Pakistani Taliban leaders found dead in Kabul hotel, culprits unknown

Inter-Continental Hotel KabulTwo senior members of the Pakistani Taliban, who were carrying fake identification documents, were reportedly assassinated earlier this month in the vicinity of a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul. The culprits remain unknown, although the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban has blamed the United States for their death.

According to the BBC, which reported on the incident on Friday, the bodies of the two men were found in or near the Inter-Continental, a five-star hotel located in western Kabul. According to Afghan government sources, the two men were carrying forged identification papers. In a statement issued on Thursday, the Pakistani Taliban identified the dead men as Sheikh Khalid Haqqani and Qari Saif Younis. Sheikh Haqqani had served as the group’s deputy leader, and was a member of its leadership council. Younis was among the group’s most powerful military commanders.

The Pakistani Taliban said that the two men had secretly traveled to Kabul from Paktika, a Taliban stronghold in the east-central region of Afghanistan, in order to attend a high-level meeting. The group did not say who the two men were meeting and why. But it is rare for leading figures of the Pakistani Taliban to leave the areas that the group controls, and even rarer for them to travel to Kabul or any other big city in the region.

The statement from the Pakistani Taliban claimed that the two men were killed “in a clash with American forces”. But the BBC quoted an unnamed “source within the group” who said that they could also have been targeted by militant groups linked to the Pakistani government, which is a sworn enemy of the Pakistani Taliban. United States officials have yet to comment on this developing story.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 February 2020 | Permalink

Australian spy agency reviews gun policy after ‘drunken episode’ in Afghanistan

Australian Special Air Service RegimentThe use of firearms by Australian intelligence and security personnel stationed abroad is being reviewed following an incident in which an intoxicated special forces soldier pulled a gun on a spy in Afghanistan. According to reports in the Australian media, the review was conducted by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, a government-appointed office that monitors the conduct of Australian intelligence and security agencies.

It is believed that the Inspector General’s office began the investigation in 2014, shortly after it was made aware of the alleged incident in Afghanistan. According to unconfirmed reports, the incident involved two members of a “defence support team” who were stationed in Kabul. Defence support teams are highly secretive outfits that operate abroad and bring together members of Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) with officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) —the country’s primary external intelligence agency. Some reports suggest that a group of SAS soldiers had been drinking heavily at the embassy of Australia in the Afghan capital, and that one of them, who was heavily intoxicated, pointed a loaded handgun at a female ASIS officer, while verbally threatening her.

Cooler heads prevailed and the incident ended quickly. But it allegedly shook everybody who witnessed it, and it was quickly reported to the Inspector General. The watchdog promptly carried out an audit “to make sure guns were only being issued to foreign posts that really needed them”. Its written recommendations were circulated within ASIS earlier this week. However, the agency says it will not reveal the precise content of the Inspector General’s recommendations, because it could “prejudice [Australia’s] security relations with other counties” and place spies at risk.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 October 2015 | Permalink

Afghan officials see foreign spy agency behind bloody hotel attack

AfghanistanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Afghanistan’s intelligence community believes a foreign spy agency was behind last week’s bloody attack on a luxury hotel that left nine people dead. Last Thursday evening, a group of young men entered the five-star Serena Hotel, located a few blocks away from the Presidential Palace and key government ministry buildings in Afghan capital Kabul. Three hours later, the men, who had hidden handguns in their shoes, entered the hotel restaurant and shot indiscriminately at patrons. They were eventually shot dead by Afghan Special Forces, but not before they had managed to shoot over a dozen people at point blank range, killing nine, including two Canadians, an American and a Paraguayan. Four children and a senior reporter with Agence France Presse were among the dead, while the wounded included an Afghan member of parliament. Many blamed the attack on the Taliban or the Haqqani network, an Islamist militant group responsible for countless high-profile attacks in Kabul and other Afghan cities. Soon afterwards, the Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, which they said was aimed at demonstrating the ease with which Afghan government security measures could be evaded. On Monday, however, a press release issued by the Office of the Afghan President said a “foreign intelligence service”, rather than an indigenous militant group, was behind the attack. The press release, which bore the signature of Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, said intelligence officials from the National Directorate for Security had briefed Afghanistan’s National Security Council about the findings of an investigation on the attack. In the statement, which was issued in both Pashto and English, the President’s Office said that neither the Taliban nor the Haqqani network “were even aware” that the attack at the Serena Hotel was going to take place. Instead, the operation “was a direct attack by an intelligence service outside the country”, said the statement. A subsequent announcement released by the Afghan government placed blame on Pakistani intelligence services, saying they were directly involved in the attack. It also stated that an unnamed “Pakistani diplomat” had been seen filming inside the Serena Hotel “a while ago”. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Kabul’s allegations, saying it was “highly disturbing that attempts are being made to somehow implicate Pakistan in this terrorist incident”.

