Category Archive 'Covert Operations'
25 Jul 2022
The Ge Garden in Yangzhou, which was to have been replicated in the National China Garden at the National Arboretum.
On paper, it looked like a fantastic deal. In 2017, the Chinese government was offering to spend $100 million to build an ornate Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. Complete with temples, pavilions and a 70-foot white pagoda, the project thrilled local officials, who hoped it would attract thousands of tourists every year.
But when US counterintelligence officials began digging into the details, they found numerous red flags. The pagoda, they noted, would have been strategically placed on one of the highest points in Washington DC, just two miles from the US Capitol, a perfect spot for signals intelligence collection, multiple sources familiar with the episode told CNN.
Also alarming was that Chinese officials wanted to build the pagoda with materials shipped to the US in diplomatic pouches, which US Customs officials are barred from examining, the sources said.
Federal officials quietly killed the project before construction was underway.
The canceled garden is part of a frenzy of counterintelligence activity by the FBI and other federal agencies focused on what career US security officials say has been a dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on US soil over the past decade.
Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate believed by the US government to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities.
F.E. Warren Air Force Base, a strategic missile base, is located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, an area near a host of cell towers using Huawei equipment. – From F.E. Warren Air Force Base/Facebook
US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P. Donoghue announcing indictments against China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, several of its subsidiaries and its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on January 28, 2019.
10 Aug 2020
Forbes has a report informing us that someone took a long and detailed look at the largest power plant in the United States with deliberation and undoubted malign intent.
Documents gained under the Freedom of Information Act show how a number of small drones flew around a restricted area at Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant on two successive nights last September. Security forces watched, but were apparently helpless to act as the drones carried out their incursions before disappearing into the night. Details of the event gives some clues as to just what they were doing, but who sent them remains a mystery.
Details of the events were obtained from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by Douglas D. Johnson on behalf of the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU) using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The SCUâ€™s main interest is in anomalous aerospace phenomena, what other people term UFOs. In this case though the flying objects were easily identifiable as drones, although their exact mission and origin are unknown. Johnson passed the information to The War Zone who give a detailed account.
Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant is the largest in the U.S., producing over three gigawatts, 35% of Arizona’s total power capacity. It supplies electricity to Phoenix and Tucson, as well as San Diego and Los Angeles. It is a critical piece of strategic infrastructure; during the 2003 Iraq War, National Guard troops were deployed to Palo Verde to defend against a possible terrorist threat. In normal times, as with other nuclear installations, it is protected by armed security guards.
The armed guards, gates, fences and barriers were useless on the night of September 29th. According to the official report:
â€œOfficer noticed several drones (5 or 6) flying over the site. The drones are circling the 3 unit site inside and outside the Protected Area. The drones have flashing red and white rights [sic] and are estimated to be 200 to 300 hundred [sic] feet above the site. It was reported the drones had spotlights on while approaching the site that they turned off when they entered the Security Owner Controlled Area. Drones were first noticed at 20:50 MST and are still over the site as of 21:47 MST. Security Posture was normal, which was changed to elevated when the drones were noticed.â€
The drones departed at 22:30, eighty minutes after they were first spotted. The security officers estimated that they were over two feet in diameter. This indicates that they were not simply consumer drones like the popular DJI Phantom, which have a flight endurance of about half an hour and is about a foot across, but something larger and more capable. The Lockheed Martin Indago, a military-grade quadcopter recently sold to the Swiss Army, has a flight endurance of about seventy minutes and is more than two feet across. At several thousand dollars apiece minimum, these are far less expendable than consumer drones costing a few hundred. All of which suggests this was not just a prank.
The next night events were repeated:
â€œFour (4) drones were observed flying beginning at 20:51 MST and continuing through the time of this report (21:13 MST). As occurred last night, the drones are flying in, through, and around the owner-controlled area, the security owner-controlled area, and the protected area. Also, as last night, the drones are described as large with red and white flashing lights.â€
Local police from Maricopa County were dispatched to find the drone operators, but with no success. The site is reportedly due to receive drone detection gear, but not counter-drone jammers or other defensive equipment that might stop such incursions.
