Category Archive 'Covert Actions'
14 Jul 2013

Snowden and China

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Gordon Chang notes the numerous details pointing to Snowden operating in collaboration with China.

    By that time, there was no point for China to give Snowden a Beijing palace where he could pet phoenixes.

“Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.” So wrote Edward Snowden in the middle of last month, in a live chat with readers of London’s Guardian.

Today, the famous 30-year-old cuts a pathetic figure, presumably still marooned in the transit zone in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. He has, we are told, remained there since June 23, when he arrived, without passport or Russian visa, on an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong. Snowden, through the assistance of the WikiLeaks organization, has filed a reported 27 requests for asylum. Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, offered him refuge on Friday, and Bolivian leader Evo Morales followed suit on Saturday, but China has yet to welcome him.

Beijing’s refusal to accept Snowden suggests he is not a Chinese agent, at least if we accept the premise of his argument outlined for the readers of the Guardian. Nonetheless, there are aspects of his relationship with the People’s Republic of China that are, at the very least, unsettling.

As an initial matter, China may have helped him gather information from the National Security Agency. Sources in the American intelligence community suspect the famous “leaker” was really a “drop box,” receiving information from others in NSA who were working for China. It was his job to act as the courier.

This theory explains how Snowden could possess information to which he did not have access. It is possible he figured out how to bypass barriers in NSA’s systems, but it is more likely he had help. Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reports that the FBI is investigating whether Snowden obtained documents “from a leak inside the secret FISA court.” Similarly, Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, has suggested Snowden probably had an accomplice in the NSA who gave him information.

Beijing may also have encouraged Mr. Snowden to leave Hawaii. One of my sources indicates that Chinese intelligence, either directly or through FBI personnel working for China, tipped Snowden off that NSA investigators were closing in on him.

There still is no proof of this allegation, but it is telling that Snowden chose to run to Hong Kong. At first glance, that city is a curious choice for someone trying to avoid American justice. It has the equivalent of an extradition agreement with the U.S. — as a non-sovereign it technically “surrenders” suspects, not extradites them — and a well-known history of close cooperation with American law enforcement. The Guardian, referring to Snowden, stated that “he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the U.S. government.” In view of Hong Kong’s record of regularly turning over suspects to America, this had to mean Snowden thought Beijing would step in to protect him.

Why would he ever think that? It seems clear that Snowden, if he did not actually work for the Chinese, at least did their bidding. He insisted, for instance, that the Washington Post time its initial disclosures so that they would occur on the eve of last month’s “shirtsleeves” summit between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. When the Post refused to give a guarantee — we learned this from Wolf Blitzer’s June 10 interview with the paper’s Barton Gellman — Snowden dealt mostly with the Guardian, which evidently proved to be more pliable. The timing of the Guardian’s disclosures benefited the Chinese enormously, changing the global narrative from Chinese hacking to American surveillance. …

The Chinese then did their best to make sure that American officials did not get the opportunity to interrogate Snowden. The last thing they wanted was for the U.S. to have the opportunity to learn the extent of China’s penetration of the NSA and the FBI in Hawaii. Therefore, they ensured he left Hong Kong before the city could “surrender” him. Albert Ho, one of Snowden’s attorneys, has publicly stated that Beijing approached him through intermediaries who said his client should leave Hong Kong. And as we know by now, this is exactly what Snowden did.

By that time, there was no point for China to give him a Beijing palace where he could pet phoenixes. Ministry of State Security agents had been in contact with Snowden while he was in Hong Kong and probably obtained all they wanted from his four laptops and one thumb drive. Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon reports that U.S. officials say Russian and Chinese intelligence operatives obtained access to, in the words of Gertz, “highly classified U.S. intelligence and military information contained on electronic media” held by Snowden.

At this moment, we do not know whether Snowden, during his time in Hong Kong, actually traveled to China, as some believe, and we do not know the extent of his dealings with the Chinese. Yet the information we do possess — and the suppositions we can reasonably make — point to troubling conclusions.

Read the whole thing.

