Afghan President replaces spy chief with controversial figure

Assadullah KhaledBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The office of the Afghan President announced yesterday the dismissal of the country’s intelligence chief and his replacement with a controversial official accused by Canadian and British sources of using torture to implement his policies. Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked Rahmatullah Nabil, the outgoing Director of the National Directorate for Security (NDS), for his service, and said he would soon be appointed ambassador to a foreign country. According to Karzai’s representatives, the dismissal falls under the President’s decision that “no intelligence Director could serve longer than two years”. But observers point out that Nabil’s dismissal is part of a broader bureaucratic turf-war between the Office of the President and the Afghan Parliament, over the control of Afghan intelligence and military agencies. Earlier this month, the Parliament managed to oust two senior government officials, Minister of the Interior Besmillah Mohammadi and Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak. Both men are considered to be among President Karzai’s closest political allies. Nabil’s dismissal is therefore seen by many as an act of retribution by the President against defiant Afghan parliamentarians. What is arguably more interesting, however, is Karzai’s choice of the person to replace the fired Nabil, who is no other than Assadullah Khaled, currently Afghanistan’s Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs. According to sources in Kabul, Khaled’s appointment to lead the NDS is a matter of days, and that is appointment can already be considered as having been “confirmed”. This is despite the fact that Khaled is known for resorting to brutal torture and outright intimidation to get his way, especially during his time as Governor of the province of Kandahar. While there, he built a notorious reputation for abducting, torturing, and often killing, his personal and political opponents. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #694

Hakan FidanBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►India’s spy satellite to be launched in April. The Radar Imaging Satellite, or RISAT-1, is a wholly Indian-built spy-surveillance satellite that can see through clouds and fog and has very high-resolution imaging. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has said that RISAT-1 is slated for launch in April. The satellite would be used for disaster prediction and agriculture forestry, and the high-resolution pictures and microwave imaging “could also be used for defense purposes”.
►►GCHQ staff could risk prosecution for war crimes. British law firm Leigh Day & Co. and the legal action charity Reprieve are launching the action against Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague, accusing him of passing on intelligence to assist US covert drone attacks in Pakistan. Human rights lawyers have said that civilian staff at GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, could also be at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes.
►►Turf war between Turkey’s top spy and police commander? A news report appeared yesterday, which claimed that there was a rift between Turkish intelligence agency MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and National Police Chief Mehmet Kılıçlar, over intelligence sharing in the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But the two agencies issued a rare joint statement calling media reports “unsubstantiated”.

News you may have missed #689: NSA edition

Michael HaydenBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►Ex-NSA Director calls Stuxnet a ‘good idea’. General Michael Hayden, once head of the NSA and CIA, who was no longer in office when the Stuxnet attack on Iran occurred, but who would have been around when the computer virus was created, denies knowing who was behind it. He calls Stuxnet “a good idea”. But he also admits “this was a big idea, too. The rest of the world is looking at this and saying, ‘clearly, someone has legitimated this kind of activity as acceptable'”.
►►NSA develops secure Android phones. The US National Security Agency has developed and published details of an encrypted VoIP communications system using commercial off-the-shelf components and an Android operating system. A hundred US government employees participated in a pilot of Motorola hardware running hardened VoIP called ‘Project FISHBOWL’, NSA Information Assurance Directorate technical director Margaret Salter told the RSA Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. “The beauty of our strategy is that we looked at all of the components, and took stuff out of the operating system we didn’t need”, said Salter. “This makes the attack surface very small”.
►►Senior US Defense official says DHS should lead cybersecurity. In the midst of an ongoing turf battle over how big a role the National Security Agency should play in securing America’s critical infrastructure, Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy in the Department of Defense, said on Wednesday that the NSA should take a backseat to the Department of Homeland Security in this regard. “Obviously, there are amazing resources at NSA, a lot of magic that goes on there”, he said. “But it’s almost certainly not the right approach for the United States of America to have a foreign intelligence focus on domestic networks, doing something that throughout history has been a domestic function”.

