Leaked documents show Cuban spies targeted Miami International Airport

Miami International AirportDocuments that were allegedly leaked by a Cuban intelligence insider show that Cuban spies targeted the Miami International Airport (MIA) and may have acquired MIA internal files, passwords and other sensitive information. The documents were published on Monday by CiberCuba, an online news portal that was founded in 2014 by Cuban exiles in Spain. The website said that it was given access to several batches of classified Cuban intelligence files by an “anonymous source”. The files allegedly contain copies of internal emails and email attachments, personnel contracts, financial information, as well as intelligence collected on “persons of interest” to the Cuban government.

The Spain-based website said on Monday that the leaked documents, which it dubbed “CiberCubaleaks”, constitute one of history’s largest and most significant disclosures of internal files of the Cuban Ministry of Interior. In a lading article on Monday, CiberCuba published six documents from the Ministry’s Directorate of Counterintelligence, which are dated between mid-2015 and late 2017. The documents contain information provided by two spies in the United States, codenamed CHARLES and EL GORDO. They contain internal passcodes that can be used to access secure areas at MIA, sensitive records relating to the commercial airlines that use the airport, and descriptions of restricted areas at MIA.

But in a statement made to The Miami Herald, the Director of Aviation for Miami-Dade County, Lester Sola, dismissed the information in the leaked documents as “not credible”. Sola said that the description of MIA documents in the leaded files did not seem accurate and missed some basic clues, such as a correct description of the colors of MIAs security protocols. Consequently, said Sola, “nothing in the [CiberCuba] report poses a credible security threat”. However, his office did not ignore the information and shared it with government agencies; consequently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was “looking into” the CiberCuba report as of Monday morning, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 June 2019 | Permalink

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North Korea said to have executed senior nuclear negotiators as ‘spies’

Kim Song-hye Kim Hyok-cholNorth Korea has executed at least five of its senior nuclear negotiators and imprisoned several others, according to a report in a leading South Korean newspaper. Rumors of executions of North Korean nuclear negotiators have circulated in international diplomatic circles since February, but specific allegations have not surfaced in the news media. That changed on Friday, when Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s highest-circulation newspaper, said that at least five executions of nuclear negotiators took place in Pyongyang in March.

According to the paper, the most senior North Korean official to be executed was Kim Hyok-chol (pictured), who led the nuclear negotiations with Washington until February, when the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met US President Donald Trump in Vietnam. Citing an “anonymous source” Chosun Ilbo said on Friday that Kim was executed by a firing squad at the Pyongyang East Airfield in Mirim, a suburb of the North Korean capital. Four other Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were executed at the same time, allegedly for having been “swayed by American imperialists to betray the Supreme Leader”, said the newspaper. Two more senior North Korean nuclear negotiators, Kim Yong-chol and Kim Song-hye (also pictured), have been stripped of their government posts and sent to labor camps, according to the report. Until recently, Kim Song-hye headed the Bureau of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, Pyongyahg’s main agency for negotiations with South Korea. Kim Yong-chol was one of several vice-chairs of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. He visited Washington with Kim Song-hye for negotiations prior to last February’s high-level summit in Vietnam.

There have been no reports in North Korean media about purges of senior officials or executions of alleged spies. However, the three officials named in the Chosun Ilbo report have not been seen in public in nearly a month. Additionally, last week the official Workers’ Party of Korea newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published an editorial that condemned “counter-party and counter-revolutionary actions” of government officials who “claim to labor for the Supreme Leader […] but clandestinely harbor other machinations behind the back of the Supreme Leader”. The New York Times reached out to the South Korean and American governments about the Chosun Ilbo report, but no-one would comment on record. If the Chosun Ilbo report is accurate, it would support the view that there is exasperation in Pyongyang about the breakdown of its nuclear negotiations with Washington. It would also signify that Kim has radically reshuffled his team of negotiators, but this does not necessarily denote a change in his negotiating stance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 June 2019 | Permalink

Jonathan Pollard, US spy for Israel, complains of neglect by Israeli state

Jonathan PollardJonathan Pollard, an American who spied on his country for Israel in the 1980s, and is now free after spending 30 years in prison, has spoken of his frustration with the Israeli government, which it claims has forgotten about him. Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the United States Navy, was released from an American prison in 2015, after serving a lengthy sentence for selling US government secrets to Israel. Throughout Pollard’s time in prison, the government of Israel lobbied for his release, claiming that the convicted spy did not harm American interests, but was simply trying to help Israel. But the US Intelligence Community and successive American presidents consistently rejected Israel’s claims, arguing that Pollard’s activities were severely detrimental to US interests. Pollard was eventually released after serving the entirety of his sentence. Ever since his release, Pollard has been required to wear an ankle monitor at all times. His Internet browsing is strictly regulated by the US government and he is not permitted to leave his New York home after sunset. He is also not permitted to leave the US, and Washington has refused to allow him to move to Israel.

