Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #770

Horn of Africa mapBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►Kaspersky Lab is ‘thwarting US cyber spies’. According to an article in Wired magazine, Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of Russia-based Kaspersky Labs has been working to support Russian allies in the Kremlin and the FSB. Kasperksy’s firm first discovered the cyber attack weapon known as Stuxnet. As the profile piece notes, “Kaspersky’s rise is particularly notable —and to some, downright troubling— given his KGB-sponsored training, his tenure as a Soviet intelligence officer, his alliance with Vladimir Putin’s regime, and his deep and ongoing relationship with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB”.
►►Al-Shabaab executes alleged CIA and MI6 assets. Somalia’s largest and most deadly armed Islamist group, al-Shabaab, announced that it had captured and executed at least three informants who were allegedly passing intelligence to the CIA and to MI6. The Associated Press stated that Al-Shabaab’s official Twitter feed stated that the individuals, who were summarily interrogated and then executed by firing squad, “were part of a wide network of spies deployed by the British and American intelligence agencies”.
►►Australian intelligence briefed on Canadian spy. The espionage case against accused Canadian spy, former Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Paul Delisle, continues to garner intrigue. As was previously reported on this blog, Delisle, a former navy intelligence officer is accused of spying for Russia. But a report in The National Post states that representatives of Canada’s intelligence service briefed members of Australia’s intelligence services on the Delisle’s case and that information exchanges appear ongoing. The particulars of Australia’s involvement in the case are explained here.

‘Massive expansion’ in US covert operations in Africa

US military base in DjiboutiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States administration of President Barack Obama is implementing a near-unprecedented expansion of covert operations by American military forces throughout Africa, aimed at a host of armed groups deemed extremist by Washington. A lead article published yesterday in The Washington Post quotes over a dozen unnamed American and African officials, as well as military contractors, who refer to the US military-led effort as Project CREEKSAND. It allegedly involves secret operations in several African countries, conducted out of a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations around the continent. According to The Post, most of the airplanes used in Project CREEKSAND are small, unarmed, disguised to look like private aircraft, and bear no military markings or government insignia. In reality, however, they carry sophisticated electronic equipment designed to collect signals intelligence, while some are used to transport US Special Forces troops during capture or kill missions. The paper quotes an unnamed “former senior US commander […] involved in setting up the [air bases] network”, who alleges that the US government has built about a dozen such bases throughout Africa since 2007. These secret air bases are located in countries such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, and Seychelles. Most of the US personnel involved in Project CREEKSAND consists of Special Operations forces tasked with “training foreign security forces [and] performing aid missions”. However, The Post alleges that there are also small teams of US operatives who are “dedicated to tracking and killing suspected terrorists”. Read more of this post

CIA joins hunt for white British woman who joined Somali militants

Samantha LewthwaiteBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
American intelligence officials are said to be actively cooperating with Kenyan authorities in the hunt for a white British woman believed to have joined a Somali group that is part of al-Qaeda in East Africa. The woman, Samantha Lewthwaite, 28, was married to Jermaine Lindsay, a British suicide bomber who blew up a train at London’s King’s Cross station on July 7, 2005. Lewthwaite, who by that time had two children by Lindsay, disappeared soon after the so-called 7/7 bombings, and allegedly reappeared in England in 2009, to give birth to her third child, which she reportedly had with a Moroccan man. Today she is considered an important organizer of al-Shabaab, (The Party of Youth), which used to be the youth wing of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The Sunni-Muslim ICU ruled most of Somalia until the 2006 US-supported invasion of the country by Ethiopia. Ever since that time, al-Shabaab has become one of Africa’s most highly organized militant groups, relying on hundreds of Westerners who have flocked to Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and elsewhere, to join a peculiar form of jihad (holy war) inspired largely by al-Qaeda. According to reports from the UK, Lewthwaite is one of at least three British planners involved in setting up al-Shabaab’s operations in Kenya, Somalia, and elsewhere. She first entered Kenya several years ago, using a forged passport belonging to a South African identity theft victim called Natalie Faye Webb. In February of 2011, she is believed to have entered Kenya again, on foot, via Tanzania. Her travels are thought to be connected with her fundraising and other organizing activities on behalf of al-Shabaab, which appear to include —aside from financing— procuring weapons and training recruits. Not long ago, Kenyan police said a white woman matching Lewthwaite’s description managed to escape during a raid at the house of a suspected Islamist militant in Kenyan capital Nairobi. Read more of this post

