US government to set up ‘anti-propaganda center’ after Obama signs new law

Barack ObamaUnited States President Barack Obama has signed a new law that designates $160 million to set up a government center for “countering foreign propaganda and disinformation”. The law authorizes the US departments of State and Defense to work with other federal agencies in establishing the new body. Its precise tasks are not yet known, nor is the role in it —if any— of intelligence agencies, though the Director of National Intelligence is mentioned in the body of the legislation.

The legislation is entitled “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act”, and it was introduced in both chambers of the US Congress last spring by Republican and Democrat legislators. It was initially entitled “Countering Information Warfare Act”, but was subsequently revised and included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017. It was approved by the House of Representatives on December 2, and by the Senate on December 8. President Obama signed it into law on December 23. Under the new law, the Department of Justice has to take initiative within 180 days, and collaborate with the Department of Defense, before reaching out to “other relevant departments and agencies”. Resulting from this process will be the establishment of a “Center for Information Analysis and Response”. The goal of the Center will be to collect and analyze “foreign government information warfare efforts”, and to “expose and counter foreign information operations” directed against “US national security interests”. The plan will be funded in the amount of $160 million over two years.

Rob Portman, a Republican US Senator from Ohio, who co-sponsored the bill, hailed it as “a critical step towards confronting the extensive, and destabilizing, foreign propaganda and disinformation operations being waged against us by our enemies overseas”. But the Russian government-owned broadcaster RT called the new law “ominous” and “controversial”, and said the US government was “itself pushing propaganda on its own domestic population”. In an article published on Tuesday, the Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post said the new legislation was aimed at China, as well as at Russia. The newspaper cited Chinese experts who warned that Washington and Beijing “could head down the slippery slope toward ideological confrontation” as a result of the new law.

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

FBI warns against alleged Russian campaign to destabilize US elections

Putin and ObamaThe Federal Bureau of Investigation is among several intelligence agencies in the United States that have expressed concerns about an alleged Russian campaign to destabilize November’s presidential elections. The Washington Post, which revealed the FBI’s concerns on Monday, claimed that Moscow recently launched an “active measures” operation aimed at covertly sabotaging the integrity of the US election process. Russia’s goal, said the paper, was to “counter US leadership and influence in international affairs”, thus subverting America’s image, especially in countries of the former Eastern Bloc or former Soviet republics.

According to The Post, the FBI and other US intelligence agencies have “no definitive proof” that Moscow is attempting to promote public distrust in American political institutions. But there are strong indications that have made this topic “a priority” for intelligence officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, said the paper. These indications include the hack of the computer systems at the Democratic National Committee, the official governing body of the US Democratic Party, which was revealed in June. The hack resulted in the disclosure of over 20,000 internal emails and led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the DNC’s Chairwoman. According to The Post, the hack is “not yet officially ascribed by the US government to Russia”, but US intelligence officials are convinced that Moscow was behind it.

The DNC hack prompted the FBI to send a so-called “flash alert” to US election officials in July, urging them to remain vigilant against “attempts to penetrate election systems”, which have been detected in several states, according to the report. The unprecedented FBI alert did not expressly name Russia as a national-security threat, nor did it give details of electoral sabotage. But it urged state election officials to “be on the lookout for intrusions into their election systems”. Citing unnamed intelligence officials, The Post said that the investigation into alleged Russian operations against the US Presidential election is being coordinated by James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 August 2016 | Permalink

Czech spy service accuses Russia of waging ‘information war’

Czech Security Information ServiceThe intelligence agency of the Czech Republic has accused Russian spy services of waging a “war of information” aimed at destabilizing the eastern European country. The agency has also warned that Russia continues to maintain a large intelligence presence in the Czech Republic, 25 years after the country, which was formerly known as Czechoslovakia, exited the Soviet sphere of influence and joined the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

These claims are included in the annual report of the Security Information Service of the Czech Republic, known as BIS. The report, which was published on Thursday, singles out Russia and China for allegedly operating the two most active intelligence apparatuses in the Czech Republic today. It also claims that Russia’s embassy in Prague, which exceeds in size that of any other country in the Czech capital, serves as a base for dozens of spies. The latter are among the 140 diplomatic personnel stationed at the Russian embassy, operating under diplomatic cover, according to BIS.

In addition to collecting intelligence and recruiting spies, Russia’s undercover efforts in the Czech Republic focus on “creating or promoting inter-societal and inter-political tensions” in the country, said the report. That is allegedly one in many ways, including covert support for domestic extremist and populist organizations –both rightwing and leftwing, according to BIS. There are also organizations in the country, described by the Czech intelligence agency as parts of a network of “puppet” groups, which tend to hold consistently pro-Russian stances on domestic and international issues. They are also highly critical of NATO and the EU, and promote the view that, like Britain, the Czech Republic should seek to exit the EU.