Last week, Israel’s Channel 12 television station aired a rare interview with Pollard, in which the former spy claimed he had been “forgotten” by the Israeli government. Speaking from a restaurant in New York with his wife Esther by his side, Pollard told Channel 12 that no officials from the Israeli government had made contact with him since his release. He added that he felt “there is always something more urgent than me” for the government of Israel, whether it is “the [nuclear] deal with Iran or the [US] embassy’s move to Jerusalem, or the sovereignty of the Golan Heights”. When the Channel 12 reporter asked him whether he was disappointed by Israel’s perceived lack of efforts to bring him to Israel, Pollard replied that he would be “very depressed” if his “faith in God and [his] love for Israel and its people [was not] so strong”. At another point in the interview, Pollard appeared to criticize the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am very concerned about what this entails for the [government’s] commitment and for [Israel’s] security”, he said. “If you do not care about someone like me, who spent 30 years in prison for the land of Israel and its citizens, how much concern is there for others in the country, [whether they are] soldiers or civilians?”.

In November of 2017, Israel’s Channel 2 television reported that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had asked the United States President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard to move to Israel. However, despite the popular perception of the Trump administration as strongly pro-Israel, there are no indications that such a move may be taking place any time soon.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 May 2019 | Permalink

Star on CIA’s memorial wall honors employee who took her own life

CIA memorial wallA new star that was recently added to the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s memorial wall is seen by some as a way to draw attention to the mental pressures that come with the job, while others view it as disrespectful to the Agency’s mission. The specially designated wall is located at the main entrance lobby of the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It was created in 1974 and displays a star for each of the CIA’s personnel who have perished in the line of duty while working for the Agency. Today it displays nearly 130 stars, which span the CIA’s 72-year history.

The CIA holds an annual ceremony in recognition of its fallen members, at which time new stars are usually added to the memorial wall. Among them there is a star for Ranya Abdelsayed, who died on August 28, 2013, while employed by the CIA in Kandahar, Afghanistan. However, unlike the other 19 known deaths of CIA personnel in Afghanistan since 2001, Abdelsayed reportedly died by suicide. Her lifeless body was found by a colleague after she shot herself to death at Firebase Gecko, an International Security Assistance Force base in Afghanistan, which is commanded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is believed that Abdelsayed’s star is the only star on the CIA’s memorial wall that recognizes a CIA employee who took her own life.

In an article published on Sunday, The Washington Post’s Ian Shapira reports that not everyone at CIA agrees that Abdelsayed deserves to have a star on the Agency’s memorial wall. Shapira spoke to Nicholas Dujmovic, a recently retired CIA historian, who claims that Abdelsayed’s star “must absolutely come off the wall” because it violates the CIA’s own criteria for this highest of honors. Dujmovic opines that the memorial wall is reserved for deaths of CIA personnel that are “of an inspirational or heroic character”, typically deaths that are caused by hazardous conditions or violent actions by adversaries. The CIA historian tells The Washington Post that he has researched past deaths of CIA personnel and fears that “there has been an erosion of understanding in CIA leadership for at least two decades about what the wall is for and who is it that we’re commemorating”.

The paper reports that Dujmovic made his views known to CIA officials when the Agency’s Merit Awards Board decided to include a star in honor of Abdelsayed. But the Board upheld its decision, and so did the CIA’s director at the time, John Brennan. He told The Post that he stands by that decision today, arguing that Abdelsayed’s death was “something the Agency needed to recognize as being one of those unfortunate consequences of the global challenges the CIA addresses”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 May 2019 | Permalink

US-Iran tensions may have been sparked by ‘misread intelligence’, claims report

Trump BoltonThe escalating tension between the United States and Iran, and the ensuing military buildup in the Persian Gulf, may have resulted from a misreading of intelligence by both sides, according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal. Reports from the Middle East continue to describe the situation there as tense, while the political rhetoric by both Washington and Tehran remains heightened. Last week, the White House ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to sail to Middle Eastern waters, following intelligence showing that “Iran or its proxies were planning attacks against US forces in Iraq, Syria and at sea”. Washington also evacuated all non-essential personnel from its embassy in Iraq. Meanwhile Iranian officials stated on Thursday that they were “prepared for war”, while the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major Genreal Hossein Salami, described the escalating crisis as “the most decisive moment in the [40-year history] of the Islamic Revolution”.

