Turkey issues warrant for ex-CIA officer over alleged role in 2016 coup

Recep Tayyip ErdoğanThe Turkish government has issued a warrant for the arrest of a former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which Ankara claims was instrumental in the failed July 2016 attempt to topple the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The move comes amidst heightened tensions in relations between Ankara and Washington. The two NATO allies have partially revoked entry visas for each other’s citizens, while it is alleged that Michael Flynn, US President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, had an illegal agreement with Turkey to help abduct a Turkish dissident cleric living in Pennsylvania and help transport him to Turkey.

The warrant was issued on December 1 by the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor in Istanbul. It seeks the arrest of Graham Fuller, an 80-year-old former analyst in the CIA, who lives in Canada. The warrant identifies Fuller as a “former CIA official” and claims that he attempted to “overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey” and obstruct “the missions” of the Turkish government. The reference here is to the July 2016 coup, which the Turkish government claims was carried out by the so-called Gülen movement. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims that its members have stealthily infiltrated Turkish state institutions since the 1980s. Ever since the failed coup, Ankara has engaged in a controversial campaign to remove so-called Gülenists from prominent posts in government and the private sector. More than 50,000 people have been arrested on terrorism charges and are awaiting trial. Another 150,000 public and private sector employees have been summarily fired from their job.

Many in Turkey accuse the CIA of having colluded with Gülenists to topple Erdoğan’s pro-Islamist government. Fuller is accused of having strong links with Gülen and of having been instrumental in helping the exiled cleric receive permanent residency in the US. Some Turkish media claim that Fuller acted as a “CIA handler” of Gülen, who is accused of being a CIA agent. Fuller’s CIA career involved a tour in Turkey in the 1960s. He concluded his career as a member of the US National Intelligence Council, a body that helps coordinate the US Intelligence Community’s broad and long-term strategic planning. In 1988, Fuller joined the RAND Corporation, a research think-tank with close links to the US Department of Defense. After 2006, he taught history at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, where he lives today.

Fuller emailed a statement to major news agencies on Friday, rejecting the Turkish government’s allegations and saying that Ankara was using him as “a choice target”. The former CIA officer said he had not been to Turkey in over five years, and that he had only met Gülen once in 2002 in Istanbul. At that time, said Fuller in his statement, he had been out of the CIA for 15 years. Further on in his statement, Fuller said that he understood why some Turks accused the CIA of having planned the 2016 coup, given the agency’s history of meddling in domestic Turkish politics. However, he said he had nothing to do with the coup attempt, which he described as “pathetic, ill-conceived and amateurish”. The CIA has not commented on Ankara’s allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 December 2017 | Permalink

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Trump administration allegedly considering plan to privatize CIA operations

Trump CIAThe United States Central Intelligence Agency and the White House are considering several proposals to hire private companies to carry out covert operations abroad, according to a report. BuzzFeed News said on Thursday that the proposals were communicated to the White House in the summer. The news site, which described the proposed plans as “highly unusual”, quoted “three sources who have been briefed on or have direct knowledge of the proposals”. The sources told BuzzFeed that, if approved, the plans would include the establishment of large intelligence networks in so-called “denied areas” —namely foreign environments deemed hostile. The networks would recruit and handle local agents, carry out psychological operations, capture terrorism suspects and rendition them to the US or third countries. “Islamic extremism” is mentioned as the primary target of the proposals.

According to BuzzFeed, one of the proposals involves Amyntor Group, a private company headquartered in the remote town of Whitefish, in northwestern Montana. The company is staffed by former members of the US Intelligence Community who have security clearances. It specializes in intelligence training and risk assessment. But it also collects and analyzes intelligence and provides counterintelligence services for government agencies in America and what it calls “friendly foreign governments” abroad. The company has reportedly been holding discussions with senior officials in the administration of President Donald Trump in recent weeks, according to two of BuzzFeed’s sources. The same sources say that the move toward privatization of some intelligence operations is being led by a feeling in the Trump administration that the CIA has a negative view of the White House. They claim that the CIA is not prepared to go along with the Trump administration’s efforts to make the agency’s operations more aggressive and, in the words of its new director, Mike Pompeo, “much more vicious”. They therefore see privatization as a way to bypass the resistance and skepticism of the CIA’s upper management.

