US spy agencies warned Kabul would fall, but did not give precise timeline, says report

US embassy in Afghanistan

ANALYSES BY UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE agencies about the dynamics of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan became progressively grim over the summer, but did not provide precise timelines of the impending disaster, according to a new report. In his television address on Monday, US President Joe Biden admitted that his administration had rested on inaccurate estimates about the ability of the Taliban to overrun Afghan government defenses. Some —including many in the US intelligence community— have interpreted that statement to mean that the assessments given to the White House by the intelligence agencies were faulty or otherwise inaccurate.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the intelligence community continuously revised its assessments of the Afghan civil war in the past year. Earlier this year, the consensus among intelligence agencies was allegedly that the Afghan government could potentially remain in power for as long as two years after a US military withdrawal. But that consensus had been shattered by mid-summer, according to The Times. By July, intelligence reports, led by those produced by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), “had grown more pessimistic” and explicitly “laid out the growing risks to Kabul”, according to the paper. These reports also warned that the Afghan government, including its intelligence and military components, would not be able to withstand an assault on the capital and other major urban centers by the Taliban.

At the same time, however, these assessments were typically “not given a high confidence judgment” or a particularly high level of certainty by the agencies, according to the report. One source told the paper that “it was often hard to get [CIA] analysts to clearly predict how quickly [a Taliban victory] would occur”. Instead, its assessments “could often be interpreted in a number of ways, including concluding that Afghanistan could fall quickly or possibly over time”.

The Times report seems to indicate that the White House rested much of its decision-making on earlier assessments by the intelligence community, which projected a less radical pace of change in Afghanistan. For instance, one report from April of this year suggested that the Taliban were at least 18 months away from being able to conquer Kabul. The article also points out the possibility that different agencies may have had differing views on the speed with which the Taliban would conquer Afghanistan, with the CIA being on the more pessimistic end of the scale.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 August 2021 | Permalink

CIA considers establishing stand-alone China mission center, report claims

CIA headquarters

THE UNITED STATES CENTRAL Intelligence Agency is weighing the possibility of establishing a stand-alone mission center that would focus on China, according to a new report. Traditionally, questions regarding China have fallen under the agency’s Mission Center for East Asia and Pacific, which focuses on the broader geographical region that includes China. However, according to the Bloomberg news agency, that may about to change.

Quoting “three current and former officials” with knowledge of “internal deliberations” at the CIA, Bloomberg said on Thursday that the proposal to establish a stand-alone China mission center orginages from the agency’s new director, William Burns. According to the report, Burns is looking for ways to “make it easier to secure headcount, funding and high-level attention for [the spy agency’s] China-related activities”.

A stand-alone China mission center would allow the CIA to utilize and combine diverse resources across its various directorates and units. Additionally, elevating the topic of China to a stand-alone mission would reflect the policy priorities of the administration of US President Joe Biden, said Bloomberg. The report comes less than a month after Burns said during an interview that the CIA might deploy China specialists at US government facilities around the world. This would mirror the agency’s approach to the challenge posed by Soviet Union during the Cold War.

During his Senate confirmation hearing in February of this year, Burns stated that he viewed China as the most serious threat to American national security in the near and long term. He added that China’s “adversarial [and] predatory leadership” aimed to “replace the United States as the world’s most powerful and influential nation”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 August 2021 | Permalink

Moscow denounces ‘NATO propaganda’ as Albania probes alleged Russian spies

DEFENDER-Europe 21

THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT HAS accused media in Albania of channeling “propaganda”, as authorities in the Balkan country are investigating alleged military espionage by two Russian citizens. The case centers on DEFENDER Europe 21, a large-scale multinational military exercise, which is held every year under the auspices of the United States Army and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A portion of the exercise, which brings together nearly 30,000 troops from 26 nations, took place in Albania in April and May of this year.

Late last month, reports in the Albanian media said that the Office of the Prosecutor in the capital Tirana was investigating two Russian and five Czech citizens, who may have engaged in espionage activities. According to the reports, one of the Russian citizens had entered Albania on May 12, and traveled to Durres, Albania’s second most populous city, which is centrally located along the country’s Adriatic coast. Durres is the closest urban center to the site of the DEFENDER Europe 21 exercise. A few days later, the Russian citizen was found deploying a drone, according to the Tirana prosecutor.

