Palestinians announce end of intelligence cooperation with US and Israel

Palestinian National Security ForcesThe Palestinian Authority has announced an immediate cessation to all intelligence and security ties with Israel and the United States. The announcement, made on Thursday by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, marks the strongest response so far by the Fatah-dominated administration to the Israeli government’s plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, runs two intelligence agencies, the Palestinian Preventive Security (also known as the Preventive Security Service) and the General Intelligence Service. Both agencies are largely trained and funded by the United States and Israel. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has long assisted the two agencies, and has often benefited by intelligence-sharing aimed at a common adversary, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. In the past decade, American and Israeli intelligence agencies have worked closely with their Palestinian Authority counterparts to neutralize Hamas’ support in the West Bank.

But the Palestinian Authority has been threatening to terminate that longstanding security and intelligence cooperation, in response to an American-backed plan by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to annex large parts of the occupied territories in the West Bank. The annexed land contains illegal Israeli settlements, which the United States has condemned in the past. But the administration of President Donald Trump has reversed course and in May of 2018 even transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognizing the divided city as the capital of Israel. That move prompted the Palestinian Authority to cut all relations with Washington.

However, despite the political rift between the two sides, President Abbas had instructed the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence and security services to continue their cooperation with their Israeli and American counterparts. That ended on Thursday, as President Abbas announced that his administration would cease all intelligence and security cooperation with Israeli and American government agencies, effective immediately. Following Abbas’ announcement, the veteran Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat told reporters that direct cooperation with Israeli and American intelligence agencies had “stopped at the end of the president’s speech”. Erekat, who serves as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and is the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator with Israel, did not explain the extent of the cessation in cooperation. When asked, he responded that “the whole system is about to shut down […] in its entirety”.

In February it was reported that CIA director Gina Haspel had secretly visited Majed Faraj, director of the Preventive Security Organization, with the aim of convincing him not to terminate ties with her agency and other American intelligence bodies. The meeting reportedly took place in Ramallah, which is considered the seat of the Palestinian government in the West Bank. It appears, however, that Haspel’s efforts did not bear fruit, as all intelligence contacts between the two former partners have now been severed.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2020 | Permalink

INTERPOL issues red notice for alleged ex-CIA officer wanted in Britain

Harry DunnA so-called ‘red notice’ has been issued by INTERPOL for Anne Sacoolas, an alleged former employee of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is accused of causing an accident that killed a man in the United Kingdom last year. The accident victim is Harry Dunn, 19, who died on August 27, 2019, after a collision with a automobile that was being driven by Sacoolas. British police have said that Sacoolas’ car was being driven on the wrong side of the street at the time of the accident.

The accident took place a few yards from the entrance to the Royal Air Force base in Croughton, where Sacoolas’ husband was stationed at the time. He is thought to have been working at the US Air Force listening station, which is located inside the base. The American family had been in the United Kingdom for less than a month when the accident happened. British police charged Sacoolas with dangerous driving that led to the death of Dunn. However, the Sacoolas family left the country two weeks later, allegedly with the consent of the British Foreign Office. The Foreign Office reportedly agreed with the US government’s argument that Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity due to her husband’s work, and could not be tried for the accident.

Later, however, the diplomatic immunity claim was strongly disputed by Dunn’s family. Eventually British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab requested Sacoolas’ extradition to the United Kingdom. But the White House refused to grant the request and suggested instead that financial compensation be paid to the family. The White House also proposed a meeting between US President Donald Trump and the parents of Harry Dunn, which they refused to participate in. In the meantime there were allegations in British and American media that Sacoolas used to work for the CIA and that her husband is an intelligence officer.

Now INTERPOL, the International Police Organization, has issued a red notice for Sacoolas, which theoretically means she could be arrested if she were to leave American territory. Speaking on Monday, Radd Seiger, a lawyer for Dunn’s parents, argued the INTERPOL move means that Sacoolas did not have diplomatic immunity at the time of the accident, since red notices “are not served on valid diplomats”, he said. He also called for the British parliament to launch an inquiry into the accident and into Sacoolas’ subsequent departure from the United Kingdom.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 May 2020 | Permalink

US could withdraw intelligence assets from the UK due to Huawei’s role in 5G

HuaweiThe United States could end all sensitive intelligence operations and withdraw its intelligence assets from the United Kingdom if a leading Chinese company is hired to upgrade the country’s telecommunications network. The British government has come under relentless pressure by Washington to not hire Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers, to build the United Kingdom’s 5th generation cellular communications infrastructure.

Many Western intelligence agencies view Huawei as being uncomfortably close to the Communist Party of China. Washington has been leading a worldwide campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with some if its allies, notably Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies. Last year, Washington warned two of its main European allies, Britain and Germany, that it would stop sharing intelligence with them if they allowed Huawei to compete for 5G contracts.

