Judge rules that Trump’s tweet did not disclose top-secret CIA operation in Syria

Free Syrian ArmyA United States federal judge ruled on Monday that a tweet by President Donald Trump did not inadvertently disclose a top-secret program by the Central Intelligence Agency to aid rebel groups in Syria. The lawsuit, brought by The New York Times, centered on news reports published in 2017 by Reuters, The Washington Post, and others, claiming that the US president had terminated an extensive CIA program that provided assistance to rebel forces engaged in the Syrian Civil War. The program was reportedly initiated by US President Barack Obama, who in 2015 instructed the CIA to assist armed groups operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. Aside from training, the CIA assistance reportedly included the provision of light and heavy ammunition, such as antitank missiles, mines and grenades.

But President Trump allegedly terminated $1 billion program soon after he took office. Last July, the president openly disputed an account by The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous, which claimed that Trump had ended the program as a concession to Russia. In a tweet, Trump said: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad”. Shortly afterwards, another newspaper, The New York Times, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, arguing that the president’s tweet had effectively disclosed the existence of the covert CIA program and seeking full details from the government. But the CIA rejected the The New York Times’ rationale, at which point the paper took the case to court.

But on Monday, US District Court Judge Andrew Carter Jr. dismissed the paper’s argument. In a 20-page decision, posted online by the US-based news website Politico, Judge Carter said that President Trump’s tweet had been too vague and ambiguous to be considered as effectively declassifying the secret CIA program. At no point did the US president “make an unequivocal statement, or any statement for that matter, indicating that he was declassifying information”, said the judge. Additionally, Trump’s tweet and other public statements on the matter did not undermine the legal authority of the US government to continue to keep details about the CIA program under wraps. According to Politico, which reported on Judge Carter’s decision, this development will make it difficult for other FOIA filers to use Trump’s tweets as justification for seeking information about secret government programs. Meanwhile, The New York Times said on Monday that it would seek to appeal Judge Carter’s decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 July 2018 | Permalink

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China gave ex-CIA officer “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash” to spy on US

 Chinese Ministry of State SecurityChinese intelligence operatives gave a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash” in exchange for carrying out espionage, according to court papers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, on January 15, accusing him of possessing classified information that included lists of real names of foreign assets and addresses of CIA safe houses. Lee, 53, was reportedly arrested after a lengthy FBI sting operation, which included creating a fictional job in the US in order to entice Lee to travel to New York from Hong Kong, where he had been living after leaving the CIA in 2007.

Lee is now scheduled to appear before a US circuit court judge on Friday morning, in order to be officially charged with one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government and two counts of unlawfully retaining information pertaining to national defense. According to the indictment, in April of 2010 Lee met two officers of China’s Ministry of State Security. The meeting allegedly took place in Shenzhen, a city in southern China that borders Hong Kong. During that encounter, the indictment claims that Lee was offered “a gift of $100,000 in cash” in exchange of providing the Ministry of State Security with information about his career in the CIA. He was also told by the two Chinese intelligence officers that China would “take care of him for life” if he continued to cooperate with them.

In May of 2010, Lee deposited about $17,000 into one of his HSBC accounts in Hong Kong. Court documents allege that the deposit was the first of many that followed, and that they amounted to “hundreds of thousands of dollars”. These deposits continued to occurr until the end of 2013, when Lee made his last substantial cash deposit in Hong Kong. Throughout that time, Lee received regular written instructions from the Ministry of State Security, asking him to provide information about CIA operations. Lee did so at least 21 times, says the indictment. In one instance, he drew the floorplan of a CIA facility abroad and gave it to the Chinese, according to the indictment. Lee is expected to plead not guilty on Friday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 May 2018 | Permalink

US government prosecutors confirm CIA officer passed information to China

CIAA case officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who was arrested in January of this year for violating the Espionage Act, shared classified information with China, according to an official indictment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, on January 15, accusing him of possessing classified information that included lists of real names of foreign assets and addresses of CIA safe houses. Lee, 53, was reportedly arrested after a lengthy FBI sting operation, which included creating a fictional job in the US in order to entice Lee to travel to New York from Hong Kong, where he had been living after leaving the CIA in 2007. However, the initial FBI complaint did not indict Lee for passing the top-secret information to anyone. There was speculation at the time that this was because the FBI had not been able to conclusively prove that Lee carried out espionage.

