Countries using Eastern Europe to flood Syria with weapons, study finds

AK-47Unprecedented quantities of weapons and ammunition worth in nearly $1.5 billion have been procured from Eastern Europe and sent to Syria to arm nearly every side in the ongoing civil war, a study has found. The weapons are transported through the Balkans and sold legally to countries bordering Syria, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Once there, they are secretly transported to Syria for use in the bloody five-year civil war, which has so far killed or displaced millions. The revelation resulted from a year-long investigative project by the Serbia-based Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) in the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in Bosnia.

The probe found that the weapons transferred to the Middle East include heavy machine guns, rocket and mortar launchers and shells, anti-tank weapons, as well as thousands of assault rifles and rounds of ammunition. Many originate from Ukraine, Belarus and the former Yugoslavia and are procured by companies in eight Eastern European countries including Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, and Bosnia. The governments of these countries give the companies permission to sell weapons to Middle Eastern countries, even though it is informally understood that they will eventually end up in Syria, in contravention of international agreements.

Investigators say the smuggled weapons have been traced to various factions fighting in Syria, primarily the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But many have ended up in the hands of Islamist militias, including the Islamic State, Ansar al-Islam, and the group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. Some of the weapons have also surfaced in Yemen, in the hands of Sunni fighters there. According to the probe’s findings, Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, whose militaries use Western-made weaponry, were never large purchasers of Eastern European weapons. But that quickly changed in 2012, as the Syrian Civil War picked up pace.

According to British newspaper The Guardian, which published some of the findings of the BIRN-OCCRP report, the United States has used this weapons-smuggling channel as a way to arm Syrian opposition forces. The study found that, since December of last year, the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command has commissioned at least three cargo ships that left ports in the Black Sea for the Middle East carrying weapons for Syria. Regular intelNews readers will remember a report from November 2013, according to which the Greek authorities seized a ship that had left Ukraine heading for Syria or Libya, carrying 20,000 AK-47s, as well as explosives and ammunition. Two years later, in November 2015, we reported on allegations that Ukraine may be secretly arming the Islamic State in an effort to impair its regional foe, Russia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 July 2016 | Permalink

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Analysis: CIA retains special operations role in post-9/11 era

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Despite its ‘shoot ’em-up’ image in popular culture, the Central Intelligence Agency is predominantly responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence for the benefit of US policymakers. The Agency’s paramilitary tasks —also known as ‘special operations’— form a somewhat smaller part of its overall mission. The CIA is America’s only government agency that can legally authorized by the President to perform special operations. The question is, should it? One of the 9/11 Commission Report’s chief recommendations was that the CIA should be stripped of its special operations function, and that the latter should be surrendered to the Department of Defense, in the form of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Clearly, JSOC has played an important role in post-9/11 counterterrorist operations. Yet it is equally clear that, not only has the CIA not been stripped of its paramilitary tasks, but the latter have actually been drastically augmented by the Obama administration —not least through the continuing unmanned drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A well-written analysis by Politico’s Josh Gerstein correctly notes that recommendations to eliminate the CIA’s paramilitary role and transfer it to the Pentagon “remain unpopular in the highest echelons”. The article quotes Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, who is one of the few intelligence planners that favor transferring special operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense. He says that military functions “ought to be performed by trained military organizations […]. Do you want the CIA operating a combatant command responsible for fighting our twilight wars, especially in a world when twilight wars are the wars we mainly fight?”. The argument seems to be that, as special operations become increasingly central in America’s ‘war on terrorism’, they should be commanded by a military, rather than a civilian, agency. An unnamed former CIA official puts forward the Agency’s view in the article: what do you do “if you have a [host] country that wants to deny a program”? In other words, how do you exercise plausible deniability through the Department of Defense? “[T]he CIA is going to [have to] move to the front of the queue”, he answers. Read more of this post

WikiLeaks documents reveal CIA’s role in Iraq

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Along with unprecedented inside information on American military operations in Iraq, the 400,000 US military reports recently released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks provide several interesting snippets of the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in that ongoing conflict. Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog correctly notes that, unlike Afghanistan, where the CIA’s role has been relatively clear almost from the very start of the US invasion, the Agency’s function in Iraq has been something of a mystery for most outside observers. There has even been some speculation that the CIA has been sidelined in Iraq by a host of Pentagon-managed special operations outfits, including the Joint Special Operations Command. But the WikiLeaks documents, which are primarily composed of incident reports authored by US troops on the ground in Iraq, include frequent references to operations by “Other Government Agency” or “OGA” —a term usually reserved for the CIA in internal military documents. Collectively, the reports referring to OGA activities reveal significant paramilitary functions performed by CIA personnel until as recently as 2009. Read more of this post

Obama extends ‘war on terrorism’ theater to Yemen

Sa’dah insurgents

Sa’dah rebels

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Think what you like about Barack Obama. The fact is, his administration is currently overseeing the most rapid expansion in the nine-year history of Washington’s so-called ‘war on terrorism’. The operations theater of this ever-expanding war now includes territories deep inside Pakistan (not just near the Afghan borderlands), as well as parts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. With respect to the latter, intelNews is one of a handful of specialized outlets that began paying attention to US involvement there before the US airstrikes of last December, which in the eyes of the Arab world, formalized America’s military presence in the country. As predicted at the time, the strikes, which were accompanied by a Saudi military invasion of Yemen, became a rallying cry for both Sunni and Shiite Islamists in the Yemen-Saudi border, and have caused increased activity by both Shiite (Sa’dah insurgency) and Sunni (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP) militants. Read more of this post

Analysis: Is an obscure US military unit replacing the CIA?

Joint Special Operations Command logo

JSOC logo

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An obscure US military unit established in 1980 is gaining prominence in America’s “war on terrorism” and may be slowly replacing the CIA’s functions, according to a well-researched piece in The Atlantic magazine. The US Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was created soon after the fiasco of the attempted rescue of the hostages held at the US embassy in Tehran. Since 9/11, the unit has emerged from its relative obscurity to join the forefront of America’s so-called “global war on terrorism”. Gathering evidence from a variety of sources investigating the use of paramilitary operations in America’s post-9/11 wars, Max Fisher argues that, even under the Obama Administration, JSOC may in fact be “taking on greater responsibility, especially in areas traditionally covered by the CIA”. Read more of this post

Secret CIA program involved assassinations of suspects

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Quoting “three former intelligence officials” The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that the secret CIA program, which recently alarmed Congress, involved summary killings and assassinations of al-Qaeda operatives. Although the plan’s details remain highly classified, it appears that the CIA sought to set up specialized assassination squads, staffed with US Special Forces personnel, in an attempt to copy the Israeli Mossad Operation Wrath of God (also known as Operation Bayonet) of the 1970s. Wrath of God, which involved targeted assassinations of individuals allegedly behind the 1972 Munich massacre, was described by Canadian journalist George Jonas in his 1984 book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, which also formed the basis for Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich. The Wall Street Journal quotes an anonymous former US intelligence official who describes the CIA plan as coming “straight out of the movies […]. It was like: Let’s kill them all”. Read more of this post