The Albanian authorities then began looking into the case of another Russian citizen, who had entered the country in March, and was based in Orikum, a small coastal town southern Albania. Like Durres, Orikum is in close proximity to military training facilities. Albanian authorities have not disclosed any information about the fate of the five Czech nationals. But they said last week that a criminal case had been opened against the two Russians.

Last Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the Albanian media of “fueling the hype” about the two Russians, adding that the case was “an exercise in NATO propaganda”. Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Tirana said that it had sent a formal inquiry about the criminal case to Albania’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Relations between the former Warsaw Pact allies are currently at a low point. In January of this year, Tirana expelled a Russian diplomat, accusing him of ignoring safety protocols relating to COVID-19. In 2018, two Russian diplomats were expelled from Albania after they allegedly engaged in espionage. Shortly afterwards, Moscow expelled two Albanian diplomats in return.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 July 2021 | Permalink

Main suspect in potentially momentous hacker-for-hire case seeks plea deal in NY

Computer hacking

IN A DRAMATIC CASE, described by observers as “unusual”, a suspect in a hacker-for-hire scheme of potentially global proportions has told United States government prosecutors he is ready to discuss a plea deal. The case centers on Aviram Azari, a highly sought-after private detective who served in an Israeli police surveillance unit in the 1990s before launching a private career in investigations.

Azari was arrested in Florida in 2019 during a family vacation, and was shortly afterwards indicted in New York on charges of aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and wire fraud. These charges reportedly date back to 2017 and 2018. Azari’s alleged objective was to target carefully selected individuals in order to steal their personal information, including email usernames and passwords. Last year, The New York Times reported that the case against Azari is connected with a potentially massive hacker-for-hire scheme code-named DARK BASIN.

Further information about DARK BASIN was published by Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. It said DARK BASIN was orchestrated by an India-based firm called BellTroX InfoTech Services. It also claimed that the company is one of a number of hacker-for-hire firms based in India. These companies are said to be employed by private detectives in Western countries, who are usually hired by large multinationals or wealthy individuals.

Accordingly, the targets of DARK BASIN activities appear to have been investment firms based in the US and elsewhere, as well as government officials, pharmaceutical companies, lawyers, large banks, and even environmental activists who campaign against large multinationals. Additionally, some of DARK BASIN’s thousands of targets appear to be people involved in high-stakes divorce proceedings. Perhaps more alarmingly, among DARK BASIN’s targets are journalists around the world, who seem to have been targeted systematically in efforts to reveal their sources of information.

Azari has pleaded not guilty. But the fact that he his lawyer has now communicated his client’s desire to seek a plea deal with US government prosecutors may be a major game-changer in this case, which may have global ramifications. The Reuters news agency, which reported the latest developments on this case this week, said it reached out to the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, but spokesmen there declined to provide any information on Azari’s case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 July 2021 | Permalink

US court rejects challenge of pre-publication review by ex-intelligence employees

4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia

A COURT OF APPEALS in the United States state of Virginia has rejected a lawsuit by former intelligence employees who claimed that the system of pre-publication review violated their freedom of speech. The case centered on the requirement for current and former employees of American intelligence agencies to submit for review any material they intend to publish in the unclassified domain, in case it contains government secrets.

The lawsuit originated in 2019, when it was brought before a court by five former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of Defense. All five plaintiffs intended to publish books on topics including the history of the CIA, government surveillance, as well as the prevalence of sexual violence and racism in the US armed forces.

The plaintiffs claimed that the pre-publication review system is unclear and confusing, that its scope is too broad, and that the process takes too long. They also claimed that many of the edits made on their manuscripts aimed to protect government agencies from embarrassment and criticism, rather than protect national security. Furthermore, they claimed that many of the alleged secrets that were edited out of manuscripts referred to information that was already available in the open domain. All five plaintiffs were represented by lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the American Civil Liberties Union. The government was represented by the US Department of Justice.

Last year, a US District Court in the US state of Maryland dismissed the claim on the grounds that the government was justified in wanting to protect its secrets, and that the pre-publication system was intricate but unambiguous. On Wednesday, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, upheld the District Court’s ruling. In a unanimous vote, the court’s three judges concluded that, by voluntarily agreeing to submit to the pre-publication review system, the plaintiffs had waived their right to challenge the system’s legality under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 June 2021 | Permalink

Afghans who spied for CIA say they fear retaliation once US forces withdraw

Antony Blinken

AFGHAN CIVILIANS WHO WERE recruited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency as local assets say they fear retaliation by a resurgent Taliban once American forces withdraw from Afghanistan in September. Last April, US President Joe Biden announced that American troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. The date will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which caused Washington to send troops to Afghanistan in response.

