News you may have missed #787

Alexander Makowski By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►An interview with a senior Yemeni spy. Here’s something you don’t read every day: an interview with Ahmed Bin Mo’aili, 66 (pictured here), who worked as a spy for Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO) for more than 30 years. He says that, due to his “different duties in different countries”, which required him to travel in several Arab countries, he acquired “tens of wives” over the years. He is now upset with the PSO because the Organization has “separted him from his 31 children who live all around the Arab countries he has worked in and who are awaiting his return”.
►►Cyprus wants answers from UK over Syria spy claims. Dr. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, has asked British authorities for “a full explanation” into media reports that UK military installations in Cyprus are providing intelligence to Syrian rebels. Earlier this month, The London Times claimed that two British military bases on Cyprus, located in Dhekelia and Akrotiri, were being used to collect signals intelligence on Syria. The data collected at the listening posts, operated by the General Communications Headquarters, Britain’s foremost signals intelligence agency, was passed on to the Free Syrian Army through Turkish intelligence operatives, said The Times. But the Cypriot Foreign Minister said that it was crucial that the bases were not being used for purposes not enshrined in the island’s Treaty of Establishment, which mandates the British Bases to be used for defensive purposes only.
►►CIA ‘turned down offer’ to kill bin Laden in 1999. In late 1999, two years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, a group of Afghan agents loyal to an anti-Taliban guerrilla leader proposed assassinating Osama bin Laden. In returne, they asked for the $5 million reward the Bill Clinton administration had offered for bin Laden’s capture. But the CIA rejected the plan, saying: “we do not have a license to kill”. This is according to the book Ferreting Out Bin Laden (not yet available in English), by Polish former spy Alexander Makowski (pictured), who claims he was the Afghans’ go-between on the plot. Makowski’s credentials are many: the son of a spy, he attended primary school in Great Britain, high school in the United States, and received a postgraduate law degree from Harvard. He graduated from the Polish military intelligence academy at Stare Kiejkuty before spending 20 years in Polish intelligence.

News you may have missed #766 (Arab world edition)

David SheddBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Yemen busts alleged Iranian spy ring. Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi called on Tehran to stay out of Yemen’s internal affairs last week, after security officials in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, announced they had uncovered an Iranian spy ring there. Yemen’s government-run SABA news agency said the spy cell, which was allegedly led by a former commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps, had operated in Yemen as well as in the Horn of Africa,  and that it had kept an operations center in Sana’a. An interior ministry official said all those detained were Yemenis.
►►CIA sued for killing US citizens in Yemen. Survivors of three Americans killed by targeted drone attacks in Yemen last year have sued top-ranking members of the United States government, alleging they illegally killed the three, including a 16 year-old boy, in violation of international human rights law and the US Constitution. The suit (.pdf), the first of its kind, alleges the United States was not engaged in an armed conflict with or within Yemen, prohibiting the use of lethal force unless “at the time it is applied, lethal force is a last resort to protect against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death or serious physical injury”. The case directly challenges the government’s decision to kill Americans without judicial scrutiny.
►►US intel official acknowledges missed Arab Spring signs. David Shedd, deputy director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, said analysts failed to note signs of the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that exploded into the Arab Spring. Shedd’s comments were posted Thursday by the American Forces Press Service, a Pentagon information wire. They constitute a rare public acknowledgment of the US intelligence failure regarding the turmoil that has redrawn the Middle East’s political landscape, toppling autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and now engulfing Syria.

