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

US Congressional probe finds DoD intelligence on Islamic State was altered

ISISAn investigation by Republican lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives has reportedly found that military intelligence analysts were pressured into changing reports on the Islamic State by their superiors. The investigation follows allegations made a year ago by analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon’s primary human-intelligence agency. As many as 50 analysts claimed that their reports about the Islamic State were being deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of the reports related to al-Qaeda activity in Iraq and Syria, but most were about the Islamic State, the militant Sunni organization that controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The allegations prompted two separate investigations, one by the Department of Defense and one by a task force consisting of Republican members of three committees in the US House of Representatives —namely the Committee on Armed Services, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Defense Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. According to The Daily Beast, the committees have now concluded their five-month investigation and are preparing to release a 10-page report before the end of August. Citing three unnamed US officials, the website claims that the soon-to-be-released report will corroborate claims by DIA analysts that their intelligence reports were deliberately doctored in order to make American efforts against ISIS seem more successful than they have been.

According to the three officials, who are reportedly “familiar with the task force’s findings”, the 10-page document will not corroborate claims that the pressure on the intelligence analysts was exercised by senior sources inside the White House. But they told the website that the Congressional investigation could continue after the release of the report. The Daily Beast said it contacted CENTCOM for a comment on the story, but was told that the Pentagon body has yet to receive the task force report. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s own investigation into the analysts’ allegations continues and expected to release its findings by the end of 2016.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2016 | Permalink


US lawmaker claims Pentagon is resisting probe into tweaked ISIS analysis

ISIS forces in RamadiThe leading lawmaker in the United States Congressional intelligence committee has accused the Department of Defense of resisting his efforts to investigate claims that intelligence products on the Islamic State were manipulated. Representative Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), who chairs the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said last week that he and his staffers were experiencing a “lack of cooperation” from the military during the course of an official probe into intelligence products. Nunes was referring to allegations, first published in The New York Times in August of last year, that reports about the Islamic State were being deliberately tweaked by officials at the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Pentagon body that directs and coordinates American military operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Since that time, it has emerged that more than 50 intelligence analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency have come forward to complain to the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General that their reports on the Islamic State were altered by CENTCOM officials, in order to give a falsely positive projection of US policy in relation to the militant Sunni organization. Some of the analysts have sharply criticized what they describe as the deliberate politicization of their reports by CENTCOM. Their complaints are now believed to be part of an official investigation into the matter by the Inspector General. The latter is required to produce a report in cooperation with the intelligence oversight committees of the US Congress.

But Nunes, who represents one such Congressional committee, complained last week that his staffers had been repeatedly forced to cancel fact-finding trips to CENTCOM’s headquarters in Florida. He also said at an intelligence committee hearing last week that he had been “made aware” that CENTCOM officials had systematically destroyed digital and printed files relating to the investigation. Nunes added that his committee expected the DoD to “provide these and other documents” in a timely manner. He added that his committee would “do a lot of interviews” in order to detect “what files were deleted”, since those “are the ones they don’t want you to see”.

Reporters from Foreign Policy magazine contacted CENTCOM spokesman Patrick Ryder, who refused to discuss the specifics of the case. He said, however, that all emails sent by senior CENTCOM officials are “kept in storage for record-keeping purposes”, and therefore “cannot be deleted”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 March 2016 | Permalink

In surprise move, US Congress may slash funding for CIA ops in Syria

CIAAmerican Congressional lawmakers have voted to cut funding for the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret operations in Syria, in a surprise move that indicates growing concern on Capitol Hill with Washington’s strategy on the Syrian Civil War. The CIA’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War began in 2012, when US President Barack Obama issued 1 a classified presidential finding that authorized Langley to arm and train opposition militias. The clandestine program was initially based in training camps in Jordan, before eventually expanding to at least one location in Qatar. Currently, the CIA’s secret involvement in the Syrian conflict is said 2 to be among the Agency’s most extensive covert operations in the world, and comes at an annual cost that is nearing $1 billion.

But this amount may be cut by as much as 20 percent if the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the US House of Representatives has its way. According to The Washington Post 3, the Committee recently voted to reduce the Agency’s classified funds for the Syria operation as a way of expressing its “concern with [US] strategy in Syria”. It is perhaps indicative of the displeasure on Capitol Hill with Washington’s current policy on Syria that the Committee voted unanimously to slash the CIA’s funding. The Post even quoted the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Adam B. Schiff (CA), who said there was “growing pessimism” among Committee members, who felt that the US would not be in a position to “help shape the aftermath” of the conflict in Syria.