The CIA has been a major component of America’s presence in Afghanistan over the past two decades. When operating in the Central Asian country, CIA officers have routinely relied on local people to collect intelligence, provide translation services, and guard its facilities and personnel. These local assets were typically paid in cash for their services, which were secret in nature and often life-threatening.

Now many of these local assets —possibly thousands— are apprehensive of the pending withdrawal of their American protectors from Afghanistan, and fear retaliation from a resurgent Taliban. According to The Wall Street Journal, these local CIA assets say that “their lives are now at risk”. A large number of them have submitted applications for a US Special Immigrant Visa. This is a State Department program that aims to offer protection to local people who have carried out “sensitive and trusted activities” on behalf of American government personnel abroad.

But the Special Immigrant Visa process is complicated and expensive, and is currently plagued by major delays. The Wall Street Journal reports that, even though the law stipulates Special Immigrant Visa requests must be processed within nine months, applications are currently taking between three to five years to be adjudicated. The Department of State says it is currently working through a backlog of 18,000 applications from around the world. The situation is particularly dire for Afghan CIA assets, says the paper, because many find it difficult to prove they ever worked for the CIA. The spy agency’s record-keeping was minimal throughout its time in Afghanistan, especially in the opening years of the conflict, according to the report. Furthermore, some local assets may not even be named in CIA documentation, so as to protect their identity.

In response to calls for faster processing of Special Immigrant Visa requests, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (pictured) said earlier this month: “We’re determined to make good on our obligation to those who helped us, who put their lives on the line, put their families’ lives on the line working with our military, working with our diplomats”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 June 2021 | Permalink

FBI warns some QAnon online supporters plan to transition to ‘real-world violence’

QAnon - IA

A NEW INTELLIGENCE REPORT warns that some supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, who in the past have limited their activities to the online domain, may now be transitioning to “real-world violence”. The unclassified report (pdf) was co-produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. It was released on Monday by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who called for coordinated action to protect national security from QAnon militants.

Adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory view former President Donald Trump as a central figure in a behind-the-scenes battle against a sinister cabal of enemies, known as the “deep state”. According to the QAnon theory, Trump’s first term in office would culminate in a victory against this “deep state”. The latter is believed by QAnon conspiracy theorists to consist of Satan-worshiping cannibals who traffic children for sex. These cannibals would be routed during “The Storm”, a final reckoning between Trump and the “deep state”, which would result in the arrest and execution of all “deep state” officials.

When Trump failed to get re-elected last year, some QAnon adherents attempted to bring about “The Storm” by joining the mob who attached the US Capitol Complex —an unprecedented violent action that resulted in the death of five people. According to the Associated Press, at least 20 QAnon adherents have so far been charged with federal crimes relating to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

The new intelligence report by the FBI and the DHS warns that, frustrated by Trump’s departure from the office of the presidency, some QAnon adherents, including leading figures in the movement, are now promoting a new conspiracy theory. According to this new theory, Trump is now operating as a “shadow president” who is continuing his secret battle against the Satan-worshiping cannibals. The latter purportedly include President Joe Biden and most senior Democrats in office, who will eventually be unseated by Trump and his movement.

Not all QAnon adherents believe in this new theory, according to the report. Indeed, some supporters of QAnon are feeling disillusioned and are now “pulling back”, after realizing that they can no longer “trust the plan” spelled out by Q —the mysterious figure that supposedly is at the center of the QAnon theory. This is not necessarily good news, however, according to the report. This is because some disillusioned QAnon supporters are now deciding that, rather than waiting for Q’s promised actions to occur, they should act to make them happen.

These QAnon supporters believe that they must no longer limit their role in the movement to simply being “digital soldiers” in support of Q. Instead, they are now “pivoting” toward “engaging in real-world violence”, the report suggests. This newfound role includes planning actions that aim to physically harm “perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition”, the report warns.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 June 2021 | Permalink

FBI thanks French police for high-profile arrest of Luxembourg’s former top spy

Luxembourg City

AGENTS OF THE UNITED States Federal Bureau of Investigation visited the northeastern French city of Nancy last week, reportedly to thank its local police force for arresting a former senior officer in Luxembourg’s spy agency. The case is said to be connected to a notorious cyptocurrency-based fraud scheme, which some claim may be the largest in history.