Despite this incident, two months later the NRC decided not to require drone defenses at nuclear plants, asserting that small drones could not damage a reactor or steal nuclear material. It is highly likely that such sites are still vulnerable to drone overflights.
05 Jun 2014
Bowe Bergdahl with Taliban members at the time of his release.
In 2009, a fellow who uses the penname Raven-Wolf tells us that he was running networks in Afghanistan, and was asked by a senior officer to take a stab at finding the missing Bowe Bergdahl.
His story seems to have the ring of truth, and if it is on the up-and-up, provides a fascinating inside story.
â€œI will make you a bet I can locate this kid in a week.â€ He looked at me and said nothing. He knew how I worked and I walked out.
I began by walking into the office of an Afghan Intelligence Officer I knew. He greeted me as always; welcomed me in and offered me Chai. We had not seen each other for well over a month. We shared stories, we discussed insurgent tactics, new TTPs, his family, my travels. Then I asked him the question I had come for, â€œColonelâ€¦whereâ€™s our boy?â€ He looked at me and just stared back. Then he said, â€œYou donâ€™t want to know.â€
I was taken aback and frankly irritated. I had had enough of the games over this kidâ€™s search. â€œWhat do you mean I donâ€™t want to know! We are friends; we have been friends a long time. Your answer is not good enough.â€ The Colonel then went on to explain to me how he had offered his support to find Bergdahl. However, the American Army mentors told him they werenâ€™t interested; that they had everything under control.
I reminded him I wasnâ€™t them and that I could frankly give a shit what his Army mentors were or were not interested in. â€œHelp me find him. You and I both know this cannot be done without Afghan intelligence. You and I know that regardless of how stupid this kid is, he needs to be brought home.â€
He sat down at his desk and made a call as he scribbled a few notes on a piece of white paper. He then got up from his desk, walked across the room and sat down in front of a dusty computer at the back. A few keystrokes later, he added a few more notes to the paper, walked over towards me and handed me what he had written.
â€œThese are the names of the villages and GPS coordinates where your boy was the past three nights.â€
I thanked him and took the information back to my Colonel. I told him what was on the paper. He took it with a bit of suspicion, but stated that he would be sending it up to the Special Operations Task Force 373. Later that night he called me into his office.
â€œI donâ€™t know where you are getting your information but keep in coming. They like what you have.â€
Over the next few days I expanded my information gathering to include NDS, Afghan CI, and locals. The Afghans continued to provide details on location, how Bergdahl was traveling, what he was wearing, and his state of mind. The picture continued to grow and the picture was one of a kid that had willingly left his post, deserted his brothers and his commitment to the US Army and our country. Bergdahl was described as dressed in local dress. He was riding around on the back of motorcycles hugging his Afghan captors. He was not in chains or in handcuffs, but willingly moving about to avoid detection. He needed to be retrievedâ€¦not to save him, but to punish him for his betrayal.
The details around Bergdahlâ€™s decision to walk off of his FOB (Forward Operating Base) to explore the wilds of Afghanistan were locked down almost immediately. Even journalists were restricted from access; being denied interviews, field movement or access to anyone with any knowledge of Bergdahl or of his unit. Keeping the lid on the story was the number one command objective. But I dug and I found details. Though I still have this part of the story listed as â€œunconfirmedâ€ this is what I put together:
Bergdahl was unstable the minute he arrived in country. He was unhappy, disconnected from the unit, and dissatisfied with the way his unit had dealt with several incidents. He had illusions of grandeur, talking about getting back to nature. He also had a romanticized ideal of himself as some sort of one man Rambo as well as a love affair with the Afghan indigenous fighter (aka Taliban). Rumors of what happened ranged from his unit running over a child to Bergdahl slowly coming unglued. He had all of the signs of being high risk. There was never any one story that was consistently told about the cause and effect. Both his unit and his command were protective and defensiveâ€¦ obvious signs of hiding something. What was more than clear is that Bergdahl, his unit and his command were a train wreck. As for Bergdahl specifically, his background should have been an early warning that something, anything, could easily set him off. Raised by a Northwest family that would be best described as off the grid, liberal tofu eaters, Bergdahl was homeschooled and raised to be a kind and sensitive child. He learned ballet, and enjoyed long walks in nature. He was almost a modern day young Emerson. When he turned of age he apparently felt he needed some adventure so he talked to a recruiter and fell in love with the â€œbe all you can beâ€ dream and joined the Army. Airborne was now his new meditation mantra and walks in the woods were replaced with forced marches and an 80-pound rucksack. To what should not have been a surprise to anyone, he did not work in well with his unit. Maybe it was the ballet, maybe it was his sensitive nature now imprisoned by his sworn duty to kill the bastards who celebrated the deaths of over 3000 Americans killed on 9-11. Whatever his reasons, when the moment arrived that he decided he was no longer interested in his obligation, his â€œfree spiritâ€spoke as he grabbed his sketchbook and some water and walked off of the FOB. He was AWOL. Nothing more to it than that.