On Tuesday, however, Lee was formally indicted on conspiracy to gather and deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government. That charge came in addition to a previously stated charge of unlawfully retaining material related to American national defense. The indictment repeats earlier allegations that Lee was found to be in possession of classified documents that included the real names of CIA assets (foreign citizens who are recruited by CIA case officers to spy for the United States abroad) and the locations of “covert facilities” –safe houses that are typically used by CIA personnel to meet with assets in privacy. In what can be described as the most descriptive allegations that have surfaced against Lee, the indictment proceeds to claim that he was approached by two Chinese intelligence officers in 2010, three years after he left the CIA. The officers allegedly offered to give Lee a substantial amount of money in exchange for access to classified information. Additionally, according to the court documents, Lee was provided by his Chinese handlers with email addresses that he could use to communicate with them covertly, and did as instructed “until at least 2011”.

The documents further state that Lee made “numerous […] cash deposits”, which he struggled to explain when questioned by American counterintelligence officials. On several instances, Lee lied during questioning in order to cover up his financial activities, according to the indictment. Lee’s defense lawyer, Edward MacMahon, told the court on Tuesday that his client was “not a Chinese spy”, but “a loyal American who loves his country”. He also pointed out that Lee served in the US military and the CIA. The Chinese government has made no comment about the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 May 2018 | Permalink

Syria sought out and assassinated American journalist, former spy says

Marie ColvinThe Syrian government tracked down and killed American journalist Marie Colvin in order to stop her from reporting about the Syrian Civil War, according to a Syrian intelligence officer who has defected to Europe. Colvin was an experienced war correspondent who worked for The Sunday Times. The British newspaper sent her to Syria soon after the outbreak of the war. From there, she gave live interviews to media outlets such as CNN and the BBC. But on the morning of February 22, 2012, Colvin was killed along with French war photographer Remi Ochlik. Their death came when Syrian government forces repeatedly shelled a media center in the city of Homs, which housed the two reporters.

In 2016, the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability filed a lawsuit against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, claiming that Colvin’s death was deliberate and wrongful. The lawsuit is supported by Colvin’s family in the United States. Court records unsealed on Monday include a sworn testament by a Syrian former intelligence officer who has defected and now lives under a new identity in an undisclosed European country. The defector, codenamed ULYSSES, said that Colvin was assassinated by the Assad government as part of a concerted effort to hunt down Western journalists and local media correspondents. The ultimate purpose of the plan was to hinder international reporting about the war. The plan was allegedly carried out by the Syrian military under the guidance of the country’s Military Intelligence Directorate. Many of the reporters targeted for assassination were reporting from the city of Homs, where Colvin was killed.

According to ULYSSES, Syrian government forces began targeting the Homs media center after they found out that foreign journalists had managed to enter the city’s western sector from nearby Lebanon. They then employed a mobile satellite interception system to capture the journalists’ communications, which in turn revealed their precise location. At that point, Syrian troops were ordered to fire several missiles at the building housing the journalists, in full knowledge that Colvin and Ochlik were inside. In his testimony, ULYSSES claimed that Syrian intelligence officials “celebrated” when they were told that Colvin had been killed. He identified eight senior Syrian officials who he said were involved in planning the American journalist’s alleged assassination. One of them, said ULYSSES, was Maher al-Assad, President Assad’s brother, who leads the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, considered as one of the staunchest pro-government parts of the Syrian military. Testimonies in the case continue this week.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 April 2018 | Permalink

Court rules against German spy who was fired for dating foreign woman

BND GermanyA former employee of Germany’s spy agency, who was recalled from his post abroad after dating a foreign woman, has lost his legal battle to be compensated for lost earnings. The former intelligence officer, who has not been identified by name, worked for Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known by its initials, BND. From 2006 to 2008, he served as the BND’s station chief in Riga, Latvia. The post implies that he the highest-ranking German intelligence officer in the small Baltic state. According to court documents, the BND station chief had explicit directions from his employer, in writing, not to fraternize with locals while serving in the Latvian capital. The instructions expressly forbade romantic affiliations with locals.

But, according to documents from the legal case, the intelligence officer failed to comply with agency policy and began dating a Latvian national. Soon he fell in love with her and invited her to move in with him. It was allegedly after the local woman moved in with him that he notified the BND about their relationship. The intelligence agency promptly recalled him from his post and demoted him —a move that, he claims, effectively ended his career. He therefore sued the BND, asking for reinstatement of his job and €400,000 ($420,000) in lost earnings. The plaintiff’s lawyers argued that, prior to inviting the woman to move in with him, he asked Latvian intelligence to run a background investigation on her, which came out clean. They also argued that Latvia is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and that the BND cooperates with its Latvian counterpart.