Now the White House appears to be considering a more drastic step. According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the Trump administration has ordered a review of whether it should curtail its intelligence assets and operations on British soil if the Chinese firm were hired to build the UK’s 5G network. Citing “half a dozen” current and former British and American officials, the paper said that the review is still in the works. It is being conducted under the auspices of the National Security Council, America’s highest decision-making body, which is chaired by the president himself.

The Daily Telegraph reports that, among the topics being looked at in the review is whether US intelligence operations and hardware —both civilian and military— would be compromised by Huawei’s involvement in the telecommunications infrastructure. The hardware includes military installations and surveillance platforms, such as a number of RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, which operate out of the Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Sussex, near England’s southern coast. The paper notes that the report and its recommendations could result in drastic chances for the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 May 2020 | Permalink

US considers ending intel sharing with countries that criminalize homosexuality

Richard GrenellThe administration of United States President Donald Trump is considering the possibility of limiting or terminating the sharing of intelligence with countries around the world that criminalize homosexuality. The move is being led by Richard Grenell, an American diplomat, civil servant and media consultant, who was appointed by the White House as acting Director of National Intelligence in February. This makes Grenell the most senior intelligence official in the US.

The idea behind this proposed move is to apply pressure to countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality to change their laws. The primary force behind this initiative is Grenell himself, who is believed to be the first openly gay individual to serve in a cabinet-level position in the United States. Before his appointment as acting Director of National Intelligence, Grenell had been tasked by President Trump to lead an effort to use the US foreign policy agenda —including financial aid— as a form of incentive to end the criminalization of homosexuality worldwide.

Almost from the moment of his appointment on February 20, Grenell has vigorously prioritized issues relating to discrimination in the workplace. Earlier this month, he sent a letter (.pdf) to the member agencies of the US Intelligence Community urging them to ensure that their policies to protect their LGBT workforce from harassment and discrimination “are specific and deliberate”.

If the ODNI went ahead with limiting intelligence sharing, it would affect Washington’s intelligence relationship with several partners that are considered critical, including Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt. But in an interview with the The New York Times last week, Grenell argued that “ultimately, the United States is safer when our partners respect basic human rights”. Nondiscrimination against LGBT individuals “is an American value”, said Grenell, and argued that the US Intelligence Community should promoting what is effectively “United States policy”. The Times said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had formed a group “to review the issue [of intelligence sharing] and form ideas”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 April 2020 | Permalink

US considers pulling CIA from Afghan front lines to help salvage Taliban peace deal

US embassy in AfghanistanThe White House is considering a plan to pull back Central Intelligence Agency officers from stations across Afghanistan, in a last-ditch effort to boost prospects for a peace deal with the Taliban. Plans for the peace deal were announced in February by representatives of the US and the Pashtun-based Sunni group, which has waged an Islamist insurgency against the US-supported government in Kabul since 2001.

But armed violence between the two sides has since peaked, prompting many to question the viability of planned peace deal. In response to this development, the White House is now reported to be considering a plan to limit the CIA’s presence in the Central Asian country. This was demanded by the Taliban early on in the negotiations, alongside the planned withdrawal of American troops from the country. In return the Taliban had pledged no break all ties with international terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

The US had previously agreed to withdraw its troops from the country, but had ruled out pulling back CIA personnel —which are believed to number in the several hundreds in Afghanistan. A major reason for rejecting the Taliban demand is that the CIA supports, arms and trains several proxy forces throughout the country. These include the Khost Protection Force (KPF), a 6,500-strong unit of elite Afghan soldiers, which has a strong presence in Taliban strongholds like Ghazni, Paktia and Khost. These forces do not operate under the command of the Afghan government, but are instead directly controlled by the CIA.

Reports in August of 2019 claimed that the CIA would retain “a strong presence on the ground in Afghanistan”, even if American troops were to leave the country following a peace deal with the Taliban. But this is now under review, according to US officials who spoke anonymously to The New York Times. The paper said on Sunday that “the deliberations over the CIA presence” were now “part of larger discussions about pulling back international forces” from the country. One possible course of action revolves around a plan to limit the presence of the CIA to the grounds of the US embassy in Kabul, said The Times.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 April 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Will COVID-19 cause food shortages in the United States?

National Guard COVID-19The food supply chain in the United States has so far been able to endure the pressures caused by SARS-CoV-2. Grocery stores across the nation remain generally well-stocked, even if in some cases (like in Nevada and Arizona), the National Guard has been brought in to help with restocking. Shortages in certain types of foods, such as canned soup or pasta, are the result of unprecedented demand, rather than a breakdown in the food supply chain. Overall, therefore, there are no signs of systematic food shortages across the nation. However, disruptions —some of them severe— are likely to be experienced in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 IMPACT ON FARMS

Disruptions are likely to be felt first in the area of fresh produce, for two reasons. First, because large agricultural facilities are beginning to experience major shortages in personnel, as seasonal farmworkers —most of them from Central and South America— are unable to travel north due to the cessation of international travel in the Americas. Second, because —just like medical personnel across the country— agricultural workers are facing severe shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), which is essential for keeping them healthy in a pandemic. Until now, major Q QuoteCOVID-19 outbreaks have been occurring in densely populated urban centers. But as the disease continues to spread, it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches rural farming areas and enters farms, which are the beginning of the food supply chain. Many automated agricultural facilities, such as grain and soybean operations in the American Midwest, do not require large numbers of human laborers, and will thus suffer little disruption from the spread of the pandemic. However, this is not the case with fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes or grapes, which require human pickers to extract them. The progression of the disease in rural regions of Florida and California, which produce over 20% of total US agricultural value, will be a critical factor. As an illustration, is worth pointing out that two farms in California supply over 85% of all carrots in the US market. If COVID-19 affects the production and distribution capacity of global producers of fresh fruits and vegetables, like the Florida-based Fresh Del Monte Produce, the ramifications are likely to be felt across the world for more than a year.

AGRICULTURAL DISRUPTIONS IN WESTERN EUROPE

Western Europe, which is ahead of the US in the spread of the disease, is already experiencing unprecedented disruptions in agricultural production. The closing of international borders has prevented millions of seasonal farmworkers from Eastern Europe, whom agricultural facilities in Western Europe rely on to pick fruits and vegetables each year, from traveling west. Italy and Britain havQ Quotee begun issuing calls for unemployed workers to form “land armies” and volunteer to pick produce in farms. The French government has called “for hairdressers, waiters, florists and others temporarily unable to work” due to the pandemic “to head to the nation’s fields and start picking”. And in Germany, the authorities have launched a website that solicits volunteers to work in farms across the nation. However, as only 16,000 have volunteered so far, the German government is now working on a plan to allow undocumented immigrants to make up the remaining 284,000 farmworkers that are needed to salvage this year’s crop.

DISRUPTION IN THE GLOBAL FOOD EXPORT SYSTEM

It is unrealistic to expect that these glitches will not eventually make their way to the US. Moreover, just like Western Europe, the US relies heavily on imported foods. The global nature of the pandemic is also beginning to cause major disruptions in food exports, as air and ship cargo dwindles dramatically. Already, the shortage of refrigerated containers used to transport meat and other food supplies from China to North America has prompted a drop in imports of over 25%. Meanwhile, India, which is the world’s largest exporter of rice, has completely halted exports due to logistical problems and labor shortages caused by the pandemic. The world’s second and third largest exporters of rice, Thailand and Vietnam, are likely to soon follow suit. Kazakhstan, which is among the world’s largest exporters of wheat flour, has now banned all exports of that product. Brazil, the largest exporter of coffee, sugar and soybeans in the world, has warned that it is facing an unprecedented shortage of farmworkers, truck drivers, and even spare parts for farm equipment. And Russia, which is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, has said that it will soon be forced to severely restrict exports for the same reasons as Brazil. These developments prompted the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to warn last week that food shortages, coupled with growing trade barriers between nations, “will create extreme volatility” in global food supply. Read more of this post

In historic first, US designates Russian white supremacist group as ‘global terrorists’

UkraineThe United States Department of State has designated a Russian white supremacist organization a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group. This designation marks the first time in history that the US Department of State has formally applied the label of terrorist to a white supremacist organization.

The group in question is the Russian Imperial Movement, which is abbreviated as RID (РИД) in Russian or as RIM in English. It is a far-right nationalist group whose members are considered racially motivated violent extremists. The majority of its members are based mostly in St. Petersburg, which is also the base of the group’s armed wing, the Imperial Legion. Most active members of the Imperial Legion are believed to have served in the Russian military.

Although it has been in existence since the early 2000s, the RIM drew considerable attention to its political platform after 2014, when it began to train groups of volunteers who then joined Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. The group has also trained neo-Nazi members of the Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR) who were later convicted of carrying out a string of bombings targeting immigrants in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

The relationship between the RIM and the Russian government is believed to be adversarial. The RIM is openly critical of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which it accuses of being too liberal and too lenient on immigration. However, the government in Moscow did not prevent —some argue it even facilitated— the group’s role in training Russian volunteers to join separatist forces in Donbass.

Members of the RIM have also traveled to the United States, but the extent of their interaction with American white supremacists is unknown. In January of this year it was reported that the leader of The Base, one of America’s most notorious neo-Nazi organizations, may be residing in Russia.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 April 2020 | Permalink