Saudi royal suspected of ordering Khashoggi murder leads spy reform body

King Salman with Crown Prince MohammedThe Saudi royal who is suspected by the international community of having ordered the state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is now leading a committee to reform the Kingdom’s spy services. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who became critical of the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States and began to criticize Saudi Arabia from the pages of The Washington Post. He was killed on October 2 by a 15-member Saudi hit-squad while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After several weeks of vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government eventually admitted that he was killed while inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After conceding that Khashoggi was murdered inside its consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi monarchy pledged to punish those responsible and reform the Kingdom’s intelligence services. But reports in the international press have disclosed that nearly every major Western intelligence agency believes that Khashoggi’s murder was authorized by none other than Muhammad Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and heir-presumptive to the Saudi throne. In late October it was disclosed that Britain’s intelligence services had prior knowledge of a plot to target Khashoggi at the highest echelons of the Saudi government, and allegedly warned Riyadh not to proceed with the plan. And earlier this month it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, bin Salman had exchanged text messages with the head of the 15-member hit-team in the hours prior to and following Khashoggi’s brutal murder in Istanbul.

However, not only has the Kingdom’s ruler, King Salman, rejected reports about the crown prince’s alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, but he has also appointed the controversial royal as the head of a ministerial committee to “restructure the General Intelligence Presidency”. The term refers to the primary intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia, which is also known as the General Intelligence Directorate (GID). The ministerial committee has reportedly met several times since October 19, when it was established by royal decree “in pursuit of achieving best international practices” in intelligence operations. On Thursday, Saudi media announced that the ministerial committee had drafted a document recommending “short-, medium-, and long-term development solutions” for restructuring the GID. Several measures were presented by the media as “urgent”. They center on creating a “department for strategy and development” whose task will be to ensure that intelligence operations are in line with the GID’s strategy and the Kingdom’s national security strategy. Another proposed measure involves creating a “general department for legal affairs” that will assess the compatibility of proposed intelligence operations with “international laws and charters and with human rights”. The committee also proposed the creation of a “general department for performance evaluation and internal review” to verify that intelligence operations have been carried out in a legal fashion.

Saudi media reports on Thursday made no mention of the controversy surrounding bin Salman’s presidency of the ministerial committee. For the past two months, the Kingdom has dismissed reports of the crown prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder as “fake news” promoted by its rival Qatar. It has also warned that any social media posts that promote “fake news” about the Saudi government’s involvement in the murder will result in up to five years’ imprisonment. Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former director of the GID, rejected calls for an international inquiry into Khashoggi’s murder and said that Saudi Arabia would never agree to an international investigation into the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2018 | Permalink

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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

Analysis: Is Putin planning to restore the Soviet-era KGB?

SVR hqLast week, following the results of Russia’s parliamentary election, Russian media run a story suggesting that the Kremlin is planning to implement far-reaching changes to the country’s intelligence apparatus. According to the Moscow-based daily Kommersant, the administration of President Vladimir Putin is considering merging Russia’s two major intelligence and counterterrorism agencies into one. Specifically, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, will merge with the FSB, the Federal Security Service, according to Kommersant. The merger will create a new amalgamated intelligence agency that will be named “Ministry of State Security”, or MGB, in Russian. The last time this title was used was from 1946 to 1953, during the last years of the reign of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. It was one of several agencies that were eventually combined to form the Soviet KGB in 1954.

If the Kommersant article is accurate, Russia’s two main intelligence agencies will merge after an institutional separation that has lasted a quarter of a century. They were separated shortly after the official end of the Soviet Union, in 1991, when it was recognized that the KGB was not under the complete control of the state. That became plainly obvious in August of that year, when the spy agency’s Director, Vladimir Kryuchkov, helped lead a military coup aimed at deposing Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The two new agencies were given separate mandates: the SVR inherited the mission of the KGB’s foreign intelligence directorates and focused on collecting intelligence abroad; the FSB, on the other hand, assumed the KGB’s counterintelligence and counterterrorist missions. A host of smaller agencies, including the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information (FAPSI), the Federal Protective Service (FSO) and others, took on tasks such as communications interception, border control, political protection, etc.