At the end of my seventh day or so of working this problem, I returned to the office of the Afghan Intelligence Colonel. Over another round of Chai and information exchange, I pressed him to leverage his network to set up a meet with the tribe that was holding Bergdahl. By this time the profile of Bergdahlâ€™s captors was becoming clear. Where Bergdahl played out a version of a spoiled bratâ€™s â€œwalk aboutâ€, his captors saw opportunity. They had grievances with the local Governor. They wanted to use Bergdahl to get what they thought they deserved. This was the Afghan way.
During this time the rumors and reports from the US side were that Berdahl had been taken by Haqqani. That was not the case. His captors had sent out word to the Haqqani network asking for a reward, however the initial interest from Haqqani was cool to tepid at best. Their concern was that Bergdahl was mentally unstable; and even though Bergdahl had voluntarily converted to Islam, the Haqqani network was not willing to bring a mentally unstable Muslim convert over the border into Pakistan. We should have paid attention to Haqqani.
I sat with the Afghan Colonel and we went over the tape that had been released of Bergdahl. We watched it a half dozen times. Other Afghan intelligence types entered the room. They dissected the imagesâ€¦the weave on the bread that was shown in the video was only available in one particular village; the sound of the generators demonstrated a level of wealth; the pattern on the rugs provided insight into the owner and their taste; the food and the way it was served provided understanding of tribal habits and behaviors; the interviewer, his English intonation and his camera skills could only be of a select few people; and Bergdahl himself provided a wealth of clues from his dress, to his mannerisms, to his compliant attitude. The Colonel made some notes. The Afghan cadre discussed what they had seen. He felt sure he knew what village Bergdhal was in.
â€œI want to meet with the tribal leader who is holding him. Just me and my interpreter. I will travel in my own vehicle. No military. No guns. You can join me if you wish,â€ I told him.
The Colonel called a friend in Parliament. The discussion was brief. He hung up the phone and we waited. A few minutes later the phone rang; it was his Parliament friend again. The tribal leader had agreed to the meet. The location would be set the next day. The Afghan Colonel and I agreed to travel together. We parted, each of us setting about preparing our kit for the next morning.
The media blast that followed the Bergdahl video was what the RC-East Commander had hoped to avoid. The story was now out. Bergdahl who had been effectively a blip on the radar up to that point became an international star overnight. The elevation of status made him more valuable and Haqqani understood this. The following morning as I walked to the vehicle to meet up with the Afghan Colonel, he greeted me, still wearing his military dress. I knew something was off. He informed me that the meeting had been cancelled. Overnight Haqqani had dispatched a team with an undisclosed amount of cash and had taken control of Bergdahl. From that point forward the chances of getting him back were all but lost.
Read the whole thing.
19 Jan 2011
Anonymous official sources have spilled enough to the New York Times to allow it to put the pieces together (and to give an opportunity to US and Israeli Intelligence to take a few public bows and indulge in a bit of gloating at Iran’s expense). And, what do you know! it was another of those George W. Bush policies that Barack Obama decided to continue, just like detentions at Guantanamo.
The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israelâ€™s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.
Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role â€” as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iranâ€™s efforts to make a bomb of its own.
