US spies fear Trump travel ban will hurt recruitment of Muslim assets

US Customs and Border Protection officers at JFK International AirportIntelligence veterans have raised concerns that the temporary ban on immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations, which has been imposed by the White House, will significantly hinder American efforts to recruit intelligence assets and sources in Muslim countries. United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday, banning entry into the United States of citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. According to the White House, the goal of the temporary ban is to help increase domestic security in the US. But according to Jeff Stein, a former intelligence officer and veteran intelligence correspondent, many in the US Intelligence Community view the travel ban as counterproductive and potentially fatal for their ability to operate.

In an article for Newsweek, Stein explains that, ever since the Cold War, American intelligence agencies have guaranteed to their assets —foreigners who agree to spy for the US— that they and their families will be exfiltrated to America if their lives are in danger. In other cases, assets or their family members are given costly medical treatment or educational opportunities in the US. The promise of eventual resettlement in America is a core recruiting tool used by case officers working in agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency. It is especially valuable in Muslim countries, where American spy agencies have traditionally found it difficult to operate, and where asset recruitment is arduous and dangerous. If current and potential assets are in any way concerned that they may not be able to enter the US, or not respected once they enter, their willingness to cooperate with their American spy handlers can quickly evaporate. Stein quotes Cindy Storer, who served 20 years as an analyst in the CIA, mostly on counterterrorism, and was in the agency team that led the successful hunt for al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Storer exclaimed that the travel ban “hurts, capital H-U-R-T-S” the CIA’s ability to collect intelligence. Another CIA veteran, Phillip Lohaus, who also served in the US Special Operations Command, lamented the “reduced likelihood that those in countries targeted by the ban will work with us in the future”.

Henry Miller-Jones, who worked for many years as a CIA operations officer in the Middle East, warned that the travel ban was likely to damage the flow of useful intelligence collected by US agencies from “students, professors, visiting businessmen and others” from Muslim countries. The latter are often recruited by US intelligence agencies when visiting America. Additionally, said Miller-Jones, Americans who travel or live in the Muslim world would now “get the cold shoulder” from potentially valuable contacts in those regions. He told Stein that CIA case officers often struggle to convince potential assets that America respects their religion and culture. The travel ban, no matter how geographically limited or temporary, will make it even more difficult to convince these potential assets to work for US intelligence now, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 January 2017 | Permalink

Advertisements

UK may stop intelligence sharing with the US if Trump brings back torture

Theresa May Donald TrumpThe British government may limit or end intelligence cooperation with the United States, if Washington revives its post-9/11 torture program, according to reports. On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said he had asked “people at the highest level of intelligence […], does torture work?” and had received the answer “yes, absolutely”. He added that he was considering reviving some of the torture techniques that were used in the “war on terrorism”, including waterboarding and, in his words, “a hell of a lot worse”.

But on Thursday, the British Prime Minister Theresa May warned that her government might be forced to reexamine its intelligence-sharing relationship with Washington, if the US reinstituted torture as a method of interrogation. Speaking to journalists during a flight to the US to meet President Trump, the British prime minister stressed that the United Kingdom “absolutely condemn[ed] the use of torture” and that she would deliver that message to her American counterpart. According to British law, government officials and intelligence personnel are forbidden from sharing intelligence with countries that are known to employ torture against detainees. They are also not allowed to use intelligence gathered by other countries through the use of torture.

Thursday’s comments by Theresa May point to a potentially serious rift between American and British, as well as European intelligence agencies, whose attitudes toward so-called ‘enhanced interrogation’ differ widely from those of President Trump. British newspaper The Daily Mail quoted Matt Tait, a former information security specialist for Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, who warned of a potential split between British and American spy agencies. If Trump reinstituted torture as a form of interrogation, it would mean that the United States Intelligence Community would “intentionally engage in war crimes”, said Tait. That would “make it impossible” for the UK to cooperate with the US “across a range of intelligence programs”, he added.

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

Some at CIA wonder whether to share sources and methods with Trump

Donald Trump CIAOfficials at the United States Central Intelligence Agency have questioned whether it is safe for them to reveal the sources of their information about Russia to America’s new President, Donald Trump, according to a report. The implication is that some at the CIA are concerned that Trump’s allegedly close ties with Russian officials may put CIA operations officers in danger. The information was shared on Monday by Mary Louise Kelly, national security correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR). She told the Washington-based station that relations between the CIA and the new American president remain cool, despite the apparent rapprochement between the two sides last Saturday, when Trump gave a speech at the CIA headquarters.

