News you may have missed #311

Al-Qaeda technical expert believed killed. Hussein Yemeni, an al-Qaeda bomb expert and trainer, is believed to have been among more than a dozen people killed in a CIA strike last week in Miram Shah, the largest town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan. Yemeni is thought to have had a major planning role in the December 30 suicide bombing in Khost, Afghanistan that killed seven CIA officers.

Al-Qaeda on the run, claims CIA director. CIA air attacks against al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region have driven Osama bin Laden and his top deputies deeper into hiding and disrupted their ability to plan sophisticated operations, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday. Interesting; that’s not exactly what he said last week.

UK government defends use of foreign intel. The British Foreign Office has defended its use of intelligence obtained by foreign security agencies from terrorism suspects, even when it could not be sure how the informants had been treated. It’s not the first time this opinion has been expressed by a senior UK government source.

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News you may have missed #308

  • CIA boss warns of al-Qaeda changing tactics. CIA director Leon Panetta has said that the Agency’s counterterrorism operations are actively disrupting al-Qaeda’s command and control structures. But the group is now changing its tactics by deploying people inside the US who have no history of terrorist activity or documented connection to the organization, he told a conference.
  • New US TSA boss is a counter-intel specialist. Robert A. Harding, the fifth person in nine years to head the beleaguered US Transportation Security Administration, served 33 years as a counterintelligence specialist in the US Army. TSA has been operating under an acting administrator for months.

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News you may have missed #306

  • Sweden jails Chinese man for spying on Uighurs. Sweden has jailed Babur Maihesuti, a.k.a. Babur Mehsut, a dual Chinese-Swedish national who was caught monitoring the political activities of Sweden’s Uighur community on behalf of Beijing. The latter has denied any connection with the alleged spy.
  • Pakistan follows US directive on ISI chief. The director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, will remain in his post for another year, the Pakistani government has announced. Even though Pasha had a row with CIA director Leon Panetta last November, the US pressured Pakistan to keep him, as the White House has “come to believe that keeping Pasha in place will facilitate efforts to flush out Taliban safe havens from Pakistan”.
  • Dubai tells spies to…leave. Laughable publicity stunt by Dubai Police, who have asked all spies “currently present in the Gulf” to leave the region within a week. “If not, then we will cross that bridge when we come to it”, warned Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan.

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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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Analysis: US spy turf-war flares up on Capitol Hill

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Wednesday’s testimony by US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, received plenty of media coverage. But few have examined the ongoing public hearings by three separate Senate committees on the Christmas Day bomb plot in light of the turf battles taking place between US intelligence agencies. An excellent article by Politico’s Kassie Hunt does just that, by pointing out that the hearing proceedings should be viewed in light of the “three-way turf war among Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter”. Capitol Hill lawmakers appear to be aware of this: Hunt’s article quotes Peter King, the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s senior Republican member, who warns that US intelligence agencies will use the public hearings to place blame about the Christmas Day bomber fiasco on each other. Read more of this post

China not top priority for US spy agencies under new policy

US and China

US and China

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
American intelligence agencies have been directed by the US National Security Council (NSC) to downgrade intelligence collection on China. Under the directive, which was first proposed last October, Chinese intelligence targets will be coded “Priority 2” (Pri-2), from their current “Priority 1” (Pri-1) status. The Washington Times reports that the move is part of a wider Obama administration effort “to develop a more cooperative relationship with Beijing”. The latter recently requested a new bilateral relationship with Washington, free from “Cold War and power politics mentality”. But the NSC proposal was contested by CIA director Leon Panetta and director of national intelligence Dennis Blair. Read more of this post

Comment: CIA Deaths a Failure of Intelligence, Not Security

Khalil al-Balawi

Khalil al-Balawi

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Early on Thursday, rumors began spreading among intelligence observers that the December 30 suicide blast in Khost, Afghanistan, which killed seven and seriously injured six CIA personnel, went off in the open air, and not inside a gym on the base, as had previously been reported. Soon afterwards, an article written by CIA director Leon Panetta for the Sunday edition of The Washington Post, dated January 10, was published by the paper two days early. The op-ed is an apparent attempt by the CIA leadership to officially get the word out that suicide bomber Humam Khalil al-Balawi “was about to be searched by our security officers –a distance away from other intelligence personnel– when he set off his explosives”, according to Panetta. Read more of this post

Comment: Is CIA Lying About its Blackwater Contacts?

Blackwater logo

Blackwater logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
After CIA director Leon Panetta revealed last summer that private contractor Blackwater was part of a covert CIA hit squad, tasked with summary killings and assassinations of al-Qaeda operatives, the CIA vowed to sever its contacts with the trigger-happy security firm. But did it do so? It doesn’t look like it. Last November, it became known that the company, (recently renamed Xe Services) remains part of a covert CIA program in Pakistan that includes planned assassinations and kidnappings of Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects. More recently, it was revealed that two of the seven Americans who died in the December 30 bomb attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, were actually Blackwater employees subcontracted by the CIA.