Behind Dimonaâ€™s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iranâ€™s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iranâ€™s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehranâ€™s ability to make its first nuclear arms.
â€œTo check out the worm, you have to know the machines,â€ said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. â€œThe reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.â€
Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program. …
Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.
In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United Statesâ€™ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world â€” and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iranâ€™s enrichment facilities.
Siemens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory â€” which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for Americaâ€™s nuclear arms â€” the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.
The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iranâ€™s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.
The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iranâ€™s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults. …
Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obamaâ€™s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: â€œIâ€™m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.â€
In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iranâ€™s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.
By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.
The projectâ€™s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iranâ€™s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administrationâ€™s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said.
You can hear the champagne corks popping at Langley all the way out here in Fauquier County.
Read the whole thing.
06 Jul 2010
The United States, Israel, and their Western allies have, so far, failed to take military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapon development program, but Eli Lake explains that does not mean that covert operations intended to at least slow production have not been underway behind the scenes.
Efforts to steer defective products toward Iran have taken a number of forms. For instance, according to a former Mossad operations officer who goes by the alias Michael Ross, in 1998, the Mossad and the CIA developed a plan to sell a supposedly helpful chemical substanceâ€”which would, in fact, gum up centrifuges over timeâ€”to Iran on the black market.
Then, there was the odd case of the Tinners, a Swiss family of engineers long believed to be a cog in the network of nuclear proliferators organized by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. In 2008, Urs Tinner admitted that he had been a CIA asset. And it turns out that he may have played a crucial role in an effort to sabotage Iranâ€™s nuclear program. According to The New York Times and other sources, the Tinners sold high-quality vacuum pumps to the Iranians and Libyans. The pumps are crucial for uranium enrichment because centrifuges must operate inside a vacuum seal. David Albrightâ€”the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and the author of a new history of Iranâ€™s illicit procurement of nuclear technology, Peddling Perilâ€”explains that, while the pumps that ended up in Iran and Libya were produced in Germany, they were also worked on by the Oak Ridge and Los Alamos laboratories. These labs, he says, modified the pumps â€œto bug them or to make them break down under operational conditions. If you can break the vacuum in a centrifuge cascade, you can destroy hundreds of centrifuges or thousands if you are really lucky.â€ (A senior intelligence official confirmed Albrightâ€™s information to me. It should be noted that not everyone agrees that the Tinners were the ones who sold these pumps to the Iranians and Libyans; Albright, for one, isnâ€™t sure.) …
But do sabotage efforts work? In late 2008 and early 2009, the iaea began to see a drop in the amount of low-enriched uranium (LEU) being produced at Natanz, the facility that lies at the center of Iranâ€™s known nuclear weapons program. In the fall of 2008, its centrifuges were producing 90 kilograms a month of LEU. By the end of the year, however, the same centrifuges were producing 70 kilograms of LEU. To be sure, that number was back up to 85 kilograms per month at the close of 2009, and it has been climbing since, to around 120 kilograms a month; but those increases came after the installation of more centrifugesâ€”all of which suggests that at least some of the machines were less efficient than they should be.
Ivan Oelrich, a nuclear scientist and the vice president of the strategic security program at the Federation of American Scientists, estimated in a study this year that the centrifuges are operating at 20 percent efficiency. â€œWe know the average efficiency of the centrifuges is dismal. We donâ€™t know whether it is because of the quality of the individual centrifuges or how they are linked together,â€ he explains. â€œWe canâ€™t rule out sabotage as one factor leading to these inefficiencies.â€ Greg Jones, a nuclear analyst at the rand Corporation, says the Iranians â€œare operating just under four thousand machines, but they have installed about eight thousand five hundred. Those nonoperating machines have been installed for many months. Why they are not operating is not clear.â€
Among people I spoke to, there seemed to be a broad consensus that sabotage was, at the very least, slowing Iranâ€™s quest for a nuclear weapon. A senior administration official told me that there was evidence the Iranians are experiencing delays due to â€œa combination of reasonsâ€”some inherent to the nature of the infeasibility of the design and the machines themselves, and some because of actions by the United States and its allies.â€ Explains David Kay, â€œHistory says that these things have done more to slow programs than any sanctions regime has or is likely to do.â€
However, the biggest payoff from these efforts may not come from the sabotage itself, but from the psychological effect it could have on Iranâ€™s government. At the most general level, there are probably benefits to keeping Iranian intelligence officials paranoid and off-balance, simply because it can cause them to waste valuable time and resources. This appears to be happening. In 2007, for example, Iranâ€™s state-run news service reported that the national police had arrested a cell of spy squirrels. The next year, Iran reportedly arrested a group of spy pigeons.
