No signs of ISIS decline despite Western efforts, say US spy agencies

ISIS forces in RamadiInternal reports by American intelligence agencies say that the Islamic State remains strong in Iraq and Syria, and that the group has been able to effortlessly replace its 10,000 fighters who have been killed in the past year. Despite the over $1 billion spent in the war against it by the Syrian and Iraqi governments, as well as by the West, the militant group is “fundamentally no weaker” than it was a year ago, when the United States began a bombing campaign targeting Islamic State strongholds, according to the reports. The Associated Press, which published a summary of the assessment, said that it represents the views of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other members of the US Intelligence Community. Citing anonymous US officials, the news agency said that the overall assessment of the situation could be described as a “strategic stalemate”.

If the leaked assessment is accurate, it would directly contradict the views expressed recently by retired US Marine Corps General John Allen, who is serving as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. Speaking last week at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, General Allen argued that the Islamic State (known also as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) was “losing”. He added that “we have seen some significant progress” in the war against the group and said he believed that its “momentum has been checked strategically, operationally and, by and large, tactically”.

 But according to the Associated Press, US defense officials have seen “no meaningful degradation” in the numbers of ISIS fighters. They put the group’s current strength at between 20,000 and 30,000 uniformed troops, a number that is practically identical to that of August 2014, when the administration of US President Barack Obama initiated an air bombing campaign against ISIS targets. The intelligence assessments suggest that, not only is ISIS able to replenish its fighter ranks with new recruits from around the world, but that the group’s finances have not been significantly affected by the US air campaign. American fighter jets have repeatedly attacked ISIS-controlled oil installations in recent months; but the group has been able to rebuild its oil-drilling and -refining capacities, and continues to earn over $40 million a month from the sale of oil.

The reports go on to state that, based on current trends, it could take more than a decade before ISIS became weak enough to justify expectations that it could retreat from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 August 2015 | Permalink

We must spy because of Turks, ISIS, says outgoing Cyprus spy chief

CyprusThe head of the main intelligence agency of the island state of Cyprus has resigned after an invoice leaked online showed that the agency made several purchases of controversial surveillance software. Andreas Pentaras, who has led the Cyprus Intelligence Service (KYP) since 2013, resigned on Saturday, less than a week after an unidentified group of hackers posted the controversial invoice online. The document, leaked to British broadsheet The Guardian and posted on Cypriot news site Sigmalive, shows that the KYP made numerous purchases of communications surveillance software from an Italian manufacturer with a markedly poor standing among civil-liberties advocates. The company, Hacking Team Ltd, is believed to have sold powerful surveillance software to governments that have documented records of civil-rights violations, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

According to technical experts in Cyprus, the software purchased by KYP can intercept data exchanged via cellular phones and other wireless devices. It can also spy on all communications devices connected to the Internet using malware that is undetectable by commonly used antivirus software. Moreover, software supplied by Hacking Team cannot be removed from a compromised cellular device unless it is reset at the factory. Pentaras also came under pressure to resign because the interception of communications is currently outlawed by the Cypriot Constitution. In 2011, the Cypriot parliament amended the Constitution to allow communications interception in extreme circumstances, but the legal interpretation of the amendment has yet to be officially outlined and approved. Technically, therefore, the interception of communications by the KYP remains illegal.

In an official statement issued on Friday, Pentaras said the surveillance software was purchased because of “the need and importance of maintaining a reliable operational intelligence service due to the circumstances caused by the occupation and due to the asymmetric threats caused by the instability in our region”. He was referring to the presence of up to 45,000 Turkish troops in the northern part of the island, which Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a military coup organized by a group of far-right colonels who ruled Greece at the time. Pentaras was also referring to the arrest last month of a suspected Lebanese Hezbollah operative, who was captured in the Cypriot city of Larnaca while in possession of 67 thousand packages of ammonium nitrate. In September of last year, Pentaras said it was possible that Sunni nationalists in occupied north Cyprus were assisting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to Cypriot media, the country’s President, Nicos Anastasiades, accepted Pentaras’ resignation, saying he did so “in order to protect the commendable accomplishments of the KYP in recent years”. Late on Saturday, another Cypriot senior official, Public Health Minister Filippos Patsalis, surrendered from his post. Sources from Nicosia said that Patsalis’ resignation was not related to the KYP controversy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/07/13/01-1733/