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White House memo sides with CIA in inter-agency turf war

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
For several months now, I have been keeping tabs on a bitter inter-agency turf war between the CIA and the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Now a Los Angeles Times article by Greg Miller confirms what intelNews reported on November 18, namely that the White House has come down in favor of the CIA position in the dispute. The turf war began last July, when DNI Dennis Blair argued in a still-classified directive that his office, and not the CIA, as has been the case for over 60 years, should have a say in certain cases over the appointment of senior US intelligence representatives in foreign cities. But the White House refused to validate Blair’s request. So, in November, the Office of the DNI hit back by announcing it would be evaluating all “[s]ensitive CIA operations overseas” including all of the CIA’s active paramilitary and espionage operations abroad. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0226

  • CIA tries to increase numbers of women leaders. CIA Director Leon Panetta is taking steps to increase the number of women at the Agency’s highest levels. The US is apparently “behind the curve when it comes to promoting women to the top ranks of intelligence services”.
  • CIA denies employing David Headley. CIA spokesperson Marie E. Harf said that “any suggestion that [David Coleman Headley] worked for the CIA is flat wrong”. The comment was in response to persistent rumors that Headley, who was arrested by the FBI in October, for plotting to attack a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, is in fact an undercover CIA agent gone wild.
  • Taiwan wants to swap jailed spies with China. The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, which proposed the exchange, said the plan follows its policy of “do[ing] our best to take care of agents and their family members in accordance with the law and regulations”. There have been several espionage-related arrests involving the two bitter rivals in recent months.

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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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Blackwater CEO admits he was CIA agent

Erik Prince

Erik Prince

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The founder and CEO of private security company Blackwater has revealed he worked as a CIA spy and carried out a number of secret missions before being fired by the Obama administration. Erik Prince, who heads Blackwater Worldwide, recently renamed Xe, gave a rare interview to Vanity Fair magazine, in which he revealed that his relationship with the CIA was not only that of an operations contractor, but also that of an asset, that is, a spy. Prince’s revelation will not surprise seasoned intelligence observers; as I commented last August, it had become increasingly difficult to distinguish any operational demarcations between the CIA and the company formerly known as Blackwater. However, the mercenary company’s leading role in controversial CIA plans to assassinate high-level foreign officials was seen as a step too far by the new CIA leadership of Leon Panetta. Read more of this post

US embassy worker caught monitoring Pakistan naval site

Abdul Ghafoor's US embassy ID card

Ghafoor's ID card

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Pakistani news outlets have reported the arrest last month of an employee at the US embassy in Islamabad who was reportedly caught monitoring Pakistan’s Naval Headquarters at Zafar Chowk, a site targeted by a suicide bomber on December 3. Leading Pakistani daily The Nation published the US embassy identity card of the man, Abdul Ghafoor, who was reportedly apprehended by Pakistani Naval Police and intelligence officers in the morning of November 18. Interestingly, Ghafoor, who was said to have been acting “suspiciously”, was found to be carrying a camera with him, and to be riding a motorcycle “with a number plate that was found to be fake when checked”. Several commentators have suggested that the case points to a routine surveillance operation, which warrants further investigation in light of the December 3 suicide bombing attack at the Naval Headquarters. Read more of this post

CIA chief has ‘confrontational’ meeting with Pakistani spymaster

Ahmed Shuja Pasha

A.S. Pasha

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
There is almost no coverage in the US media of CIA director Leon Panetta’s trip to Pakistan —in sharp contrast to the Pakistani and Indian press, where his visit made national headlines over the weekend. A scheduled meeting with Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was undoubtedly among Panetta’s most important engagements in Islamabad. According to Pakistani media accounts, the meeting between the two men —the second in less than two months— was confrontational and marred by serious differences between the ISI and the CIA —two agencies that rarely see eye-to-eye lately. Citing “well-placed sources”, Pakistani daily The Nation said that the ISI spymaster “expressed his disappointment” to Panetta about the CIA’s “dismal role in countering terrorism” in Pakistan and its “failure to provide concrete actionable information” to the Pakistani secret services. Read more of this post

CIA-DNI turf war enters new phase

Dennis Blair

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The CIA may have won a lengthy turf battle against the office of the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), but the war between the two agencies continues. As intelNews reported last July, the dispute started when DNI Dennis Blair argued in a still-classified directive that his office, and not the CIA, as has been the case for over 60 years, should have a say in certain cases over the appointment of senior US intelligence representatives in foreign cities. A few days ago, when the White House finally came down in favor of the CIA, the imbroglio appeared to be ending. But now the DNI has hit back by announcing it will be evaluating all “[s]ensitive CIA operations overseas” including all of the CIA’s active paramilitary and espionage operations abroad. Read more of this post

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