But the specific benefit of sabotage is that it makes countries wary of purchasing crucial materials on the black market.
21 Feb 2010
Al-Mabhouh approaches his room, a couple of tennis players just behind him.
Spite and malice time.
What do you do when a foreign intelligence service breezes into your capital, takes out a Hamas arms procurer, and disappears, leaving you with egg all over your face? If you are the security service of Dubai, you leak as many of the after the fact details of identities and tradecraft as you can to the international press. If you can’t stop them and you can’t catch them, at least, you can spill everything you know.
The Daily Mail, as the result, is able to publish the answers to the game of Clue being played by an amused international audience.
The hit squad behind the assassination of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel tried to make his death look like an accident by electrocuting him with a bedside lamp.
Police sources said the killers, who used fake British passports, tried to â€˜induce the effects of a heart attackâ€™ before smothering Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh with a pillow in his room.
It is understood that the lamp was taken apart and the wiring attached to a device that pulsed electricity into his body. …
[T]he fake British passports used by the killers had been secretly copied by Tel Aviv airport immigration officials.
The Israeli ambassador to London has been accused of â€˜stonewallingâ€™ all attempts to find out how the killers had the passports.
But the Foreign Office has been told that all six of the genuine passport holders – all residents in Israel – had their documents briefly taken away at the airport during routine checks.
The London Times speculates that Meir Dagan’s job as head of Mossad may be in jeopardy as the result of the indignation of Western governments over the forged passports.
All the publicity is doubtless inconvenient, and Mossad will inevitably be obliged to lie low for a bit, avoiding the kind of Black Operations that would fuel the continuation of the Shocked, Shocked! meme, but in the long run a reputation for ruthlessness combined with competence, daring, and efficiency will not really do the state of Israel’s intelligence service much harm.
07 Sep 2009
Mystery of the Arctic Sea, 8/20
The Telegraph reports Intelligence leaks indicating that the hijacking was done by Mossad (not a peep from Debkafile!) and was done to prevent an unauthorized shipment of advanced Russian air defense missiles from reaching Iran.
Mystery has surrounded the ship, officially carrying a cargo of timber worth Â£1.3 million from Finland to Algeria, since its crew first reported a boarding in Swedish waters on July 24 after a raid by 10 armed English-speaking men posing as anti-narcotics police officers.
It was eventually recovered off the coast of west Africa on August 17. Russia has since charged eight men from Estonia, Latvia and Russia with kidnapping and piracy.
Russian officials have said the alleged pirates demanded a $1.5 million ransom but speculation has grown that the freighter was carrying contraband cargo.
Israeli and Russian security sources have questioned The Kremlin’s official explanation, instead arguing that the ship was carrying S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad, a notorious Baltic smuggling base.
According to reports, Mossad is said to have briefed the Russian government that the shipment had been sold by former military officers linked to the black market, and Russia then dispatched a naval rescue mission. Those who believe Mossad was involved point to a visit to Moscow by Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, the day after the Arctic Sea was recovered.
Crew members of the Arctic Sea have since told Russian news reporters that they have been told not to disclose “state secrets” further fuelling the speculation.
A Russian military source told The Sunday Times: â€œThe official version is ridiculous and was given to allow the Kremlin to save face.
â€œIâ€™ve spoken to people close to the investigation and theyâ€™ve pretty much confirmed Mossadâ€™s involvement. Itâ€™s laughable to believe all this fuss was over a load of timber. Iâ€™m not alone in believing that it was carrying weapons to Iran.â€
Russian news agency RT News (Moscow) has the same story on this 4:42 video
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