Would be al-Qaeda bomber was Saudi double agent

YemenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The man tasked by al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch to blow up an airliner bound for the United States last month, was a mole who had been recruited by Saudi intelligence. IntelNews understands that the double agent is a Saudi citizen who volunteered to act as an informant for Saudi authorities. The latter eventually tasked him with traveling to Yemen, joining al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and convincing its leaders that he was willing to carry out a suicide mission against Western targets. It is not known at this point whether the Saudis kept the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the loop from the moment the mole was sent to Yemen to join AQAP. What is known is that the man did indeed manage to penetrate AQAP and was eventually entrusted with attacking a civilian airliner with a custom-built bomb designed to fit seamlessly around his scrotum. However, instead of carrying out the suicide mission as agreed, the man left Yemen for Saudi Arabia and delivered both himself and the bomb to Saudi intelligence. The Saudis eventually notified the CIA of the foiled plot, before forwarding the deactivated explosive device to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is now studying it. Thus, initial media reports claiming that the CIA had foiled the attack appear somewhat stretched at this point, in light of the critical role of the Saudi mole inside AQAP. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #725 (al-Qaeda edition)

Fahd al-QusoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Al-Qaeda airline bomb plot thwarted by CIA. US intelligence services foiled a plot hatched by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate) to blow up a plane bound for America using a more sophisticated version of the underwear bomb deployed unsuccessfully in 2009, according to the White House and the FBI. The Associated Press quoted unnamed US officials as saying that the would-be bomber, based in Yemen, had been given the bomb by al-Qaida, which had left the choice of plane and the timing to him. The CIA intervened to seize the bomb. The fate of the alleged bomber is still unknown.
►►CIA kills al-Qaeda man wanted for attack on USS Cole. Fahd al-Quso, who was on the FBI’s most-wanted list for his part in the bombing of the warship USS Cole in 2000, was hit by a missile fired from the unmanned CIA aircraft on Sunday as he and another al-Qaeda operative stepped out of a vehicle in the southern province of Shabwa, Yemen. Al-Quso (photo) had served more than five years in a Yemeni prison for his role in the USS Cole attack and was released in 2007.
►►Al-Qaeda attacks Yemeni base hours after CIA strike. Al-Qaeda militants staged a surprise attack Monday on a Yemeni army base in the south, killing 20 soldiers and capturing 25 just hours after a US drone strike killed Fahd al-Quso, one of its senior figures, who had participated in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The militants managed to reach the base both from the sea and by land, gunning down troops and making away with weapons and other military hardware after the blitz attack.

News you may have missed #717

Lieutenant General Michael FlynnBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►CIA wants more drone strikes in Yemen. The CIA is seeking permission to launch more airborne drone strikes in Yemen, even when there is a risk the victims might not always be terrorists, The Washington Post reports. The paper quotes an unnamed Obama administration official saying that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States”. But critics of the drone program say killings of innocent victims could become more common if the strikes are expanded. The CIA proposal for the “signature strikes” is awaiting a decision by the National Security Council, The Post quotes unnamed US officials as saying.
►►US military intelligence critic to lead spy agency. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who once blasted the work of US military spies in Afghanistan as “only marginally relevant”, has been nominated to take over the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the US Pentagon’s intelligence organization. Flynn was a scathing public critic of military intelligence in Afghanistan, where he served as a top intelligence officer in 2010, saying it failed to provide decision makers with a clear picture of conditions on the ground. Flynn is credited with playing an influential role during his tenure at Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secretive headquarters that oversees elite commandos like the team that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
►►Taiwanese man detained for spying for China. A Taiwanese businessman, identified by his surname Cheng, has been detained for allegedly spying for China. He was allegedly recruited by China when he moved to the southeastern coastal province of Fujian to do business a few years ago, prosecutors said. Cheng is accused of trying to lure a former classmate, who is now a military officer, to meet with Chinese officials abroad for money; but the officer turned him in to Taiwanese authorities.