23 Jun 2013

A Joke

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As a joke, Arthur Conan Doyle once sent five letters to five friends that read, “We are discovered, flee immediately”, to see what they would do. One of them disappeared and Conan Doyle never saw him again.

QI (E Series – Espionage)

it’s worth mentioning that those friends were people in high places in the government.

Via Madame Scherzo.

01 Jan 2013

This Administration Wouldn’t Lie to Us, Would It?

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Mossad-mouthpiece DEBKAfile describes the timeline of Hillary Clinton’s mysterious illness:

[Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] cancelled without notice, her participation in the Friends of Syria forum in Marrakesh on Dec, 6. Not only was she one of the founders of this forum, but her presence was vitally needed at the time because NATO and Washington were picking up suspicious movements of the Syrian army’s chemical weapons, which marked a disastrous turn in the Syrian conflict.

She was first reported to have come down with flu and, three days later, on Dec, 9, with a stomach bug.

On Dec. 10, the day before she was due to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the September 11 terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi – in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US diplomats lost there lives – the State Department which has been heavily under fire over the episode, announced that Clinton had sustained a concussion after fainting out from dehydration.

None of the details normally released in such cases, such as when exactly she fainted, the seriousness of the concussion she suffered or how she was being treated, was offered. A State Department source was only willing to say it was “not severe.” …

[On] Friday, Dec. 21, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as next Secretary of State. Clinton had made it known for some time that she intended stepping down at the start of Obama’s second term of office. … Nothing was said on this occasion about her state of health.

But around Tehran and the Gulf Emirates, debkafile was already picking up insistent rumors claiming that Clinton was seriously injured while on a secret mission in the region in the first week of December. Some claimed that in the same incident, Americans in her party – advisers and security personnel – were either injured or killed. Those rumors did not say what her secret mission was. However, the episode described occurred shortly after Dec. 1, when, as debkafile reported at the time, Obama administration officials and senior representatives of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched secret talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

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On December 23: USAToday reported:

U.S. military officials are investigating the apparent suicide of a Navy SEAL commander in Afghanistan.

Navy SEAL Cdr. Job W. Price, 42, of Pottstown, Pa., died Saturday of a non-combat-related injury while supporting stability operations in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.

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A new Foreign Military Intelligence (GRU) report circulating in the Kremlin today is saying that United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was injured, and a top US Navy Seal Commander killed when their C-12 Huron military passenger and transport aircraft crash landed nearly 3 weeks ago in the Iranian city of Ahvaz near the Iraqi border.

Iranian intelligence agents quoted in this GRU report confirm that the C-12 Huron aircraft is still in their possession in Ahvaz, but will only admit that the plane was “forced to land because of technical problems”.

The US Navy Seal member reported killed in this bizarre incident, this report says, was indentified as Commander Job W. Price [photo 3rd right] who as a leader of this highly specialized American Special Forces unit protects high-ranking diplomats traveling in Middle Eastern and Asian combat zones. …

Th[e] GRU report, however, states that US military flight logs recorded by Russian air and space forces confirm that Commander Price, and other members of US Navy Seal Team 4, left their base in Urozgan Province, Afghanistan on a flight to US Naval Support Activity Bahrain where they met up with Secretary Clinton and all of them transferred to the C-12 Huron that began a flight path to Baghdad, Iraq.

Within minutes of leaving Bahrain airspace, this report says, the C-12 Huron carrying Secretary Clinton and her US Navy Seal protectors, “without notice,” deviated from their assigned flight path heading, instead, directly towards Iran’s Ahwaz International Airport where, coincidentally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had previously landed on an “unscheduled” visit. …

Upon the C-12 Huron landing at Ahwaz, however, this report says it encountered “extreme turbulence” causing it to leave the runway where its main landing gear then collapsed causing it to crash.

Within seconds of the C-12 Huron crashing, this report continues, Iranian emergency and security personal responded freeing the victims, including Secretary Clinton who was reportedly unconscious and “bleeding profusely.”

After emergency aid was given, GRU agents stationed in Iran state that another US military flight was dispatched from Bahrain to Ahwaz which evacuated all of those wounded and killed in the crash including Secretary Clinton.

