US denies it plans to free top intelligence analyst who spied for Cuba

Ana Belen MontesThe White House has no plans to release an American former military analyst who spied for the government of Cuba, according to an official letter sent to a member of the United States Congress. The denial came weeks after some media reports in Miami and Cuba suggested that Washington was examining a request by Havana to release Ana Belen Montes, an American intelligence analyst and expert on Cuba, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for spying on the United States on behalf of Cuba.

Montes, who is the daughter of an American military doctor, grew up in Kansas. In 1985 she joined the Defense Intelligence Agency, a US Department of Defense body that collects and analyzes military-related information abroad. Montes quickly distinguished herself in the DIA, and by the mid-1990s she was seen as one of the US government’s most knowledgeable and capable Cuba experts. She was the main author of nearly every major assessment on Cuba that was produced by the US Intelligence Community in the 1990s. But on September 21, 2001, Montes was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with having committed espionage for Cuba. During her trial, US government prosecutors argued that Montes had been recruited by Cuban intelligence before she joined the DIA, and that she eventually compromised every US intelligence collection program targeting the Caribbean island. The former DIA analyst was also accused of having given Havana the identities of US intelligence officers who had secretly operated in Cuba. In 2002, Montes was sentenced to 25 years in prison, after pleading guilty to having committed espionage throughout her 16-year career at the DIA.

But in recent months, there has been speculation that Montes could be released and allowed to relocate to Cuba. In return, Havana would reportedly extradite to the US Assata Shakur, a former member of militant black nationalist groups in the United States, who is wanted for the 1973 murder of a state trooper in the state of New Jersey. Shakur, whose birth name is JoAnne Deborah Byron, escaped from an American prison in 1979 and resurfaced in Cuba in 1984. The island’s socialist government gave Shakur political asylum, but the FBI has designated her a terrorist.

The rumors about a possible exchange between Montes and Shakur prompted US Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to voice concern. In a letter to US President Barack Obama, Nunes urged against Montes’ release. The Congressman described the imprisoned former intelligence analyst as “one of the most brazen traitors in US history” and remarked that she “richly deserved her 25-year prison sentence, and must serve every day of it”. According to El Nuevo Herald, Nunes received a written response from the US Department of State, which said that “the United States government has no intention of releasing or exchanging Montes”. According to the Florida-based, Spanish-language newspaper, the State Department letter “assured” Nunes that it was “responding on the president’s behalf”, suggesting that the Obama administration has no plans to release Montes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 August 2016 | Permalink

Brazil’s new acting president was US embassy intelligence source in 2006

Temer RousseffThe new acting president of Brazil briefed American diplomats on sensitive political matters in 2006, according to cables published by the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Michel Temer is leader of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as PMDB. Although it is one of Brazil’s largest political parties, the PMDB has been unable to muster enough electoral support to govern the country on its own. As a result, under Temer’s leadership, the PMDB has been a partner of every governing coalition in Brazil since 1995. During the administration of leftwing President Dilma Rousseff, Temer held the post of Vice President.

But in March of this year, the PMDB dropped its support of Rousseff, accusing her of financial irregularities. In April, the speaker of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Brazilian Parliament), Eduardo Cunha, who is himself a PMDB member, spearheaded impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Eventually, these efforts were successful, leading to the suspension of the president, who is currently undergoing an impeachment trial. In the meantime, Temer assumed the role of president, as stipulated by the Brazilian constitution. This has led Rousseff to denounce the proceedings as a coup orchestrated by the PMDB.

Throughout this process, the United States, which has had a tense relationship with President Rousseff, and her predecessor, the leftwinger Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has maintained a discrete silence. But two leaked cables produced by the US embassy in Brazil in 2006, show that Temer, who led the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, was considered an intelligence informant by US diplomats. The cables, which were published on Friday by WikiLeaks, appear to show that Temer briefed US diplomats at length on sensitive matters relating to domestic Brazilian politics on at least two occasions. The cables, dated January 11 and June 21, 2006, are marked “sensitive but unclassified” and “Political Affairs—Intelligence” by their author, Christopher McMullen, who was then US consul general in Brazil. They detail the content of conversations that Temer, who was then a member of Congress, had with McMullen and an unnamed US official in the embassy’s political section.

