German cabinet approves spy service reform in wake of NSA controversy

BND - IAThe senior executive body of the German government has approved draft legislation that reforms the country’s intelligence services, following revelations that Germany helped the United States spy on European states. The legislation is seen as a response by the German government to a number of recent public controversies involving the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND.

In 2015, the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German investigative magazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its facilities at Germany’s Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, and the France-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities.

The extent of the BND-NSA collaboration prompted widespread public criticism in Germany. In response to the criticism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promptly fired the director of the BND in April of this year, in a move that surprised many. Gerhard Schindler, who had headed the BND since 2012, was replaced by Bruno Kahl, a senior official in the German Federal Ministry of Finance, who did not come from within the ranks of the BND. Additionally, the German chancellor authorized a parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the BND, which was completed last spring. The resulting 300-page report forms the basis of the draft legislation that was approved on Tuesday by the German cabinet.

The new legislation bans the BND from spying on foreign governments or corporations for the benefit of German companies. It also prevents it from spying on targets within the European Union, unless the operation pertains to “information to recognize and confront threats to internal or external security”. This is taken to mean operations relating to suspected terrorist activity that directly threatens German national security. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a new independent oversight body consisting of senior judges and representatives of the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, whose job will be to evaluate and approve the BND’s proposed espionage activities against foreign targets.

The legislation will need to be finalized through its approval by the German Federal Parliament, known as the Bundestag. The body is expected to approve the legislation before the beginning of its official summer break in mid-July.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 June 2016 | Permalink

German intelligence chief fired in surprise move

BND GermanyThe head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has been removed from his post in a move described by observers as surprising. Gerhard Schindler, 63, had led Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, since 2012. Founded 60 years ago with direct input from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the BND is today responsible for collecting intelligence abroad in the service of German national interests. Headquartered in the southern German city of Pullach, near Munich, the BND is directly subordinate to the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Tuesday, the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said that Chancellor Merkel had ordered Schindler’s removal from the BND. Several regional television stations followed with similar reports. The Süddeutsche Zeitung cited unnamed government sources as saying that Schindler’s sudden removal from his post was unexpected, as the career intelligence officer was scheduled to retire in two years.

However, intelNews readers will recall that last year Schindler was severely criticized in Germany, after the BND was found to have secretly collaborated with the US National Security Agency in spying on several European governments and private companies. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the BND used its Bad Aibling listening station to help the NSA spy on, among other targets, the palace of the French president in Paris, the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as French-based European conglomerate Airbus. In response to the revelations, Airbus filed a criminal complaint against the German government, while Belgium and Switzerland launched official investigations into the joint BND-NSA activities.

In the months that followed the revelations, Schindler appeared to have convinced the Chancellery that he was not personally responsible for the BND-NSA collaboration, which many political figures in Germany said had subverted Germany’s national interest. In response to criticism, Schindler said that some departments inside the BND had taken on “a life of their own” and promised to reform the agency. On Tuesday, however, his tenure came to an end. It is believed that he will be replaced by Bruno Kahl, a senior civil servant in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance, who is a close associate of the country’s Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 April 2016 | Permalink

NSA director made secret visit to Israel last week

Michael RogersThe head of the United States’ largest intelligence agency secretly visited Israel last week, reportedly in order to explore forging closer ties between American and Israeli cyber intelligence experts. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said on Sunday that Admiral Michael Rogers, who directs the United States National Security Agency (NSA), was secretly in Israel last week. The NSA is America’s signals intelligence (SIGINT) agency, which is responsible for electronic collection, as well as protecting US government information and communication systems from foreign penetration and sabotage.

According to Ha’aretz, Rogers was hosted in Israel by the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces’ SIGINT unit, which is known as Intelligence Corps Unit 8200. The secretive group, which is seen as Israel’s equivalent to the NSA, is tasked with collecting SIGINT from Middle Eastern locations and protecting Israel’s electronic information infrastructure from adversaries. According to the Israeli newspaper, Rogers’ visit was aimed at exploring ways in which the NSA and Unit 8200 can enhance their cooperation, especially against regional Middle Eastern powers like Iran or non-state groups like Hezbollah.

IntelNews readers will recall that the IDF’s Unit 8200 is viewed by some Middle East observers as the creator of the Stuxnet virus. Stuxnet is a sophisticated malware that is believed to have been designed as an electronic weapon against Iran’s nuclear program. Among these observers is New York Times correspondent David Sanger; in his 2012 book, Confront and Conceal, Sanger claimed that Stuxnet was designed by NSA and Unit 8200 programmers as part of a joint offensive cyber operation codenamed OLYMPIC GAMES. According to Sanger, the two agencies collaborated very closely between 2008 and 2011 in order to bring about Stuxnet and other carefully engineered malware, including Flame.

Ha’aretz said that Rogers’ visit was meant to solidify US and Israeli cooperation on offensive cyber operations, based on the legacy of Stuxnet and Flame. During his visit to Israel, the US intelligence official also met with the heads of other Israeli intelligence agencies, said Ha’aretz.

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

Joint British-American operation hacked Israeli drones, documents show

RAF base CyprusBritish and American intelligence services worked together to hack Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles in order to acquire information on the Jewish state’s military intentions in the Middle East, according to documents leaked last week. Online publication The Intercept, said the operation was code-named ANARCHIST and was a joint project of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). The publication said it acquired documents about the operation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who defected to Russia in 2013 and was offered political asylum by Moscow.

In an article published on Thursday, The Intercept said the joint GCHQ-NSA operation was headquartered in a Royal Air Force military facility high on the Troodos Mountains in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The documents provided by Snowden suggest that British and American spies were able to collect footage captured by the Israeli drone for at least two years, namely in 2009 and 2010. It is not clear whether that period included the first three weeks of January 2009, when the Gaza War was fought between Israel and Hamas. During that time, there were persistent rumors that Tel Aviv was seriously considering launching air strikes against Iran.

According to The Intercept, the main goal of operation ANARCHIST was to collect information about Israeli “military operations in Gaza” and watch “for a potential strike against Iran”. Additionally, the UK-US spy program “kept tabs on the drone technology Israel exports around the world”, said the article. According to one GCHQ document cited by The Intercept, the access to Israeli drone data gained through ANARCHIST was “indispensable for maintaining an understanding of Israeli military training and operations”.

Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio on Friday, Israel’s Minister for National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Yuval Steinitz, said he was not surprised by the revelations. “We know that the Americans are spying on the whole world, including their friends”, said Steinitz. But it was “disappointing”, he said, given that Israel had “not spied” on the US “for decades”. Israeli intelligence agencies had “not collected intelligence or attempted to crack the encryption of the United States”, said the Minister, implying that recent revelations of US spying on Israel may cause a change of strategy in Israeli intelligence policy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 February 2016 | Permalink

German spy agency tapped Finnish phone lines in early 2000s

FinlandGerman intelligence, possibly with the collaboration of the United States, monitored communications lines connecting Finland with at least five countries in the early 2000s, according to leaked documents. The documents, aired this week by Yle Uutiset, the main news program of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), is based on information contained in “leaked German intelligence documents” that were first made public in May 2015. As intelNews reported at the time, the intelligence collection was described as a secret collaboration between Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) and America’s National Security Agency (NSA). According to Austrian politician Peter Pilz, who made the initial allegations, the BND-NSA collaboration was codenamed EIKONAL and was active from 2005 to 2008. Pilz said at the time that many European phone carriers and Internet service providers were targeted by the two agencies. Belgium and Switzerland have already launched investigations into EIKONAL.

Now new information provided by Yle seems to show that the secret BND-NSA collaboration targeted Finnish communications as well, focusing on at least six separate communications transit lines. The lines are believed to carry telephone call and possibly Internet traffic from Finnish capital Helsinki to a number of cities in France, Belgium, Hungary, Luxemburg, and China, said Yle Uutiset. Although the targeted lines are known to carry telephone and Internet traffic, it is unknown at this time whether EIKONAL targeted both kinds. But Yle said the interception lasted for most of the first part of the 2000s and involved large amounts of communications data.

The station contacted Tuomas Portaankorva, Inspector General of SUPO, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service. He told Yle that, speaking broadly, he was not surprised to be told that Finnish telecommunications lines had been monitored by foreign intelligence agencies, Western or otherwise. He went on to caution that, even though Finnish lines had been targeted, it was not possible to conclude that Finland was indeed the target of the surveillance operation. Yle also spoke to Vesa Häkkinen, spokesman for the from Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told the station that SUPO, and not the ministry, was the proper official body to be consulted about EIKONAL. “If there is reason to suspect that these actions were directed at the Finnish state”, said Häkkinen, “we would undertake appropriate action”.

Author: Ian Allen| Date: 20 January 2016 | Permalink | News tip: Matthew Aid

US ‘spied on Israeli prime minister’ during Iran nuclear talks

Netanyahu and ObamaAmerican intelligence agencies spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the negotiations between the United States and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, according to officials. Tehran entered a deal, referred to as ‘the Geneva pact’, following drawn-out negotiations with a group of nations that came to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The government of Israel, however, strongly criticized the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu called the pact a “historic mistake” that would enable “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Israel’s strong reaction, which included open criticism of US President Barack Obama, caused some in the US to accuse Tel Aviv of trying to “manipulate American institutions”, while the White House did not hide its frustration with the Israeli leader.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal said in a leading article that the Obama administration spied systematically on Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom it suspected of actively trying to kill the Geneva pact. Citing interviews with “over two dozen past and present US officials”, The Journal claimed that the National Security Agency, America’s leading signals-intelligence collector, intercepted the communications between the Israeli prime minister and his senior advisors. The main purpose of the spy program was to find out whether the government of Israel was considering launching military strikes on Iran without first notifying Washington. Such a possibility was eventually ruled out. But in the process the NSA was able to listen in to private conversations between a number of senior Israeli government officials and American lawmakers. The latter were critical of the White House’s efforts to strike a deal with Iran, and were specifically asked by Israeli officials whether Israel could count on them to vote against the Geneva pact in Congress.

The NSA was also able to intercept conversations between Israeli leaders and American members of pro-Israel groups operating in the US. The newspaper implies that the Israeli leaders coached the Americans on how to campaign against the Geneva pact. Ironically, the NSA intercepts showed that Israel was itself spying on America in an effort to access inside information on the negotiations with Iran. The paper said that the Israelis would then regularly leak the information they acquired through espionage, in an effort to sabotage a possible deal. The Journal said it contacted the US National Security Council for a comment, and was told by a media representative that the US does “not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike”, said the spokesman, refusing to elaborate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2016 | Permalink

US spied on 143-member Iran delegation to 2007 UN summit

Manouchehr Mottaki and Mahmoud AhmadinejadThe United States National Security Agency spied on the Iranian president, foreign minister, and over 140 Iranian dignitaries who visited New York in 2007 to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. The allegation was aired on Wednesday by American television station NBC, which cited former intelligence officials and a top-secret report on the espionage operation. The original report was included in an October 2007 issue of SID Daily, an internal NSA newsletter published by the spy agency’s Signal Intelligence Division. The report, which is entitled “Tips for a Successful Quick Reaction Capability”, commends the espionage operation against the Iranian UN delegation as an exemplary illustration of a collaborative effort between managers, technical experts, and analysts.

The operation appears to have been directly initiated in early 2007 by the George W. Bush White House, which asked the NSA to spy on Iran’s UN delegation. The blanket permission included espionage conducted against the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki, who were scheduled to be in New York in September of that year to attend the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly. In response to the White House authorization, the NSA deployed a small army of technical experts and analysts to spy on the entire 143-member Iranian delegation for 19 hours a day during the summit.

The NSA teams were allegedly able to record, transcribe and analyze 2,000 conversations of various lengths per day. According to NBC, the NSA was able to intercept the personal conversations of President Ahmadinejad, a number of video conferences involving members of the Iranian delegation, as well as calls made using Skype. The latter were intercepted using a secret technology codenamed BLARNEY by NSA, while the agency also relied on bugs installed in hotel and conference rooms used by the Iranians, said NBC. The intercepted communications were subsequently examined by the NSA’s Social Network Analysis Office in an effort to map the “social networks” of the Iranian government’s senior echelons.

The Iranian government did not respond to NBC’s requests for comment. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to arrive in New York today to attend the 70th UN General Assembly debate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 September 2015 | Permalink