Strangely to note, this report says, is that in the aftermath of this crash, Iran’s main oil company announced today that they were buying the Ahwaz airport with the intention of moving it because, they say, oil was discovered beneath it.


Navy SEAL Commander Job W. Price

17 Aug 2012

“Dishonorable Disclosures”

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In this political ad, a variety of retired military and intelligence officers and special forces operatives go after Barack Obama and the Obama Administration for leaking sensitive national security information for political gain.

29 May 2012

Bigger Than Stuxnet

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The Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky has discovered that a truly massive piece of malware has been lurking on computers in Iran and other Islamic locations for at least two years. The software discovered is believed to be state-sponsored, and everyone is refraining in print from finger-pointing at the United States.

Wired:

A massive, highly sophisticated piece of malware has been newly found infecting systems in Iran and elsewhere and is believed to be part of a well-coordinated, ongoing, state-run cyberespionage operation.

The malware, discovered by Russia-based anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab, is an espionage toolkit that has been infecting targeted systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, the Israeli Occupied Territories and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa for at least two years.

Dubbed “Flame” by Kaspersky, the malicious code dwarfs Stuxnet in size – the groundbreaking infrastructure-sabotaging malware that is believed to have wreaked havoc on Iran’s nuclear program in 2009 and 2010. Although Flame has both a different purpose and composition than Stuxnet, and appears to have been written by different programmers, its complexity, the geographic scope of its infections and its behavior indicate strongly that a nation-state is behind Flame, rather than common cyber-criminals — marking it as yet another tool in the growing arsenal of cyberweaponry.

The researchers say that Flame may be part of a parallel project created by contractors who were hired by the same nation-state team that was behind Stuxnet and its sister malware, DuQu.

“Stuxnet and Duqu belonged to a single chain of attacks, which raised cyberwar-related concerns worldwide,” said Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of Kaspersky Lab, in a statement. “The Flame malware looks to be another phase in this war, and it’s important to understand that such cyber weapons can easily be used against any country.”

Early analysis of Flame by the Lab indicates that it’s designed primarily to spy on the users of infected computers and steal data from them, including documents, recorded conversations and keystrokes. It also opens a backdoor to infected systems to allow the attackers to tweak the toolkit and add new functionality.

The malware, which is 20 megabytes when all of its modules are installed, contains multiple libraries, SQLite3 databases, various levels of encryption — some strong, some weak — and 20 plug-ins that can be swapped in and out to provide various functionality for the attackers. It even contains some code that is written in the LUA programming language — an uncommon choice for malware.

Kaspersky Lab is calling it “one of the most complex threats ever discovered.”

“It’s pretty fantastic and incredible in complexity,” said Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Flame appears to have been operating in the wild as early as March 2010, though it remained undetected by antivirus companies.

“It’s a very big chunk of code. Because of that, it’s quite interesting that it stayed undetected for at least two years,” Gostev said. He noted that there are clues that the malware may actually date back to as early as 2007, around the same time-period when Stuxnet and DuQu are believed to have been created.

Read the whole thing.

18 May 2012

Inside Story Worse Than the Rumors

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John O. Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Assistant to the President

Michael A. Walsh, in the New York Post, spills the beans on the damaging leak which has seriously compromised relations between British and American intelligence services.

So that “CIA coup” in Yemen against another al Qaeda underwear bomber turns out to actually have been a joint Saudi-British intelligence operation — which apparently was prematurely terminated thanks to flapping lips on this side of the Atlantic.

So the leak didn’t just blow our chances to nail the notorious bomb designer behind the plot, Ibrahim al-Asiri, and put the life of the double agent in mortal danger for no reason.

It also seriously damaged Langley’s relationship with its foreign counterparts, who now understand that operational security and the lives of their operatives mean nothing to us (not in an election year, anyway).

Which makes it even more important to find out: Who leaked?

The betting starts with former CIA official John Brennan, the White House’s deputy nationalsecurity adviser for counterterrorism. Shortly after details about the operation leaked to the Associated Press via unnamed “officials,” Brennan took to the airwaves to crow publicly about how the wedgie bomber was “no longer a threat to the American people.”

