Late Taliban leader’s regular trips to Iran helped US spies track him down

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad MansourFrequent trips to Iran caused the demise of the late leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a secret American operation on May 21. The death of Mansour, who had led the Afghan Taliban since July 2015, when he succeeded Mullah Mohammad Omar, was announced by the Taliban on May 26. Early reports stated that Mansour was killed while traveling to the Pakistani city of Quetta from Iran. He is believed to have been visiting family or seeking medical treatment in Iran, which he appears to have entered using a forged passport.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States found out in February that Mansour made regular trips to Iran, as well as the precise route that the Taliban leader took to enter the country. American intelligence agencies also received “details about the devices [Mansour] used for communications” while in Iran. They then intercepted communications from Iran that matched Mansour’s electronic signature and followed these signals across the border into Pakistan. The Taliban leader entered Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on Saturday, May 21. Once in Pakistan, Mansour entered a Toyota Corolla, believed to be a taxi, and made his way through the N-40 National Highway, heading to Quetta.

The Journal report states that the Taliban were aware that Baluchistan’s airspace is outside the Central Intelligence Agency drones’ operational area, and thus “felt more comfortable there”. Indeed, the paper claims that no CIA drones were actively targeting Mansour at the time. However, US President Barack Obama had given ordered the Joint Special Operations Command to have the Taliban leader killed. Reaper drones were deployed to launch two Hellfire missiles at Mansour’s car, which was totaled, killing the Taliban commander and his driver. According to the Journal, the White House had decided to ambush Mansour before he entered the city of Quetta, in order to prevent civilian casualties. After firing at it, the American drones hovered over the remains of Mansour’s vehicle to ensure that there were no survivors, before exiting Pakistani airspace.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 May 2016 | 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

News you may have missed #717

Lieutenant General Michael FlynnBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►CIA wants more drone strikes in Yemen. The CIA is seeking permission to launch more airborne drone strikes in Yemen, even when there is a risk the victims might not always be terrorists, The Washington Post reports. The paper quotes an unnamed Obama administration official saying that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States”. But critics of the drone program say killings of innocent victims could become more common if the strikes are expanded. The CIA proposal for the “signature strikes” is awaiting a decision by the National Security Council, The Post quotes unnamed US officials as saying.
►►US military intelligence critic to lead spy agency. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who once blasted the work of US military spies in Afghanistan as “only marginally relevant”, has been nominated to take over the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the US Pentagon’s intelligence organization. Flynn was a scathing public critic of military intelligence in Afghanistan, where he served as a top intelligence officer in 2010, saying it failed to provide decision makers with a clear picture of conditions on the ground. Flynn is credited with playing an influential role during his tenure at Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive headquarters that oversees elite commandos like the team that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
►►Taiwanese man detained for spying for China. A Taiwanese businessman, identified by his surname Cheng, has been detained for allegedly spying for China. He was allegedly recruited by China when he moved to the southeastern coastal province of Fujian to do business a few years ago, prosecutors said. Cheng is accused of trying to lure a former classmate, who is now a military officer, to meet with Chinese officials abroad for money; but the officer turned him in to Taiwanese authorities.

News you may have missed #681

Vladimir NesteretsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Mossad ‘bolsters activity in Tunisia’. The Mossad has bolstered its activity in several Tunisian cities since the start of the revolt that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last January, Tunisian magazine Al-Musawar has reported. According to the magazine, the Israeli intelligence agency has been working with its US-based counterpart, the CIA, to revive its spy network in post-revolution Tunisia.
►►US ‘used quake’ to send Special Forces into Pakistan. The US Pentagon used the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 to send operatives from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) into Pakistan, reveals a new book by D.B Grady and Marc Ambinder, entitled The Command: Deep Inside the President’s Secret Army. The authors claim that dozens of CIA operatives and contractors entered Pakistan using valid US passports and posing as construction and aid workers, thus avoiding the requisite background checks from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
►►Russian officer convicted of spying for CIA. A Russian military court last week convicted Lt. Col. Vladimir Nesterets of providing the CIA with secret information on Russia’s new intercontinental ballistic missiles and sentenced him to 13 years in prison. The officer pleaded guilty to passing on that classified information in exchange for money, said the Federal Security Service, the main agency that replaced the Soviet-era KGB. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted the officer’s wife, Irina, as saying she could not understand the guilty plea because her husband had told her he did nothing wrong and had not betrayed his country.

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

Comment: Some early remarks on bin Laden’s assassination

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
It is tempting to consider the impact of Osama bin Laden’s assassination on al-Qaeda-inspired groups and, more broadly, on America’s “global war on terrorism”. Yet any such endeavor at this point would be inevitably speculative. The truth is, nobody has the slightest idea of the possible strategic spillover of bin Laden’s killing, and this includes the White House, the CIA and NATO. There are, however, some general remarks, mostly of operational nature, that can safely be made on the basis of the limited factual information that has been made available. To begin with, it appears that the assassination of al-Qaeda’s senior figurehead was conducted by ground forces, and not remotely, as has been the case with the vast majority of US assassination operations carried out in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the past several years. This potentially strengthens the argument, made frequently by Western and Pakistani officials, that significant achievements in the field of counterterrorism can only be conducted by surgical-type ground operations, based on accurate and actionable intelligence.

Read more of this post

US considering CIA targeted killings in Yemen

Yemen

Yemen

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The White House is considering an unprecedented expansion of operations by the Central Intelligence Agency in Yemen, following last week’s foiled toner cartridge bomb plot. There are reports that the plot, which appears to have originated in Yemen, and was foiled through a last-minute tip from Saudi intelligence, may tip the balance in Washington in favor of those wishing to enhance the CIA’s activities in Yemen’s Sunni areas. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration is close to authorizing the CIA’s use of unmanned drones to bomb suspected targets in Yemen, something that the Agency has been doing for over a year in Pakistan. But there also appears to be a wider consensus forming in favor of authorizing covert targeted killings inside Yemen by Special Forces operating on the ground under Langley’s command. This consensus appears to be forming in both civilian and military circles in Washington, despite fears that such tactics may backlash, leading to a severance of ties between the United States and the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Journal article mentions that the White House is now considering authorizing the CIA to conduct targeted killings “even without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government”. Read more of this post

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