BuzzFeed said it contacted the CIA about the Amyntor Group proposal, but the agency preferred not to comment. A press officer for the National Security Council, which is chaired by President Trump, said that its members were not aware of the privatization proposals. Amyntor Group commented through one of its lawyers, who told BuzzFeed that any contract signed between the company and the US government would be directed and controlled “by the proper government authority”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 December 2017 | Permalink

Israeli armed raid in Syria reportedly led to US banning laptops on some flights

Ibrahim al-AsiriA temporary ban issued by United States authorities on laptop computers onboard some commercial flights earlier this year came from a tip by Israeli intelligence, according to a new report. The report was published last week in the American magazine Vanity Fair. It claimed that Israeli commandos carried out a dangerous night-time operation deep inside Syria, in order to acquire physical proof that the Islamic State had  built bombs that were not detectable by X-ray screening systems at airports. But some Israeli intelligence officials became infuriated with Donald Trump after the US President allegedly gave Russia background information about the commando operation, according to the article.

The order to temporarily ban electronic devices larger than cellphones was issued by the US government on March 20, 2017. It applied to direct flights to the US departing from a dozen international airports in the Middle East. In June, the New York Times alleged that the ban was aimed at stopping Islamic State operatives from bringing onboard airplanes bombs disguised as laptop batteries. The paper also said that the information about these bombs had been acquired by Israeli government hackers who had penetrated Islamic State computer systems. But now a new report by Vanity Fair claims that Tel Aviv tipped off the Americans following a commando raid deep inside Syrian territory, which acquired physical evidence of the bombs. The magazine alleges that the raid was carried out by the Sayeret Matkal, an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces, under the supervision of the Mossad, Israel’s external spy agency. Its target was a highly secretive cell of explosives experts, who were led Ibrahim al-Asiri, a Saudi militant who built bombs for the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Mossad shared some of the intelligence from that raid with the Central Intelligence Agency, which in turn told President Trump. That led to the decision to ban laptops from selected flights, until X-ray machines at airports were modified to detect the new type of bomb.

The Vanity Fair article repeats earlier claims that President Trump shared intelligence given to him by the Israelis with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak, when he met them in May of this year. According to Israeli sources, Mr. Trump did not tell the Russian officials that Israel was behind the operation. But he allegedly identified the city in Syria where the raid took place, and in doing so placed the life of an Israeli human asset at risk, according to some. The Israeli government will not comment on these allegations. Additionally, Vanity Fair said that one “former Mossad officer with knowledge of the operation and its aftermath” would not say whether the asset in question had been safely exfiltrated from Syria or even whether he or she was still alive.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 November 2017 | Permalink

US diplomats in Russia to be guarded by firm with ties to senior ex-KGB official

US embassy in RussiaSeveral American diplomatic facilities in Russia, including the United States embassy in Moscow, as well as consulates in other major Russian cities, will be guarded by a firm with ties to a former senior KGB official. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the company, Elite Security Holdings, is headquartered in Moscow but has offices throughout Europe and the former Soviet republics. The firm has its roots in an earlier venture co-founded by former KGB official Viktor G. Budanov. The 82-year-old Budanov served as director of the KGB’s K Directorate, also known as Second Chief Directorate, which was responsible for counterintelligence. Budanov no longer owns any part of Elite Security Holdings. But his son, Dimitri Budanov, is believed to be in charge of the firm’s headquarters in the Russian capital. The family is known to be politically close to Vladimir Putin, who served together in the KGB with Viktor Budanov in East Germany in the 1980s.

Elite Security Holdings was awarded a no-bid contract by the US Department of State’s Office of Acquisitions —meaning that no other company was solicited by the US government for the contract. The agreement was struck once US diplomatic facilities in Russia were forced by Moscow to cut their staff by 755 employees. That resulted in the firing of many staff members, most of them local Russians, whose job was to guard the perimeters of US diplomatic facilities, screen visitors, and patrol the embassy grounds. To make up for the loss of personnel, the Department of State hired Elite Security Holdings, which is authorized to operate in Russia as a private local company; its staff members are therefore not considered to be employees of Washington. But the private firm retains close links to Budanov, who spent 25 years outthinking the CIA as head of the KGB’s counterintelligence directorate.

The Times spoke to an anonymous US State Department official, who said that Elite Security Holdings personnel would not have access to the embassy’s secure areas. The official also told the paper that all Elite Security Holdings employees had been carefully screened by “relevant national and local agencies” and posed no threat to the security of US diplomatic facilities. The latter would still be primarily protected by US Marines, who are detailed to the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. According to The Times, Elite Security Holdings personnel will work at the US embassy in Moscow, and the consulates in Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 16 November 2017 | Permalink

US airport screenings failed to detect 70% of hidden weapons in tests

TSA screeningAttempts by undercover investigators to smuggle weapons, explosives and contraband aboard American passenger flights were successful between 70 and 80 percent of the time in the past year, according to reports. The results of the investigations were revealed in Congress behind closed doors on Wednesday of last week, prompting lawmakers to severely criticize the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA was founded in November 2001 in direct response to the tragic events of September 11 of that year. It is primarily concerned with air travel and is responsible for ensuring the safety of the traveling public across the US.