The report suggests that the main focus of the current phase of the alleged “information war” is to advertise the Russian viewpoint on the civil wars in Ukraine and Syria. However, “the infrastructure created for achieving these goals will not disappear with the end of the two conflicts” and “can be used to destabilize or manipulate Czech society […] at any time, if Russia wishes to do so”, the report states.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 September 2016 | Permalink

Washington to investigate Chinese-owned radio stations in the US

CRI ChinaAuthorities in Washington are preparing to launch an investigation into a dozen radio stations operating in major cities in the United States, which are allegedly owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government. The investigation appears to have been sparked by a report published by the Reuters news agency on Monday, which claims that the Chinese government is operating a “covert radio network” inside the US, aimed at broadcasting news reports that reflect Chinese views. According to Reuters, the radio stations broadcast in at least a dozen large American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

All stations in question are managed by broadcasting firm G&E Studioa, based in West Covina, California, which is owned by James Su, a Shanghai-born American broadcasting entrepreneur. According to the news agency, G&E Studio controls the vast majority of these stations’ air time, which it fills with entertainment and public-affairs programming produced in its studios in California. However, the Reuters report claimed that G&E Studio is 60% owned by China Radio International (CRI), which is a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster. Founded as Radio Peking in 1941, then renamed to Radio Beijing during the Cold War, CRI is the Chinese equivalent of the Voice of America or the BBC World Service: it is officially affiliated with the Chinese government and reflects its point of view. What is more, said Reuters, some of the programming aired on G&E Studio-managed stations is produced by CRI in Beijing. Consequently, news programming on these stations tends to reflect the Chinese government’s point of view, on subjects such as Taiwan, naval rights in the South China Sea, trade policies and other major topics of the day.

The investigation has been launched by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because American law prohibits representatives of foreign governments, or foreign governments themselves, from owning or managing US broadcast stations. Moreover, individuals or companies seeking to influence American politics or public opinion on behalf of a foreign agency, group or government, must register with the US Department of State. It doesn’t appear that G&E-owned radio stations have done that, said Reuters on Monday. The news agency quoted FCC spokesman Neil Grace, who said that an investigation had been launched into “the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated”. The Department of State, however, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation into G&E Studios was underway.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 November 2015 | Permalink

UK spied on Argentina to prevent second Falklands war, papers show

Port Stanley, FalklandsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The British government carried out an extensive program of intelligence collection and psychological operations in Argentina until 2011, because it was concerned about the security of the Falkland Islands, according to newly leaked documents. In 1982, the two countries went to war over the islands, which are ruled by Britain but are claimed by Argentina. The 74-day conflict, which killed nearly 1,000 soldiers and civilians on both sides, ended in defeat for the Argentinian forces and solidified British authority in the South Atlantic territory. But Argentina continues to dispute Britain’s rule over the Falklands, which it calls Malvinas, and has repeatedly threatened to take them over.

Documents released last week by Argentine online news portal TN.com, reveal that a consortium of British intelligence units implemented a broad program of spying and propaganda operations against Argentina. The program, codenamed Operation QUITO, lasted from 2006 to 2011, and was aimed at hampering perceived efforts by the Argentine government to subvert British rule in the Falklands. The news portal said it received the documents from Edward Snowden, an American former intelligence contractor who currently lives in Russia under political asylum. According to TN.com, the secret program was implemented by the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG, as reported by intelNews in February 2014). It is believed that JTRIG is an office operating under the command of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency. Its focuses on psychological operations —known in Britain as “effects operations”— which are aimed at discrediting their targets through sabotage and misinformation campaigns.

According to the newly released documents, JTRIG launched Operation QUITO as a “long-term, far reaching” program that included the interception of communications of Argentine politicians, the planting of computer viruses on Argentine networks and the spreading of misinformation or pro-British propaganda online. As of Sunday night there had been no official response to the news report from either the Argentine or the British governments.

South Korea’s ex-spy chief jailed for interfering in elections

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been jailed for directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a recent presidential election campaign. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. Since his replacement in the leadership of NIS, Won has faced charges of having ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”.

Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The illegal operation took place during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which was principally fought by Moon Jae-in, of the liberal-left Democratic Party, and Park Geun-hye, of the conservative Saenuri party. Park eventually won the election and is currently serving South Korea’s eleventh President. The court heard that a secret team of NIS officers had posted nearly 1.5 million messages on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an effort to garner support for the Saenuri party candidate in the election.

Last September, a court in Seoul had sentenced Won to two and a half years in prison, which was much shorter than the maximum five-year penalty he was facing if found guilty. But the judge had suspended the sentence, arguing that there was no direct proof that Won directly sought to alter the outcome of the presidential election. On Monday, however, the Seoul High Court overruled the earlier decision, saying that Won had directly breached election laws and that the violation was sufficient for a prison sentence. In reading out its decision, the judge said that “direct interference [by the NIS] with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext”. Won was transferred directly from the court to prison, where he will serve his sentence.