And the AP admitted it cleared its story with the feds in advance.

The uncharitable immediately saw this naked self-aggrandizement as a blatant attempt by the Obama administration to take political credit for something it had almost nothing to do with.

Read the whole thing.

16 Dec 2011

Someone in Langley Underestimated Tehran’s Capabilities

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Iranians gloat over US RQ-170 Sentinel drone downed last week

The Christian Science Monitor has an exclusive story which must be causing some serious embarrassment in parts of the US military and intelligence community.

Iran guided the CIA’s “lost” stealth drone to an intact landing inside hostile territory by exploiting a navigational weakness long-known to the US military, according to an Iranian engineer now working on the captured drone’s systems inside Iran.

Iranian electronic warfare specialists were able to cut off communications links of the American bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel, says the engineer, who works for one of many Iranian military and civilian teams currently trying to unravel the drone’s stealth and intelligence secrets, and who could not be named for his safety.

Using knowledge gleaned from previous downed American drones and a technique proudly claimed by Iranian commanders in September, the Iranian specialists then reconfigured the drone’s GPS coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the drone thought was its actual home base in Afghanistan.

“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran’s “electronic ambush” of the highly classified US drone. “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.In 2009, Iran-backed Shiite militants in Iraq were found to have downloaded live, unencrypted video streams from American Predator drones with inexpensive, off-the-shelf software. But Iran’s apparent ability now to actually take control of a drone is far more significant.

Iran asserted its ability to do this in September, as pressure mounted over its nuclear program.

Gen. Moharam Gholizadeh, the deputy for electronic warfare at the air defense headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), described to Fars News how Iran could alter the path of a GPS-guided missile – a tactic more easily applied to a slower-moving drone.

“We have a project on hand that is one step ahead of jamming, meaning ‘deception’ of the aggressive systems,” said Gholizadeh, such that “we can define our own desired information for it so the path of the missile would change to our desired destination.”

Gholizadeh said that “all the movements of these [enemy drones]” were being watched, and “obstructing” their work was “always on our agenda.”

That interview has since been pulled from Fars’ Persian-language website. And last month, the relatively young Gholizadeh died of a heart attack, which some Iranian news sites called suspicious – suggesting the electronic warfare expert may have been a casualty in the covert war against Iran. …

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Fox News on Dec. 13 that the US will “absolutely” continue the drone campaign over Iran, looking for evidence of any nuclear weapons work. But the stakes are higher for such surveillance, now that Iran can apparently disrupt the work of US drones.

US officials skeptical of Iran’s capabilities blame a malfunction, but so far can’t explain how Iran acquired the drone intact. One American analyst ridiculed Iran’s capability, telling Defense News that the loss was “like dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture.”

Yet Iran’s claims to the contrary resonate more in light of new details about how it brought down the drone – and other markers that signal growing electronic expertise.

A former senior Iranian official who asked not to be named said: “There are a lot of human resources in Iran…. Iran is not like Pakistan.”

08 Oct 2011

US Air Force Drones Virused

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Noah Schachtman, at Wired’s Danger Room, broke the news of an extraordinary electronic warfare coup by an unnamed foreign adversary.

A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.

The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.

“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”

Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called “keylogger” payload were introduced intentionally or by accident; it may be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into these sensitive networks. The specialists don’t know exactly how far the virus has spread. But they’re sure that the infection has hit both classified and unclassified machines at Creech. That raises the possibility, at least, that secret data may have been captured by the keylogger, and then transmitted over the public internet to someone outside the military chain of command. …

The GCSs handling more exotic operations are top secret. None of the remote cockpits are supposed to be connected to the public internet. Which means they are supposed to be largely immune to viruses and other network security threats.

But time and time again, the so-called “air gaps” between classified and public networks have been bridged, largely through the use of discs and removable drives. In late 2008, for example, the drives helped introduce the agent.btz worm to hundreds of thousands of Defense Department computers. The Pentagon is still disinfecting machines, three years later.

Use of the drives is now severely restricted throughout the military. But the base at Creech was one of the exceptions, until the virus hit. Predator and Reaper crews use removable hard drives to load map updates and transport mission videos from one computer to another. The virus is believed to have spread through these removable drives. Drone units at other Air Force bases worldwide have now been ordered to stop their use.