News you may have missed #637

Dmitri Bystrolyotov

D.A. Bystrolyotov

►►South African spy boss to quit. Director General of the State Security Agency Jeff Maqetuka, who has been entangled in a never-ending war with Minister Siyabonga Cwele, is expected to step down this week, according to South Africa’s Sunday Independent. The paper claims that that plans are afoot to expedite Maqetuka’s departure from the country’s intelligence infrastructure by placing him on summer leave and then making sure he would not return to work in 2012.
►►Slovakian defense minister resigns over wiretap scandal. The interception of journalists’ telephone calls by the Slovakian Defense Ministry’s counterintelligence arm has cost the country’s Defense Minister, Lubomír Galko, his job. The scandal involved Slovakia’s Military Defense Intelligence (VOS). It has also emerged that the VOS operation involved wiretapping of the head of TV news channel TA3 and two senior Defense Ministry employees, according to leaked documents obtained by Slovak media outlets.
►►Book on Soviet spy Dmitri Bystrolyotov. Excerpt from Emil Draitser’s book Stalin’s Romeo Spy: The Remarkable Rise and Fall of the KGB Most Daring Operative (Northwestern University Press, 2010), about one of the 20th century’s most outstanding undercover operatives. Bystrolyotov acted in Western Europe in the interwar period, recruiting and running several important agents in Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.

News you may have missed #632 (Israel edition)

Ari Ben-Menashe

Ari Ben-Menashe

►►What are Mossad ex-chief’s business ties to Uganda? Former director of operations in the Israeli spy agency Mossad, Rafi Eitan, is now a private businessman. Yet he helped organize Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s recent visit to Israel. He is said to have been trying to establish business operations in Uganda and to set up a cattle ranch in the country.
►►Israel FM meets Mossad chief in bid to end row. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met on Sunday with Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, in a bid to end the crisis between the two men, which culminated last week, when Lieberman ordered the foreign ministry to boycott the Mossad, to stop sharing information and to refrain from inviting Mossad officials to discussions and meetings.
►►Canada’s spy watchdog’s in shady deal with Israeli businessman. Arthur Porter, the federally appointed chairman of Canada’s Security and Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), wired $200,000 in personal funds to Ari Ben-Menashe. A former Israeli government employee, Ben-Menashe was charged in the United States with illegally attempting to sell military planes to Iran. He said that he acted on orders from Israel. He then wrote a memoir called Profits of War, filled with accounts of international espionage and conspiracies he says he either participated in or was privy to.

Turf war between Mossad and Israel’s Foreign Ministry worsens

Avigdor Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israel’s foreign affairs minister has ordered his department’s employees to stop cooperating with the Mossad, according to media reports. Minister Avigdor Lieberman, one of Israel’s most hardline nationalist politicians, accuses the country’s covert operations agency of meddling in the tasks of Israel’s diplomatic community, while at the same time refusing to share its intelligence output with foreign affairs officials. According to The Washington Times, which cites the Hebrew-language edition of reputable Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot, Mr. Lieberman’s decision was prompted by the Israeli Prime Minister’s move to entrust the country’s relations with Turkey to a Mossad official. Media reports state that the spy agency’s David Meidan has been dispatched by Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkey, in order to patch up the Jewish state’s anemic relationship with its once close regional ally. This has enraged the foreign affairs ministry’s leadership, which was already upset over salary discrepancies between diplomats and Mossad spies, as well as the latter’s chronic refusal to share intelligence with foreign policy planners. The friction between the Mossad and Israel’s diplomatic community goes back decades, but Lieberman’s controversial ascendance to Foreign Affairs Minister in 2009 intensified the turf war. At the beginning, Lieberman made calculated friendly gestures toward the Mossad, in one instance going as far as appointing a former Mossad official as Israel’s first-ever ambassador to Turkmenistan. But such moves quickly gave way to direct bureaucratic confrontations, which included direct strikebreaking action by Mossad officers, who assumed the duties of Foreign Affairs officials when the latter went on strike demanding better pay and work conditions. Read more of this post