 

Taliban insurgents attack CIA station in Kabul

Afghan Presidential PalaceBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Taliban assailants launched an unprecedented attack against the presidential palace in Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday morning, which included a targeted assault on a nearby command post of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The daring attack began at approximately 6:30 a.m. outside the eastern gate of the palace, which is located in Kabul’s downtown Shash Darak district. The heavily guarded district contains, aside from most Afghan government buildings, dozens of foreign embassies and media offices. Hundreds of Afghan and foreign officials run for cover as over a dozen explosions were heard near the headquarters of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense, which is located next door to the presidential palace. The attack reportedly began when a group of about four or five insurgents approached the palace’s eastern gate with a small track laden with explosives. As the vehicle approached the gate, the passengers jumped out and began throwing grenades, while the car exploded at the gate. Afghan security guards fled the scene and the assailants were able to enter the grounds of the presidential palace and roamed around for several minutes before they were engaged in a firefight by Afghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization security personnel. The attackers appeared to concentrate primarily on three buildings: the presidential palace, the Ministry of Defense, and the nearby Ariana Hotel, which is widely understood to host the main CIA command post in Kabul. On Tuesday afternoon, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, told French news agency AFP that “the CIA office” in downtown Kabul was “the main target” of the assault, along with the palace and defense ministry. Read more of this post

Afghanistan arrests British citizens with 30 unregistered AK-47s

AK-47sBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Afghan authorities have announced the arrest of two British citizens who were found carrying 30 unregistered weapons without proper documentation. The two Britons, who have been identified as Julian Steele and James Davis, were stopped by Afghan police on Tuesday, January 3, at a checkpoint in the eastern suburbs of Afghan capital Kabul. The city’s police chief, Ayub Salangi, told the BBC that the two were arrested along with their Afghan interpreter and a local driver, after authorities discovered two metal boxes containing 30 AK-47s hidden under a blanket in their car. Moreover, most of the weapons had their serial numbers erased, and Steele and Davis were unable to produce registration documentation for the guns when asked to do so. When pressured, they told Afghan police that they worked for GardaWorld, an international security-consulting firm based in Montreal, Canada, with offices in the United States, Britain and the United Arab Emirates. GardaWorld, which is known to be currently active in Iraq, Pakistan, Haiti and Yemen, is thought to employ approximately 330 ‘bodyguards’ in Afghanistan, including around 30 foreign citizens. Strangely, however, GardaWorld, like every other private security firm operating in Afghanistan, is required by law to acquire all of its weapons from Afghanistan’s Ministry of the Interior. Furthermore, private security companies active in Afghanistan are not allowed to handle weapons without serial numbers, which is usually considered evidence of a black market connection. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #598 (US edition)

Brian Kelley

Brian Kelley

►►CIA officer wrongly accused of being KGB mole dies. CIA officer Brian J. Kelley, who was falsely accused by his own agency, as well as by the FBI, of supplying covert information to Moscow, has died at the age of 68. The real mole, the FBI agent-turned-spy Robert P. Hanssen, was apprehended in 2001, but not before Mr Kelley had been followed, interrogated, suspended and told that he might well be charged with a capital offense.
►►NSA working on secure smartphone technology. Troy Lange,  mobility mission manager at the US National Security Agency, says he is developing a secure smartphone that can be used to access classified information and apps while on the move. He is working on a pilot project using a smartphone that looks like any bought in stores but with security configurations to allow top-secret communication.
►►Kabul attack kills CIA contractor. An Afghan working for the US government killed a CIA contractor and wounded another American in an attack on the intelligence agency’s office in Kabul, making it the latest in a series of high-profile attacks this month on US targets. An anonymous US official in Washington said the Afghan attacker was providing security to the CIA office and that the American who died was working as a contractor for the CIA.

