Analysis: Are US border security officials ignoring terrorism threat from Canada?

Canada borderSince the election of President Donald Trump, the issue of border security between the United States and Mexico has been a major topic of national debate. But is the incessant focus on America’s southern border by the news media and politicians ignoring security concerns emanating from the country’s northern neighbor, Canada? In a thought-provoking editorial in the English-language Emirati newspaper The National, Stephen Starr employs statistics to argue that the flow of extremism from Canada into the US may represent a greater security concern for Washington than immigration flows from Mexico.

According to US government sources, six foreigners whose names featured on the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) —the central terrorist watchlist maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center— attempted to enter the US from Mexico in the first half of 2018. Starr points out that during that same period no fewer than 41 foreigners who were on the TSDB tried to enter the US from Canada. In the past three and a half years, four Canadian residents have been charged with carrying out or conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks on US soil. They include a Palestinian living in Toronto and a Tunisian living in Montreal, who planned to derail a passenger train making the journey from Ontario to New York. Both were jailed for life. Another resident of Canada, Abdulrahman el-Bahnasawy, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for trying to plant bombs in New York’s Times Square and on a New York subway train. El-Bahnasawy, who was 20 when he was sentenced, was directly guided by Islamic State handlers in the Philippines and Pakistan. Starr notes that nearly 200 Canadian citizens and residents are thought to have traveled abroad to fight for the Islamic State, and that around 60 of those are now back in Canada.

While all this is happening, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, America’s main border control organization, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, appears to be ignoring the country’s northern border. It is worth noting that the 5,525 mile-long border is the longest in the world, but is monitored by no more than about 2,000 CBP agents. In contrast, over 16,000 CBP agents keep tabs on America’s border with Mexico. Responding to political pressure from the White House, the CBP keeps stationing more agents to the southern border. In the meantime, requests by CBP supervisors along the Canadian border to increase their force by 200 agents remain unfulfilled. This is despite the fact that the number of people detained while trying to enter the US illegally from the Canadian province of Quebec has nearly trebled since 2015, notes Starr.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 July 2019 | Permalink

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US Homeland Security Department accused of disbanding homegrown terrorism unit

Department of Homeland Security DHSSome employees of the United States Department of Homeland Security claim that a unit specializing on homegrown and domestic terrorism was inexplicably disbanded, leaving America vulnerable to attack. The allegations were published on Tuesday on the website of The Daily Beast, an investigative news and opinion website. In a leading article published on the site, reporter Betsy Woodruff cites “current and former DHS officials” with knowledge about the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), which is the intelligence wing of the DHS.

Woodruff claims that, until recently, I&A employoed a team of analysts that worked on potential threats from domestic terrorism activity and homegrown violent extremist individuals or groups. They then shared their reports with law enforcement on the state and local level, which is DHS’s mission. But in August of 2017, when David Glawe assumed the post of Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis, I&A experienced a major reorganization. The article alleges that Glawe —who was appointed by President Donald Trump— did away with the I&A unit that monitors domestic militancy, including far-right radicalization. Ever since that move, I&A have “significantly reduced their production [of analysis] on homegrown violent extremism and domestic terrorism”, according to a DHS official quoted in The Daily Beast piece. The I&A’s reduction in output has “generated significant concern at headquarters given the growth in right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism we are seeing in the US and abroad”, said another DHS official.

But in a written response to the website’s allegations, Glawe dismissed the claims as “patently false and the exact opposite of what we have done”. He went on to state that I&A has “significantly increased tactical intelligence reporting on domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists since 2016”. Referring to The Daily Beast’s claims, Glawe said that “those pushing such a narrative either do not understand intelligence collection efforts or don’t care about the truth”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 04 April 2019 | Permalink

US government publicly admits existence of rogue phone-tapping devices in DC

Embassy RowThe United States government has for the first time admitted publicly that it has detected devices known to be used by foreign intelligence services to spy on cellular communications in the nation’s capital. Known commonly as Stingrays, after a leading hardware brand, these devices are primarily used by government agencies, including law enforcement. But they can be purchased by anyone with anywhere from $1,000 to $200,000 to spare. They work by simulating the activity of legitimate cell towers and tricking cell phones into communicating with them. That allows the users of these cellphone-site simulators to monitor the physical whereabouts of targeted cell phones. Some of the more expensive Stingray models can intercept the actual content of telephone conversations and can even plant Trojans on the compromised phones of unsuspecting users.