Kelly cited Steve Hall, a former CIA operations officer who retired from the agency in 2015 after three decades in the National Clandestine Service, which is runs intelligence operations around the world. Hall spent time in Europe, Latin America and Central Eurasia, and some believe he was CIA station chief (America’s senior intelligence representative) in Moscow for a number of years. Hall retired as a member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, which consists of the most senior members of the National Clandestine Service. In her report, Kelly identified Hall as the CIA’s former “chief of Russia operations”. She told NPR that Kelly had responded with skepticism to President Trump’s speech at the CIA headquarters last weekend. He wondered, she said, what would happen if the CIA collected “a stellar piece of intelligence that […] puts [Russian President] Vladimir Putin in a bad light?”. Presumably the Agency would have to brief the US leader about the finding. But what if the president inquired about the source? The CIA would have to reveal its methods and sources, because that information cannot be kept from the president. According to Kelly, Hall asked: “How can you say no, we don’t trust you with the sourcing of that information?”. And continued: “[t]hat is a live question today at Langley”, referring to the location of the CIA headquarters in the US state of Virginia.

Last month, Hall wrote a guest column in The Washington Post in which he touched on the importance of sources and methods for the CIA. He wrote that the agency’s collection capabilities “could be rendered useless in one news cycle if disclosure is not handled correctly. [And] if it were human sources that provided the information, they could lose their lives”. Hall went on to argue that, if the CIA revealed its information about Russia’s alleged attempts to influence last November’s US presidential election, additional information would be demanded of it. “Questions like, ‘How exactly did you get that information?’ or ‘Where did that come from?’ and ‘When precisely did you know that?’ will inevitably be asked —and the protection of sources and methods will begin to erode”, wrote the retired CIA operations officer.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2017 | Permalink

Opinion: Why the ‘Trump Dossier’ is no victory for Putin

Putin TrumpThere is no doubt whatsoever that Russia has compiled ‘information’ on United States President Donald Trump. Russian intelligence considers it a rightful duty to compile information on persons of relevance, especially when they are conducting significant business or maintain political relations with Russia. Trump qualified under that definition long before he even thought about running for president. Even I have been followed, during my numerous times in Russia, both openly and tacitly. I have had my computer hacked and hotel phone bugged. And my affairs in Russia have come nowhere near to the financial or political relevance of Donald Trump.

However, there has been a breakdown in America when it comes to understanding how Russia would use such information if it indeed had a dossier of this type. Americans may love exposing things through the media with a voyeuristic passion, bringing the high down low. That’s just the nature of the beast today in America’s Kardashian culture. But this dossier of alleged Russianq-quote intelligence on Trump has nothing to do with American celebrity culture. If it truly exists, this would have been done under the edict of ‘national security’ for Russian geopolitical interests. As such, the proper Russian intelligence behavior would be to deny its existence and hold on to anything it has until a time deemed strategically best. The least efficient usage of that compromising material would be to just embarrass him publicly before he is inaugurated, TMZ ‘gotcha’ style. Russians simply don’t work that way. Rather, keeping it secret and using it in a non-public but strategically effective manner for their national interests is the Russian way.

For example, the even more infamous Wikileaks affair against Clinton was an example of Russians trying to smudge the character and momentum of Hillary, assuming she was indeed going to win the election. Clinton’s positions have been decidedly anti-Russian (to the Russians at least) over the past half dozen years, vociferously and publicly. The email leaks were a rather limp attempt to just slow that political train down before it took office, to make her pause and understand that she should treat Russia with a bit less shrill judgment. Read more of this post

Pakistani doctor who helped CIA find bin Laden will stay in jail, says Islamabad

Dr Shakil Afridi

A Pakistani doctor who helped the United States find al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in 2011 will remain in prison, despite calls by Washington to have him released, according to a government official in Islamabad. Dr Shakil Afridi was arrested in 2011, soon after bin Laden was killed during a Central Intelligence Agency operation in a residential compound in the city of Abbottabad, located 70 miles north of the Pakistani capital. In the weeks following the CIA raid, it emerged that a team of local doctors and nurses had helped the American agency in its efforts to confirm bin Laden’s presence in the compound. The team of nearly 20 healthcare workers participated in a fake vaccination scheme carried out in Abbottabad, whose true purpose was to collect DNA samples from residents of the compound where the CIA believed bin Laden was hiding.