South African spy chiefs fired as political turmoil deepens

Moe Shaik

Moe Shaik

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The heads of South Africa’s three major intelligence departments have become the latest casualties in a major political battle waging within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which threatens to engulf the entire country. Several South African news outlets report that Siyabonga Cwele, the country’s Minister for State Security, summarily fired the three senior intelligence officials late last week, after a major row over providing government protection for his wife, who has been convicted of drugs smuggling. The three officials, who have stepped down, are Jeff Maqetuka, Director of the State Security Agency (SSA), and Gibson Njenje and Moe Shaik, respective heads of the SSA’s domestic and external intelligence services. According to press reports, the three officials unanimously objected to Cwele’s order to provide his wife Sheryl with secret service protection during her May 2011 trial for drugs smuggling, in which she was sentenced to 12 years in prison. But there are signs that Sheryl Cwele’s case was simply the last drop, which came on top a series of turf wars and bureaucratic conflicts between various factions of the ANC. Specifically, there is speculation in South African intelligence circles that Gibson Njenje resigned partly in protest against so-called “unauthorized operations”, namely telecommunications and physical surveillance of ANC cabinet ministers. The surveillance operations are reportedly being conducted in preparation for a showdown between rival ANC factions in December of 2013. At that time, ANC President Jacob Zuma is expected to face off the party’s Youth League leader, Julius Malema. The latter, favored by an increasingly disaffected segment of the ANC’s working class supporters, is seen as representing the radical populist wing of the party. Read more of this post

Did FSB leak Russian double spy’s name to the media?

SVR seal

SVR seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The revelation that a double agent betrayed the ten Russian deep-cover spies, who were arrested in the United States last summer, may have been leaked to the media as part of a turf war between two rival Russian spy agencies. On November 11, Russian newspaper Kommersant disclosed that a senior officer in Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) had defected to the United States shortly before the arrest of ten Russian deep-cover spies by the FBI, on June 27, 2010. The paper identified the alleged double agent as “Colonel Shcherbakov”, believed by veteran KGB officer Oleg Kalugin to be Aleksandr Vasilyevich Shcherbakov. The Kommersant disclosure was later confirmed by no other than Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. But who leaked Shcherbakov’s name to Kommersant, and why? According to Pavel Felgenhauer, military and intelligence correspondent for Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, the leak originated from within the Russian intelligence establishment. Specifically, Felgenhauer suggests that it was Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) that leaked the information to the media, in an attempt to score points against the SVR. Read more of this post

Analysis: Deadly conflict inside Iraqi spy service goes unmentioned

Iraq

Iraq

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Amidst the chaos of post-Ba’athist Iraqi politics, a deadly sectarian conflict is raging within Iraq’s powerful spy agency. Employees inside Iraq’s National Intelligence Service (INIS) are split along religious sectarian lines, with Sunni and Shiite officers battling for control of the organization. The warring factions are directly affiliated with opposing political parties, and represent various political interests. Shiite officers are seen as aligned with Tehran, whereas Sunnis are close to Washington and –ironically– to the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party. The conflict has resulted in the assassination of several INIS officers, mostly by their colleagues in the Service, according to two anonymous Iraqi security officials, who spoke to The National, an English-language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #426 (Gareth Williams edition II)

  • ‘Turf war’ over Williams killing. British media claim that a turf battle has erupted between British police and the country’s external intelligence agency, MI6, with some police officers complaining that MI6 personnel are hindering their investigation into the death of former MI6 and GCHQ employee Gareth Williams.
  • Williams reported ‘being tailed’ before death. British tabloid The Daily Express claims that Gareth Williams feared he was being followed and told his superiors at MI6 he thought he was being targeted by foreign agents, several weeks before his death.
  • NSA expert doubts Williams killing was spy-related. Intelligence commentator James Bamford, who has authored several books on the NSA, GCHQ’s equivalent agency in the US, says that “leaving a body in a canvas bag sounds more like a jealous lover or drug deal gone bad than a political assassination”.