Many governments have expressed concerns about the use of these devices, which are known to be used by intelligence agencies to monitor cellular communications on foreign soil. Major cities around the world, including Washington, are major targets of cellphone-site simulators, which are frequently located inside foreign embassies. However, the US government has never publicly commented on this issue, despite intense rumors that government agencies headquartered in Washington are major targets of Stingray devices. This changed recently, however, after Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security seeking information about the use of such devices in Washington. Wyden received a written response from Christopher Krebs, who heads the DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate. In the letter, dated March 26, Krebs confirmed that the DHS detected a number of active Stingrays in the DC area in 2017, which he referred to as “anomalous activity consistent with Stingrays”. But he added that the DHS lacks both funding and equipment needed to detect the full number of the devices and the full spectrum of Stingrays that are active in the nation’s capital.

The Associated Press, which published Krebs’ letter, said it acquired it from Wyden’s office in the US Senate. The news agency noted that the letter from DHS did not provide the technical specifications of the cellphone-site simulators, and did not enter into speculation about who might be employing them. Additionally the letter did not provide the exact number of Stingrays detected in DC in 2017, nor did it provide the exact locations in DC where Stingray activity was traced. In response to Krebs’ letter, Senator Wyden’s office released a statement blaming the US Federal Communications Commission for having failed to hold the cellular telecommunications industry accountable for the lack of security against Stingrays. “Leaving security to the phone companies has proven to be disastrous”, Senator Wyden’s statement concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 4 April 2018 | Permalink

Israel reportedly behind discovery of Russian antivirus company’s spy links

Computer hackingIsraeli spy services were reportedly behind the United States government’s recent decision to purge Kaspersky Lab antivirus software from its computers, citing possible collusion with Russian intelligence. Last month, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a directive ordering that all government computers should be free of software products designed by Kaspersky Lab. Formed in the late 1990s by Russian cybersecurity expert Eugene Kaspersky, the multinational antivirus software provider operates out of Moscow but is technically based in the United Kingdom. Its antivirus and cybersecurity products are installed on tens of millions of computers around the world, including computers belonging to government agencies in the US and elsewhere. But last month’s memorandum by the US government’s domestic security arm alarmed the cybersecurity community by alleging direct operational links between the antivirus company and the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the initial piece of intelligence that alerted the US government to the alleged links between Kaspersky Lab and Moscow was provided by Israel. The American paper said that Israeli cyber spies managed to hack into Kaspersky’s systems and confirm the heavy presence of Russian government operatives there. The Times’ report stated that the Israelis documented real-time cyber espionage operations by the Russians, which targeted the government computer systems of foreign governments, including the United States’. The Israeli spies then reportedly approached their American counterparts and told them that Kaspersky Lab software was being used by Russian intelligence services as a backdoor to millions of computers worldwide. The Israelis also concluded that Kaspersky’s antivirus software was used to illegally steal files from these computers, which were essentially infected by spy software operated by the Russian government.

It was following the tip by the Israelis that he Department of Homeland Security issued its memorandum saying that it was “concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky [Lab] officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies”. The memorandum resulted in a decision by the US government —overwhelmingly supported by Congress— to scrap all Kaspersky software from its computer systems. Kaspersky Lab has rejected allegations that it works with Russian intelligence. In a statement issued in May of this year, the company said it had “never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2017 | Pemalink

ISIS now has the ability to issue official-looking Syrian passports

Syrian passportThe Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now able to produce authentic-looking Syrian passports using machines that are typically available only to governments, according to an American intelligence report. The report was accessed by the New York-based station ABC News, which said it was issued by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative wing of the United States Department of Homeland Security. According to ABC News, the 17-page report was issued in early December to law enforcement departments across the US. It warns that ISIS is most likely able to print government-quality travel documents using Syrian passport templates.