In the meantime, technicians at Creech are trying to get the virus off the GCS machines. It has not been easy. At first, they followed removal instructions posted on the website of the Kaspersky security firm. “But the virus kept coming back,” a source familiar with the infection says. Eventually, the technicians had to use a software tool called BCWipe to completely erase the GCS’ internal hard drives. “That meant rebuilding them from scratch” — a time-consuming effort.

The Air Force declined to comment directly on the virus. “We generally do not discuss specific vulnerabilities, threats, or responses to our computer networks, since that helps people looking to exploit or attack our systems to refine their approach,” says Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for Air Combat Command, which oversees the drones and all other Air Force tactical aircraft.

Reports I’ve read quoting the Wired ask the silly question: was the infection accidental or deliberate. No one else has mentioned the obvious suspect: China. The good news is that the infection is apparently confined specifically to Creech.

16 Jul 2011

Major Cyberattack Revealed

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An IBD editorial mentions the kind of news items that won’t be making the New York Times’ front page: Chinese steal thousands of secret documents from defense contractor’s computers, and a member of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff announces that the US intends to develop methods of retaliation for such attacks.

In outlining America’s cyberwarfare strategy last Thursday at the National Defense University, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn disclosed that 24,000 sensitive files containing Pentagon data at a defense company were accessed in a cyberattack in March, likely by a foreign government.

He didn’t disclose the identity of that government, but in a bit of an understatement he acknowledged, “We have a pretty good idea.” So do we: the People’s Republic of China. In addition to conventional and nuclear weaponry, China has invested a great deal of time and treasure in what is known as “asymmetrical warfare” — the ability to exploit an enemy’s weakness rather than just try to match it tank for tank. …

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon must shift its thinking on cybersecurity from focusing 90% of its energy on building a better firewall. “If your approach to the business is purely defensive in nature, that’s the Maginot line approach,” he said.

He was referring to the French fixed defensive fortifications that were circumvented by the Nazis at the outset of World War II. “There is no penalty for attacking (the U.S.) right now,” he added. We need the ability to retaliate and the will to do so. Call it mutual assured hacking after the deterrence doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) during the Cold War.

03 May 2011

Did Obama Really Decide?

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President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Binken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (click for full-sized image)

Looking at the Times’s photograph (by Pete Souza) of the White House National Security team once again, I am struck by how much Barack Obama appears to be a passive outsider on the sidelines, while the group sitting and standing on the right side of the picture, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seems to be in command and in charge.

It’s just an impression I got looking at the photograph, and it may not mean anything, but I then came upon what purports to be a leak from a knowledgeable insider.

This alleged witness claims that Barack Obama was taken in hand by his senior military and intelligence staff and steamrollered into permitting the mission to go ahead.

From Ulsterman via Theo.

HC = Hillary Clinton

BD = Bill Daley

LP = Leon Panetta

CoC = Chain of Command/Commander in Chief

[There was a s]ignificant push to take [bin Laden] out months ago. Senior WH staff resisted. This was cause of much strain between HC and Obama/Jarrett. HC and LP were in constant communication over matter – both attempted to convince administration to act. Administration feared failure and resulting negative impact on president. Intel disgusted over politics over national security. Staff resigned/left. Check timeline to corroborate.

Now Intel already leaking to media facts surrounding how info obtained. Namely from enhanced interrogation efforts via GITMO prisoners. Obama administration placed in corner on this. Some media aware of danger to president RE this and attempting protection. Others looking for further investigation. We are pushing for them to follow through and already meeting with some access.

Point of determination made FOR Obama not BY Obama. Will clarify as details become more clear. Very clear divide between Military and WH. Jarrett marginalized 100% on decision to take out OBL. She played no part. BD worked with LP and HC to form coalition to force CoC to engage.

IMPORTANT SPECIFIC: When 48 hour go order issued, CoC was told, not requested. Administration scrambled to abort. That order was overruled. This order did not originate from CoC. Repeat – this order did not originate from CoC. He complied, but did not originate.

