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

Iraq now using Russian intelligence in war against Islamic State

Baghdad IraqThe Iraqi government is now using intelligence supplied by the Russian military in its war against the Islamic State, according to officials in Baghdad. As intelNews reported in September, the Iraqi Joint Forces Command announced it had entered a formal intelligence-sharing agreement with the governments of Russia, Syria and Iran. The purpose of the collaboration was to defeat the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that currently controls a third of Iraq’s territory and much of neighboring Syria. Many were surprised by last month’s announcement, as it was the first time that Iraq, an American ally, had entered an alliance with Washington’s Cold-War adversary Russia, as well as with Iran and Syria, two countries with which the United States has no diplomatic relations.

According to US media reports, the headquarters of the intelligence-sharing center is located in Baghdad’s so-called Green Zone, where US forces were stationed until 2012. Each of the member states has six officers at center, who are given intelligence by their respective countries’ militaries with the intent of sharing it with the other three participating militaries. In addition to these officers, there are two Russian one-star generals stationed at the center, according to The Washington Times, which cited “an Iraqi official who asked not to be identified”.

Back in September, when the four-partite agreement was announced, the US said it respected Iraq’s freedom to enter into security pacts with regional governments, but warned that Syria was a major violator of human rights and should not be part of the intelligence-sharing treaty. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he could see no reason why Baghdad would want to enter into an intelligence-sharing agreement with Moscow, given that the US-led coalition had been sharing intelligence with Iraq for over a year. The coalition’s intelligence collaboration with Baghdad had “worked effectively with the Iraqis to make progress against [the Islamic State] inside of Iraq”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 October 2015 | Permalink

New study documents views of defectors from Islamic State

Islamic State convoy in SyriaA new study by a British-based organization details for the first time the views of dozens of former Islamic State fighters who have defected from the group in the past year. The study shows that most defectors were disillusioned after witnessing high levels of corruption among Islamic State members, or in response to the extreme violence perpetrated by the group against other Sunni Muslims. The research was carried out by the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR), which said it gathered the publicly expressed views of nearly 60 Islamic State members who left the organization between August 2014 and August 2015.

According to ICSR Director Peter Neumann, who authored the report (.pdf), just over 30 percent of the defectors from the Islamic State are Syrian citizens, while one in four were born in other Middle Eastern countries. Neumann told a press conference held in London on Monday that many of the defectors saw life under the rule of the Islamic State as too austere. They also believed that the group was too unforgiving against fellow Sunni Muslims who did not agree with its stern doctrine. Some of the defectors complained that Islamic State commanders were more interested in launching attacks against other Sunni rebel groups than against the government of Syria, which is ostensibly the Islamic State’s foremost rival. Additionally, some defectors said that Islamic State commanders were obsessed and paranoid about alleged traitors and spies within the group’s ranks, and that they often ordered the execution of Islamic State fighters based on little or no evidence.

A smaller number of defectors said they had experienced racism from other Islamic State members, while others said that combat duties under Islamic State command was neither action-filled nor heroic. Moreover, luxury goods looted from civilians were rarely handed down to regular Islamic State troops by their commanders. Some defectors also stated that non-Arab fighters were used “as cannon fodder” by the Islamic State in battles that took place in Syria and Iraq. Neumann told reporters on Monday that the ICSR study challenged the portrayal of harmony and dedication that the Islamic State had carefully cultivated on social media.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2015 | Permalink

Pentagon continues to probe ISIS reports after US intel analysts “revolt”

ISIS - JFThe United States Department of Defense is still probing claims that some of its officials doctored intelligence reports to give a falsely optimistic account of the campaign against the Islamic State. IntelNews has followed this story since late August, after initial reports surfaced in The New York Times. The reports suggested that at least one analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency, had complained that reports about ISIS 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. Some of the reports related to al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Syria, but most were about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the militant Sunni organization that controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

According to The Daily Beast, more than 50 intelligence analysts from the DIA have now 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 organization. The website said that some of the analysts have been complaining for months about what they describe as the deliberate politicization of their reports by CENTCOM. But their complaints are now part of an official investigation into the matter by the Inspector General. The latter is required to produce a report with the intelligence oversight committees of the US Congress.

