Outgoing CIA director acknowledges US killed ‘couple of hundred’ Russians in Syria

Mike PompeoThe outgoing director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, appeared on Thursday to confirm reports from last February that United States troops killed more than 200 Russian soldiers in Syria. According to sources from the US Pentagon, the armed confrontation took place on February 7, when a 500-strong Syrian government force crossed the Euphrates River and entered Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria’s northeastern Deir al-Zour region. US-supported Kurdish forces in the area, which include embedded American troops, responded with artillery fire, while US military aircraft also launched strikes on the Syrian government forces. The latter withdrew across the Euphrates after suffering heavy losses. The US side estimated at the time that over 100 attackers had been left dead, with another 200-300 injured. The toll later rose to several hundred dead.

At a press conference held soon after the armed clash, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis refused to discuss the matter, which he referred to as “perplexing”. Bloomberg said at the time that American officials were “in talks” with Russian counterparts “in search of an explanation for what happened”. On Thursday, however, Pompeo appeared to acknowledge that US troops killed hundreds of Russians in Deir al-Zour. The outgoing CIA director was speaking before a committee of the US Senate, during a hearing pertaining to his nomination to serve as the next US secretary of state. He was making the point that the administration of US President Donald Trump had maintained a hardline policy on Russia. After referring to the recent expulsions of 60 Russian diplomats from the US, Pompeo said: “in Syria, now, a handful of weeks ago the Russians met their match. A couple of hundred Russians were killed”.

Pompeo’s comments were seen by the media as an acknowledgement by a senior US government official of the incident in Deir al-Zour, which has remained shrouded in mystery since it happened. Later in his speech, Pompeo said that the Kremlin had “not yet gotten the full message about US determination to block aggression from Moscow. We need to continue to work at that”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 April 2018 | Permalink

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Conflicting reports of Russian fighters killed by US forces in Syria

Kurdish SDF There are conflicting reports of Russian and Ukrainian fighters having been killed by American forces in northeastern Syria, with some sources claiming that up to 200 Russians and Ukrainians, most of them private contractors working for the Syrian government, were left dead in clashes last week. If such reports are accurate, they could point to the most lethal American-Russian confrontation since the end of World War II.

According to the United States Department of Defense, the armed confrontation took place on February 7. On that day, a 500-strong Syrian government force crossed the Euphrates River and entered Kurdish-controlled territory in northeastern Syria. A Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Thomas F. Veale, told reporters last week that the pro-government forces crossed the Euphrates near the town of Khursham, in Syria’s Deir al-Zour region. The town is firmly held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish armed faction that is supported by the US. Veale said that the Syrian government forces advanced in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars”. The SDF force in the area, which includes embedded American troops, responded with artillery fire, while US military aircraft also launched strikes on the government forces. The latter withdrew across the Euphrates after suffering heavy losses. The US side estimates that over 100 attackers were left dead, with another 200-300 injured. There were allegedly no SDF fatalities during the clash.

On February 8, CBS News cited an unnamed US Pentagon official, who claimed that Russians were among the dead in Deir al-Zour. The BBC said that “at least two Russians” were killed in the attack, while The New York Times raised the toll to “perhaps dozens”. But US news network Bloomberg claimed that over 200 Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainian mercenaries were among the dead. Citing anonymously “three Russians [and] one US official […] familiar with the matter”, the network said that most of the fatalities were Russian and Ukrainian private contractors who were fighting in Syria in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. These reports mark the first known instance of Russian citizens killed by American forces in Syria. If the Bloomberg account is accurate, the Deir al-Zour clash could be the most extensive armed confrontation between Americans and Russians since the end of World War II.

Bloomberg said that it spoke by phone to one Russian military contractor who said that “dozens of his wounded men” were still receiving treatment at military hospitals in Russia. On February 8, the Syrian government accused Washington of carrying out a “brutal massacre” in Deir al-Zour, but said nothing about foreign fighters. A statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense said that 25 Syrian troops were hurt in the attack, but denied that Russian soldiers had participated in the February 7 clashes. Speaking on behalf of the Kremlin, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow only tracked casualty data about its official military forces stationed in Syria. He added that no Russian forces were stationed in Deir al-Zour. At a press conference last week, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis refused to discuss the matter, which he referred to as “perplexing”. Bloomberg said that American officials were “in talks” with Russian counterparts “in search of an explanation for what happened”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 February 2018 | Research credit: N.L. | Permalink

British spy agency speeds up hiring process to compete with private firms

GCHQThe Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), one of Britain’s most powerful intelligence agencies, says it plans to accelerate its vetting process because it is losing top recruits to the private sector. Founded in 1919 and headquartered in Cheltenham, England, the GCHQ is tasked with communications interception. It also provides information assurance to both civilian and military components of the British state. It primarily hires people with technical expertise in communications hardware and software. But in the past fiscal year, the agency fell notably short of its recruitment target, according to a new government report published this week.