There is no reason to assume from these cables that Temer was a paid informant, or that he was even a regular source of information for US diplomats. Nor is there any evidence that the US officials who met with Temer worked for US intelligence. However, it is clear in the cables that the Brazilian politician relayed sensitive information about his personal electoral plans, the plans of the PMDB, as well as the domestic politics of his party, which includes an analysis of various factions. Moreover, he appears to discuss matters of political strategy that are not meant for general consumption.

Ironically, the June 21 cable contains McMullen’s unfavorable assessment of Temer and the PMDB, which he describes as a “a group of opportunistic regional leaders” who have “no ideology or policy framework” and thus lack “a coherent national political agenda”. Temer was sworn in as president on May 12 and will remain in the post for no more than 180 days, during which time the outcome of the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff will be determined.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 May 2016 | Permalink

Washington to investigate Chinese-owned radio stations in the US

CRI ChinaAuthorities in Washington are preparing to launch an investigation into a dozen radio stations operating in major cities in the United States, which are allegedly owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government. The investigation appears to have been sparked by a report published by the Reuters news agency on Monday, which claims that the Chinese government is operating a “covert radio network” inside the US, aimed at broadcasting news reports that reflect Chinese views. According to Reuters, the radio stations broadcast in at least a dozen large American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

All stations in question are managed by broadcasting firm G&E Studioa, based in West Covina, California, which is owned by James Su, a Shanghai-born American broadcasting entrepreneur. According to the news agency, G&E Studio controls the vast majority of these stations’ air time, which it fills with entertainment and public-affairs programming produced in its studios in California. However, the Reuters report claimed that G&E Studio is 60% owned by China Radio International (CRI), which is a Chinese state-controlled broadcaster. Founded as Radio Peking in 1941, then renamed to Radio Beijing during the Cold War, CRI is the Chinese equivalent of the Voice of America or the BBC World Service: it is officially affiliated with the Chinese government and reflects its point of view. What is more, said Reuters, some of the programming aired on G&E Studio-managed stations is produced by CRI in Beijing. Consequently, news programming on these stations tends to reflect the Chinese government’s point of view, on subjects such as Taiwan, naval rights in the South China Sea, trade policies and other major topics of the day.

The investigation has been launched by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because American law prohibits representatives of foreign governments, or foreign governments themselves, from owning or managing US broadcast stations. Moreover, individuals or companies seeking to influence American politics or public opinion on behalf of a foreign agency, group or government, must register with the US Department of State. It doesn’t appear that G&E-owned radio stations have done that, said Reuters on Monday. The news agency quoted FCC spokesman Neil Grace, who said that an investigation had been launched into “the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated”. The Department of State, however, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation into G&E Studios was underway.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 3 November 2015 | Permalink

Russian hackers accessed Obama’s email correspondence

White HouseBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Computer hackers believed to be connected to the Russian government were able to access emails belonging to the president of the United States, according to American officials briefed about the ensuing investigation. The cyberattack on the White House was announced by American government officials in October of last year, soon after it was discovered by security experts. But The New York Times said on Saturday that the hacking was far more intrusive than had been publicly acknowledged and that the information breach resulting from it was “worrisome”. The paper said that the individuals behind the cyberattack were “presumed to be linked to the Russian government, if not working for it”. It also quoted one unnamed senior US official, who said that the group that perpetrated the hacking was “one of the most sophisticated actors we’ve seen”.

Little concrete information has emerged on the hacking, but it appears to have started with attempts to compromise computers at the US Department of State. As CNN reported earlier this month, the hackers essentially managed to take control of the State Department’s declassified computer network and exploit it for several months. In most American government departments, senior officials operate at least two computers in their offices. One is connected to the government’s secure network used for classified communications; the other is used to communicate unclassified information to the outside world. In theory, those two systems are supposed to be separate. However, it is common knowledge that the publicly linked computers often contain sensitive or even classified information. It is this unclassified part of the network that the alleged Russian hackers were able to access, in both the State Department and the White House.

According to The Times, by gaining access to the email accounts of senior US government officials, the hackers were able to read unclassified emails sent or received by, among others, President Barack Obama. The US president’s own unclassified account does not appear to have been breached, said the paper, nor were the hackers able to access the highly classified server that carries the president’s mobile telephone traffic. Nevertheless, the operation to remove monitoring files placed in US government servers by the hackers continues to this day, and some believe that the presence of the intruders has yet to be fully eradicated from the system. The Times contacted the US National Security Council about the issue, but was told by its spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, that the Council would “decline to comment”. The White House also declined to provide further information on the incident and the ensuing investigation.