Frank Schneider headed the operations directorate of the Service de Renseignement de l’État Luxembourgeois (SREL), Luxembourg’s intelligence agency. Although he left the service in 2008, his name came up frequently in the context of a spy scandal that eventually brought down Luxembourg’s prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker. The former spy was eventually acquitted of illegal conduct in that case —but he now appears to be in legal trouble of a different kind.

According to reports, US authorities have been looking for a man referred to in French media as “Frank S.” in connection to a massive Ponzi scheme that allegedly involves OneCoin, a Bulgarian-based cyptocurrency firm. British newspaper The Times has described the scheme as “one of the biggest scams in history”. It is believed that the OneCoin scheme defrauded victims around the world of over $4 billion.

Schneider was reportedly arrested on April 29 in Audun-le-Tiche, a small town on the French-Luxembourg border and not far from the Belgian and German borders. His arrest took place pursuant to an international warrant, which was later confirmed to have been issued by authorities in New York. It was reported at the time that Schneider’s arrest involved the deployment of members of Brigade de recherche et d’intervention —France’s equivalent of the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams in the US.

The former spy is currently being held in detention at the Nancy-Maxéville prison, and is highly likely to be extradited to the US. American authorities have until June 28 to submit a formal extradition request to the Nancy office of the prosecutor.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 June 2021 | Permalink

US Senate report details missed intelligence prior to January 6 attack on US Capitol

US Capitol - IA

A BIPARTISAN REPORT BY two committees of the United States Senate has highlighted crucial intelligence that was missed or disregarded by government agencies prior to the insurrection of January 6, 2021. Five people died during a concerted attempt by thousands of supporters of the then-President Donald Trump to storm the US Capitol Complex and invalidate the election victory of Joe Biden. Over 450 participants in the insurrection are now facing charges for storming the Capitol.

The report (.pdf) was produced jointly by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It took the two committees five months to issue their findings, which are based on thousands of internal documents and closed-door interviews with senior government officials. Officials interviewed include the then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and General Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The report details failures in the areas of intelligence collection and exploitation, security preparations and emergency response measures both prior to and during the insurrection. It states that the US Capitol Police was in possession of intelligence from a pro-Trump website, in which militants were urging participants in the president’s “March to Save America” rally to “bring guns”. Armed demonstrators were also urged to surround every exit from the US Capitol Complex, in order to trap members of Congress and their staff inside the building.

However, the intelligence gathered from websites and social media platforms was not utilized, not communicated to officers, or simply dismissed by the US Capitol Police, according to the Senate report. Additionally, once the insurrection was underway, the Department of Defense did not authorize the deployment of the Washington DC National Guard until a full three hours after it was requested to do so by the police.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the US Capitol Police said it welcomed the joint Senate report on the January 6 insurrection. It added, however, that “at no point prior to the 6th [of January did its analysts] receive actionable intelligence about a large-scale attack” on the US Capitol Complex. This is likely to be the last Congressional investigation into the attack on the US Capitol Complex, as Republican Senators have blocked the creation of an independent 9/11-type commission to investigate it.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 June 2021 | Permalink

FBI built fake phone company in global wiretapping operation of historic proportions

Trojan Shield

THE UNITED STATES FEDERAL Bureau of Investigation built a fake telephone service provider for a secret worldwide operation that officials described on Monday as “a watershed moment” in law enforcement history. The operation, known as TROJAN SHIELD, began in 2018 and involved over 9,000 law enforcement officers in 18 countries around the world. When the existence of TROJAN SHIELD was announced in a series of official news conferences yesterday, officials said the operation had “given law enforcement a window into a level of criminality [that has never been] seen before on this scale”.

The operation centered on the creation of an entirely fake telephone service provider, known as ANØM. The fake firm advertised cell phones that were specially engineered to provide peer-to-peer encryption, thus supposedly making it impossible for government authorities to decipher intercepted messages or telephone calls between users. The FBI and law enforcement agencies in Australia and New Zealand used undercover officers to spread news about ANØM in the criminal underworld. The fake company’s modus operandi was to let in new users only after they had been vetted by existing users of the service. Within two years, there were nearly 10,000 users of ANØM around the world, with Australia having the largest number —approximately 1,500.