News you may have missed #674

John KiriakouBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA officers blast Kiriakou. Two former CIA intelligence officials, who spoke to The Washington Times, have rejected the image of John Kiriakou as a high-minded whistleblower who sought to expose official wrongdoing or a botched intelligence operation. Bruce Klingner, who worked as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, called Mr. Kiriakou’s alleged actions “a betrayal of the trust the US government placed in him”. Bart Bechtel, a former CIA clandestine officer, said he considered Kiriakou’s actions “egregious”.
►►US air strikes in Yemen go largely unreported. Last Tuesday’s attacks in southern Yemen were among the biggest carried out by the United States in Yemen since airstrikes began there in November 2002. These strikes underline how the Americans are escalating covert operations against two Islamist groups in the region –al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
►►West explores prospects for Assad’s exile. The United States, European governments and Arab states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Bashar al-Assad despite skepticism the defiant Syrian president is ready to consider such an offer, Western officials said on Wednesday. While talks have not progressed far and there is no real sense that Assad’s fall is imminent, one official said as many as three countries were willing to take him as a way to bring an end to Syria’s bloody 10-month-old crisis.

Former US spy chief questions ‘war on terrorism’ logic, tactics

Dennis Blair

Dennis Blair

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
America’s former top intelligence official has publicly questioned the logic and methods informing Washington’s “war on terrorism”, and called for the CIA unmanned drone assassination program in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be grounded. Dennis C. Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence (DNI) until May of 2010, was speaking last week at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.  In an hour-long forum conversation with television journalist Leslie Stahl, Blair —a retired Admiral— explained that, in his view, America’s “war on terrorism” is misconceived, strategically counterproductive and ludicrously expensive. Speaking on the CIA’s unmanned drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Admiral Blair agreed that the drone attacks have killed some “mid-level” Taliban or al-Qaeda operatives, but said that the strikes have had a negligible overall impact on American security. As a terrorist outfit, al-Qaeda has shown that it is able to easily “sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign”, said Blair. Additionally, the former DNI said that unilateral air strikes are legally questionable and have proven strategically damaging, by “alienating the countries concerned” and dominating Washington’s relations with key nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (click here to read intelNews’ criticism of American raids in Somalia). In doing so, the drone attacks tend to “threaten the prospects of long-term reform” in those countries, said the retired Admiral. Earlier in the conversation, Blair had questioned the economic basis of America’s “war on terrorism”, telling his audience that the US intelligence and security establishment currently spends around $20 million a year for each member of al-Qaeda scattered around the world. Read more of this post

Analysis: Arab revolutions cause blind spot for US spies

Christopher Dickey

Dickey

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An unusually blunt piece published in Newsweek magazine describes the Arab democratic revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere as serious detriments to US intelligence collection in the Muslim world. Written by Newsweek’s Middle East Regional Editor Christopher Dickey, the lengthy article argues that the ongoing political changes in several Arab countries make US counterterrorism professionals long for the days “when thuggish tyrants, however ugly, were at least predictable”. It even quotes an unnamed senior intelligence officer who denounces the celebration of democracy in the Arab world as “just bullshit”, and sees “disaster […] lurking” in the region. The reason for such vehement reaction is plain: US intelligence professionals are witnessing an elaborate network of informants across the Arab world, which they painstakingly built and cultivated since the late 1960s, crumble before their very eyes. These informants, who had senior government positions in secularist Arab dictatorships, “are either gone or going”, says Christopher Boucek, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #510 (bin Laden edition)

  • Europe says US slow in sharing bin Laden intel. European security officials have lots of questions about the intelligence being analyzed from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, but so far they have seen very little of it, they say.
  • Did Pakistani official lead US to bin Laden? There are rumors in Pakistan that the CIA was tipped off about the location of bin Laden’s hideout from a walk-in informant at the US Embassy in Islamabad.
  • CIA interrogates bin Laden’s wives. US intelligence officials have interrogated the three wives of Osama Bin Laden who were left behind in his compound after Navy Seals shot dead the al-Qaeda leader. The women, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, of Yemen, and Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, both of Saudi Arabia, were apparently “hostile” and uncooperative during the interrogations

News you may have missed #479 (Iran edition)

  • Iran arrests alleged CIA agent. Iran’s intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, has told the country’s state TV that authorities arrested an Iranian that he says was working for the CIA, and allegedly set up a network of aides to gather information during anti-government protests last week.
  • Yemen charges family with spying for Iran. Yemeni prosecutors allege that Muhammad al-Hatmi was a paid Iranian agent from 1998 to 2010, and passed money to rebels so they could expand their activities into Saudi Arabia. Al-Hatmi’s wife and son have been charged with aiding him by conveying money and communications.
  • Leaked intelligence report claims Iran intensifies uranium hunt. The Associated Press has published the findings of a leaked intelligence report, from an undisclosed IAEA member-country, which claims that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met secretly last month with senior Zimbabwean mining officials “to resume negotiations […] for the benefit of Iran’s uranium procurement plan”.

