromise contemporary spy sources and methods.
  • NPR launches series on confidential informants. Informants are often considered a vital crime fighting tool; but what happens if those informants go astray? Washington-based National Public Radio is launching a special investigation into this controversial subject.
  • CIA returns to US university campuses. American anthropologist David Price explains that the US intelligence community is gradually re-establishing its academic recruitment network, which was shattered in the 1970s.

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Analysis: Landrieu-Gate is Scary, but it’s No Watergate

Stan Dai

Stan Dai

The arrests by US Marshals of four self-described conservative activists, who were caught trying to tamper with the telephone lines of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu’ New Orleans office, have caused outcry in liberal and silence in conservative blogs. Most political allies of the four young men have been scrambling to denounce them, and the few who haven’t, have tried to play off the case as an ill-conceived political prank that got out of hand. Considering that America’s political culture still reels from the effects of Watergate (1972-1974), and the far more serious COINTELPRO (1956-1971), it would be criminal neglect on behalf of the FBI to treat the Landrieu incident as a “prank”. At the same time, however, Landrieu-gate is no Watergate. Neither the target nor the operational tactics and institutional affiliations of the four men involved in the case resemble anything remotely akin to either Watergate or COINTELPRO. Keep reading →

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