On Tuesday morning hundreds of raids were conducted in over a dozen countries, beginning with New Zealand and Australia, where over 500 raids were carried out, resulting in the arrests of 224 people. News reports suggest that over $45 million in cash has been seized in the past 24 hours in Australia alone, where law enforcement authorities dubbed the operation IRONSIDE. More raids have been taking place around the world, including in the United States. However, as raids were continuing into the evening, the FBI said it would not discuss the results of Operation TROJAN SHIELD until later today, Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the undercover operation as “a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history”, which would “echo around the world”. An early report on the operation, which was published by the San Diego Union Tribune in the United States, said the purpose of TROJAN SHIELD was two-fold: to dismantle organized criminal syndicates through evidence acquired from wiretaps, and to spread confusion and mistrust of encryption devices in the worldwide criminal underworld.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 June 2021 | Permalink

US government takes control of Internet domains used by SolarWinds hackers

Computer hacking

THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT has taken control of two Internet domains used last month in a large-scale phishing campaign by the same Russian-linked hacker group that was behind SolarWinds. The Department of Justice said on Tuesday it seized the two domains, theyardservice[.]com and worldhomeoutlet[.]com, on May 28, following a decision by a US court that authorized the action.

The large-scale attack was detected on May 25, and was delivered in over 3,000 emails sent from a compromised account belonging to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The compromised account was paired with the services of a legitimate email marketing company called Constant Contact. It was subsequently used to deliver phishing emails to the employees of over 150 organizations worldwide, most of them American.

The phishing emails featured an official USAID logo, beneath which was an embedded link to a purported “USAID Special Alert” titled “Donald Trump has published new documents on election fraud”. The link sent users to one of the two illicit subdomains, which infected victim machines with malware. The latter created a back door into infected computers, which allowed the hackers to maintain a constant presence in the compromised systems.

According to Microsoft Corporation, the hackers behind the phishing attack originated from the same group that orchestrated the infamous SolarWinds hack in 2020. The term refers to a large-scale breach of computer systems belonging to the United States federal government and to organizations such as the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The threat actor behind the attack is referred to by cybersecurity experts as APT29 or Nobelium, among other names.

Speaking on behalf of the US Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said on Tuesday that the seizure of the two Internet domains demonstrated the Department’s “commitment to proactively disrupt hacking activity prior to the conclusion of a criminal investigation”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2021 | Permalink

We knew about the US-Danish spy collaboration. The revelations are still remarkable

DDIS DenmarkTHE FIRST CLAIMS OF an alleged secret collaboration between the signals intelligence agencies of the United States and Denmark surfaced in November of 2020. By January of this year, it was clear that the Danish government would, sooner or later, need to deal with the fallout of its controversial spy deal with Washington, under which Denmark enabled the US to spy on some of its closest European allies. Still, the news last weekend that Denmark helped the US spy on countries such as Germany, France, Sweden and Norway, is nothing short of remarkable, and has a huge symbolic significance that cannot be overlooked.

IntelNews regulars will recall that Lars Findsen, director of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE, or DDIS in English) was unceremoniously “relieved of duty” in August of 2020. This was in response to a damning report by the Danish Oversight Board, known as TET, which is responsible for supervising the work of Denmark’s intelligence agencies. The Danish Ministry of Defense would not discuss the precise nature of the report, which at the time was believed to relate to vaguely described “improper intelligence collection practices”.

Then, in November of 2020 came news of an alleged secret collaboration between the DDIS and its American equivalent, the National Security Agency (NSA). According to Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Danmarks Radio —Denmark’s public-service broadcaster— the agreement dated to 2008, and involved the use by the NSA of a number of fiber optic Internet cables that pass through Danish territory, in return for the DDIS being given access to the content of intercepted traffic. This collaboration resulted in the interception of information belonging to the governments of Germany, France, Sweden, Norway and Holland, among others.

It is said among intelligence practitioners that “there is no such thing as a friendly foreign intelligence agency”. There is also no known agreement not to spy on each other between the United States and several core countries of the Western alliance, such as Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, or Spain (it is rumored that a “no-spy clause” exists between Five Eyes participants). Technically speaking, therefore, espionage between European powers, or between them and the US, is not in violation of some sacred agreement. Read more of this post

US Pentagon’s ‘secret army’ of clandestine operatives dwarfs CIA spy force: report

Pentagon

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of Defense maintains a “secret army” of over 60,000 operatives, many of whom work across the world in a clandestine capacity, with fake identities and manufactured backgrounds, according to a new report. Newsweek, which published the report on Monday, said that the Pentagon force is “more than ten times the size” of the clandestine wing of the Central Intelligence Agency, which is commonly associated with carrying out covert operations abroad.