The Daily Beast said that its reporting was based on nearly a dozen individuals who were “knowledgeable about the details of the report”. But it said that it would not name its sources due to the sensitivity of the case. It did, however, quote one source, who described case as “a revolt” by intelligence analysts. Another source described the altering of the analysts’ intelligence reports as a “cancer […] within the senior level of the intelligence command”. A source identified only as “a defense official”, told the website that the analysts’ “revolt” was prompted by the experience of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. At that time, “poorly written intelligence reports suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, when it did not, formed the basis of the George W. Bush administration’s case for war”, said the official. And continued: the analysts “were frustrated because they didn’t do the right thing then and speak up about their doubts on Iraq’s weapons program”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 September 2015 | Permalink

Islamic State forces are engaging in chemical warfare, says German intelligence

Mustard gas chemical warfareGermany’s foreign intelligence agency says it has evidence that the Islamic State is making use of chemical weapons in northern Iraq, according to media reports. The German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, says its operatives in the Middle East were able to collect biological samples from Kurdish fighters engaged in battles against the Islamic State forces. The samples pointed to chemical poisoning that most likely came from sulfur mustards, more commonly known as mustard gas. The chemical, which is banned from use in warfare by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, causes skin irritation that gets progressively worse until sufferers develop debilitating blisters filled with yellow fluid.

Earlier this month there were unconfirmed reports that the Islamic State had used a type of poisonous gas against fighters in the Syrian town of Marea, a stronghold of the Free Syrian Army that is located just north of Aleppo. But no evidence was provided at that time to show that the poisonous substances were indeed chemical weapons. On Monday, however, the Director of the BND, Gerhard Schindler, was quoted in the German press as saying that his officers had gathered credible “information that the Islamic State used mustard gas in northern Iraq”. Schindler said that the information was derived from blood samples that were voluntarily provided by Kurdish fighters that suffered blisters during battles against Islamic State forces.

The BND has not yet answered the question of where the Islamic State managed to acquire its mustard gas supplies. Some allegedly believe that they came from old stockpiles produced during the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, for use by the Iraqi armed forces. Others claim that Islamic State scientists produced the mustard gas from scratch using laboratories in the University of Mosul, a largely Kurdish city that has been occupied by Islamic State forces since the summer of 2014. Asked to comment on the BND report, a spokeswoman for the United States Department of Defense refused to “comment on intelligence or operational matters”, but added that, if confirmed, the use of chemical weapons “by any party […] is an abhorrent [and] reprehensible act”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 September 2015 | Permalink

Obama authorizes Special Forces, CIA, to conduct assassinations in Syria

Islamic State convoy in SyriaThe United States Central Intelligence Agency is collaborating with the country’s Special Forces in a targeted killing program aimed against senior members of the Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria. The program, which has been directly authorized by US President Barack Obama, is limited in scope and has so far involved fewer than a dozen strikes against suspected militants. But it is believed to reflect increasing frustration in Washington about the lack of progress shown by the military campaign against the Islamic State. Recent reports by American intelligence agencies confirm that the militant group is “fundamentally no weaker” today than it was a year ago, despite an intense US-led bombing campaign involving thousands of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

The Washington Post, which revealed the existence of the program on Tuesday, said it brought together the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CTC is believed to be primarily responsible for identifying and locating senior Islamic State figures in Syria, while the JSOC is in charge of killing them, mostly through the use of unmanned drones, according the paper. The two agencies continue to operate separate drone centers, said The Post, in Virginia and North Carolina respectively; but they have exchanged several of advisors who have constant access to each other’s drone video feeds.