The surprise move by the Congressional intelligence panel will need to be ratified by the House, which will vote on a preliminary intelligence-spending bill this week. The Post said that the measure “provoked concern” in the White House, while CIA officials warned that slashing the CIA’s funding for its Syria operations could seriously hurt rebel groups that are being backed by the US. One unnamed US intelligence official told the paper that Russia and China would continue to fund the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as Congress decided to defund the CIA’s operations in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. The White House declined to respond to questions about the vote.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 June 2015 | Permalink:

  1. J. Fitsanakis “Obama authorizes CIA to conduct ‘non-lethal covert action’ in SyriaintelNews [03aug2012] 
  2. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015] 
  3. G. Miller and K. DeYoung “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cutThe Washington Post [12Jun2015] 

Situation Report: China’s Huawei Going Mobile? (Exclusive)

Huawei TechnologiesBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | |
The Chinese firm, Huawei Technologies, a provider of information and communications technology, has been constantly under fire in the United States and around for the world for its supposed deep ties to China’s military and intelligence establishment. It is not without some justifiable concern either. Prior to starting Huawei Technologies, the company’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, served for more than 10-years in China’s People’s Liberation Army’s engineering corps. This reality, rightly or wrongly, has added fodder for concerns that Chinese government interests are intertwined with those of Huawei. On September 13, Huawei Technologies and another Chinese firm, ZTE, were the subject of a Congressional hearing titled “Investigation of the Security Threat Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE”. The purpose of the hearing, as explained by the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was to assess the potential danger of “telecommunications equipment manufactured by companies with believed ties to the Chinese government”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #774 (lawsuit edition)

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►NSA whistleblower sues over property seized in leak raid. Diane Roark, a former staffer for the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has filed a lawsuit to seek return of computers, electronic devices and papers seized from her home in 2007. Roark, who handled the House’s oversight of the National Security Agency from 1997 to 2002, was suspected by the FBI of being a source for The New York Times‘ disclosure of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program STELLAR WIND, which she denies.
►►Lawsuit forces US agency to disclose CIA files. The US Veterans Administration has been ordered to disclose documents relating to the CIA’s Cold War-era experimentation on American soldiers. Beginning in the 1950s, the military and CIA utilized former Nazi scientists to test the effects of 400 types of drugs and chemicals, including mescaline, LSD, amphetamines, mustard gas, and nerve agents, on US soldiers, according to a lawsuit brought by the Vietnam Veterans of America and individual soldiers. Under the lawsuit, a judge in California has ruled the VA must hand over documents pertaining to the use of at least 7,800 service personnel as “human guinea pigs” by the US Army and the CIA.
►►Syrian spy tried to infiltrate German intelligence. A suspected Syrian spy who was arrested in Germany earlier this year and has now been charged with espionage, once tried to infiltrate the country’s intelligence services, according to German officials. The man, identified only as Akram O., was employed by Syria’s embassy in Berlin, and tasked with keeping tabs on Syrian opposition activists living in Germany. His application to work for the German federal government was made “at the behest of his intelligence agency handlers”, according to prosecutors. His application was turned down, however. The Syrian national applied for German citizenship in 2009, which was also denied.

News you may have missed #748 (US edition)

Michael HaydenBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►US lawmakers probe China companies over spy concerns. In letters sent last week to Chinese communications hardware firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation, a group of senior members of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee have outlined concerns about the companies’ ties with the Chinese government, including the role of a “party committee” at Huawei. The lawmakers have also asked about Huawei’s relationships with five US consulting firms and requested an expansive collection of documents, including the contracts between the firms and Huawei.
►►Lone Senator resists Bush/Obama NSA wiretapping plan. The Obama administration wanted a quick, no-questions-asked-or-answered renewal of broad electronic eavesdropping powers that largely legalized the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. That’s despite President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to revisit and revise the rules to protect Americans’ rights. Everything seemed to be going to plan after a Senate committee approved the re-authorization in secret last month. But Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has stepped in to stop the bill because the government refuses to say how often the spy powers are being used.
►►What did Hayden tell Obama in January 2009? In December of 2008, a meeting took place between the incoming US Presiden Barack Obama and the departing CIA Director Michael Hayden. Several days later, on January 15, Hayden told journalists that Obama had privately assured him that “no plans to launch a legal inquiry” into the CIA’s use of controversial interrogation methods during the Bush administration. Now, several years later, Salon has published an insider’s account of what was said in that meeting between Obama and Hayden, as well as during the days that followed.

Analysis: US spy agencies stil in the dark about Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| |
It has been almost a year since the ongoing anti-government uprising erupted in Syria. But intelligence agencies in the United States are still struggling to make sense of most aspects of the spiraling conflict. In February, the US Department of State closed down its embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus and recalled all of its diplomatic personnel, including US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, to Washington. Since then, the Central Intelligence Agency, which conducted its operations in Syria largely out of the US embassy there, has been forced to rely on scattered fragments of its agent network in Damascus, as well as on the work of a handful of allied intelligence services, including those of Jordan, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Naturally, the closure of the US embassy in Syria has boosted the role of the signals intelligence collection and satellite reconnaissance. But, none of these intelligence collection channels have been able to compensate for the lack of adequate human intelligence collection from inside Syria. As a result, according to The Washington Post, which cites “senior US officials”, US intelligence-gathering on the situation in Syria is currently “fragmentary [and] out of focus”. Specifically, the US intelligence community remains unclear about the tactical and strategic intentions of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has limited information about the makeup and strength of the opposition forces in the country. Perhaps more importantly, American intelligence analysts have little evidence on which to base any sort of firm conclusions about the extent of involvement of militant Islamists in the funding and operations of the Syrian opposition. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0281