According HSI, the militant group was first able to access passport-issuing technology when it conquered Raqqa, the Syrian city that today serves as the capital of the so-called Islamic State. The city has a passport office with at least one passport-issuing machine, said the report. A few months later, ISIS came in possession of a second passport-issuing machine when it captured the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zour. The HSI report states that the city’s passport office, which contained “boxes of blank passports” and at least one passport-printing machine, came into the hands of ISIS militants undamaged. Currently, the whereabouts of the Raqqa and Deir al-Zour passport machines “remain fluid”, says the report, pointing out that both machines are believed to be portable.

The intelligence report goes on to state “with moderate confidence” that ISIS has issued authentic-looking Syrian passports to individuals, and that some of them may have traveled to Europe and the US. Further on, the report says that Syria is virtually awash with fake documents; it cites an unnamed source who says that high-quality fake Syrian passports can be purchased in the black market in Syria for less than $400, and that some government employees will backdate passport stamps in exchange for a fee. IntelNews readers will recall that two of the suicide bombers who attacked Paris in November were carrying fake Syrian passports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 December 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #889

Malcolm RifkindBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►US agency warns of domestic right-wing terror threat. A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the US Department of Homeland Security this month, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing so-called “sovereign citizen” extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism. Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to —and in some cases greater than—the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.​
►►Chair of UK parliament’s spy watchdog resigns over corruption scandal. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a British parliamentarian who chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee, has announced that he will stand down, after a video emerged showing him discussing with what he thought were representatives of a Chinese company, who asked him to help them buy influence in the British parliament. Rifkind offered to get them access to British officials in exchange for money. The people he was talking to, however, turned out to be journalists for The Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 News who recorded the conversations.
►►The case of the sleepy CIA spy. Although a federal judge ruled in favor of the CIA last week in a discrimination suit brought by an employee who claimed he was harassed out of his job because of his narcolepsy and race, the African-American man is back in court with another complaint. On December 4, “Jacob Abilt”, the pseudonym for the CIA technical operations officer who sued the CIA, filed a second, until now unreported suit, complaining that he was unjustly denied a temporary duty assignment to a war zone due to a combination of his race and narcolepsy.

Are militant groups interested in weaponizing Ebola?

Ebola suffererBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Does the Ebola epidemic present militant groups, such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, with the opportunity to weaponize viruses and direct them against Western targets? Earlier this month, United States Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson dismissed in strong terms the possibility that Ebola would be used by Islamic State militants to attack American targets. Speaking to the Association of the United States Army, Johnson acknowledged that the Islamic State is a “very, very dangerous terrorist organization”, but added that his Department had seen “no specific credible evidence that [the Islamic State] is attempting to use any sort of disease or virus to attack” the US. A few days earlier, however, Forbes magazine had quoted Al Shimkus, Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College, as saying that the Ebola outbreak presented Islamist groups with the opportunity to use a low-tech bioterrorist weapon “to attempt to wreak strategic global infection”. Shimkus added that a group like the Islamic State wouldn’t even have to weaponize the virus’ it could “simply use human carriers to intentionally infect themselves in West Africa, then disseminate the deadly virus via the world’s air transportation system”, he said. On Wednesday, a senior Spanish official told a parliamentary committee in Madrid that the government of Spain was “taking seriously” discussions in Internet forums linked to the Islamic State about using biological weapons against the West. Francisco Martínez, who is Spain’s State Secretary for Security, told the Committee of the Interior in the Spanish Congress that online commentators connected to the Islamic State have been discussing the possibility of using Ebola as a weapon against America and its Western allies. He told Committee members that the discussions had been taking place on Internet forums as recently as mid-September. He also cited “a series of tweets” from last July, in which another Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam, with roots in Iraqi Kurdistan, proposed using “deadly chemical products from laboratories” as means of launching attacks against the West. Martínez did not provide further details on the allegations.