News you may have missed #340

  • West Bank urged to drop Israeli cell phone companies. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is urging Palestinians to stop using the Israeli cellular companies Pelephone, Orange, Cellcom and Mirs. The official reasons are economic (Israeli companies don’t pay taxes to the PA), but the real reasons are probably related to communications security.
  • US police wiretaps up 26 percent in one year. The number of wiretaps authorized by US state and federal judges in criminal investigations jumped 26 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to a report released Friday by the Administrative Office of the US Courts.
  • Taliban group executes high-profile ex-ISI spy. Khalid Khawaja, one of two Pakistani former Inter-Services Intelligence directorate officers captured by a Taliban splinter group, named Asian Tigers, has been found dead. The other ex-ISI official, Sultan Amir Tarar, a.k.a. Colonel Imam, who was Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s former handler, remains in captivity.

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CIA scores Washington Post charm offensive

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
For an agency whose very future is routinely questioned by former employees, the CIA has been getting plenty of positive press in the pages of The Washington Post lately. On Monday, The Post’s Jeff Stein cited “a former top CIA official” who claimed that the Agency’s unmanned drone assassination program in the Afghan-Pakistan border has the Taliban in disarray, “thinking that we can track them anywhere”. The former official also said that the speed of the CIA and “its Pentagon partners” (presumably NSA) in intercepting targeted communications makes the process of assassinating Taliban leaders “like mowing a lawn”. Does this sound too good to be true? How about an article published on the same day, also in The Washington Post, which claims that the CIA’s Predator drone assassination program has “kept the number of civilian deaths extremely low”? Read more of this post

Abduction of former Pakistani ISI officials raises questions

Colonel Imam

Colonel Imam

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Questions are being raised about the reported abduction of two well-known veterans of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, who appear to have been kidnapped by an unknown group in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions. The two are Khalid Khawaja and Sultan Amir Tarar, a.k.a. Colonel Imam. Khawaja, a retired ISI officer, was a critical mediator between the CIA and Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, during the al-Qaeda’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Colonel Imam, also a former intelligence officer and a diplomat, was the ISI handler of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in the 1980s and early 1990s. Both Khawaja and Imam are considered senior members of the ISI’s ‘old guard’, who have strong ideological sympathies for both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and frequently voice support for the latter. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #330

  • Pakistan released captured Taliban behind CIA’s back. IntelNews has not joined the chorus of commentators who have been claiming that the relationship between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate and the CIA has warmed up. It now appears that even as the ISI was collaborating with the CIA, it quietly freed at least two captured senior Afghan Taliban figures.
  • Kiwi activists accuse police of spying. New Zealand’s Peace Action Wellington has submitted an Official Information Act (OIA) request relating to domestic police surveillance, after accusing the police of “heavily spying on and running operations on protest groups”. It is not the first time that similar accusations have been directed against the country’s police force.
  • CIA suspected existence of Israeli nukes in 1974. Israel will neither confirm nor deny the rumored existence of its nuclear arsenal. But the CIA, which has kept an eye on Israel’s nuclear weapons project since at least the early 1960s, was convinced of its existence by 1974, according to a declassified report.

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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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Analysis: Taliban knew about US Special Forces presence in Pakistan

Bombed site in Shahi Koto, Pakistan

Bombed site

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
There has been remarkably little coverage in the US media of the deaths earlier this month of three US Special Forces operatives in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, who were killed in a bomb attack in the city of Shahi Koto. Most of the few analyses that have commented on the importance of this event have focused on the inevitable revelation that US troops are indeed active in Pakistan. But what about the intelligence angle? It appears that the bombing, which took place outside a newly built girls’ school in the town, was in fact aimed at the US troops, and that the attackers were aware of their supposedly secret presence in the area. The operation was therefore carefully targeted, and the suicide bomber appears to have patiently waited for the arrival of the Pakistani Frontier Corps five-vehicle convoy to arrive at the school. Read more of this post

US admits ‘200 troops’ on the ground in Pakistan

Afghan-Pakistani Border

AfPak border

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Last December, when Washington’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, categorically denied that the US had troops on Pakistani soil, we at intelNews were among some who refused to believe him. Instead, we referred readers to earlier revelations in The New York Times that US military forces were already secretly operating in Pakistan, and that more than 70 US “military advisers […] and technical specialists” were embedded with Pakistan’s special forces in the remote areas bordering Afghanistan. Those in the know are aware that embedded US troops have operated in Pakistan since at least February of 2008, no matter what Holbrooke claims. It took the deaths of three of these American soldiers, in a suicide attack by Pakistani Taliban, last week, for American officials to begin to admit that US troops are indeed operating inside Pakistan. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0277