There is no way to know if there is any truth in all this. If so, I expect we will hear more along these lines.

If the report is false, I would say that it was dastardly and outrageous to fabricate such a thing libeling a president who has just made a courageous decision.

I was persuaded to pass it along because the source is right: anti-Obama Intel leaks are popping out all over, identifying the crucial roles played by enhanced interrogations and renditions in making the operation that killed Osama bin Laden possible. I would still file it in the “Interesting, But Not Known to Be True” category.

09 Apr 2011

Libyan Rebels Sell Chemical Weapons to Hamas & Hezbollah

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Pallets of mustard gas shells similar to those sold by Libyan rebels to Hamas and Hezbollah

Mossad leak source DEBKAfile reports on what our freedom-loving friends, the Libyan rebels, have been up to.

Senior Libyan rebel “officers” sold Hizballah and Hamas thousands of chemical shells from the stocks of mustard and nerve gas that fell into rebel hands when they overran Muammar Qaddafi’s military facilities in and around Benghazi, debkafile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources report.

Word of the capture touched off a scramble in Tehran and among the terrorist groups it sponsors to get hold of their first unconventional weapons.

According to our sources, the rebels offloaded at least 2,000 artillery shells carrying mustard gas and 1,200 nerve gas shells for cash payment amounting to several million dollars.

US and Israeli intelligence agencies have tracked the WMD consignments from eastern Libya as far as Sudan in convoys secured by Iranian agents and Hizballah and Hamas guards. …

[S]ome of the poison gas may be intended not only for artillery use but also for drones which Hizballah recently acquired from Iran.

Tehran threw its support behind the anti-Qaddafi rebels because of this unique opportunity to get hold of the Libyan ruler’s stock of poison gas after it fell into opposition hands and arm Hizballah and Hamas with unconventional weapons without Iran being implicated in the transaction.

Shortly after the uprising began in the third week of February, a secret Iranian delegation arrived in Benghazi. Its members met rebel chiefs, some of them deserters from the Libyan army, and clinched the deal for purchasing the entire stock of poison gas stock and the price.

The rebels threw in a quantity of various types of anti-air missiles.

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DEBKAfile subsequently boasts of unnamed parties taking out a couple of senior people in charge of the weapons transfer.

[A]ccusing Israel of killing the two passengers of a Hyundai Sinai near Port Sudan Tuesday, April 5, the Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti alleged a missile was fired from an aerial drone or a vessel on the Red Sea. debkafile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources reveal that a special operations unit landed by sea and used a surface missile to hit the car and kill two top handlers of the Iranian-Hamas arms smuggling network in Sudan. The assailants waylaid the vehicle as it drove through the Kalaneeb region on the only blacktop road running through the Sudanese desert between Khartoum and Port Sudan.

23 Jan 2011

Letters of Marque

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Lynx, a 2001-built replica of a sharp-built Maryland schooner commissioned for service against Britain in the War of 1812

As the official American covert intelligence grows larger, more politicized and sclerotic, and increasingly circumscribed in its operations by congressional oversight and media hostility, there is increasing evidence the US government is covertly delegating some hazardous and controversial operations to private contractors, and that these private companies are becoming a modern intelligence equivalent of the naval privateers of yore, similarly supplying smaller, faster, and more manueverable vessels capable of meeting operational needs the official service finds it inconvenient to address.

In the Washington Post, Jeff Stein recently identified one of these.

Mullah Omar, the elusive, one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, had a heart attack Jan. 7 and was treated for several days in a Karachi hospital with the help of Pakistan’s spy agency, according to a private intelligence network run by former CIA, State Department and military officers.

The intelligence network, operating under the auspices of a private company, “The Eclipse Group,” said its source was a physician in the Karachi hospital, which was not identified in the report, who said he saw Omar struggling to recover from an operation to put a stent in his heart. …

The Eclipse Group is run by Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a former head of the CIA’s Latin American operations who was the first chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center; Kim Stevens, a retired U.S. diplomat who served in Bolivia and Italy; and Brad A. Patty, a civilian advisor to the U.S. Army’s 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team in Iraq from 2007 to 2009.