Could these agencies merge again after 25 years of separation? Possibly, but it will take time. An entire generation of Russian intelligence officers has matured under separate institutional roofs in the post-Soviet era. Distinct bureaucratic systems and structures have developed and much duplication has ensued during that time. If a merger was to occur, entire directorates and units would have to be restructured or even eliminated. Leadership roles would have to be purged or redefined with considerable delicacy, so as to avoid inflaming bureaucratic turf battles. Russian bureaucracies are not known for their organizational skills, and it would be interesting to see how they deal with the inevitable confusion of a possible merger. It could be argued that, if Putin’s goal is to augment the power of the intelligence services —which is doubtful, given their long history of challenging the power of the Kremlin— he would be better off leaving them as they are today.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 October 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

German cabinet approves spy service reform in wake of NSA controversy

BND - IAThe senior executive body of the German government has approved draft legislation that reforms the country’s intelligence services, following revelations that Germany helped the United States spy on European states. The legislation is seen as a response by the German government 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, in a move that surprised many. Gerhard Schindler, who had headed the BND since 2012, was replaced by Bruno Kahl, a senior official in the German Federal Ministry of Finance, who did not come from within the ranks of the BND. Additionally, the German chancellor authorized a parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the BND, which was completed last spring. The resulting 300-page report forms the basis of the draft legislation that was approved on Tuesday by the German cabinet.

The new legislation bans the BND 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”. This is taken to mean operations relating to suspected terrorist activity that directly threatens German national 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.

The legislation will need to be finalized through its approval by the German Federal Parliament, known as the Bundestag. The body is expected to approve the legislation before the beginning of its official summer break in mid-July.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 June 2016 | Permalink

Excessive secrecy hurts intel agencies, says head of NZ spy review

Sir Michael CullenA former deputy prime minister of New Zealand, who is heading a major review of intelligence practices in the country, has said in an interview that spy agencies hurt their mission by practicing excessive secrecy. Sir Michael Cullen served as finance minister, education minister and attorney-General before serving as deputy prime minister of New Zealand, from 2002 to 2008. He was recently appointed by the government to co-chair a broad review of state intelligence agencies, with particular focus on updating the applicable legislative framework and evaluating the oversight exercised by lawmakers and the executive. The review is expected to affect the work of New Zealand’s two most visible intelligence agencies, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau.

Last Saturday, Sir Michael spoke to TVNZ, New Zealand’s national television broadcaster, about the progress of the review, and shared some of his preliminary thoughts on the subject of intelligence practice and reform. He said in the interview that much of the documentation about intelligence processes and operations was being kept secret without apparent reason. “I’ve seen documents [from] briefings, which it would be hard to justify in my view those briefings not being made public”, he said. He added that there was “a need for the agencies to be much more open about what they do”, noting that sources and methods could be adequately protected through a careful process of redacting. The former deputy prime minister said that, ironically, the intelligence agencies are “their worst enemy by being so secretive about almost everything that they do”. Their attitude, he told TVNZ, negatively affected the level trust between them and the citizens they protect; the latter, he added, “would get a better idea of the need for the [intelligence] agencies if some of these documents were made public”.

Sir Michael also commented on New Zealand’s membership in the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’ alliance, which is part of the UKUSA intelligence-sharing treaty between it and the nations of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He told TVNZ that New Zealand had to share intelligence with allied nations, because it needed access to offshore information affecting its national security, which it cannot collect by itself. Some New Zealand politicians and pundits suggested that the country should exit the treaty after it was revealed last year that the US had been making use of New Zealand embassies around the world to collect electronic signals. In April of this year, The New Zealand Herald said that the country’s embassy in Bangladesh had been made available to British and American intelligence agencies to operate out of. Wellington’s relations with Dhaka have been strained as a result.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/21/01-1739/

News you may have missed #849 (analysis edition)

Edward SnowdenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Are American spies the next victims of the Internet age? The furor over the NSA’s data collection and surveillance programs has been fierce. But Daniel Prieto, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues that the debate should be focusing on the US intelligence apparatus, transformed in the dozen years since 9/11, can meet the challenges and that the US faces today and into the future. He asks whether the “business model” of US intelligence –how intelligence is gathered, analyzed, and used– is sufficient and sustainable, or whether it needs to evolve to “something different or something more”.
►►What did Edward Snowden get wrong? Everything. Andrew Liepman, senior analyst at RAND Corporation, former career officer at the CIA, and former deputy director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, offers an insider’s view on the Edward Snowden case. He argues that those following the Snowden saga fail to understand that the US government “truly does make strenuous efforts not to violate privacy”. This is not simply because it respects privacy on principle, he says, but also because “it simply doesn’t have the time” to access irrelevant information that is not closely connected to possible espionage or terrorist plots against Americans.
►►Why US diplomatic missions became fortresses. Even during the Cold War, American diplomatic facilities were designed to be welcoming and to project the American values of openness and individual liberty. No more, argues John Campbell, former US Ambassador to Nigeria and Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Nowadays, US diplomatic facilities increasingly showcase “Fortress America”, he argues. And he concludes that, “the need to subordinate so much to security diminishes US soft power by undermining its traditional message of openness and welcome”.