Killer submerged British spy’s body in ‘chemical substance’

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Investigators are still in the dark about vital clues behind last month’s killing of a British intelligence employee in his London apartment. Detectives say they are still unsure about the exact cause of death of Dr. Gareth Williams, a 31-year-old mathematician employed by General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British government’s communications security and surveillance agency. It has been determined that Williams, who for the past year had been temporarily transferred to MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency, was not stabbed or shot, and is unlikely to have been strangled by his murderer(s). There are, however, increasing signs that the GCHQ scientist’s murder was carried out in a professional manner, possibly by a member of a rival intelligence agency. Read more of this post

Police see ‘professional job’ in British spy’s death

Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As authorities investigate the recent death of British spy Dr. Gareth Williams, the country’s notorious tabloid media industry is having a field day disorienting interested observers. It is thus easy to miss important news breakthroughs in the cacophony of sensationalized headlines about Williams, whose body was discovered a week ago, stuffed in a sports duffle bag in the bath of his London apartment. One such breakthrough was yesterday’s report by Britain’s widely respected Channel 4, which said that law enforcement investigators described Williams’ death as “a neat job”, a term used to refer to professional killings. The Channel 4 report was preceded by strong official denials by police that Williams’ murder was sex-related, as had been previously reported. Some investigators now believe that Williams was killed by a foreign agent, who then deliberately “planted a trail of clues” pointing to a homosexual link to the death. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #305

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Comment: US-Pakistani Spy Relations Just Short of Open War

ISI HQ

ISI HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
Officially, the United States and Pakistan are allies in the so-called “war on terrorism”. But diplomats and intelligence agents on the ground tell a very different story. For several months now, Washington and Islamabad have engaged in a low-intensity intelligence war, with the Pakistanis accusing the Americans of failing to share actionable intelligence, and the Americans blaming Pakistani security services for maintaining clandestine links with Taliban groups. On at least one occasion, a senior advisor to the US-backed Afghan leadership has claimed that Pakistani intelligence services provide assistance to suicide bombers willing to strike targets in Kabul and other cities and towns in Afghanistan.

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CIA to deploy in record numbers in Afghanistan

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The CIA is preparing to deploy record numbers of operatives and analysts to Afghanistan, according to US officials with access to classified documents, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Los Angeles Times. Some said that once the intelligence surge is over the CIA’s station at the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, which coordinates CIA activity in the country, will be “among the largest in the agency’s history”, rivaling and perhaps even surpassing those in Iraq, and even in Vietnam in the late 1960s. By the end of 2001, the Agency’s presence in Afghanistan was limited to about 150 agents. This number had doubled by 2005, and current estimates place the CIA’s force in the country to about 700, a number which may double again, once the intelligence surge has reached its peak. Read more of this post

Analysis: CIA “cronyism, favoritism” prompts resignations

Art Brown

Art Brown

By IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
Rumors emerged last week that the leading candidate to head the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, has no experience in the Middle East or south Asia, and speaks no local languages. This is despite a bitter bureaucratic turf battle between the CIA leadership and the office the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to find the best-suited person for the job. Why is it still so hard, after nearly eight years in Afghanistan, for the CIA to find qualified senior managers? Jeff Stein of SpyTalk says it’s because skilled staff are demoralized and frustrated by the Agency’s chronic inefficiencies. He quotes an anonymous former senior counterterrorism officer who claims that escalating “cronyism and favoritism” are coupled by the lack of any serious “effort to address […] massive senior leadership problems”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0019

  • More interesting podcasts on Afghanistan at Electric Politics. George Kenney, of Electric News, has posted a full transcript of last month’s interesting interview with Graham E. Fuller, CIA’s former station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan. Also, a new highly interesting interview on Afghanistan has been posted on the Electric News website, this time with George Wilson. A veteran reporter who covered the Vietnam and Iraq wars, Wilson makes some noteworthy comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan.
  • Panetta, not Blair, should name CIA station chiefs, says ex-CIA agent. Haviland Smith, former CIA agent in Europe and the Middle East, has penned an editorial for The Baltimore Sun, in which he denounces as “simple insanity” efforts by Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to have a say at who gets appointed as CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  This is the second ex-CIA agent to issue the same warning in recent days.
  • Two more people arrested in Lebanon for spying for Israel. This raises the number of those arrested for belonging to an alleged Israeli spy ring in southern Lebanon to nearly 40. The latest arrestees include Ziad al Homsi, who in 1969 was photographed with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat.

News you may have missed #0006

Analysis: Former CIA agent warns of Pentagon takeover

Robert Baer

Robert Baer

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Robert Baer, the former CIA agent whose memoirs were behind the film Syriana, has written a new column for Time magazine, in which he warns that a Pentagon takeover of the CIA may be again in the works. The bureaucratic infighting between military and civilian agencies for control of the CIA is old news. But Baer believes that the military background of Admiral Dennis Blair, President Barack Obama’s new Director for National Intelligence (DNI), may be a factor in placing the Pentagon closer to its ultimate goal of swallowing the CIA. The former CIA agent mentions the dispute between Admiral Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta over the appointment of Washington’s new intelligence chief in Kabul. Rumor has it that Blair is preparing to name a uniformed officer for the position, whereas Panetta wants to maintain the CIA tradition of appointing a civilian intelligence official. Read more of this post