The information is included in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament. According to the document, GCHQ’s recruitment shortfall during the past fiscal year exceeded 22 percent, as the agency hired 500 new staff, 140 short of its initial goal of 640. Because of its mission, the agency must have the “ability to recruit and retain cyber specialists”, says the report. However, GCHQ officials told the parliamentary committee that they “struggle to attract and retain a suitable and sufficient cadre of in-house technical specialists”. The latter are lured away by large hi-tech companies, for two reasons: first, because the salaries are higher; and second, because the hiring process is faster. Due to its security requirements, GCHQ has a lengthy vetting process for all potential employees, which sometimes takes more than a year. In recent times, the process has suffered backlogs, a phenomenon that has negatively impacted on the agency’s ability to recruit top talent.

In response to its recruitment shortfall, GCHQ told the parliamentary committee that it plans to speed up its vetting process by addressing its “lack of security vetting capacity”. In July of 2016, the agency had 51 vetting officers in its ranks. It hopes to raise this number to 110 by the summer of 2018, according to the parliamentary report. This will allow it to clear hiring backlogs by December of next year and thus be able to bettercompete with hi-tech firms in the private sector. Other British intelligence agencies have faced recruitment challenges in recent years. In 2010, the then Director-General of MI5, Jonathan Evans, told the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that “some [MI5] staff perhaps aren’t quite the ones that we will want for the future”. He added that the lack of even basic computer skills among MI5’s aging officer ranks have sparked the introduction of a program of “both voluntary and compulsory redundancies”. And in 2016, MI6 said that it would increase its staff size by 40 percent by 2020, reflecting a renewed emphasis in foreign intelligence collection using human sources, which is the primary task of the agency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 December 2017 | Permalink

CIA whistleblower complains of seven-year inaction by Agency’s inspector general

CIAA contractor for the United States Central Intelligence Agency has complained in an interview that no action has been taken in the seven years since he revealed a “billion-dollar fraud” and “catastrophic intelligence failure” within the Agency’s ranks. John Reidy argues that his case illustrates the unreasonable delay that impedes investigations by whistleblowers like him inside the CIA. Individuals like him, he argues, are forced to seek justice through leaks to the media, something which could be avoided if the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General addressed concerns more promptly.

Reidy, 46, from Worcester in the US state of Massachusetts, joined the CIA in 2003, after graduating with a law degree from the University of San Francisco. But he left the agency soon after joining, initially to work for a security contractor before setting up his own company, Form III Defense Solutions. He continued to work with the CIA by subcontracting his services, focusing on Iran. Reidy’s company developed an intelligence study guide for Iran and advised the CIA on the use of human intelligence (known as HUMINT) in the Islamic Republic.

In 2010, Reidy submitted two complaints to the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, the Agency’s internal watchdog that is tasked with investigating whistleblower allegations. The first issue related to what Reidy describes as large-scale “fraud between elements within the CIA and contractors”. The second issue involved a “massive [and] catastrophic” intelligence failure “due to a bungled foreign operation”. When he filed his concerns with the OIG, Reidy was hoping that attention would be given to his claims right away. However, seven years later, his case is still “gathering dust” at a CIA office, he says. When he realized that no progress had taken place in several years, a frustrated Reidy forwarded his case —which includes copies of 80 emails and nearly 60 other documents— to Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He also reached out to the McClatchy news service with his concerns.