US considering CIA targeted killings in Yemen

Yemen

Yemen

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The White House is considering an unprecedented expansion of operations by the Central Intelligence Agency in Yemen, following last week’s foiled toner cartridge bomb plot. There are reports that the plot, which appears to have originated in Yemen, and was foiled through a last-minute tip from Saudi intelligence, may tip the balance in Washington in favor of those wishing to enhance the CIA’s activities in Yemen’s Sunni areas. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration is close to authorizing the CIA’s use of unmanned drones to bomb suspected targets in Yemen, something that the Agency has been doing for over a year in Pakistan. But there also appears to be a wider consensus forming in favor of authorizing covert targeted killings inside Yemen by Special Forces operating on the ground under Langley’s command. This consensus appears to be forming in both civilian and military circles in Washington, despite fears that such tactics may backlash, leading to a severance of ties between the United States and the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Journal article mentions that the White House is now considering authorizing the CIA to conduct targeted killings “even without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #415

  • GCHQ tech arm adopts new personnel evaluation tests. The Communications Electronics Security Group is the information assurance arm of the General Communications Headquarters –Britain’s equivalent of the National Security Agency. CESG has now adopted a new testing method of verifying the competency of its IT security professionals, because apparently there are “not enough security professionals in the public and private sectors to go around”.
  • Swapped Russian insists he was no CIA spy. Of the four jailed Russians the US received from Moscow in exchange for the 11 Russian illegals in July, only one is talking. But Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear proliferation expert, who was convicted of links with a CIA front-company, insists he was no CIA spy. However, if that is so, why was he on Washington’s swap list in the first place?
  • Militants target Yemen spy officials. Two officers in Yemen’s Political Security Organization, Colonel Ali Abdul Kareem al-Ban, and Juman Safian, have been shot dead in recent days. Al-Qaeda militants, who assumed responsibility for the attacks, warned they will be stepping up operations inside neighboring Saudi Arabia.

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News you may have missed #371

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News you may have missed #361

  • FBI linguist jailed in leak probe. The Obama administration’s crackdown on government whistleblowers continued on Tuesday with the jailing of Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI contract linguist who disclosed classified information to the media.
  • Yemen sentences alleged Iranian spies to death. Two members of an alleged Iranian spy cell operating in Yemen were sentenced to death on Tuesday. The Yemeni government accuses Iran of arming the Shiite so-called Sa’adah insurgency along the Yemeni-Saudi border.
  • New Turkish intel chief has big plans. Among the changes that Hakan Fidan, new chief of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), intends to spearhead is “starting a separate electronic intelligence organization like the American NSA or the British GCHQ”.

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Did US airstrike in Yemen kill a mediator by mistake?

Predator drone

Predator drone

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
While US media are focusing on a questionable attempt by the US military to expand its clandestine activities in the Muslim world, the Pentagon has quietly intensified its unmanned drone strikes on suspected militants. Although the role of the CIA has dominated the debate about these targeted killings, it is not widely known that the US Department of Defense also carries out its own air strikes, which are separate from the CIA’s. The most recent of these was most probably launched against a target in Yemen last Monday night.  The US government refuses to confirm or deny its involvement in the operation, but CBS News reported on Tuesday that the strike was aimed at “a meeting of al Qaeda operatives”. However, a subsequent news report from the Reuters news agency said that the drone strike “missed its mark” and instead killed a Yemeni government-authorized mediator who was trying to negotiate the surrender of Mohammed Jaid bin Jardan, a senior member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Read more of this post