News you may have missed #663

X-37B spaceplaneBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Indian spy agency seeks more wiretap powers. As intelNews reported in December, India’s primary intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was granted unfettered access to intercept electronic communications inside India. According to reports from India, the country’s Department of Telecommunications has now asked Interpol to help it gain access to encrypted electronic communications exchanged over Skype, BlackBerry telephones, etc. But doesn’t the Indian government already have access to BlackBerry communications?
►►US spaceplane spying on China. America’s classified X-37B spaceplane is probably spying on China, according to a report in Spaceflight magazine. The unpiloted vehicle was launched into orbit by the US Air Force in March last year and has yet to return to Earth. The Pentagon has steadfastly refused to discuss its mission but amateur space trackers have noted how its path around the globe is nearly identical to China’s spacelab, Tiangong-1.
►►Mossad seeks Chinese speakers. Do you speak Chinese? If so, Israel’s Mossad needs you. Recently, the spy agency put up a job posting on its website for a strategic researcher. The ad notes that preference will be given to Chinese, Arabic and Persian speakers. Experience in intelligence work is also a plus. Notably, China maintains close relations with Iran and with Arab states, possibly prompting the Mossad to seek Chinese speakers for its current and future intelligence work.

FBI ‘used Google Translate’ to indict alleged Syrian spy, claims lawyer

Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid

Mohamad Soueid

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The lawyer of a Syrian national accused by the United States of spying for Syria has accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation of resorting to Google to prepare the case against his client. Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid was arrested last summer and charged with conducting political espionage against Syrian and American citizens participating in demonstrations against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The alleged espionage appears to have been organized by members of the Syrian embassy in Washington, DC. A few weeks prior to Soueid’s arrest, the US Department of State had communicated to Syria’s ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, “a number of […] concerns with […] reported actions of certain Syrian embassy staff in the United States”. The concerns centered on confirmed sightings of Syrian diplomats conducting technical surveillance against Syrian opposition activists in several US cities. Soueid was subsequently arrested for allegedly gathering intelligence on protesters and planning an extensive intimidation campaign. But Soueid’s lawyer, Haytham Faraj, told the court last week that his client’s name, as transcribed in the FBI indictment, had been wrongly transliterated into English using Google Translate. He also wrote in a court filing that the prosecution had “demonstrated a serious deficit in its ability to translate recorded conversations from Arabic into English”. Soueid’s defense also argues that federal prosecutors appear “to have taken extensive liberties with a playful [telephone] conversation” between the accused and his wife back in Syria, eventually producing an English-language translation “that has no basis in fact”. In one case highlighted by the defense, the accused allegedly told his wife that the Syrian intelligence agency was monitoring telephone calls; but in English, the phrase was changed to say “this phone belongs to intelligence agency”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #482

  • Kissinger wants US spy for Israel freed. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is urging President Barack Obama to release Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying on the US for Israel 24 years ago. He has sent Obama a letter, in which he writes “I believe justice would be served by commuting” Pollard’s life sentence.
  • MI5 short of surveillance officers says minister. A senior British official has revealed MI5 does not have enough spies to allow it to increase its counterintelligence surveillance, as per government plans. Security Minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones said the Security Service needed to recruit and train more surveillance officers.
  • US spy agencies lack fluent bilingual speakers. Many Americans don’t learn a second or a third language from birth, let alone a language that the CIA or US Foreign Service might want. The situation has forced US government agencies to learn how to cultivate the most talented second-language speakers from among college students with little to no other-language expertise.

News you may have missed #397

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US agencies still lack basic language skills, says new report

GAO report

GAO report

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A major US government audit into the performance of national security departments and agencies has once again criticized the substantial absence of skilled foreign-language speakers. According to the Government Accountability Office’s latest assessment (.pdf) of the US Department of Defense and the Department of State, not only has the availability of foreign language fluency not improved, but has actually deteriorated during the past few years. The situation is especially desperate in the State Department, says the report, where the percentage of “generalists and specialists in language-designated positions” who fail to meet essential language criteria increased from 29 percent in 2005 to 31 percent last year. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0276

  • CIA mum on Panetta’s trip to Israel. Politico’s Laura Rozen reports that the CIA director met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Mossad chief Meir Dagan. But nobody in Washington or Jerusalem will say precisely what was discussed. Why is it that every time Panetta flies to Israel, it has to be a covert visit?
  • CIA raises language requirements for senior staff. “Under the new policy”, said CIA director Leon Panetta, “promotions to SIS [Senior Intelligence Service] for most analysts and operations officers will be contingent on demonstrating foreign language competency. If an officer is promoted to SIS and does not meet the foreign language requirement within one year, he or she will return to their previous, lower grade”.