The TSA’s security systems in airports across America are regularly tested by undercover investigators, who are hired to examine and assess the effectiveness of these systems. Last week, several US news media reported that the latest round of tests showed that undercover investigators were more often than not able to sneak dangerous items onboard civilian aircraft. Smuggled items allegedly included guns, explosives and knives, which could be used to carry out hijackings similar to those that brought down four commercial airliners in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. The precise rate of success of the recent tests has not been confirmed, because it has not been released to the public. ABC News said that the rate was close to 80 percent, while CBS reported that it was closer to 70 percent.

Remarkably, similar tests conducted in 2015 were successful 95 percent of the time, meaning that the TSA did considerably better in this year’s tests, despite its abysmally low rate of detection. On Wednesday, members of the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security expressed serious concerns about the TSA’s lack of success. They aired their criticisms in the presence of Vice Admiral Peter Pekoske (ret.) who currently serves as the TSA’s Administrator. Some members of the committee also criticized the insistence of the White House on building a border wall instead of investing in air travel security. On Thursday, the TSA released a statement saying it took the results of the recent tests “very seriously” and that it was already taking active measures to “improve screening effectiveness at [airport] checkpoints” across America.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 November 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: C.F.

Netanyahu allegedly asked Trump to let spy Jonathan Pollard move to Israel

Jonathan PollardIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked the United States President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard, an American who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, to immigrate to Tel Aviv. Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the US Navy, was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving 30 years for selling US government secrets to Israel. Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, claiming that the convicted spy did not harm American interests, but was simply trying to help Israel. But the US Intelligence Community has consistently rejected Israel’s claims, arguing that Pollard’s activities were severely detrimental to American interests. At the end, successive American presidents refused to pardon Pollard. He was released in November of 2015, after serving his entire 30-year sentence.

Pollard, who was given Israeli citizenship in recognition for his services to the Jewish state, has repeatedly stated his desire to renounce his American citizenship and immigrate to Israel. However, the conditions of his release prevent him from doing so. Since his release, he has been forced to wear a GPS monitoring device at all times and is not allowed to leave his New York apartment between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., nor is he allowed to leave the United States for any reason. It is speculated that this restriction is designed to prevent him from accessing close to $1 million in spy wages that his Israeli handlers are reputed to have deposited in a Swiss bank account.

But with a new administration now in Washington, the Israeli government believes that it may be able to press for the relaxation of some of the restrictions imposed on Pollard. According to the Israeli television station Channel 2, Prime Minister Netanyahu has personally lobbied President Trump to allow Pollard to leave America for Israel. According to the report, the Israeli prime minister told Mr. Trump that, if allowed to move to Israel, Pollard would abide by the same restrictions that he currently follows in New York. These reportedly include a strict daily curfew and limitations on foreign travel. Channel 2 said that Israeli is seeking to get custody of Pollard in return for its alleged efforts to re-enter negotiations with Fatah, the Palestinian group that governs the Occupied Territories. The television station said that American officials appear hesitant to allow Pollard to go to Israel. Even if Israel’s request is granted, the American side does not want to link Pollard’s case to the Arab-Israeli peace process, it said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 November 2017 | Permalink

Russian spies arrested by the FBI in 2010 had targeted Hillary Clinton

Hillary ClintonA major reason behind the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s decision to arrest ten Russian spies across the United States in 2010 was their increasing proximity to the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it has been claimed. The spies had been specifically instructed by their handlers in Moscow to target Clinton, who was seen as the most likely successor to US President Barack Obama, according to recently released FBI files. Ten Russian deep-cover spies, who had no official cover and thus no diplomatic immunity, were arrested by the FBI in June 2010, following a ten-year counterintelligence investigation codenamed Operation GHOST STORIES.

The ten had entered the country from various destinations, including Canada, Latin America and Europe. Some were posing as citizens of third countries, while others had fraudulently assumed the names of dead Americans. They had been tasked by the SVR, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, with blending into American society and finding their way into senior policy circles in Washington, DC, and other major decision-making hubs of the US government. US Justice Department documents refer to the SVR spy ring as “the illegals program” or “the Russian illegals program”.

On Sunday, the Washington-based newspaper The Hill said that it was able to shed more light into the Russian illegals program, after accessing recently unsealed FBI documents and interviewing US government officials. The paper said that the SVR had specifically instructed some of the illegals to concentrate on penetrating the Department of State. Their primary goal was to uncover information about the Obama administration’s policy on Russia. A key target of the Russian illegals was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was seen by Moscow as the leading voice on Washington’s Russia policy. Read more of this post