The Eclipse Group’s reports are available “by invitation only” on its Web site, Stevens said.

By all appearances, the Eclipse network is the just the latest iteration of a shadowy, Pentagon-backed operation that began contracting with former CIA and military operatives to supply intelligence in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. Amid adverse publicity last year, the Pentagon supposedly cut off its funding.

Stevens declined to discuss The Eclipse Group’s financing, except to say it has “no DoD clients.”

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US Intelligence adversary Mark Mazzetti, at the New York Times, is doing his best to expose and discredit Mr. Clarridge’s operation.

Over the past two years, he has fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class. …

His dispatches — an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports — have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck. …

On May 15, according to a classified Pentagon report on the private spying operation, he sent an encrypted e-mail to military officers in Kabul announcing that his network was being shut down because the Pentagon had just terminated his contract. He wrote that he had to “prepare approximately 200 local personnel to cease work.”

In fact, he had no intention of shuttering his operation. The very next day, he set up a password-protected Web site, afpakfp.com {Does not seem to be accessible to outsiders –JDZ], that would allow officers to continue viewing his dispatches. …

It is difficult to assess the merits of Mr. Clarridge’s secret intelligence dispatches; a review of some of the documents by The Times shows that some appear to be based on rumors from talk at village bazaars or rehashes of press reports.

Others, though, contain specific details about militant plans to attack American troops, and about Taliban leadership meetings in Pakistan. Mr. Clarridge gave the military an in-depth report about a militant group, the Haqqani Network, in August 2009, a document that officials said helped the military track Haqqani fighters. According to the Pentagon report, Mr. Clarridge told Marine commanders in Afghanistan in June 2010 that his group produced 500 intelligence dispatches before its contract was terminated.

When the military would not listen to him, Mr. Clarridge found other ways to peddle his information.

For instance, his private spies in April and May were reporting that Mullah Muhammad Omar, the reclusive cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, had been captured by Pakistani officials and placed under house arrest. Associates said Mr. Clarridge believed that Pakistan’s spy service was playing a game: keeping Mullah Omar confined but continuing to support the Afghan Taliban.

Both military and intelligence officials said the information could not be corroborated, but Mr. Clarridge used back channels to pass it on to senior Obama administration officials, including Dennis C. Blair, then the director of national intelligence.

And associates said that Mr. Clarridge, determined to make the information public, arranged for it to get to Mr. Thor, a square-jawed writer of thrillers, a blogger and a regular guest on Mr. Beck’s program on Fox News.

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Our friend Mark Mazzetti is also gravely concerned the Blackwater‘s founder, Eric Prince, now a resident of Abu Dhabi, may be involved with anti-piracy activities not specifically authorized by the residents of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali troops, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to American and Western officials. …

With its barely functional government and a fierce hostility to foreign armies since the hasty American withdrawal from Mogadishu in the early 1990s, Somalia is a country where Western militaries have long feared to tread. The Somali government has been cornered in a small patch of Mogadishu by the Shabab, a Somali militant group with ties to Al Qaeda.

This, along with the growing menace of piracy off Somalia’s shores, has created an opportunity for private security companies like the South African firm Saracen International to fill the security vacuum created by years of civil war. It is another illustration of how private security firms are playing a bigger role in wars around the world, with some governments seeing them as a way to supplement overtaxed armies, while others complain that they are unaccountable.

Mr. Prince’s precise role remains unclear. Some Western officials said that it was possible Mr. Prince was using his international contacts to help broker a deal between Saracen executives and officials from the United Arab Emirates, which have been financing Saracen in Somalia because Emirates business operations have been threatened by Somali pirates. ..

Somali officials have said that Saracen’s operations — which would also include training an antipiracy army in the semiautonomous region of Puntland — are being financed by an anonymous Middle Eastern country.

Several people with knowledge of Saracen’s operations confirmed that that was the United Arab Emirates.

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The rest of us can only nod with approval, and raise a glass to Dewey Clarridge and the Eclipse Group, Eric Prince and Saracen, comment quietly, “Well done,” and drink to them.

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