News you may have missed #885

Shin BetBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Americans’ cellphones targeted in secret US spy program. The US Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations. The US Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
►►Israel’s usually secretive spy agencies get into public spat. Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Shin Bet, has been trading barbs with the military over whether faulty army intelligence left Israel unprepared for war with the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The spat went high-profile this week when Israel’s Channel 2 aired a report featuring Shin Bet officials –-rendered in pixilated, shadowed form-– claiming the military had brushed aside the agency’s assessment, months before fighting erupted in July, that an armed conflict with Hamas was in the making.
►►Poland mulls military intelligence brigade close to Belarus border. Polish Armed Forces will make emphasis on the unfolding of reconnaissance troops and will set up a separate brigade and military command in the north-east of the country, National Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said on Thursday. The region he visited is located along the border with Belarus and close to the border with Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad region, an exclave on the south-east shore of the Baltic Sea.

High-profile US diplomat probed by FBI counterintelligence

Robin L. RaphelBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A highly experienced American diplomat, who is commonly described as “a fixture in Washington foreign policy circles”, is reportedly being investigated by counterintelligence agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Washington Post named the diplomat last week as Robin L. Raphel, who served as United States ambassador to Tunisia before being appointed as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, during the administration of US President Bill Clinton. The New York Times described Ms. Raphel as one of the US Department of State’s highest-ranking female diplomats. She is considered an expert on Pakistan and until recently served as an adviser to the Department of State’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ms. Raphel officially retired from the Foreign Service in 2005 and joined the ranks of Cassidy & Associates, a high-powered government-relations firm based in Washington, DC, which is known to have performed lobbying assignments on behalf of the government of Pakistan. In reporting the alleged investigation of Ms. Raphel by the FBI, The Washington Post said last week that the nature of the probe was “unclear”. But it stated that FBI counterintelligence agents had searched the former diplomat’s house and office. Citing unnamed government sources, The New York Times reported that the FBI was trying to determine why Ms. Raphel had taken classified information to her house, and whether she had shared it, or planned to share it, with a foreign government. There was no mention in the article of the identity of the foreign government that may have been privy to classified information allegedly taken home by Ms. Raphel. Media reports suggested that the former diplomat had been placed on leave and stripped of all her government security clearances as part of the ongoing FBI investigation. Insiders note that it is extremely rare for such a prominent figure in Washington to become the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

More documents emerge on CIA effort to salvage Soviet submarine

Project AZORIANBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
New documents have emerged about a massive effort by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1970s. This blog has written before about Project AZORIAN, a 1974 attempt to recover a Soviet submarine in 5,200 meters of water. The initiative cost the CIA over $800 million, which translates to something like $3 billion in today’s prices. It centered on an effort to salvage K-129, a Soviet Golf II class submarine that had suffered an internal explosion while on a routine patrol mission in the Pacific Ocean, in 1968. The explosion caused the vessel to sink along with the three nuclear ballistic missiles it was carrying and nearly 100 crew members, all of whom died in the incident. The Soviets initiated an immediate frantic effort to recover the vessel but gave up after two months, unable to bring it to the surface. After the Soviets abandoned the site, a number of CIA scientists proposed to undertake an American effort to recover the sunken submarine. This, they suggested, would allow Washington to study the design features of Soviet nuclear warheads, as well as obtain cryptographic hardware that could prove useful in deciphering Soviet naval codes. This prompted the launch of Project AZORIAN, which commenced in 1974, once the Agency secured the necessary funds. As we have indicated before, the recovery team nearly caused a nuclear explosion when the submarine split while being raised, and its body hit the ocean floor. The CIA prepared to enter a new phase of the project in 1975, aimed at launching a second attempt to raise the sunken vessel. But the attempt was cancelled when vague snippets of information about the project were leaked to the press. Nothing more emerged until 2010, when the CIA aired a heavily redacted article about the project, which had originally appeared in the 1980s in Studies in Intelligence, the Agency’s in-house publication. Now, however, intelligence historians are able to rely on 200 pages of mostly fresh information on Project AZORIAN, released under the US Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) program. Read more of this post

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