South Korean court convicts ex-spy director of interfering in elections

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A former director of South Korea’s intelligence agency has been convicted in court of directing intelligence officers to post online criticisms of liberal politicians during a presidential election campaign. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak. Since his replacement in the leadership of NIS, Won has faced charges of having ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors alleged that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The illegal operation took place during the 2012 presidential election campaign, which was principally fought by Moon Jae-in, of the liberal-left Democratic Party, and Park Geun-hye, of the conservative Saenuri party. Park eventually won the election and is currently serving South Korea’s eleventh President. The court heard that a secret team of NIS officers had posted nearly 1.5 million messages on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in an effort to garner support for the Saenuri party candidate in the election. On Thursday, a court in Seoul sentenced Won to two and a half years in prison, which was much shorter than the maximum five-year penalty he was facing if found guilty. In reading out its decision, the court said on Thursday that “direct interference [by the NIS] with the free expression of ideas by the people with the aim of creating a certain public opinion cannot be tolerated under any pretext”. The new jail conviction comes right after the defendant completed a 14-month sentence stemming from charges of accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Read more of this post

South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for accepting bribes

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
One of the most powerful figures in South Korea’s intelligence establishment has been sentenced to prison for accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of President Lee Myung-bak. The once supremely powerful organization, founded in 1961 as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, was intimately involved in the murky South Korean politics of the Cold War era, during which the country’s political life was dominated by bloody military coups and political repression. In the late 1980s, a process of democratization began in the NIS, and in recent years many intelligence observers believed that the agency had managed to shed its controversial reputation. On Wednesday, however, a court in South Korean capital Seoul sentenced Won to two years in prison for receiving kickbacks from the private sector while heading the NIS. Won was accused of having taken over $150,000 from Hwang Bo-yeon, former director of Hwangbo Construction, in exchange for lobbying the government to award construction contracts to the company. Regular readers of this blog will recall that Won is also standing accused of having meddled in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the official indictment in the case, Won is said to have ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. Read more of this post

S. Korea parliament probes spy agency’s elections meddling

Won Sei-hoonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A parliamentary probe began last week into whether South Korea’s main intelligence agency tried to steer voters away from the liberal candidate during the 2012 presidential election. The country’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is accused of having deliberately leaked a classified document in order to embarrass the late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who was also a member of the liberal Uri Party (now Democratic Party) of South Korea. IntelNews readers will recall that Won Sei-hoon, who headed NIS from 2008 to 2013, was recently indicted for meddling in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the indictment, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing DP candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. The NIS affair has gripped South Korea’s media headlines for months, but fuel was added to the fire in June, when the NIS “mistakenly” declassified an internal document describing a series of secret North-South Korean negotiations. The document, from 2007, shows that the then-President of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, from the Uri Party, had proposed to North Korean officials the establishment of a “maritime peace zone” along the disputed border between the two nations. Liberal politicians allege that, according to South Korean declassification laws, the document should have remained secret for many decades, and accuse the NIS of deliberately leaking it in order to promote the image of South Korean liberals as “North Korean sympathizers”. Meanwhile, another senior South Korean security official, former Seoul metropolitan police chief Kim Yong-pan, has also been indicted for allegedly hampering a police investigation into Won’s internet campaign. This series of apparently interlinked events is now at center stage in the parliamentary probe, as rival parties prepare to clash over the allegations. Read more of this post

S. Korea’s spy agency accused of politicization, ‘dividing country’

Won Sei-hoonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
South Korea’s main opposition party has accused the country’s intelligence agency of acting as a “political provocateur”, “championing conservative causes” and promoting partisanship among the electorate. Lawmakers from the liberal Democratic Party (DP) of South Korea were reacting to allegations last week that the country’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) deliberately leaked a classified document in order to embarrass former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. IntelNews readers will recall that, earlier this year, Won Sei-hoon, who headed NIS from 2008 to 2013, was indicted for meddling in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the indictment, Won ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing DP candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. If Won, who has since resigned from his NIS post, is found guilty, he faces sentencing of up to five years in prison. Won’s indictment has increased tensions between the DP and the conservative Saenuri Party, which is currently in power in Seoul, and is believed to have strong ties with NIS executive circles. The NIS is supposed to be politically nonpartisan, though its history is highly controversial. Democratization within the NIS only began in the late 1980s, as South Korean politics gradually emerged from a Cold War period dominated by bloody rightwing military coups. This past June, as the country continued to deliberate the 2012 Internet postings affair, the NIS “mistakenly” declassified an internal document describing a series of secret North-South Korean negotiations. Read more of this post