The goal of the targeted killing program is to assassinate what the CIA refers to as “high-value targets”, which includes Islamic State leaders and those members of the organization whose job is to build a membership base outside the territorial boundaries or the Islamic State’s self-described caliphate. The Post said that the list of Islamic State members killed by the CIA-JSOC program includes Junaid Hussain, a British citizen who was instrumental in building and maintaining the Islamic State’s outreach campaign on social media. The paper noted that the CIA-JSOC targeted killing campaign is not part of the wider American military offensive against the Islamic State.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 01 September 2015 | Permalink

US Pentagon probing claims of falsely optimistic intel reports on ISIS

ISIS forces in RamadiThe United States Department of Defense is investigating claims that some of its officials doctored intelligence reports to give a falsely optimistic account of the campaign against the Islamic State. Citing “several officials familiar with the inquiry”, The New York Times said in a leading article on Tuesday that the Pentagon launched a probe into the allegations in recent weeks. According to the paper, the probe was launched following a complaint filed by at least one analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency. According to the analyst, intelligence reports were 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. The reports related to the Islamic State, known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a militant Sunni organization that currently controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Many Middle East observers, including this website, have made notably dire projections about the continuing reinforcement and territorial expansion of ISIS. Earlier this month, the Associated Press published an unconfirmed assessment of a “strategic stalemate” in Syria, which allegedly represented the views of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the DIA and other members of the US Intelligence Community. According to the news agency, the report said that ISIS is “fundamentally no weaker” today than it was a year ago, when the United States began a bombing campaign targeting ISIS strongholds.

But earlier assessments by DIA, which were communicated to senior US policymakers, including President Barack Obama, were far more optimistic about America’s ability to defeat the militant group, said The Times. According to the paper, the DIA analyst had evidence showing that CENTCOM officials had systematically doctored the conclusions of intelligence reports about ISIS before passing them on to American leaders. It appears that the evidence pointing to deliberate manipulation of intelligence assessments was convincing enough to prompt the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General to launch an official probe into the matter.

When asked to respond to The Times’ allegations, CENTCOM spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said he was unable to comment on an ongoing investigation by the Inspector General. If the allegations are substantiated by the probe, the Inspector General is legally required to share them with the intelligence oversight committees of the US Congress.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 August 2015 | Permalink

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

Army colonel who joined ISIS was trained in the United States

Gulmurod KhalimovA former army colonel and police commander in Tajikistan, who features in a new Islamic State propaganda video, was trained in counterterrorism by the United States government, according to officials. Until earlier this year, Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov was a commander in Tajikistan’s Special Purpose Mobile Units. Known commonly as OMON, these elite units are a cross between anti-riot corps and counterterrorism forces. They date from the Soviet era and are common features of the law enforcement architecture of most former Soviet republics, including Tajikistan, whose population is 98 percent Muslim.

The government of Tajikistan launched an extensive search campaign in April of this year, following the mysterious disappearance of Colonel Khalimov. But the police commander reappeared on Wednesday in a video published online by the militant group Islamic State, which also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). In the video, Khalimov is seen wearing a black ISIS combat uniform and brandishing a sniper rifle. Speaking in Russian, he warns Russian and American citizens that ISIS will “find your towns, we will come to your homes and we will kill you, God willing”. He also states in the video that he participated in a number of counterterrorist training programs on American soil between 2003 and 2007. At least one of these programs, which were presumably funded by Washington, took place in the US state of Louisiana. Khalimov adds —without providing details— that it was the things he experienced during these training programs that led him to join ISIS.