  • Western officials say a CIA air strike has killed Hakimullah Mehsud. Mehsud was the leader of the largest faction of the Pakistani Taliban, and one of the handlers of Humam Khalil al-Balawi, the Jordanian who killed seven CIA officers last December in Khost, Afghanistan. Mehsud took over the leadership of the Pakistan Taliban last August, after another CIA air strike killed his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud (no relation).
  • US citizen requests North Korea asylum. An unidentified 28-year-old American man who crossed into North Korea from China has allegedly sought asylum because he did not “want to become a cannon fodder in the capitalist military”. He apparently told North Korean officials that he “wants to serve in the North Korean military” instead.

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Taliban will negotiate with US, says Mullah Omar’s former handler

Colonel Imam

Colonel Imam

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The $36-billion-worth military surge plan, spelled out by US President Barack Obama last October, is already underway in Afghanistan. But Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar, who in the 1980s handled and trained the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar on behalf of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, says the US/NATO surge is a waste of time and money. Instead, Brigadier Tarar, also known in Central Asia as the legendary Colonel Imam, says the US should strive for a political settlement with the Taliban, by directly negotiating with Mullah Omar. He also told McClatchy Newspapers that the new NATO strategy of so-called “reintegration”, whereby low-ranking Taliban insurgents will be offered steady income and personal protection in return for renouncing Mullah Omar, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, will fail. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0242

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Analysis: The Meaning of the Suicide Attack on the CIA

Forward Operating Base Chapman

Chapman FOB

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
The recent deaths of seven and the serious injury of another six CIA personnel in Afghanistan’s Khost province has undoubtedly shocked an Agency not used to mass casualties. But what exactly is the significance of Wednesday’s suicide attack at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman, and how will it affect the US military and intelligence presence at the Afghan-Pakistani border? Given that the CIA team at Chapman FOB could not have consisted of more than 15 to 20 agents, it would be logical to conclude that the attack virtually decimated the CIA presence in Khost. But the impact of this development on US operations in Afghanistan will be minimal, in contrast to operations inside Pakistan, which constituted the primary objective of the CIA team at Chapman FOB. Read article →

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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US use of stealth spy drones in Afghanistan raises questions

RQ-170 Sentinel

RQ-170 Sentinel

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
On December 6, we posted a link to a photo of what appeared to be a classified US drone aircraft, which was published on a blog belonging to French newspaper Libération. Then, unexpectedly, on December 8, the US Air Force admitted that the mystery aircraft, dubbed ‘the Beast of Kandahar’ by aviation spotters, is the RQ-170 Sentinel, an unmanned, unarmed surveillance and reconnaissance drone with stealth capabilities, that is officially still in production by US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. That’s all well and fine. But the question is: why would the US be using a stealth drone against the Taliban in Afghanistan, who have no known antiaircraft radar systems, and are therefore unable to track enemy surveillance planes? Read more of this post

One third of Pakistani spy budget comes from CIA, say officials

ISI HQ

ISI HQ

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
As much as one third of the annual budget of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has come from the CIA in the last eight years, according to a new report in The Los Angeles Times. The paper says that even more US dollars have been supplied to the ISI through a secret CIA monetary rewards program that pays for the arrest or assassination of militants wanted by Washington. The payments reportedly began during the early years of the George W. Bush administration, and are now continuing under the Obama administration, despite “long-standing suspicions” that the ISI and the Pakistani military maintain close links with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and elsewhere. Read more of this post

Book claims CIA turned blind eye on Pakistan’s post-9/11 terror links

Jean-Louis Bruguiere

J.L. Bruguiere

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A new book by France’s former leading investigating magistrate on counterterrorism affairs alleges that the CIA allowed the Pakistani army to train members of a notorious Islamist militant group, even after 9/11. In the book, entitled Ce que je n’ai pas pu dire (The Things I Would Not Utter), Jean-Louis Bruguiere says the US spy agency was aware that Pakistani army trainers worked with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group responsible for a series of sophisticated strikes in India, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The former magistrate bases his allegations on official testimony provided by Willy Brigitte, a French citizen from Guadeloupe, who was arrested in Australia in 2003, in connection with Lashkar-e-Taiba activities there. Soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Brigitte traveled to Pakistan aiming to join the Taliban insurgency, but was unable to cross the Pakistani-Afghan border. Read more of this post