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News you may have missed #0219

  • Kennedy considered supporting 1963 coup in S. Vietnam, documents show. New audio recordings and documentation unearthed by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, show that US President John F. Kennedy supported a military coup against the US-backed South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, even though he recognized the planned coup had no chance of a political success. See previous intelNews coverage for more Vietnam War-related declassified items.
  • Speak Farsi? Israel’s Shin Bet is interested. Israel’s Shin Bet internal intelligence agency is advertising jobs for speakers of the Iranian language Farsi. Israeli intelligence agencies appear to have similar problems with those faced by their US counterparts.

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New CIA TV ads try to recruit Arab-, Iranian-Americans

CIA ad

CIA ad

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The CIA is preparing to launch two new television commercials in an attempt to increase Arab-American and Iranian-American CIA recruits. The commercials will specifically target US cities with significant Middle Eastern populations, such as Detroit and Newark. They will be premiered at a private screening on November 18 in Dearborn, Michigan, which is often described as “the heart of Michigan’s large Middle Eastern community”. The move follows a recent public-relations visit to Michigan by CIA director Leon Panetta, aimed at improving the tense relations between the US intelligence community and Muslim groups in the state. Read more of this post

FBI still lacks translators, eight years after 9/11, says report

Report cover

Report cover

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An internal audit by the US Justice Department’s inspector general has found that the FBI faces a critical shortage of foreign-language specialists, eight years after 9/11. The audit report (redacted version available in .pdf here) issued last Monday by inspector general Glenn Fine, reveals that the lack of translators prevented the FBI from accessing 31 per cent of the foreign-language material it collected in counter-terrorism operations from 2006 to 2008. This means the Bureau, which serves as America’s primary counterintelligence and counterterrorism force, has been unable to read tens of thousands of pages and listen to or review 1.2 million hours of audio intercepts in the last two years alone. Remarkably, despite the well-understood need for foreign-language specialists in the post-9/11 security environment, the audit found that the total number of FBI translators dropped from 1,338 in March 2005 to 1,298 in September last year. Read more of this post

US spy agencies still lack foreign language experts

Urdu script

Urdu script

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A US media outlet has finally followed up on the warnings, made by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last July, about the lack of trained foreign-language speakers in the US intelligence community. Following similar warnings by the US House intelligence panel in June, the Senate Intelligence Committee used the opportunity of its authorization (.pdf) of the 2010 intelligence budget to draw attention to “the continuing lack of critical language-capable personnel in the Intelligence Community, and the need to address this shortage”. According to The Washington Times, which noticed the Senate Committee’s brief but critical alert, US intelligence agencies remain “woefully short” of foreign-language speakers, let alone experts. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0014

  • Belarus releases US lawyer jailed for industrial espionage. Emmanuel Zeltser who spent a year in jail in Belarus, is a lawyer with “a vast knowledge of organized crime, particularly the practice of money laundering”.
  • US Pentagon supplying intelligence to Pakistani armed forces. IntelNews has been keeping an eye on the intelligence side of the ongoing Pakistani offensive in the country’s North-West Frontier Province. Chinese intelligence involvement has already been established, and there have been allegations of Indian and Israeli involvement. It has now emerged that the US military has resumed surveillance flights over Pakistan, a clear sign of increased US-Pakistani intelligence collaboration.
  • US Congressional intel committee issues warnings. The US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has approved, as expected, the 2010 fiscal intelligence authorization bill, but it said that “funding for cybersecurity programs may need to be reduced or slowed until the future direction for cybersecurity is better defined”. It also urged US intelligence agencies to expand ethnic diversity among employees and improve training on foreign languages.