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the US Department of State told CNN that Khalimov was indeed among an elite group of Tajik counterterrorism operatives who took part in five training courses funded by the US government. The funding was reportedly provided under the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security and Anti-Terrorism Assistance program, which is designed to “train candidates in the latest counterterrorism tactics”. Ironically, these tactics are meant to be employed against groups like ISIS, which Khalimov appears to have joined. A report on CNN notes that counterterrorism experts are now concerned that Khalimov’s defection to ISIS will give the group invaluable insider’s knowledge of counterterrorism techniques, as taught by US instructors.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/01/01-1706/

Analysis: Having taken Ramadi and Palmyra, ISIS is now unstoppable

ISIS forces in RamadiThe capture by Islamic State forces of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, on May 17, has given the organization a fortified urban base less than an hour’s drive from Baghdad. Its near-simultaneous takeover of the central Syrian city of Palmyra, points to the organization’s permanence and demonstrates its widening operational span, which now ranges from Western Libya to the Iranian border. Without an all-out war effort by outside forces, such as Iran, or the United States, it is difficult to see how the Islamic State could be stopped from permanently establishing itself as a major actor in the region, especially since no outside force appears willing to confront it directly.

On Tuesday, Iraqi government forces launched a major offensive to recapture Ramadi from the Islamic State —which is widely referred to in the West as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Such an effort, however, will be extremely difficult and costly, both in terms of lives and material requirements. Ramadi is a sizable city of over 900,000 people —although several thousand civilians have left— and presents an attacker with an urban-warfare setting that can be extremely arduous to operate in. Moreover, Ramadi is a solidly Sunni city, with strong ties to the pre-2003 Iraqi military establishment that date back to the early days of Saddam Hussein’s rule. Even if they do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with ISIS, Ramadi’s Sunni inhabitants are bound to fight doggedly against the Iraqi army, which is currently dominated by Shiites. Thus, if ISIS decides to hold on to Ramadi for reasons of strategy, or to defend its prestige, it will be very surprising if the Iraqi army manages to recapture it. Even if ISIS is driven out of the city, most likely with significant Iranian and American assistance, there is no guarantee that the local population will be Q Quotepacified. Iraqi government forces will almost certainly face a protracted armed campaign by a mixture of heavily armed groups in the city. Some of these groups are led by ISIS, some are inspired by al-Qaeda, while others are motivated by a broader anti-Shiite sentiment, which is currently the predominant political ideology in Anbar Province.

On May 20, ISIS forces also captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The choice of target was neither spontaneous nor unexpected. Located right in the center of Syria, Palmyra forms one of two major land routes used by the government of Iran to transport military materiel to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah, which, like Iran, supports the Syrian government in Damascus, also acquires Iranian weapons through that route. The second main route, which passes through Deir el-Zor, and Raqqah, is already controlled by ISIS. Therefore, the Syrian regime, which depends largely on Iranian support for its survival, simply has to retake Palmyra if it wants to win its war against ISIS. The Islamists know this, however, and they will persistently resist any attempt by the Syrian troops to regain control of the city. As is typical in these situations, time will be crucial here. The more time ISIS has on its hands, the better it will be able to fortify and defend Palmyra. The Syrian military will most likely resort to bombing the city from the air, but this is not as easy as it used to be, because ISIS now has formidable antiaircraft capabilities. Moreover, at some point land forces will have to be used, and that is precisely where ISIS has the upper hand in Syria.

On Sunday, United States Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told CNN that, in his view, Ramadi fell to ISIS because “the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight”. Carter was right, except when he used the term “Iraqi forces”, he really meant Iraqi Shiites. There are currently almost no Sunnis left in the Iraqi Armed Forces. Most are unwilling to offer allegiance to a state that is dominated by Iran, which they see as not representing them, or indeed threatening their very existence. For that same reason, many Sunnis are now actively fighting in support of ISIS, or for Sunni tribes that Q Quoteare aligned to it. Iraqi Sunnis believe that if they lose the fight against the Iraqi military they will be extinct as a people, which explains why they are fighting with more zeal and determination than their Shiite compatriots.