  • US intel director confirms CIA can kill US citizens abroad. It’s official; speaking before the House Intelligence Committee, US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged that President Obama is continuing a Bush-era policy authorizing the killing of US citizens if they are considered “a terrorist threat to the United States”.
  • Funny sign at CIA gift shop. Actual notice displayed at a CIA gift store inside the Agency’s Langley, VA, headquarters: “Don’t forget! If you are undercover, you cannot charge! It will blow your cover”. Good point.
  • Gordon Thomas’ Secret Wars out in paperback. IntelNews has received the new paperback edition of Gordon Thomas’ Secret Wars: 100 Years of British Intelligence. Joseph Fitsanakis reviewed the hardback edition last May.

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Analysis: US spy turf-war flares up on Capitol Hill

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

Wednesday’s testimony by US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, received plenty of media coverage. But few have examined the ongoing public hearings by three separate Senate committees on the Christmas Day bomb plot in light of the turf battles taking place between US intelligence agencies. An excellent article by Politico’s Kassie Hunt does just that, by pointing out that the hearing proceedings should be viewed in light of the “three-way turf war among Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter”. Capitol Hill lawmakers appear to be aware of this: Hunt’s article quotes Peter King, the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s senior Republican member, who warns that US intelligence agencies will use the public hearings to place blame about the Christmas Day bomber fiasco on each other. Read more of this post

Comment: Is CIA Lying About its Blackwater Contacts?

Blackwater logo

Blackwater logo

After CIA director Leon Panetta revealed last summer that private contractor Blackwater was part of a covert CIA hit squad, tasked with summary killings and assassinations of al-Qaeda operatives, the CIA vowed to sever its contacts with the trigger-happy security firm. But did it do so? It doesn’t look like it. Last November, it became known that the company, (recently renamed Xe Services) remains part of a covert CIA program in Pakistan that includes planned assassinations and kidnappings of Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects. More recently, it was revealed that two of the seven Americans who died in the December 30 bomb attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, were actually Blackwater employees subcontracted by the CIA.

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FBI still lacks translators, eight years after 9/11, says report

Report cover

Report cover

An internal audit by the US Justice Department’s inspector general has found that the FBI faces a critical shortage of foreign-language specialists, eight years after 9/11. The audit report (redacted version available in .pdf here) issued last Monday by inspector general Glenn Fine, reveals that the lack of translators prevented the FBI from accessing 31 per cent of the foreign-language material it collected in counter-terrorism operations from 2006 to 2008. This means the Bureau, which serves as America’s primary counterintelligence and counterterrorism force, has been unable to read tens of thousands of pages and listen to or review 1.2 million hours of audio intercepts in the last two years alone. Remarkably, despite the well-understood need for foreign-language specialists in the post-9/11 security environment, the audit found that the total number of FBI translators dropped from 1,338 in March 2005 to 1,298 in September last year. Read more of this post

CIA misled, lied to Congress several times since 2001, say lawmakers

Jan Schakowsky

Jan Schakowsky

The two Democrats chairing the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence have accused the CIA of misleading Congress on at least five instances during the last eight years. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Representatives Jan Schakowsky (CA, photo) and Anna Eshoo (IL.) said an investigation by the Committee had uncovered several examples “where the committee actually has been lied to” by the CIA. The two chairwomen described the investigation findings as “symptom[s] of a larger disease” involving the routine practice of “incomplete and often misleading intelligence briefings”. However, commenting on Schakowsky and Eshoo’s allegations, Robert Litt, the senior attorney in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the conduct of all 16 US intelligence agencies, said Congress was not adequately briefed on “a small number of intelligence activities”, but “has since been brought up to date”. Read more of this post

Senator says Obama employs Bush tactics on spy secrecy

Russ Feingold

Russ Feingold

A Democratic senator has alleged that the Obama Administration is copying the Bush Administration’s tactics by “stonewalling and road blocking” Congress on intelligence issues. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), the only Senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act during its first vote, said during a nomination hearing on Tuesday that he suspects the White House is still withholding information from Congressional intelligence panel members. Feingold voiced the allegation during the nomination hearing in Congress of David Gompert, incoming deputy director of national intelligence, who will serve under director of national intelligence Dennis C. Blair. In recent months, Senator Feingold has emerged as one of the most vocal Democratic critics of the Obama administration’s policies on intelligence and security. Read more of this post

US spy agencies still lack foreign language experts

Urdu script

Urdu script

A US media outlet has finally followed up on the warnings, made by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last July, about the lack of trained foreign-language speakers in the US intelligence community. Following similar warnings by the US House intelligence panel in June, the Senate Intelligence Committee used the opportunity of its authorization (.pdf) of the 2010 intelligence budget to draw attention to “the continuing lack of critical language-capable personnel in the Intelligence Community, and the need to address this shortage”. According to The Washington Times, which noticed the Senate Committee’s brief but critical alert, US intelligence agencies remain “woefully short” of foreign-language speakers, let alone experts. Read more of this post

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