Analysis: Ex-CIA WMD director warns of ‘morphed’ Islamist groups

Charles S. Faddis

Charles S. Faddis

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In recent months, the heads of the United States Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have opined that the United States may be close to “strategically defeating al-Qaeda”. These were the words used by former CIA Director and current Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta in July, to describe the current state of Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’. Shortly afterwards, General David Petraeus, who replaced Panetta at the helm of the CIA, echoed his predecessor, arguing that the situation following the death of Osama bin Laden “hold[s] the prospect of a strategic defeat […], a strategic dismantling, of al-Qaeda”. But do such optimistic projections correspond to reality on the ground? In a new column for Homeland Security Today, former CIA operations officer Charles S. Faddis, who retired from the Agency in 2008 as the chief of its weapons of mass destruction counterterrorism unit, agrees that al-Qaeda has been “severely battered” in the ten years since 9/11. But he warns that, while America insists of engaging in “large-scale conventional military operations” in Afghanistan, and essentially “a strategic bombing campaign” in Pakistan, a new generation of terrorist groups appears to have “shifted, morphed and evolved”. In light of this reality, the recent comments by Panetta and Petreaus may suggest “the possibility of a loss of focus” in American counterterrorist operations, says Faddis. The former CIA covert operations officer, who has written several books since his retirement, goes on to discuss the rapid rise of several ethnic or regional militant Islamist groups, including Nigeria’s Boko Haram. The organization made macabre headlines earlier this month, when it launched a massive suicide attack against a United Nations office complex in the Nigerian city of Abuja, killing and injuring over 100 people. He also mentions the Islamic State of Iraq, a notorious outfit whose most recent strikes display an operational sophistication that often surpasses that of Boko Haram’s. Read more of this post

Covert war in Somalia involves CIA, European mercenaries

Richard Rouget

Richard Rouget

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Regular readers of this blog will remember Jeremy Scahill’s report in The Nation last July, about the US Central Intelligence Agency’s expanding operations in Somalia. Since the 2006 US-led Ethiopian invasion, the Western-backed Somali government has been engaged in a brutal war with al-Shabaab, the youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which ruled most of the country in the years after 9/11. Scahill revealed that the CIA maintains a growing security complex in the country, located right behind Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport. The complex allegedly contains over a dozen buildings, as well as several metal hangars, which house CIA aircraft. Now a new report by United Press International claims that the clandestine American campaign in the horn of Africa “appears to be growing daily”, and that the CIA complex contains a prison for renditioned militant suspects. The latter are routinely interrogated by members of a Mogadishu-based CIA team consisting of approximately 30 case officers, analysts, linguists, and others. The UPI article suggests that the growing CIA presence in the Somali capital is part of a wider expansion of America’s counter-terrorist campaign in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Indonesia, and the Philippines. However, the instances when CIA personnel venture outside Mogadishu are few and far between. For this purpose, the Somali government is using American financial aid to hire European private security firms, including Bancroft Global Development, a combat consulting group with a growing presence in Mogadishu. Bancroft’s 40-member team consists of Scandinavian, South African, and French former special forces members, including Richard Rouget (also known as ‘Colonel Sanders’), a former officer in the French Army who has recent combat experience in several African countries. Read more of this post

Former US spy chief questions ‘war on terrorism’ logic, tactics

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
America’s former top intelligence official has publicly questioned the logic and methods informing Washington’s “war on terrorism”, and called for the CIA unmanned drone assassination program in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be grounded. Dennis C. Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence (DNI) until May of 2010, was speaking last week at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.  In an hour-long forum conversation with television journalist Leslie Stahl, Blair —a retired Admiral— explained that, in his view, America’s “war on terrorism” is misconceived, strategically counterproductive and ludicrously expensive. Speaking on the CIA’s unmanned drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Admiral Blair agreed that the drone attacks have killed some “mid-level” Taliban or al-Qaeda operatives, but said that the strikes have had a negligible overall impact on American security. As a terrorist outfit, al-Qaeda has shown that it is able to easily “sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign”, said Blair. Additionally, the former DNI said that unilateral air strikes are legally questionable and have proven strategically damaging, by “alienating the countries concerned” and dominating Washington’s relations with key nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (click here to read intelNews’ criticism of American raids in Somalia). In doing so, the drone attacks tend to “threaten the prospects of long-term reform” in those countries, said the retired Admiral. Earlier in the conversation, Blair had questioned the economic basis of America’s “war on terrorism”, telling his audience that the US intelligence and security establishment currently spends around $20 million a year for each member of al-Qaeda scattered around the world. Read more of this post