MI6 archives reveal plans for WWII and Cold War black operations

Sir Stewart MenziesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Recently declassified British archives reveal a host of audacious plans for covert operations aimed at Nazi-occupied Europe during wartime and, after 1948, inside the Soviet Union. The plans, proposed by British intelligence officials, ranged from relatively innocuous psychological operations to assassinations of key political figures. The wartime plans were proposed in 1944 by Charles Peake, a British intelligence officer detailed to the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower. The iconic American military commander was in charge of plans for Operation OVERLORD, the allied troop landings on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. According to documents released last week by the United Kingdom National Archives, Peake’s proposal was entitled “Assassination Priorities for OVERLORD”. It contained an extensive list of senior German and French Axis officials that should be targeted for assassination in preparation for the D-Day landings. The hit list included “certain Germans in key positions in France”, notably Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel. It also incorporated several senior members of France’s Nazi-controlled Vichy administration under Marshal Philippe Pétain. The proposal, however, was quickly shot down by no other than General Stewart Menzies, Director of the Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6), who feared that intrusive covert actions by allied operatives would cause brutal reprisals against allied prisoners of war. Ironically, Menzies, known in government simply as “C”, drafted an ever more ambitious plan for black operations after the end of World War II, this time targeted at the Soviet Union. Read more of this post

Seoul arrests N. Korean defector for ‘planning assassination’

Park Sang-hak

Park Sang-hak

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
South Korean authorities have announced the arrest of a North Korean defector, who is accused of planning to assassinate another defector involved in intensive propaganda operations against the North. A man identified only as “Ahn” was reportedly detained earlier this month after arranging a meeting with Park Sang-hak. Park is a high-profile North Korean defector, known for spearheading an imaginative —and often controversial— propaganda campaign directed against the government of North Korea. In one recent example, Park, his wife and children, used dozens of inflatable helium balloons to smuggle thousands of leaflets, dollar bills, solar-powered radios, and DVDs into North Korea. The nature of Park’s operations, which tend to be designed to attract worldwide media attention, is often the cause of diplomatic rifts between Pyongyang and Seoul, which does not formally endorse Park’s actions. The Associated Press spoke to two South Korean officials, who refused to be named; although they confirmed news of Ahn’s arrest, they refused to discuss a report by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, and now the BBC, according to which Ahn “had a poison-tipped needle on him” when he was detained by South Korean counterintelligence officers. This is the second time in recent months that South Korea has arrested North Korean defectors on suspicion of planning assassination operations. In April of 2010, Seoul announced that two North Koreans, who had defected to the South a few months earlier, had admitted to being intelligence officers on a Pyongyang-sponsored mission to assassinate a North Korean former senior official. The official, Hwang Jang-yop, is a former secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party and the ideological architect of juche, the philosophy of self-reliance, which is North Korea’s officially sanctioned state dogma. Read more of this post

Comment: Bin Laden’s Alleged ‘Magazine Stash’ May be CIA PsyOp

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

By IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
Rumors of an alleged discovery of “a stash of pornography” in Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan have spread like wildfire since Friday, when Reuters published an “exclusive” report on the subject. The report, written by Mark Hosenball and Tabassum Zakaria, cites “current and former US officials […] who discussed the discovery […] on condition of anonymity”. According to the allegations, “[t]he pornography recovered in bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, consists of modern, electronically recorded video and is fairly extensive”. The report was almost immediately picked up by several news outlets, including The New York Times, which notes that the disclosure “will be welcomed by counter-terrorism officials because it could tarnish [the al-Qaeda founder’s] legacy and erode [his] appeal”. Indeed. It appears that only Danger Room‘s Spencer Ackerman thought it wise to air a brief disclaimer to the effect that the “welcomed disclosure” may in fact be “a CIA information operation”. He has a point. Read more of this post

West directs spies, information-warfare at Libya

Libyan rebels

Libyan rebels

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Along with airborne surveillance and the bombing of targets, Western nations in charge of imposing a no-fly-zone over Libya are directing their intelligence and information-warfare arsenals against the Libyan regime. British newspaper The Daily Mail reports that MI6, the UK’s primary external intelligence agency, is sharing with the British military its lists of telephone numbers belonging to senior Libyan military officials. The latter are now receiving calls from British civilian or military intelligence officers prompting them to defect. The paper cited “a senior source” who claimed MI6 is warning senior Libyan military officers that the Royal Air Force has “the GPS coordinates” of their command posts and that “it could be fatal to remain loyal to the Libyan leader” Muammar al-Gaddafi. Presumably, the calls are conducted in the Arabic language. They also do not appear to be pre-recorded, unlike those directed by the Israel Defense Forces at Palestinians during the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict. The “senior source” told The Mail that the same technique “worked in Iraq” in convincing senior military commanders to either defect or —in most cases— abandon their posts. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #362 (sex & politics edition)

Bookmark and Share

%d bloggers like this: