Outgoing CIA director says scrapping Iran nuclear deal would be ‘disastrous’

John BrennanThe outgoing director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency has warned in an interview that it would be “disastrous” for Washington to abandon a nuclear treaty with Iran, which was agreed in 2015. John Brennan is a career intelligence officer and fluent Arabic speaker, who has served in the CIA for 25 years. He was appointed director of the agency in March of 2013 by President Barack Obama and is scheduled to leave the position in January of 2017, after nearly four years at the helm of the CIA.

Earlier this week, in the first interview given by a serving CIA director to a British media agency, Brennan told the BBC that he hoped the incoming administration in Washington would show “prudence and discipline” in security matters. He was referring to the administration of US president-elect Donald Trump, which is currently taking shape in preparation for January. The business tycoon said during his election campaign that he would scrap the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an international agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and a group of nations known as the P5+1, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. As part of the deal, Iran has agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions.

The man chosen by Trump to replace Brennan at the helm of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, is a member of the so-called Tea Party Movement within the Republican Party and a fierce critic of the Iran deal. But Brennan told the BBC that “it would be the height of folly if the next administration were to tear up that agreement”. The outgoing CIA director said it would be “unprecedented” for an American administration to scrap an international agreement struck by its predecessor. Additionally, said Brennan, if Washington abandons the treaty it will strengthen hardliners in the Islamic Republic and would cause neighboring states to pursue their own nuclear programs in response to Tehran’s. During his interview, Brennan also cautioned the Trump administration to “be wary of Russian promises” and not to trust the advances of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 December 2016 | Permalink

Joint British-American operation has decimated Islamic State’s cyber force

Computer hackingCoordinated efforts by Anglo-American military and intelligence agencies have resulted in the killing or capturing of nearly every senior commander of the Islamic State’s online force. The close-knit group of Islamic State hackers and online propagandists, which are informally known as “the Legion”, is responsible for hacking and online recruitment incidents that led to several lone-wolf attacks in the West. In one incident in March of 2015, the Legion claimed responsibility for the unauthorized release of personal details of over 1,300 American government employees, with orders to Islamic State volunteers to kill them. In other instances, Legion operatives reached out to impressionable young men and women in Western Europe and the United States and convinced them to move to Syria or conduct attacks at home.

According to The New York Times, which published an article last week about the current state of the Legion, in the early days of its emergence the group was viewed as a law enforcement problem. However, there were several successful and unsuccessful attacks by lone-wolf actors in the United States during the summer of 2015. According to The Times, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became overwhelmed and “was struggling to keep pace with the threat” posed by the Islamic State on the domestic front. It therefore pressed the US Department of Defense to help tackle the problem at its source. The DoD then teamed up with the British government, which was monitoring the Legion due to many of its members being British-born subjects. The two governments embarked on a “secretive campaign”, which has led to the capture of nearly 100 individuals associated with the Legion in less than two years. Another 12 members of the group, who had senior positions, have been killed in targeted drone strikes since the summer of 2015, says The Times.

The joint Anglo-American operation is allegedly responsible for the recent drop in terrorist activity instigated by the Islamic State in the West. It appears, says the paper, that the Islamic State is failing to replace the captured or killed members of the Legion with equally skilled operatives, which may point to the desperate state of the organization. But the Islamic State continues to operate a relatively sophisticated media arm, according to US government officials, and its media reach should not be underestimated, even as it is losing ground in Syria and Iraq.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 November 2016 | Permalink

NSA chief preempts move to fire him by entering talks with Trump

Michael S. RogersThe director of the United States National Security Agency has taken the unprecedented step of entering talks with president-elect Donald Trump, amidst reports that President Barack Obama may fire him. Admiral Michael S. Rogers, 57, a US Navy cryptologist with a military career that spans over three decades, has been at the helm of the NSA since April of 2014. Last weekend, however, The Washington Post alleged that senior US military and intelligence officials urged President Obama to fire him. Citing “several US officials familiar with the matter”, The Post said on Saturday that a recommendation to fire Admiral Rogers was delivered to the President in October by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter and the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.

Secretary Carter is allegedly displeased with the NSA director’s performance, following what The Post said were “persistent complaints from NSA personnel” that Admiral Rogers is “aloof, frequently absent” from his duties, and tends to disregard input from his advisors at NSA. DNI Clapper added to Rogers’ list of concerns, while also proposing that the NSA should be led by a civilian administrator. The paper alleged that the president agreed with the recommendations and had planned to replace Admiral Rogers with an acting NSA director shortly before the election of November 8. That would reportedly allow the incoming president to appoint a new director of their preference in the new year. However, the move was delayed due to ongoing discussions about balancing the NSA’s military and civilian roles.

In the meantime, it appears that the NSA director preempted his impending firing by entering negotiations with president-elect Donald Trump about joining the new administration. According to The Post, Trump is considering appointing Admiral Rogers to the post of DNI, to replace Clapper. The paper described the Admiral’s move to meet with Trump without notifying his superiors —including the president— as “unprecedented for a military officer”. The NSA director’s move has allegedly displeased the Obama administration, but it is unclear how the president will respond. During a press conference in Lima, Peru, on Sunday, President Obama declined to answer questions about Admiral Rogers’ rumored replacement. He described the NSA director as “a terrific patriot”, but added that it was not his practice to comment on matters relating to personnel appointments. The Department of Defense, Office of the DNI, and the NSA have all declined to comment on the matter.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 November 2016 | Permalink

Russian defectors claim US intelligence agencies failed to protect them

Janosh NeumannTwo Russian intelligence officers, who defected to the United States in 2008, claim that they had to fend for themselves after American spy agencies failed to protect them despite promises to the contrary. Janosh Neumann (born Alexey Yurievich Artamonov) and his wife Victorya were employees of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) specializing in investigations of money laundering and corruption. But in 2008 they traveled from Russia to Germany and from there to the Dominican Republic. Once in the Caribbean island, they entered the US embassy and offered to work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The couple claim that they provided “a trove of secrets” to the CIA, including information on FSB officials who engaged in corrupt practices such as bribing, money-laundering and large-scale tax evasion. In return, the CIA transported the Neumanns to America, where they were granted permission to settle temporarily based on humanitarian grounds. The two Russian defectors claim that they were promised green cards and, eventually, American citizenship. For several months following their entry into the US, the Neumanns were kept in a government safe house, where they were debriefed, given polygraph tests, and met regularly with officials from the Departments of Justice and Treasury, as well as with employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the CIA. They say they gave information to the CIA about the methods used by Russian intelligence operatives to infiltrate American corporations. But when the CIA tried to convince them to move back to Russia and work there for the US government as agents-in-place, the Neumanns refused and chose instead to work for the FBI.

The two Russians say the worked for the Bureau for five years, during which time they were paid approximately $1 million. But in 2013 when their employment contracts expired, the FBI did not renew them. Later that year, the Neumanns’ temporary visa to remain in the US expired. Meanwhile, US immigration authorities denied Janosh’s application for a green card because he allegedly hinted that he tortured people for the FSB during his interview with a US immigration official. Eventually, the Russian defectors convinced the FBI to send immigration officials a letter stating that there was no reason to assume that Janosh had tortured or persecuted people in Russia. Earlier this year, the Newmanns, who recently had a baby here in the US, were allowed to stay and have now applied for green cards again. But they say they reserve the right to sue the US government for having previously denied them protection and citizenship.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 November 2016 | Permalink

US Special Forces soldiers killed in Jordan were with the CIA, say officials

JordanThree United States Special Forces soldiers who were killed outside a Jordanian military base earlier this month were working for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to American government officials. The three soldiers were shot dead on November 4 by a Jordanian soldier, who was subsequently wounded in an exchange of fire, according to reports. The US Department of Defense said the three men were members of the 5th Special Forces Group based in Fort Campbell, a US Army installation located in the American state of Kentucky. They were reportedly shot as they were attempting to enter the Prince Faisal Air Base, located in Jordan’s southern desert, 150 miles south of the capital Amman.

It is believed that the three soldiers were members of a 2,000-strong contingent of American troops who are currently stationed in the Arab country as part of Washington’s involvement in the regional war against the Islamic State. Some of these troops are assigned as advisers to Jordanian military units stationed at the border with Syria. But many others are allegedly involved in training so-called moderate Syrian rebel factions who are fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as other rebel groups on the ground. According to The Washington Post, the three American soldiers were among the trainers and were detailed to the CIA while they were in Jordan.

Details of the incident that led to the death of the three Americans are still unclear and are reportedly being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Jordanian sources allege that the US troops were returning to the base after a training session when one of their weapons accidentally misfired inside their vehicle. Thinking that they were under attack, Jordanian guards at the entrance to the base opened fire, killing the three Americans. But American officials told The Washington Post that the FBI is investigating whether the Jordanian soldier who opened fire on the US soldiers was an Islamist sympathizer.

If the three American soldiers were indeed detailed to the CIA, their killing will mark the most deadly incident involving CIA personnel since December 2009. Late that month, seven CIA personnel were killed in Khost, Afghanistan by suicide bomber who was masquerading as a CIA intelligence asset and managed to detonate a suicide vest inside a US military base. The Post said it contacted the CIA about the November 4 incident, but the Agency declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 November 2016 | Permalink

US intelligence to begin briefing Donald Trump’s transition team

Donald TrumpMembers of the United States Intelligence Community will soon begin sharing top-secret information with the White House transition team of president-elect Donald Trump. According to a report by CBS News, Trump’s team will receive “practically the same briefings” as those given by intelligence personnel to US President Barack Obama. The briefings will be delivered by career intelligence officers who are reportedly ready to brief Trump’s transition team as soon as the latter requests it.

The 70-year-old business tycoon was confirmed as the president-elect in the early hours of Wednesday, after scoring one of the greatest electoral upsets in American political history. He is scheduled to meet President Obama at the White House this week, where he will discuss with him the pending transition of his executive team, as well as pressing matters of national security. According to CBS, the President has already authorized the Intelligence Community to brief Trump and his senior aides on certain topics. Obama will continue to authorize intelligence briefings given to the Trump team until January 20 of next year, when the Republican president-elect will replace President Obama at the White House. As soon as Trump’s transition team members provide the names of his chosen cabinet officials, the Intelligence Community will begin to brief them as well.

Meanwhile US Air Force four-star General Michael Hayden (ret.) raised doubts on Wednesday about Trump’s ability to understand the way intelligence works. General Hayden, who led the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency in under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, told CBS that Trump won Tuesday’s presidential election by “showing anger [and] being accusatory”. These are qualities that are “very alien to the way intelligence works” and do not fit “into the intelligence picture”, he said. General Hayden was one of 50 senior Republican national-security officials who signed an open letter in August, claiming that Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk [America’s] national security and well-being”. The 50 included former directors of the CIA, the NSA, the Office of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, and others.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 November 2016 | Permalink

Mystery death of Putin’s ex-adviser in DC was accident, say US authorities

Mikhail LesinThe mysterious death in Washington, DC, of a former senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had fallen out with the Russian president, was the result of an accident, US authorities have concluded after a year-long investigation. The body of Mikhail Yuriyevich Lesin, a well-known Russian media mogul, was found in the luxury Dupont Circle Hotel on November 5, 2015. According to reports, his body bore considerable injuries on his torso and limbs. Some unconfirmed updates suggested that Lesin had died from several “blunt force injuries to the head”. But United States authorities refused to speculate on the cause of Lesin’s death and opened an official investigation into the matter.

Lesin became famous in Russia soon after the collapse of the communist system, when he founded Video International, an advertising and public-relations agency that was hired by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1995 to run his reelection campaign. Yeltsin’s electoral success was partly attributed to the well-tailored media message projected by Lesin’s company. The media magnate was rewarded by Yeltsin, who offered him influential government posts, including that of director of Russia’s state-owned news agency Novosti. Meanwhile, Lesin became a media personality and frequently gave interviews espousing a free-enterprise model for the Russian media industry. But soon after Vladimir Putin’s ascendance to the presidency, Lesin saw the writing on the wall and began advocating for increased government regulation of media and telecommunications conglomerates. In 1999, Putin made him Minister of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications, a post he held for nearly six years, until 2004. In 2006, Lesin was awarded the Order for Merit to the Fatherland, one of the most prestigious civilian decorations in Russia.

But in late 2009, Putin abruptly fired Lesin from his post in the Kremlin’s Media Advisory Commission, allegedly because the media mogul had developed close contacts with Russian organized crime. Lesin’s ties with Putin’s inner circle were further strained in 2014, when he resigned from his position as head of Gazprom Media, after he clashed with pro-Putin executives on the board. Last November, when Lesin’s body was found in his hotel room by a member of the staff, some suggested that he may have been killed by the Kremlin. But On Friday, the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC, in cooperation with the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said that Lesin’s death had been the result of injuries “induced by falls”, which came after “days of excessive consumption of alcohol”. The two agencies said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had assisted in the investigation into Lesin’s death, concurred with the results. Consequently, the investigation is now closed, they said. The Kremlin, the Russian embassy in Washington, and the FBI, have not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2016 | Permalink