Analysis: How the CIA bedded down in Burma

Burma

Burma

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It is a story that was largely ignored when it surfaced last year: since 1994, US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer Richard A. Horn had been claiming that CIA agents illegally wiretapped his conversations while he was stationed in Burma. It appears that, at the time, the US diplomatic representation in Burma and the CIA station in Rangoon were at loggerheads with the DEA. The latter, represented by special agent Horn, had a policy of publicly commending the Burmese government for its significant efforts to end the vastly lucrative illegal drug trade in the country. But the diplomatic leadership at the US embassy in Rangoon, supported by the CIA, felt that their inroads with the Burmese military junta, which has controlled the country since 1990, were being obstructed by the DEA. Read more of this post

Strike causes rift in Israeli diplomat-spy relations

Mossad seal

Mossad seal

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Members of Israel’s striking diplomatic community say they will refuse cooperation with Israeli spies, after the latter stepped in to take over some of the striking diplomats’ tasks. The ongoing strike by the Diplomatic Association of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs aims to eliminate the notable income disparity between Israeli diplomats and civil servants in the country’s Ministry of Defense, who make almost double than their diplomatic colleagues. The impact of the strike on Israel’s worldwide diplomatic activity has been substantial, and has included cancellations of some state-level visits. One such visit is a trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Greece, which the Israeli leader is keen on undertaking, despite the strike. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #413

  • Complex politics behind Ugandan spy chief’s removal. The recent sacking of Dr Amos Mukumbi from heading Uganda‘s Internal Security Organisation (ISO) was the handiwork of politics, intrigue and suspicion within the country’s intelligence community and between politicians. It was also related to ongoing turf wars between the ISO and its sister agency, the External Security Organisation.
  • Experts still evaluating WikiLeaks impact. Some analysts believe that the US intelligence establishment will call for an increased clampdown on secrecy in the wake of the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diary files release. But the data dump has also spurred those arguing that the US government needs to reduce the amount of information it classifies as secret, much of which may be unnecessary.
  • Radio program investigates the Mossad. BBC Radio has aired a relatively well-produced primer on Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. The BBC’s Security Correspondent Gordon Corera interviews former Mossad Director Efraim Halevy and former Mossad operative Rafi Eitan, among others.

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Comment: Washington Post’s ‘Top Secret America’

Dana Priest

Dana Priest

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Like most intelligence observers, we at intelNews have monitored with interest The Washington Post’s recent investigation into the current state of the US intelligence complex. Authored by longtime investigative reporter Dana Priest and national security correspondent William Arkin, the three-part series offers a long-overdue examination of some of the most pressing issues in American intelligence. The articles are well written, detailed and informative, and intelNews recommends that they be read by all those interested in understanding broad trends in contemporary American intelligence. However, those readers interested in a sneak peak of some of the most important findings of the Post’s investigation, may wish to browse the helpful summary provided by Liz Goodwin, of Yahoo! News’ Upshot blog. In it, she delineates the main conclusions of the report, which –broadly speaking– focuses on three critical issues.

Read more of this post

Analysis: Axing of US DNI points to structural issues

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Although few American intelligence observers were astonished by last week’s involuntary resignation of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the silence by the White House on the subject has raised quite a few eyebrows in Washington. Admiral Dennis C. Blair, who became DNI in January of 2009, announced his resignation on Friday. Blair’s announcement came after a prolonged period of controversy, which included bitter infighting with the CIA, and culminated with the recent partial publication of a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which blamed “systemic failures across the Intelligence Community” for the so-called Christmas bomb plot of last December. The problem is that Admiral Blair’s replacement will be the fourth DNI in five years, after John Negroponte, Mike McConnell and Blair himself. Read more of this post