The secrecy rules that apply to those who work for the US Intelligence Community prevent Reidy from disclosing details of the alleged fraud and intelligence failure, or from specifying the country in which these incidents took place —though it seems from his intelligence résumé  that they probably involve Iran. But in an interview with McClatchy news service, the intelligence contractor voiced grave concerns about the internal investigation process in the CIA. “I played by the rules [and] they are broken”, he said. “The public has to realize that whistleblowers [like me] can follow all the rules and nothing gets done”, added Reidy. He went on to warn that if the CIA does not improve its internal investigation system, leaks to the media “may grow worse”.

McClatchy contacted the CIA about Reidy’s concerns and was told by a spokesperson, Heather Fritz Horniak, that, “as a general matter, [the CIA does] not comment on ongoing litigation”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 July 2017 | Permalink

US Pentagon hires private intelligence contractor for Syria operations

PentagonThe United States Department of Defense has released details of an agreement with a private intelligence contractor, which experts believe involves the provision of services to American Special Forces working clandestinely inside Syria. The announcement, made on the Pentagon’s website, is believed to be the first public admission of the use of a private intelligence contractor by the US government in Syria. In the brief press release, the DoD identifies the contractor as Six3 Intelligence Solutions, a McLean, Virginia-headquartered company that specializes in intelligence, biometrics and security.

Six3 Intelligence Solutions is a subsidiary of CACI International Inc., one of the largest defense, security and intelligence contractors in the US. According to The Daily Beast, CACI purchased Six3 Intelligence Solutions in 2013 for $820 million, in what a CACI media statement said was “the biggest deal” in the company’s 50-year history. Public records indicate that Six3 Intelligence Solutions is already fulfilling a $30 million contract with the Pentagon, involving the provision of nondescript “intelligence services” to American troops stationed in Afghanistan. The latest contract, worth $9.5 million, was announced on July 27. It is a no-bid contract, otherwise known as a ‘sole source contract’, which means that the government believes that only one company can provide the services required. Thus, the process by which a no-bid contract is awarded is non-competitive.

The Pentagon’s July 27 announcement states that, under the contract, work by Six3 Intelligence Solutions personnel “will be performed in Germany, Italy, and Syria”. There is no mention of the precise nature of the work, though it is generally assumed that it will support the operations of US Special Forces troops that are currently stationed in Syria. American troops have been active in Syria for at least a year. Nearly 300 US Special Forces members are believed to be presently operational in the war-torn country, working with officers of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Daily Beast said it contacted CACI and the DoD about the recently announced contract, but received no responses.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 August 2016 | Permalink

Romania arrests four Israelis on espionage charges

DIICOT RomaniaDIICOT RomaniaA Romanian agency tasked with security and counterterrorism has announced the arrest of four Israeli citizens on charges of hacking the email accounts of Romanian government officials. The arrests were announced on Thursday by Daniel Horodniceanu, chief of Romania’s Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism, known as DIICOT). In a press statement, Horodniceanu said the Israeli citizens are all employees of Black Cube, an Israeli security firm that is known for hiring former members of Israel’s intelligence and and special forces agencies. Among the company’s most high-profile board members was Meir Dagan, the former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, who died in March after a long illness.

Reports in the Romanian press have named two of the four Israeli citizens as Avi Yanus and Dan Zorella, both former members of the Israeli intelligence community, who are believed to be the founders of Black Cube. Two other Israelis, David Geclowicz and Ron Weiner, are accused of having hacked three email accounts belonging to a high-profile Romanian government agency tasked with anti-corruption efforts. Romanian media claim that the primary target of the Black Cube employees was Laura Codruta Kovesi, director of Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate. Referred to as DNA, the agency was created in 2003 with the aim of combating serious organized crime and corruption in Romanian politics. The latter is seen by many in Romania as endemic and harmful to the country’s efforts to integrate fully into the European Union.

According to DIICOT, the arrests of the four Israelis were “preventive” and were prompted by an initial complaint filed against them by a former public prosecutor, Ion Lascu, who is Kovesi’s father. When approached by Israeli media, Black Cube confirmed that four of its employees had been arrested in Romania. However, it said its employees were careful to follow Romanian law and dismissed the espionage allegations against them as “unfounded and untrue”. In a statement, the company said it was recently hired to work on a project to collect intelligence on large-scale corruption in Romanian politics. The statement added that Black Cube employees were arrested “after having made significant discoveries” relating to the aforementioned project.

Late on Thursday, Romanian investigators said they were still trying to find out who hired Black Cube to work in Romania.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 April 2016 | Permalink

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