According to William Arkin, author of the Newsweek report, the Pentagon’s secret operatives are part of a wider US government effort known as “signature reduction”. The program provides undercover government operatives the ability to operate domestically and around the world without the fear of having their links to spy agencies or the military discovered by online sleuths. Some of these operatives carry out clandestine tasks under their real names, claims Arkin, but without having any formal connections with the US government, or even their country of citizenship.

Others operate under manufactured identifies, which, according to the report, are created by the Pentagon’s Operational Planning and Travel Intelligence Center. Its purpose is to alter databases of US government agencies, such as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or the Customs and Border Protection agency, so as to protect the manufactured identities of covert operatives. Such operatives are also provided with technologies that allow them to evade face-recognition and other biometric identification measures, including fingerprint scanners, according to Newsweek.

Another part of the “signature reduction” program, according to the report, consists of private-sector enterprises that work with the Pentagon to provide its clandestine operatives with contractual covers. These allow the operatives to work abroad under civilian cover and without any official connection to US embassies or military bases, according to Newsweek.

The report claims that the largest component of the Pentagon’s “signature reduction” program consists of members of Special Operations Forces. The remaining components of the program are made up of military intelligence and counterintelligence specialists with a variety of skills, including linguistics specialists and cyber operations. The latter form “the fastest growing” group within the program, and are tasked with collecting information about targets online, as well as engaging in influence campaigns utilizing social media platforms around the world.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 May 2021 | Permalink

CIA task force examines ‘Havana Syndrome’ after more officers fall ill

CIA

THE UNITED STATES CENTRAL Intelligence Agency has established a task force to examine recent cases of the so-called “Havana Syndrome”, a mysterious medical condition that continues to puzzle experts. The matter came to light in 2017, soon after Washington recalled the majority of its personnel from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, and at least two more diplomats from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The evacuees reported experiencing “unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena” and hearing “unusual sounds or piercing noises”.

Subsequent tests showed that the diplomatic personnel suffered from sudden and unexplained loss of hearing, and possibly from various forms of brain injuries. In April of 2019 the Canadian embassy evacuated all family members of its personnel stationed in the Cuban capital over similar health concerns. A subsequent study by the National Academies of Sciences reported the collective findings of leading toxicologists, epidemiologists, electrical engineers and neurologists, who examined the symptoms experienced by nearly 40 US government employees.

There are now reports that “more than a dozen” officers of the CIA have returned to the US for medical tests, after reporting symptoms that are associated with the “Havana Syndrome”. Citing “current and former US officials and people familiar with the matter” CBS News said on Thursday that some of the officers required emergency medical evacuation after feeling sick all of a sudden. They returned to the US from three different continents in the early months of 2021, according to CBS.

A White House spokesperson told the news station that the “Havana Syndrome” continued to be an area of “active inquiry”. A spokesperson from the National Security Council added that it was not possible to discuss specifics regarding the CIA personnel. The spokesperson went on to say that a “government-wide effort” was underway to determine those responsible for the phenomenon, and to protect US government personnel serving abroad.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 May 2021 | Permalink

US is far from rejoining Iran nuclear deal, Biden reportedly tells Mossad chief

Yossi CohenUNITED STATES JOE BIDEN reportedly told the director of Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, that Washington has “a long way to go” before rejoining a 2015 agreement aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The meeting between Biden and Mossad director Yossi Cohen reportedly took place last Friday, during Cohen’s visit to Washington last week, to discuss bilateral security issues with a series of American officials. On Thursday Cohen met with a number of Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Brett McGurk, who is the National Security Council’s Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.

The following day, the Mossad chief visited the White House to discuss a variety of “regional security issues” with Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns. It was during that meeting, according to reports from Israel’s Channel 12 television, that the US president “dropped in” unexpectedly, allegedly in order to express his administration’s condolences for the fatal stampede that killed dozens in Israel last week. Biden’s unexpected appearance at the meeting was later confirmed by a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

During the weekend, however, a number of Israeli news outlets, as well as the American website Axios, cited “a senior Israeli official” who said that Biden’s appearance at the meeting was not an impromptu incident, but had actually been “pre-scheduled”. The US president wanted to “discuss Iran” with Cohen, according to Axios, and did so for “about an hour”. According to Israeli sources, Cohen shared Israel’s position that “it would be a mistake for the US to return to the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] without improving it first”. Biden did not directly respond to Cohen’s view of the agreement, but said that his administration was not yet ready to re-enter the agreement. He reportedly added that Washington would consult Israel on the matter.

Neither the White House nor the office of the Israeli prime minster have commented on these reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 May 2021 | Permalink

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