However, according to German news reports, the court rejected the plaintiff’s claims and threw out the case. The former BND officer has also been ordered to pay the legal costs associated with the court case. Intelligence officers posted abroad are typically warned to avoid entering in sexual or romantic relationships with non-vetted foreign nationals. Intelligence agencies fear that these situations could give rise to infiltration by rival agencies, or even enable extortion and blackmail to be carried out by adversary intelligence operatives.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 November 2016 | Permalink

NSA contractor accused of spying stole real names of US undercover officers

NSAClassified information stolen by a United States federal contractor, who was charged with espionage last month, includes the true identities of American intelligence officers posted in undercover assignments abroad, according to court documents. In August of this year, Harold Thomas Martin III, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges of stealing government property and illegally removing classified material. Martin, 51, served as a US Navy officer for over a decade, where he acquired a top secret clearance and specialized in cyber security. At the time of his arrest earlier this year, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest federal contractors in the US. Some media reports said Martin was a member of the National Security Agency’s Office of Tailored Access Operations, described by observers as an elite “hacker army” tasked with conducting offensive cyber espionage against foreign targets.

Last week, after prosecutors alleged that the information Martin removed from the NSA was the equivalent of 500 million pages, a judge in the US state of Maryland ruled that the accused might flee if he is released on bail. Soon afterwards, Martin’s legal team filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider his decision to deny him bail. That prompted a new filing by the prosecution, which was delivered to the court on Thursday. The document alleges that the information found in Martin’s home and car includes “numerous names” of American intelligence officers who currently “operate under cover outside the US”. The court filing adds that Martin’s removal of the documents from secure government facilities constitutes “a security breach that risks exposure of American intelligence operations” and “could endanger the lives” of undercover intelligence officers and their agents abroad.

It is alleged that Martin told the FBI he never shared classified information with anyone, and that he removed it from his office at the NSA in order to deepen his expertise on his subject. His legal team argues that Martin suffers from a mental condition that compels him to be a hoarder. But prosecutors for the government argue in court documents that Martin appears to have communicated via the Internet with Russian speakers, and that he was learning Russian at the time of his arrest. The case is expected to be tried later this year.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 October 2016 | Permalink

German court sentences intelligence officer who spied for CIA

Markus ReichelA court in Germany has sentenced a former officer of the country’s intelligence agency, who spied for the United States and Russia from 2008 to 2014. Regular readers of this website will recall the case of ‘Markus R.’, a clerk at the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s external intelligence agency. The 32-year-old was arrested in July 2014 on suspicion of having spied for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. Germany’s Office of the Federal Prosecutor said at the time that Markus R. voluntarily made contact with the CIA in 2008 and offered his services to the American spy agency. He began working for the United States as a double agent soon afterwards. Soon after Markus R.’s arrest was made public, the German government ordered the immediate removal from Germany of the CIA chief of station –who was essentially the top American intelligence official in the country. Berlin also instructed its intelligence agencies to limit their cooperation with their American counterparts “to the bare essentials” until further notice.

On Thursday, Markus R., identified in some German media as Markus Reichel, was sentenced for selling over 200 classified German government documents to the CIA between 2008 and 2012, for which he said he received €80,000 ($90,000). During his trial, Reichel also admitted giving German government documents to personnel at the consulate of the Russian Federation in Munich in the summer of 2014. Among the documents that the former BND clerks is said to have given the CIA was a list of thousands of German intelligence operatives —including agents— stationed abroad, which contained their operational cover names and real identities. But Reichel was caught when German counterintelligence officers intercepted correspondence between him and his handlers and then used the information to set up a successful sting operation.

During his trial, Reichel issued a formal apology for engaging in espionage against the German state. He told the court that he had been motivated by boredom and by “lust for adventure”, which he said he did not get working for the BND. He also said he was frustrated by the lack of confidence that his superiors and colleagues had in him. “At the BND, I had the impression that no one trusted me with anything”, said Reichel. “But the CIA was different. You had the opportunity to prove yourself”, he added. Reichel was found guilty of treason against the German state and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 March 2016 | Permalink