Meanwhile the international anti-ISIS alliance is plagued by too many disagreements and political bad blood to be effective. The United States wants ISIS to lose, but no American president would consider sending large numbers of US troops back in the Middle East, after the fiasco in Iraq. Additionally, Washington does not want to be seen to cooperate with what is perhaps ISIS’ most formidable adversary, namely Iran. Saudi Arabia is nominally against ISIS, but it also knows that if ISIS loses in their war against the Iranians, the latter will simply dominate the region, and nobody in Riyadh wants this. Like Saudi Arabia, Turkey is ostensibly against ISIS, but it is also against the Kurds, who are currently being assisted by Iran to fight ISIS. It is therefore not assisting the war effort as much as it could.

This fragmentation within the anti-ISIS front will continue. It seems that everyone in the region is waiting for a new administration to emerge in Washington after the 2016 national elections, in the hope that the US will engage more directly in the war effort. However, unless ISIS directly attacks the US in a 9/11-type attack, it is difficult to see Washington taking a more active stance in this chaotic and unpredictable war. It is difficult to see this amidst the bloody suffering of the local people, but this war is in essence a multifaceted chess game, in which there are no genuine alliances. Every actor involved appears to be trying to promote their own narrowly defined national interests.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/05/27/01-1704/

Al-Qaeda still a more serious threat than ISIS, says ex-CIA official

Al-Qaeda in YemenAl-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose the most serious unconventional threat to American security, despite the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, according to a former senior official in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Michael Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA, and served twice as the Agency’s acting director, did not deny that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, poses a significant threat to the security of the US. However, the militant group “is not the most significant threat to the homeland today”, he said. Morell made the comment while speaking on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, while promoting his new book, The Great War of Our Time: An Insider’s Account of the CIA’s Fight Against Al Qa’ida.

The former CIA official told his audience that the most serious unconventional threat to the US continues to come from three al-Qaeda groups, all of which remain far cogent and willing to engage the US on its home soil. According to Morell, the three groups consist of the so-called ‘al-Qaeda Central’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as its Syrian branch, known as the Khorasan Group, and its Yemen affiliate, which goes by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He added that the last three serious efforts to strike the US with the intent of causing mass casualties all came from AQAP. Morell was referring to the 2009 so-called ‘underwear bomber’ and the 2010 ‘ink-cartridge bomb plot’, as well as the ‘plastic suicide vest bomb pot’ in 2012, all of which were unsuccessful. The former CIA official said that, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has “the ability to bring down an airliner in the US tomorrow”. Most importantly, he added, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has shown willingness to confront America on its home soil.

Morell’s argument echoed similar comments expressed in September 2014 by the then-Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen. Olsen, who held the US’ most senior counterterrorism post until his retirement last year, opined at a forum in Washington that ISIS did not currently pose a direct threat to America or Western Europe. He added that the risk of a “spectacular, al-Qaeda-style attack” on American or European targets by ISIS was negligible, saying that ISIS was “significantly more limited than al-Qaeda”, especially in the run-up to 9/11.

ISIS leader al-Baghdadi mortally wounded in airstrike, say sources

Abu Bakr al-BaghdadiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The spiritual leader of the Islamic State is wounded so severely that he is no longer able to command the group’s daily activities, according to sources in Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a Sunni Islamic cleric who grew up in Samarra, Iraq, was appointed leader of the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in May of 2010. Since that time he has served as the public face of the group, which has conquered territory in Iraq and Syria that is equal to that of Great Britain.

For over a month now, reports have emerged in various Arab media suggesting that al-Baghdadi is seriously hurt and fighting for his life. But there has been no confirmation of his whereabouts or fate. On Tuesday, however, British newspaper The Guardian said it had concrete information that the ISIS leader is wounded so gravely that he is unable to supervise the day-to-day operations of the group.

Citing sources in Iraq, including an Iraqi adviser and a Western diplomat posted there, the British broadsheet said al-Baghdadi was seriously wounded on March 18 during an airstrike on an ISIS convoy. The attack allegedly took place in al-Baaj, a Sunni-dominated tribal region of Nineveh Province, in northwestern Iraq. The area is located near the Syrian border, 200 miles west of the city of Mosul, a Sunni stronghold that is currently ruled by ISIS forces. According to the The Guardian’s sources, the ISIS convoy was attacked by jet fighters for routine tactical reasons. Neither the pilots, nor the commanders of the operation, were aware that al-Baghdadi was among the convoy’s passengers. The ISIS leader sustained life-threatening injuries and was unconscious when he was taken at a nearby hospital. Since then he has been recovering, but his life is still under threat.