But a new report in The Wall Street Journal claimed on Thursday that the crisis between the two countries may have been caused by a misinterpretation of intelligence on each other’s moves. The paper said that new intelligence collected by American spy agencies appears to show that Tehran was under the impression that the US was about to launch attacks against it. There is no information about what precisely led the Iranians to draw that conclusion. But it is believed that Iran responded to the perceived threat from Washington by abruptly bolstering its military posture and placing its allies in the region —including Hezbollah in Lebanon and numerous Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, on high alert. Those actions were interpreted by Washington as evidence that Iran was planning to launch an attack against American interests in the region, thus prompting the White House to send the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group to sail to the area, and to partially evacuate its embassy in Iraq. Citing “people familiar with the matter”, the Journal said that new intelligence that has been collected “in recent days” points to the initial actions taken by Tehran as “defensive in nature”.

However, said that paper, there continue to be “sharply differing views” about the situation among officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump. Specifically, some administration officials continue to argue that the available intelligence indicates that Iran “was planning to strike first”, and some even believe that Tehran is still “planning imminent attacks” on the US and its interests in the region. The paper also noted that President Trump is believed to have told senior officials in his administration —including the Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan— that he does not want to see a military confrontation with Iran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2019 | Permalink

British commander in Iraq contradicts US assessment of increased Iranian threat

Christopher GhikaThe most senior British military officer in the war against the Islamic State contradicted American assessments of a heightened threat from Iran, prompting an unusually strong rebuke from Washington. Last week, the White House ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to sail to Middle Eastern waters, following intelligence showing that “Iran or its proxies were planning attacks against US forces in Iraq, Syria and at sea”.

On Tuesday, however, this view appeared to be challenged by Major General Christopher Ghika, Britain’s most senior military official in the Middle East, who is deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). The OIR umbrella brings together all pro-Western forces that are fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. General Ghika spoke to American reporters at the US Department of Defense via a live video-link from Baghdad, where he is currently stationed as OIR deputy commander. In responding to questions by reporters about alleged threats to Western forces from Iran or its proxies, General Ghika said that the OIR forces were “aware of that presence [or Iranian-led Shia militia groups in Iraq and Syria], clearly. And we monitor them along with a whole range of others because that’s the environment we are in”. However, added the general, “no, there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria”.

British newspaper The Guardian, which published General Ghika’s comments on Tuesday, noted that his statements appeared to directly contradict Washington’s claims of a heightened Iranian threat in the region. But in a statement released on Tuesday night local time, the US Central Command CENTCOM, whose responsibilities include the Middle East and Central Asia theaters, rejected General Ghika’s comments. “Recent comments from OIR’s Deputy Commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region”, said the statement. The Guardian described CENTCOM’s statement as “particularly striking” and “an extraordinary rebuke of an allied senior [military] officer”. The British Ministry of Defense had not responded to CENTCOM’s statement by Wednesday morning.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 May 2019 | Permalink

‘Unusual’ high-level meeting held at CIA headquarters to discuss Iran, say sources

CIA headquartersAn untypical high-level meeting was convened at the headquarters of the United States Central Intelligence Agency last week to discuss Iran, according to NBC News. The meeting, which NBC described as “highly unusual” was convened by President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton. Participants allegedly included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford. Citing “six current US officials”, NBC said the meeting was held at 7 a.m. on Monday, April 29, in Langley, Virginia.

The list of participants refers to a high-level national security meeting. These are almost always held at the White House —typically in the Situation Room— says NBC. In general, it is extremely rare for senior White House officials, like Bolton, or members of the Cabinet, like Pompeo, to participate in meetings at CIA headquarters. It is also worth noting that, according to NBC’s sources, the meeting was not related to Washington’s recent decision send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the Middle East. This leaves two options, according to the NBC report: first, that the meeting concerned a “highly sensitive covert action” involving Iran or an Iranian proxy, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah. It could have been an update on an existing CIA operation, or a description of options for an impending operation. Alternatively the meeting could have been called due to a disagreement between the CIA and the White House about the results of an intelligence assessment or estimate about Iran.

NBC said it contacted the National Security Council to inquire about the April 29 meeting, but a spokesperson refused to comment. Meanwhile, Pompeo abruptly canceled the final leg of a four-nation tour of Europe on Thursday and returned to Washington, reportedly in light of heightening tensions between Washington and Tehran. Also on Thursday, the Iranian government described the Trump administration’s decision to deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the Middle East as “an action of psychological warfare” against the Iranian people. Late on Thursday, President Trump urged Iran to reach out to him: “What I would like to see with Iran, I’d like to see them call me”, said the US leader during a press conference at the White House. Iranian officials did not immediately respond to his comments.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 May 2019 | Permalink