In February 2012, the then CIA Director, Leon Panetta, publicly admitted that the vaccination scheme had been funded by the CIA. By that time, Pakistani authorities had fired 17 healthcare workers who had participated in the CIA scheme and arrested its head, Dr. Afridi. Prior to his arrest, Dr. Afridi was employed as a surgeon by the government of the Khyber Agency, a Federally Administrated Tribal Area along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Bizarrely, Dr. Afridi was arrested for having alleged links with an Islamist group that operates in the region, known as Lashkar-e-Islam. In 2012, he was given a 33-year sentence for having links with terrorist groups. When his conviction was quashed in 2013, the doctor was ordered to remain in prison, and faced new charges, this time for alleged medical malpractice, which, according to the prosecution, resulted in the death of one of his patients.

Many American officials believe that the real reason for Dr. Afridi’s arrest is his collaboration with the CIA. In May of last year, Donald Trump said that, if elected US president, he would make Pakistan free Dr. Afridi, saying characteristically that he could achieve that “within two minutes”. But his comments prompted a strong response from Islamabad. On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Minister for Law and Justice, Zahid Hamid, reiterated that Dr. Afridi would not be freed just because Washington wishes it. Speaking in response to a question from a member of the Pakistani Parliament’s upper house, Hamid said that Dr. Afridi “worked against [Pakistani] law and our national interest” and would face a trial, as planned, despite Trump’s pre-election pledge. There was no comment yesterday from the US president-elect’s team.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 January 2017 | Permalink

Russian official accuses US of trying to blackmail Russian diplomat

first-post-vA senior Russian official has accused the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation of trying to blackmail a Russian diplomat who was attempting to purchase anti-cancer drugs in an American pharmacy. The allegation was made Sunday on live Russian television by Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was being interviewed on Sunday Night with Vladimir Solovey, a popular politics roundtable show on Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 1 television channel. Zakharova told Solovey that, a few years ago, the Russian government authorized one of its diplomats in the United States to purchase several thousand dollars’ worth of anti-cancer drugs. The drugs were to be used by Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s prime minister in the late 1990s, who was battling liver cancer.

According to Zakharova, the Russian diplomat was supplied with funds through an official money transfer from Moscow. Meanwhile, Primakov’s “health certificates and medical prescriptions” were supplied to a pharmacy in Washington, DC, where the Russian diplomat purchased the medicine. However, shortly after the Russia diplomat completed his purchase, he was accosted by American intelligence officers —presumably from the Federal Bureau of Investigation— who demanded to speak with him. The diplomat was then allegedly taken to the basement of the pharmacy, where, according to Zakharova, there was no cellular reception. The Russian diplomat was thus unable to contact his superiors at the Russian embassy. Zakharova claims that the two American officers kept the diplomat in the basement “for an hour” and attempted to turn him into a double agent, by accusing him of “illicit drug trafficking” and threatening to expel him from the country.

Zakharova said the Russian diplomat refused to cooperate and was allowed to return to the Russian embassy. However, the drugs were confiscated and the money paid by the diplomat to the pharmacy has not been “returned to this day”, she said. Eventually, according to Zakharova, the diplomat was deported from the United States, despite the intervention of Secretary of State John Kerry, who stepped in to try to resolve the episode. Primakov died in 2015 of liver cancer. The United States government and the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, did not comment on Zakharova’s allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 January 2017 | Permalink

Israeli officials were advised not to share intelligence with Trump’s White House

Donald TrumpAmerican intelligence officials allegedly warned their Israeli counterparts not to share intelligence with Washington once Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. The reason was that, according to the US officials, there was no guarantee that the intelligence would not be leaked to Russia. There was also the danger, they claimed, that the compromised intelligence would end up in the hands of Russia’s ally Iran, a regional adversary of Israel. The claim was made on Thursday by Ronen Bergman, senior political and military analyst for Israel’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

According to Bergman, the American intelligence officials spoke in depth with their Israeli counterparts during a recent meeting between the two sides. He did not give details about the time and location of the meeting, so as “to protect the sources of the report”, he said. During the meeting, the US officials allegedly “voiced despair” over Trump’s electoral victory and his apparently poor relationship with the US Intelligence Community. They also suggested that Israeli intelligence officials should “be careful” when sharing intelligence with the White House or the US National Security Council, which is chaired by the president. The reason was that the intelligence —including sources and methods— might end up in the hands of the Kremlin, they said, and from there to Israel’s regional adversaries, such as Iran —and presumably Syria, though Bergman does not mention that.

The American officials further recommended that the Israelis wait until a clearer picture emerges of the alleged connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. It was also implied during the meeting that Trump may be subject to blackmail by Moscow and forced to reveal sensitive information relating to America and its allies, including Israel. According to Bergman, the Israelis are concerned about the Trump-Russia controversy and there are even some in Tel Aviv who raise fears of exposure of information given to the US by the Israeli intelligence community “over the past 15 years”. There has been no comment on the subject from Israel or Trump’s transition team.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 January 2017 | Permalink