One source told The Guardian that at one point last month, senior ISIS commanders called for an urgent meeting to appoint a new Emir (leader) for the group, because they were convinced that al-Baghdadi was on the verge of death. They eventually decided, however, to wait until after al-Baghdadi’s demise before appointing a new Emir. Since the ISIS leader’s wounding, the group’s Shura (consultative) councils have taken on an increasingly prominent decision-making role, says the paper.

Captured files reveal new information about structure, history of ISIS

ISIS parade in SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A folder of secret documents, drafted by a senior commander of the Islamic State, reveals previously unknown information about the origins, meticulous planning and intelligence structure of the organization. Among other things, the documents show that the organization, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had plans to capture territory in both countries as early as 2010 —several years before its existence was even known. The folder belonged to Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a military general and political ally of Iraq’s late leader, Saddam Hussein. Better known as Haji Bakr, the former Baathist general became a founding member of ISIS and helped shape the organization until his death in a firefight in 2014. Following his demise, an unnamed informant stole the documents and secretly smuggled them into Turkey. It was there that German investigative newsmagazine Der Spiegel accessed them. On Saturday, following months of research, the newsmagazine published its findings based on the stolen documents. They reveal important information about the history and structure of the mysterious organization known as ISIS.

Der Spiegel notes in its analysis that Bakr himself is characteristic of the complexity of ISIS, which today controls territory equal to approximately that of Great Britain in both Iraq and Syria. Before the United States invasion, the former Iraqi general was a typical Baathist, who, like the regime he served, expressed strong secular views. But he became violently bitter in 2003, when he found himself unemployed and stripped of his status after the invading US forces dissolved the Iraqi military. He eventually joined a number of other unemployed former Baathist military and intelligence officers and decided to launch a counteroffensive against the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government. In 2010, this group of conspirators decided to inculcate their group with a Sunni religious identity, for reasons of political expediency. It was then that they appointed a highly educated and charismatic Sunni cleric, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the ideological face of the organization. In late 2012, the group began to actively exploit the chaos caused by the Syrian Civil War as an opportunity to capture territory in Syria, and then use it as a base to invade Iraq. The plan worked.

The folder acquired by Der Spiegel contains handwritten fragments from 31 different pages bearing organizational charts, lists of ISIS officials, as well as programmatic schedules. It reveals a hierarchical organizational structure with direct and indirect chains of command, which reach all the way down to local cells. According to the documents, these cells were initially set up in disguised form, so as to resemble Islamic schools or missionary facilities. Today these have expanded to include detention facilities, weapons depots, as well as a complex structure of Sharia-compliant educators, judges and enforcers. The organization also has an elaborate intelligence structure, which appears to undertake daily surveillance and security tasks. The latter depend on an army of officers, agents and informants, many of whom are as young as 16.

The documents detail several ISIS espionage operations in Syria and Iraq, which include meticulous studies of power structures of the local tribes. These were done in an effort to detect what Der Spiegel describes as “age-old faults within the deep layers of [tribal] society]”, and were then used by ISIS to divide and eventually subjugate dissident elements within the territory under their control. In other cases, informants were instructed to detect the personal weaknesses and faults of local leaders, which were subsequently used to blackmail them. Priority was given to recruiting members of powerful families, so as to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge”, Spiegel notes.

ISIS has lost control of most oil fields: German intelligence report

Guard at a northern Iraq oil fieldBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Islamic State has lost control of approximately 95 percent of its oil production capacity following the advancing Iraqi counteroffensive, according to a leaked German intelligence report. Last June, a massive offensive by armed members of the Islamic state, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), conquered much of northern Iraq, including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. As the crumbling Iraqi army kept hastily retreating south, ISIS forces encountered almost no resistance during their onslaught.

