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”.

MI5 chief credited with ‘transforming the agency’ to step down

Jonathan EvansBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The head of MI5, Britain’s primary domestic intelligence agency, is to step down at the end of this month, it has been announced. Sir Jonathan Evans is widely credited with transforming MI5, also known as the Security Service, in one of the agency’s most turbulent periods following 9/11/2001. A career MI5 officer, Sir Jonathan entered MI5 in 1980 and eventually joined the agency’s G-Branch, which focuses on international counter-terrorism. He rose to lead G-Branch just 10 days before the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent launch of America’s ‘war on terrorism’. In 2005, Evans was faced with another major crisis as chief of G-Branch, when Britain suffered the bloody July 7 suicide attacks —also known as the 7/7 attacks— which killed 56 and injured nearly 1,000 people. Two years later, in 2007, he rose to the post of Director General at MI5, replacing Eliza Manningham-Buller (now Baroness Manningham-Buller), who had been only the second female intelligence officer to head the organization. Perhaps inevitably, considering world events, Evans helped steer MI5’s operational focus away from Irish republican groups and toward Islamist-inspired militancy in the United Kingdom and beyond. In early 2009, in a move that stunned some intelligence insiders, Evans gave the first public interview by a serving MI5 Director General in the organization’s 100-year history. He answered questions in a face-to-face interview with a carefully selected group of security correspondents representing a handful of British media outlets. The event was seen as reflecting a sea of change in the culture of MI5 —an agency that had never revealed the identities of its Director Generals until 1990. Later in the same year, however, Sir Jonathan caused controversy by suggesting during a public lecture that the intelligence extracted by torturing suspects after 9/11 had stopped “many attacks” on Western and other targets. Read more of this post

Secret report warns US spy mission distorted by ‘war on terror’

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
America’s concentration on the ‘war on terrorism’ has distorted the mission and scope of its Intelligence Community, according to a secret report commissioned by the White House. The classified report was compiled by the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which counsels Barack Obama on intelligence matters. It cautions the President that the intelligence output of organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency has been disabled by tunnel vision and operational fatigue in the pursuit of al-Qaeda. The study also states that the overwhelming focus on Islamic militancy has distracted US intelligence from focusing on state actors such as China, and has hampered the success American intelligence operations outside Muslim regions of the world. The Washington Post, which disclosed the existence of the report on Thursday, said the team of 14 advisers that produced the report was led by “influential figures” on Capitol Hill, such as Chuck Hagel, Obama’s new Secretary of Defense. The paper added that, based on comments made by senior Obama Administration officials in recent months, it appears that the classified study, which was authored last year, has been adopted by the Obama White House as a major policy directive. The Post suggested that the report prompted comments earlier this year by John O. Brennan, the CIA’s new Director, that he planned to reevaluate the Agency’s “allocation of mission” as a matter of priority. However, countering the operational fatigue caused by the nearly 15-year long ‘war on terrorism’ will take time, and it remains unclear whether agencies like the CIA can ever shed the paramilitary role they acquired under the Administration of US President George W. Bush. Read more of this post