In the past two months, however, a large-scale counter-offensive by Iraqi forces and irregular Shiite militias, supported by Iran and the United States, has reclaimed much of the land previously occupied by ISIS. Earlier this month, Iraqi forces recaptured the strategically located city of Tikrit, in a move that is widely viewed as the greatest victory so far for the anti-ISIS forces.

Along with Tikrit, Iraqi forces have managed to recapture a number of oil fields, which provided ISIS with a lucrative source of income for much of the past year. On Thursday, German broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung cited a leaked intelligence report that claimed ISIS had lost control of “a minimum of three oil fields” in northern Iraq. The Munich-based newspaper said it had seen a report on the subject authored by the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. According to the report, the Iraqi counteroffensive had reclaimed all but one of the ISIS-controlled oil fields in the country.

The BND documents state that the ISIS government now only controls the Qayara oil field, located in Iraq’s southeastern Nineveh province. The oil field’s daily output capacity of around 2,000 barrels leaves ISIS with only “five percent of the extraction capacity” it had before the Iraqi counteroffensive, says the paper. Moreover, satellite images taken last March show that retreating ISIS forces set fire to two of the largest oil fields in their possession, the Ajil and Himrin facilities. That, according to the BND, shows that ISIS were themselves pessimistic about being able to reclaim these oil fields from the Iraqi forces.

Turkish media disclose identity of alleged spy for Canada

Mohammed al-RashedBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Turkish media have released the name, as well as video footage, of an alleged agent for Canadian intelligence, who says he helped three British schoolgirls travel to territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The three girls, aged between 15 and 16 years old, crossed into ISIS-controlled territory on February 17, after traveling by plane from London to Istanbul. The incident prompted international criticism of the Turkish government’s hands-off attitude toward a growing influx of Western Islamists who cross into Syria from Turkey, intent on joining ISIS. However, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that the girls had been assisted by an intelligence agent working for a member-state of the military coalition fighting ISIS.

The minister declined to offer further details. But Turkish media eventually disclosed the identity of the alleged agent, who has been detained by authorities in Turkey as Mohammed al-Rashed. Also known as “Mohammed Mehmet Rashid” or “Dr. Mehmet Rashid”, the man is a Syrian national who claims to be working for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. According to Turkey’s pro-government daily Sabah, al-Rashed is a 28-year-old Syrian dentist who fled from Syria to Jordan in 2013 to escape the civil war there. While in Jordan, he sought asylum at the Canadian embassy in Amman. He was subsequently offered Canadian citizenship, said Sabah, in return for working as an agent of CSIS. According to the Turkish daily, al-Rashed then traveled to Canada, where he stayed for several months before returning to Jordan.

Sources in Turkey say al-Rashed explained upon his detention that he had been tasked by CSIS to uncover the methods by which European and American ISIS recruits travel to Syria through Turkey. For that reason, he said, he had helped at least 15 individuals, including the three British schoolgirls, cross form Turkey to Syria. He would then provide information on the transfers —including passport data and baggage tags— to the Canadian embassy in Jordan, he said. Sabah added that the Canadians would pay for al-Rashed’s frequent trips to Jordan, where he would meet a Canadian embassy employee called “Matt”, who would then pass on the information to his superior at the embassy, called “Claude”. The Syrian alleged agent added that CSIS would compensate him for his work through frequent deposits of between $800 and $1,500 made to bank accounts opened in his name in British banks. Turkish sources added that al-Rashed had recorded details of his activities on a personal laptop, which had been seized and was being examined.

The Canadian government has yet to comment publicly on the allegations about al-Rashed. Unnamed Canadian sources said last week that he was neither a Canadian citizen nor a CSIS employee. But officials so far refused to speculate on what they describe as “operational matters of national security”.